Peace Through Strength


There are times when, as incongruous as it may seem, peace can only be achieved through war. No matter how hard the diplomats may work, some groups will only submit to peace initiatives when their very existence is threatened. In the last years of the eighteenth century, an American officer waged a military campaign on America’s western frontier to bring peace to the region. He took military action in order to establish stability between American settlers and the native residents. His name was Anthony Wayne. This is the story of how he drew his sword to win peace for the Northwest Territory.

By the early 1790’s, Anthony Wayne had become one of the fiercest warriors in the American army. Born on New Year’s Day, 1745 in Easttown, Pennsylvania, Wayne was an ardent patriot who steadfastly served America during the Revolution. As a brigadier general in the Continental Army, he earned a reputation as a stern disciplinarian and as a ferocious warrior. In fact, his men affectionately called him “Mad” Anthony for the zeal he showed in battle. He fought with distinction at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1777, at Monmouth, New Jersey in 1778, at Stony Point, New York in 1779 and at Green Spring Farm, Virginia in 1781. He was even present at the surrender of British General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown before being ordered to Georgia to combat the last remnants of the British presence in the South. It was in Georgia that Anthony Wayne had his first taste of battle with the Indians that had long menaced America’s western borders.

As the Revolution came to an end, Anthony Wayne was forced to confront the Native Americans who had fought alongside the British. Early on he came face to face with the guerilla tactics of Indian warriors. The Indians had allied with the British in hopes of halting American migration westward. On the morning of June 24, 1782 Wayne and his soldiers were encamped along the Ogechee River in Georgia when they were attacked by a band of Creek Indians. Wayne quickly organized his troops and launched a counterattack that successfully drove the Indians into the nearby countryside. He saw the Indians as a menace and denounced British officers for encouraging attacks. The Revolution soon came to an end, but he continued to monitor Indian movements in Georgia for a time. He briefly campaigned for the position of Commissioner of Indians in Georgia, and after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, he petitioned the new American government to create a Southwest Territory to protect Georgia’s frontier from future Indian attacks. He wanted to serve as the territory’s governor-general with the ability to oversee civil and military affairs, but instead he was given an even more important assignment. He was given command of the American army in the Northwest Territory with orders to subdue the Indian threat there.

In early March 1792 Anthony Wayne received his commission as a major general from President George Washington and was charged with leading the American army against the Indian nations in the distant regions to the west of Pennsylvania and to the northwest of the Ohio River, a vast area known as the Northwest Territory. Backed by their British allies in Canada, a coalition of Indian tribes, including the Shawnee, the Miami and the Lenape, had launched raids on American settlements in the territory. President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox had already sent peace commissioners to negotiate a truce with the Indians, but they recognized that an army was required to protect frontier inhabitants. A fighter was needed to command that army, so they settled on one of the best fighting generals of the Revolution. Wayne enthusiastically accepted the command, but he was told the army would only act once diplomacy had failed. The idea was anathema to Wayne, but he agreed to wait.

In the meantime, he travelled to Pittsburgh to join the Legion of the United States, as the army in the Northwest Territory was called. He spent the next seven months training the soldiers and monitoring the negotiations. He considered them fruitless since the Indians seemed to violate the newly negotiated cease-fire by continuing their raids, even attacking American soldiers who carried flags of truce. He urged Secretary of War Knox to authorize him to make preparations for the Legion to strike the enemy immediately. Instead, Knox told Wayne that most Americans desired to see a diplomatic solution to the situation and that American military action could potentially arouse the sympathy of the British. Negotiations continued, but Wayne simultaneously began to plan a military campaign to advance the Legion into the Northwest Territory in late 1793. He was eager for war to erupt so he could finally remove the threat Indians posed to the safety of the American frontier.

In the late summer of 1793 Wayne received word that peace negotiations had finally broken down and he was to march his Legion to Fort Washington, just outside the town of Cincinnati, Ohio and then into the Northwest Territory. Arriving in Cincinnati, he learned that his total force numbered just over two thousand men. The majority were soldiers from the United States Army, but there was also a detachment of Kentucky militiamen. The army was ready to advance, on October 7, 1793, with Wayne at the head of his column, the troops moved northward into enemy territory. He told his officers to keep a close watch on their soldiers since he expected to engage the Indians in battle at any moment. Except for a few brief sightings of Indian raiding parties, however, the Legion saw little action. It was not long before winter conditions set in, and Wayne had his troops build Fort Greeneville to guard the region and to serve as a winter camp for the army. As 1793 came to an end, Wayne was certain that the next year he would finally face the Indians in the climactic battle for the Northwest Territory.

