Copyright
H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

. (page 14 of 32)
Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 14 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


both sides, the rear of the enemy's line opened its fire ; and
in fifteen minutes the action became general on both sides. At
half past eleven, the American weather line bore up, and passed
to the leeward, the Growler and Julia excepted, which soon
after tacking to the southward, brought the British between
them and the remainder of the American fleet. Sir James,
after exchanging a few shot with the American commodore's
ship, pursued the Growler and Julia. A firing commenced
between them, which continued until one o'clock in the morn-
ing of the 10th; when, after a desperate resistance, the two
schooners were compelled to yield. The fleets had lost sight
of each other in the night ; but as Sir James on the next day,
when they were again visible, showed no disposition to renew
the action, commodore Chauncey returned to Sackett's Har-
bour. A victory for this afl'air was claimed by the British com-
mander.



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 123



War on the Coast.



CHAPTER IX.



War on the Coast — British Attack Lewistov%'n — Gun Boats attack some British Ves-
sels of War — Exploits of Cockburn — Attack on Frcnchtown — Plundering and Burning
of Havre de Grace — of Georgetown and Fredericktown — Arrival of Admiral Warren
and Sir Sydney Beckwith — Southern Cities threatened — Attack on Craney Island —
gallantly repulsed — Hampton assaulted and plundered — Enormities committed there —
Correspondence between General Taylor and Sir Sydney Beckwith — Cockburn plun-
ders the Coast of North Carolina— Blockade of the American Squadron at New London
by Commodore Hardy — Torpedo System.

During llie first year of the war, Great Britain, being deeply
engaged in the important transactions then going on in Europe,
had little time to attend to the war witli this country. The
forces which she could spare, had been sent to Canada ; and not
one of our ports could be said to have been in a state of actual
blockade. The change in the face of things in Europe, how-
ever, gave her a greater disposable force, and more leisure;
while our victories on the ocean awakened her attention, and
kindled a desire for revenge. Long before spring, it was
known that a British squadron had arrived at Bermuda, with
a body of troops on board, and well supplied with bombs and
rockets, for the purpose of attacking some of our southern
cities and towns. A distinction was made between the north and
south, from the belief, that the northern states were not merely
unfriendly to the war, but were strongly inclined to secede
from the union, and return to their former allegiance to the
king of England.

We are now about to enter upon a species of hostilities, en-
tirely new among civilized people. The scenes which we
must pass in review, can scarcely be spoken of with modera-
tion; and the chief actors of them can never be otherwise
regarded, than as the perpetrators of enormities from which
the honourable warrior would shrink with instinctive horror.

It was soon understood that the war to be carried on against
the Atlantic coast in the spring, was to be a war of havock and
destruction ; but to what extent was not exacdy known. The



124 BRACKENRIDGE'S

War on the Coast Britisii attack Lewistown.

enemy " talked of chastising us into submission." It was there-
fore expected that our large commercial towns, now somewhat
fortified against the approach of their shipping, would be vigor-
ously attacked; and it was probable that they would be much
injured, and not impossible that they might be reduced to ashes.
Preparations for resistance were made, by stationing small
bodies of regular troops at different points along the seabord;
which were to form rallying points for the militia, when their
aid should be required. A number of marines and seamen,
belonging to public vessels which did not put to sea, were
directed to co-operate in this service.

On the 4th of February, a squadron consisting of two ships
of the line, three frigates and other vessels, made its appearance
in Chesapeake Bay, apparently standing for Hampton Roads.
The alarm was immediately caught at Norfolk, and the militia
were called in from the upper part of Virginia. No attempt, how-
ever, was made upon the town ; the enemy contenting himself
with destroying the smaller vessels employed in the navigation
of the bay, and effectively blockading its waters. About the
same time, another squadron, under the command of commodore
Beresford, consisting of the Poictiers, the Belvidera and some
other vessels, entered the Delaware, which in the same
manner destroyed a number of small trading vessels, and at-
tempted several times to land some men, who were as often
repulsed by the militia, hastily collected. On the 10th of April,
sir John Beresford made a demand on the people of the village
of Lewistown, for a supply of provisions, which was spiritedly
refused by colonel Davis, commanding at that place. Captain
Byron, of the Belvidera, was ordered to move near the village,
and bombard it until the demand should be complied with.
This was obeyed, but without effect : after a cannonade of
twenty hours, the enemy were unable to make any impression on
the place. Their fire had been returned from some batteries
rapidly thrown up on the bank, with considerable effect. On
the 10th of May, the same squadron sent out their barges in
the neighbourhood of Lewistown, to procure water. Major
George Hunter was detached by colonel Davis, with one hun-
dred and fifty men, to oppose their landing, which the major
did with so much gallantry, that they were compelled to hasten
to their shipping. The squadron soon after returned to Ber-
muda, where sir John Borlace Warren, who commanded on this
station, was engaged in fitting out a more considerable arma-
ment, for the attack of our sea coast during the summer.

Soon after the departure of this squadron, the Spartan and



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 125



Guu Boats attack some British Vessels of War Exploits of Cockburn.

some other vessels entered the Delaware. One of them, the
sloop of war jMartin, was discovered on the 29lh of July, slightly
groiinded on the outer edge of Crow's shoals. A detachment
of the gun boat flotilla, at that time near the place, immediately
moved, and anclioring about three quarters of a mile from the
sloop, opened a destructive fire upon her. 'i'he Juiion frigate
soon after came to her relief. A cannonade was kept up during
an hour between the gun boats and these two vessels, in which
the latter suffered great injury. Finding it impossible to drive
off this musquitto fleet, the enemy manned their launches, tend-
ers and cutters, to cut otr the gun boats at the extremity of the
line. Gun boat I\o. 121, commanded by sailing-master Head,
was unfortunately taken, after a desperate resistance against
eight tinies her number. The British soon after retired, having
extricated the Martin from her situation.

Scenes of a different kind were, in tiie meanwhile, acting in
the Chesapeake. The blockading squadron, which had return-
ed in February, was engaged in carrying on a predatory war
along the shores and inlets. It was here that Cockburn, a rear
admiral in the British service, commenced those exploits, for
which he afterwards became so notorious ; and of which he
may justly claim to be the originator. At first ihey were direct-
ed against detached farmhouses, and the seals of private genlle-
men unprepared for and incapable of defence. These were
robbed, and the owners treated in the rudest manner. The cat-
tle which could not be carried away, were doomed to wanton
destruction ; and the slaves, armed against their owners, were
persuaded, in imitation of the example of their new friends, to
attack and plunder the defenceless families and property of their
masters. It was impossible to station a force al each farm-
house, to meet these miserable and disgraceful incursions. Yel,
in several instances, they were bravely repelled by militia, who
collected without authority and under the guidance of no leader.
Cockburn took possession of several islands in the bay, parti-
cularly Sharp's, Tilghman's and Poplar islands; whence he
seized t!ie opportunity of making descents upon the neighbour-
ing shores, at such times as the inhabitants happened to be off
their guard: but the spirited citizens of Maryland, by station^
ing bodies of infantry and cavalry at intervals along the shore,
ready to be drawn out at a moment's warning, prevented the
success of many of them.

Encouraged by the results of his attacks on the farmers and
their hen roosts, and rendered more rapacious by the booty
already obtained, Cockburn now resolved to undertake some-
thing of a bolder and more adventurous character, in which his

L*



126 BRACKENRIDGE'S



Attack on Frenchtown Plundering and Burniiiii of Havre de Grace.

thirst for plunder, and liis love of mischief, might be gratified
in a higher degree. He therefore directed his attention to the
unprotected villages and hamlets along the bay ; carefully avoid-
ing the larger towns, the plundering of which might be attended
"with some danger. The first of his exploits was against the
village of Frenchtown, containing six dwellinghouses, two large
store houses, and several stables. This place was important, as
a point of intermediate deposit for the lines of transportation
between the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore ; and Cock-
burn rightly conjectured that here there might be private pro-
perty to a considerable amount. He accordingly set out on this
expedition, from his ship the Marlborough, in barges, with five
hundred marines ; a number sufficient to have carried the town on
their backs. Some show of resistance was made by a small
party of militia collected from Elkton, which retired as the ad-
miral approached. The store houses were destroyed ; together
Avith such goods as could not be carried off, to an immense amount.
Amongst other objects of wanton destruction, was an elegant
drop-curtain, belonging to the theatres of tlie cities before men-
tioned. The brand was applied to some of the private dwel-
linghouses, and to several vessels lying at the wharf; after
which, the British, fearing the approach of the militia, hastily
returned to their shipping.

