Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter XII - Beginning of the War of 1812.






A Regency established in England. – Condition of Political Affairs in Europe. – The British Navy. – British Land Force in Canada. – Their Frontier Fortifications. – Sea-coast and Frontier Defenses of the United States. – West Point Military Academy. – Jonathan Williams. – The Coast Defenses of the United States in the year 1812. – Coast Defenses of the United States. – Military Posts on the Northwestern Frontiers. – Fulton’s Torpedoes. – Description of Torpedoes and their Uses. – The Dorothea destroyed by a Torpedo. – An Account of Fulton’s Experiment. – Fulton’s Torpedoes in New York Harbor. – His Estimate of the Value of Torpedoes and Steam Navigation. – Farther Experiments with Torpedoes. – A wholesome Fear of them. – Robert Fulton. – A "Peace Party." – Action of State Governments. – Riot in Baltimore. – The Inhabitants of Canada. – Reasons for their Loyalty. – Address of the Canadian Legislature. – Enlistments in the British Provinces. – Peaceful Propositions. – Action on the Orders in Council and Decrees. – Disgraceful Conduct of a French Minister. – Condition Revocation of the Orders in Council. – An Armistice. – The haughty Assumptions of the British Government. – Number of impressed American Seamen. – Failure of Peace Negotiations. – British Letters of Marque and Reprisal. – Opinions concerning the War. – National Mischief-makers. – The Men to be chosen as Military Leaders. – The General-in-chief. – Names of the general Officers appointed. – Declaration of War announced to the Troops. – The first Prisoner.


"The tocsin has sounded – the bugle has blown,
And rapid as lightning the rumor has flown,
That, prepared to defend our heaven-blessed soil,
Our country to save and proud tyrants to foil,
We submit without murmur to danger and toil."



Before entering upon a description of the stirring scenes of actual conflict of arms during the war, let us make brief notes of the position of the belligerents in relation to the struggle.


The Prince of Wales (afterward George the Fourth) had become actual sovereign of Great Britain by the removal of the restrictions of the bill which created him regent of the realm. The court physicians had pronounced the insanity of the old king to be incurable. This change in the practical relations of the prince to the government took place in February, 1812, and in May following a radical change in the Cabinet occurred, on account of the murder of Mr. Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by Bellamy, a Liverpool ship-broker, who charged his commercial losses upon the government, and sought revenge in slaying one of its chief servants. Lord Sidmouth was appointed Secretary of State, the Earl of Harrowby Lord President of the Council, and Mr. Vansittart Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Castlereagh was Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

Great Britain was still waging a tremendous war against Napoleon. Wellington was at the head of her armies in the Spanish Peninsula, and her forces by land and sea were generally successful. Her inherent energy was wonderful. Russia refused to bow the knee to the Corsican, and he threatened her with invasion. Great Britain became her ally, and the summer and autumn of 1812 saw the hopes of the ambitious emperor of obtaining universal dominion clouded with fearful doubts. Six days after the United States declared war against Great Britain, the victorious Napoleon, with an immense and splendid army, crossed the Niemen [June 24, 1812.] in the face of three hundred thousand Russians, and pushed on toward Moscow. At Borodino the retreating Muscovites confronted their invaders [Sept. 6.], and when the curtain of night fell upon the battle-field, ninety thousand killed and wounded soldiers lay there. The French entered Moscow in triumph, but it was soon a heap of ashes. Late in October, with one hundred and twenty thousand men, the emperor commenced a retreat toward France. Six months from the time of his entering Russian territory he had lost, in slain, wounded, starved, frozen, and prisoners, four hundred and fifty thousand men, and yet he had scarcely reached Paris before he issued orders for new conscriptions with which to prosecute the war! The sun of his glory was low in the west, yet it blazed out brilliantly before it set. In 1812, Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, and Spain were allied in arms against France, Prussia, Italy, Austria, and Poland.

The British navy at that time consisted of two hundred and fifty-four ships-of-the-line, of 74 guns and upward; thirty-five 50’s and 44’s; two hundred and forty-seven frigates; and five hundred and six smaller vessels of war; making a total of one thousand and thirty-six. Of these there were five ships-of-the-line, nineteen frigates, forty-one brigs, and sixteen schooners on the American station; that is to say, at Halifax and Newfoundland, Jamaica and the Leeward Islands. 1 They had also four armed vessels on Lake Ontario, namely, Royal George, 22; Earl of Moira, 16; Prince Regent, 14; and Duke of Gloucester, 8. They also had several smaller vessels nearly ready for service.

The British regular land force in Upper Canada when war was declared did not exceed fifteen hundred men; 2 but the aggregate of that in Lower Canada, and in the contiguous British provinces was estimated at six thousand regular troops. The population of all the North American British colonies was estimated at 400,000, and their militia at 40,000. They had an immense assailable frontier, stretching along a series of great lakes, and the Rivers St. Mary’s, St. Clair, Detroit, Niagara, and St. Lawrence, commencing at Lake Superior on the west, and terminating far below Quebec on the east, along a line of about 1700 miles. Out of Lake Superior flows a rapid current, over immense masses of rock, through a channel for twenty-seven miles called the St. Mary’s River, and enters Lake Huron, at the head of which is the British island of St. Joseph. On that island was then a small fort and garrison. It is distant above Detroit about three hundred and thirty miles by water. The shores of Lake Huron at that time were uninhabited except by Indians and a few traders. At its western angle is a short and wide strait, connecting it with Lake Michigan, in the centre of which is the island of Michilimackinack, which is about nine miles in circumference. On this island the Americans had a small fort and garrison. The waters flow out of Lake Huron through the rivers and Lake St. Clair, and then through the Detroit River into Lake Erie. On the latter river, at Amherstburg, the British had a fort and small garrison, where ships for service on Lake Erie were built. The British had no harbor or military post on Lake Erie. At its foot, at the head of the Niagara River, was Fort Erie, a distance of five hundred and sixty-five miles from Quebec. Just above Niagara Falls, at the mouth of the Chippewa River, there was a small stockade, called Fort Chippewa. Near the mouth of the Niagara River, not quite seven miles below Queenstown, was Fort George, constructed of earthen ramparts and cedar palisades, mounting some guns not heavier than nine-pounders. Half a mile below the fort, at the mouth of the Niagara River, was a pretty little village called Newark, now Niagara. On the north side of Lake Ontario is York, or Toronto Harbor, where was an old fort and a block-house. York was then the capital of Upper Canada. On the eastern extremity of the lake is Kingston, with a fine harbor, and was defended by a small battery of nine-pounders on Point Frederick. It was the most populous town in the Upper Province at that time, and formed the principal naval dépôt of the British on Lake Ontario. There were some military works at Montreal, and very strong ones at Quebec.

At the time when war was declared the United States were at peace with all the world, and had very little commerce exposed upon the ocean, owing to restrictions and dangers which had prevailed for a few years. Of the land and naval forces at that time we have spoken in the last chapter. In addition to full twelve hundred miles of frontier along the British provinces, there was a sea-coast of a thousand miles to defend against the most powerful maritime nation in the world.

The subject of sea-coast, harbor, and frontier defenses attracted the attention of the government at an early period. A school for military instruction, especially for the education of engineers, to be established at West Point, on the Hudson, was authorized by Congress in the spring of 1802 [March 16, 1802.]; 3 and from to time to time appropriations had been made for fortifications, and works had been erected. The corps of engineers, authorized by the law just named, commenced their functions as constructors of new forts or repairers of old ones in the year 1808, when a war with England was confidently expected; and that body of young men continued thus employed, in a moderate way, until the breaking out of the war in 1812, when they were sent to the field, and all won military distinction. 4 The forts completed previous to 1809 were the only fortifications for the defense of the sea-coast of the United States at the commencement of the war in 1812. 5

A new system of naval warfare had lately been suggested by Robert Fulton, who had been a long time abroad, and who had recently returned home [December, 1806.] to achieve an immortal triumph in science and art, and the beginning of a wonderful revolution in commerce, by the successful introduction of navigation by steam [1807.]. While abroad, Mr. Fulton had conceived the idea of destroying ships by introducing floating mines under their bottoms in submarine boats, and exploding them there. He was filled with the benevolent idea that the introduction of such secret and destructive agencies would have a tendency to do away with naval warfare, and thus would be established what he called the Liberty of the Seas. Impelled by this grand idea, he left France, where he had been residing several years, and went over to England in 1804, for the purpose of offering his invention to the British government. 6 He finally obtained permission to make a public experiment of his TORPEDO, as he called his "infernal machine," and he was furnished with a Danish brig, named Dorothea, and two boats, with eight men each, for the purpose. On the 15th of October, 1805, the Dorothea was anchored in Walmer Road, not far from Deal, and in sight of Walmer Castle, the residence of William Pitt, the English prime minister, and there, in the presence of a large number of naval officers and others, 7 he made a successful exhibition. He first practiced the boatmen with empty torpedoes. One was placed in each boat, and connected by a small rope eighty feet long. The Dorothea drew twelve feet of water, and the torpedoes were suspended fifteen feet under water when cast from the boats, at the distance of seventy-five feet apart. They floated toward the brig with the tide, one on each side of her. When the connecting-line struck the hawser of the brig, both torpedoes were brought by the tide under her bottom.


