By General William Henry Harrison.
GENERAL HARRISON made this report of his victory at Tippecanoe to Governor Scott, of Kentucky, from Vincennes, December 13, 1811. It was published simultaneously in the Frankfort Argus, the Kentucky Gazette and the Lexington Reporter. The battle had been fought on November 7.
Harrison's victory over the Shawnees, led by The Prophet, brother of the better known Indian chief, Tecumseh, made him famous and did much to make him the ninth President of the United States in the memorable "Tippecanoe and Tyler too' campaign.
Under Harrison was an American force of 800 men, opposed to 5,000 or 6,000 Indians. Less than 200 whites were killed and wounded. The number of Indian fatalities, though undoubtedly large, is not definitely known. At the time of the battle Tecumseh was in the South trying to Persuade the Creeks, Choctaws and Cherokees to join in his projected federation.
I HAD the pleasure to receive your favor of the 27th ult. by the mail of Wednesday last; and I beg you to accept my sincere thanks for the friendly sentiments it contains.
You wish me to give you some account of the late action, that you "may be the better enabled to do me justice against the cavils of ignorance and presumption." I would do this with great pleasure, but the Legislature of the Territory being about to close its session, and having an unusual pressure of business, I am unable to give you such an account as would be satisfactory. There is, however, the less need of this as my official account to the government will probably reach you nearly as soon as this letter. It appears to me from some of the hints contained in some of your newspapers, that the charge of error in the planning or execution of the late expedition, has been more particularly aimed at the President than myself. I most sincerely thank these gentlemen for placing me in such good company; and it is hardly necessary to inform you, that the charge against the administration is as unfounded in this instance as in all the others, which have flowed from the same source. The orders of the government with regard to the expedition, evince as much wisdom as humanity. It was determined to protect its citizens, but if possible, to spare the effusion of human blood this last object was prevented; but by whom? Why, in a great measure by those very persons who are now complaining because a battle could not be won without loss. At least in this Territory, the clamor is confined to those who opposed the expedition to the utmost of their power, and by whose exertions in circulating every falsehood, that malice and villainy could invent: the militia were prevented from turning out; and instead of a force of from 12 to 1,500 men which I expected to have had, I was obliged to march from Fort Harrison with less than 800: my personal enemies have united with the British agents in representing that the expedition was entirely useless, and The Prophet as one of the best and most pacific of mortals, a perfect Shaker in principle, who shuddered at the thought of shedding blood. Every one of his aggressions upon us was denied or palliated and excused with as much eagerness as is the conduct of Great Britain by this same description of people in the Atlantic States. A party sent by The Prophet fired upon and wounded one of our sentinels, upon our own ground; the fact was at first boldly denied, "the man was shot by one of your own people" and I believe it was even asserted that he shot himself. When the whole circumstance was brought to light, these indefatigable gentry, shifted their ground and asserted that "the poor Indian fired in his own defence, and that he was merely gratifying an innocent curiosity in creeping to see what was going on in our camp, and that if he had not shot the sentry, the sentry would, have shot him."
I regret exceedingly that the friends of Colonel Daviess should think it was necessary to his fame to suppose a difference of opinion between him and myself, which never existed; that I had slighted advice from him which was never given, and that to give color to this they had listened to stories with regard to the operations of the army that were absolutely without foundation. If the utmost cordiality and friendship did not exist between the Colonel and myself from the time of his joining the army until his death, I have been very much deceived; if our military opinions were not almost always in unison, those which he expressed (and no man who knew him will accuse him of hypocrisy,) were not his own; the Colonel's messmates, Major G. R. C. Floyd and Captain Piatt, are well acquainted with the entire confidence which subsisted between us; they are acquainted with circumstances which indisputably established the fact; and they and others know that I was the object of his eulogy, to an extent which it would be indelicate in me to repeat. Colonel Daviess did indeed advise me as to measures the day before the action, in which he was joined by all the officers around me whether the advice was good or bad is immaterial to the present discussion, since it was followed to the extent that it was given. It is not necessary to express my opinion of the Colonel's merits at this time, since it will be found in my official letter, and I have no doubt that it will be satisfactory to his friends.
With regard to my own conduct, my dear Sir, it is not in my power to enter into a defence of it, unless I were to know in what particular it has been arraigned. However I may with safety rely for my defence upon the opinion of my army. Believing most sincerely that you do feel that "lively interest in my fame and fortune" which you profess, I am sure you will peruse with interest the inclosed declaration, signed by all the field officers of the army, (one only who was absent,) and the resolutions entered into by the militia of this country who served upon the expedition; the testimony of men who fought and suffered by my side, ought, I should suppose, to be conclusive.
An idea seems to prevail in your State, that in the action of the 7th the whole army was completely surprised, and that they were placed in a situation where bravery only decided the contest, and where there was no opportunity whatever for the exercise of military skill of any kind; this was, however, far from being the case. It is true that the two companies forming the left angle on the rear line, (Barton's and Geiger's) were attacked before they were formed, and that some of the men were killed in coming out of their tents; but it is equally true that all the other companies were formed before they were fired on, and that even those two companies lost but very few men before they were able to resist. Notwithstanding the darkness, the order of battle, (such as had been previously prescribed) was taken by all the troops the officers were active, the men cool and obedient, and perhaps, there never was an action where (for the number of men engaged) there were so many changes of position performed; not in disorder and confusion, but with military propriety the companies, both regulars and militia, were extended, or contracted, wheeled, marched, and made to file up by word of command. My orders (and they were not a few) were obeyed with promptitude and precision. And if I am not most grossly deceived, that mutual dependence which ought to exist between a commander and his army was reciprocally felt.
It has been said that the Indians should have been attacked upon our arrival before their town, on the evening of the 6th. There were two reasons which prevented this, first, that the directions which I received from the government, made it necessary that I should endeavor, if possible, to accomplish the object of the expedition (the dispersion of the Prophet's force) without bloodshed, and, secondly, that the success of an attack by day upon the town was very problematical.