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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Mississippi Valley Historical Review
Vol. 16 No. 1 (Jun. 1929), pp81‑90

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p81  General James Wilkinson's Narrative of the
Fallen Timbers Campaign

Edited by M. M. Quaife

General Wayne's northwestern campaign of 1794 was highly successful, and historians in describing it have commonly reflected the triumphant tone of the General's own letters and reports. General James Wilkinson served throughout the campaign, and commanded the right wing of the Legion in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and on the same day that Wayne penned his official report of that conflict, Wilkinson wrote to his friend, John Brown of Frankfort, the narrative which follows. Although the bias of the writer is evident, future historians of Wayne's campaign can scarcely neglect to weigh Wilkinson's strictures upon his leader's military capacity and conduct. The recipient of the letter was U. S. Senator from Kentucky from 1792‑1805, and one of the foremost characters of his time in that commonwealth. The original letter is among the Wilkinson Papers in the library of the Chicago Historical Society. In preparing the present printing, the editor has utilized a photostatic copy of it in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. The reader may profitably compare William Clark's journal of the same campaign (R. C. McGrane, editor), published in Volume I of this Review, pp418‑44.

Camp at the confluence of the
Auglaize & Miami Rivers
Aug 28th 1794

It is with very great pleasure my dear Friend, that I now take up my Pen to write at, but not to, you. for I continue in ignorance of your own motions or residence since the recess of Congress. I however flatter myself that your Brother James,​1 to whom this will go under cover, may  p82 have the pleasure to present it to your hands in Kentucky. You will then have seen, copies of my late correspondence with Mars & His chief, which combined with the enclosed copy of a very extraordinary Letter received from the former a few days since, will enable you to judge of my situation & [give] advice for my Conduct. You will percieve from this late testimonial & from the Letter of the 4th April, that however insidious and insincere they may be, however hostile to my Interest, they have fully committed themselfs, and therefore I have nought to apprehend but my own vindication & the crimination of my Soloman Cases which rests upon the broadest bottom of unequivocal Facts, supported by record & an host of respectable testimony. I Know that my measures must be governed in some degree by those of my antagonist, and therefore I can adopt no conclusions until I hear from Mars in answer to my Letter of the 30th June. I deem it not improbable that this Letter, in its obvious tendency may have given Mars a chilly fit, & I am perfectly sensible that the Liberty which I have taken with his Elect, will draw upon me the inflamed resentment of the "Old Horse" no matter. the Armour of truth, Integrity & true patriotism, will shield me against every consequence. if I am heard, I shall ma[i]ntain the ground I have taken, if I am dismissed [from] the Service, I shall reach a higher point of distinction than I have ever aimed at. I however claim your advice, enclose it to Mrs W. at Fort Washington, and the acknowledgment of this Letter, is the only indication necessary to authenticate your feyned manuscript. You will observe that I am not solicitous to quit the Service, because I know the profession of arms to be my Fort and I verely believe that the Hour may possibly come, when my talents in that line might be of important account to our Country. Yet I owe so much to my own feelings and to professional reputation, that I cannot consent to sacrifice the one, or to hazard the other, under the administration of a weak, corrupt Minister, or anº despotic, vain glorious, ignorant General. my measures are therefore maturing fast, & I shall be prepared to retire by the time the Campaign closes, I mean the Season of danger & deficulty, or rather of active service, for we shall certaintly be forted before the 1st Novr, should the Savages determine to prosecute the War & at this moment I see nothing to contradict the Idea of the prosecution. by this time I think you must feel some solicitude, to hear a word of our operations. We are Victorious & triumphant where ever we go. we have been all the way to the British Post below us 47 Miles, we have beat thousands of Indians in a pitched Battle, we have commanded the British officer to abandon his Post, we have pillaged  p83 his gardens, insulted his flag, which we left flying, & yesterday got back to this place. All this have we done & more, but I forsee you will not be content with a report so general   I will therefore essay a short detail.

