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Fighting on American Soil 

After Brock had accomplished his work at Detroit, he hastily returned to the seat of government at York to make preparations for guarding the Niagara frontier; and here we must take our leave of the great soldier, for another writer in these Chronicles is to tell of his subsequent movements, and of his glorious death on Queenston Heights. Colonel Procter was left in command of the western forts, to which Tecumseh was attached. Owing to an unfortunate armistice arranged between the belligerent nations, the energetic Indian chief could do nothing more than exert his powers in persuading many undecided warriors to become Britain's allies. In this business he moved through the Indian country between Lake Michigan and the Wabash, daily increasing his forces.

In the meantime General Harrison, of whom we learned something in a preceding chapter, was given command of the north-western army of the United States. He was invested with wide authority, and instructed, first of all, to provide for the defense of the western frontiers and then to 'retake Detroit, with a view to the conquest of Canada.' The first part of these instructions he proceeded to carry out by raiding Indian villages and burning their cornfields. Next he arranged his autumn campaign, which had in view the recapture of Detroit and, if possible, the capture of Fort Malden and the invasion of Canada. His troops occupied Fort Defiance, on the Maumee, as a base of supplies, and Sandusky, on the south shore of Lake Erie, as an observation post. Before much could be done, however, the autumn waned, and Harrison, with seventeen hundred men, encamped for the winter on the right bank of the Maumee, at the foot of the rapids, near the place where Wayne had fought the battle of the Fallen Timbers sixteen years before.

In January 1813 Major Reynolds, of the British forces on the Detroit, marched into Frenchtown with fifty soldiers and two hundred Indians. Frenchtown stood on the site of the present city of Monroe (Mich.) on the river Raisin, about midway between Detroit and Harrison's camp on the Maumee. On the 18th scouts reported the approach of an American force of some five hundred and fifty regulars and Kentucky volunteers. Reynolds made a judicious disposition of his men to meet this superior force, but the enemy fell suddenly upon him, driving him back about a mile. When the British had gained the shelter of a wood their three-pounder did effective work, causing the enemy considerable loss, and a continuous fire from militia and Indians held the Americans in check for a time. But the contest was hopeless, and Reynolds retreated to Brownstown, about eighteen miles distant, having lost one militiaman and three Indians, and having killed twelve Americans and wounded fifty-five. The American captain made no attempt to pursue the British, but established himself at Frenchtown, and two days later General Winchester marched in with a large body of American troops.

During the night of the 18th word of Reynolds's repulse was brought to Procter, who, with unaccustomed alacrity, hastened from Amherstburg with all his available force, leaving but a few men to guard the fort. Early on the morning of the 20th he led five hundred militia and regulars and eight hundred Indians across the frozen waters of the Detroit river. The troops were soon winding their way along the road on the western shore. At nightfall they encamped in the open about five miles from the enemy, and lighted huge fires to protect themselves from the bitter winter cold. Before daybreak of the 21st they were again on the march and sighted the American camp while all was darkness and silence. No outpost guarded the slumbering encampment, and the British approached unchallenged. They had brought three three-pounders with them, and these were swiftly but silently placed in commanding positions. The line for attack was being formed when the musket-shot of a sentinel rang out through the crisp air, and was immediately followed by the roar from a three-pounder, which startled the sleeping camp into activity. Thus the British lost some of the advantage of a surprise attack. Instead of making a rapid advance and bayonet charge, or an attack upon the surrounding parapet, from which the enemy wrought such havoc later, Procter ordered the three-pounders to be brought into action, and while this was being done, the Americans had seized their arms and prepared for a stubborn defense.

