|Part of Northwest Indian War|
General Josiah Harmar
|Western Confederacy||United States|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Little Turtle||Josiah Harmar|
|1,050 warriors||540 regulars and militia|
|Casualties and losses|
|120-150 killed or wounded||129 killed
The Harmar Campaign was an attempt by the United States to subdue Native Americans in the Northwest Territory in the Autumn of 1790. It was led by General Josiah Harmar and was part of the Northwest Indian War. The campaign featured a series of battles that were all overwhelming victories for the Native Americans, and the losses are sometimes referred to as Harmar's Defeat.
Prelude to battle 
In 1789, President George Washington wrote to Northwest Territory Governor Arthur St. Clair and asked him to determine whether the Wabash and Illinois Indians were inclined for war or peace with the United States. St. Clair was led to believe the tribes wanted war, and called for a militia force to be assembled at Fort Washington and Vincennes. President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Harmar to launch a campaign into the Shawnee and Miami Indian country in retaliation for the killing of over 1,500 civilians in Kentucky, along the Ohio River, and at the few settlements north of the Ohio from the mid to late 1780s. The primary objective of the campaign was the destruction of the large, main Miami village of Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), where the St. Joseph and St. Marys Rivers join to create the Maumee River. St. Clair and Harmar had also planned to build a fort there, but when St. Clair presented his plan to Washington at New York in August 1790, the president determined that a fort would be too vulnerable and too expensive.
General Harmar gathered 320 regulars of the First American Regiment and 1,133 militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania, for a total of 1,453 men. The force also had three wheel-mounted, horse drawn, 6-pounder cannon. Few experienced frontiersmen took part in the campaign; many instead paid recent immigrants to take their place. Lt. Ebenezer Denny wrote that the militia "appear to be raw and unused to the gun or the woods." No time was allotted to train the militia, since when winter arrived the pack horses would lose their forage and go hungry, so the campaign was launched from Fort Washington (Cincinnati) in the southwestern Ohio Territory at 10:00 a.m. on 7 October 1790. General Harmar began the march north, along the Great Miami River, as a smaller army led by Jean François Hamtramck marched north from Vincennes in a coordinated effort to distract the Wabash Indians. St. Clair wrote to Fort Detroit to assure the British that the expedition was only against Indian tribes, and expressed his confidence that the British would not interfere.
Hamtramck's force was delayed, and returned to Vincennes. By 14 October, Harmar's force had marched to within 25 miles (40 km) of Kekionga. At that point, Kentuckians serving as scouts for the army captured a Shawnee. After some intense interrogation (and possible torture), the Indian informed Harmar that the Miami and Shawnee were gathering at Kekionga, preparing for his army's advance. Before dawn on 15 October, a detachment of 600 men under Colonel John Hardin was dispatched north on a 25-mile (40 km) forced march to "surprise" the Indians at Kekionga. When Colonel Hardin's detachment arrived, they found the village abandoned and burned it, and camped south of the destroyed town.
Miami villages near Kekionga were reached on 17 October. The Miami had advanced warning of the attack, and had evacuated their villages and taken as many food stores as they could carry. Local traders and their families and trade goods were sent to Fort Detroit, to keep them out of the hands of the United States army. All stores of arms and ammunition were distributed to Miami warriors, however, and they were kept well informed of the army's size, movements, and even Harmar's inclination towards drunkenness. Food stores that could not be carried away were plundered by the Americans.
Battle of Heller's Corner 
On 19 October, near modern Churubusco, Indiana, Colonel Hardin was given command of a scouting party consisting of 180 militia, a troop of cavalry under Major James Fontaine, and 30 regulars under Captain John Armstrong. They were to estimate the size of the Native American coalition and attack the village of Chief Le Gris. The party came within a few miles of Kekionga, where they encountered an Indian on horseback, who fled along a minor trail leading away from the village. Hardin ordered his company to pursue, but sent Major Fontaine's cavalry back to bring up a company that had been left behind. The Indian was a decoy, and led Hardin into a swampy lowland by the Eel River, where he could neither pursue nor easily retreat. Here, Little Turtle attacked from three sides. The militia fled, warning Major Fontaine's reinforcements to turn around.
The regulars stood their ground with about 9 militia, but only 8 of the 30 regulars survived: 40 men of the militia had died, and 12 Americans had been wounded. Captain Armstrong hid in the marsh and escaped with his life. He blamed Hardin and the militia for the defeat, and claimed that only about 100 Indians had been involved. This was the approximate number of warriors available from Kekionga and Le Gris' Village. The battle also sometimes referred to as Hardin's Defeat.
