THE WAR OF 1812, AND BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES.
BY G. B. SAWYER, ESQ.
John Price, whose death occurred a few weeks since, at
father and his two sons, John Price, seventeen years old, and Joseph Price, a
year older, enlisted at Burlington (of which they were natives), in the
Eleventh Regiment, in June, 1812, and were attached soon after to the company
of Capt. John Bliss. John Price was even then remarkable for his great personal
strength, hardihood, and resolution. The regiment was enlisted from
their regiment, the three Prices fought bravely at the battle of Chrystler's fields, and performed the severe march from
French mills to
Buffalo, Gen. Brown took command of the army, consisting of Scott's and
Ripley's brigades, Townson's artillery, and Porter's
volunteers some 3,500 men (besides a considerable number of sick), which had
been brought by Gen. Scott's training, in six or seven weeks, to a perfection
of discipline before unknown to the service. Brown crossed the river and
time, a rest for the musket. He got three unexpected fires, at point blank distance, with fatal aim an auspicious omen of the corning contest. This skillful and handsome battle of Chippewa the first pitched battle of the war electrified the country almost as much as the capture of the Guerriere by the Constitution.
command of Riall's army was then taken by Lieut. Gen.
Drummond, who called in the troops from the neighboring garrisons, and received
heavy reinforcements from
sanguinary conflict was brought on, July 25, by a movement of Gen. Scott's
brigade and artillery, in order to prevent a threatened attack on the
McNiel for Col. Campbell had been mortally wounded at the battle of Chippewa
commanding the Eleventh regiment, and every captain, were killed or wounded.
And when Gen. Brown arrived with Ripley's brigade at sundown, the regiment was
in command of the senior lieutenant. Maj. Leavenworth, of the Ninth, who had
originally belonged to the Eleventh, and knew every man in it, rode up and
asked for the regiment and the commanding officer. "I command the
regiment," said the lieutenant, "and here it is. The rest are dead on
the field or carried wounded to the rear." Greatly affected,
more than a week the exhausted armies were unable to move. But
in the first days of August, the British army, of 5,000 strong, marched to
ditch to meet the double peril they had just surmounted. The defenders had successfully repulsed the repeated attacks of the right and left divisions; it had required their utmost efforts. Col. Drummond (nephew of the general), meanwhile, who commanded the centre division, far the most numerous, and doubtless designed to be the main column of attack, was inadequately met, and succeeded in gaining the parapet, followed by hundreds. Waving his sword, he lived long enough to utter the words, "Give the dd Yankees no quarter!" but not a moment longer he was instantly shot dead, riddled with bullets. John Price who was near him when he fell, and who had no idea of sparing his bullets on such an occasion, seized the barbarian's sword, and afterwards bought his watch of a soldier who took it. As the defenders turned to repel this new danger, the magazine, over and near which the assailants were, accidentally or otherwise, exploded, blowing bastion, assailants, and some fifty of the defenders into the air. Those of the storming party who survived, lost no time in springing or being dashed over the fort and into the ditch. A story was told of the captain of a gun favorably situated at this time for raking these unfortunate fellows. He was blazing away to his entire satisfaction, when an officer ran to him, and ordered him to desist. "Don't harm those who are floundering in the ditch but let fly at the rascals who are streaking it to the batteries." "Zouns, sir," said the honest artilleryman, "would Drummond have had your scruples, if he'd had us in such a fix?" The story, not unlikely to be true, shows how closely retribution follows on the heels of inhumanity.
Gaines, like the rest of our generals, was severely wounded by the bursting of
a shell. The
After this repulse, and it was a terrible one, the enemy retired to his works, sent for reinforcements, and resumed the siege in form.
Relinquishing the idea of storming the fort, an unintermitted fire of cannon-balls, rockets and shells from the batteries on both sides was kept up night and day. Our little army, cooped up in Fort Erie, in the heat of August and September, was wasting away by sickness and the fire of the enemy having received no reinforcements, except from the sick and wounded, convalescent, but enfebled, who arrived, from time to time, from Buffalo and Schlosser.
