George H Richards.

Memoir of Alexander Macomb, the major general commanding the Army of the United States (Volume 2) online

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Captain of Macule's Jirtillevy, in the late War.



Entered according to an Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hun-
dred and thirty-two, by M'Elrath & Bangs, in the Clerk's OtRce of the Court of
the United States, for the Southern District of New-York.



85 Chatham-street.

Neio - YorA*, November^ 1832.




Will you allow me to inscribe this little volume
to you, as an humble tribute of my respect and admi-
ration, of my gratitude and esteem ? You being now
in private life, I feel the greater freedom in the expres-
sion of my sentiments, and may, I trust, indulge this
expression^ without an impugnment of motive.

Although you are a civilian, there can be no incon-
gruity in dedicating this miUtary memoir to him, from
whose intellectual grasp no branch of human art or
science is permitted to escape. You may feel, too, a
special interest in tracing the course of a soldier, whose
most signal exploit facihtated your own negotiations in
the Treaty of Ghent.

A Financier, Diplomatist, and Statesman, whose
mind, acquirements, and character, (it is within my
personal knowledge) are known aud reverenced in the
poHtical and scientific circles of Europe, and whose re-
publican principles and public services have been em-


phatically uvouched by one of our political Patiiaichs.
Jefferson, in that pregnant phrase — " he is the tnain-
mast of the vessel of Slate^^ — you may yet condescend
at some leisure moment, during the intervals of your
important avocations, to run over these sketches. It
has not been within the vanity, any more than the
ability of the writer, to emulate your own peculiar style
of thought and of expression, which, like a steam en-
gine, accumulates a momentous power by compression,
and exerts it with a corresponding expansive effect —
a resistless energy of propulsion : Still these pages,
though they can afford you no instruction, will present
you, in the subject of tlie'm^ with a theme of national
pride and a source of patriotic gratulation.



The following pages were prepared some two or three
years ago, for Samuel F. Bradford, Esq., to be inserted in
his Annual "the Cabinet," which was published in con-
junction with the Talisman. The memoir being too
long for publication in that work, and the task of abbre-
viation being irksome, a personal friend of Gen. Macomb,
in my absence, kindly undertook the office of re-casting
it in his own mould, and produced it with great grace,
spirit, and elegance, as it appeared in the "Cabinet,"
This was satisfactory to me ; but many of the friends
and connexions of the General, in this city, having been
desirous that it should appear in full, as originally writ-
ten, I have yielded, however indiscreetly, to their request.

It is now, therefore, submitted to the Press, as a memo-
randum for the historian — as a grateful reminiscence for
the personal friends of the subject of the memoir — and
as an humble, but honest record for those who love their
country and that country's glory and all who have
achieved it — for those who, more of patriots than critics,
will excuse the imperfect delineation, while they contem-
plate the features, and cheeringly hail the brilliant ca-
reer, of virtue and valour, of learning and genius,

It is needless to say that these sheets, from a rough
soldier's rougher pen, advance no pretensions to the no-



tice of criticism. It were idle to deprecate evils which
can not come. " Who would rack a fly upon the wheel?"

The reader, it is hoped, will deem mp excusable in
having sprinkled this memoir with brief notices of those
actors in the scenes described, whom the narrative natu-
rally and necessarily introduced.

The delay which has taken place in the publication,
occasioned by the pressure of my engagements, has not,
of course, affected, in any degree, the verity of its state-
ments. Truth is the same, at Athens and at Rome, now
and forever; and the truths, especially, of History, like
Pyramidal Structures, tower through all time, and solidi-
fy by the accumulation of ages. They stand, mid the
revolutions of human affairs, like fixed points in the hea-
vens, toward which philosophers and statesmen point
their instruments of observation, and gather calculations
for the expansion of science and for the conduct of na-

