by Gerald Therrien
The Unveiling of Canadian History, Volume 3.
The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, 1786 – 1796.
During the American Revolution, when General Washington had asked General Wayne to undertake an extremely perilous enterprise – the storming of Stony Point, Wayne replied : “General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.”
Part 1 – The Western Frontier
Chapter 7 – The Battle of the Wabash, November 4th 1791
With the failure of the American attempts for a peace conference with the British-manipulated western Indian nations, Governor St. Clair prepared Knox’s plan for a battle against the Wabash Indians.
But after St. Clair’s defeat at the Battle of Wabash, Congress created the Legion of the United States, a regular national army, to protect the Northwest Territory from the coming British-Indian war. The man that was asked to train and lead this army was General Anthony Wayne.
When St. Clair had finally arrived at his headquarters at Fort Washington on May 15th 1791, he found a garrison of only 85 men fit for duty, and he therefore called for the entire 1st Regiment from forts Harman, Steuben and Knox to reassemble at Fort Washington by July 15th.
He then ordered a draught of these 427 men to form a corps of artificers of smiths, carpenters, harness makers, colliers and wheelwrights – to construct a laboratory to make up the ammunition for the expedition, and an armory to repair the broken arms and to build new gun carriages; and to build the shops and tools to make the needed axes, kettles, canteens, cordage, knapsacks, and cartridge boxes – ‘Fort Washington had as much the appearance of a large manufactory on the inside, as it had of a military base on the outside’.
General Richard Butler had arrived at Fort Pitt on May 22nd, and was to assemble the troops as they arrived there and then to forward them down the Ohio river to Fort Washington. The 842 levies, under Colonels Darke and Gibson, had begun to arrive on May 16th, and on June 1st began to be sent to Fort Washington.
By August 7th, it became necessary, for the support of the cattle and horses, to move all the troops, except the artificers and a small garrison, from Fort Washington to Ludlow’s station 6 miles away, where they would wait for the arrival of the rest of the troops.
On August 29th the regulars of the 2nd American Regiment, arrived at Fort Washington. Butler, with the last of the troops, arrived at Fort Washington on September 10th.
But realizing that the force for the campaign would fall considerably short of what had been thought necessary, St. Clair travelled to Kentucky to meet with the county lieutenants on September 4th and agree to a draught of the militia.
On September 8th, Hamtramck led the troops (about 1000 regulars and 800 levies, and 75 cavalrymen and 45 artillerymen) north 18 miles to the Great Miami river to establish the first post of communication, while also constructing a road for the artillery to travel over, and then began the construction of a five-sided stockade with four blockhouses, enclosing storehouses and barracks for 100 men – named Fort Hamilton.
Here, Butler presided over a court of inquiry, requested by General Harmar, to examine his conduct in the expedition against the Miami Indians in 1790, where he was acquitted with honor.
St. Clair had returned to Fort Washington on October 2nd to meet the arrival of 300 Kentucky militia under Colonel Oldham (less than the 750 he had hoped for) and he sent them forward to join the main army.
On October 4th, Butler led the army across the Great Miami river and marched north 45 miles, again while building a road to accommodate the artillery and baggage, and on October 13th began construction of a second fort, a square structure with 4 bastions, and with barracks and storehouses – named Fort Jefferson.
Although a convoy with 6000 lbs. of flour arrived on the 18th, with the loss of some of the packhorses and the dwindling supply of forage, not enough healthy animals were on hand to carry more provisions, and St. Clair ordered the 300 (army-owned) baggage horses assigned to the contractor’s task of provisioning the army. Most of the troops’ baggage, that couldn’t be carried in a knapsack, had to be left behind at Fort Jefferson.
With the fear that the terms of service of the 6-month levies would soon be expiring (one Virginia company was discharged on October 20th) and with most of the work on the construction of the fort having been done while the remaining work could be completed by the 120 men left in garrison, as another convoy arrived with 1600 lbs. of flour and a small drove of cattle, St. Clair decided to resume the march on the 24th.
The march was halted on the 25th to await the arrival of further provisions, resumed on the 30th, and halted on the 31st to again wait for provisions. When a band of militia deserted and threatened to plunder the expected convoy of provisions, St. Clair ordered Hamtramck and the 300 men of the 1st Regiment to march in pursuit of the deserters (and to discourage others from deserting) and to save the vital provisions. On November 2nd the march resumed and on the evening of the 3rd, the army, now about 1400 men, camped on the banks of a river, that was about 30 miles north of Fort Jefferson, with the regulars and levies on the eastern bank, and the militia in the advance camp on the western bank – there, to await the return of Hamtramck and the 1st Regiment.