assailants, on the other hand, had maintained their relative superiority by
The siege had now continued more than six weeks, and the situation of the besieged was critical indeed. The fort, with its diminished garrison, had no such means of resistance to an assault as Gen. Gaines possessed four weeks before, and might be carried before Gen. Izard, then on his way from Plattsburg, could arrive to its relief. Retreat across the river was surrender of the fruits of the previous conflicts, admission of defeat, and a mere transfer of the scene of contest to American soil. Besides, how could the embarkation and passage of the river be achieved in the face of a vigilant and superior enemy? The alternative was to storm and carry the British works. At this time (Sept. 16) Gen. Brown consulted an officer in whom he had confidence, and asked him to indicate the man for an important and perilous service, the character of which was sufficiently intimated. "John Price," replied the officer "a young man but an old soldier." And Price was sent for to the general's marquee. Gen. Brown proposed to him to go to the enemy and give such information as, corroborated by certain movements of his own, might induce the enemy to withdraw a portion of his force from the vicinity of his works. Such a diversion afforded the only chance of success for the sortie he meditated and means of safety for the army. Price replied that he had endeavored to be a good soldier, and didn't know how to play the deserter referred to his own services his only brother killed a few weeks before, and to his aged father, and appealed to the general whether such a service ought to be imposed upon him. But, he yielded at length to the arguments and solicitations addressed to him. The general expressed strong confidence that Price would succeed, and promised him a lieutenant's commission, or a reward commensurate with the service, if he returned alive. Price replied that a poor fellow who would stand as a deserter if he failed, and a spy if he succeeded, with no hope of protection from either side, had better be thinking of a halter than a reward. He asked three days to get ready in. The general said he
could allow him no more than twenty five minutes to prepare. He begged the general to pass him through the pickets, urging that otherwise he would run a greater risk from friends than from the enemy, if he got there. "It can't be done," said the general; "and you must go with your arms, and fully equipped, as though you deserted from the picket yourself. You must run the risk." His instructions were to represent our force as so reduced and enfeebled, as to remove all apprehension of an attack upon their works, and to impress upon Gen. Drummond an apprehension in another quarter, viz., that it was the report, and universally believed in camp, that Izard's army, or part of it, was to attack Fort Niagara, in conjunction with the fleet, on the evening of the 17th (the next day), and this impression was to be confirmed by movements from Buffalo and Fort Erie in the morning. "He gave me," said Price, "various other instructions as to how I should act and what I should say some of which I do not now recollect; but I do recollect following them precisely and he depended something on my soldier's experience and knowledge of things to carry myself right."
To preclude all idea of collusion, his escape was remitted to his own unassisted ingenuity. Selecting his starting point on the 16th, at 1 o'clock, he did his best to elude the vigilance of the sentinel, but failed. To discover, hail, and fire, was almost a simultaneous act. He narrowly escaped the ball. Springing to his feet, he ran with his utmost speed towards the British sentinel, who, surprised at the suddenness of the onset, fired also.
this the way you treat a deserter didn't you hear the Yankee sentinel fire at
me just now!" shouted Price. The honest John Bull protested he had not
time to think, begged his pardon, and shook hands. Price was taken, behind a
dragoon orderly, to Gen. Drummond's quarters, about a mile and a half from the
British battery, with an account of the circumstances under which he had come
in. The double fire which the deserter had incurred, and which had been heard
by both armies, served to forestall and disarm all suspicion and distrust of
the genuineness of Price's desertion, and stood him in good stead
afterwards. He assigned the usual reasons for it disgust, hardship, hard
service, hard usage, &c. Gen. Drummond asked him whether there was any
rumor in camp of an intention to attack the British works. He replied,
"No;" and that was true for Gen. Brown had taken good care that the
camp rumors should point to another course altogether; and the accounts he gave
in his replies to questions asked, of the situation of things in Fort Erie; the
number of effective men sick and wounded; the losses from the fire of the
British batteries; the dispirited condition of the troops, were such as
rendered the idea of such intended attack improbable, if not preposterous. But
there was a report that Fort Niagara was to be attacked by Izard and
Brown, in connection with the fleet that detachments from Buffalo, and even
from the Fort, would be sent down the river immediately and there was
considerable commotion among the men about it. The examination was long and
close, and Price was furnished, by Gen. Brown's instructions and his own
knowledge, with any amount of details and information, which he did not volunteer,
but gave in direct response to questions, or as immediately growing out of
them. He was at length dismissed, satisfied that Gen.
Drummond was on the wrong scent. In a military view, the Americans were quite likely to attack and secure a strong fortress
between him and
time a dragoon came up to Gen. Drummond's quarters on express, and informed Gen. D. that the whole American army had sallied out upon the breastworks; and before he could form his army and march through the woods our army had killed and taken the brigade that was guarding their batteries, spiked their guns, destroyed their carriages and blown up their magazine." Such was Price's simple statement of an action which his own agency had so large a share in rendering successful, and the interest still attached to it will justify a more particular account of it.
the 17th, under cover of a mist, Gen. Brown directed Miller to occupy a ravine
between Fort Erie and the British works on the left; Ripley, with a large body
as a reserve, took a central position, and Porter, with his volunteers and some
regulars, made a circuit through the woods to the right, gained the rear and
commenced the attack. He rushed upon the enemy completely surprised, carried
the batteries and a blockhouse, making prisoners of the garrison, spiked the
cannon and blew up the magazine. The explosion was the music that set Miller
and Ripley in motion. They pressed on through a shower of musketry, grape and
canister, which only accelerated their speed, and entered the works at the
point designed. A severe contest ensued, hand to hand, but nothing could resist
the enthusiasm which Porter's success had inspired. Of some they made
prisoners, others were shot or bayoneted, the rest were thrown or driven over
the works, and the fugitives were pursued by a storm of musketry from ranks
instantly formed. The whole line of the British entrenchments was now in
uncontested possession of the Americans. They disarmed and secured the
prisoners; spiked some of the cannon, and pitched the rest, with broken
carriages, muskets, and ammunition, into heaps; and nothing escaped, that was
destructible by the human arms, powder, or fire. The fruits of seven weeks'
mortal toil, skill, labor, and blood, were destroyed in two hours, with the
loss of 1,000 men. The Americans suffered severely, losing 500 men, including
some of the noblest spirits of the army. But
Izard and his army of 5,000 men to oppose whose irruption upon Niagara Gen.
