Crisfield. cn Johnson.

... History of Oswego County, New York online

. (page 16 of 120)
Online LibraryCrisfield. cn Johnson... History of Oswego County, New York → online text (page 16 of 120)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Brush— Mitchell's Retreat— The Losses- Perils of Making an
Attack— Sinking the "Syren"— A Close Shot— Seizure of Property
— Sir James Yco and Mr. Bronson — Five Prisoners and Three Sur-
vivors—A Plucky Boy— A Ruffianly Knight— Prisoners taken to
Kingston— Released— The Militia— A Harvest of Cannon-Balis—
Getting the Guns to Sackett's Uarbor— The Boats Set Forth— One
Captured— An Indian Escort— Out of the County— Entering Big
Sandy— The British Follow— The Battle— A Complete Victory—
The Guns, etc., taken through — Chauncey again Ahead — Peace.

At length, on the 18th day of June, 1812, the declara-
tion of war, having passed both houses of Congress, was
signed by the president. The excitement increased ten-
fold. The shores of the Oswego river had so often been
the scene of bloody conflicts in former wars, that men
might well tremble lest the invader should again seek that
convenient opening into the country, and those scenes of
blood be repeated on a still wider scale.

In July, Colonel George Fleming, of Cayuga county,
with nine companies of militia, marched down the river
and took post at Fort Ontario. He made some attempts to
repair the dilapidated works, but effected very little. The
militia were called out for only a few months' service at a
time, and when their terms expired they were relieved. In
the fall, Colonel Cleveland, of Madison county, took com-
mand of Fort Ontario in place of Colonel Fleming. The
terms of almost all the militia expired with the year, and
no provision was made for supplying their places. Fort
Ontario was left almost entirely undefended.

Early in the season Mi'. McNair was appointed commis-
sary of subsistence at Oswego, and Mr. Alvin Bronson
military storekeeper. Some of the contractors, whose prop-
erty would necessarily pass through his hands, objected to
Mr. Bronson's appointment on the ground that he was a
Federalist, who could not safely be trusted in such a posi-


Hon. One of the principal contractors, however, who knew
Jlr. Bronson's personal reput;ition, declared that he was
just the man for the place, and warmly urp;ed his appoint-
ment, which was accordingly made. Shortly afterwards he
was also appointed naval storekeeper.

Meanwhile strong efforts were made by the government
to organize a naval force on Lake Ontario, where at the
beginning of the war the stiir-spangled banner was borne by
no armed ship except the brig •' Oneida." All vessels that
were capable of being armed were at once purchased. Mr.
McNair's schooner "Julia," named for his daughter, was
thus bought, and was armed with a long thirty-two-pound
gun, and two long sixes. Soon afterwards she was sent to
Ogdensburgh, manned with sixty volunteers under Lieuten-
ant Wells, of the " Oneida," and accompanied by a company
of riflemen in an open Durham boat ; the object was to
protect six American schooners in that vicinity. Eleven
miles this side of Ogdensburgh she met two British vessels,
and a three hours' cannonade ensued. The enemy withdrew,
and the improvised Oswego man-of-war, only very slightly
injured, proceeded to Ogdensburgh. During an armistice
soon after proclaimed on the frontier, the " Julia" and the
six schooners escaped to Lake Ontario.

The schooner " Charles and Ann," belonging to the firm
of Townsend, Bronson & Co , was also purchased by the
government and ohanged into a gun-boat by the name of the
" Governor Tompkins," and did good service during the fore-
part of the war, ere larger vessels could be constructed. Lieu-
tenant Woolsey was the first commander on Lake Ontario,
but in August, Captain Isaac Chauncey was appointed com-
mander of the forces on all the northern lakes. He arrived
on Lake Ontario in the fall, taking command of the forces
on that lake in person, and fixing his headcjuarters at Sack-
ett's Harbor, at that time the only port where large vessels
could be built.

