Kuron (1812): Better late … than on timeWritten by Frank Kuron | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost every time I make a trip to a new destination, I end up taking a wrong turn. There —the old running joke of guys who won’t stop for directions is validated, at least by my driving record. However, when traveling to a previously visited destination via the same route, I usually make it there without adding turn-around miles to my odometer.
Who knows — maybe Columbus circled his ships mid-Atlantic a few times before landing in the New World. Perhaps the divine plan for the Exodus was originally a 40-day trek rather than 40 years, but Moses refused to stop at an oasis for directions. Well, I’m here to tell you that this “guys-losing-their-way” dilemma did begin at least 200 years ago, as evidenced by William Conner during the War of 1812.
Conner, a white man who had been informally adopted into the friendly Delaware Indian tribes residing in southern Ohio and Indiana, was well-versed in several Indian dialects. This led to his often being hired as a scout and translator by Gen. William Henry Harrison, the commander of the U.S. Northwest Army, circa 1813.
On July 29, 1813, Conner found himself with the American troops at Fort Seneca, just north of present-day Tiffin. Nine miles north, at Lower Sandusky (Fremont), the recently constructed U.S. fort, named after its builder, Mills Stephenson, was about to be attacked by the British and Indian alliance. What became known as The Battle of Fort Stephenson is documented as one of the most notorious, against-all-odds victories in the annals of war. And, Conner was, ironically, major factor in this historic American victory — because he got lost!
Fort Seneca was actually a vast supply depot that Harrison could ill-afford to lose. Consequently, he remained there with his large body of troops to protect it. He knew the enemy force approaching Fort Stephenson to his north outnumbered the Americans there by as much as 10-to-1. The young commander, Maj. George Croghan, and the mere 150 men he led, were in serious peril. At ten o’clock in the evening, Harrison sent Conner, accompanied by a few Delawares, with his orders for Croghan to immediately abandon, burn down the fort and retire south with his men to Fort Seneca. But events didn’t unfold as Harrison had planned.
Marauding Indians along Conner’s known path to the fort forced him to leave the established trail several times and find alternate routes. Conner knew the territory, but to his own chagrin he became lost and the disorientation caused him to deliver Harrison’s message around 10 o’clock the next morning instead of near midnight as expected. Upon reading Harrison’s order, Croghan judged that had he gotten it earlier he could have obeyed it; but at this late hour he couldn’t risk moving his men south. Conner returned with Croghan’s response to Harrison: “We have determined to maintain this place.” Such insubordination didn’t sit well with Harrison. He immediately sent a colonel to Fort Stephenson to replace Maj. Croghan who returned to Seneca under arrest.
Croghan soon convinced Harrison of the soundness of his decision, and so returned to command his men. Why Harrison didn’t send reinforcements from Seneca to aid in the imminent battle at Fort Stephenson has been a historical controversy ever since, especially since these early back-and-forth treks were made safely.
Throughout the night of Aug. 1 the battle ensued. Croghan slyly had his handful of men wheel their lone six-pounder cannon to a different side of the fort after each firing, creating the illusion of a well-armed fortress. By morning, the Americans stood victorious.
“Old Betsy,” the so-nicknamed cannon, is still on display where it was used that night in Fremont. The site is now home to the Birchard Public Library which houses the Fort Stephenson Museum. A weekend bicentennial festival is planned for August, 2013. Conner’s home near Indianapolis is now a historical site known as Conner Prairie, providing numerous activities. Both destinations make for a great day trip; but please, follow your map!
Frank Kuron is founder of Kuron Publishing and author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at email@example.com.