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BAttle of Chrysler Farm - History

BAttle of Chrysler Farm - History

Battle of Chrysler

On November 11, 1813, American forces were defeated by smaller numbers of British forces at the Battle of Chrysler Farm 100 miles from Montreal.

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A force of eight hundred British and Canadian troops led by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Morrison met the American advances into Canada. American Brigadier General Boyd was dispatched with 2,000 men to handle Morrison's threat. On the evening of November 10, Morrison placed his headquarters at a farmhouse of John Chrysler on the north bank of the St Lawrence. The St. Lawrence on one side and swamps on the other secured his lines. The American forces had no choice but to attack the British line directly. The British held their position and did not fire until the Americas were close. They then opened fire with devastating effect. The American line broke and the assault was over. It was a humiliating defeat for the Americans. The British lost 22 killed and 148 wounded; the Americans 102 killed and 237 wounded.


BAttle of Chrysler Farm - History

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SCOUT CAMPING

The Daniel Lady Farm welcomes all Scouting units. Camp on hallowed ground and get a tour of the barn and the house museums. We provide wood, water and Porta-pots. Only a mile from Gettysburg's town square and one exit away from the National Park Service's Visitor Center, the Lady farm makes an excellent base camp for experiencing history. Click on the picture to go to our Camping Request form.

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Horror and Heroism at the Slaughter Pen Farm

At Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County, part of the Fredericksburg battlefield, Union Col. Charles H. T. Collis gallops to the front of his 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, seizes the regiment's colors, and rallies his men for another attack on Dec. 13, 1862. For his extraordinary valor under fire, Collis received the Medal of Honor. German artist Carl Rochling later painted the scene.

Some 4,000 Federal soldiers stood upon the precipice of battle. Their waterlogged and mud-caked wool uniforms clung heavily to each man’s body. For the last few hours, they had laid upon the earth in a vain attempt to keep a low profile from Confederate projectiles falling among their ranks. "When we came up to within range or reach of there [sic] batteries they opened on us from a number of batteries…” recalled one Pennsylvania soldier. “We were kept in a large field lying on the frozen ground which was thawing a little. For several hours wich [sic] all the while the Rebel cannons were firing on us — the cannon balls were flying over and among us all the time, killing men and hosses [sic] and tearing up the ground all around us and throwing the mud and dirt all over us and blew up one of our ammunition wagons….”

A veritable hell on earth had just erupted from the far tree line. Few could fathom the horror that waited across the seemingly flat, nondescript field before them. And none could have expected that, by the end of December 13, 1862, this nondescript field would witness no fewer than five acts of valor for which United States soldiers were bestowed the Medal of Honor. These stories of heroism on the Slaughter Pen Farm are highlighted herein.

Today, the Battle of Fredericksburg is one of the most misunderstood campaigns in all of American military history. Most view the battle as futile frontal assaults on a fixed fortified enemy position. Confederate soldiers were so well positioned that they had an easy victory, mowing down thousands of Federal soldiers in front of the now-infamous Marye’s Heights. The reality of what happened on December 13th is far different than the story that has been told by the majority of the battle’s participants, as well by as many historians. The Battle of Fredericksburg was not a one-sided affair. It was not an easy Confederate victory. In fact, it was a close-fought thing. The Union army came within reach of decisively defeating General Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia.

The Federal plan that General Ambrose Burnside decided upon was simple enough: a pre-dawn, nearly simultaneous assault on the Confederate lines. On the Union left, Burnside amassed nearly 65,000 Federal soldiers. They were to attack across a plain south of Fredericksburg, strike the Confederate right and push it to the west and to the north—away from the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. This would place the Federals between the enemy and their capital. As the rebels were driven back on their right, another Federal force would attack out of the city of Fredericksburg itself. These Union soldiers would hit the Confederate left at Marye’s Heights. These Union troops were meant to tie down the enemy in the northern sector of the battlefield so that they would be unable to shift south and assist their counterparts on the Confederate right, while hopefully dislodging the enemy from their strong position. It was a solid plan on paper however, the execution of the plan was severely flawed.

At Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County, part of the Fredericksburg battlefield, Union Col. Charles H. T. Collis gallops to the front of his 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, seizes the regiment's colors, and rallies his men for another attack on Dec. 13, 1862. For his extraordinary valor under fire, Collis received the Medal of Honor. German artist Carl Rochling later painted the scene.

