Fort Meigs: If you want it built right …Written by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Years ago I undertook the building of a wooden barn in my backyard, from a kit consisting of nothing but raw lumber and nails. (Man-grunt!) After careful consideration, the best location was determined. The blueprints were reviewed and a couple construction-oriented friends were coerced to guide me through. They worked hard, even on rainy weekends, but if I ever left to run an errand, I’d often return to find them lounging rather than hammering. The construction of Fort Meigs proceeded in a somewhat similar fashion.
In late January 1813, Gen. Harrison was leading U.S. troops toward Monroe, Mich., to aid in a battle with the British and Native Americans. While marching through the soon-to-be Toledo area, a retreating survivor of the conflict ahead, announced the massacre of Americans along the Raisin River. Harrison turned and withdrew, realizing that a new defensive post needed to be established immediately, lest the enemy push south into Ohio.
The mouth of our Maumee River at this time was a pivot-point of transportation. It opened northward into Lake Erie for access to British-occupied Canada; and wove southward toward the frontier’s main artery, the Ohio River. As well, at least four major trails radiated out from the Maumee rapids area. So it was not on a whim, that as Harrison stood on the high bluff over the south side of the Maumee River, he declared, “This is the best position that can be taken to cover the frontier.” The garrison was named in honor of then governor of Ohio, Return J. Meigs Jr.
Capt. Charles Gratiot, the Northwest Army’s chief engineer, agreed on this location and designed the fortress accordingly. Construction began on Feb. 2, 1813. By the way, you’re right, that street you travel going to a ballgame in Detroit is named after him.
The 1,500-plus men were divided into units by Gratiot and assigned to build particular sections. After only a few days, however, Gratiot fell seriously ill so supervision was assigned to a young, fellow West Point engineering graduate named Eleazer Wood. For his heroic direction and patriotic service, the county in which the fort still stands was later named in his honor.
What became the largest wooden fort in North America had a circumference of well over a mile. Wood said, “With the exception of short intervals for blockhouses and batteries, this extent was picketed with timber fifteen feet long, from ten to twelve inches in diameter, set three feet in the ground.” The blockhouses were made of double timbers to withstand oncoming artillery. Wells were dug. Storage and ammunition houses were raised. Gun batteries were built. Even extra pickets and planks were piled inside the fort to replace any that might be blown apart by enemy fire.
Progress continued into March despite of adverse weather conditions. Snowfalls up to 6 inches were repeatedly cleared so the men could work, eat and sleep. The river was frozen, the ground was frozen, even one of the sentries was frozen – to death -while at his post. Really! Picks and shovels ricocheted off this tundra as they dug trenches along the perimeter. And can you hear the clatter of all those axes felling trees day after day?
In early March, Wood was ordered to coordinate construction of Fort Stephenson in Fremont, Ohio. During the few weeks he was gone, Fort Meigs was left in the command of an aging general named Joel Leftwich — a Revolutionary War veteran who was only weeks away from fulfilling his current military commitment and retiring to his Virginia home.
Upon Wood’s return, Leftwich was blasted as, “a stupid old granny who stopped the progress of the works entirely … (the men) were permitted to burn the timber, which had been brought into the camp with an immense deal of labor for pickets and blockhouses; not only did they burn this timber, but … the men (were) actually employed in pulling the pickets out of the ground, and conveying them off for fuel.”
Obviously, it was hotter under Wood’s collar that day than in the flames of those burning pickets! He retook command and the fort was completed well before the first attack of May 1, 1813.
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bugle Call: upcoming events
- Fort Meigs will host the next in its monthly Bentley Lecture Series presentations on Thursday, May 17. Historian and author Anthony Yanik will speak on “William Hull and the Fall of Detroit.” The presentation is free and starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Fort Meigs Visitor Center, 29100 W. River Road in Perrysburg.
- Visit Fort Meigs May 18-19 for “Drums at the Rapids,” a miniature war gaming conference. Tabletop battles include historical events and fantasy and sci-fi games. Come fight the Civil War, World War II, the War of 1812 and more!
- Visit Fort Meigs May 26-27 and see recreated battles, musket and artillery demonstrations, and camp life demonstrations during their “1st Siege 1813: War of 1812 Re-enactment & Memorial Day Ceremony.” On Memorial Day, a wreath-laying ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. in front of the monument within the fort.
Visit www.fortmeigs.org or call (419) 874-4121 for complete details about all upcoming events.