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Fort Stephenson Title

 


 

"Repulse of the British"

The Battle of Fort Stephenson
The American Viewpoint


Battle Narratives

[Excerpted from: Historical Collections of Ohio, by Henry Howe, published in 1848, and Historical Narrative of the Civil and Military Services of Major-General William Henry Harrison, by Moses Dawson, published in 1824. The indented portions below are from Dawson's narrative.]

Description of Lower Sandusky in 1848 (later re-named Fremont and sometimes referred to in the text as just "Sandusky")

Lower Sandusky, the county seat, is 24 miles southwesterly from Sandusky City, and 105 west of north from Columbus. The annexed engraving shows the town as it appears from a hill northeast of it, on the opposite side of the river, near the residence of Mr. Jasper Smith, seen in front. On the left, the bridge across the Sandusky river partially appears; and a little to the right of it, Whyler's hotel. On the hill are shown the court house, and the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic churches.

The town stands at the head of navigation on the Sandusky, at the lower rapids, where the Indians had a reservation of two miles square, granted to them by the treaty of Greenville. It is said that at an early day the French had a trading station at this point. Lower Sandusky contains 1 Episcopal, 1 Presbyterian, 1 Baptist, 1 Methodist and 1 Catholic church, 2 newspaper printing offices, 8 grocery and 11 dry goods stores, 1 woollen factory, 1 foundery, and had, in 1840, 1117 inhabitants, and now has near 2000. It is a thriving town, and considerable business is carried on. Its commerce is increasing. Small steamers and sail vessels constantly ply from here. There principal articles of export in 1846, were of wheat 90,000 bushels, pork 560 barrels, ashes 558 casks, flour 1010 barrels, corn 18,400 bushels, staves 1,100,000: imports, 1480 barrels of salt and 250 tons of merchandize.

Immediately opposite Lower Sandusky, on the east bank of the river, is the small village of Croghansville, laid out in 1817, which in a general description would be included in the former.

Fort Stephenson, or Sandusky, so gallantly defended by colonel Croghan on the 2d of August, 1813, against an overwhelming force of British and Indians, was within the present limits of Lower Sandusky. Its site is indicated by the flag on the left in the engraving, which is about 30 rods southeast of the court house, on high ground, much elevated above the river. The fort enclosed about an acre of ground, and the picketing was in good preservation as late as 1834. A private residence now stands within the area. We annex a narration of the assault on the fort, from a published source.

Having raised the siege of Camp Meigs, the British sailed round into Sandusky bay, while a competent number of their savage allies marched across through the swamps of Portage river, to co-operate in a combined attack on Lower Sandusky, expecting, no doubt, that General Harrison's attention would be chiefly directed to Forts Winchester and Meigs. The general, however, had calculated on their taking this course, and had been careful to keep patroles down the bay, opposite the mouth of Portage, where he supposed their forces would debark.

Several days before the British had invested Fort Meigs, General Harrison, with Major Croghan and some other officers, had examined the heights which surrounded Fort Stephenson; and as the hill on the opposite or southeast side of the river was found to be the most commanding eminence, the general had some thoughts of removing the fort to that place, and Major Croghan declared his readiness to undertake the work. But the general did not authorize him to do it, as he believed that if the enemy intended to invade our territory again, they would do it before the removal could be completed. It was then finally concluded that the fort, which was calculated for a garrison of only 200 men, could not be defended against the heavy artillery of the enemy; and that if the British should approach it by water, which would cause a presumption that they had brought their heavy artillery, the fort must be abandoned and burnt, provided a retreat could be effected with safety. In the orders left with Major Croghan, it was stated-- " Should the British troops approach you in force with cannon, and you can discover them in time to effect a retreat, you will do so immediately, destroying all the public stores."

"You must be aware that the attempt to retreat in the face of an Indian force would be vain. Against such an enemy your garrison would be safe, however great the number."