Drummond had detached his brigade of upwards of 2,000 men, in the forenoon of
the 17th did not, in fact, arrive till October! While prosecuting his slow
and toilsome march while the one point was unrelieved, and the other left
exposed Prevost invaded us, an the land and water battle of Plattsburg was
fought on the 11th of September, and the sortie six days after. In the same
stirring week the repulse at
sortie from Fort Erie was the last of four great conflicts, fought in the
course of seventy-four days, and virtually closed the campaign on the
British army lingered four or five days near the ruins of their demolished
works, offering Brown no further annoyance. Perhaps Gen. Drummond remembered
at all events, he acted on Dogberry's instructions to the watch that if they
encountered turbulent and fighting fellows, ready for a row, prompt to beat,
knock down, and kick innocent watchmen, and who would not be taken, why,
pass over to the other side of the street, and let them entirely alone; and, if
they misuse you, why, bid 'em God speed, and go away.
He took up his march for his entrenchments at Chippewa, leaving Brown,
The torpor of astonishment at the result of the sortie subsided, in the British army, into a feeling of inexpressible anger and mortification. Nobody felt it more acutely than Gen. Drummond. He bethought him of Price, and directed him to be brought by a file of men. Pale with passion, he broke out with, "Villain, you have betrayed me; you shall die the death of a spy and traitor," and poured out a stream of charges and invectives. Price listened in silence till he had exhausted himself, and said, "General, I am in your power, and you can hang me if you please; but it will be poor encouragement to deserters. It's a pity the sentinels hadn't shot me, as they came nigh doing, when I was seeking your protection." As to de‑
ceiving him, Price replied that Gen. Brown did not entrust his
plans to his soldiers, especially to a lad scarcely twenty years old. He said
he had referred to the rumors and talk of the camp as his sources of
information, and the American prisoners would confirm it; and if Gen. Brown did
not intend to move down the river to Fort Niagara, his own troops were
deceived, and he (Price) was deceived too; and that was the very reason, he urged,
why he had hastened his desertion at so much peril. Numerous coincidences,
indicating concert and understanding with the American headquarters, he found
it difficult to clear up; but he did his best; and all who knew him will
readily believe that he spoke respectfully, simply, with entire self-possession
through that face of his, as impervious to emotion as so much sheet-iron. The
result was that Gen. Drummond was staggered in his opinion, but not convinced.
"You may be innocent, Price; but your story is the same a spy would
have told, calculated and intended to deceive and mislead." "And that
was a fact; the general had me there," said Price, relating the scene to a
friend, many years ago. But he escaped a drumhead court-martial on the spot.
He was put under the provost guard, marched to
A singular circumstance accomplished it. There are some who may remember something of Lieut. Sheldon, belonging to one of the later raised regiments a young man of great strength, and of a courage that better deserved to be called desperation. He had been engaged in a fatal duel, and at La Cole Mill he continued, alone, loading and firing an abandoned field-piece, exposed to the fire of the whole garrison, and disregarding all orders to retire; when finding his balls wholly ineffective against the solid masonry, and launching a volley of taunts against the cowardly rascals that had skulked into an old mill enforced by the gesture most expressive of contempt he retreated, opening his bosom, and leisurely backing towards his friends. The John Bulls admiring his intrepidity, or amused at his audacity, ceased firing; he got back, his clothes and hat riddled with balls.
