By William Dean Howells
XVIII. THE STATE OF OHIO IN THE WAR OF 1812.
We may now begin to speak of the State of Ohio, for with the opening of the present century her borders were defined. The rest of the Northwest Territory was called Indiana Territory, and by 1804, Ohio found herself a state of the Union. There has never since been any doubt of her being there, and if it had not been for the great Ohio generals there might now be no Union for any of the states to be in. But it is nevertheless true that Ohio was never admitted to the Union by act of Congress, and her life as a state dates only from the adoption of her final constitution, or from the meeting of her first legislature at Chillicothe, on the 1st of March, 1803.
The most memorable fact concerning the adoption of this constitution was the great danger there was that it might allow some form of slavery in the new state. Slavery had been forbidden from the beginning in the Northwest Territory, but many of the settlers of the Ohio country were from the slave states of New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky, and there was a strong feeling in favor of allowing women to be held as slaves till they were thirty-five and men till they were twenty-eight years old. But in the end, thanks to one of the Massachusetts men of Marietta, Judge Ephraim Cutler, the friends of slavery were beaten, and it was forbidden in Ohio in the same words which had forbidden it in the Northwest Territory.
It had been a long fight and a narrow chance, and the clause that gave the future to freedom was carried by one vote only. Edward Tiffin was chosen governor, and the new state entered upon a career of peace and comfort if not of great prosperity or rapid progress. The Indians if not crushed were quelled, and the settlers at last lived without fear of them, until Tecumseh began his intrigues. In the mean time there was plenty to eat, and enough to wear for all; there was the shelter of the log cabin, and the fire of its generous hearth. The towns grew, if they did not grow very rapidly; new towns were founded, and the country gradually filled up with settlers, or at least the land was claimed. Immense crops were raised on the fertile soil, and these were mainly fed to hogs and cattle, which more rapidly found a way to market than the grain: they could be driven over the bad roads, and the grain had to be carried. The very richness of the soil when turned to mud forbade good roads in the new country; and the most thriving settlements were on the rivers, which, as in the days of the Mound Builders, formed the natural highways. Many streams were navigable then, which the clearing of the woods from their banks has since turned to shallow pools in the time of drouth and to raging torrents in the time of rain; and one of the most hopeful industries was ship building. The trees turned to masts where they grew, and many a stately vessel slid into the waters that had washed its living fibers and glided down the Ohio into the Mississippi to the sea.
The Ohio people toiled and waited for the inventions of the future to open ways out into the world for them with the great riches to which they were shut up in their own borders; but it must have been with a growing uneasiness. Great Britain, as we know, had long held the forts in the West which she had agreed to give up to the United States, and after she surrendered them, her agents and subjects in Canada abetted the Indians in their rising against the Americans under Tecumseh and the Prophet. The trouble with the Indians would probably have ended at Tippecanoe, if it had not been for the outbreak of war between the two countries; yet this outbreak must have been a kind of relief to the Ohio people. The English insisted upon the right of searching our vessels on the high seas, and pressing into their navy any sailors whom they decided to be British subjects, and though the Ohio people could not feel the injury of this, as it was felt in the seaboard states whose citizens were forced into the English service by thousands, they could feel the insult. They were used to fighting, and they welcomed the war which at least unmasked their enemies. Their ardor was chilled, however, by one of its first events, which was the surrender of Detroit by General Hull. This threw the state open to invasion by the British and Indians, and the danger was felt in every part of it. The militia were called out, troops poured in from Kentucky, and General Harrison marched into the northwest to recapture Detroit. A detachment of his army was beaten in the first action, which took place beyond the Ohio limits, and after yielding to the British was butchered in cold blood by their Indian allies. The next spring Harrison built Fort Meigs on the Maumee; from this point he hoped to strike a severe blow at the enemy in Canada, but he was himself attacked here by General Proctor, who marched down from Maiden with a large force of British regulars, Canadian militia, and Indians led by Tecumseh.
Proctor planted batteries on the shore of the river, and Tecumseh's Indians climbed trees and poured down a galling fire on the besieged. The British commander then summoned the fort to surrender, but Harrison answered his messenger, "As General Proctor did not send me a summons on his first arrival, I had supposed that he believed me determined to do my duty," and he dismissed the envoy with the assurance that if the post fell into Proctor's hands it would be in a manner to do him more honor than any surrender could do. The fight then continued until the British general found his fickle savage friends deserting him, and on the 12th day raised the siege.
