by Tom Castaldi
The Battle of Kekionga in October 1790 was the first battle fought by the United States Army after the War for Independence. The campaign had been ordered by President Washington against the Miami settlement of Kekionga, the center of Indian resistance to U.S. migration across the Ohio River.
The U.S. campaign against Kekionga began in early October when General Josiah Harmar, a veteran of the Revolutionary Way, led his main force of 1,453 regular and militia soldiers up the Great Miami River valley north of Fort Washington (later, Cincinnati). A diversionary force under Major John Hamtramck had marched on the Vincennes area to draw the main concentration of Miami Indians and their allies, the Delawares and Shawnees, away from Kekionga, but the maneuver failed.
On October 15, the vanguard of the U.S. forces reached Kekionga and found that the Miami had burned and abandoned their town. On October 17, Harmar’s main force reached the Indian town, but patrols failed to discover the Miami warriors. Two days later, on hearing reports of a gathering of Indian forces, Harmar sent about three hundred men under Colonel John Hardin (of the Kentucky militia) north of Kekionga to the Eel River region to search for the Indian warriors. On October 19, Hardin’s forces suffered a stinging defeat near present-day Heller’s Corners in an ambush led by the Miami war chief Meshekinnoquah (Little Turtle). Nearly all the U.S. Army regular soldiers were killed and the Kentucky militia fled. One regular officer, Captain John Armstrong, managed to survive by hiding all night in a swamp, listening to the Miami victory celebrations nearby. General Harmar completed the destruction of the area villages on October 20 and retreated from Kekionga on the 21st to a camp located nine miles to the south, near present-day Hessen Cassel.
Learning that the Miami warriors had returned to Kekionga, General Harmar sent an attacking force back to the Indian town on the morning of October 22. Two companies of U.S. forces, under the command of Colonel John Hardin, took position along the west bank of the St. Joseph river. Three companies, under the overall command of regular army major John Wyllys, advanced across the ford of the Maumee River, hoping to entrap the Indians in Kekionga itself. The Miami warriors challenged the crossing, killing several men as they waded the ankle-deep Maumee River. In the corn fields and flood plain outside Kekionga, the main United States forces were destroyed and Major Wyllys and the cavalry commander, Major Fontaine, were killed by Little Turtle’s warriors who held the high ground to the north. By the end of the battle at midday, 183 United States soldiers had been killed, and about the same number of Indians had been slain. The Miami Confederacy had held its town, and General Harmar’s main force retreated to Fort Washington.
Originally published in Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” –September October 2004, No 7, p. 70