The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on November 7, 1811 between American forces, led by Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory, and Native American warriors associated with the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, were leaders of a confederacy of Native Americans tribes. Harrison's forces of about 1,000 were marching to the confederacy's headquarters at Prophetstown, near the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.
Tecumseh was away when Harrison's army arrived. Tenskwatawa was in charge. Harrison camped near Prophetstown on November 6 and arranged to meet with Tenskwatawa the following day. Early the next morning, warriors from Prophetstown attacked Harrison's army. Outnumbered, Harrison and his men were able to hold off the attackers for more than two hours before the Shawnee forces withdrew. Prophetstown was abandoned and burned to the ground by Harrison's men.
Harrison claimed a great victory. The fame of the victory, and other actions during the War of 1812, contributed to his election as president in 1840. He used the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" during his campaign to exploit the supposed great victory.
Some contemporaries and later historians questioned whether Battle of Tippecanoe had been a great American victory. Matthew Elliott, a British agent, provides a contemporary perspective as to the British view at the time. On January 12, 1812, he wrote to Sir Isaac Brock providing an assessment of the battle concluding that the Shawnee defeat had not been decisive. The letter is referred to in Prophets of the Great Spirit: Native Revitalising Movements in in Eastern North America, by Alfred Cave (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2006) at page 104. It reads as follows:
British Indian agent Matthew Elliott, in a dispatch to the British military commander,Gen.Isaac Brock, on January12,1812, reported that Harrison’s raid had failed. Although the Americans burned Prophets town,“ the Prophet and his people do not appear as a vanquished enemy; they re-occupy their former ground.” Elliott gave as his source “a Kickapoo Chief” who had been present at the battle. Indian losses at Tippecanoe, the chief reported,had been minimal, with no more than twenty dead. “From this man’s report,” Elliott wrote, “the Chiefs of these tribes have determined to come here early in the Spring and make a demand of ammunition and arms.”
As for Harrison, he was sworn in as president on March 4,1841, giving the longest presidential inaugural address in history, lasting one hour and forty-five minutes; speaking in a driving snowstorm without an overcoat, contracting a cold that worsened into pneumonia and pleurisy and dying on 12:30 am on April 4, 1841.1 As president, Harrison is thus distinguished by being the first American president to die in office and serving the shortest term of any president from March 4 to April 4, 1841 or 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes.
Sean Wilentz,The Rise of American Democracy (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2005), pp 521-522
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