As 1794 began, Anthony Wayne prepared to launch an assault against his Indian foes. He had originally intended to pressure the Indians enough to avoid a pitched battle, but Indian leaders made it clear they intended to fight the Americans. The Americans proved equally determined to defeat the Indians. When a group of Indians attacked Fort Recovery, one of the forts Wayne had built during his advance, the Americans inside the fort inflicted heavy losses on the Indians and forced them to withdraw. In the wake of this victory, Wayne and his army advanced against the main body of Indians encamped along the Maumee River not far from Lake Erie. Then on the morning of August 20, 1794, at what came to be known as the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the vanguard of the American army encountered a large Indian army and immediately engaged in battle. Hearing the roar of muskets, Wayne raced to the front and surveyed the sight before him. The Indians had taken cover in a grove of upturned trees and dense underbrush. From their position, they fired on Wayne’s soldiers as they prepared to attack the army’s left flank. Despite suffering from the pain of gout, Wayne took decisive action in countering the Indians. He ordered his infantry to charge the Indian center while his cavalry was ordered to charge the Indians from the flanks and rear. His officers obeyed his command and led their troops forward. The Indians were so stunned by the Americans’ audacity that they quickly fell back. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne delivered a crushing blow to the Indians of the Northwest Territory, but he remained convinced he had to destroy the enemy’s will completely and force them to sue for peace.

In the aftermath of his decisive victory, Anthony Wayne sought to consolidate American control of the Northwest Territory. He set upon a course that would result in the total defeat of the Indian nations in the region. He ordered his soldiers to destroy Indian crops and villages as they advanced against tribes like the Miami. He also had his soldiers build additional forts to guard against future Indian attacks, like the one named Fort Wayne in his honor. The Indians, now confronted with overwhelming force, never again attacked Wayne’s army. As winter of 1794 approached, Wayne returned to his base at Fort Greeneville where he met with Indian leaders who now understood the necessity of reaching a peaceful accord with the Americans. He assured them that his government wanted to achieve a lasting peace with all the Indian nations of the region, and they agreed to return in six months. He composed a preliminary peace treaty for the chiefs to take with them and sent a copy of the treaty to President Washington and Secretary Knox in Philadelphia. He received instructions from them with orders to tell the Indians that a series of military forts would be built to protect the frontier inhabitants and prevent any possible Indian attack. In mid-June 1795 he welcomed the chiefs back to the fort and opened up the negotiations. In early August Wayne and the chiefs signed the agreement ending hostilities and turning over much of Ohio and Indiana to the United States. The use of force and the threat of annihilation had finally ended the conflict between America and the Indian tribes of the Northwest Territory.

Anthony Wayne remained an American hero for the rest of his life. He had brought peace to America’s western frontier, and his triumphs were celebrated when he returned to Philadelphia for the first time in three years. He spent the rest of 1795 and the start of 1796 in the American capital before returning to the Northwest Territory in May. Upon his return, he supervised the American occupation of Detroit and other northwestern towns held by the British, as dictated by the terms of the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Britain. Wayne established his new headquarters at Detroit and helped institute new civilian governments for those towns under American jurisdiction. As he oversaw his new responsibilities, he experienced a recurrence of the gout that he had suffered from at Fallen Timbers. He left Detroit for a Pittsburgh but only made it as far as the garrison located on Presque Isle on Lake Erie, now Erie, Pennsylvania. He arrived severely weakened, and soon the gout spread to his stomach. He died on the morning of December 15, 1796 at age fifty-one. Though later reinterred in his hometown of Easttown, he was originally buried at the garrison of Presque Isle in the Northwest Territory, in the heart of the region where he had brought peace.

Anthony Wayne’s service in the Northwest Territory showed that there are times when the best way of obtaining peace is through the force of arms. A country stands a better chance of avoiding all out war if it is willing to back up its words with action. Diplomacy should always be given full reign, but oftentimes diplomacy itself is simply not enough. When diplomatic relations fail, the judicious use of military power is sometimes the only means to the desired end. “Mad” Anthony Wayne, one of America’s finest battlefield generals, fully understood and appreciated the policy our country still abides by today — peace through strength.

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One response to “Peace Through Strength

  1. Eric Brown

    Jake, I had never heard of Anthony Wayne’s exploits with regard to the Indians and the Northwest Territory. While I don’t agree with some of our government’s tactics in crushing the Indian nations I do understand the mentality of those in charge at that point in our nation’s development. The lesson of peace achieved through overwhelming military might has been retold throughout the ages. Thank you for this extremely well told history lesson!

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