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Josiah Harmar
""Josiah Harmar by Raphaelle Peale.jpeg
Born (1753-11-10)November 10, 1753
"Philadelphia, "Pennsylvania
Died August 20, 1813(1813-08-20) (aged 59)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Buried Saint James of Kingsessing Churchyard,
Allegiance  "United States
Service/branch "Continental Army
 "United States Army
Years of service 1775–1783, 1784–1792
Rank "Lieutenant Colonel
"Brevet "Brigadier General
Commands held "First American Regiment
Battles/wars "American Revolutionary War
"Northwest Indian War

Josiah Harmar (November 10, 1753 – August 20, 1813) was an officer in the "United States Army during the "American Revolutionary War and the "Northwest Indian War. He was the senior officer in the Army for seven years.



Early life[edit]

Josiah Harmar was born in "Philadelphia, "Pennsylvania and educated at a "Quaker school.

American Revolution[edit]

He started his military career during the American Revolutionary War, receiving a commission as a captain in 1775. He served under "George Washington and "Henry Lee during the war. A "lieutenant colonel at its conclusion, he was chosen by "Congress in 1784 to relay the ratified "Treaty of Paris (1783) to commissioner "Benjamin Franklin in Paris.

Harmar was an original member of the Pennsylvania "Society of the Cincinnati when it was founded on October 4, 1783. The same day, he was elected as the Society's first secretary. Harmar served as secretary of the Society for two years.[1]

Service in the Northwest Territories[edit]

In the 1780s, many Americans wished to settle the "Old Northwest" as the Midwest was known at the time, which of course meant displacing the Indian tribes living there.[2] Supported by the British who still held fur-trading forts in the Old Northwest, the Indians were resolved to oppose the Americans.[2] In 1784, the newly independent United States had almost no army, as the Continental Army had been disbanded with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.[3] In 1784, the entire United States Army comprised just 55 artillerymen at West Point and 25 more at Fort Pitt (modern "Pittsburgh). For defense, the United States relied upon the state militias, who disliked fighting outside of their own states.[3] To enforce American claims upon the Old Northwest, on 3 June 1784, Congress called for a federal regiment, known as the "First American Regiment, of about seven hundred men, to be supplied and paid for by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.[3] As the largest contingent (about 260 men) came from Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was allowed to choose the commander of the regiment. "Thomas Mifflin, a powerful Pennsylvania politician successfully pushed for his friend Josiah Harmar to become commander.[3] Harmar was described as a political general with a fondness for alcohol who was only given the position due to his political connections.[4]

As commander of the "First American Regiment, Harmar was the senior officer in the "United States Army from 1784 to 1791, commanding from Fort McIntosh. In 1785, he wrote to a friend: "I wish you were here to view the beauties of Fort M'Intosh. What think you of pike of 24 lbs, a perch of 15 to 20 lbs, cat-fish of 40 lbs, bass, pickerel, sturgeon &c &c. You would certainly enjoy yourself."[3] Harmar also enjoyed the strawberries growing in the wild, writing: "The earth is most luxuriantly covered with them - we have them in such plenty that I am almost surfeited with them; the addition of fine rich cream is not lacking".[5] He also consumed huge quantities of wine, cognac, whiskey and rum with every meal.[6]

He signed the "Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785, the same year that he ordered the construction of "Fort Harmar near "Marietta, Ohio. In a letter to his patron Mifflin, Harmar told stories of "Venison, two or three inches deep cut of fat, turkey at once pence per pound, buffalo in abundance and catfish of one hundred pounds that are by no means exaggerated", going on to write that "cornfields, gardens &c, now appear in places which were lately the habitation of wild beasts. Such are the glories of industry."[6] At Fort Harmar, he supplied himself with much luxuries such as Windsor chairs, which led the American historian Wiley Sword to write that Harmar's "considerable urbanity may have rendered him somewhat suspect as an Indian fighter".[6]

