The General Armstrong

 

Britannia certainly ruled the waves in 1814.  Everyone knew that, except, perhaps, the mad Americans.  Their navy, insignificant in numbers compared to the Royal Navy, had put up quite a fight during the War of 1812 and won a series of ship to ship duels that had injured the pride of the British nation.  Their privateers had damaged British commerce by hunting British merchantmen throughout the Seven Seas.  Therefore, it can come as little surprise to learn that when Captain Lloyd of the Royal Navy led a squadron into the port of Fayal in the Azores on September 26, 1814 he immediately commenced combat operations when he spotted an American privateer, The General Armstrong,  a schooner of 14 guns, also in the port, even though the port was controlled by a neutral power, Portugal.

Although vastly outnumbered by the English squadron, Captain Samuel Reid, the skipper of The General Armstrong, had no intention of giving up without a fight.  The British initially attempted to seize the schooner with four boats filled with Marines and sailors.  Reid opened fire with his guns and drove them off.  The British tried again after dark.  Around midnight the British sent 12 large barges with mounted cannon and filled with 400 men against the schooner.  The British reached the schooner, shouted “No quarter” and boarded her.  The heavily outnumbered Americans fought back ferociously, beating off the attack  and killing most of the attackers.

The next morning the British began to attack the schooner with long range gunnery.  Still The General Armstrong fought on, holding its own in this lop-sided contest.  Ultimately the Americans scuttled The General Armstrong and escaped on shore.  Few injuries to the pride of the Royal Navy were greater than this contest with one American privateer. (more…)

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Published in: on June 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

colonel winfield-scott

Winfield Scott, the most notable American general between the American Revolution and the Civil War, began his climb to becoming a general at 27 by the heroism he displayed as a Lieutenant Colonel at the battle of Queenston Heights on October 11, 1812.  An American defeat, Scott was among the 955 Americans captured.

The British at this time did not recognize the right of any British subject to change his nationality.  Such a subject, captured fighting in a foreign army, was considered by the British to be a traitor and liable to summary execution, sometimes being given the opportunity to avoid death by enlisting in the British Army.

At first the American captives were treated rather well.  Scott was even invited to dinner by British General Roger Sheaffe, who also protected the Americans from the Indian allies of the British.  Shipped to Quebec, the Americans were paroled and were due to leave via ship for Boston on November 20, 1812.  The day before a commission of British officers boarded the ship where Scott and his men were waiting to sail.  The British began questioning the American enlisted men.  If they detected an Irish brogue, the man was arrested as a traitor to the Crown.  Hearing the commotion this was causing, Scott rushed from below deck.  Defying an order from the British to go below, he ordered the men who had not been interrogated not to say another word.  To the 23 men who had been arrested, he promised the United States would protect them.  The men obeyed Scott and all refused to say a word.  The British eventually gave up and took the 23 men off the ship.  Scott and the remainder sailed for Boston on November 20.  Of the 23 men arrested by the British, 13 were executed. (more…)

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows  
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August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.

 

After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders.  At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em!  Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British.  After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland.  The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career. (more…)

Published in: on August 24, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington  
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Our Second War For Independence

 

And what a disastrous Second War for Independence the War of 1812 tended to be for the infant US with the major exception of the Battle of New Orleans fought after the treaty of peace was signed.  Theodore Roosevelt in his magisterial The Naval War of 1812, written when he was all of 23, understood this:

In spite of the last trifling success, the campaign had been to the British both bloody and disastrous. It did not affect the results of the war; and the decisive battle itself was a perfectly useless shedding of blood, for peace had been declared before it was fought. Nevertheless, it was not only glorious but profitable to the United States. Louisiana was saved from being severely ravaged, and New Orleans from possible destruction; and after our humiliating defeats in trying to repel the invasions of Virginia and Maryland, the signal victory of New Orleans was really almost a necessity for the preservation of the national honor. This campaign was the great event of the war, and in it was fought the most important battle as regards numbers that took place during the entire struggle; and the fact that we were victorious, not only saved our self-respect at home, but also gave us prestige abroad which we should otherwise have totally lacked. It could not be said to entirely balance the numerous defeats that we had elsewhere suffered on land—defeats which had so far only been offset by Harrison’s victory in 1813 and the campaign in Lower Canada in 1814—but it at any rate went a long way toward making the score even.

