: This image is an engraved portrait of Major Ebenezer Denny (1761-1882), Revolutionary War soldier and first mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In this portrait, Denny is wearing a ruffled shirt and a high-collared waistcoat and coat. This engraving appears opposite the title page of his book "Military Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny, An Officer in the Revolutionary and Indian Wars" (1859), published in Philadelphia.
Denny was born March 11, 1761, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and joined the Continental Army in 1778. He witnessed the British surrender at the 1781 Siege of Yorktown (Yorktown, Virginia) and wrote a description of that event in his war journal. It is one of the most frequently quoted accounts of the event.
After the Revolutionary War, Denny also witnessed two of the worst military defeats of U.S. military forces by Native Americans: Harmar’s Campaign and St. Clair’s Defeat. Both events occurred in the Northwest Territory, in present-day Ohio.
In fall 1790, Josiah Harmar, commander of the U.S. army in the Northwest Territory, was stationed at Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati). He received orders from Secretary of War Henry Knox to end the threat of Native American attack in western Ohio. Harmar marched from Fort Washington with 320 regular soldiers and roughly 1,100 militiamen, primarily from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The militiamen were poorly trained and badly equipped, and the U.S. forces were soundly defeated in a series of battles with the Native Americans led by Miami chief Little Turtle.
Following Harmar's defeat, native attacks against settlers increased. In 1791, Major-General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, led another campaign against the natives in western Ohio, hoping to succeed where Harmar had failed. Lieutenant Ebenezer Denny was St. Clair’s aide-de-camp.
St. Clair ordered the construction of forts in what is now western Ohio. He and his men left Fort Washington in September 1791. After a two-day journey, the troops stopped and built Fort Hamilton. Then they advanced forty-five miles northward and built Fort Jefferson. From the beginning of his campaign, St. Clair had trouble with his poorly trained and demoralized troops. Although it was still early fall, his men faced cold temperatures, rain, snowfall, and insufficient food. Despite these problems, St. Clair continued to advance against the Miami natives. By November 3, his men had arrived on the banks of the Wabash River, near some of the Miami villages. The next day Little Turtle led his warriors against the U.S. troops and soundly defeated them. In his account of the day’s events, Denny wrote, “The ground was literally covered with the dead.” The battle known as “St. Clair’s Defeat” remains the worst defeat of the U.S. Army at the hands of Native Americans.
On November 19, Denny left for Philadelphia, where he had the unenviable task of informing President George Washington and Secretary of War Knox of the defeat. Washington demanded that St. Clair resign from the army. St. Clair did so on April 7, 1792, but remained governor of the Northwest Territory. In 1794, Washington dispatched General Anthony Wayne to succeed where St. Clair had failed. Wayne defeated the Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794. In 1795, most natives in modern-day Ohio signed the Treaty of Greeneville, relinquishing all of their land holdings in Ohio except what is now the northwestern corner of the state.
Denny continued his military service until 1794, when he resigned his commission and settled near Pittsburgh. He entered local politics and held several offices before being elected the city’s first mayor in 1816. He resigned the office in 1817 because of ill health. He died in July 1822. View on Ohio Memory.
: AL07028 Subjects
: American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783; Kekionga, Battle of, Ohio, 1791; American Indians--Warfare; Northwest Territory--History; Veterans; Mayors Places
: Carlisle (Pennsylvania); Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania);