The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter III
Part IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Perry on Lake Erie--While these events were occurring elsewhere, a memorable naval encounter had given the untied States similar command of lake Erie. In the winter two large brigs, to mount twenty guns each, were laid down at Presque Isle, later Erie, Pennsylvania, where there is a fine harbor; a force of ship-carpenters were sent up from New York City and several schooners and gunboats were there constructed. The timber was felled from neighboring woods and used green. All the other materials, iron and naval stores, was transported on land, chiefly from New York, on wagons. A low-water bar protected the harbor and prevented the entrance of the British cruisers which held the lake and hung off the port. Captain Perry, who was the in command of the flotilla of gunboats at Newport, Rhode Island, seeing no chance of getting to sea in a sloop of war, volunteered for the lake service, and was ordered to take command on Lake Erie. He arrived in Buffalo on March, 1813, with a number of officers and a few men. He aided Commodore Chauncey in the disembarkation which captured Fort George. The fall of this post brought on that of Port Erie, and left the Niagara frontier in control of the American army.

Perry now reported to his own command, and by June 12 had got the vessels detained on the Niagara river pat the enemy's batteries. These vessels consisted of four schooner, (one a prize) and a sloop. A few days after, he sailed from the outlet of the lake for the harbor of Presque Isle, slipping by the British fleet, which was in the offing, unobserved until it was too late to intercept him. The two brigs laid down at Presque Isle in the winter and launched in May were now nearly ready for the sea. They were the "Lawrence," on which Perry hoisted his flag, and the "Niagara." The schooners were in the water. The bar, hitherto a protection, was now a serious obstacle in getting out the brigs. It had but seven feet of water, and was half a mile outside the harbor. The "Lawrence," lifted over by an ingenious contrivance, received her armament outside, and her guns were instantly trained broadside on the enemy. The "Niagara" was taken over with less difficulty, the schooners passed easily, and when the British fleet appeared on the morning of Monday, August 5, Perry had nine vessels carrying 55 guns and 400 men. Hardly was his squadron in the water when Captain Robert H. Barclay, who commanded the British fleet--six vessels, carrying sixty-five guns and about the same number of men as the Americans, his flag-shop being the "Detroit," of nineteen guns--sailed up the lake. Perry followed in pursuit, and after cruising several days, went into Put-in Bay, where he drilled his men with muffled oars for a boat attack.

On September 10 the British squadron was seen and signals give by Perry to get under way. This time the enemy formed into line. Perry did the same, and as he approached, displayed a blue flag on which was the legend, "Don't give up the ship." Action having begun, the enemy's heaviest ships concentrated their fire on the "Lawrence," disabling her, and killings so many of her men that she dropped out of the fight, and Perry transferred his flag to the "Niagara"--Captain Elliott, her commander, passing down the line of the American vessels in a small boat with Perry's order to close up to half pistol-range, and taking command himself of one of the last vessels. A confusion in the manoeuvre of the English vessels gave Perry the opportunity to sail through the enemy's liens, delivering broadsides from both sides. A close action ensued and the British colors were shortly struck. It was then that Perry sent to General Harrison, who commanded the northwestern Army, the noted dispatch: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop." In this sanguinary encounter, a number of Perry's men were Negroes. Congress voted gold medals to both Perry and Elliott, whose great services Perry generously acknowledged in his official report.

Towards the end of October Perry's squadron transported General Harrison's army to Buffalo, and Perry resigned the command of the upper lakes to Captain Elliott and returned to the seaboard, where he was commissioned captain, his commission dating the day of his victory, and soon after appointed to the command of the "Java," a new frigate fitting out at Baltimore. By the capture of the British fleet the waters of the lakes on the New York border were entirely cleared of the enemy, and the rejoicing in New York City were great. The Common Council on October 4, tendered Commodore Perry the freedom of the city in a gold box and requested him to sit for his portrait. Mayor Clinton, in transmitting the resolutions to the commodore at Newport, alluded to the battle of Lake Erie as "an event without parallel in the annals of our country, which give you distinguished rank among the celebrated men that reflect lustre on the American name, and which has dispensed the blessings of security and tranquillity to a most important and extensive portion of the United States."

