By Dr. Brian Blodgett
To contact me, email me at brian.blodgett @ verizon.net
Tecumseh: His Role in the Cause and Conduct of the War of 1812
On 5 October 1813, Tecumseh (his real name was Tecumthe, but everyone is much more familiar with Tecumseh so I shall use that name instead), the leader of an Indian confederacy, died at the Battle of the Thames. Before his death, Tecumseh wielded more power than any other North American Indian before him did, and no other Indian after him would ever come close to his domination. His power was not due to the number of his followers, but on the strategic importance and potential that the confederation held along the western frontier. The Indians that joined him came from thirty-two tribes and his authority spread across an area of nearly half a million square miles, greater in size than the United States itself in 1812. The death of Tecumseh shook the various Indian tribes to their very roots. Although they would not know this until years later, his death signaled the beginning of the end of any large-scale organized Indian resistance in North America. His death also ended Indian support to the British in the western theater of operations during the War of 1812. When Tecumseh died, the British did not lose a subservient Indian leader, but a man more powerful and capable than any British officer in the western theater. The Americans won not only the Battle of the Thames when he died, but also the western theater. Why was this one Indian so important, and why did he ally himself with the British? It is the goal of this paper to answer these questions by examining Tecumseh’s plans for a confederation, his rise to power, and his view of Americans.
It is important to understand the history of the Shawnee (also known as the Shawanees and the Shawanoe) tribe and Tecumseh’s personal history to understand how and why he became such a significant leader. Tecumseh was born in 1768, and was the son of Puckeshinwau (also known as Pucksinwah and Puckeshinwa, a chief of the Kispapocoke or Kiskopoke clan and Methoataske (also known as Methotasa, who belonged to the Creek tribe). Shawnee legend was that they were the first Indians in North America and had all of the land to live on. Unfortunately, other Indians appeared after the Shawnees and forced them into a nomadic way of life. The Shawnee would normally settle in an area for a while, but war would usually erupt with the other tribes in the area and the Shawnees would move to another place. Through the years, the Shawnees became renowned as vicious fighters and often served as mercenaries for other tribes.
Before the birth of Tecumseh, the Miami, whose territory stretched from Pennsylvania southward to the Ohio River and northward to the Great Lakes, realized that the Americans posed a potential problem. The Miami decided on creating a buffer zone between them and the Americans and they invited the Shawnee to permanently settle in an area north of the Ohio River. For the first time in the memory of the Shawnee, they had a homeland. However, their nomadic heritage led them to continue wandering about from time to time, but the majority of them remained in the area north of the Ohio River.
Tecumseh’s early life was full of mixed feelings towards the Americans. Puckeshinwau was usually friendly with the Americans and Tecumseh learned compassion and understanding from him. However, when Puckeshinwau died at the hands of Americans, various stories exist as to who raised Tecumseh. These stories include Tecumseh being raised by his mother, his elder brother Chiksika (also known as Cheeseekau), his sister Tecumapese (also known as Tecumapease), and Blackfish (a respected Shawnee chief). Unfortunately, it is impossible to know who actually raised Tecumseh, but each of these guardians most likely had a hand in his upbringing and would have instilled different beliefs and values in his life. His mother supposedly instilled in Tecumseh a deep hatred of the Americans and made him vow never to forget that they killed his father. Chiksika reportedly taught Tecumseh to be a warrior and to have dignity. Tecumapese possibly taught him that it was a crime to be deceitful, that one should obey ones elders, and that one should respect the rights of others. Blackfish viewed the Americans as trouble and believed that the only good white man was a dead white man. No matter who raised Tecumseh, he developed into a man who believed in honesty, hard work, and that no one person should control the needs of the many. Tecumseh also did not believe in torture and vowed that no one would torture anyone in his presence.
