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American Indian Wars: Battle of Fallen Timbers Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2021

Abstract

This paper applies biography and military history methodologies to argue that the loss at Fallen Timbers was due greatly to the underestimation of the battle opponent. The paper concludes that miscalculation in military strategy is often the downfall of many a great nation and people.

Introduction

The American War of Independence ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris under which the British handed over to the newly formed American nation the territory stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to River Mississippi (Hickman). In the aftermath of this event, the countries that wielded maximum power in the world during the 1790s – Great Britain, France, and Spain – kept a close watch on the Northwest Territory. They knew that there was a general lack of authority in the newly born nation operating under the Articles of Confederation, and they were waiting and hoping for it to falter badly so that they could annex part of the Northwest Territory. Each of these nations that hovered like vultures had their specific interests in mind: Great Britain hoped to wrest back her lost colonies and resume her profitable trade with the Native Americans, Spain viewed the trans-Allegheny West with covetous interest and France grew more and more desirous of setting up a new Monarchy in the new world (Battin).

The new nation had to act, and act fast to establish its authority in the area and prove to the watching powers of those days that it was capable of looking after itself. Responding to pressure from white Americans who wished to settle in the Northwest Territory but were wary of the hostile Native American tribes that inhabited it (Battin), the American Congress passed the Northwest Territory Land Ordinance in 1785 that allowed federal lands that lay to the north of River Ohio to be surveyed and sold (Van Tine & Pierce, 41). The Ordinance paved the way for white settlers to migrate to the Ohio valley in large numbers (Battin). The encroachment by the white settlers greatly angered the eleven Native American tribes that had settled in the area, especially the Shawnee and Miami tribes who felt the most threatened as their lands were in the most danger of being taken over by the whites in their initial settlement surge. Leaders of the eleven tribes met under the chairmanship of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant in late 1786 to discuss their strategy in response to the increasing menace of white encroachment. The meeting ended with them sending the Huron Town Declaration to the American Congress. In what was construed as a declaration of war on America, the Huron Town Declaration stated that all previous treaties were null and void and that they looked upon River Ohio as the boundary between their tribal lands and America (Van Tine et al., 41).

From Little Turtle to Blue Jacket

The people of the two tribes that felt most threatened by white encroachment – the Miami and Shawnee – had settled in the area to the north of River Ohio since the 18th century. They spoke the same language and shared the same culture. It was therefore only natural that their Chiefs assumed leadership roles in the Native American alliance that opposed the Americans. They were Chief Mesekinnoquah of the Miami tribe and Chief Waweyapiersenwaw of the Shawnee tribe (Van Tine et al., 42).

Little Turtle

Little Turtle was the son of a Miami Chief named Turtle and his Delaware Indian squaw. He was raised in the Miami village of Turtletown . Little Turtle’s first serious foray into fighting took place in 1780 when he led a band of 30 Turtletown warriors in a surprise attack on an expedition of French-Americans planning to raid the Miami village of Kekionaga. The ambush was so well executed that only 5 Turtletown warriors lost their lives as compared to the enemy who suffered 50% of their total number of 60 men killed. The victory was instrumental in later elevating Little Turtle to the position of a brave and astute chief of the Miami tribe (Van Tine et al., 43).

Blue Jacket

There were widespread but unconfirmed rumors that Blue Jacket was a white prisoner called Marmaduke von Swearingen who integrated with the Native Americans and chose to follow the Shawnee way of life. Blue Jacket learned hunting and fighting skills from the Shawnee. As a young man, he fought during the French and Indian Wars in which the Shawnees resisted European incursions to establish control over their lands. Blue Jacket specialized in leading raids against the Europeans along the Pennsylvania and Virginia boundaries (Van Tine et al., 43). As he grew older, one of Blue Jacket’s major initial fights was the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 in which the Shawnee suffered defeat at the hands of the Virginians (Van Tine et al., 44).

General Anthony Wayne

Background

Anthony Wayne was born on 1 January 1745 in Chester, Pennsylvania. His father as well as his grandfather had served in the army. Wayne displayed an inordinate liking for battles and military heroes in his childhood, reading books about them with voracious interest and staging mock battles with his friends and cousins. Wayne was sent to Philadelphia for higher education under the care of his uncle Gabriel Wayne. Although he duly completed his studies as a surveyor and even worked as an agent for Benjamin Franklin in Nova Scotia, his interest in the army did not wane. It came as no surprise when he signed up for the Continental Army in 1775 (Battin).

