Kentucky War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission

Remembering the River Raisin and the War in the Old Northwest Territory
7 November 2011 through 30 June 2015

Document last updated: March 8, 2006

Executive Summary

The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest Territory was fought in large part by Kentucky militiamen, the predecessors of today’s Kentucky National Guard. These brave men who served their nation deserve to have their service and sacrifice remembered. Some 1,200 of the 25,000 men Kentucky supplied for the war effort were killed and many of their remains were never recovered or their final resting-places properly marked.

Efforts are already underway in many states and in Canada to plan for the commemoration of the War of 1812. Since no battles in the war were fought within Kentucky, these valiant efforts are at risk of being overlooked in the planning now underway.

This document contains a brief discussion of the history and Kentucky’s involvement in the War of 1812; a survey of known national and international efforts to establish bicentennial organizations that neglect Kentucky’s 1,200 sons who died in this war; recommendations to seek amendment of national legislation to include Kentucky; discussion of enabling Legislation to Create a Kentucky War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission and additional background information.

Discussion of history and Kentucky’s involvement in the War of 1812

General William Henry Harrison, a former Kentucky Militia officer serving as governor of the Indiana Territory, led a 1,000-man force into the Old Northwest Territory to attack Tecumseh’s Indian alliance. In this force were 100 members of the Kentucky Militia under Colonel Daviess. Harrison’s force was attacked in the early morning hours of 7 November 1811 near present day Lafayette, Indiana. While the Battle of Tippecanoe is not officially considered part of the War of 1812, it is often grouped with it and is often cited as one of a chain of events that directly led to the declaration of war. The British stirred up trouble between the Indians and Kentucky’s frontier families before hostilities became formalized and paid for scalps.

Harrison had 190 men killed or wounded, including several Kentuckians, nearly 20% of his force. In his report he claimed a great victory which he later used as part of his 1840 presidential campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" ("Tyler" was John Tyler, who was a captain of a rifle company in the Virginia militia during the War of 1812). . Tecumseh and Harrison would later face each other in battle several times.

Service in the war of 1812 aided many in their aspiration for political office. Andrew Jackson was the first to win the Presidency (1829-37) on the basis of his defeat of the British at New Orleans and his popularity as a military man. William Henry Harrison died only a month after taking the oath of office in 1841 made his name as commander of the Army in the Northwest. John Tyler (1841-45) was the 10th President of the United States and succeeding his running mate Harrison when he died shortly after taking office. Zachary Taylor (1849-50), a career military man, first won notoriety for his defense of Fort Harrison in the War of 1812. Richard Johnson served as Vice President from 1837 to 1841 under Martin Van Buren.

Closer to home eight Kentucky Governor’s had service in the War of 1812: Isaac Shelby, George Madison, John Adair, Joseph Desha, Thomas Metcalf, Charles Anderson Wickliffe, Robert Perkins Letcher and John Jordan Crittenden. Countless soldiers served in the Kentucky General Assembly and other elected offices across the state in part on reputations won in the War of 1812.

The flag of the United States of America during the War of 1812 included fifteen stars and fifteen stripes with the last star and stripe representing Kentucky. On 13 January 1794 Congress changed the law to continue the practice of adding a star and stripe for every new state. Vermont was the 14th on 4 March 1791 and Kentucky the 15th on 1 June 1792. The flag remained in this configuration until 4 April 1818 when the law changed to return to 13 stripes and to add a new star for every state.

War Is Declared

Kentuckians formed volunteer companies even before the War of 1812 broke out and in numbers far in excess of what the United States government called for. The most memorable battle of the war, as far as the Kentucky Militia was concerned, was that of the Battle of Frenchtown and subsequent massacre at the River Raisin. This involved a detachment of 990 Kentucky militiamen who were ordered to attack Canadian troops at Frenchtown (present day Monroe, Michigan). On January 18, 1813, the Kentucky forces met the British and Indian troops who were compelled to retreat.

Unnoticed by American forces, an additional 2,000 British and Indians reinforced the existing enemy forces and overwhelmed the United States regulars. Kentuckians, regardless of rank, united to bring these regulars within their picket line but were unable to do so. Not a single Kentuckian who passed that picket line ever returned.

The British, now in complete control of the situation, offered terms of surrender which were accepted. Portions of these terms were later violated when an adequate guard was not furnished by the British, as stipulated in the surrender, for the protection of the American wounded against feared Indian retaliation. As a result, all of the wounded were massacred, including a great number of Kentuckians.

