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Ft. Meigs & Physicians

by Sharon Myers

The year 2012 is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This is the eighth in a series of columns that the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press is publishing featuring local stories about the war.

Fort Meigs in Perrysburg played a brief, intense role in the War of 1812. When its builders, including a Militia out of Hudson under Captain Amos Lusk, began the Fort's construction on a bluff above the Maumee River in February 1813, they never imagined its importance would peak by August 1813.

Capt. Daniel Cushing was one of the several thousand who passed through the gates of Fort Meigs and he kept a diary which gives a glimpse of life in a frontier fort in harm's way. February and March tell about the misery of living in the mud or ice. As soon as March 9, several men were fired on outside the Fort by Indians. On that same day another soldier went duck hunting and failed to return. The next day he was found shot, tomahawked, scalped and stuck under the ice.

As the month went on Cushing writes that with all the nearby trees cut down to build the fort, there were no fires to keep them warm and illness was rampant. No less than two or three men died every day.

The building of Fort Meigs was completed in April. General Harrison was now in command of Fort Meigs and reinforcements and supplies were pouring in as a major confrontation with the British and Indians were gathering on the opposite side of the river. On May 1, British bombardment of the fort began. The British were heating the cannonballs hoping to ignite the fort's powder magazines.

The next day the bombardment continued with more than 500 shells screaming into the Fort. Loss of life was minimal considering the volume of fire. This went on for several more days. The Indians crept close enough to send musket fire from nearby trees. The Fort was too well-fortified to charge, but the Indians tried many ruses to get the Americans to leave the safety of the Fort.

By May 5, an army of 1,200 Kentucky soldiers came down the river. A detachment of 800 under Colonel Dudley was the first to attack and disable the British cannons and make a retreat to the safety of the Fort. In their excitement, they fell for an Indian ruse and were chased into the woods. Six hundred-fifty men were killed or captured in what was named Dudley's Defeat. On May 6 the British and Indians were giving up as General Harrison's hunker down strategy had worked. There were an additional 80 dead to bury and 200 wounded inside the fort. The next day Cushing found more dead from both sides outside the Fort.

Soldiers battled measles, mumps and lingering battle wounds. On July 20 two sails were seen on the river -- the British and Indians were coming. On July 21 the second siege of Fort Meigs began. On the sixth day of the siege, Cushing wrote that not a man killed, except those on picket guard the first day. Then a heavy thundershower inundated camp. Both sides fell silent. By July 31 the Indians and the British were gone.

The typical soldier did not die of bullets during the War of 1812, but rather from germs. Infectious disease was the No. 1 killer. Twenty thousand soldiers died of something other than battle wounds.

They did not know that multiple cases of dysentery were probably caused by drinking fresh, but filthy water from a river. Doctors thought that physiological imbalances caused disease. By releasing bodily fluids via defecation, bloodletting, or even perspiration the doctor thought he would restore the body's balance and return it to health.

Luckily, if the patient didn't die, he improved, so they thought the treatment worked. Sometimes, some medical attention could kill you.

Living conditions produced malnutrition and exhaustion. Hygiene was lacking. Communicable diseases, such as dysentery, tuberculosis, flu and even measles and all sorts of fevers were rampant in overcrowded military camps. Food poisoning was common.

There was no anesthesia for surgery and no sterile tools; battle wounds were terrifying. Soldiers who died on the battlefield were probably the lucky ones. Amputation of limbs was common. The surgeon sawed through the limb quickly while the patient was given a shot of liquor and a block of wood to bite down on.

Trepanation was the removal of a circular piece of skull with a corkscrew-like instrument to relieve pressure or provide an avenue to remove foreign objects from the brain.

Lewis Rice was physician and an assistant surgeon to the Massachusetts troops in the War of 1812 in the MA 1st Militia. He commenced the practice of medicine at age 24. He came to Stow in 1815 and then moved into Northampton where he had an extensive professional practice. He was born in 1782 in Brookfield, Worcester Co., MA and died March 22, 1862. He is buried in Maple Lawn Cemetery in Stow.

Ebenezer Mather was the first doctor in Boston Township. He was born in 1749 and died July 15, 1831. He is buried in Boston Mills Cemetery.

Joseph Cole graduated from Fairfield Medical College and came to Akron in 1827 where he practiced medicine. He joined the army at Sacket's Harbor in the fall of 1814 at 19 years of age and served in the NY Militia. He was born Sept. 17, 1795 in Winfield, Herkimer Co., N.Y. and died Oct. 28, 1861. He married Charlotte Dewey and had seven children. He was a temperance advocate and was against slavery. He helped form the Akron School of Law and served upon the first Board of Education in 1847. He is buried in Glendale Cemetery.

Contact Sharon Myers, President, William Wetmore Chapter Daughters of 1812 at 330-794-5099.

 

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