History of Warren County, H. P. Smith
Chapter XV: From the Revolution to 1815
This transcription was produced through the use of Readiris Pro 11 OCR software. Contributed by Tim Varney.
Advancement of Civil Government - Political Divisions - Renewed Difficulties with England - The Non-Intercourse Act - Its Repeal - Troubles Relative to Improvements - Declaration of War - Offensive Measures - Canada to be Invaded - Three Movements and the Results Thereof - The Northern New York Measures - Naval Operations on Lake Ontario - Attack on Sackett's Harbor by the British - Battle of Plattsburg - American Victory - Close of the War.
While Page 177 the young nation was making rapid strides of recovery from the baneful effects of the Revolution, the period between the treaty of 1783 and 1812 was pregnant with the discussion and settlement of several important civil matters, and the inauguration of new and untried measures of government. It was a day when statesmanship was developed, and the best intellects were called into the field of action and their powers brought to a crucial test in dealing with questions of State evolved by the generation of plans of government yet unproved.
It was but natural, while peace was hailed by all as a blessing, that the new era should give birth to parties influenced by strong motives and actuated by deep feeling. While the defense of their rights had been the common purpose of the patriotic people during the war, no sooner were those rights secured to them by the peace that followed, than the enjoyment and administration of those rights became the potent elements in the formation of political parties. Added to this cause was the old bitterness of feeling engendered by the difficulties between England and France, each country having its ardent sympathizers and supporters in the new republic.
The Democratic party, from the time of its organization, had maintained only feelings of bitter hostility to England, and those of warm friendship towards France. Its opponent in the political arena, the Federalist organization, detested France and every thing French, while they sought to be on good terms, at least, with England. Many national, and often local questions, for some few years, prevented thorough party organization; nevertheless, political sentiment was active, and, by 1811, resulted in the drawing of firm party lines. Each party was headed by able men, who, we believe, were actuated by honorable principles, and labored for what they believed was best for the country's good.
For many years from a date soon after the close of the Revolution, the "insolence and aggressions of ever insolent and aggressive England" in maintaining what she was fain to consider her undoubted position as "mistress of the seas," added to her continued attempts to incite the savages of Canada and the Page 178 Northwest into a war of extermination against the Americans on the northern and western borders of civilization, in order that the valuable trade with the Indians might be diverted into the hands of the English and retained by them, had demonstrated to those of clear foresight and political knowledge that ultimately nothing but war between the two nations could settle the troubles.
The United States had maintained a strict neutrality during the progress of the Napoleonic war with Great Britain, but our rights as a neutral nation had been totally disregarded. The embargo act, passed December 22d, 1807 - an attempt to compel two belligerent nations to respect the rights of neutrals in refusing intercourse with the world - proved so disastrous to commercial pursuits that it was repealed March 1st, 1809, and a non-intercourse act passed in its stead. In April, 1809, the English ambassador at Washington opened negotiations for the adjustment of existing difficulties, and consented to the withdrawal of the obnoxious "orders in council," as far as they effected the United States, on the condition that the non-intercourse act should be repealed. This was agreed upon. The president issued a proclamation announcing that on the 10th of June trade with Great Britain might be renewed. But when official intelligence of this action reached England that government refused to ratify the proceedings, and the minister was recalled. The president's proclamation was therefore revoked, and the previous relations between the two countries were resumed.
Aside from all other causes of complaint against Great Britain the one around which, irrespective of politics, the greater portion of the people of the United States gathered in unanimity, was that of impressment. Beside the insult of England's claim to the right to search American vessels for supposititious English sailors, gross outrages were perpetrated, and for which it seems there was no relief. Lord Castlereagh, British minister of foreign affairs, admitted on the floor of the House of Commons that, at the beginning of 1811, there were sixteen hundred bona fide American sailors serving under compulsion in the British navy. Add to this that the captain of every British merchantmen claimed and exercised the right to impress from weaker American vessels such seamen as he desired, it is but little wonder that a feeling of indignation filled the breast of every honest American against the insolent tyranny of the government that upheld such a disgraceful and unlawful custom.
The Democratic party, which was in the ascendant, was known as the War party and the Federalists as the Peace party. The president and a majority of his cabinet, though Democrats, were opposed to a declaration of war. But the strength of the party in Congress and the rising storm of expressed indignation on the part of the people, brought about a determination that war should be declared at an early day, as all attempts at a pacific adjustment of the differences had signally failed, Great Britain arrogantly refusing to concede Page 179 her "rights" to impress seamen from American vessels, and insisting upon other as audacious privileges.
