Aug. 18, 2012
An engraving depicting U.S. troops battling the British and their Indian allies along the Thames River in Ontario during the War of 1812. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames, which took place on Oct. 5, 1813. / Provided
“The Star-Spangled Banner” was born. The White House was burned. And the last major battle was fought two weeks after a peace treaty was signed.
It’s all part of the lore of the War of 1812 – a misnomer of sorts because it didn’t end until 1815. This year marks the war’s bicentennial.
It was fought less than 30 years after the final shots of the Revolutionary War, and again pitted the United States against more powerful Britain. Congress’ declaration of war on June 18, 1812, was spurred by Britain’s seizures and forced recruitment of U.S. seamen, its interference with U.S. trade and British support for American Indians who were blocking U.S. expansion to the Northwest.
After 32 months, the war essentially ended in a tie. But historians say it succeeded in asserting American sovereignty and opening Indian lands to settlement.
Although the Cincinnati area was not a battleground, significant fighting did occur in Ohio, and several notable figures with ties to Southwest Ohio had roles in the war. Here’s a look at four of them:
William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh
Long before the War of 1812, the lives of Virginia-born Harrison and Shawnee leader Tecumseh were intertwined. They were on opposite sides of a struggle for control of the Northwest Territory, the area bordered by the Great Lakes on the north, the Ohio River on the south and the Mississippi River on the west.
In the 1790s, Harrison was a young Army officer assigned to protect settlers from Indians. He fought at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo. The decisive victory by the U.S. led Indians to sign the Treaty of Greenville.
Tecumseh, however, did not sign. He continued to try to unite Indian tribes in one powerful force against the Americans.
Harrison, meanwhile, met and married Anna Symmes, daughter of John Cleves Symmes, a Northwest Territory judge who lived in North Bend. Harrison became secretary of the Northwest Territory, then served in Congress before becoming governor of the Indiana Territory.
In November 1811, tensions between the U.S. and Indians boiled over again. Near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers in Indiana, a force led by Harrison repulsed warriors led by Tecumseh’s brother, the Prophet. The soldiers burned the Indians’ town.
Harrison claimed victory, but he also drew criticism for his handling of the campaign. Regardless, he earned a nickname – Tippecanoe – that years later would become part of his presidential campaign (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too”) and returned to Cincinnati.
The defeat led Tecumseh to turn to the British for military support.
At the start of the War of 1812, Harrison was passed over as commander of U.S. western forces. The man who got the job, Gen. William Hull, surrendered Detroit without a fight.
Soon after, in September 1812, Harrison was named commander of the Army of the Northwest. He was ordered by Secretary of War James Monroe to recapture Detroit and invade Canada.
Harrison’s troops marched north from Cincinnati. They built Fort Meigs at what is now Perrysburg, Ohio, and spent the winter there. It’s where, in the spring and summer of 1813, Harrison’s troops withstood a combined British and Indian attack.
That fall, U.S. Commander Oliver Perry defeated the British navy on Lake Erie, which cleared the way for Harrison to retake Detroit.
Harrison pursued the fleeing British and Indians into Ontario. On Oct. 5, 1813, along the Thames River, the combatants met. Badly outnumbered, the British quickly surrendered. The Indians kept fighting, until Tecumseh’s death.
Although widely acclaimed as a hero, Harrison retired from the military before the war ended, essentially pushed out by a new secretary of war. He returned to North Bend, was elected to Congress for two terms, and in 1840, as a member of the Whig party, was elected ninth president of the U.S.
He caught pneumonia shortly after delivering a lengthy inaugural address and died April 4, 1841, after only a month in office. His tomb is in North Bend.
Before the war, Findlay had established himself as a key figure in the business and politics of Cincinnati. He served as mayor in 1805 and 1810.
At the war’s outset, Findlay served as an Army colonel under Gen. William Hull. As their troops marched north through Ohio toward Detroit, Hull ordered Findlay to build a fort along the Blanchard River for use as a supply depot. The fort, named in Findlay’s honor, was 50 yards square, with a blockhouse at each corner. The town of Findlay was laid out near where the fort stood.
After the war, Findlay was elected to Congress, and just north of the city line he bought property known as Findlay’s Woods. A town plat he recorded in 1833 established many streets that exist today, including Findlay, Race and Elm, as well as a location for a farmers to sell goods. We know it today as Findlay Market.
America was ill-prepared for the War of 1812. Supplies were desperately needed. The army relied on people such as Matthias Corwin, who lived on a Warren County farm near Lebanon with his family, including son Thomas.
“The elder Mr. Corwin, in view of this pressing public need, determined to send his team to aid in the benevolent work of supplying food to the suffering army, and Thomas, then a lad of 17, volunteered to be teamster,” Isaac Strohm writes in the book “Speeches of Thomas Corwin.”
Thomas Corwin became known as “the Wagon Boy.” It was a nickname that followed him through a long public service career that included terms as Warren County prosecutor, state representative, U.S. congressman, Ohio governor, U.S. senator, treasury secretary and minister to Mexico.
He died in 1865 and is buried at Lebanon Cemetery.