Friends of Fort Ontario Sponsor War of 1812 Commemoration Event at New York State Historic Site
- The Friends of Fort Ontario will sponsor the May 8-9, 2010, War of 1812 commemoration event at Fort Ontario State Historic Site. Dr. Harold Youmans will be the featured speaker and will present a program on the May 5-7, 1814, Battle of Oswego on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. Dr. Youmans is the editor of the "Journal of the War of 1812."
A small contingent of re-enactors and Friends volunteers will conduct an encampment over the weekend. Lee Smith of Maryland will portray a Royal Navy Surgeon and set up an interpretive display of surgical tools, equipment, medicines, and other objects pertaining to period health care.
Fort Ontario souvenirs, books, memberships, and other items, including "Save the Fort" T-shirts and bumper stickers will be available for sale. No furnished buildings will be open and admission will not be charged due to the lack of a state budget and operating funds for the fort. Limited access to the ramparts and parade ground will be available from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the event.
During the War of 1812, military supplies moved through Oswego along the traditional Mohawk-Oneida Lake-Oswego River route to the U.S. Army and Navy base and port at Sacket's Harbor, NY. A little known fact is that Lake Ontario was the main theatre of action during the War of 1812. At the beginning of the war the defenses of Fort Ontario were strengthened and barracks and storehouses were constructed. In June 1813, a British fleet appeared off Oswego Harbor and prepared to attack the fort and village but was driven off by a strong show of American force.
Early the following spring, on May 4, 1814, a British squadron of seven ships under the command of Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo, left Kingston, Ontario to attack Oswego. On board the ships was a landing force of approximately 900 men under the command of Lt. General Sir George Gordon Drummond. Upon learning of an imminent British attack on Oswego, Major General Jacob Brown, commanding an American column marching from Sacket's Harbor to Niagara, detached Lt. Colonel George Mitchell and five companies (290 men) of the Third U.S. Artillery (armed and equipped as infantry) with orders to proceed to Oswego and prevent ordnance and other naval stores there and at Oswego Falls (Fulton) from falling into the possession of the enemy.
When Mitchell arrived at Fort Ontario on April 30, he discovered the fort in disrepair and armed with five old cannons without carriages, three without trunnions. He set his men to constructing makeshift cannon carriages and repairing the fort.
On the morning of May 5, 1814, the British fleet and a number of gunboats appeared on Lake Ontario several miles off Oswego Harbor.
Mitchell subsequently ordered the militia to pitch their tents on the west side of the harbor to feign strength there and lure the British into attacking the fort with its cannon on the east side. At about 1 p.m., landing boats filled with troops led by gunboats began making their way towards shore while ships' cannon and those of the gunboats covered them. Mitchell's batteries held their fire until the gunboats got within range, then opened up with great effect. After two attempts to land, the gunboats were driven back to the ships with the loss of one gunboat. An 8 p.m. landing attempt was called off when the wind shifted and the British fleet moved further out into the lake.
The next morning, May 6, 1814, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, the seven British ships moved closer to shore and into the harbor and pounded Fort Ontario with their cannon. The American artillery, their firepower diminished by the explosion of one of their five cannon the previous day, returned heated shot (red hot cannon balls) and set fire to the ropes and rigging of British vessels. Meanwhile, Lt. Colonel Fisher of the Royal Marines, secured the beachhead about 550 yards east of the fort. He directed the Glengarry Light Infantry, under the command of Captain McMillan, to form the left flank and drive the American militia from the woods. The two flank companies of the DeWatteville Regiment under Captain DeBersey formed the center, and the 2nd Battalion Royal Marines under Colonel Malcolm secured the right flank. Much of the ammunition of the landing force was ruined when the troops disembarked in water up to their necks. A force of British sailors armed with pikes and cutlasses under the command of Captain Mulcaster landed at the base of the hill directly below the fort by the harbor mouth.
As the main British force advanced from the east and up the slope towards Fort Ontario, Colonel Mitchell formed his men in a line of battle and fired volley after volley while moving back towards the fort and into its ditch. Mitchell was the only officer mounted on horseback during the battle. As the Americans reached the ditch, the Royal Marines and sailors overran the artillery batteries on the north side of the fort and swept up and over the rampart to seize the American flag.
There was a terrific struggle for the flag and three British attackers were cut down by musket fire trying to climb the flagpole; one wounded American defender was bayoneted on the ground while trying to shoot Lt.
Hewitt of the Royal Marines who finally secured the flag. Realizing
that the enemy was in the fort and after a sharp 30-minute fight battle, Mitchell moved his men out of the fort's ditch and led an orderly withdrawal to Oswego Falls, destroying bridges and cutting timber to block roads along the way.
There are no casualty figures available for either side during the fighting which occurred on the first day of the battle and aborted British landings. When the fort was taken on the second day, the Americans suffered losses of six killed, including Lt. Blaney of the U.S. Navy, 38 wounded, and 25 missing. Seven Americans died the next day of wounds. British losses on the second day included 19 dead, including two officers, and 73 wounded; more died later.
Mitchell was mostly successful in removing vital American ordnance and naval supplies destined for the fleet at Sacket's Harbor before the British captured Oswego; however, they did recover a substantial amount of material including seven heavy ships' cannon. In addition, the British raised the American schooner "Growler" which had been intentionally sunk in the harbor. Within a few weeks, supplies once again began moving through Oswego and the stage was set for the American victory at the Battle of Sandy Creek. Fort Ontario was to remain in ruins until 1839.
The Friends of Fort Ontario are a not-for-profit 501C3 educational organization formed in 1989 to encourage community participation in programs, assist in the preservation and enhancement of the artifacts and documents, develop educational programs and services, and to engage in activities which are in harmony with the operation of Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
For more information on the Friends contact Chuck Harrington, president, phone (315) 343-6310. For War of 1812 event information, contact Historic Site Manager Paul Lear, phone (315) 343-4711. The fort is located off NYS Route 104 East, at the north end of East Fourth Street in the City of Oswego, NY. Additional information is available at www.fortontario.com
1) Battle of Oswego, May 6. 1814. By William Steele. Collection of Paul Lear. This view depicts the British preparing for an amphibious assault on the beach at Fort Ontario.
2) Battle of Oswego, May 6, 1814. By William Steele. Collection of the Public Archives of Canada. This view depicts the British sailors climbing the bluff and ramparts of Fort Ontario while the British Marines, De Watteville Regiment, and Glengarry Light Infantry attack from the east.
3) Lee Smith will portray a Royal Navy Surgeon at the Fort Ontario War of 1812 Commemoration event at Fort Ontario State Historic Site, May 8 and 9 in Oswego.
4) Mitchell Maniccia of Oswego in the uniform of a soldier of the 3rd U.S. Artillery which defended Fort Ontario in May 1814. Friends of Fort Ontario will sponsor a commemoration event May 8 and 9 at the New York State Historic Site.