Fallen Timbers Battlefield

Approximately two miles southwest of downtown Maumee, Ohio, located between the
United States #24 Highway and the Maumee River

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, ended the Revolutionary War and recognized the independence of the former British colonies. In that treaty, the British ceded to the United States the large land area bounded, roughly, by the Appalachians on the East, the Ohio River on the South, the Mississippi River on the West and the Great Lakes to the North. This is the area where Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are located. When the 1783 treaty was signed, the United States had almost no military presence in this area and so the treaty allowed the British to occupy their few forts—including Fort Detroit—until the United States made peace with the many Indian tribes who dominated much of this land. In 1787, Congress enacted the Northwest Territories act specifying how this large area would be governed, but did send troops to occupy the expanse or appropriate funds for roads, canals or development.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, the British strongly discouraged settlers from crossing the Appalachians and recognized—at least to some degree—the claim Indians tribes made for what eventually became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. After the Revolutionary War, settlers began crossing the Appalachians in considerable numbers since good arable land seemed to be readily available, especially in Ohio. Some southerners also crossed both the Appalachians and the Ohio River to establish homesteads in what is now southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Very few migrated into remote Michigan or Wisconsin.

Indians in this area saw the settlers as invaders and, from time to time, sought to drive them out. Americans who tried to establish farms and villages were constantly at risk of raids by Indians. Those who had migrated here demanded that the federal government protect their rights to this land. President Washington, who was very familiar with the great difficulties of carrying out warfare against the Indians, was reluctant to dispatch troops to defend the new nation’s claim to the Northwest Territories. He may have also feared provoking another war with the British since some of their troops remained in what is now the American Midwest and others in Canada. Eventually, President Washington succumbed to pressures and sent troops to pacify or drive out the Indians. These early war efforts against Indians did not go well. President Washington’s first choice to lead the warfare was General Josiah Harmar. He led about 1,500 militiamen into battle against confederated Indians near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was soundly defeated in 1790. President Washington sacked General Harmer and replaced him with a Revolutionary War officer who had a distinguished reputation, General Arthur St. Clair. In the summer of 1791, General St. Clair led American troops into battle against Indians at Fort Recovery located on the Wabash River near what is now the Ohio-Indiana state line. Once again the Indians routed the Americans. Indeed, in the key battle, General St. Clair lost 600 soldiers—the largest number of federal troops ever killed by Indians in a single confrontation.

The success of the Indians led President Washington to fear that the British would align themselves with the powerful tribes to threaten the United States. This, of course, happened in the War of 1812, but that was almost a score of year in the future. Washington replaced his ineffective generals with Anthony Wayne who had a distinguished record of military leadership in the Revolutionary War.

Generals Harmar and St. Clair recruited troops, primarily from Kentucky, who presumed they would spend one summer fighting the Indians and then return home. Apparently, the generals provided little military training to soldiers before sending them into battle. General Anthony Wayne understood the serious nature of warfare against the midwestern Indians and insisted that his troops be well trained before entering battle. In the summer of 1793, Anthony Wayne amassed a force of soldiers—primarily from Kentucky—in Cincinnati which was then known as Fort Washington. After a summer of training, he began marching north in October, 1793,establishing forts at what is now Hamilton, Ohio; then at Eaton, Ohio and then at Greenville, Ohio. On December 25, 1793, Wayne sent troops north to build and garrison a facility at Fort Recovery on the Wabash River—the place where General St. Clair and his army were routed in the summer of 1791. General Wayne and his troops spent the winter at Forts Greenville and Recovery, preparing for a summer campaign against the Indians. From June 30, 1794 to July 1, a confederacy of Miamis, Shawnee, Ottawa, Wyandot and Delaware Indians led by Miami chief Little Turtle laid siege to Fort Recovery. General Wayne successfully drove them off.

On July 28, 1794, General Wayne led his army north, hoping to confront and defeat the Indians. He was aware that in the two previous confrontations in this war, confederated Indian tribes had soundly defeated the Americans. By August 8, General Wayne reached the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers and built a fort, Fort Defiance, located at the site of present-day Defiance, Ohio. He found that the Indians were retreating as he advanced. Wayne continued to march north and, by August 18, reached the point known as Roche de Bout, a site of impassible rapids on the Maumee River about eight miles from its mouth. Here he built another fort, Fort Deposit. A major problem for Americans in their previous battles with Indians was the tendency for soldiers to flee the field of battle when massive numbers of Indians charged. Presumably, the numerous forts that General Wayne built would be safe places that American troops could repair to if the Indians once again routed them in the battles.

