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Devil or Angel? ‘Anthony Wayne Day’ stirs debate over legacy

FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21) – It’s a controversy that can turn violent, removing statues honoring confederate soldiers. Soldiers who are heroes to some, traitors to others. Not unlike the debate ignited when city leaders voted to honor Fort Wayne’s namesake General Anthony Wayne with a day of recognition. Supporters call Wayne a hero, detractors call him a butcher. The issue comes down to who was Anthony Wayne and what did he do.

600 miles east of Fort Wayne stands a rocky outcrop overlooking a river. This is sStony Point, New York, site of a great battle in the American Revolution, and the river it overlooks is the mighty Hudson where most of the American Revolution was fought. The Hudson was the only efficient way to move troops and supplies during the Revolution, to control the Hudson was to control the war and probably its outcome. Stony Point was an impregnable British outpost manned by 500 soldiers and key to Britain’s plan to take control the Hudson and defeat the American army.

On July 16th 1779, in the dead of night American troops commanded by General Anthony Wayne scaled the steep slopes of Stony P0oint and stormed the British stronghold in a daring night raid.

The British were not able to fire their cannon because it was such a surprise,” says historian Greg Smith. “It was really over almost before the British knew what was happening because of that surprise effect.”

Despite a serious head wound Wayne led his troops to victory. In less than thirty minutes the garrison surrendered, 500 British troops were taken prisoner and British attempts to control the Hudson came to an end. Overnight Anthony Wayne became a bonafide American war hero.

The military to him was where he was proficient, says historian Alan Gaff, “and became kind of the rock that Washington depended on during the Revolution and after.”

After the war the fledgling United States government sent General Wayne to the Lower Great Lakes to subdue Native American tribes led by Miami Chief Little Turtle battling encroachment of white settlers. Wayne succeeded, a success mourned to this day by Miami descendants.

This guy is not a hero,” says local Miami activist Catherine Mowry. “He came in and burned all the crops and burned the villages and killed the women and children. When he did that he destroyed so much of our culture. Things you know that we’ll never ever get back…he just wiped us like he was wiping us off the map.”

One year after their defeat the tribes signed the Treaty of Greenville ending the war and surrendering the Lower Great Lakes to the United States. 225 years later the bitterness among the Miami Nation toward Anthony Wayne survives and any event or day honoring his exploits is not going to be celebrated by them.

There are a number of things that can be learned from this story. One is that one nation’s hero is often another nations terrorist. The other is as a great writer once said, you can honor your ancestors without honoring their mistakes. From the Stony Point battlefield in Stony Point, New York, Eric Olson reporting for ABC21.

Eric Olson

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