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Published: Sunday, 7/4/2004

Fort Meigs makes history on the 4th

Cousins Emma Reed and Brandon Oatman hold their ears as a cannon is fired during Fourth of July events at Fort Meigs. Cousins Emma Reed and Brandon Oatman hold their ears as a cannon is fired during Fourth of July events at Fort Meigs.

If Eugene Watkins had been a soldier in the 7th U.S Infantry at Fort Meigs on July 4, 1813, he most likely would have taken part in festivities toasting America's Independence Day.

Gen. William Henry Harrison built the fort on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River in 1813 to protect northwest Ohio and Indiana from British invasion.

There were two bloody sieges staged by British, Canadian, and Indian forces in 1813, one in May and a second in late July, but on the Fourth of July, the American soldiers had time to enjoy a brief pause in the fighting and celebrate America's independence.

"We have a little bit of an idea of what it was like on that day," Mr. Watkins, a doctoral candidate in early republic history at the University of Toledo, said yesterday.

He was dressed like the 12 soldiers of the 7th U.S. Infantry who had fought at Fort Meigs that year - a black hat with a white plume, sack slung over his shoulder, a thick blue overcoat with white stripes, and white cotton pants.

Yesterday, as the artillery re-enactors blasted three cannon in the fort's parade grounds, Brad and Natalie Oatman of Sylvania watched in amusement from the shade of a tree.

With them were their daughters Madison and Emma and 5-year-old son Brandon, who covered his ears to protect them from the deafening sound of the artillery.

"We really enjoy watching the historical battles re-enacted," Mr. Oatman said. "We were here last month watching the siege of 1813." Their young son has grown to love the history of the events that took place at the fort nearly 200 years ago, he added.

One of the largest log forts in America today, Fort Meigs' 66.2 acres are guarded by seven blockhouses, a fence made of sharpened wooden logs, earthen embankments, and five batteries of cannon stationed at key points along the wall.

Standing at a battery station overlooking the Maumee-Perrysburg Bridge, two re-enactors said that living conditions during the war were grim at best. More than 1,500 men were housed in tents, six to a tent. During the spring, mud was knee-high and many of the men died of disease.

Yesterday was the first time David Brown of Sylvania had been inside the fort. He said he wanted to be "reminded of the people and the sacrifice they made for us."

A cannon salute and ceremony is set at 2 p.m. today at Fort Meigs to honor those who served in the War of 1812.

Contact Karamagi Rujumba at: krujumba@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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