Battle of Fallen Timbers: American Army Defeats Indian Confederacy

« Previous story
Next story »
Battle of Fallen Timbers: American Army Defeats Indian Confederacy

Today in Military History: Aug. 20, 1794

The early history of the United States military had its share of smashing victories and ignominious defeats. Today's tale involves a gouty Revolutionary War hero, revenge meted out for a previous defeat, and the "Legion of the United States."

Background: The Northwest Territories

As part of the Treaty of Paris ending the American War of Independence in 1783, the United States received an area known as the Northwest Territories (see map below). It included – either in whole or part – lands that would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. This area – encompassing 260,000 square miles – was owned by the French from the mid-seventeenth century until 1763, when the British acquired title to these lands at the end of the Seven Years/French and Indian War. Native American Indians still outnumbered Europeans in this area. To protect these people from the invasions of settlers, the British crown initially barred Americans from settling in these territories. However, this prohibition was generally ignored by Americans. When the Treaty of Paris gave these lands over to American ownership, the Indians were less than pleased.

The Congress of the Confederation (the predecessor of the U.S. Congress prior to the adoption of the Constitution) adopted the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. This document provided guidelines for the administration of the territories and set rules for admission of these territories as states. The only problem was that the wishes and desires of the Indians were not exactly taken into consideration. Consequently, in 1785 a loose confederation of Indian tribes came together to oppose the incursions of the Americans. The group at various times included Shawnees, Miamis, Delawares, Hurons (Wyandots), Mingos, Ottowas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Kickapoos, and Chickamauga-Cherokees.

In the fall of 1791, Ohio Territory governor Arthur St. Clair led a mixed force of U.S. Army and militia to attack Indian villages in what is today Indiana. His poorly trained army was ambushed and annihilated by the Indians in November, as one-quarter of the total strength of the American Army was lost that day. [For further information on this incident, please see the Burn Pit story from November 4, 2009, "St. Clair's Defeat, aka Battle of the Wabash."]

Legion of the United States

As a result of this embarrassing loss, President Washington felt it was necessary to train a new army, and give it a new commander. Secretary of War Henry Knox developed a plan to reorganize and train the American Army. Using the historical precedent of the Roman Empire, Knox named his new formation the "Legion of the United States." The new force would combine all land combat arms of the day (cavalry, heavy and light infantry, artillery) into one efficient brigade-sized force divisible into stand-alone combined arms teams. Congress agreed with Knox's proposal.

Major Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745-1796)

Washington recalled from retirement one of his favorite officers from the Revolutionary War, "Mad" Anthony Wayne. The President appointed him a major general, and named him Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. His fiery personality and various exploits commanding the Pennsylvania Line earned him that nickname. Wayne's task was monumental. The small standing army of the U.S. was not really up to the task, and using state militia was not the answer.

The old 1st and 2nd Regiments of the American Army – remnants of St. Clair's Defeat – were used as the basis for the newly-formed Legion. These units were first quartered from June to November, 1792 at Fort LaFayette near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. New recruits gathered and minimal training commenced. By November of that year, Gen. Wayne had found a suitable place to properly train his men, away from the growing town of Pittsburgh. About 20 miles west was the site of the former Indian village called Logstown (near the present-day town of Baden, PA). Here Gen. Wayne ordered a large fort and training area constructed, which he named Legionville. The fort encompassed an area of about 35 acres, with bastions, a ditch, and over 500 one-story log cabins to house the recruits. Wayne and his men disembarked from Pittsburgh on November 28, sailed down the Ohio River and arrived at Legionville four hours later.

Model of Legionville, courtesy Legion Ville Historical Society,

Between late November and late April of 1793, the Legion trained nearly every day under the watchful eye of "Mad Anthony" Wayne. The general was convinced that constant training and strict discipline was the key to developing the army into an effective fighting force to defeat the Indian threat in the Northwest Territory.

