Battle of Tippecanoe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Battle of Tippecanoe
Part of American Indian Wars and Tecumseh's War
19th-century depiction by Alonzo Chappel of the final charge that dispersed the Indians[1]
DateNovember 7, 1811
Location40°30′22″N 86°50′42″W / 40.506°N 86.845°W / 40.506; -86.845Coordinates: 40°30′22″N 86°50′42″W / 40.506°N 86.845°W / 40.506; -86.845
Result United States tactical victory[2]
Tecumseh's Confederacy  United States
Commanders and leaders
Tenskwatawa United States William Henry Harrison
500–700 warriors 250 infantry,
90 cavalry,
700 militia
Casualties and losses
Estimated 50–65 killed and 70–80 wounded
62 killed,
126 wounded
Battle of Tippecanoe is located in Indiana
Battle of Tippecanoe
Location within Indiana
Battle of Tippecanoe is located in the United States
Battle of Tippecanoe
Battle of Tippecanoe (the United States)

The Battle of Tippecanoe (/ˌtɪpikəˈn/ TIP-ee-kə-NOO) was fought on November 7, 1811, in Battle Ground, Indiana between American forces led by then Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory and Indian forces associated with Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (commonly known as "The Prophet"), leaders of a confederacy of various tribes who opposed European-American settlement of the American frontier. As tensions and violence increased, Governor Harrison marched with an army of about 1,000 men to attack the confederacy's headquarters at Prophetstown, near the confluence of the Tippecanoe River and the Wabash River.

Tecumseh was not yet ready to oppose the United States by force and was away recruiting allies when Harrison's army arrived. Tenskwatawa was a spiritual leader but not a military man, and he was in charge. Harrison camped near Prophetstown on November 6 and arranged to meet with Tenskwatawa the following day. Early the next morning warriors from Prophetstown attacked Harrison's army. They took the army by surprise, but Harrison and his men stood their ground for more than two hours. The Indians were ultimately repulsed when their ammunition ran low. After the battle, they abandoned Prophetstown and Harrison's men burned it to the ground, destroying the food supplies stored for the winter. The soldiers then returned to their homes.

Harrison accomplished his goal of destroying Prophetstown. The win proved decisive and garnered Harrison the nickname of “Tippecanoe”. Meanwhile, the defeat dealt a fatal blow for Tecumseh's confederacy and, though comeback attempts were made, it never fully recovered.[3][4] So popular was Harrison’s nickname that "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" became his campaign slogan and a popularized campaign song when he ran for president in 1840 with John Tyler as his running mate.

Americans attributed the violence to British interference in American affairs since the British supplied the Indians with financial support and ammunition. This led to a further deterioration of relations with Britain and was a catalyst of the War of 1812, which began six months later. The US declared war on Britain in June 1812, and Tecumseh's confederacy rebuilt Prophetstown and fought in alliance with the British. Tecumseh and his top war chief Roundhead were both killed in 1813 during the Battle of the Thames. Frontier violence continued well after the end of the War of 1812 and the Tecumseh’s death.


William Henry Harrison was appointed governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory in 1800, and he sought to secure title to the area for settlement. In particular, he hoped that the Indiana Territory would attract enough settlers to qualify for statehood. He negotiated land cession treaties with the Miami, Pottawatomie, Lenape, and other tribes in which 3,000,000 acres (approximately 12,000 km2) were acquired by the United States at the Treaty of Fort Wayne on September 30, 1809,[5][6] the second of such treaties after the earlier treaty of 1803.[7]

Tecumseh opposed the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne.[7] He believed that land was owned in common by all tribes, and could not be sold without agreement of all the tribes,[8] a concept previously advocated Mohawk leader Joseph Brant who believed in the unification of tribes.[9] Tecumseh's twin Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, was a spiritual leader among the northwestern tribes advocating for a return to traditional ancestral ways.[10][11] Though Tecumseh resisted the 1809 treaty, he was reluctant to confront the United States directly in opposition to the tribal leaders who had signed the treaty. He traveled through tribal lands, urging warriors to abandon their tribal leaders to join his effort, threatening to kill leaders and warriors who adhered to terms of the treaty, building a resistance at Prophetstown.[8]


Tecumseh by Benson Lossing in 1848, based on an 1808 drawing

In 1810 Tecumseh met with Governor Harrison at Vincennes, Indiana, demanding that Harrison nullify the treaty and return the land to the tribes. Harrison insisted that the tribes could have individual relations with the United States, and ridiculed Tecumseh's concept of common ownership.[12] Tecumseh warned he would seek an alliance with the British if the Americans kept the land; if it was returned to the tribes he would serve the Americans.[13] As early as 1810, British agents had sought to secure an alliance with Tecumseh,[5] who was reluctant to ally with them because he recognized that they used the tribes to fight on the frontier.[12] Yet he travelled to Canada to meet with the British and Canadians in November 1810, after securing alliances with the Potawatomi and the Odawa as well as contacting the Iowa.[14]

