With the invasion of Canada on hold at least for now, the American forces had time to consolidate and rebuild after they were rebuffed during the first year of the war. Brock’s victory at Detroit and Queenston Heights did much to improve the moral of the British and Canadians forces, and only served to give the Americans more resolve to make 1813 the year they take Upper Canada for themselves, and with Brock dead, who was going to stop them? But in the mid-west a new force was stirring. The newly commissioned General William Henry Harrison was marching north, building a series of supply depots to support his Army of the North West, and it was at the largest of these depots, Fort Meigs, that the British would try and stop him.
General Procter of the British forces in the west had wanted to launch an attack in early spring against Fort Meigs (located in what is today Perrysburg, OH) when it was still under construction and venerable to attack. But he was hampered by heavy rain and poor weather preventing such an attack and giving the American’s time to complete and garrison the massive fort. On April 26th, 1813 General Procter and a force of 486 British Regulars consisting of members of the 41st Regiment of Foot and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, along with a detachment from the Royal Artillery, and 462 Canadian Militia. Shawnee leader Tecumseh brought 1250 warriors to enforce the regulars and militia. Procter’s guns, consisting of two massive 24-pound canons from Fort Detroit, several smaller artillery pieces and mortars along two gunboats arrayed on the Miami River opened fire on Fort Meigs on May 1st. Harrison however had an ace up his sleeve, he had ordered 12 foot tall traverses to be built up inside the fort walls, Procter’s seemingly unlimited supplies of shells just sank, without doing any major damage into the wet earth. American troops dug bunkers into the traverses, being described as an army of groundhogs by a captured British officer. Harrison also ordered that any soldier that brought canon rounds to the magazine would receive a gill of whiskey; as Harrison did not have the same amount of ammunition as the British forces seemed to have. Over a thousand gills would be handed out before the end of the siege.
Although secure behind the walls of the fort, Harrison remained pinned down any attempt at a sortie would cause his own force to loose significant numbers, and most Americans still had the fear of Tecumseh’s warriors. But a glimmer of hope was given to the general, a force of Kentucky Militia and US Regulars were coming up from the south by boat. Harrison dispatched runners to General Clay in command of the1200 troops. Clay was to split his force into three groups, send a force to the north bank, a force to the south bank, and the reminder to head to the fort to reinforce the garrison there. Colonel Dudley was in command of the troops that landed on the north shore and quickly over ran the small force of Royal Artillery and native warriors the surprise attack sending them running into the woods. Using their own ramrods from their muskets they quickly spiked the guns, then thinking that Harrison’s signals to return to the fort were merely cheers raised a cheer themselves then spotting more natives at the edge of the woods took off after them. Harrison’s victory soon turned to defeat. British and militia troops heading to investigate the skirmish at the batteries quickly broke the Kentucky Militia’s line sending them back towards the shore where native warriors had outflanked them, catching them between native sharp shooters and redcoats. Of Dudley’s 866 men, only 150 made it back to the fort. Colonel Miller’s sortie to the south bank faired a little better, again taking the small force at the batteries by surprise his troops were able to drive the British forces off, but again after spiking the guns did not retreat (as those orders never reached them), allowing a counter attack by the British regulars drove them back to the fort after suffering heavy casualties.
Reenactors portraying the 60th Regiment of Foot form a skirmish line. Historically the 60th did not fight at Fort Meigs, but the reenactment group is known for their skill on the field as light infantry.
The two sorties did some damage to the British line, the guns on the south bank were rendered useless, but the north bank guns were able to be easily reactivated due to the fact that Dudley’s men used ramrods instead of hand spikes. By May 9th Procter’s forces were suffering from dwindling spirits and supplies. After arranging for an exchange of prisoners the siege was lifted and Procter returned to Detroit. The Americans having suffered 160 killed, 250 wounded, 530 captured, and 6 missing. British reporting 14 dead, 47 wounded, and 41 captured. At the urging of Tecumseh a second attempt at a siege was launched later in 1813 but was soon abandoned as the ruse did not succeed is drawing the fort’s garrison (now under General Clay) out. The failure to secure Fort Meigs caused a massive ripple during the fall of 1813 and saw General Harrison’s army of the Northwest invade and secure the western end of Upper Canada, the destruction of Fort Amhurstburg and the eventual death of Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames. Every May at Fort Meigs National Historic Site hosts an annual siege event. It usually rains.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
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