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After the Revolutionary War ended, Great Britain ceded all of the land they controlled over the Appalachian Mountains and as far West as the Mississippi River to the newly formed United States. In 1785, several Native American tribes in Ohio formed the Western Confederacy in hopes of dealing with the Westward expansion of white settlers. In the mid 1780s, the Confederacy drew the line at the Ohio river as their own territory and began to raid into Southern Ohio and Kentucky to discourage settlement.

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As the American Revolution came to an end, Native Americans in the regions closest to the colonies realized that the white settlers were going to push further into their controlled lands. In an effort to discourage their population, many Native American tribes in Ohio formed the Western Confederacy and raided along Southern Ohio and into Kentucky. President George Washington instructed General Josiah Harmar to deal with the intended Native American threat. 
General Harmar led a group of 1,500 militia West towards Ohio in preparation for a campaign against the Confederacy. He fought two battles in October 1870 and was defeated by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, two Confederacy leaders. After Harmar's defeat, Washington ordered the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Claire, to mount his own campaign against the Western Confederacy.
St. Clair was a veteran of the American Revolution and commanded a sizeable militia of about 2,000 men, but only 600 of which were well-trained or veterans. Logistical and supply problems kept St. Claire's troops from moving during the Summer months and he was forced to set out for the Miami Indian's capitol Kekionga in October. By November 2nd, many of his men had gone home and he was left with about 920 soldiers. In the mean time, Blue Jacket and Little Turtle were receiving steady supplies and additional troop support, so with a band of close to 1,000 warriors they left Kekionga to intercept St. Claire's troops. 
On November 3rd, St. Claire's troops made camp at the headwaters of the Wabash River. The Confederacy troops had been shadowing the militia their entire march, but St. Claire's arrogant assumption that they would submit to him face to face meant that no action was taken against the Native American scouts who were spotted. At Dawn, on November 4th, the Confederacy troops surrounded St. Claire's encampment and waited for the troops to stack their weapons for breakfast. When the troops were preoccupied with their breakfast, the Confederacy troops opened fire, causing mass confusion and chaos. Counter-fire was able to be organized, but it ended up proving unsuccessful and St. Claire retreated towards Fort Jefferson in the South. Leaving all of their supplies and wounded, the survivors cut through the Western Confederacy lines and retreated "successfully."