While looking for information on War of 1812 action in the summer of 1814 in Maine and the Maritimes, I found this article, which was contained in an 1864 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Thanks to an expert on the Battle of Plattsburg, I learned that this article was most likely written by Ben Lossings and that the information on the Battles of Plattsburg and Champlain appears pretty much spot on.
It covers war action in the Lake Champlain area and the New England Coast, with wonderful renditions, hopefully factual, of the Battles of Plattsburg and Lake Champlain; the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut; the Battle of Hampden, Maine; and the captures of Eastport, Maine, and Castine, Maine.
Below the image of each page is a transcription.
SCENES IN THE WAR OF 1812
X. - LAKE CHAMPLAIN AND THE NEW ENGLAND COAST
We are at midsummer, 1814. Since the opening of the spring campaign a great change has occurred in the aspect of foreign affairs. After his disaster at Leipsic, the sun of Napoleon's glory rapidly declined. His operations were confined chiefly to the soil of France by bayonets too numerous for him, and a moral force in public opinion outside of that domain still stronger than bayonets. Gradually the allied armies drew toward and around Paris, and hemmed the Emperor and his legions almost within the walls of his capital. There was no chance for escape; and on the 31st of March, 1814, the Emperor Alexander of Russia and the Duke of Wellington entered the city as conquerors amidst the acclamations of the people. The French Senate declared that "by arbitrary acts and violations of the Constitution", the Emperor had forfeited his right to the throne. In May he abdicated, and all that was left of his overshadowing political power was the sovereignty of the large Tuscan island of Elba between his native Corsica and the main. There for ten months he lived in retirement but not in inaction, for he was continually preparing for that bursting of the bars of his prison-house which afterward made Europe turn pale with terror.
The plan of the British campaign in 1814, on the northern frontier of New York, had features similar to that laid down for Burgoyne's guidance in 1777. The State was to be invaded; the possession of Lake Champlain secured; the country penetrated to Albany and below, while a land and naval force should attempt the capture of New York City; and by holding the Hudson River, separate, by military posts, the New England States from the remainder of the Union. As the downfall of Napoleon might release large bodies of British troops then on the Continent, and allow them to be sent over the Atlantic to assist in the subjugation of the Americans, that event gave joy to the enemy and their friends who composed the disloyal "Peace Party" of that day. The latter flaunted their shame at convivial parties and elsewhere quite as insanely as do their few imitators in our day.
The retirement of Napoleon to Elba did release from Continental service a large body of English troops, and several thousands of them were immediately dispatched to Canada to reinforce the little army there under the Governor-General, Sir George Prevost. They were sent from the Garonne, in Spain, and many of them were Wellington's veterans, hardy and skillful. They arrived at Quebec late in July and in August, and were rapidly pushed up to Montreal. In the mean time the force under Prevost had been very busy in preparations for the invasion of New York, and a flotilla of small war-vessels in the Richelieu or Sorel River had been greatly augmented in numbers and strength during the winter and spring. On the 9th of May, General George Izard of South Carolina, who had superseded the incompetent Hampton in command of the right wing
of the grand Army of the North, was informed that the enemy was in motion below. Captain Pring, the commander of the British flotilla, was moving up the Richelieu with a little squadron; and from behind Providence Island, in Lake Champlain, he proceeded on the 13th to attack an American flotilla under Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, then at Vergennes, Vermont, at the head of the navigation of Otter Creek. Macdonough was early apprised of the movement, and send a party to reinforce a detachment of light artillery in the manning and working of a small battery at the mouth of the creek. Governor Chittenden also ordered out some Vermont militia to repel the threatened invation; and when, on the morning of the 14th, Pring's galleys and a bomb-sloop anchored off the mouth of the creek, they found ample preparations for their reception. A brisk fire was opened from the battery. It was answered from the water; and for more than an hour a cannonade was kept up, when the British vessels were driven off. They then entered the Boquet River for the purpose of destroying flour at the falls of that stream. On their return they were compelled to run the gauntlet of a shower of bullets from some militia who had hastily assembled. Many of the British were killed and wounded. Foiled and disheartened, Pring returned to the Richelieu a wiser man; for he had learned that even in Vermont, whose Governor was a zealous opponent of the war, the people were ready to fight the common enemy any where. A few days afterward Macdonough sailed out of Otter Creek with his flotilla, and anchored it in Cumberland or Plattsburg Bay, off Plattsburg.