Having exercised the men sufficiently, Fulton filled one of the torpedoes with one hundred and eighty pounds of gunpowder, set its clock-work (explained in note 1, page 238) to eighteen minutes, and then went through with the same manśuvres as before, the filled and the empty torpedo being united by a rope. At the expiration of eighteen minutes from the time the torpedoes were cast overboard, and were carried toward the Dorothea, a dull explosion was heard, and the brig was raised bodily about six feet, 8 and separated in the middle; and in twenty minutes nothing was seen of her but some floating fragments. The pumps and foremasts were blown out of her; the fore-topsail-yards were thrown up to the cross-trees; the fore-chain plates, with their bolts, were torn from her sides, and her mizzen-mast was broken off in two places. The experiment was perfectly satisfactory; but the British government refused to purchase and use the invention, because it was thought to be inexpedient for the mistress of the seas to introduce into naval warfare a system that would give great advantages to weaker maritime nations. The Earl St. Vincent said Pitt was a fool to encourage a mode of warfare which they, who commanded the seas, did not want, and which, if successful, would deprive them of it. 9

At the beginning of 1807 Mr. Fulton was in Washington with his drawings, models, and plans for a "torpedo war." He was favorably listened to then, but his plans were regarded with more interest after the affair of the Leopard and Chesapeake, a few months later. That affair caused much public discussion about harbor defenses, and able practical writers, like Colonel Williams and John Stevens, favored the use of Fulton’s torpedoes. It was believed that measures would be taken to drive British vessels of war from American harbors, and on the 6th of July Fulton again brought his torpedoes to the notice of the Secretary of the Navy. Congress made a small appropriation for experiments, and on the 20th of July, by the direction of the President, Fulton performed a feat in the harbor of New York similar to that of the destruction of the Dorothea in Walmer Road. He utterly destroyed a vessel of two hundred tons burden, and convinced the spectators that any ship might be so demolished. 10 The experiment created quite a sensation in England. The Earl of Stanhope, Fulton’s early friend, alluded to it in Parliament, and reproached the government, by implication, for suffering such an invention to go to America, when, for three thousand pounds, they might have possessed it. Nothing farther of importance was done in the matter, for Fulton was then deeply engaged in bringing to a successful issue his experiments in navigating by steam as a motor. But when those experiments resulted in absolute and brilliant success, and men’s minds were filled with speculations concerning the future of this new aid to commerce, he believed that his torpedo system would be of far more benefit to mankind than navigation by steam. In a letter to a friend, giving him an account of his first voyage to Albany and back by steam – the first achievement of the kind – he said: "However, I will not admit that it is half so important as the torpedo system of defense and attack, for out of it will grow the liberty of the seas, an object of infinite importance to the welfare of America and every civilized country. But thousands of witnesses have now seen the steam-boat in rapid movement, and believe; they have not seen a ship-of-war destroyed by a torpedo, and they do not believe." 11

How utterly impotent is the finite mind when it attempts to understand the future. It is like a bewildered traveler in a dark night. attempting to comprehend an almost illimitable prairie before him by the aid of a "fire-fly lamp." The torpedo is forgotten; the steam-boat, in Monitor 12 form, is now (1867) the great champion for the "liberty of the seas."

In January, 1810, Fulton again visited Washington, and at Kalorama, the seat of his good friend Barlow, near Georgetown, in the presence of President Jefferson, Secretary Madison, and a large number of members of Congress, he exhibited and explained the plans and models of improved torpedoes, such as are described in note 1, page 238. They were deeply impressed with the value of the invention, and in March Congress appropriated five thousand dollars for farther experiments, to be publicly made in the harbor of New York, under the direct superintendence of Commodore Rodgers and Captain Chauncey. The sloop-of-war Argus was prepared to defend herself against Fulton’s torpedo attacks, 13 The experiments were tried in the autumn [September and October, 1810.]. They failed, so far as attacks upon the Argus were concerned, and Rodgers reported the scheme to be wholly impracticable. Commissioners, among whom were Chancellor Livingston, Morgan Lewis, and Cadwallader Colden, reported in its favor. But Fulton, then still deeply engaged in steam-boat matters, made no farther efforts to induce the government to adopt his torpedo system; yet his faith in its value was not abated. When war was declared in 1812, Fulton revived his torpedo scheme, but could not win the countenance of the government. Several attempts to put it in execution were made by inexperienced persons, and failed, and torpedoes did not enter into the system of warfare carried on at that time, But while they were not actually used, except in a few isolated cases, against the British vessels of war, a wholesome fear of them was abroad in the British navy. There was great anxiety manifested on the part of the British naval commanders, when they approached our coasts, to know where Mr. Fulton 14 was; and, such was their caution, they seldom attempted to enter the harbors of the United States during the war. No doubt the fear of Fulton’s torpedoes saved several of our sea-port towns from destruction. Fulton’s steam-frigate, launched in 1814, will be noticed hereafter.

Notwithstanding war had been declared by a large majority in Congress, and was approved by an equally large majority of the people of the United States, the administration was anxious for some honorable means for averting it. Indeed, both governments at the last moment seemed to hesitate. In the United States there was a large and powerful party utterly opposed to hostilities. There was a smaller organization, called the "Peace party," who were pledged to cast obstacles in the way of the government while hostilities should last, The authorities of several of the states took ground early against affording aid to the government; and it was very soon perceived that the Canadians, whose willingness to cast off the yoke of the imperial government had not been doubted, were generally loyal, and ready to take up arms against the United States. The Governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut refused to comply with the requisition made upon them for militia immediately after the declaration of war was promulgated. They planted themselves upon the Constitution, and the act of Congress authorizing the President to make a requisition for the militia, which contemplated the exigency of expected invasion. No evidence of any danger of invasion, they said, existed; and, supported by the judiciary and Legislatures of their respective states, they set the President at defiance. The Legislature of New Jersey denounced the war as "inexpedient, ill-timed, and most dangerously impolitic, sacrificing at once countless blessings." The Maryland House of Delegates passed resolutions commending the action of the Governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and disapproving of the war; while in the Senate opposite views were expressed. The Legislature of Pennsylvania rebuked the action of the three New England governors, and called it "an alarming and unexpected occurrence." They resolved that "the declaration of war was the result of solemn deliberation, sound wisdom, and imperious necessity." The Legislature of Ohio declared that the United States had been driven into the war by the aggressions of Great Britain, and said, "The man who would desert a just cause is unworthy to defend it," The Governor of New York exhorted a hearty concurrence in support of the national government; and the new State of Louisiana, just admitted into the Union, said, by the voice of its governor, "If ever war was justifiable, the one which our country has declared is that war. If ever a people had cause to repose in the confidence of their government, we are that people."