On the evening of the 29th, General Harrison received intelligence, by express, from General Clay, that the enemy had abandoned the siege of Fort Meigs; and as the Indians on that day had swarmed in the woods round his camp, he entertained no doubt but that an immediate attack was intended either on Sandusky or Seneca. He therefore immediately called a council of war, consisting of M'Arthur, Cass, Ball, Paul, Wood, Hukill, Holmes and Graham, who were unanimously of the opinion that Fort Stephenson was untenable against heavy artillery, and that as the enemy could bring with facility any quantity of battering cannon against it, by which it must inevitably fall, and as it was an unimportant post, containing nothing the loss of which would be felt by us, that the garrison should therefore not be reinforced, but withdrawn, and the place destroyed. In pursuance of this decision, the general immediately dispatched the order to Major Croghan, directing him immediately to abandoned Fort Stephenson, to set it on fire and repair with his command to head quarters-- cross the river and come up on the opposite side, and if he should find it impracticable to reach the general's quarters, to take the road to Huron, and pursue it with the utmost circumspection and dispatch. This order was sent by Mr. Conner and two Indians, who lost their way in the dark, and did not reach Fort Stephenson till 11 o'clock the next day. When Major Croghan received, it he was of opinion that he could not then retreat with safety, as the Indians were hovering round the fort in considerable force. He called a council of his officers, a majority of whom coincided with him in opinion that a retreat would be unsafe, and that the post could be maintained against the enemy, at least till further instructions could be received from head quarters. The major therefore immediately returned the following answer: "Sir, I have just received yours of yesterday, 10 o'clock, P. M., ordering me to destroy this place and make good my retreat, which was received too late to be carried into execution. We have determined to maintain this place, and by heavens we can." In the writing this note, Major Croghan had a view to the probability of its falling into the hands of the enemy, and on that account made use of stronger language than would otherwise have been consistent with propriety. It reached the general on the same day, who did not fully understand the circumstances and motives under which had been dictated. The following order was there-fore immediately prepared, and sent with Colonel Wells in the morning, escorted by Colonel Ball, with his corps of dragoons.

"July 30, 1813.

"SIR--The general has just received your letter of this date, informing him that you had thought proper to disobey the order issued from this office, and delivered to you this morning. It appears that the information which dictated the order was incorrect; and as you did not receive it in the night, as we expected, it might have been proper that you should have reported the circumstance and your situation, before you proceeded to its execution. This might have been passed over; but I am directed to say to you, that an officer who presumes to aver that he has made his resolution, and that he will act in direct opposition to the orders of his general, can no longer be entrusted with a separate command. Colonel Wells is sent to relieve you. You will deliver the command to him, and repair with colonel Ball's squadron to this place. By command, &c.

A. H. HOLMES, Assistant Adjutant General."

Colonel Wells being left in command of Fort Stephenson, Major Croghan returned with the squadron to head-quarters. He there explained his motives for writing such a note which were deemed satisfactory; and having remained all night with the general, who treated him politely, he was permitted to return to his command in the morning, with written orders similar to those he had received before.

A reconnoitering party which had been sent from head-quarters to the shore of the lake, about 20 miles distant from Fort Stephenson, discovered the approach of the enemy, by water, on the evening of the 31st of July. They returned by the fort after 12 o'clock the next day, and had passed it but a few hours, when the enemy made their appearance before it. The Indians showed themselves first on the hill over the river, and were saluted by a six-pounder, the only piece of artillery in the fort, which soon caused them to retire. In half an hour the British gun-boats came in sight, and the Indian forces displayed themselves in every direction, with a view to intercept the garrison, should a retreat be attempted. The six-pounder was fired a few times at the gun-boats, which was returned by the artillery of the enemy. A landing of their troops with a five and a half inch howitzer was effected about a mile below the fort; and Major Chambers, accompanied by Dickson, was dispatched towards the fort with a flag, and was met on the part of Major Croghan by Ensign Shipp, of the 17th regiment. After the usual ceremonies Major Chambers observed to Ensign Shipp that he was instructed by General Proctor to demand the surrender of the fort, as he was anxious to spare the effusion of human blood, which he could not do, should he be under the necessity of reducing it, by the powerful force of artillery, regulars and Indians under his command. Shipp replied, that the commandant of the fort and its garrison were determined to defend it to the last extremity; that no force however great could induce them to surrender, as they resolved to maintain their post or to bury themselves in its ruins. Dickson then said that their immense body of Indians could not be restrained from murdering the whole garrison in case of success, of which we have no doubt, rejoined Chambers, as we are amply prepared. Dickson then proceeded to remark, that it was a great pity so fine a young man should fall into the hands of the savages--Sir, for God's sake, surrender, and prevent the dreadful massacre that will be caused by your resistance. Mr. Shipp replied, that when the fort was taken, there would be none to massacre. It will not be given up while a man is able to resist. An Indian at this moment came out of an adjoining ravine, and advancing to the ensign, took hold his sword and attempted to wrest it from him. Dickson interfered, and having restrained the Indian, affected great anxiety to get him safe into the fort.