Both parties - Americans and British - now prepared for a struggle for supremacy on Lake Champlain. Both parties were also reinforced during the remainder of May; and General Izard caused a battery of four 18-pounders to be planted on Cumberland Head instead of at Rouse's Point at the entrance to the Richelieu or Sorel, as directed by the Secretary of War, and urged by Major Totten, his chief engineer.
At the middle of June Izard disposed his troops for a movement into Canada. He sent Brigadier-General Thomas A. Smith, with a light brigade of about fourteen hundred men, to occupy the village of Champlain, five miles below the Canada line. Eight hundred men were at Chazy under Colonel Pearce; and about twelve hundred men occupied the cantonment at Plattsburg on the peninsula between the lake and the Saranac River, the works on Cumberland Head, and a position on Dead Creek, about two miles below Plattsburgh. Macdonough with his flotilla was below Cumberland Head watching the little British squadron which lay at the Isle aux Tetes. The British had thirty-six hundred troops at La Colle; a Swiss regiment, a thousand strong, at L'Acadia; and two brigades of artillery and three hundred cavalry were at Chambly - making a total of five thousand five hundred and fifty men. There was also a reserve of two thousand regulars at Montreal.
A feverishness was continually manifested among the soldiery and the people along the Canada border. The armed belligerents were eager for a trial of prowess. Finally, on the 22nd of June, Lieutenant-Colonal Forsyth, the commander of a corps of riflemen, leading seventy sharp-shooters, crossed the frontier line, and at the little hamlet of Odelltown he was attacked by two hundred of the enemy's light troops. Forsyth beat them off, and retired in good order to Champlain, with the loss of one man killed and five wounded. A few days afterward he was again sent in that direction for the purpose of drawing the enemy acoss the lines. He formed an ambuscade, and then sent a few men forward as a decoy. They met the enemy, fell back, and were eagerly followed by Captain Mahew and one hundred and fifty Canadians and Indians. When the pursuers were near the ambush Forsyth stepped upon a log to watch the movement, and was shot by one of the savages. His followers immediately arose, poured a deadly fire upon the foe, and drove him across the line with such slaughter that he left seventeen dead on the field. Incensed because of the employment of Indians by the British, the riflemen resolved to avenge the death of their beloved leader. A few days afterward some of them crossed the line and shot Mathews, the leader of the savages. He was taken to the house of Judge Moore, in Champlain, which was used by the officers of both nations as head-quarters, where he died.
Skirmishing along the borders was a frequent occurrence, but no movement of importance took place until the close of July, when General Macomb's brigade embarked in boats from Cumberland Head for Chazy Landing, at the mouth of the Chazy Creek. On the same day Bissell's brigade started for
was compelled to approach the American squadron with his bows on, giving the latter a great advantage at the beginning. In this approach the little Finch led the van and made directly for the right of the American line in the direction of the Preble. The Chub at the same time moved toward the American left near Cumberland Head, keeping well to the windward of the Eagle, to support the Linnet in a direct attack on that vessel; while the gun-boats coming up in order, their commanders received from Commodore Downie final instructions for action. He then attempted to lay the Confiance athwart the Saratoga, while the Finch and the gun-boats should attack the Ticonderoga and Preble. He was baffled by shifting winds, and was compelled to anchor his vessel within two cable's-length of his antagonist.
Macdonough in the mean time had thoroughly prepared to receive the enemy. When his vessels were cleared for action, springs placed in the cables, and all was in readiness, he knelt upon the deck of the Saratoga near one of its heaviest guns, with his officers and men around him, and in a few words asked Almighty God for aid, and committed the issue into his hands. He arose with assured courage; and as the enemy came bearing down upon him his vessels sprang their broadsides to bear, and the Eagle opened the
action by firing the first shot. This was followed by the fire of a long 24-pounder from the Saratoga, which had been sighted by Macdonough. It entered the hawse-hole of the Confiance and went crashing through every obstacle the entire length of her deck, killing several men on its way, and demolishing the wheel. The Linnet, as she was passing to attack the Eagle, gave the Saratoga a broadside, but without serious effect. One of the shots demolished a hen-coop, in which a game-cock was confined. The released and startled fowl flew upon a gunslide, and clapping his wings crowed lustily and defiantly. The sailors cheered, and regarding it a good omen, felt their courage strengthened.
