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Letter from Croghan

Letters from the
War of 1812

Letter from Gen. Harrison, Page 1
Letter from Gen. Harrison, Page 2

(Click on images to view original documents.)



Headquarters,

Seneca Towns, August 4, 1813

The Secretary of War.

Sir: In my letter of the 1st instant I did myself the honor to inform you that one of my scouting parties had just returned from the lake shore, and had discovered the day before, the enemy in force near the mouth of the Sandusky Bay. The party had not passed Lower Sandusky two hours before the advance, consisting of Indians, appeared before the fort, and in half an hour after, a large detachment of British troops; and, in the course of the night, they commenced a cannonading against the fort with three 6-pounders and two howitzers-the latter from gun boats. The firing was partially answered by Major Croghan, having a 6-pounder, the only piece of artillery.

The fire of the enemy was continued at intervals during the 2d instant, until about half-after five p.m., when, finding that their cannon made little impression upon the works, and having discovered my position, and here apprehending an attack, an attempt was made to carry the place by storm.

Their troops were formed in two columns. Lieutenant Colonel Short headed the principal one, composed of the light battalion companies of the 41st Regiment. This gallant officer conducted his men to the brink of the ditch, under the most galling and destructive fire from the garrison, and, leaping into it, was followed by a considerable part of his own and the light company. At this moment a masked port-hole was suddenly opened, and a 6-pounder, with an half load of powder and a double charge of leaden slugs, at the distance of thirty feet, poured destruction upon them, and killed or wounded nearly every man who had entered the ditch. In vain did the British officers exert themselves to lead on the balance of the column. It retired in disorder under a shower of shot from the fort, and sought safety in the adjoining woods. The other column, headed by the grenadiers, had also retired, after having suffered from the muskets of out men, to an adjacent ravine. In the course of the night the enemy, with the aid of their Indians, drew off the greater part of the wounded and dead, and embarking them in boats, descended the river with the utmost precipitation.

In the course of the 2d instant, having heard the cannonading, I made several attempts to ascertain the force and situation of the enemy. Our scouts were unable to get near the fort, from the Indians that surrounded it. Finding, however, that the enemy had only light Artillery, and being well convinced that it could make little impression upon the works, and that any attempt to storm it would be resisted with effect, I waited for the arrival of two hundred and fifty mounted Volunteers, which on the evening before had left Upper Sandusky. But as soon as I was informed that the enemy were retreating, I sent out with the Dragoons to endeavor to overtake them, leaving Generals McArthur and Cass to follow with all the Infantry (about seven hundred) that could be spared from the protection of the stores and sick at this place. I found it impossible to come up with them. Upon my arrival at Sandusky I was informed by the prisoners that the enemy's forces consisted of four hundred and ninety Regular troops, and five hundred of Dixon's Indians, commanded by General Proctor in person, and that Tecumseh, with about two thousand warriors, was somewhere in the swamps between this and Fort Meigs, expecting my advance or that of a convoy of provisions. As there was no prospect of doing anything in front, and being apprehensive that Tecumseh might destroy the stores and small detachments in my rear, I sent orders to General Cass, who commanded the reserve, to fall back to this place, and to General McArthur, with the front line, to follow and support him. I remained at Sandusky until the parties that were sent out in every direction returned; not an enemy was to be seen.

I am sorry that I cannot transmit you Major Croghan's official report. He was to have sent it to me this morning, but I have just heard that he was so much exhausted by thirty-six hours of continued exertion as to be unable to make it.

It will not be amongst the least of General Proctor's mortifications to find 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 (General William Clark), and I bless my good fortune in having first introduced this promising shoot of a distinguished family to the notice of the Government.

Captain Hunter, of the 17th Regiment, the second in command, conducted himself with great propriety; and never were a set of finer young fellows that the subalterns, viz: Lieutenants Johnson and Baylor, of the 17th; Anthony, of the 24th; Meeks of the 7th, and Ensigns Ship and Duncan, of the 17th.

The following account of the unworthy artifice and conduct of the enemy will excite your indignation; Major Chambers was sent by General Proctor, accompanied by Colonel Elliott, to demand the surrender of the fort. The were met by Ensign Ship. The Major observed that General Proctor had a number of cannon, a large body of Regular troops, and so many Indians whom it was impossible to control, and if the fort was taken, as it must be, the whole of the garrison would be massacred. Mr. Ship answered that it was the determination of Major Croghan, his officers and men, to defend the garrison or be buried in it, and that they might do their best. Colonel Elliott then addressed Mr. Ship, and said: "You are a fine young man; I pity your situation; for God's sake surrender and prevent the dreadful slaughter that must follow resistance." Ship turned from him with indignation and was immediately taken hold of by an Indian who attempted to wrest his sword from him. Elliott pretended to exert himself to release him, and expressed great anxiety to get him safe into the fort.

In a former letter I informed you , sir, that the post of Lower Sandusky could not be defended against heavy cannon, and that I had ordered the commandant, if he could safely retire upon the advance of the enemy, to do so, after having destroyed the fort as there as nothing in it that could justify the risk of defending it, commanded as it is by a hill on the opposite side of the river, within range of cannon, and having on that side old and illy constructed block-houses and dry, friable pickets. The enemy, ascending the bay and river with a fine breeze, gave Major Croghan so little notice of their approach that he could not execute the order for retreating. Luckily, they had no artillery but 6-pounders and 5 ½ inch howitzers.

