Presidency of George Washington - The Northwest Indian War

The Northwest Indian War

When Washington assumed the presidency, he was faced with the ongoing challenge of the Northwest Indian War. The Indian Western Lakes Confederacy had been making raids in the Northwest Territory on both sides of the Ohio River and, in the years before Washington's presidency, had grown increasingly dangerous. By the late 1780s, the United States had suffered over 1,500 casualties in ongoing hostilities. Finally, in 1790, President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to launch a major western offensive into the Shawnee and Miami Indian country. In October 1790, a force of 1,453 men under Brigadier General Harmar was assembled near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Harmar committed only 400 of his men under Colonel John Hardin to attack an Indian force of some 1,100 warriors who easily defeated them. At least 129 soldiers were killed.

Determined to avenge the defeat, Washington ordered Major General Arthur St. Clair, who was serving as the governor of the Northwest Territory, to mount a more vigorous effort by summer 1791. After considerable trouble finding men and supplies, Major General St. Clair was finally ready. At dawn on November 4, 1791, St. Clair's poorly trained force, accompanied by about 200 camp followers, was camped near the present-day location of Fort Recovery, Ohio, with poor defenses set up around their camp. An Indian force consisting of around 2,000 warriors led by Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh, struck quickly and, surprising the Americans, soon overran their poorly prepared perimeter. The barely trained recruits panicked and were killed along with many of their officers who attempted to restore some kind of order and stop the rout. The American casualty rate included 632 of 920 soldiers and officers killed (69%) and 264 wounded. Nearly all of the 200 camp followers were slaughtered, for a total of about 832 – the highest casualty rate in any United States Indian war.

After this disaster, Washington ordered the Revolutionary War veteran General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to launch a new expedition of well trained troops against a coalition of tribes led by Miami Chief Little Turtle. Wayne was given command of the new Legion of the United States late in 1793. Wayne spent months training his troops to fight using forest warfare in the style of the Indians before marching boldly into the region. After entering Indian country, General Wayne constructed a chain of forts, with Fort Recovery on the site of St. Clair's defeat. In June 1794, Little Turtle again led the attack on the Americans at Fort Recovery without success, and Wayne's well-trained Legion advanced deeper into the territory of the Wabash Confederacy.

After Little Turtle's defeat, Blue Jacket assumed overall command of the Indian forces and engaged General Wayne and his troops in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the summer of 1794. The Americans force of 3,000 outnumbered the Indians two to one. The Indians were quickly routed, and fell back. Fleeing from the battlefield to regroup at the British-held Fort Miami (Ohio), Blue Jacket's forces found that the British had locked them out of the fort. The British and Americans were reaching a close rapprochement at this time to counter Jacobin France in its French Revolution. The American troops decimated Indian villages and crops in the area, and then withdrew. Defeated, the seven tribes—the Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, Iroquois, Sauk, and Fox—ceded large portions of Indian lands to the United States and then moved west. With the American victory, major hostilities in the area came to an end.

Two treaties in 1795 sealed the new state of affairs between the Indians and the United States. The Treaty of Greenville required the tribes to cede most of Ohio and a slice of Indiana to the United States, to recognize the United States (rather than Great Britain) as the ruling power in the Northwest Territory, and to give ten chiefs to the United States as hostages until all white prisoners were returned in guarantee. Jay's Treaty, which had already been signed, provided for the British withdrawal from the western forts and granted the United States supreme command of the territory.

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