After the men were properly housed, training started in earnest. Wayne wanted his troops to be able to fight in a woodland environment. The soldiers fired at targets every day as Wayne wanted marksmen. Bayonet drills, hand-to-hand combat, mock battles and overnight encampments outside the installation were common. The dragoons under the able leadership of Captain Robert Mis Campbell built an obstacle course south of Legionville. The artillery lieutenants and captains built an artillery range. An auxiliary rifle range was built a half-mile west of the site. The troops were marched continually and battle formations and tactics taught to the new officers. Minor infractions were dealt with severely (lashing with a cat-o-nine tails) and courts martial were common.

The Legion was divided into four "sub-legions." Each of these smaller units was commanded by a brigadier general, and consisted of two battalions of "heavy" infantry – musket-armed soldiers handy with bayonets – a rifle battalion of light infantry skirmishers armed with Pennsylvania long rifles, a troop of dragoons (men trained to fight either on horseback or dismounted), and a battery of artillery.

The Army Moves

On April 30, 1793, the Legion of the U.S. boarded military barges and journeyed downriver to Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati, Ohio). After arriving at Fort Washington, Gen. Wayne conducted a methodical campaign. He sent out forces to probe for weaknesses of the Indian confederacy. When the Legion found the site of St. Clair's disastrous battle of 1792, Wayne ordered the unburied bones of the hapless victims gathered and properly interred. He further directed that a fort be built on the site, which he named Fort Recovery.

Reconstruction of Fort Recovery

The Legion of the United States – by now numbering some 3000 men – moved through the wilderness deliberately, with Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian scouts leading the way. They spent the better part of a year building forts to cover their expeditions against the Indians. In addition to Fort Recovery, they included Fort Greenville and Fort Defiance. This last fort was completed on August 17, after which the army began marching down the Maumee River toward Fort Miami. This latter frontier fort was near the site of present-day Toledo, Ohio, and was manned by British troops – in violation of the Treaty of Paris, as it was on land ceded to the U.S. This installation was used by the Indians as a supply depot and sanctuary after battles with American forces.

Battle of Fallen Timbers

Gen. Wayne was one of the first in camp to arise on August 20, with rain falling. Everyone had been edgy for three days, expecting the Indians to make one of their typical surprise attacks. Few of the officers or men had a good night's sleep. This did not stop Wayne from having the barber dress and powder his hair. The gout in his left leg pained him, so he wrapped it in flannel almost to his hip – a useless precaution, but no good treatment for the condition was then known. He put on his blue coat, dark hat, buff breeches, and boots; then he primed his pistols and thrust them in his belt. He looked around to insure that all the troops were in proper uniform. Despite the heat, the general ordered that neither coats nor any other article of uniform would be removed during the march or action expected.

The army began marching at about 8:00 am. Following the scouts at a short distance was advance guard, or "vanguard," a select battalion of Kentucky militia. Then came the main body, the Legion on the right, next to the river. They were in two lines, separated considerably and each line at extended order. They made a fine appearance with their infantry blue uniforms: jackets and "overall" trousers that terminated as buttoned gaiters with straps fastened under heavy shoes. With a buff waistcoat under the jacket, these garments were much too heavy for comfortable summer campaigning. On their heads the infantrymen wore high but rounded leather hats, each with a bearskin crest extending fore and aft across the top, from brim to brim, and a cockade that extended even beyond the fur. They wore bandoleers crossed over their chests, and carried muskets equipped with bayonets, Wayne's favorite weapon. Supporting the infantry on the right were the dragoons, the regular cavalry, with blue coats, buff breeches and boots. Their primary weapon was the saber, with pistols for an emergency. On the left were mounted Kentucky volunteers in two brigades, commanded by Brigadier Generals Robert Todd and Thomas Barbee. Their uniforms were predominantly buckskins, and they carried the famed Pennsylvania long rifle (now known to history as the Kentucky long rifle).

As the Legion neared the area of Fort Miami about 9:00 am, they came upon a section of the forest where a recent tornado had knocked down a large number of hardwood trees. Almost immediately, a flurry of musket shots from Indians hidden in the downed tree line rang out.

