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The Siege of Fort Meigs took place during the War of 1812, in northwestern Ohiomarker. A small British army with support from Indians attempted to capture the recently-constructed fort to forestall an American offensive against Detroitmarker, which the British had captured the previous year. An American sortie and relief attempt failed with heavy casualties, but the British failed to capture the fort and were forced to raise the siege.

Background

In the early days of the War of 1812, an American Army under Brigadier General William Hull surrendered following the Siege of Detroit. To recover Detroitmarker, the Americans formed the Army of the Northwest. Brigadier General James Winchester briefly commanded the Army before William Henry Harrison was commissioned Major General in the regular United States Army.

Harrison's advance was hampered by bad weather and shortage of supplies. On 22 January 1813, the leading detachment of his army (commanded by Winchester) was defeated at the Battle of Frenchtown. Harrison withdrew with his main body to the Maumee or Miami du Lac River, and in spite of rebukes from James Monroe, who was temporarily serving as United States Secretary of War, he gave orders for the construction of several forts to protect the rivers and trails which his army would use in any renewed advance. Two of the most important were Fort Meigsmarker (named for Return J. Meigs, Jr., the Governor of Ohiomarker) on the Maumee River and Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River.

Harrison descended the Maumee to the site of Fort Meigs with an army which ultimately numbered 4,000 men (mainly militia) and began construction of the fort on 1 February, 1813. He contemplated a hit-and-run attack across the frozen Lake Eriemarker against the British position at Amherstburg, but found that the ice was breaking up and returned to the half-finished fort. He found the officer he had left in charge, Joel B. Leftwich, had left with all his men because the enlistment period of the militia units assigned to the task had expired. Construction had halted, and the wood that had been cut was being used as firewood.

As the enlistments of Harrison's Ohio and Kentucky militia were also about to expire, Harrison disbanded his force and departed for Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, to raise a fresh army. He left Engineer Major Eleazer D. Wood to complete the construction of the fort. The garrison consisted of several hundred men from the 17th and 19th U.S. Infantry, who were inadequately clothed, plus militia from Pennsylvania and Virginia whose own enlistments were soon to expire.

The fort was on the south bank of the Maumee, near the Miami Rapids. Across the river were the ruins of the old British Fort Miami and the site of the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers. Fort Meigs occupied an area of , the largest constructed in North America to that date. The perimeter consisted of a fifteen-foot picket fence, linking eight blockhouses. The north face was protected by the Maumee, and the east and west faces by ravines. The south face was cleared of all timber to create an open glacis.

The poor weather of early spring prevented a British attack while the fort was still vulnerable. The British commander on the Detroit frontier, Major General Henry Procter, had been urged to attack Presque Isle (present day Erie, Pennsylvaniamarker), where the Americans were constructing a flotilla intended to seize control of Lake Eriemarker, but Procter refused unless he received substantial reinforcements. Instead, he decided upon an attack on Fort Meigs, to disrupt American preparations for a summer campaign and hopefully capture supplies. Harrison received word of Procter's preparations, and hastened down the Maumee with 300 reinforcements, increasing the garrison of the fort to a total of 1,100 men. Harrison had persuaded Isaac Shelby, the Governor of Kentucky, to call up a brigade of 1,200 Kentucky militia under Brigadier General Green Clay. Clay's brigade followed Harrison down the Maumee, but had not reached the fort before it was besieged.

The Siege begins

Procter's force disembarked at the mouth of the Maumee on 26 April. His force consisted of 423 men of the 41st Regiment of Foot, 63 men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 31 men of the Royal Artillery, 16 men from other units, and 462 Canadian militia. He also had roughly 1,250 American Indian warriors led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh. His artillery consisted of two 24-pounder guns (which had been captured at Detroit), nine lighter guns and two gunboats mounting 9-pounder guns.

It took several days for the British force to move up the Maumee and set up batteries. Most of these were on the north side of the river, but one was set up on the south side. Most of the Indians also were on the south side of the river, loosely investing the fort. As the British established their batteries, Harrison ordered "traverses", embankments high, to be hastily thrown up within the fort. The British batteries opened fire on 1 May, but most of the cannon shot fired sank harmlessly into the wet earth of the traverses and embankments.

Battle of the Miami Rapids

Plan of the Battle of 5 May, from Benson J.
Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812
On 2 May, Harrison sent a courier to Clay's force, with orders for part of them to spike the British guns on the north bank and then withdraw into the fort, while a sortie from the fort attacked the battery on the south bank.

The Indians had seemingly not guarded the river properly and the Kentuckians gained complete surprise. Early on the morning of 5 May, a regiment under Colonel William Dudley landed from boats, stormed the batteries on the north bank, and began to spike the guns. Dudley then apparently lost control of his men. They began to pursue the Indians without orders, abandoning the captured batteries. Three companies of the 41st and some Canadian militia had stood firm, and they recaptured the batteries. Procter summoned Tecumseh's Indians to the north bank of the river, and Dudley's disorganised regiment was destroyed in confused fighting. One hundred and seventy of them fought their way back to the boats and escaped into the fort, but roughly two hundred were killed and five hundred taken prisoner. The British lost over fifty men killed or captured, Indian casualties are unknown. This became known as "Dudley's Massacre" or "Dudley's Defeat."

On the south bank, the American sortie against the British battery there was partially successful. Colonel John Miller captured the battery and took thirty prisoners, before two companies of the 41st intervened and drove him back to the fort. Meanwhile the rest of Clay's force reached the fort to reinforce the garrison.

Aftermath

Immediately after the battle, Indians snatched American prisoners from their British guards and killed thirty or more, with clubs, tomahawks and musket fire. Procter did not intervene to prevent this massacre. The killings were eventually stopped by Tecumseh, who called Procter a woman for failing to act.

End of the Siege

Procter's artillery resumed fire on 7 May, but most of the Indians had abandoned the army and the Canadian militia were anxious to get back to their farms. The renewed bombardment had little effect, and the garrison of the fort now outnumbered the besiegers. Procter abandoned the siege on 9 May. Harrison did not pursue.

Second Siege

Once the British had departed, Harrison left Clay in command of the fort with about 100 militiamen. Tecumseh urged Procter to make a renewed effort to capture the fort in July. Tecumseh's warriors staged a mock battle in the woods to make it appear as if they were attacking a column of American reinforcements to lure Clay out of the fort. However, Clay knew no reinforcements were coming, and the ruse failed. Procter quickly abandoned the second siege.

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