It is probable that the Indians were following their old custom of leaving off fighting to enjoy a sense of victory when they had won it. A large body of Kentucky horse had by Harrison's orders attacked one of the British positions, and carried it. After spiking the enemy's guns they pursued the flying British, and suddenly fell into an ambush of Indians. Out of eight hundred only one hundred escaped, and the work of murdering the prisoners at once began. It was on this occasion that Tecumseh tried to save the lives of the helpless Americans, appealing to the British general to support him, and even tomahawking with his own hatchet a disobedient chief who would not give up the work of death.
The allies made a second attempt on Fort Meigs, but they were foiled in this too, and then they turned their attention to Fort Sandusky, where the town of Fremont now stands. General Harrison held a council of war, and it was decided that Fort Sandusky could not resist an attack and must be abandoned. But when the order to retire reached the gallant young officer in command it was too late, for the Indians were already in force around the post. Major Croghan therefore wrote a reply which he thought might fall into the enemy's hands, and which he worded for their eyes rather than his general's. "Sir, I have just received yours of yesterday, 10 o'clock p.m., ordering me to destroy this place and make good my retreat, which was received too late to be carried into execution. _We have determined to maintain this place, and by heavens we can!_"
This answer got safely through to General Harrison, who promptly resented what he thought its presumption and sent to remove Major Croghan from his command. Croghan went to explain in person and was allowed to return to his post. The British and Indians appeared in force the next day, July 31st, and on the 2d of August made their first and last assault. Colonel Short of the British regulars led a force of 350 men against the fort, and set them the example of leaping into the ditch before it. When the ditch was full, Croghan opened upon them from a masked porthole with a six pounder, and raked them from the distance of thirty-feet. Colonel Short, who had ordered his men to give the Americans no quarter, fell mortally wounded; he tied his handkerchief to his sword and waved it in prayer for mercy, and not in vain. Croghan did all in his power to relieve his disabled foes; he passed buckets of water to them over the pickets, he opened a space under the pickets that those who could might creep through into the fort out of their comrades' fire.
That night the whole force of the enemy retreated in such haste that they left many stores and munitions behind them. They were commanded by General Proctor, who had already failed at Fort Meigs against Harrison, and who now dreaded an attack from him. None was made, but Harrison had the pleasure of writing in his report of the victory won by Major Croghan at Fort Stephenson: "It will not be among the least of General Proctor's mortifications that he has been baffled by a youth who had just passed his twenty-first year."
A little more than a month after this repulse the British were defeated in the battle of Lake Erie by Commodore Perry, at Put-in-Bay. The action itself is by no means the most impressive part of the wonderful story of that great victory. Perry had not only to cope with the British in waters where they had been undisputed masters, but he had to create the means of doing so. He brought ship builders, naval stores, guns and ammunition, as well as sailors for his fleet, four hundred miles through the wilderness of New York to the wilderness at Erie, Pennsylvania, and there he hewed out of the forest the stuff which he wrought almost alive into his ships. On the 1st of August he was ready to sail with two large vessels of twenty guns each, and seven smaller craft carrying fourteen guns in all. With these, he met the enemy's force of six vessels carrying sixty-four guns, and on the beautiful sunny morning of the 10th of September the famous fight took place. The Americans at first had the worst of it; the British guns were of longer range, and Perry's flag-ship, the _Lawrence_, was so badly disabled that he had to abandon it for the _Niagara_, The _Lawrence_ was in fact an unmanageable wreck; her decks were streaming with blood, but nothing broke the awful order of the carnage. The men fell at their guns; if wounded, they were carried below; if killed, they were left where they dropped, while others took their places.
[Illustration: Admiral Perry on Lake Erie 196]
Perry hauled down his colors with his own hand, and with his flag under his arm was rowed to the Niagara through a storm of musketry. Once on board this vessel, he began to change defeat into victory, and after a fight lasting more than three hours in all, he could send to General Harrison his memorable dispatch, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
The next day the mournful sequel to this tragedy followed, when the crews of both fleets, victors and vanquished, joined in burying their dead on the shore of the bay. The sailors slain in the battle had been already sunken in the lake, but now to the sound of the minute guns from the ships, with the sad music of funeral marches, the measured dip of oars, and the flutter of half-masted flags, the last sad rites were paid to the fallen officers. Perhaps the Indians under Tecumseh who had seen with stupid dismay the great battle of the rival squadrons, witnessed this pathetic spectacle too, before they sullenly withdrew into Canada after Proctor's army. There Harrison pursued them, and in his victory on the banks of the Thames, their mighty chieftain fell, and their cause perished with him.
Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Stories Of Ohio, by William Dean Howells