Posts filed under ‘THIS WEEK in the War of 1812’
The First Year
It has been a year of surprises — pleasant and unpleasant — for both sides in the conflict known alternately as “The Second American Revolution” and “Canada’s War of Independence.”
The Americans saw two major frontier forts, Mackinac and Detroit — both in Michigan — fall to the British, Canadians and their Indian allies with barely a shot fired. Three other U.S. post — Fort Dearborn in Illinois and Fort Harrison and Fort Wayne, both in Indiana — came under attack by Native Americans. Fort Dearborn was evacuated and about a score of its inhabitants — both soldier and civilian — were massacred. The fort, standing in what is now downtown Chicago, was burned to the ground.
British troops and Canadian militia — sometimes with the assistance of Native Americans (or First Nations as they are known in Canada) — were able to repulse three clumsy invasions of Canada by poorly led U.S. troops, but with the loss of one of their most skilled leaders: Major. Gen. Isaac Brock, who was killed at Queenston Heights in present day Ontario, Canada.
The Americans were more successful at sea, defeating three British frigates — the Guerriere, Macedonian and Java — while losing some smaller ships like the sloop USS Wasp. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy expanded a blockade of U.S. ports from New England to Georgia.
The first year of the war, which began in June 1812 showed how ill prepared the armies on both sides were.
The American troops consisted mostly of state militias and volunteers commanded by elderly veterans of the Revolution or younger men who were eager but often inexperienced.
Still at war with Napoleon in Europe, the British could spare but few troops to defend Canada or invade the United States. Instead the burden of war fell on Canadian militiamen who often had little training or supplies. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh threw in his lot with the British, hoping a U.S. defeat would put a halt to the Americans’ relentless expansion into tribal lands stretching West from the 13 original colonies into what was then called the Old Northwest (a region around the Great Lakes that would generate the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota). Tecumseh’s attempt to unite all the tribes east of the Mississippi River against the Americans set the frontier aflame in 1812, leading to attacks on settlements and Army posts.
This will be the last installment of THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 as a weekly feature on 4GWAR.
In the future we will focus on significant developments like the battles of Lake Erie, Bladensburg, Fort McHenry and New Orleans. The first posting, in late January, will explore the Battle of Frenchtown and the River Raisin massacre.
Thanks and Happy New Year!
Your 4GWAR Editor
Old Ironsides vs. the Java
The U.S. frigate Constitution is cruising the South Atlantic off Brazil when she encounters the HMS Java on Dec. 29. The 44-gun Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides” after defeating the British frigate HMS Guerriere in August, is one of the six original U.S. frigates built under the Naval Act of 1794.
The Java, a 38-gun frigate of the same class as the Guerriere, is commaned by Captain Henry Lambert, Royal Navy. Lambert cuts loose with a broadside when William Bainbridge, the Constitution’s commander, hails the British ship. Constitution’s rigging is severely damaged but the U.S. frigate answers Java with a series of her own broadsides.
A cannon ball from Java wrecks the Constitution’s steering wheel — known as the helm — and Bainbridge (twice wounded in the battle) orders the crew to steer Old Ironsides manually using the ship’s tiller.
Java’s bowsprit gets entangled in the Constitution’s rigging allowing Bainbridge to continue raking the British ship with cannon fire. After two and half hours of firing, Bainbridge sails out of range to make emergency repairs, returning an hour later to confront the ruined Java. Unmanageable and with most of the crew wounded, the Java surrenders.
Bainbridge determines the Java is too damaged to seize as a prize, so he orders the British ship burned — after transferring her crew to his vessel and ordering Java’s wheel salvaged and put on the Constitution.
Java is the third British frigate to fall to an American frigate, so the British Admiralty orders all its frigates to steer clear of the heavier American ships and not tangle with them one-on-one. Only the massive ships of the line or a squadron of warships are henceforth permitted to attack U.S. frigates.
Still afloat at age 215, the Boston-built USS Constitution today remains the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel.
Battle of the Mississinewa
Three days after a forced 80-mile march through snow and bitter cold from Fort Greenville in Ohio (see last Monday’s posting), Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell and a force of 600 mounted troops arrive Dec. 17 at the Mississinewa River in the Indiana Territory. The mixed force of U.S. Dragoons and volunteer units mostly from Kentucky – but also Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan – is on a mission to attack and destroy several Indian villages strung out along the river, especially the Miami village of Mississenaway).
The Shawnee leader Tecumseh has been trying to organize the tribes East of the Mississippi River to resist further encroachment by the Americans. Tecumseh, who has encouraged the Miamis, Kickapoos, Wea and other tribal peoples to join him, has thrown in his lot with the British in their war with the Americans. In the summer of 1812, Indian bands attack several white settlements and Army forts in Indiana and Major Gen. William Henry Harrison, commander of the Northwest Army, wins Washington’s approval to launch a punitive expedition against the Miamis and their allies. He picks Campbell to lead
Campbell’s troops take the first village, kill about eight Indian men and take 42 prisoners – all but eight of them women and children. The captured village is that of the Delaware (Lenape) leader Silver Heels. Campbell is under orders to avoid harming Silver Heels and his people, who have to join Tecumseh’s war with the whites. The U.S. forces continue along the river, burning two evacuated Miami villages. Many of Campbell’s men are suffering from frostbite while ammunition and food are running low, so he decides to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ and head back to Fort Greenville.
