One of the key military figures in the American revolution and
later in the struggles in the early years of the constitutional
republic was a dandy, a womanizer, and a bankrupt. He is still
remembered where he lived, places named after him, and
where he died. He once was elected to Congress, but was
turned out of it by a unanimous vote. He was one of George
Washington’s favorite generals, invented U.S. army basic
training, but he was hated and reviled by many of his military
Yet in 1794, he won such an important battle that he probably
saved the young, struggling nation from ruin and destruction.
He is in the history books, but if it weren’t for the colorful epithet
usually attached to his name, he might be almost forgotten.
Let’s start at the end.
A year following his greatest and most important victory, the
Battle of Fallen Timbers in Indiana in 1794, Major General
Anthony Wayne was on his way home to eastern Pennsylvania.
He had just averted a disastrous defeat of the American army by
a combine of the British army (which was illegally keeping forts
on U.S. territory in Ohio and Indiana), and their American Indian
allies fighting to preserve their tribal lands from the
encroachment of frontier settlers.
Sailing along the south shore of Lake Erie, an old war wound (a
bullet lodged in his thigh) became infected, and he suffered a
chronic case of gout. It was December, 1795, so the relatively
young general sailed into a small northwestern Pennsylvania port
(now Erie, PA) guarded by the formerly French Fort Presque Isle
now manned by the U.S Army. The fort’s commandant had served
under General Wayne, and immediately put him to bed in the fort
blockhouse where he seemed at first to improve, but after two
weeks, he died from his illness.
Thus ended the colorful, sometimes glorious, often controversial,
life and military career of one of he nation’s early soldier heroes.
Anthony Wayne grew up in a rural area near Philadelphia. He had
not intended to have a military career, but when the Revolutionary
War broke out in 1776, he organized a local militia. He was soon in
the thick of the action, fighting at Commander-in-Chief George
Washington’s side as one of his most trusted officers.
Along his way in this period, he acquired the nickname “Mad
Anthony” primarily for his often strange behavior and because he
was so fastidious and elaborate in his attire.
(His attire included hats with feathered cockades that were given
to him by admirers, and became his trademark. Growing up in
Erie where he died and was buried, I was familiar with the lore
of the legendary general. After graduate school and before moving
to Minneapolis, I taught high school during the day, and operated
a book store and gallery after school hours and on the weekends,
The name of my bookstore/gallery? Mad Anthony’s Hat!)
He was a figure at many important occasions, including Valley
Forge and Yorktown. He suffered a terrible defeat commanding at
the 1777 Battle of Paoli, but recovered his reputation at the 1779
Battle of Stony Point. Washington often turned to Wayne in
difficult situations, including sending Wayne to Georgia just after
the British surrender where he distinguished himself in
negotiating with the local India tribes and ending hostilities. The
grateful new state of Georgia awarded him a plantation.
After the war, Wayne had an up-an-down career and family life.
But in 1794, President Washington reactivated Wayne and sent
him to resolve one of two crises that threatened the very
existence of the new constitutional government.
One was an actual insurrection in western Pennsylvania where
farmers, angry at a new tax on whiskey, had begun an armed
Whiskey Rebellion. The tax, conceived by Secretary of the
Treasury Alexander Hamilton, was designed to help pay for the
U.S. revolutionary war debt. But many of the farmers were
veterans of that war --- a war provoked by unpopular British
taxation. Washington’s dilemma was that he had to assert the
power of the new federal government, or it would collapse. He
sent part of his army to suppress the rebellion, finally donning
his old uniform, and leading the army himself (the only example
in U.S history of a sitting president leading his troops into battle).
The second crisis was equally threatening. Although the British
had surrendered at Yorktown, they continued to occupy, in
violation of the subsequent Treaty of Paris, forts on the Ohio
frontier. They also conspired with their Native American
tribe allies to prevent any settlement of Americans in the
territory that the Treaty had surrendered. Tribal chiefs had
not surrendered at Yorktown and had not signed the peace
treaty at Paris, and were determined to stop encroachment on
Washington decided to both send an army to Ohio Territory
to assert U.S. rights, and to negotiate with the Indians. When
those negotiations failed, it was necessary for the new U.S.
army (called then the American Legion), led by Major General
Anthony Wayne to defeat both the British and the tribes in
The campaign did not at first go well, but in a climactic
confrontation at Fallen Timbers in what is now Indiana,
Wayne’s forces triumphed. The British then withdrew, and the
tribal chiefs negotiated a settlement.
Had Wayne and his troops failed, public support for President
Washington and his government might well have collapsed,
and the British might have reclaimed its lost colony.
Western settlement would have stopped.
Most Americans today believe the surrender at Yorktown in
1781 and the enactment of the U.S. constitution in 1788,
firmly established the new republic. In fact, the security and
strong footing of the new nation was provisional for many
“Mad” Anthony Wayne played a major role, especially at the
end of his military career, in securing the republic. But worn
out from war battles, business mistakes, family problems and
personal attacks by rivals and colleagues, he was denied a
homecoming and an old age of acclaim and honor in that bitter
winter of 1796 at that remote outpost in Erie.. He was only
51 years old.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
[NOTE: Readers wishing to learn more about this extraordinary
figure, might obtain the excellent new book, Unlikely General:
"Mad"Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America by Mary