Jackson is certainly by all odds the most prominent figure that appeared during this war, and stands head and shoulders above any other commander, American or British, that it produced. It will be difficult, in all history, to show a parallel to the feat that he performed. In three weeks’ fighting, with a force largely composed of militia, he utterly defeated and drove away an army twice the size of his own, composed of veteran troops, and led by one of the ablest of European generals. During the whole campaign he only erred once, and that was in putting General Morgan, a very incompetent officer, in command of the forces on the west bank. He suited his movements admirably to the various exigencies that arose. The promptness and skill with which he attacked, as soon as he knew of the near approach of the British, undoubtedly saved the city; for their vanguard was so roughly handled that, instead of being able to advance at once, they were forced to delay three days, during which time Jackson entrenched himself in a position from which he was never driven. But after this attack the offensive would have been not only hazardous, but useless, and accordingly Jackson, adopting the mode of warfare which best suited the ground he was on and the troops he had under him, forced the enemy always to fight him where he was strongest, and confined himself strictly to the pure defensive—a system condemned by most European authorities, [Footnote: Thus Napier says (vol. v, p. 25): “Soult fared as most generals will who seek by extensive lines to supply the want of numbers or of hardiness in the troops. Against rude commanders and undisciplined soldiers, lines may avail; seldom against accomplished commanders, never when the assailants are the better soldiers.” And again (p. 150), “Offensive operations must be the basis of a good defensive system.”] but which has at times succeeded to admiration in America, as witness Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Kenesaw Mountain, and Franklin.

Published in: on May 31, 2018 at 5:13 am  Comments Off on Our Second War For Independence  
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January 7, 1815: Old Hickory and Our Lady of Prompt Succor

 

When one thinks of Andrew Jackson, Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the Ursuline nuns do not spring to mind, but they should. (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 7, 1815: Old Hickory and Our Lady of Prompt Succor  
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Laura Secord

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Completely unknown to the public at large in the US, Laura Secord, ironically a daughter of a man who fought on the patriot side in the Revolution, is a national heroine in Canada. In 1813 during the War of 1812, American troops were quartered in Secord’s home.  Learning of a plan to attack the British installation at Beaver Dams, she walked from Queenstown twenty miles to warn the British.

Forewarned, the British with 400 Indians and 50 regulars surrounded the American force of some 600 regulars as it advanced on Beavers Dam on June 24, 1813.  After some fighting the British commander, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon,  convinced the American commander, Colonel Charles Boerstler, that he was vastly outnumbered and that unless he immediately surrendered, FitzGibbon would not be able to control the Indians.  The gullible Boerstler surrendered.

Secord’s role in all this remained virtually unknown until she sought a pension for her poverty stricken family after the War.  The Canadian public did not pay much attention until the visiting Prince of Wales in 1860 heard of her long ago heroics, and sent the 85 year old Secord one hundred pounds.

laurasecord

Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 5:00 am  Comments Off on Laura Secord  
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June 1, 1812: Madison Requests that Congress Declare War on Great Britain

 

The declaration of war by Congress in 1812 was the first time that Congress declared war.  It was not an auspicious start.  Although most Republicans were hot for war, the Federalists were not.  Every Federalist voted against the Declaration and a substantial number of Republicans also cast their votes against the Declaration.  In the House the vote was 79-49, 22 Republicans siding with the Federalists, and in the Senate 19-13, seven Republicans joining the 6 Federalist Senators.  The War was popular in the South and in the West, and highly unpopular in New England and parts of Virginia.  Here is the text of the Declaration of War that passed on June 17, 1812 and signed by Madison the next day: (more…)

Published in: on June 3, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 1, 1812: Madison Requests that Congress Declare War on Great Britain  
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The Battle of New Orleans-The Song

 

 

Something for the weekend.  On January 8, 2015 we reached the 200th anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, so Jimmie Driftwood’s Battle of New Orleans seems appropriate.  Driftwood, when he was a teacher, wrote the song in 1936 to help his students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.  After Driftwood became a full time singer and composer, he often sang the song.  Johnny Horton made it a mega hit in 1959 with his rendition.

