Tecumseh: The gallant warrior

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Tecumseh was a great warrior, remembered for — among many things — his military contributions as a leader of First Nations in the War of 1812.

Tecumseh was born around 1768 near where Springfield, Ohio, is today and was 44 when the war broke out. Throughout his life, he watched American settlers encroach on Native land, forcing Natives to move again and again.

When American Native agent William Wells invited Tecumseh to talks in 1807, Tecumseh replied: “The Great Spirit above has appointed this place for us, on which to light our fires, and here we will remain. As to boundaries, the Great Spirit above knows no boundaries, nor will his red people acknowledge any.”

His willingness to deal peacefully with the Americans began to ebb with the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. It was an American attempt to force Tecumseh’s brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa), a religious leader, into a hostile act and it worked. Fighting erupted and casualties on both sides were comparable. The Americans thought the battle would break the Native belief in the Prophet. It was shaken but the Natives also saw they were equal to the American army.

In June of 1812, without knowing the Americans had declared war on Great Britain, Tecumseh decided Natives had to reclaim their land. He had a great ability to rally people to his cause and an innate understanding of military tactics and strategy.

He attacked and captured a supply train heading for U.S. Brig.-Gen. William Hull, who had struck into Canada early in the war and stretched his supply lines. When Hull, who was terrified of Native attacks, heard of the ambush, he stopped his march into Canada and returned to Detroit.

When Gen. Isaac Brock decided to force Hull out of Detroit, the mere presence of Tecumseh and his troops was a major tactical advantage.

Brock praised Tecumseh — “a more sagacious or a more gallant warrior does not I believe exist,” the commander wrote. Brock’s support for Tecumseh included a vision for a Native state south of the Great Lakes.

Brock’s aggressive actions impressed Tecumseh and other First Nations warriors and by the fall, Tecumseh was at the head of a Native army of 1,000.

When Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights in the fall of 1812, Maj.-Gen. Henry Procter took over British operations in southwestern Ontario. He was not as aggressive as Brock and lacked his tactical imagination. By July 1813, after a series of failed sieges on American forts, Native and British-Canadian troop morale was sinking.

So too were British-Canadian ships. The American naval victory on Lake Erie made any forays south of the lakes untenable. The Natives and British Canadians retreated to the north side of the lakes.

Now with no means of supply along Lake Erie, Procter decided to withdraw to Canada where it would be easier to provide for his troops. Tecumseh wanted to stay and fight the Americans. Procter promised he would fight when the time was right.

That time was Oct. 5, 1813, at the Battle of Moraviantown.

The British and Canadians were demoralized and Procter was seen as weak. The First Nations warriors were angry and frustrated; some left in disgust before the battle.

As the fighting began, the British formed lines and the Natives took a position in a swamp to the British right. When the Americans attacked, the British turned and fled, leaving Tecumseh and 500 warriors facing 3,000 Americans.

Tecumseh was killed.

His loss was so strongly felt, many First Nations south of the Great Lakes made peace with American forces immediately following his death.