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Redemption on the Thames: Kentucky Troops in 1813



Redemption was near at hand for nearly 3,000 Kentuckians poised to bring about the greatest victory to that point in the War of 1812 along the Thames River in Ontario, Canada. The few hundred British soldiers and their Indian allies awaited the imminent attack upon their position with a great deal of apprehension. This was not the same enemy, upon which they had inflicted catastrophic and murderous casualties earlier in the year, and now only a few hundred yards separated the two foes. The wrath of the Kentuckians was heard in their battle cry throughout the Canadian woods as they charged forward. They were a changed fighting force. After suffering two major defeats at the hands of their mortal British and Indian enemies, the Kentuckians finally learned from their past mistakes. The leaders of the Kentucky troops improved their discipline, training, and tactics to such a degree that when General William Henry Harrison implored, “Charge them, my brave Kentuckians!” on the afternoon of October 5, 1813, the outcome was never in doubt.[1]


1813, the second year of the War of 1812, saw the transformation of Kentucky arms. In the first half of 1813, one historian described the actions of Kentuckians as brave, but stupid, and the stigma of such reckless and undisciplined actions weighed heavily upon the Kentucky population. [2] Even General William Henry Harrison publicly stated that “it rarely occurs that a General has to complain of the excessive ardor of his men, yet such appears always to be the case whenever the Kentucky Militia are engaged. It is indeed the source of all their misfortunes. They appear to think that valor can alone accomplish everything.”[3] After suffering such humiliating and tragic defeats, Kentucky leaders such as Governor Isaac Shelby and Richard Mentor Johnson drew from these experiences to create a new, much improved force. The change in Kentucky leadership was the most important aspect of this transformation. The early blunders, caused by a lack of competent leadership, provided the opportunities for improvements. Shelby and Johnson, as will be shown, did not make the same mistakes as their predecessors, and instilled the necessary discipline, training, and proper military measures during the later campaign and its battles to prevent such failures from reoccurring. If the previous leadership had been left in place, and change did not occur, future success would surely have been in doubt. As historian John Sugden wrote, “The United States threw off the humiliation of successive defeats to secure redemption in the Old Northwest,” and since the bulk of American forces in the region were Kentuckians, the Commonwealth can rightfully claim the redemption as their own.[4]


Compared to other eras in United States history, like the Revolution or Civil War, the War of 1812, has received much less attention. This is especially true of the war in the Old Northwest, a wartime backwater of sorts. There are several good works on the major players, such as Robert M. Owens’s Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy and John Sugden’s Tecumseh’s Last Stand. Owens’s work mostly focuses on Harrison’s prewar experiences in the Northwest and as Governor of Indiana, but gives very little in terms of details into Harrison’s masterful campaign in 1813. Sugden’s work is a great narrative of the campaign that culminated in the Battle of the Thames from the British and Native American point of view and exploring the complicated alliance. It also focuses on the question as to who killed Tecumseh, and how he actually met his end on the battlefield. A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812 by Sandy Antal assesses British General Henry Procter, the British commander who suffered much humiliation after the Battle of the Thames. It also provides a wonderful overview of the campaign from the strategic and tactical level, mainly from the point of view of the British. Several articles appear in The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society and Michigan Historical Review. In the early twentieth century, A.C. Quisenberry attempted to add Kentucky’s role in the war to the historical literature, but his statistics and some of his analysis have since proven questionable, yet his histories are still sound. Some of the articles focus on individual actions, such as Frenchtown, Fort Meigs, or the Battle of the Thames only, without any attempt to connect all three. Even with all of these resources available, there is nothing that focus on the role of Kentuckians through the year 1813, much less something that details their transformation from the undisciplined militia of early 1813 to the crack troops that helped bring a decisive end to the war in the Old Northwest that fall.[5]


Tecumseh

Ever since the declaration of war by the United States upon Great Britain on June 18, 1812, Kentuckians eagerly awaited their chance to prove their mettle in war. The previous generation greatly distinguished its fighting prowess in decades of Indian and frontier warfare, and now the new generation, those born after America’s independence and Kentucky’s statehood, hoped to continue the tradition. Far removed from any of the troubles at sea between the two nations, Kentucky’s motivations for pursuing war laid to its north. The venerable Tecumseh, who was attempting to form a large confederacy of the tribes north of the Ohio River, posed a bigger threat to Kentucky than the impressment of American sailors on the high seas. In fact, Kentuckians had dealt with Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, or better known as The Prophet, at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 under General William Henry Harrison, well before the official declaration of war.[6]


General William Henry Harrison

After months of failed campaigning, the American forces in the Old Northwest under the command of General William Henry Harrison prepared to regain the lost territory in Michigan and, perhaps, take the war into Canada. By January 1813, Harrison’s forces approached southern Michigan, with the army split into different wings. Harrison planned to unite these wings before an attack on Detroit, but the weather and supply situation prevented their rendezvous.[7] One of these wings, under the command of Tennessean General James Winchester, advanced on Frenchtown, Michigan, several miles away from any support that could be offered from Harrison’s main force. On January 18, Winchester’s wing easily captured Frenchtown, along the River Raisin, after a brief contest with 100 Canadian militia and 400 Potawatomi and Wyandot warriors, and the Kentuckians occupied the settlement at the cost of only a few casualties. The move to take Frenchtown dangerously exposed Winchester’s column to a British counterattack, but it seems that “emotion stifled rational military judgement.” Before the advance, a council of Winchester’s officers saw the Kentuckians rather animated and desirous of an attack. This lack of restraint doomed hundreds of Kentuckians, and was conspicuous of their reckless and undisciplined actions that plagued them early in 1813.[8] Leadership of Kentucky and American forces in Frenchtown, flushed with an easy victory, failed to take the necessary precautions to protect their small army from any British or Indiana counterattack.


General James Winchester

Over the course of the next few days, Winchester consolidated his own wing at Frenchtown, bringing his total number of men to roughly 1,000. This included four regiments of Kentucky militia, three companies of the mostly Kentuckian 17th U.S. Infantry, and a small contingent of the 19th U.S. Infantry. These men were plagued with “cold, malnutrition, disease, and insubordination.” During this time, a British force under the command of General Henry Procter advanced toward Frenchtown to destroy Winchester’s wing before the arrival of Harrison’s main army. Locals repeatedly warned the Winchester and his Kentuckians that the British and their native allies were on the move, but unfortunately for the soldiers, these reports were dismissed as “impossible rumour.”[9] The soldiers themselves let down their guard, as they wandered the small town and helped themselves the abundance of whiskey and warm lodgings. One Kentuckian remembered, “most of the men acted as though they knew themselves to be perfectly secure…For myself, I can say, I felt little dread…I slept soundly.”[10] Failure of the American and Kentucky leadership to set adequate pickets to warn the camp of any enemy activity, the seemingly foolish decision not to prepare defenses, and the inability to instill military discipline in the troops, would lead to one of the most disastrous defeats of the War of 1812.


Not only were the enlisted men lax in preparing for an attack, but so were the officers. Allegedly, there was some talk among the leadership of taking protective measures, but in the end, “nothing was done.” The officers made the foolish decision to not send out patrols or establish an adequate picket line because it was “too cold.” The commanders of the individual regiments also failed to fortify their positions against a possible attack. As a result, the Kentuckians had little in the way of readymade defensive positions, and during a battle might find themselves hopelessly exposed in the open.[11] Kentucky would eventually learn from these egregious mistakes, and by the fall of 1813 blunders such as this did not occur.


