Record Of The Extraordinary Attack On Stonington
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NEW LONDON, AUGUST 17, 1814.
On Tuesday the 9th instant, at 5 P. M. the “Ramilies”, 74, “Pactolus”, 38, a bomb ship, and the “Dispatch”, 22 gun brig, arrived off Stonington, and a flag was sent on shore with the following note–
“”On board his Majesty’s Ship, Ramilies, Stonington, Aug. 9.” TO THE MAGISTRATES OF STONINGTON.
Gentlemen–One hour is allowed you from the receipt of this communication, for the removal of the unoffending inhabitants.
THOMAS M. HARDY.
This notification was received by two magistrates and Lieutenant Hough of the drafted militia, who went off to meet the flag. The officer was asked whether a flag would not be received on board. He said no arrangements could be made. They inquired whether Com. Hardy had determined to destroy the town. He replied that such were his orders from the Admiral, and that it would be done most effectually.
When the gentlemen reached the shore, a crowd waited with great anxiety for the news; which being stated, consternation flew through the town. An express was despatched to General Cushing, at New London. A number of volunteers hastened to collect ammunition; others ran to the battery, which consisted of two 18 pounders and a 4 pounder, on field carriages, with a slight breast work, 4 feet high. The sick and the aged were removed with haste: the women and children, with loud cries, were seen running in every direction. Some of the most valuable articles were hastily got off by hand, others placed in the gardens and lots, or thrown into wells, to save them from the impending conflagration. The sixty minutes expired, but the dreaded moment did not bring the attack. Nelson’s favorite hero and friend was seized with the compunctions of magnanimity;–he remembered what ancient Britons were; he remembered that something was due to the character of Sir Thomas M. Hardy. Three hours in fact elapsed, when at 8 in the evening the attack was commenced by a discharge of shells from the bomb ship. Several barges and launches had taken their stations in different points, from whence they threw Congreve rockets, and carcasses. This mode of attack was continued incessantly till midnight; and the fire was returned occasionally from the battery, as the light of the rockets gave opportunity with any chance of success.
The few drafted militia which had been sometime stationed there, under command of Lieutenant Hough, were placed in the best directions to give an alarm in case a landing should be attempted. During the night the volunteers and militia had assembled in considerable numbers; and the non-combatant inhabitants had generally removed to the neighboring farm-houses, in the momentary expectation of seeing their abandoned dwellings in flames. It was a night of inexpressible anguish to many a widow and orphan, to many aged and infirm, whose little pittance they were now apparently to lose forever. But Providence directed otherwise. This compact little village of 100 buildings had been for four hours covered with flames of fire and bomb shells, and not a single building was consumed nor a person injured.
At the dawn of day on the 10th, the approach of the enemy was announced by a discharge of Congreve rockets from several barges and a launch, which had taken their station, on the east side of the town, and out of reach of the battery. Several volunteers, with small arms and the four pounder, hastened across the point, supposing the enemy were attempting a landing. Colonel Randall of the 13th regiment, who at the time was moving towards the battery with a detachment of militia, ordered them to assist the volunteers in drawing over one of the 18 pounders to the extreme end of the point; the fire of which in a few minutes compelled the barges to seek safety in flight. During this time the brig was working up towards the Point, and soon after sunrise came to anchor, short of half a mile from the battery, (or more correctly, the breastwork). Our ammunition being soon exhausted, the guns were spiked, and the men who fought them, being only about 15 or 20, retired, leaving them behind for want of strength to drag them off.