On the 19th of June, 1812, President Madison formally declared war against Great Britain. The Federalists, in their apathy and sometimes antagonistic actions, were a paralyzing influence at the very beginning upon the aims and proceedings of the Democrats or War party. Nevertheless, active measures were inaugurated, and, too, upon no insignificant scale. The results of these plans can be but briefly reviewed, as but little occurred in the vicinity of Warren county in consequence of the war.
For nearly two years the United States attempted to carry on the war on the offensive plan; but owing to various causes, the attempt was unsuccessful upon the whole. The entire sea coast was alive with British cruisers, and every port was menaced. Consequently the people of each of the sea-board cities sought their own protection, and devoted their attention to arranging for the defense of their own towns. While in nearly every naval contest between the English and Americans the latter were victorious, the former, possessed of a much larger fleet, were enabled to terrorize the whole coast.
One of the early war measures entertained, like many undertaken during the Revolution, was an invasion of Canada. Steps were taken to gather forces along the frontier of Northern New York and thence westward to Michigan. These were arranged in three divisions. The northwestern division assembled at Detroit; the central, under command of General Stephen Van Rensselaer, had its headquarters at Lewiston, on the Niagara River; while the eastern made its rendezvous on the western shore of Lake Champlain, in the vicinity of Plattsburg. A naval force was also placed upon the lakes.
The first of the three attempts resulted in the disastrous expedition of Hull to Detroit, ending in the surrender of the post with all its troops and stores, to the enemy, on the 16th of August, 1812. General Hull, who had been a Revolutionary officer, and was governor of the Territory of Michigan at this time, was severely criticized and condemned for his course. He was afterwards tried by court-martial and condemned to be shot, but on account of his age and the services he had rendered during the Revolution, his sentence was commuted to dishonorable discharge from the army. Before he died, however, in 1825, he so far vindicated his course by his own statements and with the help of those who were with him, and whose judgments and criticisms had become merciful under cooler consideration of his offense, that the people looked upon his error more with compassion than indignation. "To-day the character of General William Hull, purified of unwarranted stains, appears in history without a blemish in the history of just appreciation." (1)
The results of the efforts of the second division of the invading army, while not burdened with success, were far more encouraging than those of the Detroit Page 180 campaign. On the 9th of August, 1812, General Dearborn, commanding the third invading wing at Plattsburg, had signed an armistice with Sir George Provost, governor-general of Canada, in consequence of negotiations for a suspension of hostilities between the contending powers then proposed. The armistice was rejected by the United States government, but Dearborn continued it until the 29th of August, on the ground that by doing so he was aided in forwarding stores to Sackett's Harbor. This armistice so delayed the preparations for invasion on the Niagara frontier that General Van Rensselaer, who commanded at that post, found himself on the 1st of September at the head of only seven hundred men. After the armistice was suspended troops, both regulars and militia, gathered on the frontier, along the river from Lewiston to Buffalo, to the number of six thousand. In the early morning of October 12th, Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer crossed the river with a portion of his force, and after a sharp contest captured Lewiston Heights. Emboldened by their success, the assailants, reinforced with a small detachment of regulars under Captain (after General) John E. Wool, pressed the British back and finally gained possession of Queenstown Heights. Colonel Van Rensselaer, as well as Captain Wool, had been wounded, but the latter refused to leave the command until the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel Chrystie. At Fort George, seven miles below Queenstown, General Brock, who had heard the firing, pushed hastily, with his staff, to the scene of action. He found the little fortress in the possession of Captain Wool, who, though wounded, still remained with his men. General Brock gathered a body of the defeated British and attempted to drive Wool from his post, but unsuccessfully. A second assault was made, in which General Brock fell mortally wounded, and Wool was left master of the Heights. Lieutenant-Colonel Chrystie, who had arrived soon after the last assault, was followed by General Wadsworth, of the New York militia; he took the chief command. The British General Sheaffe, who succeeded Brock, once more rallied the scattered English troops. Lieutenant-Colonel Winfield Scott (afterwards well known as the commander-in-chief of the army), having arrived as a volunteer, at the request of General Wadsworth, took the active command. Soon after noon, under the lead of the Mohawk chief, John Brant, his savage horde fell with a rush and war-whoop upon the outer American lines. The militia wavered and were about to break into retreat, when the stentorian voice of Scott arrested their flight. He urged them to turn upon the savages, which they did to such purpose that the barbarians fled in terror to the woods. General Stephen Van Rensselaer, who had come over to ascertain the state of affairs, hastened back to Lewiston to send over more militia. But the latter refused to go, claiming that they were not obliged to leave the soil of their own country. General Sheaffe, who had received reinforcements from Fort George, pressed forward with overwhelming numbers (the Americans on the heights did not number more than nine hundred), and compelled the plucky Page 181 Americans to surrender - a needless sacrifice, had their cowardly comrades on the other side of the river hastened to their assistance when ordered by General Van Rensselaer. The militia were paroled, but the regulars were held as prisoners. Had the commanding general been possessed of a sufficient number of boats to have transported his whole force across the river in the morning, at the time the first attack was made, no doubt final success would have been the award of their bravery. As it was, while the expedition as a whole was disastrous, the brave militia who had earned victory under their spirited officers, felt no shame at their defeat - excepting the cowardly majority who refused their aid when needed.
The third element in the plan of invasion was the division of Northern New York. About the first of September, 1812, General Bloomfield had collected a force of about 8,000 men, composed of regulars, militia and volunteers, at Plattsburg; in addition a few scattered detachments were stationed at advanced points along the lake and at Chazy. Major-General Henry Dearborn arrived later and assumed command of the department, and on the 16th of November moved with 5,000 troops towards Canada. He reached the La Colle, a small stream emptying into the Sorel, where he met a considerable force of British and Canadian troops and Indians, commanded by an energetic British officer, Lieutenant-Colonel De Salaberry. At early dawn on the 20th Colonel Zebulon Pike crossed the La Colle and surrounded a block-house. A body of New York militia sent to support him were seen approaching, and, in the dim light, were supposed to be British; fire was opened upon them, and they, equally mistaken in believing the fire to be from a sallying party from the block-house, returned it, and for half an hour a sharp engagement was maintained. Finally when the error was discovered, De Salaberry was seen approaching with an overwhelming force, cutting off their only path of escape. The Americans made a fierce attack upon the advancing columns, hoping to make an opening for retreat; in this they succeeded, but at the cost of leaving their dead and wounded on the field. This unpropitious opening of the campaign disheartened the army, and it returned to Plattsburg. Dearborn was charged with incompetency, and in June of the next year, he was superseded. He asked in vain for a court of inquiry.
Thus ended for the year the grandly-planned invasion of Canada. Nothing was gained to the Americans, while its losses in men and material far exceeded that of the British.
One of the first warlike measures undertaken by the Americans before hostilities actually began on the northern frontier, was the construction of the brig Oneida, of sixteen guns, at Sackett's Harbor. She was launched in 1809, and was intended to serve the two-fold purpose of enforcing the revenue laws under the Embargo Act, and to defend American property on the lake in case of a war with England, of which ominous mutterings even then were heard all Page 182 over the country. The first duty of the Oneida occurred in 1812, while under the command of Lieutenant Woolsey. A schooner, the Lord Nelson, owned by British subjects at Niagara, was on her way, laden with flour and other merchandise, to Kingston, where she was captured by the Oneida and condemned as a lawful prize. The Oneida captured several other vessels, which were condemned under the revenue laws.
Early in July a rumor reached Sackett's Harbor that the Oneida had been captured by the British, and that a squadron was on the way from Kingston to recapture the Lord Nelson, which lay at Sackett's Harbor. The rumor was false; but eighteen days after five British vessels, carrying an aggregate of eighty-two guns, commanded by Commodore Earle, of Canada, appeared off the town. Earle communicated to Colonel Bellinger, commanding the militia at Sackett's Harbor, that all he wanted was the Oneida and Lord Nelson, and that in case resistance was made the town would be destroyed. The Oneida, failing in an attempt to run by the approaching fleet into the lake, anchored off Navy Point in position to use her broadside of nine guns on the nearing vessels. The remainder of her guns were taken out and placed in battery on the shore. An iron thirty-two pounder, which had been lying in the sand on the shore, whereby it gained the name of the "Old Sow," was placed in battery on a bluff with three other heavy guns. A company of artillery also had four guns. With this inadequate supply of artillery the Americans proposed to defend the place. The fleet slowly entered the harbor, and were fired upon by the Americans, whose shots fell so far short of their object, that shouts of laughter and ridicule were heard on board the British vessels by the people on shore. For about two hours a lively cannonading was kept up, the vessels standing off and on, but keeping out of range of the Americans' smaller guns. Finally a thirty-two pound shot from one of the vessels struck the ground, plowed a furrow, and stopped near the battery wherein the "Old Sow" was placed. Sergeant Spier caught up the shot and ran with it to Captain Vaughn, an old sailing-master who was in charge of the battery, saying: "I have been playing ball with the redcoats and have caught them out. See if the British can catch it back again." The Royal George, the larger vessel of the fleet, at that moment was nearing to deliver a broadside. The captured ball was immediately sent back by Captain Vaughn's "Old Sow" with such force and accuracy that it crushed through the stern of the Royal George, raked her decks to the stem, sending splinters as high as her mizzen topsail, killing fourteen men and wounding eighteen. She had already received a shot between wind and water and been pierced by another, which forced her to signal retreat. The whole squadron sailed out of the harbor to the strains of "Yankee Doodle," played by the fifes and drums of the defenders. The Americans received no injury.