As a commander, Harmar was a stern martinet who was much influenced by Baron "Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's manual "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, better known as the Blue Book for the Prussian-style training of American troops.[6] The American historian William Guthman noted: "Steuben's manual was aimed at combatting British and Hessian forces - not the backwoods guerilla fighting of the highly skilled American Indian warriors the regiment would eventually fight. Short-sightedness on the part of the military was the reason that no preparatory training in guerrilla warfare was ever imposed on the Army... no federal unit under Harmar or St. Clair was ever instructed in the frontiersmen's method of war".[6] Harmar doggedly insisted on Prussian-style training designed for the clash of regular forces in Central Europe, not the frontier style of irregular warfare in the forests of the Old Northwest that his men required.[5] The former Prussian officer Steuben held only a divisional command in the Continental Army, but as the chief trainer of the Continental Army, he had introduced Prussian drill and discipline into the American Army, and thanks to Steuben's training, the Continental Army became a formidable force. It is very unlikely that the Continental Army would have won the Revolutionary War without Steuben's training, and as a result, Steuben was greatly admired by many American officers. One of those officers was Harmar, who at the time of his death in 1813, was still insisting to anyone who would listen that all that was needed for victory was to follow the precepts laid down in Steuben's Blue Book.[6]

Harmar also supervised the construction of Fort Steuben near present-day "Steubenville, Ohio. He was brevetted as a brigadier general in July 1787.[7] He directed the construction in 1789 of "Fort Washington on the Ohio River, which was built to protect the southern settlements in the "Northwest Territory. The fort was named in honor of President Washington.

Harmar's relations with his superiors were not good.[8] President Washington's War Secretary, "Henry Knox, was a firm believer that the nation's first line of defense should be the state militias and was hostile to the very idea of a standing army.[8] Knox was a Revolutionary War veteran with a distinguished record, but as War Secretary, he proved to be an unsavory character whose principal interest was engaging in land speculation.[8] As "Secretary of War, Knox confiscated land belonging to the Indians, and then sold it at rock-bottom prices to land companies (in which he happened to be a shareholder), which then marked up the land and sold it to American settlers.[8] At the time, the rules on "conflicts of interest did not exist and these transactions were legal, through widely viewed as unethical and morally dishonest.[8] To make good these land sales required that the Indians living on the land that Knox was planning to sell be displaced, which made Knox one of the leading hawks in New York (which at the time was the U.S. capital), forever urging that all of the Indians be cleared off the land, so he could sell it all.[8] At the same time, Knox's dislike of the U.S. Army and his preference for using the state militias made the task of displacing the Indians more difficult than it otherwise would have been.[8] The American journalist James Perry wrote that "even Harmar" saw the "danger" of Washington's and Knox's attempts to fight war in the Northwest on the cheap by mobilizing the state militias of Pennsylvania and Kentucky instead of raising more U.S. Army troops.[8]

For his part, Harmar wrote: "No person can hold a more contemptible opinion of the militia in general than I do... It is lamentable... that the government is so feeble as not to afford three or four regiments of national troops properly organized that would soon settle the business with these perfidious villains upon the Wabash."[9] One of Harmar's subordinates, Major "Ebenezer Denny, called the Kentucky militia out to assist with conquering the Old Northwest "raw and unused to the gun or the woods; indeed, many are without guns".[9] Harmar complained that the men of the Pennsylvania militia were "hardly able to bear arms - such as old, infirm men and young boys".[9] Very few men wanted to serve in the militia, let alone in a dangerous expedition to the frontier of the Northwest, and so the militiamen sent to serve under Harmar tended not to be the best caliber of troops.[9]

Campaign against the Miamis[edit]

In 1790, Harmar was sent on "expeditions against "Native Americans and the remaining "British in the "Northwest Territory. The British who held fur trading forts in the Northwest kept the Indians well supplied with guns and ammunition to keep the Americans out of the area.[3] Furthermore, the Montreal-based "North West Company had taken over the old French fur trading routes together with the services of the French-Canadian "Voyageurs, and thus had a vested interest in keeping the Northwest for the Indians who sold them the furs that were the source of such profit to them. Knox in a letter on 7 June 1790 ordered Harmar to "to extirpate, utterly, if possible, the said Indian banditti".[9] At the same time, Knox sent a letter to Major Patrick Murray commanding the British garrison at "Fort Detroit, telling him of the coming expedition.[10] The British response was to inform all of the Indian tribes of the expedition and to release a huge number of rifles and ammunition to the Indians.[10]