After it became a hit, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, visited Newfoundland.  The song was banned for the term of her visit by the provincial government.  My sainted mother who loved the Queen, but also had to the full the Irish rebel spirit, used to regale me with tales of the lengths that Newfies went to make sure that the song was played continuously during the Queen’s visit as a result!

Newfies were hanging record players out of their windows, the volume cranked up full blast playing the song. Her comment on this fiasco is that if the idiots in government hadn’t attempted to ban it, no one would have been playing it. I think my attitude towards government began to be forged by this example of folly related to me at a very young age at my mother’s knee! (more…)

Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Battle of New Orleans-The Song  
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January 9, 1815: Report to Monroe

Battle of New Orleans 2

 

The day after the battle of New Orleans, Jackson wrote his report to James Monroe, Secretary of War.:

Sir: 9th Jan: 1815

During the days of the 6th. & 7th. the enemy had been actively employed in making preparations for an attack on my lines. With infinite labour they had succeeded on the night of the 7th in getting their boats across from the lake to the river, by widening & deepening the Canal on which they had effected their disembarkation. It had not been in my power to impede these operations by a general attack: Added to other reasons, the nature of the troops under my command, mostly militia, rendered it too hazardous to attempt extensive offensive movements in an open Country, against a numerous & well disciplined army.- Altho my forces, as to number, had been increased by the arrival of the Kentucky division – my strength had received very little addition; a small portion only of that detachment being provided with arms: Compelled thus to wait the attack of the enemy I took every measure to repell it when it would be made, & to defeat the object he had in view. Genl. Morgan with the Orleans Contingent the Louisiana Militia, & a strong detachment of the Kentucky troops occupy an entrenched Camp, on the opposite side of the river, protected by strong batteries on the bank erected & superintended by Commodore Patterson.

In my encampment every thing was ready for action, when early on the morning of the 8th the enemy, after throwing a heavy shower of bombs & congreve rockets, advanced their columns on my right & left, to storm my entrenchments. I cannot speak sufficiently in praise of the firmness & deliberation with which my whole line received their approach:-more could not have been expected from veterans, inured to war. For an hour the fire of the small arms was as incessant & severe as can be imagined. The artillery too, directed by officers who displayed equal skill & courage did great execution. Yet the columns of the enemy continued to advance with a firmness which reflects upon them the greatest credit. Twice the column which approached me on my left was repulsed by the troops of genl. Carrole – those of genl. Coffee, & a division of the Kentucky Militia, & twice they formed again & renewed the assault. (more…)

Published in: on January 9, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on January 9, 1815: Report to Monroe  
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January 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans

 

The War of 1812 had been one with little glory for Americans.  The invasions of Canada all failed, often the officers in charge displaying shocking military incompetence.  Although the American Navy performed valiantly, the Royal Navy maintained control of the waves, and with the fall of Napoleon, veteran British troops from the Peninsular War were shipped across the Atlantic and inflicted such humiliations as the burning of Washington.  On January 8, 1815 Major General Andrew Jackson and his rude frontier army of regulars and militia, confronted a British regular force twice their size.  What followed was an amazing American victory.  One of the finest accounts of the battle was written by Theodore Roosevelt:

 

Battle of New Orleans

 

 