The Confiance made no reply to the Saratoga's 24-pounder until she had secured a desirable position, when she suddenly became a sheet of flame. Her entire larboard broadside guns, consisting of sixteen 24-pounders, double-shotted, leveled point-blank range, coolly sighted and favored by still water, were discharged at one time into the Saratoga. The effect was terrible. She shivered from round-top to keel as with an ague; and forty of her people - almost one-fifth of her complement - were disabled. But the stunning blow was felt only for a moment. Almost immediately Macdonough renewed the conflict, and the fire of the Saratoga was steady and gallantly conducted. Her first officer, Lieutenant Gamble, was killed; and fifteen minutes afterward Commodore Downie was slain.
The battle had now become general, steady, and active between the larger vessels. The Chub, while maneuvering near the head of the American line, received a broadside from the gallant Henly of the Eagle, which so crippled her that she drifted helplessly; and after receiving a shot from the Saratoga struck her colors. She was towed to the rear and anchored at the mouth of the Saranac. An hour later the Finch was driven from her position by the Ticonderoga, commanded by the intrepid Cassin. She was badly injured; and drifting upon the Crab Island shoals grounded there, when the invalid corps on the island brought their two 6-pounders to bear upon her and compelled her to surrender.
The British gun-boats now entered vigorously into the fight and soon compelled Budd of the Preble to cut his cable and flee to a safer place nearer the shore, where his vessel anchored, and was of no further service in the fight. This success emboldened the enemy, and the galleys, now fourteen in number, made a bold and combined attack upon the Ticonderoga. Cassin walked the taffrail in a storm of grape and cannon-shot, watching the movements of the assailants and directing effective discharges of musketry, while the new venerable Admiral Paulding, then a midshipman, touched off the cnnon with sparks from the snappings of his pistol, for the matches had become useless. The Ticonderoga maintained her position nobly, and covered the extremity of the line to the last, winning from the Commodore and all beholders unqualified praise for her commander and people.
While the fortunes of the day were thus fluctuating at the lower end of the line, the Americans were suffering at the other extremity. The Eagle lost the springs of her cable and became exposed to the combined fire of the Linnet and Confiance. Henly at once dropped her between and a little astern of the Saratoga and Ticonderoga, and, anchoring her there, opened his larboard guns afresh on the Confiance and the British galleys. But the Saratoga was left exposed to the whole fire of the Linnet, which sprung her broadsides in such manner as to rake the bows of her antagonist.
The two flag-ships soon became disabled. The Saratoga had not a single serviceable starboard gun left, and was silent. The Confiance was not much better off. Now was the moment for Macdonough to exhibit his splendid seamanship. He did so quickly and effectively. With the aid of Brum, his skillful sailing-master, he wound the ship by means of a stream-anchor and hawsers so that he brought the guns of his larboard quarter to bear on the Confiance, which had vainly endeavored to imitate the movement. Under the direction of acting Lieutenant La Valette (now Admiral La Vallette) these poured such a destructive fire on the British flag-ship that she soon surrendered. The Saratoga's fire was then directed upon the Linnet, and in the course of fifteen minutes she, too, struck her colors. The British galleys, in the mean time, had been driven off by the Ticonderoga half a mile in the rear of their statelier associates and lay scattered, affording them feeble aid. See-
ing the colors of the larger vessels go down, they too dropped their ensigns; and at little past noon, not one of the sixteen national flags which were so proudly floating over British decks in the morning might be seen. Because the Americans could not immediately pursue, the galleys bent their sweeps, fled down the Sorel, and escaped. Thus ended the Battle of Lake Champlain, in the complete discomfiture of the invaders.