Procter attacked with the regulars in the centre and the militia and Indians on the flanks. The American centre fought from behind defenses, and their fire caused great havoc in the ranks of the regulars, where the fire was hottest and the loss most severe. After the fight had continued for upwards of an hour, the Indians decided the issue. Outflanking the enemy on each side, they gained the rear, and fiercely assailed and drove in the enemy's right, which gave way and fled in terror to the farther side of the river Raisin, seeking shelter in the woods. The Indians followed across the ice in swift pursuit, eager for slaughter. The blood-stained snow and the bodies of those overtaken marked the direction of their flight for almost two miles. Only a few prisoners were captured, but among them were Colonel Lewis, General Winchester, and his son, a lad of sixteen years of age. So complete had been the surprise of the American camp that when Winchester was led into the British lines he was clothed only in his night-shirt.

The American left and centre, however, still held out stubbornly, fighting desperately through fear of falling into the hands of the Indians and sharing a fate similar to that of their comrades. On learning that the conflict was still in progress, Winchester penciled an order to the commanding officer to surrender, in order to prevent further loss of life. The command was immediately obeyed, and the action ceased. A number of the Americans made good their escape to Harrison's camp on the Maumee, where Fort Meigs was erected immediately afterwards. 'The zeal and courage of the Indian department were never more conspicuous than on this occasion,' wrote Procter, 'and the Indian warriors fought with great bravery.' Tecumseh himself was not present at the battle of Frenchtown, as he was busy seeking recruits among the Indian allies of the British. The leader of the Indians on that occasion was Roundhead of the Wyandots.

Learning that Harrison had reorganized his army and brought up artillery and stores to strengthen his position at Fort Meigs, Procter decided to attack the American general in force. Harrison, as we have seen, had about 1700 men and expected an equal reinforcement under General Green Clay. Procter, now a brigadier-general, embarked at Amherstburg with 1,000 white troops and all available artillery. Tecumseh, who had returned to headquarters, led his Indians overland. The result of his mission among the tribes now manifested itself. As he advanced, his force was greatly augmented, many warriors joining him at the mouth of the Maumee, until at last he commanded not fewer than 1,200 men. The British forces reached the vicinity of Fort Meigs on April 28, and went into camp opposite the fort; but heavy rains delayed operations until the 1st of May. Procter erected a battery a short distance above his camp; another battery was soon added: but the fire from both proving ineffective, a third was established across the river just below Fort Meigs.

The expected American reinforcements reached the head of the rapids, and on the night of May 4 a messenger from Harrison made his way through the British lines to Clay, instructing him to land eight hundred men on the left bank of the Maumee to carry the British batteries there, and spike the guns, afterwards crossing to the fort. The remainder of the troops were to land on the right side of the river and make their way through the Indians to the fort. According to orders, Colonel Dudley landed with the specified force, rushed the batteries, which were manned only by a few gunners, and spiked the guns. The main body of British were at the camp a mile and a half distant. But, contrary to orders, Dudley did not return immediately to his boats and cross to the fort; instead, he left the greater part of his men at the batteries under Major Shelby and set off with the rest in pursuit of some Indians.

The routed artillerymen, reaching the British camp, made known the loss of guns, and Tecumseh led his warriors to retake them through a downpour of rain. Dudley and the smaller body that accompanied him were drawn into an ambuscade and annihilated, Dudley himself falling beneath the tomahawk; while the larger force left in possession of the captured batteries was assailed by Major Muir, with fewer than two hundred men, and put to rout. The Americans fled for refuge to the woods, only to be confronted there by the Indians. Thus caught between two fires, they were utterly destroyed.

Clay's force of 450 men had landed on the opposite side of the river, where they were attacked by the Indians. But they were soon reinforced by a detachment sent from the fort to meet them, whereupon they turned upon the British position, captured one gun, and took prisoner forty of the 41st regiment. The remainder of the British at this point, strengthened by a small detachment of militia and Indians, advanced and retook the battery, and the Americans were driven back into the fort.

A white flag now fluttered from the walls of Fort Meigs. Harrison proposed an exchange of prisoners, in the hope that during the delay caused by these proceedings he would be able to get much-needed baggage, stores, and ammunition into the fort. But the boats containing his supplies were captured by the Indians, who took childish pleasure in their rich plunder. When the prisoners had been exchanged Harrison again opened fire, and the contest continued until the 9th with little result.

