Battle of Fallen Timbers Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the U.S. Army decisively defeated the Native Americans of the Ohio Territory. The resulting Treaty of Greenville secured U.S. control over much of Ohio, as the indigenous peoples of the area were forced to abandon their territory.

Summary of Event

In the 1783 Paris, Treaty of (1783) Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, the British acknowledged the United States’ claims to territory west of the Appalachians and made no effort to protect American Indian lands in the Ohio Valley. Ohio Country Old Northwest Incursions by settlers there led to serious problems, because American Indian leaders refused to acknowledge U.S. authority north of the Ohio River. Between 1784 and 1789, U.S. government officials persuaded some chiefs to relinquish lands in southern and eastern Ohio, but most American Indians refused to acknowledge the validity of these treaties. [kw]Battle of Fallen Timbers (Aug. 20, 1794) [kw]Timbers, Battle of Fallen (Aug. 20, 1794) [kw]Fallen Timbers, Battle of (Aug. 20, 1794) American Indian-American conflicts[American Indian American conflicts] American-American Indian conflicts[American American Indian conflicts] Treaties;American Indians Fallen Timbers, Battle of (1794) [g]United States;Aug. 20, 1794: Battle of Fallen Timbers[3160] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 20, 1794: Battle of Fallen Timbers[3160] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Aug. 20, 1794: Battle of Fallen Timbers[3160] Wayne, Anthony Blue Jacket Little Turtle Wilkinson, James

Encouraged by the British, the Miamis Miami and Shawnees Shawnee tribes insisted that the Americans fall back to the Ohio River. When the settlers refused, the Miami attacked them. In 1790 and again in 1791, U.S. troops and militia were sent against American Indians along the Maumee River.

Major General Anthony Wayne celebrates a U.S. Army victory over the Miami Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the Ohio Territory.

(Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum)

The 1790 expedition, the first for the U.S. Army, ended in disaster. In October, Brigadier General Harmar, Josiah Josiah Harmar set out with a poorly trained force of some twelve hundred men. Harmar divided his troops into three separate columns, enabling the Miami and Shawnee, led by Miami chief Little Turtle, to win the battle, inflicting three hundred casualties on U.S. troops.

In November, 1791, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory and a commissioned major general, led a second expedition, which included the entire six-hundred-man regular army and fifteen hundred militiamen. At present-day Fort Recovery, Ohio, Little Turtle and his warriors administered the most overwhelming defeat ever by American Indians on the British or Americans. Some 650 U.S. troops and 250 civilians died; another 300 were wounded. American Indian losses were reported as 21 killed and 40 wounded.

In December, 1792, Congress authorized establishment of a five-hundred-man Legion of the United States. Despite misgivings, Washington recalled General “Mad Anthony” Wayne from retirement to command the legion. Wayne found his first training camp, near Pittsburgh, too distracting and marched his men 25 miles downriver to a site he named Legionville. Utilizing Baron Friedrich von Steuben’s Revolutionary War drill manual, Wayne carried out rigorous training. In May, Wayne moved the legion to Cincinnati and then a few miles north to a new camp, Hobson’s Choice.

Wayne issued a call for Kentucky mounted militia and in early October, moved north to Fort Jefferson with two thousand regulars. When Kentucky militiamen arrived, Wayne moved a few miles farther north and began a camp to accommodate his larger force. He named it Fort Greeneville (now Greenville, Ohio) in memory of his Revolutionary War commander, Nathaniel Greene. In December, 1793, Wayne ordered a detachment to the site of the previous massacre. On Christmas Day, 1793, U.S. troops reoccupied the battlefield. After burying human remains still in evidence, they constructed a fort on high ground overlooking the Wabash.

Wayne’s timetable for the campaign was delayed because of unreliable civilian contractors, attacks on his supply trains, the loss of some of his men to other campaigns, and a cease-fire that led him to believe peace might be at hand. Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, and other tribal chiefs rejected peace negotiations, however.

In February, the British commander ordered construction of Fort Miamis, a post on the Maumee River, to mount cannon larger than those that Wayne might be able to bring against it. By mid-April, work on the fort was well along. This further delayed Wayne’s advance, then rescheduled for June.

On June 29, Little Turtle struck first, at Fort Recovery, Wayne’s staging point for the invasion. A supply train had just arrived and was bivouacked outside the walls when two thousand warriors attacked. They hoped to take both the supplies and fort in one bold stroke, but Fort Recovery’s commander, Captain Gibson, Alexander Alexander Gibson, was ready. Although many soldiers were killed outside the walls, the attackers were beaten back with heavy casualties. After two days with no success, the tribal warriors withdrew. The attack was the high-water mark of their cause; never again would they be able to assemble that many warriors. Defeat at Fort Recovery led some of the smaller tribes to quit the coalition and also caused the eclipse of Little Turtle, who was replaced as principal war leader by the less effective Blue Jacket.