The enemy now opened their fire from their six-pounders in the gunboats and the howitzer on shore, which they continued through the night with but little intermission and with very little effect. The forces of the enemy consisted of 500 regulars, and about 800 Indians commanded by Dickson, the whole being commanded by General Proctor in person. Tecumseh was stationed on the road to Fort Meigs with a body of 2000 Indians, expecting to intercept a reinforcement on that route.

Major Croghan through the evening occasionally fired his six-pounder, at the same time changing its place occasionally to induce a belief that he had more than one piece. As it produced very little execution on the enemy, and he was desirous of saving his ammunition, he soon discontinued his fire. The enemy had directed their fire against the northwestern angle of the fort, which induced the commander to believe that an attempt to storm his works would be make at that point. In the night, Captain Hunter was directed to remove the six-pounder to a blockhouse, from which it would rake that angle. By great industry and personal exertion, Captain Hunter soon accomplished this object in secrecy. The embrasure was masked, and the piece loaded with a half charge of powder, and double charge of slugs and grape-shot. Early in the morning of the 2d, the enemy opened their fire from their howitzer and three six-pounders, which they had landed in the night, and planted in a point of woods, about 250 yards from the fort. In the evening, about 4 o'clock, they concentrated the fire of all their guns on their northwest angle, which convinced Major Croghan that they would endeavor to make a breach and storm the works at that point; he therefore immediately had that place strengthened as much as possible with bags of flour and sand, which were so effectual that the picketing in that place sustained no material injury. Sergeant Weaver, with five or six gentlemen of the Petersburgh volunteers and Pittsburgh blues, who happened to be in the fort, was intrusted with the management of the six-pounder.

Late in the evening, when the smoke of the firing had completely enveloped the fort, the enemy proceeded to make the assault. Two feints were made towards the southern angle, where Captain Hunter's lines were formed; and at the same time a column of 350 men was discovered advancing through the smoke, within 20 paces of the northwestern angle. A heavy galling fire of musketry was now opened upon them from the fort, which threw them into some confusion. Colonel Short, who headed the principal column, soon rallied his men, and led them with great bravery to the brink of the ditch. After a momentary pause he leaped into the ditch, calling to his men to follow him, and in a few minutes it was full. The masked porthole was now opened, and the six-pounder, at the distance of 30 feet, poured such destruction among them that but few who had entered the ditch were fortunate enough to escape. A precipitate and confused retreat was the immediate consequence, although some of the officers attempted to rally their men. The other column, which was led by Colonel Warburton and Major Chambers, was also routed in confusion by a destructive fire from the line commanded by Captain Hunter. The whole of them fled into the adjoining wood, beyond the reah of our fire-arms. During the assault, which lasted half an hour, the enemy kept up an incessant fire from their howitzer and five six-pounders. They left Colonel Short, a lieutenant and twenty-five privates dead in the ditch; and the total number of prisoners taken was twenty-six, most of them badly wounded. "Col. Short, who commanded the regulars composing the forlorn hope, was ordering his men to leap the ditch, cut down the pickets, and give the Americans no quarters, when he fell mortally wounded into the ditch, hoisted his white handkerchief on the end of his sword, and begged for that mercy which he had a moment before ordered to be denied to his enemy." Major Muir was knocked down in the ditch, and lay among the dead till the darkness of the night enabled him to escape in safety. The loss of the garrison was one killed and seven slightly wounded. The total loss of the enemy could not be less then 150 killed and wounded.

