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OF 1812






Naval War of 1812

or the

History of the United States Navy during
the Last War with Great Britain

to which is appended an account of

The Battle of New Orleans

Theodore Roosevelt

Author of " American Ideals," " The Wilderness Hunter,"
" Hunting Trips of a Ranchman," etc.

Part I.

G. P. Putnam s Sons

New York and London







THE history of the naval events of the War
of 1812 has been repeatedly presented both
to the American and the English reader.
Historical writers have treated it either in
connection with a general account of the con
test on land and sea, or as forming a part of
the complete record of the navies of the two
nations. A few monographs, which confine
themselves strictly to the naval occurrences,
have also appeared. But none of these works
can be regarded as giving a satisfactorily full
or impartial account of the war some of them
being of the " popular " and loosely-con
structed order, while others treat it from a
purely partisan standpoint. No single book
can be quoted which would be accepted by
the modern reader as doing justice to both
sides, or, indeed, as telling the whole story.
Any one specially interested in the subject
must read all ; and then it will seem almost a
hopeless task to reconcile the many and widely
contradictory statements he will meet with.

There appear to be three works which,
taken in combination, give the best satisfac
tion on the subject. First, in James " Naval
History of Great Britain " (which supplies both
the material and the opinions of almost every



subsequent English or Canadian historian)
can be found the British view of the case. It
is an invaluable work, written with fulness
and care ; on the other hand it is also a piece
of special pleading by a bitter and not over
scrupulous partisan. This, in the second
place, can be partially supplemented by Feni-
more Cooper s " Naval History of the United
States." The latter gives the American view
of the cruises and battles ; but it is much less
of an authority than James , both because it
is written without great regard for exactness,
and because all figures for the American side
need to be supplied from Lieutenant (now
Admiral) George E. Emmons statistical " His
tory of the United States Navy," which is the
third of the works in question.

But even after comparing these three
authors, many contradictions remain unex
plained, and the truth can only be reached in
such cases by a careful examination of the
navy " Records," the London " Naval Chron
icle," " Niles Register," and other similar
documentary publications. Almost the only
good criticisms on the actions are those inci
dentally given in standard works on other sub
jects, such as Lord Howard Douglass " Naval
Gunnery," and Admiral Jurien de la Graviere s
" Guerres Maritimes." Much of the material
in our Navy Department has never been
touched at all. In short, no full, accurate,
and unprejudiced history of the war has ever
been written.

The subject merits a closer scrutiny than it
has received. At present people are begin
ning to realize that it is folly for the great


English-speaking Republic to rely for defence
upon a navy composed partly of antiquated
hulks, and partly of new vessels rather more
worthless than the old. It is worth while
to study with some care that period of
our history during which our navy stood
at the highest pitch of its fame ; and to
learn anything from the past it is necessary
to know, as near as may be, the exact truth.
Accordingly the work should be written im
partially, if only from the narrowest motives.
Without abating a jot from one s devotion to
his country and flag, I think a history can be
made just enough to warrant its being received
as an authority equally among- Americans and
Englishmen. I have endeavored to supply
such a work. It is impossible that errors,
both of fact and opinion, should not have
crept into it ; and although I have sought to
make it in character as non-partisan as pos
sible, these errors will probably be in favor of
the American side.

As my only object is to give an accurate
narrative of events, I shall esteem it a par
ticular favor if any one will furnish me with
the means of rectifying such mistakes ; and if
I have done injustice to any commander, or
officer of any grade, whether American or
British, I shall consider myself under great
obligations to those who will set me right.