Hartshorn's Defeat 
On 20 October, General Harmar arrived at the camp and immediately sent out a detachment of 300 men under Ensign Phillip Hartshorn northward to reconnoiter the Indian force's trail. Eight miles above Kekionga, Hartshorn was ambushed by a large war party, which killed him and 19 of his men. Instead of advancing immediately to attack the Indian force, Harmar pulled back, several miles south of the village, not even permitting a burial detail to bury their twenty dead. Morale by now had plummeted, and the men were enraged at the cowardice of their commander. Hardin then demanded that he be allowed to take 400 men and attack the Indian force, or at the very least, bury their fallen comrades.
Battle of Pumpkin Fields 
On the night of 21 October, Colonel Hardin and Major John P. Wyllys returned with 300 militia and 60 regulars from the First American Regiment commanded by Wyllys. At dawn on 22 October, they reached Kekionga to find a force of approximately 1,050 warriors encamped there. Hardin immediately sent a dispatch to Harmar requesting reinforcements. When the courier told Harmar (who was rumored to have been drunk) about the size of the enemy force, he became visibly shaken and ordered his 800-900 remaining men into a hollow defensive square and refused to come to Hardin's aid, leaving him alone to face an enemy more than twice his number. Colonel Hardin, expecting reinforcements at any time, divided his command into four groups under Major Wyllys, Major Hall, Major Fontaine, and Major McMullen. He planned to divide the forces and flank the Indians on all sides.
Little Turtle attacked first, however, sending small parties to fire on the militia and retreat. The militia gave chase in many instances, until the Regulars were left unguarded. Little Turtle then attacked Major Wyllys, with results as devastating as Heller's Corner. Major Fontaine, meanwhile, led a cavalry charge into a wooded area and into an ambush. Soon the Shawnee and Miami force was attacking Hardin from three sides. Still holding out for reinforcements from Harmar, Hardin's men put up a valiant defense, holding the Indians at bay for over three hours before finally falling back to join the rest of the army.
The battle came to be known as the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields because the steam from the scalped skulls reminded the Indians of squash steaming in the Autumn air. 180 men were either killed or wounded. The army forces reported 129 men killed in action (14 officers, including Major Wyllys and Major Fontaine, and 115 enlisted men) and 94 wounded (including 50 of the Regulars). Estimates of Indian casualties range from 120 to 150 total.
With such high casualties from these skirmishes, General Harmar determined that he could no longer mount an offensive. The approaching winter further threatened his command, as militia deserted and horses starved. The force reached Fort Washington 3 November 1790.
It was the worst defeat of the U.S. forces by Native Americans until that time, and would only be surpassed by St. Clair's Defeat and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The defeat established Little Turtle as a war hero, and encouraged the Indians in the Northwest Territory to resist the United States. American Indian raiding parties attacked settlements all across the Northwest Territory, including the January 1791 Big Bottom massacre and Siege of Dunlap's Station.
President Washington was furious at the news of the defeat, and lamented "my mind... is prepared for the worst; that is, for expence without honor or profit." The news persuaded Congress to raise a second regiment of Regular soldiers for six months, but it later reduced the soldiers' pay. The First Regiment was soon reduced to 299 soldiers, while the new Second Regiment only able to recruit half of their authorized soldiers. When Governor St. Clair led a similar expedition the next year, he was forced to call out the militia to meet the required manpower. His campaign would end in the worst defeat by American Indians the United States Army would ever receive. A court martial in 1791 cleared Harmar of any wrongdoing during the campaign.
- Schecter, 232
- Barnhart, pg 283
- Winkler, 25
- Barnhart, 283
- Barnhart, pp 284-285, fn.21
- George Washington, as early as 1784, had told Henry Knox that a strong U.S. post should be established at Kekionga. St. Clair, in 1790, had told both Washington and Knox that "we will never have peace with the Western Nations until we have a garrison there." Knox, however, was concerned that a U.S. fort at Kekionga would provoke the British, who were still holding Fort Detroit (in violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783)), and denied St. Clair's request to build a fort there. Following Harmar's defeat, Knox would change his mind, and instruct St. Clair to occupy and fortify Kekionga the following year. Poinsatte, 21-23
- Schecter, 233
- Poinsatte, 22
- Winkler, 15
- Pfingsten, Bill, ed. (22 September 2011). "Site of Hardin's Defeat". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- Carter, 94
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- Allison, 75
- "Harmar's Defeat" map available at http://kynghistory.ky.gov/history/1qtr/revolutionary.htm
- Allison, 76
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- Poinsatte, Charles (1976). Outpost in the Wilderness: Fort Wayne, 1706-1828. Allen County, Fort Wayne Historical Society.
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