Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 3: June 2006

Articles

THE HARD SCHOOL OF WAR

A COLLECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE GENERAL OFFICERS OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE WAR OF 1812

By Donald E. Graves

PART II: THE CLASS OF 1813

Background

The general officers of the Class of 1813 reflect some of the energy that the new Secretary of War, John Armstrong, brought to the army. The number of senior officers were increased in 1813 as the Act of 3 March increased the major-generals from two to six and brigadier-generals from eight to sixteen. Brigadier-Generals James Wilkinson, Wade Hampton, William H. Harrison and Morgan Lewis were promoted to major-general while twelve new brigadier-generals were named. Although some of the Class of 1813 were clearly political appointments -- there were fewer examples of this type of appointment than in the previous years and the Class of 1813 represents a marked improvement over the notorious Class of 1812.

The 1813 generals can be divided into four categories. The first category consisted of militia officers who had distinguished themselves in the first year of the war and who were offered positions in the regular army (Brown, Cass and MacArthur). The second consisted of pre-war regular officers who had also distinguished themselves in action (Covington, Pike, Porter and Izard). The third category were regimental commanders first appointed in 1812 who had performed well in the opening months of the war (Parker and Winder). Finally, there were three outright political selections (Howard, Swartout and Williams).

The Class of 1813, arranged alphabetically, are as follows.[1]

Jacob Brown (1775-1828)

A Pennsylvanian native, Brown worked as a teacher and surveyor before moving to New York City in 1798 where he served briefly as Alexander Hamilton'secretary when Hamilton was inspector general of the force raised for the Quasi War with France. In 1799, Brown purchased a large tract of land in northern New York state, founded Brownville and, by 1812, was a wealthy landowner and successful entrepreneur. Commissioned a colonel in the New York militia in 1809, Brown was a brigadier-general by 1812 and received command of a 200 mile-stretch of the border from Ogdensburg to Sacket's Harbor. Brown successfully beat off a British attack on Ogdensburg in October 1812 and was very prominent in the battle of Sacket's Harbor in May 1813.

At the request of senior regular officers on the northern frontier, he was comissioned a brigadier-general in the regular army on 19 July 1813 and, for a while, was protege of Wilkinson who lent him books on military subjects so that he could study his new profession. It was Brown, who had extensive contacts throughout northern New York, who was able to gather the supplies and purchase or construct the boats by which Wilkinson's army moved down the St. Lawrence in late October 1813. Brown commanded a brigade in this force which functioned as an advance guard and it is a sign of Wilkinson's confidence in him that Brown was the only one of his four brigade commanders whom Wilkinson trusted with an independent command during the autumn campaign of 1813.

Functioning in independent command, Brown beat off a serious British naval attack on the army's rendezvous point at French Creek (modern Clayton, NY) on 1 and 2 November 1813. When the army crossed over into Canada, Brown led the advance of the army, consisting of his brigade with additional units, down the Canadian bank of the St. Lawrence to clear it of snipers who had been harassing Wilkinson's main body. He fought and won a smart little action at Hoople's Creek on 10 November and, the following day, while the remainder of the army was being beaten at Crysler's Farm, he took Cornwall. When the army went into quarters at French Mills, Brown was the only general officer to remain with the troops over the followin winter and, taking the wise advice of Surgeon James Mann, he demonstrated an admirable interest in the health of the soldiers and the sanitation of the camp.  

In January 1814 Brown was promoted major-general and given command of the Left Division of the 9th Military District. He marched for Sacket's Harbor the next month and, after some confusion brought about by Secretary of War Armstrong's contradictory orders, moved west to Buffalo in early April. Using the talents of Winfield Scott to train his division, by late June 1814 Brown commanded the most effective force of regulars to be fielded by the U.S. during the war. On 3 July 1814, he invaded Canada at Fort Erie to commence the longest and bloodiest campaign of the conflict. Two days later, his division was victorious at the battle of Chippewa, the first time that American regulars proved themselves the equal of their opponents in a pitched battle in the open. Three weeks later, at the bloody night battle of Lundy's Lane, Brown was wounded but gained a tactical victory which was lost after Brigadier-General Eleazar W. Ripley, who had assumed command of the army, decided to withdraw to Fort Erie. Brown was convalescent for a number of weeks but returned to his division, besieged at Fort Erie, in mid-September and planned a led a successful sortie from the camp. After the British broke the siege and withdrew to Chippawa, Brown pursued. When Major-General George Izard arrived in the Niagara with his Right Division, Izard assumed command being senior to Brown but, when Izard retired in December, Brown assumed command in the north and held it until the end of the war.

