Honour of the Regiment - Private Patrick Russell,
Fort Meigs, Ohio, May 5, 1813.
by Jim Yaworsky
On May 5, 1813, an
action took place along the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio,
the results of which resulted in the
awarding of the Battle Honour “Miami” to the 41st Regiment of Foot.
The Right Division of the Army of Upper Canada, under the command of General Henry Procter, had laid siege to Fort Meigs, built on the bluffs of the southern bank of the Maumee at the foot of its rapids.
By May 5, the main British batteries located on the north bank of the River, and a secondary small battery located on the south bank on the edge of a ravine 300 yards from the Fort, had been firing for days. The main British encampment was on the Maumee River flats just east of the ruins of Fort Miami. This lay on the north bank of the river a few miles downstream of Fort Meigs and the British batteries. The British force had settled in to somewhat of a routine – duty at a battery, followed by a return to the camp for rest. That routine was about to be shattered.
Unbeknownst to General Procter, a party of 1,200 Kentucky militia under the command of General Clay had been making its way up from the Ohio River and dawn of May 5 found this force approaching Fort Meigs, and under orders from the American commander General William Henry Harrison, to attack the main British batteries and silence them. They were to land on the north bank of the river, capture the batteries, disable the guns, then immediately retreat across the river to the Fort. Deprived of artillery and facing the considerably augmented American garrison, the British would have little choice but to abandon the siege.
General Clay put Colonel William Dudley in command of 800 men who were charged with the attack on the British batteries. This attack was launched with the advantage of full surprise at dawn, and the batteries were quickly captured. However, at this point Colonel Dudley and his other senior officers lost control of the situation. Instead of immediately crossing the river to the safety of the Fort, the Americans milled around. Some of them got themselves engaged in a skirmish with approaching natives.
Led by Tecumseh, the Indians lured most of the American force in to the woods north of the river, despite the frantic attempts by the garrison of Fort Meigs to alert their compatriots of their danger. Of the Americans who entered those woods, very few ever left alive.
Some Americans remained at the captured British batteries, again, oblivious to the warnings of the Fort Meigs garrison, who could plainly see the British counter-attack being organized.
Men of the 41st had been hurried from the camp at Fort Miami; led by Major Muir and Captain Chambers, their counterattack recaptured the batteries. This was the action for which the Battle Honour was awarded.
Of Dudley’s 800 men, barely 150 escaped to the safety of Fort Meigs. The men who faced the Indians in the woods were largely killed, but the survivors at the batteries became prisoners of the British. They were marched under guard to be held in the ruins of Fort Miami.
At Fort Miami, the Americans were herded in to the main ditch. For the march, they had been exposed to an escalating level of physical violence and despoliation by the Indian allies. This abuse reached the level of deadly force as the Americans were herded in to the ditch of Fort Miami. Muskets were fired in to their midst, men were tomahawked and scalped.
Unfortunately, this massacre was occurring under the view of several British officers, including General Procter. Evidently, the officers had concluded that the Indians were running amok. It took the arrival of Tecumseh to bring the situation under control. He fearlessly waded in to the enraged warriors and immediately shamed them in to desisting.
Tecumseh then turned to General Procter and demanded to know why Procter had done nothing. Procter responded that the Indians had been impossible to command. Tecumseh is reputed to have told Procter to go put on petticoats – he was unfit to command.
This was not a high point for the Right Division, on many fronts. The success of the counter-attack had been tarnished by Procter’s failure to protect his prisoners. In fact, no American would ever be so foolish as to surrender to British and native forces in the western frontier for the balance of the War.
At Frenchtown in January 1813, Procter had merely abandoned the American wounded and marched away. Their massacre by the Indians had been done out of his sight. However, at Fort Miami, Procter was fully implicated in what had occurred. He had not started it, but he had certainly not stopped it.
Fortunately for the honour of the 41st Regiment of Foot, one simple infantryman had done what he could to stop the massacre. He paid for his efforts by being shot through the heart. At the end of the massacre, approximately 40 Americans - and one redcoat of the 41st - lay dead in the ditch. The only difference in their treatment was that the Indians had not scalped their fallen “ally”.
So who was this courageous man? John Richardson only identifies him as “Private Russel”, Byfield does not name him.
It appears fairly certain that this brave man’s full name was Patrick Russell. We don’t currently know much about him. He appears on the Detroit Prize list: Patrick Russell – receiving one pound seven shillings in prize money, which was paid in 1822 to what appears to be his “sister”, Ellen – no last name given.
Larry Nelson, former curator of Fort Meigs, in his book “Men of Patriotism, Courage & Enterprise: Fort Meigs in the War of 1812” (Daring Books, Canton, Ohio ISBN 0-938936-38-7) says in footnote 39 on page 89: “Another British officer who witnessed the event recalled that the murdered British soldier’s name was Paddy Kassil,[Major Peter Chambers?], “The War in Canada 1812-1814,” Public Archives of Canada, MG-40-0-1B.”
I suspect “Paddy Kassil” is “Patrick Russell”; “Paddy” is of course a short form of “Patrick”; and “Russell” and “Kassil” are close enough; given that the primary source handwriting might have had an “R” not a “K”.
On May 5, 1813, men of the 41st had bravely advanced against the enemy holding the captured batteries, and this certainly deserved credit. I submit, however, that the real hero of the day was Private Patrick Russell. He attempted to intervene, as a member of a small outnumbered guard force, to restrain the frenzied actions of Indian allies against helpless enemy prisoners of war, and he paid the supreme sacrifice for so doing.
Did he save any of the helpless prisoners? Sadly, no.
Was his sacrifice in vain? Definitely not, for Private Patrick Russell saved the honour of the 41st Regiment of Foot.