The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 10: October 2008



The Making of a Major General: the Politics of Command of the  North West Army, 1812-13

By David Curtis Skaggs, Ph.D

By early 1812 Governor William Henry Harrison recognized that his political career in Indiana was about to close as his political rivals gained control of the territorial legislature and soon the territory would be admitted into the Union with him too unpopular to win major elective office.  Always seeking public employment to supplement his income, Harrison sought a general’s commission in the expanding Regular Army. 

Learning of the Army Act of 4 January 1812 which authorized the appointment of two major generals and five additional brigadier generals, Harrison promptly wrote Secretary of War William Eustis of his desires “to resume the La guerre if the Government should think me worthy of a commission in the New Military establishment.”  He then recounted his seven years of service in the 1790s when he had been “not an inattentive observer nor neglectful of those studies which appertain to the military art.”  Moreover, his status on Anthony Wayne’s General Staff allowed him “to apply to the test of experiment those Rules for the Construction the Substance the Marching & Manoevreing [sic] of Armies which I had acquired from Books.”  Even after leaving military service, he maintained his study of military subjects and his recent campaign emphasized his ability to maneuver soldiers better than anyone available.  Julius Caesar’s famous Commentaries were a choice reading in the Harrison household.  For all these reasons combined with his “Ardent zeal for the Service of my Country” he offered himself “to the Government as a Candidate for a Military Appointment in the Army that is contemplated.”[1]

But the criticism of Harrison’s conduct at Tippecanoe reverberated in Washington, particularly that of Colonel John P. Boyd of the Fourth U.S. Infantry, his second-in-command, which attacked the conduct of many militiamen in the battle, and of Jonathan Jennings, his Indiana political rival and the territory’s delegate to Congress.[2]  Several of Boyd’s subordinates wrote certificates in Harrison’s behalf arguing that “throughout the campaign and in the hour of battle,” Harrison “proved himself the soldier and the general…. Indeed one sentiment of confidence, respect and affection, towards the commander in chief, pervaded the whole line of the army.”  Signed by Captains Joel Cook, Josiah Snelling, and R. C. Barton, plus five lieutenants, two surgeons and an ensign, their certificates appeared in the National Intelligencer in early February.[3]  Disappointing from Harrison’s point of view was the absence of any of the field grade officers of the 4th Infantry Regiment among the signatories. 

Secretary of War Eustis and President Madison had other candidates for the new brigadier generalships.  One was quite obvious.  William Hull (1753-1825) rose from captain of a militia company to lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army.  After the war he practiced law in Newton, Massachusetts, and eventually became a major general commanding the 3rd Division of the Massachusetts militia.  In 1805 Thomas Jefferson appointed him governor of the newly created Michigan Territory.  Of all of James Madison’s appointments to high command in 1812, Hull probably brought the most military experience as a field grade veteran of the Revolution with both command and staff duties plus the administrative familiarity of a militia general and territorial governor.  Yet there were those in the administration with reservations regarding Hull’s abilities for such responsibility.  The fifty-nine-year-old, corpulent Hull eagerly sought the appointment as commander of ground forces in the Old Northwest and even went to Washington to secure it.  After receiving a brigadier general’s commission in the Regular Army, Hull journeyed to Cincinnati where he secured one regular regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Miller, and three Ohio militia regiments commanded by querulous, ambitious Colonels Lewis Cass, James Findley and Duncan McArthur. 

As General Hull assembled his North West Army in Ohio a growing apprehension about his talents began to emerge.  Lewis Cass wrote U.S. Senator Thomas Worthington that he feared Hull “was not our man…. I am now told by men capable of appreciating his talents and who have had opportunities of observing him, that he is indecisive and irresolute, leaning for support on persons around him.”[4] 

Yet Hull’s appointment was not unexpected and certainly would not affront Harrison.  The Detroit region was far more vulnerable to British attack than anyplace in Indiana or Illinois, Hull was familiar with the region, and he knew political leaders in the new state of Ohio.  But the Madison Administration’s second western generalship certainly did offend Indiana’s governor.  The Tennessee congressional delegation pushed for James Winchester (1752-1826), a Tennessee businessman and militia officer, for a regular brigadier general’s commission which he received in March 1812.   While both these men brought maturity (they were twenty years older than Harrison, who was only 39 in 1812) and Revolutionary War experience to their positions, Winchester lacked familiarity with the Ohio Valley-Great Lakes region to which he was sent and acquaintanceship with local leaders.  According to a conversation Senator Thomas Worthington of Ohio had with Madison several months later, the reason Harrison’s name was not put forth for the brigadier rank was that there was little probability of such an offer being ratified in the Senate without Harrison’s resigning the governor’s post.  The President, said the Ohio senator, did not want to put Harrison “on such uncertainty otherwise he should not hesitate to nominate you.”[5]  Soon Winchester’s arrogant personality aroused the enmity of Kentucky politicians and potential soldiers after the new general set up headquarters in Lexington. 

