The War Turns Ugly

November 23, 2012

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!

The Warrior’s Offensive Faulters

November 12, 2012

In April 1812 the simple pioneer homes of Chicago came under attack by the Potawatomi. Cannon fire from Fort Dearborn, which was adjacent to the town, scared the warriors off. The whole populace moved into the security of the fort and waited not knowing what to do next. They waited apprehensively for the next four months until Winamek, a friendly Potawatomi chief arrived on August 7th with an order from General Hull to evacuate. The chief advised against leaving and the garrison’s officers agreed but the commander Captain Nathan Heald was determined to carry out Hull’s order. At the same time the local Potawatomi accepted a red calumet from Main Poc who was at Fort Malden.

Billy Wells was also at the fort. He had been sent with thirty Miami warriors to escort the fort’s garrison as well as the whole civilian population back to the relative safety of Fort Wayne. Wells was a conflicted man. He had been captured by the Miami as a boy and adopted into the band. He took the name of Black Snake and was raised Miami. He married Little Turtle’s sister and fought  with Little Turtle’s confederacy when they smashed the American Armies of Generals Harmar and St. Clair.

However, confusion over his identity brought about feelings of doubt and guilt concerning the Americans he had slain in battle. He thought some could even have been his relatives! He switched sides joining General Wayne as a scout and interpreter. He fought again at Fallen Timbers, but this time on the side of the Big Knives. He went on to become the Indian Agent at Fort Wayne, a position he presently held. Both Wells and his brother-in-law were despised by Tecumseh who considered them turncoats. Although he held great sway with the First Nations friendly to the U.S. he still was not trusted by Harrison who thought he was secretly working with enemy war chiefs.

The Potawatomi were led by war chiefs Assikenack or Blackbird from Milwaukee, Tonquish of the Detroit Potawatomi and Nuscotomeg or Bad Sturgeon who came from a village at the junction of the Iroquois and Kankakee Rivers. Together, with a few Ojibwa, Kickapoo and Winnebago warriors, they commanded 600 warriors. They had the fort surrounded but Heald prepared to abandon the fort anyway. On August 14th he distributed all the goods and supplies they could not carry with them to the warriors as payment for safe passage out of the fort. The Potawatomi withdrew to the sand dunes near road which would become Michigan Avenue.

Unfortunately Heald had destroyed all extra arms, ammunition and liquor the night before so they would not fall into the hands of the warriors. That was probably a mistake because it infuriated the Potawatomi putting them in a most foul mood. They took this action as a betrayal of their agreement thereby nullifying it so they attacked the column as they marched down the road.

The thirty Miami warriors immediately abandoned the field. Captain Heald circled the wagons then he and Wells led a charge up the dunes directly at the warriors’ position. This was Heald’s second mistake. After all he had only fifty-three soldiers under his command. This left the civilians cowering behind their only protection, the wagons. Heald’s men were quickly overwhelmed by far superior numbers as were the civilians.

There was a total of ninety-three persons that filed out of the fort that August 15th. They got to a point three miles from the Chicago River when they were attacked. The civilians included twelve men, nine women and eighteen children.  Of the military twenty-six were killed and scalped including Wells whose heart was cut out and eaten raw by the Potawatomi chiefs in order to absorb his great courage. Five more were put to death that same night. Captain Heald survived and was taken back to the fort where he found his wife who had been rescued by the friendly chief Black Partridge. The other twenty-two soldiers who survived were also taken prisoner. Of the thirty-nine civilians all eighteen men, two women and twelve children were killed and scalped at the wagons. The balance were also herded back to the fort as prisoners. A few were ransomed but most were split up and adopted into various bands. With the fall of Forts Michilimackinac, Dearborn and Detroit the Americans lost control of all territory north and west of the Maumee River.

After the First Nations conference at Brownstown in July Black Hoof, Logan and The Wolf hurried back to Ohio to attend the conference at Piqua. They arrived in time only to find out that the conference had been postponed until August 15th. When it finally did get underway there were only 750 First Nations people in attendance and not the 3,000 expected! Not surprisingly the attendees were the eastern Shawnee from Ohio and the White River Delaware along with a few Ottawa and Kickapoo. Tarhe’s Wyandotte of Sandusky didn’t arrive until September. Fearing attacks by hostile warriors they were busy moving their village to the Upper Sandusky behind American lines. Most of the missing attendees were from the Northwest and had either joined Tecumseh or were observing the war with a view to joining him.