It pleased this strange Lieut. Sheldon, some time after peace, to visit the loyal city of Montreal, and to attend the theatre dressed in the full uniform of an American officer; "God Save the King" was played; some one instantly called out that the Yankee soldier should take off his hat, with a scurrilous remark, and the demand was reechoed by the audience. Sheldon rose and coolly said, that if he "had been treated with civility, he might possibly have taken off his hat in honor of their crazy old King; but as it was demanded with insult, it would come off when his head was pulled from his shoulders, and not before;" and with this conciliatory remark the row instantly commenced. Sheldon fought bravely. Price, who had witnessed the whole scene, let himself down, from the attic region of the theatre; at all events, placed himself by Sheldon's side, and said "I will stand by you. Let us secure our rear we can take care of front and flanks." They placed their backs to the wall and those fared badly who came within striking distance of two of the most athletic and powerful men to be found, skillful and experienced in such conflicts; and especially of Price for he was left-handed and a left-handed blow is more sure and effective, from being an unexpected one to the adversary. The assailants went down in heaps, dashed against benches, angles and sharp-edged things, receiving severe and fatal wounds. Victory had nearly declared itself for the two redoubtable champions, when a large body of soldiers, informed of the Yankee row, rushed in, and the contest was renewed. It was now one of life or death, to Price especially, till a cowardly blow with a billet of wood on the head of Sheldon, laid him senseless. A single glance sufficed to inform Price that Sheldon was
beyond the reach of further aid (he died a few days afterwards of his hurts), and collecting his strength, he made a spring, dashed the assailants aside, gained the door, the entrance, the street, and concealed by the darkness hatless, his clothes torn in shreds, bruised and bloody he reached the opposite shore of the wide river, took the woods, and found himself on the American side of the lines, and made his way to Plattsburg. He had been directed by Gen. Brown, in the event of his escape, to report himself to the commander of the first military post he should arrive at. He reported himself to Gen. Macomb, then commanding at Plattsburg, who examined into his case, and ordered the quartermaster to furnish him his back rations, from the time he left the army until he arrived at Plattsburg, which he disposed of, and proceeded on to Sackett's Harbor, and reported himself to Gen. Brown. The general was as much surprised as rejoiced at his escape, and offered to procure him a commission on the peace establishment, which he modestly declined, although, he said, it would have been the height of his ambition, if the war had continued. He asked if he would be satisfied with a pecuniary compensation, and to stay in the army till his time was out. This proposition he did not decline. Telling him there were no funds to pay off the troops, the general gave him an order for $100, pocket-money, on his brother, Major Brown, quartermaster, who for that reason did not pay it. He sold the order for $80 "and that was all," said Price, "I ever received from Gen. Brown for my services, such as they were."
His old regiment, the Eleventh, the general said was to be called the Sixth, and would be stationed at Governor's Island, at New York, and he would be there in September or October following. He came and reviewed the troops at the island; and Price saw and spoke with him, and was directed to call at his quarters the next day, at 10 o'clock. He did call, but the general had left the city a few minutes before, and Price never saw him afterwards.
remained in the service, and received an honorable discharge, dated June 13,
1817, having served five years, the full term of his enlistment. It was signed
by his captain, John Bliss, and Col. Atkinson, and was sent to
Gen. Brown was commander-in-chief of the army, he made a tour to inspect the
condition of the military defences on the northern
frontier, and was hospitably entertained by Gov. Van Ness a day and night at
Gen. Brown's statement or certificate never came. And wherefore? Gen. Brown never recovered from the effects of his fatigues and severe wounds, and brought from the war health and constitution, mind and memory shattered and impaired, and his infirmities gradually but constantly increased, till they laid him in his honored grave. In these infirmities may probably be found the explanation of any misconception or neglect in regard to Price's services. But this explanation was unknown to him. Wounded by it, he proudly refrained from reminding his old commander of what he should have remembered and young and strong, engrossed in his hardy occupations, appreciated by his comrades, and by all whose opinion was of importance to him and doing well with the proverbial carelessness of the sailor and soldier, whose characters he combined, he whistled his disappointment down the wind, and marched on. But as years came he felt it deeply more, I am persuaded, from the deserved appreciation of his conduct of which himself and his children were defrauded, than from the pecuniary reward that was withheld. Few who were present, will forget the interview between him and Gen. Scott, when the matter was talked over between them, and the eyes of the humble and the illustrious veterans overflowed.
his hardy vocation, no man was more industrious, resolute, and trusty. Property
and money were safe in his integrity He was a good husband and father, a good
citizen; in all things, manly; and the person lives not who will charge his
memory with a mean or dishonest action; he was never obtrusive, but spoke
sparingly and modestly of himself, though his soldier life was full of incidents
that soldiers are commonly fond of rehearsing; and, though occasionally
indulging in some amusements which are usually learned by young men in camp,
and though his formidable left arm was exceedingly prompt to repel insult,
protect a friend, or defend anybody imposed upon, the consequences of his
venial faults generally lighted upon parties that richly deserved all they got.