The brig now continued deliberately to pour her 32 pound shot and grape into the Village, without our having the power of returning a shot, for an hour, and the bomb ketch occasionally threw in shells. A fresh supply of ammunition being obtained, the 18 pounder was withdrawn from the breastwork, the vent drilled, and the piece taken back again, when such an animated and well directed fire was kept up, that at 3 o’clock the brig slipped her cable and hauled off, with her pumps going, having received several shots below her water line, and considerable damage in her spars, &c. During this action between the eighteen pounder and the brig, Mr. Frederick Denison was slightly wounded in the knee, by a fragment of a rock, and Mr. John Miner, badly burnt in his face by the premature discharge of the gun. The flag, which was nailed to the mast, was pierced with seven shot holes, the breast-work somewhat injured, and 6 or 8 of the dwelling-houses in the vicinity essentially injured. At this time a considerable body of militia had arrived, and Brigadier-General Isham had taken the command; the inhabitants had recovered from the consternation of the first moments; and were deliberately moving off their furniture and goods. At 1 o’clock the Ramilies and Pactolus had taken stations about two and a half miles from the town, when resistance appearing hopeless, the Magistrates as a last resort applied to the General for permission to send a flag off, being impressed with the opinion that there must exist some latent cause of a peculiar nature to induce a commander who had heretofore distinguished himself for a scrupulous regard to the claims of honorable warfare,–to induce him to commit an act so repugnant to sound policy, so abhorrent to his nature, so flagrant an outrage on humanity. The General, we understand, would not sanction, nor did he absolutely prohibit, a flag being sent. They, therefore, on their own responsibility, sent on board the Ramilies, Isaac Williams and Wm. Lord, Esquires, with the following letter.
Copy.) “Stonington August 10, 1814.” TO SIR THOMAS M. HARDY,
SIR–Agreeable to notice received from you yesterday, this town is now cleared of “unoffending inhabitants,” and they feeling anxious about the fate of their village, are desirous to know from you, your determination respecting it. Yours, &c.
“Amos Denison”, Burgess. “William Lord”, Magistrate.
The deputation proceeded on board the Ramilies, and shortly after an officer informed the boatmen that they might return to the shore, as the gentlemen would be landed in a boat from the ship; and that Captain Hardy had declared that no further hostilities would be committed against the town. After remaining on board an hour, or more, the deputation were conveyed in a flag from the ship, which was met by one from the shore. They brought with them a very singular and extraordinary communication. An exact copy cannot at present be obtained, as official etiquette will not permit; but having read it when it was received on shore, as far as memory serves us, it was as follows:
“On board H. M. Ship Ramilies, off Stonington, Aug. 10.”
GENTLEMEN–You having given assurances that no torpedoes have been fitted out from Stonington; and having engaged to exert your influence to prevent any from being fitted out or receiving any aid from your town: If you send on board this ship tomorrow at eight o’clock, Mrs. Stewart, wife of James Stewart esq. late His Majesty’s Consul at New London, and their children, I engage that no further hostilities shall be committed against Stonington; otherwise I shall proceed to destroy it effectually.–For which purpose I possess ample means.
T. M. HARDY, Capt.
This letter was received indignantly. No answer was given. It was a fact well known that no torpedoes have been fitted out at Stonington, and that the inhabitants are unfriendly to the system; but neither individuals nor the town have power to prevent their resorting to that place. The condition “sine qua non”, is truly “tragi-farcical”. Neither the town of Stonington or the State of Connecticut, had any legal power to comply with it, which Capt. Hardy well knew. And if Stonington Point with its rocky foundations had been in danger of being blown up, scarcely a voice would have been raised to have saved it on such disgraceful terms. The first duty of a citizen we are taught in Connecticut, is to obey the laws. Mrs. Stewart is under the protection of the government of the United States, and the petition of her husband for a permission for a departure is in the hands of a proper authority, who will undoubtedly decide correctly in the case.
Our countrymen at a distance, from the importance Capt. Hardy has attached to the circumstance of Mrs. Stewart’s being sent off to the British squadron, may possibly apprehend that she has received insult, or signified some fears for the personal safety of herself and children.–So far from this being the fact, no lady ever experienced greater civilities from the citizens; as no one has better deserved them. And her feelings during the proceedings at Stonington, demanded the sympathy of her friends.
By the terms offered by Capt. Hardy, it was impossible to discover whether he was most doubtful of his ability to accomplish the destruction of the town, or desirous of a pretext to save it. He assured the gentlemen who accompanied the flag that this was the most unpleasant expedition he had undertaken.
