Battle of Tippecanoe

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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 Natives[1]
DateNovember 7, 1811
LocationNear present-day Battle Ground, Tippecanoe County, Indiana, US
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
63 killed,
126 wounded

The Battle of Tippecanoe (/ˌtɪpikəˈn/ TIP-ee-kə-NOO) was fought on November 7, 1811, in what is now Battle Ground, Indiana, between American forces led by Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory and Native American warriors associated with the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (commonly known as "The Prophet") were leaders of a confederacy of Native Americans from various tribes that opposed US expansion into Native territory. As tensions and violence increased, Governor Harrison marched with an army of about 1,000 men to disperse the confederacy's headquarters at Prophetstown, near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers.

Tecumseh, not yet ready to oppose the United States by force, was away recruiting allies when Harrison's army arrived. Tenskwatawa, a spiritual leader but not a military man, was in charge. Harrison camped near Prophetstown on November 6 and arranged to meet with Tenskwatawa the following day. Early the next morning, however, warriors from Prophetstown attacked Harrison's army. Although the outnumbered attackers took Harrison's army by surprise, Harrison and his men stood their ground for more than two hours. The Native Americans 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 returned to their homes.

Harrison, having accomplished his goal of destroying Prophetstown, proclaimed he had won a decisive victory. He gained the nickname "Tippecanoe", which was popularized in the campaign song "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" during the presidential election of 1840, which Harrison won. The defeat was a setback for Tecumseh's confederacy from which it never fully recovered.[3][4]

American public opinion blamed the violence on British interference in American affairs through financial and munitions support for the Indians. This led to a further deterioration of relations with Britain and was a catalyst of the War of 1812, which began six months later. By the time the US declared war on the United Kingdom in June 1812, Tecumseh's confederacy was ready to launch its war against the United States in alliance with the British. In preparation, the Natives soon rebuilt Prophetstown. Frontier violence in the region would continue until well after the War of 1812, although Tecumseh was killed in 1813 during the Battle of the Thames.


After being appointed governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory in 1800, William Henry Harrison sought to secure title to Native American lands to open more land for settlers; in particular, he hoped the Indiana Territory would attract enough settlers to qualify for statehood. Harrison negotiated numerous land cession treaties with American Indians, including the Treaty of Fort Wayne on September 30, 1809, in which Miami, Pottawatomie, Lenape, and other tribal leaders sold 3,000,000 acres (approximately 12,000 km²) to the United States.[5][6]

Tecumseh, by Benson Lossing in 1848 based on 1808 drawing

Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, had been leading a religious movement among the northwestern tribes, calling for a return to the ancestral ways. His brother, Tecumseh, was outraged by the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and thereafter emerged as a prominent leader. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Native American land was owned in common by all tribes, and land could not be sold without agreement by all the tribes.[5][7]

Not yet ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh found that he was opposed by those Native American leaders who had signed the treaty. He threatened to kill anyone and their followers who carried out the terms of the treaty. Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon the accommodationist chiefs and to join his resistance at Prophetstown. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegitimate.[8] In an 1810 meeting with Governor Harrison, he demanded that Harrison nullify the treaty and warned that settlers should not attempt to settle the lands sold in the treaty. Harrison rejected his demands and insisted that the tribes could have individual relations with the United States.[9]

In the meeting Tecumseh warned Harrison that he would seek an alliance with the British if hostilities broke out.[10] Tensions between the United States and Britain had been high for several months as a result of British interference in U.S. commerce with France. As early as 1810, British agents had sought to secure an alliance with Native Americans to assist in the defense of Canada should hostilities break out, but the Natives had been reluctant to accept their offer, fearing they had little to benefit from such an arrangement.[5]

In August 1811, Tecumseh again met with Harrison at Vincennes. Tecumseh assured Harrison that the Shawnee brothers meant to remain at peace with the United States.[9] Tecumseh traveled to the Southeast on a mission to recruit allies among the "Five Civilized Tribes". Most of the southern nations rejected his appeals, but a faction of the Creek, who came to be known as the Red Sticks, answered his call to arms. They led the Creek War, an internal war among factions that were divided over adoption of some European-American ways. This became a part of the War of 1812, as the Red Sticks opposed the United States.[11][12] By contrast, the Creek of the Lower Towns were more integrated with American culture and supported the US against Britain.

