Saturday, August 23, 2014

"He was a beardless stripling..." one veterans recollections of Fort Stephenson and Major Croghan

As a follow up to my series on the Battle of Fort Stephenson, here's a letter written by a veteran of the Petersburg, Virginia Volunteers, probably to Colonel Webb C. Hayes (1856-1934, son of President Rutherford B. Hayes and grandson of Private James Webb who served in Colonel Ball's dragoons as a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Blues light dragoon company). It was published in "The Croghan Celebration", Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Quarterly 16 no. 1 (January 1907).

Petersburg, VA., 4th March 1880
            According to promise I will now attempt to tell you what little I know about Croghan and Sandusky. The opening of the spring campaign in 1813 found the garrison of Fort Meigs exceedingly weak. General Harrison having gone in the states to hasten forward reinforcements, leaving General Clay in command. The British and Indians in considerable numbers, knowing perhaps of the absence of the General-in-Chief, and our weakness, as also our expecting succor from Kentucky, surrounded the fort and engaged in a sham battle, hoping by this ruse to draw us out. Failing in this they left us, taking the Military Road in the direction of Fort Stephenson, which was said to have been forty miles in length, and fell upon Major Croghan and his little band at Sandusky. The fort at this place was quite small, covering I should say not more than one English acre of ground. In form it was quadrilateral, without traverses, but having in front of curtain on its four sides a broad and deep fosse. At the north-east angle of the fort was a blockhouse, and just here was mounted the only cannon (a six pounder) which made such havoc with the red coats occupying the ditch. My impression is that my old comrade Brown was the only member of my company present on that occasion; and that he did not (as has been asserted) command the piece but only assisted in working it. The captain of the gun was a sergeant either of the Pittsburgh Blues, or the Greensburg Blues. However Brown was terribly burned about the face which disfigured him for life. I forgot to state that the Fort was short of ammunition of all sorts, having only three rounds in all for the cannon. You ask if I knew Major Croghan. I answer, Yes, I have seen him oftentimes before and after the glorious fight at Sandusky. He was a beardless stripling; I should say rather below the medium size, and did not look more than eighteen years of age. This is about all I know of Croghan and Sandusky. I might add, though not exactly pertinent, that our Company was quite largely represented on the decks of Commodore Perry’s ships, when he so gloriously fought and overcame the British Fleet on Lake Erie.
            With great respect,
                                    Your obedient servant,
                                                            Reuben Clements.

Mr. Clements had outlived not only the War of 1812, but had been witness to the Siege of Petersburg from 1864 to 1865, during which the famous Battle of the Crater, 150 years ago this year, took place in the same neighborhood as a monument to the 1812 volunteers of the "cockade city."