The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like an incubus upon the brain of the living. — Karl Marx

Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes




Fighting the Northern Savages

General Wayne went to Pittsburgh in June, 1792, and straightway began to assemble and organize his Legion. A hard task it was! Ills recruits were gathered from the slums and prisons of the Eastern cities—the refuse of the nation. Tales of the horrible mutilations inflicted by the Indians and the plentifulness of whisky about Pittsburgh were hardly calculated to inspire these wretched beings with devotion to the cause. Desertions followed to such an extent that the recruits fled in squads, fifty-seven leaving a small detachment on the road to Pittsburgh at one time, and of those who remained Wayne wrote the Secretary of War in a letter dated August 10, 1792:

"Desertions have been frequent and alarming—two nights since, upon a report that a large body of Indians were close in our front, I ordered the troops to form for action, and rode along the line to inspire them with confidence, and gave a charge to those in the redoubts, which I had hastily thrown up in our front and right flank, to maintain their posts, at the expense of blood, until I could gain the enemy's rear with the dragoons; but such is the defect of the human heart, that from excess of cowardice one-third of the sentries deserted from these stations so as to leave the most accessible places unguarded.,'

To add to his difficulties, since so many of his most dependable officers had perished in the disastrous campaigns of Generals Harmar and St. Clair, he was confronted with the necessity of drilling officers as well as privates. For a time he worked as best he could in Pittsburgh, then, on November 28, shipped his recruits, who had been immeasurably improved in discipline and numbers, down the Ohio River to a camp twenty-seven miles below Pittsburgh, which he called Legionville. Here he settled down to a winter of hard work as drill-master.

In the meantime, mindful of his duty to his Government and the American people, Wayne had left no stone unturned to ascertain the disposition of the Indians towards peace. He made every effort to impress them with the earnest desire of the United States to accept any terms that would be just and honorable. In answer, the Indians continued their depredations on the frontier, and, claiming superiority, sent repeated and boastful messages as to their hopes on seeing the Legion advance into their country. Colonel Harding and Major Truman, who went to them—not, it must be understood, by the order of General Wayne, but from the Government—were received at first with every manifestation of goodwill and then foully murdered, despite the fact that they carried flags of truce and were unarmed. Still anxious to conciliate, Wayne sent an invitation to a council to Corn-planter, and other chiefs of the Six Tribes who had been disposed to be friendly. In a dramatic toast given at the general's table, Corn-planter said: "My mind and heart are upon that river"—pointing to the Ohio—"may that water ever continue to run and remain the boundary of lasting peace between the Americans and the Indians on its opposite shores." This sentiment of the "friendly Indians," fanned and sustained by British policy, became the obsession of the hostile tribes, who demanded that the Americans renounce all claims north and west of the Ohio, regardless of treaty or fair purchase. It was, therefore, upon the ground of the protection of unquestionable rights, as well as for the purpose of curbing Indian ferocity, and not from a policy of aggression, that Wayne advanced at last into the country of the savage.

At Legionville, during all that winter, the resourceful and tireless Wayne wrought wonders with his hopeless material. A review of the work he did there gives us a new view—that of thoroughness—of the fastidious Revolutionary general who had "an insuperable bias in favor of an elegant uniform and soldierly appearance," and who was "determined to punish any man who came on parade with a long beard, slovenly dressed, or dirty." He instructed his riff-raff mob in military tactics and duties; more than that, he made men of them, as he marched them up and down the parade grounds. What he accomplished that winter has led one historian to remark: "Anthony Wayne—'Mad Anthony'—was not only an ideal leader of men in time of battle, but he was the most capable drillmaster the American army over had."

Of the result of his efforts, General Wayne wrote to Secretary Knox, March 30, 1793, "The progress that the troops have made both in maneuvering and as marksmen astonished the savages on St. Patrick's clay; and I am happy to inform you that the sons of that Saint were perfectly sober and orderly, being out of reach of whisky, which baneful poison is prohibited from entering this camp except as the component part of a ration, or a little for fatigue duty, or on some extraordinary occasion," With characteristic hopefulness he was now inspired with such confidence in the success of his expedition that he solicited the secretary of state to send him "certain legionary distinctive decorations; also a legionary standard, and sub-legionary and battalion colors." On receiving them he wrote: "They shall riot be lost!"

In May, 1793, General Wayne moved his camp to Fort Washington—the present site of Cincinnati—where be continued his efforts to maintain a well-disciplined force. From the administration and from the prevailing conditions of the time, all adverse to obtaining cooperation and obedience essential to the preservation of an unbroken front, he had small encouragement to pursue his work. In January, 1793, Secretary of War, General Knox, had written:

"The sentiments of the citizens of the United States are adverse in the extreme to an Indian war."

