Wyatt, Thomas. "Alexander Macomb (1782-1841)." Chap. in Memoirs of the Generals, Commodores, and Other Commanders, who distinguished themselves in the American Army and Navy during the wars of the Revolution and 1812, and who were presented with medals by Congress for their Gallant Services, 151-9. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1848. (NSDAR library). HTML & Ed. Marshall Davies Lloyd (November, 1999).
BY THOMAS WYATT, A.M.,
AUTHOR OF THE "KINGS OF FRANCE," ETC. ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY EIGHTY-TWO ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL
FROM THE ORIGINAL MEDALS.
PUBLISHED BY CAREY AND HART.
Wyatt, Thomas. "Alexander Macomb (1782-1841)." Chap. in Memoirs of the Generals, Commodores, and Other Commanders, who distinguished themselves in the American Army and Navy during the wars of the Revolution and 1812, and who were presented with medals by Congress for their Gallant Services, 151-59. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1848.
ALEXANDER MACOMB, the son of a respectable fur merchant, was born at Detroit, April 3d, 1782. His father removed to New York when he was an infant, and at the age of eight years placed him at school at Newark, New Jersey, under the charge of Dr. Ogden, a gentleman of distinguished talents and high literary attainments. In 1798, a time of great excitement, as invasion by a French army was soon expected, Macomb, although quite a youth, was elected into a corps called the "New York Rangers;" Congress having passed a law receiving volunteers for the
defence defense of the country. In 1799, Macomb obtained a cornetcy, and General North, then adjutant-general of the northern army, who had watched for some time the soldier-like conduct of our hero, received him into his staff as deputy adjutant-general. Macomb, from his intelligence and attention to his profession, soon became the favorite of the accomplished North, and the pet of his senior officers. He was ambitious of distinction, without ostentation, and persevering even to fatigue.
The thick and dark clouds which hung over the country
had passed away, the prospect of war had now vanished, the troops were generally disbanded and many of the officers retired to their homes, but our young officer begged to be retained, and was accordingly commissioned as a second lieutenant of dragoons, and dispatched to Philadelphia on the recruiting service; but this service being more form than necessity, gave Lieutenant Macomb an opportunity to associate with the best informed men, and access to the extensive libraries in that city, advantages which he was anxious to improve. When he had raised the number of recruits required, he was ordered to join General Wilkinson on the western frontiers, to visit the Cherokee country, to aid in making a treaty with that nation, a mission which lasted a year. The corps to which Macomb belonged was soon after disbanded, and a corps of engineers formed, to which he was afterwards attached as first-lieutenant, and sent to West Point.
During his residence at West Point, Lieutenant Macomb compiled a treatise upon martial law, and the practice of courts-martial, now the standard work upon courts-martial, for the army of the United States. In 1805, Macomb was sent to superintend the fortifications, which, by an act of Congress, were ordered to be commenced on the frontiers, and promoted to the rank of captain in the engineer corps. In 1808, he was promoted to the rank of major, still acting as superintendent of fortifications. At the breaking out of the war in 1812, he solicited a command in an artillery corps, then about to be raised, which was granted him, and a commission as colonel of the third regiment, dated July 6th, 1812. The regiment was to consist of twenty companies of one hundred and eighteen each. He assisted in raising the numbers required, and in November of that year he marched to Sacket's Harbor with his troops, where he spent the winter, having command of the whole of the lake frontier. In January, 1814,
he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, and appointed to a command, on the east side of Lake Champlain; from which time to the climax of his fame at the
defence defense of Plattsburgh, he was constantly on the alert, in the discharge of his duties. During the summer of 1814, Sir George Prevost governor-general of Canada, had greatly augmented his forces, by detachments of picked men from the army which fought in Spain and Portugal, under the Duke of Wellington, and which, of course, from their long and tried military service, were among the best troops in the world; with these it was intended to strike a decisive blow on our frontier, and bring us to terms at once. In this, however, Sir George was mistaken, as the following extract from Brigadier-General Macomb to the Secretary of War will prove, dated Plattsburgh, September 15, 1814:--
"The governor-general of the Canadas, Sir George Prevost, having collected all the disposable force of Lower Canada, with a view of conquering the country as far as Ticonderoga, entered the territory of the United States on the 1st of the month, and occupied the village of Champlain--there avowed his intentions, and issued orders and proclamations, tending to dissuade the people from their allegiance, and inviting them to furnish his army with provisions. He immediately began, to impress the wagons and teams in the vicinity, and loaded them with his baggage and stores, indicating preparations for an attack on this place. My fine brigade was broken up to form a division ordered to the westward, which consequently left me in the command of a garrison of convalescents and the recruits of the new regiments--all in the greatest confusion, as well as the ordnance and stores, and the works in no state of
"To create an emulation and zeal among the officers and men, in completing the works, I divided them into detach-
ments, and placed them near the several forts--declaring, in orders, that each detachment was the garrison of its own work, and bound to defend it to the last extremity. The enemy advanced cautiously, and by short marches, and our soldiers worked day and night; so that, by the time he made his appearance before the place, we were prepared to receive him. Finding, on examining the returns of the garrison, that our force did not exceed fifteen hundred men for duty, and well-informed that the enemy had as many thousand, I called on General Mooers, of the New York militia, and arranged with him plans for bringing forth the militia en masse.
