Jenkins, John S[tillwell, 1818-1852]. "Alexander Macomb (1782-1841)." Chap. in Daring Deeds of American Generals, 295-322. New-York : A. A. Kelley, 1857. (E353.J45 W&M Library). HTML & Ed. Marshall Davies Lloyd (October 14, 1999).
BY JOHN S. JENKINS, A.M.
A. A. KELLEY, PUBLISHER.
LC E181.J46 1856
Jenkins, John S. (Stillwell), 1818-1852. "Alexander Macomb (1782-1841)." Chap. in Daring Deeds of American Generals, 295-322. New-York: A. A. Kelley, 1857.
|ALEXANDER MACOMB,||. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 295|
Military Institution at West Point -- Ancestors of General Macomb -- His Youth -- Education -- Enters the army as a Cornet of Dragoons -- Military Education and Accomplishments -- Promotions -- Marriage -- Superintends the Construction of Coast
Defences Defenses -- Prepares a work on Courts Martial -- Appointed Colonel of Artillery -- Raises a Regiment -- Stationed at Sacketts Harbor -- Projected Attack on Kingston -- Participation in the Capture of Fort George -- Expedition under Wilkinson -- Promoted to Brigadier-general -- Attack on La Cole Mill -- Invasion of New York by the British under Sir George Prevost -- Skirmishing -- Battle of Plattsburg -- Attack and Repulse of the Enemy -- Victory of Commodore Macdonough -- Thanks of Congress and State Legislatures -- Macomb appointed Chief Engineer -- General-in-chief of the Army -- His Death.
ALEXANDER MACOMB, late General-in-Chief of the Army of the United States, was one of the first fruits of the military institution at West Point, suggested by General Washington, and established during the administration of President Jefferson. Like all the most prominent officers in the army, at the close of the war of 1812, he was indebted, however, for his rapid promotion, to that "exfoliation of veteran commanders," which, says Mr. Ingersoll, in his Historical Sketch of the second war with Great Britain, "was one of the processes which the young army of that war had to suffer, before becoming fit for action."*
He was born at Detroit, then a frontier garrison town, on the third day of April, 1782. His father, whose name was, also, Alexander Macomb, was
of Irish parentage born July 27, 1748 in Antrim, Ireland, though a native sometime resident of the city of New York, he was highly esteemed as a citizen, and subsequently became a member of the New York legislature; and it is said, to his honor, that he furnished five sons for the regular army and the militia, in the war of 1812. The elder Macomb removed to Detroit, just previous to the American Revolution, and engaged in the fur trade, in
* Vol. I. p. 288.
which he acquired a large property. His wife, the mother of young Alexander, was a
grand-daughter daughter of Robert de Navarre, a French officer, who came to America in 1745, and was appointed Notaire Royal and Sub-Deligué, on the early establishment of Detroit.
Shortly after the restoration of peace, and while Alexander was yet a mere infant, his father returned with his family to New York. When the latter was eight years of age, he was placed at the Newark Academy, in New Jersey, then under the charge of Bishop Ogden. Many of his associates at this institution were the sons of French emigrés, whom the revolution in France had driven to seek an asylum in the western world. In their society, he acquired that polished grace, and that polite ease of manners, for which he was always remarkable, after he had arrived at the age of manhood.
He early manifested an unusual fondness for military studies and accomplishments, and his infantile recollections were associated with the martial displays he had witnessed at Detroit. When preparations were made for the defence of the country, on account of the threatening aspect of our relations with Great Britain, he, with other lads of the same age, assisted in throwing up the projected works; and when the nation became agitated with the almost certain prospect of a war with France, his playmates and companions divided themselves into parties, he being usually selected as the leader of the American faction, and, like Napoleon and his school-fellows at Brienne, built forts and castles in the snow, which they alternately stormed and defended.
In May, 1798, though still but a lad, young Macomb
RECEIVES A COMMISSION.
was elected a member of a select company, called the "New York Rangers," attached to the third regiment of the state militia, who took their name from those provincial bands, that, from 1755 to 1763, formed the élite of the armies operating on the borders of Canada. Congress had recently passed a law authorizing the enrollment of a large body of volunteers, and the services of this corps were tendered to the General Government, and accepted. Previous to this time, when only fourteen years of age, young Macomb had intimated to his father a desire to enter the army or navy, but the latter gave no encouragement to his wishes. He was bent, however, on accomplishing the object which was now the favorite one of his heart; and, in the autumn of 1798, he applied for a commission in the regular service, through the commander of his regiment, Colonel Jacob Morton. His application was supported by the recommendation of General Alexander Hamilton, who had been attracted by his manly bearing, and his personal and mental accomplishments; and on the tenth of January, 1799, he was commissioned a cornet of light dragoons, under the act providing for the enlistment of an additional force of regulars.
