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WAR OF 1812

WAR OF 1812. When Congress declared war against Great Britain on 18 June 1812, the village of Cleveland consisted of 100 or fewer souls huddled near the mouth of the CUYAHOGA RIVER. Except for their geographic location, they had no reason to be either especially interested or principal actors in the war. However, situated on a significant Lake Erie harbor and attuned to American ideas of possible acquisition of British lands on the lake's northern shore, the villagers were affected in significant ways by the War of 1812. Cleveland served as a base for supplies, a rendezvous for military units, and the location of a military fort and hospital. The war also provoked alarms and invasion scares, which were quieted only with Perry's naval victory on Lake Erie and the subsequent demolition of a British and Indian force by Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison at the Battle of the Thames in the autumn of 1813. American activities were centered on Lake Erie and its connecting waterways for 3 primary reasons: to inflict damage on British military units garrisoned in Upper Canada (today's Ontario), to end the alleged British instigation of Indian depredations on American frontier settlements, and, if possible, to acquire Canadian lands by invasion and occupation. However, the early endeavors were disastrous for America, especially the humiliating surrender of Detroit by Gen. Wm. Hull in Aug. 1812, which opened the waterways for invasions of northern Ohio. After a report from the Sandusky-Huron area falsely informing Clevelanders of enemy boats proceeding down the lake, many residents abandoned their homes and sought refuge farther inland. The "hostile marauders" turned out to be Americans paroled from Hull's disaster. New England Federalists might be antiwar, but transplanted Western Reserve Federalists recognized the need for defense. Their initial effort centered 2 militia companies at Cleveland, soon augmented by additional militiamen, all commanded by Gen. Elijah Wadsworth. Most of these troops moved out of the village within a short time, on their way westward to the Sandusky and Maumee valleys. In the spring of 1813, Capt. Stanton Sholes arrived with a company of regular army troops. Sholes put his men to work building a hospital, and then a small fort (FT. HUNTINGTON) and a breastworks of logs and brush near the bank of Lake Erie. From that vantage point, soldiers and civilians could view a part of the British fleet that appeared off the harbor on 19 June 1813. A period of calm beset the fleet a short distance from shore, until a thunderstorm drove the potential raiders from the Cleveland area.

Americans had come to realize that control of Lake Erie was requisite to any penetration of Upper Canada. In anticipation of challenging British control of the lake, Lt. Oliver Hazard Perry constructed a fleet at Erie, PA (small boats -- bateau were constructed in the upper waters of the Cuyahoga River and would later be used in the invasion of Canada). On 10 Sept. 1813, Perry accomplished his objective in magnificent fashion. Moving from his flagship, the Lawrence, when it was destroyed, he continued command from the deck of the Niagara, reporting the destruction of the British fleet in unforgettable prose: "We have met the enemy and they are ours." Americans, starved in this second year of warfare for words of cheer, had found a worthy naval hero. By virtue of the victory, the way now was cleared for Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison's invasion of Upper Canada. He annihilated a British-Indian force on 5 Oct. 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, ending warfare on Lake Erie and its shores. Clevelanders long reported stories of having heard gunfire from the vessels engaged in Perry's Battle of Lake Erie, adopting Perry as a civic hero and erecting a statue of him on PUBLIC SQUARE in 1860 (see PERRY MONUMENT). Less newsworthy, but no less significant in the life of the embryonic city, was the way in which supplies for troops, mustering of militia and regular army units, and medical and hospital care for sick and wounded soldiers came to be centered at Cleveland. By the time the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent (24 Dec. 1814), the residents of the village could congratulate themselves on their brave defense against invasion (that did not occur), their logistical contributions to the nation's military and naval efforts, and the way in which their village's natural resources of river and harbor had become recognized as advantages for regional supply and support.

Carl Ubbelohde (dec)

Case Western Reserve Univ.