About the first of October, 1812, General Jacob Brown was sent to Ogdensburg Page 183 to garrison old Fort Presentation or Oswegatchie, to repel a threatened invasion by the British in that quarter. On the second of October the British left Prescott, immediately opposite Ogdensburg, with a flotilla of two gunboats and twenty-five bateaux, and 750 armed men for the purpose of capturing Ogdensburg.
Brown had about twelve hundred men in the village, and company of riflemen encamped on the bank of the river near Fort Presentation. The latter were stationed in line of battle upon the river bank to dispute the landing of the invaders. Brown had but two field-pieces, and when the approaching flotilla had reached the middle of the river the two guns were operated with such effect that the enemy retreated with the utmost alacrity. This repulse reflected much credit upon Brown.
In October, 1812, Lieutenant Jesse D. Elliott, then but twenty-seven years of age, was in command of an incipient dockyard which had been established by the government at Black Rock, two miles below Buffalo. On the morning of the 8th two British vessels, the Caledonia and the Detroit (the latter had been the John Adams and was taken at the surrender of Hull and its name changed), had anchored off Fort Erie. Elliott conceived a plan for their capture, which, with the aid of a squad of seamen just arrived from New York, fifty artillerymen, and several sailors and citizens from Buffalo, was successfully carried out on the morning of the 9th at one o'clock. The vessels and their men were made captives in less than ten minutes. A battery at Fort Erie was brought to bear upon the vessels before they could be got away, and a severe struggle for their possession ensued. The Detroit was finally burned, but the Caledonia was got away. She proved a rich prize, her cargo being worth $200,000. The Americans lost one man killed and five wounded.
In February, 1813, the British again attacked Ogdensburg. On the 22d about eight hundred British, commanded by Colonel McDonell, appeared in front of the village on the ice in two columns. Colonel Forsyth, with his riflemen, were stationed at Fort Presentation, and against them moved one column, three hundred strong. A waiting the near approach of the British, Forsyth's men attacked them vigorously with rifle and the two field-pieces that had done such effective service in the hands of General Brown. The attacking column was repulsed with considerable loss, and retreated to the opposite side of the St. Lawrence. While this was going on the second column of five hundred had entered the town and captured a twelve-pound cannon and the gunners. The invaders supposed their conquest complete, but were soon confronted by two pieces of artillery under Captain Kellogg and Sheriff York. The gun of the former becoming disabled, he and his men crossed the Oswegatchie and joined Colonel Forsyth, leaving York to fight the battle alone; the latter was soon compelled to surrender. McDonell then proceeded to dislodge Forsyth, and demanded his surrender, in these words; "If you surrender it shall be Page 184 well; if not, every man shall be put to the bayonet." "Tell Colonel McDonell," replied Forsyth, "that there must be more fighting done yet." But an assault by an overwhelming force compelled the spirited commander, after he had thrown them once into disorder with grape and canister, to order a retreat, and he and his little force made their way to Black Lake, nine miles distant. The town was plundered by the Indians and camp-followers of both sexes, who came over from Canada. After burning the barracks and two schooners fast in the ice, and sacking every house but three, the British and their tribe of marauders returned to Prescott.
In May, 1813, the British, hearing that Chauncey and Dearborn had depleted the forces at Sackett's Harbor to strengthen the expedition for the capture of York, determined to attack the place. It was then the chief place of deposit of the government military stores, and its possession by the British was desirable. On the evening of the 27th rumors reached Sackett's Harbor that Sir James Yeo had sailed from Kingston with a formidable squadron. Colonel Backus was in command of the forces at the Harbor. General Jacob Brown, who was at his home a few miles from Watertown, had promised to take chief command in case of an attack; he was therefore summoned, and on the morning of the 28th was in Backus's camp. He immediately summoned all the militia in the vicinity to the field, and as fast as they arrived they were armed and sent to Horse Island, where the lighthouse now stands. This island was connected with the mainland by an isthmus covered with water of fordable depth; here it was expected the British would attempt to land. About noon of the 28th six vessels and forty bateaux, carrying over one thousand British land troops, appeared off the town. They were under command of Governor-general Sir George Provost. The troops were embarked in the bateaux, but were soon ordered back, and the whole squadron went out on the open lake. Sir George had been frightened by the appearance outside the harbor of a flotilla of American gunboats that were bringing part of a regiment from Oswego to aid the post at Sackett's Harbor. As soon as Sir George discovered the weakness of this force he returned, and on the morning of the 29th landed a considerable force with artillery and muskets on Horse Island. The militia had been withdrawn behind a gravel ridge on the mainland. They fled at the first fire of the British. General Brown vainly attempted to rally the fleeing militia, while Colonel Backus, with his regulars and Albany volunteers, contested the ground, inch by inch, with the enemy, and a heavy gun at Fort Tompkins sent its missiles among the British ranks. At this moment a dense smoke was seen rising in the rear of the Americans. The storehouses with their valuable contents, and a ship on the stocks, had been fired by the officers in charge, who, upon seeing the flying militia, believed the fort would be captured. For a moment Brown, who supposed the British to be the incendiaries, was disheartened; but when he learned that the destruction was the act of an overzealous Page 185 and unwise friend, he redoubled his exertions to make an effective defense. He finally succeeded in rallying the militia, and was returning with them in good order to the field, which led General Prevost, who, perched upon a stump, discerned them with his field-glass, to believe that the Americans had received reinforcements. Without taking further measures to prove the truth of his surmise, he sounded a retreat, which soon turned to a disorderly rout, and left his dead and wounded where they fell. By noon the whole fleet had left the harbor. The fired ship was saved, but the stores, to the amount of half a million dollars, were destroyed. For this gallant defense General Brown was made a brigadier in the regular army.
These few detailed accounts are given that an idea may be formed of the nature and results of the conflict on the northern border. Almost invariably the Americans, in defending their positions, were successful; when acting on the offensive, seldom so.
The brilliant victories of the navy, both on the lakes and the ocean, served to encourage and strengthen the Americans, and to fill with bitterness the English heart that had always been firm in the belief of the invulnerability of its navy. On the land in other parts of the country occurred engagements of more or less importance in their results; particularly the burning of the public buildings at Washington and the defense of Fort McHenry at Baltimore.
But on the northeastern frontier nothing of note occurred until the summer of 1814, when the attack upon and successful defense of Plattsburg brought the war so near to the residents of Warren county, that every inhabitant was charged with its excitement.
The British plans for the campaign of 1814 on the northern New York frontier resembled closely those made for Burgoyne in 1777. The program involved the invasion of the State, the possession of Lakes Champlain and George, the penetration of the country to Albany and below, and by the cooperation of a land and naval force, the capture of New York; and, by holding the Hudson River, separate by military posts the New England States from the remainder of the Union. It was expected that the downfall of Napoleon would release a large number of troops, and allow them to be sent to America to aid in crushing the Americans. This prospect gave joy to the "Peace party," who did not hesitate to openly flaunt their joyful hopes in the faces of the patriots, who felt at times that the struggle against their fireside foes, though bloodless, was far more bitter than the armed war against their foreign enemy. The crushing of Napoleon did release many British troops on the Continent, and several thousands of them were immediately sent to Canada to reinforce General Prevost. They arrived in July and were immediately pushed forward to Montreal. In the mean time Prevost had been engaged in extensive preparations for invading New York, increasing his flotilla Page 186 of vessels in the Sorel, and otherwise strengthening his force. Early in May General George Izard was put in command of the right division of the army of the North. On the 19th of that month he was informed that the enemy below were approaching. Captain Pring, commanding the British flotilla, moved up the Sorel, and on the 13th attacked the American flotilla under Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, then lying at Vergennes, Vt., at the head of navigation on Otter Creek. Macdonough, having been apprised of the movement, sent a party to reinforce a detachment of light artillery who had a small battery at the mouth of the creek. Governor Chittenden, of Vermont, also ordered out some militia to assist in repelling the expected attack. On the morning of the 14th Pring's boats and a bomb sloop anchored off the mouth of the creek, where they met a warm welcome from the little battery. For an hour the cannonade continued, when Pring found it necessary to retreat. He then crossed the lake and passed a short distance up the Boquet River for the purpose of destroying a quantity of flour stored there. On his return he was assailed by a number of militia, who had gathered at the mouth of the river. Many of the British were killed and wounded. Meeting with stern repulse in each attack, Pring returned to the Sorel, a wiser man; for he had learned that the people of Vermont were ready to fight, even if their governor was opposed to the war. A few days after Macdonough sailed out of Otter Creek and anchored in Plattsburg Bay.
