The War of 1812.
Recollections of the Battle of Sandy Creek.
[J.M. Studervant, M.D., Rome Sentinel]
The United States authorities had a large quantity of war material at Oswego on Lake Ontario, consisting of heavy guns, field pieces, shot, cables, cordage, canvass, &c., which they wished to send to Sacket's Harbor, for the large ships at that place. The property being placed aboard of twenty-four flat-bottomed sail boats, the fleet left Oswego under the command of Lt. Woolsey, of the United States Navy, and reached the mouth of Sandy Creek Saturday night, June 4th, 1814.
Unfortunately, owing to the darkness and some confusion, the fleet had sailed into the midst of the British squadron, anchored off Sandy Creek, and two boats were captured before they became fully aware of their danger. However, the other boats set sail and moved up the creek to shallow water, where they were moored in a place of safety. In order to have a correct idea of the battle which resulted, it would be well to note the following topographical points.
In looking down the stream on its right bank opposite our boats, was a long level plain extending half a mile to a piece of thick woodland which skirted this bank of the stream, and extended off to the right, to the marsh. At the lower edge of this piece of woods there was a huge fence made of brush; below this a level tract of pasture land terminating in the marsh.
On Sunday, June 5th, 1814, an alarm was sent through the town, warning every man and boy to hasten to the landing, for the British were coming. Well, we all turned out, some with guns without locks, some locks without any flints, others with pitchforks, &c. A motley throng - backwoodsmen, hunters, trappers and boys, a sorry looking crowd to fight British regulars.
The British did not appear that day. At evening I went home feeling sad enough; but just as I went I met a troop of cavalry under Captain Harris, of the United States Army, a regiment of riflemen under command of Major Appling, a company of artillery with two brass guns, and a company of marines.
These were on the way to "the front," to defend our property. Major Appling stationed his forces as follows; the artillery, at the head of the lane near our boats, so as to sweep the bank of the creek for a quarter of a mile; the cavalry, in the open field beside the artillery; the riflemen were secreted behind the brush fence at the lower edge of the woods, and the Indians (the Oneidas) were behind the fence further to the right of the riflemen. The militiamen were posted on the bank of the stream in the woods and bushes. Thus arranged with admirable military skill, the American forces lay upon their arms all night, awaiting an attack the next morning.
Monday, the 6th, was a bright, beautiful morning. The air was balmy, and stillness sat upon the stream, marsh and woods. About sunrise the British expedition entered the creek. A heavy cannonading shook the forest, and the expedition was soon visible. It consisted of about ten or twelve gunboats, heavily armed and manned by some five hundred picked British regulars commanded by Major Popham. A halt was ordered, and an inspection was made, with a spyglass, of the condition of things at the landing. Not a man, however, was to be seen. Nothing but the American flag proudly floating in breeze above all the tree-tops.
Said Major Popham, "I will show those Yankees a trick," and ordered another broadside from his fleet, sending shot and shell among the tree-tops, which did some damage to timber, and that was all so far. The order to advance was then given. In a moment their canvass was spread and all sail set. The bands of music filled the air with lively strains, and slowly they moved up the creek.
Their gay uniforms - red coats, gilt buttons and white belts - and the bright guns and bayonets gleaming in the morning sun, gave a splendid appearance as they approached the American lines. Another halt and survey of the situation. The hard ground reached the troops were landed, a line of battle formed on the level pasture land, and they advanced toward the woods. The boats moving alongside kept up a continuous fire.
When they had approached within eight rods of the brush fence, Major Appling gave the order to fire along the whole line, and a thousand rifle and musket balls were let loose and tore through the British ranks. The red coats dropped to the ground like apples shaken from a tree in October. The exchange of a few shots served to put them in utter confusion. At this time our Indians poured in a murderous fire, and rushing from behind the brush, set up their war whoops and hideous yells in true savage style.
The British, routed and confounded, threw down their arms and begged for quarter. Many of them, after flinging away their guns, took to their heels and made for the marsh, hoping to reach the lake shore. They were pursued, however, by the Indians, and slain with the tomahawk. Others plunged into the creek, gained the opposite shore, and ran off into the marsh; these, too, were followed by the savages, and shared the fate of the others. After the fight I saw several soldiers whose heads had been thus cleft by the tomahawk.
The boats were all captured, and he troops killed or taken prisoners. Not a man escaped to carry the sad tidings to the British Naval Commander, Sir James Lucas Yeo, on board the British fleet.
In fifteen minutes the tumult of battle was ended, and the silence was only broken by the groans of the wounded and dying. I noted a little incident which i shall never forget: Among the wounded was a huge negro as black as the ace of spades, who was rolling on the ground and groaning at a fearful rate. Being asked if he was wounded, he said, "Yes, I am almost killed." "Where are your wounds?" was the next question. He replied, "I am hurt so bad that I cannot tell where I am hurt the worst." His clothing was then stripped off and his body examined. It was a ruse; he was not hurt at all. A few sharp words from an officer, and a few applications of the toe of his boot, brought the negro to his feet, who dressed himself and took his place in the ranks of the prisoners.
The dead were tenderly handled, carefully washed and laid out on the green grass. Religious services were then held, and they were buried before sunset. The prisoners were kindly treated, well fed, and marched off to Sacket's Harbor, and I observed the huge negro could march as well as the best of them.
The casualties on our side were but few. One Indian wounded in the thigh; and a rifleman struck by a ball in the pelvis - this I believe proved fatal. Our property was taken to Sacket's Harbor by land, drawn by teams. One large cable was carried to the Harbor on the shoulders of men. It required some two or three hundred men for this purpose, and they had a hard job at that.