When night came on, which was soon after the assault, the wounded in the ditch were in a desperate situation. Complete relief could not be brought to them by either side with any degree of safety. Major Croghan, however, relieved them as much as possible--he contrived to convey them water over the picketing in buckets, and a ditch was opened under the pickets, through which those who were able and willing, were encouraged to crawl into the fort. All who were able, preferred, of course, to follow their defeated comrades, and many others were carried from the vicinity of the fort by the Indians particularly their own killed and wounded; and in the night, about 3 o'clock, the whole British and Indian force commenced a disorderly retreat. So great was their precipitation that they left a sail-boat containing some clothing and a considerable quantity of military stores: and on the next day, seventy stand of arms and some braces of pistols were picked up around the fort. Their hurry and confusion were caused by the apprehension of an attack from General Harrison, of whose position and force they had probably received an exaggerated account.

It was the intention of General Harrison, should the enemy succeed against Fort Stephenson, or should they endeavor to turn his left and fall on Upper Sandusky, to leave his camp at Seneca and fall back for the protection of that place. But he discovered by the firing on the evening of the 1st, that the enemy had nothing but light artillery, which could make no impression on the fort; and he knew that an attempt to storm it without making a breach, could be successfully repelled by the garrison; he therefore determined to wait for the arrival of 250 mounted volunteers under Colonel Rennick, being the advance of 700 who were approaching by the way of Upper Sandusky, and then to march against the enemy and raise the siege, if their force was not still too great for his. On the 2d, he sent several scouts to ascertain their situation and force; but the woods were so infested with Indians, that none of them could proceed sufficiently near the fort to make the necessary discoveries. In the night the messenger arrived at head-quarters with intelligence that the enemy were preparing to retreat. About 9 o'clock, Major Croghan had ascertained from their collecting about their boats, that they were preparing to embark, and had immediately sent an express to the commander-in-chief with this information. The general now determined to wait no longer for the reinforcements, and immediately set out with the dragoons, with which he reached the fort early in the morning, having ordered Generals M'Arthur and Cass, who had arrived at Seneca several days before, to follow him with all the disposable infantry at that place, and which at this time was about 700 men, after the numerous sick, and the force necessary to maintain the position, were left behind. Finding that the enemy had fled entirely from the fort, so as not to be reached by him, and learning that Tecumseh was somewhere in the direction of Fort Meigs, with 2000 warriors, he immediately ordered the infantry to fall back to Seneca, lest Tecumseh should make an attack on that place, or intercept the small reinforcements advancing from Ohio.

In his official report of this affair, General Harrison observes that -- "It will not be among the least of General Proctor's mortifications, that he has been baffled by a youth, who has just passed his twenty-first year. He is, however, a hero worthy of his gallant uncle, Gen. George R. Clarke."

Captain Hunter, of the 17th regiment, the second in command, conducted himself with great propriety: and never was there a set of finer young fellows than the subalterns, viz. :Lieutenants Johnson and Baylor of the 17th, Meeks of the 7th, and Ensigns Shipp and Duncan of the 17th.

Lieutenant Anderson of the 24th, was also noticed for his good conduct. Being without a command, he solicited Major Croghan for a musket and a post to fight at, which he did with the greatest bravery.

"Too much praise" says Major Croghan, cannot be bestowed on the officers, noncommissioned officers and privates under my command, for their gallantry and good conduct during the siege."

The brevet rank of lieutenant was immediately conferred on Major Croghan, by the President of the United States, for his gallant conduct on this occasion. The ladies of Chillicothe also presented him an elegant sword, accompanied by a suitable address.

