The British Raid on Essex
The Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
This is the story of two battles, the British Raid on Essex in 1814, and the effort to bring this untold chapter of American history into the light of day. The original struggle lasted less than twenty-four hours. The second has taken a bit longer. The rediscovery of the British Raid on Essex actually began in Halifax...
Chapter One. Forgotten Battle
The light was fading. Thirty-two- year- old Captain Richard Coote peered through his ship’s glass, once again scanning the bluffs overlooking the river a mile to the south. His position was exposed. He was anchored in the Connecticut River, five miles north of its mouth and the safety of his warships...
Chapter Two. Decatur’s War
President Madison’s Republican-dominated Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The British did not want this war and neither did New England—especially Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Not a single Federalist voted in favor of going to war. Some historians contend...
Chapter Three. The Raid
Now armed with a willing pilot, Capel quickly put together a bold plan. Pettipaug lay a full six miles up the Connecticut River which was well known for its deceptively shallow areas and challenging navigation. But the real problem facing Capel and whatever force he might send was the massive sand shoal...
Chapter Four. In the Heart of the Enemy’s Country
As the militia moved away from the village, they encountered scattered late arrivers moving toward the point in ones and twos. They told them there were no officers, no orders. They withdrew from the village hoping to regroup and find some leadership. Should they take to the high ground above the village...
Chapter FiveThe Ships
Burning a harbor full of vessels was no simple task. The vessels in Pettipaug came in many shapes and sizes ranging from small twenty-five- to seventy-ton sloops, to schooners, brigs and full-rigged ships ranging from one hundred fifty to four hundred tons. In terms of size the vessels ranged from fifty-five...
Chapter Six. Getting Out
While Lieutenants Parry and Liddon were busy with the prize crews preparing the Eagle and the Young Anaconda, which were anchored in the harbor, they saw a dory being rowed out from shore showing a white flag. The man putting his back to the oars was none other than Captain Jeremiah Glover, a...
Chapter Seven. In the River
Sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon Major Ely and those working to prepare defenses a mile further downriver may have looked north and observed the British as they rounded Hayden’s Point and turned south. It must have been a bit surreal to witness the two newly built American privateers coming...
Chapter Eight. The End Game
As Lieutenant Bull’s gun crew rushed their team north the British were making preparations to resume their escape. When Coote had made his decision to stay where they were until darkness it had meant that when theydid head for the mouth of the river they would not be in the schooner. Coote realized that...
Chapter Nine. After the Battle
Once the British were gone, the people of Pettipaug Point were left with cleaning up the mess, salvaging what they could and moving on. Several ship owners lost numerous vessels. The Hayden, Pratt and Starkey dynasties were particularly hard hit. Estimates of the value of the financial loss from the raid...
Chapter Ten. Fighting for the Lost Battle
I came to Essex in July 2006, after eighteen years at the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum in New York to take over as executive director of the Connecticut River Museum, located on the Essex waterfront. I knew nothing of the British raid. My wife had googled Essex before we came and told me about Loser’s...
Chapter Eleven. The Problem with History
By this time we had distilled the documents, old maps, newspaper accounts and other research into a comprehensive narrative. But now we needed more. We needed to define and map the battle site with solid battlefield archeology. We needed the physical evidence of a battle. To accomplish this we needed a field team with specific experience in this...
Appendix One: Primary Documents
While many of these documents are quoted or referenced throughout the course of this book, the opportunity to read them in their full and intact format helps shed a great deal of light on the mood of the times in which they were written, adding nuances of detail for those who want to read between...
Appendix Two: Order of Battle
There are many people and organizations whose resources, expertise and encouragement have helped to make this book possible. I want to start by thanking Admiral Pullen, Commander Albert Dock, Captain Russell Anderson and the Essex Historical Society for tracking down and publishing the British Admiralty Papers and other important documents in 1981. Thanks also to the Sailing Masters of 1812 fife and drum corps for keeping the tradition...
Notes and Sources
The original purpose of this project was to document the British Raid on Essex in order to attain official state and national recognition of the battle site. All of our research was geared toward that goal. This book is a result of some of the information we collected. Each discovery has lead to its own spider web of additional information, and additional threads to...