The notice of Winchester’s appointment disappointed Indiana’s governor whose critics seemed to have the upper hand.  Most conspicuous was intelligence that the victory at Tippecanoe had an opposite effect from what Harrison expected.  Tecumseh returned to northern Indiana to find his brother’s village in shambles, but the natives willing to carry on.  The winter and early spring found that from the outskirts of Fort Madison, Iowa and Fort Dearborn, Illinois Indian raids killed frontier families but little could be done to counter such small scale attacks.  These forts along with Michilimackinac and Harrison were considered relatively easy prey for the Native warriors.  With British assistance, Forts Detroit and Wayne might fall.  In May an inter-tribal council met on the Mississinewa, a Wabash tributary, involving representatives of the Delaware, Kickapoo, Miami, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Piankeshaw, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Wea, Winnebago and Wyandot tribes.  Although the conference counseled peace not war, it represented a decided effort at unity among most of the Native peoples of the Old Northwest. 

A longtime Harrison critic and register of the land office at Vincennes, the capital of Indiana Territory, John Badollet wrote his old friend Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin of the failure of the Tippecanoe expedition: “The bloody tomahawk is now in fact raised, the work of murder has begun. … it is now ascertained that large collections of Indians are forming on the Wabash above us, with a view … of retaliating upon this place the inhuman burning of the Prophet’s town.”[6]

Concurrently the British assisted this effort reinforce the Indians military capabilities.  According to a report from Detroit in February, “Since the battle of Tippecanoe, large numbers of savages who have visited the British fort at Amherstburg … have been there liberally supplied with arms and munitions of war.”[7]  As it became increasingly clear that war between Britain and the United States might ensue, from the British perspective it was to their advantage to utilize Native allies to assist in the defense of Canada and revising the Great Lakes boundary with the United States. 

Tecumseh faced a problem of revitalizing the resistance to American advance on Indian lands, of cowing the accommodationist chiefs, of playing the Americans off against the British and of counseling caution among his younger warriors who sought revenge for Tippecanoe.  He saw an opening during a conference with Americans at Fort Wayne in June.  There he learned that General Hull was advancing with an American Army toward Detroit and that an Anglo-American war loomed, in fact it would be declared while he sat with the Americans.  He immediately left that post and journeyed to Fort Malden where he would talk with British representatives.  His most recent biographer concludes:

This time the spirits seemed to be smiling upon him.  For just as he prepared to launch his war; a bigger conflict between the Big Knives and the British appeared about to burst.  Now at last the old dream that had tantalized Blue Jacket, Little Turtle, and Buckongahelas so long ago—the dream of a joint pan-Indian and British defense of the northwest—was becoming a reality.[8]

The signs looked ominous to Harrison who received notes of the advancement of one company of regulars to Fort Harrison and a company of rangers to be raised in the territory.  As the situation became graver Secretary Eustis ordered Colonel William Russell to command all the Regular Army troops in Indiana Territory and the five companies of rangers raised in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.  More serious for Indiana was the withdrawal of the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment from Indiana to Cincinnati and eventually to Detroit with General Hull.  From Fort Wayne came information that Indians are passing over to Malden in large numbers.”  One junior officer reported that parties as large as 300 received weapons and munitions from British Indian agents there.[9]  There remained a thin blue line for the defense of such a large frontier and both Harrison and Tecumseh knew it.  American hopes for a peaceful summer depended upon Hull’s capture of Fort Malden at Amherstburg, Upper Canada (modern Ontario) downriver from Detroit. 

On 19 April Hull received his marching orders from Secretary Eustis: (1) march with “little delay” to Detroit with the 4th Infantry Regiment and Ohio militia, (2) take command of all troops within Michigan, Chicago, and Fort Wayne, and (3) “adopt such measures with the chiefs and the several Tribes of Indians in your judgment may appear to be best calculated to secure the peace of the country.”[10]

On 11 June 1812 the North West Army marched out of Urbana, Ohio for Detroit.  Instead of utilizing the route chosen by Generals St. Clair and Wayne which circumvented the Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio by heading northwest to Fort Wayne and down the Maumee River, Hull decided to blaze a more direct route heading through the heavily forested and sometimes swampy direct route for the Maumee Rapids (modern Perrysburg, Ohio).  It took nearly three weeks to reach the rapids where Hull made his first major mistake of the campaign.  He engaged a schooner to carry much of the heavy baggage to Detroit.  Not knowing that war had been formally declared and that the British at Fort Malden did know of the congressional declaration, Hull’s vessel sailed by Malden and fell to the British.  Besides critical supplies, especially medicines, being lost, the commanding general’s personal papers containing confidential information of immense value to his opponents was in the ship.[11] 

