Monday, November 7, 2011

The Death Knell of the Pan-Indian Confederacy

November 7, 2011, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Tippecanoe. The engagement pitted some 1,000 regular and militia troops under Indiana governor William Henry Harrison against approximately 500–750 Indians led by Tenskwatawa, also known as the Shawnee Prophet. For several years previous to the battle, Tenskwatawa and his brother, Tecumseh, had worked to create a pan-Indian confederacy to oppose Anglo-American westward expansion and preserve traditional ways of life. The defeat at Tippecanoe irrevocably weakened the confederacy, which disbanded completely some two years later. This excerpt from Dr. Spencer C. Tucker's Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars recounts the details of this historic battle.
The warriors left Prophetstown during the night, and by 4:00 a.m. on November 7 they had surrounded Harrison’s camp. One of the American sentinels, Stephen Mars, heard movement in the darkness and fired a shot or two before fleeing for the safety of the camp. He was killed before he could reach it, but his shot alerted Harrison's men. The Indians then let out war whoops and opened fire. The battle opened first on the northwest side of the camp. Unfortunately for Harrison's men, when they rose many were silhouetted against their campfires, making them easy targets. Harrison himself mounted and rode to the sound of the firing. His own white horse had broken its tether during the night, and he rode a dark one. This probably saved his life, for the natives were looking for him on a white horse. (Harrison’s aide Colonel Abraham Owen, who found and rode Harrison’s white horse, was shot and killed.) Firing then broke out on the east side of the camp, and the battle became general. During the battle, the Prophet stationed himself on a high rock to the east and chanted war songs to encourage his followers. Informed early that some of his warriors had been slain, the Prophet insisted that his followers fight on, promising an easy victory.
After two hours of fighting and when it was sufficiently light, Harrison sent out mounted men to attack the natives on their flanks. Soon the natives were in retreat. In the battle, Harrison lost 68 men killed and 126 wounded, a significant casualty rate of up to a quarter of his force. The number of Native American dead is not known for certain. Thirty-seven bodies were found at the battle site, but this did not account for those who were carried off or died later from their wounds. Native American losses are estimated at no fewer than 50 killed and 70 or more wounded.
About the author

A Senior Fellow in Military History for ABC-Clio Publishing since 2003, Dr. Spencer C. Tucker has been instrumental in establishing ABC-CLIO as the premier military history reference publisher in the country. Spence's interest in military history began while he was a student at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and was enhanced by a Fulbright Fellowship in France and while serving as a captain in military intelligence in the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Although he concentrated on Modern European History in his graduate studies, he became interested in all periods of military history. Spence taught at the university and college level for 36 years, 30 of these at Texas Christian University and the last 6 as holder of the John Biggs Chair of Military History at VMI. Spence is particularly excited to be the editor of ABC-CLIO's award-winning series of war encyclopedias, which includes The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History.


The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: 
A Political, Social, and Military History
Edited by Spencer C. Tucker

This encyclopedia provides a broad, in-depth, and multidisciplinary look at the causes and effects of warfare between whites and Native Americans, encompassing nearly three centuries of history.

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