Wayne now had two thousand men. In mid-July, the Kentucky militia, ultimately sixteen hundred men, began to arrive. Wayne also had one hundred American Indians, mostly Choctaws Choctaws and Chickasaws Chickasaws. On July 28, the men left Fort Greenville for Fort Recovery. Much was at stake, and Washington had warned that a third straight defeat would be ruinous to the reputation of the government.

The two principal American Indian concentrations were Miami Town, the objective of previous offensives, and the rapids of the Maumee River around Fort Miamis. The two were connected by a 100-mile Maumee River Valley road. Wayne vowed to cut it at midpoint, forcing his enemy to split his forces and defend both possible objectives. By August 3, he had established both Fort Adams and Fort Defiance. Wayne then sent the chiefs a final offer for peace. Little Turtle urged its acceptance, pointing out the great numbers of the enemy and expressing doubts about British support. Blue Jacket and British agents urged war, however, which a majority of the chiefs approved.

Having learned that the American Indians were congregating near Fort Miamis, Wayne decided to move there first. On August 15, Wayne’s men still were 10 miles from the British fort. Sensing an impending fight, Wayne detached unnecessary elements from his column at a hastily constructed position, Fort Deposit. Staffed by Captain Pike, Zebulon Montgomery Zebulon Pike and two hundred men, it would serve as a refuge in case things did not go well.

On August 20, Wayne again put his column in motion. More than a thousand American Indian warriors, along with some sixty Canadian militiamen, were lying in wait. They hoped to ambush the U.S. troops from the natural defenses of what had been a forest before it had been uprooted by a tornado. The attack plan was sound but based on the assumption that their enemy would either remain in place or run away. Not expecting the daylong delay to build Fort Deposit, Blue Jacket had thought that Wayne would arrive on August 19. The natives had begun a strict fast on August 18 and continued it the next day. When the Americans did not arrive, many of the natives, tired and half-starved, left for Fort Miamis.

Wayne marched his men so as to be ready to meet an attack from any quarter. His infantry were in two wings; well out in front was a select battalion, led by Major William Price, to trigger the enemy attack and allow Wayne time to deploy the main body. When the American Indians opened fire, Price’s men fell back into James Wilkinson’s line. Wayne’s troops shattered the ambush with an infantry frontal attack driven home with the bayonet, while cavalry closed in on the flanks. The killing went on to the very gates of the fort, while the British looked on. Of Wayne’s troops, only thirty-three were killed and one hundred wounded (eleven of whom later died of their wounds); tribal losses were in the hundreds.

Wayne disregarded Fort Miamis but destroyed American Indian communities and British storehouses in its vicinity. His troops then marched to Miami Town, occupied it without opposition on September 17, and razed it. They then built a fort on the site of Harmar’s 1790 defeat, naming it Fort Wayne.

Significance

On August 3, 1795, after six weeks of discussions, chiefs representing twelve tribes signed the Treaty of Greenville. Greenville, Treaty of (1795) The treaty set a definite boundary in the Northwest Territory Northwest Territory, forcing the American Indians to give up most of the present state of Ohio and part of Indiana. All hostilities were to cease, prisoners were to be exchanged, and the United States agreed to pay an eight-thousand-dollar-per-year annuity for the loss of hunting lands and twenty thousand dollars in commodities.

The brief Battle of Fallen Timbers broke forever the power of the American Indians in the eastern region of the Northwest Territory. It also led the British to evacuate their garrisons below the Great Lakes. The victory did much to restore the prestige of the U.S. Army; Wayne, justifiably, is known as its father.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. A useful short survey of American Indian affairs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edel, Wilbur. Kekionga! The Worst Defeat in the History of the U.S. Army. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Focuses on a crucial battle of Little Turtle’s War—the Miami Indians’ devastating attack on American soldiers at the Kekionga Indian village in 1791. Edel chronicles the two-centuries-long conflict between Native Americans and European settlers that led to the battle and describes the settlers’ eventual revenge at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gaff, Alan D. Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. Military history recounting Wayne’s campaign against the Indians in the Ohio River Valley. Includes information about the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nelson, Paul D. Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. The best biography of Wayne.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, Dave r. 1794: America, Its Army, and the Birth of the Nation. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1994. A helpful study of early U.S. military policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sword, Wiley. President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790-1795. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. Discusses the struggle for the northwest frontier.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tebbel, John W. The Battle of Fallen Timbers, August 20, 1794. New York: Franklin Watts, 1972. Useful history of the battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Frazer. The Treaty of Greenville. Pigua, Ohio: Correspondent Press, 1894. The only work specifically devoted to the treaty ending the campaign.

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