Battle of The Thames / Moraviantown
October 5, 1813, Moraviantown (present day Chatham-Kent, Ontario), Upper Canada
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At the Battle of Moraviantown - also known as the Battle of the Thames - American troops came as close as they ever would, to their goal of conquering Canada. The rout of the British-Native army on October 5, 1813, was the first decisive land victory of the war for the United States. Along with the success of U.S. naval forces at the Battle of Put-in-Bay less than a month earlier, it provided a tremendous boost to American morale. The great Indian leader Tecumseh was slain in hand-to-hand combat and his Native Alliance shattered. The retreating British troops were left in complete disarray. After the battle, British officials faced the prospect of losing all of Upper Canada west of Kingston.
The Battle of Moraviantown played a central role in the creation of the myths surrounding the 3 commanders involved in the conflict. Tecumseh was perceived to have heroically sacrificed his life in defense of his people while his British ally Maj. Gen. Henry Procter, became known as an ineffective, if not outright cowardly, leader. While the American Gen. William H. Harrison used the popular acclaim which followed his success at the Thames to galvanize a long political career. He went on to become president of the United States.
Although the British continued to occupy Fort Mackinac, the defeat at Moraviantown effectively ended their control west of Lake Ontario. The Detroit Frontier, coveted in the first year of the war, ceased to be a major theatre of conflict. With the death of Tecumseh and Procter's retreat, British support of the First Nations in the Old Northwest dried up. The Native Alliance collapsed and the lands Tecumseh fought so hard to protect were opened up for settlement.
In September 1813, the American navy under Oliver H. Perry scored a decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. Gen. Henry Procter, feared losing his supply lines and, against the advice of his ally Tecumseh, was retreating from Fort Malden. Gen. William H. Harrison trailed Procter through Upper Canada. Tecumseh had pleaded with Procter to stop and face Harrison several times. Finally Procter was convinced to face Harrison at Moraviantown on the Thames River.
Harrison's force totaled at least 3,500 infantry and cavalry. Col. Richard Mentor Johnson commanded the Kentucky cavalry; 5 brigades of Kentucky militia were led by Isaac Shelby, the sixty-three year-old governor of Kentucky and a hero of the American Revolutionary War. Many of the volunteers under Johnson were from the River Raisin area and enlisted with the slogan "Remember the Raisin". Harrison's army was eager for a fight.
Procter on the other hand had about 800 soldiers along with about 500 natives led by Tecumseh. The British soldiers were becoming increasingly demoralized and Tecumseh's warriors grew even more impatient with Procter for his unwillingness to stop and fight. Procter even feared a mutiny by the warriors.
On October 4, Tecumseh skirmished the Americans near Chatham, Ontario to slow the American advance. The warriors were quickly overwhelmed and Procter's aide Lt. Col. Augustus Warburton lost his supplies and ammunition to an American raiding party. On October 5, Procter formed the British regulars in line of battle at Moraviantown and planned to trap Harrison on the banks of the Thames, driving the Americans off the road with his cannons. Tecumseh's warriors took up positions in a swamp on the British right to catch the American's in the flank. Harrison surveyed the battlefield and unconventionally ordered James Johnson to make a frontal attack against the British regulars. Despite the Indians' flanking fire James Johnson broke through; the British cannon having failed to fire. Immediately Procter and the British turned and fled the field, many of them surrendering. Tecumseh remained and kept up the fighting. Col. Richard Johnson at the head of about 20 cavaliers charged into the Indian position to draw attention away from the main American force.
Fifteen of the men were killed or wounded and Johnson himself was hit 5 times. Johnson's main force became bogged down in the mud of the swamp. Tecumseh was killed in this fighting; Johnson may have been the one who killed Tecumseh, though the evidence is far from certain. The main force finally made its way through the swamp and James Johnson's troops were freed from their attack on the British. With the American reinforcements converging and news of the death of Tecumseh spreading quickly the Indian resistance quickly dissolved. Mounted troops then moved on and burned Moraviantown.
The Battle of the Thames was a decisive victory for the Americans that led to the re-establishment of American control over the Northwest frontier for the remainder of the war. However, Harrison failed to exploit this success and, after burning Moravian Town, promptly withdrew to Detroit. The front would remain quiet for the rest of the war.
Harrison's popularity grew and was eventually elected President of the United States. Richard Mentor Johnson eventually became Vice President based partly on the belief that he had killed Tecumseh.
Procter was later court-martialed for cowardice and removed from command. Historians have been somewhat kinder to Procter, noting that with the Americans in control of Lake Erie, the Detroit frontier was no longer tenable with the limited men and supplies available to Procter. The death of Tecumseh was a crushing blow to the Indian alliance he had created and it effectively dissolved following the battle.