Quaife, M[ilo]. M[ilton]., ed. "Detroit Biographies: Alexander Macomb." Burton Historical Collection Leaflet Vol 10 No 1 (November, 1931): 1-16. HTML & Ed. Marshall Davies Lloyd (November 1, 2000).
UNDER CONSTRUCTIONBURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET
Detroit Public Library
ANDREW P. BIDDLE, Pres,
In May, 1931, the indefinite suspension of the Leaflet was announced. Funds for the printing of two issues having become available, we devote the first to the story of General Alexander Macomb.
Sources of Information: A Memoir of Alexander Macomb, the Major Commanding the Army of the United States (New York, 1833), by George H. Richards, constitutes a eulogistic, but useful, biography of General Macomb. The Macomb Family Record (Camden, N. J., 1917), compiled by Henry A. Macomb, supplies the general history of the family. For the Detroit background of the Macombs, resort has been had to Father Denissen's Detroit genealogies (ms. in Burton Historical Collection), and to various other sources, both printed and manuscript. The story of the Plattsburg campaign is perhaps best told in Henry Adams, History of the United States of America during the Second Administration of James Madison (New York, 1891), VII.
Detroit Biographies: Alexander Macomb
By M. M. QUAIFE
A few weeks ago the streets of Detroit swarmed with soldiers. From far and wide, over 100,000 members of the American Legion had assembled for their annual convention, and the city resounded to the tramp of marching feet and the blare of bands and bugles, while the eyes of the onlookers were dazzled with the colorful spectacle which the uncounted banners and the variegated regalia of the marchers combined to present.
The particular playground of the myriad revelers was Washington Boulevard, at whose southern end the martial figure, booted and cloaked, of General Alexander Macomb gazes down upon the thronging traffic of Michigan Avenue. So curiously evanescent is mundane fame, that it may well be doubted whether one in a hundred of the revelers knew, or troubled to read, the identity of the soldier whose memory the monument honors. To record the story of his career and ancestry for the benefit of his fellow townsmen of a later generation is the task of our present narrative.
The paternal forebears of General Macomb were Scots, who, toward the close of the seventeenth century, migrated to Ireland and there found a new home in County Antrim. Here John Gordon Macomb, grandfather of the future General, and first of the line to migrate to America, was born in 1717. Toward the middle of the century he married Jane Gordon. Several years later (about 1755), he removed from the Old World to the New, settling in Albany, N. Y. The terrible Seven Years' War was then about to open, and this development may have been responsible for Macomb's migration, for he was a merchant, associated in business with a kinsman, General James Gordon, who was interested in the fur trade and in contracts for furnishing supplies to the army in America. Albany had been, since its founding about a century and a half before, an outstanding center of Dutch and English fur-trade activities; and following the conquest of Canada which the war now opening was to witness, its importance as a center of operations connected with the Indian trade was augmented.
How long John Gordon Macomb continued to reside in Albany we are unable to determine. Various letters formerly preserved among the Sir William Johnson Papers disclose that about the end of the year 1764 he became financially embarrassed, and made an assignment of his property to a group of Albany and Sche-
|4||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||4|
nectady merchants who may be presumed to have been his principal creditors. One of these was John Duncan, formerly an army officer, who, upon the conquest of Canada in lr60, began trading operations on a large scale with Niagara, Detroit, and the other western posts. Under the circumstances of the case, it is distinctly to Macomb's credit that Duncan, even while reporting his business failure to Sir William, testifies to his good character, while James Phyn, another Schenectady merchant, about the same time comments, with evident pity, upon "poore" Macomb's affairs.1
If family tradition be valid, about the year 1770 Macomb removed to Detroit, where he died about the close of the century. The total silence of contemporary local records concerning him, however, induces the question whether he was ever a resident of Detroit. At the time of his supposed removal he was but little past fifty years of age, and it would seem probable that he must have engaged in some business activity. No record of such activity has been found, however, nor is his name entered in the detailed censuses of Detroit of 1779 and 1782. Apparently he was not the head of a household at these dates, and the probable alternative is that if a resident of Detroit at all he was an inmate of the home of one of his sons.
