Forgotten sacrifices: Licking County and the War of 1812

Written by

Kevin Bennett
Advocate Contributor

This week marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, a largely forgotten conflict that was the first war in which Licking County was involved.

Obscured by the intervening 200 years, it long has been treated as a footnote in published histories. Its status is reflected by the fact that this small war lacks even a proper name. Careful review, however, reveals that this conflict and its effects were a significant event in the early history of Licking County.

At the outbreak of the war, this area had been established for less than a decade. Comprised largely of emigrants from New England, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Welsh settlers, the population of Licking County was less than 4,000 with only two settlements of any size, Newark and Granville.

Despite its small population and relative newness, the area responded with nationalistic fervor and support when President James Madison declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Enthusiastic about conquering British Canada and its lucrative land opportunities, most locals were convinced British authorities in Canada were inciting the Indians to attack settlements in Ohio.

Although this suspicion largely was unfounded, it helps explain the high level of local support for the war effort.

Licking County prepares for war

Licking County, as with the rest of the nation, entered the war woefully unprepared to fight. While local militia companies existed, these men drilled infrequently and their training was of dubious military value.

Granted, these men were usually familiar with the use of firearms and outdoor skills. This was offset by their lack of combat experience, poor weaponry, equipment and almost total disregard for military discipline.

There also was an unrealistic belief that American militia could easily overpower British Canada, particularly Upper Canada (now Ontario) with little effort.

Responding to a request by Gov. Meigs, Maj. Jeremiah Munson, of Granville, summoned a community meeting and was able to enlist a company of 50 Granville men in little over an hour.

Levi Rose, who had previous military experience as a militia officer, was elected as captain. Munson then proceeded to nearby Newark where, with similar ease, another company of 98 local men was raised led by Captain John Spencer, of Newton Township.

As militia, these men were expected to provide their own weapons and equipment. They had no standard “uniform” save a fringed hunting shirt they were requested to bring.

By early June 1812, these men marched to join the newly formed Army of the Northwest near Urbana.

Upon arrival, the Army commander Brig. Gen. William Hull assigned them to the 3rd Regiment of Ohio Volunteers under the command of Col. Lewis Cass. (Cass was a lawyer from Zanesville, which in 1812 was the state capital. He later became the governor of Michigan, a U.S. Senator, the secretary of war, the Secretary of State, a minister to France and was the Democratic nominee for President in 1848). Munson was appointed as second-in-command of the regiment.

The advance to Detroit

In 1812, the portion of Ohio that the American force was required to traverse was largely unsettled and encompassed the massive Black Swamp.

It was not an easy task. To establish reliable supply and communications lines, the laborious task of clearing a road through this wilderness was undertaken with the Licking County men having to take their turn at this endeavor. This road, known as “Hull’s Trace,” still exists in several locations and is denoted by a series of Ohio Historical markers.

The American army reached Detroit on July 5. Gen. Hull’s strategy called for an amphibious crossing of the broad Detroit River and then driving south on the Canadian side to the British strongpoint at Fort Malden.

After a few days of reorganization and rest, the evening of Friday, July 10 was designated for the crossing.

As the troops were being readied to board their boats, an incident involving the Granville unit occurred which resulted in the invasion being delayed, Munson being seriously wounded and the entire American camp being thrown into an uproar. According to one account, a number of the militia volunteers recklessly were discharging their muskets near the assembly point.

As this was not only a safety hazard but threatened the secrecy of the movement, Major Munson and other officers barked out orders to desist. Whether by accident or intentional, a Private David Messenger fired his musket with Munson being hit in the chest.

Fortunately, the wound did not prove fatal, but Munson was taken out of action for the remainder of the campaign. On Sunday, July 12 the Licking County men, along with most of the American army, finally rowed across the three-quarter mile wide river, landing unopposed near the village of Sandwich (now part of Windsor, Ontario).

The invasion of Canada had begun.

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