Fort Ball

A Bit of it's Background & History
By Stephen J. Hartzell

Supplying Troops In The Wilderness A Big Problem

At the beginning of the War of 1812, the whole of the northwest quarter of the state of Ohio was indian territory, as laid out by the Treaty of Greenville. The thick wilderness along the Sandusky River was nearly impassable by wagon, and anything wider than a horse was likely to have a lot of trouble traveling through. With Lake Erie being a very important strategic point in the war effort, it became necessary to also keep it's adjoining rivers secure.

By October of 1812, General William Henry Harrison was painfully aware of the fact that his armies were not being properly supplied. The thick wilderness of northwest Ohio were a greater obstacle than he had originally considered. Fort Meigs and Fort Detroit were under frequent harassment by the British led bands and their indian allies, and supplying and relieving his troops was a big problem. New supply routes through the area had to be established.

The following is quoted from a letter from General Harrison to William Eustis, Secretary of War,  October 15, 1812, from his headquarters in Franklinton, Ohio. (Later Columbus)

"Further information upon this subject has however convinced me that my first opinion as to the propriety of adopting the Sandusky (river) route as that which ought principally to be relied upon for the conveyance of our supplies was correct. But I was misinformed as to the eligibility of Wooster as the place of deposit and the rendezvous of the right wing, it should have been Mansfield, indeed that place is not far enough west to serve as a deposit for the supplies procured on the Scioto nor the junction of the two corps of Pennsylvania & Virginia, the former with all the artillery and supplies from Pittsburg will pursue the route by Canton and Wooster to Mansfield and I have sent an express to conduct the latter through Chilicothe, this place and Worthington to Delaware from which place a road is now cutting by a detachment of Ohio militia to the upper Sandusky where I have directed block houses to be built for a principal deposit......"

"I have therefore directed Colonel Morrison to purchase one hundred ox wagons and teams for the Sandusky route being convinced that purchasing in the end will be more economical than hiring."

"My only fears on the score of provisions arises from the difficulty of getting it transported from the frontiers of the settlements."

Colonel Morrison was the newly appointed Quartermaster General, and it was under his charge that two principal trails were cut; the Morrison Road from Delaware to Sandusky City, and the Harrison Trail from Franklinton to the upper Sandusky and then along the Sandusky to Fort Stephenson at lower Sandusky. With the Scioto already in use for the transporting of supplies, the Sandusky would complete their much needed route to Lake Erie. The block houses were built at the upper Sandusky, and that stockade was later named Fort Ferree. At Sandusky Bay, Fort Stephenson was built. Between these forts were added Fort Seneca and finally Fort Ball, which was in place by the end of July of 1813, and was named for Colonel James V. Ball, who directed it's construction around a large spring of clear water. But the efforts by the state militia to cut the two roads proved to be slow processes, and the projects were severely underfunded.

With the difficulty in cutting roads now apparent, General Harrison tried mightily to explain the difficult situation to the Secretary of War. The following communications are quoted from November 15, 1812.

"The great defect is in the means of transportation. Almost all of the fine teams which were brought from Kentucky have been worn down and discharged and the greater part of the pack horses are in the same situation. The roads have become almost impassable for wagons, foreseeing this I early turned my attention towards the providing of water transportation. Some thing considerable has been done in this way but by no means equal to my expectations and the orders I had given."

" You can scarcely form an idea sir of the difficulty with which land transportation is effected north of the fortieth degree of latitude in this country. The country beyond that is almost a continued swamp to the lakes."

The months lingered on, and the troops continued to struggle with the conditions in the thick swampy wilderness. Desertions became commonplace, as many as 12 per day at one point were reported at Delaware. The men at Fort Ball suffered similarly. The overwhelming cause of death among the troops was sickness and disease. During the winters many of the men were in great need of proper clothing, and even blankets were an uncommon luxury. In a cemetery near the fort their honored dead were interred.

Pieces Of Fort Ball History

In mid July, 1813, General Harrison was in the process of fortifying and securing the area along the Sandusky River, which was increasingly recognized for it's importance as a supply route for the troops in the thick wilderness of Northwest Ohio, as well as those along Lake Erie. Col. James V. Ball was in command of the 2nd Light Dragoons. His regiment was detached to an area south of Fort Seneca along the old army road (Harrison Trail) on the Sandusky River to build a fort. This fort would be used as a place of security in case of retreat, and as a depository for supplies. When completed, the fort was named for Col. Ball.