Rebecca Galloway, an American, is another individual who may have played a significant role in Tecumseh’s life. Tecumseh had fallen in love with Rebecca and had asked her to marry him. Rebecca gave Tecumseh an ultimatum; in return for her hand, he would have to live like an American and give up his Indian life-style. Tecumseh refused to give up his Indian heritage and he and Rebecca parted ways. However, Rebecca had taught Tecumseh some English. In the future he would use his understanding of the language from time to time, but he usually refused to speak in English, preferring his native Shawnee language.
Not only did Tecumseh have a mixed upbringing in his formative years, but his various encounters with the Americans were often extremely negative in nature. After his father’s death, Chiksika and another brother died fighting Americans. The burning of two Shawnee villages, Piqua and Chillicothe, in 1780 by George Roger Clark was another negative incident involving Americans in his life. Yet, Tecumseh seemed to have no real desire to fight the Americans. He simply wanted to stop the encroachment of the whites into Indian lands.
Tecumseh believed that Americans were weakening the Indians. He saw the problems that liquor caused among the Indians, and he knew first hand that the desire for furs was decreasing the number of animals in the forest. Tecumseh abhorred the turning away from the Indian way and wanted the Indians to return to their previous way of existence, one of living off the land and not at the mercy of traders. Tecumseh, while recognizing the gunpowder and the rifle as powerful weapons, believed that the tomahawk and the bow and arrow were the true weapons of the Indians. Tecumseh knew that Indians could not manufacture lead or gunpowder and had to rely on traders for their hand-outs. Tecumseh did not want the Indians to have to rely on anyone at anytime.
To counter these problems, Tecumseh formulated a plan that he would spend years trying to fulfill. His plan was to unite the various Indian tribes into a single entity. He believed that if a large following of Indians were to form a confederation, then the United States would be forced to recognized them as a united front and deal with them accordingly. This confederation was to be the equal of the ‘Seventeen Fires’ of the United States. Tecumseh traveled across America for years visiting the tribes of Florida, the Great Lakes, and the western tribes across the Mississippi. Tecumseh attempted to convince tribes to join him in the formation of the confederation. During his travels he attempted to convince the other tribes of the need to unite, that by standing alone each tribe would eventually be consumed by the Americans, but together they could stand up to the Americans. He also preached that the land, like the air and water, did not belong to any particular tribe, but to all of the tribes together. Tecumseh stated that no one could sell or give away the land without the permission of all of the tribes. He knew that the Americans often pried on the weaker tribes to gain land. He understood that the Americans would offer them money and goods for land they may not have even owned. Two vastly different interpretations exist for his desire to form a confederation. The passive version is that Tecumseh simply wanted to form a common bond between the tribes and would settle for the confederation recognized as a country equal to the United States. The aggressive view and the one most believed by Americans at the time, was that Tecumseh was uniting the tribes together and would declare war against the Americans and drive them eastward, back across the Appalachian Mountains.
Tecumseh, knowing that his great oratory capability was not enough to win over all of the Indians, planned a subtler way of convincing Indians to join his confederation. This more subtle way involved his younger brother, Laulewasikaw (also known as Elskatawa, Olliwayshila). Laulewasikaw, known throughout the area as a lazy and thoughtless Indian who had discovered the wickedness of liquor, discovered that he had a special gift, that he could predict the future. From that day on he would be known as Tenskwautawa, "The Prophet". Various accounts differ on this revelation and his turning to spiritualism. The Indians of the early 1800’s believed that the Prophet had actually had a ‘conversion’ and believed whole-heartedly in him. The Americans initially believed him to be a hoax, but as the years went by, some came to believe that he was a prophet. Some Americans believed that he had acquired his ‘religion’ from the Shakers. No matter what, at that time people believed that the Prophet was the true leader of the confederation and that he was attracting the various Indians to join him. However, the modern belief is that Tecumseh knew that he could not be both a warrior and a spiritual leader and instead turned to his brother to help him fulfill his dream. It was Tecumseh who had visions and then passed them to his brother to ‘announce’ to the world. In either scenario, the two of them began uniting various tribes and individual Indians under one banner at The Prophet’s Town, a small town located along the Wabash River outside of any land granted to the Americans in any previous treaty.
