Tagged: Warof1812

The Battle of Baltimore and “The Defense of Fort McHenry”

Admiral Cochrane kept his promise and bombarded Ft McHenry all night. On 13 September 1814, the last thing he saw of the fort was a giant American flag flying over it before the smoke of the cannon and the bad weather obscured it. A storm blew in that the afternoon and it rained all night. For Major Armistead, this was a gift from God. While many “bombs bursted in air” and the rockets gave off a “red glare” amidst the thunder and lightning of the gale that blew in off the Atlantic, many of Cochrane’s cannon balls did not explode because the rain extinguished the fuses and they landed harmlessly on the fort.

The bombardment was furious, but largely ineffectual. At sunset, Armistead was forced to take down the giant American “garrison” flag which he put up as a taunt to Cochrane, and replace it with a smaller “storm” flag lest the weather snap the flagpole. Armistead refused to capitulate, even after the casualties he took repelling a landing by Royal Marines under cover of the bombardment and weather. The cannons on both sides raged at each other all night.

Onboard Cochrane’s flagship, Annapolis lawyer Francis Scott Key was negotiating the release of his friend Dr. William Beane, who was to be hanged for spying. Key was successful but he was not allowed to return to shore while the bombardment continued. Like Cochrane, the last thing he saw on that evening was the giant American flag flying over Ft McHenry. To pass the long night, Key wrote poetry. He was not an especially patriotic man, he opposed the war and railed against it at every opportunity, but there was something about the tiny American garrison fighting back against the might of the largest and most powerful force on earth, the British Empire, which “stirred one’s soul”. The first verse of his poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”, the one that would become our national anthem, was full of doubt… and hope. He would also write third verse that night. It was full of vengeance and righteous fury against anyone that would oppose the experiment that was America.

The next morning, Armistead took down the smaller storm flag and raised the giant garrison flag just as the sun rose. The message was clear: the Americans were still in control of the fort and no naval assistance would be available for Brooke to continue his land assault of Baltimore. As the smoke cleared and night lifted, Francis Scott Key finished the second, jubilant verse when he knew Ft McHenry was still in American hands. Dawn also signaled the end of the battle for the British Navy. Adm Cochrane could not continue the bombardment because he had little powder and shot left for the fort, and what remained was soaked and needed to dry. He left the decision to continue up to Brooke, who promptly called off the attack and had his troops re-board the ships.

On his way back to Baltimore, Francis Scott Key finished the final verse, one of redemption and thanksgiving.

Admiral Cochrane and Col Brooke left for the Caribbean the next day. Failing to destroy Baltimore, Cochrane’s next target was the soft underbelly of America: the strategic port of New Orleans

“The Defense of Fort McHenry”, a poem by Francis Scott Key.

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the Rocket’s red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there;

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the Land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected new shines in the stream,

‘Tis the star spangled banner, – O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps pollution.
No refuse could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our Trust;”
And the star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

The Battle of Baltimore and the Defense of Ft McHenry

With the untimely death of Maj Gen Ross, command of the British invasion force fell to the much more cautious Col. Arthur Brooke. Brooke was surprised at the spirited defense of North Point, and his scouts told him he could expect the defense of Baltimore to be even more difficult. The Americans had large systems of redoubts and earthworks spanning the approaches to the city. And even more worrying were reports of two regiments of regulars and 4000 more militia to fill them, including the crews of the privateers.

Still, the British believed the Americans were weak and divided. They had heard reports that New England attempted to secede from the union (It tried, but failed), and the sacking of Baltimore might force the Americans to end the war. After that it would only be a matter of time before they were incorporated back into the Empire. Brooke knew he must attack, no matter the odds. But after a personal reconnaissance of the fortifications, he saw that he needed heavy siege guns to support the assault. He didn’t have any on land, but Admiral Cochrane had nineteen ships bristling with cannon that would do nicely.

