Local Battles That Changed America
by Amy M. Orr
Less than ten years after the Revolutionary War ended, U.S. troops and a large confederation of Native American warriors clashed in a bloody battle on the banks of the Wabash River. Natives destroyed the hodgepodge U.S. Army, composed of militiamen, raw recruits and 180-day specials.
Were it not for the historic defeat in what is present-day Fort Recovery, Ohio, the United States of America might have been quite different than the nation we live in today. Nancy Knapke, who serves as Site Manager at the Fort Recovery State Museum, calls the Battle of the Wabash “a watershed moment in United States history.”
She explains, “The states of the new country were not interested in forming a strong, united country.” The citizens were resistant to a strong central government and national army. “Their histories told them that countries’ strong armies inevitably were used on their own people. But, the Battle of the Wabash changed all of that.”
Nancy adds, “President George Washington knew at this point, the very future of the United States was at stake. Realizing they might lose all they had fought for in the Revolutionary War, the states came together and agreed to form a strong union, complete with a real United States Army. This was the turning point in U.S. history.
“General Anthony Wayne was put in charge of this new army and, modeling it after the old Roman legions, he created the beginning of what would become the strongest military force in the world. The Battle of Fort Recovery in 1794 proved the viability of the army, led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and ultimately proved the U.S. would survive.”
After retiring as an elementary principal, Nancy took the position at Fort Recovery State Museum so she could continue in education—in this case, about the history of her community. “I had always loved history and loved telling the Fort Recovery story,” she says. “I have a passion for the community of Fort Recovery and saw this as a way to give back and to interest others in our history.”
The Fort Recovery Historical Society first displayed artifacts in the balcony of the local public library sometime after it was built in 1938. When the library relocated in 1968, the state historical society took possession of the facility, planning a military museum that would commemorate the historic post-Revolutionary War battles that took place nearby. The Fort Recovery State Museum was completely renovated in 2010.
Today, visitors are invited to watch a “welcome” video as they begin touring the museum. This six-minute movie details significant events of the 1790s on the banks of the Wabash River. Nancy explains, “Watching the video enables visitors to peruse the displays with a wealth of information on all the action that took place on that site.”
The main floor of the museum offers many displays and dioramas “that illustrate, in chronological order, the events leading up to the two battles, the formation of St. Clair’s army and the very different formation of Wayne’s legion, the action of the two battles, and very realistic reproductions of soldiers of the legion and the Native Americans.” Nancy says the exhibit also includes original paintings of the Battle of the Wabash, along with accounts of important historical figures on both sides of the 1791 and 1794 skirmishes.
The Bubp Prehistoric Gallery is located on second floor of the Fort Recovery State Museum. “Visitors will see more prehistoric artifacts than displayed nearly anywhere else in Ohio,” Nancy adds. “Artifacts are categorized according to time periods, as is illustrated on the timeline exhibited there.”
Other features of the Fort Recovery State Museum include its Native American Alcove, historic local photographs of the old town of Fort Recovery, an awards display, and a gift shop/book store. Guided tours are available by appointment and can be tailored to fit the specific needs and schedule of guests. Tours can even be arranged outside of regular seasonal hours.
The Fort Recovery State Museum receives nearly $7,000 a year from the Ohio History Connection, in addition to admission fees and gift shop receipts. But, Nancy says, “The most significant support comes from patrons of the museum.” More than 150 patrons have contributed over $15,000 annually for the past two years.
“This is the main funding that allows the museum to achieve its vision, mission and goals.” Because of these donations, the historical society has been able to make the facility entrance and exterior grounds handicap-accessible, renovate restrooms, and make other needed repairs and updates.
“It also provides funding for all of the museum’s special events,” Nancy points out, “including special monthly speakers.” The museum hosts guest speakers on Sunday afternoon once a month from May through September.
History is strewn across the village of Fort Recovery. According to Nancy, there are many other sites of historic interest in Fort Recovery, including the reconstructed fort, two log cabins, a walk-by museum, and Franke Walkway—all located on the grounds of the state museum.
Visitors might also be interested in seeing: the General Butler Marker, designating the spot where General Richard Butler was killed and scalped in the Wabash battle; Fort Recovery Monument, which marks the burial site of nearly 1,000 soldiers and officers killed in battle; Pioneer Cemetery and the Samuel McDowell Monument there; Indian Point, a site that honors the Native American tribes who fought on the Wabash and later signed the Greenville Treaty; colorful downtown murals depicting local historical events; and, Krenning Historical Park, which connects the Fort Recovery State Museum to Main Street.