Vague orders arrived at the front after dawn, and they seemed to contradict the plan Burnside had discussed with his commanders the previous evening. The Federal commander in charge of the 65,000 men on the Union left, William Buell Franklin, was baffled. He assumed his men would be the vanguard of the offensive, yet the orders he received sounded impotent. Rather than ask Burnside for clarification, Franklin stuck to what he perceived as the tone of the order and, instead of launching 65,000 Federals on an assault, he sent forward “a division at least”—some 4,200 men—and he kept “it well supported” with another division of some 4,000 soldiers. In other words, a poorly worded order and terrible communications—all made worse by a bad map—led to Franklin’s decision to merely throw forward 8,200 men toward an enemy line that consisted of more than 38,000 Confederate soldiers. One Confederate watched as the blanket of blue engulfed the fields before him, preparing for the assault, “It was a grand sight seeing them come in position this morning, but it seemed that host would eat us up. ”

Unbeknownst to the Confederate onlookers, the imposing Federal formation was not as imposing as it would seem. Near 10 AM, the Federals made their initial push toward the Confederate right. As they did so, a few stray cannon shots fell among the Union ranks. The shells were not coming from the far tree line, though rather, they came from the Union left, where there should be no Confederates. A Pennsylvania solider stated, “Naturally supposing, from the position [of the cannon], 'twas one of our own batteries, we thought our gunners had had too much 'commissary' this morning, and so remarked.” More shots tore through the ranks. However, it was not a few inebriated Union artillerists, but rather a rogue Confederate officer who rode forward with a lone cannon and pelted the Union flank for nearly an hour. This cannon stalled the Federal offensive.

Around 12 PM, the Federal offensive lurched forward once more. This time, the Confederates responded with a roar. The full force of Southern artillery, some 56 cannon, came to bear on the Federals, who were easy targets on an open plain. Federal artillery countered in what proved to be the largest artillery duel in the war's Eastern Theater from December of 1862 until Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

Just after 1 PM, two Confederate ammunition chests exploded along the Southern lines—one right after the other. Some Federals leaped to their feet and cheered wildly. One officer seized the initiative. General George G. Meade called all of his 4,200 Pennsylvanians to their feet. The Keystone State men pressed forward into a point of woods and flowed onto a low rise named Prospect Hill. Although outnumbered, Meade’s men burst like a shell in all directions and, amazingly, breached the dense Confederate line. They desperately needed support, though.

General John Gibbon National Archives

Although his family lived in the South, John Gibbon felt compelled by duty to stay with the Union, where he amassed a stellar reputation as the leader of the famed Iron Brigade. And on the afternoon of December 13th, he stood at the head of an entire Union division. As Gibbon steeled himself for battle, he could not have known that the Confederate force he was about to assault—across what has been dubbed as the “Slaughter Pen” of Fredericksburg—contained three of his brothers.

As Meade’s men fought for their lives atop Prospect Hill, Gibbon readied his division for action, stacking his three brigades one behind the other. His outnumbered division would act as a battering ram, entering the fray in three successive waves.

Sometime between 1:15 and 1:30, Gibbon’s first wave trudged across the field. The fields were marshy and muddy. The ground tried to suck the shoes right off the men’s feet. Their wool uniforms were made heavy by the water they had absorbed while lying in the open, waiting to go into action. Confederate artillery fire still fell among the ranks.

Nelson Taylor, Gibbon’s senior brigade commander, found that the seemingly flat field the men were trudging through was not so flat. In fact, the plantation fields across which they advanced had a number of fences. The traditional wood fence along the road was no problem rather, it was the ditch fence they came across in the field that posed a major issue. Farmers in that part of Virginia dug ditch fences to provide irrigation for their fields, denote property lines, and keep cattle from wandering. This particular fence was normally 4 to 5 feet deep and around 10 feet wide. The width of the fence meant the muddy Federal soldiers could not leap across it—they had to jump into more mud and ankle- to knee-deep water. Once out of the ditch fence, the men ascended a slight, almost imperceptible rise.

Atop the rise, Taylor's lead brigade felt the full brunt of the Confederate small-arms fire. Five North Carolina regiments led by James Lane opened upon the exposed Federals. (These were the same Tar Heels that would wound Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson six months later.) Taylor attempted to steady his men, who began falling left and right. The division skirmish line, manned by Colonel Samuel Leonard’s 13th Massachusetts Infantry, withdrew, lacking ammunition.

The 13th Massachusetts made its way back to the staging area where the Federal advance began, the Bowling Green Road. As the members of the regiment caught their breath, George Maynard looked around and was unable to locate his friend, Charles Armstrong. Determined to find his comrade, Maynard proceeded on his own back to the front. A firestorm enveloped his unit’s former position. Amidst the hail of bullets, Maynard located Armstrong—the latter having been wounded in the leg. Maynard made an improvised tourniquet in the field, applied it to Armstrong’s leg, and then carried him back through “the whistling of shot and shell.” George Maynard came off the field unscathed and located a Union field hospital. Sadly, Charles Armstrong passed away on the evening of December 13th. For his actions, though, George Maynard received the Medal of Honor—the first of five men who would receive that distinction on the Slaughter Pen Farm.

Taylor’s attack foundered. Standing in an open field, exchanging shots with an enemy protected behind a railroad embankment and in a tree line, was a losing proposition. After 20 minutes of fighting, most of Taylor’s men were disheartened and running low on ammunition. Colonel Peter Lyle brought his brigade forward in an attempt to bolster Taylor’s line. Lyle tried to make the best out of a bad situation by combining the two brigades. Men still fell by the score.

The flags of each unit made conspicuous targets, but they, too, were the epicenters of conspicuous gallantry. Flags were large, designed so men could see them through the smoke of battle. If your flag went forward, so should you if the flag went to the rear, you could withdraw from the field in good conscience. Flags were also the pride of soldiers, both North and the South. It was a great dishonor to lose one to the enemy in action.