All through the month of May both parties were making additional preparations to settle the question of the supremacy of Lake Champlain and the route to the Hudson. Both sides were reinforced with men and material.
General Izard, contrary to the orders of the secretary of war, erected a battery of four eighteen-pounders at Cumberland Head, instead of at Rouse's Point at the mouth of the Soul, where the secretary, urged by Major Totten, chief engineer, ordered it placed.
In June General Izard made preparations for an offensive movement into Canada. He sent General Smith with about fourteen hundred men to occupy Champlain, five miles below the Canada line. He had eight hundred men at Chazy under Colonel Pearce; and about twelve hundred occupied the peninsula at Plattsburg between the lake and Saranac River, the works on Cumberland Head, and a position on Dead Creek, two miles below Plattsburg. Macdonough was below Cumberland Head, watching the British flotilla, which lay at the Isle aux Tetes. The British had a force of five thousand five hundred men, with a reserve of two thousand at Montreal.
Frequent skirmishes occurred along the border, each side exhibiting a continued restlessness, and apparently anxious to draw out the other. But no movement of great moment occurred till late in July, when General Macomb's brigade embarked at Cumberland Head for Chazy Landing at the mouth of Chazy Creek. At the same time Bissell's brigade started by land for Chazy Page 187 village. While the removal of these troops depleted the force at Plattsburg, the enemy was continually growing stronger. During July and August not less than fifteen thousand men, chiefly veterans from Wellington's armies, arrived at Montreal. All but one brigade of these forces were held to participate in the invasion of New York.
Soon after the advance of the Americans to Champlain and Chazy, General Prevost arrived at Isle aux Noix, where he had sent a large body of veterans, and took the command in person. It was plainly evident that the British commander was contemplating a speedy invasion of Northern New York; and yet, with full information of the circumstances, the United States government ordered Izard to march a larger part of his force westward to co-operate with the army of Niagara. The army and the people were astonished at the order; it was an open invitation to invasion. The disappointed Izard could suppress his indignation, but wrote the Secretary of War, saying: "I will make the movement you direct, if possible: but I shall do it with the apprehension of risking the forces under my command, and with the certainty that every thing in this vicinity but the lately erected works at Plattsburg and Cumberland Head will, in less than three days after my departure, be in possession of the enemy." But while continuing to protest, he obeyed orders. Though short of means of transportation, he soon put four thousand men in motion by way of Lake George, Schenectady and the Mohawk valley, and arrived with them at Sackett's Harbor in September. He left but twelve hundred effective men to garrison Plattsburg and Cumberland Head, and made a requisition upon General Mooers for the available militia of the district to assemble at Chazy. The command was left to Brigadier-General Alexander Macomb, with headquarters at Plattsburg.
Macomb used every available method to increase his force. At the end of August he had about three thousand four hundred troops; but these were in a weak condition, full fourteen hundred of them being invalids or non-combatants; the ordnance and stores were in confusion, and the works of defense were all incomplete. Yet Macomb, concentrating all his forces at Plattsburg, worked with energy on preparations for defense.
On the 29th of August, the day Izard left his camp at Champlain, General Brisbane crossed the line with a considerable body of British troops and occupied the village, and on the 3d of September full fourteen thousand more assembled in the vicinity, Prevost being in command, assisted by General De Rottenburgh. The governor-general issued a proclamation announcing that he intended to take possession of the country, and inviting the inhabitants to throw off their allegiance to the Union, and furnish him with supplies. On the following day they moved to Chazy, and on the 5th they were encamped at Sampson's, eight miles north of Plattsburg. The British squadron at the same time moved up the lake and anchored off Isle la Motte, and on the west side Page 188 of that island erected a battery to cover the landing of supplies for Prevost's army.
Meantime Macomb, by working his men day and night, succeeded in erecting three redoubts. Remains of these works are still visible. Also two blockhouses were built on the Saranac; and at the mouth of the river stood a heavy stone mill. Macomb divided his forces into detachments, holding each responsible for the work assigned to it.
