A Hero Rises
After the British failed for a second time in attacking Fort Meigs, they tried to flank the fort by going around it and coming down the Sandusky River from where Port Clinton is located today. As the British were coming down the river, their scouts reported that a small fort was just ahead at a bend in the river. At about the same time American scouts spotted the British. They sent word back to Fort Stephenson of the approaching British flotilla.
Fort Stephenson (where Fremont is located today) was the first of 3 forts along the Sandusky River. Next was Fort Seneca which is where General Harrison had moved his command, and then came a smaller supply depot called Fort Ball (today Tiffin).
When Major Crogan in command of Fort Stephenson got the news that the British were just around the bend, he sent word to Harrison of the approaching British. When Harrison got this news, he immediately sent word to Crogan to abandon and burn the fort. However, before those orders could reach Major Crogan, he had already made the decision to engage the approaching British and ignored Harrison's orders when they did arrive.
Major Crogan had only 1 operating cannon at his disposal. As the British took up position just north of the fort, they sent messengers under a flag of truce.
British officers Colonel Elliott and Captain Chambers along with a group of Native Americans under their flag of truce approached the fort. Major Croghan sent out 2nd Lieutenant Shipp along with 15 others to meet the flag of truce. After the usual salutations, Colonel Elliott is reported to have said: "I am instructed to demand the instant surrender of the fort, to spare the effusion of blood, which we cannot do should we be under the necessity of reducing it by our powerful force of regulars, Indians, and artillery." To which 2nd Lieutenant Shipp replied: "My commandant and the garrison are determined to defend the post to the last extremity, and, bury themselves in its ruins, rather than surrender it to any force whatever."
Colonel Dixon then replied: "Look at our immense body of Indians. They cannot be restrained from massacring the whole garrison in the event of our undoubted success. It is a great pity that so fine a young man as you and your commander, should fall into the hands of the savages. Sir, for God's sake, surrender, and prevent the dreadful massacre that will be caused by your resistance!"
Shipp then replied calmly: "When the fort shall be taken, there will be none to massacre. It will not be given up while a man is able to resist." With that, Shipp and his company turned back to the fort, but just as they did, an Indian jumped out from some bushes to try and grab Shipp's sword. It was the British Captain Dixon who stopped Shipp from killing the Indian on the spot.
Major Croghan, who had been watching from the fort, shouted, "Shipp, come in, and we'll blow them all to hell!" The Americans ran back to the fort just as the British opened fire from their gun-boats. The firing continued sporadically throughout the night with the American's returning fire only on occasion. Because the American's only had one cannon at their disposal, after each firing, they would relocate that cannon to another blockhouse and then fire from that position. This continued throughout the night of August 1.
During the night the British moved 3 of their 6-pound cannons to positions in the woods situated northwest of the fort and on slightly higher ground than the fort. Today, there is a sign marking this location. Towards sunrise, the British increased their rate of fire, but the Americans remained quiet. This standoff continued throughout the day with no change. As the firing increased in tempo, it became clear to Major Croghan, that the British were concentrating their fire against the fort's northwest corner. He ordered bags of sand and sacks of flour be piled up against those walls to help deaden the impact of the cannon balls striking the wood.
Final assault on Fort Stephenson
As the British cannon fire continues, in the distance, General Proctor hears rifle fire. Fearing that reinforcements may be approaching from the east, Proctor orders an assault rather than continue with the bombardment. As it turned out, the firing General Proctor heard came from his own Indian scouts that were startled when a young farmer accidently stumbled upon their hidden position along the river. When the Indians see the farmer they immediately begin firing their weapons, but the farmer escaped unharmed.
It is now around 4 p.m. on August 2. The British have formed two close columns, led by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Short and Lieutenant Gordon. They began their advance toward the fort's northwest corner. At the same time 200 grenadiers, under Lieutenant Colonel Warburton, are taking a wide circuit through the woods far to the west making a feigned attack upon the southern front of the fort, where Captain Hunter and his party are stationed.
As the cannon fire continues to echo across the field, the British storming-party under Lieutenant Colonel Short advances through the dense smoke. They finally get to within 15' of the walls before being seen by the Americans.
Kentucky sharpshooters bring down a number of the advancing men and the British line momentarily is thrown into confusion, but Short quickly rallies his men and regains a sense of order. The axe-men bravely push forward up and over the glacis and into the ditch that Croghan had his men had dug in preparation for the assault. Lieutenant Colonel Short was at the head of this group whose job it was to chop their way through the damaged walls with axes so that the next wave of men could enter the fort. Short could be heard shouting from the ditch: "Cut away the pickets, my brave boys, and show the damned Yankees no quarter!"
It was at this moment that the long silent solitary cannon, Major Crogan had nicknamed "Old Betsy" would once again be heard. Slugs and grapeshot screamed through the ditch spreading terrible havoc among the scrambling British troops. Few would escape the carnage. British observers watching the progress could not see the renewed cannon fire. Assuming that the first assault had been successful, they sent a second column that met another volley from Old Betsy along with more rounds coming from the Kentuckians. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Short and Lieutenant Gordon along with 25 privates fell dead in the ditch along with 25 wounded. Only 3 of those advancing were able to escape and make it back to their own lines.
When the grenadiers finally arrived at the south gate, they were met by a destructive volley from Hunter's corp that quickly sent them back into the woods. This marked the end of the attack. The entire assault lasted just 30 minutes. Storm clouds brewing in the west moved on and a gentle breeze finally blew away the dense battle smoke. All that was left were the wounded and dying piled outside the fort in the ditch. As twilight descended upon the fort, the young Croghan addressed his men with words of praise and thanksgiving. As the night and silence deepened, the groans of the wounded in the ditch along the north wall could be heard inside the fort. Buckets filled with water were let down by ropes. The gates could not be opened for safety reasons during the night, so Croghan told the men to dig a trench so the wounded could be brought inside for treatment rather than waiting for daylight.
On the second day of August, 1813, at the age of 21 years, the heroic George Croghan, against a vastly superior force, won the victory that proved to be one of the major turning points in the war of 1812. Once Proctor was defeated at the fort, he withdrew back to Fort Detroit with General Harrison following close behind. Shortly after this engagement, Commodore Perry would decisively defeat the British fleet in Lake Erie.
For his exploit, George Croghan was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel by the President of the United States; In 1835 the US Congress awarded him a gold medal. Later Croghan was made Inspector General with the rank of Colonel. He also served with General Taylor in the Mexican War of 1846 – 1847. Two years later Colonel Croghan died in New Orleans. In 1906, the remains of Colonel Croghan were disinterred from the family burial plot in Kentucky, and moved to Fremont where it was placed in a special crypt at the base of a monument called the Soldiers' Monument honoring Fremont's veterans and specifically the Battle of Fort Stephenson in 1813.