Richland County is just an arbitrary boundary on the edge of the Midwest, and in many ways it is just like any number of other signs along the highway; but it has long been one of the storied crossroads of the US, and has a most intriguing way of intersecting with American History.
One of these stories has to do with William Henry Harrison who, as commander of the American Army of the Northwest, made an appearance in Richland County that proved to be a critical demonstration of the poise and strength of character that won him respect and loyalty, and ultimately, led him to become the 9th President of the United States.
Harrison the President
On coins and stamps he is usually seen as an old man because that’s what he looked like when he was President; but he actually was a young man once, and he was only 39 when he rode his horse through the square in Mansfield.
He was the man who was given responsibility for dealing with the great conflict in the Ohio frontier when Tecumseh united tribal forces to drive the Americans out of the west. Harrison was also the man who led the US forces against the Tribes at the Battle of the Thames when Tecumseh was killed.
He emerged from the War of 1812 as an American celebrity and then, known as the Hero of Tippecanoe, he ran for President in 1840. He was promoted as a ‘candidate of the people,’ who rose from a common upbringing that started when he was born in a log cabin. Harrison was the first of those ‘Log Cabin’ presidents long before Lincoln.
His election was never much in doubt and he was ushered into the White House with great hope; but he is also known as the President with the shortest term of office because he died 32 days after being sworn in. Harrison was there long enough to get himself carved into stone among the pantheon of American heroes.
The Wilderness Background in 1812
In October of 1812 Richland County was on land that had been acquired by the United States by Treaty, but it was still north of the Greenville Treaty Line where most of the Ohio tribes thought the United States ended and Indian Lands began.
A series of forts west of here were supposed to establish our official presence in Ohio and keep the peace, but in 1812 Mansfield was the very edge of American settlements.
No one had to tell the settlers here what to expect if the Tribes decided to take back their land, and it was well known that the British were supplying the Indians with guns and ammunition just to make that possible. So it was a time of terrific tension and fear around these parts
The United States stronghold that was supposed to keep all of these little settlements safe was up in Detroit; and when the Fort at Detroit surrendered in August, everything west of Richland County was considered no-man’s land where any kind of terror and violence could be going on.
It was at that time when General Beall organized an army of volunteers in eastern Ohio and set out towards the west to stand as a buffer between Mansfield and the danger zone.
When Beall’s army got to about the middle of Richland County they found a likely campground near the two main roads through this part of the forest: one was an ancient tribal route called the Great Trail that went east and west; and the other was a newly forged north-south road that had been cut from Mansfield to Lake Erie at Huron, Ohio.
They called the site where they stopped “Camp Council.”
Beall’s army had 2000 men in it, and when they arrived at the site of Camp Council in the fall, they had been chopping their way through the woods for several weeks and away from home for a couple months. Though they had been mustered into the US Army under emergency conditions, they had yet to see anything like pay or supplies or uniforms or food.
They all left home with fantasies of great victories in consequential Indian wars and had been holding their breaths day after day for some kind of action. Instead they were encountering back-breaking labor and doing battle with mosquitoes and rattlesnakes.
By October 22 the force was on the verge of open rebellion.
That was the night that a stranger came into camp.
The Sentry Post
The stranger on horseback was stopped at the entrance to the camp by a guard who asked him for the countersign, and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t know it. The gentleman jabbered for a while about protocol and it was clear that he was stalling for time, which didn’t increase his chances any of escaping without a bullet in him.
Fortunately someone was roused who recognized that he was Major General William Henry Harrison.
The next morning at sunrise Harrison had the troops summoned to hear him speak. Many of the men arrived at the dawn assembly with their backpacks already on their backs ready to depart for home as soon as the speechifying was finished.
The Turning Point in History
It is often true that the most poignant moments in history pass by so quickly that they are not recognized until after they are gone. No one knows exactly what Harrison said to his army that day.
There is a version of the speech that was written down many years later by some old soldier who said he would never forget it, but his rendition lacks the inspiration that Harrison must have imparted that day: because after he spoke not a single man left Camp Council.
In many respects the war may have ended that day in Richland County, simply dying of inertia as the army disintegrated. Instead William Henry Harrison rose to the occasion and with words alone inspired a new dedication of purpose and patriotic fervor.
Not a man walked away from the US Army that day. They all went on to do their duty, and were recognized for decades afterward as heroes of the War of 1812.
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