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Connecticut's Reluctant but Bloody Involvement in War of 1812

Although the vast majority of Connecticut's residents opposed the war, many Nutmeggers lost their lives in "Mr. Madison's War," and their sacrifices are largely unacknowledged.

 

This year marks the bicentennial of the “Second War for Independence” — better known as the War of 1812.

Congress declared war in June 1812, and the war continued until the end of 1815. The war was very unpopular in New England in general, and in Connecticut in particular, due to the negative effects that it would have on the emerging manufacturing economy in the region.

In fact, the entire Connecticut congressional delegation voted against “Mr. Madison’s war.” Furthermore, New England Federalists gathered at Hartford in 1813-14 at what was known as the Hartford Convention to discuss ways of opposing the war. The topic of having New England secede from the Union did come up.

In a scathing editorial The Hartford Courant had this to say about the war: "The dreadful tidings have just reached us, that on Thursday last Congress declared War against Great-Britain."

When President Madison asked the governors for the use of their state militias in prosecuting the war, Gov. Griswold of Connecticut refused. Nevertheless, more than 1,800 men from Connecticut were engaged early on with the nation’s regular army, especially in the invasion of British-held Canada — the principal military objective of the war.

Between 3,000 to 4,000 more Nutmeg soldiers and sailors would later be involved in the war as militiamen in defending their home state, particularly as a result of the British blockade of the Connecticut coast and their subsequent attacks on both Stonington and Essex.

Many of the Connecticut men who were involved with the regular army were part of the  25th Infantry Regiment, according to the adjutant general’s report on the war. Interestingly, the adjutant general’s report also shows that March was the most common month of enlistment for these men.

The 25th was actively engaged in the invasion of British-held Canada in an area referred to then as “Upper Canada.” Today, that area is the province of Ontario. Some of the major battles for the 25th in the Canadian campaign included Stoney Creek, Niagara Falls, Crysler’s Field, and Chippawa (often misspelled as “Chippewa”).

The British attacked an American force encamped at Stoney Creek on June 6, 1813. The surprise attack occurred at night against an American force that was five times larger. The fighting was very intense for about 45 minutes, often involving hand-to-hand combat.

The 25th got lucky in this battle as Capt. Ephraim Shaylor of East Granby did not approve of his unit’s exposed position in the camp and had insisted that they relocate. Shaylor’s action probably saved many lives, as the area previously occupied by the 25th was one of the first parts of the camp that was attacked. Nevertheless, four Connecticut soldiers were wounded in the action.

Sgt. Elijah Wells of Glastonbury was wounded and taken prisoner. He recovered from his wounds and was later part of a prisoner exchange on April 15, 1814. Pvt. David Matthews of Windsor suffered the exact same fate as Wells. He, too, was wounded at Stoney Creek, recovered, and was later exchanged, as were Privates John Lyndes of Hartford and John Littlefield of Windsor. Overall, 16 Americans were killed, 38 were wounded, and 100 were taken prisoner. Though the British suffered 159 casualties and had 52 men taken prisoner, they forced the Americans out of Stoney Creek.

As part of a campaign to capture Montreal known as the St. Lawrence Campaign, the 25th Regiment fought in an ill-coordinated battle at Crysler’s
Field. Hampered by bad supply lines, illness, and a very bad personal
relationship between the two commanding generals — Wilkinson and Hampton — the vastly outnumbered British and Canadian forces soundly defeated the Americans at Crysler’s Field on Nov. 11, 1813.

Sixteen Connecticut men were among the 102 killed, 237 wounded, and 120 captured during the engagement. Pvt. John Norton of Windsor was killed in action. Pvt. Samuel Lewis, also of Windsor, was among the wounded, as were Pvt. John Coone of Danbury, Pvt. Martin Corey of Tolland, Lt. James D. Brown, Pvt. John Smith of Hartford, Pvt. Warren Smith of Suffield, Pvt. Nathaniel Pierce of Litchfield, Cpl. Ephraim F. Nichols of Hartford, Maj. John Bates Murdock, Pvt. Samuel S. Page of Suffield and Pvt. Amos Robertson of Middletown. Privates Horatio Lord of Brookfield and John Hence of Suffield were taken as prisoners during the fight. Privates Henry Smith of Hartford and Martin Walker of East Windsor were wounded in action and later died from their wounds.

The Battle of Niagara Falls was fought on July 25, 1814. (This battle includes what is sometimes called the Battle of Bridgewater and the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.) The site is what is now called Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The British suffered 878 casualties — 84 dead, 559 wounded, 169 captured, and 55 missing.