Lyle’s battle line began to falter as his men pressed across the field. Confederates leaped atop the embankment of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and singled out many of the Federal color bearers. The color bearer of the 26th New York Infantry fell wounded as the unit advanced across the Slaughter Pen. The men of the 26th had already entered the battle with a pall over their heads. Their former colonel, William Christian, had resigned from the army in disgrace, labeled as a coward. Thus, the soldiers of 26th New York had something to prove at Fredericksburg.

As their colors fell to the earth, a German immigrant sprang forward. Martin Schubert should not have been on the battlefield at Fredericksburg. Schubert was sickly and had just received a medical discharge from the army. Rather than abandon his comrades and flag in their time of need, though, Schubert had stayed to fight. He scooped up the flag and, rather than just stand his ground, he strode forward, urging his unit to follow. Moments later, Schubert was felled by a bullet—but another immigrant stepped in to take up the colors and the advance. Joseph Keene, a former Englishman, took the flag from Schubert and helped to keep the advance going. Both Schubert and Keene received the Medal of Honor.

Just down the line from the 26th New York was the brand-new 136th Pennsylvania Infantry. These 9-month soldiers, who hailed from Western Pennsylvania, had joined the Union cause when President Lincoln called for 300,000 more men in response to Robert E. Lee’s move into Maryland earlier in the fall.

The fight at the Slaughter Pen was overwhelming for some of the green Keystone Staters. The color bearer of the unit was a 250-pound man who made a perfect target for the rebels. As this fact dawned on him, he abandoned his flag. Phillip Petty saw the discarded banner and snatched it up. Like Schubert, Petty led by example and moved forward with the flag, helping to urge his men across the field. He stomped forward for a few yards, planted the flag in the ground, knelt beside it, and fired on the enemy. His fellow Pennsylvanians rallied around him. Petty was later presented the Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, John Gibbon added the weight of his third and final brigade to the attack. His men drove the Confederates from the railroad, and like Meade’s men to their left, breached the Confederate line. The success, though, was short-lived. Fierce rebel counterattacks struck home, and Gibbon’s men poured back from whence they came. One soldier admitted that “the noise was terrific, almost deafening.”

In the pell-mell retreat, scores of Union prisoners fell into rebel hands. Private George Heiser of the 136th Pennsylvania was one of those unlucky men. Heiser had refused to leave a wounded comrade near the rail line. Confederates sent him to Libby Prison, although he was later exchanged. Heiser survived his nine months with the army and was extremely proud of his service. He took part in veterans' reunions, marched in memorial parades, and instilled the pride of patriotism in his son Victor. George owned a store in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It was the kind of store we only see in the movies. It had everything you would need to live in coal country and if you couldn’t afford to pay, George Heiser let you take what you needed anyhow—he knew you were good for it. In May of 1889, George marched in the annual memorial celebration in Johnstown. Sadly, two days later, he and his wife Mathilde were swept away in the waters of the epic Johnstown Flood. Fifteen-year-old Victor Heiser miraculously survived. He went to where his parents’ store once stood all that remained was a wardrobe. He opened it to find the contents: his father's Civil War uniform. Victor reached into the pocket and pulled out the sum total of his inheritance—one cent—which was perhaps carried by George at Fredericksburg. George Heiser had survived the horror of the Slaughter Pen at Fredericksburg and the hell of Libby Prison only to die in one of the other great tragedies of the late 19th century.

With George Meade’s and John Gibbon’s attacks both over, now it was a matter of survival. The battle was lost, and the commanders had to extract as many men from battle as possible.

Meade begged for reinforcements. Then he pleaded for them. Finally, he went on the warpath with fellow Union officers. After far too much time, reinforcements arrived at the front. Meanwhile, Gibbon was severely wounded in the wrist and gave up the field. His division streamed back toward the Bowling Green Road and the Rappahannock River. Still, something had to be done to stem the tide of Confederate forces.

Fresh troops entered the field as the Confederate counterattack was reaching its zenith.

New York Zouaves Library of Congress

Colonel Charles Collis was a native of Ireland who had immigrated to the United States shortly before the Civil War. Collis served in the 1862 Valley Campaign and seemed to have a solid battlefield acumen. Unfortunately for Collis’ unit, the 114th Pennsylvania, they were entering their first battle. The 114th Pennsylvania was known as “Collis’ Zouaves” because they wore the flashy red and blue uniforms modeled after French Algerian soldiers.

What the Pennsylvanians saw was akin to pandemonium. Their brigade commander, John Robinson, was knocked out of action and Gibbon’s men were fleeing the field with Confederates in hot pursuit. Federal artillery pieces were about to be overrun. Collis didn’t flinch. He rode to the center of his line, snatched the flag from the color bearer, and spurred his horse forward, bellowing “Remember the stone wall at Middletown!” While the phrase might have been invigorating to other soldiers, the 114th Pennsylvania had not fought at Middletown. Thus, the meaning of the phrase fell on deaf ears. What did spur the men of the 114th Pennsylvania forward was the action of the colonel, on horseback, flag in hand. The Keystone State men slammed into the Confederates, halting the rebel counterattack. The action was immortalized in a massive painting, while Collis’ heroism was rewarded with a Medal of Honor.

