The Battle of Sodus Point
June 19, 1813
War of 1812
Excerpts from the book:
Military History of WayneCounty, N,Y,
The County in the Civil War
By Lewis H. Clark
Written in 1883
Pages 197 – 203:
From the Ontario Messenger of June 29, 1813
On Saturday afternoon, 19th inst.,five sail of the enemy’s naval force on Lake Ontario appeared off Sodus Bay. In the morning of the same day the enemy not appearing, Col. Swift’s regiment of militia which had formerly assembled for the protection of the place, was dismissed and left Sodus after having removed all the public property to a place of security. On the alarm being given about forty men, under Capt. E. Hull, collected with a determination to make all the resistance in their power should the enemy attempt to land.
Under cover of the ensuing night one hundred men from the enemy’s shipping effected a landing undiscovered and proceeded towards the village where they were met by the force under Captain Hull and fired upon. The fire was immediately returned by the enemy and our men retreated , but were not pursued far before the enemy returned to their boats and re-embarked. In this affair we had one killed and three wounded. The enemy’s loss was three killed and seven wounded. Early the ensuing morning a number of British soldiers again landed, and without opposition took and destroyed about 230 barrels of flour, a few barrels of pork and whiskey, all private property – then proceeded to plunder the village of everything valuable and set fire to the houses, which were soon consumed. Having thus wantonly done all the mischief in their power, they evacuated the place. The
principal sufferers are Messrs. Edus, Merrill, Wickham and Nicholas. The above news is said to be furnished by a gentleman who arrived at Sodus Point soon after the enemy left the place.
To the men of the present day who have known of Gettysburgh, Cold Harbor, Pittsburgh Landing, and the other battles of the late civil war, especially to the soldiers who served in those engagements, the events of 1813 at Sodus Point, and 1814 at Pultneyville, may seem trivial and scarcely worthy of notice; yet the bravery and fidelity of men must be judged by the circumstances of the case. When the citizens of Sodus and neighboring towns, with no military training, with none of the confidence that inspires disciplined forces, hurried to Sodus Point on the afternoon of June 19, 1813, and in the thick darkness of the rainy night, marched against an unknown force landing from a well equipped fleet, perhaps it required as much firmness , as much stern fidelity to duty as may have nerved veteran soldiers in the battles of far greater magnitude.
From the outbreak of the war, the frontier villages had suffered a sense of insecurity. Especially after a British fleet had been equipped upon the lake, the danger was imminent. Government stores were kept to some extent at Sodus Point and Pultneyville, as well as at Charlotte, Braddocks Bay, and other places along the
lake. It was the policy of the British officers to hover along the coast, and if they found a place undefended, secure the stores, either by negotiation or force.
A state of war also gave military excuse for the pillage and destruction of such villages, if the invading forces chose to avail themselves of the opportunity. Sodus Point had been guarded by a few of the neighboring militia companies, for several days at a time during the months preceding the battle. In June, or July, 1812, according to the affidavit of Asel Latimer and Isaac Featherly, in possession of the writer, a British vessel was seen upon the lake, apparently having designs upon the village. Captain Holcomb’s Company was called out, and remained at the Point under command of Lieutenant Nathaniel Merrill, for two or three days.
Subsequently, during the summer and fall of that year, the same company was ordered out, and staid there one or two days at each alarm. In the spring of 1813, a considerable force was stationed from time to time, at the Point, in anticipation of an attack.
On the 15th of June, it was reported that the British had landed at Genesee river, and would undoubtedly attack Sodus. Portions of Colonel Philetus Swift’s regiment, and of Major William Roger’s battalion, were immediately ordered there for defence, and remained until Saturday morning, when no enemy appearing , the companies were dismissed. A guard was retained under command of Lieutenant Merrill, to watch the military stores, which had been removed to the woods west of the village.
That same day the British vessels came in sight, and in the afternoon it became evident that an attack upon the village was about to occur. One or two men on horseback were sent out to call back, if possible, the companies which were going home, and rally the citizens generally. One of them rode to Sodus village, and west along the Ridge, shouting: “Turn out!” “Turn out!” West of Sodus village, Paddock, Dunning, Danforth and others were just getting home from a “raising” on Morse hill, but tired as they were, they hastened to Sodus Point with such guns as they could hastily seize.