When the British advanced to Chazy Macomb sent out troops to meet them. On the morning of the 5th the initiatory skirmish of the battle of Plattsburg occurred between Major John E. Wool, at the head of two hundred and fifty regulars, and the advance of the British. The fight was short but sharp. Wool could not withstand the onslaught of the heavy column, and fell back to within a mile and a half of Plattsburg. There he was joined by Captain Leonard, with two pieces of artillery, with which fearful execution was done upon the advancing columns of the enemy, the balls cutting open lanes through the moving mass. Finally a charge of the enemy compelled Leonard and Wool to retreat across the Saranac, taking their guns with them. Other outlying detachments had been driven, though in each case with greater loss to the enemy than to the retreating bodies. When all had crossed the Saranac, the planks from the bridges were removed.
When the British reached Plattsburg and found the bridges destroyed, they made preparations to encamp in order that measures might be undertaken to force a passage at the fords. Several sharp skirmishes took place, with no advantage to the enemy; and he was even forced to withdraw from a number of buildings he had occupied along the river, driven out by fire communicated by hot shot thrown by the Americans. Thus, on the evening of the 6th of September, Prevost was aware that the task before him was not a light one, though he had at his command an overwhelming force with ample munitions of war.
During the time from the 7th to the 11th Prevost brought up his batteries and stores, and threw up several works, commanding the river, town and bay. Meantime the Americans were not idle. They strengthened such fortifications as they had, and concentrated their forces at those points where they would probably be most needed.
While these operations were being carried on on the land, the opposing forces were making preparations for a battle on the water. As before stated, Captain Pring, with the larger part of the British flotilla, had advanced to Isle la Motte, where the remainder of the squadron joined him, and Captain George Downie, of the royal navy, took the chief command. Macdonough still lay at anchor in Plattsburg bay. For the five days during which Prevost was making his preparations for the attack, the seamen were awaiting his signal to also begin. During this time several affairs of minor importance occurred between Page 189 the land troops; one in particular, in which fifty men under Captain McGlassin crossed the river and captured one of Prevost's redoubts, occupied by three hundred men, who fled to the main body, leaving the Americans to spike the guns, destroy the carriages, and return to their quarters, to the discomfiture of General Prevost.
Early in the morning of the 11th the British land and naval forces were under motion for the attack. The Americans were on the alert, and though threatened with overwhelming numbers, prepared to meet the onslaught pluckily.
We cannot go into the details of the engagement for want of space, though their interest would warrant us in doing so. The engagement was opened on the lake. When Macdonough saw the British vessels approaching in line of battle, he cleared his ship for action, and calling his officers and men around him, knelt upon the deck and in a few simple words prayed the Almighty God for aid, and left the issue in His hands.
The naval action was severe and continuous; for two hours and twenty minutes the battle raged, while the thunder of cannon, the hiss of rockets, the scream of bombs and the rattle of musketry were heard on the shore. The fight was characterized by a vigor and destructiveness not excelled by any during the war. The force of the American squadron was eighty-six guns and eight hundred and eighty-two men; while that of the British was ninety-five guns and a little more than one thousand men. But even with this difference in his favor, the enemy was forced to lower his flag to the young lieutenant who publicly asked the Almighty's assistance before opening fire. Immediately after receiving the surrender of the British vessels, Macdonough sent the following dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy: -
"Sir - The Almighty has been pleased to grant us a signal victory on Lake Champlain, in the capture of one frigate, one brig and two sloops of war of the enemy."
The entire loss of the Americans was one hundred and ten, fifty-two of whom were killed. The British loss was more than two hundred, including Captain Downie.
According to an arrangement with Captain Downie, Prevost was to put his troops in motion when the topmasts of the fleet came into his view around Cumberland Head. When the first gun was fired on the lake, the British land batteries opened; and under cover of the shot and shell there from, Prevost advanced to attack the Americans in three columns. At the lower bridge the attack was sharply repulsed. At the upper bridge the enemy met an obstinate resistance, and failed in forcing a passage. At the upper ford the column was more successful; there, under Generals Mooers and Wright, was stationed the militia of Essex and Clinton; after two or three repulses a few companies of the British succeeded in crossing and forcing the militia from their position. Page 190 Supports, including a piece of artillery, coming up at this time, stimulated the fleeing militia to the rallying-point, when they turned and vigorously assaulted the pursuing enemy. At this moment Mooer's adjutant-general, Walworth (late chancellor of New York), dashed up, his horse flecked with foam, and announced that the British fleet had surrendered. The enemy must have obtained this information at the same time, for they turned their backs to the cheers of their opponents, and dashed back across the Saranac.
Thus ended the battle of Plattsburg. Sir George Prevost, a coward in danger, according to English historians, became terribly alarmed, and experienced, as he said, "extreme mortification to hear the shout of victory from the American works," when the fleet surrendered, and decided him that "further prosecution of the service was become impracticable."
