The Battle of York

There are many first hand accounts of the Battle of York, including one given by Stephen Moore, the captain of the Baltimore Volunteers, who had to have a leg amputated after the battle; a particularly graphic one by Baptis Irving, Lieutenant of the Baltimore Volunteers and formerly editor of the Baltimore Whig, official ones, by General Dearborn and Isaac Chauncey, and this one, short and brief, “by a field officer in the force that landed at York,” as reprinted by the Pittsburgh Mercury, May 27, 1813.

“The column of attack consisted of the 5th, 15th, 16th, and 21st regiments of infantry, and a detachment of the light and heavy artillery.  Maj. Forsyth’s corps of riflemen and col. M’Clure’s corps of volunteers acted on the flanks.  There was a long piece of woods to go through, which offered many obstructions to our heavy ordnance.  As was expected, we were there annoyed on our flanks by a part of the British and Indians with a six pounder and two howitzers.  One of the enemy’s batteries accidently blew up, by which they lost fifty men of the 8th regt.  A part of our force was detached from our column, as it came into the open ground, who carried the second battery by storm.  The troops were halted a few minutes to bring up the heavy artillery to play on the block-house.  Gen. Sheaffe, despairing of holding the town, ordered fire to be put to the magazine, in which there were 500 barrels of powder, many cart loads of stone, and an immense quantity of iron shells and shot.  The explosion was tremendous.  The column was raked from front to rear.  Gen. Pike and his three aids, and 250 officers & men were killed or wounded in the column–Notwithstanding this calamity and the discomfiture that might be expected to follow it, the troops gave 3 cheers, instantly formed the column and marched on toward the town.

Gen Sheaffe fled and left his papers and baggage behind him.  About 60 regulars accompanied him, leaving their wounded in every farm-house.  They acknowledge the loss of three hundred killed and wounded.  Their force, regulars and militia, consisted of 1000 men.  We took between four and five hundred prisoners.”

Stephen Moore, in a letter to his brother, describes the action after their landing: “we then formed immediately, moved up to York, and when arrived just at the opening of the main street, the enemy sprung a mine upon us, which destroyed about 90 of his own men and killed or maimed about 130 of our men. — This horrible explosion has deprived me of my left leg, and otherwise grievously wounded me.”–Carlisle Gazette, May 28, 1813

Death of General Pike at the Battle of York

Another version is given in verse by “a congenial spirit in Bennington” [Vermont] and was printed by the Green Mountain Farmer on May 18, 1813.  What follow are the last four verses of the eleven verse poem, titled ‘Delightful Reverie.'”

I mounted for home, but perceiv’d on my rout,
That the fleet with the army were stirring about,
So aboard the Oneida my spirit took flight
Just as Dearborn and Pike perceiv’d York heave in sight,
All for freedom, welcome freedom,
May Heaven in mercy direct them in fight.

The battle was speedily plac’d in array,
And thro’ terrific scenes we prevail’d in the fray;
And Forsyth the citidel’s standard cut down,
And bade the brisk winds to disport with his own:
All for freedom, welcome freedom,
Its pleasures are second to Heaven alone.

                                    Then a dreadful concussion thro’ ether was spread,
And the angel of fate number’d Pike with the dead,
I saw Warren–Mercer–Montgom’ry descend
To the haven of virtue to convey her friend,
All for freedom, welcome freedom,
O who does not sigh for so noble an end.

Attention, ye year’s men, the contest prevails,
O fly to the standard, as fleet as the gales,
Your engagement is short, but the space well improv’d
Will secure to your race what your ancestors lov’d;
Virtuous freedom, Heaven born freedom,
Its basis the Union–it cannot be mov’d.

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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.

Mary Bowden