The next exploit of the admiral was of still greater impor-
tance. The town of Havre de Grace is situated on the Sus-
quehanna, about two miles from the head of the bay, and is a
neat village, containing twenty or thirty houses. An attack
on this place was the next object in the plan of his operations.
Accordingly, on the 3d of May, before daylight, his approach
was announced by the firing of cannon and the discharge of
numerous rockets. The inhabitants, thus awakened from their
sleep, leaped up in the greatest consternation ; and the more
courageous repaired to the beach, where a few small pieces
of artillery had been planted on a kind of battery, for the
purpose of defence against the smaller watering or plun-
dering parties of the enemy. After firing a few shots on the
approaching barges, they all, with the exception of an old citi-
zen of the place of the name of O'Neill, fled, abandoning the
village to the mercy of Cockburn. O'Neill alone continued
the fight, loading apiece of artillery, and firing it himself, until,
in recoiling, it ran over his thigh and wounded him severely.
|Ie then armed himself with a musket, and keeping up a fire
on the advancing column of the British, which had by this time
landed and formed, limped away to join his comrades, whom
he attempted in vain to rally.



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 127



Plundering and Burning of Havre de Grace.

No sooner had the enemy taken possession of the village by
this .sudden and bold assault, than they set themselves about
destroying the private dwellings, and plundering their contents.
Having glutted their avarice, they then amused themselves with
every species of barbarous and wanton mischief. The houses
being now on fire, they cut open the beds of the inhabitants,
and threw in the feathers to increase the flame. AVomen and
children fled shrieking in every direction, to avoid the brutal
insolence of the British seamen and marines, and no where did
they find a protector amongst these savages. Their clothes
were torn from their backs, and they felt themselves at every
moment in danger of being massacred. Not on women and
children alone were these outrages committed ; the horses be-
longing to the public stages were cruelly maimed, and the stages
themselves broken to pieces. Determined that their character
should not be equivocal, these worse than Vandals, selected as the
next object of their barbarous vengeance, a neat and beautiful
building, dedicated to tiie worship of the Almighty, and took unu-
sual pains to deface its doors and windows. One building yet
remained undemolished, an elegant dwelling belonging to com-
modore Rodgers. Here the most respectable females of the
town had taken refuge with their children ; believing that a
naval ofllcer would not wantonly insult the unprotected wife of
a brave and gallant seaman, who was then absent in the service
of his country. The otlicer to whom the task of conflagration
had been assigned, already held the torch, when by much soli-
citation he was induced to wait a few moments, until an ap-
peal to the admiral could be made. It proved successful ; and
it is mentioned to his praise, that he refrained on one occasion
only from that the doing of which would have been the climax of
brutality. No further mischief remaining to be perpetrated
in the village, the enemy divided their force into three bodies ;
and while one remained to keep watch, the others proceeded
to lay waste the adjacent country. One party pursued the
route towards Baltimore lor several miles, plundering the farm-
houses, and robbing the travellers on the road of their clothes
and money ; the other marched up the river, committing similar
outrages. It were endless to enumerate the acts of cruel and
wanton injury, inflicted by this party, during the short time
which they remained. On the 6th, to the great satisfaction of
the inhabitants, these savages, than whom those of the west
were not worse, returned to their fleet. O'Neill, who had been
taken prisoner, was carried with them and detained several
days ; at the end of which time they thought proper to release



128 BRACKENRIDGE'S



I'luiuleiinn; and Burning of Georgetown and Fredericktown.

him. Tlie inhabitants of the village, many of whom were al-
most ruined, threw themselves on the humanity of their fellow
citizens of Baltimore, who contributed generously to their re-
lief; and they were soon after enabled to commence the rebuild-
ing of their houses.

