Pierre Berton's War of 1812

Pierre Berton's War of 1812 by Pierre Berton

Book: Pierre Berton's War of 1812 by Pierre Berton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pierre Berton
thirty-seven years old, resplendent in the uniform of the Kentucky mounted volunteers, the plumes in his hat accentuating his six-foot stature. To one eyewitness, it seems “nothing could be more magnificent. He was the very model of a cavalry officer.… With his tall, muscular form and face of strong masculine beauty, he would have been the pride of any army, and the thunderbolt of a battlefield.”
    Harrison and the Indians are moving at cross purposes. On September 25, the Prophet sends off runners from his village on the Tippecanoe with a message of peace for Harrison. At ten o’clock the following morning, the Governor dispatches his troops on his “demonstration of force.” They move up the Wabash in shallow flatboats, the regulars in brass-buttoned tailcoats and stove-pipe hats, the citizen soldiers of the militia in deerskin jackets and bearskin caps. When they reach the disputed territory, they build a blockhouse—Fort Harrison—the eloquent Daviess, now a major, chosen to smash a bottle over the new logs. There is much sickness, especially among the regulars, unused to frontier conditions, forced to wade up the Wabash in their skin-tight pantaloons. Shortly, however, the force is augmented by another two hundred and fifty regular soldiers ofthe 4th U.S. Infantry. On October 28 Harrison leaves the new fort and pushes on toward Prophet’s Town at the head of one thousand men—a commanding figure in a fringed calico shirt and a beaver hat into which he has jauntily stuck an ostrich feather.

    The Wabash
    He moves cautiously, expecting Indians behind every tree, suspicious of ambush. Nothing. At two-thirty on the afternoon of November 6, some dozen miles from his objective, he reaches a small wood, halts, draws up his force in battle order, sends scouts forward. There are Indians just ahead, flitting through the trees, but they will not speak to the interpreters.
    Back comes Major Daviess, eager for battle, urging an immediate attack against the insolent savages. Why is Harrison vacillating? Have the troops come this far for nothing? The Governor hesitates, mindful of Washington’s order that he must try for a peaceful settlement; then, with his men murmuring their eagerness, moves on, yielding “to what appeared to be the general wish.” It matters to no one that Prophet’s Town is on land that has never been ceded to the United States.
    Three Indians approach. Harrison recognizes one: Chief White Horse, principal counsellor to the Prophet. They are conciliatory. They have been trying to reach Harrison, but the messengers have been looking for him on the south side of the river; Harrison has taken the north bank. He assures them that all he seeks is a proper camping ground and they agree to parley on the morrow.
    As the town comes into view, Harrison raises his field glass and through it observes the inhabitants running about in apparent terror and confusion behind a breastwork of logs. After some reconnoitring he camps his army about a mile to the northwest among the leafless oaks on a triangle of ground a few feet above the marshy prairie. Here, in the chill of the night, the men slumber, or try to (some have no blankets), in the warmth of huge fires, their loaded guns beside them, bayonets fixed, their coats covering the musket locks to keep them dry. Harrison has dug no trenches, erected no stakes because, he claims later, he has not enough axes.
    What are the Indians thinking and planning? No one knows or will ever know, for most of the accounts of the battle come from white men. Those Indian accounts that do exist are second hand and contradictory, filtered through white reports.
    Some things are fairly certain: the Indians, not trusting Harrison, expect him to attack and are determined to strike first; the battle, when it comes, is started accidentally when neither side is prepared; and of the several tribes represented at Prophet’s Town it is the Winnebago and the Potawatomi and not the Shawnee

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