These conflicting views produced corresponding conflict of action. Party spirit was aroused in all its fierceness. Personal collisions became frequent occurrences, and in the city of Baltimore a most fearful riot occurred, the result of which was murder and maiming. 15

The people of Canada, whose soil was about to be invaded, were filled with feelings of doubt and alarm, especially in the Upper Province. A large number of the inhabitants in that section were natives of the United States who had emigrated thither to better their condition. Many of them still felt a lingering affection for the land of their birth, and were unwilling to take up arms, against it; but there was another class of emigrants – Loyalists, or the children of Loyalists of the Revolution – political exiles – occupying a large tract of land lying between Lakes Erie and Ontario, and westward, who were indebted to the liberality of the British government for the soil they were cultivating, and to their own industry for the roofs that sheltered them. These retained bitter feelings toward the United States, and took up arms with alacrity against a people whom they regarded as their oppressors. When war was actually commenced – when American troops were actually encamped on Canadian territory, these old Loyalists formed a most energetic and active element in the firm opposition which the invasion encountered. To these the Legislature of Upper Canada, whose loyalty was at first considered somewhat doubtful, addressed a most stirring appeal, soon after the American declaration of war was known, to the delight of the governor and the English party. "Already," they said, "have we the joy to remark that the spirit of loyalty has burst forth in all its ancient splendor. The militia in all parts of the province have volunteered their services with acclamation, and displayed a degree of energy worthy of the British name. They do not forget the blessings and privileges which they enjoy under the protective and fostering care of the British empire, whose government is only felt in this country by acts of the purest justice, and most pleasing and efficacious benevolence. When men are called upon to defend every thing they call precious, their wives and children, their friends and possessions, they ought to be inspired with the noblest resolutions, and they will not be easily frightened by menaces, or conquered by force; and beholding, as we do, the flame of patriotism burning from one end of the Canadas to the other, we can not but entertain the most pleasing anticipations. Our enemies have, indeed, said that they can subdue this country by a proclamation; but it is our part to prove to them that they are sadly mistaken; that the population is determinately hostile, and that the few who might be otherwise inclined will find it their safety to be faithful."

The address then proceeded to warn the people that, "in imitation of their European master (Napoleon)," the United States would "trust more to treachery than to force;" that they would be falsely told that armies come to give them freedom and peace; that emissaries "of the most contemptible faction that ever distracted the affairs of any nation – the minions of the very sycophants who lick the dust from the feet of Bonaparte," would endeavor to seduce them from their loyalty.

This address had a powerful effect. The prudence and sagacity of Sir George Prevost, the governor general of Canada, had allayed the political agitations in the Lower Province, which had assumed a threatening aspect during the administration of his predecessor, Sir James H. Craig. Now, when war seemed impending, the Legislature of the Lower Province, laying aside their political bickerings, voted to furnish two thousand unmarried men to serve for three months during two successive summers. Besides these, a corps, called the Glengary Light Infantry, numbering, on the 1st of May, 1812, four hundred rank and file, and drawn chiefly from the Lower Province, was organized. Its officers promised to double that number. At the same time, enlistments were made in Acadia and Nova Scotia, while Lieutenant M‘Donell gathered under his banner a large number of Highlanders, settled upon the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gulf. 16 It was soon made evident to the Americans that no dependence could be placed upon disloyalty among the Canadians, and that, instead of finding friends and allies north of the lakes, they would find active foes.

While these events were transpiring in America, there were movements abroad which faintly promised an adjustment of difficulties between the two governments without a resort to arms. Immediately after the declaration of war, President Madison, through Secretary Monroe, sent a dispatch [June 26, 1812.] to Mr. Russell, the American minister at the British court, by Mr. Foster, the English minister retiring from Washington, 17 instructing him to offer an armistice preliminary to a definite arrangement of all differences, on condition of the absolute repeal of the obnoxious orders in Council, the discontinuance of impressment, and the return of all American seamen who had been impressed and were still in the British service. He was authorized to promise, on the part of the United States, a positive prohibition of employment for British seamen in the American service, public or private, on condition of a reciprocity in kind on the part of the British government. He made still more liberal advances toward reconciliation in a subsequent dispatch [August 24.], offering to agree to an armistice on a tacit understanding, instead of a positive stipulation, that no more American seamen should be impressed into the British service.

The British government had already taken action on the orders in Council. We have noticed the effect of Brougham’s efforts in Parliament, and Baring’s potent Inquiry on the subject of those orders. In the spring of 1812 a new order was issued, declaring that if at any time the Berlin and Milan Decrees should, by some authoritative act of the French government publicly promulgated, be withdrawn, the orders in Council of January, 1807, and of April, 1809, should be at once repealed. Mr. Barlow, the American minister at Paris, immediately after receiving information of this new order, pressed the French government to make a public announcement that those decrees had ceased to operate, as against the United States, since November, 1810. The Duke of Bassano exhibited great reluctance to do so, but finally, persuaded that the Americans would resume trade with Great Britain in defiance of the few French cruisers afloat, and that the two governments might form an alliance against the emperor, produced a decree, dated April 28, 1811, directing that, in consideration of the resistance of the United States "to the arbitrary pretensions advanced by the British orders in Council, and a formal refusal to sanction a system hostile to the independence of neutral powers, the Berlin and Milan Decrees were to be considered as not having existed, as to American vessels, since November 1, 1810," 18 Barlow perceived, by the date of this document, that there was dissimulation and lack of candor in the whole matter, and, by pressing the duke with questions, caused that minister to utter what were doubtless absolute falsehoods. 19 In truth, the French had, throughout this whole matter of decrees, and the enforcement of the Continental System, been guilty of deception and injustice to a degree that would have justified an honest nation in suspending all diplomatic relations with them.

On receiving a copy of this decree Barlow dispatched it to London by the Wasp, for Mr. Russell’s use. It reached there just in time to co-operate with the British manufacturers, who had procured the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the effects of the orders in Council on the commercial interests of the nation. 20 Castlereagh, to whom Russell presented the decree, considered it too limited to induce the British government to make any change in its policy. But he and his colleagues were compelled to yield. The new ministry, who came in after Mr. Perceval’s death, 21 were very strongly pressed by Brougham, Baring, and others, and menaced with the desertion of their supporters in the manufacturing districts. Finally, on the 16th of June [1812.], Brougham, after a minute statement of facts brought out by the inquiry of the Commons’ committee, and an eloquent exposition of the absurd policy pursued by the government, 22 moved an address to the Prince Regent, beseeching him to recall or suspend the orders in Council, and to adopt such other measures as might tend to conciliate neutral powers, without sacrificing the rights and dignity of his majesty’s crown. Castlereagh deprecated this "hasty action," as he called it, and stated that it was the intention of the government to make a conciliatory proposition to the Cabinet at Washington. On an intimation that this definite proposition was decided upon in the Cabinet, and would appear in the next Gazette, Brougham withdrew his motion. On the 23d [June.] a declaration from the Prince Regent in Council was published, absolutely revoking all orders as far as they regarded America. It was accompanied by a proviso that the present order should have no effect unless the United States should revoke their Non-intercourse Act, and place Great Britain on the same relative footing as France. The order also provided that the Prince Regent should not be precluded, if circumstances should require it, from restoring the orders in Council, or from taking such other measures of retaliation against the French as might appear to his royal highness just and necessary. 23

Intelligence of this conditional revocation of the orders in Council reached Mr. Foster before he sailed from Halifax, and he obtained from the naval commander on that station (Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren) consent to a mutual suspension of proceedings against captured vessels. This fact was communicated to Mr. Boker, the British secretary of legation left at Washington, to be laid before the President. Foster also stated that he had advised Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, to propose a suspension of hostilities on land. This was done, and General Dearborn, the commander of the American forces on the Northern frontier, provisionally agreed to an armistice. 24 Joy filled many hearts at these promises of peace and returning prosperity; but it was of short duration. The United States government refused to ratify this armistice, or to accept the other propositions of the ex-minister, because the President doubted his authority to suspend the proceedings of prize courts; was uncertain how far these arrangements would be respected by the British officers themselves; saw no security against the Indian allies of the English, then hovering like a dark cloud on the Northwestern frontier; and considered the arrangement unequal, as it would afford an opportunity to re-enforce Canada during the armistice. The President was also apprehensive that a suspension of hostilities previous to receiving an answer from the British government on the subject of impressment might appear like waiving that point.

