CAPTURE OF THE BRITISH BRIGS DETROIT AND CALEDONIA.
COMMUNICATED TO THE SENATE, JANUARY 13, 1813,
To, the Senate of the United States:
I transmit to the Senate copies of the correspondence called for by their resolution of the 7th instant.*
January 13th, 1813.
Black Rock, October 9, 1812.
I have the honor to inform you that, on the morning of the 8th instant, 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 fourteen 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 those two vessels, added to those which I have purchased and am 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 despatched an express to the officers, directing them to use all possible despatch in getting the 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 about twenty pistols, and neither cutlasses, nor 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 immediately to detach fifty men from the regulars, armed with muskets; by four o'clock, in the afternoon, I had my men selected and stationed in two boats which I had previously prepared for the purpose: with those boats, fifty men in each, and under circumstances very disadvantageous, my men having had scarcely time to refresh themselves, after a fatiguing march of five hundred miles, I put off from the mouth of Buffalo creek, at one o'clock the following morning; and at three I was along side the vessels; in about ten minutes I had the prisoners all secured; the topsails 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 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 canister, from a number of pieces of heavy ordnance, and several pieces of flying artillery; was compelled to anchor at a distance of about four hundred yards from two of their batteries. After the discharge of the first gun, which was from the flying artillery, I hauled to 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 fate we should all share; but, notwith-
*Resolved, That the Secretary of the Navy be directed to lay before the Senate any correspondence that may have taken place between him and Captain Chauncey and Lieut. Elliott, relative to the capture and subsequent disposition of the British armed brigs Detroit and Caledonia, on the 8th of October, 1812.
standing they disregarded the caution, continuing a constant and destructive fire, one single moment's 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. During the contest, I endeavored to get the Detroit on our side, by sending 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 hauled on shore, and requested that warps should be made fast on the land and sent on board, the attempt to do which again proved useless. As the fire was such as would, in all probability, sink the vessel in a short time, I determined to drop down the river, out of reach of the batteries, and make a stand against the flying artillery. I accordingly cut the cable and made sail, with very light airs, and at that instant discovered that the pilot had abandoned me. I dropped astern, for about ten minutes, when I was brought up on our shore, on Squaw Island; got the boarding boat made, had all 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 of the boat's getting on shore. Discovering a skiff under the counter, I sent the four remaining prisoners in the boat, and with my officer, I went on shore to bring the boat off; I asked for protection to the brig of Lieut. Col. Scott, who readily gave it; at this moment I discovered a boat, with about forty 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 constant fire on the brig, and so much injured her that it was impossible to have floated her: before I left her she had received twelve shot of large size in her bends her sails in ribbons, and her rigging all cut to pieces. To my officers and men, I feel under great obligations; to Captain Towson, and Lieutenant Roach, of the second regiment of artillery; Ensign Presstman, of the infantry; to Cornelius Chapin, Mr. John McComb, Messrs. John Tower, Thomas Davis, Peter Overtacks, James Sloan, resident gentlemen of Buffalo, for their soldier and sailorlike conduct; in a word, every man fought 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 six six-pound long guns; a commanding lieutenant, a lieutenant of marines, a boatswain and gunner, and fifty-six men; about thirty American prisoners on board, muskets, pistols, and battle axes; in boarding her, I lost one man, one officer wounded—Mr. John C. Cummings, acting midshipman, a bayonet through the leg; his conduct was correct, and deserves the notice of the Department. The Caledonia mounted two small guns, blunderbusses, pistols, muskets, cutlasses, and boarding pistols; twelve men, including officers; ten prisoners on board; the boat boarding her commanded by Sailing Master George 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 situation of attack; in a day or two I shall forward the names of the prisoners. The Caledonia belongs to the Northwest Company, laden with furs, worth, I understand, two hundred thousand dollars.
JESSE D. ELLIOTT.
Honorable Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy.
Lieut. Elliott to the Secretary of the Navy.
Black Rock, October 10th, 1812.
In my letter of yesterday's date I stated my intention to enclose to you a list of the officers and men engaged with me in capturing His Britannic Majesty's brig the Detroit and brig Caledonia. The incessant fire of the enemy, and my own constant engagements for the protection of the vessels, compel me to postpone sending that list till another opportunity. Last evening, having observed an intention on the part of the enemy to remove the ordnance and military stores with which the Detroit was charged, I determined at once to set her on fire; thereby to prevent her having the aid of masts and yards in getting her guns into boats, she having five twelve-pound guns in her hold, and six six-pounders upon her deck, that I could prepare them, and, with my sailors, remove the ordnance, during the night, when unobserved by the enemy. These preparations I am now making, and shall, with as much expedition as possible, continue to get the ordnance, and place it in our battery, as we are much in want—not one piece at Black Rock. The Caledonia I have perfectly recovered from the enemy.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, &c
JESSE D. ELLIOTT.
Lieut. Elliott to Commodore Chauncey, dated
Black Rock, October 10th, 1812.