Unfortunately for the British, Major George Armistead, commandant of Fort McHenry (and uncle of the future Confederate general, Lewis “Lo” Armistead of Pickett’s Charge fame), sank several merchantmen in the approaches to Baltimore harbor and this prevented Cochrane’s ships from reaching firing range of the fortifications. In order to support Brooke, Cochrane had to first reduce Ft McHenry then go around the sunken merchantmen. Armistead had only 20 cannon. Cochrane had over 200 cannon, and thousands of Congreve rockets, which although wildly inaccurate, proved to be very effective against militia.

At 6:30am, on 13 September 1814, Cochrane’s flotilla furiously opened fire on Ft McHenry. Armistead and his 1000 men and twenty cannon proved more resilient than expected. Cochrane was determined though, and said the bombardment would continue all day and night if need be. By noon, Ft McHenry was giving as good as it got and Brooke became impatient. He could see the Americans to his front improving their positions. His junior officers soon became adamant: their men had stormed the fortress at Ciudad Rodrigo and forced the breaches at Badajoz. And those assaults were against the best troops Napoleon had; the Continentals, shopkeepers, and pirates of Baltimore be damned. They convinced Brooke, and at 1 pm, he attacked.

His veterans took horrible casualties, but by 4pm his outnumbered troops miraculously held a solid foothold on Baltimore’s outer ring of fortifications. However, they would go no further. Their assault on the inner ring ran headlong into a counterattack by the veteran US 36th and 38th Infantry Regiments (Later, they formed the 4th US Infantry Regt., which today is the OPFOR at CMTC in Germany.) What can only be described as a barroom brawl with muskets and bayonets left both sides exhausted and both retreated to their respected redoubts. By evening, it seemed to Brooke that every person in Baltimore who could walk and hold a musket was opposing the British. It was all they could do to hold their gains. He needed Cochrane’s cannons to advance any further.

Admiral Cochrane continued his bombardment of Ft McHenry throughout the night.

The Battle of North Point

The British were astonished – They had looted Washington DC and burned it to the ground, and the Americans didn’t surrender! Major General Ross even supped in the White House after that coward Madison fled, and then personally put it to the torch. The shame! It was unimaginable for a European country to lose its capital and still continue the war. The capital was the center of government, the aristocracy, the bureaucracy, economics, finance, and culture. To lose Vienna, Berlin, St Petersburg, or London (!) to an invading army was unthinkable to any “civilized” country. Even Napoleon abdicated when Paris was occupied. But these Americans and their curious experiment in self-rule were strange. If they didn’t want to surrender when they were rightfully beaten then they must be taught a lesson.

In 1814, the British were finished with Napoleon in Europe and turned with a vengeance on America. They had been fighting a defensive war for the last two years, but when Napoleon surrendered that all changed. In August, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Maj Gen Robert Ross, with 19 ships and 6000 elite troops, invaded Maryland and easily swept passed any resistance the Americans offered. They sacked Washington DC in late August and when President Madison didn’t accept terms, they did the same to Georgetown and Alexandria. Their next target was Baltimore, one of the largest trading ports on the Atlantic seaboard, and a haven for American privateers that raided British shipping.

Admiral Cochrane moved his fleet up the Chesapeake Bay and landed Maj Gen Ross with a brigade of regulars and two battalions of Royal Marines with orders to seize and destroy Baltimore. Ross’s 4000 officers and soldiers were all veterans of the Duke of Wellington’s five year Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon. They were met by MG James Stricker and 3000 Maryland militia. The American militiamen fought the British veterans at North Point, Maryland in the afternoon of 12 Sep 1814. The flooding forced the British to approach Baltimore through North Point, between the Back River and Bear Creek, and funneled them into Marylander muskets. The Americans gave a much better account of themselves than they had in defending Washington DC. The battle resembled Bunker Hill more than Bladensburg, and only when their position was out flanked did the Americans fall back. And they did so in an organized and disciplined fashion, fighting the whole way.

The Battle of North Point was very costly for the British: Maj Gen Ross was shot through the head by a 14 year old Maryland sharpshooter and this left command to Col Arthur Brooke. Stricker’s stand gave MG Samuel Smith time to prepare the landward defense of Baltimore, defenses that Brooke deemed impossible to storm without support from the British Navy. And finally, the Battle of North Point gave Major George Armistead, charged with the seaward defense of Baltimore, time to gather extra powder for Fort McHenry.

