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. 

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