Immediately after his appointment, through the kind partiality of General Hamilton, he was selected as an assistant adjutant general, and assigned to duty in the office of General North, the Adjutant General of the Army. No opportunity was offered for signalizing himself in the field, on account of the amicable settlement of the matters in dispute with France; though, by the prompt and faithful discharge of the duties which devolved upon him, he secured the respect and confidence
of his superior officers. With the permission of General Hamilton, he visited Canada, to make himself acquainted with the discipline and tactics in the British service; he was kindly received by the officers at Montreal, visited the troops in their quarters, and was present at several reviews for manœuvre [maneuver] and inspection.
The American army was now reduced to a peace establishment; a great portion of the troops were disbanded; and most of the officers returned to private life. Macomb, however, was retained in the service, and on the tenth of February, 1801, was appointed a second lieutenant of dragoons. Upon his return to the United States, he was ordered to Philadelphia, on the recruiting service. While in this city, he eagerly embraced every opportunity to cultivate and improve his mental abilities, by reading, and associating with learned and scientific men. The valuable public libraries were open to him, and he became a constant visitor. He here met with a French officer of engineers, under whom he passed through a course of instruction in fortification and military topography. He likewise formed the acquaintance of Major Williams, of the 2d artillery, the Inspector of Fortifications, an able and intelligent officer, who was afterwards placed at the head of the corps of engineers, and the Military Academy at West Point.
Having raised a body of recruits, he received orders to conduct them to Pittsburg, the headquarters of General Wilkinson. Being accompanied by a number of subaltern officers of infantry, he cheerfully waived his privilege of being mounted, and walked with them on foot, enlivening the weary march by his sprightly con-
APPOINTED A LIEUTENANT OF ENGINEERS.
versation, his gay good humor, and his friendly, attention to the wants of those under his command.
Arrived at Pittsburg, Lieutenant Macomb was employed in instructing the recruits preparatory to joining their respective regiments. He also renewed his intimacy with Major Williams, then on a tour of inspection upon the Niagara frontier, whom he assisted in preparing his drawings, calculations, and estimates. He was subsequently attached to the military family of General Wilkinson, as an extra aid-de-camp, and accompanied him, in that capacity, to the camp of instruction formed at Wilkinsonville, at the mouth of the Ohio, for practicing the evolutions of the line. In August, 1801, he was selected as the secretary of the commission, consisting of Generals Wilkinson and Pickens, and Colonel Hawkins, appointed to treat with the Indian tribes inhabiting the Southwestern territory. He was engaged in this service, and in other collateral duties, until June, 1802--spending the Winter of 1801-2 in the Creek nation--when he was dispatched to Washington by the commissioners, with the treaties and accounts. During all this time, he kept a journal, in which he carefully noted the geological and geographical features of the country which he traversed; and he also constructed a topographical map of the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers, which was deposited in the War office, and noticed by President Jefferson in the most commendatory terms.
Upon his arrival at the seat of government, he found that the corps to which he belonged had been disbanded, but that he had been retained, and attached to the 1st infantry, with the rank of first lieutenant. At the same
time authority had been given to raise a corps of engineers, to consist of one major, two captains, two first, and two second lieutenants, and ten cadets--which corps, when organized, was to constitute the Military Academy. Being dissatisfied with his new appointment, he remonstrated with the Secretary of War; Major Williams, the head of the corps of engineers, seconded his appeal; and, in consequence, he was transferred to that corps, as a first lieutenant, in October, 1802.
He now proceeded to West Point, to take his place as a student,--the lieutenants, as well as the cadets, being obliged to go through the course of study,--in conformity with the provisions of the law organizing the Academy. He was one of the first graduates, and was then appointed adjutant of the corps. It was his duty to instruct the cadets in their military exercises, and he was the first officer who organized them into a body, and put arms in their hands.--This was the beginning of an institution, which has since made the world ring, with the heroism and daring of the gallant officers whose military character and education were there formed and acquired.
In July, 1803, Lieutenant Macomb was married to his cousin, Catharine Macomb, a young lady of rare beauty, of refined mind, and highly-polished manners.
So highly were his talents appreciated, that in the autumn of the same year, he was appointed Judge Advocate of a general court-martial held at Frederick, Maryland, for the trial of Colonel Butler. In discharging this duty he acquitted himself with such marked ability, that the members of the court suggested to him
MADE LIEUTENANT COLONEL.
the preparation of a treatise on the subject of courts-martial,--a work which he afterwards executed.
On the eleventh of June, 1805, in pursuance of the strong recommendation of Colonel Williams, who was ever warmly attached to his protége, be was further promoted to the rank of captain in the corps of engineers; and, immediately thereafter, was ordered to Portsmouth, to oversee the repairs on the fortifications in that harbor. The next year he was appointed superintendent of the public works, then erecting at Mount Dearborn, on the Catawba river, thirty-six miles above Camden, where it was designed to establish a national armory and dépôt. While at this place, be prepared his treatise on courts-martial,--receiving the benefit of the advice and suggestions of General William R. Davie, and General Charles C. Pinckney, both equally accomplished as soldiers and civilians. The work was soon after printed, and submitted to the President and Secretary of War, by whom it was adopted as the standard for the government of courts-martial.
Captain Macomb remained at Mount Dearborn, until 1807, when he was instructed to take the general direction, as chief engineer, of the works then in process of construction for the defence of Georgia and the two Carolinas. He made a careful reconnaissance of the whole coast, from Ocracock inlet to the river St. Mary's, and projected a complete system of
defences defenses for all the principal harbors and inlets. In February, 1808, he was raised to the rank of major, and, in 1811, was made a lieutenant colonel. He remained at Charleston, and in its neighborhood, superintending the fortifications on the coast, till the month of April,
1812, when he was called to Washington, to assist the Secretary of War in organizing, arranging, equipping, and providing supplies, for the new regiments ordered to be raised, in anticipation of a collision with England.
War was declared in June following, and Colonel Macomb promptly solicited a command in the line of the army. Much to his chagrin this was refused, as being incompatible with the existing rules of the service.* Still he was not to be balked in his determination to take a far more active part in the approaching contest, than as a mere cabinet and staff officer. He now applied for an appointment in one of the new regiments of artillery; the delegation in Congress from the State of New York endorsed his application; and, on the sixth of July, 1812, he received a commission as colonel of the 3rd artillery, a double regiment, to consist of twenty companies, of one hundred and eighteen men each.
Colonel Macomb forthwith repaired to New York, and by his own personal efforts and exertions, soon succeeded in raising the requisite number of men to compose his regiment. The different companies rendezvoused at Greenbush, where they were completely organized and instructed. Their fine state of discipline, their soldierly appearance and deportment, and the high character of their officers for ability and intelligence, attracted general attention, and elicited tokens of approbation in every quarter. In November, the colonel marched his regiment to Sacketts Harbor,
* Colonel Williams, the chief of the corps of Engineers, resigned his commission in 1812, for the reason that he was denied a command in the line of the army, which he solicited.
STATIONED AT SACKETTS HARBOR.
with the intention of embarking it on board the fleet, and making an attack on Kingston. On his arrival at that post, he found that Commodore Chauncey had sailed in quest of the enemy, whereupon, in accordance with the advice of a council of war, the contemplated movement was abandoned, and the regiment went into winter quarters.
During the winter, Colonel Macomb was invested with the command of the land forces at Sacketts Harbor. In addition to his own regiment, there was a large body of militia and volunteers stationed there, together with a number of sailors and marines belonging to the squadron. All the troops were drilled with great regularity and precision--being often paraded on the frozen lake, to inure them to the cold, and to fit them for a projected march, across the ice, upon Kingston. This was ascertained to be practicable, by a reconnaissance made by Captain Crane, and in order to cover the design, a rumor was set afloat, to the effect that Sir George Prevost was concentrating his forces at Kingston for an attack on Sacketts Harbor.* By some means or other, the rumor reached the ears of General Dearborn, the commander-in-chief, at Albany, in such shape, that he could not be induced to believe it was mere device designed to lull the suspicions of the enemy. He left Albany in a sleigh drawn by four horses, reached Sacketts Harbor in forty-eight hours, and soon after ordered up the brigades of Chandler and Pike from Plattsburg.
* The post was attacked in May, 1813, (see Memoir of General Brown, ante,) but not until after the withdrawal of the troops for the expedition against York and Fort George.
Kingston, therefore, remained unmolested,--and the army at Sacketts Harbor continued inactive, till the opening of the lake navigation in the spring of 1813, when General Dearborn proceeded against York with the greater part of his forces. A portion of Colonel Macomb's regiment took part in the expedition, but their commander himself, much against his own inclination and wishes, was left at Sacketts Harbor,--it being deemed of the highest importance that an officer of skill and ability should be placed in command of that post.
Having made every possible preparation for the defence of Sacketts Harbor, and received permission to join General Dearborn on the Niagara frontier, Colonel Macomb sailed up the lake, in company with Commodore, Chauncey, with the remainder of his regiment, and joined the main army on the twenty-fourth of May; passing, in the night, a schooner dispatched by the general-in-chief, with an officer on board, bearing positive orders for him to remain at the post he had left. The arrangements for the attack on Fort George had previously been made; but a sort of second reserve was formed, under Colonel Macomb, consisting of his regiment and the marines. The attack was made on the twenty-seventh of May, and was eminently successful. None of the troops participated in the action, except the advanced guard under Colonel Scott, and the brigade of General Boyd; consequently, Colonel Macomb had no opportunity to gather the laurels he longed to win; and, immediately after the battle took place, he was ordered to return to Sacketts Harbor, with four companies of his regiment.