To these sons, Alexander, born, July 27, 1748, and William, born, November 14, 1751, the reader may now be introduced. Both were born in Ireland at the parental seat of Dunturky, which lies in County Antrim, a few miles north of Belfast. Both spent the years of their youth in Albany and were in the dawn of their early manhood when they came to Detroit. The misfortune which had attended their father in the old home was quickly reversed by them in the new one. They engaged in business and despite their youth and want of experience throve so amazingly that by the opening of the Revolution they were numbered among the leading merchants of Detroit. The war that began on the seaboard in 1775 worked to their individual advantage, for Detroit was the center of British governmental authority and military activity in the West, and enormous sums of money were soon being spent upon activities incidental to the prosecution of the war. Alexander and William Macomb became the fiscal agents of the government in Detroit, and from this employment and their private business enormous profits were reaped. By the close of the war, when they were still in their early thirties, no one stood higher than they in the official and commercial life of Detroit. In the Burton Historical Collection are five large books of record of the firm of Macomb, Edgar and Macomb (William Edgar was admitted as a partner during the war, and before its close had
1See Calendar of the Sir William Johnson Papers (Albany, 1909), inedex entries.
amassed a comfortable fortune), whose contents disclose many interesting, and frequently quaint, pictures of the life of Revolutionary Detroit. For example, we learn that Justice Philip Dejean, Detroit's notorious hanging magistrate, "rented" a stove at one time; or we follow the articles of daily food and apparel of many a famous "father" of Detroit; or, again, we may learn the names and the daily wage of the Detroit citizens who in 1780 marched under Captain Henry Bird against the settlements of infant Kentucky, and returned to Detroit conveying several hundred despairing, woebegone captives.
The prosperity which attended the business career of Alexander and William Macomb found reflection, of course, in their social and other activities. Their trade, for government purposes alone, says Mr. Burton, exceeded, in some years, half a million dollars. "They were Indian traders, general merchants, real estate dealers, and bankers, and probably carried on many more pursuits that were required in the village."2 Among other activities, they became large holders of real estate. They obtained Grosse Ile from the Indians in July, 1776; and William, many years later, became the owner of Belle Isle. He also purchased the St. Martin farm with its mansion, which became his home until his death in 1796. Unlike Alexander (in the career of whose famous son we are chiefly interested), who removed to New York City at the close of the war, William continued a resident and foremost citizen of Detroit to the end of his life. Illustrative of his status in British Detroit is the fact of his election in 1792 to the Provincial Parliament of Upper Canada, in the first popular electoral contest ever held in Detroit. Belle Isle, Grosse Ile , and the St. Martin farm (better known today as the Cass farm) were all included in the extensive estate which, at death, he left to his heirs. To the present moment his descendants have been numerously represented on Grosse Ile and in Detroit, and before returning to the narrative of Alexander's career and family, we may summarize briefly the story of William's descendants.