Harrison Annihilates Enemy West of Ontario--At the date of Perry's victory, General Harrison, who was cooperating with him on land, had got his plan of campaign into promising shape. Governor Isaac Shelby, one of the surviving heroes of the Revolution still in active service, was on the march in person with eleven regiments of Kentucky mounted volunteers, who had flocked to his standard when they heard of the battle of Lake Erie. Pressing on he reached the lake on September 14 in time to meet a part of Perry's squadron; the reminder of the army arrived on the 15th and 16th. The embarkation began on the 20th. On the 25th 5,000 men were encamped upon the Middle Sister Island. On the 27th General Harrison's address to the men was read on each vessel, and the fleet of sixteen armed men-of-war and 100 boats moved up into the Detroit River.

Perry commanded the water movements, Harrison the movements of the army. Landing a few miles below Malden, the army marched on the town, Governor Shelby in advance. The town was evacuated, and the public buildings were in flames. Colonel Richard M. Johnson, with his mounted regiment, reached Detroit shortly after and crossed to Sandwich. A land march in chase of the fleeing British was agreed upon, while Perry sent part of his squadron in pursuit of the vessels which take taken the artillery and baggage up Lake St. Clair. Perry followed in person to the mouth of the Thames, and, landing, found General Harrison. General Proctor maintaining his flight, to the disgust of his Indian allies, finally made a stand on the River Thames on October 5. There the British forces waited the approach of the Americans while Harrison, accompanied by Commodore Perry and Colonel Lewis Cass, took a post on the right of the American army near the river.

At the call of a bugle the advance was made. The cavalry dashed into and broke the first and second British lines, and, wheeling right and left, attacked the rear. General proctor fled in his carriage. The bugle ordering the attack on the right was answered by a bugle on the left, and colonel Johnson led his mounted men against Tecumseh's savages. There was a fierce land-to-hand fight but, reinforcement coming up, the Indians broke for the forest. Tecumseh, the last great Indian chief, was slain--tradition declares by Johnson's own hand.

The brilliant victory has great effect. The annihilation of the British army west of Ontario, added to the victory of Lake Erie, by which all that Hull surrendered was recovered and the honor of the flag restored, was hailed with delight everywhere. Not the least of the consequences was the complete breaking up of the Indian Confederacy of the Northwest, desertion of their British allies by the Red Men, and among them kinder feelings to the Americans because of the humane treatment f prisoners among the aborigines by General Harrison. In New York City on October 23, the new City Hall was splendidly illuminated as a result of the victory, as were also Tammany Hall, and other halls were well as theaters and family residences. On one of the windows of the City Hall was a transparency, with "Don’t give up the ship." In front of Tammany Hall were a portrait of Harrison receiving hostages from the Indians and a representation of the battle of Lake Erie. The expedition for which a Harrison's troops were embarked on their return by Commodore Perry was intended against the British at Burlington Heights, on the west side of Lake Ontario, but the purposes of the war department changing, they were moved in November to Sacketts Harbor, after which General Harrison joined his family at Cincinnati.

Battle of Chrysler's Field--The war operations of 1813 wee attended with events that were disappointing to the country and provocative of apprehension in the State of New York. General Armstrong, a veteran of the Revolution and at the time secretary of war, planned, in February, 1813 a new campaign for the conquest of Lower Canada by the capture of Montreal. The northern army was in two wings; the left at Sackett's Harbor, under command of General James Wilkinson, a revolutionary officer who had seen much service; the right at Plattsburg, under command of General Wade Hampton. Wilkinson, an old personal friend and companion in arms of Secretary Armstrong, was to lead the invading force, and Hampton was expected to support the movement.

General Wilkinson, assembling the troops, from Fort George on the Niagara, gathered his forces at Grenadier Island, near the outlet of the lake into the St. Lawrence. Hampton was supposed top march to the northward and join forces with him at the mouth of the Chateaugay, when together they were to move onto Montreal. On October 5, Wilkinson moved his forces down the St. Lawrence. The line of boats was five miles long. The British batteries at Prescott were run past during the night, but others being met with posted along the bank, Colonel Macomb, with a picked corps, supported by Forsyth's riflemen, the cavalry, and General Brown's brigade, crossed the river to clear the bank. They were constantly engaged. Soon the Americans' rear was disturbed by a force from Kingston which Commodore Chauncey had failed to prevent leaving that harbor. On the 10th the expeditions reached the Long Rapids, where it was disembarked. The British concentration was now complete in the rear and was supported by gunboats. A battle was inevitable. General Wilkinson being to ill to leave his bed, General Boyd took command. The British advance was attacked and routed by General Swartout's brigade, which then fell on the British right, while General Leonard Covington attacked the British left. The day was raw; the ground, rough and heavy, was fought over back and forth. General Covington, fell, mortally wounded. After an engagement of two hours the American reserves were brought up, and the British making no further demonstration, the American forces retired to their boats.

Although not characterized as a defeat, this engagement which is known in history as the battle Williamsburg, or Chrysler's Field, was not a victory either. On this field Lieutenant William J. Worth, who later gained distinction in the Mexican War, first drew attention to himself. Without regard to the danger threatening his rear, Wilkinson resumed his movements and passed down the Grand Rapids. At Cornwall he received dispatches from General Hampton with word from that officer that he would not join the expedition or take any further part in the invasion of Canada. Hampton had been ignominiously repulsed in a forward movement down the Chateaugay. On receipt of these dispatches, it was decided by Wilkinson, in a council of war, to ascend Salmon River and go into winter quarters. So ended a campaign over which much pains had been taken in the elaboration, but was marred from the beginning by poor judgment of the physical difficulties to be encountered.

Depredations by British--Drummond, the British commander, took advantage almost at once of the situation which the weakening of the force in Fort George and in the Niagara River afforded him. Recalling the troops which General Wilkinson's interruption of operations released, he moved on Fort George, which McClure, the American general, immediately abandoned, firing the village of Newark on his retreat. The term of the militia had expired on December 9, and McClure's force was reduced to sixty men. Drummond, taking possession of the but partially destroyed village, where he found tents, artillery, and abundant ammunition, uninjured, on the night of December 18, crossed the Niagara River, surprised Fort Niagara, marching in through the open gate, and bayoneted the garrison while the men slept. On the same day the British general, Phineas Riall, went down from Queenston to Lewiston, which he sacked and burned; the savages committing their usual atrocities. From Lewiston, Riall marched through the villages of Youngstown, Tuscarora, and Manchester, later Niagara Falls, all of which he destroyed, driving the inhabitants houseless into the woods in the depth of winter. Checked, however, by the destruction of the bridge over Tonawanda Creek, Riall retraced his march and crossed back to Canada.

These depredations of the British created considerable anxiety throughout New York. General Amos Hall, of the New York militia, hurried to Buffalo, which was in a state of great excitement. A force gathered of about 2,000 men, but partly armed and almost undisciplined. On December 29, General Riall, sent over by Drummond, attacked the American camp with a body of regulars and Indians. General Hall's militia fought well, but, their centre being broken, they became disheartened and could not be rallied even to defend the village and bring away the women and children.

Lieutenant David Riddle, of the United States regulars, with eighty men, being refused aid by Hall, redeemed the honor of the Untied States by going in unsupported and saving the arsenal stores. Buffalo and black Rock were sacked and burned, and the inhabitants massacred without mercy. The gains of the year were all lost save the Territory of Michigan which Harrison had retrieved at the battle of the Thames. The cost of these northern campaigns was very great. "It was estimated that the conveyance of each cannon to Sackett's Harbor had cost a thousand dollars. The flour for Harrison's Army, by the time it reached the troops, had cost a hundred dollars a barrel." This is not surprising when it is remembered that through the vast unsettled country of New York and Ohio the supplies were all carried on packhorses, while the forage to feed them was carried on other horses.

Death of Captain Lawrence--This second year of the war, in fact both on the land and the sea, gave no clear indication of the issue and was in the main a mixture of victory and reverse. The earlier years had been better, and perhaps it was too much to hope that the career of triumph that set in during 1812 could be to continued without interruption. One of its disasters touched New York very nearly. Captain Lawrence, on his return froth his dashing cruise in the "Hornet," which he made by Holmes' Hole and through Long Island Sound to New York without meeting an enemy, was transferred to the frigate, "Chesapeake." This vessel had just returned from a long cruise, and was lying in Boston harbor, where the blockade was but loosely maintained, the "President" and "Congress ' having both got an offing without interference; and it seemed as though the officers of the British frigates "Shannon," 38, and "Tenedos," 38, which were on the Station, did not desire a meeting.

When the "Chesapeake," was ready to sail, however, the "Shannon," Captain Broke, appeared in the offing. He had that day sent a challenge to Captain Lawrence to meet him at some latitude and longitude to be agreed upon--a message which Lawrence did not receive. Had he received it was very likely that he would have fought under difference conditions. On the forenoon of June 1, the "Shannon" appeared, in the bay. The "Chesapeake" was then lying in President Roads. Her crew was somewhat disaffected because of unpaid prize money. At noon she lifted anchor and stood out. Lawrence, because of the state of his crew, to whom he was a stranger, having joined his ship only a few days before, reluctantly ordered his decks cleared for action. As the first gun was fired the excitement in Boston was intense, the population of the city thronging to the housetops.

After a short and sanguinary conflict, which closed with the boarders of the "Shannon" passing through the "Chesapeake" from stern to forecastle without serious resistance--Lawrence having fallen mortally wounded at the critical moment when the ships fouled, and all his officers being incapacitated--the "Chesapeake" surrendered. The last orders of Lawrence as he was carried below, shot a second time and through the body, were "Tell the men to fire faster and not to give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." As soon as the action was over both ships made sail for Halifax. Captain Lawrence died of his wounds on June 6. His lieutenant, Ludlow, also died of his wounds a few days later.

British Fleet Again Active--It was marked with a good deal of feeling in New York that British cruisers had withdrawn in the main from the Blockade of Boston Harbor while about Sandy Hook and Long Island Sound it was impossible for even frigates to get out. Comment was general that in that uneven situation there was patent evidence of the understanding assumed to prevail between certain influential elements in New England and the British war authorities. In December, 1813, President Madison, informing Congress that a contraband trade was carried on at Boston and that the British frigates when off the coast had been supplied from the shore, a fresh embargo was laid on the exportation of good of any character, produce, livestock, and specie. The balance of the naval account for the year 1813 was, however, greatly to the credit of the United States. The Americans had taken twenty-six British men-of-war of 560 guns. The British has taken seven American men-of-war of 199 guns.

There were few British ships of war on the northern Atlantic coast in 1812, but at the beginning of the following year an English squadron, under Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, was reported off Sandy Hook. The Untied States flotilla of gunboats, under command of commodore Jacob Lewis, was unable to get from the station on the East River to the lower bay because of the ice. Near the end of January the enemy's ships were seen off the lighthouse at Sandy Hook, and New York City became somewhat alarmed. The forts were in rather good shape, though the parts newly constructed were still in an unfinished state. The volunteer regiments accepted by the government for the defense of the harbor and the city were enlisted for one year for that service only. There were several independent companies; one of infantry, the "Iron Grays" of seventy men; one of cavalry, the New York Hussars, and in these companies were enrolled many prominent citizens. On march 13 a veteran corps of artillery was organized under Captain John McLean. A marine corps was formed by the shipmasters and mariners. On March 15, by Governor Tompkins' report, there were about 35,000 troops in actual service. He stated that 12,000 men were needed for a defense of the city and harbor.

