Scott during the War of 1812
WINFIELD SCOTT, (1786–1866)
Born in Virginia, Scott was a lawyer when he obtained a captain’s
commission in the U.S. Regiment of Light Artillery in May 1808. He was advanced
to lieutenant colonel of the Second U.S. Regiment of Artillery in July 1812 and
marched with part of this unit to the Niagara Frontier early in October. On 13
October, he volunteered his services to Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer
during the battle of Queenston Heights and ended up commanding the U.S. force
in its final stages, where he was captured. Paroled by the British, he returned
home and was promoted to colonel and appointed adjutant general of Major
General Henry Dearborn’s Left Division of the Ninth Military District. He
played a critical role in the planning of the landing and attack in the battle
of Fort George on 27 May 1813, when he was wounded. He remained in Niagara
through the blockade of Fort George (July–October), participating in the
skirmish at the Ball property (17 July) and the raid on York (31 July–1
Major General James Wilkinson reached the Niagara Frontier
early in September and left a month later with over 3,000 men for use in his
campaign on the St. Lawrence River (October–November). Scott remained in
command with instructions to complete the planned improvements of Fort George.
This he did, and when it was confirmed that the British had ended the blockade
and withdrawn to Burlington Heights, he happily followed a clause in his orders
that allowed him to leave Niagara with his men, much to the dismay of Brigadier
General George McClure, who remained in command.
On 13 October, Scott, with about 850 regulars (apparently a
mix of elements of the units stationed there through the summer), marched for
the Genesee River, where he expected Commodore Isaac Chauncey to provide
transportation to Sackets Harbor. Chauncey’s orders were changed, and while his
men trudged slowly to Sackets, Scott hurried on ahead and joined Wilkinson,
where he was put in charge of the Third Artillery under Brigadier General Moses
Porter. Scott missed the battle of Crysler’s Farm on 11 November but, the
previous day, had fought under Brigadier General Jacob Brown at the skirmish at
Hoople’s Creek near Cornwall, UC, as part of Wilkinson’s advance guard.
During the winter, he was ordered to Albany to prepare for
the campaign of 1814 and was made a brigadier general in March. Soon after, he
marched for Buffalo, where he joined now–Major General Jacob Brown’s Left
Division of the Ninth Military District. He was given command of a brigade and
trained it (and other parts of Brown’s force) strenuously. His brigade led the
way at the bloodless capture of Fort Erie (3 July) and beat the British
regulars at the battle of Chippawa (5 July). But at the battle of Lundy’s Lane
(25 July), Scott deployed his brigade well within the range of British
artillery without closing to musket range or attacking, and his men suffered
deplorable casualties. Similarly—and incomprehensibly—in the final stage of the
battle, he led the remains of his brigade in a slow march between opposing
forces where they were further cut to pieces by friend and foe alike. Late in
the action, Scott received a musket ball through his left shoulder and was
removed from the action. Following the battle, he convalesced near Buffalo and
then headed for Philadelphia for further treatment. He went to Washington and
in September was given command of the Tenth Military District.
Scott was awarded a gold medal by the U.S. Congress and
pursued an active and influential military career following the war, rising to
general in chief of the army in 1841. He commanded the victorious American
troops during the Mexican War of the 1840s, was a presidential candidate in
1852, and retired from the service in 1861, greatly admired.
ELEAZAR WHEELOCK RIPLEY, (1782–1839)
New Hampshire was Ripley’s birthplace. He was educated at
Dartmouth College and undertook the practice of law in Maine Territory. From
1807, he served in the legislature of Massachusetts and was living in Portland,
Maine, in 1812, when he accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel of the
newly formed Twenty-first U.S. Regiment of Infantry. He raised the unit in New
England and then marched it to Plattsburgh, New York, in time to participate in
Major General Henry Dearborn’s weak attempt to invade LC, which ended with the
skirmish at Lacolle (20 November 1812).
Ripley was promoted to colonel in March 1813 and took his
regiment to Sackets Harbor, from where it went with Commodore Isaac Chauncey’s
squadron as part of the force at the battle of York (27 April). Ripley’s unit
had been well trained and performed efficiently. The Twenty-first was also
present during the battles of Fort George (27 May) and Stoney Creek (6 June)
and through the long British blockade of Fort George (July–October). Ripley led
his regiment during Major General James Wilkinson’s campaign on the St.
Lawrence River (October–November) and, at the battle of Crysler’s Farm (11
November), the unit again performed well.