Harrison left the territory for business in Kentucky shortly after the meeting with Tecumseh, and secretary John Gibson was acting governor. Gibson, who had lived among the Miami tribe for many years, was quick to learn of Tecumseh's plans for war; he immediately called out the territory's militia and sent emergency letters calling for the return of Harrison.[11] By mid-September, most of the militia regiments had formed. By then, Harrison had returned, accompanied by a small force of army regulars, and had taken command of the militia. Harrison had already communicated with his superiors in Washington, D.C., and he had been authorized to march against the confederacy in a show of force, in the hopes that its members would accept peace.[13][14]

Harrison gathered the scattered militia companies at Fort Knox[15] near a settlement on Maria Creek, north of Vincennes.[16][17] There he was joined by the sixty-man company called the Yellow Jackets, so named for their bright yellow coats, from Corydon, Indiana, as well as the Indiana Rangers.[note 1]

The entire force of about 1000 men set out northward towards Prophetstown.[16] The force consisted of about 250 army regulars from the 4th US Infantry Regiment, 100 Kentucky volunteers, and near 600 Indiana militia, including two companies of the Indiana Rangers.[14] The army reached the site of modern Terre Haute, Indiana, on October 3, where they camped and built Fort Harrison while waiting for supplies to be delivered. A scouting party of Yellow Jackets was ambushed by Native Americans on October 10, resulting in several casualties. The Americans stopped foraging, and supplies quickly began to run low. By October 19, officers cut the rations, and the men survived on low rations until October 28, when fresh supplies arrived via the Wabash River from Vincennes. With the army resupplied, Harrison resumed his advance to Prophetstown on October 29.[18][19]


As Harrison's forces approached Prophetstown late on November 6, they were met by one of Tenskwatawa's followers waving a white flag. He carried a message from Tenskwatawa, requesting a ceasefire until the next day when the two sides could hold a peaceful meeting. Harrison agreed to a meeting, but was wary of Tenskwatawa's overture, believing that the negotiations would be futile. Harrison moved his army to a nearby hill near the confluence of the upper Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. There he camped his men in battle array, and kept sentinels on duty during the night.[20]

A map showing the layout of the battlefield

On the west side of the hill was a shallow creek (Burnett Creek), and on the east side a very steep embankment. Because of the nature of the position, Harrison did not order temporary works to be created around the position, as was ordinarily done by encamped armies.[21] The Yellow Jacket company, with Captain Spier Spencer in command, was posted on the southern end of the camp perimeter. The rest of the militia formed a rectangular formation along the edges of the bluff surrounding the camp. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bartholomew commanded the Indiana militia units guarding the steep bluff on the eastern side of the formation. The regulars, commanded by Major Floyd, and the dragoons, commanded by Maj. Joseph Daveiss and former congressman Capt. Benjamin Parke, were kept behind the main line in reserve.[13][22]

In an 1816 conversation with Lewis Cass, the Governor of Michigan, Tenskwatawa denied that he ordered his warriors to attack Harrison. He blamed the Ho-Chunk (also known as Winnebago) warriors in his camp for launching the attack. Other accounts also credit the Ho-Chunk for encouraging the attack and suggest that Tenskwatawa was unable to control his followers as panic set in.[23] Tenskwatawa's followers were worried by the nearby army and feared an imminent attack. They had begun to fortify the town, but not completed their defenses. During the evening, Tenskwatawa consulted with the spirits and decided that sending a party to murder Harrison in his tent was the best way to avoid a battle. He assured the warriors that he would cast spells that would prevent them from being harmed and confuse Harrison's army so they would not resist. The warriors moved out and began to surround Harrison's army, looking for a way to enter the camp undetected.[22] Ben, an African-American wagon driver traveling with Harrison's army, had deserted to the Shawnee during the expedition. He agreed to lead a small group of warriors through the line to Harrison's tent. During the late night hours, he was captured by the camp sentries, taken back to the camp and bound. He was later convicted of treason but pardoned by Harrison.[21]