When Mr. Russell presented his instructions [August 24, 1812.] to Castlereagh on the subject of an armistice, that minister replied [August 29.] that the orders in Council had been already provisionally repealed, and that instructions had been sent to Admiral Warren, on the Halifax station, to propose a suspension of hostilities on that basis. At the same time the British minister declined any discussion of the vital subject of impressment, and the release of impressed seamen. He even expressed surprise that, "as a condition preliminary even to a suspension of hostilities, the government of the United States should have thought fit to demand that the British government should desist from its ancient and accustomed practice of impressing British seamen from the merchant ships of a foreign state, simply on the assurance that a law shall hereafter be passed to prohibit the employment of British seamen in the public or commercial service of that state." He said that his government was willing to discuss any proposition concerning abuses in the practice of impressment, or the substitution of some method of accomplishing the same object with less vexation in practice; "but they can not consent," he said, "to suspend the exercise of a right upon which the naval strength of the empire mainly depends," unless assured that the object might be attained in some other way. 25

Of all the grievances complained of by the Americans, that of impressment was the most serious. It was a practical violation of the sovereignty and independence of the United States, and was of more consequence to the character of the nation than all blockades or other obstructions to commerce. It offended, in the highest degree, the patriotism of every true American; and it touched not only the political sensibilities of a free people at a most tender point, but it impressed them keenly with a sense of social wrong. At that very time there were upward of six thousand cases of impressment of American seamen on the records of the State Department, and it was believed that as many more, never reported to the government, had occurred. Castlereagh admitted, on the floor of the British Parliament, that there were three thousand five hundred impressed servants in the British navy, claiming to be American seamen, but said that they might be discharged on proving their citizenship. American citizens, kidnapped from the decks of American vessels by British cruisers, and made slaves in British ships, were offered freedom only on condition of proving themselves to be American citizens! Ay, more, subjected, at the same time, as we have seen, to the liability of receiving degrading punishment for attempting to secure that freedom! 26

Perceiving no hope of an adjustment of difficulties with the rulers of England, Mr. Russell obtained his passports [September 2, 1812.], and, leaving Mr. Reuben Guant Beaseley as agent for prisoners of war in London, he returned home, intimating by his departure that diplomacy between the two governments {original text has "goverments".} had ended, and that the war, already begun on land and sea, must proceed. On the 12th of October the English government issued letters of marque and reprisal against the Americans, 27 The armistice on the Canada frontier had been ended for some weeks, and the war went on.

History has no record of a people more righteous in persisting in war than were the Americans at this time, when their plea for simple justice was so insolently spurned by the men who then unfortunately governed the British nation. They had tried every peaceful measure consistent with national honor for obtaining a redress of grievances, as they did for ten long and weary years, exposed to insult and oppression from the same government, before the Revolution. They were now determined to secure fully and forever that dignity and independence in the family of nations to which their strength and importance entitled them. "It was a war," says a late historian 28 (whose sympathies with the Federalists is manifested on every page of his narrative), "for the rights of personal freedom – the freedom, suppose, of Britons and other foreigners, as well as Americans, 29 from the domineering insolence of British press-gangs – an idea congenial to every manly soul, and giving to the contest a strong hold on the hearts of the masses; in fact, a just title to the character of a democratic war, in the best sense of that very ambiguous epithet, and even to be called a second war for independence, as its advocates delighted to describe it."

With these facts before them, writers and speakers of American birth, at that time, for party purposes, magnified the generosity of Great Britain, its Christian desire for peace, its magnanimous offers of reconciliation; and declaimed most piteously about the cruelty of waging war against a nation kindred in blood, language, and religion, in the hour of its great extremity, when a desperate adventurer was seeking to destroy it. Even at this late day, a Scotch Canadian writer, with all the facts of history in his possession, has ungenerously declared that "the war – the grand provocation having been thus [by conditional repeal of the orders in Council] removed – was persisted in, for want of a better excuse, on the ground of the ‘impressment question,’ " and adds, "The government of the United States stand, then, self-condemned of wanton aggression on the North American colonies of Great Britain, and of prosecuting the war on grounds different from those which they were accustomed to assign." 30

Thus it has ever been with British writers and statesmen of a certain class, who represent the great leading idea of the boasted Mistress of the Seas when she was less enlightened than now. We have already quoted the following words of Montesquieu concerning English politics a hundred years ago – "the English have ever made their political interests give way to those of commerce." 31 These words bear repetition in this connection. In estimating the character of other nations, men of the class alluded to are always governed by the commercial idea, and can not comprehend the fact, frequently illustrated in history (even slightly in their own), that a people may contend for something more noble than pounds, shillings, and pence. That class of writers and statesmen, who governed England about a century ago, believed that a slight remission of taxes on tea would purchase the allegiance and abject submission of the Americans. The same class of writers and statesmen, of the Stephen and Castlereagh stamp, who governed England in 1812, believed that a concession to American commerce would be an equivalent for national honor and independence; and the same class of writers and statesmen who governed England in 1861 could not comprehend the great fact that the American government was struggling for its life against household assassins, without counting the cost in pounds, shillings, and pence. They are a class who never learn, and are prominent only as national mischief-makers.

The door of reconciliation, as we have seen, was shut in the autumn of 1812. The war had been already commenced on sea and land. Provision had been made by Congress for the organization of an adequate army. One of the most important measures was the appointment of officers to command the troops. A greater portion of the most distinguished and meritorious officers of the Revolution had passed away, and there were none of experience left who had held a commission above colonel in the Continental army. A long season of peace, except during difficulties with the Indians, had deprived the younger army officers in the service of the opportunity of real experience in the practical art of war.


Notwithstanding the surviving soldiers of the old war had advanced far in the journey of life, and most of them had been long enjoying the quietude of civil pursuits, it was thought to be most prudent to call them to the head of the new army, with their small experience of actual field duty, than to trust to those who had never been under fire. The collector of the port of Boston, Henry Dearborn, late Secretary of War, an active Democrat, and then sixty-one years of age, was appointed [February, 1812.] first major general, or acting commander-in-chief having the Northern Department under his immediate control. 32 Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, was appointed [March.] second major general, and placed in command of the Southern Department. Joseph Bloomfield, Governor of New Jersey, 33 James Winchester, of Tennessee, J. P. Boyd, of Massachusetts, and William Hull, Governor of the Territory of Michigan, were commissioned brigadiers [April 8, 1812.]. The same commission was given [June.] to Thomas Flournoy, of Georgia. John Armstrong, of New York, also received the commission [July 4.] of a brigadier, to fill the vacancy caused by the recent death [July 2.] of General Peter Gansevoort. This was soon followed by a like commission [July 8.] for John Chandler, of Maine. Morgan Lewis, of New York, was appointed quarter-master general [April 3.], and Alexander Smyth, of Virginia, late Colonel of the Rifles, was appointed inspector general [March 30.], each bearing the commission of brigadier. Thomas H. Cushing, 34 of Massachusetts, then Colonel of the Second Regiment, was appointed adjutant general, with the rank of brigadier. James Wilkinson, of Maryland, the senior brigadier in the army, was sent to New Orleans to relieve Wade Hampton, now a brigadier, and a meritorious subaltern officer in South Carolina during the Revolution. Alexander Macomb, of the Engineers, was promoted to colonel; and Winfield Scott and Edmund Pendleton Gaines, of Virginia, and Eleazer W. Ripley, of Maine, were commissioned colonels.



1 Steele’s List, 1812.

2 These consisted of the Forty-first regiment, 900 men; Tenth veterans, 250; Newfoundland regiment, 250; Royal Artillery, 50; Provincial Seamen, 50. These forces had to occupy the Forts St. Joseph, Amherstburg, Chippewa, Erie, George, York (Toronto), and Kingston, and to defend an assailable frontier of nearly thirteen hundred miles. – Life and Correspondence of Major General Sir Isaac Brock, K .B., by Ferdinand Brock Tupper, p. 168.

3 Washington recommended the establishment of a military academy at West Point so early as 1783, when, on the approach of peace, his thoughts were turned to the future military condition of his country. Soon after he became President of the United States, he again called the attention of his countrymen to the importance of a military academy, and again indicated West Point as the proper place. In 1794, Colonel Rochefontaine, a French officer in the service of the United States, and other officers of artillery, were stationed at West Point for the purpose of establishing a military {original text has "miltary".} school there. They rebuilt the front of Fort Putnam, on the mountains in the rear, in 1795, and constructed five or six small casemates, or bomb-proofs. Fort Clinton, on the Point, was then partly in ruins. Its magazine, twenty-five by two hundred feet in size, built of stone and lined with plank, and trenches, was quite perfect. Several buildings were erected, and the whole post was under the charge of Major Jonathan Williams. The library and apparatus were commenced, but the school was soon suspended. It was revived in 1801 by Mr. Jefferson, and in the spring of the following year Congress, as we have observed in the text, authorized the establishment of a military academy there. Meanwhile the harbors on the coast were defended only by small redoubts. They were insignificant affairs. "It is worthy of remembrance," observed the late venerable General J. G. Swift, in a letter to the author in February, 1860, "that the sites upon which these small works were built were those selected in the Revolutionary struggle, and they remain to this day the best for their purpose."

