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Harmar Campaign
Part of Northwest Indian War
Josiah Harmar by Raphaelle Peale.jpeg
General Josiah Harmar
Date19–22 October 1790
LocationOhio Territory, United States
Result Decisive Indian Victory
Western Confederacy  United States
Commanders and leaders
Little Turtle

Josiah Harmar

John Hardin
1,050 warriors 540 regulars and militia
Casualties and losses
120-150 killed or wounded 129 killed
94 wounded

The Harmar Campaign was an attempt by the United States to subdue Native Americans in the Northwest Territory in the Autumn of 1790. It was led by General Josiah Harmar and was part of the Northwest Indian War. The campaign featured a series of battles that were all overwhelming victories for the Native Americans, and the losses are sometimes referred to as Harmar's Defeat.

Prelude to battle

From 1784 to 1789, there was considerable violence between American settlers and the Shawnee and Miami Indians in Kentucky, along the Ohio River, and at the few settlements north of the Ohio, with some 1,500 settlers killed by the Indians. However, there was no general war.

In 1789, President George Washington wrote to the Governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, and asked him to determine whether the Indians living along the Wabash River and Illinois River were inclined for war or peace with the United States. St. Clair decided the tribes wanted war, and called for militia forces to be assembled at Fort Washington (now Cincinnati, Ohio) and Vincennes, Indiana. President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Harmar to lead these forces on a punitive expedition into the Shawnee and Miami lands as retaliation for the killings noted above, and to deter the tribes from further attacks.

The primary objective of the campaign was the destruction of the large, main Miami village of Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), where the St. Joseph and St. Mary's Rivers join to form the Maumee River. St. Clair and Harmar had also planned to build a fort there But when St. Clair presented his plan to Washington at New York in August 1790, the President decided that a fort would be too vulnerable and too expensive.[1]

At this time, British forces still occupied Fort Detroit in violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783). St. Clair wrote to the British at Fort Detroit to assure them that the expedition was only against Indian tribes, and expressed his confidence that the British would not interfere.[2] [3]

General Harmar gathered 320 regulars of the First American Regiment and 1,133 militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania, for a total of 1,453 men.[4] The force also had three horse-drawn 6-pounder cannons. Few experienced frontiersmen took part in the campaign; many instead paid recent immigrants to take their place. Lt. Ebenezer Denny wrote that the militia "appear to be raw and unused to the gun or the woods."[5] The troops were assembled in September, and the campaign had to be completed before winter set in. This was because the pack horses which carried the troops' supplies were fed by grazing, and would starve in winter. This meant there was no time to train the militia.[6] The campaign was launched from Fort Washington on 7 October 1790. General Harmar began the march north, along the Great Miami River. A smaller army led by Jean François Hamtramck marched north from Vincennes to distract the Wabash Indians. Hamtramck's force was delayed, and returned to Vincennes.[7] By 14 October, Harmar's force had marched to within 25 miles (40 km) of Kekionga. On that day, Kentuckian scouts captured a Shawnee. After some intense interrogation, the Indian said that the Miami and Shawnee were gathering at Kekionga to meet Harmar's army.

Before dawn on 15 October, Harmar dispatched 600 men under Colonel John Hardin was north on a forced march to "surprise" the Indians at Kekionga. When Colonel Hardin's detachment reached Kekionga, they found the village abandoned, burned it, and camped south of the destroyed town.

Harmar reached other Miami villages near Kekionga on 17 October. The Miami had warning of the attack, and had evacuated their villages with as much food as they could carry. There were some British-affiliated traders among the Miami; they fled to Fort Detroit with their families and goods. All arms and ammunition were distributed to Miami warriors. The Miami were well informed of the size and movements of Harmar's force, and even of Harmar's inclination towards drunkenness.[8] The Americans seized the food that was not carried away.

Battle of Heller's Corner

On 19 October, near modern Churubusco, Indiana, Harmar sent out a scouting party under Colonel Hardin, consisting of 180 militia, a troop of cavalry under Major James Fontaine, and 30 regulars under Captain John Armstrong.[9][10] It was to estimate the strength of the Indians and attack the village of Chief Le Gris.[11] The party came within a few miles of Kekionga, where they encountered an Indian on horseback, who fled along a minor trail leading away from the village. Hardin ordered his force to pursue, but sent Major Fontaine's cavalry back to bring up a company that had been left behind. The Indian was a decoy, and led Hardin into a swampy lowland by the Eel River, where he could neither pursue nor easily retreat.

Indians led by Little Turtle attacked Hardin's force from three sides. Most of the militia fled, warning Major Fontaine's cavalry to get out.

The regulars stood their ground with some of the militia. Only 8 of the 30 regulars survived. 40 militia were killed,[12] and 12 Americans had been wounded.[13] Captain Armstrong hid in the marsh and escaped with his life. He blamed Hardin and the militia for the defeat, and claimed that only about 100 Indians had been involved. This was the approximate number of warriors available from Kekionga and Le Gris' Village.[14] The battle also sometimes referred to as Hardin's Defeat.[8]

Hartshorn's Defeat

On 20 October, General Harmar arrived at the camp outside Kekionga. He sent a detachment of 300 men under Ensign Phillip Hartshorn northward to scout for Indian movements. Eight miles above Kekionga, Hartshorn was ambushed by a large Indian force, which killed him and 19 of his men. Instead of advancing immediately to attack the Indians, Harmar pulled back several miles south of Kekionga. He did not even have a burial detail to bury the twenty dead. Morale by now had plummeted, and the men were enraged at the cowardice of their commander. Hardin then demanded that he be allowed to attack the Indians with 400 men, or at the very least, bury their fallen comrades.

