Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "Cracker Line" to Fort Meigs


From Captain Daniel Cushing's Diary, 12-14 June 1813:
Saturday, 12th.-- This day Capt. Bradford dined with us. Capt. Wood joined mess with Capt. Gratiot and me on the 10th. Thirteen boats and several pirogues arrived here laden with flour, salt, whiskey, soap and candles. Several men with two horses and eight head of cattle were seen down at the old fort this afternoon. Sergeant Meldrum caught an Indian horse this day.
Sunday, 13th.-- A tremendous thunder gust last night with heavy rain and hail, this morning pleasant. Mr. Asa Stoddard, Major Spafford and Major Farley arrived here with two boats from Cleveland laden with produce and dry goods; I got twenty-four pounds of butter, a bag of pickles and a large cheese.
 Monday, 14th.-- This day the gentleman that arrived here yesterday with produce sold to the amount of $1,500.

 The Union soldiers defending Chattanooga, Tennessee following the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863 relied for a while on a tenuous supply line called "the cracker line" after the boxes of hard tack that came through the Confederate siege lines. Likewise, after the Siege of Fort Meigs in late April, early May several supply lines opened up. The main one had been suggested in the fall of 1812 by Major Amos Stoddard, who had then been organizing supplies from Fort Fayette in Pittsburgh. Stoddard died a painful death by lockjaw at Fort Meigs, but the route for supply lines he suggested was now, in June 1813, keeping the American army alive. ...

It stretched from the eastern wagon road over the Allegheny mountains from the eastern seaboard to Pittsburgh, where supplies heading west were loaded onto keel boats. The keel boats went down the Ohio River to the mouth of the Scioto, to Newport, Kentucky and Cincinnati, and to the Great Miami River. Many of the supplies were poled or towed on boats up the Miami, and then portaged over the gap between the headwaters of the Miami--an Ohio tributary-- and those of the St. Mary's, which empty into Lake Erie. Barrels of flour and other vital supplies floated downstream on open boats to the Maumee River at Fort Wayne, or down the Auglaize which met the Maumee at Fort Winchester (now Defiance, Ohio). To keep up with the supply of boats at this otherwise inaccessible location, two boatyards were busy constructing small craft--the flatboats, pirogues, and row boats which ran downriver. The boatmen were sometimes detailed from the army, and required armed escorts for protection from Indians who constantly patrolled the banks.

General William H. Harrison hope to build up a base of 1 million rations to supply his army for an overland invasion of Michigan and Canada. By the spring of 1813 the invasion had been called off, but the supplies were still coming. Besides the river route, two other important, but less reliable supply lines were open.

An early French map of the Ohio country, which shows the route connecting the Ohio watershead with the Maumee Valley and the Great Lakes.


While the rivers had been frozen over the winter, Harrison had ordered a rough road to be cut between the head of navigation on the Scioto-- Franklinton/Columbus-- and his forward posts at Lower Sandusky (now Fremont) and Fort Meigs. This route was one of the first roads into the wilderness of Northwestern Ohio, and it connected the central region of the state with the lake ports. The route followed modern-day State Route 23 north from Columbus through Worthington and Delaware, Ohio, to Upper Sandusky. There it turned straight northwards, through modern-day Tiffin to the head of navigation on the Sandusky River at Lower Sandusky (Fremont, Ohio)-- State Route 53. There was a crude road straight through the Great Black Swamp to Fort Meigs which still exists today, now Route 20. For long periods of 1813 these roads were only passable by pack-horse trains, and everything the troops at the front got before the rivers thawed was brought up on the back of a horse.

General William Hull's road, which ran directly north between Urbana, Ohio and the Maumee Rapids, follows route 68 from Urbana to Findlay, guarded by isolated stockades like Forts McArthur and Findlay... which eventually became towns and county seats as the state was settled. From (Fort) Findlay Hull's Road went north through the swamp to a ford over the Maumee slightly upriver of Fort Meigs. The stretch between Findlay and Fort Meigs (now Route 25/I-75) was relieved only by a miserable outpost known as the Portage Blockhouse. The exact site of this blockhouse seems to have been on the Portage River, a couple miles south of modern Bowling Green, Ohio. Naturally, there is a little village named Portage there today.

A depiction of the eastern frontier around Fort Pitt. The eastern woodlands extended unbroken from the mountains all the way to Indiana, interrupted only by savannahs and swamps in NW Ohio.

The third route for supplies to reach Fort Meigs was by sea, over Lake Erie. For most of 1812 and 1813 this was a risky option, because British vessels controlled the Lake. Small convoys of open boats risked the patrols by rowing and sailing along the southern shore, where there are many inlets, islands, sandbars, and marshes to hide in. Major Amos Spafford, the founder of the prewar settlement on the Maumee River, was one such enterprising mariner. He and his partners made an equivalent of over 20,000 dollars on one trip from Cleveland to the fort. Apparently by chance, one of his partners on the expedition happened to be Asa Stoddard, a distant relative of the artillery major.

 (Years later, Asa's son, Henry, who had emigrated to Dayton, Ohio, discovered that he was the sole heir of the bachelor Amos' lands around St. Louis, where he had commanded the American garrison. By the 1850s he had won a court battle to claim this inheritance, and thereby got a fortune valued at over 800,000 dollars. Amos Stoddard's biographer later communicated with Henry and found out that a battered chest belonging to the Major had been stored at a nephew's house in Ohio for years after the war, and had only lately been acquired. The biographer wrote that many of the papers contained therein were "of much historic value, and are to be sent to a place of preservation, by (Henry) Stoddard" --Cothren, William. History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut, From the First Indian Deed in 1659 ... Including the Present Towns of Washington, Southbury, Bethlem, Roxbury, and a Part of Oxford and Middlebury. Waterbury, Conn: Bronson Bros, 1854. One wonders if these papers really did get put in an archive or library somewhere, and if so where...)