Fort Meigs was a United States fortification used during the War of 1812. The site is on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River rapids and is located in the modern day city of Perrysburg in northwest Ohio. The fort was built under the command of General William Henry Harrison and served a pivotal role in the War. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The War of 1812 is an interesting period in American history. While battles were fought from Upper Canada to New Orleans, much of the war was conducted along the border between Canada and the United States on and around the Great Lakes.
The primary area in dispute was the Northwest Territory, which was the land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, and included what became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The Northwest Territory was ceded to the Americans by the British at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Ohio was the first state carved from the Territory in 1803. But the British were slow to leave the Territory, and saw it in their interest to prevent the Americans from occupying it.
American leaders suspected British agents of aiding the Indian resistance movement which was led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. From 1806 to 1811, Tecumseh sought to unite the Northwest Indian tribes against American expansion into their lands.
In 1811 William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, led an expedition to disperse Tecumseh’s followers. At the Battle of Tippecanoe in Prophetstown near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, he managed to stave off an Indian attack on his camp. Upon reaching Tecumseh’s village, he reported the discovery of a cache of supplies and arms from the British agents in Canada.
On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed an Act of Congress formally declaring war on Great Britain. Harrison was promoted to Major General, and ordered Fort Meigs to be built on the Maumee River in Ohio.
The Maumee Riverwas seen by both sides as having great strategic importance because itprovided a vital water passage from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of a short portage connecting the Maumee River to the Wabash River to the Ohio River and then to the Mississippi River.
Ground was broken for the fort on February 2, 1813 in the middle of a bitter cold winter. The walls were constructed using logs cut to a 15-foot length, partially buried in the ground, then protected by a steep earthen slope thrown against the logs to strengthen them against bombardment. An embankment against the interior side provided a parapet. When completed, the fort was the largest wooden walled fortification in North America. At it’s peak, the fort was home to 2,800 soldiers.
The fort protected the interior of northwest Ohio and eastern Indiana from British invasion. It guarded the rapids of the Maumee River and acted as a counterbalance to the British Fort Miami that was across the river slightly downstream. (“Maumee” is a variation of “Miami”. The Miami were one of the Ohio Indian tribes, and lent their name not only to the Maumee River, but also to the Miami River in southeast Ohio. To add to the confusion, there is a Miami River in southeast Florida, which is named after the Mayaimi Indians who were no relation to the Miami Indians of Ohio. Hence, Miami University in Ohio and University of Miami in Florida.)
The British saw the fort as a serious threat to their control of the Great Lakes and Canada, and were intent on destroying it. They laid siege to the fort twice during the war with support from Tecumseh’s Confederacy. On the worst day of fighting, over 600 Americans were killed. But the British failed to capture the fort, and eventually retreated back to Detroit and Canada.
The original Fort Meigs was torn down shortly after the second siege and was rebuilt on a smaller scale. Instead of a full fort, it served as a supply depot till the end of the war. With this second fort built, the American army marched north towards Canada, leaving 100 Ohio militiamen behind to guard it.
This supply depot stood till the end of the war, but was then abandoned by the American army. Sometime after the war, it burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances.
The fort was reconstructed in the 1970s by the Ohio Historical Society. Beginning in 2000, the Society tore down the aging stockade and rebuilt it with new hand-hewn timbers. Workers also repaired the fort’s seven blockhouses, five artillery batteries and a quartermaster’s warehouse.
Each year, battle re-enactments are held portraying the events of the siege of Fort Meigs in May 1813, complete with American and British infantry and artillery. This event is held on Memorial Day weekend and is followed on Monday by a ceremony commemorating the fallen soldiers.
The Visitor Center features 3,000 square feet of exhibits on Ohio’s role in the War of 1812. The museum exhibit, Legacy of Freedom: Fort Meigs and the War of 1812, focuses on the themes of era, conflict, understanding and remembrance. These sections place the War of 1812 into the context of the times and explain Fort Meigs’ role in this pivotal conflict.
Becky and I lived in Perrysburg for many years, and went to the fort to view the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. But we never visited the museum. I’m glad we finally did. Perrysburg, by the way, is named after Commodore Perry, who defeated the British navy at the Battle of Lake Erie, effectively ending the War of 1812. Another interesting fact is that Perrysburg is one of only two cities founded by an Act of Congress, the other being Washington DC.
We found the museum as interesting as the reconstructed fort. When we were kids, our families used to picnic on the grounds. This was before the fort was reconstructed. I remember rolling down the grassy embankments with my cousins. In the winter, we’d come here to go sledding down the bluff toward the frozen river. It was great fun then, and it’s great fun now.