By the spring of 1794, the Shawnees, Miamis, and Delawares had been joined by warriors from other western tribes who didn’t want to miss out on their chance to clobber Anthony Wayne and his Legion of the United States. Some 1500 warriors were assembled and ready to rumble. Though the British urged them to concentrate their attacks on the American supply line, they instead spent their time attacking the irresistible target of Fort Recovery, which Wayne had built on the very site of St. Clair’s Defeat. Though they inflicted some bad losses on the Americans, they sustained equal losses themselves, leading to stress and recriminations within the Indian confederacy.
On July 28, 1794, Wayne marched. He intended to destroy all the villages and crops on the “Grand Glaize,” and force the Indians to beg for British charity, believing a rapid capitulation and withdraw of the Indians from Ohio would soon follow. Carefully avoiding his predecessors’ mistakes (leading to the extreme slowness of the march which young William Clark interpreted as a lack of boldness), he found the Indian villages deserted at the confluence of the Auglaize and Miami Rivers. Here he stopped to build Fort Defiance. He also sent a message to the Indians, who were assembled near Fort Miamis, that the “bad white men [the British] at the foot of the rapids have neither the power nor the inclination to protect you.” Wayne was more right than the Indians knew.
On August 15, he moved out again towards Fort Miamis. At the same time, the Indians were mired in disagreement about how to proceed. Little Turtle argued that while white men blew away like leaves in the fall, they came back by spring, stronger and more numerous than ever. Blue Jacket accused Little Turtle of being a sellout. Faced with overwhelming opposition, Little Turtle had no choice but set aside his doubts and go along.
On August 18, at the falls of the Maumee, Wayne stopped to build Camp Deposit, a “citadel” of supplies, and prepared to fight the Indians. Spirits were high, even though Wayne promised to shoot anyone who ran away.
The British planned for the Indians to ambush the Americans in a tangled wooded area called the Wilderness, where a number of trees had been downed by a recent tornado. Expecting Wayne to come on, the Indians holed up in the Wilderness. Since they always fasted before battle, it was draining to them when Wayne spent three days getting ready for the battle.
On August 20, Wayne’s army finally entered the Wilderness. A volley of Indian fire came from the woods, decimating their ranks. The Kentucky volunteers immediately broke and ran towards the rear, running into the regulars…who fired on them on Wayne’s orders, shooting some of them down. Then the Indians charged from the woods before anyone could reload. Hand to hand combat was underway. Almost at once the regulars began to give ground.
But those many months Wayne had spent training his army was not wasted after all. He halted the retreat and quickly reformed battle lines. When the Indians withdrew to the protection of the woods, Wayne organized a bayonet charge. As the men of the Legion, including young William Clark, went screaming into the woods, the Indians did the only sensible thing they could do. They ran for the protection of Fort Miamis—where they found the gates closed and locked.
The British weren’t about to reopen war with the Americans. They had betrayed their Indian “allies.” The British-Indian alliance was over.
Most of the Indians escaped into the woods (known thereafter as Fallen Timbers), but the battle was far from over. Wayne’s troops destroyed the Indians’ villages and crops for fifty miles in every direction. The tribes suffered a terrible winter that year, and they had no choice but to come to the bargaining table.
In the summer of 1795, Wayne and the Indian leaders negotiated the Treaty of Greeneville, which secured America’s hold on the Ohio territory. Only Little Turtle refused to sign the treaty, but it was a personal protest only—he allowed another Miami chief to sign for the tribe. The road was open for American westward expansion toward the Mississippi. In terms of historical consequence, Fallen Timbers was one of the most significant military victories in American history.