The first formal celebration of the anniversary of Croghan's victory at Fort Stephenson was held there in 1839. This is Croghan's reply to an invitation to attend.
St. Louis,Mo., 26th July, 1839
It is with regret that I am, on account of official duties, unable to comply with your flattering invitation. In communicating this my reply, I cannot forbear to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the honor you confer. To have been with those gallant men who served with me on the occasion alluded to, permitted by a kind Providence to perform a public duty, which source has been deemed worthy of a special notice by my fellow citizens is a source of high gratification brightened too by the reflection that the scene of conflict is now by the enterprise and industry of your people the home of a thriving and intelligent community. I beg to offer to you, gentlemen, and through you to the citizens of Lower Sandusky, my warmest thanks for the remembrance which you have so flatteringly expressed.
With every feeling of respect and gratitude I am yours
The following speech was given at the Croghan Day celebration, August 2, 2001, celebrating the 188th anniversary of the defense of Ft. Stephenson. The event was sponsored by the Colonel George Croghan Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The speaker was Gerard Altoff, Chief Ranger & Historian at Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial. It is with his kind permission that we reprint the speech below in its entirety.
Day – August 2nd, 2001
would like to begin by saying that it is a genuine honor to be chosen as
the speaker for this year’s Croghan Day celebration. I feel this is an extremely important occasion, and I
sincerely hope it is does not become one of those ceremonies that people
attend simply because they feel obligated to do so.
After all, in many respects this is Fremont’s Memorial Day.
We are here this morning not only to celebrate a great military
victory. We are also here
to honor the men who secured that victory.
But this ceremony should not be limited just to the gallant men
of Fort Stephenson, because the soldiers who fought here represent all
the men and women of this nation who have served their country.
Americans who essentially surrendered part of their lives, in
some cases literally gave their lives, in order that we might be allowed
to stand here today. Although
large numbers of service men and women did see combat, we can only be
thankful that the vast majority, thanks to the sacrifices of others, did
not have to be placed in the same dire circumstances as those who fought
here. Regardless of whether
a veteran served as a combat infantryman, an aircraft mechanic, a nurse,
a bosun’s mate, a cook, or whatever, every man and woman who served
their country in any capacity deserves to be remembered in ceremonies
such as this.
as we remember those who served here, on August 2nd, 1813,
188 years ago today. On
this day, at this time, on this very location, stood about 160 soldiers:
They were situated inside a small, rectangular stockade fort that
encompassed only one acre…a tiny wooden box that might soon become
the fort were four artillery pieces and about 1,500 British regulars and
Indians. Another 2,000 or
so Indians were situated in the nearby woodlands.
British warships, with additional cannons, lay at anchor in the
river less than a mile away. The
fort’s pitifully few defenders were outnumbered by nearly 25 to 1.
around the fort's inside perimeter that morning was the post commander,
George Croghan, a 21-year-old major in the 17th U.S. Infantry
years old…hardly old enough or experienced enough to inspire much in
the way of confidence among this experienced detachment of regulars and
the situation, Croghan was telling his men that he had just refused a
British offer of surrender--a
bold gesture on Croghan’s part, but his defiance could cost every one
of those American soldiers their lives.
The British commander had informed the defenders that if the fort
did not surrender, he would find it impossible to control Great
Britain’s mercurial Indian allies when the fort fell.
Seventy-five years worth of hatred and conflict between whites
and Indians on the frontier conjured gruesome images too terrible to
comprehend should the British and Indians prevail.
The American response was that if the fort did fall there would
be none left alive to massacre. Brave
words by the commander, but for the common soldiers trapped inside that
little fort, brave words meant little in the face of a horrifying and
agonizing death. 160
American soldiers, each left alone with his thoughts, stoically awaiting
were these soldiers? What
were they doing in the middle of the Ohio wilderness?
And what did they accomplish?