Military Prowess

Wayne’s military prowess did not take long to be noticed. He fought with Benedict Arnold during the Quebec campaign, avoided disaster against Cornwallis in Virginia by the slimmest of margins, and participated wholeheartedly in the very tough battles in South Carolina and Virginia (U-s-history.com). Wayne was soon promoted to the rank of Colonel. He was then given command of Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y. where his excellent record earned him a promotion to the rank of brigadier general in 1777. One of his greatest exploits during the American Revolution was the daring night raid he led on the unsuspecting British in their fort at Stony Point, N.Y. on 16 July 1779 that resulted in its capture with surprising swiftness (Battin); the feat also gained Wayne the nickname ‘Mad Anthony’ for the reckless courage he displayed that night.

Wayne’s military prowess also included courageous leadership that earned the total loyalty of his men and inspired them to put in their best efforts in battle. Always leading by example, one of his famous traits was to be constantly vigilant . Following his great victory in the Battle of the Fallen Timbers, Wayne returned to the frontier in June 1796 to supervise the relinquishing of British forts to the Americans. He fell sick due to gout in November before ultimately dying on 16 December that same year.

Maneuvers and Betrayal by Allies

Previous Conflicts

American President George Washington took action to support white settlers against the threat of Native American tribes by ordering General Josiah Harmer to march westward and attack the Miami and Shawnee tribes primarily in retaliation for their constant attacks against river traffic operations of the whites (Battin). Harmer was not only a distinguished veteran of the American Revolution but also the first American army commander during peacetime (U-s-history.com). Since the American army had split up in the aftermath of the American Revolution, Harmer mobilized a group of 1,500 militiamen for the attack. His forces clashed with the Native American warriors led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket in two fierce battles during October 1790. The Native Americans were victorious in both battles (Hickman).

Harmer’s ignominious defeat became not only a national shame but also created a huge dent in President Washington’s ambitious plans for the Northwest Territory (Battin). The President next ordered another attack on the Native Americans, this time under the leadership of another veteran of the American Revolution, General Arthur St. Clair who had also served in the Continental Congress and as the first governor of the Northwest Territory (U-s-history.com). St. Clair’s forces numbering 920 men were ambushed and badly defeated by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket’s warriors in the Battle of the Wabash on November 4, 1790. As many as two-thirds of the American forces , lost their lives in the battle (Hickman).

The layout of the Battle of Fallen Timbers

A badly rattled President Washington turned to aggressive Pennsylvanian General Anthony Wayne in 1792, ordering him to mobilize a force strong enough to gain victory over Little Turtle and Blue Jacket’s warriors. Being a shrewd leader blessed with a sharp military brain, Wayne analyzed the defeats of Harmer and St. Clair, concluding that they were mainly caused by a lack of strict discipline and proper military training. He set about mobilizing his troops near Ambridge in Pennsylvania, spending the remainder of 1792 and 8 months of 1793 in imparting rigorous training, discipline, and drills to his men. He even went to the extent of segregating them according to their specialty into light and heavy infantry battalions, cavalry, and artillery divisions.

After finally receiving the long-awaited green signal to attack the Native Americans on 11 September 1793 (Battin), Wayne ordered his troops to march forward slowly and methodically, taking care to construct a group of forts on the way to safeguard supply routes and protect the settlers who were following behind them. Little Turtle, who had been keeping a vigilant watch on the movement of Wayne’s 3,000 strong armed forces, grew apprehensive on seeing the Americans’ battle-worthiness and became convinced that his side would not emerge victorious as they did in the earlier battles against Harmer and St. Clair. Little Turtle even tried to test Wayne’s troops practically when a group of them separated from the main force to build Fort Recovery in June 1794. Little Turtle’s 2,000 strong attack party was routed by the numerically inferior Americans at Fort Recovery during which the Native Americans had first hand proof about their enemy’s expertise with formidable weapons. Little Turtle tried his best to make Blue Jacket understand their forces’ inferior position due to which it would be safer to broker a peace treaty with the Americans, rather than engage them in a battle. Blue Jacket however did not agree with the Miami Chief’s advice, leaving Little Turtle with no alternative but to relinquish his leadership and hand over total overall command of the Native American forces to the Shawnee Chief.

Leading a force of 1,000 warriors from the Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, Mingo, Wyandot, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, and Chippewa tribes, Blue Jacket spread them strategically in a defensive formation along River Maumee in a place where a recent storm had uprooted many trees (U-s-history.com), hoping that the fallen trees would impede the enemy’s activities. Wayne’s army attacked the Native American forces on 20 August 1794 in what is called the Battle of the Fallen Timbers (Hickman).

Picture one

Battle of the Fallen Timbers (Ohio Historical Society)

Within a short time after the battle began, it was apparent that this time around the Native Americans was no match for the American forces with their superior number, better fighting skills, and better firepower. The Native Americans were soon thrown into disarray that became greatly exacerbated when Wayne’s cavalry rode in for a flank attack. Totally routed and fully demoralized, the Native Americans turned and fled first towards the British Fort Miami, and then when they found that the Fort gates did not open to admitting them, fled towards their villages. Wayne ordered his pursuing troops to torch all the Native American villages and crops in the region, on the completion of which they retreated to Fort Greenville (Hickman).

