Battle of Sodus Point – War of 1812 (the battle)

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The Battle of Sodus Point

                                                                                  June 19, 1813

                                                                                   War of 1812

Excerpts from the book:

Military History of WayneCounty,  N,Y,

The County in the Civil War

By Lewis H. Clark

Written in 1883

Pages 197 – 203:

                                                                   From the Ontario Messenger of  June 29, 1813

….

(Editor’s note: For the fascinating story of what took place before the actual battle, click this link:  http://historicsoduspoint.com/the-battles/lead-up-to-the-battle-of-sodus-point/ )

 

 Sodus Burned

 On  Saturday afternoon, 19th inst.,five sail of the enemy’s naval force  on Lake Ontario  appeared off Sodus  Bay.  In the morning of the same day the enemy not appearing, Col. Swift’s regiment of militia which had formerly assembled for the protection of the place, was dismissed and left Sodus after having removed  all the public property to a place of security.  On the alarm being given about forty men,  under Capt. E. Hull, collected with a determination to make all the resistance  in their power should the enemy attempt to land.

 

Under  cover of the ensuing night one hundred men from the enemy’s shipping effected a  landing undiscovered and proceeded towards the village where they were met by  the force under Captain Hull and fired upon.  The fire was immediately returned by the enemy and our men retreated ,  but were not pursued far before the enemy returned to their boats and  re-embarked.  In this affair we had one  killed and three wounded.  The enemy’s  loss was three killed and seven wounded.  Early the ensuing morning a number of British soldiers again landed, and  without opposition took and destroyed about 230 barrels of flour, a few barrels  of pork and whiskey, all private property – then proceeded to plunder the  village of everything valuable and set fire to the houses, which were soon  consumed. Having  thus wantonly done all the mischief in their power, they evacuated the place. The
principal sufferers are Messrs. Edus, Merrill, Wickham and Nicholas. The  above news is said to be furnished by a gentleman who arrived at Sodus Point  soon after the enemy left the place.

 

To  the men of the present day who have known of Gettysburgh, Cold Harbor,  Pittsburgh Landing, and the other battles of the late civil war, especially to  the soldiers who served in those engagements, the events of 1813 at Sodus  Point, and 1814 at Pultneyville, may seem trivial and scarcely worthy of  notice; yet the bravery and fidelity of men must be judged by the circumstances  of the case.  When the citizens of Sodus  and neighboring towns, with no military training, with none of the confidence  that inspires disciplined forces, hurried to Sodus Point on the afternoon of  June 19, 1813, and in the thick darkness of the rainy night, marched against an  unknown force landing from a well equipped fleet, perhaps it required as much  firmness , as much stern fidelity to duty as may have nerved veteran soldiers  in the battles of far greater magnitude.

 

From the outbreak of the war, the frontier villages had suffered a sense of insecurity.  Especially after a British  fleet had been equipped upon the lake, the danger was imminent.  Government stores were kept to some extent at  Sodus Point and Pultneyville, as well as at Charlotte,  Braddocks Bay, and other places along the
lake.  It was the policy of the British  officers to hover along the coast, and if they found a place undefended, secure  the stores, either by negotiation or force.

 

A  state of war also gave military excuse for the pillage and destruction of such  villages, if the invading forces chose to avail themselves of the opportunity. Sodus  Point had been guarded by a few of the neighboring militia companies, for  several days at a time during the months preceding the battle.  In June, or July, 1812, according to the  affidavit of Asel Latimer and Isaac Featherly, in possession of the writer, a  British vessel was seen upon the lake, apparently having designs upon the  village.  Captain Holcomb’s Company was  called out, and remained at the Point under command of Lieutenant Nathaniel  Merrill, for two or three days.

 

Subsequently,  during the summer and fall of that year, the same company was ordered out, and  staid there one or two days at each alarm. In  the spring of 1813, a considerable force was stationed from time to time, at  the Point, in anticipation of an attack.

 

On  the 15th of June, it was reported that the British had landed at Genesee river, and would undoubtedly attack Sodus.  Portions of Colonel Philetus Swift’s regiment, and of Major William Roger’s  battalion, were immediately ordered there for defence, and remained until Saturday morning, when no enemy appearing , the companies  were dismissed.  A guard was retained  under command of Lieutenant Merrill, to watch the military stores, which had  been removed to the woods west of the village.

 

That  same day the British vessels came in sight, and in the afternoon it became  evident that an attack upon the village was about to occur.  One or two men on horseback were sent out to  call back, if possible, the companies which were going home, and rally the citizens  generally.  One of them rode to Sodus  village, and west along the Ridge, shouting: “Turn out!” “Turn out!” West  of Sodus village, Paddock, Dunning, Danforth and others were just getting home  from a “raising” on Morse hill, but tired as they were, they hastened to Sodus  Point with such guns as they could hastily seize.

