The Old Northwest, Indian wars and the career of Harrison
The life story of the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) is set against the turbulence of the settlement of what was then part of the West, and now comprises the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. This land and its people are so far different from its present aspect and inhabitants as to be a strange and unknown world, and the United States itself has changed beyond recognition. Nevertheless, roots of present society and politics penetrate deeply into this forgotten era.
Harrison was the youngest son of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, the planter Benjamin Harrison of the estate of Berkeley in Virginia, whose ancestors had come to the James in 1632. His grandson Benjamin Harrison was the twenty-third president of the United States. He was studying to become a physician in Philadelphia when his father died, and money became tight. Through family connections, he obtained a commission from President Washington as Ensign in the 1st Regiment, U.S. Army, on 16 August 1791, was posted to Fort Washington, on the site of the later city of Cincinnati. This was at the beginning of the Ohio War with the Shawnee, Delaware and Miami, who farmed and hunted the land and resisted being pushed off of it. Unlike most young American officers of the time, Harrison thought duelling absurd, and refused to take part in "affairs of honor."
The Old Northwest, then just the Northwest, is the area between the Allegheny summit on the east and the Mississippi River on the west, between the Great Lakes on the north, and the Ohio River on the south. It is now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin (with a bit of Minnesota). Geographically, we must include parts of western Pennsylvania and New York. The five states cover an area of a bit more than 300,000 square miles, as much as France and the United Kingdom together, or more than twice the size of Germany. From Pittsburgh to St. Louis is about 590 miles, from Michilimackinac (pronounced Mish' il i mack' in naw) to Louisville about 540 miles. Although there are some hills lapping over from Appalachia in southern Ohio and Indiana, some scenic river gorges and bluffs, and rolling hills, the region is generally a plain, with extensive marshes and swamps in some areas.
The Great Lakes gave access to the region. The French route was up the St. Lawrence from their citadel of Québec. The British route from the Atlantic seaboard was up the Hudson to Albany, then west along the Mohawk to Fort Stanwix, the head of navigation. There was a short portage to Wood Creek, leading into Lake Oneida, then down the Oswego River to Lake Ontario at the port of Oswego. There was a difficult portage around Niagara Falls, between Lewiston and Fort Schlosser, but once in Lake Erie, the way was open to the west, via Detroit and Michilimackinac. There was also a road, a poor one, from Fort Stanwix to Lake Erie via Genesee, avoiding the portage.
The Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahelea at the Forks of the Ohio, and flows for 981 miles to Cairo. The distance as the crow flies is only 570 miles. There were slight rapids at points on the upper reaches, troublesome at low water, but major rapids at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville made the passage of all but small boats difficult at low water. Below Louisville, the river was easily navigable for the remainder of its length. Today, the river has been converted into a slack-water canal by navigation dams, and retains little of its original remarkable beauty. The Allegheny and the Ohio really form one river, 1310 miles long in all. Before steamboats, most craft made a one-way journey downriver, starting on the spring freshets, and were sold for timber. Only a few keelboats were laboriously dragged back up the river by teams of men, loaded with goods from New Orleans. This traffic, however, did not start until after 1795, when the Ohio became relatively safe to travel.
Land routes from the seaboard to the Forks of the Ohio were very primitive. Braddock's Road started at Fort Cumberland, on the Potomac, and went to the Forks roughly following the Youghiogheny. This was the route General Braddock's pioneers slashed when he was hurrying to death and defeat at Fort du Quesne in 1755. The Forbes Road started from Harris's Ferry on the Susquehanna, about where Harrisburg is now, and went west via Carlisle, Fort Bedford and Fort Ligonier. General Forbes's pioneers cut this road when he was going to assault and capture Fort du Quesne 1758. Both these "roads" were only really traces, over which wheeled vehicles rolled slowly and with much difficulty under the best of conditions. Trains or convoys of pack animals, horsemen and pedestrians were the usual traffic. After the Ohio and Mississippi were opened to New Orleans, and steamboats arrived around 1810, these land routes saw even less traffic. There was no improvement until the National Road was constructed from Cumberland to Wheeling in the 'teens.
There were four principal water routes from the Lakes to the Ohio-Mississippi system. Farthest west was the way via the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, between Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, with a short portage in the middle. Next came the route beginning at what is now Chicago. A short portage between the Chicago and Desplaines Rivers led to the Illinois River, and down to the Mississippi at Alton. At the western end of Lake Erie, the Maumee River was ascended to where it was formed by the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary's Rivers, near what is now Fort Wayne. A 7-mile portage led to the Little River, and from there into the Wabash (French: Ouabache). Finally, a portage from Presqu'isle, now Erie, to French Creek led to the Allegheny River, which flowed down to Pittsburgh. None of the towns mentioned existed in 1800, but there were forts, usually temporary ones, at many of the locations where towns later arose.
Water routes were not available in all seasons. In the winter, the lakes and rivers froze, making navigation impossible. In dry seasons, water levels fell in smaller streams, and portages became longer. It may be that the Indians did not have boats before the arrival of the French, who showed them how to make dugouts from tree trunks. If this is so, the Indians were so impressed by the possibilities of water transport that they invented the light, fast birchbark canoe that gave them great mobility. I have heard that this was first done by the Ojibwa, but then spread generally. The canoe was easy to portage, and required little water. It made lightning raids possible, and was a great help to the fur trade.
Land travel by Indians was on foot, with the women carrying or dragging what had to be taken along on a travois. Warriors did not carry things, other than their weapons (like U.S. Army officers). There were as yet no horses, and indeed, horses would not have been particularly useful in these surroundings. When one rode on an Indian trail, branches and limbs were eternally in the way. Wheeled vehicles were totally useless in the forest. Very little if any trade or travel went overland. Even the use of pack animals was impossible in certain seasons on the prairies because of the hordes of ravenous flies.
Land transport across the Alleghenies was expensive, as well as very difficult. The so-called roads were passable only when dry or frozen, and then reliably only by feet and hooves. On the seaboard, goods imported from Britain were cheaper than goods from any part of the West. Fuel in the cities was coal from South Wales used as ballast in the empty ships crossing for American raw materials; anthracite from the Susquehanna could not compete. American bituminous coal was hidden in the Alleghenies, unknown on the seaboard. Travel and trade between points on the seaboard was by water whenever possible. Roads were often (but not always) used between Philadelphia and New York, and between Washington and Baltimore, to avoid the very long roundabout water connections. Elsewhere, water was the invariable choice, perhaps with short portages.
The entire region was covered by an old, mature hardwood forest, except in northern areas where pines persisted in thin soils or extreme weather. Here and there were openings, created by fire or windfalls. A recent opening would be filled with brush. Then, pines would grow, smothering the brush with their needles. Finally, hardwoods would soar up above the pines, blocking the sun from all beneath them, and the forest was healed. The mature trees were 100 to 200 feet high, keeping the ground in deep shade, so that little undergrowth survived. These gloomy forests have been destroyed completely, so one can only imagine them. In the western part were occasional prairies, treeless areas covered by tall grass, hinting at the vast plains beyond. Bison kept traces open on their migration routes through the forests, and these traces were used as roads by Indians and Europeans both. Bison, bear, elk and deer were numerous until the Europeans arrived.
In 1763, the border or frontier of settlement was well east of the mountains. In New York, Utica was on the frontier. In Pennsylvania, Carlisle was the frontier. In Virginia, settlement did not extend to the Blue Ridge. The greatest limiting factor was absence of cheap transport, which made land away from navigable watercourses worthless, except for the subsistence agriculture of squatters.
The region was very thinly inhabited mostly by Algonquian peoples, hunters who arrived after the retreat of the continental glaciers perhaps 9,000 years ago from the southwest. Indian tradition supports this conjecture. Iroquoian peoples later pushed through, bringing the cultivation of corn, squash and beans with them, and leaving people of their language stock around Lake Erie and in eastern Ohio. First contact with Europeans, principally the French, coming down the St. Lawrence in 1608, had rapidly created a dependence on European goods, such as guns, knives, hatchets, kettles, needles, flint and steel, ornaments, paint and rum, for which furs were traded. The area was claimed by France on the basis of Robert Cavalier de la Salle's visit to mouth of the Mississippi on 9 April 1682, and by Britain on the basis of the occupation of the Atlantic coast and fabrications of early visits. Of course, the conflict could only be adjudicated by warfare. The struggle went on in the 17th century, with Nouvelle France squeezed between the Atlantic colonies and the Hudson's Bay Company. In the decisive war of 1755-63, the decision was for Britain. At this time, neither side had settled any part of the region. French settlement extended only down the St. Lawrence to the vicinity of Montreal, in addition to Acadia, and British settlement, with a far greater population, clung to a narrow coastal strip from Massachusetts to Georgia.
During the 17th century, the Iroquois of the Five Nations had devastated the tribes of their language stock around Lake Erie, including the Eries, Mingos, Andastes (Susquehanna), Hurons and the Neutral Tribes. The captives were divided among the Five Nations to increase their population, depleted by the warfare. This warfare was partly to retain hold of the fur trade centred on Albany, and ranged beyond the Mississippi, to the farthest reaches of Lake Superior. A number of Hurons, originally inhabiting southern Ontario, escaped the holocaust and eventually settled at the west end of Lake Erie, near Sandusky, where they became known as Wyandots. The Senecas, a numerous and growing tribe, occupied northwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, where there had been Eries and Mingos. The Five Nations also harassed the Algonquian tribes, driving the Shawnee from eastern Ohio, and promising to "eat the Illinois." The Shawnees, after several generations exiled in the south, returned first to Kentucky, but were driven out by Virginians coming from the east, and then settled in the Scioto valley. In the east, the Five Nations reduced the Lenni Lenape, or Delawares, to Iroqois vassalage and disarmed them. They welcomed William Penn peacefully, but more of their land was coveted. As their lands were seized, they moved to the recently-emptied Wyoming (along the Susquehanna near Wilkes-Barre), and finally west of the Alleghenies, as even these lands were taken. As they moved, the Delaware recovered their warrior skills to a great degree, becoming enemies of the British.
The French had established a small number of forts deep in the wilderness. The missionaries went first, then the traders, and finally the soldiers. There would be a log blockhouse, garrisoned by an officer and a few troops, a mission house with a few Jesuit priests, surrounded by the white bark-roofed houses of Canadians, people of French or mixed blood who traded with the Indians. Intermarriage and fraternization was encouraged, in hopes that it would civilize the Indians. In all cases, it rather Indianized the French, who very much preferred the freedom of the wilderness and Indian comforts. The French gave presents liberally to retain the friendship of the Indians, and dealt honestly with them. Except for the Iroquois, practically all Indians supported the French, and did not consider them to be a threat. The error of Samuel de Champlain of defeating the Iroquois at Ticonderoga on 30 July 1609 began centuries of warfare. Here the Iroquois learned the effectiveness of firearms, which they soon obtained from the Dutch at Albany. When the Dutch lost control, the Iroquois cast their lot with the British, enemies of the French, and never ceased to harass the St. Lawrence valley. The French furnished firearms to their western allies, the Hurons, Ottawas and Illinois.
Fort Detroit, established in 1701 by La Mothe and Cadillac, was the most important base, at the center of everything between Lakes Huron and Erie. Fort Michilimackinac (pronounced Mish' il i mack' in naw), established 1671, the earlier primary post, controlled the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A nearby post at Sault Ste. Marie guarded the route to Lake Superior. In the Michigan peninsula, the Ottawas, expelled by the Iroquois from their homeland, lived west of Michilimackinac, and the Ojibwas, also called Chippewas or Sauteurs, to the east and north. They had arrived from their homeland in northern Minnesota. Fort La Haye (Green Bay, the name corrupted from Grande Baie) was at the northern end of the Fox-Wisconsin route to the Mississippi. In this region lived the Menominees and the Siouxan Winnebagoes, while the Sac and Fox occupied the Wisconsin valley. Fort St. Joseph, at the mouth of the river of that name in southwest Michigan, was in the country of the Pottawatomies, the original inhabitants of Michigan. On the southwestern side of Lake Michigan, where Chicago would later be, were the Kickapoos. Fort Sandusky was near the Wyandots, a Huron remnant, who lived on both north and south shores of Lake Erie. Fort des Miamis, on the Maumee (= Miami) River where Fort Wayne would later be, was near a principal town of the Miamis or Twightees. Fort Ouiatenon on the Wabash (Ouabache), established by the French in 1717, was in the land of the Ouiatenon and the Wea Miamis, about 5 miles southwest of present Lafayette. It was taken by British forces in 1761, and later by Pontiac's, without a fight. On the orders of President Washington, it was destroyed in 1791. Fort Presqu'isle (Erie) was the lake end of the portage to Fort Le Boeuf in the Allegheny river drainage. The route continued past Fort Venango on the Allegheny, and finally to Fort du Quesne at the Forks of the Ohio. Fort Pitt was built on the ashes of Fort du Quesne in 1759 by General Stanwix, after its capture the previous year by General Forbes.
