Chenango County in the War of 1812

Chenango County was represented on the battlefield during the continuance of this sanguinary contest. It is therefore proper to introduce in this part of the history a short account of the war, sometimes denominated the "last war," to distinguish it from the war of the Revolution; but oftener called and chiefly known as the "war of 1812."

The English people from the close of the Revolution down to this memorably year, at most times, exhibited an indisposition to recognize the just claims of the United States to a position among the sovereign nations of the world. As early as the year 1810, and afterwards, it was very apparent that nothing short of a second contest with England could completely establish the freedom achieved in 1783. That a second war was inevitable became early obvious, from the unwarrantable interference with American commerce, exercised, in competition with England, on every sea.

The war of the Revolution was strictly defensive, and consisted chiefly of ambuscades, precipitate retreats and as precipitate rallies. It became necessary therefore, to convince that nation of the ability of the United States to wage aggressive as well as defensive war in maintenance of their national honor.

Recent outrages upon our merchantmen on the high seas so exasperated the country that the popular voice was nearly unanimous for a declaration of hostilities without delay.

Chenango was second to no county or section in the general enthusiasm for measuring strength, once more, with the ancient foe and common enemy. The citizens had not forgotten the embargo of 1807, and the non-intercourse act of 1808. On the 18th of June, 1812, Mr. MADISON, (who was in feeling a peace President,) with melancholy forebodings for the rivers of blood that were soon to flow, laid his war message before Congress, which was acted on the same day; this action placed the two countries in hostile array. It was not England, alone, that the United States were called upon to instruct what our just rights were, and to what extremities they would be defended; but France herself, on many different occasions, had likewise shown an aggressive disposition in common with England.

After our armies had taken the field under Gen. HULL, and advanced into the Canadian country, inspiring high hopes of success on every hand, some mysterious agency operating on the mind of that commander, so deluded him that he ingloriously surrendered up his brave troops without the show of any defense whatever.

It cannot be necessary for us to particularize the stunning effects of such a blow delivered full in the face of our national pride. After that defeat and disgrace, every citizen, whatever his private or political opinion upon the origin and necessity of the war, after that he felt it a duty to take arms, to be laid down only when the exulting foe was humbled.

This feeling particularly pervaded Chenango. Her citizens, descended from the men of seventy-six, and the most active of them too, although themselves untutored in the art of war, waited only for a call. They freely mustered to march to the frontier, and preparatory to this rendezvoused at Norwich village on the 8th of September, 1812. On the 20th of the same month, having first chosen Thompson MEADE (Lieutenant Colonel,) commandant of their regiment, they received marching orders. The whole force, including the troops from other counties, numbered four hundred men, rank and file.

About half of the regiment were residents of Chenango. The other companies came from Broome and Tioga counties. John RANDALL, of Norwich, was major of the regiment, and _____CLARK, 2d. Major. Judge John NOYES, of Norwich, was the Adjutant. Asa NORTON, of the same place, was Quarter Master. The Chenango Captains were Reuben GRAY, of Sherburne, Nathan TAYLOR, of South New Berlin, Thornton WASSON, of Guilford, and Daniel ROOT, of Pitcher. The Broome county Captains were ____ BACON and ____ SEYMOUR. The Tioga Captains were Solomon SMITH and _____ WILLIAMS. There were eight Captains.

Among the Lieutenants who did most of the efficient service on the field of battle may be mentioned Charles RANDALL, who served under Capt. GRAY, and John FIELDS, who had once been in the British service. The troops marched for Buffalo via, Sherburne, Log City, Cazenovia, Onondaga, Cayuga Bridge, Canandaigua and Batavia, and arrived early in October. Part of the way they marched in company with Col. STRANAHAN'S men. The next day after their arrival the men marched down the Niagara river and took position on the American side of the stream, opposite Queenstown Heights.

