previous next

Erie, Fort,

A small and weak fortification erected on a plain 12 or 15 feet above the waters of Lake Erie, at its foot. In the summer of 1812, Black Rock, 2 miles below Buffalo, was selected as a place for a dock-yard for fitting out naval vessels for Lake Erie. Lieut. Jesse D. Elliott, then only twenty-seven years of age. while on duty there, was informed of the arrival at Fort Erie, opposite, of two vessels from Detroit, both well manned and well armed and laden with valuable cargoes of peltry. They were the Caledonia, a vessel belonging to the Northwestern Fur Company, and the John Adams, taken at the surrender of Hull, with the name changed to Detroit. They arrived on the morning of Oct. 8 (1812), and Elliott at once conceived a plan for their capture. Timely aid offered. The same day a detachment of unarmed seamen arrived from New York. Elliott turned to the military for assistance. Lieutenant-Colonel Scott was then at Black Rock, and entered warmly into Elliott's plans. General Smyth, the commanding officer, favored them. Captain Towson, of the artillery, was detailed, with fifty men, for the service; and sailors under General Winder, at Buffalo, were ordered out, well armed. Several citizens joined the expedition, and the whole number, rank and file, was about 124 men. Two large boats were taken to the mouth of Buffalo Creek, and in these the expedition embarked at midnight. At one o'clock in the morning (Oct. 9) they left the creek, while scores of people watched anxiously on the shore for the result. The sharp crack of a pistol, the roll of musketry, followed by silence, and the moving of two dark objects down the river proclaimed that the enterprise had been successful. Joy was manifested on the shores by shouts and the waving of lanterns. The vessels and their men had been made captives in less than ten minutes. The guns at Fort Erie were brought to bear upon the vessels. A struggle for their possession ensued. the Detroit was finally burned, but the Caledonia was saved, and afterwards did good service in Perry's fleet on Lake Erie. In this brilliant affair the Americans lost one killed and five wounded. The loss of the British is not known. A shot from Fort Erie crossed the river and instantly killed Maj. William Howe Cuyler, aide to General Hull, of Watertown, N. Y. the Caledonia was a rich prize; her cargo was valued at $200,000.

On Aug. 4, 1814, the British, under Lieutenant-Colonel Drummond, began a siege of Fort Erie, with about 5,000 men. Drummond perceived the importance of capturing the American batteries at Black Rock and seizing or destroying the armed schooners in the lake. A force 1,200 strong, that went over to Black Rock, were repulsed by riflemen, militia, and volunteers, under Major Morgan. Meanwhile Drummond had opened fire on Fort Erie with some 24-pounders. From Aug. 7 to Aug. 14 (1814) the cannonade and bombardment was almost incessant. General Gaines had arrived on the 5th, and taken the chief command as Brown's lieutenant. On the morning of the 7th the British hurled a fearful storm of round-shot upon the American works from five of their heavy cannon. Day by day the siege went steadily on. On the 13th Drummond, having completed the mounting of all his heavy ordnance, began a bombardment, which continued through the day, and was renewed on the morning of the 14th. When the attack ceased that night, very little impression had been made on the American works. Satisfied that Drummond intended to storm the works, Gaines made disposition accordingly. At midnight an ominous silence prevailed in both camps. It was soon broken by a tremendous uproar. At two o'clock in the morning (Aug. 15) the British, 1,500 strong, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fischer, made a furious attack upon Towson's battery and the abatis, on the extreme left, between that work and the shore. They expected to find the Americans slumbering, but were mistaken. At a signal, Towson's artillerists sent forth such a continuous stream of flame from his tall battery that the British called it the “Yankee light-house.” [255]

Explanation of the above map. A, old Fort Erie; a, a, demi-bastions; b, a ravelin, and c, c, block-houses. These were all built by the British previous to its capture at the beginning of July. d, d, bastions built by the Americans during the siege; e, e, a redoubt built for the security of the demi-bastions, a, a.

B. the American camp, secured on the right by the line g, the Douglass Battery, i, and Fort Erie; on the left, and in front, by the lines. ; f, f, and batteries on the extreme right and left of them. That on the right, immediately under the letter L in the words level plain, is Towson's; h, h, etc., camp traverses; n, main traverse; o. magazine traverse, covering also the headquarters of General Gaines; p, hospital traverse; q, grand parade and provost-guard traverse; r, General Brown's headquarters; s, a drain; t, road from Chippewa up the lake.