I have the honor to inform you that, on the morning of the 6th instant, two vessels under British colors came down Lake Erie, and anchored under the protection of Fort Erie: that on the same day a detachment of men arrived from New York, accompanied by Sailing Masters Watts and Chisson, with some master's mates and midshipmen: that on the morning following I, with two boats previously prepared for the purpose, boarded and took possession of them, with the loss of two men killed, Samuel Fortune and Daniel Martin, and four wounded; Acting Midshipman John C. Cummings, John Garling, Nathan Armstrong, Jerome Sardie, and John Yosem. As there is not a probability of your receiving this shortly, I have made a communication to the Department upon the subject, a copy of which I enclose for your perusal. I beg you will not have conceived me hasty in making this attack. I acted as if the action came directly from yourself. Let me recommend to your particular attention the officers and men who performed this service: each and all did their duty. The ensign of the Adams I will send you by an early opportunity: it is at your disposal. The particulars, as it regards the vessels, I will forward you in a day or two; at present I am much engaged.
With sentiments, &c.
P. S. I have neglected mentioning to you the names of the vessels captured. One His Britannic Majesty's brig The Detroit, formerly the United States' brig Adams; the other a brig belonging to the Northwest Company, loaded with skins, called the Caledonia.
Sackett's Harbor, October 16, 1812. Sir:
I have great pleasure in informing you that, by a gentleman who arrived here yesterday afternoon, from Buffalo, I learn that Lieutenant Elliott, with about sixty sailors, and a number of volunteer militia, cut out from under the guns of Fort Erie, on the night of the 8th instant, the brig Adams (lately surrendered at Detroit) and the schooner Caledonia, laden with peltry, said to be very valuable: but in running these vessels for Black Rock, they both grounded, in such a situation that the British fort was firing on them when my informant left there on Friday morning last. It was, however, believed, that, if they could not be got off, they could be destroyed. I, however, hope that Lieutenant Elliott will be able to save both vessels: for such an addition to our little force on Lake Erie, at this time, would be invaluable. Lieutenant Elliott deserves much praise for the promptness with which he executed this service; as the sailors had only arrived at Black Rock on the 8th, and he had no particular orders
from me, except to have boats built and prepared for cutting out the British vessels, which I knew rendezvoused near Fort Erie. If Lieutenant Elliott succeed in saving the Adams and Caledonia, I think that we shall obtain the command of Lake Erie before December; but, as to this lake, I hardly know what to say, as there has not a single pound of powder, nor a gun, arrived yet, and I can make no calculation when any will arrive. I feel quite discouraged, and shall be tempted to seek the enemy, with the Oneida alone, if the guns do not arrive soon.
The sailors have all arrived at their places of destination; but the marines have not arrived. I, however, hope to see them to day or to-morrow.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Honorable Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy.
Sackett's Harbor, October 27, 1812.
I have the honor of enclosing you copies of two letters from Lieutenant Elliott, giving an account of his having cut out from under Fort Erie, on Lake Erie, in a most gallant manner, two British brigs, the Detroit (late Adams) and the Caledonia. The Detroit was manned and armed as a man of war; the Caledonia belonged to the Northwest Company, and was loaded with peltry.
Nothing that I can say, more than, I have already said in a former communication upon this subject, will add to the credit of Lieutenant Elliott, and the gallant officers and men who accompanied him. The thing speaks for itself, and will, I am sure, be duly appreciated by all who have any idea of the difficulties that he had to encounter, after getting possession of these vessels.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, sir, your most obedient servant,
Honorable Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy.
Washington, January 8, 1813.
In answer to your note, requesting of me "a general description of the armament and stores on board at the time of the capture of the Adams, and the probable number of men," can state, that I sailed from Maiden in the Adams, and arrived at Fort Erie on the morning preceding the night in which you captured that vessel. I left her in the afternoon, and crossed in her boat to Buffalo, with a flag. When I left the Adams, she had on board five guns mounted, (six and four pounders) and six long twelves in her hold. She had also on board a quantity of powder and ball, and a number of boxes of muskets. I am not able to state, of my own knowledge, the number of stand of arms, but I have been informed that nearly all the arms taken at Detroit were on board; if that was the fact, the number must have exceeded two thousand. The number of the crew that I left on board could not vary much from sixty, and the number of American prisoners about thirty, including three officers. I have the honor to be, respectfully, your obedient servant,
HARRIS H. HICKMAN.
Lieutenant J. D. Elliott, U. S. N.
Navy Department, October 27, 1812.
I have received, with great satisfaction, your communication of the 9th instant, and have been desired by the President of the United States to return to you, and through you to the officers and men under your command, in the expedition to Fort Erie, which terminated to the glory of the American arms, his particular thanks. I am, with great respect, sir, your most obedient servant,
P. S. Your having abstained from fulfilling your intimation that you would expose your prisoners to the enemy's fire, is highly approved.
Jesse D. Elliott, Esq. Lieutenant Commanding, Black Rock,