Marching into battle with the men of the 114th Pennsylvania—but often overlooked—was a vivandiere by the name of French Mary Tepe. A vivandiere is a carryover from the French army. They supported the soldiers in the field by supplying them with water, aid, and other care. Tepe was right behind the battleline in the Slaughter Pen when she was wounded in the ankle. For her actions, she was awarded the Kearney Cross, an award exclusively given out by General Philip Kearney’s old division. The cross was granted “only to brave and worthy soldiers.”

By 3 PM, the fighting at the Slaughter Pen was all but over. Nearly 5,000 soldiers fell in the life-and-death struggle. Across that bloody plain, and in a radius of some 400 yards, five men “received the highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who distinguished themselves by acts of valor”—the Medal of Honor. Few sites of battle ever witnessed this amount of horror and heroism in such a small span of time and space.

The Slaughter Pen Farm Ron Zanoni

Upon retreating across the Rappahannock River, one Pennsylvania soldier seemed to sum up the experience of every Federal soldier who fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg and survived. “I am free to confess that the moment I touched the earth I drew a long, strong and soul-relieving breath, and from the bottom of my heart, thanked God that I have lived to get out of that infernal slaughter pen and was once more safely landed on the other side of Jordan.”


Battle of Châteauguay

Battle of Châteauguay, fought 25-26 Oct 1813 along the marshy shores of the Châteauguay River near Montréal (artwork by Henri Julien, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-003297). Called the hero of Châteauguay for his bravery in the battle against the Americans in 1813 (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library/T14885). Though resistant to the discipline of his superiors, soldier François Ducharme nonetheless distinguished himself in several key battles, such as the Battle of Châteauguay. No known image of Ducharme exists (detail from a lithograph by Henri Julien, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-003297). Battle of Châteauguay, 26 October 1813. A small force of Canadian volunteers commanded by Charles-Michel de Salaberry defeated a much larger American force of 3000 en route to Montréal (courtesy Musée du Château Ramezay).

Battle of Châteauguay

One of the least destructive skirmishes of the War of 1812 in terms of casualties, the Battle of Châteauguay was also one of the most detrimental to American war plans and one of the most important for the development of Canadian nationalism. Fought 25-26 October 1813 along the marshy shores of the Châteauguay River near Montréal, it was initiated by American general Wade Hampton. With approximately 3000 troops, Hampton intended to invade Lower Canada as part of a large-scale operation to capture Montréal, in conjunction with General James Wilkinson, who was approaching from the west along the St. Lawrence (see Battle of Crysler's Farm).

Candian Defences at Châteauguay

Hampton's army was met by a smaller, all-Canadian force of Voltigeurs, fencibles, militia, and several Kahnawake warriors, under the command of French-Canadian lieutenant-colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry. The American loss effectively ended any serious threat against Montréal. For the defenders, who were outnumbered and, for the first time, fighting without British support, this skirmish became a source of enormous pride.

From the outset, Hampton's cause was fraught with challenges. Approximately 1000 of the New York militia who were a part of his army refused to cross the border, and during the battle itself, several of his officers were seen abandoning their men and positions for safer ground. The Canadians had lodged behind extremely well-constructed defensive works, and the amount of noise emanating from them - shouts, cheers, and bugling, deliberately produced to cause confusion - made it difficult for Hampton to ascertain how many members of the enemy's forces he faced.

Failed American Strategy

Initially, the Americans' plan of attack seemed promising, if precarious. Finding the Canadian defences wedged between the river on the east, and a swamp to the west, Hampton hired guides to lead a brigade (under Colonel Robert Purdy) northward, where they would position themselves behind Salaberry's barricade. Hampton and a second brigade under General George Izard would then commence a frontal attack on the Canadian position.

What looked good on the map, however, was a disaster in execution. On the evening of 25 October, Purdy and 1500 men set out to find their way behind the Canadian defences. When the guides proved less than reliable, the troops found themselves lost and meandering in the woods, making very little progress. Meanwhile, Hampton received a communication from the secretary of war, John Armstrong, that winter barracks were being constructed for his men Hampton took this news to mean that Washington did not intend to support the invasion. Disheartened, but unable to recall Purdy, he went ahead with his plan the following morning.

Victory for the Canadians

The skirmish itself lasted several hours and involved intense and repeated thrusts and volleys on each side. But because Purdy's men had not been able to flank the Canadian defences, the forward assault on the barricade was not nearly as effective as Hampton and Izard had hoped. Purdy's men were scattered, under fire from snipers, and lacked any coordinated leadership many of them abandoned the fight. The Americans were further disadvantaged by their weapons, which were loaded with notoriously inaccurate "buck-and-ball" ammunition, most of which ended up lodged in the surrounding trees. By three o'clock that afternoon, recognizing that the enterprise had failed, Hampton ordered his men to withdraw. Later reports described this retreat as panicked and fearful, particularly for Purdy's men, as they were pursued by Aboriginal warriors throughout the following night.