Unfortunately, St. Clair had thought that they were at the St. Mary’s river and were only 15 miles from Miami Town, but actually they were at the headwaters of the Wabash river and were still 50 miles away from their destination.
However, upon receiving intelligence of the coming American army, Little Turtle of the Miamis and Blue Jacket of the Shawnees left the Miami Town on October 28th and led 1000 warriors to the Wabash river, only 2 miles from St. Clair’s camp. Before daybreak on November 4th, Little Turtle deployed his warriors in a half-moon formation that would encircle the American camp – Wyandots (with British Indian Department agent, Simon Girty) on the right, Shawnees, Miamis and Delawares in the center and Ottawas, Chippewas and Potawatomis on the left. While St. Clair’s men were leaving morning assembly to prepare breakfast and to gather the horses, Little Turtle launched their surprise attack.
First, 300 warriors attacked the militia advance and scattered the 270 militia-men in confusion, and sent them rushing across the river into the main camp, causing much chaos and throwing disorder into the levies that were now ordered to form the front line, as the attacking Indians dodged from tree to tree and hid behind logs and stumps and fired at the standing ranks of the infantry. Although the 4 cannons began blasting at the attackers, because they were on the high ground it caused the shots to be too high, and soon created a blanket of thick smoke that obscured the soldiers vision, and the Indians began their encirclement of the main camp, leaving no route of escape.
St. Clair, who had been suffering from rheumatic asthma and from gout, had 2 horses killed as he was trying to mount them and finally, while in great pain, he shuffled over to the artillery to command his men.
From the rear line, Darke with 300 men from the 2nd American Regiment and from the levies, behind 26 cavalrymen, charged southwest across the river and forced the Wyandots, under Simon Girty, to flee into a small, log-filled ravine where they continued to snipe at the soldiers. But a horde of Little Turtle’s warriors attacked the void that was left in the defensive perimeter by the cavalry charge and overran the rear line of artillery, killing and scalping them, before massacring the women and children huddled in the center of the camp. Darke’s troops then turned around, hurried back to camp and were soon attacked by the warriors.
St. Clair then sent a detachment under Gibson to ease the pressure on Darke, where they fought hand to hand to avert the collapse of the entire flank. The Indians continued firing from behind logs and trees (especially singling out and shooting the officers) and continually changed position so that they seldom fired twice from the same spot, making it impossible for the Americans to find them out or to know where to direct their fire. With mounting pressure on the thin line near the artillery, and fearing that the cannon would soon be overrun, another charge was ordered at the center of the Indian attack. But the Indians moved aside of the charge and fired from the flanks, forcing the charge to turn and run back before they were surrounded. The Indians then mounted a renewed attacked at the few remaining cannon yet in action, forcing the artillerymen to spike the cannons before being overrun by the advancing warriors.
St. Clair was now convinced that his army was overwhelmed by superior numbers and completely surrounded, and he sought to effect a retreat to the army-constructed road. The first charge to gain the road failed to break through. A second charge was directed not near the road but into the timber north of it along a parallel course, that surprised and scattered the Indians, and opened up an escape for the shattered army through the woods for a mile, before finally striking the wilderness road. The Indians pursued them for about 5 miles before returning to the camp to ransack the bodies, baggage, equipment and tents for any spoils.
Many of the wounded that were unable to escape were saved to be sold to the British or to be kept as slaves, while others, especially the officers, were tortured and mutilated – a wounded General Butler who had to be left behind, was killed, scalped, his heart was cut out and eaten, and his body left for the wolves and ravens.
St. Clair and his straggling army struggled for 29 miles before reaching Fort Jefferson that evening and rejoining Hamtramck and the 1st Regiment. After being sent to escort the provisions convoy and finding that the convoy had not yet been sent, Hamtramck and his troops returned and had passed Fort Jefferson early on the morning of November 4th. Upon hearing the firing of the cannon, they fixed their bayonets and marched toward St. Clair and the main army, but after encountering several fleeing militiamen who informed them that the army had been totally destroyed, Hamtramck retreated to Fort Jefferson, reasoning that if the army had been defeated, Fort Jefferson was the nearest point of refuge and it must be secured.
