Harrison Defeats Proctor and Tecumseh
I. Battle at Moravian Towns.
Written by the editor [Shadrach Penn] of the Georgetown (Kentucky) Telegraph, who was in the action. Printed in the Kentucky Gazette, November 1, 1813
“On the 2d of October, our Army set out from Sandwich, made a forced march of 25 miles up the river Detroit and lake St. Clair, without discovering any part of the enemy. Made an early start on the morning of the 3d (Col. Johnson’s Mounted Regiment in front); about noon the front guard of the Regiment, under the command of Major James Suggett, discovered a small party of the enemy (among whom were some light dragoons) cutting down a bridge from over a small stream that emptied in the river Thames near the mouth–immediately made chase and had the good fortune to take 10 or 12 prisoners, two only made their escape–repaired the bridge and pursued the enemy with all possible speed. Their Light Horse would frequently appear on the opposite side of the river from that on which our army was marching, and in the evening some few shot were exchanged across the river by our front and the rear guard of the enemy, both parties on horse back. On the morning of the 4th, our Army had not proceeded far before our front guard (for the first time) was fired on by the Indians across the river, a scattering fire was kept up for 8 or 10 miles to the forks of the river, where a pretty warm action ensued for near an hour at or near a bridge which was torn down all to the sleepers, over which our Army had to pass–our loss at this battle was two killed and six wounded–the enemy had thirteen killed. The enemy were routed and kept a respectable distance from the bridge by Major Wood’s artillery, until it was repaired, which was done in a very short time. Immediately in the forks of the River we took about 2,000 stand of arms, a number of fur caps, gloves, &c. The house in which those articles were deposited was set on fire by the enemy, but fortunately they were routed in time for us to extinguish the flames, our Army still pursued the enemy that evening for several miles to where one of their vessels was in flames, took a piece or two of artillery, encamped, &c. Made an early move on the morning of the 5th in pursuit of the enemy; Col. Johnson’s Regiment being in front, soon commenced the agreeable business of capturing boats, taking of prisoners, artillery, provisions and military stores of every kind, which continued to be the case until about 1 o’clock P. M. at which time the Regiment arrived within sight of the main body of the enemy, which was formed ready for battle. Col. Johnson formed his Regiment facing the enemy, sent a message to General Harrison, that he had overtaken the enemy, formed his Regt. that both parties appeared to be ready for battle, and that he waited his further orders. General Harrison immediately directed him not to commence the action until the whole army was up, which came up about 3 o’clock. The British Regulars were formed at right angles from the River on the North West side, the Indians on their right in an oblique angle, along a very thick and miry swamp. Lt. Col James Johnson, with the aid of Majors Suggett and Payne formed the first battalion of his Regiment together with Maj. Suggett’s three spy companies into six charging columns of single files fronting the whole line of British Regulars. Col. R. M. Johnson dismounted one Company of the second battalion commanded by Capt. Jacob Stucker, which was stretched in a very long line facing that of the Indians. The remaining four companies were formed by the aid of Maj. D. Thompson, in two charging columns, of double files on horse in the rear of that which was on foot. The main army was formed still in the rear of Col. Johnson’s Regiment; all being ready, Col. Johnson ordered the charge to be blown, which was immediately obeyed–The action ensued–Lt. Col. James Johnson instantly broke the lines of the British regulars, amidst a most tremendous fire without the loss of but one man; and in 10 or 15 minutes made 472 prisoners, amongst whom were Cols. Evans, Warburton & Baubee and Majors Muir & Chambers. Col. R. M. Johnson at the same time made a manly and desperate effort to break the lines of the Indians, but failed, in consequence of the impracticability of passing thro’ the thicket and swamp on horseback; after passing into the lines of the enemy at the head of his men receiving five wounds, four of which very severe and shooting Tecumseh deliberately with his pistol–he ordered his brave volunteers to dismount and fight the savages in their own way; Col. Johnson being covered with wounds and unable, to remain in the field from the loss of blood the command of that part of that Regiment devolved entirely upon Major David Thompson, who, sustained the action with about 500 men against 1000 or 1500 savages for one hour and forty minutes, and with the assistance of 2 or 3 small companies of our worthy Governor’s volunteers (towards the latter part of the action) put the enemy completely to flight. Col. Johnson’s Regiment suffered a loss in this battle of 10 killed on the ground and 22 wounded, 3 or 4 have since died of their wounds–52 Indians were found dead and 15 British regulars. The Indians have since stated their loss to be 120 killed and a large number wounded–This victory is without a parallel. We had not more than 1000 men engaged–have taken about 600 British regulars prisoners and killed six or eight to one. Col. R. M. Johnson has been wonderfully preserved–his horse after receiving 8 balls still lived to take him from amongst the savages through the swamp to a place more secure, and immediately died; Col. Johnson’s wounds are not thought mortal, he appeared as late as the 17th inst. to be recovering very fine–this was twelve days after the action.
In ascribing the principal credit of this battle to Col. Johnson’s Regiment, we do not mean to cast reflection on any part of the army, far be it from us, all were anxious to meet the enemy; and no doubt but any other corps placed in the same situation would have behaved in equal bravery.
An artist’s depiction of the battle and the death of Tecumseh.
Since the battle many (in fact nearly all) of the Indian Chiefs have come to Head Quarters (Detroit) with white flags & sued for peace, & agree to a cessation of arms upon the following terms: that they are immediately to disperse to their hunting ground, restore the prisoners taken in the present war; apprehend, kill or give up any and every Indian whether of their own or any other tribe that shall commit or attempt to commit any depredations upon any part of our frontiers, that they are not to expect rations from our government to subsist upon, and as a pledge of their fidelity to this agreement have given up two principal Chiefs and their families from each tribe as hostages to gen. Harrison or our government.”
–Perhaps it should be noted that Colonel Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky was a member of Congress, and would later become Vice President during the term of Martin Van Buren.
Yet another officer of Col Johnson’s regiment gave the following account to the Cincinnati Western Spy, which it printed on October 30, 1813. (The words nearest the spine of the newspaper are often hard to make out.)
On the 1st day of October Col. Johnson’s regt went over from Detroit to Sandwich in U. Canada–On the 2d Gov. Shelby’s troops, with Col. Johnson’s mounted regiment in front, at sunrise, commenced their march up Detroit river an Lake St Clair, in pursuit of Proctor, and his army, of whose movements Gen. Harrison had received authentic information–in the morning six deserters came in and gave information that the British army were only twenty miles in advance–the whole army encamped six miles below the mouth of the River De Trench.
October 3d–Marched at light, and at the mouth of the above river, the advance guard of Col Johnson’s regt. caught a British lieut. and ____ men who were just in the act of tearing down an important bridge; here we caught 30 fine horses—the army continued their march and __ in the evening our spies and the British and Indians exchanged several fires without any injury on either side.
October 4th–The army marched at light. About 10 o’clock col. Johnson’s spies and the British and Indians again encountered one another, the latter were driven two or three miles to the forks of the river where there was a bridge at the mouth of the right hand fork, at a bridge and a mill about one mile up the fork; here Tecumseh made a stand with from ___ to 500 warriors–Gen. Harrison ordered a 6 pounder up to the lower bridge which soon drove the Indians from it–Col. Johnson’s regt. ____ to the right and fortunately came upon an Indian camp at the upper bridge, and soon _____ them with the loss of a considerable quantity of their plunder; the Indians had set fire to the mill which was in flames on the arrival of the regiment who saved the bridge by throwing water on it and soon repaired it, they having only to throw off the plank–in this skirmish Col. Johnson’s regiment lost two men, Capt. Craig and Serjeant Major Dickison were wounded; the Indians had 12 or 13 killed; the ground was favorable to them; our army having to march thro a very bad swamp–the British had set fire to a schooner just above the forks of the river loaded with arms and military stores which was consumed before we could save her–a house with several hundred stand of arms was saved after it was fired–a _____ with some military stores and a boat were ____ in flames about 4 miles above at the place the army encamped for the night. After night fall Gen. Harrison gave orders to Col. Johnson’s regiment to prepare themselves for a forced march in the morning, which was promptly obeyed, each man having his days provision cooked and up at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 5th October.