The Army marched from Greenville the 28th Ultimo & reached this point, (the confluence of Auglaize & Miami Rivers) on the 8th inst. the Enemy had not been apprized of the movement more than three or four days. they were therefore not only unprepared to meet us, but had not time to secure & carry off their property of dried Corn & furniture, tho our movements were tardy & in mass sometimes infinitely disordered & without a single Ray of Enterprize, tho a glorious opportunity presented. we found the distanc[e] to be 78 miles by measure, and not 60 or 65 as the General had one thousand times asserted. We saw not an Indian or the fresh sign of one untill we approached the Towns. Here the Genl halted, congratulated himself & the Legion on their successes, determined to builtº a fort, and to send a flag to the Enemy, who had retired down the River to the Vicinity of the British Stores, with overtures of Peace. I was consulted on this last Measure, and modestly gave my opinion with my reasons in writing against it. The Genl fell sick and the Army was detained untill the 15th Inst, when we commenced our march down the River for the British Post, which I understood we were to reduce & Establish one of our own. on the 17th the messenger sent with the flag meet us at noon, with a memorandum without signature, countedº in terms equivocal, & I think sarcastic, the main porport of which was to request the Genl to built no Forts in their Country & to continue where he was ten days, (i.e. this place) when he should see them coming with a flag as he had requested. they requested an answer, professed much love for peace & thanked the Genl again & again for his great regard for their Women and Children. He at first said he would send an answer the next morning, & that if he had not moved, he would have made the halt. "what Sir, I observed "the ten days". He recollected Himself & said "No". I likewise spoke to his councellors on the impropriety of returning an answer, & altho, he was at first obstinate on that head he finally gave it up. On the 18th we march'd to a point about 8 miles from the Enemy and the same distance from the British Post, the size, construction, & strength of which was still unknown to us. this afternoon a Body of Indians mounted fell in with our Spies, persued them & took Wm May, (a man formerly employ'd by me as a spy in this very Quarter) Prisoner. this induced the belief that the Enemy really meant to oppose us, a contrary opinion having prevailed for several days. the Genl determined to halt, fortify, & deposite his Baggage. this employ'd us till the 20th, but on  p84 the 19th Major Price of Kentucky who with 150 Volunteers mounted, constituted the van Guard of the Army, had reconoitered this Country as low down as McKees house & within 1½ mile of the British Post. He saw no one of the Enemy & the houses were evacuated, but he discovered the trails of the Enemy in great force, & a line which they had formed for our reception the day before. He mentioned this to the Genl & told Him they would fight us at that spot. nevertheless an opinion obtained that the Indian[s] & British were both off, & that we should see neither. (I won a Qt [?] Cask wine & ten Guineas on these points) this within 8 miles of an Indian Enemy or post, the first Instance of the Kind which presents [itself] in the knowledge of man, for it is the invisibility of a savage which contributes his greatest advantage. I repeat that altho we knew the savages were Encamp'd within the Vicinity of the British Post, not a single attempt was made to Enterprise against them. on the 20th we marched & at 4½ miles we were surprized by a sudden attack on our front which drove back all our advanced Guards & parties, and altho my wing was the first formed, the Enemy fired upon my line before the right had gained its ground. our antagonist[s] halted at Sixty & one hundred yards, and gave us a feeble scattered fire, by which I had a few men kill'd, my officer importuned me to charge but hearing no signal, & having received no order, I decleined this measure, and sustained the Enemies fire on my Ground. I at length heard the charge sounded by Capt Ms Campble​2 of the Dragoons, & he pierced through my Line on the left of the 1st Batt. of the 3d S. Legion. the enemy were thanº posted and firing on our front. I saw Miss Campbles danger & without further hesitation ordered a rapid charge to support & save him if possible. but my exertions in this instance were vain, for altho the enemy instantly fled before us, poor Ms Campble who had mix'd with them, was kill'd with several of his men about 200 paces in my front. the Enemy retired before us & skirmishd with us for more than a mile. their fire was so light that I rode to the Genl long after the affair commenced, & begged Him "to act with caution as I werely [verily] believed that the Enemy were Endeavoring to harrass our Men, to draw our fire & disorder our line by light parties, and that their main Body was still behind. I observed that it was no fight at that time." After retiring before us for an hour they ran off and have not since been heard of. we then halted formed the line & remained on our ground about 4 Hours, whilst the General was reconnoitering ground in our front for an Encampment. no measures were ordered by Him for collecting the public axes or the Baggage & Blankets, droped in the pursuit, or for collecting & burying the dead. He ordered the men a half Gill of Whisky,  p85 & told them as he rode along the line that He always floged Indians & British where ever he went tho I pledge my Honor that I did not receivedº an order from him during the action, and Col Hamtramck who command[ed] the left wing, assures me that his own case was exactly similar. Indeed I do no[t] hear of a single order which he gave except to poor Ms Campble, who was sacrificed by a premature charge. his light Infantry & the 3 other Troops of Dragoons, reserved for his own special command, did not receive a single order from Him, and acted agreeably according to their own discration. In short such was our situation on the March, such our security, that if the Enemy had condensed their force, instead of attempting a line near two miles long, & carried it against our left, they would