Northwest Ohio was part of the western front when this young country declared war on Great Britain June 18, 1812.
The western theater - which included the present states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and the province of Ontario, Canada - was the location for the first major land campaigns during the war, some of the earliest land battles and one of the largest amphibious landings up to that time.
In the early part of the war, American maneuvers led to early American defeats, but as time wore on, the United States began to defeat the British.
This image of Fort Ball during the War of 1812 comes from Stephen Hartzell’s website, www.historynotebook.com.
In the early part of the war, British forces operating mainly out of Fort Malden and Fort St. Joseph in Ontario defeated American forces several times. In the first three months, the U.S. lost Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island in what now is northern Michigan and Fort Dearborn in Chicago.
Fort Detroit also was surrendered, and Fort Wayne in the Indiana Territory was left as the only fort under American control.
In the early part of 1813, American defeats continued at the Battle of the River Raisin (now Monroe, Mich.) in January, where Gen. William Henry Harrison lost about a third of his troops.
However, American forces led by Harrison began building Fort Meigs (Perrysburg) in February 1813 on the banks of the Maumee River under the direction of Capt. Eleazer Wood, a West Point engineer and the namesake for Wood County. The fort enclosed 10 acres with seven two-story blockhouses and other elaborate measures. It withstood two sieges in May and August 1813 by British forces and their Indian allies.
After the second siege, the British attacked Fort Stephenson (Fremont) in August 1813 and were defeated.
Fort Stephenson was a stockade with three blockhouses under the command of George Croghan on the west side of the Sandusky River. Only one small cannon, "Old Betsy," was used, and it was moved from blockhouse to blockhouse to save the fort.
Croghan was acting against Harrison's orders to vacate the fort.
But after that victory, the fledgling American navy won the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, led by Gen. Oliver Hazard Perry who announced victory with the now-famous words, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
The loss of Lake Erie caused the British to retreat further east into the northern part of Ontario and the American army pursued them, defeating the British again at the Battle of the Thames (Chatham, Ontario) in October 1813.
The death of Shawnee war chief Tecumseh in this battle led to the break-up of the Indian Confederacy that
had been allied with the British.
After those victories, the western theater was quiet, but war continued in the eastern and southern
parts of the United States during 1814 and early 1815.
During the years of the war, the Sandusky River and land along its banks played a large part in keeping troops supplied. Several forts were built to provide stops for troops and places to store supplies.
On his website, History Notebook (online at www.historynotebook.com), local historian Stephen Hartzell provides the history of Fort Ball in relationship to other events taking place during the war.
To alleviate the problem of supplying troops in the unsettled area of northwest Ohio, he said Quartermaster General Colonel Morrison led a large undertaking to cut two trails through the thick wilderness.
Morrison Road went from Delaware to Sandusky City, and Harrison Trail from Franklinton to the upper Sandusky and then along the Sandusky River to Fort Stephenson at lower Sandusky.
Cutting roads through the swamp was a tedious process and most of the teams of horses and oxen were destroyed.
A quote from Hartzell's research, from a Nov. 15, 1812, communication between Harrison and the secretary of war, explains the situation:
"The great defect is in the means of transportation. Almost all of the fine teams which were brought from Kentucky have been worn down and discharged and the greater part of the pack horses are in the same situation. The roads have become almost impassable for wagons, foreseeing this I early turned my attention towards the providing of water transportation. Some thing considerable has been done in this way but by no means
equal to my expectations and the orders I had given.
"You can scarcely form an idea, sir, of the difficulty with which land transportation is effected north of the fortieth degree of latitude in this country. The country beyond that is almost a continued swamp to the lakes."
Hartzell's research showed block houses were built at the upper Sandusky, and that stockade later was named Fort Ferree. Fort Stephenson was built and Fort Seneca and Fort Ball were built between them.
"In mid July, 1813, General Harrison was in the process of fortifying and securing the area along the Sandusky River, which was increasingly recognized for its importance as a supply route for the troops in the thick wilderness of Northwest Ohio, as well as those along Lake Erie," Hartzell said. "Col. James V. Ball was in command of the 2nd Light Dragoons. His regiment was detached to an area south of Fort Seneca along the old army road (Harrison Trail) on the Sandusky River to build a fort. This fort would be used as a place of security in case of retreat, and as a depository for supplies. When completed, the fort was named for Col. Ball."
From his research, Hartzell wrote:
"The fort had three block houses which faced the Sandusky River, one on each corner and one in the middle. The remainder of the fortress was enclosed by pickets, which were about 12 inches in diameter, and driven straight into the ground. Old bayonets were driven in horizontally at the top, steadying the adjacent logs. Soil was piled around its exterior to solidify the entire structure, forming a ditch all the way around. Within the fort's limits was a large spring of clear water, and the stockade's expanse would hold about 500 men."
Hartzell provides more history of Fort Ball on the website, but one item that provided a boost to the soldiers stationed there came after victory at the Battle of Lake Erie.
He quoted an article in Harper's magazine from August 1863.
"It was four o'clock in the afternoon when the flag of the Detroit was struck. When Perry's eye perceived, at a glance, that victory was sure, he wrote in pencil on the back of an old letter, resting it upon his navy cap, that remarkable dispatch to General Harrison whose first clause has been so often quoted:
'We have met the enemy and they are ours: Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.
Yours with great respect and esteem, O. H. PERRY.'
"Later in the same article, General Harrison receives the glorious news:
'Pressing forward with his staff, he heard, at Fort Ball (now Tiffin, Ohio), of Perry's victory. Thrilled with joy, he sent couriers to his commanders with orders for them to hasten forward. Hope and promise every where prevailed. Energy marked every movement; and on the 16th of September, the whole army of the Northwest, excepting the troops at Fort Meigs and minor posts, were on the borders of Erie, camped on the pleasant peninsula between Sandusky Bay and the lake below the mouth of the Portage River, now Port Clinton."