Siege of Fort Wayne
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Since 1811, after the severe defeat at the Battle of Tippecanoe, Native American tribes on the Northwest frontier had been growing bitter at the U.S. presence there. Encouraged by other British/Native American victories at places such as Fort Dearborn and Detroit, native tribes began to undertake campaigns against other smaller American outposts.
Fort Wayne, in northeast Indiana Territory, had fallen into disrepair in the years leading up to 1812. As a frontier outpost stationed in a busy Native American town, the garrison was often insubordinate, and Captain James Rhea had allowed many of the buildings to deteriorate. The walls, once strong enough to withstand cannonballs, had not been maintained. Although there was a good well inside the fort, the food stores had gotten low by September.
The garrison first learned of the fall of Fort Dearborn on 26 August, when Corporal Jordan returned after escaping the massacre. On 28 August, Stephen Johnston, the assistant trade factor at Fort Wayne, was killed a mile away from Fort Wayne. The news was met with alarm, and John Johnston of Piqua, Ohio sent Shawnee Captain Logan to help evacuate women and children to the relative safety of Ohio.
In September 1812, Indians from the Potawatomi and Miami tribes, led by Chief Winamac, gathered around Fort Wayne. Captain James Rhea sent letters to John Johnston and Ohio Governor Return Meigs to ask for assistance. The growing Indian threat outside the fort led Rhea to begin drinking heavily. On several occasions Rhea invited Indian delegates into the fort to discuss terms of peace with the Indians (mostly to ensure his own personal safety).
On 4 September, Potawatomi chiefs Winamac and Five Medals approached the fort under a flag of truce and asked to speak to Captain Rhea. Rhea, who had been drinking, met them at the gate and asked if they were meeting for peace or war. Winamac replied "I don't know what to tell you, but you know that Fort Mackinac is taken, Detroit is in the hands of the British, Fort Dearborn has been taken, and you must expect to fall next, probably in a few days." Rhea invited Winamac to his quarters, where they shared wine. Rhea declared Winamac to be his friend, and invited him back for breakfast the next day. Winamac interpreted feigned friendship as cowardliness, however, and prepared for battle.
Morning 5 September, the siege began when Chief Winamac's forces attacked two soldiers returning from an outhouse. The Native Americans assaulted the fort from the east side and burned the homes of the surrounding village. The Indians constructed two wooden cannons and were able to trick the garrison into thinking they had artillery besieging the fort as well.
Captain Rhea was again drunk, and "took to his quarters, sick." The Indian Agent at Fort Wayne, Benjamin Stickney, was recovering from an illness, but took command of the fort with Lieutenants Daniel Curtis and Phillip Ostrander organizing the defense. Chief Winamac came to the gate again, that evening, and was admitted- unarmed- with thirteen of his men. As they talked, Winamac revealed a knife that he had hidden, and a fur trader, Antoine Bondie, jumped forward to save the life of Stickney. Winamac left the fort, and the Native American forces opened fire at about eight o'clock PM. Winamac's forces tried to set the fort on fire, and while the garrison- about 70 soldiers and some civilians- tried to keep the walls wet, they returned fire with muskets and howitzers. The battle lasted until three o'clock in the afternoon on 6 September, when the American Indian forces retired to a safe distance from the fort. The fighting resumed at nine o'clock that night.
Efforts were already underway to reinforce Fort Wayne after the news of Fort Detroit reached Newport Barracks. General James Winchester was commander of the Northwestern Army, but Kentucky Governor Charles Scott had just appointed Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison as Major General of the Kentucky Militia and authorized him to relieve Fort Wayne, and Harrison was at Newport Barracks to assume command of the militia. Harrison wrote a letter to Secretary of War William Eustis explaining the situation and apologizing for taking unauthorized action, then quickly organized a militia force of 2,200 men and marched North to the fort. A small scouting party led by Fort Wayne sutler William Oliver and Ohio Shawnee Captain Logan arrived at Fort Wayne during a lull in the fighting, and raced through Winamac's army into the fort. They delivered the news that a relief effort was underway, and again rode through Winamac's siege to report to Harrison that the Fort was still under U.S. control.