But at Fort Jefferson, there was no meat and only a single day’s flour ration left for the garrison. Fearing that the Indians might soon invest the fort and cut off the convoy of provisions, St. Clair now convened an urgent council where it was decided that, except for a small garrison and the badly wounded, they should continue the retreat that evening, marching behind the 1st Regiment. After meeting the convoy, 50 horse-loads of provisions accompanied by 60 regulars were sent back to Fort Jefferson, while the remaining 66 horse-loads retreated with St. Clair and his army and they reached Fort Washington on November 8th. For the relief of Fort Jefferson, St. Clair authorized a provisions convoy with 50 men, along with a detachment of 100 men from the 1st American Regiment.
This maps shows the approximate routes of the three major invasions of Myaamionki in 1791. Scott’s raid in May-June; Wilkinson’s raid in July-August; and St. Clair’s invasion in September-November. The red X marks the approximate location of the Battle of Wabash, also known as St. Clair’s Defeat.
[from myaamia.history.files – The Mihši-maalhsa Wars – Part III – The Battle of the Wabash]
On November 9th, St. Clair penned a difficult letter to Knox, giving an account of the defeat of his army, and the loss of 657 men with 271 wounded. After leading the retreat of his army almost 70 miles to Fort Washington, St. Clair was so debilitated that he remained in bed for 2 weeks, and it was a month before he was able to travel, arriving on January 21st 1792 at Philadelphia to meet with the President.
News of the battle reached Detroit by November 12th, as a stream of prisoners and captured papers and documents began arriving there. Although the Indian chiefs had proposed that they move quickly to attack the new forts that St. Clair had built (forts Hamilton and Jefferson) the attack would never take place.
McKee, at Detroit, wrote to Johnson, at Quebec, on December 5th, that:
“This circumstance will naturally lead you to consider the necessity of sending forward at as early a period as possible, all the supplies for the year as well as the extraordinaries, which will become indispensably necessary for so numerous a body of Indians, and more particularly as the deputies who were at Quebec have expressed, that Lord Dorchester promised them a supply of provisions, when the nations next met for considering on their affairs.”
McKee, from Miami Rapids, again wrote to Johnson, on January 28th 1792, that:
“The scarcity of corn among the Shawanese, Miamis, and Delawares, owing to the great consumption when the different nations assembled at their villages in the fall, and also to the loss of great part of their crop by the over flowing of the river, has compelled these tribes to hunt, for the support of their families, at a time when their services were wanted by the other nations to reduce the forts which were built by their enemies as they advanced … In order that they may in future be more collected and less subject to a surprise, they have resolved to abandon their old villages, called the Miami Towns, and are preparing to fix themselves, within half a day’s march of this place and their most earnest request to me is, that a sufficient quantity of corn may be provided, for the support of their families until they get crops from the lands, in the vicinity of this place which they mean to plant in the spring.”
Before the Indian force was dispersed it was decided that a great council would be held in the spring, at the foot of the Miami Rapids – near the new villages of the Miamis, Shawnees and Delawares, and the site of McKee’s British Indian Department trading post.
St. Clair’s report of his defeat reached President Washington at Philadelphia on December 9th 1791 and he sent it to Congress on December 12th. On January 11th 1792, President Washington presented to Congress two reports that had been prepared for him by Secretary of War Knox earlier on December 26th –
- “A summary statement of facts, relatively to the measures taken, in behalf of the United States, to induce the hostile Indians, northwest of the Ohio, to peace, previously to the exercise of coercion against them; and also a statement of the arrangements for the campaign of 1791”, and
- “Statement relative to the Frontiers Northwest of the Ohio … and also a plan of such further measures as the existing state of affairs, and the national interest, seem to require.”
In the second report, Knox wrote that:
“The principal causes of the failure of the expedition appear to have been as follows: 1st. The deficient number of good troops, according to the expectation, in the early part of the year. 2nd. Their want of sufficient discipline, according to the nature of the service. 3rd. The lateness of the season. … in addition thereto, another cause may be added, which was not originally estimated, to wit: an increased number of Indians: for information has been received, by three separate channels, that the Indian warriors who opposed our army may be estimated at a number somewhere about three thousand.”
Knox worried that:
“Emissaries of the hostile Indians will be disseminated among the Southern tribes. Councils will be held, and the passions of the young men will be inflamed with the tales of prowess and glory acquired by the hostile Indians … it may become extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to restrain the young warriors of the south from aiding directly or collaterally with the hostile Indians of the West. To the danger of the Southern tribes joining the hostile Indians, may be added the danger from part of the Northern or Six Nations … it will appear that an Indian war, of considerable extent, has been excited, not only contrary to the interests and intention of the General Government, but by means altogether without its control. That it is the public interest to terminate this disagreeable war, as speedily as possible, cannot be doubted; and it will be important to devise and execute the best means to effect that end. That, upon due deliberation, it will appear that it is by ample conviction of our superior force only, that the Indians can be brought to listen to the dictates of peace, which have been sincerely and repeatedly offered them … Hence, it would appear, that the principles of justice as well as policy, and, it may be added, the principles of economy, all combine to dictate, that an adequate military force should be raised as soon as possible, placed upon the frontiers, and disciplined according to the nature of the service, in order to meet, with a prospect of success, the greatest probable combination of the Indian enemy.”
