Friday, March 22, 2013

Fort Meigs and Ohio History


Fort Meigs is a War of 1812 battlefield located in Perrysburg, Ohio. A reconstructed fort and museum help bring history alive. Fort Meigs is one of fifty-eight sites within the Ohio Historical Society, now managed by the Fort Meigs nonprofit organization. Along with school tours and interactive displays, a number of reenactments and special events take place here throughout the summer. Dedicated staff and volunteers allow Fort Meigs to bring fun and education to hundreds of visitors each year.   www.fortmeigs.org

Bob Smith, board president, Sylvania Area Historical Society (lower right)
 introduces Rick Finch, director of Fort Meigs,at March 20 SAHS program. 
"It is observed by all the officers that I have had any conversation with who have been a long time in the service, some of them in the Revolutionary War, that this is the most disagreeable encampment they ever saw,"  wrote Lt. Joseph Larwill in his journal in March 1812, describing the building of the huge Fort Meigs site in Northwest Ohio. Hard to believe it could be worse than a Revolutionary War encampment, when we think of General George Washington and his troops! 

Rick Finch, director of the Fort Meigs historic site and museum, shared journal entries of soldiers and war veterans during a program about the War of 1812 at the Sylvania Area Historical Society (SAHS). Fort Meigs witnessed some terrifying encounters with the British and their Indian allies. The American soldiers at Fort Meigs  were a super-hearty bunch. "These guys had no coverage but thin canvas tents," Finch said about a winter campaign.  "They were huddled six to a tent in freezing weather."   At another point Finch told how the soldiers had to hike through mud and swamp lands up to their knees, inch by inch, and how they fought side by side in forests and unfamiliar territory without enough supplies or reinforcements. 

   
Finch presented an interesting history of the building, and re-building, of the Fort, a strategic site on the Maumee river and important battleground in the War's "western theater."  He spoke about the reasons for and the geography of the War, which few Americans know much about, and the military battles, which were fiercely fought and resulted in much hardship and many deaths. 

The War of 1812 was a 32-month military conflict between the US and the British Empire and their Indian Allies.  The Indians were led by Shawnee confederation leader Tecumseh, who sided with the British in hopes of building an independent Indian nation.  Americans at the time thought of the War of 1812 as a “Second War of Independence” against the British, and perhaps that was its greatest outcome.  America had asserted its autonomy, seizures of American sailors and goods stopped (as Europe became engulfed in the Napoleonic War), and an "Era of Good Feeling" followed. Otherwise the War of 1812, in spite of its brutality and devastation, including the burning of Washington, the new capitol, ended with a stalemate and no changes in territory.  It pretty much settled the American border with Canada as well. 

It did have another important outcome for the nation, and for our region, however, Finch concluded: “It opened the Northwest territory, the Great Lakes region and the  Midwest, to further settlement and growth.”  
Romanticized painting of  Tecumseh,
 leader of  Shawnee confederacy, by Benson Lossing,
 based on a pencil sketch by Pierre le Dru (wikiiphoto)..

America’s relentless westward march to the Pacific continued throughout the 19th century, through the Civil War and beyond, and with it the destruction of Native Americans,  who were forced off their lands and pushed ever-Westward or onto reservations. Fort Meigs helped clear the way West for the expanding new nation.  Among the biggest losers were not the British, but the Native peoples of North America.  Tecumseh was killed during the War, in 1813. His death marked the end of the dream for uniting and saving his people.  
 
American  history encompasses a complex process of evolution and change, war and peace, achievements and disappointments. It takes place on many levels: political, military, economic, social and cultural.  It includes the diverse stories of natives and newcomers, migrants and immigrants over time.  It begins with our local histories and our family stories, woven piece by piece into the fabric of the common narrative we all share. Rick Finch reminded us that Fort Meigs and the history of Ohio is an important chapter in this narrative.    

Fort Meigs is commemorating its 200th anniversary this year (1813-2013) with lots of programs and special events. Site descriptions note that "Ohio's War of 1812 battlefield is home to the largest reconstructed, wooden-walled fort in the country." It also has a great bookstore, full of books and information on Ohio history.  See you there!

For more information about Fort Meigs go to www.fortmeigs.org.  For more information about the Sylvania Area Historical Society go to www.sylvaniahistory.org. Join the SAHS and learn about YOUR history! 
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