4 Letter of General Swift to the author, February 13, 1860. In November, 1802, the engineers at West Point formed a Military and Philosophical Society, the object of which was the promotion of military science. The following are the names of the original members: Jonathan Williams, Decius Wadsworth, William A. Barron, Jared Mansfield, James Wilson, Alexander Macomb, Jr., Joseph G. Swift, Simon M. Leroy, Walter K. Armistead, and Joseph G. Totten. These were the members present at the first meeting. Swift and Totten were the latest survivors of this little company. The former died in the summer of 1865, and the latter in the spring of 1864. Their portraits [Swift – Totten] will be found in this work. Totten was the chief military engineer of the United States at the time of his death. The society consisted of many persons besides military men. Its membership, during its ten years’ existence, comprised most of the leading men in the country, especially of the army and navy. The MS. records of the society, in four folio volumes, are in the New York Historical Society.

5 The following statement of the names, locations, and conditions of the coast fortifications previous to 1808, I have compiled from a manuscript general return of such works by Colonel Jonathan Williams * and Captain Alexander Macomb, which I found among the minutes of the Military and Philosophical Society of West Point, mentioned in a preceding note. Some of these forts were somewhat strengthened before the declaration of war in 1812, but the change in their general condition was not very great.

Fort Sumner, Portland, Maine. – A square block-house.

Fort William and Mary, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. – A ruin.

Fort Lily, Gloucester, Cape Ann. – Three sides of an unfinished figure, being one front and two diverging lines. A square block-house in the rear.

Fort Pickering, at Salem, Massachusetts. – Three sides of a rectangular figure, without bastions, flanks, or any prominence whatever. The lower part of the sides is stone-work, with parapets of earth. Closed in the rear by barracks, a brick wall, and gate. A square block-house in the centre, and an old stone building in the rear and on the left, without the lines. A sketch of its appearance in 1860 may be found in another part of this volume.

Fort Sewall, at Marblehead, Massachusetts, is an irregular oblong figure, with a square block-house. It is founded, on one side, on a rock, and on the opposite side has a wall and arches, forming a magazine below. One stone house within the lines. A sketch of this old fort as it appeared in 1860 may be found in another part of this work.


Fort Independence, in Boston Harbor. – New work. An irregular pentagon and well fortified, with five bastions. Three bastions and one curtain finished. This fort (whose present appearance is seen in the engraving) is on Castle Island, on the site of a fortification erected during the early years of the Massachusetts colony. It was rebuilt in 1644, and burned in 1673. A new fort of stone was then erected, and other works, and it became the shelter of the British during the years preceding the Revolution. After the Revolution it was called Fort Adams. In 1799 Castle Island was ceded to the United States, and President Adams named the works Fort Independence. The present structure was erected in 1801, ’2, and ’3. It and Fort Warren, on an island opposite, command the entrance to Boston Harbor. The fort may contain a thousand men in time of war.

Fort Wolcott, near Newport, Rhode Island. – Built of stone cemented with lime. Had a brick and stone magazine, a sally-port and ditch, reverberatory furnace. Supported by two wings or bastions, both facing the harbor. Revetments in stone laid in lime cement; parapets supplied with sod-work; the batteries intended for ten pieces of cannon. Had five pieces, 32-pounders each. Barracks two stories high, composed of brick, and bomb-proof.

Fort Adams, Newport Harbor. – Form similar to Fort Wolcott. Situated on Brenton’s Point, nearly opposite the Dumplings Fort on Canonicut Island. Similar in all its arrangement and construction to Fort Wolcott. It was then unfinished.

Fort Hamilton, Narraganset Bay, near Newport, a mile northwest of Fort Wolcott, on Rose Island. – Extensive fortifications, commenced in 1802. Quadrilateral in form, presenting two regular and two tower bastions. Works suspended in 1803. It was intended to be wholly constructed of stone, brick, and sod-work. The barracks were completed, and were considered the finest in America at that time. It was intended to mount seventy cannon. About half completed when the war broke out.

North Battery, Rhode Island, about three fourths of a mile northeast of Fort Wolcott, on a point of land nearer Newport. – Semicircular, and calculated for about eight guns. It was unfinished.

Dumplings Fort. – Entrance to Narraganset Bay, nearly opposite Fort Adams. A round tower bastion, built in 1804, of stone well cemented. It was about eighty feet above the water, and rose fifteen to twenty feet above the rock on which it was built. It contained a good magazine, and three other bomb-proof rooms for the men. No cannon were mounted. The platforms were not completed. Calculated for seven pieces, exclusive of howitzers and mortars. It was believed that thirty men might defend it.

Towering Hill, near Newport, Rhode Island, one mile east of the North Battery, and due north from the city. – It commanded the whole town, the country around, and a part of the harbor. Remains of Revolutionary works there. A small block-house built in 1799 or 1800 was entire.

Fort Trumbull, New London, Connecticut, on a rocky point of land projecting into the River Thames. – Form irregular. The walls fronting the water built of solid stone, elevated to the usual height, and finished with turf and gravel. Badly situated against an enemy on land, as the hills around it and across the river are higher than the fort. It had a small magazine and stone block-house, and fourteen guns mounted. A view of this fort may be seen in another part of this work.

CASTLE WILLIAMS. (NOTE: Adjacent to Governor’s Island; WDC, 07/04/2001).

Fort Jay, on Governor’s Island, New York Harbor, thirteen hundred yards south of the Battery, at the lower extremity of the city of New York. – It was a regular fort, with bastions, quite strong, but then unfinished. It had a handsome gateway, with a corps de garde draw-bridge. In the centre of the fort was a square block-house of timber, two stories high, but probably not cannon-proof; under it was a well. It had two detached batteries, one mounting four 16-pounders and an 8-inch French mortar, with platforms for four others; and the other ten pieces, 18 and 24 pounders; originally intended for thirteen guns. The parapet had fifty-one embrasures, and it would take one thousand men to man the parapet. The fort, being commanded by hills on the Long Island shore, was not constructed to withstand a siege, but as a guard to the entrance to the East River, and to operate against an enemy in the harbor or in the city.

Ellis’s and Bedloe’s Islands both had fortifications on them. The former, lying a little more than two thousand yards southwest from the Battery, had a semicircular battery calculated for thirteen guns. The parapet, of timbers, was unfinished. Twelve 12-pounders lay there, but no guns were mounted. It was commanded by Bedloe’s Island, twelve hundred yards distant; also by Paulus’s Hook (Jersey City), lying north of it. There were good quarters for officers and men. It was an excellent position to defend the harbor from an enemy coming in at the Narrows. Only a part of the island then belonged to the United States.

On Bedloe’s Island a battery had been commenced, and brick buildings for quarters. No cannon were mounted excepting two field-pieces that belonged to Fort Jay. A dismounted 24-pounder lay upon the island. It was almost useless as a defensive work. Major Decius Wadsworth was then in command of the District of New York, and these works were under his supervision. Of the islands in New York Harbor, and the modern fortifications upon them, I shall have occasion to write hereafter.

Fort Mifflin, on the southeast extremity of Mud Island, in the Delaware, just below Philadelphia, was an irregular oval. It was the old British fort of the Revolution. It had been strengthened, and was a very important work. It was constructed of stone, brick, and earth, with heavy guns mounted. A long account of it is given in the MS. records of the Military and Philosophical Society (New York historical Society), vol. iv.


Fort M‘Henry, at Baltimore, was a new work situated on a point of land between the Patapsco River and the harbor. It was a regular pentagon, with a well-executed revetment; also a magazine, and barracks sufficient for one company. The counterscarp, covert, and glacis were yet to be made. On the water side was the wall of a battery, but not yet inclosed. It is a well-chosen position to prevent ships reaching Baltimore, and is about two and a half miles from the city. At the time we are considering, a large house belonging to a citizen stood in front of the battery, next the extreme point, and, in the event of a ship’s passing, would have to be battered down, as it would cover the vessel. A picture of the fort as it appeared in 1861 may be found in another part of this work.

Fort Severn, at Annapolis, has already been noticed. See note 4, on page 181.

Forts Norfolk and Nelson, one on each side of the Elizabeth River, near Norfolk, Virginia, were of some importance. The former, on the Norfolk side of the river, a mile and a half below the town, was an oblong square, with two bastions, built chiefly of earth, and a ditch on three sides of it. Within it was one frame house and eight small log huts, all in bad condition. Two 12, four 9, and thirteen 6 pounders, two brass 8-inch howitzers, and seven carronades, all dismounted, were lying there. The fort was on the site of some works thrown up during the Revolution.

Fort Nelson was about a mile below the town, on the opposite side of the river. Its form was triangular, but irregular, the works of the Revolutionary era having been used. It covered nearly two acres of ground. It was built of earth. It had two batteries with embrasures, lined with brick inside. In it were one large two-story house, two rooms on a floor, a kitchen, and smoke-house. There were thirteen 24-pounders and one 18-pounder mounted; the carriages were rotten, and unfit for service. This fort, like the one opposite, was intended to guard the approach to the town by water. On the land side the walls were not more than three feet high. The magazine was too damp for use.