Hull’s army arrived in Detroit on 5 July.  It consisted of slightly more than 2,000 officers and men of whom 450 were regulars and 1,450 Ohio militiamen.  At Fort Malden there were 325 British regulars, 850 militiamen, and 400 Native warriors.  Hull’s unwillingness to attack Fort Malden in the ensuing weeks drew sharp criticism of him from the Ohio militia colonels.  At the same time the Indians, fur traders and a few regulars made a coordinated attack on Fort Michilimackinac and captured it on 17 July.  This triumph at the critical intersection of Lakes Huron and Michigan caused many Natives who wavered in their support of the British to leave their neutral status and combine with the Redcoats.  It also unnerved Hull who withdrew his troops from Canada to Detroit.  He feared a combination of Indians from the north would destroy his forces now divided on both sides of the river.  Part of Hull’s concern was the increasing insecurity of his supply lines between Detroit and the Maumee Rapids.  He wrote Col. Samuel Wells of a newly recruited regular regiment that the North West Army was “in a most perilous condition—his communications cut off almost entirely by the enemy—in danger of want of provisions, and instead of carrying on offensive operations” he found himself “reduced to act on the defensive.”[12]

Governor-General Isaac Brock of Upper Canada exploited British control of Lake Erie to transfer troops from the Niagara Frontier to Fort Malden.  Hull allowed Brock’s troops to land on the Michigan shore of the Detroit River without opposition and then surrendered without firing a shot to Brock’s inferior number of troops and Native allies on 16 August.[13] 

The surrender of Detroit changed everything on the northwestern frontier.  Panic set in from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.   Kentucky’s Robert McAfee recalled that “it created an excitement and indignation as great as the catastrophe was unexpected.”  According to the Chillicothe, Ohio’s Scioto Gazette General Hull “has let loose thousands of merciless savages on our defenceless frontiers—the blood of many hundred helpless women and children must rest on his head.  God grant, that their cries may reach his ear, and pierce his heart, with anguish and with agony.”  A Dayton, Ohio, correspondent to the National Intelligencer reported that news of Hull’s surrender “created considerable alarm” which he suspected would result in “Savages, whose roving, active & restless disposition, instigated by the British officers, would soon transport them to our neighborhood and excite them to a barbarous warfare upon the defenceless frontier.”[14]    The surrender sent shock waves through the Madison Administration.  Former U.S. Senator Jonathan Dayton (1760-1824) wrote the president that “Your political enemies are taking every possible advantage of our unaccountable disasters at Detroit, to render your Presidency unpopular, & your cabinet Council odious & contemptible.”[15]  For William Henry Harrison the crisis presented an opportunity to demonstrate his military leadership capabilities before a much larger audience than previously exhibited. 

As news of the Detroit debacle reached political leaders in Ohio and Kentucky, many saw Harrison as the best possibility for command of a rebuilt North West Army.  Robert Johnson of Kentucky (1745-1815) wrote the president: “The Idea with us is, that Hull is a traitor or nearly an Ediot [sic] or part of both.  To take a View of the whole of his Conduct, it would seem as if he has played the Grandest Yanke[e] Trick [Hull was a native of Connecticut] that has been played on the U.S.”  Johnson, whose sons Richard M., John T. and James would serve with distinction in the War of 1812 and in post-war Kentucky and national politics, had been raised in Orange County, Virginia with Madison and wrote his old acquaintance of the political maneuvering going on in the Ohio Valley in Harrison’s behalf.

Harrison as territorial governor was ex officio commander of Indiana’s militia and a territorial brigadier general.  However, this made him inferior in rank to Regular Army Brigadier General James Winchester of Tennessee who was heartily disliked by volunteers of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana who composed most of the troops raised or which would be raised in the Ohio Valley.    General Winchester in command of the North West Army, wrote Johnson, would create “a great deal of uneasiness in the Army” where the men have “great Confidence in Harrison but with Winchestor [sic] they have very little.” [16]  But Harrison’s status with the Indiana legislature was such that he could not expect support from that quarter.  So strained was the relationship between Harrison and his assembly that when the legislature passed a resolution praising Colonel Boyd and the other officers and men for their conduct at Tippecanoe, it pointedly omitted any reference to the governor. 

The land office register in Vincennes kept his barrage of mocking criticism of Harrison who was putting a palisade around his home.  The Hero of Tippecanoe, he wrote to Secretary Gallatin, “that brilliant meteor in the galaxy of military heroes, who has sung & caused so many sycophantic pens & venal presses to sing his unparalleled military talents, is at last eclipsed behind a wooden fence, and the New Washington has sunk into a pitifull [sic] and selfish Sir John Falstaf [sic] not daring to defend those he has exposed, nor to face the enemy he has ostentatiously and wantonly provoked.”[17]  If Harrison was going to receive support for a Regular Army generalship, it was going to have to come from outside the territory of which he was the chief executive.