As a soldier, Price was a marked man; sure to be immediately thought of, and to
volunteer, upon any service of difficulty and danger. The merit and credit of
the actor in such an expedition as Price's to Gen. Drummond,
are usually measured by the importance of the result, by the peril incurred,
and by the motive. Now, it is certain, that Gen. Drummond was so penetrated by
the conviction that the danger was in the direction of Fort Niagara, that he
sent one brigade of 2,000 men there, in the forenoon of the 17th; that not a
man of the second brigade in the rear moved to the assistance of the batteries
till too late; that Brown, left to deal with the
third brigade, which manned the works unsupported, swept them, and achieved the
victory. What Brown thought of Price's agency in paralyzing two thirds of the
British army, has been already stated; what Drummond thought of it, his instant
arrest and the subsequent transactions, conclusively prove. In this, both
commanders manifested their agreement. As to the peril coolly incurred it was
that of immediate death not like that on the bloodiest field of battle, which
is contingent, not certain; nor that of a spy, who glides into the enemy's
camp, discovers his weak and unguarded points, and, prepares and expects
escape; but that of a deserter, who boldly braves the bullets of the sentinels,
whose plan implies that his person is to be left in the hands of an exasperated
enemy, and who seeks the success of his stratagem from the very confidence
which his inevitable peril inspires. It is true he did escape. But his
escape was almost a miracle; and that he owed to himself alone; to the
same qualities, in short, that nerved him to meet the peril. Who would incur
it, from any hopes, promises, or prospects of promotion or reward, in such a
case? As elements of inducement, they are too small to be detected by the naked
eye. As to the motive, then: To bring safety to his comrades victory to the
army honor to the country that was the motive. John Price was
capable of it. He felt the sentiment, and he acted it. No finer action
of the kind has been transmitted by history or tradition; not Sergeant Champe's, nor Nathan Hale's, nor Crosby's. He was a soldier
of the war of 1812, the corollary of the Revolution, waged to avenge the
stimulation of Indian massacres, paper blockades, orders in council, impressment of our seamen, and plunder of our property on
the ocean, for which the satisfaction was contemptuous insult a war that
revealed to ourselves and to foreign nations our resources and our strength,
and raised us in their estimation and our own that prevented future wars by
averting foreign wrongs that inspired in a people, divided acid alienated, a
feeling of brotherhood and the pride of nationality, that have borne us since
through many a crisis, and of which we feel the influence to the present hour.
Let not that war, nor its warriors, nor its examples of unostentatious self-devotion, be rewarded with oblivion, by a people that will
surely stand in need of them hereafter. In his own state especially, ought such
deeds as John Price's to be remembered for he was one of the eleventh
regiment, in whose fame
H. B. SAWYER.
Capt. Sawyer enters the navy, June 4, 1812 Service on Lake Champlain Engagement and capture of the Growler and Eagle at Isle aux Noix A year's captivity at Halifax Exchanged and ordered on board the Constitution Engagement and capture of the Cyane and Levant Chase and escape of the Constitution Peace Capt. Sawyer ordered to Boston Goes before the mast in an India ship Return and promotion Ordered to the South American squadron under Com. Stewart for a three years' cruise Ordered to the West Indies on service against pirates Ordered to the Mediterranean on similar service Goes abroad for his health Home service on the Canadian frontier Promotion as commander Promotion as post captain Sickness and death.
Of that band of skillful and heroic officers who in the French and Tripolitan wars established the navy in the confidence and af‑
fections of the American people, Com. Stewart alone survives retaining at a great age his mind unclouded, and his physical powers almost unimpaired (June, 1860). Of those whose youth was trained in that school and by such masters, who performed subordinate but honorable parts in the naval conflicts of the war of 1812, the number that remains is small, indeed, and rapidly diminishing. To this class, the late Capt. Horace Bucklin Sawyer belonged; and a sketch of his naval service and character will not be uninteresting to his friends and professional associates.
belonged to a military race. His grandfather, Col. Ephraim Sawyer, having
commanded Whitcomb's Worcester County Regiment at Bunker hill and Saratoga
furnished four sons who were officers in the Revolution, and spent an ample
estate in the cause, as the wont of the times was left Lancaster, Mass., in
1786, with his whole numerous family, and emigrated to Grand Isle co., Vt. His
father, Col. James Sawyer, one of the four above referred to, removed from
When war was declared in 1812, Hon. Martin Chittenden, who then represented the Northern part of the state in congress, was called upon, at short notice, to hand in a. list of names for military and naval appointments. Among them were the sons of his old friend. The elder, Frederick A. Sawyer, recently graduated, and undetermined as to his pursuit in life, was appointed an ensign the younger, a midshipman. The first knowledge of the appointments was the reception of the commission and warrant through the post office. The ensign immediately reported himself to Col. Clark, who had just begun to recruit and organize the 11th regiment, afterwards so well known for its participation in the battles on the Niagara frontier and the midshipman reported to Lieut. Sidney Smith, who had charge of the naval force on Lake Champlain.
