On the morning of the 5th of October, 1813, near an Indian settlement called the Moravian towns, on the river Thames, General Harrison, who was in pursuit of Englisg troops came up to them, eight hundred regular troops under Major-General Proctor, and twelve hundred Indians headed by Tecumseh. By this time Colonel Johnson's regiment of twelve hundred mounted men, armed with guns, without either pistols or sabres, had joined General Harrison, having, by forced marches, followed from the moment they got his orders to do so.
The night before the battle of the Thames, Walk-in-the-water, with sixty followers, deserted Proctor, and threw themselves in General Harrison's arms. Large quantities of English stores fell into our possession continually. Late at night Proctor and Tecumseh descended the river clandestinely, and made a reconnoissance, with a view to attack Harrison, which was Tecumseh's desire, and probably Proctor's best plan for escape; but the English general did not choose to risk what would have been not only less dishonorable, but much safer, than the battle he was forced to accept.
When all General Harrison's dispositions for attack, on the 5th of October, 1813, had been made, and the army was advancing against the enemy, well posted among woods, marshes, and streams, Colonel Wood, who had approached close to the English, - concealed to reconnoitre, - returned to General Harrison and told him that Proctor's men were drawn up in open lines; that is, each man somewhat separated from the next, instead of standing close together, as is the strongest and safest method. With considerable felicity of prompt adaptation to circumstances, Harrison instantly changed his order of attack. He inquired of Colonel Johnson if his horsemen could charge infantry. "Certainly," said the colonel. His men had been trained and practised to charge in the woods, just as they were to do. General Harrison then gave Colonel Johnson the order to charge; and in an instant that battalion of the mounted regiment which Colonel Richard Johnson committed to his brother, the lieutenant-colonel, James, charged through and through the English infantry, who then threw down their arms and cried for quarters in a much more craven mood than had yet been betrayed in that war. Their commander, after demoralizing them by guilt and encumbering them with plunder, disheartened them by pusillanimous behavior when attacked.
Colonel Richard Johnson's order to charge was discretionary, to charge the enemy as they stood, infantry, artillery, and some horse. Finding that the whole of his regiment could hardly get at them between the river and the swamp where they were drawn up, while by passing the swamp he might reach the Indians there awaiting our onset, Colonel Johnson, in the absence of General Harrison, exercised a judicious discretion to consign the first battalion of his regiment to his brother for the English, while he himself, with the other battalion, should attack the Indians. The English infantry delivered some shots as Lieutenant-Colonel James Johnson approached, and for a moment disconcerted some of the first horses, although drilled to that mode of charge. But, taking a couple of volleys as they advanced, they easily recovered composure, rushed on the infantry, pierced, broke, then wheeled upon them, poured in a destructive fire on their rear, and brought them to instantaneous submission, without much loss on either side.. Proctor, with a small escort of dragoons and mounted Indians, made his escape so quickly and rapidly that no effort could overtake him. He was pursued for many miles, abandoned his carriage and sword, lost all his plunder and papers,.. and found his way, at last, through many tribulations, to Burlington Heights, there to be publicly reprimanded and disgraced for cowardice and avarice, by the Governor-General of Canada. The disaster of the British army, said an English historian, was not palliated by those precautions and that presence of mind which even in defeat reflect lustre on a commander. The bridges and roads in rear of the retreating army were left entire, while its progress was retarded with a useless and cumbersome load of baggage..
Tecumseh, with his red braves, made a very different stand against Colonel Richard Johnson. Unlike the precipitate firing of the British infantry, these gallant savages reserved theirs till close pressed, then delivered volleys with deadly aim and effect. Embarrassed by the swamp, Colonel Johnson found it necessary to dismount his men. As soon as Governor Shelby heard the musketry from his station, the old soldier, eager for action, led up his men. After some time of close, sharp, and mutually destructive fighting, the Indians were forced to give way, but not without sacrificing three times as many lives as the English, and leaving infinitely fewer prisoners as trophies to their conquerors. Active and conspicuous, invincible and exemplary, the valiant Tecumseh fought till he fell pierced with several balls and died a hero's death. The Indian chief on whom the savage command devolved deplored to General Harrison, after the battle, the treacherous cowardice of their father, General Proctor, by which term of veneration he still mentioned that recreant superior..
Colonel Richard Johnson's task in conflict with Tecumseh was much longer, bloodier, and more difficult, though no bolder, than his brother's vanquishing the English. Whether with his own hand he killed the Indian chieftain is among the disputed occurrences of a conflict in which his conduct requires no additional celebrity. He was repeatedly shot, and desperately wounded..
Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 3)