Although existing accounts are unclear about exactly how the battle began, Harrison's sentinels encountered advancing warriors in the pre-dawn hours of November 7. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bartholomew was appointed officer of the day and had ordered the troops to sleep with their weapons loaded. Around 4:30 a.m., the soldiers awoke to scattered gunshots and found they were nearly encircled by Tenskwatawa's forces. Contact was first made on the northern end of the perimeter, but the movement was probably intended as a diversion. Shortly after the first shots, fierce fighting broke out on the opposite end as the warriors charged Harrison's line on the southern corner. The militia's small-caliber rifles had little effect on the warriors as they rushed the defenders. Spencer was among the first to be killed, being shot in each thigh. Governor Harrison later recorded his death in a dispatch to Washington saying,

... 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 [another] ball through his body, which put an immediate end to his existence.[24][note 2]

Lieutenants Nuge and Klaus, the other two Yellow Jacket commanding officers, were also soon shot and killed. The Yellow Jackets began to fall back from the main line, retreating with the sentinels. The warriors followed the retreating unit and entered the camp. Colonel Bartholomew requested a detachment of 25 regular troops and led a bayonet charge that repulsed the warriors. During the charge Bartholomew was shot through the lower arm, breaking both bones. He was still clutching his sword when he was treated hours later. For his leadership during the Battle of Tippecanoe, Bartholomew was promoted to brigadier general.[note 3] The soldiers regrouped under the command of future United States Senator, ensign John Tipton, and with the help of two reserve companies under the command of Captain Robb and sealed the breach in the line.[13][25][26]

The second charge by the Native Americans was made against both the north and south ends of the camp, with the far southern end again being the hardest hit. Over half of Harrison's casualties were suffered among the companies on the southern end, including Captain Spencer and five other men in his company, and seven other men in the adjoining company.[note 4] With the regulars reinforcing that critical section of the line, and the surprise over, the men held their position as the attacks continued. On the northern end of the camp, Major Daveiss led the dragoons on a counter charge that punched through the Native Americans' line before being repulsed. Most of Daveiss' company retreated to Harrison's main line, but Daveiss was killed.[note 5] Throughout the next hour, Harrison's troops fought off several more charges. When the warriors began to run low on ammunition and the sun rose, revealing the small size of Tenskwatawa's forces, the warriors began to slowly withdraw.[13][25][26] A second charge by the dragoons forced the remaining Native Americans to flee.[27]

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.[28]

The battle lasted about two hours and Harrison lost 62 men (37 killed in action and 25 mortally wounded); about 126 were less seriously hurt.[26][27] The Yellow Jackets suffered the highest casualties of the battle, with 30% of their numbers killed or wounded. The number of Native American casualties is still the subject of debate, but it was certainly lower than that of the United States forces. Historians estimate that as many as 50 were killed and about 70–80 were wounded.[25][26][27]

The warriors retreated to Prophetstown where, according to one chief's account, the warriors confronted Tenskwatawa. They accused 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.[23]

Fearing Tecumseh's imminent return with reinforcements, Harrison ordered his men to fortify their camp with works for the rest of the day. As the sentries moved back out, they discovered and scalped the bodies of 36 warriors.[27] 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 his troops to spare the woman, but to burn down Prophetstown and destroy the Native Americans' cooking implements, without which the confederacy would be hard pressed to survive the winter. Everything of value was confiscated, including 5,000 bushels of corn and beans stored for winter.[27] Some of Harrison's soldiers dug up bodies from the graveyard in Prophetstown to scalp.

Harrison's troops buried their own dead on the site of their camp. They built large fires over the mass grave in an attempt to conceal it from the Native Americans.[note 6] After Harrison's troops departed the area, the Native Americans returned to the grave site, digging up many of the corpses in retaliation and scattering the bodies.