Even before Detroit’s  surrender Kentucky political leaders had misgivings about Hull’s capacity as a general officer and the possibility of Kentucky soldiers falling under Winchester’s command.  Harrison visited Frankfort on 5 August where he received notice from Governor Ninian Edwards of Illinois Territory confirming suspicions of the growing Indian threat along the northern portions of Illinois and Indiana.  Harrison ordered his militia from the Ohio River counties to rendezvous at Vincennes and he requested Kentucky militia to join with them for a campaign in the upper Wabash valley. 

Before receiving news of the Detroit defeat or of his new commissions, Harrison wrote Secretary Eustis of his proposals for the conduct of war in the Midwest.    Nowhere else did Harrison so explicitly describe his conception of frontier warfare.  Against the Indians there were two tactical maneuvers; first was the “rapid and desultory expeditions by mounted men having for their object the surprise and distruction [sic] of Particular Villages”—in other words, a raiding strategy.    The second was “the more tardy but more effectual operations of an Army Composed principally of Infantry penetrating the Country of the Enemy and securing the possession by a chain of Posts”—in other words, a persisting strategy.   Kentucky Militia General Charles Scott’s raids in the Wabash Valley in the 1790s best exemplified the former; Anthony Wayne’s campaign to the Maumee Valley in 1794 provided a successful illustration of the latter.   With the exception of the construction of Fort Harrison (north of modern Terre Haute), the Tippecanoe Campaign became much more a combined arms version of the raiding strategy than a persisting strategy he learned from General Wayne.[18]  To implement the latter and to secure the more northern frontiers Harrison advocated construction of a chain of posts on the Illinois River from the Mississippi to Chicago plus the reinforcement of Fort Wayne.   

Most everyone from Secretary Eustis to Governor Harrison recognized that the small garrisons at Forts Michilimackinac, Dearborn (Chicago), Wayne, and Detroit had to be either reinforced or evacuated.    Permanent garrisons required Regular Army soldiers in sufficient numbers to sustain them in case of attack.  The modest size detachments at these most forward outposts of the United States Army—50 at Fort Harrison, 54 at Fort Dearborn, 57 at Fort Michilimackinac, 70 at Fort Wayne—made them particularly vulnerable to attack.   News of Michilimackinac’s capture immediately brought Harrison to conclude that Dearborn was in grave danger.[19]  In a prescient commentary he wrote Eustis: “It is possible Sir, that every-thing may yet go on well, that no considerable Number of Indians may be collected at Malden and that our Detachments and Convoys may reach their destination in safety, the reverse however appears to me to be the most probable.” To secure his territory’s outposts, he determined to raise 2,000 Kentucky and Indiana volunteers, not militia, to relieve Fort Wayne.  But he warned the Secretary of War, the fall of Michilimackinac  “will give such éclat to the British and Indian Arms that the Northern Tribes will pour down in swarms upon Detroit, oblige Genl Hull to act entirely upon the defensive, & meet and perhaps overpower the Convoys and reinforcements which may be sent him.”[20]   How much these strategic analyses of the situation in the Old Northwest affected Eustis’ decision to give Harrison a brigadier generalship is unknown. 

Harrison wrote this strategic commentary from Lexington, Kentucky, after conferring in Frankfort with that state’s political leaders at the time of Isaac Shelby’s inauguration.   It was there that retiring Governor Scott and Governor Shelby, both experienced military figures themselves, along with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Henry Clay, and other local dignitaries conferred and decided to take their own course of action in the absence of the regional military leadership they thought necessary for the situation.  For sometime Governor Scott feared for Hull and his army in distant Detroit.  He and others sought a solution to the choice as regional commander.  Governor Scott defied the Commonwealth’s constitution and state law and named Harrison a brevet major general of Kentucky’s militia on 20 August.   This placed the state militia and volunteers under Harrison’s, not Winchester’s, command.  Two days later the federal government commissioned him a brigadier general in the U.S. Army by recess appointment. 

Speaker Henry Clay wrote effusive letters on Harrison’s behalf to those in power in the nation’s capital.  He informed Secretary of State James Monroe “that throughout all parts of the W. Country there has been the strongest demonstrations of confidence in him given.”  To Secretary of War Eustis he hoped the President would “see fit to approve substantially what was done … with the respect to the appointment of Govr. Harrison.”  Col. John Allen, commander of a Kentucky volunteer rifle regiment, wrote the President that notwithstanding the attempts by a few to denigrate Harrison’s abilities, he “did not one who would be dissatisfied with serving under him but believe all would be pleased with it and a large proportion highly Gratified.”[21]  