On January 22, 1813, Procter’s mixed force of British regulars, Canadian militia, and Indian warriors, numbering roughly 1,200 men arrived outside of Frenchtown without having seen a single American sentry. The allied force were able to make out the smoke of the fires burning in the chimneys of the warm homes, and those of the Kentucky campfires. Private Shadrach Byfield, a British soldier in the 41st Regiment, crept through the icy woods toward the unsuspecting Kentuckians in total silence. As they neared the camps, Byfield remembered, “We formed the line, and had a view of them as they surrounded their fires…we then gave three cheers, and the Indians followed with a war whoop; the fight then commenced very warmly.”[12] Had it not been for a lone sentry firing upon the British soldiers just beyond the camp, the Kentuckians may have been completely destroyed before they could retrieve their arms in the early morning darkness. The Kentuckians frantically tried to ready their weapons and form some sort of line to receive the attack, but as William Atherton remembered, “I slept soundly until awaked by the startling cry of ‘to arms! to arms!’ and the thundering of cannon and roar of small arms, and the more terrific yelling of savages.”[13] The Kentuckians were caught totally by surprise, something that should have been averted had leadership taken the proper precautions.



Without any sort of defensive works, and already flanked on the far right of the line by 600 Native American warriors commanded by Roundhead, Splitlog, and Walk-in-the-Water, the Kentuckians quickly gave way and fled in disorder for the River Raisin. As the retreat turned into a rout, the Indians constantly gained their flank and rear, preventing the Kentuckians from making any sort of effective rally or stand. Casualties mounted as the Kentuckians ran a gauntlet of gunfire and tomahawks through the thick snow, many discarding their arms in the process. According to William Atherton, the men were “thrown into confusion and retreated in disorder.” Colonel John Allen rushed two companies of his Kentucky rifleman to the right in a fruitless attempt to bolster the collapsing flank. His riflemen were not enough to stem the running tide of men, and he was eventually cut down in hand-to-hand combat with native warriors. Even the presence of General Winchester, rushing to the battlefield from his headquarters, over a mile in the rear, was unable to rally the men. Roundhead and his warriors captured him, along with nearly 150 survivors. This part of the battle alone resulted in the death of over 200 Kentuckians, their bodies strewn in the bloody snow in an area only 100 yards long.[14] Before his capture, Winchester intended to rally his broken right and reform to support the left and center part of the line that was still holding firm against the repeated assaults by the British regulars and Canadian militia. Atherton maintains that these orders were “probably not heard.” Communication between officers and a plan of defense against an attack were obviously not contemplated before the appearance of the British and Indian force.[15] Winchester, had he not been so far from his army, may have been able to stem the enemy tide and provide the essential overall leadership of an army commander, instead of his individual regiments mostly fighting independently of each other.


The lone bright spot of the battle turned out to be the stubborn defense of the Kentuckians on the left and center. Taking advantage of a picket fence and other buildings, the Kentuckians’ galling fire repulsed several British assaults, inflicting over 100 casualties on the British redcoats. Despite their gallant stand, ammunition was running low, and the British cannons would soon make quick work of the defenses. Gen. Procter, frustrated at the inability to break the Kentucky left and center, demanded an unconditional surrender. He reportedly mentioned that the buildings would be fired, and that he could not guarantee the safety of the Kentucky prisoners if the Indians were force to storm their position. Future Kentucky governor George Madison responded, “we prefer selling our lives as dearly as possible, rather than be massacred in cold blood.” At Winchester’s urging, and reduced to only two or three cartridges per man, Madison reluctantly surrendered his force. By 11:00 in the morning, the entire affair had ended at the cost of 900 Kentucky casualties.[16] It was clear that the blunders caused by the carelessness of their leaders resulted in the humiliating defeat.


Nearly the entirety of Winchester’s command, save for a few that escaped through the woods, marched north to Detroit as prisoners, or lay dead on the snow covered fields around the River Raisin. To make matters worse, several wounded Kentuckians were slaughtered the following day. A few hundred warriors entered Frenchtown after the British marched out with the rest of the prisoners, only to find dozens of wounded and sick Kentuckians being tended in some of the houses. Some were tomahawked, some shot, and others were burned alive as the houses were torched. Years of frontier frustrations were unleashed upon the helpless victims as the warriors collected scalps as personal trophies, a morbid act practiced by both sides. William Atherton, though wounded was spared by the killings and marched north with those able to move. He wrote, “I soon found the bodies of those poor hapless boys who had made the attempt, but were too badly wounded to travel, massacred, scalped, and stripped.” Wounded British soldier Shadrach Byfield recorded in his diary, “The Indians overpowered them and killed a considerable number. Some of the Indians produced eight or nine scalps, each.” The bodies of those killed along the march north were left unburied, and their bleaching bones discovered several months later in Kentuckians once again returned to the region. The Massacre at the River Raisin produced a burning indignation in Kentucky, and motivated thousands of future volunteers, and helped set the stage for a change in leadership later in the year. It was also a step toward more competent leadership.[17]



Governor Isaac Shelby, in a letter to General Harrison, expressed the sadness that hovered over the state. He wrote, “This melancholy event has filled the state with mourning, and every feeling heart bleeds with anguish. The Legislature…passed an act, authorizing the organization of three thousand militia for any term not exceeding six months.”[18] Unfortunately, the defeat cast such gloom over the Commonwealth that only half of the enlistments were filled, and the rest filled by a draft. In the spring of 1813, an angry, yet undisciplined, brigade of Kentuckians marched north to aid Harrison. Shelby confessed to Harrison that many of those heading north were “men undersized and in other respects hardly Kentuckians.”[19] Still without an inspirational leader, such as Shelby himself, the unruly Kentucky brigade was destined to suffer a similar fate to that of their comrades at Frenchtown.


Their destination was Fort Meigs, an “earth-and-log stockade” that possessed several two-story blockhouses for added defense. The fortress was nearly a self-sufficient village for whatever army occupied it as it sat upon a forty-foot tall embankment along the Maumee River and any British invasion route. The one glaring deficiency, besides its lack of a clear route of supply, was its lack of men, as enlistments expired and the annihilation of Winchester’s wing at Frenchtown. Harrison begged for reinforcements.[20]


On March 31, General Green Clay marched a brigade of 1,200 Kentuckians north from Lexington, the same men that Shelby lamented were not of the quality he had hoped for, north to Harrison’s relief. Enthusiasm was not a problem for most of these men, but discipline and poor leadership plagued this contingent just as bad as it had at Frenchtown four months before.[21]


General Green Clay

Clay commanded two regiments in his brigade, with one of the regiments led by Lieutenant Colonel William Boswell and the other by Lieutenant Colonel William Dudley. The brigade was composed of men that appeared to onlookers to be as “cheerful and animated and inspired with the purest feelings of patriotism,” but high morale is not enough to win a war. On April 6, they reached Cincinnati, and by then the discipline issues revealed themselves in several ways. Alcohol reduced many of the men and officers to such a state of drunkenness that they could not carry out their official duties. Clay issued a proclamation to his brigade outlawing the intoxicating liquid, but his orders went largely ignored as he found himself having to remind his officers of the ban several weeks into the march. One officer even “ordered some buckets of whiskey and invited all hands to take a horn.”[22] It was evident that Clay, though a slight improvement over Winchester, had little real control over his Kentuckians.