On July 18, 1780, he married Jane Dring, a woman of French Huguenot antecedents. They had eleven children, three of whom died in early childhood, two of them victims of the distressing epidemic which afflicted Detroit in the autumn of 1785. Three sons and five daughters grew up, married, and in their turn reared families. With astonishing regularity these descendants of William Macomb followed military careers, or (if women) became the wives and mothers of soldiers. In our limited sketch, only a few of the more noteworthy among them can be noticed. William Macomb II married Monique Navarre and lived on Grosse Ile. She perished untimely in 1813 from exposure and fright resulting from an Indian
2Michigan Pioneer Collections. XXXV. 568
|6||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||6|
raid upon the island. Three years later he married Mary Jane Godet (dit Marantette dit Francheville, of Sandwich. Tragedy again overtook him when in 1826 he was killed by one of his farm animals. David B., youngest son of William Macomb, in 1816, married Mary, daughter of Governor Thomas Worthington of Ohio. One of their sons (a grandson of William Macomb) became a rear admiral in the U. S. navy. Of the daughters of William Macomb, Anne, the eldest, who grew to maturity, married Captain Aeneas Mackay, who as a young lieutenant commanded the military escort which accompanied Governor Lewis Cass on his notable expedition to Lake Superior and the upper Mississippi in 1820. He spent his life in the army, and for meritorious service in the Mexican War was brevetted colonel. Catherine Macomb, next in age to Anne, married her cousin, General Alexander Macomb, and her story will be told with that of her famous husband. Sarah, another sister, married John A. Rucker of New York City. He served in the War of 1812, and two or three years after its close came to reside on Grosse Ile , where he died in 1845. One of their sons, Daniel A. Rucker, spent his life in the army, in which he became a major general and quartermaster general of the Union army in the Civil War. He was twice married, the second time to Irene Curtis, herself the granddaughter, daughter, wife, and mother of soldiers. Her maternal grandfather was Captain John Whistler, builder and long the commandant of Fort Dearborn in Chicago. Her father was Captain Daniel Curtis of the regular army; and Irene Rucker, one of her daughters, became the wife of General Philip Sheridan of Civil War fame, later commander-in-chief of the U. S. army. Eliza, William Macomb's youngest daughter, likewise followed the family custom of marrying into the army, her husband being Captain Henry Whiting of the First Artillery. For gallant service in the battle of Buena Vista he was brevetted a brigadier general. One of their sons spent his life in the navy, entering as a midshipman in 1841 and retiring forty years later with the rank of commodore.
The summary here set forth suffices to suggest, although it is far from exhausting, the story of the contribution made by William Macomb's descendants to the cause of their country. From it we return to Alexander, the elder brother. On May 4, 1773, Major Henry Bassett, commandant of Detroit, performed the marriage ceremony which united the rising young merchant with Catherine Navarre. The bride, just past her sixteenth birthday, was a daughter of Robert Navarre the elder, who had come to Detroit in 1729, and to the end of the French regime had served as sub-intendant and royal notary of Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit. Next to the commandant, Navarre was perhaps the most influential man in French
Detroit. With the British conquest he lost his status as subintendant, but so useful was his service to the conquerors that he was continued in the office of notary. For thirty years prior to his death in 1791, he resided on his farm west of the fort, which in recent decades has become known as the Woodbridge farm. The mother of the future commander of the United States army represented the best lineage and culture of French Detroit. Before her death, which occurred in New York City, November 17, 1789, ten children had blessed her union with her husband. Alexander Macomb remarried two years later, his second wife being Mrs. Jane Rucker, widow of a New York City merchant of German origin, who had died in 1788, and the mother of John Anthony Rucker, who in 1809, as we have seen, married Sarah, William Macomb's daughter. From the union of Alexander Macomb with Jane Rucker, seven children were born, making seventeen in all who claimed Alexander Macomb as their father.
We have already observed that at the close of the Revolution he removed from Detroit to New York City. The cause of this migration is a matter of uncertainty. No man in Detroit had prospered more abundantly, and none, seemingly, possessed greater assurance of continued influence and pro[s]perity than Alexander Macomb. Yet the close of the war marks a turning point in Detroit's commercial fortunes. For forty years following 1780 the city marked time, with no increase in population and with little, or none, in commercial importance. The period was marked, too, by governmental changes and uncertainties, and by a revolution in the economic outlook which spelled the ruin of many Detroit business men. Did Alexander Macomb, wiser than his fellow citizens, sense in advance this period of trial and stagnation, and forehandedly remove himself from the scene; or did he, rather, like Alexander of old, sigh for new worlds to conquer? Whatever his reason for the migration, in his new home he prospered greatly for a time, quickly becoming one of the foremost merchants of New York City. On Broadway, between Trinity Church and the Battery, he built a family mansion which a few years later became the residence of the first President of the United States. He embarked upon huge ventures in real estate, buying in a single transaction over three and a half million acres of land, comprising several present-day New York counties. Disaster overtook him ere long, however, as it had overtaken his father thirty years earlier, and Macomb exchanged his proud position as one of the foremost capitalists of the land for that of an inmate of the debtor's prison in New York. He died in Georgetown, D. C. in January, 1831, having made his home in his later years with his distinguished son and namesake, General Alexander Macomb.