The Battle of Bladensburg

In 1813, British Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane captured Tangier Island off the coast of Virginia, and from there staged raids all along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts. After a brief respite during the winter in the early months of 1814, Cochrane returned. That April, Emperor Napoleon I abdicated the French throne, and tens of thousands of British troops were released from Europe for service in North America against the fledgling United States, whose war the British considered a mere sideshow. The Duke of Wellington assigned Cochrane 5000 of his best troops under Maj Gen Robert Ross, all veterans of the Peninsular Campaign, for operations against Americans. Ross’ brigade’s first operation was to neutralize the American Chesapeake Flotilla in its anchorage. Commodore Joshua Barney, who only had about 400 sailors and marines, fired his ships and withdrew toward Washington DC. Ross then advanced to Upper Marlboro, for where he could advance on either Washington or Baltimore.

US Secretary of War John Armstrong vehemently assured President James Madison that the British would attack Baltimore as it was a far larger city and much more economically important. Washington was only a city of 8000 and Baltimore was major commercial and shipbuilding center. However, Washington was the American seat of government and Europeans could not fathom a country continuing a war with its capital in enemy hands. Ross marched on Washington.

The defense of Washington was entrusted to Gen William H Winder, a political general (nephew of the governor of Maryland) and one who was just recently returned to service after a prisoner exchange. Winder had few regular troops other than Barney’s men and his militia was slow to mobilize. He called for all militia to concentrate on Bladensburg, about 9 miles northeast of Washington (a 1 ½ hour drive today). The first to arrive under BG Tobias Stansbury dug in on Lowndes Hill which commanded or protected the crossroads from Washington, Baltimore, Georgetown and Annapolis, to include the bridge and fords over the Anacostia River. Stansbury was in a strong position but abandoned it to when Winder sent his order to concentrate on the other side of the river, otherwise, he felt, he’ll become isolated and destroyed. Stansbury withdrew to a brickyard where he was unable to cover the river which allowed the British to cross unimpeded. Stansbury’s initial disposition provided the rallying point for Winder’s converging command, and eventually its defensive position.

Winder’s regulars of the 1st Infantry Bn, and 1st Sqdn of Light Dragoons, Maryland militia, Washington militia under BG Walter Smith, Barney’ sailors and marines, and members of the government all massed at Bladensburg. President Madison, armed with two dueling pistols, Sec. Armstrong, and Secretary of State James Monroe joined Winder’s command, and promptly began tinkering with his dispositions. Five different “commanders” shuffled the American army around, none correcting the flaws in Stansbury’s initial set. Monroe’s changes were most egregious, as he moved some of Stansbury’s men too far back to be of use. Even worse some of the militia from Washington were unarmed as they’d been promised muskets by Winder. Some were given muskets but had to return their flints because a supply officer needed them recounted. In summary, the Washington militia was partly unarmed, most of the Maryland militia was exposed, the American artillery could not support them, and there was a large gap left between the Maryland and Washington contingents.

When Ross arrived across the river outside Bladensburg on 24 Aug 1814, Winder’s dispositional flaws were readily apparent for all British officers to see. The view of the American lines from the bridge was better from the bridge than Winder’s position. Ross’ advanced guard under Col William Thornton quickly seized the moment and crossed the river. Thornton drove straight at the gap between the Maryland and Washington militia. Winder with some Maryland troops counterattacked Thornton’s right but repulsed. As Thornton was about turn Smith’s left flank, he was assaulted by Barney’s marines and sailors whom checked his advance. For a moment it looked as if the British initial advance was stopped. However, Winder thought Thonton was about to turn Smith so he ordered Smith to withdraw to close the gap. At this moment Winder’s retreating militia routed as a volley of Congreve rockets sailed overhead which terrified the militiamen. Their disorganized retreat caused the rest of the army to break. Barney’s men didn’t get the order and fought on, but the retreat swept away Barney’s supply wagons, and they eventually ran out of ammunition.