C, the encampment of volunteers outside of the intrenchments, who joined the army a few days before the sortie.

D, D, the British works. 1, 2, 3, their first, second, and third battery. v, the route of Porter, wiih the left column, to attack the British right flank on the 17th; x, the ravine, and route of Miller's command.

Mr. Lossing was indebted to the late Chief Engineer Gen. Joseph G. Totten for the manuscript map of which this is a copy.

[256] While one assailing column, by the use of ladders, was endeavoring to capture the battery, the other, failing to penetrate the abatis, because Miller and his brave men were behind it, attempted to gain the rear of the defenders. Both columns failed. Five times they made a gallant

Ruins of Fort Erie, 1860.

attack, when, after fearful loss, they abandoned the enterprise. Meanwhile another British column made a desperate attack on the fort, when the exasperated Drummond ordered his men to “give the Yankees no quarter” if the fort should be taken, and had actually stationed some Indians near to assist in the execution of the savage order. He obtained partial possession of the weak fort, and ordered his men to attack the garrison with pike and bayonet. Most of the officers and many of the men received deadly wounds. No quarter was given; but very soon the officer who gave the order was killed by the side of Lieutenant Macdonough, who had asked him for quarter, but was shot dead by him. The battle raged furiously a while longer. The British held the main bastion of the fort in spite of all efforts to dislodge them. Finally, just as the Americans were about to make a more furious attack, the bastion blew up with tremendous force. A column of flame, with fragments of timber, earth, stones, and the bodies of men, rose to the height of nearly 200 feet in the air, and fell in a shower of ruins to a great distance around. This appalling explosion was followed by a galling cannonade, when the British fled to their intrenchments, leaving on the field 221 killed, 174 wounded, and 186 prisoners. The loss of the Americans was seventy killed, fifty-six wounded, and eleven missing.

After the terrible explosion and the repulse of the British, both parties prepared for a renewed contest. Each was strengthened by reinforcements, but the struggle was not again begun for a month. General Brown had recovered from his wound, and was again in command of his army. The fort was closely invested by the British, but Drummond's force, lying upon low ground, was greatly weakened by typhoid fever. Hearing of this, Brown determined to make a sortie from the fort. The time appointed for its execution was Sept. 17. He resolved, he said, “to storm the batteries, destroy the cannon, and roughly handle the brigade [257] on duty, before those in reserve at the camp could be brought into action.” Fortunately for the sallying troops, a thick fog obscured their movements as they went out, towards noon, in three divisions—one under General Proctor, another under James Miller (who had been brevetted a brigadier-general), and a third under General Ripley. Porter reached a point within a few rods of the British right wing, at near three o'clock, before the movement was suspected by his antagonist. An assault was immediately begun. The startled British on that flank fell back, and left the Americans masters of the ground. Two batteries were then stormed, and were carried after a close struggle for thirty minutes. This triumph was followed by the capture of the block-house in the rear of the batteries. The garrison were made prisoners, cannon and carriages were destroyed, and the magazine blown up. Meanwhile, General Miller had carried two other batteries and block-houses in the rear. Within forty minutes after Porter and Miller began the attack, four

Mouth of Cascade Creek, where Perry's fleet was built.

batteries, two block-houses, and the whole line of British intrenchments were in the hands of the Americans. Fort Erie was saved, with Buffalo, and stores on the Niagara frontier, by this successful sortie. In the space of an hour the hopes of Drummond were blasted, the fruits of the labor of fifty days were destroyed, and his force reduced by at least 1,000 men. Public honors were awarded to Brown, Porter, and Ripley. Congress presented each with a gold medal. To the chief commander (Brown), of whom it was said, “no enterprise which he undertook ever failed,” the corporation of New York gave the freedom of the city in a gold box. The governor of New York (D. D. Tompkins) presented to him an elegant sword. The States of New York, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Georgia each gave Ripley tokens of their appreciation of his services.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1812 AD (2)
1860 AD (1)
August 4th, 1814 AD (1)
1814 AD (1)
October 9th (1)
October 8th (1)
September 17th (1)
August 15th (1)
August 14th (1)
August 7th (1)
July (1)
17th (1)
13th (1)
5th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: