News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 2, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: ‘Fort Harrison in 1812’ offers look at the past

By Judy Francis
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sept. 4 marks the 200th anniversary of the battle of Fort Harrison. In recent weeks, historian Mike McCormick, Barbara Carney, assistant director of the Vigo County Historical Museum, and Museum volunteer Jan Buffington have written about the men, women and children who helped defend the fort.

This week’s focus is on the historical treasure “Fort Harrison in 1812,” painted by Walter Ruggles Sies (1847-1925). Sies lived in Terre Haute from approximately 1880-1885 and returned in 1889 to spend more years in the city.

In 1895 Sies appeared before the Terre Haute City Council to propose an oil painting that he would create from existing old engravings. With the funding secured, Sies went to work and presented the painting to the city on May 7, 1895. During his presentation speech, Col. William E. McLean commented that “Fort Harrison in 1812” is a faithful representation of the fort. He added that Fort Harrison was not meant to be a political runnery but to serve as a headquarters for the small army and to provide a place of safety for citizens in the event their homes were attacked.

Although the fort no longer stands, the historic painting, which shows how the fort looked when approached from the Wabash River, endures. The 6-by-8 feet oil on canvas in a gilded wood frame hung for a time in the City Council Chamber. Later it went to the reading room of the Fairbanks Library and then moved to the Swope Art Gallery. It is now owned by the Vigo County Historical Society, where it hangs in the director’s office.