Harmar's Defeat

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Harmar, Josiah Engraved Portrait.jpg
Photographic reproduction of an engraved portrait depicting Josiah Harmar, ca. 1790-1799. The original portrait was engraved by John Sartain and based on a painting by Raphael Peale.

In 1790, Josiah Harmar, commander of the American army in the Northwest Territory, was stationed at Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati). Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, ordered Harmar to end the threat of Indian attack in western Ohio. Harmar marched from Fort Washington with 320 regular soldiers and roughly 1,100 militiamen -- primarily from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The militiamen were poorly trained. Many did not know how to load and fire a musket; several others did not even have a gun. Harmar was determined to destroy the native villages near modern-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. He intended to attack the Miami Indians, the Shawnee Indians, and the Delaware Indians, along with other natives located in western Ohio.

The natives fled their villages as Harmar's army approached. The Americans burned several villages, but the Indians regrouped. On October 20, the natives, led by Little Turtle, of the Miami Indians, attacked a detachment from Harmar's army led by Colonel John Hardin. Hardin's force consisted of several hundred militiamen and a few regular soldiers. Hardin led his men into an ambush. Most of the militiamen fled the battle without even firing a shot. The regular soldiers put up a brief resistance, but the natives killed most of them. Some of the retreating militiamen did not stop until they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. Harmar sent out another detachment after Little Turtle's warriors two days later. Once again, the natives inflicted heavy casualties upon the Americans. Harmar immediately retreated to the safety of Fort Washington. He had lost 183 men killed or missing in his campaign. It became known as Harmar's Defeat. In 1791, the United States army convened a court-martial against Harmar. He was accused him of wrongdoing during the campaign, including being drunk on duty. The court-martial exonerated him of all charges, but Harmar retired from the army on January 1, 1792.

Harmar's actions in western Ohio only heightened tensions between the white settlers and the Indians. Following Harmar's defeat, native attacks against settlers increased. In 1791, Arthur St. Clair led another campaign against the natives in western Ohio, hoping to succeed where Harmar had failed.

See Also


  1. Harmar, Josiah. The Proceedings of a Court of Enquiry, Held at the Special Request of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, to Investigate His Conduct, as Commanding Officer of the Expedition Against the Miami Indians, 1790: the Same Having Been Transmitted by Major General St. Clair, to the Secretary of the United States, for the Department of War. Philadelphia, PA: John Fenno, 1791.
  2. Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.