On this day in 1794, General “Mad Anthony” Wayne proves that the fragile young republic called the United States can counter a military threat when he puts down Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket’s confederacy near present-day Toledo, Ohio, with the newly created 3,000-man strong Legion of the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
This clash was the final battle of the Northwest Indian War, a struggle between Native American tribes affiliated with the Western Confederacy, bolstered by support from the British led by Captain Alexander McKillop, against the US for control of the Northwest Territory, an area north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River, and southwest of the Great Lakes.
The land in question had been ceded to the US in accordance with the Treaty of Paris (1783), but the Native Americans who had not been party to the treaty refused to comply and relinquish control. British army bases were maintained there to support their Native allies, and this ultimately led to the American offensive and subsequent British-Indian withdrawal from the territory altogether following the Treaty of Greenville. The decisive battle ended major hostilities in the region until Tecumseh’s War and the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.
The origins of the Fallen Timbers clash began in 1793, when Wayne’s new army, the Legion of the United States, marched north from Fort Washington in Cincinnati, building a line of forts along the way. Wayne initially commanded about 2,000 men, with Choctaw and Chickasaw men serving as his scouts.
Chief Blue Jacket took a defensive position along the Maumee River, not far from present-day Toledo, Ohio, where a stand of trees, the “fallen timbers,” had been blown down by a recent storm. They thought the trees would slow the advance of Wayne’s Legion, and Fort Miami, a nearby British outpost on American soil, had supplied the Native American confederacy with provisions.
The Native American forces, numbering about 1,500, were composed of Blue Jacket’s Shawnees, Buckongahelas’s Delawares, Miamis led by Little Turtle, Wyandots led by Roundhead (Wyandot), Ojibwas, Ottawas led by Turkey Foot, Potawatomis, Mingos, and a British company of Canadian militiamen under Captain McKillop.
The battle ended fairly quickly. Wayne’s soldiers closed and pressed the attack with a bayonet charge, and his cavalry outflanked Blue Jacket’s warriors, who were easily routed. The Indian warriors fled towards the Brit’s Fort Miami but were surprised to find the gates closed against them. Major William Campbell, the British commander of the fort, refused to assist them, unwilling to start a war with the US.
Wayne’s army had won a decisive victory. The soldiers spent several days destroying the nearby Native American villages and crops, then retreated. Wayne’s army had lost 33 men and had about 100 wounded; they in turn reported that they had found 30-40 dead warriors. Alexander McKee of the British Indian Department reported that the Indian confederacy lost 19 warriors killed, including Chief Turkey Foot of the Ottawa. Six white men fighting on the Native American side were also killed, and Chiefs Egushaway and Little Otter of the Ottawa were wounded.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers had ramifications that stretched all the way to Europe. News of the American victory helped negotiator John Jay secure a treaty with the British that promised British withdrawal from the frontier forts, thus securing the area for the Americans. The Treaty of Greenville, negotiated between Wayne and Little Turtle the following year, made safe most of what is now Ohio for American settlement.
The victory reduced frontiersmens’ fears of Native American raids and secured the area’s allegiance to the fledgling United States. From a long-term perspective, the Battle of Fallen Timbers ensured American access to the western Great Lakes and the western Ohio River valley, giving farmers in the area access to international markets for their produce.
The conclusion of a treaty between the Brits and Americans also helped to spur the signing of Pinckney’s Treaty with Spain, as the Spanish feared that the US and Great Britain would collude to take Spanish territory. Pinckney’s Treaty delineated the US-Spain border and gave the United States the right to export goods via New Orleans, which controlled the trade of the Mississippi River. Though hostilities with Native Americans would continue in the Old Southwest, the Northwest would remain largely peaceful until the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe and the ensuing War of 1812.
And here endeth the lesson.