force consisted of a few gunboats built two or three years before; and in
course of the summer two sloops, called the Growler and Eagle, were purchased
by the government, strengthened and armed with eleven guns each twelve pound
carronades. It was actively employed during the season of navigation, in aiding
the military operations along the lake. At the close of the
season of 1812, Com. (then Lieut.) McDonough, having been appointed to
the naval command of the lake, arrived at
season of 1813 opened late, and after a winter of an unprecedented severity. On
the 27th of May, Mid. Sawyer was directed by Com. McDonough to take one of the
gunboats of the enemy then called row-gallies had
come up the lake over the American side of the lines, captured the small craft,
and otherwise annoyed the inhabitants on both sides of the lake. Com. McDonough
directed Lieut. Smith to take the Growler and Eagle as far as Champlain, and
drive the enemy down the lake. Those vessels, it may be noted, had a few good
sailors from the seaboard; but the principal part of the
crews were Capt. Herrick's company of McCobb's
vessels proceeded north the row-galleys retiring
provokingly at their leisure before the Growler and Eagle, keeping out of their
reach, as they might well do, by the use of their sweeps. Lieut. Smith passing
Champlain, found himself at Ash island; and at 3
o'clock on the morning of June 3d, pressed on beyond the narrow passage till
the impregnable and impassable fortification of the
coverts to discharge their long twenty-four's, but mainly at the enemy on the shores; and it was reported at the time with severe effect. But at 12½ o'clock a 24 pound shot struck the larboard bow of the Eagle, and ranging obliquely through the vessel, tore off a whole plank from her side, under water. She sunk immediately, fortunately in shoal water. Some fifteen minutes after, a 24 pound ball shattered the Growler's mast, bringing down her sails and rendering her unmanageable. Lieut. Smith was compelled to run her ashore. The vessels were lost, and the crews prisoners.
Growler lost 9 and the Eagle 11 men, killed and wounded. This disaster was
severely felt, as it gave the enemy the command of the lake, impeded our
military operations on this frontier, and influenced, if it did not compel, the
transfer of hostilities to a theater where much blood was spilt, but no
adequate result could be attained. Without it, however, the defence of
Defeat and captivity are a rude and mortifying introduction to the professional life of a soldier or sailor, although the spirit, judgment and activity of the young midshipman in this conflict of almost six hours qualities which the inexperience of almost every man on board, made valuable and brought into full play were acknowledged by his comrades. But the battle brought with it an aggravated misfortune. His head, disordered by the recent accident already referred to, was so affected by the constant cannonading for so many hours, that at its close, he found himself in a state of deafness, from which with a consequent train of ailments and disorders, he was to experience during his life, temporary mitigations, indeed, but no recovery.
The court of inquiry subsequently held, bore testimony to the gallantry of officers and men to the resolute constancy of a defence, which was protracted till further resistance became impossible, and treated leniently the imprudence which led to the disaster.
prisoners were sent to
Deprived, therefore, of the privilege of parole, and all the ordinary indulgences of prisoners of war, the officers were confined in one of H. M. ships of war, commanded by Hon. Capt. Douglas. He was a young man of 27, a younger son of Lord Douglas, of the heroic race commemorated by Shakspeare and Scott a frank sailor, of a nature the most kindly and generous. For his prisoners (many of them raw youths from the frontiers or the sea), he opened his library, replenished from time to time from the town, and provided teachers of French, mathematics, fencing, and even of dancing recommending cheerful and useful occupation as the best remedy and relief for the ennui and despondency incident to their situation. For the young sailor, so heavily afflicted by the performance of duty in battle, he evinced much sympathy and interest conversing with him familiarly and making such suggestions as to books and study as he thought useful. Thus, undisturbed by the noise, and undiverted by the amusements, of his crowded quarters, he availed himself of all the means within his reach, and converted a year of captivity into a year of improvement.
Not a few of his prisoners had cause to remember, in after days, the considerate kindness of Capt. Douglas. The Captain said one day to the young man: "Well, I mean to be under sail; and you, I suppose, will get on board one of your Yankee ships, when you get quit of us."
"Certainly, sir," said the midshipman.
"Well, then, I shall meet you and take you, no doubt; and you will have to resume your studies."
"Not so, sir. I am quite sure we shall take you as we are getting into that way of late; and I must think how I can requite your favors."
Both remembered this playful conversation some months afterwards.
An exchange of prisoners was at length
effected, and a cartel carried them to
Constitution proceeded on her cruise, like one of Ariosto's heroes roaming
the ocean at pleasure, baffling the pursuit of banded foes and victorious in
every encounter. On the afternoon of Feb. 20, 1815, two sail were descried in
the distance. If the two British ships (a frigate of the smaller class of 32
guns, and a sloop of 24 guns), were superior in number of guns and men to their
antagonists, it was an advantage counter-balanced by the concentration of force
in a single ship, and that ship the Constitution, commanded by Stewart! The
engagement commenced at 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Even a landsman, with the
official account before him, can comprehend the skill with which the advantages
of position and wind were used and maintained throughout by the Constitution
keeping her two enemies within reach, striking them successively the heaviest
blows, and raking them without suffering herself to be raked. The complex manuvres
required in fighting two enemies instead of one, necessarily protracted
conflict for hours, mostly under the clear light of a bright moon. At half past
nine, a raking broadside from the Constitution compelled the larger vessel to
strike, and the first lieut., Hoffman, was sent on
board to take possession of the ship, which proved to be the Cyane, Capt. Falconer. The delay required by this
operation, it was feared might enable her consort to escape. The latter,
meantime, much cut up, had drifted or run to leeward to repair damages, with no
intention however to abandon her comrade; for her gallant commander had
resolved to share his fortunes whatever they might be. She met the
Constitution, which had turned in pursuit of her, and bravely maintained the
combat till 10 P. M., when she too, was compelled to strike. Lieut. Shubrick
was the officer sent to take possession, to whose division Mr. Sawyer belonged,
and who was directed to accompany the lieutenant on board the prize. Some men
had been hurt at the guns; and during much of the engagement Mr. Sawyer had
assisted in serving a gun himself. Dressed in sailor jacket and a tarpaulin,
and with hands and face begrimed with powder, he was not readily
distinguishable. As the commander of the
Constitution and her two prizes put into Port Praya
for repairs. On the 11th of March, accident disclosed that a large ship was
approaching. Com. Stewart directed the cables of his vessel to be instantly
cut. A second look revealed in the distance the canvas of two more heavy ships
composing a strong British squadron, known to be cruising in those seas. In 10
minutes the Constitution and her prizes were standing out to sea, swept to
windward and cleared the hostile ships. And now had commenced
the famous chase, even more honorable to the skill and spirit of the American
commander, officers and crews than their late victory. The enemy were gaining on the Cyane.
