Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"The Little Gamecock": George Croghan in the War of 1812

George Croghan 
George Croghan has been mentioned in a few of our other blogs most notably here and here. He is noted for his disastrous marriage to Serena  Livingston, the daughter of John R. Livingston, where money troubles and possible alcoholism caused Serena to seek a legal separation from him. But there must have been something that made Croghan worthy of marrying into the illustrious Livingston family to begin with.

George Rogers Clark
The short answer is the man was a hero.

William Clark
Croghan was born in Kentucky, the son of William Croghan, who had fought in the Revolutionary War and Lucy Clark Croghan. Lucy had two famous brothers; George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War soldier often referred to as "the Hannibal of the West" and Captain William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, explorers of the Louisiana Territory purchased by Croghan's future wife's
uncle. Needless to say Croghan had a lot to live up to between his father and his uncles.

Old Tippecanoe himself, William Henry Harrison

After graduating from William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1810 Croghan decided to try his hand at army life. In 1811 Croghan found himself in the Indiana Territory under the command of Governor William Henry Harrison, that is future president William Henry
Harrison. Harrison was marching to disperse a large village, called Prophetstown, lead by Tecumseh and his
brother Tenskwatawa, who were attempting to unite all the native tribes they could to stop American encroachment on their land. Tecumseh was the military leader of the
movement and Tenskwatawa the spiritual leader.

On November 6, 1811 Harrison camped his army on the Tippecanoe River within striking distance of Prophetstown. Tecumseh was away on a recruiting trip and Tenskwatawa asked to meet the next morning to negotiate. Instead on the morning of November 7, 1811 Harrison's camp was attacked. Over the course of about two hours the camp withstood several charges from the gathered tribes but held out until the First Nations warriors began to run out of ammunition and leave the field. For his actions at Tippecanoe Croghan was promoted from private to captain. Harrison burned down Prophetstown and claimed a great victory but the town was rebuilt as soon as he left the area.

Major Croghan next took center stage in 1813 when William Henry Harrison gave him command of Fort Stephenson in present day Fremont, Ohio. After twice failing to take Fort Meigs, British General Henry Proctor decided to attack Fort Stephenson as a way to capture the important American supply depot of Sandusky, Ohio. Fort Stephenson was defended by 160 men, one Revolutionary War era cannon name Ol' Betsy and George Croghan

General Henry Proctor
Proctor commanded 500 British regulars and 700 native allies. Another 2,000 men under Tecumseh were also moving toward the fort. Harrison, hearing the numbers Croghan faced, ordered him to destroy the fort and retreat which Croghan refused to do. Harrison had the 21 year old major arrested and brought to his headquarters at Fort Seneca. Somehow, Croghan convinced Harrison to let him return to the fort and defend it although no reinforcements would be coming from Harrison.

As soon as he landed his forced on August 1, 1813 Proctor sent an emissary to demand the fort's surrender and threatened  massacre by the natives if they did not. Croghan's emissary, Lieutenant
Shipp gave Croghan's answer; "My commandant and the garrison are determined to defend the post to the last extremity, and bury themselves in its ruins, rather than surrender to any force whatever."

With negotiations at a standstill, Shipp attempted to return to the fort. Suddenly First Nations man tried to grab Shipp's sword. Only the intervention of a British officer stopped blood from being shed right there. Seeing all this Croghan called from the fort, "Shipp, come in, and we'll blow them all to hell!"

Fort Stephenson
That night the British bombarded the north west corner of the fort. Croghan returned fire with Ol' Betsy, moving her around the fort so he appeared to have more than one cannon, while also strengthening the north west corner of the fort with sand bags, sacks of flour and anything else he could find, gambling that that was where the British would make their assault.

The next morning the gamble paid off. The British marched right at the northwest corner of the fort and the ditch that protected it. At point blank range Croghan's men opened fire with muskets and Ol' Betsy let loose with grapeshot, pieces of metal, pieces of pottery and anything else that would fit down her barrel. The attack was sliced to pieces. They retreated. Proctor decided to withdraw rather than fight the defenders again. Fort Stephens was saved with only one American casualty.