The defeat of the French, the final act of which was the taking of Qué&bec by Wolfe, was incomprehensible to the Indians. The forts in the west were turned over to the British in 1763 without resistance, depriving the Indians of their principal support. Pontiac, a remarkable Ottawa chief, united the tribes of the northwest, mainly Ottawa, Ojibwa, Wyandot and Pottawatomi, and placed Detroit under siege. War parties then went in all directions, and soon took every fort in the northwest except Detroit and Pitt, which were closely invested. Many of these forts had been garrisoned by detachments of the 60th Rifles, the Royal Americans, whose losses dismayed the colonials. A typical western garrison, that of Fort Le Boeuf, consisted of an ensign, two corporals and eleven soldiers. The forts were taken by ruse if possible, otherwise by fire. The regular troops who had fought the French had largely been disbanded, and were back in England. Only the provincials, and some depleted regiments, such as the 42nd Highland Rifles, brought in from the West Indies and other places, were available. The Indians constantly expected their example to inspire the French, but help never came.
Pontiac's allies ravaged the borders, especially in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virgina. The small, mobile war parties were extremely effective and cruel, the opposition incompetent and divided, but also cruel. The colonial assemblies gave very little support to the war effort, especially in Pennsylvania, which was controlled by the pacifist Quakers. They were violently opposed by the Presbyterian borderers, who wanted to massacre every Indian they saw. The Paxton Boys from the Susquehanna murdered peaceful Indians at Conestoga, then lynched the survivors who had been moved to Lancaster Jail for their protection. They advanced on Philadelphia to do the same to Christian Moravian Indians moved there for their protection, but failed in their aim. There were volunteers to fight in large numbers, but no aid from the provincial governments. Pennsylvania later paid $130 for a male scalp, $50 for a female, but nothing for kids under 10.
Colonel Bouquet, a Swiss, assembled a column for the relief of Fort Pitt from elements of the 60th Royal Americans in red coats, the 42nd Highland Rifles in kilts, Pennsylvania and Maryland militia in grey uniforms, and woodsmen in hunting shirts. In early August, he defeated a large party of Ottawas and Delawares at Bushy Run, 26 miles from Fort Pitt, a notable victory in a sea of defeats, and relieved the fort. Many of the provincial troops spoke no English, since they were largely German immigrants, so the British army had to find officers who could understand them. Bouquet was promoted to Brigadier General not long afterwards, a remarkable achievement for someone not of British family. General Jeffrey Amherst suggested infecting the Indians with smallpox by means of contaminated blankets. Whether this foul deed was actually executed is not known, but many Indians around Fort Pitt did die of smallpox in the event.
The Illinois (the definite article was normally present) was too distant to figure largely in the war between the French and British, and in Pontiac's War. It consisted of five small villages on the east bank of the Mississippi--Cahokia, founded in 1699 by missionaries, St. Philippe, Nouvelle Chartres, Prairie du Rocher, and Kaskaskia, the largest town, covering a distance of about 75 miles from north to south. The great river was unknown to the French until Marquette and Jolliet descended it past here in 1673, and La Salle only reached its mouth in 1682. An excellent fort, Fort Chartres (some write de Chartres), with stone walls, was built at Nouvelle Chartres 1720. Here lived the intendant, the civil and military ruler, with a regular garrison of white-coated soldiers. The fort was severely damaged by a flood, and was pulled down about 1772, replaced by Fort Gage near Kaskaskia. Originally in the province of Québec, this region was transferred to Louisiana in 1717, and became a royal province in 1731, succeeding the Company of the Indies. Fort Chartres was a factory of the Indian trade, and the principal product, pelts, was sold in New Orleans. The habitants were tenant farmers in the French fashion, as well as unlicensed traders, or coureurs de bois. The gentilhommes quarreled with each other for advantage. There was very little interest in farming, since there were more exciting things to do. The number of black slaves was only slightly less than the number of white settlers.
Vincennes, the other town in the area, was on high ground east of the Wabash River, not far from the mouth of the White River. François M. Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes, had constructed a fort there in 1731, a little north of the later village and town. The lands had been granted for these settlements by the Indians quite freely, since there was a lot of land and few Frenchmen. Often, there was no formal purchase of land, however, and the settlers lived by sufferance. There was black slavery, as was common everywhere at the time. The route between the settlements was by water, over the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash. The settlements did not grow rapidly. The Illinois tribes, comprising the Peorias, Cahokias, Kaskaskias, Tamaroas and Michigans (various names are used), could muster 2000 warriors when the French arrived. They were reduced by warfare, disease and rum to a few clustered around the French settlements on the Mississippi by 1763. By 1800, they were practically extinct.
After the peace of 1763, the remote Illinois was not immediately occupied by the British, as the northern forts were soon taken by Pontiac, except for Detroit, Fort Pitt and Niagara, as we have said. A force coming up the river from New Orleans was turned back by Indians. Lieutenant Fraser arrived at Fort Chartres at the beginning of winter 1765, starting from Fort Pitt and descending the Ohio. An earlier expedition was led by George Croghan, who turned north at the Wabash, somewhat against his will, after an attack by Kickapoos, to visit Vincennes. A detachment of the 42nd Highland Rifles (The Black Watch) under Captain Sterling occupied Fort Chartres on 10 October 1765, the lilies coming down and the Union Flag going up. On 2 December, a force under Major Farmer arrived from Mobile, and the Major took command. At the time, it took 3 to 4 months to come from Fort Pitt or New Orleans, and these were the easiest routes. This isolation was not relieved for another 50 years.
When the British arrived, most of the French either went down the river to New Orleans, or moved to the opposite bank of the Mississippi, to Sainte Genevieve, opposite Kaskaskia, or to St. Louis, founded by Pierre Laclede and Pierre Chouteau in 1764 on the bluffs between the Missouri and the Meramec Rivers. The area west of the Mississippi was soon ceded to Spain. The French liked the Spanish only slightly less than the British, but stayed on to form the nucleus of the region sold by Napoleon to the United States in 1803. The commander of Fort Chartres, St. Ange, became the Spanish commander of Fort St. Louis. The culture was never Spanish, and there was no Spanish settlement. The current pronunciation of St. Louis is probably from San Luis.
Although Pontiac had surrendered at a great council at Niagara, he came to the Illinois in 1769 to drum up support among the local tribes and the French for raising the hatchet again, but had no success, of course. One day he crossed the river to Cahokia for a drinking party, and was murdered there by a Kaskaskia warrior who had been bribed by a British trader, Williamson, to do the deed. Pontiac's supporters descended on the area for revenge. The Sac and Fox were closest, and annihilated all the Illinois they could find. In 1822 there were only 36 Kaskaskias left in Illinois. Du Quoin, whose name was assumed by a town in the area, was the last, or one of the last, chiefs of the Kaskaskias. The siege of Detroit was raised, and Colonel Bradstreet's column reoccupied the forts at Michilimackinac and other places in the northwest.
The British had no clear ideas about what to do with the Illinois, and the French settlers were ignored. No real civil government was ever established, and the impromptu courts were tools of the commandant. The pressures of economy, since no money could be raised in America from the tax-protesting colonists, meant that Indian gifts were neglected, and the fur trade became chaotic. Goods came down the Ohio, were traded for furs, and the furs were taken to New Orleans, just as when the French were in control, so there was no benefit whatsoever to British trade. In spite of the Proclamation of 1763, companies were formed to acquire lands and encourage settlement, but factions in Whitehall always succeeded in defeating the schemes.
In 1764, King Louis XV abolished the Jesuits in France, so nearly all the priests in Illinois left as a result. The Quebec Act of 1774 returned the Illinois to the province of Quebec, established toleration for Catholics, and authorized a suspicion of a civil government. The British garrison left Fort Gage in 1774, turning over the management of affairs to Rocheblave, a Frenchman, in 1776. His call for troops was ignored, so the territory fell easily to George Rogers Clark in 1778.
The Seven Years' War, 1755-1763, called the French and Indian War in American history, was ended by the treaty of Paris on 10 February 1763. The elimination of the French in the west immediately made the old "ocean to ocean" colonial charters more than a fiction. Companies to acquire land and promote settlement were quickly formed. Too late to affect Pontiac's War, the Proclamation of 7 October 1763 included a clause forbidding aquisition of land for settlement west of the Atlantic watershed. All land west of this line was reserved to the Indians, in the hope of future peace. Some saw this clause as only temporary, others the opposite. The reason for it was not altruistic--its intent was to protect the fur trade. The Iroquois lived east of the line, but arrangements were made for them to keep most of their lands, which reinforced their alliance with the British. Certain of the colonies, however, felt that they had been deprived of land granted by their charters, which extended their grants to an indefinite distance west. Connecticut claimed a strip of land west of the New York grants, that included what is now northern Pennsylvania and Ohio. Massachusetts had a similar claim, but it soon ran into the Great Lakes. Georgia, North Carolina and even South Carolina felt robbed of strips extending westward to the Mississippi. Virginia, however, had the greatest pretension, claiming all north and west of other explicit grants, and, in fact, all of the Old Northwest.
Daniel Boone (1734-1820) demonstrated what Virgina thought of the Proclamation Line. In 1767, dressed in his hunting shirt, leggings, moccasins and fur hat and armed with rifle, tomahawk and knife, he began to lead parties down the Clinch and Powell Rivers to Cumberland Gap, then north through the Gap to the Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers. A grant of land south of the Ohio was sought by the Ohio Company as early as 1748, called the Vandalia Grant. The fort and settlement of Boonesboro was established in 1775, and the Wilderness Road cut through the forest to bring settlers to the region. This was another miserable trace, not a proper road. George Washington owned 40,000 acres in Kentucky County. Whatever weight other reasons had for the War for Independence, the blocking of western settlement was a primary one. The Indians regarded developments with dismay, and backed the legitimate government against the rebels. Except for these isolated settlements west of the mountians, the frontier had moved little closer to the Alleghenies by 1775.
Therefore, the 1775-1783 war was a continuation of the 1755-1763 war as far as the Northwest was concerned, and the Indians were again fighting for their land, this time with the British as allies. George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) was pushing Shawnees across the Ohio at the moment, when he took time off, as a Virgina lieutenant colonel, to lead 175 men against the British posts at Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes in 1778 (which had been practically abandoned). When Clark left Vincennes, the British recaptured it, but Clark seized it again in February 1779 for good. Clark returned to fighting Shawnees, and subdued them at Chillicothe in 1782, driving them well and truly out of Kentucky. A bitter war had been fought to clear Kentucky of Indians, largely Shawnees, who had not ceded the land willingly.
After the war, Pennsylvania and Connecticut fought a little war over Wyoming. The Delawares, knowing they had to go, sold the land twice, once to each party, and were probably amused over the outcome. Massachusetts sold its bits (then worthless) to New York. Vermont revolted from New York, with the help of New Hampshire ruffians and some of its own, and set up its own government. Virginia was persuaded to give up its extensive claim in return for certain immediate benefits. The land grants Virginia had made to General Clark on the north bank of the Ohio opposite Louisville were confirmed, and Virginia given rights to a large tract of land north of Cincinnati (later abandoned). Connecticut was soothed by a rectangular tract in northeastern Ohio, the Western Reserve. The Ordinance of 1787 was one of the most memorable acts of the Continental Congress, establishing the Old Northwest as the first territory of the United States, and establishing the precedent of creating new states out of territorial lands when their population should reach 60,000. The rectangular method of survey was established by the Ordinance. Slavery was forbidden, but there were slaves. Provision was made for schools, but there were no schools. And until the Indians could be removed, there would be no population.