The heavy rains reduced the roads to a muddy quagmire, forcing the brigade to lose several days of marching. This was more of a reflection on the troops’ themselves as such conditions failed to slow down the Kentuckians later that fall, and indication that the present level of discipline and training was not yet up to par. An over abundance of personal baggage slowed the supply wagons, and Clay “earnestly recommended” that the men volunteer to leave the non-essentials behind.[23]


A third problem bedeviling the brigade was a lack of military training and discipline. In his proclamation, Clay reminded the Kentuckians that their reputations were on the line as fighting men from their state were held in high regard throughout the Union, despite the recent setbacks. He also required their “subordination—the most rigid discipline,” though these men “who filled Clay’s ranks were ill suited by training and temperament to conform to the strict regimentation required by military discipline.” Not all of the fault can be cast upon the soldiers, as Clay failed to adequately prepare his men for combat, and the complicated maneuvers required for early 19th century warfare. Before the Kentuckians’ arrival to the Fort Meigs region in early May, Clay had neglected to put his command through a brigade or regimental drill but one time, and that two weeks before their first major battle.[24] Though these men thirsted for revenge, motivation was not enough to defeat a foe like the British and Tecumseh’s Confederacy. Proper leadership would have made sure that the angry Kentuckians received the training and discipline needed for victory. Even after the disaster at Frenchtown, the leadership again failed to properly prepare the men.


As Clay’s brigade neared Fort Meigs, Harrison concocted a smart, but complicated, plan to break the siege led by Procter and Tecumseh. His position was nearly enveloped, as the British placed several strong batteries across the Maumee River to his north, and one smaller battery supported by several British soldiers, Native warriors, and Canadian militia to the southeast of the fort. For several days, Fort Meigs and its garrison endured a relentless bombardment, and with the arrival of the Kentuckians, he saw a way to victory.[25]


Had the Kentuckians been better trained and more disciplined, the plan should have been a smashing success. Harrison ordered Clay to ferry his men along the Maumee, and upon nearing the fort, split his force into two wings. 400 were to land on the south side of the Maumee, and fight their way through the thin enemy line around the southwest side of the bastion, and then enter the For Meigs. Lt. Col. Dudley, ordered to land on the north side of the river, would then proceed to capture the enemy batteries opposite Fort Meigs, spike the guns, burn the carriages, and then retreat to the fort across the river.[26]


As the plan went into motion, “confusion and disorder…were already beginning to spread through the ranks.” Clay, and his two regimental officers, Dudley and Boswell, understood Harrison’s orders to a point, but failed to communicate the plan of battle to their junior officers who would enter the battle without a clear idea as to what they were to accomplish. One Kentucky officer later wrote, “I knew not, nor do I believe a single officer did know what orders the Col. had rec’d.” As historian Larry Nelson wrote, “The result of this lack of communication proved catastrophic.”[27] Again, faulty leadership at the top beset Kentucky aspirations for military glory.


The pelting rain waterlogged the men’s muskets, and to make matters worse, the man charged with carrying the spikes to disable the British guns went to the south side of the river, the wrong side. Once Dudley’s 800 men landed on the north side of the river, skirmishing with Tecumseh’s warriors began immediately. The enemy was quickly dispersed, and Dudley then formed his regiment into three columns, which after advancing and wheeling to the right, eventually enclosed the British batteries on three sides, with the fourth side against the Maumee River. The Kentucky Gazette reported that Dudley’s second and third lines were to support the main attack and keep the “Indians at bay.” As the Kentuckians moved through the woods and cornfields, one officer reminded the men of their state’s past humiliation at Frenchtown. As the men thirsted for revenge and neared the enemy, Dudley lost his nerve. An officer near the commander of the operation remembered, “He was greatly excited, so much so that it seemed to me that he had lost the power of deliberation.” Dudley effectively lost command of his men before the attack even commenced, issuing orders that were nonsensical and obviously in a mental state that proved unfit for command.[28]

On the south side of the river, Clay’s men faced stiff resistance as they approached Fort Meigs, and Harrison ordered a detachment to sally forth and aid the Kentuckians in their breakthrough. Once accomplished, Harrison then ordered men of the 19th U.S. Infantry to silence the British guns to the southeast. This they did after ferocious hand-to-hand combat, where they incurred several casualties yet succeeded in their mission and returned to the fort. In contrast to Dudley’s attack on the opposite shore, this sortie was conducted under strict discipline and with both officers and men knowing their objective.[29]


As Dudley lost his nerve and ordered the attack to begin, the Kentuckians ignored the order to advance without noise and let out their war hoops and shouts. The British gunners manning the artillery batteries were so surprised by the emergence of enemy troops that they quickly fled and abandoned their positions. The Kentuckians cut down the British flag and looked for ways to render the enemy cannons useless. With the spikes having landed on the wrong shore, the men tried other means. Some used the ramrods from their muskets, while others attempted to shove bayonets into the vents. One frustrated soldier recalled that he had “the pleasure of breaking 3 bayonets in their cannon, and should have succeeded in blowing up their magazine, had I not been prevented by Col. Dudley, who was under the impression, we ought to retain the place.” Other men attempted to destroy the carriages that held the large guns, but all of these methods failed to disable the British artillery.[30]



While the Kentuckians tried in vain to disable the guns, Tecumseh’s warriors drew the undisciplined men into a trap. Because they were completely unaware of Harrison’s orders to return immediately to the fort after capturing the batteries, some of the Kentuckians held their positions at the guns while others advanced against what they perceived to be a retreating native force. Tecumseh’s men continued to give ground, drawing Dudley’s men farther away from the river without any one officer issuing any concrete orders. One soldier, Thomas Christian, remembered, “And now flushed with victory, and maddened by the sight of fallen, bleeding and dying comrades…men could not resist the desire to following the retreating enemy and wreaking vengeance upon them for the loss of near relatives and friends.” Captain Samuel Cushing, an artillery officer inside Fort Meigs wrote nearly a month after the battle, that in regards to the Kentucky militia, “they did not attend strictly to their orders and instead of returning back as ordered they pursued a few surviving Indians into the woods.” Leadership failed the men yet again.[31]


Harrison was in a state of near helpless agony in Fort Meigs, powerless to stop what he recognized as a disaster unfolding in front of him. His attempts at signaling Dudley’s force failed as he was too far away, and even offered a huge cash reward to any man that could cross the river and get the Kentuckians to retreat to the fort. Unfortunately, the current prevented anyone from crossing. Dudley’s men were about to experience another Kentucky disaster due to a lack of discipline and competent leadership.[32]


Tecumseh, a much more skilled leader and military strategist was about to unleash a crushing blow in a “carefully orchestrated and executed ambush” to Dudley’s Kentuckians. As they chased their hated enemy, and sought vengeance for Frenchtown and the River Raisin, they neglected to maintain a safe distance to the river and support of the fort and were pulled nearly two miles inland. Tecumseh’s warriors fired and retreated, drawing the Kentuckians further and deceiving them into believing they had the enemy on the run. Lieutenant Joseph Underwood describes a scene devoid of an overall commander, and as an action organized only as high as the company level. Companies charged and fell back at will, until someone ordered the Kentuckians to fall back to the river.[33]


While the warriors sprung their trap, Tecumseh with a separate force and the British 41st Regiment of Foot launched a counterattack to recaptured the British batteries. The British were amazed at how quickly the Kentucky resistance melted away. As the Kentuckians realized they were now cut off and most likely trapped, by their feared enemies, chaos reigned. According to Major James Shelby, the son of Governor Shelby, command and organization completely disintegrated. One soldier informed the Kentucky Gazette that as the men retreated, the Indians were “close at their heals, killing or taking those lagging behind, as well as the wounded.” Another recalled that “our case was hopeless.” As men began to panic and run for the rear, companies became intermixed, further deteriorating any sort of command structure. Dudley, who must have come to his senses, tried to organize some sort of stand, as the Kentuckians were still quite numerous. While endeavoring to rally the men, an Indian bullet cut him down. As his men ran away, the warriors quickly descended upon him, killing him with a tomahawk and then scalping and mutilating his body in view of the running Kentuckians. With his death, Shelby was now in virtual command, but he accidentally wounded himself with his sword, and then proceeded to hide in a small hazel thicket. He escaped the Indians and was later found by British soldiers, a much safer captor. Meanwhile, the men became “stupid and wholly unmanageable.”[34]


