The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit (Brig), aground, 17 Aug 1812

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      From Captain Elliott to the Secretary of the Navy of the United States. Black Rock, Oct. 9.
      SIR --I have the honor to inform you that on the morning of the 8th. inst. two British vessels which I was informed were his Britannic Majesty's Brig DETROIT, late the United States Brig ADAMS, and the Brig HUNTER, mounting I4 guns, but which afterwards proved to be the Brig CALEDONIA, both said to be well armed and manned, came down the lake
and anchored under the protection of Fort Erie. Having been on the lines for some time and in a measure inactively employed. I determined to make an attack, and if possible get possession of them. A strong inducement to this attempt arose from a conviction that with these two vessels added to those I have purchased and fitting out, I should be able to meet the remainder of the British force on the Upper Lakes, and save an incalculable expense and labor to the Government. On the morning of their arrival, I heard that our seamen were but a short distance from this place, and immediately dispatched an express to the officers directing them to use all possible dispatch in getting their men to this place, as I had important service to perform. On their arrival, which was about 12 o'clock, I discovered that they had only 20 pistols and neither cutlasses or battle axes. But on application to Generals Smyth and Hall of the Regulars and Militia, I was supplied with a few arms and General Smyth was so good on my request as to immediately detach fifty men from the Regulars, armed with muskets.
By 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I had my men selected and stationed in two boats, which I had previously prepared for the purpose. With these boats, 50 men in each; and under circumstances very disadvantageous, my men having scarce had time to refresh themselves after a fatiguing march of 500 miles. I put off from the mouth of Buffalo Creek, at 1 o'clock the following morning, and at three I was alongside the vessels. In the space of about 10 minutes I had the prisoners all secured, the top-sails sheeted home, and the vessels under way.
      Unfortunately the wind was not sufficiently strong to get me up against a rapid current into the lake, where I had understood another armed vessel lay at anchor, and I was obliged to run down the river by the Forts, under a heavy fire of round, grape and cannister, from a number of pieces of heavy ordnance and several pieces of flying artillery, was compelled to anchor about 400 yards from 2 of their batteries. After the discharge of the first gun, which was from the flying artillery, I hailed the shore, and observed to the officer, that if another gun was fired I would bring the prisoners on deck and expose them to the same fate we would all share -- but notwithstanding they disregarded the caution and continued a constant and destructive fire. One single moments reflection determined me not to commit an act that would subject me to the imputation of barbarity. The CALEDONIA had been beached in as safe a position as the circumstances would admit of, under one of our batteries at Black Rock. I now brought all the guns of the DETROIT on one side next the enemy, stationed the men at them, and directed a fire which was continued as long as our ammunition lasted and circumstances permitted. I endeavored to get the DETROIT on our side by sounding a line, there being no wind on shore, with all the line I could muster; but the current being so strong the boat could not reach the shore. I then hailed our shore, and requested that wraps would be made fast on land, and sent on board;
the attempt to all which again proved useless. As the fire was such as would, in all probability, sink the vessel in a short time. I determined to drift down the river out of the reach of the batteries, and make a stand against their flying artillery. I accordingly cut the cable, made sail with very light airs, and at that instant discovered that the pilot had abandoned me.
If I dropped astern for about 10 minutes, when I was brought up on our shore on Squaw Island - got the boarding boat ready, had the prisoners put in and sent on shore, with directions for the officer to return for me and what property we could get from the Brig. - He did not return, owing to the difficulty in the boats getting on shore.
      Discovering a skiff under the counter, I put the four remaining prisoers in the boat, and with my officers I went on shore to bring the boat off. I asked for protection to the Brig of Lt. Col. Scott who readily gave it. At this moment I discovered a boat with about 40 soldiers from the British side, making for the Brig. They got on board, but were soon compelled to abandon her, with the loss of nearly all their men. During the whole of this morning both sides of the
river kept up alternately a continual fire on the brig, and so much injured her that it was impossible to have floated her. Before I left her, she had several shot of large size in her bends, her sails in ribbons, and rigging all cut to pieces.
      To my officers and men I feel under great obligation. To Captain Towson and Lieut. Roach of the 2nd. Regiment of Artillery, Ensign Prestman of the Infantry, Captain Chapin, Mr. John McComb, Messrs John Tower, Thomas Davis, Peter Overstocks and James Sloan, resident Gentleman of Buffalo, for their soldier and sailor like conduct. In a word, sir, every man fought as if with their hearts animated only by the interest and honor of their country.
      The prisoners I have turned over to the military. The DETROIT mounted 6 six pounders long guns, a commanding Lieut. marines, boatswain and gunner, and 56 men - about 30 American prisoners on board, muskets, pistols, cutlasses, and battle-axes. In boarding her I lost one man, one officer wounded, Mr.John C.Cummings, acting midshipman, a bayoney through the leg - his conduct was correct, and deserves the notice of the department. The CALEDONIA mounted 2 small guns, blunderbusses, pistols, muskets, cutlasses, and boarding pikes, 12 men including officers, 10 prisoners on board. The boat boarding her commanded by Sailing Master Geo. Watts, performed his duty in a masterly style. But one man killed, and four wounded badly, I am afraid mortally. I enclose you a list of the officers and men engaged in the enterprise, and also a view of the lake and river in the different situations of attack, in a day or two I shall forward the names of the prisoners. The CALEDONIA belongs to the N. W. Company, loaded with furs, worth, I understand 200,000 Dollers.
      With sentiments of respect, I have the honor to be, &c. -- Jesse D. Elliot
      The Hon. Paul Hamilton,
      Sec'y U. S. Navy
      Buffalo Gazette
      Tuesday, November 24, 1812

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Reason: aground
Remarks: Total loss
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  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.33143 Longitude: -83.04575
William R. McNeil
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Detroit (Brig), aground, 17 Aug 1812