Sold – William Henry Harrison’s First Campaign Orders As Commander of the Northwest Army

"I shall set off this day to join the left wing of the army...The lateness of the season...requires promptitude, decision & energy in every...officer.".

This document has been sold. Contact Us

When war was declared in June 1812, the Americans had but 7,000 troops in the whole of the west, and their leading general, William Hull, was an old man and little respected. The British essentially controlled the Great Lakes and had the numerous Indian tribes as allies, and their initial efforts were...

Read More

Sold – William Henry Harrison’s First Campaign Orders As Commander of the Northwest Army

"I shall set off this day to join the left wing of the army...The lateness of the season...requires promptitude, decision & energy in every...officer.".

When war was declared in June 1812, the Americans had but 7,000 troops in the whole of the west, and their leading general, William Hull, was an old man and little respected. The British essentially controlled the Great Lakes and had the numerous Indian tribes as allies, and their initial efforts were crowned with success. Harrison had established a reputation as a victorious general when he defeated the Indians in 1811 at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and he was governor of the virgin Indiana territory, so many eyes turned to him to take an active military role.

On August 25, 1812, during inaugural ceremonies for the new Kentucky Governor Shelby, a cheering throng received his proclamation naming Harrison as major general of Kentucky militia. Word had not yet reached them that Hull had surrendered Detroit and its entire garrison to the British on August 16. Clad in a plain hunting shirt, Harrison left Frankfort early next morning with the intention of taking command of the forces destined for the relief of Detroit. While en route to Cincinnati he received first reports of Hull’s surrender. Moreover, Fort Dearborn, which Hull had ordered evacuated, had fallen to the Indians, the little garrison massacred on the preceding day. It was as Harrison had feared. Instead of a confident march into Canada as the War Hawks had predicted, the northwestern forces faced the grave problem of frontier defense and Indian attacks.

On August 28, the only senior U.S. general in the sector, James Winchester, temporarily yielded command to Harrison, who on August 31 received a brigadier general’s commission signed by President Polk. The supply situation was terrible and there was no time to drill the troops. The immediate need was to head north to save Fort Wayne, then under actual Indian attack. This was accomplished by Harrison with speed and determination, and the villages of the attackers were then destroyed. At this moment of triumph, Gen. Winchester arrived and assumed command. On September 18, Harrison, America’s best general in the west, was a general bereft of command. Harrison returned with a mounted force to Piqua, his plans as yet undetermined, although mounted Ohio volunteers were being raised at his call for an expedition against the Indiana tribes.

Then, on September 24, Harrison broke the seal of a War Office order appointing him to the command of the Northwestern Army. The order told Harrison that his prospective force would include 3000 men from Pennsylvania and Virginia, the 17th U.S. Regiment, and volunteers and militia from Kentucky, to the total number of 6000. A train of artillery was to advance from Pittsburgh for him and he was clothed with authority to requisition funds and supplies of every kind. With these assets, General Harrison was ordered to provide for the protection of the entire northwestern frontier, to retake Detroit, and to prepare to conquer Canada.

Now he was in sole charge, but of a desperate situation. With the weather turning colder, the men were destitute of warm clothing and other supplies were short. On September 25, he called on the citizenry to support the troops. Harrison developed a plan to attack Detroit by means of a strong advance force with artillery, while mobile forces guarded communication lines in the rear. Preparatory to the final thrust by land, the advance forces were to unite at the Maumee (or Miami) Rapids opposite the old battle site of Fallen Timbers.

Harrison’s complex plan also incorporated actions to make Ohio and Indiana safe. Within Ohio were several Indian villages – Delawares, Shawnees, and Wyandots and others, all within striking distance of Fort Wayne. For the protection of the exposed frontier, three lines of approach were mapped. Gen. Winchester’s main base of supply was to be a new outpost erected near old Fort Defiance, rendezvous of the army’s left wing. The Ohio militia, assembled under General Edward Tupper at Urbana, was counted on to garrison the chain of forts erected during the march to Detroit in June. On the right wing, the Virginia and Pennsylvania militia, approaching from Pittsburgh, were to rendezvous with the eastern Ohio militia at outposts along the Sandusky River within striking distance of the Rapids. However, there were no good east-west roads in northwest Ohio and a vast miry tract known as the Black Swamp would have to be either causewayed or frozen over before the artillery could advance.

Thus, unless the fall would be dry enough to dry out the swamp, it was likely to be a winter campaign, so Harrison called on army contractors to supply a million and more rations to be deposited at outposts along the three routes. If Detroit and Malden were to be taken, ample supplies would have to be deposited at the Rapids and a strong fort constructed to counter the threat of enemy warships. Such was the great project to be accomplished in addition to the defense of the Indian frontier. Furthermore, another defeat was not to be risked, according to President Madison’s instructions.

Harrison immediately moved up to St. Marys with newly arrived detachments to supervise the construction of Fort Barbee. To insure transportation of adequate supplies to Winchester’s army, then advancing northeasterly up the Maumee from Fort Wayne, he sent on a force to cut a road along the Auglaize Trail to Defiance, 60 miles in advance, and to erect two outposts. A drove of 300 cattle and 200 packhorses destined for Winchester were pushed forward by the road-builders as they labored in the Black Swamp. The protection of this supply link was now Harrison’s primary concern and when on August 27 two mounted officers brought word that British regulars and Indians were harrying the left wing of his advancing force, he determined to hasten forward to reinforce them that very afternoon with a troop of dragoons and infantry.