The American army, almost 5000 strong, disintegrated. Its chaotic retreat was memorialized in an 1816 poem as the “Bladensburg Races”. The militia streamed back through Washington. Their presence was the first sign to First Lady Dolly Madison that the battle was lost. She was preparing a victory dinner for the President and 20 guests when informed of the imminent arrival of British troops. Dolly Madison attempted to save as many of the White House’s valuables as she could, and even had a copy of a life sized portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart saved. She had the White House gardener break the frame and cut it out, just before the British arrived. After her and the government’s hasty departure, some Washingtonian opportunists looted the White House and the government buildings which the British chased off. Ross and his officers dined on Dolly’s dinner as their men set fire to the government buildings. After the meal and many toasts using the Presidential crystal, they torched the White House, then known as the “Presidential Palace. The Capitol building, Treasury building, War and State building, and the Library of Congress were also destroyed. Ross spared civilian homes and the Patent office (after being convinced that the patents were privately owned), and the Marine Barracks, in recognition of Barney’s spirited defense at Bladensburg. Rear Adm Cockburn, Ross’ second, went to the office of the National Intelligenser newspaper and confiscated all the “c’s” off the printing press, so the paper couldn’t print stories about him.

That evening, a bad thunderstorm and tornado eventually forced the British to quit the capitol and return to their ships, and this was when British discipline broke down and widespread looting and pillaging occurred by the retreating British. The President stopped at a tavern that night and slept in the homestead of a Quaker family in Brookville MD that night.

The Battle of Lake Erie

By late summer 1813, the War of 1812 was not going well for the young American nation. Detroit had fallen to the British, two separate invasions of Canada had failed, and Indians were ranging across frontier raiding settlements and massacring or enslaving their inhabitants. In order to regain Detroit, control of the Great Lakes had to be wrested from the British. 28 year old Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry spent the winter, spring, and summer building ten American ships and training their crews on Lake Erie. On 10 September, 1813, Commodore Perry sailed his fleet from Presque Isle Bay (now Erie, PA) to engage the six British ships nearby at Put-In-Bay (just east of present day Toledo, OH).

About noon, the British fired on the American line of battle with their lighter but much longer range cannon. Commodore Perry needed to close the distance quickly in order to get his much heavier, but much shorter range carronades into action. Unfortunately, his flagship, the USS Lawrence, was battered and out of action early in the battle so he had to transfer his flag, literally, to the USS Niagara. Perry hauled down his battle flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, the last words of his best friend Captain John Lawrence, and with his remaining crew rowed the 1/2 mile through cannon and musket shot to the Niagara.

Aboard his new flagship, the USS Niagara, the undaunted Perry sailed directly into the British line, bisecting it. At one point in the battle, the crew of the Niagara traded multiple broadsides with the HMS Queen Charlotte and the HMS Detroit to port, and HMS Lady Prevost to starboard, at the same time. In the confusion caused by Perry’s aggressiveness, the Detroit and Queen Charlotte collided, became entangled, and effectively ended the engagement.

That night, Perry wrote a short, succinct message to General (and future President) William Henry Harrison, then advancing on Detroit. It said,

“Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”12 SEP The Invasion of Italy.

Don’t Give Up the Ship

On 1 June 1813 during the War of 1812, Captain James Lawrence of the 49 gun frigate USS Chesapeake sailed out of Boston Harbor to engage Captain Philip Bloke’s 38 gun HMS Shannon. Lawrence wanted to break the blockade of Boston and saw his chance when most of the patrolling British flotilla departed, leaving just the Shannon until she could be reinforced in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, Lawrence just finished outfitting the ship and most of the crew had been on board for less than two weeks. The Chesapeake’s crew was virtually untrained. Bloke’s crew on the Shannon had been together for almost seven years and was one of the most highly trained crews in the Royal Navy. In the ensuing battle, the Chesapeake was dead in the water in under 15 minutes and Lawrence laid mortally wounded on the deck. In one of the last orders to his crew, he muttered “Don’t give up the ship”. Inspired by their captain’s words, all of the officers and most of the crew fought on until they were either dead, or too wounded to fight. Their tenacity, however, didn’t change the outcome.