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 Fort Harrison for medical care. Most of the militia was released from duty on November 9 and returned home, but many of the long-time soldiers remained in the area a bit longer.[29] In his initial report to Secretary William Eustis, Harrison informed him of a battle having occurred 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 United States victory clear, and the defeat of Tecumseh's confederacy became more certain when no second attack occurred. Eustis replied with a lengthy 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. This dispute was the catalyst of a disagreement between Harrison and the Department of War; as a result, he resigned from the army in 1814.[30]

At first, the newspapers carried little information about the battle, as they were focused on the highlights of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars in Europe. A Louisville newspaper printed a copy of Harrison's first dispatch and characterized the battle as a defeat for the United States.[31] But, by December, most of the major papers in the United States began to carry stories about the battle. Public outrage quickly grew and many citizens 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".[32] 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 ..."[33] Acting on popular sentiment, the War Hawks in Congress passed resolutions condemning the British for interfering in the United States' domestic affairs. This popular connection between Tecumseh's rise and British influence, sentiment which peaked following Tippecanoe, helped War Hawks such as Felix Grundy and Speaker of the House Henry Clay to justify the War of 1812. They capitalized on the pathos generated by the death of Joseph Daveiss.[34]

Until recently historians have accepted an account of the time that Tecumseh was furious with Tenskwatawa for losing the battle, and that Tecumseh had threatened to kill his brother for making the attack. According to this story, the Prophet lost prestige after the battle and no longer served as a leader of the confederacy. In their subsequent meetings with Harrison, several Native leaders claimed that the Prophet's influence was destroyed; some accounts said that he was being persecuted by other leaders. Historians Alfred A. Cave and Robert Owens have argued that the Natives were probably trying to mislead Harrison, in an attempt to calm the situation, and that Tenskwatawa continued to play an important role in the confederacy.[33][35]

Having accomplished his goal of dispersing the Natives of Prophetstown, Harrison proclaimed that he had won a decisive victory. But some of Harrison's contemporaries, as well as some subsequent historians, raised doubts about Harrison's claimed success. "In none of the contemporary 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", wrote historian Alfred Cave.[36] The defeat was a setback for Tecumseh's confederacy, but the Natives soon rebuilt Prophetstown. Frontier violence by Natives increased after the battle.[37] Adam Jortner says the battle was a disaster for both sides, except in strengthening Tenskwatawa's religious movement.[38]

On December 16, 1811, the first of the New Madrid earthquakes shook the South and the Midwest.[39] Many Indians took the earthquake as a sign that Tenskwatawa's predictions of doom were coming true, and they supported Tecumseh in greater number, including many of his former detractors. They increased their attacks against European-American settlers and isolated outposts in the Indiana and Illinois Territories, resulting in the deaths of many civilians.[33] The Shawnee partially rebuilt Prophetstown over the next year, but it was destroyed by a second US campaign in 1812. Tecumseh continued to play a major role in military operations on the frontier. By the time 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 British allies.[40] Tecumseh's warriors made up nearly half of the British forces that captured Detroit from the United States in the War of 1812. It was not until Tecumseh's death at the 1813 Battle of the Thames in Ontario that his confederacy ceased to threaten the interests of the United States.[41]

When William Henry Harrison ran for President of the United States during the election of 1840, he used the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" to remind people of his heroism during the battle.[42]


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.

The participants in the battle received the Thanks of Congress. The resolution originally included William Henry Harrison by name, but his name was removed from the resolution before passage. Harrison considered this to be an insult, thinking Congress implied he was the one person in the campaign not worthy of accolades, and he expressed the opinion that it held him up to obloquy and disrespect.[43] He was later awarded the Thanks of Congress and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1818 for victory at the Battle of the Thames.[44]

William Henry Harrison returned to the battlefield in 1835 to give speeches during his first presidential campaign. He called for the creation of a memorial to preserve the battle site. John Tipton later purchased the land to preserve it. 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. The Battle and Harrison were memorialized by two Ohio towns being named Tippecanoe; one changed its name to Tipp City in 1938.