The next morning (Dec. 18), about 300 Indian warriors attack Campbell’s camp at dawn. The U.S. troops manage to drive them off after about an hour of fierce fighting but a dozen soldiers and militia men are killed and more than 40 wounded. Indian casualties are unknown but believed to number about 30 dead. More than 100 soldiers’ horse are killed in the fight. To hasten the return back to Ohio, the Indian women and children captives are placed on captured ponies while the soldiers who lost their mounts have to walk in knee-deep snow.
Fearing another Indian attack, Campbell’s troops build a fortified camp every night during the six-day retreat back to Ohio, depleting the men’s strength even further. One day out from Fort Greenville, with all food gone, half the force suffering from the cold and many of the wounded near death, the force is met by a relief column. Campbell’s force reaches the Fort on Dec. 24. More than half of his men are incapacitated by frostbite.
Even though the main objective, Mississineway, is never reached, Harrison declares the operation a success and Campbell is promoted. The Indian captives are sent to an Indian settlement in Ohio. Harrison’s plans to march north and retake Fort Detroit are put on hold.
One of the largest historic re-enactments of the War of 1812 marks the Battle of Mississinewa every October outside Marion, Indiana. Here’s a brief YouTube video, which gives a sense of the uniforms and weapons used 200 years ago by British and American troops (even though most of the actual participants in the Battle of Mississinewa were frontiersmen and Native Americans).
Tooting Our Own Horn
This blog started in November 2009, and we were thrilled to pull in 1,352 viewers for the last two months of 2009. In 2010, our first full year online, 4GWAR was viewed 62,557 times.
So far this year we’ve gone over 200,000 visits. As of 9 a.m. Eastern Time today (Dec. 14) we have had 202, 013 visitors.
According to the elves at wordpress, who keep track of such things, the 4GWAR blog has had visitors from every country on Earth except four in Africa (South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Guinea and Western Sahara) and two in Central Asia (Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). Yes, we’ve even had a visit or two from North Korea.
Sometime early next year, we’ll get the final tally from wordpress.org, but its been a pretty good year so far.
To our regular visitors and followers, Thank you very much! To first time visitors, we hope you found something interesting and useful. Please visit us again soon — and tell your friends and colleagues about us.
Your 4GWAR Editor
The war on the frontier heats up this week despite heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures.
In response to Native American attacks on two U.S. forts in Indiana territory during the summer (Fort Harrison on the West and Fort Wayne on the East) Gen. William Henry Harrison receives permission in early November from Secretary of War William Eustis to mount a punitive expedition against the villages of the Miami Indians along the Mississinewa River in north central Indiana (near the present day city of Marion, Indiana).
On Nov. 25, Harrison orders Colonel John Campbell to attack and destroy the Miami village of Mississinewa but to spare and women and children and march them back to Ohio.
On Dec. 14, Campbell sets out from Fort Greenville in Ohio with about 600 mounted troops. They are bound for Mississinewa 80 miles away through deep snow and freezing temperatures.
With most military units on both sides heading into winter quarters. All is quiet …
On land …..
… and sea. Although by month’s end, the American frigate, U.S.S. Constitution will be heading for a fateful meeting with HMS Java.
The Niagara Frontier
Fort Erie is a stone fort on the Canadian side of the Niagara River opposite Buffalo, New York. It replaced an earlier wood and earth fort — destroyed by river ice — that the British first constructed in the 1760s after the French and Indian War.
Construction of the stone fort started in 1804, but Fort Erie is still undergoing renovation when U.S. troops attack its outlying fortifications on Nov. 28, 1812.
The Americans launch a two-pronged raid across the Niagara in advance of a full-blown invasion of Canada planned by Brigadier Gen. Alexander Smyth.
One group of 150 regular Army soldiers and 70 sailors captures and burns a small British-Canadian post and disables its cannons. Those guns pose a threat to any planned U.S. invasion across the Niagara River. A second group of 200 U.S. infantrymen have less luck destroying a bridge over Frenchman’s Creek. The axes they brought for the job either didn’t make it to shore or were left behind in the boats that did reach Canadian soil. The bridge needs to be taken out to deny the British a route for bringing up reinforcements to counter attack. A small party is left to tear up the bridge as best they can while the rest head back to the shore to be picked up..
Due to mis-communication and poor planning, not enough boats are sent to pick up all the raiders when their work is done. More than 30 soldiers and sailors are stranded on the Canadian side and captured. Another 350 reserve troops sent by Smyth to assist the raid, come under fire, suffer casualties and turn back.
U.S. casualties total 88 killed and wounded and 39 captured – out of a total force of 770. The combined British-Canadian forces – numbering about 650 troops – lose 13 killed, 44 wounded and 34 captured.