News of the fight and Lawrence’s words electrified Boston and a flag was commissioned in Lawrence’s honor. It was dark blue with “Don’t Give Up the Ship” written in large bold white letters across of it. The flag was presented to Lawrence’s friend, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who was in the process of building a squadron of ships at Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, in order to clear Lake Erie later that summer of the British. Perry would fly it as his rank flag on his flagship, the USS Lawrence.

The Battle of New Orleans

In the War of 1812, or America’s Second Revolutionary War, the British had burned Washington DC to the ground but had been stymied in Maryland, New York, Michigan and the Western frontier. The war was at an impasse. The British knew they needed to stop America’s westward momentum (or Manifest Destiny, they recognized it before we did). The key to doing that was New Orleans which controlled trade on the Mississippi river.

In early January 1815, Gen James Pakenham’s eight thousand battle hardened British veterans, fresh from defeating Napoleon in Spain, approached New Orleans from the south. Between the British and New Orleans stood four thousand strongly entrenched American troops under MG Andrew Jackson or “Old Hickory” to his men. But Pakenham and the other British leaders were contemptuous of the ramshackle nature of America’s small army. Jackson’s command was the first virtual American melting pot. It consisted of Kentucky riflemen and Tennessee volunteers, Mississippi dragoons, a company of US Marines, the 1st and 7th US Infantry Regiments; French, Spanish, Creole and free African American militia from Louisiana, Choctaw Indians, a battalion of US Navy seamen, and even two hundred of Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian pirates. The British scorn for Jackson troops was misplaced. Before Packenham and his main force arrived, Jackson’s troops had defeated the British vanguard twice: once on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day (because if you mess with us, we’ll kill you on our holidays. Just ask the Hessians). Additionally, most of the American army participated in the hard fought Red Stick War/Creek Civil War the previous summer. And finally, Jean Lafitte’s pirates were arguably the best cannoneers on the gulf coast. Pakenham, like the British generals of the American Revolution, thought that the Americans would break under a disciplined bayonet charge. Most of the British wouldn’t get close enough.

The British attacked under cover of fog on the morning of 8 January 1815. But Pakenham’s plan was complicated and suffered from poor staff planning. The five uncoordinated British columns attacked piecemeal and suffered from numerous planning errors including the boats to cross the Mississippi River and the location of scaling ladders for the assault troops. The American penchant for shooting enemy officers first destroyed any cohesion left in the British attack. American sharpshooters and riflemen, especially the New Orleans businessmen who shot for sport, killed almost the entirety of the British leadership, including Pakenham. Still, sheer British determination and bravery allowed some to storm the earthworks on the right, a complement to the successful British attack across the river. But the assault eventually failed in the face of America’s own bayonets of the 7th Infantry Regiment. Any local successes were untenable. Less than two hours after the first shot was fired, Gen John Lambert, the senior surviving British commander, ordered a withdrawal…down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a decidedly lopsided American victory: the United States had 13 killed and 40 wounded while the British had 330 killed, 1200 wounded and 400 captured. The news of the Treaty of Ghent, and the end of the War of 1812, would arrive a few weeks later and the Battle of New Orleans forced the British to adhere to the terms of the peace treaty (which they had no intention of doing prior to the battle).

America had taken on the largest and most powerful empire in the history of the world and survived, again. And it would send a surge of pride in the young American nation. The Battle of New Orleans permanently forged an American national identity. After the battle citizens would stop saying. “I am a Louisianian”, “I am a Kentuckian”, “I am New Yorker” or “I am a Free Man of Color”, but would instead say, “I am an American”.

Pigeon Roost and the Battle of Fort William Harrison

After the fall of Ft Detroit to the British on 16 August 1812, Indians all along America’s western frontier began raiding in earnest. On 3 September 1812, a Shawnee war party descended upon the small settlement of Pigeon’s Roost (in modern day Indiana just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky). The attack was a complete surprise and many inhabitants were killed before they could make it to the Collings family blockhouse. The scalps of 15 children (including 2 infants), 6 women and 3 men from Pigeon’s Roost were eventually presented to the British commander at Ft Detroit.