British North America, not yet Canada, depended on the St. Lawrence and the Lakes for transport. The region north of Lakes Erie and Ontario, then called Upper Canada, and now called Ontario, was now more populous than the American territory immediately across the Lakes, and the population was composed of people who had fled the United States during the war for independence, emigrants from Great Britain, especially from Scotland, and those involved in the Indian trade, and a residue of Frenchmen from before 1763. These elements were not yet welded into a Canadian nationality, something that was largely accomplished by the War of 1812. The total population of British North America was, however, no more than a twelfth of the population of the United States, which was growing at an astonishing rate. The St. Lawrence route was the only practicable export route for the Northwest, other than New Orleans, and it was frozen up for a portion of the year, together with the Lakes.
When Harrison arrived at Fort Washington in 1791, there was some settlement in the eastern and southern parts of Ohio in which Indian claims had been extinguished by a treaty of 1789, negotiated by Governor St. Clair, some across from Louisville in the Clark grants, and some French at St. Louis, Cahokia, Kaskaskia and Vincennes. The Territory South of the Ohio was created in 1790. Kentucky, especially the eastern part, was already considerably settled, and it became a state in 1792. Transylvania University, in Lexington, had been founded in 1780. Tennessee, based on the lands along the Cumberland, as well as in the mountain valleys in the east, achieved statehood in 1796. The State of Franklin existed 1784-1788 in eastern Tennessee, and disputed with law and gun jurisdiction with North Carolina. Most of the population in the west was south of the Ohio, but there was a great agitation to settle the northwest. This agitation was largely on the part of land speculators and others who looked for a profit. There were actually rather few people who wanted to settle the raw, unhealthy region, which was full of unhappy Indians.
The Indians viewed the land as their own, and were horrified by the tide of settlers, chopping and burning the forest before them. Kentuckians had crossed the Ohio on their annual hunting trips, exterminating most large animals and leaving a desert. They resisted, in the only way open to them, by harassing those who trespassed. In this guerrilla warfare, the Indians were very effective, inflicting great losses with very few casualties to themselves. The Miamis were not parties to the 1789 treaty, and continued hostile. In 1790, General Josiah Harmer (he was actually a Lieutenant Colonel of the Pennsylvania militia) was sent to punish the Miamis at the end of September 1790. After an advance party under Colonel Hardin was ambushed and routed by the Little Turtle, his force burned the villages at the forks of the Maumee, but then was nearly annihilated on the retreat by piecemeal defeats. General Hamtramck, stationed in Vincennes, was sent up the Wabash to make a diversion, but was ambushed at Pine Creek, at the same place where General George Rogers Clark had been saved from ambush in 1786 when his troops deserted before they reached the defile. Little Turtle suffered few casualties; the Americans had 92 dead.
General Charles Scott (later Governor of Kentucky) and General James Wilkinson led successful raids by mounted infantry as far as the Wabash early in 1791 with their volunteer militia. For more permanent results, however, the regular army was considered better resource. A new 2nd Regiment of regular infantry was authorized by Congress to add to the 1st, authorized in 1789, and General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territories, was placed in command.
Arthur St. Clair (1736-1818) had distinguished himself in the War for Independence by abandoning a fully-stocked Fort Ticonderoga to General Burgoyne in 1777. Politically prominent, he was named first Governor of the Northwest Territories in 1787. He enlisted a militia army to force the Indians to cede their lands and withdraw anywhere out of sight to the west. President Washington himself had chosen the site for a fort on the Maumeee, later Fort Wayne, near the ruined old French Fort des Miamis. General St. Clair assembled his army at Dayton from the two regiments of the regular army (all that then existed) and Ohio 6-months militia. marched north from Dayton, then the frontier, along the Miami River in a campaign to destroy the Indian strength and build the fort. On 4 (or 7) November 1791 the Miamis under Little Turtle surprised and annihilated his force of 1400 at the Battle of the Wabash, including his camp followers (about 200 women accompanied the army) and his hogs, the general fleeing in his underwear back to the Ohio, leaving more than 1000 dead. Major General Richard Butler of the Ohio militia was killed there. The Indians suffered few casualties. Captives provided great entertainment at the Indian encampments for the next few weeks. The usual outcome of using the regulars to fight Indians was again seen.
Major General James Wilkinson succeeded St. Clair in command of the army. A Republican scheme, the "Legion of the United States," was conceived, which effectively provided two additional regiments, to make four sub-legions of mixed arms, 4320 men in all. Of course, this was supplemented by militia, as usual, on short enlistments. Men did not rush to join the militia or the regulars, even though great prizes were offered.
The revenge for St. Clair's defeat was assigned to General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), the most competent United States general of the time. During the Revolution, Anthony Wayne was routed at Paoli in 1777, but restored his reputation by the victory at Stony Point in 1779 when he captured a small fort. He helped out at Yorktown in 1781. He was not as politically influential as many less capable generals, but had a reputation for bravery and irascibility that made him the reluctant choice of the politicians to replace Wilkinson. In 1792, he began training the Legion in Pittsburgh and whipped it into shape. Laborious preparation for the campaign was made by erecting forts and collecting supplies. His chain of forts consisted of Hamilton, Greenville, Recovery, Adams and Defiance, connecting the Ohio with the Maumee.
In 1793 Harrison sold his Virginia property to a brother for some land in Kentucky and some cash, casting his lot with the West. He married Anna Tuthill Symmes of Cincinnati in 1795, eloping when her father, Judge Symmes, would not agree to his proposal of marriage. Judge Symmes was also a land speculator, owner of a large land purchase, and Harrison had helped some of his customers in a dispute with the judge. He was soon reconciled with the judge, however, and was later the executor of his estate. He acquired extensive land, and built a large log house, at North Bend, west of Cincinnati, which he promoted, unsuccessfully, as a town site. Cincinnati became the local metropolis, while North Bend remained rural. He received his lieutenancy, and became aide-de-camp to General Wayne.
The preparations completed, General Wayne marched northward in the summer of '94 to revenge St. Clair's defeat, taking with him General Scott, General Wilkinson, and Lieutenant Harrison, as aides. Scott's mounted infantry accompanied the army, and was very useful. Wayne was a very different commander indeed from St. Clair. He was careful, vigilant, and promised to shoot anyone who fled from battle, overcoming a great defect of American armies. He did not despise the aid of militia who knew the country and effective tactics. On 20 August 1794 he met the Indian allies at Fallen Timbers near the rapids of the Maumee River, where a tornado had thrown down many trees a few years earlier, and was victorious. He advanced up the Maumee, burning villages and crops. A fort was built just south of the junction of the St. Joseph's and St. Mary's rivers, at the portage to the Wabash, and the site of a principal town of the Miami Indians. The earlier French Fort des Miamis had been further down the river. Fort Wayne, as it was named, anchored American power in the middle of the Indian territory. The treaty of Greenville in 1795, which he imposed on the Miamis, ceded large amounts of land in what was to be Ohio and Indiana. After this, the Miamis rapidly declined in numbers and morals. The Ohio War had ended, and the Northwest could be occupied. As a result of Jay's Treaty of 1794, the British gave up their forts south of the Lakes in 1796, which had been occupied despite the Treaty of Paris in 1783, including Detroit and Fort Miami just below the rapids of the Maumee.
An important theater of operations of the Ohio War and the War of 1812 in the west was anchored on the river now called Maumee, but then Miami of the Lakes. This river runs eastward from Fort Wayne to Lake Erie at Toledo, about 100 miles as the crow flies, perhaps 150 miles as the river winds. Its principal tributary, the Auglaize, joins it from the south about in the middle, where Fort Defiance was located. Between the Auglaize and the Lake are the rapids or falls of the Maumee, near which there were many forts at various times. The route from Cincinnati follows the Miami of the Ohio via Dayton and Piqua. The headwaters of the Auglaize, Miami and St. Mary's come together in the marshes near St. Mary's. It is typical that the divides or watersheds of rivers in this area are not high ridges, as in the Far West, but swampy areas, which makes portages practical if not pleasant. In 1812, the frontier was about 3 miles north of Piqua, but even then there were settlers along watercourses that provided transport for their produce, though the Indian danger was great. There were two Piquas, the first where Dayton now is, destroyed by George Rogers Clark in 1780 in revenge for a raid down the Licking River by the British and Miamis, the second where the current city is. Tecumseh was born at the first Piqua.
To the west of Fort Wayne, the Little River runs to the forks of the Wabash, about 30 miles away, near present-day Huntington. At 70 miles, the Mississiniwa enters from the south near Peru, where the Miami town of Mississiniway was located. At 85 miles, the Eel River, with more Miami settlements, comes in from the north at present-day Logansport. At 100 miles, the Tippecanoe enters from the north, not far from present-day Lafayette. The Maumee-Wabash route, although not as important for trade as the Fox-Wisconsin or Allegheny-Ohio routes, was the highway of the region.
Harrison received his captaincy in 1797, and was soon appointed the terrtorial secretary, resigning his army commission in June 1798. As secretary, he received 500 acres of land. In 1799, he was appointed first Delegate from the Northwest Territories to Congress when the territory entered the second stage of territorial government, for a two-year term. In the 1800 session of Congress, he successfully pushed legislation to sell land in sections and half-sections, instead of the 4000 acre minimum previously in force, so that ordinary citizens could buy from the government instead of land speculators. He wanted more, but this is what was possible. The territory was divided into Ohio and Indiana territories in 1800, and in 1801, on the expiry of his term as delegate, he was appointed Governor of Indiana Territory and removed to the small French village of Vincennes, the capital of Indiana. He built a Georgian brick house named Grouseland (or Grousland), which he often used for official functions, such as conferences with Indians. Vincennes had an academy, perhaps the only educational foundation in the region. There was a small fort, Fort Knox, and an Indian Agency there. There was forest in all directions, and few settlers as yet. Michigan was divided from Indiana in 1805, Illinois in 1809. Chillicothe, on the Scioto, was the first capital of Ohio, which became a state in 1803. The capital was later moved to Franklin, now Columbus, in 1816. In 1810, the population of the Northwest was about 273,000, 85% of which was in Ohio, which had grown by a factor of 5 since 1800. This was little more than the population of Tennessee, and only 2/3 that of Kentucky. The United States population was about 7,240,000, and the center of population was 40 miles northwest of Washington, DC.
As governor in the first stage of territorial government, Harrison was an absolute ruler, aided by a secretary and three judges. He was commander-in-chief of the territorial militia, and superintendent of Indian affairs, two jobs that occupied most of his attention. He received 1000 acres as emolument on becoming governor. From 30 April 1803 to 4 July 1805, Louisiana was attached to Indiana Territory while it was organized, and Harrison was for a while ruler of a huge empire. He ruled from just west of Cincinnati to the Rocky Mountains, and Lewis and Clark explored his domains. General James Wilkinson became governor in St. Louis in 1805, when Louisiana Territory was organized, and Harrison had many dealings with him, chiefly over Indian affairs. The Louisiana Purchase removed France and Spain from the trans-Mississippi, eliminating any intrigues with the Indians, which was a great relief to President Jefferson and Governor Harrison.
As soon as he was installed as governor in 1801, Indians brought their many grievances to Vincennes. The first order of business was to clear the title to the lands around Vincennes. The Piankishaws had deeded land to the Sieur de Vincennes in 1731 for a trading settlement, but the deed was lost. Another deed of 1775 confirmed the grant, however. General Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), who was later a principal of the Ohio Company, had made a treaty with the Piankishaws and Weas in 1793 confirming U. S. ownership, but the area had not been surveyed, and by 1801 disputes had arisen. A great council convened in Vincennes in September 1801. On the 17th, Harrison concluded a treaty that resolved the conflicts, including one over the saline spring at the mouth of the Wabash, claimed by Piankishaws as well as the Shawnees, who happened to be in occupation. The Piankishaws, who had once occupied the Wabash Valley from the Ohio to the Vermillion, were now reduced to a remnant of 25 to 30 warriors that hung about Vincennes to draw their subsidy. Also to be considered were routes between settlements through Indian land, which had to be provided with way stations and protected against raids. One such route was the path from Vincennes to the mouth of Pigeon Creek on the Ohio, where Evansville now stands. Another was the road from Vincennes to St. Louis across Piankishaw and Kaskaskia territory.