The Legion of the United States suffered a small casualty of 30 dead and 100 wounded as compared to the Native Americans casualties numbering 200 killed and between 400 to 500 wounded.

British Involvement in the Conflict

Great Britain had developed a profitable trade with the Native American tribes of the Northwest Territory in which they provided guns and ammunition to the Indians in exchange for rich fur which could be marketed at exorbitant prices in Britain (Battin). As a result, there existed feelings of friendship between the two peoples due to which the Native Americans sought and obtained tacit British support during their skirmishes with the Americans which included protection in the British stronghold of Fort Miami. The British retained their sentiments and offer of protection during the battles involving the forces of Josiah Harmer and Arthur St. Clair because they were certain that their Native American friends who were powerful enough to rout the Americans led by Harmer and St. Clair, would do the same in future skirmishes, and when that happened, they hoped to re-establish trading links and develop a stronger relationship with the Native Americans. However, the advent of Wayne abruptly changed the situation on the battlefield and the British were forced to change their stance at the dramatic and unexpected turn of events in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

When the Native Americans led by Blue Jacket were routed and forced to flee, the British garrison at Fort Miami, contrary to their earlier assurances of protection, betrayed their former friends out of fear of incurring the wrath of the American army and provoking an onset of hostilities with them that would not go down well with the authorities in their mother country as it was so close on the heels of the American War of Independence and would represent a violation of Britain’s new policy in the region. The British therefore refused to open the gates of Fort Miami, thereby forcing the badly routed Native Americans to flee to their villages to try and escape the pursuing American soldiers. The reaction of the British garrison in Fort Miami was indicative of the outlook of Great Britain – even though it was then arguably the main world superpower – whereby it forgot old friendships with allies when it came to matters involving selfish interests of its self.

Treaty of Greenville

The Treaty of Greenville that was signed in the aftermath of the Battle of Fallen Timbers contained four clauses. In the first clause, the Native American tribes relinquished their claims to lands lying in the southeast part of the Northwest Territory . In the second clause, the tribes surrendered additional designated lands that were utilized by white Americans as forts and ports . In the third clause, the American government confirmed it would pay $ 20,000 in the form of goods as a one-off immediate payment, followed by yearly payments of $ 9,500 also in the form of goods to the Native American tribes who would proceed to divide it among them. In the last clause, it was agreed that the Native Americans retained their right to conduct hunting operations in the entire Northwest Territory area.

The Treaty was signed by Wayne on behalf of the American government while the Chiefs of the eleven tribes signed on behalf of the Native Americans. The signing ceremony ended with Wayne expressing the hope that the Treaty “would last as long as the woods grow and the waters run”.

Conclusion

The Battle of the Fallen Timbers ended on a happy note for America with Wayne firmly stretching the western border of the country to its present position. More importantly, it kept the government in power and saved the country from a very precarious position of having to not only prove its credibility after being very vulnerable to attack from covetous world heavyweights hovering in the region, but also to show it was capable of taking care of its internal problems and safeguarding its people (Battin). The armed conflicts leading up to and including the Battle of the Fallen Timbers provide valuable studies about underestimating opponents – an error that both sides were guilty of committing. In the case of the Americans, President George Washington expressly warned St. Clair to be extremely vigilant against surprise attacks by the Native Americans – a warning that the general did not heed, preferring instead to underestimate the strength and prowess of the enemy for which the American forces had to pay a heavy price (Battin). The error of underestimating the enemy was also committed by BlueJacket. Ignoring the detailed report of Little Turtle including facts about the failed attack on Fort Recovery, the Shawnee Chief went to battle with a force that was 30% of the opponent’s strength besides being vastly inferior where equipment was concerned. Blue Jacket was so sure of victory against the enemy that he also did not bother to approach the British in Fort Miami for practical help in the form of troops and/or advisors, nor did he think of keeping a rearguard of warriors to protect the villages and crops in case the Americans won and chased them . Blue Jacket’s error of underestimating Wayne’s army led not only to the defeat of the Native Americans but also to the total collapse of their resistance against white immigration.

References

Battin, Richard. ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne at Fallen Timbers. Early America Review. 1996. 2008. Web.

: 1794. 2008. Web.

Battle of Fallen Timbers Map. Ohio Historical Society. 2008. Web.

Edited by: Van Tine, Warren and Pierce, Michael Dale. Builders of Ohio: A Biographical History.

Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press. 2003.

Hickman, Kennedy. . 2008. Web.

: 1795. U-s-history.com. (N.d). 2008. Web.

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