Most of the men from Pigeon Roost were away in the militia, including some at Fort Harrison, in present day Terra Haute, Indiana.. On the same day Pigeon Roost was attacked, 600 Miami and Potawatomi Indians approached the fort demanding its surrender. Captain (and future President) Zachary Taylor asked for a parley in the morning which the Indians agreed to. CPT Taylor had 50 soldiers and militiamen, but unfortunately 30 were ill and bedridden. During the night, one Indian scout set fire to the blockhouse, and while the healthy members of the garrison tried to put out the fire, the Indians attacked. The situation looked grim and two of the garrison immediately deserted.

Taylor quickly assessed the situation and left three able-bodied defenders to fight the fire, including one woman who lowered herself into a well to fill buckets faster. Once he dispelled the confusion through sheer force of will, Zachary l shouted “Taylor never surrenders!” and then led the other 15 healthy defenders and every invalid who could walk in a charge to clear the palisade. After brutal hand to hand fighting along the wall, the Indians broke off the attack and settled into a siege. The defenders lost all of their food in the fire but fortunately COL William Russell was at nearby Vincennes with the 7th US Infantry, a ranger company, and a company of militia including a few Pigeon Roost men. They lifted the siege on 12 September and gave America its first victory on land in the War of 1812.

The First Battle of Sackets Harbor

Coming one month and one day after the United States declared war on Britain, the first battle of the War of 1812 was not initiated by the Americans, but by the British. Their naval commander at Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario where it feeds the St Lawrence River, had a small flotilla of five ships. On 19 July 1812 he set out to capture American shipping on the lake. That morning the British seized a small ship filled with flour, from whose crew they learned of an American brig, the USS Oneida, at Sackets Harbor, New York, not too far away. The British sent the crew to the town to inform the garrison that they were to surrender a recently captured (before the war) merchant schooner along with the Onieda to the British, and if the Americans fired on them, they’d “burn the village to the ground”.
29 year old Lt Melancthon Woolsey, the captain of the Onieda, was having none of it. The British commander must have been misinformed because there was a substantial American force in Sackets Harbor, though only one fighting ship, Woolsey’s Oneida. He sent runners to assemble COL Bellinger’s 27th New York Militia Regiment, and took command of the infantry company and a volunteer artillery battery under CPT Camp already in town. Once his lookout spotted the approaching British off in the distance, Woolsey sailed the Oneida out to meet them. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the morning winds off the lake prevented him from leaving the harbor, so he anchored his ship broadsides to the British, and quickly transferred the guns of the landward broadsides to augment Camp’s shore battery.
Along with the other guns, Woolsey had a lone 32 pounder which was originally meant for the Oneida, but was too big, and was mounted in a swivel on shore, in Camp’s hastily built “Fort Volunteer”. The 32 pounder was commanded by Mr. William Vaughan, the Oneida’s sailing master (roughly equivalent to an old warrant officer specialized in navigation) and it was he who fired the first hostile round of the War of 1812.
Vaughan didn’t have any 32 lb ammunition, so he initially used 24 lb cannonballs (of which he had many, the Oneida’s guns were mostly 24 pounders), and wrapped them in carpet that he ordered torn up from the floors of the village houses. The first shot was woefully short, and laughter was heard from the crews of the British ships. They weren’t laughing for long.
Woolsey turned over his ship to his first mate, and directed the battle from the shore battery. For two hours, the Americans and British traded fire, of which only the Americans’ was effective, especially that of Vaughan’s gun. Many of the British cannonballs failed to even reach the shore battery, and those that did just plowed shallow furrows in the mud until they stopped. Many were 32 pounders from the bigger British ships, so Woolsey had the men dig them up. Vaughan fired them back at the British to much greater effect.
In response to the accurate American fire, the British ships raised anchor and began to maneuver, in order to throw off the American’s aim and get their other broadsides into the fight. As the British flagship, the HMS Royal George, was doing so, a 24 lb cannon ball entered her stern and raked the ship: killing eight sailors, wounding a dozen more, and doing a great amount of damage all along its entire length. Shortly thereafter, the exasperated and ineffectual British withdrew back to Kingston, without causing the American’s any casualties, and no damage beyond the furrows. One sailor remarked, “The enemy broke nothing but – the Sabbath”.
In celebration, Woolsey’s sailors and gunners, and the militia in the village with their band, broke out in a spontaneous rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
Though they didn’t take part in the battle, 3000 militia arrived in Sackets Harbor by nightfall, and many watched from shore. Woolsey, Camp, Vaughan, and “Black Julius” Torry, an African American on Vaughan’s gun crew, were given credit in the dispatch to the governor of New York for America’s first victory in the War of 1812. Sackets Harbor would become the American military and ship building epicenter in the Lake Ontario arms race against the British and Canadians across the St Lawrence River in Kingston.