Although the scouting party came with welcome news, Harrison also received a report that a force of 400 Native Americans and 140 British regulars under Tecumseh was marching towards Fort Wayne. Harrison now raced North in an attempt to beat Tecumseh to Fort Wayne. By 8 September, Harrison had reached the village of Simon Girty on the St. Marys River, and was joined by 800 men of the Ohio militia under Colonel Adams and Colonel Hawkins at Shane's Crossing.
Harrison's army was harassed along the way, and although no hostile Native Americans actually engaged in combat, they had an effect. The army rarely camped at night without the alarm being sounded and men roused to battle positions. Sergeant Thomas Polly was accidentally shot and killed when troops thought they detected Indians in the woods. While the army marched through the Great Black Swamp, Colonel Hawkins, of the Ohio Militia, became stuck and was shot through the chest when one of his men thought he was struggling with a hostile Indian. Another soldier, Miller, was granted leave to return home, but not before his compatriots dunked him in the river and baptized him "in the name of King George, Aaron Burr, and the Devil!"
On 11 September, Winamac attempted one last attack on Fort Wayne, and suffered several casualties. Suddenly, on 12 September, the attack was broken off, and Winamac's forces crossed the Maumee River and disappeared into the woods. Harrison's relief army marched towards the fort, uncontested by Winamac. The Potawatami/Miami force retreated into Ohio and Michigan Territory. Harrison took Rhea's sword and had him arrested. A Board of Inquiry was convened, but allowed Rhea to resign out of respect for his years of service. Harrison then placed Lieutenant Philip Ostander (one of the two lieutenants who had relieved Rhea) in command of the fort.
On 14 September, Harrison sent out two divisions from Fort Wayne with orders to destroy any Native American village they found as punishment for the siege on Fort Wayne. The first division was composed of two infantry regiments under Colonel Allen and Colonel Lewis, as well as a cavalry regiment under Captain Garrard. General Harrison and General Payne led this division to The Forks Of The Wabash, which had become an important Miami town since the establishment of Fort Wayne in 1794. The division marched uncontested to the Forks, which was evacuated when they arrived. The village surprised many in the Kentucky militia, whose houses and towns were not as well built as this Miami town. The town was completely destroyed, as well as any crops that they Miami had not had time to remove. Other villages nearby were also destroyed, and some men in the division robbed the wooden tomb of a recently deceased chief before burning it. No American Indians were encountered, and the division had no casualties during their expedition.
The second division was composed of two infantry regiments under Colonel Samuel Wells (the eldest brother of recently killed William Wells) and Colonel Scott, as well as a cavalry regiment under Colonel Johnson and mounted militia from Ohio under Colonel Adams. They marched to the Elkhart River, where they destroyed the village of Chief Five Medals, as well as all unharvested crops. The second division also found a recently built tomb with a white flag flying near it. It contained a female corpse sitting upright, and was filled with artifacts. There was some disagreement about how to treat the tomb, but some men finally raided and destroyed the tomb. The division did not search for more villages, but returned to Fort Wayne. On the return march, however, several men suddenly became very ill, and one man fell over dead without explanation. The division arrive at Fort Wayne on 18 September, telling stories of the Curse of Five Medals Village.
The day before, 17 September, Colonel Simrall arrived at Fort Wayne with 320 Dragoons and a company of mounted riflemen under Colonel Farrow. After they had rested, General Harrison sent them to the Eel River to destroy yet more Miami villages. Simrall's expedition destroyed everything they found on the river, except property that had belonged to the recently deceased Chief Little Turtle.
General James Winchester arrived next at Fort Wayne, and relieved Harrison of command. Harrison took his militia force to Piqua, Ohio, where he joined with 1,000 additional men of the Kentucky militia. Harrison received news that he, now, was in command of the Northwestern Army, and he then set out on yet another expedition to destroy villages, this time on the St. Joseph River. General Winchester, meanwhile, departed Fort Wayne on 22 September to recapture Fort Detroit when he received news that a hostile force was marching towards Fort Wayne. This force, under Major Adam Muir, consisted of British Regulars, Canadian militia, and thousands of Native Americans. Near Defiance, Ohio, two scouting parties met each other, and the U.S. scouting party was captured. The five men under Ensign Liggett were marched partway back to the British camp, then killed. Their bodies were later discovered, but two separate parties of men who had been sent to retrieve the bodies suspected traps and returned to the American camp. Winchester finally sent a large contingent of militia under Captain Garrard, which engaged hostile Native Americans, but finally retrieved the bodies of the dead scouts.