He was made a brigadier general on 15 April 1814 and sent to
Buffalo, where he joined Major General Jacob Brown’s Left Division of the Ninth
Military District with command of a brigade and participated in Brown’s
campaign on the Niagara River (July–October). Ripley’s brigade was present at
the bloodless capture of Fort Erie (3 July), and only a small portion of it saw
action during the battle of Chippawa (5 July). At the battle of Lundy’s Lane
(25 July), Ripley’s brigade came into the action after Winfield Scott’s had
been shattered. He deployed his men effectively, following Brown’s orders, and
formed the main strength that held the line on Lundy’s Lane until the British
retreated and the fighting ended. With both Brown and Scott indisposed by
wounds, command devolved onto Ripley. Confusion in orders and the chaos of
night on a battlefield led to the loss of all but one of the captured British
guns. Ripley did not execute Brown’s order the next morning to renew the
conflict, earning a sharp rebuke in return.
Brown and Ripley had argued since early in the campaign, and
Brown was pleased to pass command to Major General Edward Gaines when he
arrived early in August. Ripley continued to serve through the siege of Fort
Erie (August–September) and was praised for his part in the assault on Fort
Erie (15 August). During the Fort Erie sortie (17 September), Brown reluctantly
gave Ripley command of a reserve column meant to cover the main body’s
withdrawal. When the British counterattacked, Ripley’s force came into action,
and he was severely wounded, ending his war service.
For his service during the Niagara campaign, Congress voted
its thanks to Ripley and ordered a gold coin struck bearing his likeness.
However, Brown’s dissatisfaction with Ripley bloomed into a feud, and the
latter demanded an inquiry into his conduct. For political reasons, President
James Madison forbade the inquiry. Ruffled feathers took a long time to smooth,
and it was not until 1834 that Ripley received his gold medal. He left the army
in 1820, made his home in New Orleans, resumed his law career, and served as a
state senator and then as a member in the U.S. House of Representatives for one
term before his death.
PETER BUELL PORTER, (1773–1844)
A native of Connecticut, Porter was educated at Yale and
then studied law, opening a practice at Canandaigua, New York, in 1795. He
became a successful entrepreneur on the Niagara Frontier, was involved in civil
affairs, supported the Republican Party, served in the state legislature, and
was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1808. Porter was identified
as a “War Hawk,” although by the spring of 1812 he believed that the nation was
unprepared for war and that New York would suffer because of it.
A brigadier general in the New York Militia, Porter served
on the Niagara Frontier as a quartermaster general under Major General Stephen
Van Rensselaer, but his enmity with the general’s politics (Van Rensselaer was
a Federalist) resulted in halfhearted efforts on Porter’s part. Although he
knew of Van Rensselaer’s intentions, he did not get involved in the battle of
Queenston Heights (13 October 1812), not even to deal properly with logistical
needs. Porter was also dissatisfied with Brigadier General Alexander Smyth and
his failed invasion of UC (28 November) and fought an inconsequential duel with
Porter finally saw action at the raid on Black Rock (11 July
1813), during which he narrowly missed capture by the British under Lieutenant
Colonel Cecil Bisshopp and then rallied the militia, regulars, and Seneca
warriors to effectively counterattack Bisshopp’s party. Within a short time,
Porter organized a force of about 200 militia volunteers and 200 Seneca
warriors with whom he crossed into UC at Fort George to join the command of
Brigadier General John Boyd. This was during the blockade of Fort George
(July–October), and Porter and his men took part in at least one of the
numerous skirmishes at the Ball property.
In the spring of 1814, Porter assembled what became the
Third Brigade in Major General Jacob Brown’s campaign on the Niagara River
(July–October). It consisted of about 800 men, including Pennsylvania Militia,
New York Militia, the Canadian Volunteers, and warriors from the Seneca,
Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Oneida nations. During the battle of Chippawa (5
July), Porter commanded a portion of this brigade in a sharp action on the west
flank of the battlefield. His native allies left him after that, and many of
Porter’s militia were sent to man posts on the New York side of the river.
Porter ended up leading about 300 New York and Pennsylvania Militia and the
Canadian Volunteers into the final phase of the fighting at the battle of
Lundy’s Lane (25 July), taking and holding a position on Brown’s left flank and
helping to repulse the repeated British attacks. He continued to serve with
notice during the siege of Fort Erie (August–September), was present during the
assault on Fort Erie (15 August), and played a leading role in the Fort Erie
sortie (17 September), during which he was slightly wounded.
Following the war, Porter was voted a gold medal by
Congress, and he sat again briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives, served
on a commission to implement some provisions of the Treaty of Ghent (24
December 1814), and in 1828–1829 was President Quincy Adams’s secretary of war.
He then retired to private life and ended his days on the Niagara Frontier.