Harrison blamed the Indians for the murder of a handful of men on the frontier and for the theft of a boatload of salt,[15] but more importantly sent a stream of letters to Washington requesting permission to move against the Indians. He wrote, "In Indian warfare there is no security but in offensive measures."[16] He summoned Tecumseh to a meeting in the summer of 1811.[15] Like the previous meeting Tecumseh presented himself as an eloquent speaker but the meeting proved unproductive.[16] Tecumseh informed Harrison he was leaving to recruit among the Muscogee and Choctaws and asked to wait upon his return to commence settlement on the disputed lands.[17] He said he wanted "no mischief" during his absence, a plea he made to Harrison and Tenskwatawa.[18]

Tenskwatawa stayed with the Shawnee who were camped at the Tippecanoe in Prophetstown, a settlement that had grown to a few hundred structures and a sizable population.[18] Harrison believed military force the only solution towards militant tribes. Secretary of War William Eustis sent orders to preserve peace with the Indians, but went on to say, "but if the Prophet should commence, or seriously threaten, hostilities he ought to be attacked."[16] Harrison sent a series of letters to Tenskwatawa with a number of demands. He accused Tenskwatawa's followers of murdering whites in Illinois (almost certainly the work of Main Poc and his Potawatomi); ordered non-Shawnee residents banned from Prophetstown; and accused the Shawnee of horse theft. Tenskwatawa replied that the horses would be returned but failed to address the other demands.[19] Harrison started raising troops. About 400 militia came from Indiana and 120 cavalry volunteers from Kentucky. There were 300 Army regulars commanded by Col. John Parker Boyd, and additional native scouts. All told he had an about 1000 troops.[20]

Harrison gathered the scattered militia companies at Fort Knox[21] north of Vincennes.[22] They reached Terre Haute, Indiana where they camped and built Fort Harrison.[23] The month of October was spent constructing the fort, resupplying and training the troops. The Shawnee captured a group of Delaware chiefs traveling to Harrison, who had asked them to act as negotiators; after their release they arrived at the end of October with accounts of various aggressive actions. Also in October, a guard was shot outside the fort, which Harrison saw as aggressive action and worthy of military retaliation against Prophetstown. He wrote to Eustis: "Nothing now remains but to chastise him [Tenskwatawa] and he shall certainly get it.[24]


Harrison's forces approached Prophetstown on November 6. Harrison agreed to a meeting the next day with Tenskwatawa but believed that the negotiations would be futile. He made camp on Burnett's Creek, (Battleground, Indiana); the troops dressed and armed through the night, based on Bartholomew's advice'[25] They were positioned in battle lines in pickets illuminated by blazing fires kept alight in the rain. Harrison did not command fortifications erected.[26] The perimeter was guarded by two companies of sentries.[25] Captain Spier Spencer's Indiana Yellow Jacket riflemen, (known for their light-colored buckskins),[27] was posted on the southern end of the camp perimeter. The rest of the militia established a irregular rectangular formation along the edges of the bluff surrounding the camp.[25] Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bartholomew commanded all infantry units guarding the front line.[28] The regulars and dragoons were kept in reserve behind the main line, commanded by Major Floyd, Maj. Joseph Hamilton Daveiss,[29] and former congressman Capt. Benjamin Parke.[30]

Tenskwatawa told Michigan Governor Lewis Cass in 1816 that he did not order his warriors to attack Harrison, and he blamed the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) warriors in his camp for launching the attack. Not long after the battle a Kickapoo chief told British Indian agent Matthew Elliot, that the shooting of two Winnebago warriors by the sentries "aroused the indignation of the Indians and they determined to be revenged and accordingly commenced the attack."[31] Tenskwatawa's followers were worried by the nearby army and feared an imminent attack. They had begun to fortify the town but had not completed their defenses.[32] In council the night of November 6, Tenskwatawa seems to have agreed to a preemptive strike against the Americans, and to sending in a party under the cover of dark to murder Harrison in his tent.[33] He assured the warriors that he would cast spells that would prevent them from being harmed and would confuse Harrison's army so that they would not resist. The warriors began to surround Harrison's army, looking for a way to enter the camp undetected.[26] A man named Ben was a wagon driver traveling with Harrison's army, and he had deserted to the Shawnees during the expedition. He agreed to lead a group of warriors through the line to Harrison's tent during the late night hours, but he was captured by the camp sentries, taken back to camp, and bound. He was later convicted of treason, but Harrison pardoned him.[32]

