REMEMBERING THE "ATTICA & COVINGTON WAR" OF 1846

It was weather that caused this unraveling of Attica & Covington's relationship on the Wabash-Erie Canal in 1846.

Posted: Jul 17, 2018 9:02 PM
Updated: Jul 18, 2018 5:14 PM

The summer drought of 1846 sparked the “Attica & Covington War”.

The first half of summer of 1846 was hot & dry with +100 readings in June & July on several days. Heat is said to have peaked in Cass County in mid July with 5 days above 100 with well-below normal rainfall that withered away vegetation. It peaked at Indianapolis in late June before rapid relief from heavy storms reportedly arrived.  At Crown Point, Indiana, however, it was called “a very hot, very dry summer”.  This may have been indicative of a much longer duration of the extreme conditions there.  With deaths from the heat & wells low & typhoid rampant in the region, it was a rough.

The extreme drought (which began as drought in our area in 1845 after an unseasonably late frost in late May) caused the “Attica and Covington War”, which was further enhanced by short tempers from the extreme heat & deaths. Unfortunately, the canal was to be opened in this hot, dry part of that summer. At the time of its opening, the water was so low in the Wabash, there was only enough water to fill the canal to Attica & not Covington & the first boats were grounded at Covington. Unknowingly, Covington residents thought Attica used the lock to purposely block canal use to Covington. Covington Senator Hannegan (home from work in Washington D.C.) got folks together to go up to Attica & physically unlock the gate in the night, but could not do so. Next morning Senator Hannegan and 300 townsmen and farmers armed with clubs again ran up the river to Attica. Before the battle & dispute ensued, Attica was overtaken & the Covington citizens opened the flood gate.

No one won from this………there was so little water, by the time it got to Covington, it was a few inches of mud & no commerce could take place. Appreciable rains arrived & the canal was filled beyond capacity, however, with rapidity.

1846 was reportedly the warmest year of the 19th century until 1878 at Minneapolis.  The '46 summer saw a historic drought in the Minneapolis area with this heat. 1846 ranks as one of the warmest in St. Louis & Chicago in the 1800s. 1846 also ranked as one of the hottest summers in the 1840-1900 period for the Great Lakes, comparable to 1838, 1839, 1841, 1859, 1881 & 1887.

Although it was extremely dry at Attica & Covington & reportedly over much of the area in June to July, heavy rains in late July to August greatly eased drought conditions.  This is likely what led to the quick end to the "skirmish" & may have led to tree rings indicating "Abnormally Dry" to "Moderate Drought" conditions on the Palmer Drought Severity Scale (0 to -1), rather than likely "Extreme Drought" conditions in the early half of summer.  The long-duration, significant drought conditions remained, however, north of the area into the fall.  Also, keep in mind that this map does not reflect regional variance in the drought conditions.  There is a lot of variability locally in a drought year.  There is much interpolation with it.

On another note, significant flooding struck our region December 1846 to January 1847 from persistent heavy rainfall.  It ranks as one of the worst floods on the White & Wabash Rivers on record.  It was the worst since 1844 & the worst until 1858 (two major floods).

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