Retained in the army after 1815, Brown was named commanding general in 1821 and held that post until his untimely death at the age of 53 in 1828.

Jacob Brown was a natural leader with the ability to inspire his troops, both regular and militia, and who, possessing very little theoretical knowledge, was intelligent enough to rely on the technical proficiency of competent subordinates. Brown was a stern disciplinarian but also interested himself in the welfare of his troops. His judgement was sometimes hasty and he could be unjust with subordinates. But he was an aggressive soldier and where Brown went, fighting soon followed. His 1814 Niagara campaign shines in a war that too often saw American military disasters and Jacob Brown has good claim to being the best American field commander of the war. Certainly he was the only American general officer to successfully lead large numbers of regular troops in extended and mobile operations against British regulars. Less well known are the major contributions he made to the professionalization of the army in the postwar period.

Unfortunately, because of his early death and because, unlike Jackson and Harrison, the only other generals in his class, Brown had no political aspirations, he fell into obscurity and it has only been in recent years that he has been brought to proper notice.

A recent and very good biography is John Morris, Sword of the Border: Major-General Jacob Jennings Brown, 1775-1828 (Kent, Ohio, 1999).

Lewis Cass (1782-1866)

A native of New Hampshire, Lewis Cass pursued careers in teaching and law before moving west in 1799 to establish a law practice in the Ohio Territory. He was appointed marshal of the territory in 1807 and commanded a militia regiment in Hull's army in 1812, later reporting on the disaster at Detroit to the government in Washington. In February 1813, Cass was commissioned a colonel in the regular army and, in March, promoted to brigadier-general. Cass became governor of the Michigan Territory in the latter part of 1813 but resigned from the army in May 1814. He remained the governor of Michigan until 1831 when he became Secretary of War. From 1836 to 1842, Cass was Minister to France and later served in the U.S.Congress.

A militia officer of some experience, Cass rendered good service in the war.

Leonard Covington (1768-1813)

A native of Maryland, Covington was commissioned as a cornet of cavalry in the regular army in 1792 and distinguished himself while fighting with Wayne. Having obtained the rank of captain, Covington resigned from the army in 1795 to pursue a career in politics, serving in both the Maryland legislature and the U.S. Congress. In 1809, he was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel of cavalry and was promoted colonel and commander of the Regiment of Light Dragoons in the same year.

He commanded this unit until 1 August 1813 when he was promoted to brigadier-general and sent to the northern theatre. During the autumn 1813 offensive against Montreal, Covington led a brigade in Wilkinson's army and though he expressed his doubts about the wisdom of the operation, he proved an extremely competent commander. During the battle of Crysler's Farm on 11 November, Covington's handling of his brigade was one of the few bright points in an otherwise miserable day for the United States. Unfortunately, he was hit in the stomach while personally leading an attack and died, after three days of agony, at French Mills, NY.

Throughout his brief period of active service Covington proved himself an energetic officer and a good leader. Only his untimely death prevented him from reaching higher rank. His loss, like that of his contemporary, Zebulon Pike, was a tragedy for the army.

Benjamin Howard (1760-1814)

A Kentucky politician and prewar Governor of the Missouri Territory, Howard was commissioned a brigadier-general on 12 March 1813, largely on the strength of his political connections and his influence with the Indians. Howard succeeded Harrison in command of the 8th Military District (Kentucky, Ohio and the Indiana, Michigna, Illinois and Mississippi Territories) in 1814 and was very active, sending several expeditions against hostile aboriginals in the Mississippi area. Howard died on 18 September 1814.

It is difficult to assess Howard's contribution because relatively little is known about him.

George Izard (1776-1828)

George Izard was born in Paris, the son of a commissioner with Franklin's mission to France. Beginning in 1792, he attended military schools in England, France and Germany including the famous Ecole du Genie (School of Engineers) at Metz. In 1794 Izard was commissioned a lieutenant of artillery and engineers and rose to the rank of captain before he resigned in 1803. Independently wealthy, he devoted his time to scientific pursuits although he was active in the American Military Philosophical Society.

In 1812, Izard received a commission as a colonel and command of the Second Regiment of Artillery, one of the new units raised for wartime service and, with the help of Winfield Scott, who was his lieutenant-colonel, Izard turned the Second Artillery into one of the elite regiments of the wartime army. Assigned to command the defences of New York City, Izard was promoted a brigadier-general on 12 March 1813 and, in the autumn of 1813, was sent to Hampton's division in New York to take over a brigade. Throughout Hampton's abortive offensive into Canada in October 1813, he gave that officer much good advice, most of which Hampton ignored. When Hampton left his division hurriedly to avoid arrest, Izard assumed command at Plattsburgh and held it through the winter of 1813-1814.

