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The Battle of the
Twenty years as a reenactor, Mr Raynor is an experienced and thorough researcher in England and contributes articles regularly to Magazines such as First Empire and the Age of Napoleon. Mr Raynor assists the Discriminating General considerably in unearthing key documents and artifacts that allow us to more accurately manufacture of our products.
The " War of 1812 " was an offspring of the larger struggle involving Napoleonic France with most of Europe, including Britain. Fought between Britain and the U.S.A., the war was not popular in the Eastern U.S.A. particularly New England, where a brisk business was being carried out supplying the British in their conflict with Napoleon. However in the Western territories anti-Indian feeling was high being coupled with the desire to expand the frontier into the Native American lands. There was a feeling that British agents were active among the Natives and responsible for their mistrust of the Americans. Thus the War was popular in the West as an excuse to expand the frontier and probably for some Americans as grounds for completing the War of 1775-83 by adding Canada to the U.S. fold.
The Native American attitude though to the United States had largly been shaped by the Americans land policy or hunger. It appeared to the Natives that the Americans were going to obtain the land either by negotiation or by force. One of the principal land speculators was William Henry Harrison (1), whose activities had made him a fortune. One of his treaties with the Natives obtained for him over 3 million acres of choice hunting grounds along the lower Wabash river. The Native Americans had a different concept of land ownership believing that nobody owned the land, that it belonged to all. Alarmed by the enroaching whites many Natives rallied under the leadership of the Shawnee Cheftain, Tecumseh, (2) and his brother the "Prophet".
The War was not declared until June 1812, but already Governor Meigs of Ohio had started to muster a large body of frontier Militia and Regular U.S.Infantry at Dayton. Also Governor Hull of Michigan Territory was placed in charge of all U.S. forces in the Northwest with the rank of Brigadier General. Unfortunatly for the U.S.A. the principal qualifications for Military Command at the beginning of the War was to have political connections to obtain a commission and the ability to recruit volunteers, in many cases it was to lead to diaster.
The British in Canada were not unprepared for the War. Under the energetic leadership of General Isaac Brock what preparations that could be made were. But with Britains main commitment being made in the war against Napoleon, few troops or little material could be spared for the defence of Canada.
However the British did enjoy the support of many Native Americans particularly from the U.S. side of the border. Though neither side really trusted the other, they both saw mutual support as an advantage. The Natives wanted the British as allies in their struggle to protect their land from the enroaching Americans. And the British saw the Natives as allies in any conflict with America, and as a possible buffer state between British Canada and an emerging U.S.A.
The War began disastrously for the Americans. Fort Michilimackinac controlling the Fur Trade routes through the Great Lakes, fell to a small body of British Regulars, Canadian Voyageurs and Native Americans. Next Fort Dearborn ( present day Chicargo ) was evacuated by its garrison under orders from General Hull in Detroit, only for them to be killed or captured as they did so by Native Americans. At the same time General Hull himself surrendered Detroit which included his army of 2,500 men with all their arms and supplies. This to a British force consisting of 700 Regulars and Militia with 600 Native American allies commanded by General Brock and the great Tecumseh.
Thus encouraged, in September 1812, other Native Americans undertook sieges of various U.S.frontier posts including that of Fort Wayne. Warriors from the Miami tribe were involved in this siege. The garrison however was well supplied and despite the local commander having a drink problem (3), withstood a seige of 10 days before being releived by an army of 2,200 men commanded by General Harrison. ( The same Harrison who speculated in land )
Harrison ordered reprisals against the local tribes, little or no distinction being given between friendly or hostile natives. Potowatomi and Miami villages were burned, the crops and food storage for the coming winter destroyed. The effect of this destruction virtually finished the waning influence the pro- American Miami chiefs had over their warriors. These men could see that their tribes best interest was not served by following their chiefs. Instead they turned to the leadership of Tecumseh, and many of those that had not already done so, now joined his cause.
Meanwhile the Miami chiefs met with Harrison in October begging for peace. They were told to send five Chiefs to the Americans as hostages until Harrison could take up the matter with the President. The hostages were not sent, the reason probably being the arrival of news telling of another American military failure. In late September two thousand, thirty day volunteers from Kentucky had enlisted under the command of Major-General Samuel Hopkins, for an expedition against the Natives of Indiana and Illinois territories. By October 14th after two hard weeks in the saddle, this force had found no Natives, their rations had dwindled away and they had become lost. At this point the unseen Natives fired the tall praire grass threatening them with a painful death. Hopkin faced a choice of mutiny or retreat, the Americans retreated.