Knox’s plan was ‘that the military establishment of the United States shall, during the pleasure of Congress, consist of five thousand one hundred and sixty-eight non-commissioned, privates, and musicians.’ This army would be 5 regiments of infantry. Each regiment (of 912 men) would consist of 3 battalions, and each battalion would consist of 4 companies of 76 men each – and 1 battalion would be entirely riflemen. Additionally, there would be 1 squadron of cavalry, consisting of 4 troops of 76 men each; and 1 battalion of artillery, consisting of 4 companies of 76 men each. Knox estimated this plan would cost over $1 million.
In response, Congress passed an ‘Act for making further and more effectual provision for the protection of the frontiers of the United States’, that President Washington signed into law on March 5th.
On March 26th, St. Clair wrote to President Washington that:
“While I am persuaded that every thing was done in the course of the last campaign that could be done, on my part, to answer the public expectation fully, yet it is denied by some, doubted by many, and known to but few out of the army. A wish to rectify the public opinion, and a duty that I conceive I owe to myself, induces me to request that an inquiry into my conduct may be instituted. When that is over, I may hope to be permitted to resign the commission of Major-General which I now hold.”
While the President could not open a court of inquiry, the House of Representatives, on March 27th, resolved that a committee be appointed into the causes of the failure of the late expedition under St. Clair.
St. Clair received a letter from President Washington on April 4th, that:
“The reason you offer for retaining your commission until an opportunity should be presented, if necessary, of investigating your conduct, in every mode prescribed by law, would be conclusive of me, under any other circumstances than the present. But … the essential interests of the public require that your successor should be immediately appointed, in order to repair to the frontiers.”
On April 7th, St. Clair agreed and offered his resignation to the President, writing that:
“I will own to you, sir, that the desire of honest fame has ever been the strongest passion in my breast. I have thought that I had merited it, and it is all I have to compensate me for the sacrifice of a very independent situation and the last years of my life devoted to the public service, and the faithful application of my talents, such as they were, in every situation in which I have been placed, with a zeal bordering upon enthusiasm. I trust, sir, I shall yet enjoy it, while those who have attempted to disturb it will be forgotten, or remembered with indignation, and in their bosoms, if they have feelings, sensations may arise, something similar to what Milton has described to have seized upon Satan, when he discovered our first parents in paradise.”
On April 13th Anthony Wayne accepted the appointment to be Major General and commander of the proposed, new 5,000-man army on the frontier – the Legion of the United States – ‘which must inevitably be attended with the most anxious care, fatigue, and difficulty, and from which more may be expected than will be in my power to perform.’
On May 8th, the committee that was charged with investigating the failure of St. Clair’s expedition, released their report stating that:
“… the committee conceive it but justice to the commander-in-chief, to say that, in their opinion, the failure of the late expedition can, in no respect, be imputed to his conduct, either at any time before or during the action; but that, as his conduct, in all the preparatory arrangements, was marked with particular ability and zeal, so his conduct, during the action, furnished strong testimonies of his coolness and intrepidity.”
General Wayne was now assigned the task to lead the battle against the British Indian Department – with its control of the abominable fur trade, and with its inheritance of the Jesuitical manipulation techniques – for the future destiny of the Northwest Territory, a task that very few honest men would be willing to accept – a veritable ‘storming of hell’.
As General Wayne had once promised General Washington:
“General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.”
[ next week – chapter 8 – The Jeffersonian Beginnings of Party Politics in 1791 ]
For those who may wish to support my continuing work on ‘The Unveiling of Canadian History’, you may purchase my books, that are available as PDFs and Paperback (on Amazon) at the Canadian Patriot Review :
Volume 1 – The Approaching Conflict, 1753 – 1774.
Volume 2 – Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence, 1775 – 1785.
Volume 3 – The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of Ohio, 1786 – 1796, and
Volume 4 – Ireland, Haiti, and Louisiana – the Idea of a Continental Republic, 1797 – 1804,
may also appear in print, in the near future, while I continue to work on :
Volume 5 – On the Trail of the Treasonous, 1804 – 1814.
Merci, mes amis.