William Dudley was an important American military commander during the War of 1812.
Dudley was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Typical of many other Americans at this time, as a young man, Dudley sought to make his fortune west of the Appalachian Mountains in what is now Kentucky. He settled in Fayette County, Kentucky. He eventually became a magistrate, a position that he held for numerous years. Dudley also served in the Kentucky militia, and with the War of 1812's outbreak, he was a colonel of the 13th Regiment of Kentucky Militia.
In the spring of 1813, Dudley and the 13th Regiment of Kentucky Militia were under the command of General Green Clay. Clay was ordered to take his command, consisting of approximately 1,200 militiamen, to Fort Meigs in northwestern Ohio. General William Henry Harrison ordered his men to build Fort Meigs on the southern bank of the Maumee River in February 1813. This fort was to serve as a supply depot and a staging area for the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812. Fort Meigs was a large fort. Walls made of earth and pointed logs enclosed nearly ten acres. The fort had seven blockhouses and approximately seventy-five cannons. An army of British soldiers and American Indians attacked the fort in April 1813. British cannons bombarded the fort, and American Indian warriors ambushed American soldiers when they came outside. A siege resulted.
On May 4, 1813, Clay's nearly 1,200 reinforcements neared Fort Meigs. General Harrison directed Clay to dispatch eight hundred men to attack and disable a British artillery position on the morning of May 5, 1813. Colonel Dudley led the attack against the British, and his force succeeded in disabling the British cannons and driving the British soldiers from the field.
Against their commander's direct orders, Dudley's men pursued some American Indians into the forest instead of continuing their march to Fort Meigs. The American Indian groups attacked, and after several hours of fierce fighting, 220 Americans were dead, including Dudley. The assembled American Indian forces captured another 350 men. Only two hundred survivors successfully reached Fort Meigs. Dudley was shot in at least one leg and in his torso. According to one account, the natives scalped Dudley and then dismembered his body.
While Dudley's Defeat was a defeat for the American military, the destruction of the British cannon helped convince the British soldiers to lift their siege of Fort Meigs. The American Indians persuaded the British to attack the fort again in July 1813, but once again, the American defenders were victorious. The two successful defenses of Fort Meigs were an important victory for the Americans. It marked the beginning of the end for the British in the Northwest Territory.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.