Before morning the British commander and his army were ten miles on the way to Canada, having left his sick and wounded and a vast quantity of munitions of war behind him. Troops were sent in pursuit, but the flight of the enemy was too rapid, and he reached Montreal without further chastisement. His losses were not far from two thousand men, while that of the Americans was less than one hundred and fifty.
This victory called forth acclamations of joy throughout the country, and generous honors were awarded the leaders therein. Congress voted the thanks of the nation, and to Macdonough, Macomb and others gold medals were presented. Honorable burial was accorded Captain Downie and other British officers. They were buried in a beautiful cemetery near Plattsburg.
Almost simultaneous with this victory came the repulse of the British at Fort Erie, their expulsion from Baltimore, and the closing scenes of their operations on the New England coast.
There are no available records of the part taken by the inhabitants of Warren county in this late struggle with Great Britain; only a few scattered items can to-day be gathered. In the Warren Republican, of December 13, 1813, says Dr. Holden, appears the following notice:
"YOUNG MEN OF ZEAL AND HONOR,
"To those who feel for the abused rights of their beloved country:
"Every able-bodied man between the age of 18 and 45 years, who is willing to serve his country during the present war, or five years (as he may choose), shall receive TWENTY DOLLARS IN CASH DOWN, and TWENTY DOLLARS more when he shall be mustered, or join his regiment. He shall also receive neat and handsome clothing of all kinds immediately: Eight dollars per month and his rations. He shall furthermore receive and have guaranteed to him 160 acres of excellent land, to be laid out and located at the public expense - or if he should die in the service, his heirs or representatives shall be entitled to the same; and three months additional pay, beyond his term of Page 191 service. For further particulars, please call at the Rendezvous now opened at A. Emmons' Inn, at Glens Falls.
"Charles Harrison, Lieut.
"13th Regiment U. S. Infantry."
This is certainly evidence that volunteers were called for, if not that they were forthcoming, which latter is more than probable, if the following statement in Palmer's History of Lake Champlain is a criterion of the patriotism of the people of the young country: -
"When Major-General Mooer's orders were received for the militia of Warren and Washington counties to assemble ell masse, and march to the frontier, there appeared, under arms, two hundred and fifty men more than had ever mustered at an inspection or review."
Dr. Holden says that "of the male citizens of Warren and Washington counties, but few were left behind. The towns of Athol, Luzerne, Warrensburg and Chester were almost depopulated." A company from Luzerne, under Captain Gideon Orton, was attached to the Saratoga regiment. Queensbury sent its quota of two companies; the one from Glens Falls being commanded by Lieutenant Royal Leavens. Caldwell and Bolton sent a rifle company under the command of Halsey Rogers. There was also a squadron of cavalry raised chiefly in the towns of Kingsbury and Queensbury, of which Daniel W. Wing was lieutenant commanding; but it was not ordered out in time to take part in the battle of Plattsburg.
During the latter part of December, 1814, General Andrew Jackson was completing preparations for the defense of New Orleans, and at the same time was frequently engaged with the enemy, who was making strenuous efforts to gain a foothold on the coast, thereby enabling him to more effectually blockade the port of New Orleans. Repeated engagements occurred, some of them very severe, resulting on the whole in favor of the Americans.
On the 8th of January, 1815, the contest culminated in the battle historically known as that of New Orleans, in which Jackson signally defeated Packenham, the latter losing two thousand six hundred men, killed and wounded, including the commander, while the former's force suffered by the loss of only eight men killed and one hundred wounded. This brilliant action, as a finishing stroke of repeated successes of the American arms, brought joy and rejoicing to the country.
The treaty of Ghent was completed December 24, 1814, and was ratified by the Prince Regent on December 28th, and by the United States Congress on February 17th, 1815. While it secured many advantages to the Americans, the principle for which they went to war, namely, immunity from search and impressments, was not secured them. The Americans had fought their last battle with a foreign foe.
A general conviction prevailed after the declaration of peace that the Page 192 United States would not again become involved in war. It had twice defeated one of the strongest nations of the earth, and the feeling grew in strength that foreign powers would hesitate long before provoking the republic to hostility. This condition of the public mind exerted a widespread and beneficial influence upon the progress of settlement in all new localities, which had been seriously impeded by the war. The people of Warren county, many of whom did valiant service in the struggle just ended, returned to their homes and engaged, with confidence and renewed energy, in the arts of peace and progress.