Occasionally when I have nothing new to share with you, I will recycle an old story from a previous issue of the Gypsy Journal to give you an idea of some of the interesting things we have seen in our travels.
Today the scene high atop a bluff overlooking the Maumee River in northwestern Ohio is serene. Canoes navigate the water below, squirrels scamper along the limbs of ancient trees, and birds flit from branch to branch. It’s hard to relate this quiet setting to the pivotal battles fought here, but nearly 200 years ago, Fort Meigs became the focal point in the War of 1812.
Until the spring of 1813, the war in the Northwest had gone badly for the Americans. Between June of 1812 and February, 1813, the United States lost both Fort Mackinac and Detroit, in Michigan Territory, as well as Fort Dearborn in Illinois Territory, and American forces were defeated in battle on the Raisin River in Michigan. Only Fort Wayne, in Indiana Territory, withstood British attack.
Determined to make a stand in Ohio, the commander of the Northwest Army, General William Henry Harrison, established a fort on the south side of the Maumee River on February 2, 1813. The new post was intended to serve as a temporary supply depot and staging area for an invasion of Canada.
Named for Ohio Governor Return Jonathan Meigs, the earth and wood palisade enclosed nearly ten acres and boasted seven two-story blockhouses, five artillery batteries, two underground powder magazines, and various work and storage buildings. Troop strength ranged from less than 900 to over 2,000 and was compromised of Regulars, militia from Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and several companies of independent volunteers. Because the fort was more an armed camp than a formally engineered fortification, most troops lived in tents inside the stockade.
Life could be demanding at the frontier outpost, and many soldiers died from illness and disease. Troops received a meager ration, which they were expected to supplement by hunting, fishing, and growing gardens. Discipline was harsh, with punishment for infractions of rules ranging from extra duty to lashings. For those injured or wounded in battle, the crude medical and surgical procedures available were often worse than the injury.
The British laid siege to Fort Meigs on May 1, 1813. General Harrison, with 1,200 defenders and nearly thirty pieces of artillery under his command, was confident that he could withstand the assault if his small supply of ammunition held out. Harrison knew that reinforcements were on the way and used his artillery batteries sparingly, rewarding any soldier who retrieved a British cannonball to use in return fire with a gig of whisky.
The bombardment lasted four days before the reinforcement troop of Kentucky militiamen arrived on the scene. Some of the Kentucky reinforcements were captured and later killed by English-allied Indians. The siege lasted another five days before the British withdrew, giving the Americans a significant victory in the Northwest and turning the tide of the war.
While the British saw the withdrawal from Fort Meigs as a prudent maneuver, their Indian allies were bitterly disappointed and the King’s troops feared losing their support. To appease them, the British once again attacked Fort Meigs in July.
Indians staged a mock battle to lure the fort’s garrison outside the walls, under the illusion that a relief column was under attack, but the Americans didn’t fall for the ruse. Heartened by their earlier victory, once again the defenders withstood the siege.
Finally giving up, the British moved on to Fort Stevens, where they also failed to defeat the Americans and suffered heavy losses, forcing their retreat into Canada. On September 10, 1813 Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie and the United States finally had the upper hand in the Northwest.
The threat eliminated, General Harrison transferred all but 100 men from Fort Meigs and ordered the fort dismantled. In its place, a small stockade was built to serve as a supply base and to protect the rapids of the Maumee River. In December, 1814, Harrison was victorious in the Battle of Thames and fighting in the Northwest was over. A peace treaty was signed in May, 1814, and a year later American troops formally abandoned Fort Meigs.
Over the next 150 years the Maumee River area became heavily populated, early settlers giving way to larger farms, and those in turn giving way to small towns and suburbs. The old fort site lay under farmland until 1965, when the Ohio Historical Society began to reconstruct the stockade as it was during the British siege of 1813. The project was completed in 1975 and officially dedicated in 1976.
Today the old fort looks much as it did during its proud past, with the seven blockhouses sporting walls two feet thick and four inch deep window and cannon-port shutters. Several of the blockhouses feature exhibits and dioramas of the War of 1812, the fort’s construction and reconstruction of Fort Meigs, and the lives of the soldiers who garrisoned the fort.
Visitors can climb to the second floor gun ports and look out over the battleground from where defenders took aim at the enemy. On the Grand Battery you can stand where General Harrison did as he watched in frustration and horror as members of the Kentucky militia were trapped and taken prisoner across the river. On the Grand Parade you can imagine soldiers receiving the General Orders of the day, drawing their whiskey ration, or witnessing the punishment of their fellow soldiers who disobeyed regulations. A handsome monument towering over the middle of the fort honors the gallant men who served here.
A stone house, built by the Works progress Administration in the 1930s, houses a visitor center where you can purchase souvenirs and browse through a very nice collection of books. The parks grounds are open for picnicking during daylight hours. During good weather, the fort holds re-enactments of Revolutionary War encampments and battles, as well as fife and drum concerts and demonstrations of cannon and musket firing.
Fort Meigs is located a few miles west of Toledo, Ohio and is open April through October from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and holidays. There are two parking lots at Fort Meigs, both large enough to accommodate an RV, but both have only one entrance/exit and are too small to turn around in if you are pulling a toad behind a large motorhome. We had to unhook to get turned around when we were ready to leave. For information about events at Fort Meigs, call 1-800-BUCKEYE.
We’re doing something different for this week’s Free Drawing. We’re giving away two audiobooks from my friend Carol Ann Newsome, A Shot in the Bark and Drool Baby, from her popular Dog Park mystery series. All you have to do is click on the Free Drawing link and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – I’m at that awkward age between birth and death.