Packenham had under him nearly 10,000 fighting men; 1,500 of these, under Colonel Thornton were to cross the river and make the attack on the west bank. Packenham himself was to super intend the main assault, on the east bank, which was to be made by the British right under General Gibbs, while the left moved forward under General Keane, and General Lambert commanded the reserve. Jackson’s position was held by a total of 5,500 men. Having kept a constant watch on the British, Jackson had rightly concluded that they would make the main attack on the east bank, and had, accordingly, kept the bulk of his force on that side. His works consisted simply of a mud breastwork, with a ditch in front of it, which stretched in a straight line from the river on his right across the plain, and some distance into the morass that sheltered his left. There was a small, unfinished redoubt in front of the breastworks on the river bank. Thirteen pieces of artillery were mounted on the works. On the right was posted the Seventh regular infantry, 430 strong; then came 740 Louisiana militia (both French creoles and men of color, and comprising 30 New Orleans riflemen, who were Americans), and 240 regulars of the Forty-fourth regiment; while the rest of the line was formed by nearly 500 Kentuckians and over 1,600 Tennesseeans, under Carroll and Coffee, with 250 creole militia in the morass on the extreme left, to guard the head of a bayou. In the rear were 230 dragoons, chiefly from Mississippi, and some other troops in reserve; making in all 4,700 men on the east bank. The works on the west bank were farther down stream, and were very much weaker. . . .

All through the night of the 7th a strange, murmurous clangor arose from the British camp, and was borne on the moist air to the lines of their slumbering foes. The blows of pickax and spade as the ground was thrown up into batteries by gangs of workmen, the rumble of the artillery as it was placed in position, the measured tread of the battalions as they shifted their places or marched off under Thornton—all these and the thousand other sounds of warlike preparation were softened and blended by the distance into one continuous humming murmur, which struck on the ears of the American sentries with ominous foreboding for the morrow.

By midnight Jackson had risen and was getting everything in readiness to hurl back the blow that he rightly judged was soon to fall on his front. Before the dawn broke his soldiery was all on the alert. The bronzed and brawny seamen were grouped in clusters around the great guns. The creole soldiers came of a race whose habit it has ever been to take all phases of life joyously; but that morning their gayety was tempered by a dark undercurrent of fierce anxiety. They had more at stake than any other men on the field. They were fighting for their homes; they were fighting for their wives and their daughters. They well knew that the men they were to face were very brave in battle and very cruel in victory; they well knew the fell destruction and nameless woe that awaited their city should the English take it at the sword’s point. They feared not for themselves; but in the hearts of the bravest and most careless there lurked a dull terror of what that day might bring upon those they loved. The Tennesseeans were troubled by no such misgivings. In saturnine, confident silence they lolled behind their mud walls, or, leaning on their long rifles, peered out into the gray fog with savage, reckless eyes. So, hour after hour, the two armies stood facing each other in the darkness, waiting for the light of day.

At last the sun rose, and as its beams struggled through the morning mist they glinted on the sharp steel bayonets of the English, where their scarlet ranks were drawn up in battle array, but four hundred yards from the American breastworks. There stood the matchless infantry of the island king, in the pride of their strength and the splendor of their martial glory; and as the haze cleared away they moved forward, in stern silence, broken only by the angry, snarling notes of the brazen bugles.

At once the American artillery leaped into furious life; and, ready and quick, the more numerous cannon of the invaders responded from their hot, feverish lips. Unshaken amid the tumult of that iron storm the heavy red column moved steadily on toward the left of the American line, where the Tennesseeans were standing in motionless, grim expectancy. Three-fourths of the open space was crossed, and the eager soldiers broke into a run. Then a fire of hell smote the British column. From the breastwork in front of them the white smoke curled thick into the air, as rank after rank the wild marksmen of the backwoods rose and fired, aiming low and sure. As stubble is withered by flame, so withered the British column under that deadly fire; and, aghast at the slaughter, the reeling files staggered and gave back. Packenham, fit captain for his valorous host, rode to the front, and the troops, rallying round him, sprang forward with ringing cheers.

But once again the pealing rifle-blast beat in their faces; and the life of their dauntless leader went out before its scorching and fiery breath. With him fell the other general who was with the column, and all of the men who were leading it on; and, as a last resource, Keane brought up his stalwart Highlanders; but in vain the stubborn mountaineers rushed on, only to die as their comrades had died before them, with unconquerable courage, facing the foe, to the last. Keane himself was struck down; and the shattered wrecks of the British column, quailing before certain destruction, turned and sought refuge beyond reach of the leaden death that had overwhelmed their comrades.