Accounts are unclear about how the battle began, but Harrison's sentinels encountered advancing warriors in the pre-dawn hours of November 7. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bartholomew was officer of the day, and he had ordered the troops to sleep with their weapons loaded. Around 4:30 a.m., the soldiers awoke to scattered gunshots,[34] and found that they were nearly encircled by Tenskwatawa's forces.[29] Contact was first made on the left flank of the perimeter, then to the front of the camp, the right flank and the rear. Captain Robert Barton's regulars and Captain Frederick Geiger's Kentucky militia faced immediate fierce attacks and were unable to hold their line. Harrison replaced them with the Indiana militia, commanded by Lieutenant Peters – their commander Wentworth died in the first attack. Harrison found the front line under fire (facing Prophetstown), pressed by warriors with rifles situated in a grove of trees. The Americans held their position as the attacks continued, the regulars reinforcing that critical section of the line.[29] The militia's small-caliber rifles had little effect on the warriors as they rushed the defenders.[28]

A simple line drawing map
A map included in the Treaty of Prophetstown and Site of Battle of Tippecanoe, 1819

On the northern end of the camp, Major Daveiss led the dragoons on a counter-charge. Most of Daveiss' company retreated to Harrison's main line, but Daveiss was killed.[29][note 1] The grove was cleared by the 4th regiment regulars.[29] To the rear, the attack was the strongest. The Indiana Yellow Jackets were under heavy fire, unable to hold their line, their commander, Captain Spencer, dead.[29] His death is documented in Harrison's November 18, 1811 dispatch to Eustis: "Spencer was wounded in the head. He exhorted his men to fight valiantly. He was shot through both thighs and fell; still continuing to encourage them, he was raised up, and received a ball through his body, which put an immediate end to his existence."[35][note 2] Harrison moved two reserve companies under the command of Captain Robb to join Spencer's only living officer, ensign John Tipton, and they sealed the breach in the line.[36] Throughout the next hour, Harrison's troops fought off several more charges. The warriors began to run low on ammunition; the rising sun revealed the dwindling size of Tenskwatawa's forces, so they quickly dispersed into the woods. Harrison's troops pursued. They discovered the bodies of 36 warriors in woods, scalping them.[37]

White Loon and Stone Eater were Tenskwatawa's war chiefs. The Prophet situated himself on a small hill overlooking the battle. The element of surprise was lost at the start of the battle, forcing the warriors to attack in a disorganized and uncoordinated fashion, with numerous small assaults. They reorganized and rushed the Americans whenever Harrison's troops drove them off. Meanwhile warriors with rifles crawled on their stomachs from the woods towards the line.[38]

The battle lasted about two hours and Harrison sustained 188 casualties: 37 died in action, 25 were mortally wounded. Another 126 sustained less serious wounds.[39] The Yellow Jackets suffered the highest casualties of the battle, with all but one officer killed.[40] The number of Indian casualties is still the subject of debate, but it was certainly lower than that of the American forces. Historians estimate that as many as 50 were killed and about 70 to 80 were wounded.[34][37] The warriors retreated to Prophetstown where, according to one chief's account, they confronted Tenskwatawa, accusing him of deceit because of the many deaths, which his spells were supposed to have prevented. He blamed his wife for desecrating his magic medicine and offered to cast a new spell; he insisted that the warriors launch a second attack, but they refused.[31]

The following day, November 8, Harrison sent a small group of men to inspect the Shawnee town and found it was deserted except for one elderly woman too sick to flee. The remainder of the defeated Natives had evacuated the village during the night. Harrison ordered the village burned, including 5000 bushels of corn and beans in the storehouse.[37] Furthermore he had the village cemetery dug up, corpses left strewn about.[41] After Harrison's troops departed the area, the villagers returned, digging up many of the corpses and scattering the bodies in retaliation. [42]


Document released to the public featuring information on the hostile Indians of the Wabash after the battle

The day after the battle, the American wounded were loaded onto wagons and carried back to Vincennes.[43] Harrison informed Eustis of a battle near the Tippecanoe River, giving the battle the river's name; he added that he feared an imminent reprisal. The first dispatch did not make clear which side had won the conflict, and the secretary interpreted it as a defeat. The follow-up dispatch made the American victory clear, and the defeat of Tecumseh's confederacy became more certain when no second attack occurred. Eustis replied with a note demanding to know why Harrison had not taken adequate precautions in fortifying his camp. Harrison replied that he had considered the position strong enough without fortification.[44] This dispute was the catalyst of a disagreement between Harrison and the Department of War, and he resigned from the army in 1814 as a result.[citation needed]