I have been unable to get access to the
original reports of the British commanders,
the logs of the British ships, or their muster-
rolls, and so have been obliged to take them
at second hand from the " Gazette," or " Naval
Chronicle," or some standard history. The


American official letters, log-books, original
contracts, muster-rolls, etc., however, being
preserved in the Archives at Washington, I
have been able, thanks to the courtesy of the
Hon. Wm. H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy,
to look them over. The set of letters from
the officers is very complete, in three series,
" Captains Letters," " Masters Comman
dant Letters," and " Officers Letters," there
being several volumes for each year. The
books of contracts contain valuable informa
tion as to the size and build of some of the
vessels. The log-books are rather exasperat
ing, often being very incomplete. Thus when
I turned from Decatur s extremely vague
official letter describing the capture of the
Macedonian to the log-book of the Frigate
United States, not a fact about the fight could
be gleaned. The last entry in the log on the
day of the fight is * * strange sail discovered to
be a frigate under English colors," and the
next entry (on the following day) relates to
the removal of the prisoners. The log of the
Enterprise is very full indeed, for most of the
time, but is a perfect blank for the period dur
ing which she was commanded by Lieutenant
Burrows, and in which bne fought the Boxer.
I have not been able to find the Peacock s log
at all, though there is a very full set of letters
from her commander. Probably the fire of
1837 destroyed a great deal of valuable ma
terial. Whenever it was possible I have re
ferred to printed matter in preference to man
uscript, and my authorities can thus, in most
cases, be easily consulted.

In conclusion I desire to express my sin-


cerest thanks to Captain James D. Bulloch,
formerly of the United States Navy, and
Commander Adolf Mensing, formerly of the
German Navy, without whose advice and
sympathy this work would probably never
have been written or even begun.

New York City, 1882.


I ORIGINALLY intended to write a com
panion volume to this, which should deal with
the operations on land. But a short exami
nation showed that these operations were
hardly worth serious study. They teach
nothing new ; it is the" old, old lesson, that a
miserly economy in preparation may in the
end involve a lavish outlay of men and money,
which, after all, comes too late to more than
partially offset the evils produced by the
original short-sighted parsimony. This might
be a lesson worth dwelling on did it have any
practical bearing on the issues of the present
day ; but it has none, as far as the army is
concerned. It was criminal folly for Jeffer
son, and his follower Madison, to neglect to
give us a force either of regulars or of well-
trained volunteers during the twelve years
they had in which to prepare for the struggle
that any one might see was inevitable ; but
there is now far less need of an army than
there was then. Circumstances have altered
widely since 1812. Instead of the decaying
might of Spain on our southern frontier, we
have the still weaker power of Mexico. In
stead of the great Indian nations of the in
terior, able to keep civilization at bay, to hold
in check strong armies, to ravage large



stretches of territory, and needing formidable
military expeditions to overcome them, there
are now only left broken and scattered bands
which are sources of annoyance merely.
To the north we are still hemmed in by the
Canadian possessions of Great Britain ; but
since 1812 our strength has increased so pro
digiously, both absolutely and relatively, while
England s military power has remained almost
stationary, that we need now be under no ap
prehensions from her land-forces ; for, even if
checked in the beginning, we could not help
conquering in the end by sheer weight of
numbers, if by nothing" else. So that there is
now no cause for our keeping up a large army ;
while, on the contrary, the necessity for an
efficient navy is so evident that only our almost
incredible short-sightedness prevents our at
once preparing one.

Not only do the events of the war on land
teacli very little to the statesman who studies
history in order to avoid in the present the
mistakes of the past, but besides this, the
battles and campaigns are of very little in
terest to the student of military matters. The
British regulars, trained in many wars, thrashed
the raw troops opposed to them whenever they
had any thing like a fair chance ; but this is
not to be wondered at, for the same thing has
always happened the world over under similar
conditions. Our defeats were exactly such
as any man might have foreseen, and there is
nothing to be learned from the follies com
mitted by incompetent commanders and un
trained troops when in the presence of skilled
officers having under them disciplined soldiers.