"The inhabitants of the village fled with their families and effects, except a few worthy citizens and some boys, who formed themselves into a party, received rifles, and were exceedingly useful. General Mooers arrived with seven hundred militia and advanced seven miles on the Beekmantown road, to watch the motions of the enemy, and to skirmish with him as he advanced--also to obstruct the roads with fallen trees, and to break up the bridges. On the lake road, at Dead-Creek Bridge, I posted two hundred men, under Captain Sproul, of the 13 regiment, with orders to abattis the woods, to place obstructions in the road, and to fortify himself; to this party I added two field-pieces. In advance of that position was Lieutenant-Colonel Appling, with one hundred and ten riflemen, watching the movements of the enemy and procuring intelligence. It was ascertained that before daylight, on the 6th, the enemy would advance in two columns, on the two roads before mentioned, dividing at Sampson's, a little below Chazy village. The column on the Beekmantown road proceeded most rapidly; the militia skirmished with their advanced parties, and, except a few brave men, fell back most precipitately in the greatest disorder, notwithstanding
the British troops did not design to fire on them, except by their flankers and advanced
"Finding the enemy's columns had penetrated within a mile of Plattsburgh, I dispatched my aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Root, to bring off the detachment at Dead-Creek, and to inform Lieutenant-Colonel Appling that I wished him to fall on the enemy's right flank; the Colonel fortunately arrived just in time to save his retreat, and to fall in with the head of a column debouching from the woods; here be poured in a destructive fire from his riflemen at rest, and continued to annoy the column until he formed a junction with Major Wool. The field-pieces did considerable execution among the enemy's columns. So undaunted, however, was the enemy, that he never deployed in his whole march, always pressing on in a column. Finding that every road around us was full of troops, crowding in on all sides, I ordered the field-pieces to retire across the bridge and form a battery for its protection, and to cover the retreat of the infantry, which was accordingly done, and the parties of Appling and Wool, as well as that of Sproul, retired alternately, keeping up a brisk fire until they got under cover of the works. The enemy's light troops occupied the houses near the bridge, and kept up a constant firing from the windows and balconies, and annoyed us much. I ordered them to be driven out with hot shot, which soon fired the houses and obliged these sharpshooters to retire. The whole day, until it was too late to see, the enemy's light troops endeavored to drive our guards from the bridge, but they suffered dearly for their perseverance.
"Our troops being now all on the south side of the Saranac, I directed the planks to be taken off the bridges, and piled up in form of breast-works, to cover our parties intended for disputing the passage, which afterwards enabled us to hold
the bridges against very superior numbers. From the 7th to the 11th, the enemy was employed in getting his battering train and erecting his batteries and approaches, and constantly skirmishing at the bridges and fords. By this time the militia of New York and volunteers from Vermont were pouring in from all quarters. I advised General Mooers to keep his force along the Saranac, to prevent the enemy crossing the river, and to send a strong body in his rear to harass him day and night, and keep him in continual alarm. The militia behaved with great spirit after the first day, and the volunteers from Vermont were exceedingly serviceable.
