Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Patrick Gass, Veteran of Lewis and Clark Expedition and the War of 1812

You can find a lot of interesting books on archive.org if you comb through it long enough. Lots of public libraries around the world are digitizing old public domain titles from their collections, so it's a great place to find books or journals that have long been out of print, or kept in some dusty corner of a library's local history department.

The Life and Times of Patrick Gass (1771-1870) is one such book. Published in 1859, it is a biography of the last living survivor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Gass went on to enlist in the 1st US Regiment of Infantry during the War of 1812. Recruted in the west as a Sergeant in Captain Denman's Company of the 1st, he was transferred to the Niagara front with Lt. Col. Robert C. Nicholas' three company detachment and fought at Lundy's Lane. The regiment was joined to Col. James Miller's 21st Infantry and suffered 11 killed, 20 wounded and two missing in the fight.

Mr. Gass distinctly recollects of the memorable saying of Col. Miller, "I will try, sir," when ordered by Gen. Ripley on the perilous task of its capture, being of common report at the time, and vouches for its authenticity.... For one hour, Scott's Brigade had borne with unflinching resolution, the storm of iron hailed upon them by the battery; but it soon became apparent that the British must be dislodged or the day be lost...

Silently and steadily the command of Col. Miller, drawn up in line but two men deep, marched up to the foot of the lane, the red church protecting them from the grape of the artiller; then, without a halt or a waver, they advanced rapidly up the hill, with bayonets at a charge, the grape flying over their heads in a harmless storm, until they gained the very muzzles of the pieces.

Then, says Mr. Gass, came a blast of flame and smoke, as if from the crater of hell, and they were among the enemy--hand to hand--bayonet to bayonet--and steel clashing on steel, in the close and murderous conflict. The fight was but for a moment. "Charge the gray jacket militia--they cannot stand the bayonet," shouted their Scottish commander, but in one moment the British were put to flight...

Then was heard the command of the gallant Miller, "halt and form." The order was hardly executed, ere the British were back upon them like a whirlwind, and then ensued the hardest of the fight. Three times, they made the assault and were repulsed. 

...He says that the affair was so rapid that he hardly had time for a distinct idea, until it was over; but that in marching up to the battery, he felt as he expresses it, "damned bashful." A ball through the hat, thanks to his shortness of stature, was the only mark of merit he received in this encounter.

Sergeant Gass also took part in the American sortie that captured the British batteries during the Siege of Fort Erie. He was responsible for spiking the British 24 pounder guns with "rat tail files" while New York miltiamen took sledgehammers to knock off the trunnions.