A small band of isolated and frightened United States soldiers
facing terrible odds. Throughout
history there are similar instances of small bands of courageous men
fighting against hopeless odds: Thermopylae,
the Alamo, Rorke’s Drift, the Little Big Horn, Wake Island, Bastogne, Pork Chop Hill, and Khe Sanh, to name but a few.
Occasionally they prevailed, but more often than not those small
groups of intrepid soldiers were wiped out to the last man.
name Fort Stephenson belongs among that hallowed list.
Even though they were fighting an unpopular war, a war that is
practically ignored in our history books, a war that most Americans know
nothing about, what those men accomplished is critical to the story of
this city, this county, this state, and this country.
The men who stood to their weapons that hot August day were
resolute, dauntless, and heroic. If they were standing here today they would be proud to hear
such words, and they would probably say:
who is he talking about?
like those I just used are frequently applied in retrospect in books,
movies, and during speeches at celebrations such as this. Because I guarantee you, on the morning of August 2nd,
1813, the men waiting inside Fort Stephenson felt anything but heroic.
Their overriding emotion was apprehension, and more than anything
they were probably thinking, “Why here…Why now…Why us?
were these men trapped in Fort Stephenson?
Why were they here? And
just what did they do?
to who they were, sadly, in most cases the names of these brave men are
unknown. There is a
disturbing lack of detail concerning the garrison of Fort Stephenson. Nearly 100 years ago Colonel Webb Hayes endeavored to unearth
the details, and his research revealed the names of fewer than half of
the 160-man garrison. Even
the number 160 is uncertain. Most
were Kentuckians, regulars from the 17th U.S. Infantry
Regiment. Elements from two
units of the 17th U.S. were here, men from Captain James
Hunter’s Company and Captain James Duncan’s Company.
Of the two combined companies, Hayes listed only 66 names, 36
from Hunter’s company and 30 from Duncan’s.
was also a detachment of Tennesseans from the 24th U.S.
Infantry. Colonel Hayes was
able to find the names of only six soldiers from the 24th
U.S., all from the company of Lieutenant Joseph Anthony.
One of Anthony’s men was Private William Gaines, who outlived
most of his comrades and was one of the last survivors of the battle.
In 1880 Gaines dictated his reminiscences, and from Gaines’s
narrative Colonel Hayes gleaned the names of those six men from the 24th.
However, Gaines also recalled that, in late July of 1813, while
his company was at Camp Seneca, a rumor came that Fort Stephenson was to
be attacked. Gaines
remembered, “a detail was made from the different companies to relieve
Fort Stephenson.” This
was the same method used a month later when men were needed for the Lake
Erie fleet; five or six soldiers from several different companies either
volunteered or were selected. So
it is likely that men from other companies of the 24th U.S.
Infantry were here; indeed, it is entirely possible that men from many
different units then at Camp Seneca were sent to Fort Stephenson.
among those units at Camp Seneca was Major James Alexander’s
Independent Battalion of Volunteers.
Alexander’s battalion was comprised of three militia companies: the Pittsburgh Blues and the Greensburg Riflemen, both from
Pennsylvania, and the Petersburg Volunteers from Virginia.
Most likely there were only a small number of these militiamen in
Fort Stephenson. In his
report of the battle to the Secretary of War, General William Henry
Harrison related, “A young gentleman private in the Petersburg
Volunteers, of the name of (Edmund) Brown, assisted by five or six of
that company and of the Pittsburgh Blues, who were accidentally in the
fort, managed the six pounder which produced such destruction in the
ranks of the enemy.” Edward
Mumford, who was not listed by Colonel Hayes, was another of the
Petersburg Volunteers helping to crew Old Betsy; Mumford’s name can
now be added to the honor roll of Fort Stephenson heroes.
The man identified as the gun captain for Old Betsy was Abraham
Weaver, a sergeant with the Greensburg Riflemen.
Although the number of men from Alexander’s battalion who
served in Fort Stephenson may have been small, their role of manning the
fort’s lone 6-pounder artillery piece was critical.
is also mention of a private by the name of James Kirk.