For the protection of Charleston Harbor there were several works, some of them as old as the Revolution. Fort Johnson, on James’s Island, was enlarged and strengthened in 1793, and afterward repaired and patched at various times. The chief works were of brick. The barracks were of wood, one-story high; there was also a block-house. A large portion of the fort was carried away by a hurricane in 1804, and the remainder was inundated, sapped, and destroyed. Fort Pinckney, built in 1798, stood upon a marsh in front of Charleston called Shute’s Folly. Built entirely of brick. It mounted eight 26-pounders en barbette. At the best it was an inefficient work, and in 1804 it too was sapped during the great hurricane, and rendered almost useless. Fort Moultrie was built on the site of the fort of that name in the Revolution. It was constructed in 1798, chiefly of brick and palmetto logs. It mounted on the ramparts ten 26-pounders en barbette, on double sea-coast carriages; one mortar, and six 12-pounders and a howitzer in the ditch. This fort was also greatly damaged by the hurricane. The counterscarp and glacis were entirely swept away; no ditch remained; every traverse, and gun, and the reverberatory furnace were washed away and buried in the sand. All the wood-work of the fort was rotten, yet the fort was in a condition to be repaired. At the south end of the city of Charleston were the remains of Fort Mechanic, a redoubt in utter ruin.

Such was the general condition of the sea-coast defenses of the United States when war was declared in 1812.

On the Northern and Northwestern frontiers were some military posts and fortifications. First was the fort on the island of Michillimackinack, in the strait between Lakes Huron and Michigan. At Chicago, on Lake Michigan, was Fort Dearborn; at the head of the Maumee, Fort Wayne; a strong fort at Detroit; a battery and block-house at Erie; a battery at Black Rock, just below Buffalo; Fort Niagara, a strong work built by the French, at the month of the Niagara River; another considerable fort at Oswego, and a military post and a battery, called Fort Tompkins, at Sackett’s Harbor. All of these will be noticed in the course of our narrative.

* Jonathan Williams was born in Boston in 1750. He was appointed Major of the Second Artillery and Engineers in February, 1801, and in December following Inspector of Fortifications and Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point. In July, 1802, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers, and resigned in June the following year. In April, 1805, he resumed the service among the Engineers, with the same rank, and in February, 1808, was promoted to colonel; he resigned in July, 1812. In 1814 he was elected to a seat in Congress from Philadelphia, but never occupied it. He died on the 20th of May, 1815, at the age of sixty-five years. – Gardner’s Dictionary of the Army, 487. Colonel Williams was the author of A Memoir of the Thermometer in Navigation, and Elements of Fortification.

Governor’s Island was called Pag-ganck by the Indians, and Nutten Island by the Dutch. It was purchased, as a public domain, by Governor Van Twiller, in the early days of the Dutch rule in New York. In the settlement of the accounts of the Revolutionary debt, New York agreed to erect fortifications in the harbor in front of the city of New York, in payment of the quota required from that state. In accordance with an act passed by the State Legislature in March, 1794, the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars was expended, under the direction of a committee, in constructing fortifications. The committee consisted of George Clinton, Matthew Clarkson, James Watson, Richard Varick, Nicholas Fish, Ebenezer Stevens, and Abijah Hammond. A further sum of one hundred thousand dollars was granted on the 6th of April, 1795, to complete the works on that and Oyster (now Ellis’s) Island. Fort Jay was built, and in February, 1800, the island and all its appurtenances were ceded to the United States. The island contains seventy-two acres of land.

6 Mr. Fulton took up his residence in Paris with Joel Barlow, and remained with him seven years. It was during that time that he planned his submarine boat, which he called a nautilus, and the machines attached to which he styled submarine bombs. He offered his invention several times to the French government, and once to the Dutch embassador at Paris, but did not excite the favorable attention of either. He then opened negotiations with the British government, and went to London in 1804. There he held interviews with Mr. Pitt and Lord Melville, and explained the nature of his invention to them. Pitt was convinced of its great value, but Melville condemned it. In the course of a month a committee was appointed to examine, whose chairman was Sir Joseph Banks. They reported the submarine boat to be impracticable, when Mr. Fulton abandoned the idea of employing a submarine vessel, and turned his attention to the arrangement of his bombs, so that they might be employed without submerged boats. These he called TORPEDOES, and, in a memorial afterward presented to the American Congress, * he thus describes their construction, and method of operation;


PLATE I. This shows the torpedo anchored, and so arranged as to blow up a vessel that should strike it. B is a copper case, two feet long and twelve inches in diameter, capable of containing one hundred pounds of gunpowder. A, a brass box, in which is a lock, similar to a common gun-lock, with a barrel two inches long, and holding a musket-charge of powder. The box, with the lock cocked and barrel charged, is screwed to the copper case B. H is a lever, having a communication with the cock inside the box A, holding the lock cocked, and ready to fire. C, a deal box filled with cork and tied to the case B, so as to make the torpedo fifteen to twenty pounds lighter than the water specifically, so as to give it buoyancy. It is held down to a given depth by a weight. A small anchor is attached to the weight to prevent its being moved by the tides. The torpedo was sunk not so deep as the usual draft of vessels to be acted upon. In flood-tide it would be oblique to the weight, at slack water perpendicular at D, and during the ebb again oblique at E. At ten feet below the surface the tide would not be likely to disturb it seriously. When a ship in sailing should strike the lever H, an instantaneous explosion would take place, and the utter destruction of the vessel would follow. Fulton proposed to anchor a hundred of these in the Narrows, approaching the harbor of New York, in the event of war. The figure on the right shows an end view of the torpedo, with a forked link, by which the chances of being struck by a vessel were increased.


PLATE II. This represents another kind of torpedo – a clock-work torpedo – intended to attack a vessel while lying at anchor or under sail, by harpooning her on her larboard or starboard bow. B, a copper case containing one hundred pounds or more of gunpowder. C, a cork cushion, to give buoyancy to the whole. A, a cylindrical brass box, about seven inches in diameter and two deep, in which is a gun-lock, with a barrel two inches long to receive a charge of powder and wad, which charge is fired with the powder of the case B. In the brass box A there is also a piece of clockwork, moved by a coiled spring, which being wound up and set, will let the lock strike fire in any number of minutes which may be determined, within an hour. K is a small line fixed to a pin, which holds the clock-work inactive. The instant the pin is withdrawn the clock-work begins to move, and the explosion will take place in one, two, three, or any number of minutes for which it has been set. The whole is made perfectly water-tight. D is a pine box, two feet long and six or eight inches square, filled with cork to give it buoyancy, as in Plate I., although in this case it floats on the surface, no weights for submergence being used. To this the torpedo is suspended. The line of suspension should be long enough to bring the torpedo well back toward the stern of the vessel. From the torpedo and float D are two flues, each twenty feet long, united at E. From these a single line, about fifty feet in length, is attached to a harpoon. This, when the vessel is harpooned in the bow, will bring the torpedo under the bottom, at about midships, of a man-of-war. The harpoon I is a round piece of iron, half an inch in diameter, two feet long, with a butt of one inch, which is the exact calibre of the gun from which it is to be projected. In the head of the barbed harpoon is an eye; the point about six inches long. Into the eye the line of the harpoon is spliced, and a small iron or tough copper link runs on the shaft of the harpoon. To this link the line is attached at such length as to form the loop H when the harpoon is in the gun. When fired, the link will slide along to the butt of the harpoon, and, holding the rope and the harpoon parallel to each other, the rope will act like a tail or rod to a rocket, and guide it straight. F is the harpoon gun, acting upon a swivel fixed in the stern-sheets of a boat. The harpoon is fixed in the vessel’s bow, with the line from the torpedo attached; the torpedo clockwork is set in motion, the machine is thrown overboard, and the tide, on the motion of the vessel, quickly places it under the ship.