 

The  other messenger rode southward, following the retiring soldiers. In  the vicinity of South Sodus, the settlers were  at a “logging bee”, and some of them are said to have gone direct to the Point,  without going home for supper.  Of this  horseman, John P. Terry, now of Portsmouth,  Ohio, in a letter given below,  says:

“I  recollect perfectly well seeing him pass our house riding fast, blowing a horn,  and shouting “The British are landing!”

 

The  men that gathered at Sodus Point , in answer to this call, were some of  them members of Captain Holcomb’s company, others of Captain Hull’s, and others  still belonged to no organization whatever. The  alarm called back some of the militia who were on their way home after their  discharge in the morning, but many of the men were simply citizens, with no  pretensions to military training.  At the  Point they had no organization.  At first  Rev. Seba Norton, who had seen service in the war of the Revolution, was looked  to as a leader and Captain. A  little later Captain Elias Hull reached the Point, and the command was yielded  to him.

 

The  area of cleared land at the Point was not then very large.  A thick, dense growth of trees and brush  extended up to the covered most of the public square; its eastern edge running  somewhat diagonally from the present site of the Methodist church to the  northwest.  This was almost impassable  save by the single road, north to the lighthouse of the present day, thence west  along the Lake bank, bearing south and reaching the line of the present road  near the farm residence of B.B. Seaman.  There was also a footpath which led off southwest from the place now  occupied by the Methodist church.  The  night was very dark.  It had been cloudy  during the day and was raining a little in the evening.  It was impossible to see a yard in advance.

 

The  line was formed as regularly as it was possible to do near the woods.  It was agreed to march over the rise of  ground towards the water, and if the enemy were met in superior force to  deliver their fire and the retreat; nor was it expected that the company would  maintain its line in that event.  It was  to be “each for himself”.  The movement  thus decided upon was executed at or near midnight.  Marching up the street past the Mansion House  they reached the high ground along by Wickham’s store and the Johnson House of  the present time.  They found that the  British had landed and were advancing.  This was known by the noise and by a few lanterns the enemy were  carrying.  The dim light showed a force  supposed to be 300 or more, marching in order up the slope from the waters’  edge.  Amasa Johnson from the American  line shot down one of the lights. Instantly was heard the command of the  British officer, FIRE! And a volley immediately followed.  In many of the traditionary accounts the  shots are said to have passed over the heads of the American line.  This may be true, but from the nature of the  case the shot probably struck the ground in front and below them  principally.  Asher Warner and Charles  Terry were mortally wounded and an affidavit of the late James Edwards, who was a very competent witness, states that several others were also struck .  Among these were Captain Nathaniel Merrill,  Mr. Eldridge, a hired man in the employ of Ammi Ellsworth, and also Mr. Knight .  The flash of the British guns  had revealed their position with considerable distinctness and the Americans  with well directed aim poured a deadly fire into the enemy’s ranks.  It has been generally stated that two or more were killed in the British line and several wounded. (Two British Marines are known to have been killed during the battle. Privates Job Allen and John Whammond of the 1st (Royal Scots) Regiment of Foot -1st Battalion died of wounds suffered during the battle according to the War of 1812 Casualty Database.}

 

The  information upon this point is not very certain yet it is entirely probable and  consistent with the known facts.  The  “battle” was over.   In the confusion that  followed, the two forces were very near each other or mingled as the British  carried off three prisoners, Christopher Britton, father of the late John  Britton, of Alton, and Harry Skinner and also a colored man by the name of  Gilbert Saulter.  Both parties retreated  and both for very good reasons.  The  British could have no idea of the force in their front, and in the darkness of  midnight it would have been the height of folly to advance.  They hastily took to their boats.  The Americans knew their own weakness and had  very good proof that a force much superior to them in numbers and discipline  had landed.  The Americans scattered,  some to the woods, others to their homes. George Palmer says that he with  others came up to the Pollock place on the old Geneva road and staid there till morning.

 

The  next morning the British opened a slight cannonade and then landed a small  force.  They seized the stores in the  warehouses and then set all the buildings on fire except one.  The tavern of Nathaniel Merrill, the store of  Captain Wickham and its contents; his dwelling-house; the Fitzhugh house; the  house of William Edus (Eadus); two warehouses and several other buildings were totally destroyed.

 

 

The  house saved was one that had been recently erected by Barakins and Hoylarts.  It was the Mansion House of later years and  was destroyed by fire in 1881. The tall solid chimneys of 1811 are still  standing, marking the site of the old historic building.  Asher Warner was picked up by the British  mortally wounded and carried into this house and there he died.  It is said that the British placed a pitcher  of water near him and that the officers twice extinguished a fire kindled by  the men to destroy the building.