General Proctor left Malden with the determination of storming Fort Meigs. His immense body of troops were divided into three commands, and must have amounted to at least five thousand. Dixon commanded the Mackanaw and other northern tribes; Tecumseh those of the Wabash, Illinois and St. Joseph; and Round Head, a Wyandot Chief, the warriors of his own nation and those of the Ottaways, Chippeways, and Putawattamies of the Michigan Territory. Upon seeing the formidable preparations to receive them at Fort Meigs, the idea of storming was abandoned, and the plan adopted of decoying the garrison out or inducing me to come to its relief with a force inadequate to repel the attack of his immense hordes of savages. Having waited several days for the latter, and practicing ineffectually several stratagems to accomplish the former, provisions began to be scarce and the Indians to be dissatisfied. The attack upon Sandusky was the dernier resort. The greater part of the Indians refused to accompany him and returned to the river Raisin. Tecumseh with his command remained in the neighborhood of Fort Meigs, sending parties to all the posts upon Hull's road, and those upon the Auglaize to search for cattle. Five hundred of the northern Indians, under Dixon, attended Proctor. I have sent a party to the lake to ascertain the direction that the enemy have taken. The scouts which have returned saw no signs of Indians later than those made in the night of the 2d instant, and a party has just arrived from Fort Meigs who make the same report. I think it probable that they have all gone off. If so, this mighty armament, from which so much was expected by the enemy, will return covered with disgrace and mortification.

As Captain Perry was nearly ready to sail from Erie when I last heard from him, I hope that the period will soon arrive when we shall transfer the laboring oar to the enemy, and oblige him to encounter some of the labors and difficulties which we have undergone in waging a defensive warfare and protecting our extensive frontier against a superior force.

I have the honor to enclose you a copy of the first note received from Major Croghan. It was written before day, and it has since been ascertained that of the enemy there remained in the ditch one Lieutenant Colonel (by brevet), one Lieutenant, and twenty-five privates- fourteen of them badly wounded. Every care has been taken of the latter, and the officers buried with the honors due to their rank and their bravery. All the dead that were not in the ditch were taken off in the night by the Indians. It is impossible, from the circumstances of the attack, that they should have lost less than one hundred. Some of the prisoner think that it amounted to two hundred. A young gentleman, a private in the Petersburg Volunteers, of the name of Brown, assisted by five or six of that company, and of the Pittsburg Blues, who were accidentally in the fort, managed the 6-pounder which produced such destruction in the ranks of the enemy.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON.

N.B. - Of our few wounded men there is but one that will not be well in less than six days.

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Lower Sandusky, August 5, 1813.

Major General Harrison,

Commanding N.W. Army.

DEAR SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the combined force of the enemy, amounting to at least five hundred Regulars and seven or eight hundred Indians, under the immediate command of General Proctor, made its appearance before this place early on Sunday evening last, and so soon as the General had made such disposition of his troops as would cut off my retreat, should I be disposed to make one, he sent Colonel Elliott, accompanied by Major Chambers, with a flag, to demand the surrender of the fort, as he was anxious to spare the effusion of blood, which he should probably not have in his power to do should he be reduced to the necessity of taking the place by storm. My answer to the summons was that I was determined to defend the place to the last extremity, and that no force, however large, should induce me to surrender it. So soon as the flag had returned a brisk fire was opened upon us from the gun-boats in the river and from a 5 ½ inch howitzer on shore, which was kept up with little intermission through the night.

At an early hour the next morning three sixes (which had been placed during the night within two hundred and fifty yards of the pickets) began to play upon us with but little effect. About 4 o'clock p.m., discovering that the fire from all his guns was concentrated against the northwestern angle of the fort, I became confident that his object was to make a breach and attempt to storm the works at that point. I therefore ordered out as many men as could be employed for the purpose of strengthening that front, which was so effectually secured by means of bags of flour, sand, &c., that the picketing suffered little or no injury. Notwithstanding which the enemy, about 5 o'clock, having formed in close column, advanced to assail our works at the expected point, at the same time making two feints at the front of Captain Hunter's lines. The column which advanced against the northwestern angle, consisting of about three hundred and fifty men, was so completely enveloped in smoke as not to be discovered until it had approached within fifteen or twenty paces of the lines; but the men, being all at their post and ready to receive it, commenced so heavy and galling a fire as to throw the column a little into confusion. Being quickly rallied, it advanced to the outer works and began to leap into the ditch. Just at that moment a fire of grape was opened from our 6-pounder (which had been previously arranged so as to rake in that direction), which, together with the musketry, threw them into such confusion that they were compelled to retire precipitately to the woods. During the assault, which lasted about half an hour, an incessant fire was kept up by the enemy's artillery ( which consisted of five sixes and a howitzer), but without effect.

My whole loss during the siege was one killed and seven wounded, slightly. The loss of the enemy, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, must exceed one hundred and fifty; on Lieutenant Colonel, a Lieutenant, and fifty rank and file were found in and about the ditch, dead or wounded; those of the remainder, who were not able to escape, were taken off during the night by the Indians. Seventy stand of arms and several brace of pistols have been collect near the works. About 3 in the morning the enemy sailed down the river, leaving behind them a boat containing clothing and considerable military stores. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on the officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates under my command for their gallantry and good conduct during the siege.

Yours, with respect,

G. CROGHAN,
Major, 17th U.S. Inf., Comdg. L.S.

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