Monday, December 26, 2011

The War of 1812 - Bicentennial in 2012

The following was written with specific reference to Adams County, Pennsylvania.

The United States declared war on the British Empire on June 18, 1812. President James Madison had asked Congress for the declaration of war for several reasons.

Tensions had grown between Britain and America for the past several years. The British were at war with France, so as a war measure, the British had been interfering in American shipping between Spain and France. At the same time, the British engaged in the impressment of American merchant mariners into the Royal Navy in order to maintain their levels of manpower.

The American government was also bothered by the fact that the British still had not abandoned all their forts in the Northwest Territories as stipulated in the Treaty of Paris. In addition to the presence of British troops on American soil, Tecumseh, a powerful Shawnee leader, was waging war against all whites in the territories. This left the northwestern border with Canada unstable.

Since the pro French Republicans had control of the government, Congress declared war on the British    Empire with President Madison's approval. The other political faction in America were the pro British Federalists. Although they opposed the war, they were politically unable to block the declaration.

Both pro and anti war factions were present in Adams County during the war. Even though there was a presence of a "strong peace party" in the county, militia units were formed and the U. S. Army recruited here through the war.

Recruiting notices for the United States Army appeared in the Adams Centinel in 1813, that listed Lieutenant Dominic Cronyn, of the 22nd Regiment of U. S. Infantry, as the recruiting officer. The inducements to join were a forty dollar bounty, eight dollars per month pay and 160 acres of land. If that was not enough, the soldiers would be "...well cloathed and well fed and treated with a generous and familiar friendship." The notice continued appealling to the recruits honor by the offer of, "...leading the gentlemanly and heroic life of a soldier, along with the immortal honor of conquering Canada-the ferocious Indians, and the bloody red coats of England."

Besides the regulars, many men enlisted in the militia units. Their service was wide ranging since some would go as far as the Niagara Frontier, in New York State. In April of 1813, some participated in the taking of York (present day Toronto), the provincial capital of Upper Canada. There they served under an up-and-coming officer, General Winfield Scott. Other Adams county militiamen answered the call and mobilized for action to fight near the Chesapeake. Many ended up participating in repelling the British from Baltimore in September of 1814.

Many Adams County men distinguished themselves with their service during the war. William Reed was appointed by Governor Simon Snyder as the Adjacent General of Pennsylvania and he served until his death in June 1813. William Gilliland was a major general in the militia while James Getty and Jacob Eyster both served as brigadier generals of militia.

The war ended on February 18, 1815, when the United States government ratified the Treaty of Ghent. The war was a victory for the U. S. since the border was stabilized and the British left American shipping alone. Though several battles were won in Canada, it was never conquered.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I am glad to see in the last year or so some history books appeared on the market that cover early American military history. It had seemed to me that many people interested in history had forgotten the strategic value of what is now modern New York State in the early formation of our country.

In our modern society many have lost the perspective that in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, geography and topography had greatly influenced the avenues of transportation used by armies. This meant that waterways and their associated valleys were the easiest routes to travel on land or on the water.

Others have forgotten that the western portions of the states of New York and Pennsylvania were considered the "frontier". The general boundary line between civilization and the wilds were the Appalachian Mountains. East of this barrier was the area inhabited by the newly arrived Europeans and west of the mountains was generally the purview of the Indians. The Appalachians stretched through all thirteen colonies.

If you examine these mountains on a physical map you'll notice most of the major river systems east of the mountains naturally have a north-south orientation. Accordingly this dictated the easiest directions to travel (i.e. north and south). The only east-west break occurs in New York State where the Mohawk River drainage system nears the Wood Creek system. The Mohawk flows east and empties into the Hudson River while Wood Creek flows west and empties into Oneida Lake.

This strategic portage was known as the Oneida Carry. Depending on water levels it was a distance of one to five miles. The Oneida Indians settled in this area in a settlement know as Oriska and the Europeans eventually built Fort Stanwix to stand guard over this vital point. This cut through the Appalachian Mountains stands at only 450 feet above sea level. During the early history of the colonies into the formation of the United States this area made New York the Keystone State.