When the news of the slaughter reached Kentucky it served as an immediate call to arms, the Legislature appealed to the then sixty-two-year-old Governor and Revolutionary War hero Isaac Shelby to personally take active command of the volunteer militia companies that were being organized as reinforcements. Shelby was the only seated Kentucky Governor to lead troops in battle. A request from General Harrison to Governor Shelby asked for only 2,000 reinforcements, but 4,000 enthusiastic Kentucky volunteers were formed in Newport and immediately sent to General Harrison's aid. This was in addition to a brigade formed under the command of General Green Clay (father of Cassius M. Clay) that was rushed to Fort Meigs.

On September 10, 1813, Commodore Perry engaged and overcame the British Fleet, which gave Harrison command of Lake Erie and, with it, power to throw a large land force against the British then occupying Detroit. It was then that Governor Shelby, personally leading his Kentucky reinforcements, caused the Lake Erie contingent to join the United States regulars and engage the Indian forces of Chief Tecumseh who was reinforcing the British on the upper Thames.

"Remember the Raisin"

Under the command of "Old Tippecanoe" William Henry Harrison and the battle cry "Remember the Raisin," a Kentucky regiment of mounted riflemen led by Colonel Richard M. Johnson marched one hundred miles to conquer General Henry A. Proctor's British Regulars at Ontario, Canada, in the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. William Henry Harrison, former territorial governor of Indiana, had received his commission as Major General of the Kentucky Militia from the Kentucky General Assembly and Richard M. Johnson was reputed to have slain the great Indian war chief Tecumseh, thus breaking the hold of the British and Indians on the Northwest. Johnson went on to serve as Vice-President of the United States (1837-1841) under President Martin Van Buren. This action broke the back of the Indian threat to Kentucky ending years of raids from the north.

The Battle of New Orleans found 2,500 Kentuckians composing one-fourth of General Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson's army of regulars, Tennessee Militia, Creole Louisiana Militia, free Negroes, Lafitte's pirates and city volunteer militia. Even though Jackson's forces were outnumbered by the British, their determination and expert marksmanship, combined with the imaginative leadership of General Jackson, enabled them to handily defeat the superior British force. In 45 minutes the battle was over. Jackson’s forces had taken 500 British soldiers prisoner and killed or wounded 2,100 Redcoats as compared to the 700 American casualties suffered. So ended the War of 1812 in which the Kentucky Militia had played a pivotal role.

Kentuckians Were 64% of Men Killed in the War

During the War of 1812 Kentucky furnished a total of 40 regiments of volunteer militia, as well as a number of battalions and separate companies, more than 25,000 men. Americans killed in action during the war totaled 1,876, of this total approximately 1,200, about 64% were from Kentucky.

It is worth noting that not only did Kentucky provide the bulk of the men to prosecute the war but Kentucky caves, Mammoth Cave in particular, were nearly the only source of nitrate used to make gunpowder for the war after England placed an embargo on the United States at the outbreak of the war.

There are still Kentuckians buried in unmarked graves at "Kentucky Hill" at Fort Meigs and at locations across the Old Northwest Territory.

NOTE: For an overview of the War of 1812 and its causes go to the United States Army’s American Military History here

Kentucky Neglected In National and International Efforts to Recognize the Bicentennial

June 1, 2012 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the declaration of war that officially began the War of 1812. However, the Battle of Tippecanoe on 7 November 1811 lit the fuse that began the conflict in the Old Northwest Territory. The Bicentennial period will run through June 30, 2015.

Bills Filed in Congress

United States Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Congressman Ben Cardin of Maryland have filed legislation HR 2052 and S 959 to create the "Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission". The legislation envisions a multi-state effort to commemorate these significant events in the history.

The "Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission Act" - Establishes the Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission to encourage, plan, develop, coordinate, and execute programs, observances, and activities commemorating the historic events that preceded and are associated with the War of 1812. Requires the Commission to prepare a strategic plan and annual performance plans for any activity carried out by the Commission and terminates the Commission on December 31, 2015.

The bills initially made no mention of Kentucky or the many brave Kentuckians who died in the war. S.959 has since been amended to include several more states including Kentucky. It passed the US Senate in December of 2005 and was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform.

International Efforts

In Monroe, Michigan, site of the River Raisin battlefield, newspaper articles detail their planning for events and tourism is well underway and speaks of an international effort by Detroit, Chicago, Canada and other areas in a cooperative bicentennial celebration. The Canadian American Chamber of Commerce has apparently also copyrighted the term "War of 1812 Bicentennial".