We have now traced the troops to a point where they afterwards fought a sanguinary battle. Before giving the further movements of this regiment, we will trace out the preliminaries of the contest, after which we will introduce the reader to the scenes in which some of Col. MEADE'S corps took a very decided part. In doing so, we will extract from MANSFIELD'S life of SCOTT. He says: "On the morning of the 9th of October, 1812, the Americans by a desperate effort cut out two armed brigs, then lying at anchor under the guns of Fort Erie. They were the Adams and the Calendonia… In the beginning of October, of this year, Major General VAN RENSSELAER had collected together at Lewiston (opposite Queenstown Heights,) about two thousand five hundred of the New York militia. The successful enterprise which resulted in the capture of the "Adams" and "Caledonia" on the 9th of that month, had given such apparent ardor and impulse to these troops that it was believed impossible to restrain them… Accordingly he planned the battle of Queenstown Heights… The object of the movement was to dispossess the enemy from the fort and village of Queenstown Heights, and thus to make a lodgment for the American troops on the Canada shore, the invasion of Canada being then the leading object of the northern campaign. The plan was to throw over the river two columns of troops, each about three hundred strong. One was commanded by Colonel Solomon VAN RENSSELAER, and the other by Lieutenant Colonel CHRISTIE. The detachments of FENWICK and MULLANEY were to sustain these columns in the best way they could. These arrangements were made on the 12th of October. Late in the evening of that day Colonel (now General,) SCOTT, had arrived, by a forced march, partly by water and partly through mud and rain at Schlosser, eight miles above Lewiston, with a view of joining in the attack. He hastened to Lewiston in person and volunteered his services. They were declined on account of the arrangements already made; with permission, however, to Col. SCOTT to bring his regiment immediately to Lewiston and there act as circumstances might require. At 4 o'clock, A. M., on the 13th he brought his regiment on to the ground… In the meantime the principal movement, as originally planned, had gone on. All the boats, which could be collected, were employed to transport the columns of CHRISTIE and VAN RENSELLAER. Unfortunately the boats were insufficient to take the whole number at once, and the passage was made by detachments."

"Col. VAN RENSSELAER landed, but before he had formed his men, was dangerously wounded in several places. About the same moment every commissioned and non-commissioned officer who had crossed the river with him were also struck down; some killed, others severely wounded. At the commencement of the battle the combatants on either side were few. The British force, posted on the heights and around them, consisted of two flank companies of the 49th regiment and the York militia. The Americas did not number much over one hundred soldiers. Gen. Van RENSSELAER was forming these troops on the shore of the river, when he was struck down by several shots. In the face of a most destructive fire his officers rallied and formed the men; but they too, were simultaneously either killed or severely wounded. As other officers arrived Col. VAN RENSSELAER imparted some local information to them respecting the storming of the heights. His last orders, after he had been four times wounded, were that "all such as could move should immediately mount the hill and carry the British battery. Capt. (now Gen.,) WOOL, and others, promptly obeyed the order by carrying the position and completely routing the enemy, whom they forced to retire, in disorder, into a strong stone building near the water's edge.

"Here the fugitives were rallied and succored by Gen. BROCK, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, who had returned from the capture of Gen. HULL, to defend the Niagara frontier. Here was the last act of his gallantry. He fell at the head of the troops he was leading to the charge, and with him his Secretary, Col. MCDONALD. The British troops were again dispersed, and there was a pause in the action. But the interval of rest was short.

"The first gun, which broke the silence of the morning, had also roused the British garrisons at Fort George, eight miles below the battlefield. These troops were instantly put in motion. The Indians, who had concentrated in the neighborhood, sprung into activity. In a short time five hundred of these forest warriors joined the British light companies previously engaged."

At the stage of battle, when Gen. BROCK fell, Col. (now Gen.,) SCOTT came upon the field as a volunteer, and received the command of the invading army. His forces consisted of three hundred and fifty regulars, besides two hundred and fifty volunteers under Cols STRANAHAN and MEADE, and Gen. WADSWORTH; making a total of six hundred combatants. The American troops were stationed by Col. SCOTT so as to receive the enemy and at the same time to cover if possible the ferry, in expectation of being reinforced by the whole of the militia at Lewiston."

"A new battle ensued. The Americans met the enemies' fire with firmness and drove them back in total route."

"The protection of the ferry being the main purpose, and the Indians in the woods presenting no object for a charge, the Americans resumed their original position, and there maintained it against several successive attacks, till the British reinforcements arrived from Fort George, eight hundred strong."

The reader is now brought to the entrance of the last scenes (on this battlefield,) that transpired previous to the final onslaught, or shock that determined the fortunes of the day. This brings us to the part, which the Norwich regiment acted in this bloody drama.

On the morning of the 13th, the day the battle was fought, at early dawn, one hundred of the regiment took to the boats and crossed from Lewiston to Queenstown. Col. Thompson MEADE, Capts. BACON, WASSON and ROOT, Lieuts. Chas. RANDALL and John FIELDS were with the men. On their way across the ferry they met Col. CAN RENSSELAER returning in a boat badly wounded. A speedy landing in good order was effected and the men formed and ascended the mountain, taking position in open field on its apex. The immediate station of this body was a few rods to the south of Gen. BROCK'S monument on the heights, and only about thirty rods from the line of the Indians secreted behind forest trees and heavy rail fence. Col. MEADE was repeatedly fired upon while passing to and fro, giving orders to the men. Sergeant MANN, of the Colonel's troops, was shot standing by the side of Col. MEADE. Branches of trees were much cut by rifle bullets over the Colonel's head. The aim of the savages was every instant becoming more precise, and consequently more fatal to the men. Lieut. Chas. RANDALL, seeing the dangerous position of his company, hastily beat up for volunteers to drive the savages and to take shelter in their secure retreat. The charge succeeded in putting the red men to flight, with some loss to the Indians. After they were driven, Col. MEADE'S men had a few hours of repose, before the closing scene of this protracted contest finally came on. We find the last attack upon the Americans described by Mr. MANSFIELD thus:

"In this manner successive conflicts were kept up, until the main body of the reinforcements from Fort George arrived. This consisted of a column eight hundred and fifty strong, under the command of Maj. Gen. SHEAFFE. During the action, which had now so long proceeded with credit to the American troops, the militia who had crossed the river, and were engaged under Gen. WASSWORTH and Col. STRANAHAN had fought well, and shared both the dangers and successes of the day. At this crisis, however, when the result of the battle depended entirely upon reinforcements, information was brought to Gen. SCOTT and those engaged, that the militia on the American shore refused to cross! Gen. VAN RENSSELAER rode among them, in all directions, urging the men by every consideration to pass, but in vain. Not a regiment, nor a company, could be induced to move! A panic had seized them; but even had it been otherwise, they could not have crossed as but a few crippled boats remained to take them over. Severe was the mortification of this disaster to the brave men engaged, and mournful the result!"

"At this period, the British force was estimated - regulars militia and Indians - at not less than thirteen hundred men, while the Americans were reduced to less than three hundred. Retreat was as hopeless as succor; for there were no boats on the Canada shore, and the militia on the other side refused to give them aid. Gen. SCOTT took his position on the ground they then occupied, resolved to abide the shock, and think of surrender only when battle was impossible. He mounted a log in front of his much diminished band. "The enemies' balls, " said he, "begin to thin our ranks. His numbers are overwhelming. In a moment the shock must come, and there is no retreat. We are in the beginning of a national war. HULL'S surrender must be redeemed. Let us then die, arms in hand. Our country demands the sacrifice. The example will not be lost. The blood of the slain will make heroes of the living. Those who follow will avenge our fall and their country's wrongs. Who dare to stand?" "All!" was the answering cry.

"In the meanwhile the British, under the command of Maj. Gen. SHEAFFE, maneuvered with great caution and even hesitation, conscious of the vigorous resistance already made, and determined fully to reconnoiter. They found it difficult to believe that so small a body of men was the whole force they had to contend with, and supposed it rather an outpost than an army. At length the final attack began. The Americans, for a time, maintained their resolution, but finally began to give way to the power of overwhelming numbers. When nearly surrounded, they let themselves (by holding on to limbs and bushes,) down the precipice to the river. Resistance was now ended, and after a brief consultation, it was determined to send a flag to the enemy, with a proposition to capitulate. Several flags were dispatched, but the messengers never returned; being shot down or captured by the Indians. At length Gen. SCOTT, accompanied by Capts. TOTTEN and GIBSON, fastened a white handkerchief to his sword, and thus equipped undertook the mission in person.

"The three American officers were conducted into the presence of Gen. SHEAFFE; terms of capitulation were agreed on, and Gen. SCOTT surrendered his whole force with the honors of war."

"The entire force thus surrendered, of those who had been actually fighting, were the 139 regulars, and 154 militia, making in all 293. But to the intense chagrin and mortification of the commander, the number of prisoners was soon swelled by several hundreds of militia, who had crossed to the Canada shore, and in confusion of the moment, had concealed themselves under the rocks higher up the river, and were not in the slightest degree engaged in the action of the day. Thus ended the battle of Queenstown Heights."

"The total loss of the Americans in the battle was estimated at 1,000 men. About 100 were killed -200 who had landed with Maj. MULLANEY early in the day, were forced by the current of the river on the enemies' shores, under their batteries, and were there captured. ---Two hundred and ninety-three surrendered with Gen. SCOTT, and the residue were those who had landed, but were not in battles."

During this hard fought battle Col. SCOTT, like Marshall LANNES, at Aspern, and Essling, seemed to multiply himself! He was everywhere, and appeared to many to be possessed of the powers of ubiquity. That the volunteers at Lewiston should have declined to embark upon the rapid current, in crazy boats, within point blank distance of a British battery, especially after witnessing so frightful destruction of boats and men on the river, could not, even in the time of it, have created any considerable degree of surprise among reflecting men.

We come lastly to speak of the Chenango troops after the surrender. The prisoners were taken to Niagara, at the mouth of the river, and finally lodged further back in the country at Newark; the same place that the Americans afterwards burned. The savages captured one of the officers of Col. MEADE'S regiment, and before he was rescued, they had torn his uniform from him, and were about taking his life, when he was released.