At first, newspapers carried little information about the battle, as they were focused on the highlights of the on-going Napoleonic Wars in Europe. A Ohio newspaper printed a copy of dispatches from Kentucky and characterized the battle as a defeat for the United States;[45] however, most major American newspapers began to carry stories about the battle by December. Public outrage quickly grew and many Americans blamed the British for inciting the tribes to violence and supplying them with firearms. Andrew Jackson was at the forefront of those calling for war, saying that Tecumseh and his allies were "excited by secret British agents",[46] and other western governors called for action. Willie Blount of Tennessee called on the government to "purge the camps of Indians of every Englishmen to be found",[47] and Congress passed resolutions condemning the British for interfering in the United States' domestic affairs. This connection between Tecumseh's rise and British influence led to a growing resentment against British meddling and led to the War of 1812.[48]

Historians have long believed that Tecumseh was furious with Tenskwatawa for losing the battle, and that Tecumseh had threatened to kill his brother for making the attack. Tenskwatawa lost prestige after the battle and no longer served as a leader of the confederacy. In their subsequent meetings with Harrison, several Indian leaders claimed that Tenskwatawa's influence was destroyed; some accounts said that he was being persecuted by other leaders. The situation was more nuanced according to historians Alfred A. Cave and Robert Owens who explain the Indians were trying to mislead Harrison in an attempt to calm the situation, and that Tenskwatawa continued to play an important role in the confederacy.[47][49]

Prophet's Rock near the Tippecanoe battleground about 1902. Tenskwatawa is believed to have sung or chanted from this rock to exhort his warriors against Harrison's forces.[50]

Harrison claimed that he had won a decisive victory, but some modern historians raise doubts. "In none of the [contemporaneous] reports from Indian agents, traders, and public officials on the aftermath of Tippecanoe can we find confirmation of the claim that Harrison had won a decisive victory", according to Alfred Cave.[51] The defeat was a setback for Tecumseh's confederacy, although they rebuilt Prophetstown, and native violence increased on the frontier after the battle.[52] Adam Jortner says that the battle was a disaster for both sides, except in strengthening Tenskwatawa's religious movement.[42]

On December 16, 1811, the first of the New Madrid earthquakes shook the South and the Midwest. Many tribes took the earthquake as a vindication of Tenskwatawa's powers, seeing as a "call to action".[53] They increased their attacks against American settlers and against isolated outposts in Indiana and the Illinois Territory, resulting in the deaths of many civilians.[54] Tecumseh continued to play a major role in military operations on the frontier. By the time that the U.S. declared war on Great Britain in the War of 1812, Tecumseh's confederacy was ready to launch its own war against the United States – this time with the British in open alliance.[55]

The Shawnee partially rebuilt Prophetstown over the next year.[56] Tecumseh continued to play a major role in military operations on the frontier.[57] His warriors were with British forces that captured Detroit from the United States in the War of 1812, and it was not until Tecumseh's death at the 1813 Battle of the Thames that his confederacy ceased to threaten the Americans.[58]

William Henry Harrison ran for president in 1840, and he used the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" to remind people of his heroism during the battle.[59]


It shall be the duty of the General Assembly,
to provide for the permanent enclosure and
preservation of the Tippecanoe Battle Ground.

— Indiana Constitution, Article 15, Section 10

Monument near the battle site

The participants in the battle received the Thanks of Congress. The resolution originally included William Henry Harrison by name, but his name was removed before passage. Harrison considered this to be an insult, thinking that Congress implied that he was the one person in the campaign not worthy of accolades, and he suggested that it held him up to obloquy and disrespect.[60] After Tippecanoe, Boyd's assertion that the militia would not have would stand the rout without the presences of the regulars created controversy. He also questioned Harrison's fitness as commander.[61][62]

Harrison was, however, awarded the Thanks of Congress and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1818 for victory at the Battle of the Thames.[63]

Harrison returned to the battlefield in 1835 to give speeches during his first presidential campaign, and he called for the creation of a memorial to preserve the battle site. John Tipton later purchased the land to preserve it, and the Methodist Church purchased the mission school on the hill and used it as a seminary. Tipton left the battlefield to the seminary in his will, and they maintained it for many years, building a larger facility at the location in 1862. Harrison and the battle were memorialized by two Ohio towns being named Tippecanoe; one changed its name to Tipp City, Ohio in 1938.[citation needed]