Battle of Pumpkin Fields

Little Turtle

On the night of 21 October, Colonel Hardin advanced with 300 militia and 60 regulars of the First American Regiment, under regimental commander Major John P. Wyllys. At dawn on 22 October, they found about 1,000 Indians encamped at Kekionga. Hardin immediately sent to Harmar requesting reinforcements. When the courier told Harmar (who was rumored to have been drunk) about the size of the enemy force, he became visibly shaken. He ordered his 800-900 remaining men into a hollow defensive square and refused to come to Hardin's aid, leaving him alone to face an enemy more than twice his number. Colonel Hardin, expecting reinforcements at any time, divided his command into four groups under Major Wyllys, Major Hall, Major Fontaine, and Major McMullen. He planned to flank the Indians on all sides.[15] The Indians at Kekionga, who were led by Little Turtle, attacked first, however. Little Turtle sent small parties to fire on the militia and retreat. The militia gave chase in many instances, until the regulars were left isolated. Little Turtle then attacked Major Wyllys's detachment, with results as devastating as Heller's Corner.[16] Major Fontaine, meanwhile, led a cavalry charge into a wooded area and was ambushed. Soon the Shawnee and Miami attacked Hardin from three sides. Still expecting reinforcements from Harmar, Hardin's men put up a valiant defense, holding the Indians at bay for over three hours before finally falling back to join the rest of the army.[17]

The battle came to be known as the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields because the steam from the scalped skulls reminded the Indians of squash steaming in the autumn air. 180 men were either killed or wounded.[12] The army forces reported 129 men killed in action (14 officers, including Major Wyllys and Major Fontaine, and 115 enlisted men) and 94 wounded (including 50 of the Regulars). Estimates of Indian casualties range from 120 to 150 total.


After such high casualties from these engagement, General Harmar determined that he could not attack. The approaching winter further threatened his command, as militia deserted and horses starved. The retreating force reached Fort Washington on 3 November 1790.[12]

It was the worst defeat of U.S. forces by Indians up to that time, and was later surpassed only by St. Clair's Defeat and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.[18] It established Little Turtle as an Indian hero, and encouraged the Indians in the Northwest Territory to resist the United States.[19] Indians attacked settlements all across the Northwest Territory, including the January 1791 Big Bottom massacre and Siege of Dunlap's Station.[20]

A court martial in 1791 cleared Harmar of any wrongdoing during the campaign.[21][22]

President Washington was furious at the news of the defeat,[19] and lamented "my mind... is prepared for the worst; that is, for expence without honor or profit."[7] The news persuaded Congress to raise a second regiment of Regular soldiers for six months, but it later reduced the soldiers' pay. The First Regiment was soon reduced to 299 soldiers, while the new Second Regiment recruited only half of their authorized number.[19] When Governor St. Clair led a similar expedition the next year, he had to call out the militia to meet the required manpower. His campaign would end in the worst defeat by Indians the Army ever received.



  1. Schecter, 232
  2. Barnhart, pp 284-285, fn.21
  3. Washington, as early as 1784, had told Henry Knox that a strong U.S. post should be established at Kekionga. St. Clair, in 1790, had told both Washington and Knox that "we will never have peace with the Western Nations until we have a garrison there." Knox, however, was concerned that a U.S. fort at Kekionga would provoke and denied St. Clair's request to build a fort there. Following Harmar's defeat, Knox changed his mind, and instructed St. Clair to occupy and fortify Kekionga the following year. Poinsatte, 21-23
  4. Barnhart, pg 283
  5. Winkler, 25
  6. Barnhart, 283
  7. 7.0 7.1 Schecter, 233
  8. 8.0 8.1 Poinsatte, 22
  9. Winkler, 15
  10. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Pfingsten, Bill, ed. (22 September 2011). "Site of Hardin's Defeat". The Historical Marker Database. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  11. Carter, 94
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Barnhart, 284
  13. Allison, 73
  14. Carter, 92-93
  15. Allison, 74
  16. Allison, 75
  17. Map of "Harmar's Defeat"
  18. Allison, 76
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Fleming, Thomas (August 2009). "Fallen Timbers, Broken Alliance". History Reference Center, EBSCOhost. pp. 36–43. 
  20. Winkler, John F (2011). Wabash 1791. St. Clair's defeat. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-84908-676-9. 
  21. Johnson, Jeffery L. (October 2004). "Saving Private Boon: Joseph Boone at "Harmar's Defeat"". The Boon Society. Retrieved 2006-12-29. 
  22. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Harmar's Defeat". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved 2006-12-29.


  • Allison, Harold (©1986, Harold Allison). The Tragic Saga of the Indiana Indians. Turner Publishing Company, Paducah. ISBN 0-938021-07-9. 
  • Barnhart, John D. and Riker, Dorothy L. Indiana to 1816. The Colonial Period. ©1971, Indiana Historical Society. ISBN 0-87195-109-6
  • Carter, Harvey Lewis. The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash. ©1987, Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01318-2.
  • Johnson, Jeffery L. (October 2004). Saving Private Boon: Joseph Boone at "Harmar's Defeat". Compass. The Boon Society. Retrieved on 2006-12-29. 
  • Poinsatte, Charles (1976). Outpost in the Wilderness: Fort Wayne, 1706-1828. Allen County, Fort Wayne Historical Society. 
  • Schecter, Barnet (2010). George Washington's America. A Biography Through His Maps. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 978-0-8027-1748-1. 
  • Winkler, John F. (2011). Wabash 1791: St. Clair's Defeat; Osprey Campaign Series #240. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84908-676-1. 

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