Enabling Legislation to Create a Kentucky War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission

Given the current federal legislation pending and international efforts, Kentucky can not and should not depend on others to recognize and commemorate the many Kentuckians who served and those who were wounded or died in the War of 1812, many of whom still lie in unmarked and mass graves across the Old Northwest Territory. These men deserve to be recognized, remembered and to have their final resting place, many where they fell in service to this nation, marked with appropriate historical markers and/or military headstones when possible.

Legislation would be required to form the Kentucky War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. The legislation could be modeled on the recently enacted Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission as set forth in KRS 171.347-349

The Kentucky War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission could begin in July of 2006 to allow ample time to research historical information, plan events and seek partnerships in efforts with other states and the national commemoration efforts. The commemoration period would run from 7 November 2011 through 30 June 2015 and the Commission could expire on 31 December 2015. No funding would be required until 2008 or 2010.

Suggestions for consideration in the legislation:

Membership might include the Adjutant General, Tourism / Commerce / Parks, Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society, Executive Director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, Education Cabinet; College and University personnel such as current and former professors of history as well as legislative and citizen members from across the state.

Study and recommend activities to commemorate the war and the Kentuckians who died.

Background information

War of 1812 Significant Kentucky Dates
Potential Commemorative Events

17 November 1811 — Battle of Tippecanoe (Near Lafayette IN)

18 June 1812 — U. S. declares war on Great Britain (Washington DC)

15 August 1812 — Fort Dearborn Massacre (Chicago, IL)

3 September 1812 — Pigeon Roost Massacre (?Clark County, IN)

September-December 1812 — General Hopkins campaign against Indian villages In Indiana and Illinois Territories.

17-18 December 1812 — Battle of Mississinewa (near Marion IN)

18 January 1813 — Battle of Frenchtown (Monroe MI)

22-23 January 1813 — River Raisin Massacre The battle-cry throughout the remainder of the war in the Old Northwest was "Remember the Raisin." (Monroe MI)

1-9 May 1813 — First Siege of Fort Meigs (Toledo OH)

5 May 1813 — Dudley's Defeat (Maumee OH)

26-28 July 1813 — Second Siege of Fort Meigs (Toledo OH)

31 July 1813 — KY Governor Isaac Shelby issues call for troops

02 August 1813 — Battle of Fort Stephenson (Sandusky OH)

10 September 1813 — Battle of Lake Erie (Put-in-Bay, OH)

05 October 1813 — Battle of the Thames (Near Chatham, Ontario Canada)

26 October - 17 November 1813 — McArthur's Raid through the Thames Valley (Vicinity Chatham, Ontario Canada)

24 December 1813 — Treaty of Ghent signed officially ending the war (Ghent, Belgium).

08 January 1814 — Battle of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)


Kentucky Counties Named in Honor of Heroes of the War of 1812

When we consider that 30 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, twenty-five percent, are named after individuals of renown earned in the old northwest in the War of 1812 (including the Battle of Tippecanoe*), you can see what an impact this war had on the popular culture of the day.

Adair County — General John Adair

Allen County — Colonel John Allen

Ballard County — Captain Bland W. Ballard

Clay County — General Green Clay

Crittenden County — John J. Crittenden

Daviess County — Colonel Joseph H. Daviess*

Edmonson County — Captain John Edmonson

Graves County — Major Benjamin Graves

Hart County — Captain Nathaniel G. T. Hart

Hickman County — Captain Paschal Hickman

Hopkins County — General Samuel Hopkins

Jackson County — General Andrew Jackson

Johnson County — Colonel Richard M. Johnson

Kenton County — Simon Kenton

Lawrence County — Captain James Lawrence

Meade County — Captain James Meade

McCracken County — Captain Virgil McCracken

McLean County — Captain Alney McLean

Madison County — President James Madison

Meade County — Captain James Meade

Metcalfe County — General Thomas Metcalfe

Owen County — Colonel Abraham Owen *

Perry County — Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

Pike County — General Zebulon Pike

Russell County — Colonel William Russell

Shelby County — Colonel Isaac Shelby

Simpson County — Captain John Simpson

Spencer County —Captain Spears Spencer *

Taylor County — General Zachary Taylor

Whitley County — Colonel William Whitley

* Killed at the Battle of Tippecanoe (Near Lafayette IN) on 7 November 1811. While the Battle of Tippecanoe is not officially considered part of the War of 1812, it is often grouped with it and is often cited as one of a chain of events that directly led to the declaration of war and was waged against members of Tecumseh’s confederation.

