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Smyth, Alexander

Military officer; born on the island of Rathlin, Ireland, in 1765; removed to Virginia in 1775; [238] admitted to the bar in 1789; became colonel of a rifle regiment in 1808. His failure to accomplish an invasion of Canada in the autumn of 1812, when he was in command of the American forces on the Niagara frontier, was openly attributed by Gen. Peter B. Porter, in command of the New York volunteers and militia on that frontier, to the cowardice of the former. Smyth, in his report to Dearborn, spoke disparagingly of Porter. A bitter quarrel ensued. The volunteers took the part of their beloved general, and for some time Smyth was in personal danger. He was fired at several times when he ventured from his marquee, and he was compelled to place a double guard around it, and to move it from place to place to avoid continual insults. At length Smyth challenged Porter—his second in command—to fight a duel. It was accepted. They both violated the articles of war in the challenge and acceptance. With friends, seconds, and surgeons, they repaired to Grand Island (Dec. 12, 1812), on the Niagara River, exchanged shots at 12 paces distance, and neither of them was hurt. The expected tragedy was a solemn comedy. The affair took the usual ridiculous course—settled by the seconds. General Porter acknowledged that he considered Smyth “a man of courage,” and Smyth declared Porter to be “above suspicion as a gentleman and an officer.” So ended the melodrama of Smyth's invasion of Canada. General Smyth was removed from the army without trial. He afterwards petitioned Congress to reinstate him, declaring in his memorial that he asked the privilege of “dying for his country.” The phrase was ridiculed by his enemies. At a public celebration at Georgetown, D. C., on Washington's birthday in 1814, the following toast was offered: “General Smyth's petition to Congress to ‘die for his country’ — May it be ordered that the prayer of said petitioner be granted.” A wag wrote on the panel of the door of the House of Representatives:

All hail, great chief! who quailed before
A Bisshopp on Niagara's shore;
But looks on Death with dauntless eye,
And begs for leave to bleed and die.
O my!

Concerning his pompous proclamations and his signal failure in performances, a wag wrote:

Just so (and every wiser head the likeness
can discover)
We put a chestnut in the fire and pull the embers over;
Awhile it waxes hot and hotter, and eke begins to hop,
And, after much confounded pother, explodes a mighty Pop!

General Smyth had many good social qualities, and had “troops of friends.” He was a faithful representative of his district (in Virginia) in Congress from 1817 to 1825, and again from 1827 until his death in Washington, D. C., April 17, 1830.

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