Harmar was to take 1,300 militiamen and 353 regulars to sack and destroy "Kekionga, the capital of the Miami Indians, while the Kentucky militia under Major "Jean François Hamtramck was to create a distraction by burning down villages on the Wabash river.[10] Before going out on his expedition, Harmar was faced with quarrels among the various militia commanders as to who was to command whom, with Colonel James Trotter and Colonel "John Hardin of the Kentucky militia openly feuding with one another.[10] Shortly before the expedition began in September 1790, Knox sent Harmar a letter accusing him of alcoholism, writing he had heard rumors that "you are too apt to indulge yourself in a convivial glass" to the extent that Harmar's "self-possession" was now in doubt.[11]

Harmar, who was much influenced by the Blue Book for the Prussian style training of troops, marched his men out in a formation that would have been appropriate for Central Europe or the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, but not in the wildness of the Northwest. This led to his men getting bogged down, averaging about ten miles per day.[11] Much to Harmar's surprise, "Little Turtle refused to give battle, instead retreating and everywhere the Indians burned their villages.[12] On 13 October 1790, Harmar sent out a light company commanded by Hardin to hunt down the retreating Indians.[12] The arrogant Harmar, who held the Indians in complete contempt for racial reasons, believed that the Indians refused to engage him in battle because they were cowards, and that he would soon win the war without even fighting.[12]

After getting lost in the woods and failing to find any Indians, Hardin finally reached Kekionga on 15 October to discover the town was empty and burning.[12] The Kentucky militia promptly spread out far and wide as the militiamen went looking for loot to take home with them.[12] Harmar reached Kekionga on 17 October 1790, and wrote to President Washington that same day to tell him that he had won the war without firing a shot.[12] Harmar got his first inkling of trouble later that night, when the Miami staged a and that stole about hundred packhorses and cavalry horses, which greatly reduced the mobility of Harmar's force.[12]

The next day, Harmar ordered Trotter to take about 300 Kentucky militiamen out to hunt down the Miami hiding in the woods with the stolen horses.<[12] Trotter marched into the woods, encountered one Indian riding a horse whom his party promptly killed, and then another Indian whom they chased and killed.[13] Afterwards, Trotter received reports from a scout that he seen at least 50 Miami out in the woods, which caused Trotter to immediately return to the camp.[14] Hardin, who loathed Trotter, denounced him openly as a rank coward, and told anyone who would listen that he would have stayed and fought the Miami if he was in Trotter's position.[14] Denny wrote in his diary that Hardin "showed displeasure at Trotter's return without executing the orders he had received, and desired the General to give him command of the detachment".[14] Harmar sent Hardin out early the next morning, 19 October, with 180 men, including 30 U.S. Army soldiers.[14] Denny wrote in his diary: "I saw that the men moved off with great reluctance, and am satisfied that when three miles from the camp he [Hardin] had not more than two-thirds of his command; they dropped out of the ranks and returned to the camp."[14] Hardin managed to lose one company of Kentucky militia under Captain William Faulkner, which was left behind accidentally after his men stopped for a break. This led him to send Major "James Fontaine and his cavalry to go find Faulkner to tell him to rejoin the main force.[14] In the meantime, Hardin stretched a column out over half a mile in the woods with 30 U.S. Army troops led by Captain "John Armstrong in the lead.[14] At a meadow close to the Eel River, Hardin discovered the ground was covered with countless trinkets, with a fire burning at one end.[14] The Kentucky militiamen immediately dispersed to collect as much as of the loot as they could, despite warnings from Armstrong to stay in formation.[14] Once the militiamen were spread out far and wide, Little Turtle, whom had been watching from a hill, gave the order for the Indians hiding in the woods to open fire on the Americans.[14] Denny who questioned survivors wrote in his diary: "The Indians commenced a fire at the distance of 150 yards and advanced. The greatest number of militia fled without firing a shot; the 30 regulars that were part of the detachment stood and were cut to pieces".[15] While the Kentucky militia fled in terror, shouting that it was every man for himself, the U.S. Army regulars joined by nine brave militiamen stood their ground, and returned fire at the unseen enemy in the woods.[15] While the U.S. Army soldiers were reloading their muskets, a force of Miami, Shawnee and Potawatomi Indians emerged from the woods, armed with "tomahawks.[15]