Upon what trifling, and apparently unimportant cir-
EXPEDITION DOWN THE ST. LAWRENCE.
cumstances, does the destiny of individuals, like that of nations, depend!--The temporary absence of Colonel Macomb from Sacketts Harbor enabled General Brown, then only an officer of the militia, to distinguish himself, and to obtain a high command, followed by rapid promotion, in the regular service; while the former, though equally brave and patriotic, was defeated in his most ardent hopes, by his impatience and anxiety to meet the enemy in the field.
In the summer of 1813, General Wilkinson relieved General Dearborn in the command of the Northern army. Colonel Macomb accompanied him in the fruitless and unfortunate movement down the St. Lawrence, in the autumn of that year.* He was placed at the head of the corps d' élite, which consisted of his own regiment, the 20th infantry, Forsyth's rifles, and Major Herkimer's New York volunteers, numbering, in all, about twelve hundred men. On the march over land, to avoid the fire of the British batteries at Prescott, he led the advance; and when the army resumed its progress down the river, he was detached with his corps, to remove obstructions from the stream, and drive the enemy's skirmishers and light troops from the line of the route. While on this service, several slight affairs occurred with the enemy, in which he and the officers and men of his command, displayed commendable zeal and gallantry.
Being in the advance, Colonel Macomb had no Part in the action fought on the eleventh of November, near Williamsburg. After the death of General Covington, who fell on that occasion, Macomb succeeded to
* See Memoir of General Brown, ante.
the command of his brigade, and conducted it to the winter quarters of the army, at French Mills, where he was placed in command of the artillery.
On the twenty-fourth of January, 1814, Colonel Macomb was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, and, on the receipt of his commission, was regularly assigned to the command of Covington's brigade. In conformity with orders from the War Department, the cantonment at French Mills was broken up in February, 1814, and the troops divided into two columns,--one moving to Sacketts Harbor, under General Brown, and the other proceeding to Plattsburg and Burlington, under Generals Wilkinson and Macomb. The latter was appointed to the command of the troops on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, and established his headquarters at Burlington.
In the month of March following, General Wilkinson concentrated his forces at Champlain, on the New York frontier, in order to make a demonstration, or attack, as might be most practicable, upon the British outposts. General Macomb joined him with his brigade, and proceeded, with the column, to La Cole Mill, on the St. John's, a strongly fortified position of the enemy. An attempt was made to carry the work on the thirtieth of March, which wholly failed of success. General Macomb, who had opposed, to the last, the order of attack laid down by the commanding general, and suggested an entirely different plan of operations, commanded the reserve, and displayed his usual ability in covering the retrograde march to Odletown.
Shortly after this affair, General Wilkinson was recalled, and General Macomb assumed the command of
INVASION OF NEW YORK.
the army, till the arrival of General Izard. Commodore Macdonough was then actively engaged in constructing and equipping his fleet, at Vergennes. Early in May the enemy's flotilla appeared off Plattsburg, on their way towards the naval dépôt, intending, doubtless, to destroy the vessels and stores. General Macomb instantly penetrated their design, and dispatched the light artillery under Captain Thomton, to man the batteries which he had caused to be erected on Otter Creek, to protect the dépôt. The British flotilla attempted to pass up the creek, but were so roughly handled by the American batteries, that they judged it expedient to return to the Isle Aux Noix.
When General Izard arrived at Plattsburg and took the command, General Macomb resumed his position at Burlington, till the departure of the former, on the twenty-seventh of August, 1814, with the greater part of his troops, to reïnforce General Brown on the Niagara frontier.
Meanwhile, the British force in the Canadas had been largely augmented, by the arrival of successive detachments from Wellington's victorious army on the Garonne. At the close of the month of August, there were, at least, sixteen thousand regular soldiers, under the orders of the governor-general, Sir George Prevost,--twelve thousand of whom were in the lower province. This formidable force was designed for the invasion of the United States, by the way of Lake Champlain, in conjunction with the fleet then preparing to coöperate with it, under Commodore Downie. At the same time, a strong naval expedition, under Sir John Sherbrooke and Admiral Griffith, was moving along the New
England coast, landing at different places on their route, and encountering but a feeble opposition, except on the part of the regular troops or the navy. These two movements were parts of a general plan, formed by the Prince Regent and his cabinet--based, in all probability, on the well-known disaffection in the New England States. But Sir George Prevost found, to his cost, that the want of patriotism manifested in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, was not shared, to any considerable degree, by the yeomen of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.
The preparations of the English commander for the projected invasion were nearly completed, when General Izard set out for the theatre of General Brown's operations. General Macomb, whose brigade was now broken up, was left in command at Plattsburg, to which he again removed his headquarters. His whole force numbered about twenty-five hundred men, most of whom, however, were convalescents, or new recruits belonging to different regiments; there was but one organized battalion in the entire command; many were sick; and, on examination, it was found that there were only fifteen hundred fit for duty. This was, indeed, a dilemma; and especially so, as there was no time given to bring up new regular troops,--it being announced, on the first of September, that the advance of Sir George Prevost's army had that day crossed the lines at Odletown, where be was issuing his proclamations inviting the inhabitants to remain neutral, and impressing wagons and teams--thus plainly indicating his intention to sweep down the western shore of the lake, in the direction of Plattsburg.
General Macomb never paused to count the number of his enemies, or to consider his own weakness, any further than was necessary for the
defence defense of his position, which he was determined to maintain at all hazards. General Mooers, of the New York militia, was invited to consult with him, and to coöperate in the obstruction of the enemy's advance, with all the troops under his orders. Messengers sped off in every direction, bearing spirited appeals from General Macomb, to arouse the people of Vermont and New York; and every exertion was made, in the meantime, to reduce the confusion prevailing at Plattsburgh into something like order, and to strengthen the fortifications prepared to resist the "rushing onslaught" of the British legions.
A spirit of emulation was carefully fostered among the officers and men, who were divided into detachments, and placed near the different forts; General Macomb announcing, in orders, that each party must be the garrison of its own work, and defend it to the last extremity.
The village of Plattsburgh is situated on the north western bank of the Saranac river, which flows into Cumberland bay, an arm of Lake Champlain. On the south-east, between the river and the bay, there is a triangular peninsula, from four to six hundred yards wide. The American works were constructed, under the direction of Major Totten, of the engineers, on this peninsula. There were, at first, three redoubts, and two strong blockhouses. The principal work, called, by General Izard, Fort Moreau, stood in the centre,--having on its right, on the Saranac, Fort Brown, and on its left, resting on the lake, Fort Scott; so named
by General Macomb, in honor of his gallant brothers in arms. Fort Brown and Fort Scott were deemed inaccessible, on their water fronts, as the banks of the river and bay were high and precipitous. On all the other sides, the several works were surrounded by deep and wide ditches; they were defended by caponnières; and each glacis was covered with rows of abattis. The blockhouses occupied favorable positions for guarding the river, and the ravines on the northern bank leading to the redoubts. The general afterwards constructed a fourth redoubt, which he called Fort Gaines, in advance of the other forts, on the south side of the river.
All the works occupied by the American troops were well supplied with artillery, and their position was further strengthened, by the presence of the fleet under Commodore Macdonough, which lay moored in the bay on the right of their position. Besides the regular garrisons detailed for the different redoubts, General Macomb formed four small corps of observation,--placing two hundred and fifty men under Major Wool, of the 29th infantry; two hundred under Major Sproul, of the 13th; one hundred rifles under Captain Grosvenor, of the 26th; and one hundred and ten rifles under Lieutenant Colonel Appling. These corps were thrown forward on the different routes, to watch the movements of the enemy. Most of the citizens of Plattsburgh had fled with their families and effects, but a small party of young men remained behind, received rifles, and organized themselves into a separate company. They also did good service as skirmishers.
The advance of Sir George Prevost was slow and cautious. The example and fate of Burgoyne were before
ADVANCE OF SIR GEORGE PREVOST.
him, and be desired to profit by the lesson. He wished to penetrate into the country as far as Crown Point and Ticonderoga, before the winter set in, but he did not care to be caught in a trap. He therefore felt his way at every step, repeatedly urging Captain Downie, however, to hasten the completion and equipment of his fleet. Without the command of the lake he naturally felt that his position, far advanced into the enemy's country, would be extremely hazardous and insecure. On the third of September, the whole British army entered the town of Champlain, and on the following day moved forward upon Plattsburgh. They found the roads blocked up with felled trees, the passes obstructed by chevaux-de-frise and abattis, and the bridges broken down,--the corps of observation pushed out by General Macomb having faithfully obeyed his orders, to impede, in every way, the progress of the enemy's troops.
The eloquent appeals of the American general to the yeomanry of Vermont and New York were nobly answered. Hundreds and thousands of the brave Green Mountain boys, and the patriotic militia and volunteers of New York, daily poured into his camp. Those who were destitute he furnished with arms, and all were supplied with provisions. The militia were, of course, organized and enrolled under their respective commanders, but the volunteers, at his suggestion, usually separated into small parties, to lie in wait in the woods, to fall upon detached parties of the enemy, to annoy their flanks, to harrass [harass] them by every possible means, and to obtain information and intercept stragglers.
