Indian Affairs [William Henry Harrison's letter]


Vincennes, 11th Nov. 1811


In my letter of the 8th inst.I did myself the honor to communicate the result of an action between the troops under my command and the confederation of Indians under the command of the Shawanoe [Shawnee] Prophet [Tenskwatawa]. I had previously informed you, in a letter of the 2d. inst. of my proceedings previous to my arrival at the Vermillion River, where I erected a block house for the protection of the boats, which I was obliged to leave, and as a depositary for our heavy baggage and such part of our provisions as we were unable to transport in waggons. On the morning of the 3d inst., I commenced my march from the block house. The Wabash above this turning considerable to the eastward - - I was obliged, in order to avoid the broken and woody country which borders upon it, to change my course to the westward of north, to gain the prairies which lie to the back of those woods. At the end of one day's march, I was enabled to take the proper direction, (N.E.) which brought me, on the evening of the 5th to a small creek about 11 miles from the Prophet's town. I had on the preceding day avoided the dangerous pass of Pine Creek by inclining a few miles to the left, where the troops and waggons were crossed with expedition and safety. Our route on the 6th, for about six miles lay through prairies separated by small points of woods.

My order of march hitherto had been similar to that used by Gen. Wayne, that is, the infantry were in two columns of files on either side of the road, and the mounted riflemen and cavalry in front, in the rear and on the flanks. Where the ground was unfavorable for the action of cavalry they were placed in the rear, but where it was otherwise they were made to exchange positions with one of the Rifle corps. Understanding that the last four miles were open woods and the probability being greater that we should be attacked in front than on either flank, I halted at that distance from the town and formed the army in order of battle. The United States Infantry placed in the centre, two companies of militia infantry and one of mounted riflemen on each flank, formed the front line. In the rear of this line was placed the baggage, drawn up as compactly as possible, and immediately behind it a reserve of three companies of malitia infantry. The cavalry formed a second line at the distance of three hundred yards in the rear of the front line, and a company of mounted riflemen the advanced guard at that distance in front. To facilitate the march the whole were then broken off in short columns of companies, a situation the most favorable for forming in order of battle with facility and precision. Our march was slow and cautious, and much delayed by the examination of every place which seemed calculated for an ambuscade. Indeed the ground was for some time so unfavorable that I was obliged to change the position of the several corps three times in the distance of a mile. At half past two o'clock we passed a small creek at the distance of one mile.  At half past two o'clock we passed a small creek at the distance of one mile and a half from the town;  and entered an open wood when the army was halted and again drawn up in order of battle. During the whole of the last day's march parties of Indians were constantly about us and every effort was made by the interpreters to speak to them, but in vain -- new attempts of the kind were now made, but proving equally ineffectual, capt. Dubois of the spies and guides, offering to go with a flag to the town.  I dispatched him with an interpreter to request a conference with the prophet -- in a few moments a message was sent by capt. Dubois to inform me that in his attempts to advance, the Indians appeared on both his flanks, and although he had spoken to them in a most friendly manner they refused to answer but beckoned to him to go forward and constantly endeavored to cut him off from the army. Upon this information I recalled the capt. and determined to encamp for the night and take some other measures for opening a conference with the Prophet. Whilst I was engaged in tracing the lines for the encampment, major Daveiss who commanded the dragoons, came to inform me that he had penetrated to the Indian fields, that the ground was entirely open and favorable, that the Indians in front had manifested nothing but hostility and had answered every attempt to bring them to a parley with contempt and insolence. I was immediately advised by all the officers around me to move forward. A similar wish indeed pervaded all the army,  it was drawn up in excellent order and every man appeared eager to decide the contest immediately. Being informed that a good encampment might be had upon the Wabash, I yielded to what appeared the general wish, and directed the troops to advance, taking care however to place the interpreters in front with directions to invite a conference with any Indians they might meet with.