The humiliating surrenders, abortive attacks,
and panic routs of our armies can all be paral
leled in the campaigns waged by Napoleon s
marshals against the Spaniards and Portu
guese in the years immediately preceding the
outbreak of our own war. The Peninsular
troops were as little able to withstand the
French veterans as were our militia to hold
their own against the British regulars. But
it must always be remembered, to our credit,
that while seven years of fighting failed to
make the Spaniards able to face the French, 1
two years of warfare gave us soldiers who
could stand against the best men of Britain.
On the northern frontier we never developed
a great general, Brown s claim to the title
rests only on his not having committed the
phenomenal follies of his predecessors, but
by 1814 our soldiers had become seasoned,
and we had acquired some good brigade com
manders, notably Scott, so that in that year we
played on even terms with the British. But the
battles, though marked by as bloody and obsti
nate fighting as ever took place, were waged be
tween small bodies of men, and were not distin
guished by any feats of generalship, so that
they are not of any special interest to the his
torian. In fact, the only really noteworthy
feat of arms of the war took place at New
Orleans, and the only military genius that the

1 At the closing battle of Toulouse, fought between
the allies and the French, the flight of the Spaniards
was so rapid and universal as to draw from the Duke
of Wellington the bitter observation, that " though he
had seen a good many remarkable things in the course
of his life, yet this was the first time he had ever seen
ten thousand men running a race."


struggle developed was Andrew Jackson.
His deeds are worthy of all praise, and the
battle he won was in many ways so peculiar
as to make it well worth a much closer study
than it has yet received. It was by far the
most prominent event of the war ; it was a
victory which reflected high honor on the
general and soldiers who won it, and it was
in its way as remarkable as any of the great
battles that took place about the same time
in Europe. Such being the case, I have de
voted a chapter to its consideration at the
conclusion of the chapters devoted to the naval

As before said, the other campaigns on land
do not deserve very minute attention ; but, for
the sake of rendering the account of the battle
of New Orleans more intelligible, I will give
a hasty sketch of the principal engagements
that took place elsewhere.

The war opened in mid-summer of 1812, by
the campaign of General Hull on the Michigan
frontier. With two or three thousand raw
troops he invaded Canada. About the same
time Fort Mackinaw was surrendered by its
garrison of 60 Americans to a British and In
dian force of 600. Hull s campaign was un
fortunate from the beginning. Near Browns-
town the American Colonel Van Home, with
some 200 men, was ambushed and routed
by Tecumseh and his Indians. In revenge
Col. Miller, with 600 Americans, at Ma-
guaga attacked 150 British and Canadians
under Capt. Muir, and 250 Indians under
Tecumseh, and whipped them, Tecumseh s


Indians standing their ground longest. The
Americans lost 75, their foes 180 men. At
Chicago the small force of 66 Americans was
surprised and massacred by the Indians.
Meanwhile, General Brock, the British com
mander, advanced against Hull with a
rapidity and decision that seemed to paralyze
his senile and irresolute opponent. The lat
ter retreated to Detroit, where, without strik
ing a blow, he surrendered 1,400 men to
Brock s nearly equal force, which consisted
nearly one half of Indians under Tecumseh.
On the Niagara frontier, an estimable and
honest old gentleman and worthy citizen,
who knew nothing of military matters, Gen.
Van Rensselaer, tried to cross over and attack
the British at Queenstown ; 1,100 Americans
got across and were almost all killed or capt
ured by an equal number of British, Cana
dians and Indians, while on the opposite side
a larger number of their countrymen looked
on, and with abject cowardice refused to cross
to their assistance. The command of the
army was then handed over to a ridiculous
personage named Smythe, who issued procla
mations so bombastic that they really must
have come from an unsound mind, and then
made a ludicrously abortive effort at inva
sion, which failed almost of its own accord.
A British and Canadian force of less than 400
men was foiled in an assault on Ogdensburg,
after a slight skirmish, by about 1,000 Ameri
cans under Brown ; and with this trifling suc
cess the military operations of the year came
to an end.

