Clay, General Green & Fort Meigs

General Green Clay and the Siege of Fort Meigs

(courtesy Garth’s and Larry Nelson, former site manager at Fort Meigs, and Lou Schultz)

General Clay

At the time of his death in 1828, General Green Clay (b. 1757) was one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in Kentucky. Although not as well known today as his son, the abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay, or his cousin, Henry Clay, Green Clay played a very significant role in the early history of Kentucky.

After serving in the Revolution in 1777, Clay, a native Virginian, headed west to explore the wild frontier. He fought Indians with Daniel Boone at Boonesborough and then made his fortune surveying western lands at a time when surveyors were often in danger of Indian attack. At a time when money was scarce, surveyors received land as payment for their services, and Clay eventually owned 40,000 acres in what became Madison County and all of Bourbon and Clay Counties. In addition to his vast land holdings, Clay owned toll roads, distilleries, taverns and a ferry on the Kentucky River.

In 1799, Clay moved his family from a log house near Boonesborough to a magnificent new Georgian home, constructed using slave labor, on a 4,400 acre plantation near Richmond, Kentucky. Clermont, which was expanded by Clay’s son Cassius Marcellus prior to the Civil War and renamed White Hall, was restored by the State of Kentucky as a state historic site.

As a prominent citizen, Clay was heavily involved in public affairs. He served in the Virginia Legislature from 1788 to 1789, in the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution, in the Kentucky Constitution Convention in 1799, in the Kentucky Legislature and Senate, and as an officer in the Kentucky Militia. It not surprising that Governor Isaac Shelby appointed Clay to command the Kentucky troops that were being dispatched at the request of General William Henry Harrison for the defence of Fort Meigs in the spring of 1813.

The Siege

William Henry Harrison established Fort Meigs in early 1813, and his troops constructed the fortification during the late winter and early spring. Built at the foot of the Maumee River rapids at present-day Perrysburg, Ohio, the post was a large and sprawling facility. Designed as a supply depot and staging area for troops and supplies preparing to advance against British-held Detroit, the fort consisted of blockhouses, artillery batteries, and an earth and log stockade that enclosed nearly ten acres.

Fort Meigs survived two attacks in 1813. In late April, British troops commanded by General Henry Procter and native allies, led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, invested the garrison. The British force arrived at the rapids on April 28th and over the next few days, established four artillery batteries on the north bank of the Maumee River directly opposite the American post. At dawn on May 1st, the British opened the duel with a massed volley from all of their cannon. Harrison responded with fire from his own artillery and, for the next five days, the battle raged with neither opponent able to inflict serious damage or casualties upon the other.

In February 1813, Harrison requested reinforcements from the Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby. Shelby responded by recruiting a brigade of 1,200 volunteers and placed Green Clay in command. The Kentucky brigade left for Ohio in late-March, and when the siege at Fort Meigs began, Clay and his reinforcements were only a few miles from the American post.

Upon Clay’s arrival, Harrison ordered him to advance to the rapids and divide his force into two wings. One wing, led by Clay’s second-in-command William Dudley, was to land on the north side of the Maumee, attack and disable the British artillery, return to their boats and cross the river to the safety of the American stockade. The other wing, led by Clay, was to land on the south bank of the river and fight their way directly into the fort. Clay accomplished his mission, but Dudley allowed his detachment to be drawn into an ambush in which he and many of his men were killed or captured.

Unable to defeat the now-reinforced garrison, Procter ended the siege and withdrew on May 9th.

Harrison left the post shortly thereafter and named Clay as the fort’s new commander. The British returned to Fort Meigs in late July, however, since they had been stripped of their artillery by the British Navy (who was building a fleet on Lake Erie), Procter had no hope of battering the American post into submission. On July 25th, the British and Indians staged a mock battle amongst themselves near the American post hoping that the Americans would believe that a column of reinforcements was under attack and leave the protection of the stockade to rescue them. Once away from the fort, they would become vulnerable to an ambush. Fortunately, Clay was not so easily fooled and eventually Procter broke off the engagement. Clay remained in command at Fort Meigs until September 1813.

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