It is not the design nor the wish of this memoir to
elevate the glory of arms above that of letters. There
are dillerent species of fame, and different species even
of military fame. True glory is in a compound ratio to
the exertion of intellectual power, and to the direction
which that power may take. Aside from its motives
and objects, whatever evinces the greatest power of in-
tellect is the most glorious; whether an epic poem or the
higher calculus. Whether, with Milton, to create and
people immaterial worlds — or, with Shakspeare, to thread
the mazes of all possible modes of being and of action,
of feeling and of thought— whether, with Newton, to
weiixh the star.s, to analyze the light, and pierce the ma-
terial curtain which shuts us out from other spheres — or^


with Berkeley, looking- through nature, to remove from
before the mental vision the barrier w^hich divides time
from eternity : these, one and all, are glorious,- immortal
conquests. They lift up hiTman nature. They teach
man, that, though bodily present in this world, he has
capacities for higher scenes, superior enjoyments — the
destined heir of a richer and eternal heritage.

The victories of Csesar are preserved imperishably in
his own commentaries. The triumphal arch, the aspi-
ring column, the memorial statue, have mouldered into dust,
while his descriptions are fresh and verdant as when first
from the hand of their author. As the second orator of
Rome, he was undoubtedly more glorious, than when, at
the head of his flushed legions, he passed the rubicon,
and gave a master to the mistress of the world.- The
modern Ceesar, too, has erected, on the Code Napoleon,
the proudest pillar of his fame, more durable than the
bronze or marble of the Tuilleries, and which will survive
the names of Lodi, Austerlitz, and Marengo. These in-
stances but serve to illustrate the position, that the ac-
complished officer, the great general, those whom Historj^
inscribes on her scroll, and who were not born to die,
must add, to the rich endowments of nature, the maturest
cultivations of art.

In the ages of barbarism, war was a royal pastime —
the vagrant hunting game of Princes for spoil and do-
minion. Scythia's desolating hordes, the ignorant move-
ments of vast masses of physical force, of the wire-strung
automata of armies, for the purposes of violence and de-
vastation, of lust, rapine, and insatiate ambition, long-
drenched the earth with blood and tears, and rent the
sky with cries of anguish. We behold Bajazet in the


cage of Timur, and consider prisoner and gaoler alike
the object of disgust and horror, of scorn and execration.
Goth and Hun, Alaric and Attila, sweep, with their
besom, the land of Italy and Greece, of arts and of hu-
manity ; Kouli and Gengis Khan pour like a torrent
upon Candahar and Cathany ; Bethlem Gabor, with
vulture talons, pounces upon Hungary; — the only me-
morials they leave are ruins — their only trophies are
rights violated and innocence profaned, the confiscated
palace and the desecrated temple, cities sacked and pro-
vinces depopulated ; They are immortalized in infamy :
Their march is the march of death — all the Furies in their
train. The nineteenth century, in the spirit of true phi-
losophy, looks down, pity softening its contempt, upon
these ignoble banditti, the royal robbers and princely
murderers of mankind.

Behold now, in contrast wide as zenith from the nadir,
the Genius of Modern War — discarding all barbarities —
retaining all refinements — cherishing all the courtesies —
displaying lofty sentiment and gallant action, the Chival-
ry of Heroism. Examine the character, the objects, the
motives of the PATRIOT SOLDIER. No mercenary
he ! No despot's minion ! Looking to his countrj?-, to pos-
terity, to preserve his name, he plunges, like Curtius, a
voluntary victim, into the gulf which Anarchy may
have opened — he offers himself up, in defence against
foreign aggression, a self-sacrifice on the altar of his
country. Take a generous youth, of noble aspirations,
his breast panting at the bright prospects which Hope
and Imagination present to him in burnished array, his
mind fraught with full knowledge of all the avenues
which lead to the Temple of Fame. Which path will he


