George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 1 September 1792

From Henry Knox

War department September 1st 1792


I have the honor to submit you a copy of Major General Waynes letter of the 24th Ultimo, containing his ideas of the war, in case of the failure of the pacific overtures.1

I have written him this day, of which the enclosed is a copy.2

The propriety of the expedition to the St Joseph’s river at present, may be justly questioned—After we shall be well established at the Miami village, with proper posts of communication with the head and down the Wabash, and down the Miami of Lake Erie,3 the hostile Indians on St Josephs will either submit, or remove to a greater distance.

We shall soon know with certainty, whether any Indians will remain on the Miami of Lake Erie the ensuing winter—If they should not, the establishments may be effected as far as the field of action of the 4. of November4 and perhaps at the Miami village during the Winter or early in the spring, [(]before the Indians can assemble) either without loss or opposition—if so, our great points would be gained.

The Magazines therefore of forage, and provisions at the advanced posts will be proper and important.

The morning report made to Genl Wayne of the 24th of August I have the honor to enclose—I believe some of his detachments which had arrived are not inserted.5

I have the honor also to transmit enclosed the returns of recruits to this day—It is painful to reflect upon its small encrease and difficult to conjecture a remedy, excepting by increasing the pay which cannot be effected without the orders of Congress.6 I have the honor to be with the highest respect Your most obed. Servant

H. Knox
secy of war


1In his first letter to Knox written from Pittsburgh on 24 Aug., Wayne offered “a few general observations why I think the war must progress.

“The savages have become confident, haughty and insolent, from reiterated success, which they have recently evinced, by the wanton and deliberate massacre of our flags.” Wayne believed that the British from their “Possession of our posts on the Lakes . . . do indirectly, stimulate the savages to continue the War,” and he cited Lord Dorchester’s speech to the Indians in August 1791 “which to me is very conclusive evidence, that they don’t actually encourage the Indians to continue the War—they promise to protect them.”

Wayne said that he “can’t agree in opinion with General Putnam, that we ought to carry on part of our operation by the way of Lake Erie, Because I believe that the British would with avidity, avail themselves of that pretext to assist the savages openly—at all events they would prevent us from navigating on that Water, as long as they hold possession of our posts; . . . I will take the liberty to offer some reasons against a fall Campaign, especially that immediately ensuing.

“Because, we shall be pressed for time, and deficient in point of numbers, discipline and Manoeuvre, and Because, we ought not to risk an other defeat with raw troops;. . . This business—with every exertion and care, will require all this fall and winter to effect. . . . I consider the Indian—an Enemy formidable only, when he has a choice of time & Ground—in the fall of the year he’s strong ferocious, and full of spirits, corn is in plenty, and Venison and other game, every where to be met with, in the spring he is half starved weak and dispirited. . . . Permit me to choose the season for operation—give me time to Manoeuvre and discipline the troops . . . let the component parts of the Legion be perfected. . . . Authorise me to direct ample and proper Magazines of forage stores & provisions to be thrown into the advanced posts—at the most convenient periods, from Fort Washington to fort Jefferson, I would also establish a suitable magazine of Forage and provisions at Big Beaver, from this place, and Fort Washington, I would propose two strong desultory parties, composed of Mounted Volunteers . . . the one against Sandusky (which has not been abandoned as mentioned by Captain Brandt) the other against the Indians, who have removed from the Miami Villages, to St Josephs river, where by several accounts, there are several New towns of Hostile Indians—these expeditions to take place as soon as the grass in the Prairies would answer for Pasture, and not until every thing was in readiness for a forward move, Of the Legion, from Fort Jefferson, at which point, the operating Army should previously assemble.

“These movements . . . should they have no other effect, they wou’d distract the Savage Councils—and create a Jealousy for the safety of their Women and Children, whilst the Legion was advancing and employed in erecting small intermediate Forts, at proper and convenient distances, between Fort Jefferson and the point intended for establishing a strong and permanent Post.”