All this occurred before news of Detroit’s capitulation arrived in either Frankfort or Washington.  Secretary Eustis informed Harrison of his Federal brigadier generalship before learning of the Detroit disaster.  He initially placed him in command of the Indiana and Illinois frontiers and urged his cooperation with both General Hull and Governor Benjamin Howard of Missouri Territory.  When news of Hull’s surrender reached Washington, Eustis modified these instructions.  “You will extend your eye over all the circumstances, & communicate with General Winchester …. It is left to your discretion to join him with any part of the force under your Command, and to afford such other aid and cooperation as may be in your power.”[22]However, not only was Harrison’s Kentucky commission suspect legally, but also he would be junior to Winchester who held seniority with the Federal commission and therefore became the senior officer in the Midwest. Did a Kentucky major general outrank a Federal brigadier?--maybe yes, maybe no.  But, and this was the rub as far as Winchester was concerned, most of the troops were assigned to Harrison.  Kentucky could raise far more infantrymen and cavalrymen than Ohio and the rest of the Old Northwest.  Governors Scott and Shelby placed these volunteers under Harrison’s direction.[23]  Soon doubt arose regarding Winchester’s status.  On 1 September Secretary Eustis wrote Winchester “or officer commanding the N. Western Army” and four days later he told Maj. Gen. Elijah Wadsworth (1747-1817) commanding a division of Ohio’s militia that “The Governor of Ohio will furnish Reinforcements on the requisition of General Winchester or Officer Commanding the North Western Army.”[24]     Those “ors” indicated unease in Washington about Winchester’s status. 

The Madison Administration considered a possible option to Harrison as commander in the Midwest—Secretary of State James Monroe.  Madison proposed that Monroe be given a volunteer rank of brevet major general and sent westward.  The President saw “no evil” in sending the Secretary of State to the Midwest with such a commission.  In fact he felt that “he critical good to be expected from the presence, the influence, & counsels of Mr. Monroe….  If Winchester is to retain the command,” he continued in a letter to Eustis, “such an expedient is the more necessary.  Any new calamity, or even failure of success, under him, following the oppressive disaster of Hull, would shut every ear agst. arguments for not appointing a Commander, preferred by the public voice.”  Obviously the “public voice” preferred Harrison.[25] 

In a carefully drafted, private letter to Monroe on 6 September, the President analyzed the situation:

Hull has shewn himself utterly unqualified for such a trust.  Is Winchester equal to it?  His want of that enthusiastic confidence on the part of those who are to support & co-operate with him so peculiarly essential to his success, alone answers, this question.  Is Harrison, if substituted, every thing that the public would ask?  Without disparaging his qualifications, and allowing their great superiority to W.s, his military knowledge must be limited, and a more extensive weight of character, would be of material importance.  Should a junction of the two take place what then?  No small degree of danger, that jealousies & jars might weaken, more than the union of their talents, would strengthen their measures.  I am thus led to the idea … of availing the Crisis, if possible of your services.  You would carry with you the confidence of all, would be the most unexceptionable depository of the necessary powers, and be most able to give impulse & direction to the only force now applicable to the object.[26]

While the President remained at Montpellier in Orange County, Virginia, Eustis and Monroe conferred about Madison’s suggestion in Washington.   They agreed that Monroe’s appointment would have a positive “moral effect … on the public mind, being one emanating immediately from the govt. itself.”  But they determined that there might be “doubtful” consequences with “the advantages quite precarious.”  Madison continued to push for the Secretary of State in a letter to Eustis: “Nothing is wanting in the Western Country, to cure the evil proceeding from Hull but supplies of the necessary sorts, and a head to combine & apply the volunteer force every where springing into service.  Without such a head, in which all wd. Confide, there is danger of much waste of military patriotism & money also; I am more desirous that Mr. Monroe should patronize & guide the efforts on foot.”  At the same time he wrote Monroe: that he wanted “a head that will inspire confidence, concentrate their force, and direct the application of it.  I am not without hopes that in some way or other this critical service may proceed from you.”[27] 

To Winchester Secretary Eustis wrote that the “immediate object appears to be the protection of the Frontier” with Fort Wayne’s relief receiving the highest priority.  “You will,” he continued, “also keep in view such further operations relative to the Michigan Territory & Upper Canada as may become expedient.”[28]  All this left the command relationship between Winchester and Harrison vague; who was to be in charge of a campaign to retake Detroit?  Harrison received a letter from Eustis noting the President’s desire to “regain the ground which has been lost by the Surrender of Detroit” once the frontier has been protected.  Harrison was to join Winchester in the campaign against Detroit.  Meanwhile, Eustis ordered artillery to be sent from Pittsburgh and volunteers from Pennsylvania and Virginia to join Winchester in Ohio.  But the confusion on command relationships continued, for at the same time he wrote Governor Return J. Meigs of Ohio that the Virginia troops would “cooperate” with Harrison’s force.”[29]