Many Englishmen looked favorably upon the idea of an Indian confederation that would form a buffer zone between the English western holdings and the Americans. This zone could have become a separate country under the protection of the British. Having an Indian buffer zone that would limit the American westward movement would serve the British well. The British would then be free to continue their westward Expansionism through the Great Lakes and then down the Mississippi, thus encircling the Americans. It would also limit the potential growth of what was emerging as a major competing nation.
In reality, while the British would have like to have had a buffer zone, there is little evidence of them directly helping the Indians prepare for war before the War of 1812 itself. In contrast, the British withheld support from them at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They also reduced the amount of trade goods up to the declaration of war. Major General Brook commented that withholding of supplies and ammunition to the Indians was actually diminishing any British influence that they might have had over the Indians and officials at Amherstburg reported that in June of 1812 that they had almost cut in half the amount of power given to the Indians and they had no record of giving the Indians any lead at all in the last six months. In addition, in the time immediately before the outbreak of war, the British had nothing to gain by a war on American frontier. They were still at war in Europe and could not afford another war in America. British agents tried their best to keep the Indians content with the status quo and to avoid war with the Americans. War, they pointed out, would destroy the Indians if they did not get support from the British, and the British were unwilling to give their support at this time.
Many Americans who dreamt of westward expansionism were able to argue convincingly that the British were supplying the Indians. The mere fact that the Indians were using British-made weapons was proof enough for many. Reports in various newspapers in Kentucky and Ohio reported that the British were arming the Indians and preparing them to attack the Americans at a moments notice. A copy of a letter published in the local newspapers advertised that the Indians were actually collecting American scalps and selling them in England. Included in this letter was a section on the special way that the backs of the scalps were marked to show the circumstances in which they died.
William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory, was afraid of the confederation. Harrison himself was a believer in the concept of ‘manifest destiny’ and did not believe that uncivilized Indians should stand in the way of the Americans. He was also afraid of Tecumseh, who he viewed as one of the greatest leaders in North America. Furthermore, Harrison did not believe in the powers of the Prophet and challenged the Prophet to make the sun stand still and the moon to alter its course. Harrison hoped that if he could discredit the Prophet, then the threat of the confederation would somewhat be diminished. Harrison told the Prophet that if could do this, then he was obviously sent from God. Unfortunately for Harrison, an event that was known by the Americans in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana was soon to occur, an eclipse of the sun. Hundreds of scientists had been moving westward for the past several weeks setting up observation posts amongst the Indians, so it is highly likely that Tecumseh also heard about the eclipse. Tecumseh wisely told his brother to predict that a great event would occur and to gather the Indians to his town on 16 June 1806. When the Indians gathered, the Prophet, at the appointed time, appeared and raised his hands skyward and as if by command, the eclipse occurred. Harrison asked for the impossible and Tecumseh and his brother gave it to him.
Harrison had met Tecumseh several times in the years preceding 1812 and had been both impressed and intimidated by the Indian. Harrison, in his goal to increase the size of the United States through the purchase of Indian lands had recently completed the Treaty of Fort Wayne. This treaty crossed Tecumseh on the one point that he believed the strongest in, that no one tribe could sell the land that the Indians lived on. After Harrison had completed the Treaty of Fort Wayne, Tecumseh was extremely upset and said that the treaty was worthless because the tribes that signed the treaty did not own the land, but had sold it just to get money and supplies from the Americans. After a hostile meeting between Tecumseh and Harrison, the governor was extremely worried about Tecumseh’s confederation. At the end of the meeting, Tecumseh mentioned that he was about to start a journey south to visit the Indians along the Gulf Coast and that when he returned, he would again visit with Harrison. Tecumseh also stated that he viewed the treaty as non-binding and that he would ensure that those responsible for signing the treaty would be held responsible for their actions.