The method adopted by Harrison to acquire land from the Indians, the official United States policy, was to convince the civil chiefs, the sachems, of the bands inhabiting a designated area to sell their rights to the land they occupied in return for cash payments and a yearly subsidy in money and kind, which would guarantee them a living, and often a compensatory piece of land farther west in addition. Hunting rights to the ceded areas were also included, until they were cleared by settlement. This was not much advantage, since the mere presence of Europeans depleted game to the point where they could no longer make a living from their hunting grounds. All large animals, such as bison, bears, deer and elk, were already largely exterminated by Kentucky hunters for skins. The post road from Louisville to Vincennes, about 100 miles long, was a buffalo trace, a route that had been cleared of timber by habitual movement of large numbers of bison, now vanished. The water route was more than 300 miles long. It was about 150 miles to St. Louis by land, more than 450 by water.
Indians who ceded their lands and had little else to do, and since the hunting was rotten, clustered around the trading posts, such as Fort Wayne, to collect their subsidy. Most goods to Indiana came via Lake Erie from the east, and up the Maumee to Fort Wayne. Salt came by canoe or bateau up the Wabash from the saline near Shawneetown. This life rapidly wasted the tribes that endured it, from disease and whiskey and the absence of productive activity. Kaskaskias and Piankishaws dwindled until their per capita subsidy became excessive, and was taken away from them for the benefit of more numerous tribes, such as the Kickapoos. This money paid to the Indians for their lands was an extremely good deal for the United States, and by no means a perpetual drain.
The official policy was based on the fiction that dealings with the Indians were dealings with a foreign power. It assumed that the civil chiefs were like European rulers, which they were not. Much later, Indians adopted tribal government that was a copy of European government, not Indian at all. Land was purchased from this band and that, here and there. The fiction meant that legal rights could be denied to Indians as aliens, and the Nation could be held accountable for grievances. Some treaties provided for turning over murderers to each side. The Indians observed these provisions, the Americans did not. It was ignored that there was absolutely no authority in Indian society, only the powers of persuasion or threat. It was impossible to draw accurate boundaries, or even to identify persistent groups. The American policy effectively prevented the assimilation of Indians into white society, a great loss, and even made a segregated existence impossible. All this time, Americans thought, with unequalled hypocrisy, that their policy was uniquely enlightened and merciful. Indians were regarded as subhuman, not an unusual position for Americans to take in order to have a clear conscience. The words of Jefferson were no less self-serving and dissembling than those of any war chief bent on victory. When the Osages of Missouri answered a call for militia by forming a volunteer regiment to fight for the United States, their services were refused.
Except for his role in acquiring their land, Harrison did everything in his power for the welfare of the Indians. He saw that they were fairly dealt with, that the supply of alcohol was restricted, that outrages against them were punished, and that agreements with them were respected. In all these things he differed from the usual American custom. He was convinced, however, that the advance of settlement was natural and irresistible, though it should be carried out humanely. Treaties were concluded, sometimes several in one year, extinguishing Indian title to lands further and further northward, beyond the rich forest areas into the sterile (for the Indians) prairies west of the Wabash.
In the Treaty of Fort Wayne of 1803 the agreements of the preceding year were formalized. Later the same year, all Illinois lands were ceded except those of the Peorias, who had occupied a narrow strip between the Kaskaskias and the Sacs. The Kaskaskias, numbering only 15 or 16 warriors under chief du Quoin, needed little land, and the Peorias hung about Ste. Genevieve, reduced to a miserable fragment. On the 19th and 27th of August 1804, a treaty with the Delawares and Piankishaws cleared all the land between the Vincennes--Louisville road and the Ohio and Wabash rivers, a frontage of 300 miles on the Ohio and 150 miles on the Wabash. Also in 1804, the Sac and Fox ceded all lands between the Illinois and Wisconsin rivers, as far inland as the headwaters of the Fox, a cession carefully extended to include the rich lead mines in the northern part. Also in 1804, the Delawares and Piankishaws ceded more territory, and again in the Treaty of Grousland of August 1805, in which the Delawares ceded some land in the eastern part of Indiana. On 30 December 1805, the Piankishaws ceded the remainder of their land in Illinois.
Land ceded by the Indians became United States public land. It was sold mainly to large land companies, such as the Wabash and Illinois companies, who then retailed it to individuals for whatever the traffic would bear. One man could clear and plant about 10 acres in a year. The trees were cut, the rich virgin soil sown with wheat or corn, the logs were burnt, and the ashes sold for making potash and pearlash. Neighboring settlers cooperated in "log-rolling" and "corn-husking" as well as in raising buildings. Log-rolling was the collection of felled trees so they could be burnt at a central location. A considerable one-time profit could be made, half from the ashes, half from the virgin soil, provided transport was available. Generally, transport was not available, so the land was worthless, and did not sell. The land near rivers could be sold, however, and put to wheat and corn, and the corn could feed hogs. Squatters (Hoosiers) filtered into the remoter areas, escaping an even worse life in the hills of the South. They were almost self-sufficient, growing corn and beans for themselves and their hogs and chickens, with a miserable cow for milk, that foraged in the forest. They raised grey and sickly, unschooled children. Ginseng, and the produce of a whiskey still for the more entrepreneurial, could be sold to itinerant peddlers for the few comforts they enjoyed--tea, coffee, tobacco and a little calico. At least, on their high land they did not suffer as much from malaria--the ague or shakes--that tormented the valley dwellers. Milk fever and scurvy compensated for this advantage.
In 1805, Indiana achieved 5000 inhabitants, so it could move to the second grade of territorial government, self-government with a legislative council of 5 members, and a house of representatives elected by free white males with 50 or more acres freehold. This move was opposed by the land brokers, since it meant extra expenses that had to be supported by taxes. Harrison warmly supported the move, although it meant less power for him. Harrison was appointed Governor four times in a row, with little visible opposition.
Early in 1806 (McAfee says 1804), a Prophet arose among the Miamis at Greenville. He was a Shawnee who had a Creek mother, and his brother was Tecumseh (1768-1813), whose name was actually pronounced Tecumtheh by the Indians, and meant "shooting star." The Prophet's name was Tensquatawa or Lolawawchicka (Loud Voice), but he is usually just called the Prophet. Some say he was a drunkard until a religious conversion occurred when he was read the Bible by Shakers. His message was a strange mixture of Indian and Christian religion, which the Shakers maintained was similar to theirs, except in regard to celibacy. The Great Spirit was his inspiration (the Indian Great Spirit, not the white one) and he preached a return to traditional practices and abstinence from whiskey. He performed miracles, such as feeding 12 men from one giant ear of corn, and causing strange plants to appear from the earth. He accused the aged Delaware Teteboxti and the Christian Billy Patterson (both Indians, and chiefs) of witchcraft, and they were burned at the stake. Burning at the stake was quite common among the Indians, as among certain Christians, but it created a sensation at Vincennes. The Prophet's superstitions seemed to resonate with Christian superstitions, and he was supported by a considerable element among the whites.
The Prophet's activities were the visible and spiritual part of the efforts of his brother's to bring about a confederation of all tribes against the Americans to prevent their further advance. The Prophet looked to the Great Spirit to make the Americans vanish, while Tecumseh relied on persuasion. Tecumseh truly held that Indian lands were the common property of all Indians, and each tribe only took what they needed or could defend by war without reference to boundaries. Therefore, no individual tribe could alienate any part of the common property. If this position was maintained, the bit-by-bit land acquisitions would cease. Tecumseh respected Harrison, but maintained his position as constantly as Harrison maintained his, and there was no resolution except by force. Tecumseh's inspiration was Pontiac's great effort of about 40 years earlier. Tecumseh appealed to the war chiefs, not to the civil chiefs that had alienated land in return for money. The war chiefs resorted to the Prophet for the magic and charms that would make them victorious. Tecumseh did not urge war, but knew that the real power lay with the warriors. In some cases, he encouraged assassination of civil chiefs who would not agree with his program.
1807 was a year of enthusiasm among the Prophet's supporters, and there were many councils. This activity alarmed the settlers, always fearful of roaming war parties, real or imaginary. In Vincennes, Harrison began to organize and train the militia, but lacked practically everything necessary to make an effective army. By 1808, rising tensions with Britain resulted in a Federal call for 100,000 militia to be raised, of which Harrison was responsible for his share, and with it came a better supply of equipment. The Indians had spent so much time at the Prophet's services in the spring that they had neglected to plant corn, so famine was averted only by an issue of grain at Fort Wayne in the autumn, rustled up by Harrison. In June, the Prophet moved to the Wabash, near the mouth of the Tippecanoe, and established Prophetstown. This placed him outside U.S. territory, where his presence had been deprecated. So far, he had had little effect on the Miamis and Delawares, but Pottawatomies, Ojibwas, Ottawas and Winnebagoes assembled at the new camp for the ceremonies and dances.
The Prophet visited Harrison in August 1808, and assured him that his aims were peaceful, and to be secured by religion, not war. This was very possibly true, but was only half the truth, since the Prophet did not speak for Tecumseh. In 1809, tensions with Britain intensified. The Prophet and Tecumseh were supposed to be little more than British agents, and inspired by Britain through the sininster McKee, who crept among the northern Indians like a bad bird whistling in their ears. There were several more accessions of land east of the Wabash in this year, mainly for the purpose of pushing the Indians farther from the settlements, as the settlers complained continually of their vulnerability. The Prophet visited again in 1809, with unclear results. The number of his supporters had decreased considerably at this time, and he wanted to emphasize his lack of aggression.
Fort Knox, two miles north of Vincennes, was the only protection for the capital, which had been on the very edge of the forest until additional land had been acquired as a buffer zone. The fort was on a high isolated hill above the river, an excellent and obvious location. The garrison consisted only of Lieutenant Whitlock and 14 or 15 men, not a reassuring force. Harrison raised two companies of militia to reinforce the garrison. Occasional random raids by war parties created near panic, that Harrison had to counteract. Whenever an Indian or a white was murdered, revenge was taken on the nearest individual of the opposite party, guilty or not. This awakened further revenge, and so on. The people generally thought that the war parties came from Prophetstown, or were encouraged by the activites there. Those who gave excuses for the Prophet lived mainly in Philadelphia and Boston.
By April 1810 the Prophet had recruited his forces, and had 350-400 men at Prophetstown, now largely Kickapoos and Winnebagos, with smaller numbers of Pottawatomies, Shawnees, Ojibwas and Ottawas. By May, they had increased to 600-800. Later, the Wyandots came in, bringing some Miamis with them. Delawares would have nothing to do with the Prophet. This increase in support was probably due to Tecumseh's efforts the preceding winter. All this was quite alarming in Vincennes, and reinforcements were requested. Captain Cross left Pittsburgh with 120 men for the west, where the 6th Regiment replaced his force. Captains Posey and Floyd reported to Vincennes. The arrival of regular troops made it possible to release the militia for the harvest. On 12 August, Tecumseh took part in a large council called by Harrison, and a war almost broke out there when it was feared that Tecumseh had come to assassinate Harrison.
Tensions increased through the winter of 1810-1811 and into the following summer, both with the British and with Tecumseh. Objections were raised to the Fort Wayne treaty of 1809 as ceding territory under duress and which was the property of tribes not present--according to the Prophet, all other tribes. The British agent Elliot was busy, and most of the trouble was supposed due to his activity. Harrison sued McIntosh, a Scottish resident and landowner of Vincennes, who had opposed the representative government in 1805, for slander over remarks concerning the 1809 treaty, and won a $4000 judgment. Harrison began reinforcing his position, having Captains Posey and Cross winter at Vincennes with their troops. In June, he requested to be sent Colonel Boyd and the 4th Regiment from Pittsburgh. It was widely feared that Tecumseh, with 800-1000 warriors from Prophetstown, would descend on Vincennes while a diversionary attack was made in Illinois. The three companies of Knox County militia were made to appear as five by how they were marched about. He had repeatedly informed the Prophet and Tecumseh that no aggression would be tolerated, saying that his men were "more numerous than the musquitoes on the shores of the Wabash."