|8||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||8|
The seven children of Alexander Macomb's second marriage, who were all born in New York, and were, of course, half-brothers and half-sisters of the General, require but brief notice. Three were sons, all of whom died unmarried. The eldest, Henry Hamilton Macomb, named for Detroit's Revolutionary governor, practiced law in New York City and served as a soldier in the War of 1812. Charles, the second son, became a lieutenant in the artillery, served in the war, and in 1816, at the early age of twenty-two, was killed in a duel with a fellow officer. Three of the four daughters married, and the husbands of two of the three were lawyers and judges.
We return, at length, to the ten children of Alexander Macomb and Catherine Navarre, all but the last two of whom were born in Detroit. The first of these was John Navarre, born "within the fortification" of Detroit, March 7, 1774, who was evidently named to honor his two grandfathers. He was a boy of eleven when the family removed to New York. There he entered upon a mercantile career, and in 1797 married Christina Livingston, a member of the notable Livingston family of New York. In 1810, while on a voyage to Europe, the vessel on which he sailed was attacked by a French privateer and Macomb, volunteering to assist in its defense, was numbered among the slain.
Jane Macomb was born in Detroit, also "within the fortification," August 21, 1776. In 1792 she married Robert Kennedy, whose father was Earl of Cassilis and an admiral in the British navy. The Kennedy family lived at Number 1 Broadway, at this time, while the Macomb home was at Number 7 Broadway. Robert Kennedy later removed with his wife to England, where he died in 1843. His wife died in London in 1867, in her ninety-first year. Passing Mary Catherine and William (born in 1777 and 1779), who died unmarried, we come to Sarah, who was born February 2, 1781, and baptized by Colonel De Peyster, commandant of Detroit. She subsequently married in New York the Colonel's nephew and namesake, Captain Arent Schuyler De Peyster, who spent his life as a sailor and discoverer. He is said to have doubled the Cape of Good Hope fifteen times in the course of his long career at sea, and on one of his numerous voyages he discovered the islands in the South Pacific which today bear his name.
Alexander, the seventh child of Alexander Macomb Sr. and Catherine Navarre, was born in the old St. Martin home adjoining the stockaded inclosure of the fort, April 3, 1782. A more appropriate setting for the birth of a future military hero could scarcely be imagined. The house itself, of massive construction, bore many scars inflicted by tomahawk and gunshot, memorials of the terrible siege of 1763. It had recently become the property of William
Macomb, brother and partner of Alexander's father; and as one direct result of the War of 1813, it was destined to become for many years the home of Lewis Cass and the virtual capitol of Michigan Territory.3 For the painted and bedecked warriors who swarmed to Detroit throughout the Revolution, the Macomb place afforded a convenient camping ground, while within easy sight and sound the red-coated sentries of King George paced their monotonous rounds and over the town and rippling water daily reechoed the booming of the sunrise and sunset gun.
In such an atmosphere of martial pomp and circumstance were the formative years of General Macomb's infancy passed. At the age of eight years, following the parental removal to New York, he became a pupil at the academy in Newark, where, still a mere child, he observed and to some extent shared in the partisan rivalries over the merits of the French Revolutionary movement, which then agitated the minds of all Americans. Possibly a more important factor in the boy's development than his formal schooling resulted from the fostering oversight of his brother-in-law. In 1795 his elder sister, Jane Macomb, married, as we have seen, Robert Kennedy, son of the Earl of Cassilis. Possessed of means and social standing, the bridegroom enjoyed on an estate near Newark the life of a country gentleman. He invited young Macomb to become an inmate of his home, and its atmosphere of refinement and gentility contributed materially to the training of the future soldier.