Because of Tecumseh’s influence as he traveled amongst the various tribes, and the spreading of the Prophet’s visions, more and more Indians were turning to the brothers for guidance. These Indians were often the younger braves of a village along with their families. The older Indians were not so easily swayed by Tecumseh’s oratory skills and often remained in their own villages, unwilling to commit themselves to Tecumseh’s confederation. While Tecumseh was travelling the countryside, Harrison began preparations to break up Prophet’s Town. He quickly recruited over 900 men and marched them northward. At this time, President Madison, well aware of the frontier problems, had no desire to launch America into an Indian war. However, he had given Harrison some latitude by allowing him to take any defensive measures required to keep peace in the area.
When Harrison moved his forces towards Prophet’s Town, one of his pickets was fired upon. This gave Harrison what he needed, an excuse to attack the town. He moved his forces to within several hundred yards of Prophet’s Town and representatives of the village came out to meet him. These representatives asked for a council to be held the next morning in order to avoid bloodshed. Harrison agreed to the suggestion and for some unknown reason, he asked the Indians where he should bivouac his troops. Even stranger was that the Indians suggested what turned out to be a very defensible position.
That evening, the Indians debated over what to do about the American force. Tecumseh, before leaving on his travels, told his brother not to fight the Americans. Tecumseh did not want to start a war with the Americans since he was still trying to peacefully unite the Indians into a confederation that the Americans would be forced to deal with peacefully. However, with Tecumseh gone, the more aggressive Winnebagoes who wanted to attack the Americans, prevailed. The Prophet had no choice but to agree with the numerous Indians who wanted to fight since he was afraid that if he backed down, many of the Indians would leave the confederation on their own. The Prophet even went so far as to make bold predictions that the Indians would be victorious and that bullets would bounce off their skin. The next morning, 7 November 1811, the Indians launched an attack on Harrison’s army. While the losses in the Battle of Tippecanoe were few, the Prophet’s prediction of victory did not come true. Many of the Indians lost faith in him and withdrew from the area. Harrison moved his forces into the town and destroyed it. The defeat was the beginning of the end of the confederation.
When Tecumseh returned from his travels in the spring of 1812, he was devastated at what had occurred while he was gone. The majority of his followers were gone and the confederation's growth was stunted. Tecumseh, however, did not declare war on the Americans. Instead, he attempted to visit President Madison in order to explain his plan for a confederation to him. He wanted to explain how he did not want to go to war against the United States, but simply wanted recognition of the various Indian tribes as a single entity. Tecumseh knew that the British and Americans were very close to formal war and he even stated that he would support the Americans if they agreed to recognize the unity of the Indian tribes. Tecumseh was not allowed to make his trip. No one heard Tecumseh’s peaceful overtures, just the rhetoric of westerners that claimed that Tecumseh would soon sweep down on the various settlements and kill the unsuspecting civilians.
Up to this time, many Americans still believed that the British were supplying the Indians and pushing them towards war. In fact, many of the leaders of the country actually wished for war with the British. They viewed a war with England as a quick and easy way to annex Canada to the United States. Therefore, no matter what the truth was, it was simply more convenient to blame the British and thus push the two countries closer to war. However, letters between Colonel Prevost (later General Prevost) and General Brock show that the British had tried to prevent Indian uprisings and had no connection with Tippecanoe.
Nevertheless, the calm that occurred after the Battle of Tippecanoe ended in the spring of 1812 when bands of Indians, mainly Potawatomi Indians who had their relatives killed at Tippecanoe, roamed through the countryside burning homes, killing settlers, and seeking vengeance. Harrison, in his attempt to destroy the confederation, had unwittingly destroyed the moderating influence that had held the Indians in check. Forts suddenly appeared throughout the American communities and the Indians continued their random attacks across the northwest.
In Washington and in the western cities, the British received the blame for inciting the Indians. As the outlook for war grew more promising between the two countries, both sides began attempting to gain control over the Indians. Brigadier General Hull had earlier commented that he thought that the older chiefs would prevail and that the Indians would remain neutral. On 15 May 1812, the representatives of eleven tribes were present at a council. The venerable Wyandot chief, Crane, wished for neutrality in the upcoming war and many tribes agreed with him.
