Saturday, April 30, 2016

A French Artillery Officer with the Northwestern Army, 1813

On April 22, 1852 the Nashville, Tennessee Union and American reported that:
On Thursday night about 1 o'clock a fire broke out in the house of J. Longette, on Market street, , near Broad. The upper portion of the house, occupied by the family, was consumed the first story, -occupied as a barroom, partially escaped. The most distressing feature of the calamity was the death of three persons, an old man, named Charles Madiss, and two children of J. Longette, one about ten and the other six years old. They were suffocated before assistance could be rendered them. Mr. Madiss, we understand, was a native of France, "and came to this country in 1800. He fought in the war of 1812, and was, we are told, at the memorable battle of New Orleans. He was about sixty years old. 

Charles Madiss was appointed Conductor of Artillery, a staff ordnance officer equivalent to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, in the Northwest Army under William Henry Harrison on November  He was "an officer of the navy in his native country," "distinguished for his great zeal in our cause, and for his knowledge of all the duties of the artillery service." (Robert B. McAfee, History of the Late War in the Western Country, 248-49).

Harrison selected him for a expedition that was to cross the frozen Lake Erie in February 1813 and burn the British ships laid up for the winter at Amherstburg. Although the expedition turned back at the Lake Erie islands when they found open water in their path, according to Robert B. McAfee  no "more proper person (could) have been selected for firing the vessels than Mr. Madiss, from his intimate acquaintance with every thing relating to them, and his acknowledged bravery which he had displayed in the campaign of general Hull."

It is unknown when he left the NW Army, or for that matter whether he indeed served as interpreter for General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, as his grave site long suggested.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Fearful Tornado: weathering an 1814 tornado in a Man-of-War

In Ohio, spring is tornado season. Actually, with the warmer winter weather this year we've already been visited by tornados in this state. In 1814, the British blockading and raiding along the shoreline of the Chesapeake were struck by several. Although Royal Navy officers were used to all kinds of heavy weather, they were apparently not prepared for these powerful storms. The memoirs of Vice Admiral William Stanhope Lovell, who in 1814 was captain of the frigate HMS Brune, record lots of close shaves with bad weather, but none so powerful as a tornado that passed his ship that summer.

Towards the middle of July and the month of August some parts of this coast are subject to tornadoes. We had one of them on the 25th of July, which obliged us, although lying at anchor in a river, to let go a second. The previous day and that morning had been extremely close and sultry. The storm came on from the north-west, with the greatest violence, accompanied by a few claps of thunder and vivid flashes of lightning: such was its force that, although in smooth water, the ship heeled so much over that the main-deck guns nearly touched the water; and a fine schooner of seventy tons burthen, tender to the Severn, with a long 18-pounder on board, at anchor near us, without topmasts, her sails furled and gaffs on deck, was turned bottom upwards in a moment, and one poor fellow drowned. 
Its fury was spent in about ten minutes, but during its continuance we saw immense trees torn up by the roots, barns blown down like card houses of children, and where the strength of the current of wind passed scarcely anything could withstand its violence. Trees and other things continued to be swept by us for sometime, and when the tornado was over we observed, at a turn of the river, so much large timber, lumber, and other articles floating down the tide that my gallant senior officer, Captain Nourse...thought at first it was the American flotilla coming to attack us...
Captain Charles Napier of HMS Euryalus did not believe Captain Lovell until he too was hit by a tornado during the attack on Washington, D.C.:

Charley would not believe that the force of wind could upset a schooner of seventy tons, lying at anchor with all her sails furled... however... he had an opportunity of judging for himself when (part of the tornado passing across the bows of his frigate) he saw in a moment both his bowsprit and fore-topmast broken in two, like twigs.
 --from William Stanhope Lovell, Personal Narrative of Events From 1799 to 1815. (2nd Ed.) London: William Allen and Co., 1879. Pp. 153-155.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A trophy of the Battle of Lake Erie... The lost Cleveland cannon

A while ago I noticed that there was a park near the site of Fort Huntington in Cleveland (which is to say, downtown near the river) that sports a statue of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Once upon a time, one of the cannon that the British took from Fort Amherstburg and mounted on the HMS Detroit also stood on the square, as seen in photos from the 1870s

However, there is only a 30-pounder Parrott naval gun dating from the Civil War period (and mislabeled as a War of 1812 cannon!) sitting at the park now. What happened to the original gun, a priceless trophy of the most decisive naval battle of the War of 1812?

One Internet tip leads me to believe it ended up at the Maritime Museum in Erie, Pennsylvania, the home of the Brig Niagara. There were more guns captured at the battle and scattered at different points throughout the Midwest. Detroit has one or two at their maritime museum. Perhaps your local  town square, city hall or county courthouse is distinguished by such a cannon, its origins long forgotten?