A few days later signals announced the appearance of a fleet of vessels. The batteries were manned, the flotilla was ready for sailing, and the renovated fort at Sandy Hook, with some heavy guns mounted, was in charge of 500 Jersey Blues who encamped nearby. The vessels proved to be merchantmen. The Sea Fencibles, composed of marines, sailors and boatmen, commanded by Captain Lewis, with the nominal title of commodore, by the spring of 1813 has increased to 1,000 men. General Armstrong, who from August, 1812, had commanded in New York, was appointed Secretary of War on January 1, 1813. The command then fell to colonel Burbeck of the Untied States Artillery.

Colonel Burbeck was an officer who had seen service in the Revolutionary War and later on the western frontier. In February the recruiting service of the United States in New York City was placed under the direction of colonel James Simonds and Colonel Macomb, who was later transferred to the frontier service in the Niagara district. Colonel Simonds commanded the 6th United States Infantry, Colonel Macomb the 3rd United States Artillery. Many of their officers belonged to New York. On March 20, General George Izard of South Carolina was assigned by President Madison to the command of new York City, and made his headquarters at Castle Clinton, later Castle Garden. Breastworks were erected on the water-line about the Battery Parade. State Street and the lower end of Broadway were the site of fine private residences. In February, 1813, De Witt Clinton was re-appointed mayor of New York City by the council of appointment, which was then Federalist. Clinton's leanings were in that direction, but both parties, Federalists and Republicans, were content with his management of public affairs.

The disastrous result of the Russian campaign crippled Napoleon and relieved the rest of Europe from the tension which his steadily growing power had hitherto imposed on them. One result of the changed situation was to free a large number of British ships from the continental service and send them across the Atlantic to draw tighter the blockade of the Untied States. On the coasts of the Middle States fear of invasion as heightened and the fortifications about New York were as a result considerably strengthened. At the close of the month the British blockading vessels began to act on instructions they had received from their government to prevent neutral or licensed trading vessels using the passage of Long Island Sound. Towards the end of May, Alderman Fish, of New York City, a member of the committee of defense, presented a draft of a memorial to the government at Washington inviting the attention of responsible officials to the inadequate number of the Untied States troops in the forts.

Governor Tompkins had been re-elected for three years in April, and on May 31, without waiting for action by Congress, which met on May 24, instructed all commanders of brigades to fix places of rendezvous in case of invasion, and report to General Stewart, whose orders were required to be implicitly obeyed by all militia offices within the southern district. In consequence there was an immediate thorough re-organization of the several commands, and regulations were devised and published to meet all possible contingencies.

Meanwhile the British gathered along the coasts of New York eighty vessels of war, declaring New York and the other chief ports to the mouth of the Mississippi in a "state of strict and vigorous blockade," and with reference to New York, that the blockade would "be enforced by his Majesty's ships of war in Long Island Sound, off Sandy Hook, and elsewhere." Robert Fulton was busy at this time inventing torpedoes for the destruction of vessels, and congress had, in March, authorized the payment of the value of any English vessel thus destroyed by individuals not in the Untied States service. In June a schooner, the "Eagle," was fitted out with explosives of another character. Sailing up the Sound, she was designedly allowed to fall into the hands of the British frigate, "Ramilles," and being brought alongside the man-of-war, blew up, killing an officer and ten men. Hardy, commander of the "Ramilles," threatened vengeance as a consequence against every American vessel that should fall into his hands. Repeated attempts to destroy the "Ramilles," kept hardy continuously on the move and in August he gave vent to his enraged feelings by threatening to fire the towns on the coast of the Sound.

On September 8 the mayor and common council of New York City crossed in a small boat to review the flotilla of gunboats under Commodore William Lewis, stationed at Spermaceti Cove, in the vicinity of Sandy Hook, and to inspect the fortifications. While the review was in progress information arrived to the effect that the British ships were approaching New York by way of the Sound, and a frigate and a sloop of war had anchored off Rye Neck, ten miles east of New Rochelle.