The truce on the part of the enemy having expired at 8 o’clock on Thursday morning, a flag was soon after observed at the battery to be coming on shore, and there not being sufficient time to give information of the fact at head quarters and receive instructions, it was determined by the officer then commanding to send a boat off to receive the communication. Mr. Faxon, of Stonington, took charge of the boat, met the flag, and offered to convey the dispatch agreeable to its directions. The British officer, Lieut. Claxton, questioned his authority to receive it; inquired whether Mrs. Stewart would be sent off; and said he would go on shore. Mr. Faxon replied, that he knew nothing of Mrs. Stewart; and that if he attempted to proceed for the shore, he would undoubtedly be fired on. He continued his course, when a centinel was directed to fire forward of the boat, but the ball passed through the after sail. They immediately put about and steered for the ship; the lieutenant swearing revenge, for what he termed an insult to his flag.
An explanation of the circumstance was immediately transmitted by General Isham to Capt. Hardy, which he received as satisfactory.
At the moment, a flag had started for the Ramilies, from the civil authority of the town, which was received on board; by which was sent the following letter:–
“Stonington Boro’, Aug. 14, 1814.” TO THOMAS M. HARDY, “Commander of H.B.M. Ship Ramilies”.
Sir–Since the flag went into New London for Mrs. Stewart, and family, General Cushing, who commands at New London, has written, we are informed, to the Secretary of War on the subject, and it is our opinion that the request will be complied with. But whatever may be the result of the communication from Gen. Cushing, you will be satisfied it is not in our power to enter into any arrangement with you respecting her.
From yours, &c.
Isaac Williams, } William Lord, } “Magistrates.” Alexander G. Smith, } Joseph Smith, “Warden.” Geo. Hubbard,} “Burgesses.” Amos Denison,}
To this letter, Capt. Hardy replied verbally, that he should allow till 12 o’clock for Mrs. Stewart to be brought on board. At this time the principal part of three regiments of militia had arrived, and the town was perfectly secure against a landing.
At 3 o’clock, the bomb ship commenced throwing shells into the town; and being out of reach of our cannon, the General withdrew the militia, excepting a guard of 50 men who were ordered to patrol the streets for the extinguishment of fire, should any happen. The bombardment continued till evening.
On Friday morning the bomb ship renewed her operations a little before sunrise, while the Ramilies and Pactolus were warping in. At eight o’clock the frigate opened her fire and was soon followed by the Ramilies. At this time the cannon were ordered to be moved to the north end of the town, where they would have been serviceable if an attempt had been made to land under cover of the ships. This was a very hazardous service, as the party would be entirely exposed to the fire of the enemy. Volunteers in sufficient numbers instantly offered their services; among whom were upwards of twenty of the Norwich artillery. The command of the party was entrusted to Lieutenant Lathrop, of that corps. They marched to the battery and brought off the pieces without the smallest accident; exhibiting all the steadiness which characterizes veteran soldiers.
This tremendous cannonade and bombardment continued till nearly noon, when it ceased; and about four o’clock the ships hauled off to their former anchorage.
During the succeeding night a large force was kept on guard, in the expectation and hope that a landing would be attempted. The militia during this afflicting scene discovered the very best disposition, and were eager to take revenge of the enemy or sacrifice their lives in the contest.
It may be considered miraculous that during the several attacks, while so many were exposed to this terrible and protracted bombardment and cannonade, not a person was killed, and but five or six wounded, and those but slightly. Among the wounded is Lieutenant Hough of the drafted militia.
On Saturday morning the enemy relinquished the hope of burning the town, weighed anchor, and proceeded up Fisher’s Island sound.
The volunteers who so gloriously fought in the battery, deserve the thanks of their country. No men could have done better. Their example will have the happiest influence.
About forty buildings are more or less injured, 8 or 10 essentially so; and two or three may be considered as ruined. The damage was principally done by the brig. Many shells did not explode, several were extinguished. The Congreve Rockets which were frightful at first, lost their terrors, and effected little.
The inhabitants, fearing another attack, have not returned to their dwellings, and their desolate situation calls loudly upon the philanthropy of their fellow citizens. If a brief should be granted for collections in the churches of the State we trust very essential aid will be furnished. Nineteen-twentieths of the inhabitants, it is said, have no other property than their dwellings.
A Nantucket man has been on board the British fleet to redeem his boat, and learned that the Dispatch had 2 men killed and 12 wounded; her loss was undoubtedly much greater.