Secretary of War Eustis, in a letter of 17 July, said the 4th Regiment had been sent to Vincennes, but Harrison was to avoid using it if at all possible to allow it to meet contingencies in any war with Britain, which was threatening to break out. Tecumseh made a visit in force to Vincennes on 27 July, coming himself by water, but with about 300 others, including 25 to 30 women and children, joining him by land. Harrison met him, making his forces look as formidable as possible, so that the meeting looked more like war than peace. Neither man yielded an inch. After the tense meeting was concluded, Tecumseh went south down the Wabash to a winter's journey among the Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks, returning via the Osages beyond the Mississippi. His escort returned to Prophetstown. On the 31 July, a public meeting in Vincennes urged immediate action against the Prophet, sending a memorial to Washington. Three years of alarms had frayed their frightened nerves to the breaking point. On the other hand, some people maintained that the Prophet was an innocent victim of unrestrained expansionism, and opposed action against him.
Militia recruiting lagged in this atmosphere. Perhaps more important than sentiment in favor of the Prophet was the agitation at Prophetstown that seemed to presage raids on the white population. Under these conditions, men could not be persuaded to leave their homes undefended to march around Vincennes, and perhaps to be called even farther away. The result was that Harrison could raise only half the troops he expected.
On 1 August, Harrison wrote Eustis saying that he planned a mid-September march on Prophetstown without the 4th Regiment. The march was to be a demonstration of force encouraging the camp to break up for the winter. The 4th returned to the arsenal at Newport, Kentucky. Harrison had second thoughts a few days later, and said he would need the 4th after all. Colonel John P. Boyd was again ordered to Indiana, and Harrison went to Jeffersonville to await him. On 3 September, the 4th arrived in Jeffersonville and the decision of whether to move it forward by land or water had to be taken. It was decided to be easier to keep to the boats and go by water, since time was available. A week later, only half the force reached Vincennes in health, as sickness had broken out on the boats. Harrison was appointed Brigadier General to command the expedition, which included Federal as well as Indiana troops. Before describing how the force was assembled for the march, let's first compare Indian and European ways of waging war, and examine why the Indians were so effective. The nature of the United States army at this time is described in The Army.
Indian warfare was carried out by small bands of warriors, from a handful up to perhaps 30 or 40 men, led by a war chief who had the confidence of the band, and whose authority consisted only in his physical and persuasive powers. Chiefs of great authority, of which Pontiac and Tecumseh are outstanding examples, could exert influence over many such war chiefs, and assemble a large army. However, this army was only an association of war parties, and its actions were controlled only by endless haranguing and arguments at the council fire. The tactics of the war party were to attack only forces of equal or lesser strength, using surprise and deception as far as possible to gain advantage. War parties moved quickly, silently and invisibly through the forest, easily covering 30 or 40 miles a day. They moved in single file, flitting from cover to cover when approaching an enemy. A disadvantage was that panic and discouragement of one party could easily disconcert other parties, leading to a general flight. There was no overall control or organization to hold things firm, or to maneuver a large body.
European warfare, on the other hand, was carried out by large, organized bodies of troops under a single chain of command. The principle of mutual support, a cornerstone of Roman tactics, gave a rank of soldiers superiority over a chaotic attack of individuals. Two or three soldiers side by side were more than a match for any single individual. The organization prevented the panic of a few soldiers from infecting the mass. The direct assault of a fortified position was often successful and decisive. When the defenders rose to deliver their first volley, they were met by a volley from the attackers. Before the muskets could be reloaded, the bayonets of the attackers were at the defenses. Concentration of force at a weak point of the opposing army, a maneuver made possible by the centralized command, could break through and spread havoc in the enemy's rear. Massed artillery could counter an assault quite effectively, while rapid-moving cavalry could overrun and shock either infantry or artillery in the field. Armies moved slowly, however, burdened by the supplies for their many soldiers, hardly more than 5 miles a day in wilderness. Scouts were sent out, and sentries posted, to give notice of the positions and movements of enemy armies.
The great power of European warfare could not be brought to bear on the Indians. A war party could melt into the forest before a cavalry assault could have any effect. Cavalry, in fact, was of little use against Indians in the forest, as was artillery. Scouts and sentries were equally useless. What would they give notice of? War parties would pick off such isolated forces. Whenever a European army marched in the forest, it was surrounded by a swarm of war parties observing its movements, and taking such advantage as presented itself. European warfare rested on decisive engagements of large numbers, Indian warfare on piecemeal erosion by small actions. Wherever Indians found themselves in a mass engagement with an army in a set battle, they generally suffered, because advantage passed to the overwhelming number of organized troops.
Surprise and ambush were the usual tactics. Movies present mounted Indians riding around the circled wagons under murderous fire, and they keep coming until the ground is littered with their bodies. No Indian would attack this way. At night, perhaps, one or two warriors would creep up to a sentry and dispatch him silently, then others would follow through the gap, and at one sign fall on the sleeping emigrants, who would awake in terror to the whoops in the darkness and chaos. More likely, the war party would wait in ambush at some place where the wagons would be spread out and hindered by a ford or bluff, and attack by rapid jabs here and there. Indians never assaulted a well-fortified position, but defended them effectively, as at Ticonderoga in 1755. They shot from cover, then melted away when attacked. They did not leave the bodies of their dead and wounded on the field, where possible. The bodies littering the ground were usually white ones. Often, Indians would steal horses or burn a corncrib, then leave a clear trail for pursuers. The posse of irate settlers would follow the trail of what they thought was a small band into the welcoming arms of a considerable force that would quickly destroy them.
Many things become easier to understand when it is realized that the Indian intelligence network was excellent. Every move of armies or settlers was known as quickly as runners could move. The speed of Indian communication was faster than that of express riders, and certainly faster than the regular mail. Canoes were faster than horses. From the time an army set off into the wilderness, its position, composition and movement were constantly known to the Indians in a wide area surrounding it, even up to a hundred miles away and farther. The army, on the other hand, knew nothing of the Indians or their dispositions until it ran into them. When an Indian village was raided, the raiders then found all sucessive villages they encountered abandoned, and war parties already hovering about them for the revenge.
European-style armies could indeed adopt Indian tactics, making use of cover, but then a new difficulty emerged. The Indian used cover actively, while attacking or defending, like a shield. The white soldier tended to think of cover as a place to hide, and often did just that, staying very low and firing off his weapon at random so he would not be observed to have not used his ammunition. Therefore, when the mass army took cover, it usually lost most of its momentum and effectiveness. This problem is observed today, and stringent efforts are made to counteract it, but with less than perfect success.
General Wayne devised successful tactics for meeting the challenges of Indian warfare. First of all, an army should march as a compact body offering the maximum of mutual support, strong in all directions against unexpected attack, each unit prepared to defend the ground it occupies. Traditionally, the long string of soldiers and wagons along the line of march deployed to the line of battle to fight, but in Indian wars there was no time for evolutions. Reconnaissance should be made in force, with detachments strong enough to deter casual attack, and to repel chance encounters. Great care should be taken to avoid surprise, both on the march and in camp, by being aware of the terrain and its possibilities. Camps should be fortified and surrounded by a dense string of sentries to give instant warning of surprise attacks, especially in darkness. Specially useful were units of mounted infantry, which could move rapidly, then dismount to fight as infantry. Such units did not require the extensive training and discipline of dragoons, and could take cover when necessary. Harrison absorbed these lessons while aide-de-camp to General Wayne, and followed them carefully in all his later campaigns.
The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought in the morning of 7 November 1811, a few miles northeast of the present city of Lafayette, Indiana between Indiana and Kentucky territorial troops reinforced by the 4th Regiment, US Infantry, commanded by Governor Harrison, and the warriors allied to The Prophet, Tenskwatawa, who were mainly Kickapoos and Pottawatomies, under White Loon, Stone Eater and Winnemac. The forces engaged were roughly equal, perhaps 800 on either side. The Indians left Harrison in possession of the field, and he destroyed their settlement, Prophetstown the next day. Both sides suffered roughly equal losses. The effect of the battle was temporarily to remove the threat of The Prophet to the frontier settlements. It was, in effect, the first battle of the War of 1812.
Tippecanoe was ever after associated closely with Harrison, so it is important from this reason alone to give a rather complete account of the incident here. It also excellently displays the tactics of the two kinds of armies, European and Indian, which are seen over and over again. On looking into an encyclopedia for a short account of Tippecanoe, I found a useless article in which the battle could hardly be recognized. This battle was discussed and argued over for many years, even up to the presidential election of 1840. The disputants were not much hindered by the facts.
Harrison's army was a disparate group, consisting mainly of about 450 Indiana militia and 250 soldiers of the 4th Regiment, United States Infantry. This regiment had had no experience in Indian warfare. There were 60 Kentucky volunteers, a few companies of mounted rifles, and a few companies of dragoons. Harrison had long pleaded for better militia training in regular camps in place of the informal, and practically useless, musters once or twice a year. He did the best he could with the militia, and they frequently gave excellent service under his leadership, but he was never happy with their quality.
Joseph H. Daviess of Kentucky (pron. Davis), a leading lawyer, enlisted as a private to fight with Harrison, saying that the land was "infested with generals so grossly incompetent," and that Harrison and Clark were the only generals worthy of the name in the west. Daviess was made a Colonel, and brought a regiment of Kentucky mounted rifles with him to Vincennes. Colonel Daviess gave the regiment to another colonel, and assumed command of the dragoons as a major. The dragoons consisted of a troop of 70 under Captain Parke from Knox County, armed with sabre and two pistols, a troop under Captain Biggs of Clark County, and a troop under Captain Funk from Jefferson County, Kentucky, about 130 in all. Daviess sought military glory, and thought the best way was as a dashing dragoon commander. Colonel Abraham Owens, a Kentucky Senator, also enlisted as a private, but was immediately appointed aide-de-camp and commander of the mounted rifles. The case of Private-Colonel-Major Daviess shows how rank was handled in the United States. He was called (Kentucky) Colonel Daviess, but was no more than (Indiana) Private Daviess until he was given a major's command and brevetted (US) Major Daviess, pro tem. Brevet ranks were necessary, since a Captain could not legally command a Colonel, but occasionally did, in practice. The first official regular army brevet was the Majority given to Captain Zachary Taylor after his successful defense of Fort Harrison in 1812.
Harrison also collected about 10 companies of Indiana militia, and 2 or 3 companies from the Fort Knox garrison. Around 26 September, the army marched northward up the Wabash. A strong reconnaissance force of about 60 Kentucky mounted infantry under Major Wells and Lieutenant Berry headed the column, which marched in two files, led by the drums and musicians. The 250 men of the 4th regiment, commanded by Major Boyd, were at the front. Between them marched General Harrison and his staff. The militia, about 350 strong, followed next, commanded by Colonel Luke Decker, Lt. Col. Joseph Bartholomews, Major Redman and Captain Spencer. Between them struggled the wagons with the army's supplies. Jo Daviess and his dragoons guarded the rear, ready to respond to any emergency. The order of march was strictly enforced, and the men cautioned to expect to defend their positions. Some changes were made to respond to differences in terrain, but this was the order of march both to and from Tippecanoe. The infantry were armed with muskets and bayonets, the mounted infantry with rifles, the dragoons with sabre and pistols. Each had its utility.
By 5 October, the army was 65 miles up the Wabash, near the present city of Terre Haute. The average progress, as can be estimated, was about 6.5 miles a day through the woods. Commissary supplies, furnished by a contractor, were expected to arrive by water at this point, but the amounts received were quite insufficient, especially of bread (flour). Fort Harrison was built at this point (named by unanimous decision of the officers), just within U.S. territory. Colonel James Millar, recovering from bilious fever (typhoid), and the invalids, were appointed its garrison. This fort would serve as a supply base and a place of refuge. Indians hovered constantly around the army, noting what was happening and stealing horses, and making rude gestures when glimpsed. The army paused here through most of October, waiting to see what the Indians would do. Negotiations proceeded with the Prophet, using the Delawares as intermediaries, but without success.
After the 27th, there were war dances day and night in Prophetstown, since the Indians were well aware of events, and big medicine was necessary. On the 31st, the army marched onward into Indian territory. One night when making camp, Colonel Boyd, second in command, had got himself in a fine mess attempting to form a hollow square, but Harrison sorted things out quickly when he arrived. Boyd had a fine contempt for the militia, being a regular officer. He later disparaged them "an untutored and undisciplined band," magnifying his own role in the campaign, claiming that he had made essential contributions, while he had done no such thing. Jo Daviess was very free with his suggestions to Harrison, saying that a "true militia man" offers his opinions unasked.