pursue ? What course select ? — How the blood thrills to
the heart, when we contemplate Gustavus issuing from
the mines of Dalecarlia to the rescue of his countrymen —
when we barely pronounce the names of Bruce and Wal-
lace — when we recall the image of Pulaski — when we
hear the child lisp the household word Lafayette — when
we see, in the picture of the mind, Kosciusko unfurling
the banners of Independence from the walls of Warsaw !
Look at the General, in the tented council, explaining to
his confidentiar officers the plan of thp campaign, on the
issue of which the existence of his country, of liberty,
and its institutions, is suspended ! Again see him in the
field, quickly arranging the scientific combinations of
battle, cheering the wavering, and leading the brave !
Search the annals of States — go to the Pantheon of the
Deified-— find him who vv^ears the greenest ehaplet, and
holds the highest niche in the Temple : His name will
be Washington, who lead the armies of his country to
victory, and conquered for Freedom and the Republic !
The protection of hearths and altars, the repulsion of in-
vasion, the overthrow of despotism, the establishment of
independence, the salvation of a country, which are the
proper feats of arms, have ever ranked, not only among
the dearest duties of patriotism, but also among the sub-
limest objects of man's ambition and glory.

In modern times, war has not merely grown into an "art
— it is ennobled into a science : and, from its ultimate per-
fection, perhaps, as well as from the prophecies both of
religion and philosophy, Philanthropy may indulge the
hope of that Saturnian period, " when nations shall learn
war no more." Till this period come, and indeed in or-
der to hasten it, we must neglect no instruction— we must

use all appliances. We must cherish the science of war ;
and, as war itself is not an abstraction, we must also
cherish those who can practice it.

Preparation for it is proverbially its best preventive ;
and it is too tremendous in its trials to be wantonly in-
curred by negligence: for war, like Minos, shakes the
Urn which holds the fates of men and nations. Every
country hitherto has been necessitated or seduced to launch
into the tempestuous waters of martial combat; but when
embarked on that ocean, not sage nor seer can tell what
storms may gather, in what clouds the beacon -lights be
lost, what hidden currents heave us from our course,
what time the arch again be spanned, or which bellige-
rent be doomed to cry, in the language of Byron, " Renew
thy rainbow, God!"



XN OUR national gallery of distinguished men, the
portrait of Alexander Macomb stands conspicuous.
The great men of this country, like the oaks of its
forests, are of spontaneous growth. The hot-house of
patronage, the adscititious aids of noble family and
illustrious alliance, are not necessary to bring them to
maturity. They invigorate and expand, as well amid
the storms, as beneath the sunshine, of fortune.

The subject of this Memoir will be found, like most
of his eminent countrymen, to have risen by the salient
and recuperative energies of his own genius. Although
born of respectable parents, and receiving, not an ela-
borate and finished, though highly valuable education,
still he must be viewed as the architect of his own for-
tunes, the arbiter of his own destiny. How many, even
in our own country, have enjoyed greater advantages,
had more powerful connexions, been educated at univer-
sities, and perfected in their studies by foreign travel, who


yet have performed no deed of fame, and rendered no
service to society. The prominence of station, the wide
spread and enduring- celebrity, which Macomb has ac-
quired, have been fairly earned in the open field of ho-
nourable competition and emulous prowess. He sowed
the harvest which he reaps. By his own right arm,
he plucked the laurels, with which a nation garlands
his brow, and which, in peace, like Harmodius, he
weaves into a wreath where his sword reposes. Such
a man seems always favoured by good fortune, because
he wins it by address, or commands it by boldness.

It is usual, in sketches like the present, to give some
account of the origin and faniily of the individual whose
life and character are portrayed. Although, in this free
and happy republic, no long line of patrician ancestry
is deemed a qualification for office, nor a passport to
power ; yet it is a theme, at once, of ingenious specu-
lation and liberal curiosity, to trace, through the deriva-
tion from different nations, the various sources of the
blood which runs in the veins of our countrymen, and,
in every instance of a distinguished person, to learn
something of his parentage and descent.

Alexander Macom.b, the Major General commanding
the Army of the United States, is descended, on the
paternal side, from a respectable Irish family, and, on
the maternal, from an ancient French family of noble

MACOMi.. li'

extraction. The grandfather, John Macomb, emi-
grated to this country, from Ireland, as early as the year
1742, and held an official station under the Colonial
government. He selected, for his place of residence,
the city of New- York. Here, too, his son Alexander
Macomb, the father of the General, was educated and
resided. He sustained the cliaracter of an useful and
highly public-spirited citizen ; had the honour of repre-
senting that city in the Legislature of the State in the
years 1787-88; and, in the late war with Great Britain,
furnished five sons for the service of his country in the
regular Army and the Militia.