In November the two Oswego gun-boats, "Governor
Tompkins" and "Julia," with the rest of Chauncey's fleet,
were engaged in a conflict with the British land-batteries near
Kingston. Afterwards these two and another chased the
" Simcoe," of twelve guns, on a reef of rocks, and riddled
her with shot, so that after being taken into Kingston har-
bor she sank to the bottom. The " Tompkins." with three
other gun-boats, then blockaded Kingston until the ice
closed the port, when they all returned to Saekett's Harbor.
During the year 1813 very little of importance occurred
in Oswego County In April the town of New Haven was
formed from Mexico, with its present limits. A small force
of militia, frequently changed, was stationed at Fort On-
tario, but the principal dependence for protection was on
the naval force, which Commodore Chauncey was doing his
best to increase. The conflict on Lake Ontario was, as Jlr.
Bronson well defined it, a " war of ship-builders." At first
the British had the largest vessels. Then the Americans
built larger ones, and drove the enemy into his harbors.
Then the British built still larger vessels, and the Ameri-
cans lay back, and laid yet longer keels than ever. Several
indecisive conflicts took place during 1813, but none in
immediate proximity to this county.

Stores and munitions of war were constantly forwarded
in large quantities from the east over the old route — so

often traversed for the same purpose during the previous
century — to Oswego, whence they were sent both ways,
some west to Niagara and others northeast to Saekett's Har-
bor. Bodies of troops, too, were moved back and forth
from one end of Oiit;irio lake to the other, with the pur-
poseless imbecility which marked almost all the proceedings
of (he government during the war of 1812, and which can
only be accounted for by supposing that the south, which
then ruled the nation, was determined that Canada should
not be concjuered.

In June of that year there was a small body of regulars
at Fort Ontario. During the month several British armed
vessels, among them the frigate " General Wolfe," ap-
peared ofl' Oswego, and opened fire. The American ship
" Growler," of three guns, happened to be anchored in the
harbor. She responded briskly, as did the batteries under
the command of Major Case. After a brief cannonade the
enemy retired. The Americans suffered no loss, and that
of the British was probably slight.

The only other event of 1813 which need be narrated at
any length partook somewhat of the ludicrous order. Wil-
liam Cooper, a brother of Fenimore Cooper, was a rather
eccentric genius, who then made his home about Oswego.
He undertook to build a floating battery, which was to be
taken to Saekett's Harbor, and used to defend that post
from the British. Full of faith. Cooper went to work at
his own expense, the government agreeing to pay him six-
teen thousand dollars for the battery when it should be
completed and had proved actually capable of being floated
to Saekett's Harbor. It was nearly square, about sixty feet
across, and rose some four or five feet out of the water. It
was made of large logs hewed partially square, and Mr. E.
W. Clarke describes it as looking like a big, low, half-sub-
merged log house.

Whatever name the inventor might have given it, nobody
else called it anything l)ut " Cooper's Ark." There was a
mast in the middle, and when the thing was done Cooper
placed it in charge of a Captain Gould, who boldly spread
a large sail, and with a few men started for Saekett's Harbor.
There were also two or three prisoner on board, whom the
government officers wished to send to the Harbor. The
guns were to be put on board at the latter place. The ark
had gone but a short distance (being somewhere off New
Haven, as near as we can learn) wlien the wind rose slightly ;
the log craft became unmanageable, and soon went to pieces.
Fortunately, all the men escaped to shore without serious
injury. Cooper had used up his means on this curious
contrivance, and his, together with the ridicule to
which he had subjected himself, soon caused him to leave
this part of the country.

In the spring of 181-1, Commodore Chauncey was building
the frigate " Superior" and other vessels at Saekett's Harbor.
The "Superior'' was launched on the second day of May,
I eighty days after her keel was laid. Two other vessels, the
"Jefferson" and the "Jones," were ready for use, with the
exception of a part of their armament. A large number of
heavy guns and naval stores, designed for these vessels, was
brought through from Albany to Oswego Falls, where they
were detained, awaiting a safe (ijiportunity to ship them to
Saekett's Harbor. There was also a large amount of .stores



at Oswego, in charge of Mr. Bronson. The ice in the lake
broke up early, and in April, General Gaines, at Sackett's
Harbor, learned that the British were fitting out an expedi-
tion at Kingston, the object of which was supposed to be
Oswego, or, rather, the stores and munitions believed to be
gathered there. Gaines immediately dispatched Colonel
Mitchell from Sackett's Harbor, with five companies of artil-
lery armed as infantry, with orders to protect the cannon
and naval munitions at the falls, at the hazard of everything
else. Mitchell marched his little force, less than three hun-
dred, all told, along the main road, — a very rude one, —
through Sandy Creek, Pulaski, and Mexico, and reached
Fort Onbuio on the 30th of April. He could bring no
artillery with him. He found the fort in a most wretched
condition, — the stockade broken down, and only five rusty
iron guns mounted on the ramparts. Of these, the trun-
nions of two had been knocked oflF, and they were almost
utterly worthless.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bronson had also received notice of the
expected attack from the district quartermaster, who di-
rected him to stop all stores on their way at the falls, to
send all he could forward to Niagara and Sackett's Harbor,
and to conceal the rest to the best of his ability. These
instructions were faithfully carried out. Besides the pro-
visions and stores dispatched by lake, a large quantity was
sent out into the surrounding forest for concealment.