In the spring of 1798 he was elected to membership in a somewhat exclusive company of New York City militia. This same year the dispute with the French government which brought our country to the commission of acts of war upon France became acute. Macomb applied for a commission in the army which the government was organizing, and on the recommendation of Alexander Hamilton, who was to be its commander, was appointed a cornet of cavalry. Although the expected war was averted, the young officer, not yet seventeen at the time of his appointment, began his military education under the immediate eye of the commander of the army. His progress was rapid, and in perusing its details one is impressed with his evident ability to command the friendly attention of men of important official station, which contributed so frequently to his further advancement. Such a friendship with General James Wilkinson gained him the appointment, in the summer of 1801, of secretary of the commission to treat with the Cherokee, Creeks, and other tribes of the Southwest. A year was spent in this service. At its termination, a similar friendship which Macomb had established with Major Jonathan Williams of the Engineers, procured his appointment to
3For a comprehensive sketch of the St. Martin-Macomb-Cass house, see "The Mansion of St. Martin," B. H. Coil. Leaflet, III, 33-48.
|10||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||10|
a lieutenancy in the Engineer Corps of the army. He was ordered to West Point, where the now-famous military academy was just beginning to function. The lieutenants and cadets of the Engineer Corps were regarded as students, and Macomb thus became one of the earliest graduates of the academy. Upon graduation he was appointed to the duty of adjutant, and in this capacity he first organized and instructed the cadets as a military corps.
An event of the autumn of 1805 sheds an interesting light upon the habits of the army in this period. General Wilkinson had issued an order requiring officers and soldiers of the army to wear their hair close cropped. Colonel Thomas Butler, like Wilkinson himself, a veteran of the Revolution, who still disported the queue fashionable in Revolutionary days, indignantly refused to obey the new order. For this offense a general court-martial was convened in Fredericktown, Maryland, to try him, and Lieutenant Macomb was summoned from West Point to play the role of judge advocate to the court. Other trials followed that of Colonel Butler, and so well did Macomb perform the duties of judge advocate that the members of the court urged him to compose a treatise on the conduct of courts-martial. This work he carried out a few years later. At the time of his service as judge advocate he was but twenty years of age.
He remained at West Point until June, 1805, when he was promoted to a captaincy and ordered to Portsmouth to superintend certain harbor construction work. The next year he was ordered to South Carolina, where he was stationed for several years. The declaration of war upon Great Britain in IS12 found him a lieutenant colonel and chief engineer for the southern states. As on other occasions, so on this, the American government blundered into war with a great military power ludicrously unprepared to conduct military operations. Belatedly and futilely an effort was made to develop an army to prosecute the war already at hand, and Macomb was summoned to Washington by the Secretary of War to assume the post of adjutant general of the army. Although his duties were important, he was unwilling in time of war to remain aloof from the field of action. Staff officers were not eligible, under the regulations then in force, to exercise active command, and Macomb secured his transfer to the artillery with the rank of colonel. Repairing to New York, he proceeded to enlist and discipline the regiment to which he had been assigned. Toward the close of the year he marched it to Sackett's Harbor to participate in an attack upon Kingston; winter was at hand, however, and the projected attack was not carried out, and nothing of consequence could be undertaken until the following season.
The conduct of the War of 1812 by our government was so
shamefully inefficient that no American can today read the story without being stirred to a sense of anger and disgust over the role our country was made to play. Only occasionally is the dreary story of official ineptitude and general incompetence relieved by some story of individual achievement. To Macomb, who was a capable and zealous professional soldier, was accorded the opportunity to reap the glory of one of the most cheering interludes in the general tale of disaster which the war afforded to America.
His opportunity came with the closing weeks of the war, in the autumn of 1814. Until then, he had continued to serve creditably but inconspicuously on the Champlain-Ontario frontier, while older officers of higher rank monopolized the public eye and demonstrated repeatedly their incapacity to command an army. Far from conquering Canada, the American dream at the beginning of the war, the United States was itself being invaded at points as widely separated as Louisiana, Virginia, and Maine; and British officialdom was seriously contemplating the permanent cession of northern New England to Canada, and the erection of the region northwest of the Ohio River as a permanent Indian preserve, from which American civilization should forever be excluded, as a condition to making peace with the United States.
