Posts tagged ‘Indians in War of 1812’

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 15-March 21, 1815)


March 18

Rear Adm. George Cockburn (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Rear Adm. George Cockburn
(Royal Museums Greenwich)

After of days of dickering with U.S. state and federal officials about the return of American property — including slaves — taken during more than a year of raiding towns and plantations on Chesapeake Bay, Rear Admiral George Cockburn leaves Cumberland Island, Georgia with his small fleet of ships.

The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war of 1812, required both sides to return property and territory seized during the war. The British had encouraged American slaves to flee their masters in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the Carolinas, Georgia and elsewhere along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Thousands did so, either working as paid laborers for the British or joining the Corps of Royal Colonial Marines. At first the British had their doubts about this unit of black troops, expecting them to be inferior to European soldiers. But the Colonial Marines proved to be an dependable unit, willing and eager to put the torch to places where they had been held in bondage — and causing panic among slaveholders fearing the sight of armed black men would spark a bloody slave revolt among those blacks who had not run away.

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814. (Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814.
(Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Cockburn told the Americans that as far as he was concerned, any American slaves who made it to British soil — including Royal Navy ships  — were free the moment they came aboard. But he agreed to return five escaped slaves who enlisted in the Colonial Marines after the mid-February date of the treaty’s ratification by Congress, agreeing that the legal “window” to freedom has already closed. He sailed to Bermuda with more than 1,400, now free, blacks. Some would go to British possessions in the Caribbean where they joined West Indian regiments that had proven themselves at Bladensburg and New Orleans. Others were bound for Canada where they joined an existing community of free blacks who had escaped slavery in the states since the end of the American Revolution.

It is difficult to determine just how many blacks fled to the British and freedom during the war because both sides kept poor records.  Also, it is suspected American slaveholders inflated their claims and British officials might have low-balled the number, as the British were required to pay for unreturned property — including slaves. In his book, The Slaves Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, Gene Allen Smith speculates that the number is somewhere between the 3,000 slaves  claimed by the British and 5,000-plus claimed by the Americans. Even so, Smith notes there were 1.1 million slaves in America in 1814, and those that sought freedom with the British were only a tiny fraction of the total slave population. After years of wrangling, both governments agree in 1826 that Britain would pay $1,204,960 to settle U.S. claims.

(We’ll discuss the role of blacks in the war further on Monday in Part II, which will consider the real winners and losers of the conflict.)

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Even a relatively small war like the one between the United States and Great Britain from 1812-1815 takes time to unravel, even after peace is declared. Here are some of the events that happened after the end of hostilities in 1815.

April 6

It takes time, too much time, to repatriate American sailors captured on privateers during the war. Hundreds of them, along with sailors taken off American commercial vessels by Royal Navy press gangs — one of the main causes of the war– but who refused to fight against the United States, have been confined in England’s notorious Dartmoor Prison. Fed up with the delay and harsh prison conditions, the Americans riot. Prison guards open fire, killing seven and wounding 31.

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April 26

British forces evacuate Castine, Maine (still a part of Massachusetts) which they attacked and seized in September, 1814. When they left, the British took more than 10,000 pounds in customs duties they collected while occupying the area, which they called the colony of “New Ireland.” That customs money was used to fund the creation of Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1818.

*** *** ***

May 22

U.S. troops reoccupy Fort Niagara in Western New York on Lake Ontario. It has been in British hands since it was captured on December 19, 1813.

*** *** ***

May 24

Sauk warriors who were allied with the British during the war under Chief Blackhawk, attack and defeat Missouri rangers on the Upper Mississippi in what has become known as the Battle of the Sinkhole.

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June 30

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war. (via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war.
(via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

In the Sunda Straits near the island of Java, the sloop-of-war USS Peacock, which hasn’t gotten word that the war is over, accosts the East India Company brig Nautilus. Peacock’s captain, Master Commandant Lewis Warrington, doesn’t believe the captain of the Nautilus when he says the war has ended. Warrington orders him to surrender, when he refuses, the Peacock opens fire, killing 7 and wounding six including Nautilus commander, Lieutenant Charles Boyce. When the severely wounded Boyce (he will lose a leg) presents documents proving a treaty has been ratified and the war is over, Warrington releases the 16-gun brig and sails off without making inquiry about the brig’s wounded. Peacock returns to New York on October 30. A court of inquiry in Boston a year later exonerated Warrington of all blame. It is the last  naval action of the war.

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July 1

U.S. troops return Fort Malden at Amherstburg (in what is now Ontario), captured in September 1813, to the control of British troops.