On the 4th of Maj', Sir James Lucas Yeo, commander
of the British fleet on Lake Ontario, sailed out of Kings-
ton harbor with eight men-of-war, besides several gun-boats
and smaller craft. The fleet was armed with two hundred
and twenty-two guns, and carried about a thousand soldiers,
under the command of Lieutenant-Genoral Sir George
Gordon Drummond, of the British army. Commodore
Chauncey did not feel himself strong enough to make an
attack until his new vessels were completed, and Sir James
sailed unchallenged past the American fleet in Sackett's
Harbor. ,

At reveille, the morning of the Gth, the sentinels at
Fort Ontario s;iw a long line of vessels athwart the northern
horizon, their sails filled by a favoring breeze and their
prows pointed towards Oswego. A look through a field-
glass showed their sides frowning with cannon, and their
mast-heads decked with the red-cross banner of St. George.
Colonel Mitchell immediately sent a number of horsemen
at full speed into the country to arouse the militia, and
made preparations to defend the pile of ruins which were
dignified with the name of fort.

The schooner " Growler," with Captain Wool.sey and
Lieutenant Pearce on board, was in the river, waiting to
convey the guns and stores before spoken of to Sackett's
Harbor. She was at once sunk, and part of her crew, under
Lieutenant Wilson, joined Mitchell at the fort. On the
west side of the river, near the site of old Fort Oswego, in
what is now Fortification block, No. 2, and near the corner
of Water and West Van Buren streets, was a breastwork
armed with four brass guns, but it seemed not to have been
much used. Mitchell had his tents pitched on the west
side, apparently to give the enemy as large an idea of his
force as possible, but mustered all his men at and near the

On came the hostile fleet, their sails swelling gracefully
before the breeze, and about a quarter of a mile from the
shore they rounded to and began making preparations to
land. While these were going forward. Colonel Mitchell
sent an old iron twelve-pounder, under Captain Boyle and
Lieutenant Legate, down near the shore, a little to the
westward of the fort. Ere long, fifteen large boats filled
with soldiers left the sides of the enemy's vessels, and were
rowed rapidly towards the shore. They were covered by
the fleet, which opened a heavy cannonade on the fort, to
which Mitchell responded with his half-dozen old guns as
best he might.

For a short time the thunders of artillery echoed along
the shore and rolled far inland, startling the people with
terrible visions of coming invasion. But when the boats
came within convenient range the old twelve-pounder opened
on them with severe effect. Several of the boats were
seriously injured, and many of their occupants killed and
wounded. Two or three boats were abandoned, the sol-
diers and oarsmen clambering into the others to escape
drowning. After a few discharges from the twelve-pounder,
the boats turned about and retired, in much confusion, to
the fleet. Presently, the British ships unfurled their sails
and put out on to the lake. They lessened swiftly to the
view and finally disappeared, and the Americans congratu-
lated themselves on the easy victory which they had won.
Sir George Drummond, however, in a general order after-
wards issued, declared that he did not intend to make an
attack, but was merely feeling the American strength.

Possibly this was true ; at all events Sir George and Sir
James were not seriously discouraged by their repulse, and
the next morning the fleet again appeared off Fort Ontario.
The British man-of-war " Magnet" took up a position in front
of the village; two other vessels stood in towards the
mouth of the river. The rest of the fleet occupied nearly
their former position, but a little nearer shore. About ten
o'clock the fleet commenced cannonading the fort with all
its guns. The fort returned the fire as well as it could with
its feeble artillery. One after another the American guns
were disabled, and still the cannonade was kept up. A
great part of the balls aimed at the fort went over it into
the woods, and others flew so high that they were appar-
ently aimed at the forest to scatter any militia that might
be lurking there.