Such was the general aspect of affairs when, in August, 1814, Sir George Prevost led the strongest army Great Britain had ever sent to America southward from Montreal toward Lake Champlain. Eleven thousand of Wellesley's veterans, fresh from their triumphs over Napoleon in the Peninsular campaigns, comprised the bulk of the invading army. Cooperating with it was a small naval force under Captain Downie, whose particular mission it was to destroy the little American fleet on Lake Champlain commanded by Commodore Thomas Macdonough. The two naval forces were more or less evenly matched, and no one could reasonably foretell the issue of a conflict between them. On land, the Americans opposed some five or six thousand regular troops under the command of General George lzard to the eleven thousand veterans led by Prevost. But with a capacity for blundering which at times approached the character of genius, the Secretary of War on the very eve of the invasion ordered General lzard to conduct most of the army to a distant field of action. Thus it came about that at the very moment when the Americans should have been hurrying every possible reinforcement to Lake Champlain to oppose Prevost's invading host, General lzard marched away toward distant Niagara with practically the entire army already on the ground.
Left behind to defend the American position at Plattsburg was General Macomb with a "miscellaneous" force of 3,500 men. The
|12||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||12|
flower of the army had marched with lzard, and the men remaining at Plattsburg have not inaptly been characterized as its "culls." Macomb himself reports that his effective force did not exceed 1,500 in number. To dispute with such a force the advance of Prevost's magnificent army was a project partaking of madness. Yet far from abandoning the field, as he might with entire reason have done, Macomb marshalled [marshaled] his pitiful resources, and with unwearied energy and consummate skill prepared to give battle to the enemy.
Prevost's advance was delayed for some days awaiting the appearance of Downie, whose fleet was to destroy Macdonough's flotilla while Prevost disposed of Macomb. Early in September, the invasion was begun in earnest. Macomb sent out several detachments of riflemen and light troops with instructions to harass the advancing British columns, and by every possible means delay and oppose their progress. So little attention did the veteran regiments pay to this opposition, however, that they did not once bother to deploy in line of battle, pressing steadily on in solid columns. By September 6, they were opposite the American works, and the time until the eleventh was passed in making preparations for the assault, and awaiting the appearance of Downie.
The battle of Plattsburg, fought on September II, was a combined land and naval action. Macdonough had stationed his fleet in a position where Downie was compelled to attack under conditions favorable to the Americans. The sequel of a furious battle of several hours' duration was the complete defeat of the invaders. Meanwhile Prevost's storming columns moved forward to their appointed task. One column, led by General Robinson, moved by a circuitous route to attack the Americans in the rear, while others, assigned to storm the works in front, awaited, in readiness, for the sound of Robinson's attack, which was to be the signal for launching their own assault. In preparation for such a contingency, Macomb had by night planted all the roads leading to his works with evergreens, and had the roadways strewn with fallen leaves so as to conceal all appearance of a pathway. Not content with this, he had constructed other roads, all opening into an old way, which led, not to the works, but to Salmon River, and' on this he had posted his militia and a field piece to harass the enemy when he should appear.
The intended consequence followed. The attacking columns lost their way, and the actual assault was delayed until the cheers of the Americans apprised the British of the disaster that had overtaken their fleet. This development induced Prevost to abandon the invasion and return to Canada. The attack upon the forts was not pressed, and the losses suffered on either side were but trifling. To
the astonishment of the Americans, while they were still nerved to meet the expected assault, some British deserters came in with the word that General Prevost was retreating from his position. So incredible was this report that it was not believed at once; but on the following morning full confirmation was seen in the abandoned baggage-wagons and other equipage which alone covered the field where a few hours earlier the great army had lain.