We had not advanced above four 100 yards, when I was informed that three Indians had approached the advanced guard and had expressed a wish to speak to me. -- I found upon their arrival that one of them was a man of great estimation with the Prophet. He informed me that the chiefs were much surprised at my advancing so rapidly -- that they were given to understand by the Delawares and Miamies whom I had sent to them a few days before, that I would not advance to their town until I had received an answer to my demands made through them. That this answer had been dispatched by the Potawattimie [Potawatomi] chief Winemac [Winamac], who had accompanied the Miamies and Delawares on their return; they had left the Prophet's town two days before with a design to meet me, but had unfortunately taken the road on the south side of the Wabash. I answered that I had no intention of attacking them until I discovered that they would not comply with the demands I had made -- that I would go & encamp at the Wabash and in the morning would have an interview with the Prophet and his chiefs, and explain to them the determination of the President,  that in the mean time no hostilities should be committed. He seemed much pleased with this, and promised that it should be observed on their part. I then resumed my march -- we struck the cultivated grounds five hundred yards below the town, but as these extended to the bank of the Wabash, there was no probability of getting an encampment which was provided with both wood and water. My guard and interpreters being still with the advanced guard, and taking the direction of the town, the army followed, and had advanced within about 150 yards, when 50 or 60 Indians sallied out, and with loud exclamations called to the cavalry and to the militia infantry which were on the right flank to halt. I immediately advanced to the front, caused the army to halt, and directed the interpreter to request some of the chiefs to come to me. In a few moments the man who had been with me before made his appearance. I informed him that my object for the present was to procure a good piece of ground to encamp on, where we could get wood and water -- he informed me that there was a creek to the north west which he thought would suit our purpose. I immediately dispatched two officers to examine it, and they reported that the situation was excellent. I then took leave of the chief and a mutual promise was again made for the suspension of hostilities until we could have an interview on the following day. I found the ground destined for the encampment not  altogether such as I could wish it -- it was indeed admirably calculated for the encampment of regular troops that were opposed to regulars, but it afforded great facility to the approach of Savages. It was a peice of dry oak land, rising about ten feet above the level of a marshy prairie in front (towards the Indian town) and nearly twice that height above a similar prairie in the rear, through which and near to this bank ran a stream clothed with willows and other brush wood. Towards the left flank this bench of high land widened considerably but became gradually narrower in the opposite direction, and at the distance of one hundred and fifty yards from the right flank, terminated in an abrupt point. The two columns of infantry occupied the front and rear of this ground at the distance of about one hundred and fifty yards from each other on the left, and something more than half that distance on the right flank -- those flanks were filled up, the first by two companies of mounted riflemen, amounting to about 120 men, under the command of Major General Wells of the Kentucky militia, who served as Major; the other by Spencer's company of mounted riflemen which amounted to 80 men. The front line was composed of one battalion of the U. States infantry, under the command of Major Floyd, flanked on the right by two companies of militia, and on the left by one company.-- The rear line was composed by a battalion of the U. States troops under the command of Capt. Baen, acting as Major, and four companies of militia infantry under [the] command of Lieut. Col. Decker. The regular troops of this line joined the mounted riflemen under the command of General Wells on the left flank, and Col. Decker's battalion formed an angle with Spencer's company on the left.

Two troops of dragoons, amounting in the aggregate to about 60 men, were encamped in the rear of the left flank, and Capt. Parke's troop, which was larger than the other two, in the rear of the front line. Our order of encampment varied little from that above described; except when some peculiarity of the ground made it necessary. For a night attack the order of encampment was the order of battle, and each man slept immediately opposite his [post] in the line. In the formation of my troops I used a single rank, or what is called Indian file - because in Indian warfare, where there is no shock to resist, one rank is nearly as good as two, and in that kind of warfare the extension of line is a matter of the first importance. Raw troops also maneuver with much more facility in single than double ranks. It was my constant custom to assemble all the field officers at my tent every evening by signal, to give them the watchword and their instruction for the night -- those given for the night of the 6th were, that each corps which formed a part of the exterior line of the encampment should hold its own ground until they were relieved. The dragoons were directed to parade dismounted in case of a night attack, with their pistols in their belts and to act as a corpse de reserve. The camp was defended by two company guards, consisting each of four non commissioned officers and 42 privates, and two subaltern guards of twenty non commissioned officers and privates. The whole under the command of a field officer of the day. The troops were regularly called up an hour before day, and made to continue under arms until it was quite light. On the morning of the 7th I had risen at a quarter after 4 o'clock, and the signal for calling out the men would have been given in two minutes when the attack commenced. It began on our left flank, but a single gun was fired by the sentinels or the guard in that direction, which made no resistence, but abandoned their officer and fled into the camp, and the first notice which the troops of that flank had of the danger, was from the yells of the savages within a short distance of the line, but even under those circumstances the men were not wanting to themselves, or to the occasion. Such of them that were awake, or easily awakened, seized their arms and took their stations; others which were more tardy, had to contend with the enemy in the doors of their tents.