In fact, a few had come in, but the population was ex-
ceedingly scattered, and the greater part of those who had
been notified had not arrived ; those who had, were posted
in the woods near the fort. Colonel Mitchell ever bore in
mind that his main business was to protect the guns and
stores at the falls, and that he must keep his command in
a position where they could not be caught. He therefore
left only a few men in charge of the artillery in the fort,
and posted his battalion in the underbrush to the east of it.

About one o'clock, when all but one of the American
guns were disabled, the British boats again lefb the fleet.
For a description of their force we are indebted to Lossing's
" Field-Book of the War of 1812," though most of the inci-
dents of the fight are derived from still surviving witnesses.
The enemy's attacking force consisted of two companies of
De Watteville's regiment of iufimtry, under Captain Be


Bersey, one company of the celebrated " Glengarry" regi-
ment, under Captain McMillan, a battalion of marines,
under Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm, and two hundred sea-
men, armed with pikes, under Captain Mulcaster, of the
royal navy. The whole was commanded by Lieutenant-
Colonel Fischer. Sir George Drummond remained on

The boats containing the infantry and marines headed for
the brush-covered shore where Mitchell was stationed,
while Mulcaster led his sailors directly towards the fort.
Undeterred by the fire of the solitary American gun, Mul-
caster's men sprang from their boats through the water to
the shore, and rushed up the high bank before them.
Another blast of grape from the old twelve-pounder mowed
down a number of the sailors, and the few infantry in the
fort did considerable damage during a brief period, but the
British were in too large force to be stopped by such feeble
means of resistance, and in a moment gained the top of the

There they found two American sailors ramming down a
charge, while two or three other men who had been helping
them were just scurrying through the gate of the fort.
One of the sailors, too, flung down his rammer, and made
good his escape. The remaining old tar, however, was
determined to have another shot. Though surrounded by
foes, who, with leveled pikes, ordered him to surrender, he
seized the linstock and endeavored to fire the cannon. The
British might easily have run him through with a dozen
pikes, but, admiring his valor, they seized him ere he could
apply the linstock, and dragged him by main force away
from the gun.

There was no time to tarry, and, with Mulcaster at their
liead, the British sailors flooded over the feeble ramparts of
the fort. The few men on the parapet who were not struck
down fled across the open space of the little fortress, but,
determined to fight to the last, turned at bay on the outside
of the southern wall and began firing back upon the foe.
In the northwestern bastion stood the flag-staff', to which
the star-spangled banner had been nailed by order of Col-
onel Mitchell. One of the sailors climbed up
to take it down, when a bullet from the southern wall
stretched him lifeless on the ground. Another attempted
the perilous task, and he, too, fell beside his com-
rade. Captain Mulcaster himself than sprang on the par-
apet, and endeavored to tear down the defiant banner. The
next instant he, too, fell .severely wounded to the ground.
It was not till the fourth attempt was made that the flag
was removed. The few defenders of the southern wall
were either slain, captured, or driven away.

Meanwhile a still sharper battle had been going on to the
eastward. Colonel Mitchell, with Captains Romeyn and
Melvin, and the principal part of his battalion, met the
enemy in front as they landed, while Captains Mclntyre
and Pierce annoyed them on the flank. For near half an
hour the ground was hotly contested. The cracking of
muskets and rifles was incessant, and the bullets flew thick
and fast among the saplings and underbrush. But the
British, outnumbering the Americans two to one, .steadily
advanced, and the latter as constantly fell back. Finally,
Colonel Mitchell, seeing that the fort was cajitured and

that his little force was likely to be surrounded, and the
munitions at the falls thus exposed to seizure, gave the
order to retreat. The battalion fell back in good order,
and took their line of march up the river.

The enemy did not pursue. It is doubtful if they knew
that the principal articles of value were at the falls, and
even if they had their loss had been such, and the road
through the forest was so easily defensible, that it is not
probable they would have followed. The Americans lost
six killed, one of whom was Lieutenant Blaney, thirty-eight
wounded (thirteen mortally), and twenty-five missing. The
British loss is reported by Lossing at nineteen killed and
seventy-five wounded. Although it is customary to exag-
gerate an enemy's losses, yet we presume that Lossing had
access to the British official records, and has given the
numbers correctly. That the English, though successful,
should sufl^er tar more heavily than the Americans, is ex-
tremely probable, since the former had to take the offensive
and attack the latter behind trees and intrenchments. The
value of a defensive situation is rarely appreciated by
civiKans, who consider nothing but the numbers engaged ;
especially if their feelings them to misunderstand
the facts. Thus, secession sympathizers are in the habit of
dilating on the great superiority in numbers of the national
troops during the war for the Union, but carefully forget to
consider that the rebels had mountains, rivers, forests, and
swamps as their auxiliaries, all guarded, and doubly guarded,
by the most formidable intrenchments, behind which they
lay in comparative safety, — before which the friends of the
Union fell by thousands.