A commission, consisting of three prominent Americans, General Lincoln, Colonel Pickering, and Beverly Randolph, Esq., of Virginia, were sent by the government to treat with the Indians who had indicated a disposition to consider peace; and while these negotiations were pending, Secretary Knox again wrote:

"It will therefore be still more and more necessary even than in the past summer, that no offensive be taken against the Indians."

Moreover, it is said, that at the instigation of the British who accompanied these peace commissioners, the latter wrote Secretary Knox a strong protest against Wayne's work on the drill-ground, as "this procedure on his part angered the Indians, and that the British considered it unfair and unwarrantable." Nevertheless, the general's experience with the savages had convinced him that they would not yield, and he persevered in perfecting his army. He was justified in his convictions, for when the peace commissioners reached Detroit, August 13, 1783, they received from a general council the following message:

"Brothers: We shall he persuaded that you mean to do us justice if you agree that the Ohio shall remain the boundary line between us. If you will not consent thereto, our meeting will be altogether unnecessary."

A battle was now inevitable, if not a prolonged war, and Wayne, who had sent to Kentucky for mounted volunteers while awaiting the end of the negotiations, was ready. At last, in September, 1793, General Knox wrote:

"The Indians have refused to treat . . . . every offer has been made to obtain peace by milder terms than the sword; the efforts have failed under circumstances which leave nothing for us to expect but war," continuing with the oft repeated warning, "Let it therefore be again, and for the last time, impressed deeply upon your mind, that as little as possible is to be hazarded, that your force is fully adequate to the object you purpose to effect, and that a defeat at the present time, and under the present circumstances, would be pernicious in the highest degree to the interests of our country."

To this suggestion General Wayne sent a forcible reply: "I pray you not to permit present appearances to cause too much anxiety either in the mind of the President or yourself on account of the army. Knowing the critical situation of our infant nation, and feeling for the honor and reputation of the government (which I will defend with my latest breath), you may rest assured that I will not commit the Legion unnecessarily."

Wayne now started on his advance into the Indian country. On October 7 he left "Hobson's Choice," as he called his camp near Cincinnati, with his legions of troops on the march through the wilderness. On October 13, he encamped on a spot which he named Greeneville, in honor of his old friend and comrade, General Greene—a post six miles north of Fort Jefferson and eighty miles from Cincinnati. This place he fortified for his winter quarters, and here the command spent several months cut off from all communication with the government at Philadelphia, and surrounded by hostile savages. There were frequent encounters with these when convoys of provisions were surprised and their escorts murdered. As a means of giving his troops experience, on December 23, Wayne sent several companies of soldiers forward to the battlefield on which St. Clair had met his defeat in 1791, with the double purpose of burying the bones of their comrades who had perished there, and to fortify the site. In order to encourage the troops who were ordered to this service, Wayne personally advanced to the same spot.

After the erection of this fort, which he named "Fort Recovery," General Wayne received some overtures of peace from the Indians, to whom, although he had no faith is their professions, he expressed himself as highly gratified and agreed to open negotiations, only asking that, as proof of their sincerity, they should deliver to him the captives they had taken. This was never done, and nothing more was heard of pacific proposals. On the contrary, the situation became every day more difficult; it needed the exercise of the widest vigilance and wisdom on the part of the commander of our army and the utmost loyalty of his followers. With the impressment of American seamen, the confiscation of our cargoes, and other hostile acts of the English thus going on, there was every prospect of war with Great Britain. Moreover, the British, who still maintained strong garrisons on the frontier, built a fort at the foot of the Maumee Rapids (Fort Miami), which the Indians believed to be impregnable and the erection of which no doubt encouraged them to hope that, in ease of battle, they would be supported by tried battalions of English allies.

From these circumstances it may be seen that General Wayne's position was such that one injudicious move on his part might certainly be the means of bringing on a second war with Great Britain. In this emergency the prudence of his conduct was such that at last he obtained the tardy approbation of his government. A communication from the Secretary of War, dated March 31, informed him that the way in which he had taken a position on the scene of General St. Clair's defeat, and the manner in which he had treated the false peace proposals of the hostile red men, were "highly satisfactory and exceedingly proper." The secretary proceeded to say:

"It is with great pleasure, sir, that I transmit to you the approbation of the President of the United States for your conduct generally, since you have had the command, and more particularly, for the judicious military formation of your troops; the precautions you appear to have taken in your advance, in your fortified camp, and in your arrangements for a full and abundant supply of provisions on hand"—a commendation most flattering in view of the reverses encountered by his predecessors, Harmar and St. Clair. Later, General Knox wrote:

"If therefore, in the course of your operations against the Indian enemy, it should have become necessary to dislodge the party at the rapids of the Miami (meaning the English garrison), you are hereby authorized in the name of the President of the United States to do it."