The army abruptly crossed the Wabash to the west bank to take advantage of the level prairie north of the river, which made surprise less probable. They left their boats, which they brought from Fort Harrison, at the crossing point and built a blockhouse to protect them. The troops were amazed at the fine prairie that streched northward and westward, being used to the dim forest. The Pine Creek crossing further ahead was rocky and difficult, an excellent place for an ambush. In fact, George Rogers Clark and Colonel Hamtramck had been ambushed here, as mentioned above. Great care was taken, and there was no ambush, though the Indians were ready to mount one in case a normal American general had been commanding.
On 5 November, the army was 9-10 miles from Prophetstown, and 5-6 miles away on the morning of the 6th. They approached very cautiously, well away from the river, and avoided ambush at the Burnett Creek crossing. Just beyond that point, Prophetstown became visible on a plateau between Burnett Creek on the north and the Wabash on the south, about 4 miles below the mouth of the Tippecanoe River. A site for a camp was chosen on this plateau about 1-1/2 miles from the town, but reconnaissance revealed a preferable site on a point of high ground further north, separated from the plateau by a valley, about 3/4 mile from Prophetstown. There was wood, water, grass and a defensible position where the village of Battle Ground now stands. Harrison remarked that militia sentinels "were not very remarkable for their vigilance," so he took great care in posting the guard, especially since the camp was not fortified.Ben, a black bullock driver employed by the contractor, disappeared in the evening and returned later wearing an Indian cap, like the medicine caps made by the Prophet. When he was discovered prowling around Harrison's tent, he threw the cap in the bushes, and claimed he had not been challenged by the sentries. He was secured a la mode du sauvage, which meant shackles for wrists and ankles made from a split log held down by forked stakes, and put before a court martial after the Battle. He was convicted of desertion by Colonel Boyd, presiding, and sentenced to death. Captain Snelling had advised mercy, and Harrison commuted the sentence, though Ben's mission was probably to assassinate him.
Harrison's orders from the President were not to take aggressive action unless absolutely necessary. Harrison intended to hold a parley with the Prophet on the 7th. If there were no successful outcome, he would then attack and disperse Prophetstown. Jo Daviess and others urged him to attack at once, and teach the savages a lesson, but Harrison was firm. Daviess saw the chances of military glory dissipating if the situation were resolved by diplomacy and they marched back to Vincennes without a fight. No one, not even Harrison, expected the Indians to attack the camp. However, he made provisions for that contingency. The men were ordered to sleep in uniform, with their weapons loaded beside them and their cartridge boxes slung, so they were ready for instant action.
Harrison and his staff officers arose at 3.45 am. There were General Wells, aides-de-camp Major Taylor, Colonel Abraham Owens of Kentucky and Major Hurst, and Captain N. W. Adams, adjutant-general of the 4th Regiment around the small morning fire. It was drizzling lightly. Just at first light, about 4.30 am on that date (sunrise was at 5.30), shots, deer hoof rattles and the shrill war cry broke the stillness. One or two sentries fell, but within a minute or two all the troops were up and fighting. Harrison's servant could not find his white horse, so gave him his second horse, a dark one. Colonel Owens was on a white horse, unfortunately for him, and instantly fell from the fire of two warriors who had infiltrated the camp in the dark for the purpose of killing Harrison, who usually rode a white horse. Owensboro, Kentucky recalls his name. The rim of Harrison's hat was cut by a ball, which he said parted his hair. Harrison moved between the lines to the critical points, ordering reinforcements and encouraging the troops.
The Prophet sang his war-song from a high point near the battle, but out of range, not relying on his charms to protect himself. He had prepared a mixture that would make his men invulnerable, and would cause their enemies to fall as they approached, so no resistance was expected from the Americans. Unfortunately, The Prophet's wife had touched the kettle in which the potion was made, and, of course, this female contact rendered it useless. His village was also protected by magic, but steps had been taken to fortify it as a backup.
The first attack was at the rear, on the Burnett Creek side, at the angle between Luke Decker's militia and Col. Bean's regulars. There was an initial penetration while the men arose and organized themselves, but it was driven back. The fighting was fierce and chaotic, man to man. The next assault was on the left front, between Posey's militia company and Robb's mounted rifles. Robb gave way under the fierce attack, but the men were regrouped by Captain Posey and held. An Indiana county is named after Posey. Jo Daviess ordered a charge to dislodge some support for the attack on the left flank by men under cover in front of the lines. Unfortunately, only a few dragoons heard his command, so he charged out with only a few nearby companions. He was mortally wounded, achieving glory at the cost of his life. There are Daviess counties in Indiana and Kentucky, and Jo Daviess county in Illinois. His name was pronounced Daviss, not Daveez, whatever people say now, as the early spelling clearly shows. The attack now moved to the right flank, where Captains Spier Spencer and Jacob Warwick were killed, giving names to two southern Indiana counties. Lieutenants R. McMahan and Thomas Berry also died. Captain Robb's reformed company was sent to reinforce Spencer's hard-pressed men, who had lost their brave captain.
Then the Indians retired, and the soldiers gave a cheer. United States casualties were about 50 dead and 100 wounded (108 casualties officially reported). Seven officers, one sergeant, two corporals, and 52 privates were killed or mortally wounded. Of the Prophet's men, 38 were left on the field, of anywhere between 450 and 1000 engaged. It was the first U.S. victory in the Indian wars where the number of effectives on each side was roughly equal, and where casualties were not predominately white. Harrison's army enjoyed the advantage of using cartridges, so they could fire more rapidly than the Indians, who still used loose powder.
Harrison ravaged the surrounding villages, but unlike most American commanders, gave strict orders against murdering women, children, and the aged. The hostile Indians, largely Pottawatomies, Kickapoos and Menominees, dispersed to their homes or lurked in the friendly villages, dismayed by the failure of the Prophet's medicine. The Prophet himself lay low, but did not leave the Wabash. Tecumseh was far away among the Creeks, and had ordered the Prophet not to fight. He was exasperated by the result, when he heard what had been done. Tecumseh's support evaporated; when he returned, his alliance was in ruins, and the tribes scattered. Nevertheless, he immediately went to work again to patch up his alliance. For a while after the battle, things were quieter as the consequences were digested. It was winter anyway, and no time for action.
No sooner was the battle over than the inevitable criticism began. At least the Indians had attacked, blunting the opposition of those who thought the Prophet rudely treated. On the other hand, he was condemned for not attacking at once on the 6th, by the war enthusiasts. Colonel Boyd of the regulars attacked the militia as bumblers in his pique over the lack of recognition of his contributions, whatever they may have been, in Harrison's report. The insulted militia attacked Boyd in return, and sent memorials to Washington supporting Harrison. The friends of Jo Daviess complained that Harrison had not listened to his advice (which he had, and followed it) and had ordered him to make a suicide charge (which was Daviess' own idea). Others said the site of the camp was where the Indians had suggested, which it was not. Armchair strategists claimed that Harrison had allowed himself to be surprised. Anyone familiar with Indian warfare knew that such "surprise" was the usual start of any action, and the key was being always prepared, which Harrison was. The camp had not been fortified, which was indeed a fault, but an assault on it was not anticipated under the conditions. The troops were indeed asleep when the attack began, but it was expected that their rest would be needed for the next day. These slanderous arguments continued until the Presidential campaign of 1840, quite typically of American politics.
In March 1812, trouble broke out again. Raids were made deep into white territory, even as far as the Ohio, to excite terror. Canoes could travel more quickly than horses, so the attacks fell without warning. Such activity would greatly embarrass militia recruitment, which was its apparent motive. On 28 April 1812, Harrison mustered the Indiana Rangers, who were assigned in detachments to guard settlements. Delawares and Miamis, who had been steadfastly friendly since the treaty of Greenville, were encouraged to occupy the lands ceded but not yet settled to act as a buffer against the tribes beyond the Wabash. On 7 March, the 4th Regiment was ordered to Detroit, and soon left Vincennes under Colonel Millar. Finding a sufficient garrison for Vincennes and Fort Knox was a continuing problem, alleviated by the postings of various companies of regulars and raising of militia. For some time, settlers and refugees did not consider Vincennes a safe haven, and moved beyond.
When the situation at Vincennes was put on a satisfactory basis, Harrison left for Cincinnati on 19 June, from where he could look after the organization of militia from the eastern counties. He had resigned his commission, but held himself ready for service if necessary. Of course, he still commanded the Indiana militia. Besides, his family was in the area, at North Bend, and it was a more central location. With the outbreak of war, he was put in command of forces for the defense of the Ohio and Mississippi regions, not only those of Indiana, but also the Illinois militia, with the agreement of Governor Edwards, and drew upon the Kentucky militia as well, with the agreement of Governor Scott. It was very unusual to give the command of militia to a commander from another state or territory, but Harrison was respected and trusted.
The United States declared war on Great Britain on 18 June 1812, when Napoleon was headed for Moscow and what looked like domination of all Europe. For the full story of this war, see The War of 1812. Here, I shall only describe its progress in the Northwest. The war ended as Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and Britain's hands became free to pay more attention to North America. The United States did not win the war in any sense. The only war aim that was achieved was the end of British support for the Indians. I shall only describe Harrison's campaigns in the West here, and even so it is difficult to include all the interesting occurrences. Indian wars were serious and practically continuous after 1763. The war in the West was principally an Indian war in nature and tactics, despite the presence of a few British officers and regulars, and Canadian militia.
The hand of the British government was seen in every Indian uprising, especially by Westerners. It must be remembered that the British government was not trying to acquire the Indian lands, and had earlier protected the Indians from settlement in their regions, but that the outcome of the War for Independence had changed all that. Added to that was the murderous attitude of most Americans towards Indians, based on mutual atrocities, which did not engender love and trust. There was every reason for the Indians and British to have made common cause. On 17 June, Tecumseh passed through Fort Wayne on his way to Malden. On 12 July, the Prophet showed up a Fort Wayne with 300 warriors, on a peaceful visit. An express from Tecumseh received on the 19th ordered him to see that the women and children were removed to beyond the Mississippi, and to make a diversionary attack on Vincennes if possible. The Prophet returned to Tippecanoe on the 22nd.
Kentuckians were eager to invade and conquer Canada, forever removing the British threat from the West, and their support for the Indians who were in the way of exploitation. The War Hawks, including Clay and Calhoun, agitated for war with Britain, which was declared on the false pretext of trade and naval disagreements. The War Hawks, it hardly needs to be said, did not go near the war, with rare exceptions, preferring others to perform the necessary dangerous chores. The Secretary of War appointed Governor William Hull of Michigan and James Winchester of Kentucky as brigadier generals to manage the conquest of Canada in the west. Hull was given an army with the mission of seizing Fort Malden and invading Upper Canada. This army marched on 1 June from Dayton, well before the declaration of war, the 4th Regiment joining at Urbana. Late in July, it was heard that he was on British soil, at Sandwich (Windsor, opposite Detroit), and was expected to take Fort Malden momentarily. Hull issued a boastful proclamation, but did little else. Hull's army had taken with them most of the available equipment and supplies on the Ohio, and all the artillery. An important factor was the whiskey ration, which was used to entice soldiers to do their duties by filling their canteens with it. Twelve barrels were taken into Canada, and Hull ordered that only one day's ration was to be drawn at a time. Ohio militia would not cross into Canada, having "Constitutional Scruples."
The defense of Upper Canada had been entrusted to the very capable Maj-Gen Isaac Brock. He immediately drove General Hull back into Fort Detroit and cut him off from support. Hull drank and chewed and gave bad orders until his officers conspired to try and have him replaced. On 16 August 1812, the utterly incompetent General Hull surrendered Detroit to General Brock without a struggle, together with all his supplies and artillery (29 pieces, including 9 iron 24-pounders, with lots of ammunition). Most of the settled part of Michigan was then occupied by the British. Fort Michilimackinac had already capitulated to a small British force and their Indian allies without a fight, giving them a much-needed supply of powder. Fort Dearborn at Chicago had fallen on the 15th after a siege, having run out of food. Captain William Wells, commandant of Fort Wayne, had gone to relieve Fort Dearborn, but was killed there in the massacre that followed. Captain Rhea replaced him at Fort Wayne, was soon besieged by the local Indians, and took to drink. It was a rather complete disaster for the Americans, having lost Detroit, Chicago and Mackinaw precipitately. General Brock departed for Niagara to take charge there, leaving Colonel Proctor in command at Fort Malden.