On the fourth of September, General Mooers, with seven hundred militia, advanced about seven miles on
the Beekmantown road,--which passes over the swelling uplands overlooking the lake, and the lower, or lake road, on its margin,-- to reconnoitre [reconnoiter], and obstruct the approaches. Captain Sproul was then at Dead Creek bridge, on the lake road, with his corps and two pieces of artillery; while Lieutenant Colonel Appling and his rifles, who had been stationed on the Great Chazy, were still further in front. When the enemy moved forward, on the fourth instant, Appling retreated leisurely before them, tearing up the bridges, cutting down trees and flinging them across the road, and throwing every possible obstruction in the way of their advance.
Sir George Prevost halted his troops at Little Chazy, on the fifth instant, and it was the same day ascertained by General Macomb, that they would take up the line of march on the following morning, in two columns, on the Beekmantown and lake roads, which divided below Chazy village. The general was urged by many warm and zealous friends, to abandon Plattsburgh to its fate, to remove the stores while there was yet time, and to retire higher up the lake. He was not the man to follow such advice; though a retreat, under the circumstances, could not justly have been termed dishonorable. He had already decided to dispute every inch of ground, and he felt confident, that if the narrow peninsula, between the Saranac and the Champlain, should, indeed, prove the Thermopylae of himself and his gallant little band of regular soldiers, the sacrifice would not be in vain. The militia and volunteers who had flocked around his standard, or were operating in the neighborhood, numbered from eight to ten thousand men, and before the enemy could have improved any
BATTLE OF PLATTSBURGH.
advantage gained over his command, the forests around them would have been filled with an overwhelming force of citizen soldiers, burning with impatience to drive back the invader.
In the evening of the fifth instant, Major Wool was ordered forward with his corps, to support the militia on the Beekmantown road. It was designed to reïnforce him with two pieces of artillery, before daylight; but the officer having charge of the guns did not join him in season. At early dawn on the sixth, the enemy were in motion. The column on the Beekmantown road, consisting of the divisions of Generals Power and Robinson, pushed forward with great rapidity. Major Wool and his men withstood them for some time with matchless hardihood and bravery, killing Lieutenant Colonel Wellington, of the Buffs, the leader of the advanced parties; but the militia were seized with an unhappy panic, occasioned, in part, by the red coats of the New York cavalry, stationed as look-outs on the bills, whom they mistook for the British soldiers. The firmness and intrepidity of Major Wool and his command failed to encourage them, and their premature flight soon compelled him to retire.
The right column of the enemy having approached within one mile of Plattsburgh, General Macomb dispatched his aid, with orders to Captain Sproul, to fall back by the lake road; and to Lieutenant Colonel Appling, to attack the British right. Appling retired just in time to escape being cut off; as he soon after encountered the head of a detachment from the left column, which had made a détour through the woods for that purpose. A destructive fire from his rifles, at rest,
checked their advance, and enabled him to effect his retreat in safety. The different corps, under Appling, Wool, and Sproul, now united, and slowly continued their retrograde movement; the field pieces were kept actively playing; the gunboats lying off the mouth of Dead Creek, poured a lively and galling fire upon the enemy; and their advanced parties were severely handled.
Every road and lane leading into Plattsburgh was now full of British soldiers. The artillery, which had supported the American advanced corps, was pushed across the bridge in the town, where it was placed in battery, to cover the retreat of the infantry, who retired in alternate detachments. As the last platoons reached the southern bank of the river, the planks of all the bridges spanning the stream were torn up, by order of General Macomb, and breastworks formed from them, to protect the parties left to guard the crossings. The enemy promptly entered the town, flattering themselves that the victory was more than half completed. The heavy artillery in the redoubts immediately opened on them, and the staff officers, who ascended the roofs and balconies to reconnoitre [reconnoiter], were speedily dislodged by the hot shot, poured upon them "like burning lava," while the buildings of which they had taken possession were set on fire. The British commander, discovering that his men were suffering considerably from the fire of the heavy metal, and not being prepared to force the passage of the river, drew off the main body of his army,--leaving only a few light troops to skirmish at the different fords and bridges,--and encamped in a semicircle, about two miles from the American forts
It was of the highest importance that the weakness of his army should be concealed from the enemy, and General Macomb took extraordinary precautions to prevent their obtaining any positive information, and to deceive them in regard to his real strength. All the troops were paraded at guard-mounting; and, as several days elapsed before anything of moment transpired on either side, a portion of the barracks constructed for General Izard's army was burned every night, to prevent the enemy from approaching the works unobserved, and to march the troops through the light, as if they were reïnforcements just arriving from the opposite shore of the lake.