In 1908, the Indiana General Assembly commissioned an 80-foot (24 m) high obelisk memorial at the battleground. On October 9, 1960, the Tippecanoe Battlefield was named a national historic landmark.[64] In 1961, some 10,000 people attended the 150th anniversary of the battle.[65]

In the following years, the battle site attracted fewer visitors and fell into disrepair, and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association now maintains the battleground and the seminary building, housing a museum about the battle. They added an amphitheater to the memorial in 1986[65] which was used for performances of The Battle of Tippecanoe Outdoor Drama in 1989 and 1990.[66]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daviess County, Indiana was named in honor of Maj. Joseph Hamilton Daveiss.
  2. ^ Spencer County, Indiana was named in honor of Capt. Spencer. Captain Jacob Warrick of the adjoining company was also killed in the charge, and Warrick County, Indiana was named in his honor.


  1. ^ Sugden, facing 211.
  2. ^ Tunnell p. xvi
  3. ^ Blaine T. Brownell; Robert C. Cottrell (2010). Lives and Times: Individuals and Issues in American History: To 1877. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 130. ISBN 9781442205581.
  4. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (2014). Battles That Changed American History: 100 of the Greatest Victories and Defeats. ABC-CLIO. p. 83. ISBN 9781440828621.
  5. ^ a b Langguth, p. 164
  6. ^ Owens, p. 210
  7. ^ a b Owens, p. xxiv
  8. ^ a b Owens, p. 212
  9. ^ Langguth, pp. 164–65
  10. ^ Langguth, p. 158-9
  11. ^ Owens, p. 211
  12. ^ a b Langguth, pp. 165–66
  13. ^ Langguth, p. 166
  14. ^ Jornter, p. 177
  15. ^ a b Langguth, pp. 167
  16. ^ a b c Jornter, p. 183
  17. ^ Jornter, p. 184
  18. ^ a b Owens, p. 213
  19. ^ Cave, p. 116-118
  20. ^ Owens, p. 214
  21. ^ "Fort Knox II", not Fort Knox in Kentucky
  22. ^ "Fort Knox II". Indiana State Museum. 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-08-18. Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  23. ^ Owens, p. 216
  24. ^ Tunnell, p. 39-40
  25. ^ a b c Tunnell, p. 61
  26. ^ a b Owen, p. 217
  27. ^ Tunnell, p. 148
  28. ^ a b Tunnell, p. 73
  29. ^ a b c d e f Tunnell, p. 65
  30. ^ Tunnell, p. 148
  31. ^ a b Cave, p. 120-21
  32. ^ a b Owens, p. 219
  33. ^ Cave, p. 119
  34. ^ a b Owen, p. 218
  35. ^ Dillon, p. 471.
  36. ^ Tunnell, p. 66
  37. ^ a b c Langguth, p. 169
  38. ^ Tunnell, p. 67
  39. ^ Tunnell, p. 134
  40. ^ Tunnell, p. 99
  41. ^ Cave, p. 122
  42. ^ a b Jortner, p. 196
  43. ^ Tunnell, p. 175
  44. ^ Owens, pp. 219–220
  45. ^ Owens, p. 220
  46. ^ Owens, p. 221
  47. ^ a b Owens, p. 222
  48. ^ Annals of Congress. pp. 12th Congress, 1st session, pt. 1, pp. 425–26, 446 (Grundy), 602, 914 (Clay).
  49. ^ Cave, p. 122
  50. ^ Tucker, vol. 1, p. 786, col. 2.
  51. ^ Cave, p. 127
  52. ^ Sugden, pp. 260–61
  53. ^ Jortner, p. 199
  54. ^ Cave, p. 130
  55. ^ Cave, p. 134-36
  56. ^ Cave, p. 123
  57. ^ Jortner, p. 199
  58. ^ Cave, p. 134-136
  59. ^ Carnes, p. 41
  60. ^ Burr, Samuel Jones (1840) The life and times of William Henry Harrison, p. 237.
  61. ^ Tunnell, 146
  62. ^ Owens, 220-21
  63. ^ Stathis, Stephen. "Congressional Gold Medals, 1776–2008" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-03.
  64. ^ "Battlefield History". Tippecanoe County Historical Association. Archived from the original on 2009-02-24. Retrieved 2009-02-24.
  65. ^ a b "Tippecanoe Battlefield History". Tippecanoe County Historical Association. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
  66. ^ Welcome Page, The Battle of Tippecanoe Outdoor Drama 1990 Souvenir Program, Summer 1990.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]