Although Hull was later court-martialed, sentenced to be shot for cowardice, reprieved by President Madison and stricken from the army rolls, his blundering was not the only cause of the disaster. Previously, he had urged that control of Lake Erie be seized. Such control was oviously necessary for the security of Detroit--obvious to everyone but the bunglers in Washington. Governor Shelby of Kentucky urged that a board be named to handle military decisions on the spot in the west. This was implemented by Secretary Eustis by making General Harrison supreme commander in the region. This, of course, was a wise thing to do, but in general we see Washington letting matters fall on individual commanders, and providing no direction or coordination at all. The incompetence at Washington was the greatest incompetence, and was largely responsible for all disasters. As usual, culprits were sought in the ranks of subordinates.
As soon as it was known that Hull was in trouble, efforts were made to relieve him. Colonel Samuel Wells was ordered to the support of Hull with the regular 17th and 19th regiments, which were far under strength. General James Winchester was ordered to reinforce Hull with troops from Kentucky. The order arrived simultaneously with news of Hull's surrender, so Winchester stayed put and Wells delayed. Governor Meigs of Ohio hurried back and forth around Urbana doing what he thought was preparing for war, but accomplished nothing, merely using up what supplies were still available without acquiring more. On the 10th of August, before Hull's disaster was known, Harrison had recommended creating a chain of forts on the Illinois from St. Louis to Chicago, and a march with a covering army to Fort Wayne. Events overtook these plans, but he was able to reinforce Vincennes with four companies from southern Indiana. On the 18th, he went to Louisville to see about matters there. Lacking orders from the War Department, he took the initiative to get things rolling. There was a shortage of tents, canteens and powder, Hull having taken everything with him. He made arrangements for resupply, which were later confirmed by a grateful Secretary Eustis. A 1 September rendezvous was set for 2 regiments of infantry and cavalry at Frankfort, 1 regiment at Louisville for Vincennes, and 1 regiment at Red Banks (Henderson) on the Ohio. This was all before the bad news from Detroit arrived on the Ohio.
From Lousiville, Harrison went to Frankfort. To clarify the command situation, on 24 September he was made Major-General in the Kentucky militia so he would outrank the several brigadier generals around, such as Winchester (who agreed). This was an extraordinary measure, since Harrison was not a citizen of Kentucky, but he was supported by all, especially the troops. He and Winchester set out for Cincinnati on the 25th, arriving there on the 27th. He took command of 3 regiments of Kentucky infantry, Colonel Wells's detachment, and a troop of 12-month volunteer Kentucky dragoons, about 2100 men in all, most of whom did not know one end of a musket from the other. As for artillery, there was only one iron 4-pounder in the west. The army marched on the 29th, on the route via Dayton and Piqua, to relieve Fort Wayne, since Detroit had fallen. Winchester returned to Lexington, where he received an order dated the 22nd on the 31st, ordering him to reinforce Hull. Of course, this order could not be carried out. The Governor overtook the column on the 31st, cheered as he moved to the front. On the 1st, they were in Dayton, and on the 3rd, at Piqua, near the limit of settlement. Here they paused until the 6th, waiting for rifle flints. Harrison then learned that Winchester had been assigned the relief of Fort Wayne, and sent for him, but because of the critical situation, hurried on, letting Winchester catch up when he could. On the 8th, they were at the St. Mary's river, where Richard M. Johnson arrived with his Kentucky mounted rifles.
As the column approached Fort Wayne, sometime around the 12th or 13th, the besiegers melted into the forest. Harrison then sent detachments to ravage hostile villages and burn their supplies at the forks of the Wabash, 30 miles west, and on Elk Hart river near Lake Michigan, 50 miles north. At this time he planned a rapid stroke, marching to Detroit via the River Raisin, as soon as all the army arrived and its supplies were ensured. Winchester had received orders making him the commander of the force relieving Fort Wayne, and he now arrived on the scene. Harrison transferred part of the army to Winchester, but kept the Kentucky and Indiana forces that were not part of Winchester's command. The army having been split, Harrison returned to Piqua to see about supplies, a constant problem. There he received a letter from the War Office that had taken 14 days to reach him concerning troop and supply arrangments, sent economically by regular mail! A letter forwarded by express reached him at about the same time, naming him the supreme commander in the west and leaving no doubt of his authority. The delay was probably due to the difficulty of finding an incompetent general. Most of the incompetent generals, such as Henry Dearborn, had already been assigned to high posts. James Monroe was offered the command, but wisely refused it, and Harrison was all that was left, even though he was competent. Winchester agreed to serve under him, although he was given the option of being transferred to the Niagara front instead.
Harrison left Winchester with what was to be the left wing of the army to recover Detroit at Fort Defiance, while he went eastward to arrange for the right wing, of Pennsylvania and Virginia troops advancing via Wooster, and the central column advancing via Urbana. Supplies had to be moved to the front and safely stored. Winchester was to advance to the rapids of the Maumee and build a fort there. Harrison built Fort Meigs further down the Maumee. Governor Meigs had been offended by offhand remarks of Harrison's that implied that he was ineffective and an old woman, and naming the fort after him probably mollified the injured party. Organizing things took an unbelievable amount of time, and as the weather got colder, it was discovered that the troops had no winter clothing. Appeals were sent out as far as Kentucky for coats and boots for the soldiers. Contending with the mud, weather, Indian raids, and official bungling, the autumn became winter, and still the army was not ready to advance. Six-months enlistments for the campaign were running out. In contemplating the delays, Harrison said "I did not make sufficient allowance for the imbecility and inexperience of the public agents, and the villany of the contractors." He pointed out the great advantage that control of Lake Erie gave to the British, and called for naval action.
In order to get to Michigan from Ohio, the great Black Swamp, between the Maumee and Portage rivers, had to be crossed. This was possible for wagons only in freezing weather. A supposed "road" was impassible. The weather this winter was cold enough to be miserable, but rain and unusual warmth ruined the ice both in the swamp and on Lake Erie. General Winchester arrived at the rapids of the Maumee, the chosen point of concentration for the invasion of Canada, on 10 January, having left Fort Defiance on 30 December, and began to build a substantial fort there. On the 13th, French settlers at Frenchtown on the River Raisin (near present-day Monroe) begged Winchester to come before their stores of grain and other supplies were taken by the British. Winchester sent an advanced force under Colonel Lewis and Colonel Allen of 660 men in all. Approaching Frenchtown on the 18th, they threw back a force of 100 British and 400 Indians under Major Reynolds. Informed of this, Winchester saw the chance of an easy victory, and followed on the 19th with 250 additional men, all he could spare from the fort, and called for reinforcements from Harrison. The next day, Harrison arrived at the rapids, appalled by Winchester's precipitate action. Reinforcements were sent anyway, and he hoped disaster could be avoided.
Winchester arrived at Frenchtown with his 900 men on 20 January 1813, having had luck at a skirmish with the advanced British forces. The next day, a better camp was made beside the river, but fortifications were only suggested as a good idea, and the sentries were inefficient. He was surprised during the night by Col. Proctor, the British commander at Fort Malden, who had arrived with fewer than 600 regulars and allied Indians. It was not hard to surprise the average American general, especially one snoozing in the warm farmhouse of his friend Francis Navarre 3/4 of a mile from the camp, and on the opposite side of the river. Harrison's tent was always in the center of the camp, and he shared his men's discomforts. Winchester had not sent out scouts, and his unfortified camp was open to attack from all directions.
Proctor was anticipating defeat, thinking he had run into the whole army, and had even spiked some cannon and taken other such measures normally taken in such a situation, when, to his surprise, he discovered he had won, and Winchester in his nightshirt had surrendered himself to him. Winchester had allowed his men to fight as they saw fit, and this disorganization guaranteed defeat. Since he thought Harrison could be only a short distance away to the south, Proctor considered retreat urgent, and rapidly withdrew towards Detroit and Fort Malden after the victory with everything that could ride, walk or be carried, leaving the American wounded on the field to be evacuated later, after his own casualties were disposed of. He was happy General Harrison was not approaching.
The reinforcements were too late, and met the fastest of the terrfied survivors not far from the rapids. The panic of those troops that had saved themselves by immediate flight (which was characteristic of the American militia, as we have mentioned before) frightened the approaching main body sufficiently that it halted to consider the situation. Since the survivors reported the defeat was total, it was decided that nothing could be gained by a further advance, and perhaps Proctor was considering an advance. The Indians, unrestrained after Proctor's departure, had massacred the wounded in horrible ways before they could be evacuated. Winchester had lost 600 men, all Kentuckians, at the Raisin, reminiscent of St. Clair's defeat 22 years earlier. He himself was captured, along with the remnants of his force. Only about 33 got away. Harrison's army retreated in dismay at the catastrophe, and retired for the season into Fort Meigs, the base for the Canada front. Colonel Proctor was promoted to General in view of his success at the Raisin River with little in the way of resources.
Fort Meigs was yet another fort in the vicinity of the rapids of the Maumee, on the southeast side of the river, a mile and a half above old Fort Miami, across from Fallen Timbers. It was built under the supervision of the engineer Captain Wood. Winchester's fort had been on the wrong side of the river, and was poorly sited. A small force was sent under Captain Laughan to cross Lake Erie on the ice and burn the British fleet at Malden, but a large chasm in the ice was uncrossable. On 13 February, Harrison finally received his commission as Major General, US Army, which was long overdue, at about the same time that John Armstrong became Secretary of War. As usual, disease hit the army hard that winter. It was said to be difficult to call roll with everybody coughing. Just as the Lake Erie ice was melting on 30 March, allowing Proctor to attack by water, most of the militia enlistments expired. Virginia, and most of Pennsylvania, went home, leaving Harrison with only the limited number of regulars and a few others. Artillery had arrived, however, but its ammunition was limited. He searched desperately for new militia from Kentucky and Ohio, while Washington lost interest and even discouraged militia recruiting. Had Proctor attacked in April, Fort Meigs would probably have been lost.
At the end of April, Colonel William Johnson arrived at Fort Meigs with three companies of Kentucky troops, while General Green Clay, with 1200 more, was struggling north from Cincinnati in the mud and mire. General Proctor was worried about how he could maintain the numerous prisoners he expected after taking Fort Meigs. Tecumseh asked for Harrison to be given to him for special treatment when captured. They moved up the Maumee and landed near Fort Meigs on 28 April. Batteries were constructed on the north bank opposite the fort, and they opened fire on 1 May, the largest cannon 24-pounders (surrendered by Hull). Shot, 5" and 8" shells, and red hot shot for the powder magazines rained into the fort. While the batteries were being constructed, Harrison and Wood raised a large embankment and placed the tents behind it, so that all Proctor's artillery could see was this inert earth barrier. The idea had been to "smoke out" Harrison with artillery into the arms of the Indians surrounding the fort, but this was now impractical.
General Clay approached near the fort, and sent ahead Colonel Dudley with 600 men to assault the British batteries. Dudley's men captured the batteries, but while they were celebrating their victory and chasing Indians, the British came back and captured them all. Dudley had tried to spike the cannon, but did not succeed for lack of proper materials. Both sides were running out of ammunition by this time, especially the Americans, since the British had 12- and 24-pounders, while the Americans had 18-pounders, so that none of the cannonballs sent into the fort could be returned. There were a few sallies from the fort, but they were inconclusive except for one that captured a battery of three cannon a little downriver. On 9 May, Proctor lifted the siege and returned to Malden to resupply. He had insufficient trained troops to make an assault, and Indians did not do this kind of work. He made a few other attacks during the summer, notably at Fort Stephenson and other places, but could not achieve anything positive. Tecumseh himself led an assault on Fort Meigs, where he hoped to draw out the garrison by a ruse, but it did not succeed. Proctor did not venture to attack Presque Isle (Erie), where the small fleet was buiding that was to take away control of the lake later in the year.
