September arrived heralding autumn. Tecumseh was resting on the Wabash recuperating from his wound when he received more bad news. Two U.S. forts had been attacked, besieged for days with much ammunition wasted and little to show for the effort. Neither fort was destroyed and only four Big Knives killed.
On September the 5th a large party of Winnebago and Sac warriors besieged Fort Madison on the Mississippi. The siege lasted for three days and although they destroyed the trading post and other property outside the fort they failed to raze the main stockade. After running low on ammunition they abandoned the attack.
The Potawatomi put Fort Wayne under siege the same day Fort Madison was attacked. But Fort Wayne was a stronger fortification and more heavily guarded. The warriors were led by Winamek and a holy man named Five Medals. Like the Winnebago and Sac they destroyed everything outside Fort Wayne. They sprayed the walls of the fort with bullets shooting at every shadow that moved about but had little success. This assault lasted seven days until Harrison arrived from Piqua with a force of 2,000 and the Potawatomi dispersed.
More success was had a Fort Harrison. Shawnee, Winnebago, Kickapoo and Miami warriors from Prophetstown attacked the weakly defended fort. More than half the garrison was down with fever. Included in the fort’s inhabitants were nine women and children who had abandoned their farms for the security of the fort.
During the first night of the siege one of the blockhouses caught fire. It contained the fort’s supply of food along with 25,000 rations of liquor. Soldiers in the fort tried desperately to put out the fire which the whiskey had turned into a raging inferno. The warriors took pot shots at illuminated figures trying to douse the fire with water while others ripped off combustible roofing from other nearby buildings. The din of battle, a strange mixture of gunfire, instructions being shouted by the soldiers, wailing and crying of women and children and loud shrieking of war whoops could be heard for miles. When the smoke cleared in the morning there was a twenty foot breach in the wall of the fort and all its provisions had burned. The Big Knives had lost three killed and three wounded trying to save them.
The warriors from the Wabash withdrew employing the tactic of starving them out. Mounted detachments were sent from Vincennes. At first two smaller ones were turned back by the warriors who killed two of the horsemen. Ten days after the attack began Colonel William Russell with 1,350 men breached the warrior’s lines bringing the fort much needed supplies. Another supply wagon was sent from Vincennes guarded by thirteen army regulars. The warriors ambushed it at the halfway point killing seven guardsmen and wounding one. They took the supply wagon. However, with such a large number of Big Knives now at the fort they abandoned their siege and returned to the Wabash.
Blame for the lack of success in early September can be laid squarely at the feet of the First Nations’ British allies. The Americans were never more vulnerable after having their entire western army captured and Michigan Territory annexed in August. Tecumseh’s Confederacy tried to take advantage of this but lacked the heavy artillery and know how needed to breach the forts’ walls. The Red Coats could have supplied this but Lt. Governor-General Prevost called an armistice hoping that the repeal of the admiralty orders in council in London, a major source of discontent, would appease the U.S. Congress and bring the war to an end. The hope was in vain. The cease fire was called off September 8th and Proctor finally move to support his allies September 12th but it was too little, too late.
The countryside was now mostly void of homesteaders. Most had fled to the east behind American Lines. The majority of those who stayed had either moved inside American forts or built blockhouse near their farms taking refuse there. War parties spent the early fall roaming the territory burning empty farmhouses and killing farm stock and confiscating abandoned supplies.
One small community did not take precautions and paid the price. It was called Pigeon Roost but now is Scott County, Indiana. A war party led by the Shawnee Masalemeta descended quickly upon the area destroying the community which was totally unprotected. Twenty four people lost their lives. Twenty one of them were women and children. Upon their retreat they set up an ambush for their pursuers killing one soldier. In times of war First Nation warriors made little distinction between soldiers or civilians even women and children.
This undesirable trait was not lost on First Nation warriors. It seems to have afflicted the military as well. Even the civilian population exhibited a hatred for the enemy that would only fuel war time atrocities. The civilian population living in the east behind American lines were organizing vigilante parties sending them out to kill, burn and destroy any First Nation persons and property they came across. They were indiscriminate in their raids attacking even their own First Nation allies such as the Ohio Shawnee, the White River Delaware and Sandusky Wyandotte and Mingo.
Meanwhile, Harrison was building a new western army not as a whole but in parts. The plan was send three columns via different routes to congregate at the rapids of the Maumee River. The right column made up of volunteers from Pennsylvania and Virginia was to gather at Upper Sandusky and proceed from there. General Edward Tupper was commander of the center column gathering at Urbana while General Winchester was to lead the left column from old Fort Defiance down the Maumee to the rapids. Once all three were in place at the rapids they would be in position for either a winter or spring offensive to retake Detroit. However, in order for this strategy to work Winchester’s route would have to be cleared of marauding warriors.
Winchester sent out detachments of both U.S. regulars and Kentucky Militia that fall on nine separate excursions. They basically used a scorched earth policy to destroy twenty-one First Nation towns, killing livestock and burning cornfields. They even dug up graves to rob the corpses of their silver trinkets. Fortunately, only two of the towns were inhabited as the others had been abandoned when the Big Knives approached. Fifty First Nations men, women and children were either killed or captured.
On November 21st Kumskaukau, Tecumseh’s younger brother, was with several of his warriors scouting high on a bluff overlooking the Winnebago town on Wild Cat Creek. They spotted one of Major-General Samuel Hopkins’ scouting party coming up the river. They set an ambush, shot one of the riders knocking him off his horse killing him. The others scrambled back down the river to the safety of their main camp.
The next day a large detachment arrived to bury the body of their slain comrade. Sixty mounted horsemen riding in three columns spotted a lone warrior riding ahead of them to their right. The right column gave a shout and peeled off to chase down the single warrior. The other two columns followed. They chased the solitary warrior for about a mile then down into a ravine and past a waiting war party crouched among the scrub brush on three sides. Before the Big Knives realized what was happening they were peppered with gunfire. They panicked retreating pell mell back down the river to their base camp leaving sixteen dead in the ravine.
Kumskaukau’s party was a small one and they knew the Big Knives would return with an overwhelming force so they left the area the next day. Thus went the fall campaigns of 1812, a series of uncoordinated raids by both sides. But now winter was setting in and that was about to make things much more difficult!
NEXT WEEK: Another American Disaster!