Less than thirty years after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, the young nation once again went to war with Great Britain. It was not a particularly long war by American standards, just shy of three years, nor was it as bloody as the Revolution. It was, to put it simply, a matter of honor for both nations after a series of aggressions, including the impressment of American sailors, duels between American and British ships, and longstanding feuds over trade and the lands north of the Ohio River.
For our purposes, the two most important theaters of the war were in the Great Lakes region and along the Mid-Atlantic coast. As Canada was then a British colony, defense of that border came first, and both sides fought to a virtual standstill along the entire length of the northern border. Realizing that the northern campaigns were at a standstill, the British increased their raids along the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, attacking Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans.
Support for the war was especially strong in the South, and Mason County provided its fair share of troops. After all, this was the first war since our county was officially established in 1804, and we had a reputation as fearless hard-fighting frontiersmen to maintain.
From a population of barely 1,900, Mason County sent four companies to war. First, called forth just days after the declaration of war, was Captain Anthony Van Sickle’s Mason County Riflemen. We’ll come back to them in a moment.
Next, in the summer of 1813, was a company of twenty men under Captain William Parsons. They served at Norfolk for one year, at a time when British raiders were destroying port facilities throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.
Third, in the fall of 1814, was Captain (later Brigadier General of Militia) Peter Higgins Steenbergen’s cavalry company. They were crossing Big Sewell Mountain on their way to Norfolk when runners reached them carrying news of the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war.
Fourth was a company of which we have very little information. All we know is that it was commanded by either Major Andrew Bryan or his wife’s cousin, Major Charles Clendenin. It’s possible that this was part of the local 106th regiment of militia commanded by Colonel John Henderson.
Anyhow, returning to the Mason County Riflemen, they were called to arms in April 1812 and spent the next several months readying for war. It took quite a while, as America had been caught unprepared, but Virginia rose to the task. When General Joel Leftwich arrived at Point Pleasant in October 1812, he found Captain Anthony Van Sickle and 54 riflemen awaiting him in camp. They were soon joined by 1,500 others representing nearly a dozen counties and enough supplies to get them to General William Henry Harrison’s army near Toledo.
The Virginia Brigade, as Leftwich’s army was called, set out from Point Pleasant on October 20th, 1812. They headed west to Chillicothe, then north through Central Ohio, more or less following present-day U.S. Route 23. In Delaware, they met General Harrison himself on a mission of peace with several Shawnee chieftains. Further on, they were joined by several Wyandotte chiefs, and peace was made with them as well.
Finally, on February 1st, 1813, they reached the Maumee Rapids and joined the other half of the army. The 3,500 militiamen wasted no time getting to work, for this was the spot chosen to defend the United States against a British invasion from Fort Detroit and potentially launch an invasion of our own. By the end of March, Fort Meigs (named in honor of Return J. Meigs, Governor of Ohio) was finished.
It was the construction of that fort that claimed the only three Mason County casualties of the war: Thomas Craig, John Jackson, and Thomas Lewis. The official records state that they died of “injuries” at Fort Meigs. Whether these were injuries related to construction or skirmishes with Native Americans or the British is unknown. Either way, they were buried at Fort Meigs, where they are memorialized on a monument to the dead of the Virginia Brigade and are honored this Memorial Day.
Casualties would have been far higher, but as fate would have it, the Virginia Brigade was discharged once construction was finished. The Mason County Riflemen began their march home on April 15th, a mere two weeks before the British laid siege to Fort Meigs with a resulting 160 killed and 630 captured.
Information from the WV State Archives, Library of Virginia, Virgil Lewis’ “Soldiery of West Virginia,” and John P. Hale’s “History of the Great Kanawha Valley.”
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.