Early in 1813, Ogdensburg was again at-


tacked, this time by between 500 and 600
British, who took it after a brisk resistance
from some 300 militia ; the British lost 60 and
the Americans 20, in killed and wounded.
General Harrison, meanwhile, had begun the
campaign in the Northwest. At Frenchtown,
on the river Raisin, Winchester s command of
about 900 Western troops was surprised by a
force of 1,100 men, half of them Indians,
under the British Colonel Proctor. The right
division, taken by surprise, gave up at once ;
the left division, mainly Kentucky riflemen,
and strongly posted in houses and stockaded
enclosures, made a stout resistance, and only
surrendered after a bloody fight, in which 180
British and about half as many Indians were
killed or wounded. Over 300 Americans were
slain, some in the battle, but most in the
bloody massacre that followed. After this,
General Harrison went into camp at Fort
Meigs, where, with about 1,100 men, he was
besieged by 1,000 British and Canadians
under Proctor and 1,200 Indians under Te-
cumseh. A force of 1,200 Kentucky militia
advanced to his relief and tried to cut its way
into the fort while the garrison made a sortie.
The sortie was fairly successful, but the Ken-
tuckians were scattered like chaff by the
British regulars in the open, and when broken
were cut to pieces by the Indians in the
woods. Nearly two-thirds of the relieving
troops were killed or captured ; about 400 got
into the fort. Soon afterward Proctor aban
doned the siege. Fort Stephenson, garri
soned by Major Croghan and 160 men, was
attacked by a force of 391 British regulars,


who tried to carry it by assault, and were re
pulsed with the loss of a fourth of their num
ber. Some four thousand Indians joined
Proctor, but most of them left him after
Perry s victory on Lake Erie. Then Harrison,
having received large reinforcements, invaded
Canada. At the River Thames his army of
3,500 men encountered and routed between
600 and 700 British under Proctor, and about
1,000 Indians under Tecumseh. The battle
was decided at once by a charge of the Ken
tucky mounted riflemen, who broke through
the regulars, took them in rear, and captured
them, and then dismounting attacked the
flank of the Indians, who were also assailed
by the infantry. Proctor escaped by the skin
of his teeth and Tecumseh died fighting, like
the hero that he was. This battle ended the
campaign in the Northwest. In this quarter
it must be remembered that the war was, on
the part of the Americans, mainly one against
Indians ; the latter always forming over half
of the British forces. Many of the remainder
were French Canadians, and the others were
regulars. The American armies, on the con
trary, were composed of the armed settlers of
Kentucky and Ohio, native Americans, of
Knglish speech and blood, who were battling
for lands that were to form the heritage of
their children. In the West the war was only
the closing act of the struggle that for many
years had been waged by the hardy and rest
less pioneers of our race, as with rifle and axe
they carved out the mighty empire that we
their children inherit ; it was but the final ef
fort with which they wrested from the Indian


lords of the soil the wide and fair domain that
now forms the heart of our great Republic.
It was the breaking down of the last barrier
that stayed the flood of our civilization ; it
settled, once and forever, that henceforth the
law, the tongue, and the blood of the land
should be neither Indian, nor yet French, but
English. The few French of the West were
fighting against a race that was to leave as
little trace of them as of the doomed Indian
peoples with whom they made common cause.
The presence of the British mercenaries did
not alter the character of the contest; it
merely served to show the bitter and narrow
hatred with which the Mother-Island regarded
her greater daughter, predestined as the latter
was to be queen of the lands that lay beyond
the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, on Lake Ontario, the Americans
made successful descents on York and Fort
George, scattering or capturing their compar
atively small garrisons ; while a counter de
scent by the British on Sackett s Harbor failed,
the attacking force being too small. After the
capture of Fort George, the Americans invaded
Canada; but their advance guard, 1,400 strong,
under Generals Chandler and Winder, was
surprised in the night by 800 British, who,
advancing with the bayonet, broke up the camp,
capturing both the generals and half the artil
lery. Though the assailants, who lost 220 of
their small number, suffered much more than
the Americans, yet the latter were completely
demoralized, and at once retreated to Fort
George. Soon afterward, Col. Boerstler with
about 600 men surrendered with shamefully