After making a favorable assessment of the availability of forage and the ability of the army to purchase and transport additional forage and provisions to Forts Jefferson and Washington, Wayne wrote: “Clothe me with Authority to make the necessary arrangements for an active War (which must from the nature of things take place) and I will establish a strong and permanent post, in any part of the Indian Country, that you may please to direct.” Wayne then summarized his previous “ideas of Offensive and effectual Operation” and concluded: “I would not have it understood, that I mean to be totally on the defensive, for this Season on the contrary, I have in Contemplation, One if not two, Desultory Expeditions, with mounted Volunteers and riflemen, in order to draw the attention of the Savages, to another Quarter, whilst we make the greatest efforts, to throw Magazines of Forage, provisions and other stores into Fort Jefferson, and perhaps to establish a Post, twenty Miles in front of it, or eventually, upon General St Clairs field of Action which I presume may be effected, without risking too much; with the Aid of a Desultory Expedition against Sandusky Upon the whole I am decidedly of opinion, that the War must progress, and that We have no time to lose, in preparing for that event” (DLC:GW).

2In this letter Knox wrote: “I have directed a person to be sent to examine the road from hence to Pittsburg to see whether there any stores lingering upon the road, and if so, to accelerate them and report the delinquents—But Major [Isaac] Craig writes on the 24th that several waggon loads of Stores have just arrived. . . . I have not yet had time to consider of your propositions for carrying on the war, in case the pacific overtures should fail—in general they upon first sight appear judicious and to have been well weighed by you, and an explicit answer shall be transmitted thereon upon the receipt of the Presidents opinion.

“I wish you had been pleased to transmit the information which gives you the belief that Sandusky is not mostly abandoned by the Women and Children—The Indians may be raising some Corn there but I believe no more—I am apprehensive that any expedition against that place without further information would be pushing against a Cloud.

“No doubt however can be entertained of the propriety of accumulating the magazines of forage and provisions you propose at Fort Washington and the posts advanced thereof—and you will please explicitly to understand, that if you had not the authority before—that it is hereby sufficiently vested in you.”

Knox also wrote that it was “the season for laying up Salt provisions” and that “forty small casks” of fine-grain powder, along with clothing, had been forwarded to Wayne. Several new companies of recruits were en route to Wayne’s headquarters at Pittsburgh, but Knox reported that the “recruiting service has been almost at a stand—I know not how it can be stimulated unless by an additional Sum to their pay for which no authority exists—perhaps in the autumn and winter we may complete the numbers authorized.” Knox informed Wayne that he was waiting for an opportunity “to send on money to complete the pay to the first of August and also ten thousand dollars for the Quarter Master which his agent has drawn from the treasury” (DLC:GW).

3Knox is referring to the Maumee River.

4Gen. Arthur St. Clair and his troops were defeated by a confederation of hostile Indians on 4 Nov. 1791 while encamped at the present-day site of Fort Recovery, Ohio (see William Darke to GW, 9–10 Nov. 1791, and source note; “Denny Journal” description begins “Military Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny, An Officer in the Revolutionary and Indian Wars. With an Introductory Memoir. By William H. Denny.” Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania 7 (1860): 204–498. description ends ; Guthman, March to Massacre description begins William H. Guthman. March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army, 1784–1791. New York, 1975. description ends ).

5According to this morning report, there were 662 present fit for duty, 45 sick present, 56 sick in the hospital, 18 sick absent, 49 on command, 6 absent with leave, 16 on extra duty, 14 in confinement, and 9 recently joined, for a total of 875 men at Pittsburgh’s Fort Fayette where Wayne maintained his headquarters (DLC:GW).

Knox also enclosed a copy of Wayne’s second, briefer letter of 24 Aug. in which Wayne wrote: “I find that the southern Indians are rather hostilly inclined, by Colonel A. Campbells letter—If the legion was complete—and Augmented by four troops more of dragoons—I woud feel a Confidence in meeting the whole combined force of the savages—by the months of June or July next—Their numbers would only tend to confuse them—and they would become an easy prey to our cavalry (after being roused by the bayonet) their bare heads would invite the fall of the Sword.

“In my opinion we have more to apprehend from a temporizing peace than from the most active Indian war” (DLC:GW).

6The enclosed “Returns of the Recruits at the respective rendezvous and who have marched” is dated erroneously 1 Sept. 1790. The recruits returned as of 28 July numbered 1,827, and by 1 Aug. there were an additional 237 recruits. Knox allowed for an estimated 100 deserters to reach a total of 1,954 (DLC:GW).

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