Battle of Tippecanoe - Battle

Battle

Further information: Tippecanoe order of battle

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 Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. There he camped his men in battle array, and kept sentinels on duty during the night.

On the west side of the hill on which he encamped 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 any temporary works to be created around the position as was ordinarily done by encamped armies. 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. Colonel Davis Floyd commanded the militia units guarding the steep bluff on the eastern side of the formation. The regulars, commanded by Major Rodd, and the dragoons, commanded by Maj. Joseph Daviess and former congressman Capt. Benjamin Parke, were kept behind the main line in reserve.

In an 1816 conversation with Lewis Cass, the Governor of Michigan, Tenskwatawa denied that he ordered his warriors to attack Harrison, and blamed the Winnebagos in his camp for launching the attack. Other accounts also point to the Winnebago as the responsible party for encouraging the attack and suggest that Tenskwatawa was unable to control his followers as panic set in. Tenskwatawa's followers were worried by the nearby army and feared an imminent attack. They had begun to fortify the town, but the defenses were not yet completed. 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 then moved out and began to surround Harrison's army looking for a way to sneak into the camp. 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.

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. Around 4:30 a.m., the soldiers awoke to scattered gunshots and discovered themselves almost 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 of the perimeter as the warriors charged Harrison's line on the southern corner. The attack took the army by surprise as the warriors shouted war calls and 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 ball through his body, which put an immediate end to his existence."

Lieutenants Nuge and Klaus, the other two Yellow Jacket commanding officers, were also soon wounded and killed. Without leadership, 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. 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 Rodd, repulsed the warriors and sealed the breach in the line.

The second charge by the Native Americans targeted 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. With the regulars reinforcing that critical section of the line, and the surprise over, the men were able to hold their position as the attacks continued. On the northern end of the camp, Major Daviess led the dragoons on a counter charge that punched through the Native Americans' line before being repulsed. Most of Daviess's company retreated back to Harrison's main line, but Daviess himself was killed. 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 army, the Indian forces finally began to slowly withdraw. A second charge by the dragoons forced the remaining Native Americans to flee.

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. 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.

The warriors retreated to Prophetstown where, according to one chief's account, the warriors confronted Tenskwatawa and 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 and insisted that warriors launch a second attack, but they refused.

Fearing Tecumseh's imminent return with reinforcements, Harrison ordered his men to fortify the camp with works for the rest of the day. As the sentries moved back out, they discovered and scalped the bodies of 36 warriors. The following day, November 8, he sent a small group of men to inspect the town and found it was deserted except for one elderly woman too sick to flee; the rest 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. 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. However, after Harrison's troops departed the area, the Native Americans returned to the grave site, digging up many of the corpses and scattering the bodies in retaliation.

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