THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (July 13-19, 1814)
Forts under Siege.
A mixed force of British regulars, Canadian militiamen, volunteers and hundreds of Native American (Indian) warriors arrives at Prairie du Chien, a village where the Wisconsin River runs into the Mississippi. The U.S. Army has built a small wooden fort, Fort Shelby, just outside the village — considered a strategic location for controlling the fur trade on the Upper Mississippi River.
Since 1808, when the United States established the first military installation in the Louisiana Territory at Fort Belle Fontaine (near present day St. Louis, Missouri), the Americans have been battling with the tribes of the upper Midwest who oppose increasing white encroachment on their lands — particularly the Sauk and Fox. They are backed by the British who want to reclaim the land between the borders of the original 13 states and the Mississippi River.
Fort Osage, built under the direction of General William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) was established in 1808 on the Missouri River in what is now far western Missouri. Fort Osage was established as a military outpost in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory to put Spain, France and Great Britain on notice that the United States meant to protect its territory by military strength and to establish relations with local Native American tribes, especially the Osage.
But during the War of 1812, Washington determined the territory guarded by Fort Osage was under no threat and its troops were needed elsewhere, so the post was abandoned in 1813.
Fort Madison, also built in 1808, came under Indian attack almost immediately by local tribes, particularly the Sauk under their famous leader Black Hawk. In 1812 the Sauk laid siege to the fort, but were driven off by canon fire. Attacks resumed again in July 1813 leading to another siege. Conditions were so dangerous that the bodies of soldiers killed outside the fort could not be recovered. After several weeks, the Army finally abandoned the post, burning it as they evacuated.
The British-Canadian-Native American force of about 650 outside Fort Shelby in July 1814, called for the commander, Lieutenant Joseph Perkins of the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment to surrender. Perkins only had about 100 regulars and volunteers inside the fort and on a nearby 32-oar riverboat, but he refused to give up the fort. The attackers opened fire and both sides traded musket fire. But the British also had a 3-pounder canon and one of its canon balls struck the riverboat,. which contained most of the fort’s ammunition and supplies. The boat was forced to withdraw downstream.
By July 19, the Americans are running low on ammunition and supplies — and their well had run dry. When the British commander, Captain William McKay of the Michigan Fencibles (a British unit recruited in Canada), threatened to set the fort ablaze by firing red hot canon balls inside the walls, Perkins offered to surrender — if McKay could guarantee the safety of his men. McKay agreed, but told Perkins to await a day while he negotiated with his Indian allies.
Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: Army, Canada, Indians in War of 1812, Topics, War of 1812 - 1814 events, War of 1812 Bicentennial, War of 1812 in Illinois, War of 1812 in Iowa, War of 1812 in Missouri, War of 1812 in Wisconsin, War of 1812 on the frontier.