St. Clair's Defeat, aka the Battle of the Wabash

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 Arthur St Claire Picture and attribution from Wiki: In 1791 Arthur St. Clair led an expedition against a confederation of Native Americans (Miami, Shawnee, and Lenape) that resulted in one of the worst defeats the United States Army would ever suffer. Can you imagine, in the 21st century, a battle that would cause the total destruction of one-quarter of the U.S. military?  Well, this battle accomplished that feat in a 2-3 hour time period. When the Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the American War of Independence, the United States gained from Great Britain what was then called the Northwest Territories (what are today the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota).  However, the Native Americans residing in this area were not a party to the treaty, and were quite upset at the prospect of giving up their lands to American settlers.  The British in Canada had great influence over the Indians, and in fact British troops were still in Fort Detroit and other positions in the Northwest, refusing to leave unless forced to do so.  Indian war parties raided American frontier settlements constantly, finally goading the new U.S. government to act. In early 1791, President George Washington summoned Major General Arthur St. Clair – who was simultaneously a serving army officer and governor of the Northwest Territories – to Philadelphia to receive his orders for an expedition against the capital of the Miami tribes.  Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne, IN) was a collection of villages and a trade depot for the Indians and the British.  Washington and his Secretary of War Henry Knox recommended Gen. St. Clair recruit and train an army of 3000 men to accomplish his task.  Washington stressed to St. Clair the necessity to avoid surprise against the Indians. Arthur St. Clair was born in Scotland, served in the British Army during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), then joined the American cause in the Revolutionary War.  However, he abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in 1777 without a fight.  A court-martial exonerated him, but he never held another commander during the war.  He was an aide-de-camp to Washington at Yorktown in 1781.  He settled in Pennsylvania, was elected to the Confederation Congress, and was eventually appointed governor of the Northwest Territories. St. Clair’s expedition to punish the Miamis was a disaster waiting to happen.  Leaving Cincinnati, OH in mid-September, the force, which started out with about 2000 men, was ill-equipped, badly training and undisciplined.  Though he had two regiments of Regular Army troops, the vast majority of the force was militia and six-month levies.  They did not have enough equipment to fully fortify their camps at the end of each day’s march; horses were turned loose to graze without ropes or hobbles, with many consequently being lost or stolen by the Indians; many of the militiamen and levies deserted.  Finally, General St. Clair himself was 55 years old and suffering from a bad case of gout – he was not a well man.  He and his second-in-command, Brigadier General Richard Butler, were barely speaking to each other. By November 3, St. Clair’s force reached the headwaters of the Wabash River, at what is today near the town of Fort Recovery, OH.  A raised meadow was selected at an ideal place for a camp.  What the force didn’t know was that a force of 1000 Miamis, Delawares and Shawnees led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket were fast approaching.  The Indians had received a constant stream of information on the American force from scouts and deserters.  St. Clair’s force was now reduced to about 900 effectives and about 200 camp followers. On the morning of November 4, the Indians surrounded the camp, watched the soldiers stack their arms and prepare for breakfast.  At that moment, Little Turtle ordered the attack.  The militia and levies mostly ran at the outset, with the Regular Army troops delivering a volley which momentarily halted the enemy’s advance – but not for long.  Indian sharpshooters picked off officers and artillerymen at will, rendering the artillery useless.  A couple of bayonet charges gave some respite, but only briefly.  Gen. St. Clair had three horse shot from under him as he roamed the battlefield, trying to rally men cowering behind trees and under wagons, shouting, “Cowards! Cowards! Cowards!”  Many of the camp followers, knowing what their fate would be, grabbed muskets and joined the battle.  The situation was not helped when Gen. Butler fell. Finally, after about three hours, Gen. St. Clair ordered a final bayonet charge which opened the Indian lines enough for the army to escape.  The retreat was likened to a rout or a flight; supplies and the wounded were left in camp.  The Indians followed the retreat for about three miles before they returned to loot the deserted campt.  Reported stated that for several days after the battle, the execution fires in and around the abandoned camp burned day and night. The butcher’s bill was ghastly: 632 of the 920 soldiers were killed, with 264 wounded, with only 24 men escaping the battle unscathed. Also among the dead were 33 women.  Indian casualties were 21 killed and 40 wounded.  Gen. St. Clair soon after went east to Philadelphia to seek the convening of a court-martial, with the intent of resigning his commission after being exonerated.  However, President Washington would have none of it, and forced St. Clair to resign immediately. Three years later, Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne would come to the site of this battle with his newly formed army which he had christened “the Legion of the United States.”  He would find the bleached bones of many of the combatants, order them buried and build Fort Recovery on the site.  He would then march off into the west to Fallen Timbers…
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There is something so glorious about these battles. On the other side there are some absolutely unbelievable monstrosities taking place at the same time. The result is that I just avert my eyes and play the lord of the rings slot machine to pass the time.

Wow I think that thats so courageous that they grabbed muskets and joined the battle I would have probably hid under the nearest log basket and would stay there for 2 days.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.