When the calamity finally ended, few Kentuckians reached the safety of Fort Meigs. Of the 800 men that attacked the British batteries, only 150 escaped death or capture. Upon surrendering, one soldier asked Lieutenant Joseph Underwood, “with tears in his eyes he exclaimed ‘Lord God Lieutenant what does this all this mean?’ I told him we were prisoners of war.” Even after surrendering, the killing continued as prisoners were randomly tomahawked in front of their friends and fellow militiamen. More probably would have died had not Tecumseh intervened to save several Kentuckians from a meaningless death. Underwood later wrote that “the celebrated Indian Chief rode into the old Garrison [An old fort that served as the British camp]…To me this Chief was a noble dignified personage…he seemed to regard us with unmoved composure and I thought the beam of mercy had tempered the spirit of vengeance which he felt against the Americans for presumed…wrongs.” A British soldier recalled that Tecumseh, “apprized of what was doing, rode up at full speed, and raising his tomahawk, threatened to destroy the first man who resisted his injunction to desist…the threats and tone of the exasperated chieftain produced and instantaneous effect.”[35]


Though the Kentucky force under Dudley was virtually destroyed, the British had lost too many men and equipment to maintain the siege of Fort Meigs, thanks to Harrison’s otherwise successful plan. Procter immediately set in motion plans for a withdrawal, and the siege lifted four days later. The Americans celebrated a rather pyrrhic victory. Harrison congratulated his army on their stout defense of the fort, yet chided the Kentuckians.[36]


In the official message to his army, Harrison chastised the Kentuckians for their recklessness. He reiterated that the sole purpose of the men being sent to the north side of the river was to destroy the British artillery, and then immediately cross the river to the fort. He remarked, “they remained upon the ground scattered and disordered, suffered a faint skirmishing to draw them into the woods…when they were surrounded by the Enemy and the greater part made prisoners. Such are the terrible effects of disobedience, inattention, and that fatal confidence so apt to prevail with Militia upon a first success.”[37]


In a later report, Harrison again rebuked Kentucky volunteers for their disregard of orders. He lamented, “It rarely occurs that a General has to complain of the excessive ardor of his men, yet such appears always to be the case whenever the Kentucky Militia are engaged. It is indeed the sorce of all their misfortunes, they appear to think that valor can alone accomplish every thing.” He continued to censure these men, soldiers and officers both, by comparing the disobedience with that of cowardice. “Such temerity although not so disgraceful, is scarcely less fatal than Cowardice, and in the instance above had it been persisted in, would have given a different result to the action,” he wrote. Though directed at the Kentucky troops as a whole, the officers should have felt the brunt of the shame. It was their inability to communicate, discipline, and manage their soldiers brought about the second disaster in the span of only a few months.[38]

For the Kentuckians, the several wrongs committed by both officers and men was about to be rectified. In the coming months, the Kentucky Militia took measures to improve in the areas of discipline and training. The new leadership saw to this, and without these changes it is likely that the same blunders would continue. As one newspaper editor begged, “Give us officers…worthy of these men, and no troops in the world would be able to vanquish them.”[39] To ameliorate the question of leadership, Governor Isaac Shelby took personal command to lead the Kentuckians in the next campaign. Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson’s natural leadership abilities aided Shelby in this as well. Orders were to be strictly obeyed, and regular drill instituted among the several regiments on campaign.[40] The force Johnson and Shelby built, would be nearly unrecognizable to the earlier Kentucky forces. The actions of these two men, and other officers they commanded, brought forth a necessary and vital transformation.


When it came to the need for improvement, even Gen. Green Clay recognized that something had to change. In several orders issued just weeks after the end of the siege at Ft. Meigs, Clay attempted to instill some discipline and competence in his men. Through Colonel John Miller, all soldiers in the garrison at Fort Meigs were to participate in two hour drills, twice per day under the guidance of a Major Hukill,[41]


Governor Shelby issued a proclamation into the Kentucky Gazette on May 18. In it Shelby the men of his state to rally once again to the flag. Shelby implored,

KENTUCKEANS! The batteries of the enemy who besieged Gen. Harrison have been stormed; part of their cannon have been taken, and the balance spiked. The valor displayed by your brethren in this affair has been honorable. But their ardor has carried them too far, and many of them have fallen into the hands of the enemy. Should you country call for an additional force to carry the war into the heart of the enemy’s country, I know you will with alacrity march to avenge the blood of your brothers. In the mean time keep your arms in order, provide yourselves with ammunition—let your young men be ready to turn out at the shortest notice.[42]


By August 1813, Isaac Shelby had organized a third contingent of Kentuckians to march to Harrison’s army. Shelby planned to not only raise and organize the troops and see to their supply, but to also lead them in the field. In a letter to Harrison, Shelby informed the general that he proposed to “head them myself. I have addressed a circular letter to most of the Field officers and other influential characters in this State to step forth on this occasion—I flatter myself that s sufficient number to meet your wishes will turn out.” In a letter to Shelby, Harrison revealed his deep respect and admiration for Shelby and his abilities. He told Shelby, “To make this last effort why not, my dear sir, come in person, you would not object to a command that would be nominal only—I have such confidence in your wisdom that you in fact should ‘be the guiding Head and I the hand.’”[43]


In response to Harrison’s offer of leadership, Shelby responded, “I would not hesitate to fight under your banner for the honour and interest of my beloved country. Except my good sir assurances of the most perfect esteem and regard.” The governor also informed Harrison that despite the setbacks suffered by the Kentuckians in 1813, “patriotism of this State had not diminished.” Shelby was not entirely wrong on the patriotism of the men of his state, but the volunteers failed to turn out in numbers that he had hoped, mostly due to a lack of guarantees from the Federal government that they would receive pay, rations, and compensation for horses lost on the campaign. Though motivated, the men could not risk their economic well-being. The Kentucky governor rectified this problem by appealing directly to state and federal authorities. Shelby proceeded to Ohio, and Harrison’s army, with a force of nearly 3,500 men comprised of both draftees and volunteers. It cannot be ignored that a man who was one of the heroes from the Battle of King’s Mountain in the Revolutionary War, and who brought years of experience fighting not only the British, but the frontier natives as well, would soon join Harrison at the front. One Shelby biographer recorded a story of several militiamen asking the governor who was to lead the thousands of Kentuckians north, “His immortal reply…‘I will lead them,’ captivated the country. He did lead them, and victory was the result.” The National Banner and Nashville Whig reprinted Shelby’s address to the Kentucky Militia in August. In it he reassured the men that “I will lead you to the field of battle, and share with you the dangers and honors of the campaign.” The same paper lavished praise on Shelby for an “act worthy of a free people—he enrolls his name at the had of the volunteer list, although sixty-six years of age, and invites them to march him to a distant province to encounter with him the hardships, the privations, and the dangers of a sanguinary campaign.” Another officer recalled the affect Shelby’s presence had on the men, writing in 1826 that “his appearance was noble and engaging.”[44]