"Our regular troops, notwithstanding the constant skirmishing, and repeated endeavors of the enemy to cross the river, kept at their work, day and night, strengthening their
defences defenses, and evinced a determination to hold out to the last
extremity. It was reported that the enemy only awaited the arrival of his flotilla to make a general attack. About eight, on the morning of the 11th, as was expected, the flotilla appeared in sight, round Cumberland Head, and at nine, bore down and engaged our flotilla, at anchor in the bay off this town. At the same instant, the batteries were opened on us, and continued throwing bomb-shells, shrapnells shrapnels, balls and congreve rockets until sunset, when the bombardment ceased, every battery of the enemy being silenced by the superiority of our fire. The naval engagement lasted two hours, in full view of both armies. Three efforts were made by the enemy to pass the river at the commencement of the cannonade and bombardment, with a view of assaulting the works, and had prepared for that purpose an immense number of scaling ladders; one attempt was made to cross at the village bridge; another at the upper bridge; and a third, at a ford, about three miles from the works. At the two first he was repulsed by the regulars; at the ford, by the brave volunteers and
militia--where he suffered severely in killed, wounded and prisoners, a considerable body having passed the stream, but were either killed, taken, or driven back. The woods at this place were very favorable to the operations of our militia; a whole company of the 76th regiment was here destroyed--the three lieutenants and twenty-seven men prisoners; the captain and the rest killed. I cannot forego the pleasure of here stating the gallant conduct of Captain McGlassin, of the 15th regiment, who was ordered to ford the river and attack a party constructing a battery on the right of the enemy's line, within five hundred yards of Fort Brown--which he handsomely executed, at midnight, with fifty men; drove off the working party consisting of one hundred and fifty, and defeated a covering party of the same number, killing one officer and six men in the charge and wounding many. At dusk, the enemy withdrew his artillery from the batteries, and raised the siege; and at nine, under cover of the night, sent off all the heavy baggage he could find transport for, and also his artillery. At two the next morning, the whole army precipitately retreated, leaving the sick and wounded to our generosity; and the governor left a note with a surgeon, requesting the humane attention of the commanding general.
"Vast quantities of provision were left behind and destroyed; also, an immense quantity of bomb-shells, cannonballs, grape-shot, ammunition, flints, &c. &c.;
intrenching entrenching tools of all sorts, also tents and marquees. A great quantity has been found in the ponds and creeks, and buried in the ground, and a vast quantity carried off by the inhabitants. Such was the precipitance of his retreat, that he arrived at Chazy, a distance of eight miles, before we had discovered his departure. The light troops, volunteers and militia, pursued immediately on learning his flight; and some of the mounted men made prisoners, five dragoons of the 19th, and
several others of the rear guard. A continued fall of rain, and a violent storm, prevented further pursuit. Upwards of three hundred deserters have come in, and many are hourly arriving. The loss of the enemy in killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters, since his first appearance, cannot fall short of two thousand five hundred, including many officers, among whom is Colonel Wellington, of the Buffs. Killed and wounded on the American side; thirty-seven killed, sixty-six wounded-missing, twenty; making one hundred and twenty-three. The whole force under Sir George Prevost amounted to fourteen thousand. The conduct of the officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of my command, during this trying occasion, cannot be represented in too high terms.
I have the honor, &c.
This victory was as brilliant as it was unexpected. The event had a most happy effect on the negotiations then going on at Ghent, and unquestionably hastened the treaty of peace. Testimonials of respect poured in upon General Macomb from every quarter of the country. Congress voted the thanks of the country and a gold medal, (See Plate VII.) The President promoted him to the rank of major-general, dating his commission on the day of his victory.
At the conclusion of the war General Macomb was stationed at his native town, Detroit, and appointed to the command of the northwestern frontier. In 1821 he was called to Washington, to take the office of chief of the engineer department; the duties of which he discharged to the general satisfaction of the government and army, until the death of General Brown, in 1835; he was then nominated to that station, which nomination was confirmed by the senate, and he succeeded him as commander-in-chief of the army. In this capacity he
continued to reside at the seat of government, where he died on the 25th of June, 1841, aged fifty-nine years.
-----------DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDAL. OCCASION.--Battle of Plattsburgh.
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