Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The War of 1812 . . . Year Two, Part 3 . . . Kingston

As our third day of the trip was devoted to non-War of 1812 tourism, we will skip that for the time being and come back to it and many other sites we visited after covering the battles, forts, and other sites pertaining the war in Ontario.  So, in this installment we move west a bit . . . to the town of Kingston.  We had no previous notion of what to expect of Kingston and were pleasantly surprised at how scenic (at least the downtown area) Kingston is.  Oddly enough, much of that ambiance is due to the fortifications that had been built to defend the area from American encroachment.  Let's just say this threat lasted far longer than the end of the War of 1812.
While some of this entry is not directly tied to the War of 1812, it does cover military endeavors that are a direct result of the war and the continued tensions our nations shared . . . apparently, that lasted up to at least WWII (look up the War Plan Red).  All that to say, we visited several Martello towers! Dudeboy had been fascinated with these defensive fortifications ever since he read about them in the M.R. James story "A Warning to the Curious."  

The four Martellos in Kingston (six if you count the two towers part of the larger Fort Henry) were built in response to the Oregon Crisis ("Fifty-Four Forty or Fight").  The first one we visited was the Murney Tower built in 1846.  It now houses a museum and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

Dudeboy in one of the four caponiers in the Murney Tower.  These structures jut out at the base of the Martello and allowed for the added protection of enfilade fire.

The 32-pounder cannon on a 360 degree rotating carriage located on the top level . . . originally there would not have been a roof.

I doubt Dudeboy would have made much of a Powder monkey.  Monkey, yes.  Powder monkey, no.

Fort Frederick Tower at Fort Frederick.  The original fort was built 1812/13 in response to US naval threats on Lake Ontario.  That blockhouse was destroyed in 1846 and replaced with this massive 3-story Martello.

The caponiers are easily seen in this photo.

The reverse "L" shape structure in the foreground is all that remains of the original 40' square blockhouse from the War of 1812.

In 1812, a US flotilla under the command of Commodore Isaac Chauncey forced the British ship the Royal George to seek the protection of the Kingston harbor and its land forces at Fort Frederick. After which the US controlled Lake Ontario for a time.

It was then the British realized the seriousness of the situation and began to build ships at Royal Navy Dockyards, located near this place, which helped swing control of the lake back to the British.

One of the three 32-pounders situated on the upper level.  With emergence of rifled cannon the Martellos were rendered obsolete.  But these structures were so substantial that they were not going anywhere . . . for that matter, neither were these cannons!

"Pieces of rib from the HMS St. Lawrence."  According to this pdf, the St Lawrence was "the largest warship ever built on the Great Lakes during the age of sail," and "She was the only Royal Navy ship-of-the-line ever to be launched and operated entirely in fresh water."

The original Fort Henry was built during the War of 1812.  It was rebuilt in the 1830s, and this is what you see today.  The interpreters in the fort portray soldiers from 1867 . . . the time right at the Confederation.

We went on a guided tour, and watched a band parade and and a bit of precision drilling.  Our guide was fairly amusing, for he would make sly remarks mocking the British . . . especially their adherence to the rigid class command system.

As far as the War of 1812 is concerned, Fort Henry was only a blockhouse at this location (nothing of the massive fortress you see today), and from what I understand there is dispute whether it was completed at the time of  Commodore Chauncey's pursuit and attack on the Royal George.  Due to the strategic location of the fort (St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and the Royal Naval Dockyards are all situated near this point) upgrades continued throughout the remainder of the war.

For a detailed view/tour/history of the fort, take the time to view the info at the official website.

At Fort Henry with two of the Martellos in the background.

Fort Henry West Branch Tower and Cathcart Tower on Cedar Island in the background.  Both are closed to the public.  Fort Henry West Branch Tower and Fort Henry East Branch Towers are both part of Fort Henry.  Many sources do not list these as Martellos as they are considered a part of the fort as a whole.

Shoal Tower is located downtown right in Kingston's harbor.  It is also closed to the public.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The War of 1812 . . . Year Two, Part 2 . . . Crysler's Farm

The remaining entries pertaining to this trip will all be in Ontario. Our first few entries are from the Lake Ontario Theater of Operation.  In this and the next entry we are just west of Cornwall, Ontario near Morrisburg.  

A sign commemorating the Skirmish at Hoople Creek.  The true site, like Crysler's Farm, has been mostly lost to the St. Lawrence Seaway.  On November 10, 1813 troops under the command of Winfield Scott (who was acting as an advance force of Wilkinson with Jacob Brown) forced the retreat of British troops posted at the Hoople Bridge. However, the action bought time for the British to prepare for the Battle of Crysler's Farm.

The Battle of Crysler's Farm (November 11, 1813) . . . a shameful end to a shameful campaign. The goal of the US St. Lawrence Campaign was ultimately the capture of Montreal. While a force under the command of Major General Wade Hampton was to advance from Lake Champlain, a division of some 8000 troops under Major General James Wilkinson were to advance from the St. Lawrence. Unfortunately for the US, Wade Hampton's forces were stopped cold at the Battle of Chateauguay (we will hopefully visit this site on next year's trip).    

While Brown and Scott had some success in the advance, Wilkinson was constantly being threatened at the rear by a British force led by Colonel Joseph Morrison.  This force of about 900 included British and Canadian regulars, militia, and Iroquois.  With Wilkinson indisposed due to illness, command of the about 2500 men fell to Brigadier General John Boyd.

A view of the actual battlefield.  Most of it and the "lost villages" of Canada lie beneath what is now the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Apparently, much of the dirt for the mounded earth where the monument is located was extracted from the actual battlefield site.

More than a few historians credit the highly disciplined action of the British regulars with thwarting the US forces . . . read, inexperienced US forces panicked when confronted by the cool and calm resolve of a superiorly trained military.  Well, we learned quick.  In a future installment, it will be noted that at the Battle of Chippawa, the British commander supposedly exclaimed, "Those are regulars, by God!"

 Canadians portraying Kentuckians . . .

The crowd gathered to watch the reenactment (huddled under the trees seeking shade.  It was as hot up there as it was back in Kentucky).  Well, actually what was presented the day we visited was a tactical demonstration, rather than recreation of the Battle of Crysler's Farm. It was odd to hear the comments of the crowd referring to us as the baddies . . . even if we deserved it. I heard one mother tell her confused small daughter, "those are the bad guys." At least the announcer referred to the US forces as the "away team."  The British were the "good guys."

It was said there were about 450 reenactors that participated in the event.  

In the end, US forces running low on ammunition began to falter and lose heart. Boyd ordered a retreat and the next morning Wilkinson learned that Hampton would not be continuing his advance (his army being in full retreat!).  Low supplies, a dejected army and no support gave Wilkinson the excuse to abandon the plans for Montreal.

Of the 2500 or so troops the US had engaged, there were 102 killed, 237 wounded, and 120 captured. The casualties for the British were 31 killed, 148 wounded, and 13 missing.  This is out of a total of about 900.

 Old sawbones has been busy . . . 

I must say the man who portrayed the surgeon was the best I have seen at any historical reenactment/living history event. I must warn you dear reader to avert your eyes from the next few pictures if you are easily queasy, because he was able to achieve a high degree of realism in his depiction.

And he was very informative.  Still, Dudeboy said the whole presentation "was so realistic that I almost puked."  

Of course, a comment was made that "if the patient had been an American, he would have screamed." All of which delighted the approving crowd.

Here "old sawbones" is trimming up a bit of the bone. 

After the reenactment, we visited with the group of Canadians portraying Kentucky Militia. It might seem odd at first, but one has to realize that if you want reenactments you are gonna need bodies for both sides. We run into the same problem, at least in our area, with the Civil War reenacting.  For whatever reason, few people want to portray the Union.  This is why you see such discrepancies at so many battle reenactments.    

We talked with a few members of this group, and in particular we enjoyed talking with the commander in charge of the Kentucky militia (not pictured).  Throughout our travels we tried as much as possible to engage with people to get their viewpoints of the war. The commander said that by portraying Kentucky militia it has allowed him to gain a better and broader understanding of the war.  In fact, he said the American justifications for the war were somewhat understandable.  On a similar point, in talking with Canadians about the war, it seems to me that most are far more flexible in their conclusions about the causes, results, and blame than what I have encountered in the states.  However, Dr. J noted that most of who we conversed with were very knowledgeable about the war and common thought would probably run parallel to the standard view.  

The view from our campsite at the Woodlands Campground, which is part of the Parks of the St. Lawrence.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The War of 1812 . . . Year Two, Part 1 . . . New York

The first day of actual sightseeing (unfortunately, day one of the trip was restricted to driving) was devoted to sites in New York.  This was the only day of the trip we spent visiting locations in the US. Our first stop was in the town of Oswego . . . Fort Ontario.