Thus was "Mad Anthony" Wayne given power to conduct the war according to his sole discretion; also to take the step which might have led to war with England.

Hostilities opened on the morning of June thirtieth, 1794, when, under the walls of Fort Recovery, an escort under Major M'Mahan was attacked by a large body of Indians and driven into the fort, Major M'Mahan and other valued officers losing their lives. An assault was then made on the fort, and the Indians, who were repulsed with heavy loss, gained from their discomfiture some degree of respect for the new American Commander-in-Chief and American arms. About the middle of July General Wayne was joined by a strong mounted force from Kentucky, under the command of Major-General Scott. He now judged his preparations complete and moved up to the English garrison at Fort Miami. Here he constructed a fortification at the junction of the Le Glaize and Miami rivers, which be appropriately called Fort Defiance. Although now fully prepared to strike the blow which would forever settle the question of supremacy on the American frontier, Wayne made one more attempt to secure peace without bloodshed, and sent the Indians a proposition by a special flag. Confident of the assistance promised by their white allies, and secure in their own prowess, the savages rejected all proposals, and one of the most memorable Indian battles in all history followed.

On the morning of the fifteenth of August the army advanced from Fort Defiance; and on the eighteenth arrived at Roche de Bout, at the head of the rapids; they camped there until the nineteenth, while scouts examined the enemy's ground and small fortifications. On the morning of the twentieth the Americans advanced in two lines through a thick wood extending for miles on every side, where the savages lay in wait. The ground of the forest was covered with fallen timbers, the aftermath of a tornado, and the whole situation was an ideal one for the foe. In a location such as this the cavalry were practically useless, while two miles below was the British fort, from which the Indians expected help in extremity. Five or six miles below the camp, Major Price, with his advance guard, saw Indians and charged. Upon that, the enemy in full force in the midst of the tangled tree trunks opened a galling fire that threw the Kentuckians back on Wayne's main army. It was the supreme moment. Wayne now ordered the militia, under General Scott, to tarn the enemy's right, and the dragoons of the Legion to cut in between the river and the enemy's left. At the same time the line of infantry, 900 strong, with bayonets fixed, was stretched before the enemy's fighting front; while a second line was placed in the rear as reserve forces. When the word was given to charge, every man leaped forward, yelling with the joy of the fight; they bayoneted the red men and their allies behind the logs, and shot them down as they fled, until they had driven them past the British forts (which were tightly closed) and scattered them in the wilderness. Thus the bayonet charge decided the fate of the battle and practically ended the long warfare on the frontier. A few small raids were afterwards made, but the tribes lost hope of victory. In this engagement the American loss was 33 killed, and 100 wounded. The Indians lost several times as many. The army now returned to Le Maize by easy marches, reaching that post on the twenty-seventh of August; thence they marched to Fort Defiance and back to Greenville.

Although suffering acutely from an attack of the gout on the morning the battle began, General Wayne was able to prevail over his physical disability, and spent much of the next day, with his staff, in reconnoitering the British fort, thus giving great offense to the commander, Major Campbell. As the result of this incident the following epistolary exchange of views took place:

"Major Campbell to General Wayne.

"Sir,—An army of the United States of America, said to be render your command, have taken post on the banks of the Miami for upwards of the last 24 hours almost within reach of the guns of this fort, being a post belonging to his Majesty the Ring of Great Britain, occupied by his Majesty's troops, and which I have the honor to command, it becomes my duty to inform myself as speedily as possible in what light I am to view your approach to this garrison. I have no hesitation, on my part, to say that I know of no war existing between Great Britain and America.

"I have the honor, etc., etc."

Neither did General Wayne have any "hesitation," for he replied to this effect:

"Sir:—I have received your letter of this date, requiring from me the motives which have moved the army under my command to the position that they at present occupy far within the acknowledged jurisdiction of the United States.

"Without questioning the authority or the propriety of your interrogatory, I think I may, without breath of decorum, observe to you that you are entitled to an answer. The most full and satisfactory one was announced to you from the muzzles of my small arms yesterday morning in the action against the hordes of savages in the vicinity of your post which terminated gloriously to the American arms, but had it continued until the Indians, etc., were driven under the influence of the post and guns you mention, they would not much have impeded the progress of the Victorious Army under my command—as no such post was established at the commencement of the present war between the Indians and the United States."