BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
COLUMBUS — Thirty-six counties and communities joined the Statehouse today in raising replicas of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag to ensure that the “forgotten” War of 1812 will never be forgotten in Ohio.
The flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner flew over some 21,000 Ohio officers and troops during a fledgling United States’ second war with Britain despite the fact that the 9-year-old state wasn’t depicted on it. It would be three more years before Ohio got its star.
“In May of 1813 in the second battle of Fort Meigs, they stopped the British 41st (Regiment of Foot),’’ said Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president and general manager of The Blade and chairman of the Ohio War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.
“If they hadn’t stopped the British 41st Foot, we would have been in deep trouble,’’ he said. “And then Perry’s Battle of Lake Erie defeated the British squadron. I think those are the two seminal moments of the war, and they happened right here…. The fact that we held them back, I believe Ohio more than earned its star on that flag.’’
A pop-up storm forced the commemoration, including the sounding of the 2003 Ohio Bicentennial Bell, inside the Statehouse rotunda beneath a massive painting that depicts the Sept. 10, 1813, naval victory of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie.
The event marked the 200th anniversary of President James Madison’s signing of the Declaration of War, marking a fledgling United States’ second entry into war with Great Britain.
The War of 1812, which lasted until the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, was fought on land, sea, and the Great Lakes in the United States and in Canada. There was no clear victor when the gunpowder cleared, and historians have long argued over who really emerged with the upper hand.
“I heard an excellent Canadian historian speak on this topic a year ago, and he had the same perspective—that the Canadians won and the Americans think they won,’’ said Steve Buehrer, administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The former state senator from Delta sponsored the law creating the 1812 commission.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,’’ he said. “It’s really the effects of this war and what that did to the development of Ohio and other Midwestern states, but also what it did in establishing the relationship that we’ve had going forward with our neighbors, the Canadians, but also the British.’’
In the United States, the war was seen as a second war of independence, a backlash against British attacks on U.S. trade ships doing business with France, with whom Britain was at war. It was also in retaliation to the forced service of American citizens, still seen by Britain as royal subjects, in the British navy.
In Canada, the war carries a sense of national pride, seen as the thwarting of American invasion forces. For Britain, the war is still largely seen as just another front in its war with France.
At its lowest point, the war saw the burning of Washington and the destruction of the first White House. At its highest were Commodore’s Perry victory on Lake Erie and the dramatic victory at the Battle of New Orleans led by future president Andrew Jackson.
The British were twice repelled at Fort Meigs at modern-day Perrysburg in 1813, drawing the line against British troops after the fall of Detroit. The war’s end also largely saw an end to Indian uprisings against settlers on the American frontier, paving the way for further westward expansion.
The flag was raised in front of the Lucas County Courthouse as a small gathering of public officials and history buffs remembered the pivotal conflict. Bells at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church across the street tolled at noon at the same time bells were being run across the state.
“This was a war for control of certain waterways,” said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). “If you study access and how people moved and how we move today, this region was absolutely critical to control of the continent.”
Larry Nelson, adjunct assistant professor of history at Bowling Green State University Firelands and former director of Fort Meigs State Memorial, said the War of 1812 was “America’s first major conflict after we had gained our independence.”
“In it, we asserted our rights as a free and sovereign nation to defend ourselves against illegal acts by other countries. It showed the world that American freedom, American liberties, and the values that we as Americans aspire to even today were to be taken seriously,” he said. “To the citizens of Ohio, the conflict was personal.”
A little over 100 people gathered at Way Public Library, the Perrysburg library founded 69 years after the start of the War of 1812.
Richard Baranowski, a Perrysburg history librarian, delivered an opening address followed by a re-enactor’s presentation of President Madison’s declaration of war complete with three cheers of “Hip, Hip, Huzzah!”
The ceremony was timed to coincide with the statewide ringing of the bells — organized by the United States Daughters of 1812 — at noon. Thirteen Perrysburg children lined up to ring the Exchange Hotel Bell, a bell that Way Library Programming Specialist Mary Meyer said is almost as old as the war itself.
After two minutes of ringing the bell, Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans delivered a few words about the impact the war had on Perrysburg.
Five members of Perrysburg Legion Post 28 gathered around the flag pole to lower the 50-star flag and replace it with the special 15-star flag as members in the audience sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Jack Shafer, former commander of Legion Post 28, said a prayer for the war’s soldiers.
Perrysburg Fire Chief Jeff Klein performed a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace.
The event was also commemorated with a series of events at Perry’s Victory Visitor Center at Put-in-Bay, including musket-firing and cannon demonstrations and an 1812 congressional debate, and a cannon demonstration.
Staff writers Jennifer Feehan and Madeline Buxton contributed to this story.