Those of us who read this blog or the history books will know that Constitution’s crew, the ones who sailed with Captain Hull and Commodore Bainbridge, had more than a few high adventures on the high seas. But
few know that some of these same men made an epic overland trek that ultimately resulted in one of the US Navy’s greatest victories.
By the spring of 1813 the American squadrons building on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were in desperate need of men. Writing to Secretary of the Navy William Jones on March 5, 1813, Commodore Isaac Chauncey asked for 300 sailors and 200 Marines for the Lake Ontario squadron. In turn, Secretary Jones requested Commodore William Bainbridge to open a rendezvous in Boston to recruit men for the lakes. After two weeks, only one man had enlisted (and he promptly deserted).
liable to make so much leeway as in marching.” The two groups changed horses (and probably coaches, too) at Framingham, Worcester, Belchertown, Northampton, and
Pittsfield. From Pittsfield they steered for Albany, NY, and then on to Amsterdam and Utica. The second detachment lost two men on the road. Sailing Master John Nichols died on May 10 at Lorraine, NY and Seaman John Harvey died on the 12th at Redfield, about fifteen miles south of Sackets Harbor.
|Part one of the crew’s journey. They travel by stagecoach across an 1802 map of Massachusetts by Osgood Carleton.|
|Part two of the crew’s journey. By coach and wagon to Sackets Harbor, then by boat and foot to Lake Erie. The map is by Simeon DeWitt and dates to 1804.|
addressed us, and said he was about to proceed to Lake Ontario, to take command, and asking who would volunteer to go with him. This was agreeable news to us, for we hated the gun-boats, and would go anywhere to be quit of them. Every man and boy volunteered. We got twenty-four hours’ liberty, with a few dollars in money, and when this scrape was over every man returned, and we embarked in a sloop for Albany. Our draft contained near 140 men….On reaching Albany, we paid a visit to the governor, gave him three cheers, got some good cheer in return, and were all stowed in wagons, a mess in each, before his door. We now took to our land tacks, and a merry time we had of it. Our first day’s run was to a place called Schenectady, and here the officers found an empty house, and berthed us all together, fastening the doors. This did not suit our notions of a land cruise, and we began to grumble. There was a regular hard horse of a boatswain’s-mate with us, of the name of McNally. This man had been in the service a long time, and was a thorough man-of-war’s man. He had collected twenty-four of us, whom he called his “disciples,” and shamed am I to say, I was one. McNally called all hands on the upper deck, as he called it, that is to say, in the garret, and made us a speech. He said this was no way to treat volunteers, and proposed that we should “unship the awning.” We rigged pries, and, first
singing out “Stand from under,” hove one half of the roof into the street, and the other into the garden. We then gave three cheers at our success. The officers now came down, and gave us a lecture; but made out so good a case, that they let us run till morning, when every soul was back, and mustered in the wagons. In this way we went through the country, cracking our jokes, laughing, and noting all oddities that crossed our course. I believe we were ten or twelve days working our way through the state to Oswego. At Onondago Lake we got into boats, and did better than in the wagons. At a village on the lake shore the people were very bitter against us, and we had some difficulty. The word went among us they were Scotch, from the Canadas, but of this I know nothing. We heard in the morning, however, that most of our officers were in limbo, and we crossed and marched up a hill, intending to burn, sink, and destroy, if they were not liberated. Mischief was prevented by the appearance of Mr. Mix [sailing master commanding the detachment], with the other gentlemen, and we pushed off without coming to blows.
G. Martin (Ret.), “The Constitution
Connection,” The Journal of Erie Studies,
vol. 17, no. 2 (Fall 1988), 39-46.
Jones to William Bainbridge, 7 May 1813, in Secretary of the Navy Letters to
Commandants and Navy Agents, 1808-1865, M441, NARA.
sequence of the march is based on the settled receipts of Sailing Master John
Nichols, Settled Accounts of Fourth Auditor of the Treasury, Numerical Series,
RG 217, No. 208, NARA.
Fenimore Cooper, ed., Ned Myers; or, A
Life Before the Mast (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1843), 47-48.
Chauncey to Dulany Forrest, Accounts of Fourth Auditor of the Treasury,
Numerical Series, RG 217, No. 3739, NARA.
in Richard J. Cox, “An Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Lake Erie,” Proceedings of the United States Naval
Institute (Feb. 1978), 71.
USS Constitution Museum