Com. Stewart signaled her to tack, and aided by a fog, and varying her courses
as was judged most likely to disconcert pursuit, she arrived safe in the
Of the conduct of Mr. Sawyer, in this memorable cruise of his gallantry, zeal and untiring devotion to duty, the testime‑
nials exist; and they evince what is credit enough that he was worthy to be one of that noble crew.
from the ship, he was ordered to
He returned, as he had timed it, to see to his promotion which he had expected at the session of 1817-18, and learned to his dismay that his name had been omitted in the secretary's list for promotion. The objection was simply his youth. A young man of 21 could afford to give away to his seniors in age, but his juniors in date and service. But if too young for promotion at 21, at what age would the objection cease? If postponed to his juniors (and to how many?) promotion would be retarded through all the grades, and so affect his status during his whole naval life. The principle assumed broke over the usage of the navy, regarded as settled, which prescribed seniority in date as the rule of promotion; and the occasional deviations from it (as in the case of Lawrence and Morris and some others) had produced discontent in the navy and public dissatisfaction.
a letter from his father, he called upon Gov. Tichenor, then in the
Mr. Sawyer had heard of Gov. Tichenor as one of the founders of his native state as a patriot and statesman, who had served her in almost every trust in her power to confer, and he had heard too, of those charming manners which fascinated all who ever approached him. But brought within their influence during that winter not even his grateful sense of his friendly interest and earnest exertions at an important crisis of his life, could heighten the admiration and veneration he cherished for that accomplished gen‑
tleman. Of any man, it was enough for him to say: "He reminds me of Gov. Tichenor."
after his promotion, he was appointed one of lieutenants of the brig Dolphin,
Capt. Connor, belonging to a strong squadron, destined to a three years' cruise
to South America, commanded by Com. Stewart, who hoisted his broad pennant on
Of this cruise of Com. Stewart, it is worth while stopping to remark that upon these South American people then blindly staggering into a national independence they have never known how to enjoy or maintain, the wisdom and ability of the chief, the skill and intelligence of his officers, and the thorough discipline of the crews above all, the promptitude, justice and humanity manifested on all occasions, made a salutary and lasting impression. Actual aggression was followed by certain punishment. Meditated wrong was abandoned from the impossibility of success. Our commerce was secure at sea. Our residents were safe on shore; and protection was denied to none of any nation that asked and deserved it. And this view answers the question: Of what use is a navy in time of peace? Why, of the very peace which the question assumes to value, the navy is the guardian and protector. While, beyond our limits, it is a spear to smite the foreign assailant, and a shield to protect our coasts, harbors and cities its best office is to save the expense and blood of victory, even by preventing its necessity. Within our limits, moreover, it can not, penetrate, to endanger, if that can be supposed, the public liberty. Of these truths this nation can not be insensible, unless, like those miserable South American states, it is destined to be "dissevered, discordant, belligerent rent with civil feuds, and drenched, it may be, with fraternal blood." Is this to happen?
Sawyer's next sea service was in the brig Spark, commanded by that excellent
officer and man, Capt. John T. Newton, against the pirates in the
In this service, reports Capt. Newton, Lieut. Sawyer,
always ready to volunteer and lead, performed a zealous and gallant part. After
two years' incessant duty, the consequence of exposure and fatigue in these
boat expeditions, was an attack of yellow fever. The
Spark brought him around to
next service was in the sloop-of-war
Sawyer had married Miss Shaler of
one day in Regent street (the Broadway of London), Lieut. Sawyer saw, amidst
the crowd approaching, a face and figure, fuller and somewhat touched and
altered by time, yet not to be mistaken by him. The other might
reasonably have found more difficuty in detecting the
identity of the tall and somewhat stately man before him, with the stripling of
fifteen years before. Raising both hands almost involuntarily, to prevent the
gentleman from being swept onward with the stream of the multitude and lost, he
exclaimed: "Captain Douglas! Admiral Douglas I hope by this time I am
most happy to meet you!" There was surprise, hesitation, recognition.
