Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

Called Back to the Army

The magnitude of the trust reposed in General Wayne by President Washington can only be understood in the light of the serious conditions prevailing on the Northwestern frontier at the time of General Wayne's appointment. After the cession of the lands north and west of the Ohio River to the United States by Virginia and Connecticut, a territorial government had been formed in that region, by the ordinance of Congress of July 13, 1787—a famous document in American history—and General Arthur St. Clair was appointed governor. Emigrants were offered every inducement, and large bodies of them sought homes in this Northwest Territory. These pioneers lived in constant fear of the savages, for the Indian allies of Great Britain had refused to bury the hatchet when peace was made, some historians claiming that, actuated by the hope of acquiring the Northwest Territory and the Canadas in time, the British had persuaded the red men to fight for their lauds. Add to this supposititious case a determination on the part of the savage, quite independent of any quarrel with the whites, that the white man should never occupy the lands west of the Ohio, and the true source of the frequent raiding and scalping parties is apparent. From 1783 to 1790 it was estimated that no fewer than 1,500 settlers, including women and children, had been slain or captured by the Shawnees and Delawares who occupied the region.

These tribes, reinforced by the Wyandottes, the Miamis, the Chippewas and the Pottawatomies, concentrated near the Miami and the Manmee rivers and Lake Erie. Here they had access to the Indians of the interior, to the Canadians, and the British, who were still holding Detroit and other posts northwest of the Ohio. Both of these latter, no one doubts who searches the records, aided and encouraged the Indians in their forays by the loan of organized forces.

In January, 1789, Governor St. Clair, finding that he was unable to compel the Indians to stand by their treaties, determined to send a military force to the rescue of the helpless frontiersmen, and in 1790 General Hannan, who had been one of the most distinguished officers of the Pennsylvania Line, was dispatched to put an end to the Indian atrocities. This army, badly equipped and undisciplined, led by officers who, though they were brave, were lacking in experience in the ways of the wily red man, met the Indians in force at what is now Fort Wayne, Indiana, and, practically annihilated, were forced to retreat to Fort Washington (Cincinnati). The moral effect of this failure was distressing; the savages were only the more incensed and confident in their own prowess, and made their attacks with greater ferocity than before.

General St. Clair himself was now sent to the Northwest with a picked band of men, consisting of 2,300 regular troops. On November 3, 1791, he encamped where Recovery, Mercer County, Ohio, now stands. Here was the man of destiny, and the eyes of the nation were fixed upon him with lively solicitude. The fight began at sunrise of November 4. Regular military tactics failed completely; officer after officer was shot down, until upward of sixty were slain; and when the Indians penetrated the camp of the militia at the end of the line the result was a total rout. Besides the officers enumerated before, 630 soldiers were killed, and of the remaining 1,400 who survived we are told that "scarce half a hundred were unhurt." Altogether it was the most disastrous defeat sustained at the hands of the savages since the historic defeat of General Braddock; and it proved an even greater disaster by reason of the great depression felt by the American people. In this battle were killed many of the most distinguished men in the Pennsylvania Line under 'Wayne's command, and that leader was also deprived of his heroic and brilliant friend, General Richard Butler.

The dismay and consternation into which these defeats, especially that of General St. Clair, threw the country made capital for the opponents of the administration; while from continued ill success the people looked with disfavor upon a military life as a calling, the only certain reward of which would be to fall by the rifle, the tomahawk, or the scalping-knife, for the Indians were well armed and provided with powder and ball. The cost of maintaining the army in the present low condition of the national treasury was another reason against another campaign; and the many abuses which had crept into the management of the St. Clair campaign—insufficient arms and wretched food. All these things furnished proofs to the public mind of gross misconduct on the part of the administration, and were made liberal use of to accomplish party ends. Congress, however, had sufficient strength to support the President in his views, and by an act approved March 5, 1792, authorized him to reorganize the army.

It can now be readily realized that at this critical juncture the selection of the commanding officer was more important than at any time since the commencement of the Revolution. Washington must risk his own fame, even, in this one act, for failure would mean the most deeply humiliating consequences. A man was needed who possessed sound judgment, the greatest caution and coolness, a broad knowledge of military science; he should be a strict disciplinarian, and, above all, a patriot. Envious officers and statesmen who had the ear of the President constantly represented to him that "Wayne was brave and nothing else"; his unsuccessful business ventures had created an ill impression which his strong integrity had not counterbalanced; and his love of fine clothing and display were vulnerable points of criticism. Nevertheless, Washing on found that much-needed man in General Wayne, and appointed him to the command of his expeditionary forces in April, 1792.

The United States army as it was then organized consisted of 5,120 non-commissioned officers and privates, one major-general, four brigadier generals, and their staffs, the whole known as the Legion of the United States. This Legion was to be subdivided into four sub-legions, each to consist of 1,280 non-commissioned men and privates. With this force of men General Wayne set out on his expedition May 24, 1792, stimulated and forewarned by the parting declaration of Secretary of War, General Knox, that "another defeat would be inexpressibly ruinous to the reputation of the Government." Wayne's only stipulation was that the campaign should not begin until his Legion was filled up and properly disciplined, wherein we may see that he put his trust in good management rather than in good fortune.