The Chicago Massacre of 1812

The Chicago Massacre of 1812

Joseph Kirkland

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  • EAN: 9788834127292
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The Battle of Fort Dearborn (sometimes Fort Dearborn Massacre) was an engagement between United States troops and Potawatomi Native Americans that occurred on August 15, 1812, near Fort Dearborn in what is now Chicago, Illinois (then an undeveloped part of the Illinois Territory). The battle, which occurred during the War of 1812, immediately followed the evacuation of the fort as ordered by the commander of the United States Army of the Northwest, William Hull. The battle lasted about 15 minutes and resulted in a complete victory for the Native Americans. After the battle, Fort Dearborn was burned down. Some of the soldiers and settlers who had been taken captive were later ransomed.

Following the battle, the federal government became convinced that all Indians had to be removed from the territory and the vicinity of any settlements, as settlers continued to migrate to the area. The fort was rebuilt in 1816.

On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on the British Empire, and on July 17, British forces captured Fort Mackinac. On July 29, General William Hull received news of the fall of Fort Mackinac and immediately sent orders to Heald to evacuate Fort Dearborn, fearing that it could no longer be adequately supplied with provisions. In his letter to Heald, which arrived at Fort Dearborn on August 9, Hull ordered Heald to destroy all the arms and ammunition and give the remaining goods to friendly Indians in the hope of attaining an escort to Fort Wayne. Hull also sent a copy of these orders to Fort Wayne with additional instructions to provide Heald with all the information, advice and assistance within their power. In the following days, the sub-Native American agent at Fort Wayne, Captain William Wells, who was the uncle of Heald's wife, Rebekah, assembled a group of about 30 Miami Native Americans. Wells, Corporal Walter K. Jordan, and the Miamis traveled to Fort Dearborn to provide an escort for the evacuees.

Wells arrived at Fort Dearborn on August 12 or 13 (sources differ), and on August 14, Heald held a council with the Potawatomi leaders to inform them of his intention to evacuate the fort. The Native Americans believed that Heald told them that he would distribute the firearms, ammunition, provisions and whiskey among them, and that, if they would send a band of Potawatomis to escort them safely to Fort Wayne, he would pay them a large sum of money. However, Heald ordered all the surplus arms, ammunition and liquor destroyed "fearing that [the Native Americans] would make bad use of it if put in their possession." On August 14, a Potawatomi chief called Black Partridge warned Heald that the young men of the tribe intended to attack, and that he could no longer restrain them.

At 9:00 am on August 15, the garrison—comprising, according to Heald's report, 54 U.S. regulars, 12 militia, nine women and 18 children—left Fort Dearborn with the intention of marching to Fort Wayne. Wells led the group with some of the Miami escorts, while the rest of the Miamis were positioned at the rear. About 1 1/2 miles (2.4 km) south of Fort Dearborn, a band of Potawatomi warriors ambushed the garrison. Heald reported that, upon discovering that the Indians were preparing to ambush from behind a dune, the company marched to the top of the dune, fired off a round and charged at the Native Americans.
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