The other messenger rode southward, following the retiring soldiers. In the vicinity of South Sodus, the settlers were at a “logging bee”, and some of them are said to have gone direct to the Point, without going home for supper. Of this horseman, John P. Terry, now of Portsmouth, Ohio, in a letter given below, says:
“I recollect perfectly well seeing him pass our house riding fast, blowing a horn, and shouting “The British are landing!”
The men that gathered at Sodus Point , in answer to this call, were some of them members of Captain Holcomb’s company, others of Captain Hull’s, and others still belonged to no organization whatever. The alarm called back some of the militia who were on their way home after their discharge in the morning, but many of the men were simply citizens, with no pretensions to military training. At the Point they had no organization. At first Rev. Seba Norton, who had seen service in the war of the Revolution, was looked to as a leader and Captain. A little later Captain Elias Hull reached the Point, and the command was yielded to him.
The area of cleared land at the Point was not then very large. A thick, dense growth of trees and brush extended up to the covered most of the public square; its eastern edge running somewhat diagonally from the present site of the Methodist church to the northwest. This was almost impassable save by the single road, north to the lighthouse of the present day, thence west along the Lake bank, bearing south and reaching the line of the present road near the farm residence of B.B. Seaman. There was also a footpath which led off southwest from the place now occupied by the Methodist church. The night was very dark. It had been cloudy during the day and was raining a little in the evening. It was impossible to see a yard in advance.
The line was formed as regularly as it was possible to do near the woods. It was agreed to march over the rise of ground towards the water, and if the enemy were met in superior force to deliver their fire and the retreat; nor was it expected that the company would maintain its line in that event. It was to be “each for himself”. The movement thus decided upon was executed at or near midnight. Marching up the street past the Mansion House they reached the high ground along by Wickham’s store and the Johnson House of the present time. They found that the British had landed and were advancing. This was known by the noise and by a few lanterns the enemy were carrying. The dim light showed a force supposed to be 300 or more, marching in order up the slope from the waters’ edge. Amasa Johnson from the American line shot down one of the lights. Instantly was heard the command of the British officer, FIRE! And a volley immediately followed. In many of the traditionary accounts the shots are said to have passed over the heads of the American line. This may be true, but from the nature of the case the shot probably struck the ground in front and below them principally. Asher Warner and Charles Terry were mortally wounded and an affidavit of the late James Edwards, who was a very competent witness, states that several others were also struck . Among these were Captain Nathaniel Merrill, Mr. Eldridge, a hired man in the employ of Ammi Ellsworth, and also Mr. Knight . The flash of the British guns had revealed their position with considerable distinctness and the Americans with well directed aim poured a deadly fire into the enemy’s ranks. It has been generally stated that two or more were killed in the British line and several wounded. (Two British Marines are known to have been killed during the battle. Privates Job Allen and John Whammond of the 1st (Royal Scots) Regiment of Foot -1st Battalion died of wounds suffered during the battle according to the War of 1812 Casualty Database.}
The information upon this point is not very certain yet it is entirely probable and consistent with the known facts. The “battle” was over. In the confusion that followed, the two forces were very near each other or mingled as the British carried off three prisoners, Christopher Britton, father of the late John Britton, of Alton, and Harry Skinner and also a colored man by the name of Gilbert Saulter. Both parties retreated and both for very good reasons. The British could have no idea of the force in their front, and in the darkness of midnight it would have been the height of folly to advance. They hastily took to their boats. The Americans knew their own weakness and had very good proof that a force much superior to them in numbers and discipline had landed. The Americans scattered, some to the woods, others to their homes. George Palmer says that he with others came up to the Pollock place on the old Geneva road and staid there till morning.
The next morning the British opened a slight cannonade and then landed a small force. They seized the stores in the warehouses and then set all the buildings on fire except one. The tavern of Nathaniel Merrill, the store of Captain Wickham and its contents; his dwelling-house; the Fitzhugh house; the house of Wm. Edus; two warehouses and several other buildings were totally destroyed.
The house saved was one that had been recently erected by Barakins and Hoylarts. It was the Mansion House of later years and was destroyed by fire in 1881. The tall solid chimneys of 1811 are still standing, marking the site of the old historic building. Asher Warner was picked up by the British mortally wounded and carried into this house and there he died. It is said that the British placed a pitcher of water near him and that the officers twice extinguished a fire kindled by the men to destroy the building.