Seizing his arm, Capt. Douglas conducted him to the United Service Buildings
a little city of itself established and supported by the contributions of the
officers of the two services, where the subscribers resided, without charge,
while they sojourned in London; and where veteran officers of all ranks,
delighted to resort to meet each other and their associates in arms. The
meeting was as pleasant as cordialy and hearty
hospitality could make it. At length, Capt. Douglas rose and proposed to pass
to another room, "where there are some gentlemen you will like to
see." And there he saw a number of plain, military looking gentlemen
somewhat weather-beaten conversing and enjoying themselves as veterans do.
Capt. Douglas presented the American officer to the Duke of Wellington, Sir Edward
Codrington, the hero of Navarino, Admiral Sir Michael
Seymour, and others, explaining briefly his acquaintance and its origin. He was
courteously received, put at his ease, and soon engaged in conversation. This
was his principal resort during his stay in
to the fogs of
to a foreigner, unaccustomed to the climate, to be risked;
and Sir Astley Cooper advised him to go to the clear atmosphere of
the medical decision was that his deafness had become organic; and no prospect
of benefit from an operation existed, to justify the risk of destroying the
hearing that remained. He crossed the channel to take the packet for home, and
home, though somewhat improved in general health, and gratified by the
acquaintances he had formed and the interesting scenes he had mingled in, he
brought with him the depressing conviction that his deafness was beyond the
reach of medical skill, a disappointment none the less severe, because,
probably, he had little real ground for expecting any essential relief. For a
number of years, he remained at home, or on duty at naval stations. In the
meanwhile, he had happily married Miss Wadsworth of
the occurrence of the patriot war in
was at this precise juncture that the insurrection broke out battles were
fought and blood was flowing profusely in both provinces of
administration, however, determined to pursue a pacific policy to meet the
emergency, recommended, and congress passed a stringent act, supplementary to
the general neutrality law of 1793; and Gen. Scott and Gen. Wool were despatched to the northern frontiers to enforce its
execution. Lieut. Sawyer was directed by the navy department to report to those
officers, and place himself subject to their orders. He was stationed at Derby
Line, and, having charge of the northern frontier of
A small detachment of troops was placed under his orders. To use these, if necessary, to restrain and repress incursions from either sides of the lines to select proper agents to obtain information of meditated movements and disconcert them; to appeal to those disposed to preserve the peace; to remonstrate with and defeat those inclined to disturbance; to prevent the burning of buildings and other schemes of mischief and violence designed to embroil the two countries; and to cooperate with the authorities, military and civil, on the other side, engaged in similar measures of repression such were the duties imposed on Lieut. Sawyer. And the confidence implied in the selection of a naval officer to perform duties strictly military, was justified by the firmness and activity, the prudence, good temper, and success with which those duties were performed. His conduct received the approbation of those distinguished officers and of the government, and extorted the commendation of those to whom his mission was so distasteful.
engaged in this duty, he received his promotion as commander in the navy. His
friend Capt. Claxton, who so gallantly conducted in his youth in Perry's
battle, incurred deafness on Lake Erie, by an accident, and under
circumstances, almost similar to what happened Capt. Sawyer on
He was much employed, it may just be noted, at the naval stations at Norfolk, Georgetown, D. C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Boston, Sacketts Harbor routine duties which afforded no incidents.
1854, he was promoted to a post captaincy. At their session in 1856, the
had taken up his residence at
His remains were brought to his native place, and interred among his kindred, as he desired the last of three brothers who had honorably served the country in the army and navy.
The service in which Capt. Sawyer participated, with its incidents, while it illustrates his professional character, has an interest of its own; these reminiscences have fallen from the pen as memory prompted, and those for whom this notice is intended, would not require their compression, if it were now practicable. It is enough, if they suggest to them traits that belong to the thorough seaman, the brave and enlightened officer, and the true gentleman.
Capt. Sawyer was a man of strong mind and ready perceptions; he was fond of books, and his information was extensive and accurate; and his large acquaintance with society had given him manners courteous and winning, sustained by personal advantages quite unusual. Singularly free from bad habits and vices, his tastes and pleasures were simple, manly and plain. He liked to seek out the old soldiers, and to do and contrive something for their benefit. He was fond of his profession and his professional associates, among whom he bad no ill-wishers. His worthy foster brothers, Robert, Andrew, and Lavater White, with whom his infancy and much of his youth was spent, were brothers to the last, and his attachment
to his native state, whose history, public men, and people
he thoroughly knew, was felt and expressed with an earnestness that sometimes
provoked a smile. While residing beyond her limits, at
In his domestic relations he was faultless; and he was loved by his family as few men have been and deserved it all. To that group he has left the memory of his counsels, and the guidance of his example.