Kirk’s company supposedly worked on strengthening the fort
defenses from June 1, 1813 until the British arrival.
Kirk himself had been sent to Camp Seneca with dispatches, but it
is not unreasonable to assume that some men from Kirk’s company
remained at the fort and fought in the battle.
Although Kirk’s unit is not specified, evidence suggests they
were from the Ohio Militia.
problem with identifying Fort Stephenson's defenders stems from the fact
that this was a provisional garrison; a group of men hastily gathered
and sent to a critical location during an emergency situation. Because most were here for only a week or so, it is doubtful
that any muster of the garrison was taken, especially since they were
from so many different units. The
battle was fought, the enemy was defeated, and the British and Indians
retreated. Afterward the
garrison was dispersed and, for the most part, sent back to their
original units. Most likely their stint at Fort Stephenson was too brief for
their absence to be noted on any prior or subsequent muster rolls.
Thousands of documents from the War of 1812 have been misplaced
or destroyed over the years, thus the names of many of these men may
very well be lost to history. Then
again, there is a possibility that within the dusty storage caverns of
the National Archives there are muster rolls with remarks alongside
names stating “detached for service at Fort Stephenson.” In the brief time frame during which I was preparing this
address I was unable to discover where Colonel Hayes obtained his
information. Presumably he
found those 66 names from the 17th U.S. Infantry on muster
rolls in the National Archives. Could
there be more muster rolls out there with more names just waiting to be
uncovered? It will remain a
mystery until someone undertakes the tedious and time-consuming chore of
thoroughly researching these obscure historical documents.
about 160 men: Kentuckians,
Tennesseeans, Pennsylvanians, Virginians, and Ohioans.
They were not elite soldiers.
They were not the cream of the crop.
They were not the bravest of the brave.
They were ordinary men who were placed in extraordinary
circumstances, forced to cope with a desperate situation.
were they here? And I am
not speaking about the larger issues of the War of 1812 or the need to
repel a British invasion. Look
at it from the viewpoint of the individual.
Gun captain Abraham Weaver, sweating in that stifling and gloomy
blockhouse behind the breech of Old Betsy.
Private Joseph McKee, nervous hands clenching and unclenching the
musket that was wedged through a firing port in the palisade.
Ensign Edmund Shipp, sword in hand, pacing back and forth, ready
to respond to any emergency--all
waiting impatiently for the enemy to attack.
Each was asking himself that age-old question of the soldier in
times of adversity or mortal danger:
situation is well illustrated in a movie entitled “Zulu,” a cult
movie among military reenactors. Zulu
depicts the story of Rorke’s Drift, a small mission station in South
Africa that was surrounded and repeatedly assaulted during a day and a
half siege in 1879. This
famous battle of the Zulu War was similar to Fort Stephenson in many
ways. In the case of
Rorke’s Drift it was 140 British soldiers in a tiny fortified post
attacked by 4,000 Zulu warriors. One panoramic scene in the movie displays the awesome
spectacle of several thousand Zulu warriors arrayed on the hillsides
surrounding the station just prior to the attack.
A youthful private, terrified and staring at what he can only
perceive to be certain death, asks a sergeant, “Why Us?”
In an even and controlled voice the grizzled sergeant blandly
replies, “Because we’re here lad, nobody else, just us?
men of Fort Stephenson were no different than the men of Rorke’s
Drift. For that matter,
they were no different than the men of this color guard standing here
today, and no different than anyone else in this gathering who served in
the military. Whether it was World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, or
time of peace, veterans had their reasons for serving their country:
patriotism, duty, loyalty, adventure, escape, a regular job, the
draft; maybe even a choice of jail or the military.