Brig. Gen. Smyth decides to go ahead with his invasion plans to send 3,000 U.S. troops to seize Fort Erie and drive the British off the Niagara Peninsula. But poor planning again leads to chaos in the nighttime attack. Only about 1,200 men make it into the boats before sunrise. The situation is aggravated by torrential rain and freezing cold. Smyth postpones the attack for another day.
U.S. troop morale plummets when Smyth calls off another chaotic amphibious assault on Nov. 31 and eventually drops plans for a late fall/early winter campaign. He sends the militiamen home and goes into winter quarters with the regulars. Three months later, President James Madison quietly fires Smyth, who is dropped from the Army’s rolls.
The Americans will take another crack at Fort Erie in 1814 and the surrounding area will be the scene of the bloodiest fighting in Canada during the war.
Defeat and Retreat
Another hard week for American morale 200 years ago. A party of Indiana militia are ambushed and defeated at Wildcat Creek … and U.S. troops begin to withdraw – for the third time – from Canada.
Early in November, a large U.S. force consisting of three regiments of Kentucky infantry, a company of regulars from the U.S. 7th Infantry Regiment, a troop of mounted Indiana Rangers and a company of scouts march north from Vincennes on the Wabash River toward an Indian village near the scene of the Battle of Tippecanoe a year earlier. The punitive expedition, led by Major Gen. Samuel Hopkins, aims to destroy several Indian villages in retribution for attacks on Fort Harrison and Fort Wayne in Indiana as well as several Indian raids on civilian homes and farms along the frontier during the summer.
On November 20, a force of 300 from the Hopkins expedition burn an abandoned Kickapoo village near Tippecanoe on Wildcat Creek. The next day a scouting party is fired upon. One man is killed and the scouts retreat. A party of 60 Indiana Rangers set out the next day, Nov. 22, to retrieve the slain soldier’s body.
Lured up a narrow canyon by a taunting Indian warrior on horseback, the Indiana Rangers are ambushed by waiting Kickapoo, Winnebago and Shawnee warriors. More than a dozen soldiers are killed within minutes. The Rangers retreat in disarray back down Wildcat Creek.
Over the two days, Nov. 21-22, 17 regulars and militia men are killed and three wounded. An unknown number of Indians take part in the attack and their losses – if any – are also unknown.
Hopkins learns of a large force of Indians are coming to attack his troops and he prepares for battle but the weather turns bitter cold, a snowstorm threatens and Hopkins heads back on Nov. 24 to Fort Harrison and then Vincennes. More than 200 of his men are down with sickness or frostbite.
The troops that failed to invade Canada from northern New York and Vermont earlier in the month begin heading south on Nov. 23. The troops are part of a large army commanded by Major Gen. Henry Dearborn.
As we previously chronicled (Nov. 6), Dearborn’s advance guard — commanded by Major Zebulon Pike — was turned back by Canadian troops and their Indian allies.
Some of the militia in Dearborn’s army balk at invading Canada and the general gives up the idea of a large scale invasion and goes into winter quarters.
The One That Got Away
An American flotilla heads back to U.S. waters on the Great Lakes this week after failing to seize or sink the largest British ship on Lake Ontario – the HMS Royal George, a 20-gun sloop with a crew of 200.
A day earlier, Nov. 10, the seven-ship U.S. flotilla, commanded by Commodore Isaac Chauncey nearly catches the Royal George inside Ontario’s Kingston Harbor.
Chauncey orders his flagship, the brig USS Oneida, into the harbor to board and seize the Royal George while the other, smaller ships under his command lay down a withering barrage of canon fire against British shore batteries.
But the big British ship manages to make it to the wharf and tie up within sight of a large contingent of British and Canadian troops. Chauncey decides to call off his attack, fighting his way out of the harbor and into a deeper channel.
Both sides retire to their respective ports for the winter.
In early November 1812, U.S. Major Gen. Henry Dearborn – commander of the Northern Army (except for the troops in the West now commanded by William Henry Harrison) – makes plans for another invasion of Canada.
This time it is to be a thrust from northeastern New York against Montreal. Dearborn — who has dallied in the Albany, New York area for most of the war, trying to recruit troops while planning his invasion strategy – has been prodded into attack mode by President James Madison.
By Nov. 10, Dearborn – a Revolutionary War hero, former congressman and Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of War – has moved much of his 6,000-man force to the New York-Canadian border near Plattsburgh, New York.
On Nov. 20, an advance U.S. party commanded by Col. Zebulon Pike (the discoverer of Pike’s Peak in Colorado) moves on Lacolle Mills in Quebec near the village of Champlain, New York, where a blockhouse is garrisoned by about 40 Canadian militia and Indians.
Pike’s vastly superior numbers overwhelm the blockhouse defenders who retreat. But then a U.S. militia unit comes out of nowhere — thinks the blockhouse is still held by the enemy — and fires on Pike’s men, who return fire. Both U.S. units think they are fighting the redcoats and not fellow Americans. When they finally discover their mistake the Americans troops are confused and demoralized.
The British under Major Charles de Salaberry, aided by 300 Mohawk Indians, seize the opportunity and counterattack driving the Americans back across the border.
The fiasco convinces Dearborn to abandon his planned attack and orders his troops into winter quarters.