Friday, May 4, 2018

Returning Soon

It's been over a year since I've posted on this blog, and I'd stopped regularly updating it long before that. I would like to get back into the habit of writing and blogging on the War of 1812 and other frontier/ early American history topics. In the past year I've had a second son, and moved into a house. Parenting and everything else have really made me put my writing, reenacting and other pastimes on a backburner. Even so, I tend to overthink these blog posts. Sometimes it's better to put something out than nothing at all. So if you read this, expect more posts soon!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fulton's Submarine, Mute


In the past I have written about various surprising technologies that were developed and sometimes employed as early as the War of 1812, which was otherwise a conflict that revolved around weapons such as cannon and flintlock muskets that had been in use and relatively unchanged since the era of Marlborough at the beginning of the 18th Century. 

One of my major dislikes is Steampunk and its adherents, because in trying to combine make-believe clockwork technology in Victorian era fashion they ignore the truly amazing accomplishments and inventions that were actually in existence, not only during the Age of Steam but during the Georgian period! The submarine is one of these inventions. The famous American Turtle is usually ascribed to a Revolutionary War exploit, but a copy was made in 1813 and actually made an attempt against a British 74-gun warship. Robert Fulton himself devised a strange craft he called the Mute because it had a "silent" drive system, but very little information can be found on it. Presumably it was broken up when he died in 1814 but maybe it lies in the mud off the old Brooklyn Navy Yard or the Brown Brothers shipyard, waiting to be uncovered. Submarine warfare would wait another century and the development of diesel electric propulsion, not to mention screw propellers, to truly come into its own.

This excerpt from Submarine Warfare, Past and Present (published in 1907!) by Herbert C. Fyfe contains about as good a description of the submarines of 1812 as I've found:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

James Bentley, a British veteran who fought for the US in the War of 1812

From Find-A-Grave
I was poking around local and genealogical websites looking for clues as to whether Lt. John Anderson of the 19th Infantry in 1812 was related in some way to Colonel John Anderson of the 2nd Michigan Regiment of Militia. Since Lt. Anderson, a West Point graduate whom I featured in my last "people of 1812" post, had settled in the Detroit area before being called back to the flag, I thought it possible he might be the son or nephew of the other Anderson. Such family connections were not uncommon during the war, and formed an important social tapestry underlying many events.

At any rate, I found this entry for a Monroe County veteran, Private James Bentley very interesting. Seems Bentley was a British deserter from the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, who found himself caught up once again in the tides of war in 1812. He is listed as a Private in Captain Richard Smyth's Company of Cavalry, Legionary Corps of Michigan. Part of this unit, under Cornet Isaac Lee, was stationed in Frenchtown (Monroe) Michigan and fled south to Urbana, Ohio instead of surrendering. The distinction between the Legionary Corps and the Militia is important. The Corps was made up of volunteers, and Bentley may well have armed and equipped himself as a cavalryman for the war with Britain out of his own funds.

(From "Veterans Buried in Monroe County" Monroe Evening News, Saturday, April 17, 1951 [contributed to Genealogy Trails by Don King] accessed 2/7/2017)

James Bentley . Born Nov. 5, 1784 in England, he died Aug. 13, 1864. He married Amanda Barker, born Dec. 12, 1800, on Jan. 31, 1816. She died Apr. 18, 1889, in Monroe. They are buried in St. Paul's Cemetery in Monroetown. Mr. Bentley served as a non-commissioned officer under Gen. James Winchester and his wife was a witness to the war. As a British soldier at the ill-famed Battle of Copenhagen, Mr. Bentley deserted, as did many of his comrades, and in 1803 came to the River Raisin. He joined the militia company here of Capt. Issac Lee. After Winchester was defeated here, Bentley and 16 others from Frenchtown joined Gen. W.H. Harrison's force at Maumee and fought in the two sieges of Ft. Meigs. He frequently ran the gauntlet of British and Indian fire to bring water from the river. Harrison sent him to carry messages from the besieged fort to other posts. After the war he carried the mail from Maumee to Detroit, on horseback or, in wet weather, by canoe. With James Knaggs and Medard Labadie, both of Frenchtown, he was in the Battle of the Thames and all three witnessed the death of Tecumseh at the hands of Col. Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky. His wife came to Frenchtown with her stepfather, H. Brooks, and Stephen Downing in 1815. The Bentley and Downing farms adjoined.
Here is the roll of Cornet Lee's troopers. They would have been attached to Major James V. Ball's Squadron of Light Dragoons and fought in most of the engagements and skirmishes of the 1813 campaign in the Northwest.
(From Diane Wolford Sheppard "Michigan Militia Members Serving in the War of 1812 – Part 2" in Michigan’s Habitant Heritage, Vol. 34, #2, April 2013, accessed 2/7/2017)