Monument near the battle site

In 1908, the Indiana General Assembly commissioned the creation of an 80-foot (24 m) high obelisk memorial at the battleground. By the 1920s, the site was used primarily as a Methodist youth retreat. On October 9, 1960, the Tippecanoe Battlefield was named by the Department of Interior as a National Historic Landmark, in a program to recognize and preserve important sites to American history.[45] In 1961, a large commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle was held and attended by an estimated 10,000 people.[46]

In the following years, the battle site attracted fewer visitors and fell into disrepair. It was later taken over by the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, which now maintains the battleground and the seminary building, housing a museum about the battle. They added an amphitheater to the memorial in 1986.[46] In 1989–90, the amphitheater was used for performances of The Battle of Tippecanoe Outdoor Drama.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Indiana Rangers had been formed in the early days of the territory to protect the settlers from raids by Native Americans, but had seen little action in the previous five years.
  2. ^ Spencer County, Indiana was later named in honor of Capt. Spier Spencer.
  3. ^ The Indiana territorial legislature passed a resolution on December 4, 1811, which read, Resolved… that the thanks of this house be presented to Col. Luke Decker and Col. Joseph Bartholomew, the officers, non-commissioned officers and men composing the militia corps under their command…for the distinguished valor, heroism and bravery displayed by them in the brilliant battle fought with the Shawnee Prophet and his confederates on the morning of the 7th of Nov, 1811 by the Army under the command of His Excellency William Henry Harrison. Bartholomew County, Indiana was named in his honor.
  4. ^ Jacob Warrick, the captain of the adjoining company was also killed in the charge; Warrick County, Indiana was named in his honor.
  5. ^ Daviess County, Indiana was later named in honor of Maj. Joseph Daveiss.
  6. ^ It is implied that Harrison feared the Native Americans would dig up his dead soldiers to avenge his men having desecrated the Prophetstown graveyard. (See: Cave, p. 122 and Langguth, p. 169)


  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 c Langguth, p. 164
  6. ^ Owens, p. 210
  7. ^ Owens, p. 211
  8. ^ Langguth, pp. 164–165
  9. ^ a b Langguth, pp. 165–166
  10. ^ Langguth, p. 166
  11. ^ a b Langguth, p. 167
  12. ^ Owens, p. 212
  13. ^ a b c d Langguth, p. 168
  14. ^ a b Owens, p. 214
  15. ^ "Fort Knox II", not the better known Fort Knox in Kentucky
  16. ^ a b Funk, p. 27
  17. ^ "Fort Knox II". Indiana State Museum. 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-08-18. Retrieved 2011-05-07.
  18. ^ Funk, p. 28
  19. ^ Owens, p. 216
  20. ^ Funk, p. 29
  21. ^ a b Owens, p. 219
  22. ^ a b Owen, p. 217
  23. ^ a b Cave, p. 121
  24. ^ Dillon, p. 471
  25. ^ a b c Funk, p. 30
  26. ^ a b c d Owen, p. 218
  27. ^ a b c d e Langguth, p. 169
  28. ^ Tucker, vol. 1, p. 786, col. 2.
  29. ^ Funk, p. 31
  30. ^ Owens, pp. 219–220
  31. ^ Owens, p. 220
  32. ^ Owens, p. 221
  33. ^ a b c Owens, p. 222
  34. ^ Annals of Congress. pp. 12th Congress, 1st session, pt. 1, pp. 425–6, 446 (Grundy), 602, 914 (Clay) – via
  35. ^ Cave, p. 122
  36. ^ Cave, p. 127
  37. ^ Sugden, pp. 260–61
  38. ^ Jortner, 196.
  39. ^ Sugden, p. 249
  40. ^ Sugden, p. 275
  41. ^ Langguth, p. 214
  42. ^ Carnes, p. 41
  43. ^ Burr, Samuel Jones (1840) The life and times of William Henry Harrison, p. 237.
  44. ^ Stathis, Stephen. "Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2008" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-03.
  45. ^ "Tippecanoe Battlefield". National Historic Landmarks program. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
  46. ^ a b "Tippecanoe Battlefield History". Tippecanoe County Historical Association. Archived from the original on 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2009-03-27.
  47. ^ Welcome Page, The Battle of Tippecanoe Outdoor Drama 1990 Souvenir Program, Summer 1990.


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