Harrison’s brigadier commission and Eustis’ instructions placed him in command of troops in Indiana and Illinois Territories.  Harrison quickly undertook command of the newly raised Kentucky regiments and set his sights on the relief of Fort Wayne then under siege from British-allied Natives.  He acknowledged receipt of the brigadier’s commission but decided not to accept it until the command relationship between himself and Winchester was settled.  He demanded of Secretary Eustis a determination of just “how far I am to be subordinate to” Winchester.  There is, he pointed out, “a necessity of having one head in the Western Country to direct all the military Movements.”   Obviously, Harrison thought himself the better qualified.  Winchester’s “extreme solemness,” [sic] lack of regional friends, and his ignorance of the local geography made him less qualified for senior command.   “Woodsmen are a singular people,” Harrison continued solicitously, “they are susceptible of the most heroic atcheivements [sic] but they must be taken in their own way.  From the affection and attachment every thing may be expected, but I will venture to say that they never did nor never will perform anything brilliant under a stranger.”[30]

Concurrently Winchester wrote to Eustis a letter implying he would subordinate himself to Harrison.  But when Harrison and Winchester met at Fort Wayne on 19 September, Harrison issued a general order that announced: “The President of the United States having designated Brigadier General James Winchester to the Command of the army originally destined to relieve General Hull and that officer having arrived at this place, the command is accordingly relinquished to him.”[31] 

This did not relieve tensions between the two senior officers in the Old Northwest.  When Harrison proposed they “divide the force and act in support of each other,” Winchester disagreed and Harrison began making plans for an expedition against the Indians along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.  Moreover, the devolution of senior command upon Winchester did not set well with many who had participated in the relief of Fort Wayne.  Kentucky Colonel and Congressman Richard M. Johnson wrote President Madison that the “united exertions of us all” could not reconcile the volunteers to the transfer of command.  He continued the Kentuckians’ extravagant championing of General Harrison: “He has capacity without equal.  He has the confidence of the forces without parrellel [sic] in our History except in the case of Genl. Washington in the revolution.”[32]

Letters crossed back and forth between Harrison and Eustis and Winchester and Eustis and between Kentucky political leaders and members of the administration with no definitive resolution.  When the President returned to the capital, he, Monroe and Eustis finally reached a decision regarding western command.  In a letter to Clay, Monroe expressed a “willingness to obey the [Madison’s] summons, altho. It was sudden, and unexpected, as indeed the event which suggested the idea was.  On mature reflection however he [Madison] concluded that it would not be proper for me to leave my present station.”

Finally, in mid-September, the Administration decided that command in the west devolved to Harrison “who it is believed will justify the favorable expectation entertaind [sic] of him, by those who are best acquainted with his merit.”  Monroe noted how Clay and his Kentucky allies “will find that the utmost attention has been paid to your opinions & wishes, on all these subjects.”[33]  Secretary Eustis sent notices to Harrison and Governors Meigs and Shelby, but apparently not to General Winchester, that the President assigned command of the North Western Army to Harrison.  When news of this decision reached Fort Wayne the leadership of the North West Army passed to Harrison.  But by virtue of what commission was his superiority recognized?  Harrison still declined to accept the Federal brigadier generalship.  Was his seniority a consequence of a dubiously legal Kentucky major general appointment? 

Thus it took a month after Hull’s surrender to resolve the command situation.  How much that delay affected the fall-winter campaign to retake Detroit is incalculable.  The solution left Winchester deeply humiliated and desirous of proving his military leadership capabilities.   It may well have affected Winchester’s decision to march to Frenchtown, Michigan Territory, in January 1813 and consequently led to the defeat of his force and the resulting “River Raisin Massacre.”  That incident terminated the Harrison-Winchester rivalry; Winchester returned to Tennessee in disgrace, there was now no competition for the senior post in the North West Army.

Yet Harrison’s brigadier general appointment had not been confirmed by the senate.  U.S. Senator Thomas Worthington of Ohio wrote General Harrison in November that senators were worried about the general’s holding both the governorship and the generalship.  They desired he resign the former to hold the latter.  (It should be noted that Hull was not required to resign his governorship when accepting the command of the North West Army.)  Moreover, the senator expected more major generals would be created and Harrison would be a prime candidate for one of these posts.  Worthington concluded his letter with an astute summary of Harrison’s character:

I presume you will not suspect me of flattery when I tell you are ambitious and pray do not be surprised when I tell you too that you are not more so than I would have you be only I fear you are a little impatient and now let me add and with a sincerity of heart which I will ever manifest to my friends and with that pleasure which I shall always feel even in the anticipation of the gratification of their wishes.  If your ambition is not most fully gratified it will be your own fault.[34]

As Mark Anthony described Julius Caesar in one of Shakespeare’s most famous orations, Worthington correctly analyzed William Henry Harrison--he was an ambitious man.  The Senate confirmed his brigadier rank on December 2nd.  Senator Worthington admitted “that the western people are more partial than perhaps your services heretofore might strictly justify” such high rank, yet he “was fully satisfied they could not more properly have directed their choice or partialities in reference to future services.”[35] 

In a long letter to the new Secretary of War, John Armstrong, written at Fort Meigs [modern Perrysburg, Ohio] on 16 February 1813, Harrison explained his problems of command and his summary of the situation as it stood at that date. 