Unaccustomed to this prolonged warfare and weary of fighting, the greater part of the Indians now returned to their villages to celebrate their recent victory; but Tecumseh, although his force, so laboriously brought together, had dwindled to fewer than twenty warriors, remained with the British. The militia also grew restless and discontented and desired to return to their homes, to attend to the spring seeding of their fields. Under these conditions Procter was obliged to abandon the siege of Fort Meigs and withdraw his forces.

During this affair an event occurred which illustrates the marvelous power of Tecumseh's personality. While some of the American prisoners were being conducted to the boats, they were savagely attacked by a band of strange Indians. These warriors, who had taken no part in the engagement, greatly outnumbered the guard. Forty of the prisoners had already been put to death before a messenger set off at full speed to Tecumseh with news of this horrible outrage. The Indian leader rode rapidly towards the scene of the massacre, which was then at its height. Throwing himself from his horse, he grasped the two nearest savages and hurled them violently to the ground. Brandishing his tomahawk, he rushed among the Indians, and in a voice of thunder forbade them to touch another prisoner. The massacre ceased instantly, and, awed by Tecumseh's presence and threatening manner, the savages disappeared into the woods.

Towards the latter part of July Tecumseh persuaded Procter to make another attempt to take Fort Meigs. After much deliberation the British general finally started up the Maumee with a force of four hundred white soldiers and about three hundred Indians. He took with him also several six-pounders. The troops disembarked on the right bank not far from the fort. Tecumseh, fertile in strategy, had devised a plan by which he hoped to lure the garrison from the fort. His scouts had apprised him that Harrison with a large force was at Sandusky, about sixty miles distant. The chief proposed that the Indians should gain the road which led from Sandusky to Fort Meigs and that a sham battle should be enacted there to deceive the garrison, who would naturally suppose that some of Harrison's force, coming to the fort, were being attacked. They would hasten to the assistance of their comrades, and the British would fall upon them in the rear, while a strong force assailed the fort. The plan met with Procter's approval, and the Indians proceeded to carry it out. Heavy firing was soon heard, and it became so animated that even some of Procter's men believed that a real engagement was in progress. But the garrison made no response, and the mock battle, which lasted about an hour, was finally terminated by a heavy downpour of rain.

Tecumseh's plan for the capture of Fort Meigs had miscarried, but he still hoped for victory. He induced Procter to make an attack upon Fort Stephenson (now Fremont in the state of Ohio), about ten miles from the mouth of the Sandusky river. On July 28 the British troops embarked with artillery and stores and entered Sandusky Bay. Most of the Indians marched through the woods between the Sandusky and the Maumee. On August 1 Procter, having ascended the river, demanded the surrender of Fort Stephenson from Major Croghan, the officer in command. The garrison consisted of only one hundred and sixty men, and they had but one gun; yet Croghan refused to surrender. Procter then landed his men and opened fire on the north-west angle of the fort; but his guns were light, and the cannonade, which continued for thirty hours, had but little effect.

Fort Stephenson was built on the edge of a deep ravine filled with brushwood. Before the main building was a ditch, the sides of which were crowned with palisades. About four o'clock in the afternoon Procter ordered an assault. He divided his men into two parties, one to attack the fort from the north-west, the other to assail the southern side. Armed with axes, which, however, were so blunt as to be almost useless, the men of the first party broke through the outer palisades and gained the ditch. Here they found further advance impossible, as they had no scaling-ladders. In this position they were raked by a deadly fire of musketry from the fort. The men at the southern side were not so severely pressed; but after two hours' hard fighting the British were forced to withdraw, having suffered a loss of about one hundred killed and wounded. Under cover of darkness Procter and his men regained their boats and returned to Amherstburg. Greatly disheartened at these repeated failures, Tecumseh and his warriors marched overland to the head of Lake Erie and again went into camp on Bois Blanc Island.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, Tecumseh, A Chronicle of the Last Great Leader of his People, By Ethel T. Raymond, Toronto, 1915

 

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