If you were to ask the men of this color guard, the reasons would
be as varied as the individuals. In
my own case, I had always dreamed of going to sea, one of those
childhood romanticism's, and that left a choice of either the Navy or
the Coast Guard. In
November of 1967 I joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Of course in 1967 the country was divisively embroiled in the
Vietnam War. Just out of
high school I had not given it much thought, but as a member of the
Coast Guard I knew my prospects of being sent to Vietnam were virtually
nonexistent. So naturally,
as you might expect, I was shipped to Vietnam.
Thankfully I did not have to spend time in a slit trench with an
M-16, but in May of 1970, during the invasion of Cambodia, my ship, the
Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, cruised 1/2 mile off the Cambodian coastline
to provide gunfire support for ground units.
At general quarters my duty station was on the crew of the
Mellon’s 5-inch-38 gun. It
was neither a glorious nor a glamorous job.
My weapon was a screwdriver.
All I did was stand there and turn the screw on each fuse from
horizontal to vertical, converting 54 pounds of inert material into a
54-pound high explosive projectile. During one lengthy fire mission the 5-inch was hurling those
54-pound proximity fused shells from the barrel every three seconds.
Piped over the ship’s intercom was the voice of a forward
aerial observer who was directing our fire.
The forward observer narrated in graphic detail the effects that
those high explosive shells were having on the human beings on the
receiving end; all by the simple turn of a screw.
Thirty years later I choose not to dwell on the morality of that
war compared to other American conflicts, but at the time I remember
asking myself, “Why am I here doing this?” It’s quite possible that some of you asked yourselves
were the men of Fort Stephenson here?
How did the men from Petersburg, Virginia end up in northwest
Ohio? Why were those
Tennesseans sent north instead of south?
Why them? Compare
their situation to that of an infantry company caught in an artillery
lives, who dies? Who gets
selected, who doesn't? The
overwhelming frustration of any soldier caught in this situation is that
the outcome is simply random, the individual has no control.
In this instance there are certain precautions that can be taken,
but if it’s your turn, there’s absolutely nothing the individual can
some point a nameless, faceless administrator sitting in an office picks
up a pen and checks off a name, and the fate of a serviceman's life is
sealed. I didn't volunteer
for Vietnam. I was
stationed in Norfolk, Virginia in late 1969 when an announcement was
circulated that a gunner's mate was needed for the 14th
District. Throughout the
United States not one person volunteered for that slot.
Some officer or yeoman picked up a pen and checked off my name.
Maybe because my name started with an "A" and I was at
the head of the list. Who
knows? Who cares?
When I arrived at Base Honolulu one ship was short a gunner's
mate billet, and it just so happened that ship was slated to sail for
Vietnam in four weeks
once a person is selected, there's nothing left but to perform the job
that’s assigned. It’s
not unlike a story related by Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1968, when asked why he didn't get the country out of Vietnam,
LBJ compared it to being caught in a hailstorm on a Texas highway. Johnson said, “you can’t run, you can’t hide, and you
can’t get out of the way.” Call
it being at the wrong place at the wrong time; call it being at the
right place at the right time. Call
it fate, karma, kismet, whatever. For
the men of Fort Stephenson, they were here, no one else, just them.
these men accomplished is more easily established. Around 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon of August 2nd,
after enduring an intermittent artillery bombardment and an agonizing
wait lasting nearly 24 hours, the fort's defenders observed
approximately 350 regulars from the British 41st Regiment of
Foot advancing in two long lines across the open fields to the
northwest. When within
range the infantrymen inside the fort opened a galling fire and the
British hesitated, but the assault commander, Lieutenant Colonel William
Short, valiantly rallied his troops.
The stalwart redcoats of the 41st Foot braved the fire
and pushed forward until they reached the ditch that had been dug along
the fort’s northwest face. Major
Croghan allowed the British to pile into the ditch before unmasking Old
Betsy. Because the British
had concentrated their artillery fire against the northwest angle of the
fort, Croghan correctly surmised that here was where the British would
focus their attack. For
that reason he placed Old Betsy in the northern blockhouse and angled
the old 6-pounder to enfilade the ditch.
