News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 28, 2013

Historical perspective: Venard: soldier in the War of 1812

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — His name was Stephen Venard.

For more than 50 years he resided in Terre Haute, without fanfare, with his wife and a daughter. Much of that time was spent in the 400 block on N. First St.

Though his teeth were nearly gone and his voice was impaired by the ravages of time, he remained healthy well into his 80s. He kept his long gray beard trim and tidy.

Born in Virginia in 1792, Venard was visiting relatives near the town of Louisville, near the falls of the Ohio River, in September 1812 when he learned that the esteemed Shawnee chief Tecumseh “and a thousand warriors” were planning to attack Fort Harrison on the upper Wabash River in the Indiana Territory.

Venard and about 2,500 others responded to “a call for volunteers” for 25 days’ service. Within a day, he was mounted and on his way into the “Northern Wilderness” under the command of Lt. Col. John Thomas.

Though Venard enjoyed reliving battles of the war, his reminiscences apparently were not published until a reporter for the Terre Haute Express cornered him at his residence in the summer of 1875.

He vividly remembered the trek from Louisville to the “French town of Vincennes” and the march from Vincennes to a camp site six miles south of Fort Harrison on Honey Creek.

According to Venard, the forces under Tecumseh were camped on the south side of the fort not far from Third and Buckeye streets, where Capt. Philip Monninger’s later established vineyards and a winery.

It was reported to Venard and his associates that Capt. Zachary Taylor, in command of Fort Harrison, had the services of only 18 men and two women, and two of the men were in the fort hospital. So discouraged were the occupants that two soldiers, under cover of darkness, tried to escape from the fort but ran into an ambush.

One of them was shot and quartered and the four sections of his body were hung from four different bushes, where they remained for several days.

The other soldier returned to the fort in haste, but the fort guard did not recognize the man’s voice and, taking him as an enemy, shot him. The wound did not kill the soldier. He gained entry at another gate and survived but did not receive first aid for at least 12 hours.

Venard emotionally told the story of a private who was accidentally shot and critically wounded by his mess-mate en route to Fort Knox. The wounded man was carried on horseback, in front of the comrade who shot him, until they reached the fort, where he received intense medical attention to no avail.

Venard was among the riflemen who marched up what is now known as Water Street in Terre Haute toward Fort Harrison. As a result, the attacking Native Americans were forced to distance themselves from the stockade.

The American regiments wisely laid on their arms all night and learned the following morning that Tecumseh and the main body of his warriors had rested on a sandbar only a pistol shot away from the walls of the fort.

The only injury Venard suffered at Fort Harrison was the loss of a portion of his big toe by gunshot.

After remaining one more night, Venard and his Kentucky regiment left for the towns of the Kickapoos on the west side of the Wabash.

In 1814, Venard was stationed at Fort St. Mary’s, one-fourth of a mile from Fort Wayne. He afterwards was stationed at Fort Meigs and Fort Defiance.

The Express reporter apparently accepted Venard’s assertions as fact. Even today it is inconclusive among historians as to whether Tecumseh or the Prophet participated at the Battle of Fort Harrison. There was no question in Venard’s mind: Tecumseh was there. The story also misspelled his surname as “Vennard.”

The newspaper account ended with the following statement:

“The stories this old man tells are interesting, and add a chapter to the history of our nation that would be well remembered. It is but right and fitting that the government substantially remembers his services and no one begrudges his pension of eight dollars a month.

“He has lived for many years in this city, and is one of the old settlers, respected by all who know him; his scanty savings and his pension keeping him in moderately comfortable circumstance, and he had laid away a few dollars for a rainy day when two men combined to borrow one hundred dollars from him. The younger one had no property. The other one had, or was reported to have, assets.

“Subsequently, it was discovered that either before or after he borrowed the money he had put his property in his wife’s name. So now the brave old soldier who came to the defence of his country in her hour of need is at his mercy. Such ineffable meanness merits the just contempt and abhorrence of every just and honest citizen.”

In 1875, Venard and his wife Mary accepted boarders to supplement their income, while Mary and daughter Lucretia Venard were dressmakers.

 Venard died Sept. 26, 1879, and is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Terre Haute.

Lucretia predeceased her father, at age 50, on Sept. 19, 1878. Mary passed away March 29, 1908 at age 85.