Tecumseh knew that the disaster at Tippecanoe had destroyed much of his dream for a confederacy. The battle had diminished the power of the Prophet and Tecumseh had banished him. The loss had also frightened many Indians into neutrality. The Battle of Tippecanoe had thrown Tecumseh’s vast plan into confusion. Yet, Tecumseh knew that a war between the United States and England could benefit him greatly. Tecumseh knew that he would be unable to create the confederacy that he once dreamt of, yet he realized that if he could bring his now ‘imperfect federation’ into an alliance with the British, together they might win. Tecumseh also realized that he could not declare war on the Americans too soon; he had to be patient and wait for England and the United States to declare war, then he could join the British.
On 17 May 1812, Tecumseh headed towards Malden. Once there he told the British that he did not want a war with the Americans, but that he simply wanted the Americans to stop encroaching on Indian land. He also stated that if the Americans were to act offensively against his forces, then he would ensure that they defended themselves. This meant that Tecumseh was ready for war.
Americans and British representatives scrambled to hold councils with the Indians after war erupted. In the early stages of the war, the Americans simply wanted the Indians to remain neutral. General Hull did not believe that the Indians could be useful in a war between the ‘whites’ and that they were untrustworthy. A council in Brownstown on 15 July 1812, led Hull to believe that the majority of the Indians would remain neutral. The British, understanding the importance of having an Indian ally, actively sought their participation. The British realized that there were very few men in Upper Canada and that if a major American force was to attack Upper Canada via Detroit the Americans could easily defeat the Canadian militia and few Regular Army men stationed there. To the British, the Indians were definitely a force multiplier.
While the council was meeting at Brownstown, Tecumseh told the British that he would side with them during the war. Tecumseh naturally assumed leadership of the Indians that flocked to the British banner. At the outset of the war, about six hundred Indians sided with the British. In the next several months, this number would grow as individuals and families joined the British / Tecumseh alliance. Although the exact number of followers is not known, the British commissariat issued large numbers of supplies to the Indians that, at times, could have fed up to 3,000 men, women, and children. Some of the Indians were fighting in defense of their land and for cultural survival. Others were simply seeking protection from the Americans. The Americans, grossly overestimating the number of British Indians, estimated that up to ten thousand Indians were fighting against them.
Tecumseh and his followers participated in the first skirmish of the war when he helped the Amherstburg militia resist the American force. While this action ended in a slight victory for the Americans and a withdraw of the Indians, it still had a significant impact because it caused General Hull to worry about the prospects of the Indians being let loose on the countryside.
Tecumseh’s first major role in the war occurred when he ambushed a force that Hull had sent out from Detroit to guard a convoy heading to the city from Urbana. While not many Americans died, the capture of Hull’s dispatches and personal letters was extremely important. With Hull’s dispatches, Brock decided to attack Detroit rather than allow a build-up of American forces. Brook understood the conditions of the troops in the city and he now knew Hull was worried about attacking Canada without receiving additional supplies. Brock, believing that he could easily defeat Hull, although outnumbered, called on Tecumseh to assemble the Indians. Hull, with Tecumseh’s Indians, British Regulars, and militia dressed in cast-off regular’s uniforms, marched toward Detroit. Tecumseh, using a ruse to confuse Hull, marched his Indians in plain sight of Detroit, then into the woods circling through the woods, Tecumseh therefore appeared twice back into view of the city with the same Indians. Hull, extremely worried about the torture that would befall anyone captured by the Indians, surrendered Detroit without shots being fired. In reality, Hull, who had earlier stated that no white man found fighting with the Indians would be taken prisoner, feared that the Indians might torture not only the citizens of the city, but also his wife and daughter, who were also in Detroit. However, Hull had little to worry about since Tecumseh was in charge of the Indians. Tecumseh had long ago refused to participate in the torturing of prisoners and would not tolerate any Indians that did.