Not only was Shelby’s personal presence an important addition to the transformation of the Kentucky troops, but also his mind for military discipline. Upon reaching Ohio, Shelby made it clear that officers would command with authority and the structures of command clearly understood. He explained, “in case of any action at any time with the enemy that the several officers in the staff shall command in the Line of Action agreeable to their several grades in the Army and they are to be obeyed and respected accordingly.” He also emphasized that disorderly conduct would be punished “with the utmost rigour of Military Law.”[45]


Shelby’s small army of Kentuckians also improved in other areas as well. As the governor marched his men northward, he looked to their armaments, supply, and pay. He also instilled in them the basic habits of soldiers on campaign, like drill and camp defenses. Shelby’s junior officers were also an improvement, and drilled their own commands whenever possible. One of those officers, William Henry, brought several veterans of earlier fights and turned his soldiers into the “coolest and nerviest men Kentucky had ever sent to battle.”[46]


Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson took great care to ensure the competence of his men on the campaign and on the battlefield. In one set of general orders to his men, he commanded that,

At the dawn of the day the trumpet shall sound…at which time the whole Regiment shall parade & Continue under Arms until dismissed. On Thursday Morning at 9 o'clock The Adjutant…Shall proceed to inspect the Regt. by Companies each Major Shall be present when his Battallion is under Inspection, during the stay of the Regt. at this place. The Majors are directed…to Muster their Men and Cause to be performed marching and retreating in line & by heads of Sections and cause the line of Battle to be formed upon the Centre and upon the heads of Sections and to teach the principles of flanking by adding detachments or By Opening or extending the line. The Lieut. Colonel and Adjutant are directed to aid and assist the Captains in Teaching the men these various Evolutions.


It is clear that Johnson intended, and made sure, that his men and officers adhered to a strict doctrine of military discipline and behavior. Inspections, drill, and most importantly, teaching the men these things, were commonplace. The journal of Robert McAfee is filled with such instances of drill, inspection, and other military duties. Even in May and June 1813, when the regiment was first formed, they were immediately put through the process of shaking off the old habits that had previously plagued Kentucky soldiers and officers. Johnson prohibited the firing of weapons when not in combat, and also forbade gambling.[47] Through McAfee’s journal, a remarkable change in the Kentuckians compared to their previous conduct is quite noticeable. These men began to drill incessantly, they practiced what they might expect to encounter in a battle, the tamed their horses to the sounds of gunfire, and the men took great care to prevent surprise attacks. This change was due to the leadership of Richard Johnson.


Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson

With men like Shelby and Johnson in positions of leadership, the Kentuckians began to improve, not only in discipline and training, but also in manners as related to the campaign. Earlier in 1813 at Frenchtown, their brothers and comrades failed to fortify their positions and their camps in case of an enemy attack. That same mistake was not going to be made again. McAfee’s journal is replete with comments regarding the men fortifying their nightly camps and adequately picketing the perimeter.[48] The early Kentucky leadership failed to do this, and that same mistake was not to happen again, at least not under the watch of Johnson and Shelby.


In September 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British navy on Lake Erie, opening the door for an invasion of Upper Canada by way of Michigan. The American naval victory forced the British to abandon their hold on Detroit and retreat into Ontario. Harrison proceeded to the Detroit River with several thousand men, militia and regulars. Secretary of War John Armstrong preferred Harrison take the regulars into Canada and leave the Kentuckians to garrison the rear. His reasoning was based on the past performance of the Kentuckians as a “waste, peculation, disorder and defeat.” However, Harrison did the opposite. He left an entire regular army brigade at Detroit and another at Sandwich and Amherstburg. Historian David Skaggs gives three reasons why Harrison chose the Kentuckians over the professional regular soldiers. First, the regulars were green and untried. Second, the regulars, not thirsting for revenge, might be more neutral toward the Canadian and Indian population near Detroit than the angry Kentuckians. Third, Governor Shelby. Shelby’s confidence in his men had grown since reaching the Harrison’s army, and he expected the honors of a victory to go to them and his state. Sandy Antal maintains that Harrison chose the Kentuckians because they were his “favorite fighters.” Historian David Skaggs writes, “For soldiers trained as Harrison had been, the difference was not whether the troops were regulars, but whether there was effective leadership and prebattle training.” Up to this point, and afterward, the new Kentucky forces proved that Harrison made the right choice.[49]


As Johnson’s mounted regiment raced to join Harrison before the crossing, they passed through the nearly abandoned village of Frenchtown, the site of the winter defeat. Here many of Johnson’s men pondered the fate of friends and family members, observed the spots of George Madison’s brave stand, and buildings burned with the wounded. Bleached bones spread over the fields and road for three miles, as the bodies of the slain Kentuckians were dug up and left to the elements. In his history of the War of 1812, Robert McAfee recalled that, “The sight had a powerful effect on the feelings of the men. The wounds inflicted by that barbarous transaction were again torn open. The bleaching bones still appealed to heaven, and called on Kentucky to avenge this outrage on humanity…The feelings they excited cannot be described by me but they will never be forgotten.”[50] When the Kentuckians entered Canada, many of them carried fresh anger and indignation with them, a valuable motivation for an army.


With a force of over 3,000, including 150 regulars, Harrison pushed into Canada in pursuit of Procter and Tecumseh. Division between the Shawnee Chief and the British General had been brewing for months, and Tecumseh resented having to retreat further into Canada. He pleaded with Procter to fight, as they were only Kentuckians. He reasoned, “Listen Father! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land.” Later he admitted to Procter that he was starting to believe that the British would “leave us to the mercy of the Longknives [Kentuckians].”[51]


The British and Indians need not have worried about Kentucky retribution. An order was issued at the commencement of the campaign that the men were to use the thirst of vengeance as fuel during the battle, but as soon as any future battle was over, the killing would stop as well. However, there are a few recorded instances of scalps being taken and the mutilation of a few Native bodies. The order read, “KENTUCKIANS—remember the river Raisin: but remember it only whilst the victory is suspended. The revenge of a soldier cannot be gratified upon a fallen enemy.”[52]


Whatever the true reason, the Johnson’s Kentuckians had the advantage of speed. Johnson’s mounted infantry covered 25 miles through foul weather, muddy roads, and burned bridges in their first day of pursuit, something that would have been unthinkable for Kentuckians earlier in the year. Days later, several hundred of Tecumseh’s warriors defended a partially destroyed bridge across a substantial creek. The Indians opened fired on the advance company of Johnson’s mounted regiment, who immediately dismounted. The Kentuckians, instead of charging headlong as they did at Fort Meigs, cautiously advanced, returned fire, and brought up two pieces of artillery to clear the Indians from the bridge. With this done, the bridge was repaired and the army continued following Procter’s retreat. The Kentuckians were beginning to perform in a more professional and disciplined manner.[53]


The speed to which the Kentuckians under Harrison were moving, 75 miles in three days, greatly surprised the British and Indians, and the quick pursuit by their enemies forced them to burn and destroy whatever supplies could not be taken or salvaged. They captured several muskets, ammunition, cannon, and rations. After stopping for the night, the Kentuckians, again learning from past mistakes, fortified their encampment against a night or early morning attack. Harrison and Shelby supervised the work and inspected the lines themselves. Shelby then went to sleep on the ground amongst his fellow Kentuckians, following through with his promise to share in their privations. This turned out to be a fortunate decision and lesson well learned, as Procter and Tecumseh personally scouted the American positions for a night attack, but after viewing the prepared defenses, decided against an attempted repeat of Frenchtown. A Michigan newspaper heralded Harrison and Shelby’s decision to encamp their men with “skill to avoid ambuscades and defiles, and in the judicious selection of camp grounds, have always been considering among the best marks of a prudent and wise General.”[54] Clearly the change of leadership prevented further debacles like those at Frenchtown.


