The Making of a Major General: William Henry Harrison and the Politics of Command, 1812–13
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2010
- pp. 32-52
- View Citation
- Additional Information
32 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY The Making of a Major General: William Henry Harrison and the Politics of Command, 1812-13 David Curtis Skaggs B y early 1812, GovernorWilliam Henry Harrison recognized that his political career in Indiana Territory was about to close. The territory would soon gain admittance into the Union, but his political rivals had gained control of the legislature and he was too unpopular to win major elective office. Always seeking public employment to supplement his income, Harrison sought a general’s commission in the expanding regular army. Harrison’s quest for senior command reflected the regional clash of interests that characterized politics of the early national period, disagreements over whether to employ regular army troops or militia volunteers as the core of the nation’s combat force, personality differences between various political and military leaders, and an inter-generational contest for major office between Revolutionary War veterans and those born shortly before or during that struggle.1 William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), engraving by R. Lorton, 1840. CINCINNATI MUSEUM CENTER DAVID CURTIS SKAGGS SPRING 2010 33 While regionalism influenced Harrison’s promotion to senior command, his membership in a new generation of military leadership played an equally important role. In Inheriting the Revolution, historian Joyce Appleby argues that the age cohort born “between Independence and 1800 worked out the social forms of the new nation.” An age cohort trying to prove its worth in the wake of the heroes of the founding generation, they “fashion[ed] the revolutionary affirmations that gave the United States a national culture replete with purposes, heroes, taboos, prescriptions, symbols, and celebrations.” Though Appleby excludes soldiers or sailors from her analysis of the new generation, military service provided these younger men an opportunity to prove their merit to those who went before. The armed forces also enabled them to demonstrate their nationalism in an age in which localism and regionalism pitted easterners against westerners, Yankees against Yorkers, and northerners against southerners.2 Though the youngest son of a distinguished Virginia gentry family, Harrison found it necessary to make his own career in the army and western politics. His family connections helped him secure a junior officer’s commission in the expanding The Great Lakes region, 1795-1814, from David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson, eds., The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754-1814 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2001), xiv-xv. IMAGE COURTESY OF MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS E. White Ft. Meigs 1813 Lake Simcoe Lake Nipissing Georgian Bay Lake St. Clair St. Joseph Island Ft. Dearborn Lake Champlain N E W Y O R K P E N N S Y L V A N I A V I R G I N I A O H I O I N D I A N A ILLINOIS WISCO NSIN L OW E R C A N A DA Map 4. Great Lakes Region, 1795–1814 U P P E R C A N A D A K E N T U C K Y Cincinnati Ft.Wayne Ft. Detroit 1812 York Albany Plattsburgh Philadelphia NewYork Baltimore Washington, D.C. Pittsburgh Prophet’sTown Frenchtown 1813 Amherstburg (Ft. Malden) Moraviantown 1813 Burlington Heights Penetanguishene Montréal Ile aux Noix ˚ Châteauguay 26 October 1813 ˚ Crysler’s Farm 11 November 1813 Kingston Sackets Harbor Oswego Ft. Erie Buffalo Black Rock Queenston Ft. Niagara Ft. George ˚ ˚ Longwoods 5 March 1814 Put-in-Bay Chillicothe Dayton ˚ Battle ofTippecanoe Ft. Madison Prairie du Chien (Ft. Shelby) 1814 Presque Isle¡ Sault Ste. Marie¡ Ft. Mackinac 1812 & 1814 — Ft. Stephenson 1813 — — Québec — — — DEL. M.D. N.J. Tyendinaga Mohawk Grand River Iroquois Lexington Frankfort FIRE LANDS Rainy Lake Lake Nipigon St. Louis — THE MAKING OF A MAJOR GENERAL 34 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY U.S. Army of the mid-1790s and his skills as a staff officer under Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne led to his selection as secretary to the governor of the Northwest Territory, his election as the territory’s delegate to Congress, and his appointment as the governor of the newly created Indiana Territory, all before he was thirty. His governorship lasted from 1800 until he resigned to become the commander of the North West...