Road Trip: Fort Meigs

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Fort Meigs was commissioned in the winter of 1813 after Americans lost several other nearby forts to the British.(Photo: Flickr)
Fort Meigs was commissioned in the winter of 1813 after Americans lost several other nearby forts to the British.(Photo: Flickr)

Fort Meigs is the largest wooden fort ever built in North America…and it’s easy to see why they built a fort here: marching up this 40-foot bluff from the Maumee River seems like suicide for the enemy army.

That’s probably what the fort’s builder, Eleazar Wood, saw as well. And it’s a good thing he did.

“When we declare war on Great Britain in June of 1812, things go terribly wrong and it’s just this series of defeat after defeat after defeat,” says Rick Finch, the director of Fort Meigs.

By August of 1812 we have lost Forts Detroit, Fort Mackinac and Fort Dearborn, which is now Chicago, Illinois.”

To make matters worse, the British wiped out part of General William Henry Harrison’s Army at the River Raisin in Michigan. The Americans desperately needed a victory, so Harrison assembled his troops at the Maumee Rapids. Larry Nelson is Adjunct professor of History at Heidelberg University

“On February 1st, Harrison begins to build Fort Meigs, a large and imposing facility that is intended as a supply depot in which he can accumulate the men and supplies necessary for him to recoup his army and then carry the war to Canada.”

“Most of the construction was supervised by a Corps of Engineers Captain by the name of Eleazar Wood, a bright young West Point graduate who becomes the Chief Engineer officer to Harrison’s Army,” says Dr. David Curtis Skaggs, a professor of history emeritus from Bowling Green State University.

“They are building it in the winter and the Indians are not going to attack in the winter because they are holed up in their villages, and the British are not going to attack in the winter,” Skaggs says.

“These guys are doing this completely by hand in the wintertime,” Rick Finch says.

A fort that takes three thousand logs just to make up the walls, it’s completed in 3 months.

“The fort on the river side has a 40-foot high bluff that comes up off of the river, and then around to the east it had a ravine system as well. So it’s a great natural defensive position.”

The British attacked Fort Meigs twice, in May and July of 1813, but the U.S. Garrison held.

The American victories continued and Harrison’s troops went on to invade Canada and destroy the retreating British Army. The Battle of the Thames on October 8,1813, essentially ended the fighting in the Old Northwest.

Eleazar Wood was an architect of the American success. He designed Fort Meigs, supervised improvements to Fort Stephenson in Fremont, Ohio, and commanded the artillery at the Battle of the Thames in Canada. Later, Wood was reassigned to Fort Erie near Buffalo.

“He is killed in the War of 1812 at a sortie that he leads out of Fort Erie,” Skaggs says.

“When he is killed in 1814, he becomes the first West Point Graduate to die in combat,” Nelson says.

Perrysburg, Ohio is located in Wood County, named in his honor.

There is also a star shaped fortification in New York Harbor that was also named Fort Wood as well. We know that better as the base for the statue of Liberty.

You can download this tour and explore it on your own. It’s Tour number six. Defending a Young Nation. Just visit SeeOhioFirst.org and click on The New Ohio Guide.

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