The date of my appointment as Brigadier, made me the youngest of that grade in the whole army (one only excepted) altho’ the sphere of my command embraced two Militia Major Generals and a Brigadier of the Regular Army, who by the articles of war was entitled to command me.  To the rank of Brigadier, I could certainly make no other objection than that it could not give me that authority which was necessary to effect the object of my command; I was obliged, therefore, to resort to my Kentucky commission, by which along, I was enabled to command gen. Winchester.—It was not, however, sufficient to warrant either gen. [Samuel] Hopkins [of Kentucky] or gen. [Elijah] Wadsworth [of Ohio] to receive orders from me, both of their commissions being of older date than mine. … It appeared to me that from the difficulties which had occurred as well as from the importance of the Western Department—that the appointment of Major Gen. was necessary to the officer who was intrusted with it.  That there might be no obstacle to my obtaining it if the government should think me worthy of that rank, I determined to give up my civil appointment, which situated as I am with a large family and a very unproductive property was a great convenience to me, but I did not positively decline the appointment of Brigadier. … I have never been so tenacious of rank as to suffer it to influence me for a moment in opposition to the public interest.  My only aim has been to obtain that which appeared to me necessary to perform the duties assigned to me. 

[Consequently] I resigned the government of Indiana, and intimated an intention to decline the appointment of Brigadier.  The latter step was called for by the circumstances under which I received the command, which might give room for the suggestion that I was rather forced upon the government by the partiality and importunity of the Western people in my favour.  As the affair now stands, it remains with the President to determine whether I shall continue in the command of the Northwestern Army. … All that remains for me to say is, that I will continue in the command in any grade which he may assign me.[36]

Despite the final sentence, Harrison threw down the gauntlet—either promote me to major general or I’ll resign.  With Hull and Winchester in disgrace, with the decision not to send Monroe, and with the western militia generals willing to subordinate themselves to Harrison, the Administration caved in.  On 27 February 1813, President Madison sent two nominations to the Senate—Harrison to be a major general and Thomas Posey to be governor of Indiana Territory.  The major general promotion received Senate approval on 1 March and Posey’s appointment came two days later.  With this position Harrison also became commander of the newly created Eighth Military District that included the states of Kentucky and Ohio and the territories of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.  As an additional responsibility he was to direct an invasion of western Upper Canada as well. [37] 

His ambition gratified, Major General William Henry Harrison now had to demonstrate a competence as military commander that thus far most of President Madison’s appointments had not done.


[1] WHH to Eustis, 14 Jan 1812, in Clarence Edwin Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Vols. 7-8, 10, 14, 16 Washington: Government Printing Office, 1939-48: 8: 159-60.  For a brief account of the Tippecanoe Campaign see Allan R. Millett, “Caesar and the Conquest of the Northwest Territory: The Harrison Campaign, 1811,” Timeline 14 (July-August 1997), 2-19.

[2] The letter of Col. John P. Boyd and Capt. George W. Prescott to Eustis, 11 Dec ember 1811, was printed in the Washington, D.C., National Intelligencer, 11 Jan. 1812, in the Vincennes Western Sun, 8 Feb. 1812 and is reprinted in Richard C. Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions of the War of 1812 in the Northwest, 10 vols. Columbus, Ohio: Anthony Wayne Parkway Board and Ohio State Historical Society, 1957-62, 5, pt. 1: 39-40.  Harrison’s 18 Nov. 1811 report on the battle is in ibid., 22-28.  See also Samuel G. Hopkins to WHH, 15 Jan. 1812, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 161-62; Dorothy Burne Goebel, William Henry Harrison: A Political Biography, Indiana Historical Collections, vol. 19 Indianapolis: Indiana Library and Historical Department, 1926, 124-27.

[3] Washington, D.C., National Intelligencer, 8 Feb. 1812.  An exchange of letters between WHH & Prescott over this controversy, 9 & 10 Feb. 1812, in Douglas E. Clanin et al., eds., The Papers of William Henry Harrison, 1800-1815, 10 microfilm reels (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1993-1999), 5: 347-351, 354-355.

[4] Cass to Worthington, 19 May 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 3:89.

[5] Worthington to Harrison, 28 Nov. 1812, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 218.