The storm first fell upon Capt. Barton's company of the 4th U. States regiment, and Capt. Geiger's company of mounted riflemen, which formed the left angle of the rear line. The fire upon these were excessively severe, and they suffered considerably before relief could be brought to them.-- Some few Indians passed into the encampment near the angle, and one or two penetrated to some distance before they were killed. I believe all the other companies were under arms and tolerably formed before they were fired on. The morning was dark and cloudy -- our fires afforded a partial light, which if it gave us some opportunity of taking our positions, was still more advantageous to the enemy, affording them the means of taking a surer aim. They were therefore extinguished as soon as possible. Under all these discouraging circumstances, the troops (nineteen twentieth of whom had never been in action before) behaved in a manner that can never be too much applauded. They took their places without noise and with less confusion than could have been expected from veterans places in similar situation.

As soon as I could mount my horse I rode to the angle that was attacked - I found that Barton's company had suffered severely and the left of Geigers entirely broken. I immediately ordered Cook's company and the late captain Wentworth's, under Lieut. Peters, to be brought up from the centre of the rear line, where the ground was much more defensible, and formed a cross the angle in support of Barton's and Gieger's. My attention was then engaged by a heavy firing upon the left of the front line, where were stationed the small company of U. States Riflemen (then however armed with muskets) and the companies of Baen, Snelling, and Prescott of the 4th regiment. I found Major Daviess forming the Dragoons in the rear of the companies, and understanding that those heaviest part of the enemy's fire proceeded from some trees about fifteen or twenty paces in front of those companies, I directed the major to dislodge them with a part of the dragoons. Unfortunately the major's gallantry determined him to execute the order with a smaller force than was sufficient, which enabled the enemy to avoid him in front, and attack his flanks. The major was mortally wounded, and his party driven back. The Indians were however immediately and gallantly dislodged from their advantageous positions, by Capt. Snelling at the head of his company. In the course of a few minutes after the commencement of the attack, the fire extended along the left flank, the whole of the front, the right flank, and part of the rear line. Upon Spencer's mounted riflemen, and the right of Warwick's company, which was posted on the right of the rear line, in was excessively severe.  Captain Spencer, and his first and second Lieutenants were killed, and captain Warwick was mortally wounded -- those companies, however, still bravely maintained their posts, but Spencer's had suffered so severely, and having originally too much ground to occupy, I reinforced them with Robb's company of riflemen, which had been driven, or by mistake ordered from their position, on the left flank towards the centre of the camp and filled the vacancy that had been occupied by Robb and Prescott's company of the 4th U. States Regiment. My great object was to keep the lines entire, to prevent the enemy from breaking into the camp until day light, which should enable me to make a general and effectual charge. With this view I had reinforced every part of the line that had suffered much; and as soon as the approach of morning had discovered itself, I withdrew from the front line Snellings, Posey's (under Lieut. Albright), and Scotts and from the rear line, Wilson's companies and drew them up from the left flank, and at the same time I ordered Cook's and Baen's companies, the former from the rear and the latter from the front line, to reinforce the right flank; foreseeing that at these pointes the enemy would make their last effort. Major Wells, who commanded on the left flank, not knowing my intentions precisely, had taken the command of these companies, had charged the enemy before I had formed the body of dragoons with which I meant to support the infantry; a small detachment of those were howevery ready, and proved amply sufficient for the purpose. The Indians were driven by the Infantry at the point of the bayonet, and the dragoons pursued them into a marsh, where they could not be followed. Captain Cook and Lieut. Larabee had, agreeable to my order, marched their companies to the right flank, had formed them under the fire of the enemy, and being then joined by the Riflemen of that flank, had charged the Indians, killed a number, and put the rest to a precipitate flight. A favorable opportunity was here offered to pursue the enemy with dragoons, but being engaged at that time on the other flank, I did not observe it until it was too late.

I have thus, sir, given you the particulars of an action, which was certainly main armed with the greatest obstinacy and perseverance by both parties. The Indians manifested a ferocity uncommon even to them.  To their savage fury, our troops opposed that cool and deliberate valor, which is characteristics of the christian soldier.

The most pleasing part of my duty, (that of naming to you the corps and individuals who particularly distinguished themselves) is yet to be performed. There is, however, considerable difficulty in it -- where merit was so common it is almost impossible to discriminate.