As for the Procter, he decided to make a stand against Harrison’s army outside of the small Canadian hamlet of Moraviantown, situated along the River Thames. Here he found a well situated position for a defense, even though he was outnumbered close to three to one. Along the main road, the ground gradually rose to a slightly higher elevation, with the entire area enshrouded in trees. His British infantry in the 41st were posted along this slight ridge with their left flank resting near the Thames, while the right hung on a small swamp. With the entire area wooded, the British would seemingly be able to halt any sort of mounted attack, as the trees would inhibit the formations of a mounted assault. The lone British cannon was also placed along the road at this point, but had little ammunition. Though the position should have been a good one, the British failed to fortify the ridge, or place any sort of obstruction in front of their lines. Their lines were also sloppy in nature, being in “extended lines” and “meet them in the best manner that we could.” The British were not just worried about the placement of their lines, but also how the Kentuckians would act during and after battle. David Skaggs writes, “there was considerable British apprehension of just how the Kentuckians would react to strenuous resistance given their anger over the losses at the River Raisin and the Maumee River (Fort Meigs) earlier in the year.” Would the Kentuckians use their own tomahawks and long knives against British scalps? The men of the Bluegrass State might take their anger out on those who were perceived to have allowed the atrocities to occur earlier in the year.[55]


To the right of the British line, Tecumseh positioned his men in the wooded swamps, forming an obtuse angle with the main British line. When the Kentuckians attacked, an enfilading fire would wreak havoc on their lines, cause a large number of casualties, and open them up to a severe counterattack. Additionally, the position in a swamp protected his line from charging cavalry and offered his men a quick escape if needed. The position was sound and strong, and excellent for Indian warfare, and Tecumseh hoped it would make up for his lack of numbers, as he now only had roughly 500 warriors.[56]



Harrison planned to use Johnson’s mounted rifles to probe the British line, and then fall back to let the infantry close and break the line. The infantry, commanded by Governor Shelby was divided into two small divisions, each with several tiny brigades. Shelby became the first sitting governor of a US state to lead men in battle. Each division was commanded by competent leaders, and Shelby planned to be right in their midst leading them forward. The right division commanded by General William Henry was to attack the British line, while the left division commanded by General Joseph Desha advanced against Tecumseh’s warriors.[57]


However, Johnson ascertained that the British line, with the soldiers aligned in open order, was extremely weak and could be overtaken with a quick charge of his mounted men. In fact, thanks to Johnson, his men had trained in Ohio for battle scenarios such as this. Johnson drilled his men relentlessly and staged mock battles to allow his men and horses to grow accustomed to the sound of gunfire, and the complicated formations that would be used to gobble up British formations. With all of this in mind, Johnson was certain that his Kentuckians could smash the redcoat line if only given the chance. He begged Harrison to let his men charge them immediately. Johnson said, “General Harrison, permit me to charge the enemy, and the battle will be won in thirty minutes!” Harrison, stoically sat on his horse, thinking about the proposed change in plans. Johnson assured him that he was sure it could be done. Harrison relented and ordered a change in the battle plan. This change in action “inspired new confidence” among the Kentucky soldiers, remembered one officer.[58]


Harrison granted Johnson permission to charge the British line, while the Kentucky infantry wheeled left to meet Tecumseh. If all went well, then Johnson’s men could then turn Tecumseh’s left flank, or fall upon his rear. With the massive superiority in numbers, the Kentucky infantry under Desha might also fall upon Tecumseh’s right, and roll up the line from that direction and push the Indians into Johnson’s horsemen. Shelby positioned himself in the middle of the two infantry divisions to direct this portion of the battle himself. With Shelby leading the left, and Harrison keeping his eye on events on the right, the American army was in good hands.[59] The conversation between Johnson and Harrison shows just how flexible the Kentucky leadership had become. Instead of continuing with a plan of attack that was mediocre at best, Johnson recognized the opportunity for a greater victory and brought his case to Harrison. Unlike the failed plan at Fort Meigs, this battlefield improvisation led to a glory.


Harrison was not without misgivings. He reportedly turned to the 150 regulars held in reserve and remarked, “If they [Kentuckians] give way, my whole dependence is on you, and if you fail me, I’ll bury my head in sorrow and disgrace to-day.” However, in his later official report, Harrison remarked, “I was fully convinced that it would succeed.” Fortunately for Harrison, the regulars were not utilized during the coming battle.[60]


On the afternoon of October 5, 1813, the bugles sounded for the Kentuckians to begin the advance against the British line. Kentucky officer Colonel John Calloway assured his men while waving his sword, “Boys, we must either whip these British and Indians, or they will kill and scalp every one of us. We can not escape if we lose. Let us all die on the field or conquer!” Harrison bellowed, “Charge them, my brave Kentuckians!” and Johnson’s 1,000 horsemen roared forward, the men brandishing their muskets, hatchets, and swords. Harrison reported, “The American backwoodsmen ride better in the woods than any other people. A musket or field is no impediment to them, being accustomed to carry them from their earliest youth.” Harrison was correct in that the heavy and cumbersome muskets did not deter the Kentucky advance, as several troopers were prepared to use them as clubs on any British soldier unfortunate enough to be within reach. A swing from a musket by a mounted Kentuckian on his swift horse was the equivalent of a sledgehammer. The cry of “Remember the Raisin!” reverberated throughout the Canadian forest. Perhaps the scene appeared as written by Bennett Young in 1903, “As they lifted their mighty shout to Heaven, they saw about them the forms of their murdered comrades and friends and relations…The remembered the bones of their fellow-citizens scattered along the river and the fields and woods…and before them arose visions of those fleshless skeletons which, seven days before, they had for the second time committed to mother earth.”[61]



Johnson’s men stormed forward, but the colonel made a necessary second change to the battle plan on the fly. The need for a speedy modification meant that Johnson would have to order the change without consulting Harrison. However, this sort of tactical flexibility was imperative upon realizing that a gap in the swamp existed between the British and Indian lines and if quickly exploited, could devastate Tecumseh’s line as well. This sort of battlefield intelligence was sorely lacking earlier in 1813.[62]


Johnson ordered half his regiment, about 500 men, to continue the charge against the British under the command of his brother James Johnson. Colonel Johnson led the rest of the regiment toward Tecumseh’s exact position, on the left of the Indian line. Instead of sending his full force against a hail of musket fire, Johnson himself planned to lead twenty volunteers forward to draw the Indian fire. Once accomplished, the remainder of his men could charge forward as the Indians reloaded their muskets. Johnson spurred his horse forward with the twenty men that included the old, renowned Indian fighter, William Whitley.[63]


Meanwhile on the Kentucky right, the younger Johnson brother led his men toward the thin British line. The screaming Kentuckians burst upon the enemy so fast that most soldiers barely had time to fire more than a single shot. British soldier Shadrach Byfield wrote, “After exchanging a few shots, our men gave way. I was in the act of retreating, when one of our sergeants exclaimed, ‘For God’s sake, men, stand and fight.’ I stood by him and fired one shot, but the line was broken and the men were retreating.” Kentuckian Robert McAffee recalled, “we rushed upon them like a storm and receaved a heavy fire by the whole British line when at the distance of twenty steps, but it only inspired us with fresh courage and before they could reload we broke their lines…completely surrounded the British who immediately surrendered as fast as they could throw down their arms.” The Kentuckians rode through the line, turned, and surrounded hundreds of redcoats that threw down their weapons in fear of the wrath of their enemy. 12 British soldiers lay dead, 22 wounded, and over 600 captured. In less than ten minutes, the Kentuckians had shattered all British resistance; something considered nearly impossible five months before. The discipline, speed, and efficiency of not just the officers, but the men as well, is indicative of the radical transformation of the Kentucky militia by October 1813, and all of that was because of the due diligence of their leadership.[64]


