The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on November 7, 1811, in Battle Ground, Indiana, between American forces led by Governor William Henry Harrison and Indian forces led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa.
Tensions had reached a breaking point with tribes opposed to American westward expansion. Governor Harrison marched with an army of approximately 1,000 men to Prophetstown, where he dispersed the natives staying in the area.
Prelude to the Battle of Tippecanoe
American Perspective: Governor William Henry Harrison had been appointed Governor of the Indiana Territory in 1800. His goal was to acquire land from the Indians to attract enough settlers so that Indiana could apply for statehood.
Harrison negotiated many treaties with the Native Americans, included the Treaty of St. Louis (unrecognized by many natives) and the Treaty of Fort Wayne, with secured land from the Miami, Pottawatomie, and Lenape tribes.
Native American Perspective: After the American Revolution, the Americans continued to push west and drive the natives off their land with unfair treaties or by force.
When the Treaty of Fort Wayne occurred, it enraged Tecumseh and others who wanted the Indians to adopt the philosophy of Joseph Brant that Indian land was owned in common by all tribes, and land could not be sold without agreement by all the tribes.
This ideology was one of unity but also conflict. It put Tecumseh and his men in direct conflict with the United States government and their Governor, William Henry Harrison, who wanted to convert Indiana from a territory to a state.
William Henry Harrison marched his men from Vincennes up the Wabash River towards Prophetstown, Tecumseh’s main village near the Tippecanoe River.
His timing was excellent as Tecumseh was away on a diplomatic mission, and his brother, known as The Prophet, was leading the Shawnee. The Prophet sent a delegation to Harrison to arrange a conference, but the Governor was cautious and worried that it could be a trick.
Harrison placed his men in a rectangular defensive formation with orders to remain on full alert. He also ordered the ammunition to be distributed, posted sentries, and had bayonets fixed.
His hunch was right.
The Prophet ordered an attack on Harrison’s camp at 4:00 AM, and hundreds of Indians rushed the camp in an attempt to surprise the Americans and assassinate Harrison.
The Americans fought hard and maintained their defenses. Harrison rallied a small reserve and repulsed every attack the Shawnee warriors could muster.
When dawn broke, the Indians scattered, and Harrison led a counterattack that surprised the Indians. The Shawnee warriors scattered while being pursued by the Americans.
Prophetstown’s crops and buildings were destroyed.
Most natives no longer believed in the Prophet. Many returned to their own villages after the defeat. Tecumseh tried to resurrect his confederation, but many people refused to join him again.
Tenskwatawa’s claims of invincibility contributed significantly to the collapse of Tecumseh’s American-Indian alliance.
Although both sides suffered similar losses, the Americans were credited with the victory. William Henry Harrison said that the victory was a decisive one, and he gained much fame.
He was nicknamed “Old Tippecanoe,” and it would become part of his campaign slogan when he ran for President.
The Shawnee rebuilt Prophetstown, and their attacks on the frontier increased.
The Battle of Tippecanoe did more from an emotional perspective than a tactical one.