1938 9¢ William Henry Harrison, light rose
US #814 – From the 1938 Presidential Series

On September 4, 1812, the Siege of Fort Harrison began. It would end 11 days later in the first American land victory of the War of 1812.

En route to their battle at Tippecanoe, General William Henry Harrison’s army camped along the Wabash River. Harrison and his men built a fort, which was named for the general, on the site to protect the army’s supply lines as well as the Indiana Territory’s capital at Vincennes.

When the War of 1812 broke out, Captain Zachary Taylor was placed in command of Fort Harrison. Following a series of American losses at the start of the war, Native Americans in the area were motivated to attack remote US outposts.

Captain Taylor received a warning from a band of Miami on September 3 that a large force of Native Americans was planning to attack the fort. With just 50 men in his fort, and all but 15 of them sick, Taylor prepared for the attack the following day. Five local settlers joined the fight and all were issued 16 rounds of ammo. Later that day, a force of 600 Potawatomi, Wea, Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Winnebago warriors approached the fort under a flag of truce. They requested to meet with Taylor the next morning to parley, and he agreed.

1950 3¢ Indiana Territory Issue
US #996 – The fort protected supply lines and the territory’s capital

However, a lone warrior snuck into the fort that night and set a fire that destroyed most of the food and made a wide hole in the outer wall. At the same time, the rest of the force attacked the other side of the fort, but the soldiers managed to drive off the initial attack. The fire quickly spread, igniting whiskey stores and burning out of control. While the fire caused extensive damage, it was useful in lighting the dark night to reveal the attackers.

1986 22¢ Pres. W.H. Harrison First Day Cover
US #2216i – Harrison First Day Cover

Taylor later admitted that his situation appeared hopeless, but he warned his attackers that “Taylor never surrenders!” He then set some of his men to putting out the fire. When it was under control, they successfully repelled the attack.

1986 22¢  Pres. Taylor, First Day Cover
US #2217c – Taylor First Day Cover

The garrison managed to hang on through an eight-day siege, until a 1,000-man relief column arrived on September 12 and drove off the attacking natives. The battle is considered America’s first land victory of the war.

1875 5¢ Zachary Taylor, blue
US #179 was most often used on letters to Europe.

However, the day after the siege ended, a supply train bringing much-needed flour and meat to the fort was ambushed by a Potawatomi war party on a part of the trail known as The Narrows (near present-day Fairbanks, Indiana). The horses ran away with the supply wagon and all but two of the 13 men in the party were killed. Another supply party set out two days later, unaware of this attack and was also attacked by the Potawatomi. They retreated after the initial attack, suffering seven men killed, with eight returning to Vincennes.

In the coming days, US forces retaliated against the Potawatomi and drove them out of Indiana Territory. Fort Harrison later became known as “The Fort of Two Presidents” because of its connections to both William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.

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5 Comments

  1. Excellent article. However the author failed to connect the Indian attacks to the British, who were funding and arming them, in a continued effort to reclaim much of the American territories for Great Britain.

  2. Being from Indiana… As a child, the events that happen in Tippecanoe and around Vincennes was part of my grade school Indiana history courses. This is a reminder what our forefathers endured so all of us at the time could remain free of the British and continue to remain free to this day.

  3. And likewise the author failed to connect that the Native Americans were defending what was left of their homeland (Indiana) that was their land under treaties with the U.S. and earlier with the British.

  4. Excellent article. I did not know of this battle. It ranks up there with one of the greatest military battles of all time. The Indians repeatedly broke treaties and let the land go to waste. Us Americans developed the land and kept it productive to feed the world.

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