The Americans didn’t fare much better with 853 casualties: 174 dead, 572 wounded, 79 captured, and 28 missing. Though both sides suffered about equally, the British are generally regarded as the victors of this battle, as the American force had to retreat to Fort Erie. Among the casualties were 17 men from Connecticut; Pvt. John H. Freeman of Colchester was killed in action, as were Pvt. Edward Dillon of Hartford, Pvt. Sylvanus Weed of Stamford, Pvt. Asa Johnson of Waterbury, and Pvt. Jonathan Tasker of Windsor; Privates Gamlien Rusca and Gilbert Clark of Stamford and Pvt. Henry Frier of Stratford, Pvt. Charles Thatcher of Middletown, Pvt. Nicholas Waldron of Stamford, Pvt. Jesse Perkins of Waterbury, Pvt. Joseph Weeks of Norwich, Pvt. John Osborn of Middletown, Pvt. Roswell Stevens of Hartford, and Pvt. Ira Johnson of Norwich. Pvt. Shadrach Clark of Stamford was also wounded and died later of his wounds on Nov. 1, 1814.

Three Connecticut officers of the 25th were also casualties on July 25,
1814: Capt. Joseph Kinney of Norwich was killed in action, and Capt. Ephraim Shaylor of East Granby and Brigadier Gen. Henry Leavenworth of New Haven were wounded. A marble soldier’s monument 22 feet in height in Buffalo, NY, (see photo in gallery), pays tribute to all of the Americans who died that day. The monument has an adjoining marble slab dedicated to the memory of Capt. Kinney, who was “shot through the breast” during the battle. Capt. Kinney’s brother dedicated the slab in 1829. Witnesses to the Battle of Niagara Falls were shocked at the carnage. After the American forces departed, British soldiers heaped up the dead Americans left in the field into a giant funeral pyre and burned all of the bodies.

Another important battle in Canada took place on July 5, 1814, at Chippawa in Upper Canada. Here, American forces, led by the imposing figure of 6 foot, 5-inch Gen. Winfield Scott, soundly defeated the British on July 5, 1814. British Major General Phineas Riall mistakenly believed that the American troops were mainly militiamen whom the Brits regarded as inferior soldiers; in fact, they were Army regulars in the gray uniforms of militiamen. Having underestimated the strength of the American forces arrayed against him, Riall made a number of tactical errors, giving the Americans a decisive victory. The Americans suffered 328 casualties — 60 killed, 249 wounded, and 19 missing. The British suffered 435 casualties, including 108 killed, 319 wounded, 90 prisoners, and 18 missing.

Among the casualties were 15 men from Connecticut: Pvt. Joshua Meach of Preston was wounded that day and subsequently died from his wounds on Aug. 23; Privates Dyer Armstrong of Norwich and John O’Cain of New Haven were killed in action; both Privates Hector Shields of Hartford and Anson Lilley of Washington were wounded at Chippawa and survived, as did Sgt. James Cross of Windham, Pvt. Stephen Mack of East Haddam, Sgt. Hector Shields of Hartford, Pvt. Calvin Dyke of Woodstock, Pvt. Benjamin Dart of Weston, Pvt. Andrew Lawson of Stafford, Pvt. Jacob Dexter of Windsor, Sgt. Aaron West of Tolland, Pvt. John Conley of Hartford, and Cpl. Francis Bliss of Hartford.

After General Riall realized that the gray-clad Americans were members of the regular army, he was reported to have said, “Those are regulars, by God!” Before the war ended, the 25th was combined with the 27th, 29th,
and 37th Infantry Regiments to form the new 6th Infantry Regiment. The motto of the 6th to this day is “Regulars, by God!” — Riall’s quote from the Battle of Chippawa. The 6th is currently headquartered at Fort Bliss, Texas.

As a consequence of the war’s unpopularity in Connecticut, the state’s military forces were split in two. Governor Griswold forbade the state’s 4,000-plus militiamen to be used in the federal government’s prosecution of the war; however, over 1,800 Connecticut men did serve in the regular Army of the United States — many in the 25th Regiment during the invasion of Canada. The adjutant general’s report reveals that at least 169 men from Connecticut died from various causes or were killed in action during the War of 1812 while serving with the U.S. Army in Canada. At least another 64 were wounded, making a casualty total of 233. Although most Connecticut communities honor the war service of its citizens with public monuments, are there any that include the sacrifice made by so many Connecticut men during the War of 1812? Maybe, but I’ve never seen any.

Notes, Sources, and Links

1. www.history.army.mil/books

2. Record of Service of connecticut Men pub. by the Adjutan General's Office 1889

3. Lossing: Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812 (1864)

4. Connecticut by Alfred E. Van Deusen (1962)

5. The actual battlefield at Crysler's Field is now under water as a result of the 1958 construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

6. The bicentennial of the War of 1812 is barely getting acknowledged in America; however, it is a very big occasion in Canada this year, with numerous events commemorating the war.

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