April 28- May 9, 1813, Fort Meigs, Ohio
Despite heavy losses, the Siege of Fort Meigs was considered an important American victory in the wake of recent defeats at the battles of Detroit and Frenchtown. The lifting of the siege marked a turning point in the war on the Northwest Frontier in favor of the Americans.
Major Gen. William H. Harrison was placed in command of the Army of the Northwest, replacing Gen. William Hull after his surrender at Detroit. Harrison’s first objective was the recapture of Detroit, but after the defeat of American forces at the Battle of Frenchtown, Harrison took up a defensive position. He gave orders for the construction of a series of forts, in particular, Fort Meigs (named for Ohio governor, Return J. Meigs) along the Maumee River and Fort Stephenson along the Sandusky River both in Ohio. In the spring of 1813 Harrison left in search of reinforcements. When he returned to his headquarters along the Maumee River he was surprised to find that none of the work he ordered on Fort Meigs was completed. The term of the militia units assigned to the task had expired and they went home before work had begun. Harrison hurried to begin building what would become the largest wooden fortress in North America up to that point. The fort was located across the river from the ruins of the old British Fort Miami and the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where Harrison and Tecumseh had both fought in 1794.
Construction was barely completed before the British under Brig. Gen. Henry Procter arrived and laid siege to the fort, beginning on May 1. Procter commanded a division of 2,000 British regulars with the support of roughly 1,000 American Indian warriors led by Chief Tecumseh.
When the siege began, Harrison had a garrison of about 1,200 American regulars and militia behind the strong walls of the fort, though he was low on ammunition. The British bombarded the fort relentlessly, having ammunition to spare. The British were using 24-pound and 12-pound shot. Fortunately for the Americans, the fort’s artillery were 12-pounders also. Harrison was able to persuade the garrison to collect any usable 12-pound shot the British fired into the fort with a promise of whiskey upon turning the cannon ball in to the fort’s army. By the end of the siege 1,000 shots were collected and reused.
A few days after the siege began, Harrison sent out a messenger to Gen. Green Clay who commanded about 1,600 militia. Rowing down the Maumee river, Clay’s militia had been given orders from Harrison to split into two columns. One column was to fight their way through the Indian warriors and the other was to attack and spike a British artillery battery. However, the column assigned to attack the battery did not receive complete instructions from Clay. On May 5, the American militia attacked and routed the British gunners and with out waiting for tools to spike the cannon (which were on their way from inside the fort) they began using their muskets to damage the cannon and successfully destroyed the British battery. This is when Clay’s orders ran out.
While they were standing around either celebrating over their victory or trying to figure out what exactly to do next, the militia was ambushed by Tecumseh from the woods nearby. Harrison attempted to wave the militia on into the fort but they thought he was cheering them for capturing the battery. The warriors attacked and the militia fled and many were taken prisoner. About 150 made safely into the fort’s defenses. The rest were taken prisoner where Indians began taking the prisoner’s guns and ammunition. Several warriors began killing the prisoners but Tecumseh arrived and personally put an immediate end to this, showing his influence over the Indian warriors.
Harrison was able to keep the siege going by returning the shots Procter continued shelling him with. By May 9, Procter realized he could not break the strong walls of the fort and decided to raise the siege and retreated up the Maumee river. Once the British had left, Harrison took much of the garrison to use as a mobile army. He left Clay in command of the fort with some 100 militia. Tecumseh felt the whole siege had been half-hearted on the Procter’s behalf and urged him to return again in July.
Once again Procter began shelling the fort, but this time Tecumseh’s warriors staged a mock battle in the woods to make it appear like they were attacking a column of American reinforcements in attempts to lure Clay out of the fort to come to the aid of his supposed reinforcements. Clay saw through the plan because he knew no reinforcements were coming. This second attempt amounted to virtually nothing and Procter left Fort Meigs for good and instead turned his attention towards nearby Fort Stephenson.
The siege of Fort Meigs had been an important victory for the Americans in regards to the fact that they prevented the British and Indians from invading Ohio and Indiana and taking the fort, which was to provide Harrison with a launching point for any further offensives he might make. The British had however kept Harrison from making an attack on Detroit. After failing to take both Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson, Procter retreated back to Detroit and the fighting on the Northwest frontier became a stalemate.
It was not until the decisive victory of Commodore Oliver H. Perry on Lake Erie and Harrison’s offensive which resulted in the destruction of Procter’s army at the Battle of the Thames, that the Americans would achieve a decisive victory along this front.
The British official casualty return gave 14 killed, 47 wounded and 40 captured. It was headed as being for May 5 but it appears to have been for the entire siege up to and including May 5, since it included among the wounded Captain Laurent Bondy of the Canadian militia, who is known to have received his (ultimately fatal) wound from artillery fire on May 3. The Native Americans allied to the British had 19 men killed and wounded.
Harrison reported the casualties sustained by his garrison in the entire siege, from 28 April to 9 May, as 80 killed and 190 wounded, of whom 12 were killed and 20 wounded by artillery fire. This would indicate 68 killed and 170 wounded during the engagement on 5 May. An official British return of prisoners details 547 captured Americans but a note from Procter states that "since the above return was made out more than eighty prisoners have been brought by the Indians". This would give a total of about 630 Americans captured at the battle. Harrison reported no men missing or captured from his garrison, so all of the prisoners taken on 5 May must have been from Dudley’s troops on the north bank of the river. The official casualty report for Dudley’s command, compiled after the Kentucky Militia prisoners were paroled, details 80 men killed and 100 wounded (all of whom had been captured). This gives total casualties for Dudley’s 866-strong detachment of 80 killed, 100 wounded prisoners, 530 unwounded prisoners and 6 missing; and an overall American loss on May 5 of 148 killed, 170 wounded, 100 wounded prisoners, 530 unwounded prisoners and 6 missing.