PLATE III. The upper portion of the plate represents the stern of a row-boat, with the harpoon-gun and torpedo just described. A platform, four feet long and three feet wide, is made on the stern, level with the gunwale, and projecting over the stern fifteen or eighteen inches, so that the torpedo, in falling into the water, may clear the rudder. The ropes are carefully disposed so that there may be no entanglement. The letters in this figure (A, B, and C) denote the parts, as in the last plate. The pin D, which restrains the clock-work, is drawn, when the torpedo is cast off, by the line attached to the boat at E. The harpooner, stationed at the gun, also steers the boat, and fires according to his judgment. If the harpoon sticks into the bow of the vessel, the boat is immediately moved away, the torpedo cast out of the boat, and the clock-work set in motion. If the harpoon misses the ship, the torpedo may be saved, and another attack be made. Fulton proposed to have twelve men in each boat, all armed for their protection or offensive movements, if necessary. The figure in the lower part of the plate is a bird’s-eye view of a vessel (A) at anchor. B, her cable; E F, two torpedoes; C D, their coupling lines, twelve feet long. It is touching the vessel’s cable, and the torpedoes being driven under her by the tide. In this way the Dorothea, mentioned in the text, was attacked. Those were clock-work torpedoes.


PLATE IV. represents a bird’s-eye view of a vessel at anchor, or under weigh, attacked by a flotilla of mortar-boats. A is the vessel, and B C two torpedoes operating by means of the harpoon movement. When it was objected that these boats would be exposed to grape, canister, and musket balls from the vessel, Fulton estimated that the time of danger, by expert movements, would not exceed four minutes – two in approaching near enough to fire the harpoon, and two for retreating. He entered into a calculation of the greater efficiency and less exposure of the torpedo system, in harbor defense, than ships of war. I have given this description of the torpedo as illustrative of a part of the history of the times we are considering. Science and mechanical skill have since produced far more destructive engines of war, and yet Fulton’s dream of establishing the liberty of the seas by means of the torpedo, or any other instrumentality, remains unaccomplished. A Monitor of to-day is worth a million of torpedoes for harbor defense.

* Mr. Fulton’s memorial, published in pamphlet form in 1810, by William Elliott, 114 Water Street, New York, bears the following title; TORPEDO WAR and SUBMARINE EXPLOSION, by ROBERT FULTON, Fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and of the United States Military and Philosophical Society. Its motto – The Liberty of the Seas will be the Happiness of the Earth.

The late Henry Frasse, who for many years kept a shop in Fulton Street, New York, for the sale of watch-maker’s materials, made the clock-work for Mr. Fulton. In his account-book before me is the following entry at the time we are considering:


"Dt. Mr. Fulton a H’y Frasse:

"26th May, 1810. – a Fulton repare un turpedos, le grand ressort, volant et roue, 4.50."


Mr. Frasse was then the only machinist of note in the city of New York. He died in February, 1849, at the age of sixty-eight years.

7 Admiral Holloway, Sir Sidney Smith, Captain Owen, Captain Kingston, Colonel Congreve, and a greater portion of the officers of the fleet under Lord Keith were present. Pitt was in London, and did not see the exhibition. Colonel Congreve was the inventor of the rocket, or "pyrotechnic arrow," as Fulton called it, bearing his name.

8 The engraving is from a drawing by Fulton, appended to his memorial to Congress in 1810.

9 Letter from Robert Fulton to Joel Barlow.

10 Mr. Fulton invited the Governor of the State of New York, the Corporation of the city, and many others, to witness his experiments. They assembled at Fort Jay, on Governor’s Island, on the 20th of July, and in the shadow of the great gateway he lectured on the subject of his torpedoes. He had a blank one for his explanations, and his numerous auditors gathered close around him, with great eagerness, to catch every word from his lips, and see every part of the machine. At length he turned to one of the torpedoes lying near, under the gateway of the fort, to which his clock-work was attached, and drawing out the plug, and setting it in motion, he said; "Gentlemen, this is a charged torpedo, with which, precisely in its present state, I mean to blow up a vessel. It contains one hundred and seventy pounds of gunpowder, and if I were to suffer the clock-work to run fifteen minutes, I have no doubt that it would blow this fortification to atoms." The circle of the audience around Mr. Fulton immediately widened, and, before five of the fifteen minutes had elapsed, all but two or three had disappeared from the gateway, and retired to as great a distance as possible with the utmost speed. Fulton, entirely confident in his machine, was perfectly calm. "How frequently fear arises from ignorance," he said. – Colden’s Life of Fulton, page 78.

11 Letter to Joel Barlow from New York, dated August 22, 1807.

12 For a description of the Monitor, a new style of vessel of war, first made known to the world by a terrible encounter with the Merrimack, another efficient vessel of war, in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March, 1862, see Lossing’s Pictorial History of the Civil War.

13 Fulton had also invented a submarine machine for cutting the cables of ships at anchor. Experiments with this were tried at the same time.


14 Robert Fulton was born at Little Britain, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1765. His parents were from Ireland. His early education was meagre. At the age of seventeen he was painting miniatures * at Philadelphia, and indulging his taste for mechanics in the work-shops of that city. His friends sent him to London, to receive instructions in painting, when he was twenty-one years of age. The celebrated West was his instructor. The Earl of Stanhope, who took great interest in mechanics, became his friend, and encouraged his taste for the useful arts. He heard of the experiments of Fitch and Evans in the use of steam for navigation, and his active mind began to speculate on the subject, and have glorious perceptions of future achievements. He left painting, and became an engineer. He entered the family of Joel Barlow, at Paris, in 1797, and there he became acquainted with Chancellor Livingston, with whom he carried on experiments in navigation by steam. They saw wealth and honor as the reward of success in that line on the inland waters of the United States. They came home, and were successful. The first voyage from Albany to New York silenced all doubt. In 1809 he obtained his first patent. His torpedo scheme failing, he turned his attention to submarine batteries. In 1814 he was directed by Congress to construct a war steamer. She was launched, and called Fulton. He died seven months afterward (February 24, 1815), at the age of fifty years. Our engraving of Mr. Fulton is from a portrait by Benjamin West, painted in 1805. The view of his residence is from a sketch by E. B. Cope, Esq. It gives its present appearance.

* In White’s Philadelphia Directory, 1785, is the following; "Robert Fulton, miniature painter, corner of Second and Walnut Streets."

15 There was a violent opposition newspaper in Baltimore called The Federal Republican, edited by a young man only twenty-six years of age. Baltimore was then a flourishing commercial city, and this paper was the organ of the mercantile interest, which had suffered from the restrictive commercial measures, and was now prostrated by the impending war. The Republican denounced the declaration of war, and, in defiance of intimations that had been made in Congress that when that declaration was once made all opposition to the war must cease, the editor announced his determination to speak as freely against the administration and its measures as before, thereby reversing the policy of his party in 1798 in the matter of the Alien and Sedition Laws. "We mean," he said, "to represent, in as strong colors as we are capable, that the war is unnecessary, inexpedient, and entered into from partial, personal, and, as we believe, motives bearing upon their front marks of undisguised foreign influence which can not be mistaken." This announcement was made on Saturday, June 20th, and on Monday evening, the 22d, a mob, headed by a French apothecary, proceeded to the office of that paper and demolished it. Having thus commenced violence, they proceeded to the wharves and dismantled some vessels, and committed other heinous acts. The publisher of the Federal Republican determined to re-establish the office. The lower portion of the house of one of the proprietors was used for the purpose. The paper was printed in Georgetown, but published then in Baltimore after a silence of five weeks. According to expectation, the publishing office was attacked. The magistrates of the city seemed to have used no means to quell the riot in June, and were not expected to do so now. General Henry Lee, then a resident of Baltimore, furnished the proprietors with a regular plan of defense, and offered to superintend the execution of it. General Lingan, another soldier of the Revolution, and also a Federalist, joined him, and about twenty others made up the defensive party. They were well-armed and provisioned for a siege. On the evening of the 26th of July (the evening of the day on which the revived newspaper first appeared) the mob assembled. After assailing the building with stones for some time, they forced open the door, and when ascending the stairs they were fired upon. One of the ringleaders was killed and several were wounded. After much solicitude, two magistrates, by virtue of their authority, ordered out two companies of militia, under General Stricker, to quell the mob. A single troop of horse soon appeared, and at about daylight the mayor and General Stricker appeared. A truce was obtained, and it was agreed that the defenders, some of whom were hurt, and who were all charged with murder, should be conducted to prison to answer that charge. They were promised not only personal safety, but protection of the premises by a military guard. On their way to prison the band played the rogue’s march. The mob immediately sacked the house. Only a few more of the military could be persuaded to come out, and the mob had its own way to a great extent. At night they gathered around the prison, and the turnkey was so terrified that he allowed them to enter. The prisoners extinguished their lights and rushed out. They mingled with the mob, and thus several escaped. Some were dreadfully beaten, and three were tortured by the furious men. General Lee was made a cripple for life, and General Lingan, then seventy years of age, distinguished for his services in the field during the old war for independence, expired In the hands of the mob. * In the treatment of their unfortunate prisoners the most intense savagism was displayed. The riot was at length quelled, and the city magistrates, on investigation, placed the entire blame on the publishers of the obnoxious newspaper. It was decided that in a time of war no man has a right to cast obstacles in the way of the success of his country’s undertakings. The course of the Federal Republican was condemned as treasonable – as giving aid and comfort to the enemy; and its fate was not mourned outside of the circle of its political supporters. While all right-minded men deprecated a mob, and condemned, in unmeasured terms, its atrocities, they as loudly condemned the unpatriotic course of the offending newspaper.