At about the same time as Hopkins expediton faltered, the Americans underwent yet another defeat. Their invasion of Canada via the Niagara peninsula failed when the U.S. Army was beaten at the battle of Queenston Heights by a combined British force of Regulars, Militia and Native allies. However the British suffered an incalcuable loss with the death of Brock during the battle, dispite taking over 900 prisoners including Lt. Colonel Winfield Scott.
The only bright note for the Americans at this time was the succesful defence of Fort Harrison by Captain Taylor (4) and a few soldiers and civilians, many of whom were sick, against repeated attacks by Miami and Wea warriors until relief arrived. It was the U.S.A.'s first land Victory and won Taylor the first brevet commission awarded by the U.S.government.
Harrison though still had the Miami problem on his mind. Writing to the U.S.Secretary of War at the end of October, Harrison was of the opinion that the Miami should be given,"... a severe chastisement...It remains for the President to say what should be done with the Miamis...Nothing could be more easy than to surprise the Miami town of Mississineway with mounted men. I have engaged General McArthur to undertake it." McArthur though had to turn down acceptance of the command as it would violate his parole (5) and the command instead was given to Lt.Colonel J.B. Campbell (6).
After the surrender of Detroit, Harrison had been appointed to command the Army of the Northwest, and charged with subduing the Natives, relieving Detroit and invading Canada. Harrisons strategy was to move his army to the foot of the "Rapids of the Maumee", in three columns and from there strike at Detroit. Winchester protecting the left flank would march along the route of the Maumee river from the new fort that bore his name. A central force of 1200 men would follow General Hulls old road to the same place. The right division under Harrison himself would proceed from Wooster, Ohio, by way of the Upper Sandusky river to the rapids.
However the grand strategy began to become unstuck. In November Winchester was pinned down at Fort Winchester by the lack of supplies, conditions not being helped by the onset of wintery conditions. Next in early November came the news of another failure by Hopkins who had attempted to engage the Native tribes of the upper Wabash river (7). Hopkins failure left Harrisons left flank open to attack as he drove towards Detroit and Canada. He therefore decided to forestall any further attacks on Winchesters line of communications by striking at the Miami villages and towns along the Mississenawa river. The proposed Mississineway expedition already advocated by Harrison was ordered to be implemented immediately.
The Miami town of Mississineway was located near the junction of the Mississenawa and Wabash rivers. Generally known as the Osage village it had been a town of some importance to the Natives for many years. This town and other settlements along the Mississenawa were the safest part of Miami territory left to them and probably contained the bulk of their winter food. The Miami's concentration in this area during the winter of 1812 was due to these reasons.The Mississenawa area also provided an effective rendezvous for the Natives from upper Illinois and south of Lake Michigan to launch attacks on Fort Wayne and supply convoys supporting any future American campaigns. Besides these factors for an attack along the Mississenawa, there was the likelyhood that Harrison needed a victory or at least to give a show of aggression as his forces had not been engaged in any action since he had taken overall command.
Campbells orders were to attack and destroy the Miami town and villages at Mississineway. He was instructed to avoid the Delaware Natives, who were thought to be complying with an order to leave their villages and join the Shawnee on the Auglaize river. He was also to spare the lives of the friendly Miami Chiefs, Richardville, Pecan, Silver Heels, White Loon, the Sons and brothers of Little Turtle, and the French Trader James Godfrey who lived at Mississineway. After destroying the town and villages, Campbell could then proceed north and destroy the Potawatomi Village of White Pigeon and engage in such adventures as he might seem advisable. William Conner, a trader was provided as a guide, along with six other men. It was felt that a number of indifferent guides could, by pooling their knowledge in some way equal a competent one.
Campbells assembled army consisted of a mixture of Dragoons and Mounted Infantry numbering about 600 men in all (8). This small army contained a Regiment of Kentucky Volunteer Dragoons, and one troop of U.S.Dragoons combined with squadrons of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan Volunteers. A company of the 19th U.S. Infantry, along with a Company of Pennsylvania Riflemen and the "Pittsburgh Blues" formed the Mounted Infantry. The two senior Officers under Campbell were Lt.Colonel James Simrall (9) and Major James Bell.
Campbell left Franklinton (now Columbus) on November 25th and proceeded via Springfield to Xenia, where the troops were mustered in and paid. William Northcutt of the 'Bourbon Blues' recalled,"We got there (Franklinton) about the 5th of November ...here we were about three weeks fixing for the Miami expedition on the Mississinawa river. Here we gave up our muskets and cartouch boxes that we drew at Newport in August 1812 and drew a sword, one pistol and a yauger or short rifle for the expedition"
At Xenia, Northcutt further recalled,"...here we drew our first soldiers pay. We drew three months back pay at the rate of five dollars per month for our own services, and twelve dollars for our horses. We staid at this encampment about three days and while lying here, we had considerable sport by riding a fellow on General Winchesters English filly (ie) a rail. This chap stole a brace of pistols from Capt.Marcle from Pensylvania and was sentensed by the Court Marshal that tried him, to be rode around the encampment on a fence rail carried by two of stoutest men in camp, with the Rouges March playing after him, and then drumed out of camp".