Although the encounter at Châteauguay was not as bloody as many battles fought during this war, the loss of life and injuries sustained should not be dismissed. The Americans suffered 23 killed and 33 wounded, while 29 men were declared missing. Salaberry's troops fared better (no doubt because of their well-constructed defences) they reported two killed, 16 wounded, and four missing.


The Battle That Saved Canada

W hile Americans’ recollections of the War of 1812 include the celebrated victories over British invaders at Fort McHenry, Md., and New Orleans, they are less prone to remember the failed invasions of British North America (present-day Canada). Among the most humiliating U.S. defeats came in battle along the St. Lawrence River at a place called Crysler’s Farm.

In 1813 U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr. conceived a two-pronged invasion of Lower Canada (present- day Quebec). Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson was to boat 8,000 troops down the St. Lawrence from Sackett’s Harbor, N.Y., on the northeast shore of Lake Ontario, and rendezvous with a 4,000-man force under Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton marching north from Plattsburgh, New York. Their objec tive was Montreal.

The scheme went awry from the outset. In September both Armstrong and Wilkinson fell ill, leading the secretary to delegate command to Wilkinson. That didn’t sit well with Hampton, who loathed the latter to the point of refusing to communicate directly with him. Hampton may have had good reason. A former commanding general of the U.S. Army, Wilkinson had slimed his way through multiple courts-martial for a variety of offenses.

On October 18 Hampton moved north along the Châteauguay River only to have his 1,400 New York militiamen balk at fighting people they saw as friends. The general and his 2,600 Regulars pushed on to the confluence of the Châteauguay and English rivers, where they encountered 1,500 French Canadian Voltigeurs, other local militias and Mo hawk warriors under Lt. Col. Charles de Salaberry. The Battle of the Châteauguay, on October 26, ended in defeat for Hampton, who withdrew to Plattsburgh and tendered his resignation, while Salaberry became a Canadian folk hero.

Meanwhile, on October 17, Wilkinson and his 8,000 men left Sackett’s Harbor and boated down the St. Lawrence. The British sent a 650-man force downriver from Kingston to harass the Americans. Its New York–born commander, Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison, had fought in the Nether lands before returning to North America as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 89th (Princess Victoria’s) Regiment of Foot. While chasing Wilkinson, his force drew eager local militia men and Mohawk warriors, its ranks swelling to near 900.

Late on November 10, after enduring a day of British fire, Wilkinson’s main body encamped along the river at Cook’s Tavern. Behind him, Morrison’s men bedded down at John Crysler’s farm, within 2 miles of the American rear guard.

At dawn on November 11, British gunboats fired on Wilkinson’s camp, while inland American scouts fired on a sniping Mohawk, prompting panicked Canadians to raise the alarm. Soon both forces were on the alert. At midmorning Wilkinson, resolving to eliminate the enemy force hectoring his rear guard, sent Brig. Gen. John Parker Boyd with 2,500 infantrymen and dragoons to deal with the annoyance.

Despite being outnumbered more than 2-to-1, Morrison chose to fight. At center were his 500 regulars, supported by two 6-pounder cannons. Anchored against the river, his right flank comprised light and grenadier companies and a third 6-pounder. In woods to the left the Voltigeurs, other militiamen and two-dozen Indians took up skirmishing positions.

Wilkinson opened the battle with an infantry thrust around the British left that drove the Canadians a mile back through the forest. As the Americans emerged from the woods, however, the well-drilled British loosed a withering series of volleys that drove the attackers to cover.

Meanwhile, a separate American force led by Brig. Gen. Leonard Covington crossed a gully to an open field and were met by a line of soldiers clad in gray. Beneath the gray greatcoats, however, were the red coats with green facings of Morrison’s 89th Foot. Covington was mortally wounded in their first volley, and when his second-in-command fell dead moments later, the brigade fell into disorder. Despite a brief rally by U.S. artillery, by 4:30 nearly all the Americans were in retreat, and by dusk the British had ceased pursuit

In this rare pitched battle of the War of 1812 the British lost 31 killed and 148 wounded, the Americans 102 dead, 237 wounded and 120 captured. On November 12, Wilkin son held a council of war, which unanimously agreed to end the ill-conceived campaign.

Today an 1895 commemorative obelisk marks the national historic site of “The Battle That Saved Canada,” 5 miles downstream from present-day Morrisburg, Ontario. Open daily each July and August, the on-site visitor center includes an interactive battlefield model and map, an audiovisual presentation, soldier dioramas and a panoramic mural highlighting the fight’s climax. Admission is free.


Battle of Crysler’s Farm National Historic Site

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm was fought on November 11, 1813 between American forces under the command of Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson and British forces commanded by Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison near Morrisburg, Ontario during the War of 1812. It was a complete victory for the British, and this, alongside another defeat at the Battle of the Chateauguay, persuaded the Americans to abandon plans to march on Montreal.

The American effort to capture Montreal in 1813 was known as the St. Lawrence Campaign, since it focused on militarily dominating the St. Lawrence River, at the border of the United States and British Canada. In September, Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson and 8,000 men departed from Sackets Harbor, New York and advanced east along the river, while Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and 4,000 men advanced north from Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain. Hampton was defeated at the Battle of the Chateauguay on October 26.

Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison’s much smaller force of 900 to 1,200 men had pursued the American expedition to Morrisburg, where the two sides made camp on November 10. The next morning, battle occurred almost by accident when scouts began firing at each other, making both armies believe an attack was imminent. Morrison had chosen Crysler’s Farm because of its open terrain, while the Americans had to slog through swampy ground to reach the British.

As luck would have it, Maj. Gen. Wilkinson was sick, so Brig. Gen. John Parker Boyd was left in command. He attacked piecemeal, and with only 2,500 men. The American attack quickly faltered over rough terrain and a British counterattack drove them back. The American expeditionary force withdrew, leaving 102 killed, 237 wounded, and 120 captured. The British lost 31 killed and 148 wounded. Maj. Gen. Wilkinson was later accused of negligence during the campaign but was exonerated in a court martial.

The War of 1812, fought between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1815, arose from a dispute over maritime trade and U.S. territorial ambitions on British Canada. The war went badly for the U.S., with British troops burning Washington, DC in August 1814. A late victory by Andrew Jackson at New Orleans led to the perception the U.S won the war, despite the Treaty of Ghent establishing peace without any territory changing hands.

Canadian Parliament designated Crysler’s Farm a National Historic Site in 1920, but in 1958 it was destroyed to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway (seaway expansion also submerged several historic farms, villages, and cemeteries). Dirt from the battlefield was piled up to create a man-made hill, on top of which was raised the 1895 obelisk that formerly marked the battle site.

There is a reconstructed British encampment and interpretive center nearby. Camp figures and tents are made of painted metal and provide a neat photo opportunity. The center, called the Battle Memorial Building, contains artifacts from the War of 1812, as well as two life-size dioramas depicting moments from the battle.


The Battle of Glendale/Frayser's Farm

Often identified as one of the Confederate army's great lost opportunities, this battle was the next to last of the Seven Days battles. With the Union army in full retreat toward the James River in the face of Lee’s offensive, the Southern army set its sights on the critical intersection at Riddle's Shop, often called Glendale and sometimes referred to as Charles City Crossroads. Most of the Union army would have to funnel through that bottleneck on its way to the river.

Seven Union infantry divisions deployed across several miles to guard the intersection. Four separate Confederate columns angled toward the crossroads. Northeast of the crossroads, at White Oak Swamp, 30,000 men led by Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson made no progress against blue-clad divisions under generals Smith and Richardson. Two other Southern columns, commanded by Benjamin Huger and Theophilus Holmes, met substantial resistance and failed to threaten the Union position. The fourth column, which included the troops of generals A. P. Hill and James Longstreet, struck George McCall's Pennsylvania Reserve division west of Glendale on either side of the Long Bridge Road. In the bitter fighting—some of it with bayonets and clubbed rifles—the Confederates captured more than a dozen cannon and were able to push to the edge of the old Frayser Farm, within sight of the road leading south from the intersection to the James River. But they could go no farther. The intersection remained open, and the Union army retreated safely on the night of the 30th.

Sketch the battle of Glendale by Alfred Waud.

The casualty figures for June 30 are difficult to know with any certainty. Reasonable estimates suggest about 3500 men killed, wounded, and captured on each side.

Perhaps no Civil War battle has so many different names. Virtually every Confederate who fought there called it the Battle of Frayser’s Farm, but Union soldiers knew it as Glendale, Nelson’s Farm, Riddle’s Shop, Charles City Crossroads, New Market Crossroads, or White Oak Swamp.

Today Richmond National Battlefield Park owns 140 acres of the battlefield, all of it acquired in recent years. Presently the land is inaccessible to the public, but there are plans to install a parking lot, restore the ground to its historic appearance, and develop walking trails and informational signs. Much of the rest of the battlefield is owned by the national non-profit Civil War Trust, which over the years has purchased and preserved more than 450 acres there, including most of the heart of the battlefield.


89th at the Battle of Crysler's Farm

The naval and military forces of Britain and the recently independent United States of America clashed between 1812-14 in a little remembered war called 'The War of 1812'. In 1813, the American Secretary of War (John Armstrong) set in motion a strategy to capture Upper Canada by moving two armies to attack undefended Montréal in an attempt to force the British to abandon their territory to the west.

One army, Major General Hampton's, was defeated at the Battle of Chateauguay on 26 October 1813. The other army, commanded by Major General Wilkinson, was embarked and advancing along the valley of the St Lawrence River. Meanwhile, at Kingston, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morrison of the 89th Regiment, commanding a 'Corps d’Observation' boarded a flotilla and sailed down the St Lawrence to harass Wilkinson’s force. Morrison disembarked at Prescott and reinforced by the 240 men of the Prescott garrison, continued to harass Wilkinson's American army down the river. Morrison arrived at Crysler’s farm on 10 November and prepared to engage the Americans on ground of his choosing.

