History of The Siege of Fort Meigs

In the early 1800’s France and Britain’s war spilled over into North America. The British allied with the American Indians in The Northwest Territory to help defeat American settlers in the area. The British also maintained a force in the area against the treaties it signed after the American Revolution. This angered the new nation and it declared war.

The Northwest Territory was lightly populated at the time, but had many forts to protect the region. A majority of the fighting of the war took place in the area, and along the border of Canada, which was still British at the time. Fort Detroit, along the Canadian border, was a major fort in the system. The Americans had plans to use the fort to supply an attack on Canada and to defend the Northwest from attacks. The British Attacked the fort and gained control in the summer of 1812. The defeat was a major blow to the American Army.  The United States need Detroit back and General William Henry Harrison was sent to regain the Fort and nearby city.  Unfortunately he was defeated before even reached the Fort.

After his defeat Harrison regrouped along the Maumee river, near modern day Toledo. There he started to build Fort Meigs at the beginning of February. Most of the men Harrison had brought were nearing the end of their enlistment and new men had to be found. This caused major delays in construction. Brigadier General Green Clay was ordered to bring 1200 men from Kentucky as Major Eleazer D. Wood continued construction. The weather was poor that spring, and this prevented an attack on the unprepared fort and gave Clay’s men time to arrive.

Major General Henry Procter had been told to attack the Americans along the eastern shores of Lake Erie, where they were building ships to regain control of the lake. He instead decided to attack Fort Meigs on the western shore. His idea was to stop a summer invasion of Fort Detroit and to capture its supplies. On April 26th he landed on the shores of the Maumee and head towards the fort. Along with his 900+ men he brought a contingent of 1200 American Indians lead by Tecumseh. Tecumseh was already well skilled in attacking American forts and fighting General Harrison having placed a decisive role in the Battle of Detroit and having battled in his own war against the General.

On May 1st the British artillery opened fire on the fort. The British continued the siege for five more days but Fort Meigs had been well built and was able to withstand the attack.  Harrison sent word to General Clay, who had not yet made it to the fort, to send some of his men to stop the cannons. Clay sent a group commanded by Colonel William Dudley. They were able to temporarily disable the cannons but in the fighting some followed Tecumseh’s forces in to the woods while others stay behind. This split allowed the British to regain control of the guns and destroy most of the Kentuckians.

A few months later the British attacked the fort for a second time. Knowing that guns would not work on the well built location they tried luring the Americans out. Tecumseh, who had used decoy actions to gain control of Fort Detroit staged a fake battle. The Americans, knowing that all of their army was safe with in the fort, or far off at other battles, did not fall for the tricks. Eventually the British gave up and moved on. Fort Meigs was too well built to be defeated.

With the British no longer attacking the area and a fort no longer needed, it was soon scaled down  to a simple supply depot and last the rest of the war. After the war the depot was abandoned and eventually burned down. Over the years the land has changed hands. Finally the Ohio History Society, now Ohio History Connection, gained control of the land. In the 1970’s they decided to turn the area into a historical museum and monument to the men who fought to keep Ohio out of the hands of the British.

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