Gen. Wayne – his men had bestowed a new nickname on him, "Old Tony" – was at the rear when the action started, catching up on his administrative "paperwork." Young Captain Bartholemew Schaumburg galloped up, to find the general seated on the ground with his back against a tree, drawing a map. "General!" shouted Schaumburg excitedly. "We're being attacked in front! We're being attacked." Wayne looked up, frowning; he did not like his officers, even generals, to approach him unceremoniously. "Well," he replied, irritable as a newly-waken bear, "I knew it; I heard it. A skirmishing party; there were six or eight gun shots." "Oh, sir, I heard at least a hundred and fifty shots," persisted Schaumburg. "Great man!" the general exclaimed, suddenly fired with his old-time martial spirit.

Wayne shouted for his orderlies. Three of them got him to his feet and boosted him into the saddle astride his black stallion (his gout making it difficult to mount on his own). The pain was so intense that his eyes filled with tears. Then, forgetting such annoyances in his eagerness for battle, Wayne dashed toward the front, swinging his saber. His hat fell off as he galloped wildly forward, his powdered hair standing out like a lion's mane.

Arriving where the fighting was the hottest, Wayne quickly grasped the situation. Brilliantly he began taking steps to meet the enemy's challenge. Seeing some of his men fighting at a disadvantage in high grass where visibility was poor, he shouted for them to shift to higher ground. He ordered the infantry of the Legion to advance in two lines at trail arms through the woods to flush out the savages. He told the commander of the first line to charge with the bayonet when he had closed with the enemy, then shoot the Indians as they fled. He directed the second line to support the first.

Then he turned his attention to the cavalry – the dragoon Regulars and the mounted Kentucky militia. Because of the spectacular and unorthodox performance of the dragoons, most historians have concentrated their narrative of the battle on them, thus distorting the brilliance and depth of Wayne's tactical concept. What he attempted was nothing less than the classic double envelopment, a Hannibal-like Cannae in the American wilderness. Recognizing that the forest was no place for cavalry action, Wayne sent his dragoons around the Indian's left flank, toward the Maumee River, where the country was more open, while the Kentuckians were to make a circuitous swing around the right flank.

Nevertheless the dragoons found many fallen timbers, even on the open left flank, barring their way and concealing Indian marksmen. In one of the most dramatic cavalry charges ever made by American troops, the dragoons took the log parapets at full gallop, like jockeys in a steeplechase. Once over, they swung their heavy sabers, cutting down Indians at practically every stroke. Meanwhile, as the horsemen charged, concealed Indian snipers killed the dragoons commander, Captain Mis Campbell. The next in command, Lieutenant Leonard Covington, took over at once. The Indians on the flank, terrified by the rushing, pounding horses, fled in dismay.

Wayne's second in command, General Wilkinson, was puzzled and annoyed by the way in which the battle was developing. Uncertain what to do, he hesitated to give any orders to capitalize on the dragoons' success. When hostile fire began knocking dragoons from their saddles, an aide dashed up to Wilkinson and begged for orders that would clear up this apparent setback. At first Wilkinson refused to accept his responsibility. Saying that "the Big Mogul" (Wayne) was coming up, Wilkinson declined to act. Then, seeing that the dragoons were hard pressed and closely engaged, he regained his composure and ordered a general charge along the whole line. The first line of infantry, unflinching under sniper fire, scrambled over the timbers and went after the Indians with the bayonet. The Regulars obeyed every command instantly.

There was no panic, not even when the Indians launched a counterattacked. It was repulsed and the Indians thrown back. Wayne's prolonged drills and stern discipline were paying off. A special detachment of riflemen had been included in the Legion. Wayne had great respect for the rifle as an instrument of precision. But he had not placed full reliance on it because it could not be loaded as rapidly as the smoothbore musket and was not made to receive the bayonet. Now, however, it proved its worth. Captain Schaumburg led riflemen through the Indian position to their rear. Then, as the hostile line began to disintegrate under the Legion's assault, with accurate fire the riflemen herded the enemy back into the bayonets of the charging infantry.

