Siege of Fort Meigs, 1-9 May 1813

The siege of Fort Meigs (1-9 May 1813) saw a British force under Brigadier-General Henry Procter fail to capture Fort Meigs, on the Maumee River, but win a victory over an American relief force. Work on building Fort Meigs began after the American defeat at Frenchtown on 22 January 1813 ended any chance of a winter campaign recapturing Detroit. It was used as the winter quarters for what was left of Major-General William Harrison’s North Western Army after most of his militia went home for the winter. For most of the winter it had been very vulnerable, but by the spring of 1813 the fort was much stronger, and Harrison had been reinforced in preparation for a new campaign aimed at Detroit.

The British commander responsible for this failure to act was Brigadier General Henry Procter, promoted from colonel after his victory at Frenchtown. He too had been waiting for reinforcements to replace the men he had lost at Frenchtown. By the end of April he had been reinforced by the two flank companies of the 41st Foot from Niagara, and was ready to move. On 28 April Procter landed at the mouth of Maumee River at the head of a force of 550 regulars, 63 fencibles, 464 militia and 1,200 Indians led by Tecumseh. Over the next three days the British erected gun batteries on both sides of the river, and on 1 May they opened fire on the fort. Tecumseh’s Indian’s partly surrounded the fort, but failed to cut off Harrison’s communications.

The British bombardment was ineffective and it seemed that the expedition would end in total failure. On 4 May Harrison received news that offered the chance of inflicting a serious defeat on the British. A force of 1,200 Kentuckians under Brigadier General Green Clay was marching along the Maumee River towards Fort Meigs. A plan was agreed for a coordinated attack. Nine hundred of the Kentuckians would attack the British positions north of the river, spike the guns, then retreat, while the defenders of the fort would attack the guns on the south bank.

The attack began according to plan. At 9am on 5 May the attack on the north bank of the river overran the British batteries, while the garrison captured a battery on the south bank. Things then went badly wrong. Three companies of the 41st Foot, with some of the Canadian militia, stood their ground. The Kentuckians stayed to fight, which gave the Indians time to join the fight. Between them the British regulars, Canadian militiamen and their Indian allies almost wiped out the Kentuckian forces. The sortie on the southern bank was also driven back.

The Americans suffered 1,000 casualties in the fighting – 600 captured and 400 killed, either during the fighting, or after in by the Indians. British casualties were 15 dead, 46 wounded and 41 captured during the sortie on the southern bank. Despite this success, on 9 May Procter was forced to abandon the siege. Half of his militia had already gone home, and the rest were about to follow them, while of the 1,200 Indians only Tecumseh and twenty men remained. Procter had failed to achieve is main objective, but the victory of 5 May did remove the threat to the British position at Fort Maldon.

The Incredible War of 1812, J. Mackay Hitsman. This is a revised edition of a classic work on the War of 1812, one of the more neglected corners of military history. The author writes from a Canadian perspective, but without distorting his material, and the American side of the war is well represented. This is a good clear account of what can be a somewhat confusing conflict. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 November 2007), Siege of Fort Meigs, 1-9 May 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_fort_meigs_may_1813.html

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