THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (September 21-September 27, 1814)
September 21, Fort Erie, Canada
British Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, after weeks of failed attacks and bombardment, calls off his siege of Fort Erie and marches away into the rainy night. The 48-day-long siege has cost British-Canadian-First Nations (Indian) forces more than 280 killed, 500 wounded and over 700 captured or missing. The Americans have lost 213 dead, over 500 wounded and more than 250 missing or captured.
Drummond heads north along the Niagara River to Chippawa Creek near the scene of two bloody battles in July.
That same day, The Baltimore Patriot is the first newspaper to print Francis Scott Key’s four-stanza poem, “Defense of Fort M’Henry.” I becomes wildly popular – first in Baltimore – and then throughout the country. It becomes even better known when set to music (a difficult-to-sing – but popular — tune) and the title is changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner” (but the song does not become the official national anthem of the United States until 1931).
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September 26-27, the Portuguese Azores
The American privateer, General Armstrong, a Baltimore clipper, has been raiding British shipping in the Atlantic for over a year when she puts into port at Fayal (now Faial) in the Azores, a Portuguese colony. The Armstrong is named for Brigadier General John Armstrong Senior, a commander in the Revolutionary War as well as the earlier French and Indian War. The privateer, a non-military ship authorized by the U.S. government to raid commercial shipping, has captured or destroyed several British ships since 1813.
A squadron of three British warships heading for Jamaica and the British military buildup for an attack on New Orleans, sails into the port, spies the Armstrong and send several small boats to try and board her. Contemporary British, American and Portuguese accounts differ on who did what to whom – and when.
What is certain: Samuel Chester Reid, the captain of the eight-gun Armstrong, ordered his canon to fire on approaching boats carrying British sailors and Marines, driving them off. The British tried to board the American vessel again but were again driven off after a fierce hand-to-hand fight on deck (like something out of the novels of Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester). At least two large British rowboats were sunk.
The next day, September 27, the infuriated British commander, Captain Robert Lloyd, orders his smallest warship, the brig HMS Carnation, to attack. Reid fires on the Carnation, doing some damage but sees he is outnumbered with no way out. He orders his crew to abandon ship and scuttles the Armstrong. Historians don’t even agree on who set fire to the ship. Reid and his crew (two dead, seven wounded) take refuge on the island, which is neutral territory, and the Portuguese governor refuses to allow the British to land and hunt them down. Lloyd and his ships sail for the West Indies and historians again disagree on whether this has any bearing on the Battle of New Orleans. British losses in the fracas are put at 36 dead and 93 wounded.
Historical Footnote: The man the General Armstrong is named for is the father of the second U.S. Secretary of War during the War of 1812, John Armstrong Junior, who is largely blamed for not fortifying Washington before the British attacked and burned parts of the U.S. capital.
Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812. Tags: Battale of Fayal, Boston clipper, Canada in War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, privateers, S.S. General John Armstrong, Siege of Fort Erie 1814, Star Spangled Banner, War of 1812 at Sea, War of 1812 Bicentennial.