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William Henry Harrison Recalls the Death of Tecumseh and Medals for the Battle that Ended British Threats to the Northwest Territory
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In 1822, Congress proposed that Philadelphia mint coin commemorative medals to honor General Harrison and General Isaac Shelby, the two commanding officers at the historic Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813). There, Harrison’s ragtag army resoundingly defeated a combined British and Indian force on Canadian soil, shattering Chief Tecumseh’s confederacy and securing U.S. possession of the Old Northwest territory. Shelby had asked that his medal show the death of Tecumseh, while Todd suggested that Harrison’s medal might depict the cavalry charge, the surrender of the British, or the defense of Fort Meigs. Harrison harks back to the battle and expresses characteristically strong opinions on the scene to be chosen for the medal. The victory catapulted Harrison to national fame and his short-lived presidency.

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON. Autograph Letter Signed, to John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War. Northbend, [Ohio], September 2, 1822. With integral address leaf marked “Free.” 2 pp., 8½ x 9½ in. [With:] Manuscript Document. “Extract of a letter from Col Charles Todd to Genl Harrison,” in unknown hand, n.p., n.d.

Inventory #23802       ON HOLD

Transcript

                                                                                                            Northbend 2nd Septr 1822

Dear Sir,

I received this evg a letter from Colo. C.S. Todd our Charges des Affairs to the Republic of Columbia written from on board the John Adams in Hampton Road, of which the enclosed is an extract. It is certain that I never saw or heard of the device which he says was sent to me. I think indeed I should have been first consulted for a choice of incidents in an action where the plan was all my own without having had the slightest suggestion from any other officer. However the incident chosen by [Kentucky] Gov. [Isaac] Shelby is I think a very proper one for his medal as Tecumseh was killed directly in front of that part of the line of Infantry which the Governor commanded. I adopt the suggestion of Col. Todd in relation to the charge on the British line by the Mounted Corps. My immediate position at the time the charge was made was on the right of the charging column. Immediately in our rear were a regiment of militia infantry in line & a Detachment of U.S. Infantry in column of sections. I was attended by Genl Cap Comdr [Oliver Hazard] Perry, Colo. Butler, Ass’t. Adj. Genl. Cap. Todd (the author of the letter) and Capt OFallon aids de camp. Major Wood of the <2> engineers & Major Chambers Jn Speed Smith Volunteer Aids de camp.  If the suggestion of Colo. Todd as to the defence of Fort Meiggs is admissible I would make but one alteration to his proposition & that is to make the sortie on the right flank the leading prominent part of the scene & my own position Woods battery superintending that sortie rather than on Cushings recalling Dudleys Command. Colo. Gratiot was an eye witness of all the incidents of this eventful day & knows as well as any man how I was employed. If the other Medals should be presented before mine is ready I should be glad that the reason of the delay should be published.

                                                                 With great Respect/ I am Dr Sir/ Your Humble Serv

                                                                        William H. Harrison

Honble J. C. Calhoun/ Secy War

[Address leaf (mostly in Harrison’s hand) not transcribed]

Historical Background

After resigning from the army in 1798, William Henry Harrison, son of Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison, served as secretary of the Northwest Territory and then as governor of the Indiana Territory (the western half of the former Northwest Territory) in 1801. In 1811, Harrison confronted an Indian confederacy headed by Tecumseh and his brother, known as “the Prophet.” Before dawn on November 7, Harrison’s thousand-man army was attacked at their encampment on the Tippecanoe River. Though both sides suffered heavy losses, Tecumseh’s confederacy was disrupted, and Harrison’s role in the Battle of Tippecanoe became legend. President Madison then commissioned Harrison a brigadier general in 1812, and gave him command of the army in the Northwest. The Americans continued skirmishing with the British and their Indian allies along the Canadian border, with the ultimate American goal of conquering the British territory north of the Ohio Valley.

As with prior American invasions of Canada, the 1813 attempt was unsuccessful. The campaign included a standoff at the Niagara River and an elaborate attempt to attack Montreal by a combined operation involving one force advancing along Lake Champlain and another sailing down the Saint Lawrence River from Lake Ontario. The only success was in the West. Though his victory at Thames came at a high price, it one of the most important of the War of 1812. It effectively denied the British access to the Ohio Valley, exposed Canada to American invasion, and led directly to William Henry Harrison’s rout of the British at Moraviantown on October 5, which resulted in the death of Tecumseh and the breakup of his Indian confederation.

Complete Transcript of Second Document (in unknown hand)

Extract of a letter from Col Charles Todd to Genl. Harrison

            While at Phila. in June I had an opportunity through the politeness of Messrs. Calhoun & Hopkinson of examining the medals voted to our military officers. I learned with regret that yours had progressd slowly because you had never returned the device sent you for approval & correction. As a medal had been voted to Gov. Shelby for the same affair and on his the death of Tecumseh had been selected as the principal incident. I suggested the propriety of referring in yours to the charge of the mounted men on the right & the surrender of the Brittish force or for the further purpose of commemorating the defence of Fort Meigs (for which you deserved another medal) I advised taking a view of that siege as an allegorical device- With this view I have conferred with Col. Gratiot who commands at old Point <2> Comfort & he has promised to prepare and send to Mr. Calhoun a view of the Siege shewing at the same time the Sortie under Dudley under Miller & the arrival of Clay.  Selecting as the most proment figure, yourself on Cushings battery, recalling Dudly’s men.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), the ninth president of the United States, was one of the most important figures in early westward expansion. Born to an aristocratic Virginia planter family, Harrison studied history, classics and medicine at Hampden-Sydney College before entering the military. As an ensign stationed in the Northwest, he fought against the Indians, and served as General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s aide-de-camp at the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers. After leaving the army, Harrison was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory, its Congressional representative, and, in 1801, its first Governor. As Governor, he led a punitive raid against Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s Indian Confederacy, and was ambushed on the Tippecanoe River. He held off the attacking force in a struggle that made him famous. During the War of 1812, Harrison continued his campaign against Tecumseh, eventually killing the chief and defeating a combined British/Indian force north of Lake Erie at the 1813 Battle of the Thames. Harrison served in the U.S. Senate from 1825-1828, when President John Quincy Adams appointed him U.S. Minister to Colombia. He was elected President on the Whig ticket in 1840. He died of pneumonia only a month after taking office.

The recipient, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was a Representative and then a Senator from South Carolina, Secretary of War under James Monroe, 1817 to 1825, and Vice President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson from 1825-1832. He was later Secretary of State under John Tyler, from 1844-1845. Calhoun had been the political force behind the 1818 move in Congress to censure Jackson for his actions during the First Seminole War. (At the time, President Monroe had evidently believed and told Jackson, that his cabinet had been unanimous in its decision not to censure Jackson.) Later, Calhoun again clashed with Jackson over the nature of federal power during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Calhoun was instrumental in developing the States Rights Doctrine rationale for secession.

In the end, a simpler design was chosen, as shown in Benson Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Congress awarded approximately 30 gold medals relating to the War of 1812. Harrison and Andrew Jackson are the only Congressional Medal of Honor winners to be elected to the presidency.


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