There were 3 block houses which faced the Sandusky River, one on each corner and one in the middle. The remainder of the fortress was enclosed by pickets, which were about 12 inches in diameter, and driven straight into the ground. Old bayonets were driven in horizontally at the top, steadying the adjacent logs. Soil was piled around it's exterior to solidify the entire structure, forming a ditch all the way around. Within the fort's limits was a large spring of clear water, and the stockade's expanse would hold about 500 men.

Immediately upon the new fort's completion, Col. Ball and his men were rushed north toward Fort Stephenson to relieve Col. Croghan of his command, as Croghan had refused Harrison's order to abandon the besieged fort. On the way to Stephenson, Ball was attacked by indians at the place now known as "Ball's Battlefield". Not a man was lost, but 17 indians were slain at that place. Miraculously, Col. Croghan was able to defend Fort Stephenson as well. Brooks Beery was stationed at Fort Ball in July of 1813, and was with Col. Ball in his march toward Fort Stephenson. He reported being able to hear the guns of Fort Stephenson from Fort Seneca during Major Croghan's famous defense of that place in defiance of the order to abandon the Lower Sandusky Fort. The remarkable courage and gallantry of Ball, Croghan and their men, kept this critical supply route open and secure for the army's use.

Even though the majority of the indians were allied with the British, the indians along the Sandusky were an exception. The Seneca, Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee & Miami nations of Ohio all pledged their allegiance to the United States. A later treaty of friendship was signed by the following Senecas of the Sandusky. Coontindnau or Coffee Houn, Togwon, Endosquierunt or John Harris, Cantareteroo, Cuntahentuhwa or Big Turtle, Renonnesa or Wiping Stick, Corachcoonke or Reflection or Civil John, Coonautanahtoo, Seeistahe or Black, Tooteeandee or Thomas Brand, Haneusewa, and Lutauqueson.

One man, Thomas Day, of the 2nd Regiment of Ohio Militia was listed as sick at Fort Stephenson  in November of 1813. He died from illness at Fort Ball December 11, 1813. He is but one of a number of men who paid the ultimate price, and were buried at Fort Ball. Very few of these men actually died in battle. After the war, and nearly up to the year 1900, the bodies of soldiers were occasionally exhumed near the site of Fort Ball in the course of constructing improvements. All traces of these graves are now lost, as it is unlikely that they were ever marked with stone. A large monument was constructed on the site of Fort Ball after the Civil War, and it makes mention of Fort Ball.

Christian Foster enlisted with the Virginia troops at the age of 16, and was stationed at Fort Ball. After the war he returned with his wife and family. He was the ancestor of Charles Foster who later became Governor of Ohio, and for whom Fostoria was named.

This appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine of August, 1863, "Scenes in the War of 1812", by Benson J. Lossing.
     "It was four o'clock in the afternoon when the flag of the Detroit was struck. When Perry’s eye perceived, at a
     glance, that victory was sure, he wrote in pencil on the back of an old letter, resting it upon his navy cap, that
     remarkable dispatch to General Harrison whose first clause has been so often quoted:
     'We have met the enemy and they are ours:
     Two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.
     Yours with great respect and esteem,
      0. H. PERRY.”
Later in the same article, General Harrison receives the glorious news:
     "Pressing forward with his staff, he heard, at Fort Ball (now Tiffin, Ohio), of Perry’s victory. Thrilled with joy, he
     sent couriers to his commanders with orders for them to hasten forward. Hope and promise every where
     prevailed. Energy marked every movement; and on the 16th of September, the whole army of the Northwest,
     excepting the troops at Fort Meigs and minor posts, were on the borders of Erie, camped on the pleasant
     peninsula between Sandusky Bay and the lake below the mouth of the Portage River, now Port Clinton."

In 1833, 20 years after the construction of Fort Ball, a "company muster", or reunion, was held near the site of the old fort. William Lang remembered watching this muster with his friend Christopher Snyder while sitting under a small sycamore bush. That bush had sprouted up from underneath an old log which was embedded in the ground, a remnant of the old fort. That sycamore tree survives to this day, in the year 2000. It's huge base is protected by a wrought iron fence, and there is a marker attached to it which commemorates Fort Ball. (see photo below)

In September of 2000, Fort Ball was finally recognized for it's historical value. An Ohio Historical marker is now present near the site of Fort Ball. It stands near the statue of the Indian Maiden, which has long marked the spot where the freshwater spring once rose within the old fort. (see photo below)

The statue of the Indian Maiden of Fort Ball, and the marker on it's base.
The statue was officially unveiled in a public ceremony on October 11, 1926.
Photos by Stephen J. Hartzell

The Fort Ball Sycamore Tree and the marker that is attached to it.
Photos by Stephen J. Hartzell