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July 18

British troops evacuate Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island at the far northern edge of Michigan Territory. The first U.S. post to fall to the British, the fort was taken by surprise exactly three years earlier because Washington was slow in getting the word to the frontier outposts that the United States had declared war on Britain.

On the same day, the United States begins negotiating a series of peace treaties with the tribes of the Upper Midwest including the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Wyandot and Seneca.

TOMORROW: While neither the United States nor Great Britain could honestly claim to have won the war — or lost it — there were several winners and losers. Read abou them in Part II, the final posting of THIS WEK in the War of 1812.

March 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (December 21-December 27, 1814)

Surprise Attack.

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color, battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans.
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

December 23

Scouts inform U.S. Army Major General Andrew Jackson that British troops are marching from Lake Borgne to New Orleans and he heads South with two under strength U.S. Army infantry regiments, the 7th and 44th, 1,000 Tennessee and Mississippi state militia, 300 New Orleans volunteers, a rifle company of about 60 sharpshooters, a battalion of free black men and 28 Choctaw Indians warriors — about 2,000 in all. Jackson also orders the 230-ton schooner, U.S.S. Carolina mounting 14 cannon, to sail down the Mississippi River to the bank opposite where about 1,900 British troops are camped for the night. In the growing darkness the British think the Carolina is one of their own ships, allowing it to get within range.

Jackson decides to launch a night attack as fog rolls in, vowing the British “shall not sleep on our soil tonight.” At 7:30 p.m. the Carolina opens up on the British camp, sending the troops scattering in confusion. Next, Jackson’s troops open fire with muskets and rifles, killing several British soldiers. Units on both sides dissolve in the fog and confusion as small groups fight desperate hand-to-hand battles with swords, bayonets, knives, fists and muskets used as clubs.

After the fighting ceases, the Americans discover they have lost 213 killed and wounded, while the British count more than 260 killed and wounded in the nearly four-hour battle.

December 24

On Christmas Eve, British reinforcements arrive before dark by row boats that have traveled 36 miles from Pea Island in Lake Borgne to a strip of land between the bayous, in cold rainy weather. The invasion force now totals nearly 6,000. They have no tents to shield them from the dispiriting weather. Two West Indian regiments without winter clothing lose about 100 men — dead and gravely sick — to the elements. The acting commander, Major General John Keane, decides to wait for the new commander, Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham to arrive. Pakenham finally catches up with his command, the next day, Christmas 1814.

The American army withdraws to a new position about 10 miles from New Orleans on the Mississippi River behind the Rodriguez Canal, a ditch four feet deep and 10 feet wide that runs at a right angle about three-quarters of a mile from the Mississippi to a cypress swamp. Jackson orders his men to dredge and deepen the ditch and use the debris to build a rampart of the side closest to New Orleans. Slaves are sent out from the city o do much of the dirty work and spare the soldiers’ energy for the fighting to come. Like so many civil engineering projects in the early days of the Republic, the defenses of New Orleans rested largely on the labor of men who were not free.

Meanwhile, 4,800 miles (7,725 kilometers) away, British and American peace negotiators have reached agreement on ending the war.  The Treaty of Ghent essentially returns things to how they were before Congress declared war on Britain, the legal term is status quo ante bellum. No mention is made of the impressment of seamen from U.S. ships, on of the key catalysts of the war. The British relinquish their plans for an Indian buffer state between the Old Northwest (today’s Upper Midwest) and British holdings in Canada. The United States did not conquer Canada and Great Britain did not hem in the United States between the Atlantic and the Mississippi.

In the painting below, Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier, the head British negotiator, shakes hands with his opposite number, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Quincy Adams.

A 1914 painting by Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the United States, Dec. 24, 1814.  (Courtesy Library and Archives Canada-via Parks Canada, Historica Dominion Institute and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

A 1914 painting by Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the United States, Dec. 24, 1814.
(Courtesy Library and Archives Canada-via Parks Canada, Historica Dominion Institute and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

December 27

Pakenham orders eight cannon and a heavy mortar brought up and emplaced on the riverbank opposite the Carolina, which has continuously bombarded the British . Shortly after 7 a.m., the guns  fire with heated shot to set the pesky schooner afire. Most of the ship’s crew are pirates/smugglers from Jean Lafitte’s stronghold in Barataria Bay east of New Orleans, which is a bit ironic since the Carolina demolished Lafitte’s base in September, when the Americans feared the pirates would join forces with the British.