In the ensuring battle, with the bayonets of the Americans vs. the tomahawks of the Indians, the Americans fought bravely, but were annihilated with nearly every American in the meadow being cut down and killed.[15] Armstrong, who escaped into a swamp and feigned death, reported that "They fought and died hard".[15] Afterwards, the bodies of the Americans slain on the field were all scalped and hacked to pieces as was normal with the Indians.[15] As the rest of the Kentucky militiamen were running away, they ran into Fontaine and Faulkner coming up to join the main force, leading one militiaman to shout: "For God's sake, retreat! You will all be killed. There are Indians enough to eat you all up!".[15] Harmar was deeply shocked when Hardin and what was left of his force stumbled into the camp to report their defeat.[15] A furious Armstrong arrived at the camp the next day, cursing the "dastardly" behavior of the Kentucky militia and vowed never to fight with them again.[15] Harmar for his part threatened to bring down cannon fire on the Kentucky militia if he should ever see them retreating back to camp in disorder and defeat again.[15]

On 20 October, Denny wrote in his diary that: "The army all engaged burning and destroying everything that could be of use: corn, beans, pumpkins, stacks of hay, fencing and cabins, &c".[15] Despite Hardin's defeat, Harmar believed he inflicted enough damage on the crops around Kekionga to impair the ability of the Miami to resist the Americans.[16] On 21 October, Harmar ordered his men to return to Fort Washington, much to the general relief of his men as by now the majority of the Americans were highly nervous to be out in the wilderness surrounded by hostile Indians.[17] After leaving Kekionga, Hardin suggested to Harmar that the Americans return to Kekionga to surprise the Miami who he expected would now come out of the woods to dig up their buried possessions.[17] Harmar agreed and in Denny's words "ordered out four hundred choice men, to be under the command of Major John Wyllys, to return to the towns, intending to surprise any parities that might be assembled there".[17] Major Wyllys in his last letter complained: "We are about agoing forth to war in this part of the world. I expect to have not a very agreeable campaign... Tis probable the Indians will fight us in earnest, the greater part of our force will consist of militia; therefore there is some reason to apprehend trouble."[17]

Harmar's Defeat[edit]

Harmar's force of Federal troops and militia from Pennsylvania and Kentucky were badly defeated by a tribal coalition led by "Little Turtle, in an engagement known as ""Harmar's Defeat", "the Battle of the "Maumee", "the Battle of "Kekionga", or "the Battle of the Miami Towns". Under the sky free of clouds and a full moon, Harmar sent out 60 U.S. Army soldiers and 340 militiamen under Wyllys with Hardin in second in command on the evening of October 21 back to Kekionga.[17]

The American force was divided into three with Major Horatio Hall to lead 150 Kentucky militiamen across the "St. Mary's River to strike from the east while Major James McMillian of the Kentucky militia would attack from the west while Wyllys and the U.S. Army would strike frontally at Kekionga.[17] The Kentucky militia under Hall and McMillian opened fire with everything they had when they both ran into small parties of Indians, instead of using their knives to kill them, thereby alerting the Indians to the American presence.[18] At the same time, the militiamen sent out to purse the Indians who were fleeing down the "St. Joseph's river, leaving Wyllys to lead his attack unsupported.[18]

Little Turtle concentrated his main force at a ford in the "Maumee River, where they lay waiting to ambush the Americans.[18] As the Americans were crossing the Maumee, one American, Private John Smith, later recalled that he saw "the opposite riverbank erupt in sheets of flame. Horse and riders were struck down as if by some whirlwind force."[18] Soon, the Maumee ran red with American blood, which led "Jean Baptiste Richardville, a half-French, half-Miami chief, to later remark that he could have walked against the Maumee dry-footed as the river was clogged with American bodies.[18] Major Fontaine of the U.S. cavalry drew his sword and charged forward at the opposite bank, shouting "Stick with me!".[18] Upon reaching the banks, all of the Americans were cut down by Indian fire and Fontaine himself was badly wounded.[18] He later bled to death. Hearing the shooting, McMillian and his militiamen came up and forded the Maumee, intending to out-flank Little Turtle.[18]

At that point, the Indians departed in good order, with the Americans in hot pursuit.[18] The Indians went past the ruins of Kekionga and headed towards the St. Joseph's river.[18] The Kentucky militiamen led the pursuit, giving enthusiastic war whoops while Wyllys led the U.S. Army regulars behind them.[18] The Americans believed that Little Turtle was retreating, and failed to recognize that he had merely laid another ambush.[18]