Detachment of Richard Smith’s Cavalry Troops attached to The Legionary Corps of Michigan Militia commanded by Isaac Lee, p. 62 [This detachment was stationed at River Raisin and fled to Urbana, Ohio, after Hull surrendered Detroit. They participated in the fall expeditions against the Native-American villages in Indiana Territory]
 Isaac Lee, Cornet, 1 May 1812
John Ruland, Corporal, 1 May 1812
James Bently, Private, 1 May 1812 
Scott Robb, Private, 1 May 1812
James Robb, Private, 1 May 1812
Robert Glays, Private, 1 May 1812
Saml Dibble, Private, 1 May 1812
William Hunter, Private, 1 May 1812
John Murphy, Private, 1 May 1812
Michael McDarmid, Private, 1 May 1812
Louis Hunter, Private, 1 May 1812
Samuel Young, Private, 1 May 1812
 Francis Moffett, Private, 1 May 1812
Silas Leviton? Private, 1 May 1812
Orin Roades, Private, 1 May 1812
James Knaggs, Private, 1 May 1812
Louis Drouillard, Private, 1 May 1812 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Colonel John Anderson, US Topographical Engineers

More information about John Anderson, an early graduate of West Point who served in the War of 1812 as well as in the Topographical Engineers after the war.
(Born Ct.)


(Ap'd Vt.)

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, Oct. 9, 1806, to Dec. 9, 1807, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to
Second Lieut., Reg. of Artillerists, Dec. 9, 1807.

Served: in garrison at Atlantic posts, 1807‑11.
Resigned, May 1, 1811.

Re-appointed in the Army with the rank of
First Lieut., 19th Infantry, July 6, 1812.

Served: in the War of 1812‑15 with Great Britain, in the Campaign of 1812 in Michigan Territory, becoming a prisoner of war, Aug. 16, 1812,
(Captain, 19th Infantry, Mar. 16, 1813)

(Bvt. Major, Staff — Top. Engineer, Apr. 12, 1813)

on the Surrender of Detroit, — and in the Campaign of 1814, as Chief Top. Engineer on the Staff of Major-General Izard; in exploring Northwestern and Western Territory, 1815; on the Survey of Lake Champlain, etc., 1815‑16; in constructing Military Road from Detroit, Mich., to Maumee River, 1817; and on Survey of Sites for Fortifications on the
(Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel, Apr. 12, 1823,
for Faithful Service Ten Years in one Grade)

New England Coast, 1826‑29, — of Hudson River, 1829, — of Taunton and Weymouth Canal, Mas., 1833, — and of the Shores of the Northwestern Lakes, 1834.
Died, Sep. 14, 1834, at Detroit, Mich.: Aged 54.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Lieutenant Hezekiah Johnson, freight officer at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, though a hundred miles or so from the front lines and never directly threatened during the War of 1812, was vital to the war effort. Simply put, it was the "hub" from which supplies and most manufactured goods moved over the mountains separating the United States east coast from the interior of the continent were transshipped from horse-drawn Conestoga wagons and put onto boats to descend the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Most of these boats would have been the versatile and ubiquitous keel boats of Mike Fink fame. Fink himself was active on the Ohio and Miami Rivers about this time.

Fort Fayette in 1795 can be seen at the top right corner of this map of Pittsburgh. Fort Pitt is the large star shaped fort at the point, and the ruins of French Fort Duquesne lie at the very end of the point.

