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I saw this the other night on The O’Reilly Factor and had to share it with you. Of all the things little Kensley could have asked Santa for, one of the two things she wanted was her dad. As an Army brat, this video brought a tear to my eye. I am happy that she will be able to spend a few days with her father.
The Indians lost many of their leaders in this fight and those remaining lost their enthusiasm with the British betrayal. Facing a well-trained and disciplined force, something the Indians never before experienced, they withdrew when overwhelmed. Chased by mounted soldiers, who struck them down with sabers, the retreat became a rout. When the British troops at Fort Miamis closed the gates, literally in their faces, their morale collapsed.
I previously mentioned the desire for peace by Little Turtle before the battle; he did not counsel peace alone. American renegades and Loyalists persuaded many reluctant Indians into engaging the Americans in combat. Particularly the previously mentioned Alexander McKee, who tried rallying the defeated Indians behind Fort Miamis. This lasted only a few minutes as they broke again and headed for their families camped some distance away. A week after the battle McKee tried rallying them with the uncorroborated story of the American troops desecrating the Indian graves. This possibly occurred given the years of hatred between the “long knives” and the Indian tribes, but nothing official mentions it. Even this horrific story did not inspire revenge in the face of the American victory and British inaction.
Wayne eventually regrouped his Legion at the previously established Fort Defiance after a difficult march. The only Indians the soldiers encountered scavenged through vacated American campsites, searching through abandoned items. Wayne believed these represented scouts for a new Indian advance; however, they merely searched for food and other necessities.
At Fort Defiance the Legion rested and refit, anticipating another battle with the Indian confederacy, and possibly the British. Wayne now concentrated on what we call today an “after action report” and a report for Secretary Knox. Not every soldier acted bravely and with honor during the battle and he commenced several courts-martial. Records exist of the trials of at least two junior officers and at least two enlisted men for “leaving their posts.”
The soldiers, as all soldiers in all times, immediately wrote their families and friends that they survived the battle. And as all soldiers, they probably embellished their roles in the battle, however we must forgive them this weakness. Truthfully, these men volunteered and advanced against an enemy who previously defeated two expeditions, the last one a disaster. They further described the new territory they explored and the Indian settlements they subsequently destroyed.
One thing unforgivable, the secret dispatches Wilkinson sent, criticizing Wayne and deliberately lying about Wayne’s conduct of the campaign. This merely continued Wilkinson’s continuing conspiracy against Wayne, and the newspapers eagerly published them. Officers of the “Wilkinson camp” continued writing anonymous letters and stoked controversy in Philadelphia. Fortunately, both Washington and Knox wrote letters expressing their support for Wayne and openly defended their Revolutionary War comrade.
Another unforgivable situation occurred with many of the residents of Cincinnati against the American allies, the Choctaw. Although they did not participate in the final battle, the defeat of their enemies ended their service. They returned home “with honor” for telling of their bravery among their brethren, who stayed home. They reached Cincinnati among rumors that they brought with them a white female child, “naked bound, and suffering.” Unfortunately only one of them spoke a little English and he proved inadequate for explaining away this rumor.
Winthrop Sargent, the acting governor of the Northwest Territory, investigated the rumor, but found no evidence that this child existed. Whipped into a frenzy by free-flowing liquor many of the local men, who did not join the campaign, armed themselves against the Choctaw. They attacked and injured several of these warriors and searched their camp for the non-existent child.
Sargent called out the Cincinnati militia, which proved inadequate, and probably unwilling, at defending the Choctaw from the mob. He then requested help from Captain John Peirce, who commanded the small federal garrison at nearby Fort Washington. Peirce dispatched a detachment of regulars for guarding the Choctaw camp until they departed Cincinnati. Sargent met with the Choctaw and assured them of the “sincere Friendship of the united States,” and punishment of those involved. However, the shameful actions of the territorial judiciary only indicted two men, and those escaped any punishment for their crimes. Unfortunately, such shameful conduct continued throughout the American nation’s interactions with its first citizens, even those who served as allies.
While the “courageous” men of Cincinnati vented their anger on the friendly Choctaw, the Legion’s contact with hostiles virtually ended. Fort Defiance existed in the heart of the Auglaize camps, making this area useless for the hostile tribes as a base of operations. However, it set at the end of a very precarious line of communication, hindered by the wilderness terrain. Wayne struggled for getting his troops the proper supplies, and kept his quartermaster department as busy as before.
Meanwhile the troops of the Legion suffered from the boredom and inactivity suffered by all soldiers following the battle. Throughout military history we find evidence that soldiers with “too much time on their hands” often contemplate too much on their circumstances. This proved particularly troublesome with Scott’s Kentuckians, hardly the model for discipline in the first place. They eagerly anticipated their approaching discharges and resented the labor involved in fortifying Fort Defiance and other routine camp details.
Wayne tried keeping them busy with scouting missions and escort duty for supply convoys; however they performed these duties haphazardly. With the August 31st report showing 1,611 Kentuckians serving in some capacity with the Legion, they proved excellent at consuming provisions. Their repeated acts of insubordination frustrated the lenient attitude of Scott toward his fellow Kentuckians, who court-martialed an unknown, but high, number.
Even the regulars experienced this declining morale, as much from the indifference and insufficient support from Congress as from the fatigue details. As the Legion advanced against the Indians a steady stream of discharged soldiers and deserters left the column. No “stop loss” existed at that time and when soldiers reached the end of their enlistment, they simply left. With no incentive for reenlistment, and reduced pay from the parsimonious Congress, critically needed veterans left the service.
All of this placed Wayne at a serious disadvantage deep in enemy territory, or so he thought. Although he sent out extensive scouting parties, they encountered no Indian or British activity. Before Napoleon’s military strategy became legendary, Wayne employed one of Napoleon’s maxims, summarized, “in the absence of adequate intelligence, always assume your enemy will do the correct thing.”
Because of the length of time that the army stayed at Fort Defiance, the large number of troops soon depleted the captured Indian food stocks. Many men grew sick eating unripe vegetables as they lived on half-rations of meat and flour. By September 10th foraging parties ranged almost fifteen miles in search of food. Part of the supply problem occurred because of the declining health of packhorses, forcing the abandonment of their cargoes.
Quartermaster O’Hara soon made numerous journeys up and down the line of communication for fixing this problem. Wayne sent his contractors a scathing letter about the inadequate amount of supplies arriving in his camp. He further offered the mounted Kentuckians three dollars for every hundred pounds of flour they carried forward, deducted from the contractors’ payments.
Despite his mounting problems, Wayne developed plans for constructing another fort deep in the heart of the Indian country. Following detailed reconnaissance Wayne decided on moving his command near the old village of Kekionga. However, he must first ensure that his quartermaster department knew of this move and forwarded adequate supplies. For this he depended on Scott’s Kentuckians, who still served as a mounted force, although the health of their horses declined.
Wayne then took a gamble and offered the Indians a chance for peace, releasing the captured Indian women with a message. In this message he reminded the Indian chiefs of their “wrong choices” and offered a “path for peace.” He suggested a conference and exchange of prisoners as a sign of “good will,” and “fair & equitable terms of peace.”
Without waiting for a reply Wayne left a significant garrison at Fort Defiance, supplemented by a large number of sick and wounded. He left command of the post under Major Thomas Hunt and about 200 men “fit for duty.” The remainder of the Legion marched southwest on the northern bank of the Maumee River on September 14th in a steady rain. After a hard march, in which part of the command became lost, they arrived near Kekionga on September 18th. Observers called this the largest Indian village in the region with about 500 acres of land cleared for agriculture. Here Wayne selected the site for his new fort, Fort Wayne, again near modern Fort Wayne, Indiana. He further dispatched Barbee’s Kentuckians for bringing forward supplies from Fort Recovery on September 20th.
While Wayne’s men constructed Fort Wayne, Hunt forwarded four British deserters from Fort Miamis. They reported that the British did try reinforcing Fort Miamis, sending a company of the 5th Regiment of Foot and some Queen’s Ranges from Fort Niagara. Upon arrival the British soldiers found Fort Miamis surrounded by the Americans and retreated toward Fort Erie. They erroneously reported that 1,600 Indian warriors camped eleven miles northeast of Fort Miamis along Swan Creek. The British Indian Department records indicated issuing provisions for 2,500 Indians, with only 860 as warriors. However, Wayne did not know this and must take the proper precautions for his rapidly shrinking Legion. The deserters also mentioned that about 25 American deserters arrived in Fort Miamis providing the British with intelligence.
The lull in operations also provided Wayne opportunities for sending Knox an updated report of his intentions and his problems. Of importance he emphasized the problems of supplying his force in the field, something that always hindered western operations. He further informed the secretary of war of the pending resignation of one of his critical contractors, Major John Belli.
Wayne further mentioned the critical problem with expiring enlistments, particularly in the longest serving units, the 1st and 2nd Sub-Legions. Previously the 1st and 2nd US Regiments, the bulk of these men enlisted for the St. Clair expedition in 1791. He pointed out that within six weeks time each of these units might number no more than “two companies each.” Furthermore most of the enlistments of the 3rd and 4th Sub-Legions expired in the coming summer of 1795. He described his Legion as “nearly Annihilated” by expiring enlistments, forcing the abandonment of “all we now possess” in the West.
Looking back from the advantage of hindsight and knowing the situation of both sides me may dismiss Wayne’s concerns. However, he sat on the farthest reaches of American “civilization,” indeed beyond that civilization in the middle of enemy territory. Furthermore, he must send his reports and receive his orders from distant Philadelphia using horses and man-powered boats.
Creating additional problems, when Barbee’s men returned with the supply convoy, it brought with it several sutlers. These sutlers brought with them live cattle, sheep and other supplies for purchase by the soldiers. Unfortunately the soldiers lacked money with their pay not arriving, and often engaged in stealing. The sutlers also brought a significant amount of liquor, which further increased the disciplinary problems.
Again, the Kentuckians proved the worst of the offenders because they demanded their discharges, although their enlistments continued until November. Since the days of the Viet Nam War many stories endure regarding “short-timers,” those soldiers ending their tours of duty. These “short-timers” traditionally feel themselves above military discipline and often “push the envelope” with their conduct. The Kentucky militiamen, living on half-rations and fortified by liquor, often refused the orders of their officers and bordered on mutiny. Wayne visited their camp and told them “what they might expect should they disobey his order.” However, only a few officers and men followed Barbee on his next escort mission on October 10th.
Barbee’s men returned on October 12th with only enough rations for three days and Wayne made another gamble. He decided that his Kentucky militia served no further purpose and he informed Scott of his intention of sending them home. The Kentuckians departed camp on October 14th leaving Wayne with fewer than one thousand regulars. The homesick Kentuckians made good time on their return arriving at Fort Washington on October 20th. One unnamed regular stated that Scott’s men “rendered their Country more Services than any Volunteers have done before.” One may determine whether the soldier intended this as a compliment, or sarcasm regarding how he felt about these men.
On October 27th the Legion marched at sunrise bound for Fort Greenville leaving Hamtramck in command with about 300 men. Hamtramck issued his first order, naming the new post Fort Wayne and his men settled into their new quarters. Meanwhile the Legion marched back along the road they previously cut with the weather turning cold and frosty. The Legion reached Fort Greenville, and winter quarters, on November 3, 1794 amid the cheering of the garrison. Celebrations by both officers and enlisted men lasted until midnight and morale miraculously appeared very high. Gaff records the accurate prophesy of one soldier, who entered in his journal, “AMERICA! What glorious Days mayest thou soon hope for, when thy Armies shall excel the Veterans of Alexander-thy Fleets command the Ocean and give Laws to the World.”
Upon establishing winter quarters, Wayne tried reducing his quartermaster problems as much as possible. First he discharged as many of the scouts as possible, including the valuable Wells, whose wound permanently disabled him. When the scouts returned home they received heroes’ welcomes wherever they appeared, as did anyone who served in the Legion.
Veteran soldiers continued leaving the Legion when their enlistments expired and officers asked for furloughs. As these men journeyed home they received heroes’ welcomes wherever they went for achieving the independent nation’s first military victory. An adequate historical analogy may compare the celebration of these veterans with that received by those returning from World War II. The western settlers rejoiced that finally, after almost twenty years, someone decisively defeated the Indians. Furthermore, the faraway federal government addressed one of their major problems, seriously damaging the secession movements.
For all the jubilation felt among the American settlers, the Indians felt totally broken by their defeat. In a period of less than two hours they degenerated from an invincible fighting force into a defeated and routed mob. The great Miami Confederacy dissolved as the defeated tribes returned home, those who still possessed homes. Those who previously lived in the path of Wayne’s Legion found their villages unattainable, now occupied by American troops. With their villages and crops destroyed they faced a harsh winter surviving through the largess of the British. The betrayal by the British at Fallen Timbers made them doubt the reliability of receiving sustenance from them. They must seek terms with Wayne for ensuring the survival of their families, even at the cost of much of their land.
On December 17, 1794 a small group of French Canadians and Indians approached Fort Wayne for a conference. Within two weeks delegations from the Pottawatomie, Chippewa, Wyandot and Ottawa arrived and promised peace. The Miami arrived in the middle of January, 1795 seeking terms as their tribe faced starvation. Only the Shawnee and Delaware, strongly under the influence of the trader, McKee, remained reluctant.
Finally on February 7, 1795 Wayne received a delegation of Shawnee and Delaware led by the war chief, Blue Jacket. As the tribes that preceded them they signed a truce on the frontier and promised no further hostilities. Wayne scheduled a grand council for June 15, 1795 for ensuring the participation of as many hostile tribes as possible. He further allowed the resettling of those Indians in their destroyed villages near the forts that dominated the terrain.
The late arrival of some of the tribes delayed the grand council until July and required several weeks of ceremony. Participating tribes included the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Pottawatomie, Miami, Eel River Miami, Wea, Kickapoo, Piankashaw and Kaskaskia. Some of these tribes did not join the Miami Confederacy and previously established peace with the Americans; however they desired further peace.
Known as the Treaty of Greenville it established an almost twenty-year period of peace between the settlers and Indian tribes. It further surrendered most of the modern state of Ohio as well as locations for military forts on Indian land. In return the Indians received a one-time grant of goods worth $20,000 and an annuity worth about $9,500. Subsequent articles addressed hunting rights, trade and establishing a system of mediating complaints between the parties.
It further broke the hold the British held on the region and American traders established posts among the tribes. Little Turtle regained some of his former prestige in peace and became an advocate for allying with the Americans. He subsequently visited three American presidents, Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and received the treatment of a foreign dignitary.
Wayne journeyed east almost immediately following the signing of the treaty for several reasons. With the fighting over and his troops engaged in mostly routine work the time seemed ripe for this visit. First he lobbied in Congress for the ratification of this treaty without relying on messengers. Second he contradicted the stories, mostly circulated by Wilkinson, of his mismanagement of the Legion and the campaign in general. Third, he hoped for circumventing the efforts of some members of Congress for reducing the size of the Legion. It seems that the Congress always traditionally, and irresponsibly, reduces the size of our military forces without considering the strategic implications. On a personal level, Wayne hoped that he might succeed Knox as Secretary of War.
Meanwhile on the international front the US achieved some diplomatic success against its immediate foreign threats, England and Spain. With both nations at war with France since 1793 they did not need a war with the US. On November 19, 1794 Chief Justice John Jay signed what historians now call the Jay Treaty with England. This treaty merely confirmed most of the terms of the original peace with England in 1783, however now England followed them. The most important, they evacuated the military posts they illegally held and removed their control over American territory.
With the knowledge of Jay’s Treaty, Spanish officials began negotiations with Thomas Pinckney, the American ambassador for England. Spain previously suffered some military defeats in the Caribbean and did not need another war in the region with the US. On October 27, 1795 both nations signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo, sometimes called Pinckney’s Treaty. It surrendered military forts that Spanish troops occupied in American territory, and opened the Mississippi River for commerce. It further provided American merchants with duty-free transportation through New Orleans, which delighted the western settlers.
Historians may argue that events in Europe forced the negotiations for these two treaties; regardless of Fallen Timbers. However, I believe that this demonstration of American power strongly influenced these two nations into defusing a potential “second front” neither of them needed.
Wayne achieved some success during his Philadelphia visit, and received a hero’s welcome, even from his critics. The Senate ratified the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795 and Washington signed it on December 22nd. This occurred before Wayne’s arrival in Philadelphia, on February 6, 1796, and he then focused on the other issues. With his popularity, Congress avoided any criticism of his conduct as commander-in-chief of the Legion. He further won concessions regarding the post-war strength of the military forces: four regiments of infantry, two companies of dragoons and one “corps” of artillery. This force became known as the United States Army, effective on October 31, 1796, with few other changes.
However, Washington did not select Wayne as Secretary of War because of his “financial troubles,” and selected James McHenry. Described by Jacobs as someone “Without unusual talents,” McHenry possessed “considerable means,” meaning he did not need the low salary.
Upon achieving success Wayne returned west, for continuing his duties and supervising the peace. When he arrived at Fort Greenville he found Wilkinson, who now desired a journey east. Wayne performed his duties on the frontier, including the occupation of Detroit and other posts evacuated by the British. He further addressed the supply problems of both his troops and the Indians, now under his care.
Meanwhile Wilkinson collected evidence against Wayne, mostly false, and renewed his charges against Wayne. He found allies among his political cronies, mostly from western delegations, and tried damaging Wayne’s reputation. Furthermore, Wilkinson did not like McHenry, describing him as a “mock minister,” and used his recent appointment against him.
Unfortunately Wayne died on December 15, 1796 while at Fort Erie and, like a true soldier, requested burial at the foot of the flagpole. Mercifully, he did not know of the treachery Wilkinson planned for him, or at least no historical source references it. When he learned of Wayne’s death, Wilkinson wisely withdrew his charges and McHenry easily granted his request. Wilkinson now achieved his ambition and became the new commander-in-chief of the Army, his tenure as troubled as the man.
Wayne, like Patton, died before his laurels faded and without the spectacle of a public investigation. Also like Patton, he revealed himself as a controversial and somewhat eccentric figure with many critics. Both men proved themselves strict disciplinarians, accepting only the highest standards and military geniuses of their own right. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of both men, soldiers who served with them bragged of this service for years afterward. Unfortunately today few Americans know of the great service Wayne gave his country, both during the Revolution and the Indian war.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers did not solve all of America’s problems, but it did guarantee the young nation’s survival. It further established the power and authority of the new constitutional government and thwarted the secessionist movements. Through the use of military force, the nation defended its frontier settlements from the depredations of Indian raids. It further ended the unhindered movement of foreign agents sowing mischief through American territory. The victory also provided a measure of respect from those foreign nations, who previously sought our destruction.
Domestically, most Americans realized a new pride in their nation, and its new form of government. While they still suspected the power of governments, they appreciated its power in defending them. They further accepted the supremacy of federal law in regional and interstate differences, perhaps grudgingly, but they accepted it.
With the Indian threat subdued for the time, a tide of migration across the Appalachian Mountains almost tripled the population of the West. The main road through the mountains from Bedford, Pennsylvania became a thickly settled major highway. Pittsburgh became the “gateway to the Ohio Valley” and experienced good economic times from the increased value of land. Hundreds of boats traveled the Ohio River in safety and settlers cleared both riverbanks without fear. An economic boom transformed former frontier settlements like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Louisville into booming cities.
This economic boom benefited the entire country as western residents advertised in the East for “skilled tradesmen.” With the promise of “work plenty, and good wages” these skilled workers developed the vast natural resources of the region. Furthermore, within a few years western farmers developed the fertile land into a dominant agricultural region. Eastern markets flourished from the western development as did the transportation industries, and all associated enterprises.
Therefore, Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers made the United States of America a united, politically solvent nation. It furthermore created the conditions for economic solvency as well, and the US Treasury no longer sat empty. July 4th marks the day when American leaders formalized their break with England, like when a somewhat naïve adolescent leaves a parent’s home. August 20th marks when we made the world accept our independence, as when the adolescent earns the respect of adults. The US proved itself capable of self-government, defending its citizens, establishing its sovereignty and meeting the challenges of a harsh world.
The Americans that lived in our new nation survived economic hard times, domestic disputes, a “war of terror,” foreign threats and an uncertain future. Our military personnel of that time suffered immense hardships in a “foreign” land facing a competent, ruthless enemy. They further faced administrative mismanagement, insurmountable logistical problems, political interference and dissensions among their leaders. Furthermore, they recently experienced a devastating defeat in which about half of the force died a hideous death. Yet more Americans volunteered, suffered the hardships and defeated this competent enemy in a quick, decisive victory.
I strongly recommend that we maintain July 4, 1776 as our national Independence Day and that we enthusiastically celebrate it. However, I recommend that we celebrate August 20, 1794 as the day that our nation reached maturity and self-reliance. Without the victory at Fallen Timbers the future growth of the US remains doubtful, and even its independence seemed at risk. Wayne and his troops established America’s perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and deserve a place of respect in our history.
Today our history educators barely acknowledge the challenges faced by the newly independent United States of America. Furthermore, it almost never mentions the individuals who met these challenges, and whose sacrifices overcame them, unless it disparages them. Our failure at understanding these challenges does not prepare us for our current, and future, challenges. These individuals bequeathed on us a promising national future and our challenge becomes maintaining that national promise for future generations.
Wayne arrived upon the completion of the fort and conducted a dedication ceremony, thanking the soldiers for their work. Following the dedication Wayne departed with most of the soldiers for Fort Greenville, leaving two infantry companies and an artillery detachment as garrison. He cautioned the post commander, Captain Alexander Gibson, for keeping out “constant & proper patrols,” and scouting the Indian villages.
The Indians took insult from the occupation of the St. Clair battlefield, ground that they considered sacred. If they allowed the presence of Fort Recovery and its garrison it showed a “loss of face,” for their warriors. Besides, this fort moved the threat from the American soldiers even farther into the heart of their homeland. Miami emissaries journeyed great distances for securing alliances from other tribes against the hated Americans. Desperate, some demanded that the British support them directly with troops in the field.
While the Indians assembled an army for meeting the American army, Wayne pleaded for more troops. Bureaucratic “red tape” and congressional interference did not begin with the current war against terrorism. In the Army of General Wayne the Senate must approve all promotions for officers, ensuring that each state received its portion. Some of these promotions dated from February and March of 1793, hardly conducive for effective leadership of the Legion. Of course the Senate disapproved of many of Wayne’s selections and selected their political favorites.
Congress did authorize an increase in numerical strength, just not for the Legion on the frontier. It approved a “Corps of Artillerists and Engineers” of four battalions for defending the eastern seaports. Concerned with the continuing war in Europe, and Royal Navy ships hovering outside American harbors, Congress authorized the fortification of our seaports. For reducing military expenditures Congress made this “corps” part of the authorized 5,000 for the Legion. This highlights another tradition of Congress, believing they know the nation’s military needs better than commanders in the field.
When spring of 1794 arrived intelligence showed an increase in Indian activity, and British advances into American territory. Patrols around Fort Recovery captured several Indian scouts who provided valuable information of the assembling Indian army. The British constructed a new fort, Fort Miamis, on the Maumee River near modern Toledo, Ohio. Built on the site of a previous British fort abandoned in 1783, the British justified this reoccupation as a Detroit “dependency.”
The massive Indian army of over 2,000 warriors began assembling at Grand Glaize in mid-June, 1794. They further demanded that all “white men either English or French residing among them or getting their livelihood through the Indian Trade…immediately join the Indian Army.” Fourteen British officers from Detroit, dressed in frontier garb, joined these Indians as “observers” because the Indians gave them no choice.
Because food and provisions began running short from the increased number of Indians assembled, they moved toward Fort Recovery. As they traveled the large number required that they kill all the game in their path. This further created desperation as the Indians must replenish their scant supplies from the captured American fort. Therefore, they must capture the fort, or they and their families faced some very hard times.
Wayne experienced more good fortune as a detachment of Chickasaw and Choctaw joined him about this time. These tribes, enemies of the Miami for years, eagerly joined the Americans and scouted toward the Grand Glaize encampment. Forty-five Choctaw and ten white scouts encountered the advancing Indian army on June 26th. They retreated and on June 28th warned Wayne the Indians “in great force and advancing,” with “a great number of white men.”
Furthermore, on the evening of June 29th a mixed company of Chickasaw and Choctaw tried informing the Fort Recovery garrison of the Indian army. Unfortunately none of the Indians spoke English and tried using sign language for communication. Fortunately Captain Gibson prudently took precautions by sending out patrols; however they found nothing.
Outside the gates of Fort Recovery a supply convoy of about three hundred horses bivouacked overnight. They previously delivered supplies and prepared for their return trip for the safety of Fort Greenville. The previously mentioned Major McMahon commanded this convoy and the escort included over 150 troops. At seven o’clock on the morning of June 30th the soldiers and civilian contractors prepared for their return.
Suddenly shots rang out as the Indians attacked the unsuspecting train of packhorses causing a stampede. McMahon, mounted on a horse, tried forming his men for battle when he fell dead from a bullet wound in his neck. For once, the soldiers did not panic, although they withdrew hastily toward the fort against the overwhelming odds. Gibson even sent some of his men from the garrison as reinforcements for McMahon’s men. These few men actually beat back the initial attack with their bayonets until forced back inside the fort.
The Indians surrounded the fort and used the cover of cut tree stumps for firing on the soldiers. Inside the fort the soldiers kept up a “galling fire,” as an unnamed British officer recorded. The soldiers made good use of the recaptured artillery pieces, which proved a tremendous psychological weapon on the Indians. While most Indians willingly endured small arms fire, the artillery proved too much, without their own guns.
Ironically, the Indians expected the previously hidden cannon for use against the American fort. A British artillery detachment from Fort Miamis accompanied the Indians and brought with them several packhorses loaded with ammunition. Later reports stated that the Indians spent several hours unsuccessfully searching for the hidden guns. Fortunately for the Americans, Wayne specifically ordered the search for these guns during the construction of Fort Recovery.
The Indians lost the initiative and kept up a continual fire on the fort throughout the day. An unnamed British officer expressed his disgust with this tactic, and stated that it only “run up their own casualties.” A further demoralizing fact, an unknown number of Chickasaw and Choctaw got behind the Miami confederacy and engaged them from the rear. With so many new tribes recently joining the Miami, they did not know each other and accused each other of fratricide.
Discouraged, the Miami tried one last surprise attack after dark, with no better results than during the day. A few warriors fired on the fort early the next morning with no enthusiasm and then fell back into the woods. Discouraged and running low on food the massive Indian army began breaking up and leaving the field. Several tribes concluded that they fulfilled their commitment for the alliance and went home. With their numbers significantly reduced by these departures, the other Indians went home. They suffered about forty killed and about one hundred wounded and left the field a demoralized force.
Inside the fort the soldiers and civilian contractors suffered nineteen killed, thirty wounded and three missing. Burial details sent outside the fort discovered the mutilated bodies of those killed during the initial assault. Despite their high casualties the men of Fort Recovery felt proud that they beat back this attack of a vastly superior force. Gibson sent Wayne a jubilant message on July 2nd announcing the victory.
Wayne immediately dispatched reinforcements and replenished the fort’s supplies the next day. He also sent a congratulatory message for the troops and lamented those lost during the battle. When Wayne visited the fort about one month later he personally thanked every soldier present. The momentum changed, the soldiers withstood almost impossible odds and defeated the vaunted Miami Confederacy.
News of the victory spread quickly on the frontier and made Independence Day celebrations even more exuberant. In Cincinnati the public toast included the names of the officers killed at Fort Recovery. Western settlers, previously scornful of the federal government, jubilantly toasted “Washington, Congress, cabinet officers and foreign ministers, and American women.” Others toasted Wayne, the Legion and “the heads of the various staff departments.” In Kentucky they toasted the Kentucky volunteers, even though they did not participate in this battle.
Scott’s Kentuckians began assembling at Fort Washington in late May and departed for Fort Greenville on July 20th. They began arriving at Fort Greenville on July 25th and the Legion prepared for movement into Indian country. The Legion left at eight o’clock on the morning of July 28th amid a flurry of drums, fifes and bugle calls.
Once the Legion passed Fort Recovery they must cut their own road through the wilderness, which significantly slowed their march. It further required the detachment of “pioneers,” men selected from each company and armed with axes. In those days no “combat engineers” existed forcing the use of detailed soldiers, or hired civilian employees. Wayne ordered the building of a road thirty feet wide, which required significant labor, and frequent rotation of these “pioneers.”
The Legion continued advancing using all the security measures that Wayne required, including fortified bivouac sites at night. Indian scouts still lurked around the column looking for opportunities for picking off stragglers or stray horses. However, no one straggled and no animals wandered loose, under threat of summary execution. Wayne further ordered the construction of forts at strategic locations along the route, each requiring a garrison.
As the column advanced an incident occurred that jeopardized the success of the expedition, the disappearance of Robert Newman. Newman, a hired surveyor, left camp telling the guards that he departed under the orders of Quartermaster O’Hara. Tracked by Wells himself, the scout captain found where Newman fell into the hands of about four Indians. O’Hara emphatically denied giving Newman such orders, and Wells found no sign of struggle, making Newman at least a deserter. Wayne quickly denounced Newman as a “villain” and capable of giving the enemy “every information in his power” regarding the Legion.
Other officers in the Legion expressed divided opinions regarding Newman’s disappearance, and many believed him a British spy. Historical sources differ on Newman’s status and the first British source labeled him a “deserter” when he reached Grand Glaize. When he arrived at Detroit the British believed him an American spy sent “to deceive” them. They based this on their experiences with other “deserters” sent among them for gathering intelligence.
Newman eventually saw Canada’s lieutenant governor, John Simcoe, the former commander of the Loyalist Queen’s Rangers. Under interrogation, Newman revealed much of what he knew of Wayne’s plan, including a very accurate date regarding the Legion’s arrival in the Indian camp, August 17, 1794. Based on Simcoe’s account, Newman further stated that Wayne intended an attack on any British post on American soil. However, Newman denies this claiming, “I knew nothing of Gen. Wayne’s orders, or what Congress directed him to do.”
Miraculously the British released him and he reentered the US where he published an account of his “capture” in New York’s Catskill Packet. At Philadelphia he boldly walked into the War Department and proclaimed himself an Indian captive, fortunately for him during Secretary Knox’s absence. As a civilian employee no one suspected him of desertion, let alone treason, and he received twenty dollars for his journey home. A few days later Wayne’s dispatch reached Philadelphia and eventually the commander at Pittsburgh arrested Newman.
Interrogated by Wayne, Newman revealed his real purpose, and it eventually involved Wilkinson and intrigue with the British. The story goes that Wilkinson entered into a corrupt scheme with some of the contractors for enriching themselves by continuing the war. It seems that one of the contractors, Robert Elliott, possessed a brother in the British service, Captain Matthew Elliott, currently at Grand Glaize.
Alarmed at this treachery, Wayne began rooting out other traitors as well, including the other surveyor, Daniel Cooper. Cooper admitted that he wrote an incriminating letter found lying on the roadside, but later recanted his confession. However, both he and Newman remained in custody until after the campaign, with their ultimate fate unmentioned in my sources.
No hard evidence existed against Wilkinson, and he continued as second-in-command throughout the campaign. However, the Wayne-Wilkinson feud worsened with Wilkinson looking at any remark as an insult. He kept a journal of all of Wayne’s criticisms of him, and history mostly proves Wayne correct. Lieutenant Hugh Brady commented that “Wilkinson was jealous of W. could not be second and was worth nothing when he got to be first.”
An accident almost ended Wayne’s life on August 3rd, when a large beech tree fell on his tent. This put the camp in great confusion as reports of the general’s death spread rapidly, and thankfully erroneously. An old stump absorbed most of the force and Wayne suffered an injured left leg and ankle. Upon examination someone carelessly kindled a fire near the tree and it toppled over. History records the event as an accident; or did Wilkinson possess enough hatred for arranging the accident? Suppose Wayne died and Wilkinson assumed command, again, did he possess the qualities necessary for winning victory? Did he connive with the British for prolonging the war for paying off his rumored gambling debts with bribes?
While Newman told British officials three different stories, Wayne continued his advance, uncertain of Newman’s adventure. In early August the Legion passed through several deserted Indian towns and the soldiers upgraded their rations with the abandoned crops. As the troops advanced up the Maumee River they encountered an increasing number of Indian towns and a fertile valley. Surprisingly they found few Indians as they advanced toward the main Indian camp of Grand Glaize. They did not know that Newman informed the British of Wayne’s advance on Fort Miamis, and most of the Indians departed for there.
Wells and his scouts continued their intelligence gathering, bringing in prisoners each day with fresh information. As their exploits became legend among the soldiers, the scouts always tried outdoing themselves. Unfortunately, their luck ran out one day when they tried capturing fifteen Delaware by deception. Wells and one of his officers, Lieutenant Robert McClellan, received serious wounds that took them out of the campaign. From one of Wells’ Shawnee captives Wayne confirmed Newman’s treachery, eleven days after his desertion.
At Grand Glaize, Wayne built Fort Defiance, for denying the Indians this sanctuary and proving his power. Here he sent the Miami Confederacy one last offer for peace through one of the recent Shawnee captives and one of his scouts, Christopher Miller. A heavy rain delayed the advance of the Legion from this fort for two days longer than Wayne anticipated. The recent rain hindered their march as both men and animals became mired in the mud. Several accounts state that the march more resembled a mob than a military formation, but the advance continued.
The weather and rough march also deeply affected Wayne’s suffering from gout, however he still insisted on riding a horse. His pain also made him even more short-tempered, causing more resentment with Wilkinson and other officers. His demeanor improved somewhat with the return of Miller with the Indian response regarding his peace overture. The message contained some deception as the Indians asked for time for considering Wayne’s offer. In reality they wanted the time hoping that more warriors from the Pottawatomie might arrive from Detroit.
Eager for action, Wayne dismissed the call for time and began his advance the next day entering a thick wooded area. They encountered some of the roughest terrain yet and reached the rapids of the Maumee River, finding the river about six hundred yards wide. Here American scouts began engaging the Indian scouts and Wayne camped for the night. He delayed the advance until he successfully scouted the terrain ahead, and now lamented the loss of Wells.
Following sufficient reconnaissance Wayne ordered an advance on August 18th and encountered an increasing number of Indian towns. Here the soldiers found themselves astonished at the number of well-constructed cabins and storehouses. They further found a silversmith’s shop and books containing thirty years of accounts and extensive connections with Detroit. Several of the stores showed the ownership of French traders for over one hundred years.
While Wayne advanced turmoil and indecision surfaced among the Indian alliance, and even Little Turtle changed his mind. The battle at Fort Recovery shocked him regarding the Indian chance for victory against the entire Legion. Attending a council in July at Detroit he tried unsuccessfully for obtaining direct British military action. The British symbolically reinforced Fort Miamis and a company of Detroit militia joined the Indians. However the British commander at Detroit, Lieutenant Colonel Richard England of His Majesty’s 24th Regiment of Foot (Infantry), made no promise of direct participation by British troops.
In early August a delegation of Wyandots presented England with the “war hatchet” originally given them during the Revolution. They demanded that England “rub off the rust” and join them in defending their homeland from the Americans. If not, the Wyandot promised no help if the Americans attacked Fort Miamis and Detroit. With no authority, England merely alerted his command of the impending American threat and prepared for attack.
With his assembled Indian army running short of food and other provisions, Little Turtle began contemplating Wayne’s terms. He further understood that the approaching American force outnumbered his dwindling number of warriors. The unsuccessful attacks further proved that the Indians faced a competent commander and better quality troops than previous expeditions. Even the arrival of a contingent of Mohawks, from the supposedly peaceful Iroquois, did not encourage Little Turtle.
When Little Turtle counseled peace he lost his charisma among the confederation, and his position of leadership. Experiencing nothing but victory against the American forces, they did not heed his warning. Little Turtle saw the future, that while the Indian alliance defeated each American expedition, another came the next year. He further saw that each expedition increased in the number of soldiers sent against them, while the Indian numbers reduced.
Accused of cowardice, a Shawnee chief named Weyapiersenwah, Blue Jacket in English, emerged as the new leader of the Miami Confederacy. Historians know little of Blue Jacket’s early life, since he only enters history as a grown warrior. Rumors in the 19th Century named him as a white captive named Marmaduke van Swearingen, popularized by historical novelist Allan W. Eckert. Supposedly DNA testing of descendants of both families disprove this rumor, confirming his Shawnee ancestry. He participated in the Revolution as a British ally and in both of the Harmar and St. Clair defeats.
Although a brave man Blue Jacket lacked the tactical wisdom of Little Turtle and suffered from the vice of vanity. Blue Jacket expressed a “fondness” for fancy dress and drink that often offended those around him. He further proved the impetuous leader that the British needed at this time for keeping the Indians hostile toward the Americans.
Spurred on by the words of American renegade Simon Girty, the former American Loyalist and current British trader, Alexander McKee, the Indian leaders chose war. Misinterpreting the reinforcement of Fort Miamis as a sign of British support the assembled warriors eagerly sought combat.
On August 18th Wayne ordered the construction of Fort Deposit for leaving all of his excess baggage. While the troops built this fort, Wayne sent out his scouts for gathering the last intelligence before engaging the Indians. Upon their return they estimated about 1,100 Indians and about 100 “white men,” probably the Detroit militia. A heavy rain on August 19th delayed the Legion’s advance one day, allowing for more preparation. The soldiers marched at about eight o’clock on the morning of August 20th in battle formation on a hot, humid day.
Wayne organized his force into two wings, the right consisting of the 1st and 3rd Sub-Legions under Wilkinson. The left, consisting of the 2nd and 4th Sub-Legion under Lieutenant Colonel Hamtramck. Between the two wings Wayne placed his headquarters, artillery and reserve ammunition loaded on packhorses. An advance guard of scouts, under Major William Price, who previously scouted the terrain, marched well ahead for detecting ambush. Behind them came an advance guard of seventy-four regulars under Captain John Cooke.
Advancing with the Maumee River protecting the right flank, the command used it for guiding their route toward the Indians. Colonel Robert Todd’s brigade of mounted Kentuckians protected the left flank and Brigadier General Thomas Barbee’s Kentucky brigade served as rearguard. Across the river Captain Ephraim Kibbey’s mounted scouts from the settlement of Columbia, near Cincinnati, provided security.
The Indians awaited them in a natural fortification formed by trees felled by a past tornado, hence “Fallen Timbers.” Traditionally the Indians fasted before a battle in case they suffered a stomach wound. However the slow American advance caused hunger, and overcame about one-third of the Indians. Those who left the field in search of food journeyed a good distance from the battlefield, with many not returning. The hardcore among them remained in place and awaited the arrival of the hated Kentucky “long knives.”
Price’s men halted about one half-mile from the Indian position and prepared his men for battle. They took drinks of water, tightened their saddle cinches and stripped off excess clothing before resuming the advance. Two vedettes preceded the main body of scouts, Thomas Moore and William Steele, volunteered for this duty. They moved forward warily watching every bush and tree for sign of Indians, and soon found them.
The Indians opened fire from ambush felling both men from their horses, mortally wounded. Their comrades charged forward and engaged the Indians, finding Steele dead and rescued Moore. Under heavy fire Price ordered a withdrawal as the superior number of Indians attacked them.
Unfortunately they ran afoul of Cooke’s advance guard marching about four hundred yards behind the mounted scouts. Under orders from Wayne for firing on retreating militiamen, Cooke’s men mistakenly fired on the Kentuckians. This stopped the retreating Kentuckians, who now moved toward the river and reportedly left the field.
The Indians now engaged the small number of Cooke’s men, who valiantly stood their ground against the heavy odds. After firing three “good volleys” Cooke saw his situation and ordered a fighting withdrawal toward the main body. As Cooke’s men withdrew, Wayne deployed several companies of light infantry for screening the deployment of his battle line.
Wilkinson proceeded in making adjustments in his battle line when they intermingled with Hamtramck’s men. He encountered a company of dragoons under the command of the senior dragoon officer, Captain Robert MisCampbell. MisCampbell then reported that “Everything is confusion,” and asked Wilkinson for orders. Characteristic of Wilkinson, he declined, stating that his command did not include the dragoons and recommended that MisCampbell fall back. When one of Wilkinson’s subordinates requested that Wilkinson attack, he declined, citing an absence of orders from Wayne.
Wayne did issue orders that day, sending his staff in every direction for relaying even the most minute orders. The previous day’s rain and current humidity rendered the use of drums for signaling ineffective. He told his aide, Lieutenant William Henry Harrison, his standing order, “Charge the damned rascals with the bayonet.”
Believing the terrain near the river suited for mounted troops, Wayne ordered his dragoons into a flanking attack there. Unfortunately the bluffs along the river hindered a rapid advance by these troops and MisCampbell misunderstood the order. Instead of attacking with the full dragoon battalion, he used only his assigned company. When they struck the Indians, MisCampbell fell dead and the attack fell into confusion. Finally other dragoons appeared, as well as some Kentucky scouts, and eventually turned the Indian flank.
Wayne then ordered the unlimbering of his artillery, sixteen pieces, and opened fire on the Indians. Although the wooded terrain proved unsuitable for artillery, the psychological effect on the warriors justified their use.
The terrain in front of Wilkinson’s wing appeared more open, providing a better view of the enemy. While in front of Hamtramck’s wing the terrain appeared more wooded, making his assessment of the enemy more difficult. Subsequently, Wilkinson deployed his troops into a single battle line, possibly because of his better view. However, Hamtramck deployed his in the standard double battle line of the day, and in accordance with Wayne’s orders. This caused some confusion at the point where the two wings linked up, however it did not create insurmountable problems. Given the reduced numerical strength of the Legion’s companies, most estimates state that the deployment into line took about five minutes.
As the fire from the Indians increased, Wayne maneuvered troops for meeting each contingency. He ordered Scott’s Kentuckians on his left flank into the attack for turning the Indians’ right flank. The terrain proved too wooded and swampy for a mounted attack, so Scott dismounted them, using them as infantry. Here the Kentuckians engaged the Wyandots, who fought the Kentuckians almost fanatically.
Wayne adjusted his force by extending the left flank of the 2nd Sub-Legion until the American line stretched almost two and one-half miles. Satisfied, he ordered the advance with his men at “trail arms” for preventing their entanglement in the vegetation. Simply, the men advanced until within musket range, about fifty yards, from the Indians, fired a volley and charged with the bayonet.
Staff officers, seeing Wayne’s dash forward toward the battle, seized his horse’s reins, fearing for his safety. Despite the constant messages delivered by the staff, several officers did not receive the attack order. This often occurs during battle, the so-called “fog of war,” as the noise and adrenalin affect one’s abilities. However, here Wayne’s discipline and training standards proved their worth, as the officers advanced on their own initiative. Several officers quoted in Gaff’s book state that miraculously the entire line charged almost at once.
Now the Indians began a fighting withdrawal as the numbers of the Legion forced them from their cover. Groups of Indians stood their ground, many dying in place instead of retreating when overwhelmed. Others, seeing the superiority of the forces against them, fired once and then ran away and hid. By most accounts the stiffest resistance came from the Detroit militia, under the command of the American renegade Lieutenant Colonel William Caldwell. Most of the Indian resistance crumbled after about fifteen minutes and they ran toward Fort Miamis.
These Indians ran toward the shelter of the British fort with the soldiers of the Legion in hot pursuit. The fort’s commander, Major William Campbell of the 24th Regiment of Foot, lacking any specific orders, literally closed the gates. Heaping insult upon the defeat they just suffered, the demoralized Indians now realized the steadfastness of British support. Their British allies closed the gates and left them alone for facing the wrath of the victorious Americans.
With the Indians in full retreat and his men exhausted from the roughly about one hour battle, Wayne called a halt. The Legion remained on the newly won field for about two hours, resting and refitting. Details made a quick search for casualties and surgeons began the grisly process of attending the wounded. The Legion lost 26 killed and 87 wounded with none lost as prisoners of war. In celebration of the victory the soldiers received an extra ration of whisky and then prepared for further action.
Despite the defeat the Indians still possessed a viable force capable of a counterattack, although they lacked the spirit for it. However, Wayne and his men did not know this and took all the necessary precautions. He dispatched his scouts forward for gathering intelligence, not only of the Indians but Fort Miamis as well. Unfortunately, in his preparation for continuing his attack, Wayne neglected a thorough search for casualties. Later searches found that some of the wounded lay dying on the field, with one dying soon after his discovery on August 21st.
While this neglect may seem harsh, Wayne must consider the health and safety of the majority of his soldiers. He must focus on meeting the enemy, before they adequately reorganize, and hopefully limiting the number of future casualties. Searching for casualties today remains a responsibility of squad and platoon level leaders, and part of unit standard operating procedures (SOP). Higher headquarters does not specifically order it and depends on the initiative of subordinate leaders. While Wilkinson and other officers criticized Wayne for “ignoring his wounded,” why did they not remind him?
Regarding his concern for his sick and wounded soldiers, Wayne took great care of them throughout his tenure as commander. James Ripley Jacobs in his book, The Beginnings of the U.S. Army: 1783-1812, describes Wayne’s policies succinctly. He gave his surgeon general great latitude in ordering medical supplies and inoculating his soldiers for smallpox. Each company must provide one soldier as a “hospital steward,” the equivalent of today’s medic, for assisting the surgeons. He further ordered the hiring of “industrious humane and honest matrons” for serving as nurses.
After the battle Wayne correctly focused on engaging his enemies, and gathering intelligence on their capabilities. After his scouts returned Wayne left his wounded and surgeons with a guard force and advanced toward the British fort. He halted his force within one mile of the fort and in full view of the British garrison. The Legion constructed its fortified camp and settled in for the night, leaving a confrontation with the British for the next day.
During the night an American soldier, John Johnson, deserted and joined the British inside Fort Miamis. Johnson served with the Loyalist Queen’s Rangers during the Revolution and provided Campbell an accurate account of Wayne’s force and his intentions. He further revealed that half of Wayne’s force consisted of militia, due for discharge on October 10th.
Ironically a British drummer, John Bevan of the 24th Regiment, deserted the British and slipped into the American camp. He likewise gave Wayne an accurate report of the British forces inside the fort, and the treachery of the previously mentioned Newman. Bevan further confirmed that a company of British-armed Canadians fought alongside the Indians, an act of war. He told Wayne that the Indian army opposing him numbered “about two thousand men,” including the Canadians.
All day on August 21st the Legion rested and prepared for battle, with the men anxiously anticipating storming the fort. Wayne sent out Price’s battalion for scouting beyond Fort Miamis and searching for sign of the Indians. With the Indians gone Wayne took a small mounted party forward, including his aide, Harrison, and boldly rode toward the fort. Harrison stated that they rode within “pistol shot,” meaning a short distance, of the fort and studied the fort for thirty minutes.
An unnamed British officer stated that an impetuous young officer almost fired a loaded cannon on the Americans. His comrades stopped him and prevented this action, possibly saving Wayne’s life and definitely preventing war between the US and England.
The gates of Fort Miamis opened and a British officer appeared with a small detachment bearing a white flag of truce. He presented Wayne with a letter from Campbell inquiring of Wayne’s intentions regarding “His Majesty’s” fort. Wayne sent a rebuttal stating the Campbell illegally occupied the fort and demanded his withdrawal.
Wayne immediately sent for two days rations from Fort Deposit and developed his plans. He regarded Fort Miamis too strong for attack, particularly since he lacked heavy artillery for battering the walls. Furthermore, his army lacked the provisions necessary for a prolonged siege and the Indian army still remained at large. Wayne made several attempts at provoking a British attack, even riding within range himself again, but with no attack.
Meanwhile Wayne further demonstrated the impotence of the British at protecting the Indians by destroying their camp. With his troops running low on rations they confiscated all the food stored in the camp. They further destroyed those crops growing in the fields as well as all the buildings. This ensured a hard winter for the Indians remaining hostile, and a drain on British sources of supplies. They continued this destruction for the next two days without any interference from either the British or the demoralized Indians.
On August 23rd Wayne formally congratulated his Legion for “brilliant success in the Action of the 20th Instant.” Incapable of taking the British fort, Wayne and his Legion headed back for Fort Deposit and their provisions and baggage. On the return Wayne deployed his army in line for sweeping the previous battlefield, searching for any lost or abandoned equipment. No mention of searching for the missing wounded, but such a sweep surely found them.
As his army moved toward Fort Deposit Wayne and his men remained concerned about the still-absent Indian army. While the Battle of Fallen Timbers proved a milestone in American history, at the time most believed it merely a skirmish. The entire battle lasted less than two hours by most historical estimates with only about half of the Legion participating. The soldiers only found between thirty and forty dead enemies on the battlefield, hardly significant given the overall number of warriors. However, no records exist regarding those wounded evacuated by the Indians who later died from those wounds.
To be continued
While Congress heard this testimony, Washington focused on the future regarding both the Army, relations with the Indians and foreign policy. Rebuilding the shattered army became his first priority, for without an army the nation remained defenseless. He sought, and Congress approved, a doubling of active duty strength, now set at 5,000. It initially contained five infantry regiments, one battalion of light dragoons (cavalry), one battalion of artillery and such medical and other forces as needed. Congress established through the Militia Act of 1792 federal authority over the organization and training of the state militias. It seems that throughout our nation’s history only military disasters force our leaders into providing adequate military forces.
First Washington must select a commander, a man capable of restoring confidence in the demoralized soldiers and recruiting new soldiers. He must further select a man capable of enforcing discipline and training standards on both officers and men, regulars and militia. This commander must further understand the complications of the Quartermaster Department and the logistical problems of frontier campaigns.
Washington looked at a list of sixteen generals from the American Revolution and consulted his Cabinet on the selection. Of the sixteen only three emerged as not too old, too ill of health or some other disqualification. His selection must also possess substantial military fame for passing the approval of Congress and stimulating recruitment. As a last choice, former Major General Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania, became Washington’s new commander.
Wayne won the nickname of “Mad Anthony” for his exploits during the Revolution where he earned the reputation as an aggressive leader. He began his military career as the colonel of the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion on January 3, 1776. Wayne took his command as reinforcement for the failing Canadian invasion where he proved his competence as a leader. In February, 1777 he received a promotion as brigadier general and served under Washington in some of the most famous battles of the war. At Valley Forge he earned a reputation at looking after the health of his troops and providing for their needs. He finished the war in the South under Major General Nathaniel Greene, including war against the British-allied Creek Indians.
Like so many famous generals, Wayne failed at much of his endeavors in civilian life, including a brief political career. His “fondness for the ladies” caused an estrangement from his wife and children, leaving him a lonely man. In truth, he needed the Army as much as it needed him and he eagerly accepted a commission as major general. He accepted with certain conditions, that he receive orders only from the President and Secretary of War. No congressional interference, no instructions from governors and no civilian delegations for undermining his authority.
Wayne soon found that he possessed no army except for the survivors of St. Clair’s debacle at faraway Fort Washington. Although Congress authorized four brigadier generals only three from a long list accepted: Wilkinson, on the frontier; Rufus Putnam of Massachusetts and Thomas Posey of Virginia. The situation grew worse when filling the ranks of subordinate officers because so many died under St. Clair. Further complications arose as these officers bickered over seniority, resigned over “insults” and even fought duels.
Recruiting from the mostly “civilized” East, the tales of Indian atrocities discouraged many from leaving their comfortable lifestyles. Nevertheless, officers spread out across the country offering a bounty of eight dollars for a three-year enlistment. These officers mostly recruited from their home states, where they enjoyed some reputation among the residents. Most companies unofficially became named after the commander and the state, instead of military designations. Despite the best efforts, many of these recruits came from the “lowest levels of society,” including criminals.
As these officers struggled at filling the ranks, Wayne remained in Philadelphia for preparing for his campaign. He gathered intelligence from surviving officers of St. Clair’s campaign and anyone else familiar with the frontier. Wayne further conducted extensive preparations regarding his quartermaster needs, appointing a competent former Continental Army officer, Colonel James O’Hara, as quartermaster general.
Wayne initially established his headquarters at newly constructed Fort Fayette, near Pittsburgh, finding only one company present for duty. From this poor beginning, troops gradually filtered in and Wayne began the arduous task of organizing and training his force. Once again, arms and equipment proved of poor quality, mostly leftovers from the Revolution. The uniforms and other clothing of the soldiers proved such poor quality that most civilians felt sorry for them.
The “dens of iniquity” of Pittsburgh proved a “training distraction” and a source of the Army’s many disciplinary problems. In November, 1792 Wayne moved his growing army down the Ohio River about twenty-five miles near the old Shawnee village of Logstown. Named Legionville after his army, now called “The Legion of the United States,” the soldiers first constructed winter quarters. Then Wayne focused on disciplining and training his force under a strenuous program that transformed it into a professional force. A man ahead of his time, Wayne developed some of the first “combined arms training” of the Army. He maneuvered all the elements, infantry, cavalry and artillery in joint maneuvers, including “mock battles” with blank cartridges.
Wayne further increased the marksmanship training of his men, including competition between the musket-armed infantry and the riflemen. He tried “modifying” the old French Charleville muskets and increasing their rate of fire, unfortunately the War Department disapproved. Then as now, bureaucratic “red tape” often hinders the commanders in the field.
The enforced standards of discipline and training did not create affection between the commander and his soldiers. Punishments fluctuated between execution, flogging and dishonorable discharge through as little as a verbal reprimand and public humiliation. Officers and men often called him “Old Tony,” “Old Horse” and “Mars” behind his back. Even worse, his second-in-command conspired against him and sowed dissension among the officers.
Wilkinson, far removed from the watchful eye of Wayne, wanted the supreme command for himself. Exercising an autonomous command at Fort Washington, Wilkinson, disregarded orders, communicated directly with Knox and criticized Wayne when possible. Because of Wilkinson’s efforts, the officers of the Legion formed into two hostile camps: those who supported Wayne and those for Wilkinson. Furthermore, by this time Wilkinson secretly served as an agent for Spain, receiving thousands of dollars in payment.
Wayne did not waste time while he awaited the arrival of more troops and provisions, he developed an ambitious plan. The US might lack an army, however it possessed a vast network of spies in both British and Spanish territory. Based on intelligence received, Wayne firmly believed that the US must eventually fight both England and Spain. At the time England proved the most significant threat, particularly for Wayne’s home state of Pennsylvania. He initially planned a two-pronged attack, not only against the Miami Confederacy, but forcing England’s hand regarding the illegally held American forts.
Wayne planned on leading the first wing, moving north from Legionville toward Presque Isle on Lake Erie, where the British held Fort Erie. This force operating on Lake Erie threatened not only the British forts, but also the arms and supplies for the Indians. Ascending the Maumee River, Wayne’s force threatened the hostile Indian villages from the rear, forcing them into dividing their forces.
Washington overruled this route for several reasons, and detailed them for Wayne in a long letter. If Wayne advanced, it threatened the neutrality of the Iroquois League, which might attack the Legion. Furthermore, the British possessed more naval vessels on Lake Erie than the entire US Navy. While the British may withdraw from Fort Erie without a fight, they might also reinforce from the other forts. The US still remained unprepared for another war with England, particularly if provoked by an American advance.
Wayne must rely on the plan for his proposed second wing, moving up the same road as St. Clair. Originally planned as under the command of Wilkinson, this plan called for an attack on Kekionga. He further planned on threatening Detroit, the main source of arms and provisions for the Indians.
History records the results of Wayne’s expedition; however an interesting “what if” scenario surfaces regarding the success of the original plan. Biographer and descendant of General Posey, John T. Posey, calls Wayne the “Patton of his day.” History records the many problems encountered by General George S. Patton that proved beyond his control. Of importance for this discussion, the supply problems that slowed Patton’s advance across Europe in 1944. Wayne’s quartermaster department already strained under the requirements before the Legion advanced into the field. Supplying two forces on the frontier might prove beyond the capabilities of the War Department, and hinder both operations.
Then we must address the leadership skills of the duplicitous Wilkinson, already on the Spanish payroll. In fairness, he achieved a good combat record during the Revolution, despite his dabbling in intrigue. Wilkinson did lead a small, though successful, raid deep into enemy territory, enhancing his reputation in Kentucky. He further performed a great service in holding together the remnants of St. Clair’s army. However, he performed these tasks for his personal aggrandizement, and he disliked serving as a subordinate. Did he possess the qualities for leading an expedition of this size and focusing on victory without considering his personal interests?
While the Americans rebuilt their army the Indians missed their best opportunity for turning back the tide of settlement. Following Little Turtle’s victory a council of several tribes broke up without making any decision regarding future operations. The same bad weather that hampered St. Clair’s advance also hampered the fall harvest for most of the tribes. Furthermore, they suffered from the destruction of homes and crops by the two Kentucky militia expeditions.
The Miami abandoned their villages and moved around the various British trading posts, making them more dependent. Tribes from the upper Great Lakes region returned home for the winter and promised further aid in the spring. The Wabash and Illinois tribes signed peace treaties with the Americans, taking most of their warriors out of the fight. Of further importance, the still-powerful Iroquois remained neutral, with some supporting the Americans, jealous of the Miami power.
Likewise England and Spain squandered their best opportunity for seizing the pieces of America they desired. Delayed communication with their capitals in Europe prevented any decisive action, particularly regarding overt military action. Spain, in particular, possessed too few troops for invading American territory without significant support from American traitors. Until orders arrived from Europe, officials of both countries in America continued arming and inciting the Indians.
Both nations still focused their priorities on the closer problems with conditions in France, which resulted in war in 1793. In a true lesson of Realpolitik, England and Spain, enemies since the days of the Spanish Armada, became allies. This quelled some of the previous intrigue from British agents promising support for westerners if they attacked New Orleans. These agents now focused on stirring up the Indians against the western settlements, and the threat of Wayne’s force.
For its part Spain felt relieved at the removal of the British threat on Louisiana. With Wayne’s Legion concentrated against the Miami Confederacy, they saw an opportunity for enforcing their claims on American territory. Fortunately for us, the authority from Madrid came too late and with too few reinforcements, given the needs of concentrating on France. They strengthened their hold on their posts near modern Vicksburg, Mississippi and Demopolis, Alabama and negotiated new treaties with their Indian allies. Spanish troops also established a small post near modern Memphis, Tennessee in mid-1794. From here they tried wooing the Chickasaw from the Americans, and did cause a split in the tribe.
Unfortunately the European conflict affected the US when Edmond Charles Genet arrived in April, 1793 as the French ambassador. Arriving in Charleston, South Carolina “Citizen” Genet began licensing American privateers for raiding British ships. He further authorized funding for two American expeditions into Spanish territory, little known in history today.
Revolutionary War hero, George Rogers Clark, organized one of these expeditions from his home near Louisville, Kentucky. He boasted of fielding 5,000 men for his “Expeditionary Legion of Mississippi,” although no one saw near that number. However, few doubted the charisma of Clark if he called for volunteers for capturing New Orleans. Even lesser known, another Revolutionary War veteran, Elijah Clarke (no relation), organized a small force in Georgia for seizing Florida.
As Genet journeyed toward Philadelphia most Americans greeted him as a hero, holding banquets in his honor. Pro-French “democratic societies” organized in most American cities, including Lexington, Kentucky in support of “French ideals.” Other pro-British Americans regarded him with contempt and the partisan divide among Americans caused several riots. Washington demanded that France recall him for breaching the stated American neutrality and a change in France’s government negated his authority.
Washington correctly decided that America’s political, economic and military weaknesses must confront only one problem at a time. Besides, the US lacked a navy for defending its home waters against the superior British Royal Navy. Most of America’s seaports also lacked harbor fortifications for defending against a seaborne invasion.
While the Genet Affair dominated the East, Wayne moved his Legion from Legionville and joined Wilkinson’s contingent. With campsites in short supply, Wayne selected the best available site and called it “Hobson’s Choice.” Here his men constructed their camp and continued training for combat while he awaited the arrival of adequate supplies. He also awaited orders from Knox for beginning the campaign, since Washington sent a peace commission among the Miami.
The Legion’s quartermaster department earned their money as Wayne proved a demanding taskmaster. He sent his agents throughout Kentucky for obtaining supplies, particularly rations and packhorses, from local sources. O’Hara spent much of his time traveling between Fort Washington and Fort Fayette, an almost 500 mile one-way trip by boat. A detachment widened the road previously cut by St. Clair for transporting supplies. Wayne further stockpiled these supplies in the advanced forts before moving his main army against the Indians.
Something deeply disturbed Wayne while he accomplished his preparations; the fear his men held of the Indians. Despite the harsh discipline and the tough standards of training in most skirmishes the soldiers ran from the fight. Most of these skirmishes occurred when small detachments guarded supply convoys and fell into ambush. Granted the veterans of Indian warfare told tales of the brutality of this fighting, particularly the survivors of St. Clair’s disaster. Wayne must find some way of breaking this fear his men felt of the Indians if he hoped for a victory.
These Indians assembled during the spring of 1793, anticipating an advance by Wayne when he appeared at Fort Washington. They arrived from all over the “Old Northwest,” including the upper reaches of the Great Lakes. As they wrought havoc on frontier settlements and the advanced military posts, they encountered problems. This massive influx of “visitors” required food, shelter and other provisions beyond the capabilities of the Miami “hosts.”
Raiding the American supply convoys did not adequately meet their needs, and soon diminished the amount of food available among the Miami villages. It further taxed the British Indian Department which must now supply these needs from faraway Quebec. Many “visitors” grew discouraged and departed early, without damaging Wayne’s supply system as significantly as possible. Wayne continued stockpiling his supplies as he continued waiting on word of the “peace commissions.”
The aforementioned peace commissions departed Philadelphia in June, 1792, with little chance of success. Knowing only victory against the Americans, most of the Indians saw no reason for peace, particularly given British support. Colonel John Hardin and Major Alexander Trueman departed Fort Washington and headed north toward the Miami villages. At first they found friendship from a group of Indians, who offered themselves as guides. These Indians later murdered the two commissioners as they slept and robbed them.
One commission did yield success, the previously mentioned treaty with the Wabash tribes conducted at Vincennes. Led by General Putnam this commission found a significant chance of success through the interpreter William Wells; the adopted son of Little Turtle. Captured by the Miami at age thirteen, he lived among them for nine years, sometimes described as “more Indian than the Indians.” He fought with the Miami in both the Harmar and St. Clair expeditions, serving with distinction in the latter. By chance he arrived at Vincennes in June, 1792 as an interpreter for several Wea chiefs at the peace conference. Here Wells met his white brother, and he subsequently visited his white family in Kentucky. He soon found himself earning a significant living acting as an interpreter and Indian expert for the US government. When Wayne arrived at Fort Washington he commissioned Wells a captain in command of a company of scouts.
While Wayne awaited orders for beginning the campaign he used Wells for gathering intelligence on the Miami. Wells selected for his company men like himself, those captured by the Indians and who lived with them. These scouts proved invaluable when the Legion advanced into the wilderness, and into the unknown.
A third peace commission, wisely using the protection of the British, survived their adventure, but achieved no success. They communicated their failure by sending Washington a message from the protection of British occupied Fort Erie, Pennsylvania. Wayne received permission for beginning his campaign on September 11, 1793, too late in the season for an offensive. However, he moved his force as far forward as possible, reaching the most advanced post, Fort Jefferson, on October 13th. Constructed during St. Clair’s campaign, Fort Jefferson sat about sixty-five miles north of Fort Washington.
During this march the Indians scouted Wayne’s column looking for an opportunity of attacking him. However, Wayne kept out significant security detachments for preventing ambush and always fortified his overnight bivouacs. Alan D. Gaff in his book, Bayonets in the Wilderness, describes Wayne’s fortifications as modifications of Julius Caesar’s field camp, called castra aestiva. Wayne, an avid student of military science since his youth, undoubtedly knew of the Roman camps. A quadrangle-shaped structure made of wood with bastions on each corner for artillery, constructing it required about one hour. The Indians subsequently gave Wayne the name “Blacksnake” believing he certainly possessed the cunning of a snake.
Wayne advanced the Legion six more miles and then constructed Fort Greenville (modern Greenville, Ohio) for winter quarters. Behind him his supply line proved tenuous at best, with Indians raiding his supply convoys. As winter weather approached he found his contractors incapable of providing the promised amount of rations. Wayne berated them for this situation and kept sending them back for finding the rations.
Significantly, recruiting efforts did not achieve the 5,000 men authorized and desertions reduced this number even more. Besides, Wayne must provide garrisons for a series of small posts from Vincennes, Indiana through Fort Franklin (modern Franklin), Pennsylvania. With the Spanish incursion into Tennessee and the continuing threat of Clark, he must establish a post at Fort Massac. Situated near modern Metropolis, Illinois it hopefully defused this problem, although it strained Wayne’s resources. He further detached about 250 men for duty in Georgia for deterring Spain, the Creek Indians and the Clarke expedition. Furthermore, in those days more soldiers suffered from disease and sickness than battle wounds, which significantly reduced Wayne’s numbers. With all the detachments and other exemptions from duty, Wayne made winter camp with about 3,000 regulars.
Wayne already received permission from Knox for mobilizing Kentucky militia; however he hesitated at calling them. Past experience showed them unreliable, undisciplined and performed their best at consuming military supplies. Militia officers proved reluctant at serving under regular officers of equal rank, despite the more experience of the regulars. Regular officers refused any subordination under militia officers, regarding any state-appointed commissions as inferior against US Army commissions.
Unfortunately Wayne realized in the summer, before his Legion marched, that he must call for the militia. Many of Wayne’s veterans, those who survived St. Clair’s campaign and who received the best training, anticipated the end of their enlistments the next year. Despite promises from Knox, Wayne did not expect any more recruits before he launched his campaign.
Fortunately Wayne possessed an old comrade in the Kentucky militia, newly promoted Major General Charles Scott. Scott achieved fame among Kentuckians for his previously mentioned successful raid on the Wabash Indians. Originally from Virginia his military career began during the French and Indian War, although too young for service. During the Revolution he raised a company of Continentals, achieving the rank of colonel in 1776 and brigadier general the next year. Furthermore he and Wayne served together during the Revolution and developed that bond of brotherhood experienced among wartime comrades.
Scott left Virginia for Kentucky after the war and settled on his veteran’s grant in Woodford County. He lost two sons fighting Indians and vowed vengeance for their death “in any way that presented itself.” When Wayne called for the Kentucky militia Scott eagerly joined his old comrade and began raising volunteers. Acting on Scott’s advice, Wayne accepted all of Scott’s volunteers in the federal service, under US Army standards of discipline.
Although a popular figure, Scott found that his fellow Kentuckians did not share his enthusiasm for an Indian campaign. Most of them remembered the failed campaigns of Harmar and St. Clair, especially the casualties of St. Clair’s defeat. No state suffered more from Indian raids than Kentucky and most men felt a stronger need for defending their families. Therefore, when Wayne issued the orders beginning the campaign, the number of Kentuckians fell short.
With Kentucky volunteers dribbling in, Wayne left Scott orders for joining him with those assembled by October 1st. However, reports that he received on the march forced a change of orders, delaying the rendezvous until October 15th. Even this order stated that Scott leave behind at Fort Washington “enough officers to muster and bring forward these militia levies.” The main body of Kentuckians, 1,000 strong, did not reach Wayne until October 24th, too late for an active campaign.
While the troops constructed Fort Greenville, many of Wayne’s officers chafed for action, both regular and militia. Wayne authorized a raid of a combined force of regulars and militia of fewer than 150 men against the main Indian camp. Called Grand Glaize this large camp sat near modern Defiance, Ohio where the Auglaize River joins the Maumee River. Major William McMahon commanded this small force as it advanced undetected toward the Indians. Scouts found several trails leading toward the camp, indicating a far superior force of Indians. Wisely, McMahon aborted his mission, returned without suffering a casualty and provided some valuable intelligence.
The Kentucky governor, Isaac Shelby, sent Wayne a letter suggesting that he use the mounted Kentuckians on a “desultory raid against the Indians.” Wayne called a “council of war” of his senior officers, all of whom called this raid “too hazardous.” With colder weather the health of both men and animals grew worse, lessening the odds of success. The Kentuckians launched an insignificant raid, which accomplished little, except further harm the health of men and mounts. Thus ended the campaign of 1793, with the Legion camped for the winter deep in enemy country.
On November 9th, Scott took his men home until the following spring for easing Wayne’s supply problems. The Legion’s dragoons also wintered in Kentucky for the same reason, and for acquiring fresh horses. At Fort Greenville Wayne berated his quartermaster department for not providing the rations and supplies that his command desperately needed.
Unfortunately Wayne suffered from more problems than supplies; idle soldiers often create disciplinary problems. The Wayne-Wilkinson rift in the officer corps widened creating dissensions, courts-martial and resignations. Other officers requested furloughs and transfers for personal reasons, creating more vacancies in the Legion’s leadership. General Putnam resigned after the successful Wabash treaty in 1792 for reasons of ill health. In February, 1794 General Posey resigned, citing family reasons, leaving the Legion with only one brigadier general, Wilkinson.
Other officers “leaked” information by sending newspapers anonymous letters criticizing both Wayne and the Legion. Unfortunately, then as now, “journalists” did little for verifying this information and many of these letters proved false and misleading. Wayne made an enemy of Cincinnati’s first newspaper, the Centinel of the North-Western Territory, which eagerly published negative reports of him. Fortunately for Wayne officers that sided with him published rebuttals and the desperate situation made his replacement unlikely.
With so much dissension among the officers, the enlisted men followed their example, although they lacked the ingenuity. Even in the dead of winter men deserted, with many of those successfully eluding pursuit dying of exposure. A ten-dollar bounty offered civilians for the capture of deserters, dead or alive, did prove somewhat of deterrence. Courts-martial increased, as did the punishments meted out, requiring substantial time of the officers involved.
One accomplishment during the winter, Wayne’s troops occupied the St. Clair battlefield on Christmas Eve of 1793. Under the command of Major Henry Burbeck, the Legion’s artillery commander, about 300 troops marched north and built Fort Recovery. Establishing adequate security measures, Burbeck organized the troops for constructing the fort. A quadrangle-shaped fort, it possessed four blockhouses, each of them twenty feet square, one on each corner. Their size allowed for the firing of howitzers from embrasures on three sides and rifle ports for enfilading fire. Once they completed the blockhouses the troops connected them with a palisade of upright timber.
Burbeck detailed several men for the grisly task of properly burying the skeletons of those killed during the battle. The soldiers also recovered hundreds of muskets left on the field by the Indians, most of them beyond service. These men also searched for the eight artillery pieces abandoned by St. Clair, hidden by the Indians. Captain Wells provided intelligence regarding the hiding places and found most of them, placing them inside the fort.
The US Constitution proved a remarkably forward-thinking document for its day, encoding individual liberties. Many historians state that the delegates used the ancient Roman republic and Greek democracy for their examples. While evidence of this exists, I believe they relied on their established roots with the Magna Carta and English common law. Some erroneously claim that the Constitution limits the rights of the individual; in fact it limits the power of government.
Most of the Founding Fathers believed government little more than a “necessary evil,” and that they must control its power. Any time that a government passes a law it restricts the liberty of the individual, no matter how just the law. As stated previously, in the world of the Founding Fathers they witnessed the “tyranny” of “despotic monarchs” in Europe. They wanted none of this for America and developed “federalism” for establishing the powers of federal, state and local governments.
Ironically today, most Americans seemingly want government interference in their lives, as long as they receive entitlements. Americans of the 18th Century jealously guarded their individual liberties, while many Americans today comfortably become wards of the state. Increasingly today the federal government usurps the power the Constitution reserved for the states and the people. I believe the broad powers assumed by government today go well beyond the intent of the Founding Fathers.
The federal government assumed the responsibility for “providing the common defense,” however little changed for our Armed Forces. Thus continued a congressional tradition of inadequately fielding, arming and supplying military forces for defending our country, which continues today.
While the federal government assumed responsibility for recruiting they still assigned quotas for the states. This prevented one state from achieving too much power and enforcing its will on the others. The fear of a “standing army” still overruled any foreign or domestic threat, and the strength of the First US Regiment remained 700. Little changed with the previously described mismanaged administration of the Army, and soldiers still suffered. The Department of Navy did not exist and the few naval vessels did not adequately defend our national interests.
Internationally, most of the European monarchs viewed America’s “republican ideals” as a threat, particularly in their colonial empires. Defeating these ideals meant that they must work against the new nation at every opportunity. Little foreign investment occurred because of this and the continuing political and economic chaos in the US. England and Spain still encroached on American territory and instigated Indians tribes against the western settlers. France, angry over the unreliability of America as an ally, proved as disruptive as England and Spain.
American authority expanded no further than its diminutive military power, and the westerners began looking elsewhere. British and Spanish agents circulated in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, fomenting the secessionist sentiment among the settlers. Both promised an end of the Indian raids and economic benefits from declaring themselves “subjects” of their respective kings. The American settlers, seeing no relief from an impotent federal government, drifted dangerously toward seceding from the new Union.
Achieving peace on the frontier required negotiations with the various Indian tribes that lived in the region. Unfortunately overcoming the hatred from decades of brutal warfare between the settlers and the Indians proved difficult. Each viewed the other as “barbarians,” and neither understood the others’ cultural differences. American negotiators deceitfully found willing “chiefs,” got them drunk and obtained their “marks” on treaties. Equally deceitful, the Indians sold the Americans the land of tribal enemies for inciting warfare. Under the loose tribal political structure, individual Indians did not feel themselves bound by the word of a “chief.” Many settlers on the frontier likewise did not feel themselves bound by the treaties signed by federal government officials.
Again, the Indians did not feel themselves bound by any agreement between the Americans and British. Something that British officials exploited for keeping the various tribes under their influence and hostile toward the Americans. British agents dominated the trade with the tribes and provided arms and ammunition for raiding the American settlements. The Americans lacked the military power for impressing the Indians, defending the settlers and ending the British influence.
Governor Arthur St. Clair of the new Northwest Territory (all US territory west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River) negotiated a treaty with the Indians in January 9, 1789. Of doubtful legality, a council of about two hundred Indians, only four of them principal chiefs, signed over most of the present state of Ohio. Most of the other Indians repudiated the treaty and vowed continued warfare against the “Kentucky people.”
If possible, the level and brutality of warfare increased as a confederation of Indian tribes formed under the Miami chief, Michikinakwa, Little Turtle in English. The son of a chief, Little Turtle fought as a British ally during the American Revolution. He earned his position as war chief by defeating an expedition under the French adventurer, Agustin de la Balme. Little Turtle led the attack on de la Balme, killing him and thirty others, establishing his reputation as a war leader. He then led attacks on Kentucky settlers throughout the subsequent time, enhancing his reputation among the Indian tribes. Little Turtle wanted the Ohio River as the boundary between the Indians and the US. He evolved as one of the most charismatic leaders of the tribes of this region, eclipsed only by Tecumseh.
The new federal government must demonstrate its power, for maintaining its survival in a harsh world. In 1790 the Congress authorized military action by President Washington against the Miami Confederacy. Unfortunately the campaign proved a failure for a number of reasons, mostly a lack of preparedness.
The American frontier of this period proved as difficult for military operations as any foreign operation today. Support troops did not exist, therefore civilian contractors ran the Army’s transportation and supply systems. Many of these contractors proved incapable of their responsibilities, incompetent and several proved corrupt. Since they owned the animals and wagons they often balked at taking them on campaigns, fearing the loss of property. Military officers possessed no authority for forcing the participation of the contractors or confiscating their property on these campaigns.
Congress authorized the mobilization of several hundred militiamen for augmenting the small force of regulars. Unfortunately for economic reasons the Congress only mobilized them for a short term, which did not allow for sufficient training. When the militia arrived, the quota did not contain the experienced “frontiersmen” of the frontier legend. Most of them arrived as unarmed substitutes unfamiliar with both military operations and living in the forests. Furthermore, most of them refused any form of discipline and proved ineffective during the campaign.
Supplies arrived in the standard too little, too late scenario so familiar with frontier operations. A mediocre officer, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, commanded the First US Regiment mostly through political influence. He received a brevet (temporary and without increased pay) promotion as a brigadier general, making him the commander of the expedition. From his base at Fort Washington, near Cincinnati, Ohio, Harmar developed an ambitious two-pronged attack. Harmar planned on leading the main effort himself, striking north from Fort Washington.
The second wing proved even more difficult, launched from far away Fort Knox, near modern Vincennes, Indiana. Troops and supplies for this effort must first descend the Ohio River and then ascend the Wabash River. This consumed too much time and resources, hindering the effectiveness of this operation from the beginning. Nevertheless, Major John Hamtramck marched from there with 50 regulars and about 300 Kentucky militiamen on September 30, 1790.
Harmar marched on the same day with about 320 regulars and about 1,100 militiamen from Kentucky and Pennsylvania. This army blundered north, losing horses and equipment as it went, hardly resembling an organized military campaign. An unknown number of deserters, mostly militia, reduced the number of combatants that actually reached the objective.
Hamtramck’s wing fared even worse, beginning the campaign on half-rations and reaching their first objective on October 10th. Although they found only an empty village, with no live Indians, the militia threatened a mutiny. Facing this mutiny, further reduced rations and an estimated hostile force of 750 Indians, Hamtramck turned back.
Harmar reached the main Indian camp at Kekionga, near modern Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 14th, the same day Hamtramck withdrew. The next day Harmar divided his command into three wings and attacked the village, falling immediately into an ambush. Almost immediately the surprised militia bolted for the rear, leaving the outnumbered regulars vulnerable and confused.
The first battle of the “United States Army” ended in defeat as a numerically inferior force ambushed them. This ambushed force consisted of about 30 regulars and 180 militiamen, opposed by an estimated 130 Indians. Only nine militiamen stood with the regulars, and almost all of them died, along with twenty-two regulars. This defeat demoralized the remaining militia, many of whom threatened mutiny if Harmar continued the campaign. It further fostered a deep resentment of the regulars for the militia, a resentment that endured for years thereafter.
Restoring some semblance of order, Harmar broke camp and continued the campaign on October 20th. The Army destroyed five largely unoccupied Indian villages, burning huts, crops and any other possessions found. These “easy victories” restored some of the militia’s confidence and Harmar saw hopes of success. He hoped that this destruction of these Indian towns “would break up the Indians’ base of operations.” However, it seemingly caused the opposite effect as the Indians laid another ambush.
On October 21st Harmar planned another complicated maneuver, again beyond the capabilities of his mostly militia troops. Harmar learned that about 120 warriors reoccupied the ruined village of Kekionga and threatened his rear as he withdrew. One of the militia officers, Colonel John Hardin, smarting from the poor performance of his troops, suggested this attack. Hardin, a veteran of the Revolution and Indian warfare in Kentucky, hoped for reestablishing his reputation as an “Indian fighter.”
Unfortunately Indian scouts watched the entire movement of the 400 American troops as they advanced. At the initiation of the ambush most of the militia fled once again, leaving the sixty regulars alone. Almost all of them died, including their commander, Major John Wyllys, with their bodies abandoned. One militia officer, Major John Fontaine, ordered a charge and spurred his horse into the Indians, firing his pistols. When he turned, he found only one of his men, Private George Adams, followed him. Adams escaped with five wounds, while no one saw the seriously wounded Fontaine again.
With his troops’ morale rapidly deteriorating, and the October weather turning colder, Harmar began his withdrawal on October 23rd. At one point during the withdrawal Harmar used a show of force from his regulars for quelling a militia mutiny. The dispirited command arrived at Fort Washington November 3rd and Harmar amazingly declared “victory.”
However, the facts belied that news, including scathing reports from several of Harmar’s subordinate officers. The results of the expedition forced Harmar’s resignation from the Army, although a court of inquiry subsequently cleared him of misconduct. Little Turtle emerged as a charismatic leader of the region’s Indian tribes and the frontier warfare increased. The Indians became more dependent on the British for supplies, who offered them food and shelter at Detroit.
The new American government appeared weak and the American military seemed incapable of defending the nation. Dissatisfied with their neglect by the Congress, including not receiving pay for most of 1790, veteran soldiers left when their enlistments expired. Besides, they experienced a high casualty rate, mostly because militia units deserted them, and sought the comforts of civilian life.
With Harmar gone Washington must appoint a new commander for the Army, someone with more experience. He commissioned Governor St. Clair a major general and gave him command of the Army. St. Clair arrived in Philadelphia on November 8th, and seemingly courted this appointment through political influence. He possessed vast military experience, beginning as a British officer during the Seven Years War in 1757. St. Clair served on the Louisburg and Quebec campaigns with the 60th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Americans. Remaining in America following this war he joined the Continental Army and ended the war as a major general. However, his war record remains somewhat controversial marked by his abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga without a fight in 1777.
Unfortunately by the time of the current crisis St. Clair suffered from advancing age, gout and obesity. If he possessed any drive as a younger officer, it eroded as he grew older. However, he wanted the job when no one else seemingly wanted it, which meant something. Washington appointed him, the Senate approved him and St. Clair accepted the command in March, 1791.
Congress, which bore much of the blame for the failed expedition, made only superficial changes. First it doubled the size of the Army adding the Second United States Regiment in April, 1791. However, in an economic move, Congress reduced the already low pay of soldiers and deducted clothing and rations from this amount. Volunteers proved slow in assembling and veterans left when their enlistments expired, leaving the Army under strength. Again, why serve in the primitive frontier conditions and suffer high casualties for low pay and poor provisions. Besides, a shortage of labor existed in the comfortable eastern cities, and earning high wages did not possess the dangers of Indian warfare.
When the regular regiments embarked upon the next campaign both achieved only about 50% of their authorized strength. A substantial number consisted of recent recruits, lacking in the training and discipline needed. However, they proved the best soldiers on the campaign and stood their ground against hopeless odds.
Congress “addressed” the continuing problem with the civilian-managed Quartermaster Department, which meant that they did little. They did fire some of the most inept and corrupt of the contractors, however the replacements proved little better. For economic reasons Congress obtained the supplies from stocks left over from the Revolution, most of it unserviceable. Transportation proved the biggest obstacle on the frontier meaning that food and other supplies arrived late. The frontier settlements lacked the resources for supplying the needs of the Army, meaning that supplies came from the east.
The circumstances provided England and Spain a golden opportunity for achieving their goals against the US. A delegation of Indians arrived at Detroit and demanded increased British aid in defeating the Americans. Fortunately for the Americans, the Indians addressed a subordinate officer, and no one with the authority for changing policy. This communication reached the British governor of Canada in Quebec two months later, who also lacked the authority.
Winter weather closed communications from Quebec, forcing the delay of communications with London until March, 1791. The governor did not receive a reply until September, 1791, almost one year after Harmar’s campaign. Fortunately both England and Spain focused their priorities on the continuing troubles from the French Revolution. At any rate, both nations still armed and instigated their allied Indian tribes, but hesitated at providing troops.
The various Indian tribes also missed an excellent opportunity because of enduring inter-tribal rivalries. The Miami Confederacy also included Shawnee, Delaware, Pottawatomie, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Ottawa and smaller contingents from other tribes. However, the Iroquois Confederacy, who dominated the region for decades, remained neutral because they resented the growing power of the Miami. South of the Ohio River the Cherokee attacked settlers in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, but few of them allied themselves with the Miami. The Creeks, aided by the Spanish, attacked the frontiers of Georgia and South Carolina. Their rivals, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, sided with the Americans and sent scouts for aiding the Americans.
St. Clair began organizing his expedition, mostly repeating the same mistakes of the previous campaign. Before he departed Philadelphia he received sound advice from President Washington, “beware of surprise.” Events demonstrate that he did not heed these words, or at least did not enforce this advice on his subordinates. He established his headquarters at Fort Washington and awaited both troops and supplies, neither of which he currently possessed.
Congress, once again for economic reasons, augmented the Army with the mobilization of short-term militia. Repeating the mistakes of the Harmar campaign, they did not call for them in time for proper training and discipline. Expecting 3,000 militiamen from several states, enlistments proved unsatisfactory, with initially 2,500 recruited. However, even these numbers proved overly optimistic and they arrived at Fort Washington in small groups throughout the summer. Many did not make it past Pittsburgh and missed the campaign altogether, something they did not regret.
Supplies trickled in, and proved inadequate for the needs of the Army for a long expedition. The contractor, William Duer, and his agent, Israel Ludlow, proved incompetent and more interested in making a profit. They did not purchase adequate rations, nor did they purchase the required horses for transporting the provisions.
The small arms used by the troops arrived with most of them needing immediate repair. Cartridge boxes and other individual equipment arrived from storage at West Point with visible mold. Tools needed for building roads and a line of forts proved entirely too few for the needs of this expedition. Nevertheless, Congress pressured St. Clair into launching his expedition without the necessary supplies and improper training of his force.
While he awaited both men and supplies St. Clair approved two militia raids into Indian territory north of the Ohio River. He hoped that raiding deep into their homelands might demonstrate the vulnerability of their villages and persuade them toward peace. One of these under Brigadier General Charles Scott, a veteran of the Revolution and competent leader, consisted of about 750 mounted Kentuckians. It crossed the Ohio on May 19, 1791 and struck the Wea Indian villages on the Wabash River ten days later. Fortunately for Scott, most of the warriors departed for joining the Miami, leaving mostly women and children in these villages. After burning the villages and destroying the crops, Scott’s men delivered their prisoners into US Army custody at Fort Steuben, across the Ohio from Louisville, Kentucky.
Viewed as an American victory, this raid did force most of the Wabash Indians from the Miami Confederacy. With their homes and provisions destroyed, most of them made peace with the Americans in early 1792. However, most of the remaining hostile Indians viewed this raid on mostly women and children as an outrage.
A second raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson, who participated in the first, departed on August 1st. Wilkinson, briefly mentioned earlier, another veteran of the Revolution, took over 500 mounted Kentuckians again toward the Wabash villages. A vain man, with a dark history of intrigue and deceit, Wilkinson hoped that this raid might enhance his national reputation.
Originally from Maryland, Wilkinson enlisted in the Continental Army where he met Washington, St. Clair, and more importantly Major General Horatio Gates. Gates, a former British officer, believed himself a better commander than Washington and lobbied Congress for the position. Wilkinson served as Gates’ aide for a time and became associated with the “Conway Cabal,” a sinister plot against Washington. Somehow he avoided the scandal and finished the war as a brigadier general.
After the war Wilkinson became involved in the tobacco trade in Kentucky, with commerce down the Mississippi river cut off. He made a trip downriver, bribed some Spanish officials, met some unscrupulous people and became “Agent 13″ for Spain. Wilkinson further became involved in Kentucky politics, making many influential friends and became part of the “Spanish Conspiracy.”