When General Harrison learned of the British Army marching towards Fort Wayne, he rushed to join General Winchester. The two armies combined forces on 2 October, and Muir withdrew to Canada.
Fort Wayne, meanwhile, became endangered when both General Harrison and General Winchester left. Harrison ordered Colonel Allen Trimble to Fort Wayne with 500 mounted militia and a company of dragoons. A band of American Indians threatened the fort, but they fled at the approach of Trimble's dragoons. Trimble, following orders, then continued on towards the Eel River to seek and destroy Indian villages, but he could only convince 250 of his men to go on this mission. Two villages were destroyed before fear of Native American reprisals forced Trimble to return to Fort Wayne.
The siege of Fort Wayne prompted Harrison to order punitive expeditions against the Miami which culminated in the Battle of the Mississinewa in December, 1812. Influential Miami Chief Pacanne had remained neutral in this latest war, but after the destruction of so many Miami villages (many were also neutral), he openly declared for the British.
The defeats at the Battle of Fort Harrison and at Fort Wayne caused many Native Americans to lose confidence in their chiefs. Many of them turned instead to the influential leadership of Tecumseh and joined his confederacy. No major Indian attacks occurred in the Indiana Territory for the rest of the war, but it was not until Tecumseh's defeat at the Battle of the Thames that the Indian threat was really eliminated.
On 7 July 1813, Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson arrived at Fort Wayne with 700 dragoons and a flotilla of flatboats with supplies. As the last boat came into view of the fort, however, it was suddenly attacked, and the three men manning the boat were killed. Johnson's dragoons chased the attackers for over ten miles, but were never able to catch them. Johnson then led raids on several Native American villages- including Five Medals' village, as retribution for the attacks, but all of the villages were evacuated as the army approached, and a heavy summer rain kept the dragoons from burning any villages. Frustrated with his failure to encounter any Native Americans, Johnson escorted the empty flatboats back to Ohio. Unknown to him, a force of over a thousand Native Americans under Robert Dickson passed through White Pigeon's Town on their way to join Tecumseh at Detroit- just days after Johnson had tried to destroy the village.
Three active battalions of the current 3rd Infantry (1-3 Inf, 2-3 Inf and 4-3 Inf) perpetuate the lineage of the old 1st Infantry Regiment, which had a detachment at Fort Wayne.
- Lossing, Benson (1868). The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. p. 315.
- Allison, 212
- Allison, 200
- Poinsatte, 61-63
- Allison, 201
- Poinsatte, 63
- Edmunds, 189-90
- Allison, 202
- The soldiers made it back inside the fort, but were badly wounded and died by early afternoon. Allsion, 202
- Allison, 203
- Allison, 204
- Allison, 205
- Allison, 206
- Allison, 208
- Allison, 207
- Allison, 210
- Allison, 209
- Hawkins survived. Allison, 210
- Allison, 211-12
- Poinsatte, 71. Ostander would, himself, be arrested the following Spring. He died 13 July 1813, before he could be tried.
- Allison, 213
- Allison, 214
- Allison, 216
- Major Muir had been ordered by Colonel Henry Procter to guard against any Indian atrocities, and he was "appalled" when he heard the captured scouts had been killed. Allison, 218
- Allison, 217
- Allison, 218
- Allison, 229
- Allison, 231
- Allison, Harold (©1986, Harold Allison). The Tragic Saga of the Indiana Indians. Turner Publishing Company, Paducah. ISBN 0-938021-07-9. Check date values in:
- Edmunds, R.D (1988). The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2069-X.
- Poinsatte, Charles (1976). Outpost in the Wilderness: Fort Wayne, 1706-1828. Allen County, Fort Wayne Historical Society.