From Xenia, Campbells small army moved to Dayton, here his force was delayed for several days in order to obtain pack horses for the infantry. At Dayton Northcott remembered that,"We left our baggage and baggage wagons and only took the clothes that were on our backs. I left my boots here and my valease with all the clothes I had with a private citezen of the town, and bought me a pair of shoes lined with leather and a pair of cloth wrappers which was the means of saving my feet from getting frost bitten, as the weather by this time had become very cold with considerable snow on the ground".
Fort Greenville was the next stop, after which they entered the wilderness. Northcott reflecting after his return from the campaign wrote of this move,"...to Fort Greenville the outside post and there drew three days rashions, and was gone ten days on them three days rashions for our horses and ourselves". The weather by this time was very cold, and the snow deep. These conditions though were looked on as being excellent for the crossing of streams, swampy ground and for the detection of any Natives. But little thought seems to have been given to what adverse effect such weather would have on the U.S.troops by Harrison or Campbell. This lack of consideration was to bring the expedition to a near calamitous ending.
Campbell left Greenville on December 14th. For each of the first two days his force covered 20 miles, and on the 16th 40 miles. This journey was not without incident, Northcutt relating that on,"The second night out from Greenville and Accident happened to one of our company by the name of West. He was summoned on guard and in kendleing up a fire he unstopt his powder horn, to pour some of the powder on the fire when it flashed up and caught in his powder horn, and bursted it, making a great report and puting the fellows eyes out...The next morning the Captain sent him back to the fort and we saw no more of West for some time".
On the 16th December, Campbell had his men march through the day and most of the night until they were a few miles from a native village reported by the guides to be that of the Chief, Silver Heels. The village in question being on the banks of the Mississenawa river.
A halt was called at about 4 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, and the men told to get what rest they could. Northcutt remembered,"...we marched all night in order to get to the Indian town about daylight and take it by surprise...", but the guide lost his way and though he found it again,"...we did not get there until about one hour of the sun on the morning...". The night was very cold and,"...a great many of the boys got frost bitten, by getting off thier horses and walking, in order to warm themselves. The fateauge of walking would put them in a perspiration and mounting again would chill off, and frost bite in a very little time. At about 8 o'clock in the morning Campbell moved his men to within striking distance of the village. However,it appeared that his force had been discovered. Private Nathaniel Vernon of the Pittsburgh Blues recalled,"The night previous to reaching their settlement, our scouts came riding back and informed our Commander Col.Campbell, they feared from appearences we were discovered". Northcott too confirmed this news,"The guide found his way as soon as the day light made its appearence and we resumed our march. We were then about 2 miles as near as we could guess, from the first town. We had marched about one mile when our spies let the Commander know that we were discovered. They were a little ways ahead of the army when they saw three Indians in the act of cacthing thier horses. The spies and Indians discovered each other about the same time".
The Dragoons had formed a line of battle, but with the news of their discovery they broke into a wild, yelling disorderly race for the village, accidentally killing one of their sergeants as they did so. Vernon remembered that on being discovered, and, "Without stopping to consult with the Officers of the detachment, or to ascertain whether they might not be deceived, a Captain of one of the cavalry companies raised the yell, and was joined by our commander in their unfortunate demonstration, then fiercely spurring their horses, set off at full speed. What few warriors there were in the town made their escape, leaving the old and feeble, with the women and children to fall into our hands". Northcott also took part in the scramble for the village, he remembered, "When our line of battle was formed it extended for more than one half mile in length and our squadron being on the extreme right, missed the town (and) struck the river a little below the town, and Simmeral's Rigement which was on the left struck the town and took it before we could wheel to the left and get up there they had taken it, and killed eight of the indians and one big negore, took forty two prisoners and dispursed the ballance over the river".
The infantry had dismounted before the race for the village began and they entered it in good order. After the village was taken, all the, "hutts and wigwams" were burned except, "one of the largest cabins that was reserved for the accomodation of the prisoners"(Northcutt). Campbell ordered all livestock killed, then at the head of the Dragoons proceeded down the river for about two miles burning two more villages including one belonging to an old Chief,Metocinyah. But the alarm had proceeded them and the only native found was a sick squaw unable to be moved. Livestock was again destroyed, despite the fact the animals could have provided food. Also, little corn was found, a nourishment the horses were beginning to need. Northcutt took part in this destruction, "When we got to the town, it was evacuated by the Indians...we burned the town, killed their dogs and caught about forty of their horses", the horse were brought to the first village and tied, "...in lines with our own horse, and that night a great many of them got killed".