In January 1814 Izard was promoted major-general and, after Wilkinson left the north in April 1814, he assumed command of the Right Division of the 9th Military District. He worked hard throughout the summer of 1814 to train his division for service and was preparing to meet a major British offensive from Montreal when Secretary of War Armstrong ordered him in late August to march it west from Plattsburgh to help Brown's Left Division besieged in Fort Erie. Izard protested these orders but obeyed and moved slowly west but was unfortunate enough both to miss the battle of Plattsburgh on 11 September and the sortie from Fort Erie on 17 September because he was in between both places. His progress was so slow that, rightly or wrongly, he acquired the soldier's nickname of "Amberzard." Arriving in the Niagara area in late September 1814 , he assumed command of the all the troops on that frontier including more than 8,000 regulars, the largest regular force assembled during the war. Izard made an offensive motion against the British lines at Chippewa but hesitated to mount a formal attack. When an attempt to draw the British out from the position failed, he then withdrew to Fort Erie, a decision that caused much discontent among his senior officers, including Major-General Jacob Brown. Feeling his reputation slighted and sensitive about Brown's greater popularity with the troops, Izard tendered his resignation in December, 1814. It was not accepted although he was permitted to go on leave during the winter of 1814-1815.

Izard was honorably discharged in June 1815, and the following year published his correspondence in an attempt to clear his reputation, which he now regarded as being tarnished.[2] He later served as the Governor of the Arkansas Territory until his early death by accident at the age of 52.

George Izard was possibly the best educated senior officer in the wartime army and would probably have made an excellent chief of staff, if such a post had existed. His bent was always toward the theoretical and, in command, he was cautious to the point of lacking self confidence. He was also a somewhat distant leader who seemed unable to gain the admiration or respect of his troops -- basically George Izard lacked the "common touch."

There is, unfortunately, no modern biography of this officer who most certainly deserves one.

Duncan MacArthur (1772-1839)

Born in Pennsylvania, MacArthur moved west in the 1790's and fought with Harmer as an enlisted soldier. He later became the surveyor of Ohio and a wealthy landowner and pursued a political career, serving as a state representative and senator from 1804 to 1810. In 1808 McArthur was commissioned a major-general of Ohio militia in 1808 and commanded an Ohio regiment in Hull's 1812 campaign. Like Cass, he was commissioned a colonel in the regular army in February 1813 and promoted to brigadier-general in March of that year. He fought throughout the northwest campaigns of 1813, seeing combat at the sieges of Fort Meigs and the Thames. In the spring of 1814, he succeeded Harrison in command of the Northwest Army and, in October, led a mounted raid that penetrated 150 miles into British territory from Detroit to the Grand River. McArthur was honorably discharged in 1815 and, after several terms in Congress, became Governor of Ohio.

Like his counterpart, Lewis Cass, Duncan MacArthur rendered good service during the war.

Thomas Parker (1753-1820)

A Virginian, Parker had served as an officer in the Revolutionary War and had been commissioned into the regular army as a lieutenant-colonel in 1799 during the Quasi-War with France. He was discharged in 1800 but again commissioned as colonel in 1812 to command the 12th Infantry. He led this unit on the Niagara frontier in 1812-1813. In March 1813, Parker was promoted a brigadier-general but never seems to have held an active brigade command before his resignation from the army in March 1814.

Not much is known about Parker but he appears to have been competent.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813)

A native of New Jersey and the son of a revolutionary war officer, Pike was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the regular army in 1799. His promotions were steady: captain in 1806, major in 1808, lieutenant-colonel in 1809 and colonel in 1812. Pike is best remembered for his explorations of the Mississippi and New Mexico Territories and the massif that bears his name.

From April to May 1812, Pike was deputy quartermaster general in Washington. He then assumed command of the 15th Infantry and took it to the encampment at Greenbush in the fall of 1812. By rigorous training he turned his unit into one of the elite regiments of the northern army. Pike operated offfensively against the British along the New York border and was one of only two field grade officers to remain with the army at Greenbush in winter quarters in 1812-1813 (none of the general officers stayed). He was promoted brigadier-general on 12 March 1813, and commanded a brigade in action at the capture of York, Canada, on 27 April but, during the fighting he was unfortunately killed by debris from the explosion of a British magazine.

An aggressive and professional officer who showed an interest in the training and welfare of his men, Pike's untimely death was a great loss for the army as he would certainly have risen higher in rank and his energy and leadership qualities were sorely missed.