The grandfather, on the mother's side, was Robert
de Navarre. He came from Paris to America, in the
year 1745, an officer under the French government,
and acted as Notaire Royal and Sub-Deligue of the
king of France, on the early establishment of Detroit,
where he remained and raised a large family, t he de-
scendants of which are spread through the greater por-
tion of the French population of Michigan, and its im-
mediate vicinity on the Canadian side.

The father of our Macomb, in the adventurous spirit
of the times before the revolution, established a mercan-
tile house at Detroit, where he succeeded in amassing a
considerable estate, by means of those valuable furs and
peltries, then and since the rich staples of an extensive



commerce in the remote and unsettled parts of the
northwestern portion of America, bordering on the Ohio
and the Lakes. He married, at Detroit. Miss Catha-
rine Navarre. He had a numerous and growing family;
and, on the restoration of peace, with the acquisition of
a handsome fortune, he returned to New- York. He
made extensive purchases of land in the western part
of the State, then a wilderness, now called " Macomb's
Purchase," and enjoyed the advantages of his industry
and enterprise, until misplaced confidence and the vi-
cissitudes of trade snatched from him, as it were in a
moment, the accumulatiorts of years, and reduced him
to comparative indigence and distress.

The subject of this memoir was born at Detroit^ on the
3d of April, 1782. Though not, hke one of the heroes
of antiquity, born on tapestry representing the scenes of
the Iliad, he may yet almost literally be said to have
been nursed in field and fortress, and rocked by the
storms of war. Detroit, at this time, was a military post.
The chubby boy became a favourite with the soldiers
of the garrison. He was dandled on the soldier's knee,,
—fed at the soldier's mess— his eye was dazzled with
the gorgeous pageantry of military parade— and his ear
delighted with the rousing strains of martial music.
He slept and awoke amid martial sounds and associa-
tions. External objects so readily and deeply stamp


their impression on the mind just opening to the world,
it is not a matter of surprise that the dreams of his in-
fancy and the visions of his youth were of miUtary

He was yet an infant, when his father took up his
residence in the city of New- York. It was in that
city, he spent the early years of childhood. But when
only eight years of age, he was sent to the Academy
at Newark, in New- Jersey, and was placed under
the charge of the Rev. Doctor Uzual Ogden, who was
president of the institution, pastor of the Episcopal
church in that town, and bishop elect of the Diocese
.of New- Jersey, He there received the rudiments of
a. classical, mathematical, and French education. The
-eruption of the French revolution, at this period,
threw many of the unfortunate families of France and
>the West Indies into our country, as an asylum v4i6i«
/the exiles of foreign oppression sought and found
;a second home. A great many of the young gentlemen
of those families were sent to the Academy at Newark ;
rand a number of the families themselves took up their
residence in the viicinity. This circumstance afforded
,a fine opportunity to the American youths, by cultivating
intercourse with the Frenei^^to acquire a practical know-
ledge of their language. The occasion was not ne-
glected by yowng Macomb, who, both at school and in con-
§^ersation, became familiarized with that polite and use-


ful tongue : an acquisition vvliich has proved itself of im-
mense benefit to him, in his intercourse with the world,
and especially in the prosecution of his military profes-

It is Ijaidly less philosophical than amusing, to trace

the developments of greatness to their germ ; to
mark even the earliest indications of character ; and
notice those little incidents \\ hich often, perhaps, have
a controlling, though unsuspected, agency in forming
the plastic mind of youth, that, subsequently, in the
maturity of its strength and in the vigour of manhood,
may guide the course, or mould the destinies, of em-
pire. With this view, the reader will pardon a brief
recital of a passage or two, in the juvenile years of