have forced both our Columns, & if they had not defeated, might have ruined the Army, by the Carnage they must have made. Such was the disposition of the Mounted Volunteers that not more than Three hundred of Todds Brigade got into the action, these behaved well. I had the Tawa River & a prairee on my right in which the Enemy made a shew of fighting my front was cut by deep & steep ravins, the land was flat to the left, & in Hamtramck['s] front an allmost impervious thicket. the firing commenced on the right & ran off to the left, it was briskest about the centre, and the loss of the wings is nearly equal, tho the greatest number is in favour of the right. yet the Genl has said that the action was fought on the left. I made several escapes, my extra aid de Camp Lt Campbell Smith, was wounded in charge a message to the Genl & my servant struck in the shoulder by a Ball destined for myself, by a rascall about 60 yards from me, and by personal Horse & Charge a considerable distance in front of my whole Line, I believe I saved the valuable Life of Lt Covington, who afterward with his own Hand, kill'd the savage whose attention I had drawn to myself to save Covington. this by the bye was the second he had kill'd with his sword. in this Igotism, I trust my Friend I make no breach of delicacy, nor can I incur any imputation of Vanity, as I mention it for your private observation & personal satisfaction. A french man​3 in the garb of an Indian, secreted himself when the Enemy  p86 retired, & surrendered some time after. He declared that He was a trader & had been forced into the action by Capt McKee, who with Mathew Elliot commanded. He avered that He had not fired his gun which was justified by the appearance of it. He informed [us] that the Indians were averse to fighting our army, but that Elliot & McKee had draged them into it. He reports the force opposed to us to be between 8 or 900 Indians & 47 White men.​4 this force exceeded my computation founded upon the fire of the Enemy. The Genl has determined that He was oposed by two Thousand Indians & all the Militia of Detroit, and asserts boldly that we kill'd 400 of the Enemy on the ground, notwithstanding it has been reconnoitered many times by light parties, and was finally swept by the Army in line, (to search for ax's & Blankets 4 days after they had been lost) and the greatest number of the dead of the Enemy, including several white men which observation & inquiry can produce is less than 30. I shall be vastly impatient to see the official account.​5 I think Malplaquet, or Fontenoy, will stand no chance if brought in competition with our fight. it would appear from the Generals Letters & orders that his Bosom teemed with the finest sensations of humanity & philanthropy, and yet strange to tell, so little regard was paid to those who fell or Bled in the skirmish, that Bodies of the former were left to ferment upon the surface, the prey of Vultures, untill the 22d at which time & the Evening before unfortunate wounded men were found upon the field, where they had lain in agony from 10 oClock of the 20th. a Serjeant Edmondson of the 22d & had just expired, & a man of the right wing was brought into Camp & died a few minutes after. for a single Man sacrificed by such cruel negligance, a Genl deserves to be  p87 hanged, damned he certainly will be. A new Sceene was now to be opened, & we were allready in possession of the British Post, but I had taken a distant view & knew this Idea to be chemerical. the Army however, leaving the wounded on the ground in a great degree unprovided & unprodected, advanced to the Bank of Miamis River, (so called by the British) at the head of the back water of the Lake, & Encamped in full view of the British Garrison & at 1¼ mile['s] distance. The Beauty of the Sceene which presents in one front, cannot well be concieved, the River meandering in various directions thro a natural meadow in high cultivation & of great extent, this meadow bounded by noble eminences, crowned with lofty timber on either side, with Indian Villages, scattered along the Eastern & the British flag fring [flying] upon the Western Bank, after a dreary Jorney of more than 200 miles from the Ohio, thro an uncultivated Wilderness, fills the mind with the most Interesting Emotions, and affords the most pleasing recreation to the Eye. Here we beat our Drums Blowed our trumpets & went to Bed. early next Morning the Genl informed me, that the place was too strong for him to attempt it, that besides it was the ultimo ratioº & therefore he must act cautiously. I understood we were immediately to return to our deposit Camp. He said that if he had ten days Provisions to spear he could take it, but that he had not so much. how did this happen? or whose fault is it? why was not the Artillery prepared for the occasion brough[t] on? why was it left at Greenville? why were 400 Bullocks [left] at the same place? where the necessity of hurrying our departure with such precipitancy, as not to allow time the Genl Barbee to git up, or 100 & odd of the contractors horses to come forward to us from Fort Hamilton? particularly as two days would have sufficed for the purpose. Why advance upon the British Post without knowing its size, construction & defences, why go totally unprepared to take it? are questions which may hereafter be asked. about one oClock Major Campble​6 the Command. of the British Post, send out a flag with a Letter demanding the motives of the approach of our army & what light he was to view it. I called on the Genl & he put the letter into my hand, & asked my opinion of the answer which should be given "I replyed" it was impertinent & merits no answer" He said he had promissed an answer, & to my astonishment put pen Inck & Paper before me and said to me "Come let me see what you would say to it" I repeated that if left to my judgment I should return no answer, but he persisted. I took up the Pen & hastily commited a few Ideas with which he seemed much pleased, & adopted them, but added some nonsense of his own at the close of the Letter. before this was sent in, He asked my opinion,  p88 respecting his continuance on the ground a day or two. I observed, that if the state of his provision would permit, it would meet my