His intrigue and dealings with Spanish officials also brought him some powerful enemies and he sought retribution through military accomplishments. Again, Wilkinson struck villages of mostly women and children, and stirred up a “hornets’ nest.” He burned the village of L’Anguille, the capital of Little Turtle’s Eel River Miami, who vowed a vengeance.
On August 7, 1791 St. Clair moved his untrained and undisciplined army of 2,300 men six miles north, bivouacking at Ludlow’s Station. He hoped that removing the army from the “distractions” of nearby Cincinnati might improve their health and training. It further reduced the number of deserters, many of whom signed on with passing boat crews for higher wages.
Exasperated by still inadequate troops, rations, other supplies and transportation, St. Clair left there on September 17th. Already more than five weeks behind schedule, the army slowly cut its trail north on half-rations. Furthermore, a growing dissension among the senior officers threatened the “good order and discipline” needed for waging a war.
About 200 “camp followers” also hindered the expedition’s progress, and also consumed the meager amount of supplies. This group consisted of mostly soldiers’ families, laundresses and sutlers, the forerunners of today’s Post Exchange (PX) system. It also consisted of an unknown number of “women of ill repute,” who served the soldiers’ “other needs.” These people delayed the march and required protection, which lengthened the column and thinly spread the soldiers.
A detachment of Chickasaw joined St. Clair’s column against their hated enemies, the Miami. Their benefit at providing reconnaissance for St. Clair, and defeating the Miami scouts might prove invaluable. However, St. Clair did not trust them and sent them on a distant scouting mission that ultimately served no purpose.
As St. Clair’s expedition moved north, the weather turned colder and the terrain proved more difficult. This army averaged about five miles of travel per day and the undisciplined men frequently left the column. Stragglers and deserters often became the victims of the Indian scouts who observed the march almost from its beginning. Building the necessary forts required an average of two weeks labor apiece, and the army built two, Forts Hamilton and Jefferson. Performing this intensive labor and the necessary marching severely taxed the men living on half-rations. As the officers bickered, the militia grew more mutinous and the “fighting spirit” of the army declined.
The long line of communication caused further delays as the army must frequently stop and await the arrival of supply convoys. The pack animals suffered from a lack of forage and the civilian packers turned them loose for grazing. Indian scouts stole them at random, which further exacerbated the transportation problem. Subsequently the troops left behind a considerable amount of tents and other baggage, reducing their shelter from the worsening weather.
On October 31st, St. Clair made a fateful mistake that provide a series of “what if” scenarios for military historians. About sixty militiamen deserted the camp, vowing the capture of an enroute supply convoy. With the army severely suffering from hunger and a lack of flour, St. Clair detached his best unit, the First US Regiment, in pursuit. The 300 regulars, under Major Hamtramck, marched away, not for capturing the deserters, but for securing the critical supply convoy. This departure left St. Clair with about 1,500 troops and kept his best troops from the ensuing battle.
At sunset on November 3, 1791 St. Clair made camp on the Wabash River, 97 miles north of Fort Washington. The campsite proved a poorly drained site on low, wet ground and all of it wooded. As the troops cleared the ground for a camp a light snow fell, making the misery worse. Camped in the heart of Indian territory, St. Clair did not take all the proper precautions for guarding against attack. The nervous sentries fired throughout the night at supposed Indians, preventing any rest for the troops.
An advanced guard of Kentucky militia under Captain Jacob Slough ambushed six or seven Indians, killing at least one. The men remained in place and fifteen minutes later a larger force of Indians approached looking for the hidden Americans. Unsuccessful, they continued toward the American camp, followed shortly by a much larger war party.
Shaken by the appearance of so many Indians, Slough and his men stealthily left their positions and reentered the American camp. Slough informed his commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Oldham, who in turn informed Brigadier General Richard Butler. Here the advance warning provided by Slough failed because of the personality conflicts between senior officers. Butler, the expedition’s second-in-command, did not inform St. Clair of the approach of these Indians. He strongly disliked St. Clair and still resented the callous treatment he received from the major general.
As reveille awoke the camp, St. Clair still knew nothing of the danger facing him as hundreds of Indians surrounded him. Butler made no attempt at informing his commander of the presence of the large number of Indians near the camp. Oldham, who also knew of the Indians, just received a verbal reprimand for not sending out morning patrols. Once finished with the “morning parade,” St. Clair dismissed the men for preparing their breakfast. He planned on remaining here until the First US Regiment returned with the much needed supplies. Besides, his command arrived too late and too tired the previous evening for constructing proper fortifications. After breakfast the men must begin work on the fortifications for defending against a possible attack, until the First US Regiment returned. Private Robert Bradshaw, a Kentucky militiaman, stood near a campfire with his comrades when he saw the Indians. He fired his rifle at them and the Indians immediately responded with a volley that killed most of Bradshaw’s comrades.
The Indians immediately launched their attack, firing from all directions on the men preparing their breakfasts. Caught by surprise, most of the militia fired one volley then fled the battlefield, throwing away their weapons. Indians immediately chased them down and tomahawked them killing hundreds of them.
Officers of the Second US Regiment tried forming their men into ranks, but the stampeding militiamen disrupted the formation. They also trampled many of the regular officers, leaving these men confused and largely leaderless. However, the regulars formed ranks and briefly stopped the Indian advance, and even counterattacked three times with bayonets. Unfortunately they proved too few in number and the Indian gunfire decimated their ranks. The artillery further hindered the Indian attack until the Indians killed or wounded most of the gunners.
A major “what if” develops here about the absent First US Regiment doubling the number of regulars on the field. Supposedly the presence of the expedition’s best troops strengthens the counterattack and prevents the ensuing massacre. While possible, I believe it just traps more American troops in the crossfire established by the Indians.
For all of his incompetence, St. Clair emerged from his tent and valiantly tried organizing his demoralized troops. Although suffering from gout he moved among the men, losing two horses from gunfire in the process. Unfortunately most of the soldiers proved beyond motivation by this time and many of them milled around the center of the camp. Some even huddled inside their tents, as if that saved them from the Indians. It did not, and the Indians took advantage of their passivity by killing them in massive numbers. Among the casualties, the mortally wounded General Butler, whose dereliction of duty largely caused this debacle. Colonel Oldham also fell with a mortal wound, perhaps as punishment for his negligence as well.
Fearing the annihilation of his command, St. Clair ordered a breakout attack toward the south end of his encircled camp. This attack almost failed until the attack turned east off the road and surprised the Indians. Most of the survivors ran through the woods with all semblance of military formation gone. Major John Clarke eventually formed a weak rearguard of the remnants of the Second US Regiment and delayed the Indians. The Indians gave up the pursuit after about four miles and sought easier prey among the abandoned wounded.
The Indians then returned and plundered the American camp in celebration of their victory. Here they mutilated the dead, tortured and killed the wounded, witnessed by Stephen Littel from a hiding place. While sources vary, most of them state that fewer than one thousand Indians conducted this surprise attack. The charismatic Little Turtle achieved a previously unknown level of organization and discipline among this loose confederation of warriors.
In a little over three hours the Americans lost almost 600 killed, almost half of the force engaged. Total casualties of soldiers, civilian contractors and female “camp followers” exceeded 900, with most of the wounded abandoned. This remained the worst disaster experienced by American forces throughout the long period of Indian wars, yet remains largely unknown. Proportionately, it remains the worst military disaster suffered by the US Army throughout its history.
The routed army moved much faster in retreat than it advanced, reaching Fort Washington on November 8th. Panic spread along with the news of the disaster, and the demoralized soldiers recounted tales of Indian brutality. The next day St. Clair wrote his report for Secretary of War Henry Knox, detailing the extent of the losses. Desertion occurred at a phenomenal rate and troops eagerly sought discharges when their enlistments expired. Many officers, disgusted with the conduct of the campaign, resigned their commissions, leaving the remaining troops mostly leaderless.
On the frontier the savagery of Indian warfare increased, with many frontier families returning east of the Appalachian Mountains. Allegiance with either England or Spain looked more favorable for many of the western settlers given the defeat of American arms. The self-serving James Wilkinson, now a US Army brigadier general, assumed command of the troops at Fort Washington. He did perform a valuable service at restoring the combat readiness of the troops remaining on the frontier Wilkinson kept the forts built by St. Clair open and built another midway between the existing two, Fort St. Clair. He also took an expedition and hastily buried most of the dead on St. Clair’s battlefield.
In Philadelphia this disaster caused the first congressional investigation in history and required the testimony of several survivors. The heated committee hearings proved more than incompetence by St. Clair, who demanded a court of inquiry. Although exonerated of all charges, the scandal forced St. Clair from the Army, resigning his commission as a major general. He once again became the governor of Northwest Territory, a position where he proved more competent.
Besides investigating St. Clair, the hearings revealed deeper problems throughout the entire War Department and the negligence of Congress regarding military matters. Much of the focus proved the inadequacy of short-term militia enlistments and their refusal of accepting military discipline. The Quartermaster Department received scathing reports for incompetence, corruption and the inability of meeting its obligations.
To be continued.
Most Americans believe that the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 began American independence. While this date announced the formal break between the American colonists and the “mother country,” it did not guarantee independence. Not all Americans favored independence and most historical estimates place the number of Loyalist, or Tory, Americans near one-third of the population. Winning independence required an eight-year war that began in April, 1775 and ended with a peace treaty finalized on September 3, 1783. Unfortunately the infant nation found itself born in a world dominated by a superpower struggle between England and France. The more powerful European nations viewed the vulnerable United States, correctly, as weak and ripe for exploitation. Tragically, few Americans know of this period of crisis in our nation’s history because of the irresponsible neglect of the American education system.
American independence marked the end of one chapter in American history and the beginning of another. As with all historical events this declaration continued the endless cycle of action and reaction, because nothing occurs in a vacuum. Tragically, most Americans’ historical perspective begins with their birth, rendering everything that previously occurred irrelevant. Furthermore, most educators conveniently “compartmentalize” their subjects and do not place them in the proper historical context. Since most Americans only remember the United States as a superpower they do not know of our previous struggles. Unfortunately our agenda driven education system also ignores this period and often portrays America in the most negative light.
Without delving too deeply into the deteriorating relations between the American colonists and their “mother country,” declaring independence came slowly. None of the thirteen colonies trusted the other colonies and rarely acted in concert, even during times of crisis. Regional and cultural differences between New England, mid-Atlantic and the Southern colonies deeply divided the colonists. Even in these early days of America slavery proved a dividing issue, although few believed in racial equality. The “umbilical cord” with England provided the only unifying constant that bound them together culturally and politically.
The colonies further possessed different forms of government as well, although they steadfastly expressed their liberties and “rights as Englishmen.” Some colonies existed as royal colonies, where the English monarch selected the governor. Proprietary colonies formed when merchant companies or individuals, called proprietors, received a royal grant and appointed the governor. Charter colonies received their charters much as proprietary colonies with individuals or merchants receiving royal charters and shareholders selected the governor. Each colony elected its own legislature and local communities made their laws mostly based on English common law. Any form of national, or “continental,” unity remained an illusion largely in the minds of the delegates of the First Continental Congress.
The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 because England ignored the grievances submitted by the First Continental Congress. Furthermore, open warfare erupted in Massachusetts between British troops and the colonial militia at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Known today as Patriot’s Day few Americans outside of Massachusetts celebrate it, or even know of it. Setting forth their reasons for taking up arms against England, they established the Continental Army on June 14, 1775. For attempting a united front, they appointed George Washington, a Virginian, as commander-in-chief. On July 10, 1775, the Congress sent Parliament one last appeal for resolving their differences, which proved futile.
While Congress determined the political future of the colonies fighting continued around Boston, beginning with the bloody battle on Breed’s Hill on June 17, 1775. Known as the Battle of Bunker Hill in our history the British victory cost over 1,000 British and over 400 American casualties. This battle encouraged the Americans because it proved the “colonials” capable of standing against British regulars. British forces withdrew from Boston in March, 1776 and awaited reinforcements from England as fighting erupted in other colonies.
While Washington and the Continental Army watched the British in Boston, Congress authorized an expedition against Canada. They hoped for significant resentment of British rule by the majority of French inhabitants, something they misjudged. In September, 1775 the fledgling Continental Army launched an ambitious, but futile, two-pronged invasion of Canada. Launched late in the season, particularly for Canada, it nevertheless almost succeeded, capturing Montreal and moving on Quebec. It ended in a night attack in a snowstorm on December 31, 1775 when the commander fell dead and the second-in-command fell severely wounded. American forces did breach the city walls, however when the attack broke down these men became prisoners of war.
For disrupting the flow of British supplies into America Congress organized the Continental Navy and Continental Marines on October 13, 1775 and November 10, 1775, respectively. Still, no demands for independence despite the creation of national armed forces, the invasion of a “foreign country” and all the trappings of a national government.
The full title of the Declaration of Independence ends with “thirteen united States of America,” with united in lower case. I found no evidence that the Founding Fathers did this intentionally, or whether it merely reflected the writing style of the time. Despite everything mentioned previously regarding “continental” actions, the thirteen colonies jealously guarded their sovereignty.
Although Congress declared independence England did not acknowledge the legality of this resolution and considered the colonies “in rebellion.” England assembled land and naval forces of over 40,000, including German mercenaries, for subduing the “insurrection.” This timeless lesson proves the uselessness of passing resolutions with no credible threat of force backing them up. Unfortunately our academic-dominated society today believes merely the passage of laws and international resolutions forces compliance.
We hear much in the news today about “intelligence failures” regarding the war against terrorism. England definitely experienced an “intelligence failure” as it launched an expedition for “suppressing” this “insurrection” by a “few hotheads.” First, they under estimated the extent of dissatisfaction among the Americans, spurred into action by such “rabble rousers” as John Adams. They further under estimated the effectiveness of Washington and the Continental Army, particularly after the American victories at Trenton and Princeton.
British officials further under estimated the number of Loyalists with the enthusiasm for taking up arms for the British. While Loyalist units fought well, particularly in the South and the New York frontier, they depended heavily on the support of British regulars. Once British forces withdrew, particularly in the South, the Loyalist forces either followed them or disappeared. A perennial lesson for military planners today, do not worry about your “footprint,” decisively defeat your enemy. This hardens the resolve of your supporters, influences the “neutrals” in your favor and reduces the favorability of your enemies.
Regarding the “national defense” the Continental Congress and “states” did not fully cooperate against the superpower, England. The raising of the Continental Army fell on the individual colonies almost throughout the war with the Congress establishing quotas. Unfortunately, none of the colonies ever met their quota for Continental regiments, with the soldiers negotiating one-year enlistments.