The whole of the Infantry formed a brigade under the immediate orders of Colonel Boyd. The Colonel throughout the action manifested equal zeal and bravery in carrying into execution my orders, in keeping the men to their posts, and exhorting them to fight with valor. His brigade Major Clark, and his aid de camp George Croghan, Esq., were also very serviceably employed. Col. Joseph Bartholomew, a very valuable officer, commanded under Col. Boyd, the militia infantry; he was wounded early in the action and his services lost to me. Maj. G.R.C. Floyd, the senior of the 4th U. States Regiment, commanded immediately the battalion of that Regiment, which was in the front line; his conduct during the action was entirely to my satisfaction. Lieut. Col. Decker, who commanded the battalion of militia on the right of the rear line, preserved his command in good order; he was, however, but partially attacked. I have before mentioned to you that Maj. Gen. Wells, of the 4th division of Kentucky militia, acted under my command as a Major, at the head of two companies of mounted volunteers; the General maintained the same which he had already acquired in almost every campaign and in almost every battle which has been fought with the Indians since the settlement of Kentucky. Of the several corps, the 4th U. States Regiment, and two small companies attached to it, were certainly the most conspicuous for undaunted valor. The companies commanded by Capt. Cook, Snelling and Barton, Lts. Peters and Hawkins, were placed in situations where they could render most service and encountered most dangers, and those officers eminently distinguished themselves. -- Capts Prescott and Brown performed their duty also entirely to my satisfaction, as did Posey's company of the 7th Regiment, headed by Lieut. Albright.

In short, sir, they supported the fame of American Regulars, and I have never heard that a single individual was out of the line of his duty. Several of the militia companies were in wise inferior to the regulars. Spencer's, Geiger's and Warrick's maintained their posts amidst a monstrous carnage, as indeed did Robb's after it was posted on the left flank; its loss of men (17 killed and wounded) and keeping its ground, is sufficient evidence of its firmness. Wilson's and Scott's companies charged with the Regular troops, and proved themselves worthy of doing so. Norris's company also behaved well; Hargroves and Wilkin's company were placed in a situation where they had no opportunity of distinguishing themselves, or I am satisfied they would have done it. This was the case with the squadron of Dragoons also. After Major Daviess had received his would, knowing it to be mortal, I promoted Capt. Parke to the majority, than whom there is no better officer.

My two aide-de-camp, Majors Hurst & Taylor, with Lieut. Adams, of the Fouth Regiment, afforded me the most essential aid, as well in the action, as throughout the campaign.

The arrangements of capt. Piatt, in the quarter master's department, were highly judicious, and his exertions on all occasions, particularly in bringing off the wounded, deserve my warmest thanks. But in giving merited praise to the living, let me not forget the gallant dead. Col. Abraham Owen, commandant of the 18th Ken. regt. joined me a few days before the action, as a private in capt. Geiger's company; he accepted the appointed of volunteer aid-de-camp to me; he fell early in the action. The representatives of his state will inform you that she possessed not a better citizen, nor a braver man. Major J. H. Daviess was known as an able lawyer, and a great orator; he joined me as a private volunteer, and on the recommendation of the officers of that corp, was appointed to command the 3d troop of dragoons. His conduct in that capacity justified their choice; never was there an officer possessed of more ardour and his duties with propriety, and no man would have encountered greater danger to purchase military fame. Capt. Baen, of the 4th U. States Regiment, was killed early in the action; he was unquestionably a good officer and valiant soldier. Capts. Spencer and Warrick, and Lieut. McMahan and Berry, were all my particular friends; I have ever had the utmost confidence in their valor, and I was not deceived. Spencer was wounded in the head -- he exhorted his men to fight valiantly -- he was shot though both thighs, and fell, still continuing to encourage them -- he was raised up, and received a ball through his body, which put an immediate end to his existence! -- Warrick was shot immediately through the body; being taken to the surgery to be dressed, as soon as it was over (being a man of great bodily vigor, and still able to walk) he insisted upon going back to head his company, although it was evident that he had but a few hours to live.

