War of 1812: Siege of Fort Meigs

william-henry-harrison-wide.jpg
General William Henry Harrison. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Siege of Fort Meigs - Conflicts & Dates:

The Siege of Fort Meigs took place April 28 to May 9, 1813 during the War of 1812 (1812-1815). 

Armies & Commanders:

United States

Great Britain

  • Major General Henry Proctor
  • approx. 2,150 men

Siege of Fort Meigs - Background:

In the opening weeks of the War of 1812, American fortunes in the Northwest took a severe turn for the worse when Brigadier General William Hull surrendered Detroit to Major General Sir Isaac Brock.

  In an effort to recover the town, a new Army of the Northwest was organized with Brigadier General James Winchester in command.  His tenure proved brief as Major General William Henry Harrison superseded him on September 17.  Moving against Detroit in January 1813, the lead elements of Harrison's command, overseen by Winchester, were badly defeated at the Battle of Frenchtown.  Assessing the situation, Harrison fell back to the Maumee River and began constructing a string of forts to protect his supply lines.

Along the Maumee, Harrison commenced work on Fort Meigs which was named for Ohio Governor Return J. Meigs, Jr.  Located on the south bank, a short distance from the site of the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, the fort's eastern and western approaches were protected by ravines while the land to the south was cleared to form an open glacis.  Plagued by expiring enlistments that winter, Harrison left to recruit additional forces and charged Major Eleazer D.

Wood with completing the fort.  Garrisoned by elements of the 17th and 19th US Infantry Regiments, Fort Meigs moved towards completion.

Siege of Fort Meigs - British Intentions:

To the north, the British commander in Upper Canada, Major General Henry Proctor, commenced planning for a spring campaign.

  Though under pressure to attack Presque Isle (Erie, PA) where Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry was building a squadron to take control of Lake Erie, he felt he lacked sufficient forces for such an operation.  Instead, Proctor intended to move south to capture Fort Meigs with the goal of disrupting Harrison's plans for the summer and capturing needed supplies.  Receiving word of the British plan, the American commander rushed to Fort Meigs with reinforcements and induced Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky to send a brigade of 1,200 militia, led by Brigadier General Green Clay, north.     

Siege of Fort Meigs - Proctor Arrives:

Arriving at the mouth of the Maumee on April 26, Proctor's force included 533 regulars, 462 militia, and approximately 1,250 Native Americans led by Tecumseh and Roundhead.  Moving upstream, the British constructed batteries on the north bank opposite the fort and one on the south bank.  Mounting a total of eleven guns, they opened fire on May 1 while the Native Americans loosely encircled the fort to the south.  As a precaution, Harrison ordered that earthen traverses (walls) be built within the fort to further protect the garrison.  Despite persistent fire from Proctor's guns, the majority of the British cannonballs were absorbed by the fort's earthen walls.

  Learning of Clay's approach on May 2, Harrison dispatched a messenger to the Kentuckians who detailed a plan for driving off the enemy (Map).

Siege of Fort Meigs - Dudley Attacks:

In his message, Harrison directed Clay to send part of his force across the river to attack the batteries on the north bank.  This operation would be supported by a sortie from the garrison intended to destroy the battery on the south bank and act as a diversion.  Moving forward on May 5, Clay ordered Colonel William Dudley to land on the north side of the river with around 850 men.  Forming his men into columns led by himself, Major James Shelby, Captain John Morrison, and Leslie Combs, Dudley eluded the Native Americans in the area and approached the British position.  Charging forward, his men achieved complete surprise and overran the batteries.

  Lacking handspikes, they spiked the guns with ramrods which only temporarily disabled them.  

As this action concluded, Combs' men were attacked by a Native American force.  Rather than withdraw back across the river as intended, Dudley ordered Combs reinforced.  Drawn into the woods, the Kentuckians lost cohesion as the Native Americans slowly withdrew.  At the batteries, Shelby came under attack from the British and moved to aid Dudley.  Reinforced by the British, the Native Americans turned on Dudley and shattered his command.  Dudley was killed in the fighting and only 150 of his men succeeded in escaping back to Fort Meigs.  To the south, Colonel John Miller moved out of the fort and destroyed the southern batteries before the British compelled him to withdraw.

Siege of Fort Meigs - Final Actions:

American prisoners taken during Dudley's attack were taken downstream to the ruins of Fort Miami.  Arriving, between 12 and 14 were killed by the Native Americans before Tecumseh and British officers were able to stop the carnage. Two days later, Harrison and Proctor concluded terms for the exchange of regular prisoners and the parole of captured militia.  Resuming the bombardment of the fort, Proctor soon found his forces reduced as many of the Native Americans, uninterested in a static siege, began to depart.  Under pressure from his militia to return home and facing a superior American force in the fort, he elected to break off the siege on May 9.  

Siege of Fort Meigs - Aftermath:

In the Siege of Fort Meigs Harrison's command suffered 160 killed, 190 wounded, 630 captured, and 6 missing while Proctor endured 14 killed, 47 wounded, and 41 captured. Native American casualties totaled 19.  A strategic defeat for Proctor, he withdrew back across Lake Erie.  That September, the situation changed dramatically with Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie.  With control of the lake secured, Harrison advanced and recaptured Detroit.  Pursuing Proctor, Harrison inflicted a severe defeat on him at the Battle of the Thames on October 5.  The fighting saw Tecumseh killed and American forces effectively secure the Northwest frontier for the remainder of the war.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "War of 1812: Siege of Fort Meigs." ThoughtCo, May. 14, 2015, thoughtco.com/siege-of-fort-meigs-2361357. Hickman, Kennedy. (2015, May 14). War of 1812: Siege of Fort Meigs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/siege-of-fort-meigs-2361357 Hickman, Kennedy. "War of 1812: Siege of Fort Meigs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/siege-of-fort-meigs-2361357 (accessed November 20, 2017).