From the evening of the sixth of September, till the morning of the eleventh, Sir George Prevost was zealously engaged in planting his batteries, both open and masked, and bringing up his heavy artillery. During all this time he refrained from offensive operations, though there were constant skirmishes between advanced corps of the two armies, at the bridges and fords. The reason alleged for the delay on his part, was the want of his battering train, that came up very slowly; but the absence of the fleet under Captain Downie, which had not yet arrived,--and without which, as appeared in the sequel, he dared not make an attempt on the American position,--was, probably, the main consideration that influenced him.
In the meantime, a lively and effective cannonade was directed upon the enemy's lines from the American forts,--the sullen thunder of their artillery echoing for many a mile through the sweeping forests whose rich foliage enamelled [enameled] the borders of Lake Champlain. The
repeated assaults of the enemy at the different crossings of the river were repelled with ease and alacrity; and on one occasion, Captain M'Glassin, of the 15th infantry, gallantly crossed the river in the night, with fifty men; attacked a working party one hundred and fifty strong, constructing a battery opposite Fort Brown; defeated both them and their support, also one hundred and fifty in number, killing seven of the enemy; and completely demolished the work. The regular troops, besides performing regular tours of duty at the bridge and fords, labored incessantly, in strengthening the fortifications.
On the night of the tenth of September, General Macomb was apprised of the intention of the enemy to make an attack the next day; and, by his orders, the roads and. passes leading to the south of his position, as he suspected they designed to turn it, were covered with felled trees, and strewed with leaves, so as to deceive them, and a new road was opened leading towards Salmon river.
At the earliest dawn of day, before the welkin began to glow with the purple light of morning, a general movement was reported, by the advanced parties, to be making in the enemy's camp; and when objects could be distinguished from the main line, all their different corps were observed under arms. Shortly afterwards, the British fleet rounded Cumberland head. As the Confiance, the flag ship of Captain Downie, entered the bay, she scaled her guns,--the signal agreed on with Sir George Prevost for the commencement of the action. A desperate conflict, of rather more than two hours' duration, now took place between the rival
REPULSE OF THE ENEMY.
squadrons, at the termination of which Commodore Macdonough obtained a signal triumph over his opponent, who fell mortally wounded in the action.
Nearly all the enemy's vessels were captured or destroyed, and their crews, with the exception of those who were killed during the engagement, were taken prisoners.
Sir George Prevost only waited to give his men their breakfast, when the attack was ordered on the land. Showers of bombs, shrapnels, balls, and rockets, were hurled across the river; and immediately after the bombardment commenced, the enemy advanced to force a passage across the stream, and assault the American works, in three columns---one approaching the bridge in the village, another the upper bridge, and the third a ford about three miles above the forts---all of which were provided with scaling ladders. The attack was vigorously met by the American artillerists; fire answered fire; and the ringing shot and shout resounded far and wide.
The two columns of the enemy which attempted to pass the bridges, were gallantly driven back by the regulars; the remaining column was led astray in the woods--the artifices of the American commander being entirely successful--and after spending a long time in marching and countermarching to no purpose, wearied and worn with fatigue, they arrived in sight of the American works, only to hear the glad shouts of victory at the brilliant success of the brave Macdonough.
A further advance was no longer to be thought of; the recall was sounded; the scaling ladders were thrown down; and a hasty retreat was made. The volunteers
and militia stationed in this quarter, pressed warmly upon them, and succeeded in cutting off an entire company of the 76th foot, not a single man of whom escaped. The cannonade was kept up till sunset, when the enemy's batteries were all silenced by the effective fire from the American forts.
Before another morning dawned, Sir George Prevost and his powerful army had all disappeared, like "the baseless fabric of a vision." Their sick and wounded were left behind, with a message to the American general commending them to his kindness and generosity. Vast quantities of provisions were also abandoned or destroyed, together with large stores of ammunition, tents, and intrenching [entrenching] tools. The retreat was made so unexpectedly, and with such extraordinary precipitance, that it was not discovered till the enemy had nearly reached Chazy, about eight miles distant. The light troops, volunteers, and militia, were instantly detached in pursuit of the flying Britons; but a violent storm of rain impeded their progress, and they were only able to capture a few prisoners, and to cover the escape of between three and four hundred deserters. Sir George Prevost succeeded in effecting his return to Canada, without further molestation, where he resigned the command of the army and demanded a court martial. Before the investigation took place, he died, as it is said, of grief and mortification at the ill-success of an expedition so well equipped and provided, and upon which depended so many hopes and expectations.
