On the 5th of October they reached the place where the enemy had encamped the night before. Colonel Wood was now sent forward by the commander-in-chief to reconnoiter the British and Indian forces; and he very soon returned with information that they had made a stand a few miles distant and were ready for action. General Proctor had drawn up his regular forces across a narrow strip of land covered with beech trees, flanked on one side by a swamp, and on the other by the river; their left rested on the river supported by the larger portion of their artillery, and their right on the swamp. Beyond the swamp, and between it and another morass still further to the right, were the Indians under Tecumseh. This position was skilfully chosen by Proctor, with regard to locality, and the character of his troops; but he committed an irreparable oversight in neglecting to fortify his front by a ditch, and in drawing up his troops "in open order, that is, with in tervals of three or four feet between the files"a mode of array which could not resist a charge of cavalry. His whole force consisted of about eight hundred regular soldiers and two thousand Indians.
The American troops, amounting to something more than three thousand men, were now disposed in order of battle. General Harrison had at first ordered the mounted men to form in two lines, opposite to the Indians; but he soon observed that the underwood here was too close for cavalry to act with any effect. He was aware of the egregious error committed by Proctor as above mentioned, and well knew the dexterity of backwoodsmen in riding, and in the use of the rifle, in forest ground, so he immediately determined that one battalion of the mounted regiment should charge on the British regulars. The other was left to confront the Indians.
The requisite arrangements were made, and the army had moved forward but a short distance, when the enemy fired. This was the signal for our cavalry to charge; and, altho the men and horses in the front of the column at first recoiled, they soon recovered themselves, and the whole body dashed through the enemy with irresistible force. Instantly forming in the rear of the British, they poured on them a destructive fire, and were about to make a second charge, when the British officers, finding it impossible, from the nature of the ground and the panic which prevailed, to form their broken ranks, immediately surrendered.
On the left, the battle was begun by Tecumseh with great fury. The galling fire of the Indians did not check the advance of the American columns; but the charge was not successful, from the miry character of the soil and the number and closeness of the thickets which covered it. In these circumstances, Colonel Johnson ordered his men to dismount, and leading them up a second time, succeeded after a desperate contest in breaking through the line of the Indians and gaining their rear. Notwithstanding this, and that the colonel now directed his men to fight them in their own mode, the Indians were unwilling to yield the day; they quickly collected their principal strength on the right and attempted to penetrate the line of infantry. At first they made an impression on it; but they were soon repulsed by the aid of a regiment of Kentucky volunteers led on by the aged Shelby, who had been posted at the angle formed by the front line and Desha's division.
The combat now raged with increasing fury; the Indians, to the number of twelve or fifteen hundred, seeming determined to maintain their ground to the last. The terrible voice of Tecumseh could be distinctly heard, encouraging his warriors; and altho beset on every side except that of the morass, they fought with more determined courage than they had ever before exhibited. An incident, however, now occurred which eventually decided the contest. The gallant Colonel Johnson having rushed toward the spot where the Indians, clustering around their undaunted chief, appeared resolved to perish by his side, his uniform, and the white horse which he rode, rendered him a conspicuous object. In a moment his holsters, dress and accouterments were pierced with a hundred bullets, and he fell to the ground severely wounded. Tecumseh, meanwhile, was killed in the mêlée. After the rescue and removal of the wounded colonel, the command devolved on Major Thompson. The Indians maintained the fight for more than an hour; but when they no longer heard the voice of their great captain, they at last gave way on all sides. Near the spot where this struggle took place, thirty Indians and six whites were found dead.
Thus fell Tecumseh, one of the most celebrated warriors that ever raised the tomahawk against us; and with him faded the last hope of our Indian enemies This untutored man was the determined foe of civilization, and had for years been laboring to unite all the Indian tribes in resisting the progress of our settlements to the westward. Had such a man opposed the European colonists on their first arrival, this continent might still have been a wilderness. Tecumseh fell respected by his enemies as a great and magnanimous chief. Altho he seldom took prisoners in battle, he was merciful to those who had been taken by others; and, at the defeat of Dudley, actually put to death a chief whom he found engaged in the work of massacre. He had been in almost every engagement with the whites since Harmer's defeat in 1791,2 altho at his death he scarcely exceeded forty years of age.
Tecumseh had received the stamp of greatness from the hand of nature; and had his lot been cast in a different state of society, he would have shone as one of the most distinguished of men. He was endowed with a powerful mind, and with the soul of a hero. There was an uncommon dignity in his countenance and manners; by the former he could easily be discovered, even after death, among the rest of the slain, for he wore no insignia of distinction. When girded with a silk sash, and told by General Proctor that he was made a brigadiergeneral in the British service for his conduct at Brownstown and Magagua, he refused the title. Born without title to command, such was his native greatness that every tribe yielded submission to him at once, and no one ever disputed his precedence. Subtle and fierce in war, he was possest of uncommon eloquence. Invective was his chief merit, as we had frequent occasion to experience. He gave a remarkable instance of its power in the reproaches which he applied to General Proctor, in a speech delivered a few days before his death;3 a copy of which was found among the papers of the British officers. His form was uncommonly elegant. His stature was about six feet, and his limbs were perfectly proportioned.
In this engagement the British loss was nineteen regulars killed, fifty wounded, and about six hundred taken prisoners. The Indians left one hundred and twenty on the field. The American loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to upward of fifty. Several pieces of brass cannon, the trophies of our Revolution, and which had been surrendered by Hull at Detroit, were once more restored to our country. General Proctor had basely deserted his troops as soon as the charge was made; and tho hotly pursued, was enabled, by means of swift horses and his knowledge of the country, to escape down the Thames. His carriage with his private papers, however, was taken.
1 The river near which this battle was fought and from which it takes its name flows into Lake St. Clair in Ontario, Canada, about thirty miles east of Detroit. The Americans were commanded by General William Henry Harrison, who was afterward President. The British force comprized their own men under General Proctor and their Indian allies under Tecumseh. Breckenridge 's account is printed in Hart's "Source Book of American History."
2 Harmer was defeated by the Indians in an engagement near Fort Wayne, was tried by court-martial and acquitted, but resigned afterward.
3 Printed in "The World's Famous Orations."