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William Henry Harrison & the War of 1812

Instructor: Logan Thomas

Logan has taught college courses and has a master's degree in history.

William Henry Harrison was a politician and military commander who earned fame in the 19th Century by fighting on the frontier of the United States. In this lesson, we will learn how Harrison used his experience to gain victories in the War of 1812.

The Making of a Hero

Throughout world history, people have transformed battlefield victories into success in public life. During the 1800s as the United States pushed into Native American territory, many generals earned fame by defeating their enemies on the frontier to clear land for white settlement.

William Henry Harrison
Harrison

William Henry Harrison had already become a national hero when war broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812. During the conflict, Harrison would command American forces in the Northwest Territory and cement U.S. control of the area.

Background

The United States was still a young country when it decided to take on Britain, the greatest power in the world at the time. In what would later become known as the War of 1812, the United States fought for many reasons including the suspected trade between Britain and the Native Americans.

Since the American Revolution concluded in 1783 and the United States officially gained its independence, relations between Great Britain and its former colonies had been frosty. Some Native American tribes which had sided with the British during the Revolution never stopped fighting the United States.

The continued partnership between local tribes and Great Britain was perhaps the most significant crime in the eyes of those Americans living in western territories like Indiana. The British maintained trade with many tribes, furnishing them with supplies to help halt the American westward expansion in its tracks.

The Battle of Tippecanoe

A great coalition of numerous tribes had formed around Indiana under the leadership of a Shawnee man named Tecumseh. Along with his brother, a prophet who predicted white man's bullets could not hurt faithful followers, Tecumseh rallied thousands of tribesmen to reject the white man's ways and stop continued expansion into their lands. The Confederation increased tension throughout the area.

As the territorial governor of Indiana, Harrison had created numerous treaties with local tribes and worried about Tecumseh's growing coalition. He led a force of 1,000 soldiers toward the Shawnee to frighten them into submitting to new treaties. But the followers of Tecumseh had no intention of acquiescing.

On November 7, 1811, warriors attacked Harrison's force, and the Battle of Tippecanoe was underway. Even though he suffered casualties, Harrison emerged from battle victorious.

The Battle of Tippecanoe
Tippecanoe

The American press did not cover the fight at first, but word soon spread. By the end of the year, most Americans had heard of the victory and heralded Harrison as a hero.

But Tecumseh, out recruiting more individuals to his cause, survived to fight another day.

Tecumseh
Tecumseh

With relations between the U.S. and the United Kingdom already worsening, most Americans blamed the British for encouraging native tribes to resist westward expansion and supplying them with weapons.

Off to War

When the United States declared war on Britain in June of 1812, Harrison wanted to be involved. He held several leadership positions during the conflict, fighting against Indians and the British in the northwestern United States.

Following a devastating defeat in Detroit, U.S. President James Madison fired the current commander and gave Harrison a new opportunity to lead.

Harrison gained reinforcements and marched north with the goal of annihilating the British and Shawnee forces in the territory.

The Battle of the Thames

By cutting off their supplies, Harrison forced the British to abandon Detroit and move north. Now, he prepared to invade Canada.

On October 5, 1813, Harrison led his troops once again in a battle against the Shawnee along with their British allies. But unlike Tippecanoe, Tecumseh was on this battlefield.

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