 

After the Battle

Excerpt from the “Grips” (Edgar L. Welch) Historical Souvenir of Clyde, N. Y.  1905 Pages 64-65

The Burning of Sodus

Striking Event in the Early History

Incident of War of 1812

 

On June 20, 1812, President Madison declared war against Great Britain and the armed fleets of the Crown quickly appeared on the great American lakes to make war on the seaboard of the young republic and support an invasion. Sodus Point was then considered a place of some importance. The wide and deep roadstead of the village offered special advantage for the landing of a British force. So the Government forwarded stores to Sodus for the supply of American armies and in 1813 when the hostile fleet began to be frequently seen over the watery waste to the north a company of militia under Capt. Enoch Morse was sent to Sodus to guard against surprise.   The government had not provided any coast defenses and had no time to do so. But there were hundreds of barrels of flour, pork and bread which for weeks all of the teams that could be obtained in this locality had been employed in drawing over to Sodus. The barrels were rolled into a ravine and corded up and night and day were under guard.

 

Enemy Arrive at Sodus

On June 12, 1813, a thrilling event took place at Sodus. Early in the day a number of sail hove into sight and bore down to the entrance of the bay. It was plain that the long looked for landing of the enemy was imminent. The settlers at hand gathered on the hills and watched the maneuvering of the flotilla in its movement toward the bay. That same morning the company of militia had been withdrawn from the bay, leaving a small guard over the stores. The alarmed settlers at once organized to meet the emergency, having first sent a rider south across the country to spread the alarm, and then placed themselves on guard down in the ravine with sentinels posted upon the hill to report the movement of the fleet. The ravine where the stores were hidden lay between what are now West and Ontario streets.

 

Courier Alarms the Country

On that beautiful day in June another “Paul Revere” went galloping across the hills and dales of a thinly settled tract of country –now the fertile soil of Wayne county. His course was headed for Lyons where he found Captain Elias Hull who immediately marshalled his local troop and started for Sodus. Then the rider following the Montezuma turnpike, proceeded east arousing the country side. The next day was Sunday. Over in Junius good Captain Luther Redfield hearing the news that Sodus was burning left church in the midst of service and calling his men together started north to aid in repelling the expected invasion.

Through the long Saturday on which the alarm was given the few settlers did all that they could to prepare for defense. They selected for their leader Elder Seba Norton and as the day wore along they worked themselves into a grim determination to fight. At dusk the small boats from the fleet were seen approaching the landing. Before any number of the enemy had arrived on the ground darkness had settled upon land and water.

 

Gallant Men Gather to Defend

Norton marshalled his small band in the bushes that then grew in the midst of the public square and awaited the approach of the red coats who were marching up from the landing. At the same time the Lyons company was close at hand, coming into the village from the south having hurriedly marched in. Help was badly needed if the stores were to be saved and Norton and his brave men, who no doubt would have fought alone if they had had to, gladly placed themselves under the command of Captain Hull.

 

Fight in Torch Light

Two scouts, Pease and Gibbs, who had been sent out to reconnoiter, returned with the intelligence that the British were coming up on the other side of the hill in full force, although it was only a small company. Then followed the appearance of torches and a battalion of regular soldiery appeared on the crest of the hill greeted by a fusillade of shots from the bushes. The American militiamen, who had dared to fire upon more than their number of the Kings’ trained soldiers supported by a fleet with heavy guns, drew back in the darkness into the ravine and took position behind a breastwork of barrels loaded with stores. The light of the torches borne by the approaching troops must have given their commander a glimpse of what appeared to him as a large battery, for his men fired one volley then wheeling about deliberately march back toward the landing. The heads of the barrels showing in the dim, flickering light of the torches had deceived the commander of the invading forces. Down in the village the torches ere applied to the buildings as the boats put off from the shore. The next day other landing parties applied the torch, it evidently being the determination of the British commander to punish the settlers without moving his men father into the interior. Settlers armed and unarmed, and militia companies, were marching on the town and although there were 90 craft of all sorts off the lake but no attack on the village was made with heavy guns of the fleet.

 

 

Galen Militia Arrive

All day Sunday flames rolled up from the several houses in the village, the enemy in the meantime removing the stores that had been left in the warehouse at the landing, setting fire to the building and then putting back to the fleet, taking with them two prisoners, Messrs. Britton and Harvey who were captured in a skirmish that took place that day at the landing. The next morning, Monday not a sail was in sight. The vessels had retired during the night, but streams of smoke were pouring up from all points in the ruins of the village. Such was the sight that Monday morning which met the gaze of Captain Redfield’s men coming into town after an all night’s march from the south end of Junius in a drizzling rain.

Photo below from “Grip’s”  (Edgar L. Welch) Historical Souvenir of Clyde, NY publication (1905) on Page 32