The U.S. commissioners were Governor Meigs, Thomas Worthington and Jeremiah Morrow. In the time leading up to the conference they learned of Tecumseh’s stunning successes. Just after the meetings began they received the news that Detroit had fallen and Chicago was now under Potawatomi domination. The commissioners’ refrain was predictable.

They tried to convince their audience that although the Americans had suffered some losses in the end they would prevail. That the United States harbored no interest in acquiring any more of their lands. If they remained neutral they would receive total protection of U.S. forces against any enemy but if they joined the hostiles that would only end in their destruction. They were preaching to the choir as all of the attendees were already committed to the U.S.

On September 6th the Potawatomi besieged Fort Wayne. Main Poc with his Detroit Potawatomi joined with their Tippecanoe and St. Joseph country men and had the Fort hemmed up. Fort Wayne was a heavily reinforced fortification. The Potawatomi had no heavy artillery with which to breach its walls. They could only hem it in taking pot shots at whatever moved while waiting for British reinforcements. Main Poc built ramparts made of logs and earth in a ruse to make the Big Knives think that British artillery had arrived. It didn’t work.

On September 14th Captain Adam Muir, Roundhead and Tecumseh left Amherstburg with a force of 1,000 to help Main Poc and Winamek take Fort Wayne. Yes, the same Winamek that was pro American. The same Winamek that brought General Hull the news of Fort Michilimackinac’s capitulation in July. The same Winamek that carried Hull’s evacuation order to Fort Dearborn. He had switched sides!

Governor Harrison had been given command of the western army so he relinquished his governorship and took the rank of Major General. He was ordered to raise a force of 10,000 to retake Detroit and then strike into Canada as far as possible. He was in the process of carrying out the order when the siege of Fort Wayne began. Local friendly chiefs and warriors including Captain Lewis, Logan, Bright Horn, Captain Johnny and The Wolf joined him as scouts and interpreters. Harrison marched the army of 2,000 he had raised to Fort Wayne to break the siege. Brigadier-General Winchester arrived just after him with a small contingent of Kentucky Militia. They arrived ahead of Muir and Tecumseh who, when they saw they faced vastly superior numbers turned around and headed back to Fort Malden. The siege was broken and the Potawatomi assault had failed.

NEXT WEEK:  The War Turns Ugly


The Fall of Detroit

November 6, 2012

Tecumseh’s confederacy began to grow. Early successes against the Big Knives bolstered the First Nations around Detroit. Teyoninhokarawenor The Snipe whose English name was John Norton arrived with seventy warriors. He was a Mohawk from the Grand River. His war party consisted of Iroquois from the Grand and some Munsee Delaware he had recruited from the Thames. Miscocomon or Red Knife joined him with a party of Ojibway warriors from the Thames.

The young warriors Kayotang and Yahobance, in English Raccoon, from Bear Creek (Sydenham River) raised a war party and joined with war chief Waupugais and his party from the Sauble. They traveled down the eastern shore of Lake Huron to Aamjiwnaang at the mouth of the St. Clair River. They met Misquahwegezhigk or Red Sky at the mouth of the Black River. He was the war chief of the Black River band of Saulteaux Ojibwa. They were all joined by Quakegman also known as Feather a war chief of the St. Clair band across the river. The whole entourage made its way south down the St. Clair to the lake of the same name. They picked up Petahgegeeshig or Between Day as well as Quaquakebookgk or Revolution with a large group of Ojibwa warriors from the Swan Creek and Salt River bands. The whole group arrived at Amherstburg sometime in early August 1812.

Okemos, who was a nephew of Pontiac, was the chief of the Cedar River band near present day Lansing, Michigan. They were a mixed band of Ojibwa and Ottawa people. He also arrived about the same time as the Saulteaux Ojibwa. Manitocorbay also came leading a large party of Ojibwa from Saginaw. Tecumseh’s coalition grew to about 600 warriors.