October 5th — The whole army marched at ___, col. Johnson’s regiment several miles in advance–at 8 o’clock took a boat loaded with regulars, and soon after several other boats filled with troops, military stores &c. and in a ____ miles farther caught a British captain and ____ of his men, and old Brown and his family, he is founder of Brownstown, who gave us information that the British and Indians would certainly fight us, and if they succeeded would massacre our whole force–this information only whetted the appetite of our men–at ten ____ col Johnson’s regiment crossed the rive Trench to the north side, each horseman carrying one of the infantry behind him, we got 15 or 20 Indian canoes and perogues which soon enabled the whole army to cross. The river being very full and hardly passible for _____–the army as soon as across advanced rapidly, repairing the bridges faster than the enemy could pull them down– in three miles _____ another mill in flames–in 4 miles ___ some British dragoons showed themselves; and our spies ran them near 2 miles, Col Johnson’s regt. following close at their heels. —as a favor of Heaven the spies caught ___ them, who gave information that the British and Indians were formed in order of battle 300 yards in advance–the regt. then ___ of 5 lines in the road–the line of battle was soon formed by the mounted regt. —— in tying his horse and advancing fifty yards in front, and the spys ordered to advance to find the truth of the dragoons story; information was soon brought back, that the Indians were flanking to our left. Gen. Harrison informed of the situation of things, and that the enemy had their artillery planted to _____ ordered Major Wood, commanding the artillery, up to reconnoitre and prepare the —— pounders for action–Col. Johnson’s regiment was ordered to remount their horses ______ charging lines, the first battalion to the right led by col. James Johnson and major ____ and the 2d battalion on the left between _____ that ran parallel with the river ———of 250 yards; the first battalion formed in eight charging lines, as follows, ___ M’Afee’s company in three lines in the centre, capt. Matson and Elliston’s in two lines each on the right, and capt. Hamilton in one line on the left, with orders to charge at the sound of the trumpet.
The 2nd battalion led by Col. R. Johnson and composed of the companies of Capt. Stucker, Davidson, Rice, Combs and Coleman had similar orders on the left. The Infantry, composed of Gov. Shelby’s Kentucky Militia, were formed in a line of battle immediately in the rear to support Col. Johnson’s regt. in case the enemy prove too hard for them–This arrangement being made, gen. Harrison rode upon the right and told col. James Johnson that the infantry were ready, and to charge thro’ and flank the enemy’s lines and form in their rear if possible; no sooner said, than done; the trumpet sounded and the regiment advanced in a gallop, the spies dismounted at the 1st fire which halted the charge for a moment and enabled the British to pour in a heavy fire at a very short distance, but nothing could restrain the impetuosity of the charge—the regiment fired from their horses and soon drove and broke the enemy’s line on the right wing, which was composed of two lines of British regulars of the 41st regt. and about 100 Indians; this battalion as soon as they had broken the enemy’s line wheeled to the right and left and completely surrounded the whole of the British, except about 15 or 20 with gen. Proctor at their head, who made their escape on the road and were closely pursued, by a part of captain M’Afee’s, Matson’s and Elliston’s men for two miles and then Major Payne with a reinforcement pursued the party 7 or 8 miles farther, in which distance waggons, knapsacks, coats, hats, and British regulars, and women and children were caught as fast as the men could ride; the right wing took more prisoners than they had men in it–the British had six pieces of brass artillery ready loaded to rake the streets of Moravian-town, but ran off without discharging them–In this charge capt. M’Afee lost 1 man killed and 3 wounded his 1st lieut. Caldwell had his horse shot dead under him and the captains horse received two balls in his leg and thigh–The 2d battallion attempted to charge also, with Col. R. M. Johnson at their head, but could not on account of a bad swamp filled with logs and brush; they had to dismount and fought the Indians upwards of an hour in their own way, and at last succeeded in driving them before them–Col Johnson received four wounds, one in the hand–capt Davidson was shot through the thigh, capt Short was also wounded, and Maj. Payne very severely–Lieut. Logan of capt. Colemans company was mortally wounded of which he died two days after–Col. Whitley, an old veteran from Kentucky, fell bravely fighting by the side of col. Johnson, who certainly shot Tecumseh–8 or 10 others were killed on the left wing–15 British regulars were killed, and upwards of 100 Indians; but no Indians taken prisoners–The result of this victory fought chiefly by Col. Johnson’s regt. except two or three companys of the Kentucky infantry, is 652 prisoners, several thousand stand of arms, 6 or 7 pieces of artillery, the whole of their military stores, several hundred beeves and a great many waggons, and all Hull’s letters, which is our own back again with interest.”