brief resistance to a somewhat smaller force
of British and Indians. Then about 300 Brit
ish crossed the Niagara to attack Black Rock
which they took, but were afterward driven off
by a large body of militia with the loss of 40
men. Later in the season the American Gen
eral McClure wantonly burned the village of
Newark, and then retreated in panic flight
across the Niagara. In retaliation the British
in turn crossed the river ; 600 regulars sur
prised and captured in the night Fort Niagara,
with its garrison of 400 men ; two thousand
troopers attacked Black Rock, and, after los
ing over a hundred men in a smart engagement
with somewhat over 1,500 militia whom they
easily dispersed, captured and burned both
it and Buffalo. Before these last events took
place another invasion of Canada had been
been attempted, this time under General Wil
kinson, "an unprincipled imbecile," as Scott
very properly styled him. It was mismanaged
in every possible way, and was a total failure ;
it was attended with but one battle, that of
Chrystler s Farm, in which 1,000 British, with
the loss of less than 200 men, beat back double
their number of Americans, who lost nearly
500 men and also one piece of artillery. The
American army near Lake Champlain had
done nothing, its commander, General Wade
Hampton, being, if possible, even more in
competent than Wilkinson. He remained sta
tionary while a small force of British plundered
Plattsburg and Burlington ; then, with 5,000
men he crossed into Canada, but returned
almost immediately, after a small skirmish at
Chauteaugay between his advance guard and


some 500 Canadians, in which the former lost
41 and the latter 22 men. This affair, in which
hardly a tenth of the American force was en
gaged, has been, absurdly enough, designated
a " battle " by most British and Canadian
historians. In reality it was the incompetency
of their general and not the valor of their foes
that caused the retreat of the Americans. The
same comment, by the way, applies to the so-
called " Battle " of Plattsburg, in the following
year, which may have been lost by Sir George
Prevost, but was certainly not won by the
Americans. And, again, a similar criticism
should be passed on General Wilkinson s at
tack on La Colle Mill, near the head of the
same lake. Neither one of the three affairs
was a stand-up fight ; in each a greatly su
perior force, led by an utterly incapable gen
eral, retreated after a slight skirmish with an
enemy whose rout would have been a matter
of certainty had the engagement been per
mitted to grow serious.

In the early spring of 1814 a small force of
1 60 American regulars, under Captain Holmes,
fighting from behind felled logs, routed 200
British with a loss of 65 men, they themselves
losing but 8. On Lake Ontario the British
made a descent on Oswego and took it by fair
assault ; and afterward lost 180 men who tried
to cut out some American transports, and were
killed or captured to a man. All through
the spring and early summer the army on the
Niagara frontier was carefully drilled by Brown,
and more especially by Scott, and the results of
this drilling were seen in the immensely im
proved effectiveness of the soldiers in the


campaign that opened in July. Fort Erie was
captured with little resistance, and on the 4th
of July, at the river Chippeway, Brown, with
two brigades of regulars, each about 1,200
strong, under Scott and Ripley, and a brigade
of 800 militia and Indians under Porter, mak
ing a total of about 3,200 men, won a stand-
up fight against the British General Riall, who
had nearly 2,500 men, 1,800 of them regulars.
Porter s brigade opened by driving in the
Canadian militia and the Indians ; but was
itself checked by the British light-troops. Rip-
ley s brigade took very little part in the battle,
three of the regiments not being engaged at
all, and the fourth so slightly as to lose but five
men. The entire brunt of the action was borne
by Scott s brigade, which was fiercely attacked
by the bulk of the British regulars under Riall.
The latter advanced with great bravery, but
were terribly cut up by the fire of Scott s reg
ulars ; and when they had come nearly up
to him, Scott charged with the bayonet and
drove them clean off the field. The American
loss was 322, including 23 Indians ; the British
loss was 515, excluding that of the Indians.
The number of Americans actually engaged
did not exceed that of the British ; and Scott s
brigade, in fair fight, closed by a bayonet
charge, defeated an equal force of British reg

On July 25th occurred the Battle of Niagara,
or Lundy s Lane, fought between General
Brown with 3,100 l Americans and General

1 As near as can be found out ; most American
authorities make it much less ; Lossing, for example,
says, only 2,400.


Drummond with 3,500 British. It was
brought on by accident in the evening, and
was waged with obstinate courage and savage
slaughter till midnight. On both sides the
forces straggled into action by detachments.

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