Military Operations ~ On The Delaware

During the late war in 1812, 13, & 14

The occurrences, during the Revolutionary war, properly belong to the province, of the Historian, of that celebrated struggle for Liberty. The more recent Movements of the War, of 1812, 13, &. 14, however, deserve to be noticed, more particularly, as many of our most distinguished, and wealthy Citizens, of the present day, enrolled themselves, anting those, who promptly, at the call of our (then) distressed country, laid down the garb of Citizens, and assumed the arduous duties of the Camp, and of the Soldier.

At an early period of that War, the Delaware Bay was blockaded, by Sir John Beresford, who made an attack on Lewistown, and received, an unexpectedly, warm reception; and from the marauding expeditions of Admiral Cockburn, in the Chesapeake and this attack of General Ross," on Washington, and Baltimore, apprehensions were entertained, that Philadelphia, might also, become the next object, of attack.

The Muster Rolls, of the Troops, which were called into service, on that occasion, has been politely loaned, to the publisher of this historical sketch, by a Gentleman, who took an active part, on that important occasion, and who, since that time, has been constantly before the public, as a Military Officer, as well as one, distinguished, for the satisfactory discharge, of several important public offices.

The depredations committed by the British, on the Chesapeake and their menacing altitude on the Delaware, rendered it absolutely necessity that a force should be embodied, to repel their aggression's. With this view, a detachment of militia was ordered to be drafted, for the service of the United States. No sooner was this measure known, than the Philadelphia Blues, and Independent Volunteers, two old and respectable Companies, united with the Washington Guards, which had become organized in March, and was the first New Company, formed after the commencement of the WAR, in offering their services to the government, in lien of the contemplated militia draft. Their offer was accepted, and after having been mustered and inspected, the detachment marched from the City, for the State of Delaware, on the afternoon of the 13th of May, under the command of Col. Lewis Rush.

It encamped for the night, a short distance from Gray's Ferry, where in consequence of a severe rain, on the succeeding day, it was detained until near noon of the 15th, on the evening of which day, it arrived and quartered at Chester. On the 16th, it passed through Wilmington and pitched upon a field about a mile below that town, and on the morning of the 17th reached Staunton, a village on the Baltimore road, six miles from Wilmington, about a mile from which, a permanent encampment was formed. This spot was selected by General Bloomfield, then commander of the District, as an eligible place, for a Camp of observation, on account of its proximity to the waters of the Delaware and Chesapeake. New Castle on the left was six miles distant, and the Head of Elk, where the British had landed, during the war of the Revolution, immediately preceding the Battle of Brandywine, and where it was thought probable from their movements, they again intended to annoy the country, was but seventeen miles. It was supposed, that a force of three hundred and fifty men, aided by the Volunteers of Delaware, would be amply sufficient to repulse anybody of the enemy, which would probably be landed on either side, and orders were given to send out occasional scouting parties, to collect information, to obtain a knowledge of the surrounding country, and to watch the movements of the foe, should any attempt be made, to disembark his troops. These parties, under the command of a commissioned officer, extended their reconnoitering excursions, as far as Christianna, Newark, New Castle, and even Elkton.

On Sunday, the 29th of May, an express reached Wilmington, informing that two frigates, one sloop of war, and a tender, were ascending the Delaware, under a press of sail, with a fair wind. The drums beat to arms, and the several Volunteer corps assembled at their respective posts. Intelligence of the expected attack, with the usual exaggerated reports, was soon conveyed to the camp, and inspired the troops with a vigor, not before exhibited. Even those who were under the surgeon's care, were soon cured of their infirmities, buckled on their arms, and stood in the ranks, prepared for a march. The whole country was in consternation, and all believed the enemy was at hand. The Independent Blues was ordered down to New Castle, whilst the other two Companies stood by their arms, prepared to proceed towards Christiana, or in any other direction from which the enemy might approach. AH was life and activity, and the ambitious spirits who had long been indulging in the hope of distinction on the field of battle, already fancied their anticipations realized. But their hopes were short lived. The alarm proved groundless; some barges had appeared higher up the Bay than usual, and in their course, had been magnified to a small fleet of ships. The Independent Blues remained under arms at New Castle during the night, and on the following afternoon returned to camp.

A rumor about this time having obtained currency, that the enemy purposed to ascend the Delaware, and to attempt the destruction of the extensive Powder Mills, on the Brandywine, Col. Rush was ordered to take up a new position with his troops on Shellpot Hill, three miles North of Wilmington, one from the Delaware, and about half way between the latter and the main Philadelphia road. This position was high and healthy, commanded a complete view of the River as far down as New Castle, and covered Hamilton's landing, the only practicable point, near the Brandywine, where a debarkation could have been effected. The detachment left their ground near Staunton, on the 2nd of June, and on the same day, reached their new station, where they continued without any active service, until the month of July. The daily drills and battalion exercises, with the nightly posting of picket guards at the landing on the River, tended to perfect the men in their discipline and duties, and it would certainly not be going too far to say, that their appearance and knowledge of military movements, had never before, been surpassed, by the same number of Volunteers, in the service of the United States.