Counties Located in Other States Named Honoring Kentucky Heroes of the War of 1812:


ILLINOIS: Daviess, Shelby

INDIANA: Allen, Daviess, Owen, Shelby, Spencer, Warrick, and Whitley

IOWA: Adair, Johnson, Shelby

MISSOURI: Adair, Daviess, Johnson


OHIO: Allen

TEXAS: Shelby

Kentucky War of 1812 Sites Identified in the National Park Service Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study

The Associated Historic Properties List consists of historic sites or places which have a tangible connection to either the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. This is a companion list to the Battle Sites and includes such things as properties dealing with commerce, agriculture, social history, and government; related military sites which never saw any direct military action [headquarters, encampments, etc]; and other significant places associated with these two wars.

Bourbon Iron Works - Bath County

The Bourbon Furnace was built in 1791 by Jacob Myers from Richmond, VA. Originally the furnace was built to cast five gallon kegs to be used in the boiling of sap and added the production of nails, cooking utensils and other items. In 1807, owners of the furnace contracted with the federal government to supply cannon balls to the United States Navy; by 1810 it was producing cannon balls and grape shot. During the War of 1812, the Army was without adequate equipment and the government increased its orders. Cannon balls, canister and grape shot were now being supplied to the Army.

Great Saltpeter Cave – Rockcastle County

One of the best known caves in southeast Kentucky, Great Saltpeter Cave was discovered by John Baker late in the eighteenth century. It was one of the chief sources of saltpeter for making gunpowder in the early nineteenth century. Mining was intensive during the War of 1812, employing sixty to seventy people from the area. The Mexican and Civil Wars later stimulated limited additional production.

Mammoth Cave – Edmonson County

The largest collection of remains of saltpeter mining operation from the War of 1812. These works, among others in the region, helped to supply saltpeter to the E.I. Dupont gunpowder factory, which in turn used the saltpeter to manufacture gunpowder for the war effort. Saltpeter production at Mammoth Cave in 1812 was probably somewhere near 10,000 lbs. (Faust 1967:77) The operation likely ran from circa 1810 to circa 1815. The remains consist of large wooden vats, intact wooden pipelines, and partial remains of an intricate pumping system, as well as extensive mounds of leached soils related to the operation. The resource is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as being nationally significant. During the War of 1812 the partnership of Wilkins and Gratz mined significant quantities of saltpeter from Mammoth Cave. DuPont de Nemours and Company bought the mine production for manufacturing gunpowder, known as black powder, which was made up of about 80% saltpeter & 20% sulfur-charcoal. According to early sources, Mammoth Cave saltpeter was very high in quality and in quantity per bushel of cave dirt. Records indicate that Dupont sold at least 750,000 pounds of black powder to the U.S. government during the War of 1812, which would have accounted for 570,000 pounds of saltpeter, according to one historian. Even considering that approximately 275,000 pounds of saltpeter were on hand prior to the start of hostilities, DuPont bought a significant quantity of saltpeter from Wilkins and others during the war, giving Mammoth Cave a significant role in the U.S. prosecution of the war against Great Britain. Additional public comment: it is not known who first became aware of saltpeter mixed with the fine dry cave dirt in Mammoth Cave, but because of this valuable nitrate influential men became interested in the cave. Men, who were later to realize its significance, not only as a source of a critically needed nitrate, but also as one of the world's natural wonders. The embargo which England placed on the United States immediately upon the outbreak of the War of 1812 made it impossible to obtain needed supplies from foreign sources. Nitrates, necessary in the manufacture of gunpowder, were shut off from American use and nitrous earth from Mammoth Cave was practically the only nitrate available for making the gunpowder needed to carry on the war. Additional public comment: Mammoth Cave's War of 1812 saltpeter works were operated entirely by black slaves, more than 70 of them according to the record.

Newport Barracks – Campbell County

Newport Barracks, which was built as an arsenal in 1803, was the major rendezvous point and supply center for Kentucky troops who participated in the Northwestern campaigns of Gen. William Henry Harrison. Kentucky troops rendezvoused here in August 1812 for their march to Detroit, originally to relieve Gen. Hull, but later to capture Frenchtown (Jan. 18, 1813) and engage, and be defeated by, a combined British and Native American/Canadian force at the Battle of River Raisin (Jan. 22, 1813). Troops again rendezvoused here in August 1813 for Harrison's Northwest campaign which culminated in the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. Newport Barracks was also used as a prison to house 400 enemy soldiers in 1814.


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