The 17th Regiment of U.S. Infantry

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In the tension existing before the Declaration of War in June 1812, Congress authorized the expansion of the army from 7 regular infantry regiments to 25. Recruiting was done by state, each regiment being raised from a single state. The 17th was the second Kentucky regiment, the other being the 7th, raised in 1808.

Kentucky was part of the 8th Military district. The 17th was assigned to the Army of the Northwest, an ad hoc formation delegated the task of liberating the Northwest Territories( including the states of Ohio, Indiana, and the Michigan and Illinois territories) from under British control. The army's first commander, Gen. William Hull, surrendered his forces at Detroit on April 19, 1812, while the 17th regiment was being recruited and organized at Georgetown, Kentucky by Col. Samuel Wells.

The second commander of the Northwest Army, James Winchester. took over and led an expeditionary force north along Hull's trail through Ohio toward Detroit. The command of the army was split between Winchester, in charge of the regular of Federal army, and William Henry Harrison, the Governor of Indiana, commanding the militia. Harrison was also the favorite of Kentucky leaders, and eventually replaced Winchester.

Upon learning of hostile Indians besieging Ft. Wayne, Harrison detached a force of Militia and regulars, including some of the 17th infantry. to it's relief. They were detached with Kentucky and Ohio militia to conduct retributory raids on Potawatomi villages on the Elkhart river, burning crops and towns.

Winchester resumed command and continued the march toward Detroit up the Maumee river from Ft. Wayne. Harrison however, received a presidential commission and resumed command of the Northwest Army. The 17th, under Winchester forming the left flank of the advance, preceded to Ft. Defiance, slowly moving toward the armys rendezvous point at the rapids of the Maumee. Rations were short because of the poor roads. Winter clothing failed to arrive untill late in the year, and shoes were in short supply.

Eventually the supply base at the base of the rapids was established by late 1812, to be later known as Ft. Meigs. On January 16th 1813, a council of war at the rapids decided to advance to the River Raisin, to Frenchtown in the Michigan territory. Col. Wells dissented and the 17th remained in camp. When the American Army chased out the Canadian militia and the Indians from Frenchtown, Col Wells was ordered to proceed there and arrived there on the 20th with part of his regiment. Encamped on the right wing of the army, with no defense works except for a rail fence between them and the enemy, the 17th were in an exposed position. Col. Wells protested to Gen. Winchester on the 21st. They were ordered to stay. Ammunition was short, only about 10 rounds per man were available.

Remember the Raisin !!!
January 22 ,1813

On the morning of the 22nd, the British army, with the Canadian militia and the Indians. attacked. Under artillery fire, and sniping from the flanks by Indians, the 17th was forced to withdraw from their position on the north bank of the river Raisin, cross the frozen river and try to reform on the south side. Eventually many broke and ran. Winchester was captured and surrendered his forces. On hearing of the British attack from the returning soldiers, Col. Wells advanced a force northward from the Maumee to cover the retreat.

In the aftermath of the battle, the American Prisoners and wounded were left behind in Frenchtown as the British crossed the frozen lake to Ft. Malden. Without restraint, the Indians began to kill the wounded and the prisoners. The River Raisin Massacre, as it was known, led to the later battle cry of Remember to Raisin.

Ft. Meigs
Jan.-July, 1813.

The American Army spent the next several months fortifying it's position on the Maumee, anticipating further British attacks. They built a picketed encampment, supported with blockhouses and artillery batteries, and called it Fort Meigs, after the Ohio governor, Return Meigs.. Preparations began for the upcoming campaign season with the buildup of supplies and a reorganization of the Northwest Army.

British control of Lake Erie ment that all supplies had to be routed though Pittsburgh, down the Ohio river to Cincinnati and then by wagon overland to Ft. Meigs. Overland travel west of Cleveland was impossible due to the swamps and danger of Indian raids.

The anticipated British attack begun in late April.1813 as advanced forces began to arrive on the North bank of the Maumee. Gun batteries were positioned and firing began. The Americans sat behind their prepared defences untill the construction of new batteries required sorties. Captains Bradford and Croghan's companies of the 17th were cited for distinguished valor by Gen. Harrison for their assault on the British batteries firing on the American right flank. Capt. Holt's company of the 17th was also cited for service to the American artillery during the siege. The British withdrew, but returned again in July to make another siege attempt with even less success.

Ft. Stephenson, Ohio

Turning from Ft. Meigs , at the urging of the Indians, the British forces moved the attack to Ft. Stephenson on the Sandusky river. Commanded by Major Croghan, newly promoted, and Lt. Shipp of the 17th, The fort was only lightly defended and had only one 6-pounder gun. Still, by judicious use of grapeshot and a lack of spirit among the British assault party, Croghan was able to defend his post. This, despite disobedience to orders to abandon the fort, made Croghan a hero and he was breveted to Lt. Colonel.

Niagara Campaign
Summer 1814

Following Perrys Victory on Lake Erie, the British retreated back to Canada and eventual defeat at the river Thames. The 17th was sent back to occupy Detroit with the bulk of the Northwest Army. With a reduced need for men, Capt. Chunn's company of the 17th was detached with another company of the 19th infantry for operations on the Niagara frontier. Arriving in Buffalo, Chunn's company was assigned to the training camp at Flint Hill, commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott to prepare for the invasion of Canada. On their way there, they were diverted to a raid on Dover, Canada on May 14. There they were employed to burn food stores and public property.

The main invasion began on July 2nd with the attack and capture of Ft. Erie from the British. Assigned to Gen. Ripley's ,brigade, Capt. Chunn's company was attached to the 21st infantry along with Lt. Riddle's company of the 19th infantry. Together they were participants in the battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25th, attacking the British center, taking the crest of the hill and the artillery positions.

Withdrawing to Ft. Erie, they remained for the siege of the fort by the British. The remainder of the 17th arrived at Ft. Erie from Detroit on October 6th onboard the Brig Niagara. Capt. Chunn was cited for bravery and brevetted to Major for his defense of the American fortifications on Snake Hill during the British assault of August.

Following the abandonment of Ft. Erie by the Americans in the fall of 1814, the 17th regiment was taken into winter quarters in Erie, Pennsylvania. They were here when the war ended in December. The regiment was disbanded during the post-war reductions, and the remnant was taken into the 3rd infantry.

Other Campaigns.

While in Detroit in the summer on 1814, a portion of the 17th was detached to an expedition conducted by the Navy and Army to recapture Ft. Mackinaw. While able to cut off supplies to the British on the upper Great Lakes, the campaign soon became hindered by the loss of ships to Canadian raiding parties. Trying to repeat the British landing on Mackinaw Island also met with defeat. With these setbacks, the American force retired to Detroit where it remained for most of the war, conducting occasional raids into Canada.

Recommended Reading
  1. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. Alec R. Gilpin.
    Michigan State University Press, 1958.

  2. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Donald R. Hickly
    University of Illinois Press. 1990

  3. Ft. Meigs on the War of 1812. Ohio Historical Society, 1975

  4. The Battle of Lundy's Lane on the Niagara in 1814. Donald E. Graves. The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of America, Baltimore Md.,1993.

  5. While Washington Burned: The Battle for Fort Erie 1814. Joseph Whitehorne, N. & A. Publishing Co. Baltimore Md., 1992

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