4 November: Futile Victories at the Wabash and Johnsonville

In 1791 and 1864, victories as decisive as they could be did little to change the course of their conflicts, and at the Wabash one might argue that the Native American success merely brought forth their downfall that much quicker.

In the wilds of Indiana a two thousand man American army sought to remove the Miami tribe so that the area could be colonized by land-hungry Europeans and Americans who were taking advantage of the Treaty of Paris provisions that ceded control of the Ohio River country to the United States.  But the Western Confederacy of American Indians who lived there were not consulted about any of this, were not signatory to the Treaty of Paris that ended the American War of Independence, and were not inclined to move anywhere.  They had already defeated a 400-man force under Josiah Harmar a year before near modern Churubusco, Indiana.

But Arthur St Clair was determined to have his way, and under increasing pressure from Washington and from would-be settlers and their investors, St Clair moved into the area fully expecting to be successful, but on the morning of 4 November the unruly, largely militia force had been reduced to about a thousand, and these remnants were attacked at their breakfast by a thousand Miami and Potawatomi under Little Turtle and Blue Jacket.  While the militia broke and the regulars volleyed, the Indian numbers were simply too great: the artillery battalion was reduced by sniping and forced to spike and the regulars were flanked.  In three hours on 4 November 1791, a quarter of the US Army was wiped out.  St Clair and less than thirty men made it out alive.  Some two hundred civilians–including wives and children–were also massacred.

Seventy years later, while William Sherman was getting ready to make Georgia howl, Nathan B Forrest led his cavalry raiders into the Tennessee River country to disrupt Union supply lines supporting George H Thomas’ pursuit of John B Hood’s invasion of the north.  Attacking the Union supply base at Johnsonville, Tennessee on 4 November 1864, Forrest destroyed gunboats, transports, artillery and supplies valued at anywhere between two and six million dollars–in a time when good wages were considered two dollars a week.  It also had a chilling effect–or so it was thought–on Sherman’s plan to march to Savannah.

But in the end, neither success meant much.  The outrage over St Clair’s disaster triggered a Congressional investigation, but did not slow the flow of immigration.  The British, who sought to create a Native American buffer state between them and the Americans in the area, eventually realized that such a buffer would be difficult to maintain, even if created, as the Western Confederacy was only an alliance of tribes in the loosest sense.  While the Indians whooped over their triumph, the Americans authorized the enlargement of their army, and would eventually destroy the Western Confederacy at Fallen Timbers in modern Ohio,

As for Forrest and the southern Confederacy, Johnsonville was disruptive and concerning, but not dismaying and delayed Thomas not a hour because he had depots in Atlanta and Chattanooga, as well as a somewhat twisted route from east Tennessee.  Sherman had already decided to cut loose of his supply lines for his chevauchee into Georgia’s interior, so anything Forrest did was not relevant to him or his plans.

As Bernard L Montgomery once said, “you can lose every battle but the last one.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s