The Indians concentrated themselves below the rapids of the Maumee River near the present city of Toledo. At this point the Indians were close to Fort Miami. This was a British trading post with some British troops in residence. The Indians may have believed that there was strong British military force with artillery at this location and that the British would join them to defeat General Wayne and the Americans.

General Wayne continued to march north toward the mouth of the Maumee. The decisive battle between the confederated Indians and Wayne’s troops took place on August 20, 1794 at an area along the rapids of the Maumee where storms, perhaps recent tornadoes, had felled many trees hence the name: The Battle of Fallen Timbers. Similar to the earlier battles, Indian warriors charged the Americans and, at first, pushed many of them away from the field of battle. General Wayne, however, successfully organized a bayonet charge into the ranks of the Indians. This successfully scattered Chief Little Turtle’s forces. At this point, many of the Indians expected the British at Fort Miami to use artillery against the Americans but the British offered no support to the Indians. The Indians scattered and never again, put up strong organized resistance to the Americans in the Northwest Territories. Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, General Wayne adopted a “scorched earth” policy and marched his troops through northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana destroying any villages or evidence of Native Americans.

Thirty-three American soldiers died at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and another 11 died of wounds suffered that day. There is no documentation of the number of Miamis, Shawnees, Ottawas, Wyandots and Delawares killed that day, but probably fewer than 100 were killed since the Indians fled when they realized the battle was lost and that British help was not forthcoming.

Because of their defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Indians were forced to conclude a treaty with the United States. On
August 3, 1795 at Greenville, Ohio, General Anthony Wayne and the representatives of ten major Indian tribes, some of them including several bands, signed an agreement known as the Treaty of Greenville. The Indians received goods valued at $20,000 but relinquished their land claims. In truth, the Treaty established a Greenville Treaty Line. Americans were free to settle to the east of that line that stretched across Ohio and Indiana, but Indians had rights for lands to the west of that line. In fact, the Greenville Treaty Line was never honored and the Indians were gradually pushed out of the Midwest. General Wayne’s conquering of the Indians allowed Ohio to become the first northwestern state when they joined the Union in 1803. Just thirteen years later, Indiana joined the Union.

The American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers also facilitated the Jay Treaty that representatives of the American and British governments signed at the end of 1794. This treaty minimized the risk of another British-US war. The British agreed to evacuate, by the summer of 1796, the six military forts they maintained in the Northwest Territories including the one in Detroit. Colonel Jean François Hamtramck—a Quebeçois who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War and with General Wayne against Indians—led American troops to Detroit in July of that year and the British peacefully removed themselves from their fort. General Wayne was the leading military official in this area so you might think that he would have led American troops into Detroit. However, he suffered from an illness that summer, so Colonel Hamtramck had the honor of raising the first American flag in Detroit.

For decades, Anthony Wayne was honored as the American military leader who successfully allowed the new nation to occupy its Northwest Territories. Michigan’s most populous county bears his name, as do cities and counties throughout the Midwest as well as one university and another college. Modest to large statues in many Midwestern towns commemorate his achievement. If you had surveyed American historians and political officials before the Civil War and asked about the most important people in the nation’s history, many would have given a high rank to Anthony Wayne. Leading military campaigns against Indians is now seen in a very different light. I suspect that no new statues have been raised in his memory in more than a century. This general was known as “Mad” Anthony Wayne. As I child growing up in Akron, Ohio; I learned that he earned that sobriquet because of the thorough and perhaps vicious way he drove Indians out of the Midwest. However, that is not correct. During the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Stony Point in 1779, General Wayne was struck in the head by British shells. Battlefield surgeons performed a cranioplasty; that is, they inserted a metal plate to replace missing components of his skull. A side effect of this procedure gave General Wayne epileptic-like seizures from time to time and caused him to foam at the mouth, hence the nickname “Mad.”

Note: This location is included in a site devoted to the history and future of Detroit because the battle fought here in 1794 allowed the United States to peacefully end British control of Detroit two years later.
Date of Battle: August 20, 1794
National Register of Historic Sites: #66000616 Listed 1966
Use in 2007: Commemorative Historic Site
Photograph: Ren Farley; September 20, 2007
Description Prepared: September, 2007

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