[6] Badollet to Gallatin, 29 Apr. 1812, in Gayle Thornbrough, ed., The Correspondence of John Badollet and Albert Gallatin, 1804-1836, Indiana Historical Society Publications, vol. 22. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1963; 226-27.

[7] National Intelligencer, 29 Feb. 1812.  See also Reginald Horsman, Matthew Elliott: British Indian Agent Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964.

[8] John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life New York: Henry Holt, 1997, 275.

[9] Eustis to WHH, 28 Feb., 2, 14 May 1812 Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 168, 179, 181; B. F. Stickney to Eustis, 7 Jun 1812, in Gayle Thornbrough, ed., Letterbook of the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne, 1809-1815, Indiana Historical Society Publications, vol. 21 Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1961, 136. 

[10] Eustis to Hull, 19 April 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 8, 21.

[11] John Taylor to Madison, 7 July 1812, in Robert Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, 5 vols. To date Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984- , 4, 572

[12] The letter no longer exists, but is summarized in Clay to Eustis, 22 Aug. 1812, in James F. Hopkins ed., The Papers of Henry Clay Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1959, 1: 717.

[13] Primary sources on the Detroit campaign are located in E. A Cruikshank, ed., Documents relating to the Invasion of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit, 1812, Publications of Canadian Archives, No. 7 Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1913.  Among the better secondary accounts are Robert S. Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study, 2 vols. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997, Alec R. Gilpin, The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1958, George F. G. Stanley, The War of 1812: Land Operations Toronto: National Museums of Canada and Macmillan, 1983.

[14] Robert B. McAfee, History of the Late War in the Western Country [1816] Bowling Green, Ohio: Historical Publications Co., 1919, 121; Scioto Gazette quoted in National Intelligencer, 8 Sept. 1812, other quote ibid., 15 September 1812.

[15] [Ca. 17 Sept. 1812] in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 325.

[16] Johnson to Madison, 3 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 261; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, Senate Document No. 100-34, 100th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1989, 1267-68, 1270.

[17] Badollet to Gallatin, 19 May 1812, in Thornbrough, ed., Correspondence of John Badollet: 232.

[18] WHH to Eustis, 12 August 1812 in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 190. For an introduction to raiding versus persisting strategies see Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat New York: Free Press, 1992, 138-141, 183-86.

[19] On the Michilimackinac surrender see Matthew Irwin to John Mason, 16 Oct. 1812, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 10: 411-415.

[20] WHH to Eustis, 12 August 1812 in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 191.

[21] Clay to Monroe, 25 Aug., to Eustis, 26 Aug. 1812, in Hopkins, ed., Papers of Clay, 1: 719-22; Allen to Madison, 25 July 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 6, pt. 2: 136.

[22] Eustis to Harrison, 22, 28, 30 Aug. 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 8: 69, 71, 73.

[23] For Gov. Scott’s orders see National Intelligencer, 10 Sept. 1812.

[24] Eustis to Wadsworth, 5 September 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 10: 151.

[25] Madison to Monroe, 5 Sept., Madison to Eustis, 6 Sept., 10 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 270-71, 277, 295; Monroe to Clay, 17 Sept. 1812, in Hopkins, ed., Papers of Clay, 1: 727.

[26] Madison to Monroe, 6 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 278.

[27] Monroe to Madison, 7 Sept., Madison to Eustis, 8 Sept., to Monroe, 8 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 284-87.

[28] Eustis to Winchester, 31 Aug. 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 8: 74.

[29] Eustis to Harrison, 1 Sept. 1812, Eustis to Meigs, 1 Sept. 1812 in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 8: 75.

[30] Harrison to Eustis, 3 Sept. 1812, in Knopf, ed., Document Transcriptions, 1: 27.

[31] The letter from Winchester to Eustis, 2 Sept. 1812, was docketed by the War Department on 11 September, but no longer survives.   See Monroe to Madison, 12 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 312 and note 1; R. M. Johnson to Madison, 18 Sept 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 332 and note 1. 

[32] WHH to Eustis, 21 Sept. 1812, in Logan Esarey, ed., Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indiana Historical Collections, vols. 7, 9, 2 vols. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922, 2: 141, 143-47; Johnson to Madison, 18 Sept. 1812, in Rutland et al., eds., Madison Papers, Presidential Series, 5: 332.

[33] Monroe to Clay, 17 Sept. 1812, in Hopkins, ed., Papers of Clay, 1: 727.

[34] Worthington to Harrison, 28 Nov. 1812, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 217-18.

[35] Worthington to Harrison, 28 Nov. 1812, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 218.

[36] WHH to Armstrong, 16 Feb. 1813, in Carter, ed., Territorial Papers, 8: 237-38.

[37] Goebel, William Henry Harrison: 163-65; On the creation of the various military districts see American State Papers: Military Affairs, 7 vols. Washington, DC: Gales & Seaton, 1832-61, 4, 147.