The Dragoons under Campbell now returned to the first village attacked and helped form an encampment. This camp was some 500 feet square with a redoubt outside of the northwest angle. It had been laid out during Campbells absence with the Dragoons and though later he thought it a little too large, he did nothing about it. As the encampment was being built, the second American casualty of the day occured, a sergeant straying to far from the camp was shot by a Native, dying of his wound.
Northcutt was a witness to this,"Some of the boys says to me, Bill where is that Ax that belongs to the Mess? I said that I had thrown it away in the charge on the town...At the start of the charge, the men had 'raised the yell on the left and it extended to the right and put our horses in such a fret that I could not carry the Ax and my gun, and manage my mare, and I concluded that the gun would be of more use to me than the Ax so I threw the Ax away marking the place where I throw it...They said that I had to get it. Well says I if I must I suppose I must". After retrieving the axe, Northcott,"...met two men that were going back after something that they had lost, and I had not got one hundred yards further until I heard a gun fire and they came running back and just after they passed me one of them fell dead from his horse, he being shot through with a bullitt".
The men settled in for the night cooking and eating what provisions they could. According to Northcutt most of the men's, "...forage were gone as well as our provisions". However not all the destroyed Native livestock was wasted,"With the Indian beef...", Northcutts mess, "...had a prety good supper that night and it was the last for some days". Later on that night, "...about two hours before day on the morning of the 18th we had a false alarm and we were roused and paraded for battle and that false alarm saved our bacon for we did not lie down anymore but roused up our fires and went to prepareing something to eat. We had a few sea bisket and a little coffe and some of the Indian beef". Vernon also remembered this alarm,"We were aroused by a shot from the sentinel posted at the south eastern angle, near the bank of the river, who declared he had fired at the head of an Indian, who was peeping over the bank...The camp was now aroused, the reveille beaten, and those not on duty permitted to prepare breakfeast...".
At about 4 o'clock on the morning of the 18th, Campbell fearing a dawn attack had reveille beaten on the drums. Shortly after this, the Field Officers and Captains met with Campbell at his fire to discuss on how to proceed. Frostbite was beginning to take its toll of the men, the prisoners presented a problem, the horses were short of forage, and a report from one of the prisoners stated that there was five hundred warriors at Mississineway, the expeditions principal objective which was 20 miles downstream. Also some of the expeditions ammunition supply had accidently been destroyed a few days previously. Considering it all, Campbells opinion was that he had accomplished what he had been ordered to do, and that they should return to Fort Greenville at once. It was during this consultation, about half an hour before dawn that the attack began.
One of Northcutts Mess mates,"...was on guard where the attack was made and said he saw them coming up in Indian file for some time and kept snapping his gun at them until another sentinal hailed them when the foremost one of them halted and fired his gun as a signal". Vernon was on sentry duty when the attack began,"It was near an hour to daybreak when Mr.I.Davis and myself, who were posted on the river before our quarters, were speaking of the possibility of an Indian attack, he was in a very ill humor, and remarked we have marched a hundred miles into the wilderness through snow and sleet, half leg deep in the bleak month of December, with nothing but what we have carried on our backs, and now, what is worse, we shall have to march back without any fight at all. Scarcely had he ended his remarks, when a ball whistled over our heads, and the next instant a yell prevaded the forest as if all the fiends of the lower regions had been loosed upon us. 'There they are now' was his exultant exclamation, and the next moment we were forming in line". Vernon reported that a "...sentinel hearing someone approach... challenged,'who comes there!','Pottawatamie, God damn you', was the reply in good English, with a shot aimed at him".
The redoubt at the northwest corner was attacked first. Defended by a party under Captain Pierce, it was quickly overwhelmed and occupied by the Natives. Pierce was killed and a heavy fire commenced from the redoubt upon the troops of Captains Hopkins and Garrard holding the northwest angle of the camp. Northcutt witnessed this initial attack,"...the Indians had formed thier lines and commenced thier attack on us with a terrible yell. They took possion of a redoubt at the guard fire, dispersed the guard and killed Pierce the captain of the guard with a war hawk". Shortly after the opening attack the camps southwest corner held by Captain Markles troop of Dragoons, and Captain Elliotts 19th U.S.Infantry came under fire.
Campbell now chose this moment to issue an odd order. Captain Butlers Pittsburgh Blues and Captain Alexanders Pennsylvania Riflemen were informed they were to advance south to the brink of the river cliff. Such a movement would have opened a gap on the south side of the hollow square, and placed the Infantry in an exposed position. Fortunately Butler and Alexander kept to their original positions and ignored Campbells order.
