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Northwest Territory, Military Actions in the Old

Northwest Territory, Military Actions in the Old (1783–94).In the 1780s, Indians and Americans in the Ohio Valley fought what amounted to a border war over the future of the region. War parties raided enemy villages, killing hundreds of people. The conflict involved neither major battles nor grand strategy. Still, encouraged by British officials in posts such as Detroit (which the British refused to surrender in violation of the Treaty of Paris), the Miami, Shawnee, Delaware, and other Indians were able temporarily to stymie American expansion.

The U.S. government initially responded to this conflict by constructing forts along the Ohio River with the intention of intimidating both Indian and white banditti into peace. These actions failed to stop the raids, however, and pressure from settlers forced a reluctant government into military action.

In the fall of 1790, the Washington administration sent Brig. Gen. Josiah Harmar with 1,500 men, mostly militia, north from Cincinnati against Indian villages on the Maumee River. Harmar achieved his objective of destroying fields and homes. But on 18 October, the Miami chief Little Turtle ambushed a small party of Americans; other Indians attacked some of Harmar's men at present‐day Fort Wayne, killing many regular troops, frightening the militia, and forcing Harmar to retreat.

A year later, the Americans tried another expedition, but the 1,400 men under the command of Maj. Gen. Gen. Arthur St. Clair never made it to the Maumee. On 4 November 1791, Indians ambushed and completely routed the army, inflicting a staggering 913 casualties in the worst defeat ever suffered by an American army at the hands of Indians. Convinced that the losses were the result of inept leadership and a reliance on undisciplined militia, the Washington administration committed itself to restoring the military reputation of the United States with a major demonstration of power. To this end, Congress created the Legion of the United States in 1792.

In 1793, after devoting months to preparation, Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne began a methodical advance toward the Indian villages on the Maumee. On 20 August 1794, the Legion defeated about 1,000 warriors in a brief but violent action later dubbed the Battle of Fallen Timbers. As important, the retreating Indians found the gates of the nearby British post, Fort Miami, closed to them. Although willing to aid Indians in harassing the Americans, the British refused to risk war with the United States in order to save them.

A decisive military engagement, Fallen Timbers ended decades of struggle over the Ohio Valley. In the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, the Indians recognized the right of the Americans to settle the southern two‐thirds of the Ohio Territory. In the same year, as part of Jay's Treaty, Great Britain agreed to abandon its forts on the southern shores of the Great Lakes. No less significant, the triumph of the Legion persuaded many white settlers in the Ohio Valley of the value of the federal government. In the eyes of both its enemies and its own citizens, the Legion had secured the Ohio Valley for the United States.
[See also Militia and National Guard; Native Americans: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans.]


Paul David Nelson , Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic, 1985.
Wiley Sword , President Washington's Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795, 1985.
Harvey Lewis Carter , The Life and Times of Little Turtle, 1987.
Richard White , The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, 1991.

Andrew R. L. Cayton

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