Thursday, May 23, 2013

Estimating Combat Strength at Fort Meigs, May 1813

 Colonel John Miller's detachment forms up for a charge under the cover of Fort Meigs' south wall. These 350 men were formed up in a single line of two battalions and one company.

Trying to estimate exactly how many troops General William Henry Harrison had available at Fort Meigs is like herding cats. Even the officers on the scene had a difficult time tabulating their combat strength. Secretary of War General John Armstrong was a micro manager, and expected detailed reports of how many men were present in the field. I have even seen documents where his Adjutant, General Cushing, ordered copies of company-level rolls to be sent to the War Department, monthly. From his office in Washington City, with a handful of clerks and staff officers, Secretary Armstrong was trying to coordinate several field armies and 9 military districts. 

During the late spring of 1813, Secretary Armstrong authorized a total of 7 infantry regiments (each with 10 companies and approx. 1000 men) to join the Northwest Army in the 8th Military District led by General Harrison. Two of these regiments, the 17th and 19th, were already present, but at minimal strength. At Fort Meigs in May, they formed a weak battalion. Another, the 24th Regiment of Infantry, was marching north from Tennessee with about 400 men. The 26th, 27th, and 28th Regiments were being recruited with one-year enlistments in Kentucky and Ohio, while the 17th and 19th sent parties to replenish their ranks from the same region. The seventh regular regiment seems to have been a Rifle unit. As the recruiting drive was going on, Armstrong discouraged Harrison from raising shorter-term militia regiments. 

Not only were the militia regiments seen as a waste of material and pay, but they would be mustered out of service before they could be used for the invasion of Canada. However, Harrison was forced to appeal to Ohio and Kentucky governors Meigs and Shelby to raise troops for the defense of Fort Meigs. As troops were continually moving into and back out of the fort, and small detachments and sick men were scattered everywhere, it was very difficult for the commanders to see how many troops they actually had at the front at any one time. Harrison ordered General Green Clay, in command at Meigs, to give him a report of how many troops were there at the end of the month. This document survives in microfilm at least, although it is very hard to read.

I have gone through and extracted the total strengths of the units posted at Fort Meigs, in order to give a better idea of how many men where stationed there after the siege. Colonel John Miller commanded the combined 17th and 19th US Infantry, while the illegible militia regiment may have been the survivors of Clay's Brigade:
Regiment Officers Present Enlisted Present Officers Sick Enlisted Sick Total
Field and Staff 4

4 officers
Col. Miller's 12 162 (32 NCOs) 6 209 (38 NCOs) 21 officers
441 enlisted
Col. ???'s 25 335 (61) 9 192 (23) 34 officers
611 enlisted
Col. Mills 8 77 (22) 6 78 (23) 14 officers
200 enlisted
Maj. Peter's 8 64 (20) 2 36 (8) 10 officers
128 enlisted
Maj. Alexander's 5 49 (11) 4 41 (11) 9 officers
112 enlisted
Capt. Cushing's 1 32 (10) 0 20 (3) 1 officer
65 enlisted
Total 59 719 (156) 27 576 (106) 93 officers
1557 enlisted
Total from muster

1751 enlisted
2148 enlisted (absent or accounted for)

For practical purposes, I have also attempted to determine how many line companies (the basic combat unit) were present by counting Captains and Sergeants. Each company was authorized 4 Sergeants, and since these men were simply promoted from the rank and file by their company officers, they are probably the best barometer of how many distinct fighting companies were available at the Fort. I've also provided an aggregate of fighting men for each regiment, though companies did vary considerably in strength.

Counting Heads:
Unit Captains Sergeants Est. Companies/ strength
Regulars (17th and 19th) 5 29 7 (441 muskets)
X militia 9 38 9 (611 muskets)
Col. Mills' Ohio Regiment 3 (7 absent) 20 (24 absent) 3 present (200 muskets)
7 absent
Maj. Peters Ohio Regiment 3 14 3 present (128 muskets)
Maj. Alexander's Blues 2 (1 acting Major) 12 3 present (112 muskets)
Cushing's Company 1 4 1 present (65 muskets)
Total 23 Captains 117 33 companies
1557 muskets or rifles
(minus music)

The above figures leave the question, what combat troops were part of the garrison of Fort Meigs during the Siege? Thanks to an analysis of primary sources done by Dr. Eugene Watson during his time as site staff of Fort Meigs Historic Site, as well as my own analysis of primary documents, we can make a rough estimate of the Order of Battle for the American garrison during the siege. I'll arrange the OOB by seniority of service branch, then regiment and include approximate overall strength and number of companies present.

For wargamers, companies should be regarded as the equivalent of a platoon in modern warfare. At Fort Meigs, they were understrength and organized into provisional battalions.

Role and Arms

Major James V. Ball's squadron, United States Light Dragoons
(2nd US LD and volunteers)
Light Cavalry: sabres, pistols, carbines and muskets.
Captain Daniel Cushing's Company, 2nd US Artillery
Foot Artillery: heavy and light cannon, muskets.
80-90 (including attached troops)
Colonel John Miller's battalion, US Regular Infantry
Infantry: muskets.
6 (one light infantry)
Major John Alexander's battalion, US 12-months volunteers
Light Infantry: 2 cos muskets, 1 co rifles.
Captain Peter's Scouts and Spies
Scouts: rifles.
Indian Guides
Scouts: rifles.
Col. James Mills' 1st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Militia
Infantry: rifles and muskets.
3 (two rifle)
Col. Mills Stephenson's 2nd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Militia
Infantry: rifles and muskets.
Major Johnson's Battalion, 10th Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Militia
Infantry: muskets.
Approx. totals

26 companies, viz:
5 cavalry
1 artillery
4 rifles
6 light infantry
10 line infantry

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