Wilkinson despatched Brigadier Boyd with an American force of 2,500 to attack Morrison’s force. Morrison's right was on the river line, his left in a pine wood manned by Canadian Voltigeurs and Mohawk warriors. The majority of his main body and reserve consisted of a detachment of Canadian Fencibles, the 49th and 2/89th Regiment of Foot and well sited Royal Artillery guns. At 1400 hours on 11 November, Boyd's advancing force made contact with Morrison's forward lines which then fell back to the main prepared position. Boyd's first general attack came 30 minutes later but Morrison's well-disciplined regulars, firing volleys by platoons at close range, repulsed Boyd's disorganised and poorly disciplined attacks. The fighting continued until 1630 hours when the Americans recognised that they were beaten and retreated they had lost 102 killed, 237 wounded and over 100 prisoners while the British had lost 22 killed and 148 wounded, of which the 2/89th suffered 5 killed and 2 wounded. Morrison’s victory was described as 'a very brilliant little affair.'

When Wilkinson learned that Hampton’s army had been defeated at Chateauguay and would not be joining his force for an assault on Montréal, he ended the campaign and marched the survivors of his army back to the United States. Britain and the United States ceased hostilities in the following year and concluded the war by signing the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814.

Above left, Garner's Military General Service Medal, awarded for The (Anglo-American) War of 1812 with the clasp 'CHRYSTLER'S FARM'. It is not unusual to find variations of spelling for titles of battles on medals, in despatches, historical accounts or indeed in the London Gazette. This medal is in the collection of The Royal Irish Fusiliers.


What was Jones Farm?

As one might imagine, Jones worked a large enslaved labor force on his one thousand plus acre plantation. The 1860 census lists him owning seventy-four men, women, and children, who lived in seventeen slave dwellings.

The 1860 agricultural census is a significant key to better understanding Oak Grove plantation at this time. As far as animals, enumerated were four horses, eighteen asses and mules, eight milk cows, and ten other cattle. That may sound like quite a small sum to help feed a plantation family and their enslaved workforce until one reads the following line of two hundred swine, which provided the bulk of the meat consumed on Southern plantations. All of Jones's livestock was valued at $5330.00.

Also listed were the crops grown on the plantation. They were: three hundred bushels of wheat, ten bushels of rye, 5500 bushels of Indian corn, three hundred bushels of oats. Also listed are 3000 pounds of tobacco, which seems like a very small amount to keep seventy-four slaves engaged. Perhaps Jones leased out some of his surplus slaves, but that is merely speculation on my part.

The Jones Farm endured fighting not once, but twice. Its first experience was during the Peebles Farm fighting, September 20-October 2, 1864. However, it was on March 25, 1865, that the Jones Farm endured it most significant combat, with the family home being among the engagement's causalities. The house was set ablaze by soldiers in the Union VI Corps when it was utilized by Confederate sharpshooters. The March 25 engagement will be the subject of a future post.

Present-day photograph of Jones Farm by the author on May 20, 2017.
Period map of Jones Farm location courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The Piper Farm

Piper House on a winter morning.

The Henry Piper Farm and Family

On the morning of September 19, 1862, the detritus of a bloody battle was very evident in the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The heavy scent of wood smoke and decaying flesh consumed the small community located near the Potomac River and Antietam Creek. Leaving his brother Samuel’s farm near the river, Henry Piper and his wife Betsy, made their way to their farm located on the other side of town near the Hagerstown Pike. Both prayed that the main house and outbuildings had not been destroyed by the event that took place on the previous Wednesday, September 17.

The Maryland Campaign

It had been a week filled with terror for the Piper family. On Monday, September 15, the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia arrived in the Antietam Valley following a battle on South Mountain. That afternoon, Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Daniel H. Hill found their way to the Piper home and informed Mr. Piper that his residence was selected as their headquarters. Staff officers, orderlies, soldiers and horses soon established themselves around the house as the army prepared for battle. Although Henry Piper was known in the community as an ardent Unionist, he felt it prudent to welcome his unexpected guests with dinner and other refreshments. As dinner was served, the Piper sisters offered the generals some of their homemade wine. General Longstreet politely refused the offer, but General Hill had no qualms and drank from the cup offered to him. After seeing no ill effect on Hill, Longstreet changed his mind saying, ”Ladies, I will thank you for some of that wine.”

Warned by the Confederates of the approaching battle, the couple, three of the six children and the enslaved people residing on the farm “quickly packed what they could carry into a wagon, and Elizabeth buried her dishes in the ash pile”. Mary Ellen Piper remembered their flight: “We left everything as it was on the farm, taking only the horses with us and one carriage”. The Pipers headed first to the Killiansburg Cave along the Potomac River but eventually took shelter at the Samuel Piper farm.