All these gentlemen, sir, Capt. Baen excepted, have left wives, and five of them large families of children; this is the case too with many of the privates among the militia who fell in the action, or who have since died of their wounds. Will the bounty of their country be withheld from their helpless orphans, many of whom will be in the most destitute condition, and perhaps want even the necessaries of life? --  With respect to the number of Indians that were engaged against us, I am possessed of no data by which I can form a correct statement. It must, however, have been considerable, and perhaps not much inferior to our own; which deducting the dragoons, who were unable to do us much service, was very little above 700 non commission, officers and privates; I am convinced there were at least six hundred. The Prophet had three weeks before 450 of his own proper followers, I am induced to believe that he was joined by a number of the lawless vagabonds who live on the Illinois river, as large trails were seen coming from that direction. Indeed I shall not be surprised to find that some who professed the warmest friendship for us were arrayed against us. -- 'tis certain that one of this description came out from the town and spoke to me the night before the action. The Potawattumie chief whom I mentioned to have been wounded and taken prisoner, in my letter of the 8th inst. I left on the battle ground, after having taken all the care of him in my power. I requested him to inform those of his own tribe who had joined the Prophet, and the Kickapoos and Winebagoes, that if they would immediately abandon the Prophet and return to their own tribes their past conduct would be forgiven, and that we would treat them as we formerly had done. He assured me that he would do so, and that there was no doubt of their compliance. Indeed he said that they would put the Prophet to death. [I] think, upon the whole, that there will be no [further hostilities;] but of this I shall be enabled [to give] you some more certain information in a few days.

The troops left the battle ground on the 9th inst. it took every wagon to transport the wounded. We managed however, to bring off the public property, although almost all the private baggage of the officers was necessarily destroyed.

It may perhaps be imagined, sir, that some means might have been adopted to have made a more early discovery of the approach of the enemy to our camp on the morning of the 7th inst., but if I had employed two thirds of the army as outposts, it would have been ineffectual; the Indians in such a night would have found means to have passed between them -- placed in the situation that we were, there is no other mode of avoiding a surprise, than by a chain of sentinels, so close together that the enemy cannot pass between without discovery and having the army in such readiness that they can get to their alarm posts at a moment's warning. Our troops could not have been better prepared than they were, unless they had been kept under arms the whole night, as they lay with their accoutriments on, and their arms by their sides, and the moment they were up, they were at their posts. If the sentinels and the guard had done their duty, even the troops on the left flank would have been prepared to receive the Indians.

I have the honor to enclose you a correct return of our killed and wounded. The wounded suffered very much before their arrival here, but they were comfortably fixed, and every attention has been and shall continue to be paid to them. Doctor Foster is not only possessed of professional merit, but is moreover a man of feeling and honor.

I am not convinced, sir, that the Indians lost many more men than we did -- they left from thirty six to forty on the field.-- They were seen to take off not only the wounded but the dead. An Indian that was killed and scalped in the action by one of our men was found in the houses, and many graves which were fresh dug; one of them was opened and found to contain three dead bodies.

Our infantry used principally cartridges containing twelve buck shot, which were admirably calculated for a night action.

I have before informed you, sir, that Col. Miller was prevented by illness from going on the expedition -- he rendered essential service in the command of Fort Harrison; he is an officer of great merit.

There are so many circumstances which it is important for you to know, respecting the situation of this country, that I have thought it best to commit this dispatch to my aid-de-camp Major Taylor, who will have the honor of delivering this to you, and who will be able to give you more satisfaction than I could do by writing --  Major Taylor (who is also one of our Supreme Judges) is a man of integrity and honor, and you may rely upon any statements he may make.

With the highest respect,
I have the honor to be,
Sir your humble servant.

William H. Harrison

P. S. Not a man of ours was taken prisoner, and of three scalps which were taken, two of them were recovered.

The Hon. Wm. Eustis,
Secretary at War


A General Return of the killed and wounded of the Army under the command of His Excellency William Henry Harrison, Governor and Commander in Chief of the Indiana Territory, in the action with the Indians, near the Prophet's Town, Nov. 7, 1811.

KILLED --- One Aid-de-camp, one Captain, two Subalterns, one Sergeant, two Corporals, thirty Privates.

WOUNDED --- since dead -- One Major, two Captains, twenty two Privates.

WOUNDED --- Two Lieut. Colonels, one Adjutant, one Surgeon's Mate, two Captains, three Subalterns, nine Sergeants, five Corporals, one Musician, one hundred and two Privates.

Total of killed and wounded --- 188.

Made possible by the Rivers Institute and the
History Department of Hanover College.


How to cite this article:  “Indian Affairs” [William Henry Harrison's letter], Western Sun (Vincennes, Indiana Territory), 1 Feb. 1812, p. 1-2, available at