James Madison
Croghan was now a national hero. President James Madison promoted him to lieutenant colonel as
soon as he heard the news. Croghan's ailing uncle George Rogers Clark said "The little game cock, he shall have my sword." The ladies of Chillicothe. Ohio also sent him a sword. They sent Harrison a petticoat. In the 1830's Congress would mint a medal for Croghan to celebrate the victory.

In the summer of 1814 Croghan was charged with recovering Mackinac Island from the British which controlled the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The British had taken the island in July of 1812 before word of war had reached the island's defenders. Croghan commanded 700 soldiers but did not feel it was sufficient to overcome the island's defenses. Commodore Arthur Sinclair, who commanded the ships that Croghan's army embarked on later wrote that Croghan was convinced " He could not effect the object in view."

The small naval squadron tried to bombard the forts on the island but found they sat too high on the island's cliffs for their guns to reach. On August 4, 1814 Croghan's army  landed on the island and began marching toward the forts. They encountered a small British force of about 90 men from the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles,50 men of the Michigan Fencibles and about 150 men from the Menominee tribe. The small force was well positioned on a ridge however and Croghan's advance stalled. Attempts to flank the enemy were met with ambushes from the Menominee and soon the attack collapsed and retreated back to their boats. Mackinac Island remained in the hands of the British until the end of the war a few months later.

As for Croghan, he left the army at the end of the war. In 1816 he won the hand of Serena Livingston
Serena Livingston
over the likes of Washington Irving and Henry Lee. Irving wrote "The marriage of Serena L is in the best style of modern romance. I hope the Colonel is as amiable in the parlour as he is gallant in the field; if so, he is the very man for her." They settled on a plantation outside New Orleans where he proved he was most certainly not the man for her. He was appointed postmaster of New Orleans but fell to drinking, which he was very good at, and gambling, which he was very bad at. Serena eventually left him and in 1825 he returned to his first love, the army.

Croghan never lost Andrew Jackson's respect.
So there's that. 
Promoted to colonel and made inspector general of the army he traveled the country ensuring that various forts, outposts and soldiers where up to snuff. He held this position for almost twenty five years until he died. He apparently stayed sober on duty and earned the respect of those he served with and for but continued to drink off duty,  It was once suggested to President
Andrew Jackson that Croghan should be court martialed for his drinking to which Jackson angrily replied "George Croghan shall get drunk every day of his life if he wants to, and by the Eternal, the United States shall pay for the whiskey."

In 1846, Croghan now 54 years old and sickly served in his last battle for the American Army. He joined the army of General Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-
Zachary Taylor
the second future president Croghan served under
American War.  Taylor, who would ride his success as a General right into the White House, was literally Croghan's next door neighbor growing up. Their plantations abutted in Kentucky.

At the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846 Croghan, mounted on a horse, rode to the front of a column of Tennessee volunteers and shouted "men of Tennessee,
your fathers conquered with Jackson at New Orleans, follow me!" He then galloped toward the enemy, perhaps looking for one more moment in the sun or perhaps looking for a musket ball to put an end to it all. Either way the attack worked and the American army won the battle.

The Battle of Monterrey 
Shortly thereafter Croghan came down with dysentery and was returned to New Orleans, He lived out his final days there dying in a cholera epidemic on January 8, 1849. He was buried at his family's home in Louisville, Kentucky.

His story was not over yet though. In 1851 the mayor of Fremont had Ol' Betsy the cannon placed on the site of the long demolished Fort Stephenson. In
1839 a monument was dedicated on the site and in 1906 Croghan himself was disinterred from Kentucky and reburied at the site of his most famous victory where he and Ol' Betsy can stand guard forever.
Ol' Betsy and the monument in Fremont, Ohio. Croghan is buried at the base of the monument.

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