TAKING OSWEGO: FOUR ACCOUNTS
I. THE FACTUAL ACCOUNT
–Commercial Advertiser, May 13, 1814–“Latest from Oswego–By a gentleman, who arrived this morning in the Steam Boat, we learn, that the British have evacuated Oswego, taking with them a large quantity of provisions and munitions of war. Among their booty, it is said, were about 200 barrels of whiskey, from 50 to 1– barrels of flour, 12 or 14 pieces of cannon, and the large cable intended for the new frigate building at Sackett’s Harbor. They made two or three unsuccessful attacks upon the fort, in which they lost nearly 200 men. Our garrison lost 14 killed and 40 wounded.”
II. THE INDIGNANT ACCOUNT
—Commercial Advertiser, May 18, 1814, from the Manlius Times of May 10
“The taking possession of this port by the enemy, is but another item in the long catalogue of administration follies. Excepting Niagara, Oswego was perhaps the most important post upon the western frontier. Through this place was obliged to pass most of the ordnance, arms, ammunition, rigging and provisions, for the equipment of our fleet at Sackett’s Harbor, and for the support of our western army. Yet was this place left unprotected, undefended!–We have not been able to obtain an official account of the transactions at that place, since the enemy took possession, but believe the following particulars to be correct, as they were related by gentlemen who were in Oswego village until after the enemy took possession of the fort, upon the opposite side of the river.
On Thursday last, in the afternoon, the enemy’s fleet appeared off Oswego, consisting of 7 square rigged vessels, besides gun boats. After coming near shore and some manoeuvring, a squall of wind, towards evening, drove them out. On Friday morning, they again appeared in sight, making for the river. About 10 o’clock they formed a line within gunshot distance of the village and fort. They were opposed by an old nine pounder mounted on the point before the fort. After a considerable cannonading, the enemy, to the number of from 1000 to 2000, commenced a landing in 3 divisions, and were opposed by about 300 regulars under command of Coll. Mitchell, who happened to be at the place, on their march from the westward for Sackett’s Harbor. Our troops, however, notwithstanding their determined bravery, could not long withstand the superior numbers of the enemy, and were obliged to retire. About two hours after the commencement of the contest, the British flag was hoisted upon the fort, and a message sent by the British commander to the inhabitants of the village (who had fled for safety) that they might return to their houses unmolested. After destroying the barracks and other public property upon both sides of the river, the enemy evacuated the place on Saturday about 12 o’clock. Our loss is not yet fully ascertained, but variously stated at from 550 to 100 killed and wounded. The loss of property must have been immense. We understand the expedition was commanded by Maj. Gen. Drummond, who was wounded in the groin during the engagement. We have not heard that any private property was disturbed, or buildings burnt. . . . The enemy had in his fleet three new ships, one a double decker on which were counted 27 ports of a side. Several 68 lb shot were picked up in the village after the battle, from which may be inferred their superiority, at least in weight of metal.”
III. THE IRONIC REPORT
—Commercial Advertiser, May 23, 1814, “From Our Correspondent, Oswego, May 7”
“Early in the morning of the day before yesterday, Sir James [Yeo] made his appearance off this harbor with seven large vessels and several gun-boats. In the afternoon, they came to in a line close in with the town. Their squadron consisted of four heavy ships (two new ones fitted out this spring, one a 64, two decker) and three brigs, mounting in all upwards of 200 guns, with (as we afterwards ascertained) near 2000 troops on board, exclusive of seamen and marines. With this powerful armament, they found this important place of deposit in its usual state of defence:–One old 12 pounder, crack’d so as to be almost unfit for service, mounted a little in advance of the fort, and a nine on the walls; something short of 300 regulars under Col. Mitchell in the garrison, and a few militia, neither organized nor armed; not a public musket to be found in the place. Nor gun-boat, nor torpedo, nor proclamation had we. It was in vain that we invoked the aid, and turned our eyes towards the broad shoulders of ‘Old Atlas“* for safety–he was far away. Shortly after the vessels had taken their stations, the gun-boats opened their fire on the fort, which was promptly answered from our one gun battery. The ships likewise threw several shot and shells into the town, some of which weighed 67 lbs. After considerable cannonading, and about the time a number of their boats appeared to be making towards shore with troops, a squall came up, and the shipping hauled off, leaving us to pass a night of dismal apprehension and alarm. It was probably well known to the enemy, that this had been a place of immense deposit for _______ property during the war, and the channel through which all the cannon and naval stores must pass for our new vessels at Sackett’s Harbor; and we were confident they would renew the attack next day. Nor did they disappoint us.
At day-light on Friday morning, they were again discovered making towards the harbor, and in the course of the forenoon took the position they occupied on Thursday, or perhaps a little nearer in shore, and soon commenced a tremendous firing of round and grape shot on the fort and adjacent heights. At about one o’clock, Gen. Drummond and Sir James L. Yeo with two divisions effected a landing, and immediately carried the place with the bayonet. Col. Mitchell, with his little force, after having done every thing which could be effected by valor and good conduct, retired up the river; and at about half past one the enemy were in quiet possession of the fort and village. Our loss was, as near as I can ascertain, 9 killed, about 20 wounded, and 25 made prisoners. The loss of the British is supposed to have been something more. The citizens were taken to the fort, and held as security for the conduct of our militia during their visit;–at which time they took the liberty to break open our houses and stores, and plunder and destroy every thing left in them. In short, a scene ensued similar to the one acted by our troops at Little York last spring. The public property taken was of trifling amount; it had gone on to Sackett’s Harbor generally as fast as it arrived. Seven large pieces of ordnance, one small schooner, and a few boats loaded with naval stores, fell into their hands. The important object effected by the enemy in this incursion, is their cutting off the channel of transportation through this place for Sackett’s Harbor; which, if done effectually, will completely frustrate all hopes of making a campaign against Upper Canada this season. About 30 heavy pieces of cannon for the new ship, are now at the portage, twelve miles above this; and the British boats are watching the coast between this and Sackett’s Harbor. Their fleet is probably not far from Sackett’s Harbor, which is the only place now unsubdued on our waters. This is the actual state of affairs at present in this quarter; and this is the style in which we have commenced taking Canada for the third campaign!
* Wilkinson has been sometimes humorously called ‘Old Atlas,‘ since the publication of a ludicrous puff on him by an officer, after the affair at La Cole.”
IV. THE REPORT FROM SACKETT’S HARBOR
–Commercial Advertiser, May 23, 1814
“Our very obliging and respectable correspondent at Sackett’s Harbor, writes us under date of 13, ‘That in consequence of the capture of Oswego, we are progressing very slowly in our equipments; not from what we lost there, as the enemy succeeded in capturing very little, but the loss of time and consequent derangement in the forwarding of the necessary articles. By all accounts, the enemy must have paid dearly for his victory; and the gallant col. Mitchell, at the head of between 250 and 300 men of the 3d regiment artillery, have done themselves great credit. This brave little band, two or three times repulsed from 1500 to 2000 of the enemy, headed by general Drummond. Capt. Mulcaster, of the R. N. is said to have been mortally wounded; if so, Sir James has lost his right hand. Our friends may rest easy respecting us; if they attempt this [Sackett’s Harbor], they will pay dearly for their termerity.'”
About the Author
Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.