The war of the French revolution raging at the
period lie was at school in Newark, although a mere
lad, he could not but be influenced, more or less, like
" young Norval who had heard of battles," by the de-
scriptions of the martial array, of defeats and victories
alternately lost and won by the aristocrats and demo-
crats of France. These were, at that time, the con-
stant topic of conversation and newspaper discussion.
At tlie commencement of that revolution, it is well
known wiili what fervid enthusiasm the feelings of
our countrymen, even to the children, entered into the
contest, then deemed the holy cause of freedom, (as


indeed it was in its incipiency,) against oppression and
despotism ! Every success which the French repub-
licans gained was lauded throughout the countr}^ — the
pubhc prints related it with exultation — and the Ame-
rican people hailed it with rapturous joy, identifying
the cause of France with that of universal liberty.
The " Marcellois hymn" and other patriotic songs of
that revolution were " conn'd by heart" by our youths,
and recited and sung with an ardour bordering on
phrenzy. The French cockade was universally worn ;
indeed it was dangerous to appear without that emblem
of •' civism" and democracy ; even the cravats were
tamboured with the motto of " La liberte et L'Egalit^,"
and the appropriate tricolour of the day.

During this period too, strong excitement prevailed
against the British Government, on account of its with-
holding the posts within our acknowledged limits, on
the Canadian frontiers, and its impressment of our
citizens on the high seas. The approach of war with
Great Britain was now considered to be so near, that
the citizens commenced the fortification of Governor's
Island, and other positions in the vicinity, for the pro-
tection of the city of New- York ; and the very boys
at school joined in the welcome task of throwing up
the projected works. Small as he then was, our young
enthusiast partook of the fatigue, and was distinguished



for his assiduity in lending his httle labors to the work
of defence.

The students at the Academy in Newark had
become quite numerous ; and some of them having
given umbrage to a young son of Crispin, the faculty ^
feeling their " esprit du corps" touched, roused them-
selves to the field, with their aUies, and appeared en
masse before the students. The challenge could not
be declined ; and a combat ensued, in which, after a
severe struggle with fists, sticks, " arma furor minin-
strat" — the Crispians retreated. In this affair, by that
sort of instinctive impulse and consent, which, in as-
semblies, whether of boys or men, assumes and yields
the ascendant, young Macomb took and vigorously
exercised the command. In a subsequent affray be-
tween the same parties, a similar illustration was
afforded. It was agreed that each party should select
its champion, and decide the contest according to the
laws of pugihsm, then a fashionable accomplishment.
Young Macomb, about thirteen years of age, entered
the ring on the side of the students. The brawny
arms of his antagonist played with athletic strength
about his person, and would inevitably have gained
the day, had not fortunately our little champion been
ycliooled in the pugilistic art by a brother-in-law, who
had iiimself been regularly initiated by Mendoza, in


England. The ensuing winter furnished new occasions
for these miniature miUtary operations. The students
agreed to erect a fort of snow, and to divide themselves
into two parties, one of which to garrison the fort, and
the other to attack it. The Latin and Greek Teacher
at the Academy was a Scotchman of the name of Ir-
quart, who possessed deep-rooted prejudices against the
French, and, finding that they were not so enthusias-
tically admired as formerl}^ by the Americans, sought
to create animosities among the students, who were
pretty equally divided in point of number. The fort
being completed, these little communities, as represen-
tatives of their respective nations, determined to toss
up for the possession of the fort, and each choose a
commander. The French won ; and a da}'' was fixed
on, for the siege and attack. The French boys secretly
repaired to the fort the previous night, with frozen
snow-balls, and arranged theni in their magazines, and
along the parapets. At dawn of the appointed day, the
parties w^ere at their respective stations, Macomb head-
ing the Americans. The besieging party, before com-
mencing the attack, threw up, under the fire of the fort,
a sort of epaulment, to cover themselves from the balls
of the besieged. The Scotch schoolmaster happened
that day to get into the Academy at an earlier hour
than usual, and watched, with intense eagerness, the


operations of the belligerents, which were going on at
no great distance from his position. The assailants
having prepared a sufficient quantity of munitions for
the bombardment, the fire was opened on the fort, and
returned with great spirit and effect, several of the be-
sieging party having been struck with the ice-balls,
and brought to the ground. The Americans conceived

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Online LibraryGeorge H RichardsMemoir of Alexander Macomb, the major general commanding the Army of the United States (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 8)