Two very significant battles in American history took place in Fort Recovery: the first in 1791 on the banks of the Wabash when Arthur St. Clair suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of 1,000 to 1,500 Indian warriors; the second in 1794 when Mad Anthony Wayne’s men successfully defended the fort against Indians who were under the command of Little Turtle and Blue Jacket. This last battle led to the signing of the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795.
After the Revolutionary War many citizens of the 13 states began to come across the Appalachian Mountains to settle the rich lands of the Northwest Territory. The Native Americans greatly resented this intrusion onto their land and proceeded to employ every measure possible to frighten the settlers back to the East.
The general and his army were the ones to be surprised and embarrassed. After Harmar’s humiliating loss, Arthur St. Clair was put in charge of raising an army and finding a way to make the Ohio Country safe for settlement by the white man. He was an appropriate choice since he had military leadership experience during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War and because he was very familiar with the Northwest Territory, having served as its first governor.
With this army Arthur St. Clair began his journey up through the Northwest Territory in the fall of 1791. Since the army was proceeding through virgin forest land, the progress was very slow. With hatchets and axes, the army proceeded to cut a road from Fort Washington (Cincinnati) to the north.
It was on November 3, 1791, that St. Clair’s American Army arrived on the banks of the Wabash River thinking that it was the St. Marys River. Although everyone was aware that there was much Indiana activity about the area, the tired and demoralized men pitched camp without erecting any kind of fortifications.
Early the next morning, the Indians attacked in numbers never anticipated. The Kentucky militiamen who were to be the first line of defense, were rendered helpless at the sight of the war painted faces and the sound of blood curdling cries as the Indian warriors swooped down upon them.
It was obvious from the beginning that it would be an impossible victory for the army, but because they were surrounded, retreat was impossible. Finally, Colonel Darke lead a charge which drove a wedge through the Indian army and enabled those soldiers and civilians who were able to escape down the road to Fort Jefferson. General St. Clair did survive the battle — even though he had four horses shot out from under him. Major General Richard Butler and many other officers lost their lives during the battle.
Mad Anthony Wayne was appointed by Washington to succeed St. Clair as the Commander-in-Chief of the army. Wayne made it clear from the outset that he was in charge and that he would have an army of 2,600 well trained, disciplined men….
On June 30, 1794, a combined Native American Army of over 2,000 warriors, under the command of Little Turtle of the Miamis and Blue Jacket of the Shawnees, made a frontal attack upon the fort.
Following the attack on the morning of June 30, a two day battle ensued. The obvious difference between the circumstances of this battle and that of 1791 was the presence of the fort. Although the odds in the second battle were much worse as compared to St. Clair’s defeat, the structure of the fort gave the soldiers the protection they needed to successfully defend themselves. As a result, after two days of bloody battle the Indian confederation gave up their assault on Fort Recovery.
Modern historians recognize the significance of the battle in Fort Recovery. It was the 1794 battle that “broke the back of Indian resistance and lead the way to the signing of the Treaty of Greeneville and to the opening up the Northwest Territory for settlement by the white man.”
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