The heat of the weather rendering it ineligible to continue an encampment too long upon the same spot, the detachment was marched on, about the 12th of July, to Oak Hill, near Stille's run, about four miles South of Dupont Powder Mills, and about the same distance West from Wilmington. Here it continued until the final order for return, which took place after the British had descended the Chesapeake, to where their predatory warfare upon the defenseless towns, situated near the mouth of the Bay. The Camp was broken up on the 26th of July, and the troops reached Chester on that night, and Philadelphia, on the afternoon of the succeeding day. In the neighborhood of the lower ferry, they were met by a number of Volunteer Corps, of Cavalry and Infantry, who had prepared for them, a grateful repast, at the Woodlands, and were escorted into the City, where they were dismissed, in front of the State House.

In calling the attention of our old companions to the scenes of this year, it would be doing injustice to the inhabitants of the State of Delaware, in the neighborhood of whom, the several encampments of the detachment were formed, to omit to notice the liberal hospitality displayed by them. No civility or accommodation, calculated to render the situation of the troops agreeable, was withheld, and it was a source of pleasing reflection to the detachment, that those whom they were sent immediately to defend, were every way worthy to be defended. Groat credit, is also due to the inhabitants of Wilmington. New Castle, and their vicinities, for their promptness, in organizing corps, for defense. Two Companies of Infantry, composed of the workmen, at the factories on the Brandywine, were organized, uniformed, and equipped, under the command of the two Messrs. Duponts. One troop of Cavalry was also raised, in the same neighborhood, and placed under the command of Wm. Young, Esq. An excellent corps of Artillery, commanded by Caesar A. Rodney, Esq. was embodied at Wilmington, and a fine Company of Infantry was raised at New Castle, under the command of Nicholas Vandyke, Esq. These corps, with the addition of Capt. John Warner's troop of horse, Capt. Wilson's Company of Artillery, and Capt. Leonard's Company of Artillery, although not actually in the field, stood prepared, at a moment's warning, to unite with the Pennsylvania force, in opposing the operations of the enemy.

Just about the time of the return of this detachment, an affair took place in the Delaware, which reflected great credit upon some of our young Naval Officers. It is so well described in Mr. Thomson's Book, that we shall take the liberty of using his own words for it.

A Merchant Sloop, having entered the Bay, on the 22nd of July, on her return from sea, was cut off by the Martin Sloop of War, which had just reappeared in the Delaware. The sloop ran aground to avoid capture; and although she was afterwards attacked, by a tender and four barges, well manned and armed, a hasty collection of Militia, with one fieldpiece, under Lieut Townsend, drove off her assailants, and saved the sloop.

A detachment of the Gun Boat Flotilla, being at this time, but a few miles off were apprised of the attack made by the sloop of war, and Capt. Angus immediately proceeded down the Bay, with eight Gun Boats and two block sloops. On the 29th, he discovered the Martin, grounded slightly, on the outer ridge of Crow's shoals, and determined to attack her, in that situation, he anchored his squadron within three quarters of a mile of the enemy, and opened a fire, from the whole line. The Junon frigate came up to the assistance of the sloop of war, and anchored within half a mile, below her. Between both the enemy's vessels, mounting in all, 69 Guns, and the Gun Boat squadron, a cannonade followed, and continued about one hour and forty-five minutes; in all which time, scarcely a shot struck either of the Gun Boats whilst at almost every fire, the latter told, upon the hulls of the sloop and frigate. This difference in the firing, being discovered by the British, they manned their launches, barges and cutters, ten in number, and dispatched them to cut off the boats on the extremity of the line. No. 121, a boat under sailing master Shead, which, by some accident, had fallen a very great distance out of the line and was prevented from recovering her situation by a strong ebb and the wind dying away, became the object of attack from the enemy's barges. Eight of them, mounting (among them) three 12 pound carronades, and carrying 150 men, assailed the gun boat at one time. Mr. Shead continued never the less, to sweep her towards the squadron, and to discharge his 24 pounder, alternately, at one or the other of the pursuing barges, until they gained so &st upon him, that he resolved to anchor his boat, and receive them, as warmly as the disparity of numbers would permit him. He then gave them a discharge of his great gun, with much effect, though to the injury of the piece, which being fired a second time and the carriage breaking down, it became necessary to oppose the enemy, who were closing fast, by the boarders. With these Capt. Shead resisted them, until his deck was covered with men, and the vessel entirely surrounded by the barges. Such was the impetuous fury of the English sailors, that the Americans were driven below, and the authority of me enemy's officers could scarcely protect them from violence. The flag was struck and the boat carried off in triumph to the men of war. In this assault, the British lost seven killed, and twelve wounded. On board the boat, seven men were wounded, but none killed. The squadron was all this time firing at the enemy's ships; who retired after capturing Mr. Shead; the Martin having been extricated from her situation, on the shoal. On board the Flotilla, not a man was injured, and but one of the boat's rigging cut; this was No. 125, commanded by Sailing Master Moliere. The engagement continued nearly two hours, and was the last affair, of any consequence which occurred, in the Delaware, during this year.

History of Philadelphia

Source: A History of Philadelphia: With a Notice of Villages, in the Vicinity, Printed and published by Daniel Bowen, 1839
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