The flotilla, on the receipt of this intelligence, at once embarked their field pieces, and, twenty-six in number, stood up the bay. Passing through hell Gate in the night, they came within range of the nearest British frigate about noon. The man-of-war sailed toward the flotilla and fired a number of shots. The range was too long for the artillery of the gunboats to do any execution. The British then stood away to the eastward, and the flotilla returned to Sandy Hook.

Three days later the bodies of Captain Lawrence and Lieutenant Ludlow, victims of the unequal conflict between the "Chesapeake" and the British frigates, the "Shannon," and the "Tenedos," which were have described, were brought to New York overland from Salem, being taken on board the "Alert," lying off the navy-yard. The colors in New York harbor were all displayed at half-mast. The common council of the city ordered a funeral procession, the details of which were given in the newspapers in black-bordered columns. The route at first designate was from the Battery, through State, Whitehall, Pearl, and Wall streets to Trinity church; but in view of the great number of societies who applied for place in the line, the route was changed to another one, namely from the Battery through Greenwich street to Chambers street, and Broadway, to Trinity Church.

The line was formed at ten o'clock in the morning, but, remarked the "Columbian," which was published in the evening, so unusual was the concourse which assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to our gallant countrymen and follow their remains to their final repose, that the solemn duties were "not yet performed nor the line of march completed when our paper went to press." Twenty to thirty thousand people are said to have gathered along the line of march., and the weather was at its best. Among the marchers were members of the crew of the "Hornet" when the "Peacock" struck to Lawrence. The procession was estimated to have included 6,000 persons marching four abreast. As an evidence of the community of feeling on the mournful though proud occasion the rival Federalist and Republican societies composed all outward sign of political feeling.

So the course of the war entered into the autumn of the second year in which it ran, with the first fervors distinctly cooled, but with the American people distinctly conscious of the fact that no weakness had to be shown, however great the hardship, till a successful conclusion had been attained. On October 20, General Dearborn superseded General Izard in command of the military district of New York. The day that British ships again appeared in Long Island Sound, and committed some petty depredations, and again commodore William Lewis, who stood off in command of the flotilla in the neighborhood of Sandy hook, took his ships in the direction of the hovering enemy. The British, as a result, prudently again withdrew. Evacuation Day was celebrated with more than ordinary animation, the veterans taking a leading part. They dined, after performing the duties of the day, at the old Revolutionary hostelry, Fraunces Tavern.

This was the last military parade of the year. General Morton's brigade and Major Warner's squadron were reviewed on the Battery by General Dearborn, General Stevens and General Morton. There was a public dinner by the common council of the city, and subscription dinners at Tammany Hall and Washington Hall.

Harrison and Perry in New York City--At the end of November, General Harrison arrived in New York City. He was fresh from his successful campaign along the Canadian border in cooperation with Commodore Perry's squadron on the water, and resolutions were introduced in the common council for the gift of a sword and the presentation of the freedom of the city to the victorious general. The resolutions were defeated by the Federalists for political reasons of their own. An election had taken place which resulted in an equal division on the board of aldermen and assistants between the Federalists and the Republicans. Mayor Clinton had the casting vote, and , as had been indicated, he leaned towards the Federalist side. On the other hand Governor Tompkins received General Harrison with great distinction. The State Republican committee entertained him with an elaborate dinner at Tammany Hall. The Federalists, not be outdone, gave a dinner to Commodore Bainbridge, in honor of his victory in the "Constitution," over the "Java." The Republicans replied with a dinner to commodore Perry, on January 14, 1814. The board however was not graced by high officials, civil or military. Governor Tompkins was held by business at Albany, and the army officers were convened there also for the court martial of General Hull. It is to be noted in many cases that events and personages do not wear the significance to contemporaries that they wear to posterity. It takes time for consequences to be understood, and in any case the trail of glory, which is the work of literature and art, requires several generations to attach itself to historic persons and events.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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