Forts located on this site date back to 1755 and the French and Indian War, when it was destroyed. Later it was rebuilt and used as a base of operations for the British during the Revolutionary War and again it was destroyed.  Are you beginning to see a pattern?  Can you guess what happens during the War of 1812?

In May of 1814 a British naval squadron bombarded the fort and then some 1200 men under the command of General Drummond (who we will encounter several more times) attacked the garrison. While the Americans suffered fewer loses (six killed, thirty-eight wounded, and twenty-five missing compared to the British who sustained eighteen killed, and seventy-three wounded), they had to withdraw as they numbered only about three hundred.

And as you might expect, the British destroyed the fort.

Today's fort has been restored to reflect the time period of the Civil War, as many of the structures date from then.  Only a small section of one wall remains from the War of 1812.

We were interested to learn that "between 1944 and 1946, Fort Ontario was used as an emergency refugee center, the only one of its kind in the country, for victims of the Nazi Holocaust."

Between Oswego and Sackets Harbor, our next main objective, we visited the site of the Battle of Big Sandy. A reversal of Fort Ontario, US forces (including about 120 or so Onedidas) lured British forces into a trap along this waterway where they were forced to surrender.    

This monument from 1926 commemorates the battle. Casualties for the British forces numbered 13 killed and 140 captured (including 30 wounded).  And they lost 3 gun-boats. Whereas the US forces sustained only 2 wounded.

Big Sandy Creek today . . . 

A historical marker noting the location of a house used as a hospital for British soldiers after the Battle of Sandy Creek.

A fascinating story from this area is the Carrying of the Cable, or Great Rope. A large frigate, the USS Superior was being built in Sackets Harbor, however a much needed 6" thick, 600' long 4-ton cable (I have read in a couple sources that the rope weighed up to 9 tons) was needed for its completion. Even though the Americans won a victory at Sandy Creek, the British still had control of Lake Ontario.    

So, the rope had to go by way of land from Sandy Creek to Sackets Harbor.  As there were no carts large enough for the job, the rope had to be carried by some 200 men (at times there were less than 100) for 20 miles! When the building of the USS Superior was completed, she became part of the fleet that helped to establish US control of the lake.

Today's village of Sackets Harbor is quaint with many restored buildings and la-di-da shops, but during the War of 1812 it was the the main navy yard and base for US forces on Lake Ontario.

The two main structures on the site date from the 1850's and are the quarters constructed for the commandant and sailing master.  According to the Sackets Harbor Battlefield website, "After the war, the massive earthen fortifications protecting the harbor were graded off and the battlefield reverted to farmland. Several blockhouses were converted to barns and another became an office for the commandant of the Navy Yard." 

I must add I found the story of the commandant at the outbreak of the Civil War disappointing. A career  naval man, he decided to go with his state of Virginia (?) rather than serve the country he had sworn allegiance to.  

This monument was dedicated on the centennial of the battle on May 29, 1913.  While the US forces had more casualties (307 killed, wounded, or captured to 265 for the British), they were able to resist the British attack and force them to return to their ships (which had not been able to provide adequate support for the attack). Thus, this is considered a US victory. 
The photo above is on the battlefield near what was called Fort Kentucky. Several of the commanders at this battle will reappear in coming entries . . . Prevost, Yeo, and the US General Jacob Brown.  It should be noted that Brown had the greatest success of any US general against the British during the War of 1812. Along with this victory at Sackets Harbor, he captured Fort Erie, defeated British regulars at the Battle of Chippawa, and was wounded twice in the bloodiest (yet indecisive) battle of the war . . . Lundy's Lane (actually, the Brits had a massive amount of casualties during the Siege of Fort Erie, but that lasted a couple of months).  I find it odd that Brown has become largely forgotten, or ignored.  As for that matter, so have the US victories at Chippawa and Fort Erie.  Hopefully, for the few that read this blog, that will be rectified.        

Located nearby is the Sackets Harbor Military Cemetery. The monument in the foreground reads, "Erected to the memory of unknown United States soldiers and sailors killed in action or dying of wounds in this vicinity during the War of 1812." The monument in the background (with the mortar) marks the grave of Zebulon Pike, famous explorer and brigadier general for whom Pikes Peak was named. Pike was killed at the Battle of York, which we will visit in a future entry.