After two rounds of cannon fire, the Carolina catches fire. The captain orders the crew to abandon ship and at 9:30 a.m. the ship blows up. Built in Charleston, South Carolina and commissioned in June 1813, the Carolina spent her short service years based in New Orleans — patrolling the Gulf against the British and chasing pirates in the Caribbean. Her loss leaves only the smaller U.S.S. Louisiana to block access to New Orleans via the twisting Mississippi.

Jackson orders the Louisiana — farther up river but still within range of the British guns — to be moved, but the wind and current made sailing upriver impossible. So 100 Baratarian pirates rowed out to the stranded vessel, attached hawsers to the Louisiana while under fire and hauled her to safety. Only on cannon ball struck the ship’s deck.

British Advance on New Orleas (Map: U.S. Military Academy, Department of History)

British Advance on New Orleas
(Map: U.S. Military Academy, Department of History)


December 22, 2014 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (August 17–23, 1814)

August Build-up .

Niagara Frontier 1813-1814 (Map courtesy Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Geographic Association)

Niagara Frontier 1813-1814
(Map courtesy Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Geographic Association)

While the guns are largely silent this week, armies are in motion in northern New York and  Lower Canada, along the upper Mississippi River and in and around the Chesapeake Bay all in preparations  for major battles  on Lake Champlain,  outside Washington and Baltimore and  on the Niagara Frontier and Illinois  Territory.


The British siege of the U.S. held fort continues in Canada just across the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York. After their failed  three-column assault on the fort August 15, the British forces settle in for a long siege,  firing cannon balls into the stronghold.

The British have no tents and the soldiers suffer in the heavy Autumn rains  under crude shelters made from bark and branches. Reinforcements from the 6th and 8th regiments of foot, veterans of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, arrive to replace the nearly 900 troops killed, wounded or captured in the  Aug. 15  attack.

*** *** ***


Major Zachary Taylor with more than 350 U.S. regulars and militiamen is preparing to sail and row up the Mississippi River  to recapture Fort Shelby, near present day Prairie du Chien,  in the Illinois Territory.

A small number of British and Canadian troops are awaiting the attack, along with many Indian allies, mostly Sauk warriors under Black Hawk.

The fort, where the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi, is a vital outpost for controlling the fur trade with the Indians in the region.

*** *** ***


In Montreal, preparations are underway for a British attack on Northern New York. Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, is assembling an army of 10,000 to march  on Plattsburgh, New York, accompanied by a hastily constructed British fleet  to seize control of Lake Champlain, opening the way for the British to march down to New York City

A force of  3,400 mostly green troops under General Alexander Macomb await them in Plattsburgh, Four small ships and 10 gunboats are poised for action under Master Commandant  Thomas Macdonough in the waters off Plattsburgh.

*** *** ***


Commodore Joshua Barney (Maryland Historical Society)

Commodore Joshua Barney
(Maryland Historical Society)

After  almost two years of raiding both sides of the Chesapeake Bay, the British are ready to strike at Washington and Baltimore. Major General Robert Ross begins landing a force of  4,000 soldiers and sailors August 19 at Benedict , Maryland on the Western shore of the Chesapeake. Ross’ troops veterans of the wars in Europe, march toward  Bladensburg, Maryland where they would have to cross a bridge over  the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River to reach Washington.

Commodore Joshua Barney, who has  harried the British in the Chesapeake with a tiny fleet of  gunboats, rowed like galleys,  during June and July is pursued up the increasingly shallow Patuxent River  by the British. Under orders from Washington, he scuttles his flotilla August 22 and has his sailors and Marines drag the vessels’ cannons  overland to Bladensburg where Brigadier General William Winder is trying to set up a defense.

But Winder, a political appointee, has no realistic plans and by August 23 he has gathered only about 6,000 Maryland and Virginia militia to defend the bridge at Bladensburg.

August 19, 2014 at 2:29 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (July 13-19, 1814)

Forts under Siege.

Sauk Chief Black Hawk

Sauk Chief Black Hawk

A mixed force of British regulars, Canadian militiamen, volunteers and hundreds of Native American (Indian) warriors arrives at Prairie du Chien, a village where the Wisconsin River runs into the Mississippi. The U.S. Army has built a small wooden fort, Fort Shelby, just outside the village — considered a strategic location for controlling the fur trade on the Upper Mississippi River.

Since 1808, when the United States established the first military installation in the Louisiana Territory at Fort Belle Fontaine (near present day St. Louis, Missouri), the Americans have been battling with the tribes of the upper Midwest who oppose increasing white encroachment on their lands — particularly the Sauk and Fox. They are backed by the British who want to reclaim the land between the  borders of the original  13 states and the Mississippi River.

