The Battle of Upper Sandusky, 1782


May 29, 2023
by Patrick H. Hannum Also by this Author


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BOOK REVIEW: The Battle of Upper Sandusky, 1782  by Eric Sterner. Small Battles Series. (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2023)

Eric Sterner’s recent release, The Battle of Upper Sandusky, 1782, provides a readable and interesting account of one of the lesser known and studied battles of the American Revolution. The battle, often referred to as Crawford’s Campaign or Crawford’s Defeat, involved a clash between volunteer Patriot militia and Native Americans supported by British rangers along the banks of the Sandusky River, in what is today Northwestern Ohio.

Sterner’s writing style makes his text an enjoyable read. His through research of primary and secondary sources not only provides an accurate account of what actually transpired, but his analysis provides insight that corrects many accounts of the actions of leaders and soldiers on both sides of the battle. For a variety of reasons, many of these inaccurate accounts have persisted for years; Sterner provides context for these misconceptions concerning events related to the campaign.

The Patriots who fought the battle were an ad hoc assortment of frontier militia units primarily from Western Pennsylvania with several units from Northwestern Virginia. The commander of the expedition, Col. William Crawford, struggled with the independent-minded militia officers and volunteers. The one Continental officer present on the expedition, Lt. John Rose, was formally an observer assigned by Brig. Gen. William Irvine, commander of the Western Department. However, Rose became an active leader and participant from the campaign’s beginning and survived the ordeal to provide an account of events. The author effectively describes the negative effects of the Patriots’ poor understanding of the operational environment, intelligence, organization, discipline and logistics, that manifested themselves throughout the campaign. He describes the clash of leadership styles and personalities and their negative effect on military operations.

A Native American coalition formed the core Patriot opposition with several supporting British ranger units. Warriors from multiple tribes and tribal factions effectively prevented the Patriot militia from reaching their villages by attacking the Patriot column while in motion as they neared these villages. The Native Americans tracked the militia’s movement daily after crossing the Ohio River at modern day Mingo Junction in Ohio, giving them the initiative. The Patriots moved forward with little idea of the exact location of Native American warriors or their settlements.

While the Native Americans that opposed the Patriots represented a loose coalition of tribes and factions, they were fighting to protect their homes, families and land in what they correctly believed was an effort to exterminate them. Today, we would consider this ethnic cleansing. Sterner’s narrative provides vivid descriptions of prisoners brutalized by their native captors in retribution for the Gnadenhutten Massacre. Although Colonel Crawford was not personally responsible for Gnadenhutten, “he was guilty by association.” He was brutally tortured and killed, along with many other captive Patriots.

Sterner not only addresses the battle that started as a meting engagement of detachments, but thoroughly addresses the battle in the context of the overall a campaign. His study includes a discussion of the two opposing armies, their movements, leadership, and the actual battle. He devotes a portion of the text to the disorganized Patriot retreat and Native American pursuit. He corrects the historical record in crediting the key leadership not to the British, but to the Wyandot Chief Danquat. His leadership and decision making resulted in unity of action by the loosely aligned Native American coalition. Sterner disproved the lingering perception that the British were actually in command of Native American actions during the campaign.

Sterner provides an element of intrigue that keeps the readers attention yet corrects many myths about the battle and the overall campaign. When you pick up this book, you will find it hard to put down. This is a must-read text for anyone with interest in the revolution.

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