Monday, December 22, 2014

"Our boats were dropping fast..." The Skirmish of Frenchman's Creek, 1812.

I've been reading through the Naval Historical Center's The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Volume I-and found this interesting report of an amphibious landing over the Niagara River at Black Rock on November 28, 1812. To Canadians, this American tactical victory became known as the Battle of Frenchman's Creek, but to Americans it was simply called the affair at Black Rock and became largely forgotten, especially as the events of the next two years of the war would overshadow it. Here are some interesting excerpts from the report of Lieutenant Samuel Angus, USN in charge of the Navy detachment involved in the landing and subsequent battle.

I had ten boats manned by seventy seamen, got them embarked and left the navy yard about 2 am.
Angus divided his ten longboats into four divisions and ordered them to follow him in the lead boat. Aboard were 150 men of the 15th Regiment of Infantry led by Captain William King.
I had not got more than three fourths of the way across, before the British discovered us, and opened a severe fire from two field pieces and a sharp and well directed fire of musketry from about two hundred and fifty men. Finding the boats were dropping fast and our men getting wounded, determined me to make a desperate push with the 1st division. I immediately jumped in the water desiring my officers and sailors to follow me.
 ...I immediately jumped in the water desiring my officers and sailors to follow me… (Lieutenant Wragg, Midshipman James Dudley, volunteer Swartout and) about twenty one of my brave officers and men. I ordered them to charge with their pikes, they rushed up the hill and routed the enemy in all directions, spiked the field pieces, and ran the caisson into the water. I was immediately after landing joined by (Holdup and Captain William King) with twenty soldiers who behaved well finding our numbners so small the enemy rallied, and commenced a fire which induced me to order the barracks and barn to be fired...
 Mr. Watts and Midshipman Graham had by this time landed, and… Watts in leading what few men he could collect, was shot and shortly afterwards expired. Mids. Graham, a lad of eighteen while firing the house was badly wounded… Finding by this time, my officers and men the gallant 24 had one half been killed or wounded and the rest dispersed in different directions, or returned to the boats and not a sailor or a soldier near me. I called for my officers and men, I found myself by this time surrounded by the enemy. I called out for them to surrender or they would be cut to pieces, they paused for a moment, and having by this time got near ten paces from them they fired and attempted to charge. I turned and fired my pistol, they stopped to load, by this time I had got to the water’s edge. They fired again and charged, I rushed into the water, and got into the only remaining boat which had shoved off by going beyond my depth in the water.
 I found Captain King of the US Infantry was not on board. I should again have landed but the greater part of the men were wounded and the rest dropping fast by the galling and incessant fire of the enemy’s musketry. My officers and men that landed did wonders leading what men they could collect charged and routed the enemy in all directions from five to ten times their number. Captain King who had filed off to the left with his soldiers and four of my men spiked their guns in two batteries and was taken prisoner with two of my men the other two returned… 
 Out of ten boats that started the part of four crews amounting in all to about thirty five seamen and about forty or fifty sailors only landed, annexed is a list of the officers and men that landed with me in the first two boats No. 1 & 2 and those officers who afterwards joined me.
 I took prisoner Lieutenant Charles King commanding officer of the Royal Artillery, he was badly wounded and behaved most gallantly. He remains under my charge and I shall wait your orders what to do with him. There was eight or ten prisoners taken by our sailors and the soldiers who Genl Smyth has in charge. On the next day we commenced firing from my batteries, which I erected since my arrival and completely drove them from the opposite shore. My men and the brave Dudley, volunteered their services to cross the army over. Genl Smyth made a false movement kept his men embarked all day and disembarked them in the evening, for no evident reason, as the opposite shore was destitute of both guns and men. (As an instance three of my men crossed the river at 11 am, loaded their boat with different articles among them a quantity of carpenters tools and set fire to a number of buildings and safely returned) it surprised me but he is best acquainted with his own reasons… 
I have not been able to do anything with the vessels purchased on this lake by Lieut Elliot for all the carpenters that were employed left here during the firing in taking the Adams and Caledonia and they would not return… As my officers are so generally wounded I have selected Saml Swartout Esqr., Acting Aide to Genl Smyth to be the bearer of these dispatches…The enemy have lost a great number, my men were armed with pikes, cutlasses and boarding axes.
Saml Angus
Attached was a list of the sailors and Navy officers who participated in the operation with Angus:
Joseph Wragg
George Watts
Sailing Master
James A Dudley

Thomas Holdup
William Mervin
John H. Graham
William Walker
Volunteer (Samuel) Swartout
 (Civilian Volunteer)

John Campbell
Caleb Heydon

Thomas Hodings
Quarter Master
Who bore my flag and behaved most gallantly was mortally wounded by preserved the flag and died in a few hours
Joseph Cutter
Boatswain Mate
John Rack
James Gray

Giles Barnes

Jonathan Clark

William Anderson

John Hackleton

S. J. Hornwall

Robert Burges

Charles Young

James Lee

James Smith

Jonah Webster

Hugh Campbell

John Lympney

John Ford

John Sterne


From Lt. Samuel Angus to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton 1 December 1812 in Naval War of 1812 pp. 355-359.