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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Battle of the Thames

By Henry Marie Brackenridge (1786–1871)

[From History of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain. Revised Edition. 1839.]

ON the 5th (October, 1813) the pursuit was renewed; when, after capturing provisions and ammunition to a considerable amount, they reached the place where the enemy had encamped the night before. Colonel Wood was now sent forward by the Commander-in-Chief, to reconnoitre the British and Indian forces; and he very soon returned with information, that they had made a stand a few miles distant, and were ready for action. General Proctor had drawn up his regular forces across a narrow strip of land covered with beech-trees, flanked on one side by a swamp and on the other by the river; their left resting on the river supported by the larger portion of their artillery, and their right on the swamp. Beyond the swamp, and between it and another morass still further to the right, were the Indians under Tecumseh. This position was skilfully chosen by Proctor, with regard to locality, and the character of his troops; but he committed an irreparable oversight in neglecting to fortify his front by a ditch or abatis, and in drawing up his troops “in open order, that is, with intervals of three or four feet between the files”—a mode of array which could not resist a charge of cavalry. His whole force consisted of about eight hundred regular soldiers and two thousand Indians.

The American troops, amounting to something more than three thousand men, were now disposed in order of battle. General Trotter’s brigade constituted the front line; General King’s brigade formed a second line, in the rear of General Trotter; and Chiles’s brigade was kept as a corps of reserve. These three brigades were under the command of Major-General Henry. The whole of General Desha’s division, consisting of two brigades, was formed en potence on the left of Trotter’s brigade. Each brigade averaged five hundred men. The regular troops, amounting to one hundred and twenty men, were formed in columns, and occupied a narrow space between the road and the river, for the purpose of seizing the enemy’s artillery, should opportunity offer. General Harrison had at first ordered Colonel Johnson’s mounted men to form in two lines, opposite to the Indians; but he soon observed that the underwood here was too close for cavalry to act with any effect. Aware of the egregious error committed by Proctor as above mentioned, and well knowing the dexterity of backwoodsmen in riding, and in the use of the rifle, in forest ground, he immediately determined that one battalion of the mounted regiment should charge on the British regulars. The other, under the immediate command of Colonel Johnson, was left to confront the Indians. The requisite arrangements having been made, the army had moved forward but a short distance, when the enemy fired. This was the signal for our cavalry to charge; and, although the men and horses in the front of the column at first recoiled, they soon recovered themselves, and the whole body dashed through the enemy with irresistible force. Instantly forming in the rear of the British, they poured on them a destructive fire, and were about to make a second charge, when the British officers, finding it impossible, from the nature of the ground and the panic which prevailed, to form their broken ranks, immediately surrendered.

On the left, the battle was begun by Tecumseh with great fury. The galling fire of the Indians did not check the advance of the American columns; but the charge was not successful, from the miry character of the soil and the number and closeness of the thickets which covered it. In these circumstances, Colonel Johnson ordered his men to dismount, and leading them up a second time, succeeded after a desperate contest in breaking through the line of the Indians and gaining their rear. Notwithstanding this, and that the colonel now directed his men to fight them in their own mode, the Indians were unwilling to yield the day; and, quickly collecting their principal strength on the right, attempted to penetrate the line of infantry commanded by General Desha. At first they made an impression on it; but they were soon repulsed by the aid of a regiment of Kentucky volunteers led on by the aged Shelby, who had been posted at the angle formed by the front line and Desha’s division. The combat now raged with increasing fury; the Indians, to the number of twelve or fifteen hundred, seeming determined to maintain their ground to the last. The terrible voice of Tecumseh could be distinctly heard, encouraging his warriors; and although beset on every side except that of the morass, they fought with more determined courage than they had ever before exhibited. An incident, however, now occurred which eventually decided the contest. The gallant Colonel Johnson having rushed towards the spot where the Indians, clustering around their undaunted chief, appeared resolved to perish by his side, his uniform, and the white horse which he rode, rendered him a conspicuous object. In a moment his holsters, dress and accoutrements were pierced with a hundred bullets, and he fell to the ground severely wounded. Tecumseh, meanwhile, was killed in the mêlée. After the rescue and removal of the wounded colonel, the command devolved on Major Thompson. The Indians maintained the fight for more than an hour; but no longer hearing the voice of their great captain, they at last gave way on all sides. Near the spot where this struggle took place, thirty Indians and six whites were found dead.

Thus fell Tecumseh, one of the most celebrated warriors that ever raised the tomahawk against us; and with him faded the last hope of our Indian enemies. This untutored man was the determined foe of civilization, and had for years been laboring to unite all the Indian tribes in resisting the progress of our settlements to the westward. Had such a man opposed the European colonists on their first arrival, this continent might still have been a wilderness. To those who prefer a savage, uncultivated waste, inhabited by wolves and panthers, and by men more savage still, to the busy city; to the peaceful hamlet and cottage; to Christianity, science, and the comforts of civilization; to such, it may be a source of regret that Tecumseh came too late. But to all others, it must be a just cause of felicitation, that he was the champion of barbarism at a period when he could only draw down destruction on his own head. Tecumseh fell respected by his enemies as a great and magnanimous chief. Although he seldom took prisoners in battle, he was merciful to those who had been taken by others; and, at the defeat of Dudley, actually put to death a chief whom he found engaged in the work of massacre. He had been in almost every engagement with the whites since Harmer’s defeat in 1791, although at his death he scarcely exceeded forty years of age. Tecumseh had received the stamp of greatness from the hand of nature; and had his lot been cast in a different state of society, he would have shone as one of the most distinguished of men. He was endowed with a powerful mind, and with the soul of a hero. There was an uncommon dignity in his countenance and manners: by the former he could easily be discovered, even after death, among the rest of the slain, for he wore no insignia of distinction. When girded with a silk sash, and told by General Proctor that he was made a brigadier-general in the British service for his conduct at Brownstown and Magagua, he refused the title. Born without title to command, such was his native greatness, that every tribe yielded submission to him at once, and no one ever disputed his precedence. Subtle and fierce in war, he was possessed of uncommon eloquence. Invective was his chief merit, as we had frequent occasion to experience. He gave a remarkable instance of its power in the reproaches which he applied to General Proctor, in a speech delivered a few days before his death; a copy of which was found among the papers of the British officers. His form was uncommonly elegant. His stature was about six feet, and his limbs were perfectly proportioned.

In this engagement, the British loss was, nineteen regulars killed, fifty wounded, and about six hundred taken prisoners. The Indians left one hundred and twenty on the field. The American loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to upwards of fifty; seventeen of the slain were Kentuckians, and among them was Colonel Whitely, a soldier of the Revolution, who served on this occasion as a private. He by some was supposed to have killed Tecumseh; while others affirmed that Colonel Johnson was the person. Several pieces of brass cannon, the trophies of our Revolution, and which had been surrendered by Hull at Detroit, were once more restored to our country. General Proctor had basely deserted his troops as soon as the charge was made; and though hotly pursued, was enabled, by means of swift horses and his knowledge of the country, to escape down the Thames. His carriage, with his private papers, however, was taken.