The fighting at the northwest corner intensified. Northcutt was in the thick of it,"We were ordered to form in the rear of our fires and put them out which we did and stood one fire from them in this position, when the Officers discovered that they had the advantage of us they being in a thick clump of woods, and we in an open place in the edge of their town with here and there a tree and we were ordered to retreat and form behind our horses which was tied to stakes twenty paces in our rear".
As the fighting continued, Northcutt recalled,"...the Indians made a charge on us and some of them were killed at our fires that we had left. They fought with desperation yelling all the time like so many fiends. Our watch word was 'Fight On' and we repeated it all the time, when a hoarse voice from thier side bawled out,'Fight On and be dam to you'".
Northcutt's 'Bourbon Blues' had,"...to stand the brunt of the fight. We had two killed dead and a great many wounded. My right hand man was shot through the head and fell flat on his back with his gun cocked across his breast, and my left hand man had his right arm broken close to his right shoulder, and I had four mess mates badly wounded and how I escaped is a mystery to me, and always will be for I was right in the thickest of the fight and never got a scratch". As the fight intensified so, mingling with the cries of the wounded, the crash of musketery and the hoarse yelling of orders could be heard the "...continual hollowing and gabbering..." of the native prisoners in the guarded hut.
Hopkins and Garrards men were becoming hard pressed. Major Ball in overall charge of them now advised Campbell that they would need assistance. Campbell at first ordered Captain Trotters troop from the east side of the camp to their support. But Trotter reported seeing Natives approaching his part of the camp and so stayed put. Campbell thus sought help from elsewhere, he ordered the seven guides to the northwest corner followed by Captain Butlers Pittsburgh Blues. Butler promptly carried the order out and the resulting increased firepower brought an immediate relief to the pressure which had been exerted on Hopkins and Garrard.
Vernon in the Pittsburgh Blues took part in this movement,"Capt. Butler...ordered us to right about face and preceded by Major Ball, we marched hastily and took up position on the same ground from which the U.S.Light Dragoons had just been driven. Our Captain, waving his sword, gave a hearty, 'Hurrah for the Pittsburgh Blues', which was answered by the company, with a simultaneous and terrible fire upon the enemy. After this the enemy fell back and ensconced behind trees".
However the relief was not undertaken without loss, Vernon watched while, "One of our men named Louson, standing near Butler, was shot in the breast. he pitched forward and fell a few steps in advance of the line. An Indian sprang forward to secure his scalp but was shot instantly by our men, both bodies were found lying together".
Northcutt saw the "Pittsburgh Blues" arrive," Our ranks got so badly thined that we had to be reinforced by Captain Butlers Company from the centre of the encampment. His was an infantry company and fired by platoons. We opened to the right and left and they formed in our lines, and formed in sexions of sixteen men in a sexion, and from the time that they commenced fireing, the note of the Indian yell began to change, for in a very short time thier fire became very scattering...".
The main fighting now shifted to Captain Markles company at the southwest corner of the camp. But with dawn beginning to break and the light increasing, the American fire became more effective. The Natives seeing that Campbells force was too strong for them and probably disheartened by the failure of their initial onslaught, began to disperse.
Campbell upon seeing this immediately ordered Captain Trotters troop from Simralls command to go in pursuit, with Captain Johnsons troop to act as support. Simrall had anticipated Campbells command and had the men already mounted. However the pursuit was not what it could have been according to Vernon,"...the order was given for the cavalry to mount and pursue. I am sorry to say but few obeyed the order. Captain Markell with fifteen of his men, Johnson and Trotter with three or four of theirs, were all that joined in the pursuit. The Indians, with the exception of one poor wounded fellow, killed by Markell, made good their retreat". Northcutt like Vernon had a good view of the cavalry's progress,"When the sun was about one half hour high we oppened our ranks again and let Trotters troop of horses from Simmerels Regement out to make a charge on them, they haveing begun to retreat"; But a rearguard of Natives, "...fired on his men. They being on their horses and the Indians behind trees they cut his company all to pieces and rendered his charge of no avail". However the dragoons returned to the camp with the report that the Natives had disappeared and that there was no danger for the time being.
The whole action had lasted about an hour. Major Balls command and the Pittsburgh Blues had borne the blunt of the fighting, with the 19th U.S.Infantry under fire for a time. Throughout the engagement the Dragoons had fought dismounted except for the charge by some of Simerals command at the fights end. Campbells force had lost twelve killed or later died of wounds and sixty-five wounded of whom seventeen were seriously injured. (10) Over one hundred of the Americans horses were killed, this large number indicating perhaps that they were targeted intentionally, the Natives main purpose being to cripple any further American progress rather than destroy them. Or more likely, the horses just got in the way as the fight surged around their picket lines.
The number of Native Americans involved in the fight is open to conjecture. Campbell thought there were 300 of them, though given the hyperbole prevalent in a few War of 1812 Commander's reports, this might be an overestimation. Native casualties are also hard to estimate, Northcutt saw that,"...they left forty of their dead behind them but none of thier wounded"; While Vernon heard that, "It was reported the Indians had lost 47 killed with 75 wounded". Again these figures appear to be excessive. The Natives were probably led by Francis Godfroy, son of the French Trader James Godfroy, Joe Richardville son of the Miami Chief, and probably Little Thunder the nephew of Little Turtle whose voice William Conner the scout said he recognised in the dark calling for one more attack before they withdraw.
The American retirement to Greenville did not begin until the late afternoon. The departure being delayed until the dead had been buried and transport for the wounded arranged. Northcutt helped with the wounded, "We gathered up the poor wounded boys and took them all to the Doctors quarters and then we gathered up our dead and buried them in one grave. We dug it in the floor of the hut that we had left for the prisoners to stay in. We levelled it off even with the other part of the floor, and set it on fire in order to keep the Indians from finding it or finding out how many of us they had Killed...There was one poor fellow that was shot through the head but could not die and the Doctors had to give him something to finish him so that we could bury him with the rest of the poor fellows".
The return to Fort Greenville was a nightmare. The entry in Northcutts diary at this moment simply recorded, "We are now on our march back to Greenville, more than half of us afoot and we had a great many sick and frostbitten". Campbell's men were slowed by the loss of horses, the care of the wounded who were transported in litters, by the prisoners, and by hunger and exhaustion in the freezing cold conditions. As Vernon was to later write, "Our trials had just commenced. Our provisions were nearly expended, our ammunition nearly expended, our ammunition would not serve five rounds to a man, even our thirst had to be quenched by the melting of snow in our mouths as we marched".
The ammunition situation was confirmed by Northcutt," We were prety near out of ammuntion. An accident happened to our ammunition a few days before we arrived at the Indian towns. We had two boxes of catriges on a pack horse, when he took fright and broke away from the man that was leading him, the package turned under his belly and he kicked the boxes to peices, and scattered the catriges for one quarter of a mile in the snow and destroyed them".
By the morning of the 19th December only three hundred and ten men were fit for duty, the rest were either wounded, sick or frostbitten. To guard against another night or dawn attack, Campbell had his men build defences at the end of each days march. Vernon remembered that,"Half the men on guard every other night, the night not on guard up till near twelve o'clock building a breastwork, the remainder of the night unable to rest from constant alarms". Northcutt too recollected this weary work, "We had to make Breast work every night until we got to Greenville and stand guard every other night which was enough to try the spunk of the very best of us. There was three days and nights that I did not get one hours sleep during the night...The third night we had to be up all night occasioned by false alarms by the sentenals fireing and running into camp".(11)
The march was hampered by the wounded, who suffered much. Vernon recalled that,"On our march we were frequently compelled to halt to adjust the wounded in their imperfect litters. They being merely two poles with blankets stretched across, the ends strapped upon two horses, one before the other, the hinder one unable to see where to step"(12). Northcutt too observed the wounded ordeal, "We had about twenty wounded to bring into Dayton in these litters, and in a great many places the little ponds of water was frozen over so that they would make the horses slip and jolt the poor fellows so that they would scream". The men had to take the litters off the horses and carry them over the ice on their shoulders. Not all the wounded made it back, Northcutt wrote in his diary,"Today one of our wounded boys died in his litter, and we buried him in the woods by the side of an old log".
To help speed the march up,"The Commander ordered the Indian ponies that we had caught on the 17th in the lower town be given up for the squaws and papooses to ride, which occasioned some hard swearing amongst the boys that claimed them as captured property"(Northcutt). The frequent halts also bought there own problems, as Vernon remembered, "At every halt the sock would freeze next to the foot, and so remain until the frichon of the foot and the moccasin would thaw it".
Despite being impeded by the captured natives, Campbell had his reasons for keeping them. Vernon later wrote that,"...we were informed by an Indian agent, that 1,000 Indians had been in close pursuit on our trail, and were prevented from making an attack by our breastworks...that the young warriors were eager for an attack, but restrained by the old warriors, who were fearful of our putting our prisoners to death, as had been threatened by our Commander".