Elated with the profitable issue of this descent, in which
a rich booty was obtained with so little danger, the enemy was
eager for some other enterprise equally honourable to the Bri-
tish arms. On the river Sassafras, which empties itself into the
bay, stood Georgetown and Fredericktown, two beautiful vil-
lages situated nearly opposite to each other, one in Kent, the other
in Cecil county. These had attracted the attention of tlie admi-
ral. His hired agents, for miscreants may be found in every
country for such purposes, had informed him, that here he might
glut his crew with plunder. On tlie 6th, placing himself at the
head of six hundred men, in eighteen barges, he ascended the
river, and proceeded towards Fredericktown. Colonel Veazy
had collected here about fifty militia ; and, on the approach of the
barges, he immediately commenced a heavy fire with langrel
shot and musketry. 'J'he greater part of the militia soon fied,
leaving the colonel to oppose the enemy as he could ; he, notwith-
standing, kept up a steady fire, until they approached so near
that he was compelled to retreat. The admiral boldly advanced
to the town, plundered the houses, and in spite of the entreaties
of the women and children, again acted the incendiary. Leav-
ing Fredericktown in flames, he passed to the opposite side of
the river, whence, after treating the village of Georgetown in
the same manner, he returned, glutted with spoil and satiated
with wanton havock.

Not long after this, admiral Warren entered the bay with a
considerable reinforcement to the fleet, and a number of land
troops and marines under the command of sir Sydney Beck-
with. He had seized some of the vessels employed in the navi-
gation of the bay, with the view of using them in penetrating
those inlets which were impervious to the larger tenders. To
oppose the small parties which he sent out, tlie government hired
a number of barges and light vessels, which, by moving from
place to place with great rapidity, tended to keep liim in check.

By the arrival of admiral Warren, the hostile force in the
Chesapeake was increased to seven ships of the line, and twelve
frigates, with a proportionate number of smaller vessels. The
appearance of this formidable armament created much alarm in
the more considerable towns along the neighbouring coast.
Baltimore, Annapolis and Norfolk were threatened; and it



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 129



Southern Cities threatened Attack on Craney Island.

soon became evident that the latter of these places was selected
to receive the first blow.

On the 18th, commodore Cassin, having received intelligence
that a squadron of the enemy had arrived in Hampton Roads,
commenced the necessary dispositions for repelling the invader.
The frigate Constellation was anchored between the two forts,
commanding Elizabeth river, on which the city of Norfolk is
situated. At this place nearly ten thousand of the Virginia mili-
tia had collected. A detachment of the gun boat flotilla was
ordered in the meanwhile to descend the river, and engage the
foremost of the enemy's frigates. Captain Tarbell, by whom
it was commanded, proceeded in two divisions: the first com-
manded by lieutenant Gardner, and the other by lieutenant
Heniy. On the 20th, having brought his gun boats into a fa-
vourable position, he opened a rapid fire upon the Junon fri-
gate, at the distance of half a mile. This was returned ; and
the cannonade continued for half an hour; the frigate receiving
much injury, while tlie gun boats suffered but little. Another
vessel, which proved to be a razee, was now seen coming to her
assistance ; and the fire of the Junon, which ibr a short time had
been silenced, on the arrival of her consort and additional
frigates again opening, Captain Tarbell thougiit proper to retire.
By this affair, the Junon was much shattered; and her loss,
considering the great disparity of force, was considerable.

A formidable attack on Norfolk having been resolved upon
by the British ; it was necessary, preparatory to this, to subdue
the forts by which it was protected. The nearest obstruction
to the enemy's advances, was Craney island ; and in the course
of the day, the lleet in the bay dropped to the mouth of James
River. Captain Tarbell gave orders to lieutenants Neale, Shu-
brick and Saunders, of the frigate Constellation, to land a hundred
seamen on the island, for the purpose of manning a battery on
the northwest side; while he stationed the gun boats in such a
manner as enabled him to annoy the enemy from the opposite
side. On the 22d, at daylight, they were discovered approach-
ing in barges, round the point of Nansemond river, to the num-
ber of four thousand men ; most of whom, it was afterwards
ascertained, were wretched French troops, which had been taken
prisoners in Spain, and induced to enter the British service by
the promise of being permitted to pillage and abuse the citi-
zens of the United States. Tiiey selected a place of landing
out of the reach of the gun boats ; but, unfortunately for them,
not out of the reach of danger. When they had approached
within two hundred yards of the shore, lieutenant Neale, assist-
ed by lieutenants Shubrick and Saunders, opened a galling fire