We take the above from Dawson's Life of Harrison, where it is quoted from some other source. In defending Gen. Harrison from the charges of cowardice and incompetency in not marching to the aid of the garrison previous to the attack, Dawson says:

The conduct of the gallant Croghan and his garrison received from every quarter the plaudits of their countrymen. This was what they most richly deserved. There was, however, some jealous spirits who took it into their heads to be dissatisfied with the course pursued by the commanding general. The order which was given to Colonel Croghan to evacuate and destroy the garrison previously to the attack, was loudly condemned, as well as the decision of the council of war, to fall back with the troops then at Seneca, to a position twelve miles in the rear. Both these measures, it has been said, were determined on by the unanimous advice of the council of war. It is not to be presumed that such men as composed that board, would have given advice which was in any way derogatory to the honor of the American arms. Every individual among them either had, before or afterwards, distinguished himself by acts of daring courage and intrepidity. We do not profess to be much acquainted with military matters, but the subject appears to us so plain as only to require a small portion of common sense perfectly to comprehend it. At the time that the determination was made to withdraw the garrison from Sandusky, it must be recollected that the general had only with him at Seneca about 400 infantry and 130 or 140 dragoons. The enemy, as he was informed by General Clay in the letter brought by Captain M'Cune, amounted to at least 5,000. With such a disparity of force, would it have been proper to have risked an action to preserve the post of Lower Sandusky, which of itself was of little or no importance, and which, the garrison being withdrawn, contained nothing of any value? The posts of Fort Meigs and Upper Sandusky were of the utmost importance; the former was amply provided with the means of defence, and was in no danger; but the latter, weak in its defences, and with a feeble garrison, containing many thousands of barrels of flour and other provisions, the sole resource of the army for the ensuing campaign, was to be preserved at any risk. The position at Seneca was not in the direct line from Fort Meigs to Upper Sandusky. The enemy, by taking the direct route, would certainly reach it before General Harrison, as several hours must have elapsed before he could have been informed of their movement, even if it had been discovered the moment it had been commenced, a circumstance not very likely to happen. It therefore became necessary for the security of Upper Sandusky, that a position better adapted to that purpose should be assumed. There was another and most important reason for this movement: twelve miles in the rear of Seneca, towards Upper Sandusky, the prairie or open country commences. The infantry which the commander-in-chief had with him were raw recruits: on the contrary, the squadron of dragoons were well disciplined, and had seen much service. In the country about Seneca, this important corps could have been of little service: in the open country to the rear, they would have defeated five times their number of Indians. It was for these reasons that it was determined by the council of war, to change the position of the troops at Seneca. If this movement did take place, the propriety of withdrawing the garrison of Lower Sandusky was obvious. The place was extremely weak, and in a bad position. It was not intended originally for a fort. Before the war it was used as the United States' Indian factory, and had a small stockade around it, merely for the purpose of keeping out drunken Indians. It was, moreover, commanded by a hill, within point blank shot, on the opposite side of the river. To those who supposed that General Harrison should have advanced upon the enemy, the moment he discovered that Sandusky was attacked, we must, in the language of the general and field officers who were present on the occasion "leave them to correct their opinions in the school of experience." General Harrison had been reinforced a day or two before the siege of Sandusky, by the 28th regiment, raised in Kentucky. After having received this corps, he could not have marched more than 800 effective men without risking his stores, and, what was of still more consequence, 150 sick at Seneca, to be taken by the smallest party of Indians. The scouts of the army brought information that the Indians were very numerous in the direction of Fort Meigs. The general conjectured that a large portion of the Indians were then ready to fall on his flank or rear, or the defenceless camp at Seneca, should he advance. The information he received from the British prisoners confirmed this opinion; a body of 2000 being there under the command of Tecumseh. At the moment of which we are speaking, the volunteers of Ohio were rapidly approaching. Now, under these circumstances, does any reasonable man believe that General Harrison should have advanced with his 800 raw recruits, against a force in front which he knew to be so much superior in numbers, and with the probability of having one equally large hanging on his flank? What would have been thought of his abilities as a general, even if he had been successful against General Proctor, (of which, with his small force, there was little probability,) if in his absence Tecumseh, with his 2000 warriors, had rushed upon Camp Seneca, destroyed his stores, tomahawked his sick soldiers, and pursuing his route towards Upper Sandusky, defeated the Ohio volunteers, scattered as they were in small bodies, and finally ending his career with the destruction of the grand magazine of his army, upon the preservation of which all his hopes of future success depended? In all human probability this would have been the result, had General Harrison advanced to the relief of Fort Stephenson sooner than he did. It was certainly better to risk for a while the defence of that fort to the talents and valor of Croghan, and the gallant spirits who were with him, than to jeopardize the whole prospects of the campaign.

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