The actual loss of the British army in this expedition was only two hundred and fifty killed and wounded, but there were over four hundred deserted in the re-
RETURN OF PEACE.
treat. Of the Americans, there were thirty-seven killed, sixty-two wounded, and twenty missing.
The double victory of Macomb and Macdonough was everywhere hailed by their countrymen with acclamations of joy. The legislatures of New York and Vermont were foremost in offering their thanks and congratulations. The freedom of the city of New York was presented to General Macomb, in a gold box, and the State legislature voted him a magnificent sword. Congress also passed a vote of thanks, and ordered that a gold medal, emblematical of the victory, should be struck and presented to him. The brevet of major general was likewise conferred on him--his commission bearing date on the memorable eleventh of September, 1814.
Upon the conclusion of the treaty of peace, the negotiations for which were undoubtedly hastened to a close by the disastrous result of the expedition under Sir George Prevost, the army was reduced to the peace establishment, which was fixed at ten thousand men. Two major generals, and four brigadier generals, were retained in the service; among them was General Macomb, who stood at the head of the brigadiers. He was now assigned to the command of the 3rd military department, and established his headquarters at New York; subsequently he was transferred to the 5th department, and removed to Detroit. While in charge of the latter department, he established the posts at Fort Gratiot, Chicago, Mackinaw, Prairie du Chien, St. Peter's, and St. Mary's. So highly was he esteemed by the people of Detroit, that when he was called to Washington, on the further reduction of the army, in
June, 1821, to take charge of the Engineer Bureau, an address, in their name, with a piece of plate, was presented to him, by Governor Cass; and the clergy, and all the most prominent citizens, called upon him to take their leave, and express their regret at his departure.
General Macomb now removed to Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, in order to enter upon the duties of his appointment as Chief Engineer. His military studies, his talents and experience, eminently fitted him for this post; and it is not strange, therefore, that he should have received, as he did, the repeated thanks of every head of the War Department, during his administration of the affairs of the engineer bureau. Millions of dollars were appropriated under his directions, not a single cent of which was unaccounted for to the government.
In the first year of his residence at Georgetown, General Macomb was called upon to mourn the loss of his excellent wife, who had so long shared with him the toils and dangers, the hardships and sufferings, of a soldier's life. He was married a second time, in May, 1826, to Mrs. Harriet Balch Wilson, a lady richly meriting the praise awarded to the possessor of so many graces and accomplishments.
On the death of General Brown, in February, 1828, General Macomb was raised to the full rank of major general, and appointed General-in-Chief Of the army. His claims to this preference were disputed by Generals Scott and Gaines, the two brigadiers; but President Adams, and his successor, General Jackson, decided in favor of Macomb, on the ground that his military ser-
vice was the longest, and that, even if this were not the case, the Executive possessed the unquestioned right to go beyond the pale of the army, if thought advisable, in making the selection.
While at the head of the army, General Macomb devised and recommended various plans for its improvement, and that of the military school at West Point, many of which were adopted by Congress, or the War Department, and all of which would no doubt materially conduce to the elevation of the military character of the country. He was not again required to take the field, except that he was absent for a few months in Florida, during the second Seminole war, and, in 1839, concluded a treaty of peace with the refractory Indians, which proved to be illusory and deceptive.
As General Macomb advanced in years, he grew somewhat corpulent, and became subject to apopletic [apoplectic] attacks. On the occasion of the funeral ceremonies of President Harrison, in the city of Washington, he commanded the funeral escort; and his tall and manly form, his noble and dignified presence, rendered him the most conspicuous personage in that brilliant pageant. But little more than two months elapsed, when he was struck by the same relentless enemy of our race. He died in a fit of apoplexy, on the twenty-fifth of June, 1841, universally lamented by his associates and brethren in arms, and by his numerous friends and acquaintances throughout the Union.
The personal appearance of General Macomb was decidedly in his favor. He was above the ordinary height, and, until a few years previous to his death, was finely proportioned. His eyes were blue, and
beamed with intelligence and kindness. His look was lofty and imposing, and his whole cast of countenance indicated great decision and firmness, coupled with intellectual ability of the highest order.
He was polished and easy in his manners; at all times accessible; but never forgetting his own self-respect, or losing sight of the dignity of his position. In his military career, he evinced unusual promptness and energy, appropriately tempered by wisdom and prudence. He made no pretences to extraordinary courage; but a braver soldier, in the better sense of the term, never lived. His scientific attainments in the line of his profession, and in general literature, were remarked, and admired, by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. He was singularly accurate in his judgment; correct and exact in the discharge of every duty; patient and assiduous, but decided, in anything he undertook. His disposition and character were equable; and he wore well, as a soldier and a citizen,--as a friend, a father, and a husband.
|Marshall Davies Lloydfirstname.lastname@example.org|