Judgement, as an unfavorablle interpretation might be put upon a precipitate retreat. He immediately sent for two days provision. This Evening the Genl had changed his opinion & seemed determined to take the Post, & to this end He next morning reconnoitered it closely on all quarters, said it was weak, & that He could take it. I knew the thing was impracticable with his troops & military apparatus, and by a few Interrogations defeated his intentions. I at the same time adviset him to make his visit as short as possible as I every moment expected an order from the Fort for Him to depart. He notwithstanding he had given out the Idea of taking the place, determined to summon it or order the Commandant to depart. He read me a Letter he had written for the purpose. I opposed his intention as I was sensible it would answer no good end & might expose Him to insult. He however adhered to his plan. we returned to our camp & were followed by a flag with a Communication from the British Commandt animadverting upon our reconnoitring Party, & forbiding the further approach of parties or Individuals within reach of his Cannon. The Genl in answer demanded of him to remove his Garrison from the territory of the U. States which "would be suffered without molastation by his army" the British Commandt replied politely that nothing but the orders of his superiors or the fortune of war could remove him, & observed that discussions on the propriety of his occupancy would come more properly before the Embassedors, of the two nations.​7 we next day made a rediculous gasconade, by firing our little Pop Guns Howizer, faced to the right about & the day before yesterday reached this place after a very disorderly march. The Genl becoming every moment more secure, & more inflated with his Imagenary prowess & the importance of his puny victory. Monsieur La Sal the French Prisoner is known to Wells our confidential Guide & partizan, who says He is a good man, & that He had no doubt he was forced to march forth to the field of Battle, as it is the custom of the savages to make their trader fight with them. He perseveres in his first report respecting the force of the Enemy opposed to us, which has so inflamed the Genls Choler that he has put him in Irons, and has made up his report from a British Drummer who deserted to us, & who agrees with the Genl that 2000 Indians and the Detroit militia were opposed to us, yet the same Drummer said that no kind of intercourse was permited between the troops & the savages, when he first came  p89 out. to what meserable shiefts are we driven to veil our follies & to support our importance. Yet believe me nothing shall escape my vigilance, nor shall any imposture be played upon the Public. since our retreat commenced we have lost several men by desertion. the enemy were upon our rear in small parties & took a couple of Prisoners, in return Price who covered the retreat kill'd one & wounded two on the 2nd day of our retrogresive march. the troops have been on half allowance of Flour, since the 16th Inst. and our whole stock this day is 17400 lbs with between 30 & 40m lbs of beef on the hoof. we are 74½ miles from our nearest supply, a Country intervening impracticable after long & heavy rains, & cut by several water courses impassable when swelled. Genl Todd is this day dispatched with about 700 Mounted Volunteers as an Escort to the Pack horses, who are sent for Flour, & the Bullocks left at Greenville. should he bee stop'd by weather, or cut up by the Enemy, which is perfectly in their power, for we know nothing about them, nor have any measures been taken since we began our retreat to find out where they are, this Army must dissipate and find their way to Greenville by the shortest Route, & at the expence of all property, Public & private. was ever a Body of Men wilfully and without causualtyº or accident placed in the same perilous circumstances. what reasoning can justify, the commitment of the Fate of the campaign, the Interest of the nation & the safety & Honor of the Corps, to such contingencies. Yet such has been our situation, from one stage to an other from the Day we marched. I however have strong hope, that the same providence which has heretofore protected will still smile upon us. The Idea of the moment is to wait here untill Todd returns, to march then to the miami Villages, & Errect a grant [great] fortress. in other words to end where we should have begun   in the mean [time] to speculate on what may be the Conduct of the Enemy, is extremely hazardous. their determination will depend totally on the disposition of the British & if they prosecute the war, they will I think send us back to Greenville before December. it is certainly in their power. we have destroyed prodijeous quantities of Corn, but we have in truth done nothing which might not have been better done by 1500 Mounted Volunteers in 30 days. that is the Towns might have been Surprized, the Women & Children captured, more fellows kill'd, & the same property destroy'd, an Experiment my Ideas of the Country are justif[ied] & the Genl has made small errors of 30 & 40 miles in an hundred. Enclosed you will find a sketch of the Ground of action, the British Post, &c before refered to. I wish you to Publish it if you may think proper in some of the periodical works, as mine. The  p90 worthless Old scoundrel Scott​8 has become an object of pity. He is the contempt of the whole army, except his Brother Regular and Irregular. I have thus related you in much haste, a long & I fear confused detail. I have experienced your indulgence on many occasion[s] & solicit it on the present. you may however be assured that my Facts are correct, & I give you leave to publish such parts of them as the official detail when it appears, may render necessary, or as may in sound policy be judged expedient before always guarding me against any imputation of Vanity or malice. The Genl seems disposed to allow little merit to the wing which I fought. he has therefore so blended the kill'd & Wounded, that no Person from the Army will be able to distinguish those who fell or Bled in the respective Wings. I have essayed a return taken from the original in which the proper distinction is observed & which I wish you to publish.

Endorsed: Copy of a Letter to Mr J. B. dated Augt 28th 1794 enclosed to Mr Jas. Brown [In another hand] Copie J. W.

The Editor's Notes:

1 James Brown (born near Staunton, Va., Sept. 11, 1766, died in Philadelphia, Apr. 7, 1835) studied law in Virginia and began its practice in Frankfort, Ky. He served as captain in the campaign of 1791. He subsequently removed to New Orleans, where he served as U. S. judge, 1804‑12; senator from Louisiana, 1812‑23; and U. S. minister to France, 1823‑29.

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2 Captain Robert Mis Campbell.

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3 Antoine Lacelle was a native of Montreal (born Nov. 22, 1745) who in early manhood came west to Detroit. An older brother, Jacques Lacelle, engaged in the Indian trade at Detroit some time after 1765, and within a few years located at Miamitown (modern Fort Wayne), from which place his family fled in advance of La Balme's expedition of 1780. Antoine seems to have followed the career of his elder brother. In his examination by Wayne, he stated that he had been twenty-nine years in Upper Canada, twenty‑one of which had been passed at Detroit or on the Maumee. He was a member of the Detroit militia who voluntarily participated in the battle, in which several were slain. See The John Askin Papers (Detroit, 1928), I, 197, 366‑67.

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4 Colonel Alexander McKee, who was probably in better position to know the facts than anyone else, reported the number of Indians who awaited Wayne's approach on the nineteenth as 1300; presumably all of them were present the following day, although McKee states that not more than 400 were actually engaged. Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe . . . . (Toronto, 1925), III, 8. Colonel R. G. England, commandant of Detroit, reported the number of white militia in the engagement as "nearly sixty," while the payroll of Lieutenant Colonel Caldwell's battalion (white leader in the battle) for the period August 10‑24, indicates a strength of 53 men. Ibid., II, 414, and III, 12.

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5 For it see American State Papers, Indian Affairs, I, 491. Wayne reported a loss of 33 killed and 100 wounded and affirmed that the enemy's loss was "more than double" his own. Colonel McKee, reporting to Joseph Chew, British Secretary of Indian Affairs, affirmed that the Indians lost but nineteen killed. He admitted that ten of these were chieftains, and said nothing concerning the British militia slain. It seems probable that Wayne overstated the loss of the enemy, and that McKee's statement fell short of the truth. See Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, III, 8.

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6 Major William Campbell of the Twenty-fourth Regiment of Foot.

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7 For the correspondence between Wayne and Major Campbell see Am. State Papers, Ind. Aff., I, 493‑94.

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8 General Charles Scott, commander of the Kentucky volunteer contingent in Wayne's army.

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