Two citizens of Oswego, Abram D. Hugunin and Wil-
liam Squires, who had crossed the river with their rifles
and attached themselves to the American troops to aid in
repelling the invaders, did not retreat (|uickly enough, and
were captured. Peter D. Hugunin, afterwards judge, also
occupied the breastwork on the west side of the river,
occasionally sending a bullet from his rifle at the invaders,
until the fort surrendered, when he made his escape.

When Mr. Bronson saw how matters were going, he
began hastily to load some stores on to his schooner, the
" Syren," preparatory. A sergeant's guard came up to the
opposite side of the river and fired across at the laborers,
one of the bullets passing within two feet of Mr. Bronson,
and striking in the end of his warehouse. Nevertheless he
persisted in sinking the vessel. Meanwhile, the British
burned the barracks, but could do little to the fort, as it
was already in ruins. Presently Sir George Urummond
came ashore, and he and Sir James Yeo devoted themselves
to .seizing what public property they could. They suc-
ceeded in raising the " Growler" and the " Syren," which
were the principal prizes they made. There was no sys-
tematic injury to private property, but the soldiers and
sailors did considerable plundering whenever they had an

From the storehouse of Mr. McNair, the government
commissary, were taken some twelve hundred barrels of
hard bread, and a quantity of other provi.sions, whisky, etc ,
but these and all the other prizes were ver^' poor compen-
sation for the loss suffered by the British. The work of
seizure and luadinsr went on for .several hours. While Sir


was superintending the loading of some of the stores
on a captured schooner, he saw Mr. Bronson walking about
on the wharf, dressed as became a merchant, and sharply
addressed him, —

" Here, sir, I want you to furnish pilots to take these
boats over the bar."

Mr. Bronson replied that all the men had left the place,
and that he had no pilots under his control. With a vulgar
oath. Sir James seized him by the collar, and shoved him
back across the wharf, saying, —

" Then go yourself and take the boat out, and if you get
her aground, God damn you, I'll shoot you !"

Without making any reply, Mr. Bronson started towards
the boat. Before reaching it, however, Lieutenant-Colonel
Harvey, a gallant British officer, much respected on both
sides of the line, who was standing a short distance away,
called out, — •

" That is the public storekeeper. Sir James ; he may be
useful to us."

" Here, come back !" cried Yeo. Mr. Bronson did so,
and awaited the course of events.

An hour or so later. Sir James sent for Mr. Bronson,
who obeyed the call, when the following conversation took
place between them. Sir James began, —

" You are the public storekeeper here?"

" Yes, sir."

" And you arc my prisoner ?"

" Yes, sir."

" Now, sir, I want you to tell me all about the public
stores : what have been sent to Sackett's Harbor and Ni-
agara, if any ; what have been detained at posts in the
rear ; and what, if any, are concealed in the vicinity. If
you will give me full and correct information on these
points, you can remain here ; if not, you will be taken a
prisoner to Quebec."

" Well, Sir James," replied Mr. Bronson, " my books and
papers have been sent away for safety ; I do not think I
could give you this information if I would, and I am sure
it would be inconsistent with my' duty for me to do so if I

" I have nothing to do with your duty," said the com-
modore ; '• all I have to say is, — if you give the information
I want, correctly, you can stay ; if not, you go to Quebec."

" Very well, sir," replied the faithful storekeeper, " that
settles it ; I will go to Quebec."

Sir James then called Captain O'Conner, his flag-captain,
and said, —

" Take that man aboard the ' Prince Regent,' and take
care of him."

Mr. Bronson requested O'Conner to let him go to his
room to get his trunk or some clothes. The officer con-
sented, and sent a subordinate to accompany the prisoner

Online LibraryCrisfield. cn Johnson... History of Oswego County, New York → online text (page 16 of 120)