Posts tagged ‘Royal Navy 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.

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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.

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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 (January 4-January 10, 1815) Part III

New Orleans: The Last Battle.
PART III of Three Parts, The Ending

(Click on all images to enlarge)

Very few of the British troops made it as far as the Americans' mud and log rampart, which was built by black slaves commandeered from area plantations. (Courtesy U.S. Army)

Very few of the British troops made it as far as the Americans’ mud and log rampart, which was built by black slaves commandeered from area plantations.
(Courtesy U.S. Army)

January 8-10
As Major General Andrew Jackson moves along the length of his defensive line congratulating and praising his men for their resounding victory over the British late in the morning of January 8, he suddenly realizes he hasn’t heard any firing from the American positions on the west side of the Mississippi River directly across from the battlefield before him.

Navy Commodore Daniel Patterson commands a battery perpendicular to Jackson’s battle line to catch the British in a crossfire as they advance on Jackson’s right (close to the river). In addition to the sailors and Lafitte pirates manning those guns, Brigadier General David Morgan has 600 men and three cannon stationed a mile or so downriver to defend Patterson’s river battery.
The night before (January 7), British Colonel William Thornton crosses the Mississippi with about 450 soldiers, sailors and marines to capture Commodore Patterson’s guns and turn them on Jackson when the main British attack begins in the morning.

Thornton’s barges get a late start (see Part II), then the Mississippi’s strong current pull his barges farther down river than planned. By the time Thornton gets his men ashore and assembled on the morning of the 9th, General Pakenham has launched the British attack on the other side of the river.

British attack on west side of Mississippi River. (National Park Service)

British attack on west side of Mississippi River.
(National Park Service)

Thornton easily routs the first line of American defenders, about 120 poorly trained Louisiana militia armed with bird-hunting guns and ammunition too big to fit in their gun barrels. A little father on, the British encounter the Louisiana militia again joined by a Kentucky militia detachment – also poorly armed and exhausted after an all-night march from U.S. headquarters. The Americans fire a few volleys but flee when three small British gunboats accompanying Thornton’s men open fire from the river. Marching farther northwest along the Mississippi, Thornton’s men encounter General Morgan’s final defensive line, a ditch with waist-high earthworks behind it. Morgan’s troops pour several volleys into the British before their right flank is turned and British sailors punch through their defenses. The Louisiana troops flee into the swamps and the Kentuckians run pell-mell for the Patterson’s river battery. Neither Morgan nor the Kentucky commander can stop the rout. The three gun crews, now out of ammunition, spike their guns, dump them in the river and retreat.

Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson (By John Wesley Jarvis)

Commodore Daniel Todd Patterson
(By John Wesley Jarvis)

Three hundred yards farther upriver, Commodore Patterson sees the Kentuckians fleeing toward him. As he orders his guns turned to meet the approaching British, he realizes he can’t fire on the enemy without hitting Americans. When the Kentucky boys won’t stop running, the outraged Navy man orders one of his gunners to fire on “those damned cowards.” Just as the young midshipman is about to fire, Patterson countermands his own order. Calming down, he realizes his position is untenable. He orders his men to spike their guns, dump the remaining gunpowder into the Mississippi and retreat to the U.S.S. Louisiana, moored about 300 yards away. Patterson then turns and stalks off cursing the British and the Kentuckians.

Across the river, Andy Jackson is also cursing the Kentuckians and sends 400 soldiers across the river to reinforce Morgan, whose force now consists mostly of Louisiana militiamen and the Kentucky officers who didn’t flee. British troops lining the east side of the river cheer when Patterson’s river battery ceases firing on them, but those guns stay silent when Thornton discovers the Americans have rendered them useless. In a little while he receives orders to withdraw back to the east side of the Mississippi. The two-pronged British attack has failed. Pakenham is dead. Two other senior commanders are gravely wounded and hundreds of redcoats lie dead before Jackson’s ramparts. The numbers vary, depending on who is doing the counting, although all sources agree the British suffered more than 2,000 killed, wounded or taken prisoner. American casualties in all the fighting on both sides of the river total: 55 dead, 185 wounded and 93 missing.
Jackson assents to a British request for a temporary truce to exchange prisoners, bury the dead and care for the wounded, but Old Hickory keeps his guard up and his eyes peeled for the next move of the still dangerous British invasion force. Even though New Orleans is now safe, the British could attack Mobile or Pensacola.


January 9-10

While Pakenham was mounting his two-pronged land attack on either side of the Mississippi, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the overall commander of the invasion force, decides to try sailing up the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Cochrane sends five ships, including two bomb ships like the ones he used to bombard Fort McHenry outside Baltimore five months earlier, up the river to attack a small U.S. strongpoint, Fort Saint Philip. The fort, bristling with 34 guns (more than Jackson had at Chalmette Plantation), commands the Mississippi about 80 miles south of New Orleans. If the Royal Navy can reduce the fort, it can sail up the river, outflank Jackson and bombard New Orleans – at least that’s the plan.

British attack on Fort St. Philip. (National Park Service)

British attack on Fort St. Philip.
(National Park Service)

At 3:30 p.m. on January 9 – a full day after the British defeat upriver – the Royal Navy bomb ships begin firing on the fort, which contains a little over 400 defenders—mostly Army regulars, with 50 Louisiana volunteers, 30 Free Men of Color and 40 sailors. The British are anchored out of range of all the American guns, except one, a mortar which doesn’t have the right size ammunition.
The bombardment continues all day, every day from January 10 to January 14 – with the exception of two hours every day at noon and sunset when the Royal Navy has lunch and dinner.

Battle of New Orleans 2015 commemorative stamp (U.S. Postal Service)

Battle of New Orleans 2015 commemorative stamp
(U.S. Postal Service)

While the last big battle of the War of 1812 is concluded and negotiators in Ghent, Belgium have already agreed to a peace treaty (December 24, 1814) word of the treaty – which must be ratified by Congress and signed by President Madison – is still a month away in an era without undersea telegraph cables, railroads or fast moving steamships.
Meanwhile, the British naval blockade is still on, U.S. Navy and privateer ships are still raiding at sea, the Army is still trying to wrest control of the Upper Mississippi region from the British-Canadians and their Indian allies and the Treaty of Ghent, as well as the Constitutional resolutions of the recently ended Hartford Convention have not yet reached Washington.
So stay tuned, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 will continue here at 4GWAR until mid-March.

Je suis Charlie

January 9, 2015 at 2:35 pm Leave a comment


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