* Funeral honors were paid to General Lingan, at Georgetown, on the 1st of September following, by a great procession, and an oration by the late George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of Washington. His oration was extemporaneous, and was an eloquent and impassioned appeal to the feelings of his auditors. Only three years and six months after the death of the orator, the blood of other patriots, not engaged in the immediate defense of the liberty of the press, but hurrying to the national capital to save it from the grasp of fratricides, were slain in the streets of Baltimore by a mob (April 19, 1861), who, as in 1812, were tenderly dealt with, if not encouraged, by the magistrates of the city.

16 A History of the War between Great Britain and the United States of America during the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814, by G. Auchinleck, pages 46-48 inclusive.

17 Mr. Foster sailed from New York for Halifax in the brig Colibri, on Sunday, July 12, accompanied by Mr. Barclay, the British consul at New York.

18 The new decree was dated "Palace of St. Cloud, April 28, 1811," and signed by Napoleon as "Emperor of the French, King of Italy, Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, and Mediator of the Swiss Confederacy."

19 Barlow asked Bassano if the decree, apparently a year old, had ever been published. He was answered no, adding that it had been shown to Mr. Russell, when Chargé d’Affaires at Paris, and had been sent to Serrurier, at Washington, to be communicated to the American government. The records on both sides of the Atlantic proved this statement to be untrue. The decree was a fresh one, antedated for diplomatic effect.

20 The examination of this committee, who were authorized to summon persons and papers, commenced on the 29th of April, and continued until the 13th of June. Witnesses from almost every part of Great Britain were examined, and in every case the transcendent importance of American commerce to the welfare of England was made manifest by testimony. The folly, wickedness, and stupidity of the orders in Council were fully exposed; and in the volume of almost seven hundred pages, filled with the minutes of that examination, an awful picture is given of the calamities to trade which those orders had produced.

21 See page 233.

22 He decried the sort of half-piratical commerce which England was then pursuing in unmeasured terms. "It is this miserable, shifting, doubtful, hateful traffic that we prefer to the sure, regular, increasing, honest gains of American commerce – to a trade which is placed beyond the enemy’s reach; which, besides enriching ourselves in peace and honor, only benefits those who are our natural friends, over whom he has no control; which supports at once all that remains of liberty beyond the seas, and gives life and vigor to its main pillar within the nation – the manufactures and commerce of England. . . . That commerce is the whole American market, a branch of trade in comparison of which, whether you regard its extent, its certainty, or its progressive increase, every other sinks into insignificance. It is a market which in ordinary times may take off about thirteen millions [$65,000,000] worth of our manufactures, and in steadiness and regularity it is unrivaled."

23 American State Papers, ix., 83.

24 General Dearborn’s head-quarters at this time were at Greenbush, opposite Albany, in New York. Thither Sir George Prevost sent his adjutant general, Baynes, to propose an armistice, and clothed with power to conclude one. Dearborn and Baynes signed it on the 9th of August. The agreement was to affect only Dearborn and the frontiers of New York, and the armies of the British along the opposite and corresponding line.

25 American State Papers, ix., 73.

26 See note, page 144.

27 Subsequently to this act, the British government, pressed by the necessities of their army in Spain, freely granted licenses or protections to American vessels engaged in carrying flour to the ports of that country. This traffic was subjected to heavy penalties by Congress, yet it was largely indulged in, because it afforded immense profits – profits more than equal to the risks. These licenses were cited by the opponents of the war then, and by British writers since, as evidences of the great forbearance of the British government, for which the Americans should have been profoundly thankful!

28 Hildreth’s History of the United States, Second Series, iii., 352.

29 The Americans justly contended that the flag should protect every man who was innocent of crime, who sought security under its folds, wherever his birth-place might have been. It represented the sovereignty of the nation, and, as such, claimed full respect.

30 Auchinleck’s History of the War of 1812, page 38.

31 See sub-note, page 138.

32 Henry Dearborn was born in Hampton, New Hampshire, in March, 1751. At Portsmouth he studied the science of medicine with Dr. Jackson Jackson, and commenced its practice there in 1772. When the old war for independence was impending, he took an active part in politics on the popular side, and gave as much attention as his engagements would allow to military matters. On the day after the skirmish at Lexington, in April, 1775, he marched toward Cambridge at the head of sixty men. He then returned to New Hampshire, was commissioned a captain in Colonel Stark’s regiment, and by the middle of May was back to Cambridge with a full company. He was in the battle of Bunker’s Hill, and accompanied General Arnold in his perilous expedition through the wilderness of Maine to Quebec in the autumn of that year. He suffered dreadfully from privations and a fever, but was sufficiently recovered to participate in the assault on Quebec at the close of the year, when he was made a prisoner. He was not exchanged until March, 1777, when he was appointed a major in Scammell’s regiment. He was in the campaign opposed to Burgoyne, and behaved gallantly on the field of Saratoga, where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was at Monmouth, in Sullivan’s campaign, and in the siege of Yorktown. In 1784 he settled on the banks of the Kennebec as a farmer. Washington appointed him marshal of the District of Maine in 1789, and he was elected to Congress from that Territory. He was called to Jefferson’s Cabinet, as Secretary of war, in 1801, which position he filled for eight years. Mr. Madison appointed him collector of the port of Boston in 1809; and in February, 1812, he was commissioned a major general in the United States army. Ill health compelled him to relinquish that position, and he assumed command of the military district of New York City. He retired to private life in 1815. In 1822 President Monroe appointed him minister to Portugal, where he remained two years. He died at the house of his son in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on the 6th of June, 1829, at the age of seventy-eight years. He had been living with his son some time.


The house in which he died is yet (1867) standing on Washington Street, Roxbury. It is a fine old mansion, surrounded by trees, many of them rare. It was occupied, when I made the sketch in 1860, as a summer boardinghouse by Mrs. Shepard.


Not far from it, at the junction of Washington and Centre Streets, or of the Cambridge and the Dedham and Rhode Island Roads, was a rude stone, in which was inserted an iron shaft and fork for the support of a street lamp. It is called the Parting Stone. On one side is the inscription, The Parting Stone, 1744, P. Dudley; on another, Dedham and Rhode Island; and on a third, Cambridge. It appears to have been erected by Mr. Dudley, at the parting of the ways, as a sort of guide-post, and there it had remained for a hundred and sixteen years.

33 General Bloomfield was in New York when war was declared, He had arrived on the 2d of June, to take charge of the fortifications there. He was the first to announce the declaration of war to troops in a formal manner. This he did in the following brief order, issued on the 20th of June:


"General Bloomfield announces to the troops that war is declared by the United States against Great Britain.

"By order,

R. H. M‘PHERSON, A. D. C."


Government expresses had passed through New York City for Albany and Boston with the news at ten o’clock that morning.

The first prisoner taken after the declaration of war was Captain Wilkinson, of the Royal Marines, who excited the suspicions of the people of Norfolk, Virginia, that he was about to communicate the fact that war was declared, to a British man-of-war known to be hovering on the coast. He was seen making his way rapidly from the house of the British consul through back streets to a mail-boat about to start for Hampton. He darted on board the boat, and attempted to conceal himself. A boat from the navy yard, and another from Fort Norfolk, were dispatched after the mail-boat. Captain Wilkinson was brought back, and conveyed to the navy yard as a prisoner.

34 Thomas H. Cushing was appointed captain of infantry in 1791. He was in the Sub-legion in 1792. In 1797 he was appointed inspector of the army; and in April, 1802, he was made adjutant and inspector, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was promoted to colonel in 1805, and commissioned adjutant general in 1812, with the rank of brigadier. He was disbanded in 1815, and the following year was appointed collector of the port of New London. He died on the 19th of October, 1822. – Gardner’s Dictionary of the Army.



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