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George Ronan
Born ca 1783 or 1784
Died August 15, 1812(1812-08-15)
Place of birth New York[1]
Place of death Illinois Territory (now Chicago, Illinois)
Allegiance United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1811 - 1812
Rank Ensign
Unit 1st Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars War of 1812
*Fort Dearborn Massacre

Bas-relief (1928) of sword-waving junior officer attempting to defend civilians at Battle of Fort Dearborn

Stylized massacre scene (1893), with Ronan's body at foot of sculptural group

Ensign George Ronan was a commissioned officer of the United States Army. Educated at West Point and commissioned as an officer in the 1st Infantry Regiment in 1811,[1] he was assigned to duty at Fort Dearborn, a frontier post at the mouth of the Chicago River. It was a luckless posting, for barely one year later Ronan was killed in combat in the Battle of Fort Dearborn.[1] He was the first member of the West Point Corps of Cadets to perish in battle.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Military service[edit | edit source]

George Ronan attended the United States Military Academy for almost three years, from June 1808 to March 1811. At the time Ronan matriculated, the fledgling institute of military education was six years old, and he accepted his commission in the academy's ninth year. A trickle of shako-clad[4] cadets graduated from the then-tiny institution of higher military training to take up duty stations in sensitive security points up and down the young United States. One of the most threatened positions was a small stockaded fort and associated fur trading post near the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Although the Chicago River and its hinterland was officially part of the United States, the Fort Dearborn soldiers and fur traders were sharply outnumbered by adjacent bands of Native Americans. The predominant Chicago River tribe was the Potawatomi nation, a group of clans who retained their loyalty to the British even though their land was nominally ceded to the U.S.A. by the 1783 Treaty of Paris.[7][9]

On the North American Great Lakes, the years immediately prior to the breakout of the War of 1812 were characterized by increasingly embittered competition between British-Canadian fur traders and American merchants, including traders aligned with the interest of the powerful John Jacob Astor of the American Fur Company. Native Americans who were embedded in British-aligned fur trading and kinship networks were aware of the advance of the American frontiersmen into southern Indiana and Illinois Territory. Although Ronan did not know it, his 1811-1812 assignment to Fort Dearborn was a duty posting to a spark point.[10] Ronan is described by survivors as a high-spirited young ensign who did not get along well with his commanding officer, fort commander Captain Nathan Heald. Heald, possibly in retaliation, ordered Ronan to undertake a series of increasingly dangerous operations outside the fort walls in ultimately futile efforts to knit together the tiny band of French-speaking, English-speaking, and Native American-speaking farmers and traders who lived in cabins scattered up and down the Chicago River. When war broke out, Heald received orders to evacuate his post and remove his garrison to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The news of the fort's evacuation, scheduled for August 15, 1812, emboldened the Chicago "British band" of Potawatomi, who took a position two miles south of the doomed stockade along the shore of Lake Michigan. On the morning of August 15, Ronan's attempt to help lead a knot of civilian refugees — part of the overall 93-person column of evacuees — ran into an ambush. Witnesses saw Ronan continuing to struggle even after suffering a mortal wound, and he allegedly accounted for two hostile warriors before his death.[1][5][7][9][10][11]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Survivors believed that the spot where Ensign George Ronan was struck down was at or close to what later became the intersection of 21st Street and Indiana Avenue, located in the Prairie Avenue neighborhood of Chicago's Near South Side.[9] Ronan is repeatedly described as the first West Point officer to die in the War of 1812.[6][12][13] As an "ensign", the lowest rank of commissioned officer in 1811-1812, Ronan held a rank equivalent to that of the subsequent rank of second lieutenant, and is sometimes referred to as such.[7] Sculptor Henry Hering, in his 1928 "Defense" mounted on the Michigan Avenue Bridge adjacent to the site of Fort Dearborn, centered the bas-relief on an unnamed junior officer who was depicted performing the role — protection of civilians — that Ronan tried to carry out in reality. Ronan Park, a 3-acre (0.01 km²) unit of the Chicago Park District located at 3000 West Argyle Street on the Chicago River, is named in Ronan's honor.[14]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Fort Dearborn: an address - delivered at the unveiling of the memorial tablet to mark the site of the block-house (May 21st, 1881)". Chicago Historical Society. http://archive.org/stream/fortdearbornaddr00went/fortdearbornaddr00went_djvu.txt. Retrieved 2013-01-26. 
  2. West Point Association of Graduates (2012). "The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. West Point Golf Course". West Point Golf Course Markers. West Point Association of Graduates. http://www.westpointaog.org/WestPointGolfCourseMarkers. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  3. Crane, John; James F. Kieley (1947). "West Point". Chapter Seven - West Point at War. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/CRKIWP/7*.html. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bennett, Dave (December 2012). "1st United States Infantry Regiment - Clemson's Company". Captain Eli B. Clemson - John C. Symmes Company, 1808 - 1815. http://www.1stusinfantry.com/. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Phoenix, J. (20 March 2008). "Ensigns We Will Be". http://www.westpointaog.org/page.aspx?pid=2592&chid=236. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Fredriksen, John C. (2010). The United States Army: A Chronology, 1775 to the Present (illustrated, annotated ed.). ABC-CLIO, 2010. pp. 68. ISBN 1598843443. http://books.google.com/books?id=dM_AIslBqh4C&pg=PA68&dq=George+Ronan+West+Point&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wS0FUYrfI6SbyAGWv4G4DQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=George%20Ronan%20West%20Point&f=false. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Ronan, George, 2LT". togetherweserved.com. http://army.togetherweserved.com/army/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=248147. Retrieved 2013-01-25. 
  8. Kane, Joseph Nathan (1997). FAMOUS FIRST FACTS, A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries,and Inventions in American History (Fifth Edition ed.). New York: The H. W. Wilson Company. pp. 194, item 3197. ISBN 0-8242-0930-3. http://www.scribd.com/doc/47389034/Famous-First-Facts.  First West Point graduate killed in action was George Ronan, killed fighting against Native American allies of the British in the War of 1812. On August 15, 1812, he was mortally wounded during Captain Nathan Heald’s desperate battle near Fort Chicago, IL, against a vastly superior force of Native Americans.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Kinzie Gordon, Nelly (1912). The Fort Dearborn Massacre. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co.. pp. 15, 33, 40, 56. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Catlin, George B.; George Byron (1923). "The story of Detroit". Detroit News. pp. 147, 148, 149. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/micounty/apk1036.0001.001/171?page=root;size=100;view=image. Retrieved Jan 26, 2013. 
  11. "The Fourth Star: 200 Years After the Battle of Fort Dearborn". University of Chicago. http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/colloquium/2012/10/18/188/. Retrieved 2013-01-25. 
  12. Fredriksen, p. 193
  13. "Firsts & Lasts at USMA". http://www.westpointaog.org/document.doc?id=480. Retrieved 2013-02-5. 
  14. "Ronan Park". Chicago Park District. http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/Ronan-Park/. Retrieved 2013-01-25. 

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Fredriksen, John C. (2009). The United States Army in the War of 1812: concise biographies of commanders and operational histories of regiments, with bibliographies of published and primary resources. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co.. ISBN 0786441437. 

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