Commodore Perry made the Erie an American lake through his famous victory on 10 September 1813 at Put-In Bay. Later that month, Harrison's army crossed the lake in boats from Middle Sister Island (These islands are now called the Bass islands) and landed unopposed near Malden, in an unopposed amphibious operation. No horses accompanied the army in this movement. Colonel Johnson's regiment marched by land up to Detroit with little excitement, and crossed to Sandwich on 1 October. Proctor burned Malden, paused at Sandwich to observe Harrison's landing, and then retreated up the River Thames toward York, Tecumseh badgering him to stand and fight, calling him a fat dog. Without Perry's naval victory, Harrison could not have crossed into Canada safely. Cooperation of the navy and the army was, alas, a rare thing in the United States, and this is the only time in the war that it happened successfully. Harrison consulted with Perry about water transport that could land his troops in advance of Proctor, but Perry advised against this because of the weather. So Harrison proceeded by land. Tecumseh arranged an ambush along the way, but it proved little impediment.
Proctor was only an adequate commander, not a good one. He dawdled, and Harrison caught up with him on 5 October 1813. By this time, Proctor's force was down to a rather small number, and his Indian allies melted away as they realized his weakness. He finally made a stand between the river and a swamp, the Indians holding the swamp, and his regulars thinly spread in the interval. His only cannon was useless, since he had unwisely managed to discard all the balls for it earlier when lightening himself for rapid movement. Not all the incompetence was American. Col. Richard M. Johnson's mounted infantry from Kentucky assaulted and prevailed. By this time, Proctor himself was well away toward Niagara, having no desire to be captured by the insulted Kentuckians who still remembered the Raisin. At the Battle of the Thames, Harrison had some 3000 effectives, Proctor less than 400. Tecumseh died in the battle, his Indians the last to remain fighting. Harrison returned to the United States, since he knew he could not maintain an advanced position through the winter, and militia enlistments would again be expiring.
Richard Mentor Johnson (1781-1850) was a representative from Kentucky 1807-1819 and 1829-1837, senator 1819-1829, Vice President under Van Buren, and ran against Harrison and Tyler in 1840. He claimed to have killed Tecumseh, which is less than likely. He later claimed to have been mainly responsible for the victory at the Thames. Of course, he led his troops well, but was only part of the action.
That winter, Lt. Col. Croghan (who had defended Fort Stephenson, and was promoted as a result) commanded at Detroit. Both sides made raids up and down the Thames. In one of these raids, Captain Holmes avoided defeat near the site of the earlier battle, and was promoted to Major. Another, down the northern lake shore, was less successful. Meanwhile, events on the Niagara and Champlain fronts were going very poorly. Aside from some vague orders issued by the Secretary of War after Perry's victory for Harrison to proceed through Upper Canada to Niagara, an obvious impossibility, the War Department seemed to neglect the west. Harrison tried to do the best he could, and proceeded to Fort George on the Niagara. All was over, and he was allowed to return to Cincinnati via Washington to tidy his affairs. The public knew his reputation, and wanted him to take over the collapsing northern front. This marked him as very dangerous to Anderson and his party.
Secretary Anderson gave orders directly to Major Holmes to lead an expedition for the retaking of Michilimackinac. In doing this, he committed a serious breach of military etiquette, since he had bypassed General Harrison and Lt. Col. Croghan lest they, already famous, garner even more credit with the public. There is no possibility that this was a mere oversight or ignorance. This was the last straw for Harrison; he resigned 11 May 1814. Luckily, the war ended before the next campaigning season began, or there would have been redcoats and redskins all over the northwest. Even so, Michilimackinac was not retaken, and the British were back in Detroit before year's end. Politics had won for the moment, but there were only a few months before the appalling British campaign on the Chesapeake humiliated Anderson and the War Department.
The victories at Tippecanoe in 1811, and at the Thames in 1813, were the foundation of Harrison's military fame. He knew how to manage his men, and observed military principles, but his ultimate skill was never tested. More important than the easy victories was the fact that he had no defeats, and avoiding defeat is no mean task. Some American generals could even defeat themselves on their own, without the help of an enemy. Among American generals of the time, he ranks with Wayne, Jackson, and Winfield Scott, far above the run of the mine. One curious feature of all American victories was that they were never followed up by a proper pursuit; the victory itself seemed to exhaust all the steam. The war of 1812 showed that the militia system was unsatisfactory, as Harrison repeatedly pointed out whenever given a chance, but the lesson was not learned, and had to be re-taught in the Mexican War. All good American commanders learned how to deal with militia as a necessary evil, realizing that it could not be used like regular troops. Militia were useless in an assault, except against a very weak position, and usually ran after the first volley in the open. In the war of 1812, there also seems to have been a lack of adequate cavalry, as distinct from the mounted infantry of the west.
With the end of the war, Harrison returned to North Bend, resigned his commission, and entered business and politics. He was disgusted with the administration of the army and the incompetence of the Secretaries of War, especially John Anderson, as well as with the political intrigues that depreciated westerners. The Cabin was transformed into a mansion by the addition of two large wings at each end, and by the paneling of the original cabin inside and out, whereupon it became the main room. William Henry and Anna had eight children. His eldest son, William Jr., studied law at Transylvania University in Lexington, the best college in the west, becoming a lawyer and a drunkard. Another son, named after Judge Symmes, married the daughter of General Zebulon Pike and was employed in the Cincinnati and Vincennes land offices, ending up in difficulties, and dying young of typhoid fever. The fifth son of John Scott Harrison was Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president.
Harrison always drank moderately, a rarity for the time, and less and less as the years passed. Every farm had a distillery to make whiskey (I use the Irish spelling) in those days, but he closed his and altered it to parch corn. Kiln-dried corn could be stored, and was a useful commodity, if not as profitable as whiskey. At The Cabin, only sweet cider was served, another rarity. The Cabin and the cider played a large role in the election of 1840. On political flyers, the cabin was a single-room log cabin, with the hard cider in a barrel beside it. Neither presumption was true, but Harrison was indeed a liberal host whose hospitality was always freely given. The biographers do not say if he used tobacco or how. Cigars and chewing were both popular at the time, and spitting made all horizontal surfaces in the reach of American men slippery, and occasionally, their ladies' dresses as well. Carpet was used to absorb the juice and give better footing.
His health was generally good, but he suffered from what was called ague and fever, which was actually malaria, from time to time. The general unhealthiness of the American west is not appreciated. Sanitation was poor, so typhoid fever and cholera were scourges. Mosquitoes spread malaria, but thankfully yellow fever was not very common this far north. Malaria was so prevalent that the shakes were felt to be a normal part of life. The cows ate a poisonous weed that made their milk dangerous; the resulting milk fever was very prevalent, especially among children, and its cause was unknown. To be safe, people drank a lot of whiskey. The state of medicine at the time was such that the sufferer was safer in the absence of medical attention than with it, as Harrison himself later found. Diet was appalling, consisting mainly of fried fat salt pork, potatoes, and whiskey. Fruit and vegetables were scarce and very inferior, where they existed, and little effort was spent in cultivating proper species. Johnny Appleseed tried to overcome this lack. Most of the land was occupied by dark, gloomy forest that was generally hated, though the prairie lands beginning in Illinois were also considered useless and unhealthy. This is all gone now, and there is no place on earth that can now show what it was like. This change occurred in Harrison's lifetime.
Harrison's early politics may have been Federalist, but he readily adopted the local Republican ways when he arrived in the west. He was generally of Henry Clay's faction, though relations between them cooled when they became equal rivals. Harrison believed strongly in state's rights, in federally-supported internal improvements, against patronage and similar uses of federal power, and that the militia system had to be reformed, possibly by universal conscription and training. It is quite erroneous to believe that a two-party system existed in his time. Instead, politics solidified around leaders and principles. Harrison opposed Jacksonian Republicanism that became the Democracy, and moved toward that miscellaneous collection of opposites that formed the Whig party.
Harrison served in the Senate and in the House, for Ohio, and was appointed Ambassador to Colombia by President John Quincy Adams in 1828. He was soon recalled by President Jackson, but not before his republican reputation made him suspected (incorrectly) of fostering rebellion against the monarchically inclined and unstable Simón Bolívar.
The Whig Party, coming together around 1834 in opposition to Jacksonian policies as a combination of the National Democrats and remnants of the old Federalists, also included abolitionists and apologists, anti-Masons and Masons, and other such contradictions that were to prove its undoing around 1852 under pressure from Know-Nothingism and the stresses of the slavery question. Harrison was nominated by the anti-Masons of Pennsylvania for president in 1836, and was chosen as the Whig candidate over Webster and Clay, as more electible than these career politicians with so much baggage. He lost to Van Buren, but not by much. The Democratic Republicans--the pro-Jackson Republicans--and Kentuckians claimed Col. Daviess was the real hero of Tippecanoe, and that Col. Richard M. Johnson the real victor at the Thames. Neither claim could be substantiated, and Harrison remained a popular hero. These were the first elections of the modern type with organized political parties to corral the electorate, and continuous negative campaigning full of lies and innuendo. Elections were done by voice vote at the polling place, not by the Australian secret ballot that is now used. It was customary to supply large amounts of alcoholic beverages to entice voters, and occasionally a small bribe. Reliability could be monitored by an observer at the polls.
In the remarkable election of 1840, he was selected over Scott and Clay as the party's nominee, and this time he won. A newspaper slur that Harrison would be happy with a barrel of hard cider and a log cabin where he could sit and read his books was transformed into a campaign myth by the Whigs. Harrison did not use alcohol, and his country house was anything but a log cabin, but the myth drew the people to him. A similar myth had been created for Andrew Jackson, and was to be very helpful to Abraham Lincoln twenty years later. Among the relics of this election campaign are the memory of the 10-foot paper ball that was rolled from state to state bearing the names of the states that would go for Harrison, the origin of the phrase "to keep the ball rolling," and the letters O.K. from the illiterate spelling "Oll Korrect" which was typical of current humor. Oddly enough, Van Buren's estate was called Old Kinderhook, but this had nothing to do with O.K. John Tyler was made the vice-presidential candidate to mollify the South, and to keep him out of any position of real influence. The slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" was supposed to signify broad appeal of the ticket. Harrison delivered a long inaguration speech (an hour and three-quarters long) in chilly weather without a coat. He died of pneumonia, aggravated by medical treatment, on 4 April 1841, not long after the inauguration, which was then in March, and people then had to deal with Tyler, with rather unfortunate consequences. Harrison would have made a good president; he was a much better man than the average politician at the time.
Harrison's views on slavery were moderate, and he was not considered wholly reliable on this issue by the South. As was usual at the time, he regarded it as a state's rights issue, which, of course, meant that he was not going to make enemies over it. He brought a slave with him from Virginia to Ohio, and later to Vincennes, as a personal servant, but did not use slaves for farming or business. The use of black personal and domestic slaves had been common throughout the colonies and early Republic, but was declining everywhere but in the South. A black personal slave was still universal among Virginian gentlemen, including all the "fathers" of the country from this region. He freed his own servant, and successfully fought for the admission of Indiana as a free state (that is, one in which the slave trade was illegal). However, he was originally the leader of a faction in Knox County that urged the nullification of the slavery provisions in the Northwest Ordnance. The French inhabitants owned slaves, and slavery was supported by prominant Virginians, such as Thomas Posey. Slavery was opposed by a faction in Clark County, led by Jonathan Jennings, who was the first governor of the new state, which succeeded in making slavery illegal in Indiana by a provision in the 1816 constitution. This provision was nugstory, since it could not override Federal law, and slaves continued to exist. In Virginia, he had joined an emancipation society that supported emancipation by emigration. He often rescued slaves by buying them in Kentucky, bringing them to Ohio and Indiana, and indenturing them for a period of years, after which they would have earned their freedom. He looked forward to a time when there would be no more slavery, but thought it could only be brought about gradually, any more rapid movement being dangerous to the white south. Harrison was an Episcopalian in religion, and liked to read the Bible.
Note: the spelling of the names of persons, places and tribes varies considerably in the original sources, generally attempting to reproduce the pronunciation. I have made arbitrary choices, which should be recognizable, since there cannot be any absolute authority in this matter.
The portrait of WHH was taken from the White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/.
If you mistakenly go for www.whitehouse.com, you will get a site with a somewhat different slant.
Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 24 June 1999
Last revised 26 February 2008