The Battle

The Henry Piper Farm was centrally located astride Lee’s defensive line on September 17. From a plateau behind the Piper farmhouse, General Lee and Major General Longstreet saw the columns of Union troops on his front and his flanks. In addition, Confederate artillery batteries sited their targets from this high ground. By 9:00 A.M., two Confederate brigades anchored down the so-called “Sunken Road,” six hundred yards north of the Piper Barn, and it served as a fall back position for troops engaged to the North. Major General William French and Major General Richardson drove their divisions towards the Sunken Road through the Mumma and Roulette Farms beginning at 9:30 A.M. Meanwhile, Confederate Major Gen. Richard Anderson maneuvered his division around and through the Piper buildings and orchard. These Confederate regiments withstood the fire of four Union batteries of twenty-pound Parrot rifled cannons coming at them from a distance of two miles on their right. By 11:00 A.M., the Sunken Road had become a death trap for the Confederate defenders. Receiving fire from three different directions, the Confederate battle line broke for the rear through the Piper Orchard towards the Hagerstown Pike. Hit by a Confederate shell fragment, Major General Richardson was mortally wounded and carried from the field. Major General George McClellan ordered his replacement, Major General Winfield S. Hancock, to call off the attack and consolidate the Union position north of the Sunken Road. That evening, the 7th Maine Regiment of the Sixth Corps received an order to advance towards the Piper Barn. The Confederates drove back the ill-fated attack, which resulted in many Union casualties.

The following day, neither side renewed the battle, and the Piper farm became a no man’s land between the lines. On the evening of the 18th, Lee took his army back across the Potomac River and returned to Virginia.

On September 19, the farmers and townspeople of Sharpsburg warily returned to their houses and farms. The Pipers were relieved to find their house, barn and out buildings still standing. Inside their home, however, laying underneath their prized piano were two dead Confederate soldiers. The Pipers’ personal possessions were strewn around the buildings and Union soldiers were butchering the livestock that had not been driven off. Their farm and their lives were in shambles. The Union army stayed in Sharpsburg for the next six weeks.

Aftermath

Eventually, Henry Piper filed a claim to the federal authorities for assorted damages to his property and livestock. Although the board of claims awarded him $2,488, he did not receive payment because he did not produce a certificate of loyalty. Twenty-four years later, Henry sued the U.S. Government and one of the witnesses was former enslaved person Jeremiah Summers.

Henry and Elizabeth moved to Sharpsburg in 1863 and resided at a house they had purchased in 1857 following the death of Henry’s father. This house is still located at the corner of Main and Church streets in Sharpsburg.

In April of 1864, a company of the 19th United States Colored Troops headquartered at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Sharpsburg was accused of seizing “diverse colored men, free and slave” for service in the Union army. One of those men was young Jeremiah Summers who was only 15 at the time. Henry Piper found the lad at the church headquarters and took him back to the farm. Piper claimed that Jeremiah could not serve because of his age. Not convinced, eight soldiers from the company roughed him up and put him under arrest. He was released on the condition that he produce Jeremiah. The soldiers took Jeremiah away as the people of Sharpsburg townspeople loudly objected.Henry journeyed to Frederick, Maryland and voiced his complaint to the Provost Marshal who thereupon released Jeremiah to his custody. Later, many citizens of Sharpsburg submitted a petition to Major General Lew Wallace and demanded an investigation.

After Maryland emancipated slaves in 1864, Jerimiah continued to work and reside on the Piper Farm as a paid employee of Henry’s son Samuel. Henry retired to his elegant stone house and later employed Jeremiah’s son Emory. After Henry Piper’s death, he provided Jeremiah with a small cottage and garden near the Sunken Road. Jeremiah Cornelius Summers died in 1925 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Tolson’s Chapel Cemetery of Sharpsburg. Elizabeth Piper died on January 19, 1887 and Henry succumbed five years later on January 14, 1892.

The Piper Farm that Henry and Elizabeth bought from his father in 1854, was composed of 184 acres and had the only commercial apple orchard in that part of Washington County. Each fall, the cider press located near the stone barn produced many gallons of cider for sale. Six other buildings surrounded the modest farmhouse: the kitchen/enslaved quarters, root cellar, store house, smokehouse, and the barn. The slave quarters were located in the stone house west of the main house. In 1850, Henry owned four slaves and his father owned five slaves. To accommodate these two families, the quarters were divided into two sections with a loft above each section. By 1860, there were six slaves on the farm, five of them children. A kitchen was also located in this building. The Pipers also employed a sixteen year old free black farm hand named John Jumper. The main house had two levels and a root cellar. The second level included the parents’ and children’s rooms. On the first level was the parlor and the center of activity. The piano provided hours of entertainment for the family and guests.

The Piper Farm remained in the family until 1960. The Park Service bought the property from the Antietam-Sharpsburg Museum, Inc. in 1964 for $75,000.

The legacy of the Piper family lives on to this day. The Park Service leases out the fields to area farmers and the apple orchard has been re-planted. As the seasons, change, the memories of the hardships that the Pipers and their neighbors endured will never be forgotten.
To learn more about what our Natural Resource Division is working on in the Piper Orchard, click here.

Map of the Piper Farm


Watch the video: Battle of Cryslers Farm 1813 War of 1812 (December 2021).