In the fall of 1812, Tecumseh again decided to visit the southern tribes, in particular the Upper Creeks. Tecumseh told the Indians that the Americans would try to change their customs and drive them from their homes and so they must fight the Americans. He also told the Upper Creeks that the British were their allies and would send them assistance. In fact, British vessels would soon be at Pensacola and would give the Indians guns and ammunition. The Upper Creeks, who had ignored Tecumseh’s plan for a confederation on his earlier visit, now decided to join him in the war against the Americans. The northern victories that Tecumseh told the Upper Creeks about probably greatly influenced their decision. After Tecumseh left the Upper Creeks, they attacked Fort Mims and slaughtered 536 men, women and children. Tecumseh received the blame for this slaughter since he had visited the tribe only a short time earlier. However, Tecumseh must have been shocked when he heard about the butchery, for he had always preached against the torture of ones enemies. The actions of the Upper Creeks at Fort Mims launched Andrew Jackson into the forefront of the Creek War. Although Tecumseh would die before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the destruction of the Creek confederation, he was responsible for convincing the Upper Creeks into going to war against the Americans. He may not have told them how to fight, but he did tell them to fight.
After the slaughter of the Americans at River Raisin, (these Indians were under the control of Round Head and Walk-in-the-Water and Tecumseh was not present. Nevertheless, the slaughter was still blamed on Tecumseh by the Americans), Harrison’s troops fell back to the Maumee River and built Fort Meigs. In late April 1813, the British led by Proctor, and Tecumseh’s Indians, appeared at Fort Meigs and put it under siege. Two weeks before this attack Tecumseh held a council at Malden to arouse their enthusiasm for the battle. The Indians were never very good at laying siege since it usually amounted to a long, drawn out affair that ended up in little booty. Furthermore, the tight control that the Indians were under was not exactly what they expected when they decided to join the British against the Americans. Many of the Indians wanted to go home, but the Sioux and Chippewa warriors stayed firm. They were not about to abandon Tecumseh. When Tecumseh entered Ohio he had with him about 1,500 Indians, while Proctor had about 1,000 soldiers, almost evenly split between regulars and militia. The Battle of Fort Meigs probably would not have been as famous as it was if it was not for Harrison’s and his subordinates actions. Harrison, upon learning that reinforcements led by General Clay were coming to his aid, sent Clay an order telling him to split his force into two sections. One force, ultimately led by Colonel Dudley, was to attack the British batteries and then move to the fort. The second force, commanded by General Clay, would attack the Indians. Harrison would sally forth from the fort to assist Clay in the defeat of the Indians. Unfortunately, after Dudley completed the first part of his mission, he decided not to return to the fort and was drawn into a trap. Dudley lost an estimated 600 men either killed or captured. Once again, the Indians began to massacre the prisoners, but Tecumseh, in full view of Proctor who was watching on with indifference, stopped the massacre. Tecumseh then scolded Proctor for his lack of doing anything to stop the slaughter by telling Proctor, "Begone, you are not fit to command, go and put on petticoats.’ Dismayed at his lack of progress against Fort Meigs, Proctor lifted the siege on 9 May 1813.
Two months later, Proctor again approached Fort Meigs, this time at Tecumseh"s insistence. Tecumseh thought that perhaps he could trick the soldiers into believing the Indians were attacking an American relief column and that troops would sally forth to protect the relief column. However, Clay, remembering what happened to Dudley’s men earlier, could not be fooled. By the time that Proctor gave up his second attack on Fort Meigs, the Indians, who were tired of siege warfare, had scattered. Tecumseh did little to stop them, for he believed that they would show up again at Fort Malden after the summer or if he needed them.