Wayne was enjoying himself, bellowing orders to take advantage of every opening, interspersed with foul language that had earned him his original nickname. Coming across some men who had removed their jackets owing to the heat, he rebuked them severely for violating his regulations. When Wilkinson kept riding back with anxious questions, Wayne finally roared at him: "Be so very kind as to believe that I know what I am doing – and see that you do too!" Wayne was riding about in full view and within easy gunshot range of the enemy. Whenever one of his officers approached, he purposely dashed away and lost himself in the thick of the fighting.

The Indians were now breaking rapidly under the bayonet attacks of the infantry, who then shot the warriors as they attempted to flee. The battle evolved so quickly that, by the time the Kentuckians had made the long swing to their left and were in a position to launch a flanking movement, there was no longer an Indian line there to envelop. The Legion's success at the center and right thus prevented the Cannae-like double envelopment. As Wayne described it in a dispatch to Secretary of War Knox:

"Such was the impetuosity of the charge of the first line of the infantry, that the Indians and Canadian militia volunteers were drove [sic] from all their coverts in so short a time, that although every possible exertion was used by the officers of the second line of the Legion and by Generals Scott, Todd, & Barbee of the Mounted Volunteers to gain their proper positions, but part of each could get up in season to participate in the action, the enemy being drove [sic] in the course of one hour more than two miles through the thick woods already mentioned, by less than half their number."

The battle was done in about an hour, with the Indians in full retreat toward their hoped-for sanctuary at nearby Ft. Miami. However, they received an unpleasant surprise: the British commander closed the fort's gates to the savages, denying them shelter.


In his report to Secretary Knox, Wayne listed his casualties as 36 killed and 102 wounded. After the battle, a total of only 40 Indian corpses were found on the battlefield. Wayne suspected that the Indians carried off most of their dead.

Footnote #1: The Legion of the U.S. returned to Ft. Recovery shortly afterwards. Then, they launched a series of attacks throughout the upper Ohio and Indiana area, burning Indian villages and crops. A year later, a treaty was signed with the Indians, which forced the Indians to finally recognize the right of American settlers to settle in the Northwest Territory.

Footnote #2: Gen. Wayne died on December 15, 1796, and was buried at Erie, PA. His body was disinterred in 1809 and, after boiling the body to remove the remaining flesh, as many of the bones as would fit in two saddlebags were relocated to the family plot in a cemetery in Radnor, PA. A legend says that many bones were lost along the roadway that encompasses much of modern U.S. Route #322. The legend further states that every January 1 (Wayne's birthday), his ghost wanders the highway, searching for his lost bones.

Gen. Wayne's grave in Radnor, PA

Footnote #3: According to DC Comics, wealthy socialite Bruce Wayne – the alter ego of Batman – is descended from Anthony Wayne, building "stately" Wayne Manor on property given to the general for his service during the Revolutionary War.

Footnote #4: Dozens of cities, towns, villages, and counties are named for "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Perhaps most well known is Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Posted in top stories | 5 comments
« Previous story
Next story »


* To comment without a Facebook account, please scroll to the bottom.


I love these history lessons. Been reading Burnpit for awhile don't know how I missed these.

Very nice and detailed posting. I learned about the chronology and mechanics/tactics of the battle. I have a blog where I am attempting to highlight U.S. history (and especially NW Ohio history) with photos and information about early U.S. coins from the same year. For instance, I highlight the Battle of Fallen Timbers with photos and information about a 1794 large cent from my collection.

As the first successful "U.S. Army" , Waynes Legion gets very little publicity in many of todays history books. This army opened the west , and is single-handedly responsible for beginning westward expansion. A little known fact , is that one of this Armys earliest engagements was not against the Native Americans, but against fellow countrymen at the Battle of Bower Hill during the Whiskey Rebellion near Pittsburgh in July of 1794. For more info visit or
Great coverage and insight on the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Enjoyed reading all about the battle. Would you know where I can get a list of soldiers serving in the battle? So many relatives insist my ancestor was, but I need to see it in print. Thank you.
Christine L.

I only know of one, he is my G-G-G-Grandfather Captain John Cooke of the 4th. Sub-Legion

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Have a tip for us? A link that should appear here? Contact us.
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.