Fort Osage, built under the direction of General William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) was established in 1808 on the Missouri River in what is now far western Missouri.War 1812 Fort_Osage_Map Fort Osage was established as a military outpost in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory to put Spain, France and Great Britain on notice that the United States meant to protect its territory by military strength and to establish relations with local Native American tribes, especially the Osage.

But during the War of 1812, Washington determined the territory guarded by Fort Osage was under no threat and its troops were needed elsewhere, so the post was abandoned in 1813.

Fort Madison,  also built in 1808, came under Indian attack almost immediately by local tribes, particularly the Sauk under their famous leader Black Hawk In 1812 the Sauk laid siege to the fort, but were driven off by canon fire. Attacks resumed again in July 1813 leading to another siege. Conditions were so dangerous that the bodies of soldiers killed outside the fort could not be recovered. After several weeks, the Army finally abandoned the post, burning it as they evacuated.

U.S. Army uniforms 1812-1815

U.S. Army uniforms 1812-1815

The British-Canadian-Native American force of about 650 outside Fort Shelby in July 1814, called for the commander, Lieutenant Joseph Perkins of the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment to surrender. Perkins only had about 100 regulars and volunteers inside the fort and on a nearby 32-oar riverboat, but he refused to give up the fort. The attackers opened fire and both sides traded musket fire. But the British also had a 3-pounder canon and one of its canon balls struck the riverboat,. which contained most of the fort’s ammunition and supplies. The boat was forced to withdraw downstream.

By July 19, the Americans are running low on ammunition and supplies — and their well had run dry. When the British commander, Captain William McKay of the Michigan Fencibles (a British unit recruited in Canada), threatened to set the fort ablaze by firing red hot canon balls inside the walls, Perkins offered to surrender — if McKay could guarantee the safety of his men. McKay agreed, but told Perkins to await a day while he negotiated with his Indian allies.

July 14, 2014 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

COMING ATTRACTIONS: THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 returns

Battle of the Chippewa (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

Battle of the Chippewa
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

The 4GWAR blog is pleased to announce the return, starting Monday, January 20, of the weekly feature

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812

The final full year of America’s first declared war was a significant one … continued frontier battles with Native Americans…

the last big battles along the Niagara frontier … naval contests won and lost …

the rise to prominence of future presidents Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor …

the widening British blockade of U.S. ports … Washington is taken and burned while Baltimore resists under the Star Spangled Banner.

Capture of the USS Essex (U.S. Naval Academy via Naval Historical Foundation)

Capture of the USS Essex
(U.S. Naval Academy via Naval Historical Foundation)

Read all about it! Starting Monday, January 20, 2014!

January 19, 2014 at 6:22 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: War on the Frontier, 1813

Siege Begins

Today (May 1) marks the bicentennial of the siege of Fort Meigs on northern Ohio during the War of 1812.

Photo courtesy of Fort Meigs Museum

Photo courtesy of Fort Meigs Museum

In the first year of the war, the U.S. Navy has been scoring one-on-one victories against the Royal Navy but several attempts to invade Canada have ended in failure. Meanwhile, conflict has been constant on the frontier of the Old Northwest – which now makes up the Midwest states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin .

The previous year, the U.S. Army posts of Forts Detroit, Dearborn, Harrison, Madison and Wayne all came under attack by Native Americans – largely unaided by British troops or Canadian militia. Detroit and Dearborn both fell to the British and their native American allies.

Fort Meigs, built in early 1813 by Major Gen. William Henry Harrison on the Maumee River in Ohio, has come under attack by about 400 British regulars, 450 Canadian militiamen and more than 1,200 Indians. The British and Canadians are commanded by Major Gen. Henry Procter, while the Native Americans follow Shawnee leader Tecumseh and the Wyandot chief Roundhead.

Massacre of Kentucky Militia

Massacre of Kentucky Militia

About 1,100 men are bottled up in the huge – eight-acre – fort, commanded by Harrison. A brigade of Kentucky militia numbering about 1,200 is on its way to reinforce the American garrison. About 700 Kentuckians attack British positions in the siege lines on May 2. But the Kentuckians are lured into the woods by fleeing Indians who then spring an ambush. Hundreds of Kentucky militia men are killed and wounded. About a dozen more taken prisoner are tortured and killed by the Indians until Tecumseh and two Brisith officers intervene.

The siege of Fort Miegs continues until May 9 when the Indians and Canadians withdraw. They try to mount another siege in July 1813 but fail.


SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.


May 1, 2013 at 1:10 am Leave a comment


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