It was at the critical moment, with most of the British infantry
compacted in the ditch, that Old Betsy spewed a double charge of
canister shot. Canister
turned a cannon into a giant shotgun, and that first double charge of
canister wreaked unspeakable carnage among the massed British soldiers.
In modern terms it would be like discharging a claymore mine into
a narrow alley crammed with men. A second shot from Old Betsy was all that was needed.
Those redcoats who had not reached the ditch bolted and ran.
Anyone remaining alive in the ditch either surrendered or played
dead until the shroud darkness allowed them to crawl off and escape.
A second British column marching toward the south end of the fort
was dispersed by accurate musket fire from Captain Hunter’s company of
the 17th U.S. Infantry
was a great victory, but let us not forget the cost, and those brave men
in red coats who made that courageous assault absorbed most of that
cost. Altogether the
British suffered nearly 100 casualties.
One of the men who died in that ditch was Lieutenant James G.
Gordon. Years later his
father, Bishop Bently Gordon, wrote in his autobiography, “The great
sorrow of my life was the loss of a son in an unimportant battle in an
obscure place in North America called Fort Sandusky [sic].”
For the United States, Fort Stephenson was not an unimportant
battle; still, there are distressing comparisons. A little over a
century and a half-later tens of thousands of American parents, wives,
and children were mourning sons, husbands, and fathers lost in an
obscure place called Vietnam.
the United States, Fort Stephenson was, for all intents and purposes,
the Gettysburg of the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. Don’t misunderstand, the Battle of Lake Erie was the true
turning point of the war in the Old Northwest.
But this battle was the high tide for the British, their maximum
point of penetration into the Ohio country.
that same Civil War analogy, the first Confederate invasion of the north
in 1862 ended in stalemate, with the enemy retreating, as did the first
British invasion of the Ohio country in 1813.
The second confederate invasion of the north in 1863 culminated
in outright defeat at Gettysburg, as did the second British invasion at
Fort Stephenson. From this
point forward British efforts ebbed ever northward and eastward.
Never again would the British or Indians threaten Ohio.
Had the British and Indians captured Fort Stephenson the Ohio
country was wide open. Harrison’s
army was only eight miles away at Camp Seneca, but it was a woefully
undermanned and unprepared force at that point in time.
The importance of the American victory at Fort Stephenson should
not be underestimated.
is for that reason that the name of Fort Stephenson must be remembered,
along with that of George Croghan.
Yet it is not the name of George Croghan that concerns me; few
people here do not know that name.
But what about Obadiah Norton, Jacob Downs, Samuel Riggs,
Nicholas Bryant, Nathaniel Gill, and the others.
What about the men whose names are not known and may never be
known. What about the lone
American soldier that was killed at Fort Stephenson.
Private William Gaines remembered seeing a soldier from his own
company of the 24th U.S. Infantry, Private Samuel Thurman,
killed by a British cannonball. Yet five weeks later Private Samuel Thurman of the 24th
U.S. Infantry fought on board the U. S. Schooner Porcupine during the
Battle of Lake Erie. Gaines’s
account was written in 1880 when he was an old man, and his memory,
along with his recollections, were clouded.
So even that lone soldier who gave his life for his country at
Fort Stephenson remains nameless.
That soldier, along with 159 other soldiers, changed the course
of this country’s history, and we don’t even know who he was, or who
many of them were. It is
the responsibility of all of us to remember those men and perpetuate
their deeds, because had it not been for what those men accomplished on
August 2, 1813, you and I probably would not be standing here today.
would like to conclude this address with a poem, one written by a Union
soldier named John Hendricks.
Hendricks, the last living Civil War veteran of the 89th
Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was concerned about being forgotten
by future generations. The
title of his poem is “When The Boys In Blue Are Gone”
comrades have departed,
Who will tell
about their marching,
daughters of this nation,
To that flag,
our country's emblem,
must keep you country's honor,
boys of Fort Stephenson are gone. Who
will tell the world their story?
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