Posts tagged ‘War of 1812 in Georgia’

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

THE FINAL ACT, PART I.

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.)

*** *** ***

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.

*** *** ***

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.

*** *** ***

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.

*** *** ***

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.

*** *** ***

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: (March 1-March 7, 1815)

Reckoning in Canada.

Sir George Prevost (Courtesy of Canadian House of Commons Collection)

Sir George Prevost
(Courtesy of Canadian House of Commons Collection)

March 1, Quebec City

Word that the Treaty of Ghent has been signed by British negotiators and ratified by the Prince Regent (and future King George IV) finally reaches Quebec, Canada. The provincial governor general, Sir George Prevost, announces the end of hostilities on the Northern Front.

Prevost also orders the disbanding of the militia, which he organized to defend a poorly fortified Canada at the beginning of the War with the United States.

March 2

Ironically, a ship arrives in Quebec the next day carrying Sir George Murray, Prevost’s replacement, as well as orders from London for Prevost to return and explain his conduct during the disastrous Plattsburgh campaign in New York’s Lake Champlain Valley.

After the British naval attack on U.S. ships defending Lake Champlain failed on September 11, 1814, Prevost called off his land attack on the key lakeshore town of Plattsburgh– even though his forces outnumbered U.S. troops defending the town.

Prevost’s key brigade commanders — Manley Power, Thomas Brisbane and Frederick Philipse Robinson — all veteran generals of the Napoleonic Wars under the Duke of Wellington — urged him to continue the assault and complained bitterly when he refused and ordered a withdrawal back to Canada.

(War of 1812 map via wikipedia) Click on Image to enlarge

(War of 1812 map via wikipedia)
Click on Image to enlarge

Historians today see the British defeats at Lake Champlain/Plattsburgh and Baltimore as more decisive battles than the celebrated American victory at New Orleans months later on January 8, 1815.

The three brigadiers’ complaints — as well as those of Admiral James Yeo, the British naval commander in Canada — followed Prevost back to England and he asked for a court martial to clear his name and repair his tattered honor. Unfortunately, a month before the 1816 trial was to open, Prevost died of dropsy.

Denial in the South.

March 5, Cumberland Island, Georgia

Rear Admiral George Cockburn, the driving force behind the British burning of Washington and the campaign against Baltimore, has been shunted aside since the fall of 1814. Based in Georgia, he has been raising havoc along the Southern U.S. coast as a diversion for the main British invasion targeting New Orleans.

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 plans to attack  Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina from his fortified base on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cockburn is also recruiting escaped American slaves for the Colonial Marines. As many as 1,700 slaves have converged on British ships.

On February 25, an American officer under a flag of truce informs Cockburn that the peace treaty has been signed, but the admiral declines to suspend hostilities until he hears the treaty has been ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Official word of the ratification arrives on March 2. Cockburn ceases hostilities but keeps sending booty seized from American plantations to Bermuda and collecting more escaped slaves. Three days later a U.S. delegation arrives on Cumberland Island with a newspaper showing the treaty has been signed, sealed and delivered but Cockburn says it is not authoritative. He also refuses to return U.S. property as stipulated in the treaty — including escaped slaves unless they want to go back to their masters. Few of them do.

March 1, 2015 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 11-January 17, 1815)

Siege of Fort St. Philip.

January 10-17

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans. (via wikipedia)

HMS Erebus a British bomb vessel similar to the ones used against Fort Saint Philip, Louisiana after the Battle of New Orleans.
(via wikipedia)

The small, rugged Fort St. Philip along a bend in the Mississippi River blocks the way for the Royal Navy, preventing a naval bombardment of the city of New Orleans. British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (the man who commanded the attacks on Washington and Baltimore in late summer) orders a small squadron of five ships including two bomb vessels, to reduce the fort, move up river and support the British army in an attack on New Orleans.

But more than 400 Army regulars — infantry and artillerymen — black and white Louisiana militia and about 40 sailors — are prepared for attack. All the fort’s wooden buildings, like barracks, have been dismantled as a possible fire hazard. The powder magazine is divided into several smaller magazines around the fort, all buried under several feet of earth and timber.

Starting late on January 9, the Royal Navy — anchored more than two miles downstream — begins shelling the fort. Many of the shells bury themselves in the swampy morass surrounding the fort and fail to explode. Others fall short or sail harmlessly overhead. Frequent attempts to approach the fort in longboats are driven off by the fort’s small arms. So far the shelling has killed only one man and wounded two others. No part of the fort has been severely damaged although several cannon have had their carriages damaged.

Day after day the British bombard the small fort — except for two hour meal breaks at noon and sunset. It rains constantly, turning most of the fort’s interior into a lake. The fort’s tents have been shredded by the British shelling and there is little shelter from the elements. None of the fort’s 34 guns can reach the British ships, except one, a large mortar, but it doesn’t have the right ammunition.

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

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

On January 15, supply ships from New Orleans reach the fort bringing much-needed food and the proper ammunition for the mortar. By January 17, the gun crews have the big mortar all ready and finally return fire on the British. One mortar round strikes one of the bomb ships, doing unknown damage. The British bombardment stops at sunset.

Battle of Fort Peter

January 13-14

Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn  (with Washington, DC afire in background)

An 1817 painting of Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (with Washington, DC afire in background)

When Admiral Cochrane sailed off to New Orleans in December, he left behind Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (the man who suggested attacking Washington and Baltimore) to raid around Chesapeake Bay and along the southern U.S. coast to create a diversion and keep the Americans off balance.

On January 10, soldiers of the 2nd West Indian Regiment and Royal Marines under Cockburn land on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. They number about 1,000 men. Three days later Cockburn’s ships begin bombarding Fort Peter on the Georgia mainland near the town of St. Mary’s. The St. Mary’s River marks the boundary between British-allied Spanish Florida and the United States. Runaway American slaves flee south into Florida and Native American raiding parties attack  Georgia plantations and settlements from the largely-ungoverned Spanish colony.

Cockburn lands troops at Point Peter, attacks Fort Peter and takes it without suffering any casualties. On their way to sack St. Mary’s the British force encounters a small American force of 160 Army regulars. There’s a brief skirmish. The Americans suffer 1 killed, 4 wounded and 9 missing before withdrawing in the face of a force that outnumbers them almost 7-to-1.

Map of the St. Mary's River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

Map of the St. Mary’s River area by Karl Musser via Wikipedia

On January 15 the British capture St. Mary’s even though there is another small fort just outside the town. In addition to burning Fort Peter, the British capture two American gunboats and a dozen merchant vessels. Cockburn’s men occupy the area for about a week before withdrawing back to Cumberland Island. They suffer only 3 dead and 5 wounded. With no one in North America yet aware that a peace treaty has been reached in Belgium, the British begin planning a raid in force on Savannah, Georgia.

January 13, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment


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