Nor did it fare better with the weaker force that was to assail the right of the American line. This was led by the dashing Colonel Rennie, who, when the confusion caused by the main attach was at its height, rushed forward with impetuous bravery along the river bank. With such headlong fury did he make the assault, that the rush of his troops took the outlying redoubt, whose defenders, regulars and artillerymen, fought to the last with their bayonets and clubbed muskets, and were butchered to a man.

Without delay Rennie flung his men at the breastworks behind, and, gallantly leading them, sword in hand, he, and all around him, fell, riddled through and through by the balls of the riflemen. Brave tho they were, the British soldiers could not stand against the singing, leaden hail, for if they stood it was but to die. So in rout and wild dismay they fled back along the river bank, to the main army. For some time afterward the British artillery kept up its fire, but was gradually silenced; the repulse was entire and complete along the whole line; nor did the cheering news of success brought from the west bank give any hope to the British commanders, stunned by their crushing overthrow.

Meanwhile Colonel Thornton’s attack on the opposite side had been successful, but had been delayed beyond the originally intended hour. The sides of the canal by which the boats were to be brought through to the Mississippi caved in, and choked the passage, so that only enough got through to take over a half of Thornton’s force. With these, seven hundred in number, he crossed, but as he did not allow for the current, it carried him down about two miles below the proper landing-place. Meanwhile General Morgan, having under him eight hundred militia whom it was of the utmost importance to have kept together, promptly divided them and sent three hundred of the rawest and most poorly armed down to meet the enemy in the open. The inevitable result was their immediate rout and dispersion; about one hundred got back to Morgan’s lines. He then had six hundred men, all militia, to oppose to seven hundred regulars. So he stationed the four hundred best disciplined men to defend the two hundred yards of strong breastworks, mounting three guns, which covered his left; while the two hundred worst disciplined were placed to guard six hundred yards of open ground on his right, with their flank resting in air, and entirely unprotected. This truly phenomenal arrangement ensured beforehand the certain defeat of his troops, no matter how well they fought; but, as it turned out , they hardly fought at all. Thornton, pushing up the river, first attacked the breastwork in front, but was checked by a hot fire; deploying his men he then sent a strong force to march round and take Morgan on his exposed right flank. There, the already demoralized Kentucky militia, extended in thin order across an open space, outnumbered, and taken in flank by regular troops, were stampeded at once, and after firing a single volley they took to their heels. This exposed the flank of the better disciplined creoles, who were also put to flight; but they kept some order and were soon rallied. In bitter rage Patterson spiked the guns of his water-battery and marched off with his sailors, unmolested. The American loss had been slight, and that of their opponents not heavy, tho among their dangerously wounded was Colonel Thornton.

This success, tho a brilliant one, and a disgrace to the American arms, had no effect on the battle. Jackson at once sent over reenforcements under the famous French general, Humbert, and preparations were forthwith made to retake the lost position. But it was already abandoned, and the force that had captured it had been recalled by Lambert, when he found that the place could not be held without additional troops. The total British loss on both sides of the river amounted to over two thousand men, the vast majority of whom had fallen in the attack on the Tennesseeans, and most of the remainder in the attack made by Colonel Rennie. The Americans had lost but seventy men, of whom but thirteen fell in the main attack. On the east bank, neither the creole militia nor the Forty-fourth regiment had taken any part in the combat.

The English had thrown for high stakes and had lost everything, and they knew it. There was nothing to hope for left. Nearly a fourth of their fighting men had fallen; and among the officers the proportion was far larger. Of their four generals, Packenham was dead, Gibbs dying, Keane disabled, and only Lambert left. Their leader, the ablest officers, and all the flower of their bravest men were lying, stark and dead, on the bloody plain before them; and their bodies were doomed to crumble into moldering dust on the green fields where they had fought and had fallen. It was useless to make another trial.

The most brilliant American victory since Yorktown, the battle made Andrew Jackson a household word and launched him on his path to the White House.  The battle also may have given the British something to ponder when their interests clashed with American interests in the future.  All such disputes, in spite of usually a fair amount of hostility in both nations that could have resulted in war, were resolved diplomatically.  Neither country emerged from the War of 1812 with the assumption that any future war between them would be a cakewalk for either side.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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