Upon entering spread out helter-skelter in a cornfield, the Americans were astonished to hear what one veteran later recalled was a "hideous yell" as a huge number of Miami emerged from the underbrush.[18] In the "Battle of the Pumpkin Field", the Americans fired off one disorganized volley before they were forced to engage in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with their steel bayonets, swords and knives against the tomahawks, spears and knives of the Miami.[19] Wyllys together with 50 U.S. Army soldiers and 68 militiamen all fell on the field, and their bodies were all scalped.[19] The Indians called the field a "pumpkin field" not because they were pumpkins growing in it, but rather because the bloody heads of the Americans lying out on the field reminded them of pumpkins.

One of the survivors was Hardin, who upon reaching Harmar's camp reported that the Kentucky militia had fought "charmingly" and claimed he had won a great victory.[19] Harmar considered marching out, but soon learned of the terrible defeat.[19] Little Turtle could have finished off Harmar's force, which was saved only by a lunar eclipse, which the Indians regarded as a bad omen.[19] Harmar complained that the militia was "ungovernable" and close to mutiny, ordering that his U.S. Army regulars keep fixed bayonets on the militia to keep them marching in formation.[19]


When Harmar reached Fort Washington on 3 November 1790, American public opinion was outraged to learn of his defeat.[19] The fact that Harmar had never exposed himself to fire led to rumours appearing in the newspapers that he had spent the campaign drunk in his tent.[19] When the news reached New York, President Washington wrote to a friend: "I expected little from the moment I heard he was a drunkard".[19]

In the national rage caused by the debacle, bashing Harmar become a favorite pastime of the newspapers, but Perry wrote that Harmar was a scapegoat, and the ultimate responsibility rested with President Washington.[19] Perry wrote:

"Harmar, in fact, became something of a scapegoat. Washington was just as culpable. He could have insisted on a more experienced, more able officer to lead the expedition. He didn't. He could have demanded the troops be trained in frontier fighting, for he, more than anyone else, knew all about that. He didn't. He could, in fact, have done his best to build a decent little army for a nasty little war. He didn't do that, either. And now he made an even bigger blunder. He named Arthur St. Clair, governor of the territory, as Harmar's replacement, with the rank of major general, and asked him to try again. Harmar was a calamity; St. Clair would be a catastrophe."[20]

Consequently, Harmar was relieved of this command and replaced by General "Arthur St. Clair.

Court martial[edit]

Harmar was subsequently "court-martialed, at his own request, on various charges of negligence, and exonerated by a court of inquiry.[21] Harmar had a run-in with fellow soldier John Robert Shaw, who wrote about the general in his John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years 1777–1807.[22]

Later life[edit]

After his resignation from the Army on January 1, 1792, Harmar returned to Pennsylvania and served as the state's "adjutant general from 1793 to 1799.

He died near Philadelphia at his estate, "The Retreat." He is buried at the Episcopal Church of St. James, Kingsessing, in West Philadelphia.[23]

Dates of rank[edit]

Note - General Harmar was the senior officer and commander of the United States Army from August 12, 1784 to March 4, 1791.



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, pages 34-35
  3. ^ a b c d e f Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 35.
  4. ^ Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 31.
  5. ^ a b Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, pages 35-36.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 36.
  7. ^ Historical Register and Dictionary of the US Army
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 37.
  9. ^ a b c d e Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 38.
  10. ^ a b c d Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 39.
  11. ^ a b Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 40.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 41.
  13. ^ Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, pages 41-42.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 42.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 43.
  16. ^ Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, pages 43-44.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 44.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 45.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, page 46.
  20. ^ Perry, James. Arrogant Armies, Edison: Castle Books, 2005, pages 46-47.
  21. ^ Keenan, Jerry (1997). "Harmar, Gen. Josiah". Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars: 1492–1890. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved 18 Nov 2010. 
  22. ^ Shaw, John Robert, Oressa M. Teagarden, and Jeanne L. Crabtree. John Robert Shaw: An Autobiography of Thirty Years, 1777–1807. Athens: Ohio UP, 1992. Print.
  23. ^ Josiah Harmar at "Find a Grave
  24. ^ Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army. Francis B. Heitman. pg. 274.


Further reading

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
"Joseph Doughty
"Senior Officer of the United States Army
Succeeded by
"Arthur St. Clair
) )