Why were there two tunnels at Fort Jefferson? Part 1


GREENVILLE — Fort Jefferson was the first fort built 70 miles north of Fort Hamilton in an intact wilderness. It preceded Fort St. Clair, Greene Ville, and Fort Recovery by two years. It was built as a support fort for St. Clair’s Army. The army left Fort Jefferson and two weeks later camped 28 miles north on a tributary of the Wabash. The next morning Indians attacked, and St. Clair’s army was routed. It had taken St. Clair’s army two weeks to reach the battle area where Fort Recovery would later be built, and the remnants of that army returned to Fort Jefferson in one day. The soldiers had dropped their weapons and baggage and ran for their lives.

Fort Jefferson was only 100’ x 100’ in size and could keep about 116 men comfortably at the time. After the battle, there were about 40 wounded men that could not make the trip back to Fort Washington. Food rations were scarce. Those that held the fort were expecting to be attacked at any moment. Fortunately, the Indians did not attack the fort head on, but for the next two years they laid siege around the fort. Any soldier leaving the fort to hunt food took his chances.

There was a spring about 90 feet down a hill from the southwest bastion of the fort. A sally port gate was at that bastion. Men would stand guard as water was drawn for fort use. It seemed safe enough since all the trees had been cut down, and the spring was surrounded by a swamp to the west. It was in August 1792, when men watering their animals were fired upon by the Indians. One man took a ball in his hip; he and the others made for the fort. It was a narrow escape.

This must have been the incentive for the first tunnel to be dug for safe access to the spring. When the fort was excavated in 1930, the tunnel was found. It was a 3-foot deep trench lined with puncheon logs six foot high. The trench dirt was thrown to reinforce the sides and cover the log roof. The tunnel was partly underground and partly above ground. It appears that a spring house was built under roof at the spring. This tunnel and spring house are shown in a drawing of the fort that resides at the Indiana Historical Society.

The story of tunnel number two will follow in the next article.

A book “Fort Jefferson” written by historian Frazer Wilson is available for sale at Garst Museum.

Friends of Fort Jefferson will be selling memberships at Darke County Parks “Prairie Days” and a Fort Jefferson book will be free with each membership sold.

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