When the War of 1812 began, a torrent of supplies and equipment and even ordnance began moving through Pittsburgh. The iron industry was already in its infancy there, and was given a boost by military contracts for cannonballs and eventually the iron fittings for the squadron building at Erie, PA. The small Army post at Fort Fayette, about a mile from the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which had replaced the old British Fort Pitt in 1792, became a center of bustling activity. The responsibility for making sure the supplies got to where they were needed devolved upon a junior officer of the 1st Regiment of Infantry, Hezekiah Johnson. Lt. Johnson seems to have been at odds with both General William Henry Harrison, who depended on him for supplies, and the teamsters who contracted to move the heavy army shipments. He also had to work with Major Amos Stoddard, who was the officer in charge of preparing ordnance and ammunition for the Northwestern Army to replace that lost at Detroit in August 1812. New Orleans and St. Louis were also supplied from this point. Because everything issued to the army in the west and south passed through this point, the surviving records (many of them penned by Lt. Johnson himself) offer a good picture of what kinds of equipment and clothing would have actually been available to the soldiers of 1812.

Fort Fayette was replaced by the Allegheny Arsenal in 1814, which continued to be an active US Army post through the Spanish American War.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hull's Trace on the 1817 Topographical Engineer Map

This weekend I was able to check out the very long (about 12 feet in two 6-foot sections) survey map of the military road from the Miami Rapids (the present day crossing of the Maumee River between Perrysburg and Maumee) to Detroit. The map itself ends at Spring Wells, the point just south of Detroit where General Isaac Brock landed his troops to capture the town in August 1812. There is a detailed map of the Battle of Maguaga and the nearby Indian village. The 1817 Military Road is significant because it was part of a large Federal public works project (one of the first ever), meant to improve land lines of communication between the remote outposts of the United States Army and its bases of supply, which were so easily jeopardized by British forces during the late war. It's very interesting to note that the contours of the land have changed very little in 200 years, especially along the Maumee Rapids and at the section of corduroy road at the Huron River south of Detroit. While I was not able to visit the site of the corduroy road this time, I hope to go there soon and check on the state of preservation. The timbers of the original road have now been exposed for about 17 years since a decline in water levels in 2000.

Why did Colonel John Anderson, the survey engineer (and very senior Topographical Engineer, include this battle as the only sketched out historical note on the map? Perhaps he was a participant. In August 1812 he was a 1st Lieutenant in the 19th Regiment of Infantry. The 19th was not present for William Hull's campaign on the Detroit River, but perhaps he was detached, since his service record indicates he resigned the service in 1811 at the Michigan Territory... More research, as always, is warranted.

Map of the Battle of Maguagon

The corduroy road crossing at the Huron River as it existed in 1817.

Frenchtown as it was in 1817.

The crossing of the Maumee River.

Monday, January 23, 2017

River Raisin Reenactment in Monroe, Michigan

Once again this year I was able to attend the annual reenactment of the Battle of the River Raisin in Monroe Michigan. It's a unique event for us 1812 reenactors, since it occurs well off the normal season of the hobby and is staged on private land next door to the battlefield National Park (because of the NPS rules against opposing line tactical demonstrations). The reenactors sign in at a hockey rink, and then stage from the rink's parking lot for a brief battle in an empty lot next door, then march to a memorial program at the National Park Service visitor center a block away. It's a small event but I'm proud to be able to honor the men who fought there in this small way.

This year I was part of the British artillery crews. Since the Americans at the historical battle had no artillery with them, when we take our cannon the American artillery switches sides for the event. British Royal Artillery wore a blue coat with red facings and yellow tape, same as the Americans, so we actually look correct from a distance.

Afterwards there was a program given by the NPS ranger from Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial at South Bass Island, covering the naval campaign of 1813 on Lake Erie and the Battle of September 10, 1813. Even I learned new things.

The Monroe County Museum occupies an old post office downtown. I was interested to find a collection of old maps of the area on display, particularly an 1817 engineers survey of the military road between the Maumee River and Spring Wells. You can still visit a section of the corduroy road, as I did a few years ago.

For more information on the Monroe County Museum, check out their website: