Sunday, November 20, 2011

Granville, Ohio and General Hull's Band



I was travelling through Granville, Ohio yesterday. It's a small town located northeast up the Dublin-Granville pike from Columbus, and hosts the liberal arts college Dennison University. The town itself was founded by a bunch of transplanted New Englanders, like Worthington and many other central and northeast Ohio towns. As I often do, I took a mental souvenir from my visit. This one was the story of General William Hull's military band.

Townships in Ohio before the War of 1812 were required by law to have a militia company in which local men armed themselves and met once a month to train. These muster or drill days became notorious as excuses for the local old boys networks to meet, hang out, and get drunk. Some companies, however, prided themselves on their uniforms, smart appearance and drill; others, because of the proximity of hostile native populations, probably took militia drill and marksmanship more seriously. I'm not sure which sort of outfit the Granville company was, but in addition to the musket- and riflemen tramping the village green, there was also a group of musicians who met as a military band.

In the spring of 1812, three regiments of Ohio volunteer militia were formed and elected prominent Ohioans as officers. Lewis Cass, Duncan McArthur, and James Findlay were the colonels. These three regiments assembled at Urbana, Ohio (north of Dayton) to meet up with New Englander Brigadier General William Hull and the Fourth Regiment of Infantry (a regular outfit, also New Englanders and veterans of the fight at Tippecanoe against the Shawnee Prophet's warriors). Granville's musicians joined the army, too. Since there was no disposition or allowance for a regimental or military band for the army, the men were listed on different company rolls as fifers or drummers.

Although they got rations and pay from different companies, and perhaps even different regiments, the musicians marched together in formation near General Hull in the great column that slowly marched north to Detroit. As it moved along, the army had to hack a road for itself from the dense Ohio forests. In swampy places (such as nearly all of the northwest corner of the state), trees were felled and laid side by side to make a platform known as a corduroy road. The bandsmen might have been employed to play and encourage the axemen in their work. Far from being an adventure, the expedition must have seemed oddly mundane for most of the militia, who were accustomed to clearing their own lands with axes.

After months of hard work and hard marching, the army reached the lower rapids of the Maumee River (then known as Miami of the Lakes). General Hull wanted to expedite his march to Detroit, so he could be on time to begin the invasion of Canada. He rented a local schooner to transport the army baggage, his paychests, papers, and the army band to Detroit. The schooner would cross the western end of Lake Erie, ascend the Detroit River, and pass the British fort and naval base at Amherstburg, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) on its way to the Michigan territorial capital. What he didn't realize was that Congress had declared war on Great Britain. A letter to that effect to Hull had already gone out from the Secretary of War... via regular mail.  The British got the news first. As the schooner crept up against the river current, it was challenged by a long boat sent out from the Canadian shore. Said shore being lined with artillery and British naval craft, the schooner's captain had little choice but to surrender.

And thus, the army band from Granville, Ohio was surrendered into enemy hands... Two months before the rest of William Hull's army, along with Michigan and the rest of the United States territory north of the Maumee River were surrendered after an exchange of cannonballs at Fort Detroit. The regular soldiers were marched off to Montreal as prisoners of war; the bandsmen along with the rest of the militiamen were paroled (the British finding it difficult enough to feed their own soldiers, much less someone else's, in Canada at that time) and doubtless came back home with an interesting story or two.

It took another year, and two or three more American armies (depending on which units you're counting) to wrest Detroit back from the British. These armies had musicians who marched with the regiments, but I have yet to find any evidence of a full band like the one that marched out of Granville in the spring of 1812.