On the 9th of August Captain Adam Muir crossed the Detroit with just over 100 Red Coats, most of them regulars and started down the road to Bluejacket’s village of Maguaga. They were joined by Tecumseh with 300 warriors.. Main Poc and Walk-In-The-Water led the Potawatomi and Wyandotte bands.. Just as they arrived some of their scouts came rushing down the road with news. They excitedly told their chiefs that a large party of Big Knives were arriving from Detroit.

Hull had sent out a force to re-take the road that was his supply line from Ohio. This time the size of the force he sent out was much larger and included a healthy contingent of battle hardened regulars. The allied forces picked a place conducive to the ambush style forest warfare. Muir’s men flattened themselves on the ground on each side of the road while Main Poc and Walk-In-The-Water took up position ahead of the British in the woods on one side while Tecumseh covered them from the other side. There they lay, still and silent, awaiting the Americans. They didn’t have to wait long.

The Big Knives appeared marching down the road in two columns one on each side of the road with a column of cavalry in between. They were led by an advance guard of infantrymen under Captain Josiah Snelling while Lieutenant-Colonel James Miller rode at the head of the cavalry. Behind them was their baggage and heavy armament, one six-pounder and one howitzer. These were flanked by a small rear guard of regulars from the 4th U.S. Infantry. The unsuspecting Americans marched right passed the hiding enemy.

The warriors opened up fire upon the advance guard and the main column. The Red Coats joined the fire and the Big Knives broke ranks. However, they were battle tested veterans and among Hull’s finest soldiers. They regrouped under Miller and quickly formed battle lines. They began to advance firing mainly upon the British as the bright red jackets made easier targets than the warriors. Their 6 pounder also joined the fray by spaying the wooded areas with grape-shot.

Then things began to go wrong for the allies. One report said that the American’s forced one of the body of warriors to fall back and Muir’s men mistook them for advancing Blue Coats and so fired upon their own allies. Another report said the Red Coats mistook a command to advance as one to retreat giving up ground to Miller’s troops. Later Proctor would only record that during the battle something went amiss.

The Red Coats retired from the battlefield and retreated back to Malden. The warriors fought on for a time but were overwhelmed by superior numbers and they gave up the road to the Americans. But they didn’t hold control of their supply line for very long.

Inexplicably on August the 12th the “Old Lady”, that’s what Hull’s officers had come to call him, ordered Miller to withdraw back to the safety of Fort Detroit. Tecumseh moved back across the river and took control of the road to Urbana once again.

Tecumseh lost two warriors killed and six wounded in the Battle of Maguaga. He was slightly wounded himself. Muir lost five killed including Lieutenant Charles Sutherland, fourteen wounded and two missing. The Americans fared much worse. Miller suffered eighty-two casualties including eighteen dead. Jim Bluejacket, son of the great Shawnee Chief was also killed scouting for Miller. Although the Canadians lost the battle in the end because of Hull’s trepidation the blockade of Fort Detroit remained intact.

The American’s also had planned an invasion of Upper Canada at Niagara to coincide with Hull’s arrival at Sandwich but it was delayed. This freed up the commander of the British forces Isaac Brock to personally survey the situation on the Detroit frontier. He left Long Point with 350 men skirting the north shore of Lake Erie and up the Detroit. When he arrived at Amherstburg, sometime after the sun had set on August 13th, he was greeted with a volley of gunfire. The rounds were not deadly but fired off into the air as a greeting by the warriors on Bois Blanc Island.

A meeting of the officers was hastily called. Mathew Elliot, the old Indian Agent, quickly left to fetch Tecumseh. When Tecumseh and the General met they immediately hit it off. Both men were bold warriors, decisive in deed and had the military acumen only great generals enjoy. In short they were made of the same mettle.

When Brock heard of the trembling fear General Hull had of Tecumseh’s warriors he wanted to exploit this weakness. He decided to go on the offensive by attacking Fort Detroit. Proctor was against the plan as were most of the officers except for two. Tecumseh on the hand was filled with affirmative excitement. When that meeting broke up the decision had been made to send Hull a letter giving him the chance to surrender the fort. If the offer was refused they would attack. Colonel Proctor had been sent to Amherstburg to replace St. George. Now Brock would replace him as commander of the forces on the Detroit front.