After five days march and still two days out from Fort Greenville the food supply became completely exhausted. The situation however was saved when on the next day a reinforcement of 95 men under a Captain Adair met Campbell's force. The six pack horses carrying Adairs supplies provided enough food for Campbell's men to complete the return journey, though the surviving horses could scarcely be brought in due to the lack of forage. Northcutt was one of those that lost his horse, "I lost my mare and had to walk into Dayton and pack my gun and sword. I got a soldier that rode a pack horse out to bring in my saddle and Holsters to Dayton for me".
Adairs arrival was timely as Campbells men were by this time at the limit of their endurance. Vernon recorded that, "The day previous to our reaching Greenville they [the Indians] gave over the pursuit. This was fortunate for us, as that night, after having with much labor and difficulty prepared the logs for the breastwork, we were unable to man men enough to raise it. The men in despair threw down their broken axes, declaring they would fight to the last, but as to completing the breastwork, it was utterly impossible.
Campbell's army had only penetrated the eastern part of the area it had been assigned to attack. It had got no nearer than twenty miles from its principal objective, which was the town of Mississenaway. No large food stores were destroyed, the only food found was a little corn, which was fed to the horses. The villages burned were not threats to Harrisons army, indeed the largest one destroyed was that of an old chief called Metocinyah, who had not been engaged in war or politics since his youth. The first village attacked and subsequently the battle site, contained only twelve houses. In fact on the 17th this village was thought to be that of Silver Heels a Chief Campbell had been ordered to spare and when attacked was found to be inhabited by a mixture of Delaware and Miami. No Miami were taken prisoner, all the 42 prisoners being of the Delaware tribe, a people Campbell had been ordered to avoid as being probably friendly. And of these 42, only 8 were men. The prisoners had been a burden throughout and were only kept as security against further attacks.
Finally, Campbell's force was found on its return to Greenville to have lost over 60 percent of its strength, most of the casualties succumbing to frostbite. Vernon put the total figure of frostbite cases at 350 (See note 10) For the time being Harrison had lost the core of his cavalry. Little account had been taken of the appalling winter conditions in which the American forces had to operate. A mistake which appeared not to have been learned, for Harrison was still thinking of launching another raid a few weeks later (13). Though the reality was that the campaign could not be classed as a success, Harrison claimed it as a victory. He received the approval of the President of the U.S.A. and obtained a full Colonels commission for Campbell.
The objective of the Natives was on learning of Campbell's presence, was one of protecting their lives and their winter food supplies. To accomplish these purposes it was not necessary to destroy Campbell's army but only to stop its progress. The Natives succeeded in their task. But not all the Natives warriors could be mustered between the attack on the first village and the commencement of the battle. Many warriors had also joined Tecumseh and the British; had all their warriors been present at the battle, then matters could have been made much worse for Campbell and his subsequent check might have deteriorated into a distinctly unhealthy situation.
1. General William Henry Harrison 1773-1841. Born in Virginia. Land Speculator. Won the battle of Tippecanoe 1811, a pyrrhic victory meant to break Tecumseh's confederacy and stop raids on frontier settlements. It did neither of these things. Made Brigadier General in command of the army of the Northwest by President Madison in Sept.1812. Also appointed Governor of Indiania Territory and Superintendent of Indian affairs of Northwest Territory. Won the Battle of the Thames 1813, destroying a British and Native army. Later became President of the U.S.A. but caught a cold on his first day in office and died 31 days later.
2. Tecumseh. Born c1768 to 1813. A Shawnee Cheftain. He travelled from the Great Lakes to the deep South in his attempt to unite all Native tribes east of the Mississippi river into a strong confederation to save Native lands and culture. Allied his cause to the British during the War of 1812. Killed at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario,Canada 1813.
3. Captain James Rhea. He was intoxicated throughout the siege. Harrison had him arrested but permitted him to resign from the service.
4. Brevet Major Zachary Taylor. He later became 12th President of the U.S.A.
5. General Duncan McArthur. An experienced Officer, regarded as one of the most able Colonels under General Hull. He was helping run a supply column into Detroit when Hull surrended. But Brock insisted that McArthurs force be included in the surrender. Since accepting command of the Mississeneway expedition would have violated the parole imposed on him by the Detroit surrender terms, he declined the command.
6. John B. Campbell was a Virginian. He was commissioned Lt. Colonel upon joining the 19th U.S.Infantry in March 1812. Obtained his Colonels commission as a result of the Mississinewa Battle. Made Colonel of the 11th U.S.Infantry April 1814. Badly wounded at the Battle of Chippewa July 5th 1814 and died of his wounds 28th August 1814.
7. Hopkins troops were unprepared for cold weather and subsequently forced to retire after burning some empty villages. The only action was an ambush of sixty troopers in which sixteen of them were killed.