Throughout the war, Tecumseh had met only one man he considered worthy to be a leader, General Brock. Tecumseh had no faith in the leadership ability of Proctor. Tecumseh was always worrying about providing his Indians with food and supplies; he knew that they were not getting the same quality of material as Procter’s men. He made it a point to let Procter know that he would not stand for his Indians, who were doing the majority of the fighting, to receive inadequate supplies. What Tecumseh possibly failed to realize was that Malden was at the end of a very long supply line, one that could be easily interrupted by the Americans if they were to gain control of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, or the St. Lawrence Seaway. Procter, on the other hand, understood just how precarious his position was. He not only had to feed his troops, but also the braves and their families that fought with Tecumseh. Proctor had few quality troops and the Indians would often not invest themselves in siege operations, nor could they always be counted upon to fight. When Commodore Perry gained control of Lake Erie, Proctor saw only one option, the evacuation of Fort Malden and the movement of his troops eastward. Procter did not tell Tecumseh of his decision, but Tecumseh easily determined Procter’s plan. Tecumseh had always fought his battles in the deep woods and did not understand the importance of the control of Lake Erie. He had often fought battles in which he was greatly outnumbered and he remembered Procter’s pledge that the British would never yield the land they occupied. Yet, Tecumseh now saw Procter planning a withdrawal without even an enemy near them. Tecumseh did not understand why the British would not stand and fight the Americans instead of running away from them.
Tecumseh was not about to let the British run off and leave the Indians at the mercy of the Americans. He instead insisted that Proctor and his army stand and fight. Procter, instead of listening to Tecumseh, continued moving his troops away from Fort Malden. Tecumseh eventually stood up to Procter and demanded that they make a defense. Procter eventually agreed and stated that they would retreat to the Thames River and there make a defense against the on-coming Americans. Proctor may have planned to make his stand at Moraviantown, which would have been an excellent defensive position, except for the fact that it was full of civilians and wounded soldiers. Instead, the main battle line was to take place in a wooded area about two miles west of the town.
The position that Procter chose was not the best defensive position that he could have chosen; yet, it did have certain advantages. A large swamp on the right side and the river on the left would force the Americans to conduct a frontal attack along a narrow front. Harrison had approximately 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers against probably 400 British soldiers and 1,000 Indians.
The British positioned themselves on the left between the river and a small swamp and the Indians had their positions on the right between the small swamp and a larger swamp. Harrison deployed his force with Colonel Johnson’s mounted riflemen facing the British troops. When the attack began, Johnson realized that the frontage was too small for his forces, so he divided them and sent a portion of them against the British while the rest attacked the Indians. The British quickly fell back and the attack now focused on the Indians. Johnson’s men dismounted due to the thick underbrush and attacked the Indians in hand-to-hand combat. During this fighting, an unidentified American killed Tecumseh. With the British forces defeated and Procter on the run, the Indians quickly melted away after Tecumseh died. With the death of Tecumseh, the dream of an Indian confederation and organized Indian support to the British in the Western frontier also died. A signing of a provisional Indian armistice occurred on 14 October 1813. This treaty favored both the Indians and the Americans, since it allowed the Indians to return to their homes and allowed the Americans to watch them.
The ultimate impact of the Indians in the War of 1812 was not one that really benefited Indians, but in reality, the Americans and the British. Tecumseh’s Indians did help the British win several battles and put the fear of savages attacking innocent civilians in Ohio and Indiana in every settlers heart, but in the end, the victories that they won were regained by the Americans. Canadians can say that Tecumseh and his Indians saved Upper Canada, but in reality Upper Canada could have fallen after the Battle of The Thames if Harrison would have advanced eastward. The only tangible benefit that can be claimed from Indian participation in the war is that it lengthened the war out by forcing the American military to focus on a western theater of operations and prevented tem from advancing northward along the Hudson Valley into Canada. A rapid attack northward up the Hudson Valley would have cut Canada in two and left Upper Canada without any resupply channels; it would probably have fallen quickly. Lower Canada would have then been defeated and the war would have ended before the European war ended. However, the focus of the American Army on Upper Canada may be considered a major strategic victory for the British since it allowed them time to finish the war in Europe and bring the War of 1812 to a stalemate. If Tecumseh had remained neutral, then perhaps the American flag would have a few more stars on it today.
