Today we don’t realize it but the 1777 attack on Fort Henry was a Big Deal. So much so that a New Deal project of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt commemorates the 1777 event.
How many of us have ever been in the Cove Station Post Office in Weirton? It is in downtown and sits a block off of Main Street, right behind the Main Office of the First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union. The Post office contains a large, and excellent mural of men, garbed as frontiersmen likely were, carrying flintlock rifles and proceeding through a misty forest, being led by a Native American scout. The painted caption says it all: “In 1777 John Schoolcraft notified Capt. Bilderbock at Holidays Cove that the Wyandottes and Mingoes were gathering for a raid on Wheeling. Together they led a party of settlers to the rescue, which under cover of a dense fog, arrived at the Fort in time to drive off the attack.” In fact, probably fifteen or so men went with Col. Van Swearingen to relieve Fort Henry. Thirty more men came from Ramsey’s Fort on the Buffalo Creek. Two companies of men came from Catfish Camp, today known as Washington, Pennsylvania and a another group of perhaps thirty men arrived from Fort Vanmetre located on the Ohio at the mouth of Short Creek. The latter group was led by Captain Samuel McCulloch.
According to Newton’s History of the Panhandle, McColloch became separated from his men near the entrance to the Fort. The men gained entrance but he was cut off. Further, according to this source, the Indians attempted to capture him alive as “his reputation as an Indian hunter was as great, if not greater, than any white man on the northwest border…Among the Indians his name was a word of terror….”McColloch could only escape by urging his horse up the slopes away from the River and the Fort. At the top he found himself hemmed in by attackers on three sides, with the fourth side being the 150 foot drop to Wheeling Creek. His only escape was to urge his horse to leap, which it did and obtaining some footing on the way down he and the horse both survived without serious injury and made their way across the creek to safety. (See Newton pp 103-104.)
And what of our intrepid group from Holidays Cove? They headed south in a large canoe, under cover of night and fog. Unfortunately in the inadequate light of that night they were unable to accurately ascertain their location. Eventually, they just drifted with the current for fear of passing the Fort. As dawn approached they could ascertain a glow from a burning. They knew not whether the fire came from the burning of the Fort or other sources. Their original P\plan to achieve entrance to the Fort under the cover of darkness now thwarted, they landed some of the men above the estimated place of the Fort to reconnoiter. Col. Swearingen, Capt. Bildubock (sic) and William Boshears volunteered for this service, and moving forward with caution they soon reached the uncaptured, unburned fort. Fearful that the attackers were still hiding in the cornfield they left by a circuitous route and returned in a like manner unchallenged. However, the glow that they initially saw was caused by the Indians burning nearly all of the homes and other structures of Wheeling.
Upon their exploration of the battlefield, the local contingent discover the twenty-three corpses of Ogle’s and Meason’s men. Few had been shot. Most had been dispatched by tomahawk and scalping. The carcasses of more than 300 cattle, horses and hogs littered the landscape. Of the thirty-three men in Fort Henry only one suffered a slight wound. The defenders estimated that they killed over 100 of the attackers. Since they were mostly excellent shots this is possible but not likely. One only has to consider the accounts of aerial combat during WWII where fighter pilots attacking enemy bomber formations would report having shot down two to three times the actual number destroyed. It is likely that some Indians would stand up and drop from time to time, getting the defenders to deplete their ammunition.
This brief “siege” was not the last action in Wheeling. There was more to come.
So why is there a mural at the Cove Station Post Office? The Federal Art Project (1935-1943) was a WPA project to keep art alive in America and to hold artists responsible to produce much like non-artists employed by the WPA were held accountable for ditches dug and bricks laid. Charles Chapman the artist in question, was quite good and his paintings still sell, generally in the $500 to $5000 range.
Something I forgot from an earlier column; That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is can be punctuated to make sense of the words, Try: That, that is, is. That, that is not, is not. Is that it? It is.
Next time I will finish Fort Henry and Betty Zane. I used the same sources here as in my last two columns.