8. A more detailed breakdown of Campbells Army is as follows:
Lt.Colonel James Simralls Regiment : Kentucky Volunteer Light Dragoons. Consisting of: Capt. George Trotters Troop (12 month vols) Capt. Robert Smiths Troop (6 month vols) Capt. Thomas Johnstons Company (12 month vols) Capt. William Youngs Company (12 month vols) Capt. Warner Elmores Company (12 month vols)
Major James Ball's Squadron : 2nd Regiment of Dragoons. Consisting of: Capt. Samuel Hopkins Troop 2nd Regt. U.S. Light Dragoons Capt. William Garrards Troop(The Bourbon Blues) Kentucky Vol.Light Dragoons (12 month vols) Cornet Isaac Lees Detachment, Michigan Terr. Vol. Light Dragoons (12 month vols) Capt. Joseph Markle's Troop, Pennsylvania Vol. Light Dragoons, Westmoreland Co.(12 month Vols) Capt. James McClelland's Company, Pennsylvania Vol.Cavalry (12 month vols) Lt. Thomas Warren's Company, Pennsylvania Light Dragoons (12 month vols) Capt. Benoni Pierce's Detachment, Ohio Vol. Light Dragoons (6 month vols)
Infantry and Riflemen. Consisting of: Capt. Wilson Elliott's Company, 19th Regiment U.S. Infantry. Capt. John Alexanders Company, Pennsylvania Vol.Riflemen (12 month vols) Capt. James Butlers Company, Pennsylvania Vol. Light Infantry (The Pittsburgh Blues).
Guides. Seven guides are listed in the Muster Rolls under the Command of a Capt. Patterson Bain.
9. Lt. Colonel James Simrall. His Regiment was disbanded after the expedition. He raised another in 1813. Present at the Battle of the Thames and placed in charge of the British prisoners taken there.
10.The official report by Lt. John Payne, Adjutant to Campbells Army gave the casualties as 10 killed, 48 wounded, and unfit for duty on the morning of the 29th Dec, from frostbite, 303 men. Northcutt gives the casualties as, "...eight killed dead on the spot and four died of their wounds, two coming in and two at Dayton and sixty-five wounded". He also states that only 310 men were fit for duty out of 600 men, the rest presumably being casualties or suffering from frostbite. Vernon recorded that, "The loss on our side I do not recollect. I saw some 10 or 12 lying on the ground either dead or dying. We bought into the settlement on litters 17 badly wounded, a number more were slightly wounded...of 550 men, 350 were frostbitten". A return for the campaign compiled from documents in the U.S. National Archives gives the casualties as 15 killed or died of wounds, 43 wounded, and 303 with frostbite. The number of men on the muster rolls is 773, but not all of these took part in the campaign.
11.Northcutt was on sentry duty the next night. The sentry he relieved had been fast asleep and the next morning,"...was punished for it by being tied across the breastwork and given fifteen licks well laid on, with a paddle made for the purpose". Later that night Northcutt too had a false alarm when he saw,"...something moving towards me...I was determined to let it get close enough to me before I shot to make a sure shoot, and when that occured it turned out to be an old horse that had got out of the camp, and was browsing his way back".
12.Northcutt also described the litters,"We cut poles about twelve feet long and took canvas and sewed it around two of them and put them on horses one before and the other behind and put the wounded in between them, and it took two men to each litter to manage the horses".
13.On January 3rd 1813, General Harrison advised the U.S. Secretary of War, that he had just returned from a visit to Governor Meiggs of Ohio, on the matter of raising a mounted force for another expedition to the Mississenewa. "An attempt upon a particular town in winter when the Inhabitants are in it (as we know they are at Mississineway)...and which is so near as to enable the Detachment to reach it and return without killing their horses is not only practicable but if there is snow on the ground is prehaps the most favourable time and small parties might be employed to great advantage searching for and attacking their camps". Harrisons policy of harrying the Natives during the winter months was correct provided the expeditions were properly planned and equiped. The Natives were extremly vulnerable during this season being concentrated together after a summer of scattered hunting. The destruction of their houses and food stores put enormous strain on their capacity to resist any American opposition. The policy of attacking Native settlements or camps during the winter would not cease with the War of 1812, but continue in other conflicts between the U.S. Army and Native Americans throughout the 19th century.
The Battle of the Mississinewa (includes William Northcutts Diary).Grant County Historical Society, Marion, Indiania. 1968
Murray Holliday, The Battle of the Mississinewa. Grant County Historical Society, Marion, Indiania, 1964
The Diary of Nathaniel Vernon.....Extracts published in Chronicle Tribune, Marion, Indiania, Oct. 13th 1995. Original in Yale University Library.
Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada 1812-13. McClelland and Stewart 1980.
G.Stanley, The War of 1812, MacMillan 1983.
Published in " Age of Napoleon ", England.