As the younger Johnson mopped up the remaining British soldiers and began a pursuit of General Procter, the elder Johnson led his “Forlorn Hope” detachment forward into certain destruction and the most severe and hotly contested sequence of the battle. The twenty Kentuckians charged forward, and several participants reported hearing Tecumseh’s booming voice ordering his men forward against the Kentucky infantry, and to open fire on Johnson’s charge. When the Native Warriors opened fire on the “Forlorn Hope,” the results for the detachment were devastating, as all the men were either killed, wounded, or had their horses shot from under them. Among the dead was Whitely, and Johnson received five bullet wounds. Though severely wounded, he allegedly leveled his pistol and shot dead Tecumseh in the breast. One soldier recalled, “As soon as I saw him [Johnson] fall I immediately called out to several of our men to save Col. Johnson. I saw an Indian rushing on him when he was down, but he managed to with the bravery and strength he had left to shoot the Indian before he was in striking distance.” It is highly debated as to who actually killed Tecumseh, and if the body found was actually his, but the story of Johnson delivering the fatal bullet propelled him to “immortality in the annals of American warfare.” [65]



Finding the terrain too difficult to negotiate with their horses, the majority of Johnson’s men improvised and dismounted, advancing on foot, the battle in that sector devolving into a classic frontier fight. Elsewhere along the Indian line, the warriors stubbornly held their ground, unleashing what Harrison called “a most galling fire from them which was returned with great effect.” The Kentucky infantry briefly faltered, but their officers coolly reformed the lines and pushed them forward against Tecumseh’s men. Harrison commended Shelby reporting, “At that place the venerable Governor of Kentucky was posted, who at the age of sixty-six preserves the vigor of youth, the ardent zeal which distinguished him the Revolutionary War...brought up reinforcements to its support.” A Kentucky officer recalled in 1840 that Shelby constantly communicated with his officers and men, commenting that, “with a very loud voice, ordering the men to move on faster.” The same officer also wrote of Shelby that his “loud voice I heard when the battle was raging just in our front.” Harrison, the army commander, was also where he needed to be. An Ohio paper later reported that Harrison was very active along the Kentucky lines and that he constantly communicated with his subordinates. A soldier writing to the paper recalled, “but giving orders to the next in command to push forward, he dashed with the messenger to the indicated point of conflict and confusion.” Unlike Winchester’s inability to rally his routed men, Kentucky General Joseph Desha, a future Kentucky governor, exhibited “courage and example, and [announcing] death to the first man that broke.” Shelby’s officer’s clearly had control of their men.[66]Again, the mistakes of the past were not repeated. The commanding general and the Kentucky governor constantly communicated, issuing needed orders, and adjusted their portion of the battle line as needed, something Winchester utterly failed to do at Frenchtown, and Clay and Dudley neglected to do at Fort Meigs.



The Kentucky infantry closed with the warriors, advancing over their fallen comrades. One Kentuckian, William Greathouse, recalled seeing the wounded Johnson, “I passed over his feet or legs. He seemed to be in great pain and calling for water. I saw close by some men running with a hat full of water for him. His gray mare was close by badly wounded and was very bloody and died that night.” The battle raged nearly an hour, however, news of Tecumseh’s death spread through the Indian ranks. With knowledge of their chieftain’s death, their will do continue fighting died with him, along with the confederacy he spent years trying to create. As John Sugden writes, Tecumseh was “perhaps the only leader capable of keeping them in an unequal contest,” and with his death, the Indians retreated further into the swamp, never to offer serious resistance again.[67]


When the fighting was over, Kentuckians had reason to celebrate. McAffee wrote, “Raisins Bloody field and Fort Meigs Massacre have in some measure been revenged by the Kentuckians.” The blood of Kentuckians cleared the Old Northwest of British influence and Tecumseh’s confederacy. They had avenged their comrades, and redeemed their fighting prowess. All of this can be attributed to the change in the Kentuckians drill, training, discipline, and leadership, especially Shelby and Johnson. In the future, tales of this battle helped create several political careers, including one President of the United States, one vice president, a U.S. Senator, several congressmen, governors, and in other state level offices.[68]


Kentucky was ecstatic with news of the victory, as was the rest of the country. After a full year of defeats and failures, Harrison’s Kentuckians had reignited the sparks of hope throughout the nation, at least for a little while. Naturally, Johnson’s men received most of the attention, as they had done the bulk of the fighting. The Kentucky Gazette reported, “Col. Richard M. Johnson, whose regiment bore and maintained with Kentucky gallentry, the chief and hottest of the action. The colonel we learn, received three wounds…We learn that it was the Kentucky militia alone who fought this action.” Another letter to the editor declared that “Col. Johnson’s regiment covered itself with glory…The Kentuckians have done honor to their state and maintained its character for bravery.”[69] Even Governor Shelby was receiving well earned praise, even from outside the state. In Nashville, it was reported, “The governor is safe. He behaved every danger; was always in the hottest of the battle.”[70]


British leadership in North America was less celebratory. One of Procter’s officers reported shortly after the battle, “It is with infinite regret I inform you that Genl Proctors Army is completely anhilated.” Procter himself was court martialed and forced to explain the reasons for his massive failure. The British never again threatened American territory in southern Michigan or south of Lake Erie ever again. The British were indeed, annihilated.[71]


The long road to redemption for Kentuckian arms began with the spilled Kentucky blood upon Michigan’s frozen fields and river at Frenchtown. New mistakes were made, and others repeated at Fort Meigs, and finally, Kentucky’s circumstances began to change when proper leadership stepped forward and made the necessary changes. Men like Governor Shelby and Colonel Richard Johnson inspired, trained, disciplined, and led their men in such a way to vindicate the reputation of a people whose frontier past pushed them to war in the first place.




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Beirne, Frances F. The War of 1812. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1949.


Christian, Thomas. “Campaign of 1813 on the Ohio River: Sortie at Fort Meigs, May, 1813.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 67, no. 3 (1969): 260-268.


“Correspondence Between Governor Isaac Shelby and General William Henry Harrison, During the War of 1812,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 20, no. 59 (1922): 130-144.


DeWitt, John H. “General James Winchester, 1752-1826.” Tennessee Historical Magazine 1, no. 2 (1915): 79-105.


Fredriksen, John C. “Kentucky at the Thames, 1813: A Rediscovered Narrative by William Greathouse.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 83, No. 2 (1985): 93-107.


“Governor Isaac Shelby.” Register of the Kentucky Society 1, no. 2 (1903): 8-12.


Horsman, Reginald. “William Henry Harrison: Virginia Gentleman in the Old Northwest.” Indiana Magazine of History 96, no. 2 (2000): 124-149.


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McAfee, Robert B. Book and Journal of Robt. B. McAfee's Mounted Company, in Col. Richard M. Johnson's Regiment, from May 19th, 1813, including Orders, &cc.

---------- History of the Late War in the Western Country, Bowling Green, Ohio: Historical Publications Company, 1919.


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Owens, Robert M. Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.


Padgett, James A. “Some Letters of Isaac Shelby.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 37, no. 118 (1939): 1-9.