On August 15th the letter containing Brock’s offer was sent across the river to Hull. In it Brock reminded Hull that ”the numerous body of Indians that have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond control the moment the contest commences”. He was preying on Hull’s most paralyzing fear but the bluff didn’t work. Hull refused to surrender. The following day British cannon fire roared across the Detroit from Sandwich. Hull returned the fire The British cannonade proved more deadly than Hull’s. Several shots found their mark landing inside the fort killing several people.

Brock marched his men boldly up the road to within sight of the main gate and its gatehouse. He led 800 men which included 300 regulars and 400 Militia with some dressed in red coats to give the impression he had more regulars than he did. Norton and his seventy Mohawk and Munsee warriors also marched with Brock. When they arrived to within sight of the fort they realized they were about to be met with the deadly fire of two twenty-four-pounders and one 6 pounder load with grape and canister shot. Brock peeled off taking shelter in a small ravine.

Roundhead, Walk-In-The-Water, Main Poc and Splitlog led their warriors through woods in order to attack the fort from the left and rear. Tecumseh led the rest of the coalition and joined them as they faced off against Hull’s militia. One story relates that during the face off Tecumseh had the 530 warriors march out of a small wood lot across an open field and into the main woods, circle around to the starting point. They filed passed the Americans again all the time screeching blood curdling war hoops in full view of the enemy. Three times the warriors showed themselves deceiving the militia and General Hull into actually believing the warriors they feared so much were there in the thousands.

While Brock had his men stationed in the ravine trying to entice Hull out of the fort he received bad news from scouts who had been patrolling the road south of the fort. They reported that a force of 350 militiamen under McArthur and Cass were approaching from the south. They had been sent two days earlier skirting through the forest to meet a supply convoy at the River Raisin. Before they reached their goal they were urgently recalled by Hull when he received Brock’s letter. Now it seemed Hull had Brock and his allies hemmed in.

However, neither Brock nor the war chiefs would entertain retreat. It was a tactic only to be used as a last resort. Brock decided to abandon the ploy to entice the Americans out of the fort to fight in the open. About 10 o’clock in the morning as Brock was preparing his men for a frontal assault the big American guns stopped firing across the Detroit. To Brock’s utter amazement a white flag was hung over the fort’s wall. The militia facing the warriors withdrew.. Not a shot was fired by either side.

Hull had fretted all morning about unrelenting “savages” overrunning the fort and committing unspeakable atrocities on the civilian populace. He especially worried about the safety of his own daughter and grandchildren who were with him. He surrendered the fort, the American army and all armament and supplies with only a few cannonade exchanged across the river. Never before had First Nation warriors so overwhelmingly contributed to such an immense victory over a common enemy.

Hull’s men were utterly dismayed and humiliated at being denied the chance to give account of themselves. They are said to have piled their small arms in heaps along the fort’s palisade with tears in their eyes. Cass and McArthur’s men had stopped to roast an ox they had caught running through the woods and were never a factor in the almost battle.

The American colors were lowered and the Union Jack hoisted above Fort Detroit to the sound of volleys of gunfire shot in the air. They were returned by cannon fire from Sandwich all as a victory celebration. The British flag had been absent from the Territory of Michigan for seventeen years. Now it had returned..The Territory of Michigan would now be annexed into the Province of Upper Canada.

General Hull was taken prisoner along with 582 regulars and 1,606 militia. There was also 350 Michigan Militia taken into the British forces because they were not part of American federal forces. However, half of them had already defected when the engagement commenced. Hull also gave up thirty-nine guns including nine twenty-four pounders, 3,000 rifles, a huge quantity of ammunition and twenty-five days worth of supplies. The spoils also included the Adams, a new American war ship not yet quite finished.

When Hull was returned to the U.S. he faced a court-martial charged with treason, cowardice, neglect of duty and bad conduct. The trial took place in April of 1814 where he was found not guilty of the first two charges but guilty of neglect of duty and bad conduct. He was sentenced to be shot but mercy was recommended because of his age and his exemplary war record during the Revolution. President Madison remitted his sentence and William Hull spent the rest of his life trying to defend himself and explain his conduct. He died in 1825.

NEXT WEEK:  The Warrior’s Offensive Falters