General Josiah Harmar
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General Josiah Harmar

In Ohio, Harmar faced rising tensions with the Native Americans. The influx of thousands of white settlers into Ohio upset the Indians. In October 1785, Harmar ordered Major John Doughty to construct a fort along the Ohio River. Doughty chose to build Fort Harmar along the western bank of the Muskingum River, near the river's mouth. Harmar also ordered the construction of Fort Steuben the following year at modern-day Steubenville. The main purpose of these forts was to prevent additional squatters from flooding into Ohio. Instead of stopping settlement, the fortifications actually encouraged it, as the whites believed the soldiers manning the forts were there to protect the settlers.

In 1787, Harmar became a brigadier-general, the highest rank that he would attain. Three years later, Harmar was stationed at Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati). Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, ordered Harmar to end the threat of Indian attack in western Ohio. Harmar marched from Fort Washington with 320 regular soldiers and roughly 1,100 militiamen -- primarily from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The militiamen were poorly trained; many did not know how to load and fire a musket; several others did not even have a gun. Harmar was determined to destroy the native villages near modern-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. He intended to attack the Miami Indians, the Shawnee Indians, and the Delaware Indians, along with other natives located in western Ohio.

On October 20, the natives, led by Little Turtle, of the Miami Indians, attacked a detachment from Harmar's army led by Colonel John Hardin. Hardin's force consisted of several hundred militiamen and a few regular soldiers. Hardin led his men into an ambush. Most of the militiamen fled the battle without even firing a shot. The regular soldiers put up a brief resistance, but the natives killed most of them. Some of the retreating militiamen did not stop until they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. Harmar sent out another detachment after Little Turtle's warriors two days later. Once again, the natives inflicted heavy casualties upon the Americans. Harmar immediately retreated to the safety of Fort Washington. He had lost 183 men killed or missing in his campaign. It became known as Harmar's Defeat.

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