Saturday, May 11, 2013

Evaluating the Siege of Fort Meigs

From a Kentucky officer's account published in the Analytical Magazine, 1819:
From the first to the fifth of May, there were between 5 and 600 cannon balls and bombs fired from the British batteries each day. The number killed in the fort, was ten with cannon balls and bombs, and that number with small arms. During the siege, there were three or four men posted on top of the traverses--these men, as soon as they saw the smoke gushing from the mouth of the enemies cannon, would cry out shot!! or bomb!! as the case might be. This arrangement was a wise one, for it saved the lives of many; by it, the garrison were enabled to fall in the trenches, before the shot reached the fort. So frequent did we hear the word shot!! that the motion of the men might be very well said to resemble that of a sawyer, bobbing up and down by the force of the current. We were very much annoyed by the falling of bomb shells, which made it necessary to burrow; but these were very damp and unwholesome; indeed, we were kept out of the water, while in many of them, by laying our blankets on a floor of poles and bark.
The number killed in the two sorties on the south side of the river and in the fort, has been estimated at 81, and 189 wounded; this number, I am induced to believe, is too small by at least 40 or 50 killed, and an equal proportion in wounded. How many of the enemy were killed on the south side, it is impossible to say, as the enemy kept the ground; but our men were first rate shooters, and fought in open order, behind trees and stumps, logs, &c. and frequently within 60 or 80 steps of the enemy, and for a short time within about 30. And as they had been subject to the roar of cannon and small arms for eight days, with the sight of many killed and wounded; the first fright must have been over, if this latter is at all to be applied them--it is reasonable then to suppose that the enemy suffered much.* 
The account given of the killed on the north, is believed to be too small. The detachment consisted of 880**, of which number, 500 , or thereabouts, were paroled and sent to Kentucky; 192 made their escape to Fort Meigs, 15 to Defiance, and 30 were taken off by the Indians, which leaves the number of killed about 143.

*Official British reports stated that 14 men were killed in action, 47 WIA, and 41 captured. However, the casualty lists were for the British regulars and militia, and do not account for the Indians, who bore the brunt of the fighting on May 5 1813 and kept close to the fort when skirmishing.

** Colonel Dudley commanded his entire regiment, plus Thomas' company and Gilbraith's scouts who accidentally landed on his side of the river, plus Captain Samuel Price's company of the US Light Artillery, fighting as infantry and half a dozen Shawnee scouts.

The next article in the magazine concerned a newfangled invention known as a "velocipede". Would they ever catch on?


  1. Thank you for all the excellent posts about Fort Meigs. As a tour guide at White Hall State Historic Home near Richmond, KY (the home of General Green Clay) I feel much better prepared to tell our guests about the siege and Gen. Clay's involvement in it. Just as a side note, we have Gen. Clay's sword that presumably he carried during the battle.

    Please come visit us!

  2. Thanks for reading! I would very much like to visit your site, especially as I have only been in Kentucky a few times and then mostly passing through. Brig. General Clay (a Kentucky Major General) was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and was really well-suited to take over at Fort Meigs when Harrison left. He was ordered to apply his skills as a frontier businessman and plantation owner and oversee repairs and construction at the Fort. This meant overseeing a tannery, bake shop, boat yard, stables, butcher's, and a lot of other tasks one doesn't normally associate with military duties.