Battle of Sackets Harbor

From Jefferson County NY Wiki

Battle of Sackets Harbor[edit | edit source]

Act I- Skirmish at Stony Point

On May 28, 1813, a flotilla of British warships appeared at the mouth of Black River Bay. The weather was miserable, however, with visibility poor and the lake calm. This prevented the British fleet from being able to tack into the harbor. So they waited. Through the fog they noticed barges loaded with reinforcements, elements of the 9th and 23rd US Infantry from Oswego, headed for the harbor. The British dispatched their Indian allies to overtake the barges, who fearing for their lives pulled ashore at Stony Point. Pursued by Indians, many of the soldiers were hunted down and killed. Other boats that witnessed the carnage pulled directly for the British fleet, rather than take their chances on shore against the Indians. This skirmish is known as the Battle of Stony Point.

Act II- Landing at Horse Island

In the pre-dawn hours of May 29th, 1813, 900 British landed at the head of Horse Island against a hail of rifle, musket, and artillery fire [1]. They quickly brushed aside a company of Albany militia camped on the island as pickets and crossed to the mainland to drive off the main body of about 600 militia, composed of the 76th and 55th NY Inf. Regs [2]. The British then split their force. About 200 British pursued the fleeing militia into the wooded area south of the village [3], while the remainder marched along the bay shore road to engage the main defenses of Sackets Harbor.

Act III- British engage US Regulars

The majority of the regular forces at Sackets Harbor had been committed to the attack on [1]], so the main harbor defense was headed by about 300 dismounted dragoons, about 150 regulars (elements of the 9th, 21st and 23rd US Infantry), the 3rd Artillery Regiment, a company of artillery militia, and any soldier who could stand from the hospitals, about 800 soldiers in all. The defense was commanded by Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown, who was summoned from his home and asked to take charge. The dragoons were the first to engage the British, in a hasty trench to the south of the Basswood Cantonment. Behind them were the US regulars, reinforced on their flanks by the few militia who chose to stand and fight. The outnumbered defenders fought a gradual retreat through the Basswood Cantonment [4], where many were killed or wounded. They didn't go down without a fight, however, and the British had lost almost half their starting force before they appeared before the last defense of the Navy Yard [5].


Act IV- Harbor in Flames

As militia and wounded regulars were streaming through the streets of Sackets Harbor, panic set in among the citizens and rear guard elements at the Navy Yard. Misunderstanding a signal from the commanding officer on board the brig Fair American [9]in Black River Bay, workers and seamen on shore began to set fire to the storehouses and new ship, the brig General Pike [6]. The storehouses held tons of supplies captured from York the previous month, and the Americans were determined that the British would not get them back. By 11:00 am, it seemed that all was lost.

Act V- The British Retreat

The British, now rejoined by the flanking company, now prepared to press their attack on The Navy Yard. British artillery had been finally brought ashore near Horse Island and the ship Prince Regent (16) [7] had been brought into the bay by oar, to pound the remaining American forces holed-up in Fort Tompkins [5] into submission. The Americans were not finished yet, however. Fort Volunteer, a breastwork with several cannon [8], was now in the fight, pounding away at the Prince Regent [7]. On the battlefield, one young regular who had fallen wounded suddenly leaped to his feet before the British advance and shot the field captain, Andrew Grey, cold dead. This rattled British confidence. The British commanders at the same time began to notice a rising plume of dust to the west of the village. They had learned from Americans captured at Stony Point that a column of Tuttle's 9th Infantry had marched from Oswego the previous morning. Fearing these to be fresh reinforcements who would arrive on their rear, the British commander, Sir George Prevost, sounded a retreat. Tired and beaten, the British broke ranks and ran back to their landing boats, not even stopping to gather their wounded and dead. Once the landing party was safely back to the British fleet, they sent a representative under a flag of truce to ask that a landing party be allowed to tend to the casualties. The Americans refused.


In the aftermath of the battle, the fires in the Navy Yard were extinguished, but not before more than $500,000 worth of supplies and materials had been consumed. The new ship was saved with only minor damage. The wounded soldiers were taken to several homes in the village for care. One of these homes was the Sacket Mansion. The British were also tended to, while the dead were placed in an unmarked grave south of the village. The location of this grave has yet to be found. In all, the Americans lost 21 dead, 84 wounded and 26 missing. The British fared far worse for their effort: 48 dead, 195 wounded, and 16 missing. So who won the battle? The British object was to destroy the Navy Yard and recapture supplies taken from York and Gananoque. Thanks to some panicked Americans, they succeeded in destroying the Navy Yard and refusing the Americans use of their stores. Although the new ship was saved, the loss of rigging and sails in the fire delayed her commission for months and gave the British clear reign on Lake Ontario. The 250 or so Americans left at Fort Tompkins were beaten, and would not have held out long against an all-out British assault. The Americans, for their part however, inflicted disproportionately heavy damage on the British, something that Sir George Prevost would have to answer for in the coming months.

Also See[edit | edit source]

The Battle of Sackets Harbor on Wikipedia

The Great Rope Carry and the Battle of Big Sandy

Battle of Cranberry Creek

Battle of French Creek

Madison Barracks

Sackets Harbor Battlefield

Jefferson County Battles and Conflicts