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CAPTURE OF THE CALEDONIA AND THE DETROIT.
Correspondence between the Secretary of the Navy and Captain
Chauncey and Lieutenant Elliott, relative to the capture and subsequent disposition of the British armed Brigs Caledonia and Detroit, on the 8th of October, 1812.
Lieutenant Elliott to the Secretary of the Navy. Sir,
Black Rock, 9th October, 1812. I have the honour 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 14 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 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 these 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 labour 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 Buffaloe 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
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, and 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 hailed 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 same fate we should all share ; but notwithstanding they disregarded the caution: they continued 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 endeavoured 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 hailed our shore, and requested that warps should be made fast on the land, and sent on board; the attempt to all 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 of the brig of lieutenant-colonel Scott, who readily
it. At this moment I discovered a boat with about 40 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 Townson and lieutenant Roach of the 2d regiment of artillery, ensign Presstman of the infantry, to Cornelius Chapin, Mr. John M'Comb, Messrs. John Tower, Thomas Davis, Peter Overtaks, James Sloan, resident gentlemen of Buffaloe, for their soldier and sailor-like conduct; in a word, every man fought with their hearts animated only by the interest and honour of their country. The prisoners I have turned over to the military. The Detroit mounted 6 sixpound long guns, a commanding lieutenant of marines, a boatswain, and gunner, and 56 men, about 30 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 dea partment. The Caledonia mounted two small
blunderbusses, pistols, muskets, cutlasses, and boarding pistols, 12 men including officers, 10 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 badly wounded, I am afraid mortally. I enclose you a list of the officers and men engaged in the enterprize, and also a view of the lake and river, in the different situations of attack. In a day or two I shall forward the names of the prisoners. The Caledonia belongs to the N. W. company, laden with furs, worth, I understand, two hundred thousand dollars. (Signed)
JESSE D. ELLIOTT. Hon. Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy.
Lieutenant Elliott to the Secretary of the Navy. Sir,
Black Rock, October 10, 1812. In my letter of yesterday's date I stated my intention to enclose to you a list of the ofhcers and men engaged with me in capturing his Britannic majesty's brig the Detroit and the brig Caledonia. From 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 them having the aid of masts and yards in getting her guns into boats, she having five 12 pound guns in her hold, and six 6 pounders on 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 honour to be, with great respect, &c. (Signed)
JESSE D. ELLIOTT. Lieutenant Elliott to Commodore Chauncey, Sir,
Black Rock, October 10, 1812. I have the honour to inform you, that on the morning of the sixth instant, two vessels under British colours 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 masters' 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 Yocem. As there is not a probability of receiving this shortly, I have made 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 Detroit, formerly the United States' brig Adams; the other, a brig belonging to the N. W. company, loaded with skins, called the Caledonia.
Commodore Chauncey to the Secretary of the Navy. Sir,
Sackett's Harbour, October 16, 1812. · I have great pleasure in informing you that, by a gentleman who arrived here yesterday afternoon from Buffaloe, I learnt 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 brig 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 honour to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, (Signed)
ISAAC CHAUNCEY. Hon. Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy.
Commodore Chauncey to the Secretary of the Navy. Sir,
Sackett's Harbour, 27th October, 1812. I have the honour 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