Soldiers and warriors would traverse the "Great Warpath" in a southerly direction by leaving the St. Lawrence River and going up the Richelieu to Lake Champlain then to Lake George or Wood Creek (a different one) and then portage to the Hudson River. Once on the Hudson, they had the choice of going west on the Mohawk River eventually to Lake Ontario or the central portions of the Iroquois territory, in what is now central New York State. The other option would be to continue down the Hudson River to New York City.

In 1777 the British tried to take advantage of these routes when they tried to implement a plan that would separate troublesome New England from the rest of the colonies. The thinking behind the strategy was that if the rebellious Yankees were isolated, the rebellion would be thwarted. The plan consisted of a three pronged, coordinated attack across New York State. General John Burgoyne would head south from Canada up the Lake Champlain valley and invest Fort Ticonderoga on his way to the Albany area. General Barry St. Ledger was to approach from the west, from Lake Ontario at Oswego and up the Oswego River to the Oneida River, Oneida Lake and across the Oneida Carry and down the Mohawk River. General Henry Clinton was to travel north up the Hudson River and meet the other British contingents in the area of Albany.

The plan when executed was not coordinated properly and all three British commanders failed in beating back the rebel forces. Although St. Ledger blooded the rebels at Oriskany he failed to take Fort Stanwix and eventually retreated due in part to Continental reinforcements. Clinton could not reach past the Hudson Highlands where he was halted by the enemy in this choke point of the Hudson River. Burgoyne met with failure largely due to the overextension of his lines of communication and met with disaster at Saratoga where over 6,000 British troops and Germanic mercenaries surrendered.

This British debacle in 1777 prompted the French to enter the war on the American side and as a result of the loss of Seneca warriors at Oriskany at the hands of the colonists and Oneida warriors, the Iroquois confederation was split. With civil war in both camps and the addition of new alliances, this was a pivotal moment in the American Revolution, all of which was precipitated by geography.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Two governors of New York State have recently decided that the state was in such economic turmoil that they could not afford to provide money to set up the New York State War of 1812 200th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. The purpose of the commission was to plan and execute an organized series of reenactment tourism events during the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812. Several years ago Governor Patterson vetoed the bill and most recently Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a similar bill on September 23, 2011. Both chief executives thought that there would be sufficient money for such purposes from other sources. This was a sound decision in these times of economic uncertainty, or was it?

History tells us that such INVESTMENTS pay off in the long run through sales and marketing, which is inherent in the commemoration activities. These events increase tourism which thereby creates a boon to the local economy of the area that hosts these events. Most certainly the revenue generated by private enterprise and the state, via taxes and fees, would far outweigh the initial expenditure. This is why the legislators have proposed this on several occasions.

One should also keep in mind that the legislators acted on behalf of their constituents, the TAXPAYER! The bill was surely wanted by the people since the measure passed both the Assembly and the Senate, only to be vetoed by Governor Cuomo. He should be cognizant of the fact that the money he controls is the money of the PEOPLE, not the state's. The state gets that money by confiscation of the people's money, through taxes and fees paid. The money comes from New York State residents and all others who do business, travel through, purchase products and get an education, in New York State.

More important than the economic considerations are the sacrifices of the previous generations in our national and state history. Most of the War of 1812 was fought on the northern border of the United States and the adjacent area in Canada. New York State's border with Canada is about 450 miles long and fighting occurred at locations along that entire distance. The blood of New York citizens, the blood of federal troops and the blood of Iroquois warriors was spilled in New York State and Canada along that border. Their sacrifice of blood and treasure should be officially remembered and duly honored.

It is shameful that no commission was set up for the commemoration of the War of 1812 in New York State and equally shameful that similar legislation failed to pass in the United States Congress. The states of Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia and the federal government of Canada are all planning commemorations of the war.

In early 1814, $50,000 was given by New York State to assist in resettling refugees from the Niagara Frontier during The War of 1812. Maybe Governor Cuomo should take a lesson in history from one of his predecessors. Governor Daniel D. Tompkins was governor of New York State from 1807 to 1817.