Lieut. John FIELDS, a prisoner from Broome county, had once been in the British army. The English claim "once a subject, always a subject," was a dangerous doctrine for him, if he should be recognized among the prisoners. The officer in charge of the prisoners was the same commandant whom FIELDS had formerly escaped from. He went through various disguises, assisted by the captives, until he was paroled and had again reached our shores in safety; where he must certainly have breathed far easier, inasmuch as he had escaped the danger of being executed for taking up arms against his prince and sovereign.

While Lieut. Chas. RANDALL was prisoner at Newark, a British officer inquired of him what was done that so alarmed the Indians, when they were driven from the woods? The officer freely acknowledged it was with great difficulty they could be brought up a second time to the battlefield! Some of the men who fought under Col. SCOTT, were also under HULL, and liberated on parole. Those brave fellows, well aware of their fate, if taken, preferred to attempt swimming the river, and most of them were drowned, or shot while crossing. One persevered in swimming, and when fairly in the stream was an easy target for a score of British musketeers, standing on the heights, overhanging the boiling current below. The bullets rained down on each side of him, but with no other effect than to cause the waters to steam and hiss about his head and breast. He escaped!

On the sixth day after the battle, the prisoners generally were discharged on parole. The Chenango men returned home soon after - both those who crossed the river and all who remained in Lewiston.

We omitted to state that Doct. William MASON, of Preston, accompanied the Chenango regiment, and acted in the capacity of Surgeon.

We must preserve an anecdote of Col. MEADE, who is now no more. He behaved on the 13th, in battle, with great coolness and determination; his comrades bore honorable testimony on this point. In the retreat he had hanging by his side a valuable sword, which was the loan of a friend. He also had another with him. In descending the rocks at Queenstown, on his retreat, he tore it off and concealed it in the rocks to preserve it, and to keep it from going as a trophy to the enemy.

At HULL'S surrender Gen. CASS broke his weapon, and at Queenstown Col. MEADE hid his! The Colonel, while a prisoner, gave his fellow-sufferers an account of the transaction; they had a hearty laugh at his prudence; the more that he had by hiding the implement lost it, as by the terms of capitulation he could have retained it. The volunteers, on their return home, circulated a report of the Colonel's mishap, and many pleasant jests were broken at his expense. At length some of his adversaries, more malevolent than wise, taunted the old soldier with disarming himself through fear! They did not believe the charge, but knew it would annoy that pride which is predominant in the breast of every truly military man.

The Colonel on one or two occasions gave striking proofs that if he was frightened into hiding his sword, he yet had courage enough left to take summary redress upon the hardiest assailant, who should date accuse him of it.

In 1813 two companies went from Chenango to Sackett's Harbor. Mr. John HARRIS, of New Berlin was present on the lines in the capacity of Lieutenant in 1813 and 1814. Abram PER LEE, of North Norwich, was severely wounded at he landing before Little York - so severely as to be left for some hours among the dead. He finally recovered from his desperate wound.

Orin CALDWELL, of Norwich, (who has been dead several years,) was badly wounded at the battle of Niagara. - The wound injured him for life, and no doubt hastened his death. He drew a pension for some years.

Peter NEER, a resident of Norwich, was in the battles of Niagara, Lundy's Lane, in the engagement of Sackett's Harbor, and other places where there was hard fighting.

While the Chenango troops were passing Black Rock, a woman in their presence picked up a spent cannon ball that struck near here while milking. She picked it up as it rolled along, showed it to the troops, calling it a "British biscuit!" saying, while her countenance glowed with animation, "Ah ha! Here is a British biscuit, which the English have just sent over, I picked it up, and here it is," at the same time holding it high in the air, and assuming a self-satisfying attitude, much to their amusement.

It has been contended that Col. MEADE was as prominent on the field during the battle of Queenstown, as any of the militia officers, yet strange to say his meritorious services have never been mentioned by any of our military historians. A battlefield is something like an affray, no two witnesses ever agreeing precisely in relating the details of the fight.

At the time Gen. VAN RENSSELAER was brought back to the American lines wounded, he tried every persuasion to cross the troops over, shouting at the top of his lungs, while his heart beat with patriotic emotion, "Go on! Go on, my brave boys, and fear no evil, for the day is ours!"

Lieut. Chas. RANDALL has contended that the men did not cross, for the want of boats. They went with alacrity to the water's edge, but could not cross. Mr. RANDALL bears honorable testimony to the exceeding personal bravery of Gen. VAN RENSSELAER, after he was severely wounded. We have not space to enlarge upon the military history of the country.

Source - History of Chenango County By Hiram C. Clark, Norwich, New York - Pages 107 - 113

Published by Thompson & Pratt - 1850

1850 History
Chenango Co, NYGenWeb

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