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War of 1812 began in 1811 with Battle of Tippecanoe; Harrison hero of conflict

Future president claimed to have raised first flag over Fort Hamilton in 1791

War of 1812 began in 1811 with Battle of Tippecanoe; Harrison hero of conflict

(This is a bicentennial year, according to legislation passed in Ohio and by other governments. The 200th anniversary won’t receive much attention. It is a victim of the economy and stingy budgets. An Ohio act encourages the study and activities that "honor Americans who served in Ohio in the War of 1812," and "educating and raising awareness of residents of Ohio and of the nation about Ohio’s role in the War of 1812." This is the third article in a series exploring some aspects of the War of 1812.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

William Henry Harrison had advanced rapidly in the 20 years since he raised the first flag at Fort Hamilton Sept. 30, 1791. He was well known in Hamilton in 1811 when he led Indiana Territory militia to victory in what is usually considered the first battle of the War of 1812.

Harrison had been governor of Indiana Territory since 1801 and successful in securing land cessions from some Indians, opening more of the territory to white settlement. An exception had been his dealings with two Shawnee leaders. Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet (Tenskwatawa), contended that the land didn’t belong to a tribe and, in fact, was owned by no one. To them, the treaties had violated that concept.

Tecumseh -- in an 1810 communication to Harrison -- said "the only way to stop this evil [of white settlement of Indian land], is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land as it was at first, and should be now -- for it never was divided, but belongs to all."

Starting in 1808, Indian groups supporting Tecumseh abandoned Greenville, Ohio, and began gathering at Prophetstown near the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory. Their number increased as the Shawnee leaders traveled to convince other sects and tribes to join the cause.

It wasn’t just the congregating Indians that raised fear. "Stronger ties with the British were essential if the [Indian] movement hoped to prosper," wrote R. David Edmunds in his 1984 book, Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership. Edmunds said Tecumseh was the "articulate and convincing spokesman" who met with British leaders in Canada in June 1808. Edmunds said Tecumseh "suggested to the British that, if war erupted with the Americans, the Indians would make valuable allies."

By 1811, Prophetstown population was considered a threat to white residents of Indiana Territory and surrounding areas, including neighboring Ohio. The village was about 150 miles northwest of Hamilton.

For protection, a pre-emptive military strike against the Indian stronghold gained popularity in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Harrison believed he had that authority. In a July 17, 1811, letter, Secretary of War William Eustis announced the Fourth U. S. Infantry was being sent to Harrison. The secretary also wrote: "If the Prophet should commence, or seriously threaten hostilities, he ought to be attacked; provided the force under your command is sufficient to ensure success." In a second letter, Eustis relayed President James Madison’s "earnest desire that peace may, if possible, be preserved with the Indians." President Madison later questioned Harrison’s authority to attack Prophetstown.


Harrison began assembling his force of about 1,000, including troops from the Fourth U. S. Infantry, in September 1811. His army advanced to a defensive position near Prophetstown Nov. 6. Because Tecumseh was absent (until three or four months later), the Indians were led by The Prophet, who ordered his 600 to 700 men to attack Harrison the morning of Nov. 7, 1811. After a tough battle, with heavy casualties, Harrison sent a detachment into Prophetstown Nov. 8. The soldiers found it abandoned. Harrison ordered it destroyed.

Harrison’s loss totaled 188, including 62 killed and 126 wounded. Because the Indians carried away their dead and wounded, their losses are unknown. The Battle of Tippecanoe -- named for the nearby Tippecanoe River -- also cost the Shawnee leaders followers and potential believers in their cause. "Prior to the battle Tecumseh had finally extended his influence throughout most of the northwestern tribes," wrote Edmunds, ". . . But now even his efforts in the northwest seemed broken." Edmunds said "Nov. 7, 1811, had been a bad day for the Indian movement."

Although Congress didn’t declare war on Britain until June 18, 1812, many residents of the western states and territories believe the War of 1812 started with the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Harrison and Tippecanoe became inseparable. It was the basis for a successful campaign slogan in 1840, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!" Harrison was elected president and John Tyler was his vice presidential running mate.

According to Harrison, he was an 18-year-old soldier when he raised the first U. S. flag over Fort Hamilton when the frontier outpost was completed Sept. 30, 1791. Two years earlier, he hadn’t planned to be in the U. S. Army.

Harrison -- born Feb. 9, 1773, at Berkeley, the Harrison estate on the James River in Charles County, Va., near Richmond -- attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia before spending a part of year in the medical college at the University of Pennsylvania. After he left Penn, he entered the military.

He was commissioned an ensign in the army in 1791 by President George Washington. He witnessed defeat and victory in the frontier armies of Generals Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne. He experienced the major events of the Indian wars of the 1790s. As an officer, he participated in 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers and the negotiations and signing of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, a peace agreement that appeared to end Indian resistance to settlement in Ohio and the Northwest Territory.

He left the army as a captain in 1798 when he was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory (1798-1799). Harrison was sent to U. S. Congress in 1799 as territorial delegate of the Northwest Territory. In 1800, he authored the Harrison Land Act, that encouraged settlement and promoted statehood for Ohio. In 1801, he became governor of newly-created Indiana Territory, serving until 1813.

His military prestige soared after winning the Battle of Tippecanoe Nov. 7, 1811. Harrison wasn’t part of the first disastrous campaign in the west. When President Madison sought a new leader, he appointed Harrison commander-in-chief of the army in the Northwest Territory Sept. 17, 1812. He resigned from the army May 31, 1814, as a major general.

After his success in the War of 1812, his association with Butler County continued, including the marriage of two of his children to Hamilton residents.

From 1816 to 1819, he returned to Congress, representing of Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties in the U. S. House of Representatives.  

He periodically visited Hamilton and other parts of Butler County. Sept. 30, 1835, for example, he spoke on Fort Hamilton at Hamilton's Buckeye Celebration on the 44th anniversary of the fort's completion. It was in that speech that the Virginia native asserted that he had raised the first flag over the fort.

Other stops on his political career included the Ohio Senate (1819-1821), the U. S. Senate (1825-1828), and U. S. minister to Columbia (1829). In neighboring Hamilton County, he also served as county recorder, clerk of courts and president of the county agricultural society. He was sworn into office as the ninth president of the United States March 4, 1841. But the 68-year-old served only 32 days. He died April 4 and he was buried in his home of North Bend, overlooking the Ohio River in western Hamilton County.