The real impact of the Indians in the war was that their involvement caused the beginning of the end of organized Indian resistance in the northwest and the defeat of the Upper Creeks in the south. Would it have been better if Tecumseh would have stayed out of the war between the two countries and waited until the war was over and then sought a treaty with the victor that would have recognized the Indians as separate country? Perhaps so. However, the Indians were centuries behind the Americans and the British and were unable to adapt to their European ways. Tecumseh preached the way of the tomahawk and the bow while his opponents were using rifles and cannons. Tecumseh was unable to convince the tribes to unite under one leader, for each tribe had its own agenda and often a lasting hatred among themselves. Americans, with their concept of manifest destiny, would not have allowed the Indians to maintain a separate country for long. Eventually, settlers would have moved into the Indian Territory and a war would have erupted. Americans were never good at following the treaties that they made with the Indians and there is no reason to believe that they would have followed one for very long if they would have made one with Tecumseh after the war.
Annotated Bibliography Primary Sources:
Black Hawk. Black Hawk’s Autobiography, (Through the Interpretation of Antoine LeClaire). Edited by J.B. Patterson. (Rock Island, IL: American Publishing Company, 1912), 32-39. Reprinted in American Firsthand, Volume I: From Settlement to Reconstruction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Cavalier, Albert. Narrative of Albert Cavalier, Sept. 6, 1878. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Campbell, Joseph. Letters from Joseph Campbell to Governor Return J. Miegs, 1812. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Cruikshank, Ernest A.. Documents Relating to the Invasin of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit, 1812. Ottawa: Government Printing Press, 1912; reprint, New York: Arno Press, Inc., 1971.
Drake, Benjamin. Life of Tecumseh and of His Brother The Prophet; With a Historical Sketch of the Shawanoe Indians. Cincinnati: E. Morgan & Co., 1841; reprint, New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1969.
Durfree, David A. William Henry Harrison & John Tyler: Chronology, Documents, Bibliographical Aids. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1970.
Eustis, W. Letter from W. Eustis, Secretary of War, to John Johnston, Indian Agent Ft. Wayne, 1811. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Harrington, Israel. Recollections of Israel Harrington, 1811. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Johnston, John. Letter from John Johnston, Indian Agent Ft. Wayne, to unknown individual, 1812. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Luckenbach, Abraham. Autobiography of Abraham Luckenbach, Moravian Missionary. Excerpts from 1811-1812. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Mason, John. Letter from John Mason to John Johnston, Indian Agent Ft. Wayne, 1811. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Thatcher, B.B. Indian Biography or An Historical Account of Those Individuals Who Have Been Distinguished Among The North American Natives as Orators, Warriors, Statesmen, and Other Remarkable Characters. New York: A. L. Fowle, 1832; reprint, New York: J. & J. Harper, 1973.
Tupper, Samuel. Letters from Samuel Tupper, United States Agent, to General John Mason. January + August 1811. Microfilm copy. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Varnum, Jacob B. 1811. Jacob B. Varnum's Recollections. Excerpts from 1811-1812. Special Collections, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio.
Adams, Henry. The History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison. Edited by Ernest Samuels. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada: 1812~1813. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980.
Bowles, Bruce. ‘A ‘Signal Victory’: The Battle for Fort Stephenson, August 1-2, 1813, Northwest Ohio Quarterly, (Summer/Autumn 1991): 43-57.
Coles, Harry L. The War of 1812. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.
Gilpen, Alec R. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. East Lansing, MI: The Michigan State University Press, 1958; reprint, 1968.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965.
Perkins, Bradford, ed. The Causes of the War of 1812: National Honor or National Interest. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.
Pratt. Julius W. Expansionists of 1812. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1957.
Sugden, John. Tecumseh's Last Stand. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.
Tucker, Glenn. Poltroons and Patriots: A Popular Account of the War of 1812. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1954.
Tucker, Glenn. Tecumseh: Vision of Glory. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1956.