In command of the Northwestern Army for just three days, this would be his first foray against the enemy in that capacity. He thought that the Virginia militia reinforcements he had been promised might arrive at any time, so before leaving, he wrote field orders to its commander (whose identity he did not yet know), laying out his plan and instructions for the campaign. Wanting to be sure that the letter reached the recipient in a country swarming with the enemy, Harrison dispatched two couriers, each with identical versions of the letter. One of these originals survives in the collections of the Indiana State Historical Society; one is offered here. These may well have been the first such orders Harrison wrote as Commander of the U.S. Northwestern Army.

Letter Signed “Willm. Henry Harrison,” 2 pages 4to, Head Quarters, Piqua, September 27, 1812, “To the Officer Commanding of the troops from Virginia destined to join the North Western Army;” with integral address leaf bearing a partial red wax seal. “Having been informed by the Honable. Secretary of War that a body of troops was marching from Virginia to join the northwestern army under my command, I have now the honor to inform you that your destination is Wooster in the county of Wayne, in this state, forty five miles west of Canton, and your route through New Lisbon and Canton. Upon your arrival at Wooster, where it is presumed you will be joined by a brigade from Pennsylvania and some companies from this state, the Senior Officer will assume command of all the troops at that place, which will compose the right wing of the army. Should the command devolve upon you, you will make every exertion to prepare for the march to the rapids of the Miami. I have directed the contractor Major White to deposit at Wooster 200,000 rations, the deputy commisary Mr. Piatt to deposit 500,000 and Major Denay of Pittsburgh has orders to forward from thence 400,000 with the means of transport. Mr. Piatt has also directions to procure all the waggons in the country, at least enough to take on at one trip, 1500 barrels of flour & a proportionable quantity of salt and the other small parts of the ration. All the artillery and other supplies wch. are ordered from Pittsburgh will take the direction of Wooster & will be subject to the orders of the senior officer. Governor [Return J.] Meigs has engaged to set a detachment immediately to open the road from Wooster by the upper Sandusky towards the rapids of Miami- And a detachment from the right wing should, immediately upon its arrival at Wooster, be pushed forward to the crossing of Sandusky to erect there two block houses connected by pickets for the safe keeping of the stores, as many as possible of which should be forwarded to that place before the main body of the right wing shall move from Wooster. I shall set off this day to join the left wing of the army, composed principally of Kentucky troops, at Fort Defiance. It is possible that I may leave the command of that wing to General Winchester & proceed to Wooster. But as this is uncertain, it will be necessary that the commanding officer there should use every possible exertion to cause the arrangements for the subsistence of the army to be completed as they have been ordered. It will be necessary also that a considerable quantity of forage should be purchased & the opening the road, building blockhouses at Sandusky & forwarding to them the supplies for the army are objects of primary importance. The lateness of the season & the severity of the climate in which we are to act requires promptitude, decision & energy in every department & in every officer. These qualities are looked for with confidence from you, Sir.”

The War of 1812 seemed to involve one snafu and example of poor planning after another, and the brigade of Virginia militia Harrison was expecting so imminently and needed so desperately would first be mustered into military service at Point Pleasant, Va. on September 28, the day after he wrote this letter. The brigade was placed under the competent command of Gen. Joel Leftwich, a Revolutionary War veteran, who was thus the letter’s intended recipient. Leftwich and his men then left to became part of Harrison’s army, and by October 12 they reached and crossed the Ohio River. By the beginning of November, they had reached Delaware, then the site of Harrison’s headquarters, where they were joined by the Pennsylvania brigade on the same mission. By that time, Harrison had traced a route for American forces across northern Ohio, marked sites for outposts and storehouses, and ordered roads built across Black Swamp to connect Upper and Lower Sandusky Rivers with the Rapids. The militiamen, as stated in this letter, would come through Wooster. They then proceeded up the Scioto River to Marion and Upper Sandusky to Findlay, then crossed the Black Swamp to the site of Ft. Meigs on the Maumee River Rapids just southwest of Toledo, arriving on January 21, 1813. These Virginia forces helped in the construction and defense of Ft. Meigs, and served until March 27, 1813. Some of the men, however, stayed on and were present when the British and their Indian allies besieged the fort in May. The fort was well built and the siege was unsuccessful. Interestingly, when British troops landed in Maryland in August 1814 and marched on Baltimore and Washington, Leftwich’s volunteers were called back to duty. As for Harrison, in 1813 he successfully held the line in the northwest, then pushed back the British and re-captured Detroit. Afterwards he defeated the British forces at the Battle of the Thames, where the Indian leader Tecumseh was killed. His contributions were perhaps the most significant of any American general in the War of 1812, as they made it possible for the U.S. to retain the entire northwest. Harrison was a hero, and on the road to the presidency. These detailed orders, from the start of his first campaign as U.S. commander in chief in the west, may also be the first he ever wrote in that capacity. They are also the most important Harrison autograph we can recall seeing, and fit for a historical society or museum.

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services