America Passes Into Its Next Era

By 1826, the American “Era of Good Feelings” that came about after its perceived victory in the War of 1812 was over a decade old. The underdog victory over the British, the collapse of the Federalist Party after the treasonous Hartford Convention, and the defeat of Native Americans at Tippecanoe, Fallen Timbers, and Horseshoe Bend, which opened up the West, led to an era when the people referred to themselves not as “Virginians” or “Pennsylvanians”, but as “Americans”. The American System survived the Panic of 1819, the worst of America’s early recessions, stronger than before. Francis Scott Key’s “The Defense of Fort McHenry” was being sung in taverns across the country to the tune of an old British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven”. But the Era of Good Feelings among Americans was not destined to last.

Some people in America still believed they were entitled to the fruits of other men and women’s labor and expertise without just compensation. Moreover, they believed that those same people were considered property and that their Natural and Unalienable Rights were the product of a man made government, not the Providence of God or whatever deity they worshiped. Ergo, these slaves did not benefit from the Rule of Law as promised in the US Declaration of Independence and codified in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The issue of Slavery (and to a lesser extent initially, the treatment of Native Americans in this vein) would dominate politics for the next thirty years.

By the mid-1820s, many of the American Founding Fathers had passed on. And most could not reconcile “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” with the institution of Slavery. The divisiveness was personified by two men, the best of friends and sometimes the worst of enemies, who were both on their deathbeds in July of 1826.

John Adams was America’s 2nd President and the product of strong independent rural Massachusetts’ farmers who saw human bondage as repugnant. John Adams never owned slaves, and he felt that slavery was economically inefficient (free men are always more productive than slaves) and would eventually cease. Nonetheless, he was not an abolitionist because he felt that abolitionism was antithetical to American unity.

His friend, Thomas Jefferson, the ironic author of the above passage in the Declaration of Independence and America’s 3rd President, was the product of an “enlightened” Virginia aristocratic class and a slave owner. A self-described racist, Jefferson felt that freed slaves had no place in American society, simply because of the cognitive dissonance of the passage of “all men are created equal” and the issue of Slavery. Jefferson believed that that inherent problem would cause freed slaves to become embittered with their masters and lead to the dissolution of the Union. He favored colonization of the inevitably freed slaves or their reparation back to Africa or the West Indies, as done by James Monroe and the creation of Liberia.

Both men wrestled with the issue of Slavery their entire lives. They led America through her most trying times, and defeated the greatest empire the world had ever seen despite overwhelming odds, not once but twice. But they could never agree on the issue of Slavery. For nearly six decades, they shepherded the nascent American state to the point where it could defend itself against any external threat. Unfortunately, they could not solve its most serious internal threat.

On 4 July 1826, two of America’s greatest proponents were near death, one 83 years old in Monticello Virginia, and the other 90 years old in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Exactly 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was read aloud on the steps of Pennsylvania State House, and printed for distribution at John Dunlap’s printing shop, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within hours of each other.

Despite all of their accomplishments, there was much work left to do. Care for the American experiment passed to a new generation. The children of the Revolution, epitomized by the Tennessean adventurer, politician and soldier Andrew Jackson, would have to tackle the issue of Slavery. The children of the War of 1812, personified by Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S Grant, would have to settle it.