For two hours and twenty minutes this severe naval battle raged, while the thunders of cannon, the hiss of rockets, the scream of bombs, and the rattle of musketry were heard on the shore. It was a sublime sight, and was beheld by hundreds of spectators on the head-lands of the Vermont shore, who greeted the victory with shouts. It was a battle characterized by a vigor and destructiveness not excelled by any during the war - indeed seldom equaled any where or at any time. The victory for the Americans was complete and substantial; and from the Saratoga, half an hour after the Linnet struck and the galleys fled, Macdonough sent the following dispatch ashore in a gig, to be forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy:
"SIR, _ The Almighty has been pleased to grant us a signal victory on Lake Champlain, in the capture of one frigate, one brig, and two sloops of war, of the enemy."
Two days afterward he went Commander Cassin to Washington with the flags of the captured squadron, and a more detailed yet brief account of the victory. The entire loss of the Americans was one hundred and ten, of whom fifty-two were killed. The total British loss was more than two hundred.
Macdonough received the officers of the captured vessels with great courtesy of manner and speech. When they offered him their swords, he instantly replied, "Gentlemen, your gallant conduct makes you worthy to wear your weapons. Return them to their scabbards." They did so; and they all walked the deck of the victorious Saratoga - American and English officers - more in the character of friends than of enemies. Lieutenant La Vallette, who had taken formal possession of the Confiance, was directed to prepare the prisoners for Crab Island; and before sunset all was quiet on the lake. The British vessels were afterward taken to Whitehall, at the head of the lake, and scuttled. The Saratoga shared the same fate. I saw her remains there as late as the summer of 1850.
We have observed that while the roar of the battle-storm was heard on the water its thunders were bellowing over the land. According to arrangement, when Prevost saw, over Cumberland Head, the pennants of the British squadron moving to the attack he set a portion of the British land-forces in motion, under General Robinson, to force their way across the Saranac, at the site of the two bridges and a ford at Pike's cantonment, three miles from the mouth of the stream, and carry the American works by storm. When the first gun was fired on the lake the British land batteries were opened; and under cover of the shot and shell which they hurled toward the American works the three assailing columns moved. At the Lower Bridge they were repulsed by the guards, block-houses, and artillery of the forst served by Captains Brooks, Richards, and Smith, and Lieutenants Mountfort, Smyth and Cromwell. At the Upper Bridge the riflemen and pickets under Captain Grovesnor, and Lieutenants Hamilton and Riley, aided by some militia, successfully disputed the passage. At the Upper Ford the enemy were a little more successful. There the Clinton and Essex militia, under Major-General Mooers, and Brigadier-General Wright, were stationed. After being driven back several times, with considerable loss, some companies of the British pushed across the stream, there shallow and rapid, firing briskly by platoons as they advanced, but doing very little harm. The militia fell back, and were soon joined by a large detachment of Vermont Volunteers and a party of artillery with a field-piece under Lieutenant Sumter.
The flying companies were now rallied and drawn up in battle-array to meet the pursuing foe, when Mr. Walworth (late Chancellor of the State of New York), Mooer's Adjutant-General, came dashing up, his horse flecked with foam, and announced the joyful intelligence that the British fleet had just surrendered! These glad tidings were greeted with three hearty cheers. At the same moment they observed their pursuers with their backs turned, making their way in haste toward the ford of the Saranac. Sir George Prevost, who always played the coward when near danger, according to British historians, had become terribly alarmed, and recalled these vigorous and only successful troops. He had experienced the "extreme mortification", he said, "to hear the shout of victory from the American works" when the fleet surrendered on the lake. They had been loud and mighty cheers, iterated and reiterated by corps after corps, as the eye and ear caught knowledge of the victory; and Sir George wisely saw, as he said, that "further prosecution of the service was become impracticable". He had assumed the position of co-operator with the fleet rather than principal, leaving Downie the brunt of the service, but ready to receive and wear the garlands of honor which might be won. Seeing the British flags humbled on all the ships, and the gun-boats flying, he resolved to fall back toward the Canada border, and halt until he should ascertain the use the Americans intended to make of their naval ascendency just acquired on Lake Champlain. It was a wise determination. Notwithstanding his number was overwhelming Prevost was really in peril. He might have crushed Macomb and captured the post, but it would have been at the expense of many lives without obtaining any permanent advantage. The British had lost the lake absolutely, and without any fair promises of its recovery; and the militia of all that region were thoroughly aroused, and were rapidly assembling. At the
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