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The Battle of the Wabash

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In September, 1791, the army was assembled at Fort Washington, now Cincinnati. It was not, by any means an ideal army, though there were three regiments of regulars in the infantry, two companies in the artillery and one of cav alry. As they journeyed towards the enemy about six hun dred militia joined them, though by St. Clair's proclamation, all should have been with them at Cincinnati, and should have been subjected to the severest discipline. The march be gan on September 17, and as usual, in new countries, the army had to cut roads through the wilderness, which made its progress necessarily slow. On the Big Miami river they erected Fort Hamilton, some distance farther on they erect ed Fort Washington and still later Fort Jefferson. At each post a small garrison was left, for they were nearing the Indian country. Shortly after they left Fort Jefferson one of the militia regiments deserted bodily. Washington Irving in his admirable Life of Washington in referring to these militia, says, "They were picked and recruited from the worst element in Ohio. Enervated by debauchery, idleness, drunkenness and by every species of vice it was impossible, in so short a time, to fit them for the arduous duties of Indian warfare. They were without discipline and even the officers were not accustomed to being under a commander." Such men were useless in a campaign, yet St. Clair was forced to send the First Regiment after the deserters to prvent their waylaying the belated provisions, which was their avowed in tention, and of which his men were in urgent need. His ef fective army yet numbered about fourteen hundred and mov ed to a point near the headwaters of the Wabash river, now in Mercer county, Ohio. It was supposed that the main body of the Miami tribe of Indians was about twelve miles from the encampment. Here they meant to entrench themselves and build such fortifications as would protect them while they awaited the arrival of the First Regiment with the deserting militia. They encamped late and weary on November 3rd,

and the General, with the engineers, immediately laid out plans for the proposed "works of defense" which they were to erect the day following.

St. Clair knew that his army was not in proper condition to meet the Indians, hut the matter was urgent, for, embold ened by Harmar's defeat, the enemy was almost daily com mitting depredations on the settlers. He had learned in the Revolution, that a weak army can sometimes overcome a strong one, or by desperate effort, grasp victory from defeat. There is no doubt but that he could have conquered the enemy, with a reasonable time given to discipline his army, but winter was fast approaching, supplies were scarce, the sturdy settlers were calling for relief, the government at Philadelphia urged him to immediate action. "The Presi dent urges you," wrote the Secretary, "by every principle that is sacred, to stimulate your exertions in the highest de gree and move as rapidly as the lateness of the season and the nature of the case will possibly admit." There was noth ing left for him to do but to go against them at once.

A short time before the break of day on November 4, the General had the reveille sounded, which brought all troops to line ready for action. Thus they watched till the sun arose, when, there being no sign of danger reported by the outposts, the troops were dismissed to get rest and breakfast. But they had scarcely disbanded when a scattering volley of rifle shots came from the front. The Indians, having found the army in battle array, had delayed the attack until it broke ranks. At once the drums beat and the officers formed their ranks in line. The Indians, with their usual cunning, fired first on the militia, which at once fell back in confusion on the regulars. They were followed by swarms of Indians some of whom ran beyond the first ranks and tomahawked officers and soldiers who had been carried back to have their wounds dressed. The confusion was terrible.

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