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.

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