THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (August 31-September 6, 1814)

September 5, 2014 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

A Crucial Week.

White House after the 1814 fire by George Munger (White House Historical Association)

White House after the 1814 fire by George Munger
(White House Historical Association)

Official Washington is in ruins. The White House and the Capitol have been torched as have the headquarters of the State, Navy and War departments. The armory at Greenleaf Point has been destroyed. Under orders from Navy Secretary William Jones, sailors and Marines have blown up and torched the Washington Navy Yard to keep its supplies, munition stockpiles and two almost completed new ships out of British hands. The Royal Navy has captured Alexandria, Virginia — just a few miles south of Washington — emptying its storehouse of food, tobacco, cotton, and flour. The U.S. Army and local militia have been humiliated on the battlefield of Bladensburg, Maryland. President Madison and his cabinet are wandering the roads around Washington, trying to reorganize the government and the war effort. It is the most desperate time in the young life of the United States of America — perhaps the most desperate ever.

And yet, the United States fights on this week from the Mississippi River to the English Channel, from the New York Canadian border to the Chesapeake Bay.

August 31

Sir John Sherbrooke with a force of 2,000 sails down from Halifax and attacks the coast of Maine, which is still a part of Massachusetts. By September 3 he has captured Castine, Hampden and Bangor.

September 1

The USS Wasp, a 22-gun sloop-of-war, cruising the western approaches to the English Channel, sinks the 18-gun brig HMS Avon.

The same day, just south of Montreal, Sir George Prevost, the governor general of Canada, starts marching an army of 12,000 to cross the border and attack Plattsburgh, New York. Plattsburgh  on crucial Lake Champlain. Only about 3,000 troops, mostly green militia, defend Plattsburgh under Brigadier Alexander McComb. It is to be a combined arms operation with the Royal Navy taking out American vessels defending Plattsburgh.

USS Wasp in 1814 (via Wikipedia)

USS Wasp in 1814
(via Wikipedia)

On the Potomac

The eight-ship Royal Navy squadron of Captain James Gordon departs Alexandria September 2 with 21 prize vessels, all stuffed with loot. Navy Secretary Jones, furious with the U.S. military’s poor showing against the British, decides to make Gordon’s journey a memorable one — ordering the Navy, assisted by Army regulars and Virginia and Maryland militia, set up cannon batteries on either side of the Potomac on bluffs overlooking the river.

The first, near Belvoir plantation in Virginia, is commanded by Captain Oliver Hazzard Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie the previous year. The other, by Captain David Porter, another naval hero who harassed the British whaling fleet in the Pacific Ocean before his ship, the USS Essex was defeated off the coast of Chile in late 1813. Neither battery has enough fire power to effectively battle Gordon ‘s little fleet which includes bomb ships and rocket ships as well as the frigate HMS Seahorse. After duking it out with Gordon’s ships for nearly three days, Perry is forced to withdraw when heavy shellfire strikes several of his cannon and wounds his men.  Porter has few cannon (his on big gun arrives just 30 minutes befre the British) and even less ammunition. When his ammunition runs out September 5, Porter breaks off fighting and withdraws. It takes x days, but Gordon sails on and rejoins the main British fleet in Chesapeake Bay on September x.

On to Baltimore

The combined British Army-Navy-Marines force that burned Washington marches out of the city August 25, fearing a counter attack by U.S. troops. At first it looks like thy are headed for Baltimore but its only a feint to confuse the Americans. The plan works and Army Brigadier William Winder musters his scattered troops and heads for Baltimore. The British eventually turn south and return to Benedict on Maryland’s western shore whre the 4,500-man raid-in-force disembarked August 19. The British re-board their transport ships September x, ostensibly to head for Rhode Island where the overall commander, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, wants to wait out the “fever season” of the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden conditions of the Chesapeake in late summer. Cochrane plans to attack Baltimore after that.

September 4

Up on the Niagara border between New York State and Canada, the British are still besieging Fort Erie on the Canadian side. Major General Jacob Brown, although not fully recovered from his wounds at Lundy’s Lane, has resumed command of the fort after his successor, Brigadier General Edmund Gaines is wounded.

The Americans launch a raid outside the fort on a British artillery battery. The battle– often hand-to-hand combat — lasts nearly six hours before a severe thunderstorm rakes the battlefield.

Secretary of War John Armstrong by Rembrandt Peale

Secretary of War John Armstrong by Rembrandt Peale

Also on September 4, Secretary of  War John Armstrong resigns. Armstrong refused to call out the militia or build defenses until the last minute when Washington was threatened with invasion. It didn’t take Armstrong long to realize he has lost the confidence of President Madison and annoyed nearly everyone in the cabinet. Secretary of State James Monroe, who screwed up the troop displacement at Bladensburg, is named Secretary of War.

September 5

Two setbacks in the far west. In Michigan, a resourceful Lieutenant Miller Worsley and 77 men in canoes, trick and capture two American warships on Lake Huron: he USS Tigress and the USS Scorpion. In what is known as the Illinois Territory, Major Zachary Taylor heads a small force  of 350 regulars and militia attempting to recapture a fort near what is now Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The soldiers are defeated and turned back by an alliance of tribes including Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Winnebago and Sioux .

September 6

The British army heading down from Montreal stops before reaching Plattsburgh, to await word on the progress made by the Royal Navy on Lake Champlain.

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Entry filed under: Counter Insurgency, Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Washington. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

AROUND AFRICA Update 2: Al Shabaab Blitz; Ebola Crisis, Niger Drone Base, Rwanda Verdict, Bastille Day FRIDAY FOTO (September 5, 2014)

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