130 BRACKENRIDGE'S



Attack on Craney Island — gallantly repulsed.



from his baKery, and compelled ihem to pause. The battery
was manned by one hundred and fifty men, including lieutenant
Breckenridge's marines. An eighteen pounder which had been
mounted on it was directed witli so much precision, that sev-
eral of the enemy's boats were cut in two, and the men with diffi-
culty escaped. The Centipede, the admiral's barge, was sunk,
and the whole force compelled to make a precipitate retreat.
No sooner was this discovered, than lieutenant Neale ordered
his men to haul up the boats which had been sunk, and to
afford the unfortunate sufferers every assistance in their power.
A large party of the enemy which had landed on the main
shore, and were crossing a narrow inlet to the west side, were
not less warmly received by the Virginia volunteers. A short
time before the approach of the barges, this body of men,
about eight hundred in number, attempted to cross to the island
by the inlet of which we have spoken. Colonel Beatty, who
had been posted, with about four hundred men, on the island,
planted two twenty-four pounders, and four sixes, to oppose
the passage, under the direction of major Faulkner, aided by
captain Emerson, and lieutenants Howel and Godwin. The
conflict commenced at the same moment that the attack was
made on the party approaching by water ; and the enemy
was compelled to relinquish his attempt in this quarter also.
His total loss was upwards of two hundred in killed and
wounded, besides a number of his men, who seized the oppor=
tunity to desert.

The safety of the city of Norfolk, and of Gosport, Ports-
mouth and other surrounding towns, is to be attributed to
the resolute defence of Craney island. The conduct of lieu-
tenant Neale, and his brave companions Shubrick, Saunders
and Breckenridge, received the grateful acknowledgements of
the inhabitants. Colonel Beatty and his officers, and two non-
commissioned volunteers, sergeant Young and corporal Moffit,
were no less entitled to praise for the parts which they took in
this interesting affair.

This unexpected repulse enraged the enemy beyond measure ;
but at the same time that their desire of revenge was excited,
they were taught greater prudence in the selection of the object
of attack. A consultation took place between admiral Warren,
sir Sydney Beckwith and Cockburn, which resulted in a deter-
mination to attack tlic town of Hampton, about eighteen miles
distant from Norfolk. There was a garrison here, consisting
of about four hundred men, artillerists and infantry. The fortifi-
cations of the place were very inconsiderable ; and the town itself
was of little more importance than the villages which had been



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 131



Hampton assaulted and plundered Enormities committed there.

pillaged by Cockburn. It was thought, that by the possession
of this place, the communication between Norfolk and the upper
part of Virginia would be entirely cut off. On the 25th, the plan
of attack having been adjusted, admiral Cockburn advanced to-
wards the town, with a number of barges, tenders and smaller
vessels, throwingrockets, and keeping up a constant cannonade ;
while sir Sydney landed below, at the head of two thousand men,
intending to march up and gain the rear of the Americans. Admi-
ral Cockburn was so warmly received by major Crutchfield,
the officer commanding at Hampton, who opened upon him a
few pieces of artillery ; that he was compelled instantly to draw
back, and conceal himself behind a point. In the meanwhile,
sir Sydney made his appearance, and was severely handled by
a rifle company under captain Servant, which had been posted
in a wood, near which he had to pass. Major Crutchfield soon
after drew up his infantry in support of the riflemen ; but find-
ing himself unable to contend with numbers so superior, he made
good his retreat, not however without great difficulty. Cap-
tain Pryor had been left to command the battery whicii opposed
the enemy's approach from sea. The royal marines, having
landed, had advanced within sixty yards of him ; and his corps,
considering their situation hopeless, already regarded them-
selves as prisoners of war ; when, ordering the guns to be spiked,
and charging upon the enemy, he threw them into such con-
fusion, that he actually effected his escape without the loss
of a single man. The loss of the Americans in this affair,
amounted to seven killed and twelve wounded: that of the
British, according to their statement, was five killed and thirty-
three wounded ; but it was probably much more considerble.

Scarcely was tliis village in the possession of the invaders,



Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 14 of 32)