The battle of Plattsburg, it will be seen, was chiefly fought on the water. In describing it, most historians have centered their attention upon the naval battle, and have ascribed to Macdonough principal credit for hurling back the invaders. That Macdonough performed splendidly his allotted task, is clear. A patriotic Canadian historian has characterized him as "an officer of whom any navy in the world might well be proud." But the backing of the land force, supplied by Macomb, made his victory possible; and although the abandonment of the campaign by General Prevost denied to Macomb the glory of conducting a desperate defense, it is clear that his own skill and unremitting exertion in preparing for the defense was in large measure responsible for the denial. Macdonough and Macomb were both young officers, (Macdonough was thirty-one, Macomb thirty-two, years of age) and both were a credit to the American nation. At Plattsburg both reached the high-water-mark of their careers. In their joint victory there was glory enough for both, and a grateful country bestowed fame in ample measure upon them. Macdonough's victory was essential to the American defense; it is equally clear that Macomb's resolute and skillful generalship made possible Macdonough's triumph.
But for Prevost's humiliation at Plattsburg, the British would have ended the war triumphant on every front save that adjacent to Lake Erie, where Commodore Perry's victory of September 10, 1813, had given the Americans the ascendancy.4 They were prepared to demand, and the American government would have been compelled to yield, terms of peace which would have altered radically the entire course of future development of the nation. Plattsburg ruined this agreeable prospect, and enabled the American negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent to obtain peace on the basis of a return to the status existing prior to the commencement of the war. Instead of a forced and humiliating concession of the territory won by the War of the Revolution, the United States came out of the war with boundaries intact. For this we are indebted to the victory of Plattsburg, and chiefly to the splendid leadership of the youthful commanders, Macomb and Macdonough.
4The statement made ignores Jackson's victory at New Orleans, which came after the treaty of peace had been signed, and had no influence upon its negotiation.
|14||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||14|
The war ended on Christmas Eve, 1814, although several weeks were to pass before the fact became known in America.5 The return of peace entailed a reduction of the army, whose peace-time establishment was fixed at 10,000 men with two major generals and four brigadiers. Macomb was retained in the service with the rank of senior brigadier general, assigned to command the Third Military Department with headquarters in New York. Before long he was transferred to the Fifth Department with headquarters in Detroit.
Thus it came to pass that he returned to the city of his birth, there to reside from 1816 until 1831. The unsettled conditions prevailing throughout the Northwest in this period rendered Macomb's station of commanding general one of great importance and difficulty. Under his direction posts were established at Mackinac, Green Bay, Chicago, St. Paul, Prairie du Chien, and Sault Ste. Marie. Their history is intimately interwoven with the early annals of their respective regions. Most important of all the northwestern posts, of course, was Detroit, where Macomb exercised control in person. Discord between the army and civilians was a normal feature of life on 'the frontier. Macomb, however, possessed a rare faculty of getting on with the public, and the years of his administration in Detroit were wholly free from civilian discord. On the eve of his removal to another station, in the spring of 1821, the townsmen united to present him a silver tankard as a testimonial of their esteem. The somewhat stilted address composed by Judge Augustus B. Woodward to accompany the presentation affirmed that no official and no citizen of Detroit had ever found occasion for complaint against the General's administration. For one whose entire career had been spent in the regular army, and who now for half a dozen years had commanded a garrison in the midst of a busy civilian community, this was a significant tribute.
The occasion of Macomb's removal from Detroit was the general curtailment of the army which was effected in 1821. Reduced to the rank of colonel, he was returned to his old employment as chief of the engineer department of the army with headquarters in Washington. Here he continued to serve until the death of General Jacob Brown, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, in February, 1828. Strange as it may seem, since the War of 1812 the government had neglected to prescribe the order of succession to the position of commander-in-chief; on the death of General Brown, therefore, the rival claims of several officers to the succession were ardently advanced by their friends, and it was even gravely affirmed that one need not even belong to the army to be eligible for the appointment.
5The Treaty reached Washington, February 14. It was not known at Detroit until about the beginning of March.
The President solved the problem by the appointment of Macomb, who in May, 1828, became a major general and commander-in-chief of the army.
The boy who was born in a foreign land (Detroit was under the rule of Great Britain until 1796) had now achieved the highest station his chosen profession opened to him. For his conduct at Plattsburg he had received the warmest expressions of appreciation of the national government, of the States-of New York and Virginia, and of the City of New York. His administration of the army lasted thirteen years, from 1828 until his death in 1841. Indian wars aside, it was an era of peace for the nation, and no opportunity to win spectacular distinction was afforded Macomb in this period. From the point of view of his military glory this was a great misfortune ; had Macomb lived a few years longer, there is every reason to suppose that the fame achieved by Taylor and Scott in the Mexican War would have been garnered, instead, by him. As it was, he played well his part throughout his entire career, winning the steadfast approval alike of his associates in the army, his civilian superiors in public life, and of the masses of his countrymen. More solid achievement than this could scarcely be anticipated, or desired.
To complete his story it remains to speak of his private life. In July, 1803, he married his cousin, Catherine Macomb, who was born in Detroit, October 30, 1787, and was now a maiden of almost sixteen summers. Apparently it was an ideal union. To be with her husband in his numerous changes of station, Mrs. Macomb "encountered the perils of climate in the North and in the South, and of travel by land, and sea, and lake. She dared the hazards of war, in camp and garrison; and found a shield from all dangers and sorrows in her husband's arms." Before her death in 1822 she had become the mother of twelve children.6
Three of these died in early childhood, and two in early maturity. Both the remaining sons followed military careers, and most of the five remaining daughters married into the army or navy. Alexander Saranac, born June 3, 1814, entered West Point in 1830, was graduated, and attained the rank of major before resigning his commission in 1841. In 1840 he married Susan Kearny of New York, sister of General Philip Kearny of Mexican and Civil War fame. William Henry, the remaining son, who was born in Detroit in 1819, entered the U. S. navy as a midshipman in 1834 and died with the rank of commodore in 1872. He married a daughter of General Henry Stanton, whose second wife was his elder sister, Alexandrine Macomb.
6On May 26, 1826, General Macomb married Mrs. Harriet Balch Wilson of Georgetown. No children were born of this union, and nothing has been learned by the present writer concerning Mrs. Wilson's career.
|16||BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION LEAFLET.||16|
Catherine, eldest daughter of General Alexander Macomb, in 1821 married John Mason Jr. of Virginia, son of the author of the famous Bill of Rights, and himself secretary of the U. S. legation to Mexico. Alexandrine, born in 1808, in 1834 married Henry Stanton, colonel and brevet brigadier general in the army. He died in 1856 at Fort Hamilton, New York, where he had long been stationed, and where all of their seven children were born. Czarina, born in 1810, married her- cousin, John Navarre Macomb of New York, who spent his life in the army, and retired with the rank of colonel in 1883. Mrs. Macomb died in 1846 and the widower later married a daughter of Commodore John Rodgers of the U. S. navy. A son of this union was Montgomery Meigs Macomb, who retired from the army in 1917 with the rank of brigadier general. Sarah Macomb, who was born in Detroit in March, 1831, only a few weeks before her father's removal from this place, married Henry Whiting Stanton, son of General Henry Stanton, who likewise was a native of Detroit. He was graduated from West Point in 1842, attained the rank of captain, and was slain in a fight with the Apache in 1855.7 The widow subsequently married John Charles Devereux Williams, son of John R. Williams of Detroit. The last of General Macomb's daughters, for whom her mother's life was given, was Jane Octavia, born in Georgetown, September 17, 1883. True to the family tradition, she married in 1841, Morris S, Miller, a graduate of West Point in 1831 and a lieutenant in the army, who attained the rank of brevet brigadier general in the Civil War.
7Fort Stanton, New Mexico, was named in his memory.
|Marshall Davies Lloyd|