Book Review: Tippecanoe 1811 by John F Winkler.


Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (20 Oct. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472808843
ISBN-13: 978-1472808844

It would probably be fair to say that the majority of the U.S. army’s activities between the major wars involved campaigns with the Native Indian Tribes of America. Most people think identify the Indian Wars with those fought on the plains of western North America agains the Sioux etc. However that was only the tail end of the struggle to dominate the continent. Realistically the new nation had been fighting the Indians since they declared themselves Independent, and the U.S. Army began this long train of costly suppression not in the 1860s but in the late 18th century.

The wars fought against the woodland tribes of the North Eastern and western territories constitutes one of the more little known stories of American military history. Osprey has recently plunged into this area with four Campaign titles examining key battles of these early Indian Wars.

The latest is Tippecanoe 1811 by John Winkler, who indeed has written the other three. After subduing the Iroquois during the revolution the Americans suffered the greatest defeat they had ever experienced at the hand of the American Indians at Wabash. The balance was redressed when the U.S. Defeated the tribes at Fallen Timbers in 1794. This book examines what happened 16 years later. On the verge of the War of 1812 a new wave of Indian leaders stirred up the tribes. Tecumseh and his brother the “Prophet”, who could be considered a northern Sitting Bull, were at the forefront, both utilising a blend of oratory and spiritual guidance to combat the ever encroaching United States and try to unify the great Indian nations against the whites.

Having gathered his followers the Prophet’s activities, mixed with the idea of Tecumseh’s unified Indian Confederation that would fight America in one last Great War, soon began to worry the local authorities and an American force under future president William Henry Harrison was sent to break up the party. There can be few ways to view this campaign other than a militarised police action, designed to shore up the shaky northwest frontier, and Winkler presents a detailed and clear analysis of the leadup and campaign.

The battle itself is particularly well described, in an atmospheric and readable way. The author has been able to bring clarity to the many exceptional American contemporary sources, which in retelling a battle like this tend to confuse as much as inform. In many ways this is a typical frontier battle that you might find in western fiction, filled with marches over tough terrain, legendary characters, hardship, a dangerous enemy and a dramatic final battle.

The book focuses mainly on the American side, probably from want of Indian sources, and is accompanied by very detailed maps, 2 3D maps, and three full colour plates by the industrious Peter Dennis that as usual puts you in the action. There’s a flavour in them of the action and adventure that I liked so much in the better drawn Commando Books, the best of this trio is probably the one showing the reeling American Left flank, if only because of the silhouettes grappling inside the tent. A small pinch of artistic license has been used so that the viewer can see what is going on, therefore we are able to observe much more of the terrain than what the three feet one witness described, but a pitch black page wouldn’t be very interesting to look at.

One gets the impression that this battle became a sort of frontier fable that would make its participants into folk hero’s like Davy Crockett and General Jackson, it shouldn’t be overlooked that both Jackson and Harrison were Indian fighters before they were presidents, Crockett even considered running for office, and it did a political career no harm to have some successful wilderness exploits against the Indians under ones belt.

All in all events like this shaped many of the men who would lead America into the 19th century, and they are therefore worthy of more attention than they have received. Obviously the author is comfortable in his field, indeed given the fine series of books he has produced it might be fair to say that what he doesn’t know about early frontier warfare isn’t worth telling, and with the usual Osprey formula of small size and comprehensive analysis, this is a book worth getting for all students of the American frontier. I’ll be looking forward to the upcoming 2016 book on the battle of the Thames.


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