Continental Army recruiters often met with competition from the individual colonies, who preferred fielding their militias. The Congress offered bounties in the almost worthless “Continental Currency” and service far from home in the Continental Army. Colonial governments offered higher bounties in local currencies, or British pounds, and part-time service near home.
Congress only possessed the authority for requesting troops and supplies from the colonial governors, who often did not comply. For most of the war the Continental Army remained under strength, poorly supplied, poorly armed and mostly unpaid. Volumes of history describe the harsh winters endured by the Continentals at Valley Forge and Morristown, New Jersey the following year.
Colonial governments often refused supplies for troops from other colonies, even though those troops fought inside their borders. As inflation continued devaluing “Continental Currency” farmers and merchants preferred trading with British agents, who often paid in gold. This created strong resentment from the soldiers who suffered the hardships of war and the civilians who profited from this trade. In fairness, the staggering cost of financing the war severely taxed the colonial governments and local economies, forcing hard choices.
Congress further declared independence as a cry for help from England’s superpower rival, France, and other nations jealous of England. Smarting from defeat in the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in America), and a significant reduction in its colonial empire, France burned for revenge. France’s ally, Spain, also suffered defeat and loss of territory during this war and sought advantage in the American war. However, France and Spain both needed American victories before they risked their troops and treasures. With vast colonial empires of their own they hesitated at supporting a colonial rebellion in America. As monarchies, France and Spain held no love of “republican ideals” or “liberties,” and mostly pursued independent strategies against England. Fortunately their focus at recouping their former possessions helped diminish the number of British forces facing the Americans.
On the political front the Congress knew that the new nation needed some form of national government for its survival. Unfortunately the Congress fell short on this issue, enacting the weak Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777. Delegates so feared the “tyranny” of a strong central government, as well as they feared their neighbors, that they rejected national authority. In effect, the congressional delegates created thirteen independent nations instead of one, and our nation suffered from it. Amending this confederation required the approval of all thirteen states, virtually paralyzing any national effort. This form of government lasted until the adoption of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787.
Despite these weaknesses the fledgling “United States” survived and even achieved some success against British forces. Particularly early in the war, the British forces possessed several opportunities for destroying the Continental Army and ending the rebellion. Fortunately for us British commanders proved lethargic and complacent, believing the “colonial rabble” incapable of defeating them. Furthermore, as the Continental Army gained experience and training it grew more professional, standing toe-to-toe against the British. Since the US achieved superpower status it fell into the same trap, continuously underestimating less powerful enemies.
The surrender of British forces at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 changed British policy regarding its American colonies. British forces now controlled mainly three enclaves: New York City; Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Loyalist forces, discouraged by British reverses, either retreated into these enclaves, departed America or surrendered. Waging a global war against France and Spain further reduced the number of troops available for the American theater. This serves another modern lesson for maintaining adequate forces for meeting not only your superpower responsibilities, but executing unforeseen contingencies.
Ironically, the victory at Yorktown almost defeated the Americans as well, since the civil authorities almost stopped military recruitment. Washington struggled at maintaining significant forces for confronting the remaining British forces in their enclaves. An aggressive British commander may still score a strategic advantage by striking at demobilizing American forces. Fortunately, the British government lost heart for retaining America and announced the beginning of peace negotiations in August, 1782.
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783 officially ended the American Revolution; however it did not end America’s struggles. American negotiators proved somewhat naïve in these negotiations against their more experienced European counterparts. Of importance, the British believed American independence a short-lived situation, given the disunity among Americans. Congress began discharging the Continental Army before the formal signing of the treaty, leaving less than one hundred on duty.
Instead of a united “allied” front, America, France and Spain virtually negotiated separate treaties with England, delighting the British. They believed that by creating dissension among the wartime allies they furthered their position with their former colonies. If confronted with a new war with more powerful France and Spain, America might rejoin the British Empire.
When England formally established the western boundary of the US at the Mississippi River it did not consult its Indian allies. These tribes did not see themselves as “defeated nations,” since they often defeated the Americans. Spanish forces captured several British posts in this territory and therefore claimed a significant part of the southeastern US.
France, who practically bankrupted itself in financing the American cause and waging its own war against England, expected an American ally. Unfortunately, the US proved a liability and incapable of repaying France for the money loaned during the war. France soon faced domestic problems that resulted in the French Revolution in 1789.
For several reasons England believed itself the winner of these negotiations, and in a more favorable situation, globally. England controlled Canada, from where it closely monitored the unfolding events in the US, and sowed mischief. It illegally occupied several military forts on American territory and incited the Indian tribes against the American frontier. By default, England controlled all of the American territory north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Economically, England still believed that the US needed them as its primary trading partner, whether independent or not. A strong pro-British faction in America called for closer economic ties with the former “mother country.” As England observed the chaos that gripped the US at this time, they felt that its collapse, and reconquest by England, only a matter of time.
Most Americans today, knowing only the economic, industrial and military power of America cannot fathom the turmoil of this time. The weak central government and all the states accumulated a huge war debt, leaving them financially unstable. While the US possessed rich natural resources it lacked the industrial capabilities for developing them, without foreign investment. With no military forces, the nation lacked the ability of defending its sovereignty and its citizens. From all appearances our infant nation seemed stillborn, or as the vulnerable prey for the more powerful Europeans.
As stated previously the Articles of Confederation actually created thirteen independent nations, with no national executive for enforcing the law. Therefore each state ignored the resolutions from Congress and served its own self-interest. Each state established its own rules for interstate commerce, printed its own money and even established treaties with foreign nations. No system existed for governing the interactions between the states, who often treated each other like hostile powers.
The new nation did possess one thing in abundance, land; the vast wilderness between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Conceded by the British in the Treaty of Paris, the Americans looked at this as their economic solution. The nation owed the veterans of the Revolution a huge debt and paid them in the only currency available, land grants. Unfortunately, someone must inform the Indians living on this land and make treaties regarding land distribution.
For the Americans this seemed simple, the Indians, as British allies, suffered defeat with the British and must pay the price. After all, under the rules of European “civilized” warfare, defeated nations surrendered territory and life went on. Unfortunately no one, neither American nor British, informed the Indians of these rules, because no one felt they deserved explanation. Besides, the British hoped that by inciting Indian troubles they might recoup their former colonies.
With British arms and encouragement the tribes of the “Old Northwest” raided the western frontier with a vengeance. From western New York down through modern Kentucky these Indians kept up their war with the Americans. In Kentucky between 1783 and 1790 the various tribes killed an estimated 1,500 people, stole 20,000 horses and destroyed an unknown amount of property.
Our former ally, Spain, controlled all of the territory west of the Mississippi River before the American Revolution. From here they launched expeditions that captured British posts at modern Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, and the entire Gulf Coast. However, they claimed about two-thirds of the southeastern US based on this “conquest” including land far beyond the occupation of their troops. Like the British, they incited the Indians living in this region for keeping out American settlers.
Spain also controlled the port of New Orleans and access into the Mississippi River. Americans living in Kentucky and other western settlements depended on the Mississippi River for their commerce. The national government seemed unable, or unwilling, at forcing concessions from Spain, and many westerners considered seceding from the Union. Known as the “Spanish Conspiracy” this plot included many influential Americans and only disappeared after the American victory at Fallen Timbers.
While revisionist historians ignore the “Spanish Conspiracy” they illuminate land speculation by Americans in Spanish territory. Of course they conveniently ignore the duplicity of Spanish officials in these plots, and their acceptance of American money. In signing the Declaration of Independence the Founding Fathers pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.” Many Continental Army officers bankrupted themselves when Congress and their states proved recalcitrant at reimbursing them for incurred expenses. These officers often personally financed their troops and their expeditions because victory required timely action. Of importance for the western region, George Rogers Clark used his personal credit for financing his campaigns, which secured America’s claim. It takes no “lettered” historian for determining that without Clark’s campaign that America’s western boundary ends with the Appalachian Mountains, instead of the Mississippi River. With the bankrupt Congress and Virginia treasuries not reimbursing him he fell into the South Carolina Yazoo Company. Clark’s brother-in-law, Dr. James O’Fallon, negotiated this deal for 3,000,000 acres of land in modern Mississippi. This negotiation involved the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Don Estavan Miro, a somewhat corrupt official. When the Spanish king negated the treaty, Clark, O’Fallon and the other investors lost their money and grew hateful of Spain.
Another, lesser known, negotiation involved former Continental Army Colonel George Morgan and the Spanish ambassador, Don Diego de Gardoqui. Morgan received title for 15,000,000 acres near modern New Madrid, Missouri for establishing a colony. Ironically, an unscrupulous American, James Wilkinson, discussed later in the document, working in conjunction with Miro, negated this deal.
Both of these land deals involved the establishment of American colonies in Spanish territory, with Americans declaring themselves Spanish subjects. Few Spaniards lived in the area west of the Mississippi River and saw the growing number of American settlers as a threat. However, if these Americans, already disgusted with their government, became Spanish subjects, they now became assets. If they cleared and farmed the land, they provided revenue that Spanish Louisiana desperately needed. Since many of these men previously served in the Revolution, they provided a ready militia for defending their property. This included defending it against their former country, the United States, with little authority west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Internationally, the weak US became a tragic pawn in the continuing superpower struggle between England and France. With no naval forces for protection, American merchant mariners became victims of both nations on the high seas. British and French warships stopped American ships bound for their enemy, confiscating cargo and conscripting sailors into their navies. In the Mediterranean Sea, our ships became the targets of the Barbary Pirates, the ancestors of our enemies today. Helpless, our government paid ransoms for prisoners and tribute for safe passage until the Barbary Wars of the early 19th Century.
Despite all of these problems most influential Americans still “looked inward,” and feared a strong central government more than foreign domination. When the cries of outrage came from the western frontiers regarding Indian depredations, our leaders still more feared a “standing army.” In the world of the Founding Fathers the tyranny of King George III’s central government created their problem. The king further used his “standing army” for oppressing the colonists and infringing on their liberties.
Congress also possessed more recent examples of the problems with a “standing army” during the American Revolution. First came the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line in January, 1781 for addressing their grievances. Since the beginning of the war, in 1775, the Continental soldiers endured almost insurmountable hardships, as explained previously. The soldiers rarely received pay, and then received the almost worthless “Continental Currency,” which inflation further devalued. This forced severe hardships also on the soldiers’ families, and many lost their homes and farms. The soldiers marched on the then-capital, Philadelphia, for seeking redress for these grievances. Forced into action, Congress addressed their problems with pay and the soldiers rejoined the Army.
A second, though less well known, mutiny occurred with the New Jersey Line shortly thereafter with different results. For “nipping” a growing problem “in the bud,” Washington ordered courts-martial and the execution of the ring leaders. The last such trouble occurred in the final months of the war in the Continental Army camp at Newburgh, New York. Dissatisfied with congressional inaction on their long-overdue pay, many officers urged a march on Philadelphia. Fortunately, Washington defused this perceived threat against civil authority, and squashed the strong possibility of a military dictatorship.
However, Congress realized that it needed some military force for defending the veterans settling on their land grants. The delegates authorized the First United States Regiment, consisting of 700 men drawn from four state militias for a one year period. I read countless sources describing the inadequacy of this force, highlighting congressional incompetence and non-compliance by the states. The unit never achieved its authorized strength, the primitive conditions on the frontier hindered its effectiveness and corrupt officials mismanaged supplies. Scattered in small garrisons throughout the western territories, it never proved a deterrent against the Indians.
No incentives existed for enlisting in this regiment, and it attracted a minority of what we call today “quality people.” Again, confirming state dominance over the central government, this “army” came from a militia levy from four states, a draft. A tradition at the time provided for the paying of substitutes for the men conscripted during these militia levies. Sources reflect that most of these substitutes came from the lowest levels of society, including those escaping the law. From whatever source these men came, at least they served and mostly did their best under difficult circumstances.
Routinely, once the soldiers assembled they must learn the skills needed for performing their duties. For defending the western settlements the small garrisons must reach their destination via river travel. Once at their destination they must often construct their new installations using the primitive tools and resources available. The primitive transportation system often delayed the arrival of the soldiers’ pay and supplies, forcing hardships on the troops. Few amenities existed at these frontier installations and the few settlements provided little entertainment for the troops. Unfortunately, once the soldiers achieved a level of professionalism, they reached the end of their enlistment. With few incentives for reenlistment, the process must begin again, with recruiting and training a new force.
Fortunately many prominent Americans saw that the country needed a different form of government for ensuring its survival. Despite the best intentions and established rules, few people followed these rules or respected our intentions. The Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in May, 1787 with George Washington unanimously elected as its president. As the delegates began the process of forming a “more perfect Union,” the old, traditional “colonial” rivalries influenced the process.
While most Americans possess at least ancillary knowledge of the heated debates among the delegates, few know the conditions. Meeting throughout the hot summer, the delegates kept the windows of their meeting hall closed, preventing the “leaking” of information. We must remember that this occurred before electric-powered ventilation systems or air conditioning. They kept out the “media,” and none of the delegates spoke with “journalists,” again for maintaining secrecy. Modern Americans, often obsessed with media access, do not understand why the delegates kept their deliberations secret.
Most of the delegates felt they possessed one chance for creating this new government and achieving the best possible needed their focus. “Media access” jeopardized this focus and “leaked” information, with potential interruptions, jeopardized their chance for success. We find this incomprehensible today, with politicians running toward television cameras, “leaking” information and disclosing national secrets. Unfortunately a “journalistic elite” exists today, misusing the First Amendment, with many “media moguls” believing themselves the “kingmakers” of favorite politicians.
The delegates sought the best document for satisfying the needs of the most people, making “special interest groups” secondary. Creating a united nation proved more important than prioritizing regional and state desires. These delegates debated, and compromised, on various issues; many of which remain important today. They worried over the threat of dominance by large, well-populated states over smaller, less-populated states. Other issues concerned taxation, the issue that sparked the American Revolution, and import duties, which pitted manufacturing states against agricultural states. Disposition of the mostly unsettled western land, claimed by many states, proved a substantial problem for the delegates. The issue of slavery almost ended the convention and the delegates compromised, achieving the best agreement possible at the time. On September 17, 1787 the delegates adopted the US Constitution and submitted it for approval by the individual states.
Again, merely passing laws and adopting resolutions does not immediately solve the problems, or change people’s attitudes. Ratification of the Constitution required the approval of nine states, (three-fourths) which occurred on June 21, 1788. However, two important large states, New York and Virginia, still debated ratification. Several signers of the Declaration of Independence, and delegates at the Constitutional Convention, urged the defeat of the Constitution. Fiery orator, Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty, or give me death,” fame worked hard for defeating it in Virginia. Even the most optimistic supporters gave the Constitution, and the nation, only a marginal chance at survival.