“Prologue to Victory: General Orders Fort Meigs to Put-In-Bay April-September 1813.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 60, no. 1 (1962): 9-35.


Quisenberry, A.C. “A Hundred Years Ago ‘The River Raisin.’” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 11, no. 31 (1913): 17-33.


Rainwater, P.L. “The Siege of Fort Meigs.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 19, no. 2 (1932): 261-264.


Skaggs, David Curis. “Decisions at Sandwich: William Henry Harrison and the Pursuit to the Thames.” Michigan Historical Review 38, no. 1 (2012): 107-128.


Sugden, John. Tecumseh’s Last Stand, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.


“The Siege of Fort Meigs.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 19, no. 56 (1921): 54-62.


Underwood, Joseph Rogers. Dudley’s Defeat & Running the Gauntlet. “Underwood Collection (MSS 58), Department of Library Special Collections, WKU.”


Wickliffe, Charles A. “Tecumseh and the Battle of the Thames.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 60, no. 1, (1962), 45-49.

Yaworksy, Jim. Shadrach Byfield, A Private’s Experience in the War of 1812, http://www.fortyfirst.org/transcripts-13-a-privates-experience-in-the-war-of-1812.html, Accessed January 3, 2021.


Young, Bennett H. The Battle of the Thames, in which Kentuckians Defeated the British, French, and Indians, October 5, 1813, with a list of the officers and privates who won the victory, Louisville, Kentucky: J. P. Morton, printers to the Filson Club, 1903.




[1] David Curtis Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich: William Henry Harrison and the Pursuit to the Thames,” Michigan Historical Review, 38, no. 1 (2012), 118. [2] Robert M. Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 227. [3] “Prologue to Victory: General Orders Fort Meigs to Put-In-Bay April-September, 1813,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 60, no. 1 (1962), 15. [4] John Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 4. [5] Scholarly material on the war fought in the Old Northwest is rather bare. Most of the books on the War of 1812 focus on the events on the Eastern Seaboard and New Orleans, as they were closer to the larger populations. Besides a few books published by veterans in the 19th century, and a few in the early 20th, the part of the war fought mostly by Kentuckians remains an topic within the War of 1812 that deserves, and needs, further study. [6] Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer, 214-218. [7] Sandy Antal, A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812 (Montreal and Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998), 136. [8] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 162-164. [9] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 161, 165-166. [10] William Atherton, A Narrative of the Suffering & Defeat of the North-Western Army, Under General Winchester: Massacre of the Prisoners: Sixteen Months Imprisonment of the Writer and Others with the Indians and British. (Frankfort, Kentucky: A.G. Hodges, 1842), 42. [11] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 165. [12] Byfield Diary. [13] Atherton, Narrative, 42. [14] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 167-170.; Atherton, Narrative, 44-45.; DeWitt, “General James Winchester, 1752-1826,” Tennessee Historical Magazine, 1, no. 2 (1915), 100. [15] Atherton, Narrative, 44. [16] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 172, 174.; Atherton, Narrative, 53.; Larry L. Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat and the Relief of Fort Meigs during the War of 1812,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 104, no. 1 (2006), 8. [17] Atherton, Narrative, 67.; Byfield Diary.; A.J. Langguth, Union 1812: The Americans who Fought the Second War of Independence (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 262. [18] Governor Isaac Shelby to General William Henry Harrison, Feb. 9, 1813, “Correspondence Between Governor Isaac Shelby and General William Henry Harrison, During the War of 1812,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 20, no. 59 (1922), 131. [19] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 14. [20] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 14. [21] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 223.; Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 15-18. [22] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 16-18, 20. [23] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 16. [24] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 15-17. [25] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 222-224. [26] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 25.; Antal, A Wampum Denied, 224. [27] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 27, 30. [28] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 30.; Kentucky Gazette, May 25, 1813, 2. [29] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 27. [30] Kentucky Gazette, May 18, 1813, 3.; Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 18. [31] Thomas Christian, “Campaign of 1813 on the Ohio River: Sortie at Fort Meigs, May, 1813,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 67, no. 3 (1969), 263.; P.L. Rainwater, “The Siege of Fort Meigs,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Sep. 1932, 19, no. 2 (1932), 264.; Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 32.; Antal, A Wampum Denied,” 225. [32] Owens, Jeffers’s Hammer, 227.; Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 32.; Antal, A Wampum Denied,” 225. [33] Underwood, Dudley’s Defeat, 7-8.; Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 32-34. [34] Nelson, “Dudley’s Defeat,” 35.; Kentucky Gazette, May 25, 1813, 2.; Christian, “Campaign of 1813,” 263. [35] Underwood, Dudley’s Defeat, 9-10, 13.; Alexander Clark Casselman, Richardson’s War of 1812: With Notes and a Life by the Author (Toronto: Historical Publishing Company, 1902), 154. [36] Rainwater, “The Siege of Fort Meigs,” 264.; James Taylor Eubank, “The Siege of Fort Meigs,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, May 1922, 20, no. 59 (1922), 60-61. [37] “Prologue to Victory,” 11-12. [38] “Prologue to Victory,” 15-16. [39] Hiwasse Patriot, April 23, 1840, 3. [40] Journal of Robert McAfee, June 1813. [41] “Prologue to Victory,” 20. [42] Kentucky Gazette, May 18, 1813, 2. [43] Isaac Shelby, “Correspondence,” 138. [44] “Correspondence,” 139-141.; “Governor Isaac Shelby,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, May 1903, 1, no. 2 (1903), 10.; National Banner and Nashville Whig, August 3, 1813, 3.; December 14, 1813, 3.; Kentucky Gazette, August 25, 1826, 2. [45] “Prologue to Victory,” 35. [46] The Courier-Journal, February 10, 1901, 22. [47] Journal of Robert McAfee, June 1813. [48] Journal of Robert McAfee, July 1813. [49] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 288, 293, 317.; Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 111. [50] Robert B. McAfee, History of the Late War in the Western Country (Bowling Green, Ohio: 1919), 408. [51] Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 55, 63. [52] Kentucky Gazette, October 12, 1813, 3. [53] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 112.: Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 87. [54] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 114.; Detroit Free Press, May 15, 1840, 2. [55] Diary of Shadrack Byfield.; Richardson’s War, 225.; Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 115-116. [56] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 116.; Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 113. [57] Antal, A Wampum Denied, 340. [58] Francis Bierne, The War of 1812, (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. New York, 1949) 218.; Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 109-110.; Bennet Henderson Young, Battle of the Thames : in which Kentuckians defeated the British, French, and Indians, October 5, 1813, with a list of the officers and privates who won the victory (Madison, Wisconsin: J.P. Morton, Printers to the Filson Club, 1903) 73..; Langguth, Union 1812, 268.; Kentucky Gazette, November 28, 1835, 2. [59] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 117. [60] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 117.; Official Report of William Henry Harrison to Secretary of War Armstrong, October 9, 1813. [61] Harrison to Armstrong.; Antal, A Wampum Denied, 340.; Young, The Battle of the Thames, 74.; Young, The Battle of the Thames, 76-77. [62] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 117. [63] Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 118.; Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 125. [64] Byfield Diary.; McAffee Journal.; Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 119. [65] Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 130-131, 134.; Skaggs, “Decisions at Sandwich,” 117, 119. [66] Harrison to Armstrong.; Kentucky Gazette, November 12, 1840, 1.; Maumee City Express, April 18, 1840, 1.; National Banner and Nashville White, May 9, 1818, 2. [67] John C. Fredriksen, “Kentucky at the Thames, 1813: A Rediscovered Narrative by William Greathouse,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 83, no. 2 (1985), 102-103.; Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, 133.