War of 1812 bicentennial: Fort Meigs
February 12, 2013
Following the loss of Detroit in August 1812 and the defeat at Frenchtown in January 1813, the western Ohio frontier lay open to attacks by the British and its Native American allies.
To defend against the threats, the commander of the U.S. Northwestern Army, Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison, ordered a fort be built on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River rapids. Harrison saw the fort not only as protection, but as a staging area for a future invasion of Canada.
Construction began Feb. 2, 1813 on Fort Meigs, named in honor of then-Ohio Gov. Return J. Meigs.
Virginia Militia Brig. Gen. Joel Leftwich initially supervised construction and U.S. Army engineer officer Eleazer Wood completed the project. The fort was of earth-and-timber-palisaded construction, including seven two-story blockhouses and five artillery batteries, enclosing about 10 acres.
The fort was ready in late April, just in time to defend against a British advance. British Brig. Gen. Henry Proctor led about 2,000 British regulars and Canadian militia, supported by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh's 1,000 warriors, south from Fort Malden in Canada. Proctor began a siege of the fort on May 1, attacking from the north and south shores of the river.
Harrison, with about 1,200 U.S. regulars and militia and 20 to 30 cannons, attempted to defend. In need of reinforcements, he requested Kentucky Militia Maj. Gen. Green Clay bring his 1,200 troops to Fort Meigs.
When they arrived May 5, the American relief column split into two groups, one detachment on the south bank of the Maumee River to drive off the Native Americans, while the detachment on the north bank attacked the British artillery.
Although the detachment on the south bank was successful and entered the fort after completing its mission, the northern detachment of 800 men disregarded orders to enter the fort and attempted to improve on its initial success. However they were ambushed and lost about 640 men, were killed or captured.
Since there was no chance of a quick victory, the Canadian militia and Native Americans began to melt away. The British lifted the siege and withdrew May 9.
Harrison then marched most of the American Soldiers to Cleveland to cooperate with the Navy, leaving Clay in charge of the fort. The action was an American victory, but the war would soon return to Fort Meigs.