There is no modern biography of this officer who fully deserves one.

Moses Porter (1755-1822)

Moses Porter served in the Revolutionary Was as an officer of the Continental Artillery and was retained in service in 1783. He was promoted lieutenant in 1796, captain in 1791 and major in 1800. In 1812, Porter was promoted colonel and given command of the Light Artillery Regiment. He served with distinction in 1813, commanding the artillery bombardment of Fort George which prepared the way for the successful assault of 27 May 1813. For this action, he was breveted a brigadier-general on 10 September 1813. He was the senior artillery officer of Wilkinson's army during the autumn 1813 offensive but seems not to have been present at the battle of Crysler's Farm.

In 1814, Porter was assigned to command of Military District No. 5 (Maryland and Virginia). Armstrong wanted Porter to take command of the newly-created 10th Military District (Washington and the Chesapeake) in the early summer of 1814 but William Winder was selected in his place. Porter remained in the army in 1815 and died in service in 1822.

Moses Porter was rough and ready gunner with little polish or finesse (he had a deserved reputation as being the most profane officer service) but was representative of the best type of officer of the prewar army.

Robert Swartout (1778-1848)

A successful and wealthy New York merchant, Swartout was commissioned a state militia colonel in 1812. In March 1813, he was named both a brigadier-general and quartermaster general of the army replacing his friend, Morgan Lewis, in that appointment. Swartout seems to have had difficulty getting control of his department and, in any case, was distracted by greater ambitions as he wanted to serve in the field. He got an opportunity when he received command of an infantry brigade in Wilkinson's army during the autumn 1813 offensive and promptly demonstrated that he was a better storekeeper than general. Swartout returned to his quartermaster general duties and was honorably discharged from the army in 1816. He returned to New York city where he made a living as a merchant and naval agent.

David Rogerson Williams (1776-1830)

A South Carolinan planter, Williams served in Congress from 1805 to 1809 and from 1811 to 1813. In 1812-1813, he was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, and having martial ambitions got himself commissioned as a brigadier-general in July 1813. He was soon disabused of his dreams of glory after he spent just six weeks with the army at Fort George in the summer of 1813 and was soon back in Washington. In 1814, Williams was sent to Military District No. 7 (the Gulf area) to assist Brigadier-General Thomas Flournoy but resigned his commission in April of that year.

Williamson seem to possess no military talents whatsoever and the most interesting thing about him was his nickname, "Thunder and Lightning Williams," which derived from his favourite oath.

William H. Winder (1775 to 1824)

A native of Maryland and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Winder had a flourishing prewar career in law and state politics in Maryland. In March 1812, he was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel in the infantry. He was promoted colonel in the same year and given command of the 14th Infantry which he led on the Niagara frontier in the winter of 1812-1813. Promoted to brigadier-general in March 1813, Winder commanded a brigade at the assault on Fort George on 27 May 1813 but was captured in early June, along with Brigadier-General John Chandler, at the battle of Stoney Creek. Exchanged in 1814, Winder served as adjutant and inspector general from May to July 1814 before receiving command of the newly-created 10th Military District (the Chesapeake, Maryland and the District of Columbia). In this position, Winder exhibited great energy but little decisiveness in organizing the defence of Washington. In fairness, it must be stated that he had few regular troops, received minimal help from Secretary of War Armstrong and much interference from the cabinet. The result was the defeat at Bladensburg and the capture of Washington. Winder survived an ensuing court martial and was honorably discharged from the army in 1815.

Although a political appointment (his uncle was the Governor of Maryland), Winder did have some good military qualities but suffered from indecision and plain bad luck.

Winder is another officer who was prominent enough to form the subject of a biography.

Notes

[1]. Unless otherwise noted, the biographical information on each general officer is taken from the following reference works which are listed here in descending order of usefulness: Roger J. Spiller and Joseph G. Dawson, eds., Dictionary of American Military Biography (3 vols, Westport, 1984); Allan Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (22 vols, New York, 1928, 1967); Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols, Washington, 1903); George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy (1868, supplement, vol 9, 1950); James Wilson and John Fiske, eds., Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography (7 vols, New York, 1888, reprinted Detroit, 1968); Rossiter Johnson, ed., The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans (10 vols, Boston, 1904, reprinted Detroit 1968); National Cyclopedia of American Biography (63 vols, 1891, reprinted Ann Arbor, 1967); Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume (Chicago, 1967).

[2]. George Izard, Official Correspondence with the War Department (Philadelphia, 1816).



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