March 26, 2014

Heap of smoking ruins – Alexander McMullen

Alexander McMullen joined the War of 1812 in February 1814 when a call was sent out to the militia in Pennsylvania. Alexander’s brother, James, was selected for six-month service but Alexander and his family believed that James was of a “delicate constitution” so Alexander decided to take his place. At 23 years old, Alexander McMullen began his service in the 5th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.

By March Alexander was on the march to Erie “through deep snow and swampy roads for ten days, with no better beds than hemlock branches and an Indian blanket for cover.” Desertions increased in frequency as the flour was moldy and meat was unfit to eat. Alexander wrote that many deserters were brought back, placed in the guardhouse and punished by being marched in front of the regiment to the tune of the Rogue’s March.

Alexander got his first taste of action with the Raid on Long Point near Port Dover in May 1814. The troops landed with only a small number of British on horseback firing a volley before galloping off. Alexander writes that orders were given to burn the town and that

“a scene of destruction and plunder now ensued, which beggars all description. In a short time the houses, mills, and barns were all consumed, and a beautiful village, which the sun shone on in splendor that morning, was before two o’clock a heap of smoking ruins.”

White house after it was burned in Aug. 1814
After a short while, the troops embarked and set sail for Erie. Alexander, along with many of his comrades, was unhappy with how Colonel Campbell of the regular infantry conducted the raid since many private properties were destroyed and much of the livestock was slaughtered. Alexander summed up his disapproval writing that he was “generally disgusted with the conduct of Campbell.” Campbell faced a court of inquiry that ruled he erred in destroying private property but he was returned to duty.

The destruction of Port Dover enraged Lieutenant-General Prevost, the British Commander-in-Chief that he wrote Admiral Cochrane:

“ consequence of the late disgraceful conduct of the American troops in the wanton destruction of private property on the north shores of Lake Erie, in order that if the war with the United States continues you may, should you judge it advisable, assist in inflicting that measure of retaliation which shall deter the enemy from a repetition of similar outrages.”

Admiral Cochrane, who was in command of the Royal Navy fleet off the U.S., complied with Prevost request by attacking in Chesapeake Bay and burning the White House.

If you want to learn more about War of 1812 topics, you can head to London for the annual Living History Conference this Saturday. Click here fore more information. 

March 19, 2014

Betsey from Kentucky

Nursing duties was one of the primary roles of women attached to the army during the War of 1812 and in this regard, Betsey from Kentucky was no different. However, during the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814, Betsey broke from her nursing duties to fight in the line of infantry.

In January 1813, Betsey was witness to the deaths of her father and brother at the River Raisin. Betsey was filled with feelings of revenge and at the beginning of the Niagara 1814 Campaign, she dressed as a soldier and entered the ranks. Dr. Horner of the American Army wrote about Betsey and described her as “remarkable for her height, muscular figure, for the loss of one eye, and for her volubility in oaths and queer modes of execrable when jeered at or incensed.” Basically, she was a tough woman that you would not want to offend.
American line, Battle of Chippawa

At the Battle of Chippawa she performed her duty well and “executed her firing with the precision of one of the line.” Her company was exposed to enemy fire and many of her immediate comrades were shot down. Betsey continued in the line until her captain ordered her to leave as the wounded required attention. She complied with the order and proceeded with the wounded to the military hospital at Buffalo where Dr. Horner states that she “was one of the most faithful and kind of nurses, notwithstanding her recklessness of conduct in other respects.”  

Join us on Saturday, March 22, for Trivia Night. One of the categories is ‘Friends Across the Border,’ questions relating to the Americans. Click here for more information and to sign up. In addition, if you would like to find out more about the Battle of Chippawa, and see women dressed as soldiers, than mark July 5 and 6 on your calendars for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Chippawa re-enactment. Click here to find out more.

March 12, 2014

Launched into eternity – Amasiah Ford

Amasiah Ford’s ordeal did not end with the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Ford proceeded with the rest of the American Left Division to the defences at Fort Erie to await the British.

Ford writes about the British night assault on August 15, 1814 and his participation. As part of the 23rd Regiment of Infantry, Ford was stationed inside the fort during the British assault. Ford recounts,

“We took our post on the battlements in the front part of the fort where we kept our enemy off with our bayonets from scaling the walls until they forced us to retreat into the rear part of the fort when the magazine blew up & upwards of five hundred of the enemy were launched into eternity almost in an instant.”

Siege of Fort Erie Re-enactment
Ford later writes about his participation in the American sortie on September 17, 1814 where the Americans attacked the British siege positions. The 23rd Regiment was tasked with attacking battery number three and during the fight one of Ford’s messmates was shot dead. The 23rd managed to capture the position but during the fighting Ford was almost killed when, “I was in the act of discharging my piece at a Red Coat [when] a ball passed through my cap directly under my cockade. I discharged my piece at my mark at the same time & never saw my mark again.” The next day the British completed their withdrawal from Fort Erie.

After the siege, Ford proceeded with his regiment as reinforcements for the men fighting at the Battle of Cook’s Mills on October 19, 1814. The men marched through a swamp with mud up to their knees during a rainfall. The men finally stopped and settled in to a two-day and night stay near the battlefield with no tents, sleeping on wet ground with a torrent of rain falling upon them.

Eventually, Ford marched to Sackets Harbor where he remained in winter quarters. News of peace finally reached Sackets Harbor in March 1815 and Ford, “remained at Sackets Harbor until the 5th day of June 1815, having been in the service of my country two years, four months, eighteen days when I was honorably discharged from the Army of the United States and returned to my native village.”

On Saturday, March 22, test your knowledge of the War of 1812 and Fort Erie during Trivia Night at Old Fort Erie. One of the topics will be The Niagara 1814 Campaign, so start studying. Click here for more information and to sign up.

March 05, 2014

Desperate slaughter – Amasiah Ford

On February 18, 1813, the 17 year old Amasiah Ford of Saratoga County, New York, enlisted in the United States Army to serve for the duration of the war. Ford saw action as part of the 23rd Regiment of Infantry throughout the Niagara in 1813 and 1814.

It didn’t take long for Ford to see action after enlisting as he took part in the U.S. attack on Fort George in May of 1813. Later in the year, Ford took part in an 18 day march to Sackets Harbor in late November 1813. The men spent the month of December living in tents with heavy snowfall before completing a wooden barracks. Unfortunately, Ford and his comrades only enjoyed the newly built barracks for three days before they were ordered to march on December 25 to join Wilkinson’s army.
Battle of Lundy's Lane 

By July 1814, Ford was with the American Army in Buffalo. On July 25, 1814, Ford fought in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane where he recounts that “when marching up in open column a party of the enemy which lay in ambush rose & fired upon us, when, out of thirty-two in the first platoon, only eight of us escaped the desperate slaughter.” Ford continued to fight for over three hours before the troops were ordered to withdraw to Chippawa.

Ford didn’t get much rest after the battle as he was detailed to participate in the morning of July 26 to return to the Lundy’s Lane battlefield. Ford writes that the Americans proceeded within musket shot of the British before deciding to withdraw to Chippawa, burning buildings and bridges in their path. Shortly thereafter, Ford and the rest of the American Left Division withdrew to the defences of Fort Erie to await the British.

This year on Friday, July 25, you can help commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane by participating in a walk to the Lundy’s Lane Battlefield. Participants will start about 2.5 km from the battlefield as they arrive around dusk for a commemorative ceremony. Click here for more information and to register for this Niagara 1812 Signature Event.