A view from a different perspective is given by Lieutenant Colonel James Johnson, Colonel Richard Johnson’s brother, who was also in the battle. (reprinted from the Kentucky Argus on November 10, 1813 by the Nashville Whig.)
“Dear Sir–It is impossible for me to describe and detail with complete justice, affairs as they have transpired here, and their situation at present. Permit me then to say, in the lump, that not a stone is unturned; our successes are complete–our best interest is established–opposition has dwindled to nothing, and the American colors fly unmolested throughout those regions. Our enemies ask, as it were, upon bending knees, for pardon, &c. But my dear sir, you want to hear something in detail.
The mounted regiment to which I am attached, left Fort Meigs for Detroit, and after a few days travelling, in which it was universally believed we should have hard fighting, we arrived at our place of destination, Detroit. Here we crossed Detroit river, and formed a junction with the main body of the N. W. army at Sandwich. On the 2d we set out in pursuit of Proctor and his forces British and Indians. The mounted regiment marched in front of the army–On the third our front guard and spies, took some British cavalry prisoners, & nine of their infantry–all well armed. From this time, some part of our front was almost constantly skirmishing with the enemy, until the 4th, we arrived at a bridge where Tecumseh made a stand with 5 or 600 warriors: there we had a smart little engagement–the regiment lost 2 killed and 6 or 7 wounded.–The enemy lost 13 killed besides their wounded and retreated pulling down bridges and burning mills, &c. We extinguished 1 house with about 100 stand of fire arms. We soon had the bridges rebuilt and pressed on.–Here the enemy burnt a large war vessel with a valuable cargo of arms and military stores. On the 5th in the morning, we took a number of prisoners and boats loaded with valuable property, and passed two more war vessels burning; but we saved several. We now had taken between one and 200 prisoners. But in this I have to guess. We scarcely travelled a mile, but we obtained some valuable property from the enemy. Never did men act with more bravery, energy and good conduct.—Our regiment being mounted gave them the opportunity of keeping ahead of our other brother Kentuckians–But altho’ we made rapid and severe marches, our footmen pressed on with that speed and perseverance truly characteristic of a brave and patriotic people. Finding the enemy not very distant, our worthy general gave us liberty to press on them.
We then moved more rapidly. The Indian canoes were left by dozens loaded–their property scattered along the road in vast quantities. We caught a prisoner who told us the enemy were not far ahead, ready for battle.–The Gen. gave command to the mounted regiment to attack the enemy, and if possible to go through his lines, and they would be supported by the infantry. This order was received with joy by the regiment–which was ready for the encounter in a few minutes; and marched in twelve columns of double files near the enemy’s line, which lay concealed. We received a very heavy fire from the enemy but sustained not much damage. For an instant our columns received a small check, until a second volley commenced from the enemy. The charge commenced most judiciously. In a few minutes the enemy’s lines were broken, and they made prisoners, at least the whole line occupied by the British. Our first battalion fought here with Maj. Payne and myself. We lost but one man on this part of the line–and killed 9 British, 5 Indians and took several prisoners. The other battalion, commanded in person by my brother R. M. Johnson and Major Thompson, fought the Indians (who were at least two to one) and defeated them with the loss of four to one of ours.
As yet I have not heard officially our number of prisoners in all–but it is said about 600, including officers. Tecumseh is killed–Proctor and Elliot made their escape after a hard race from the battle ground about ten miles, pursued by a party of mounted men; he having at length left the road.
The battle was fought within two miles of the Moravian towns on the bank of the Thames. His Britannic majesty has lost immense quantities of military stores: After we gathered all that it was possible to bring away, of cannon, muskets, ammunition &c. with the aid of a great deal of water crafts, considerable was left. His majesty’s loyal subjects destroyed a great deal themselves on their retreat, but they left, through necessity, more than we could manage.
The British in the country now, are without soldiers, and without officers, (Proctor and Elliott excepted) without vessels, ammunition, provision, or any thing to support their shattered ruined cause.
Our regiment lost 10 killed–22 wounded. Between 30 and 40 Indians have been found dead.
I have been weather bound here for several days. All the army by this time is at Detroit. To–morrow I hope to be able to sail; a few gun-boats are here with us. A number of Indians, report says, have encamped just above us–it is supposed they are for peace. My brother Richard is badly wounded, but I hope will recover, although he is shot with five balls.”
About the Author
Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.