The War of 1812 was rife with collateral damage, bringing death and destruction to women and children as well as soldiers. One youngster, filled with a lust for youthful adventure, eventually found himself in the thick of the fighting.
Jarvis Hanks, born in Pawlet, Vt., was only 13 years old when the war broke out, and as he wrote years later, "The pomp and splendor of a military life were vividly portrayed in my foolish imagination and produced a desire to engage in the service."
He had learned to play the drums at an early age and longed to be a military drummer boy. He never mentioned whether he had heard of another military drummer boy, a survivor of the Devil's Hole Massacre, but he chose to follow in those military footsteps.
One of only three survivors of the infamous Devil's Hole Massacre was William Matthews, a military drummer boy who was saved when his drum strap caught on a tree on his way down the Niagara River gorge. The Seneca Indians killed many soldiers in that raid on Sept. 14, 1763, and threw them into the gorge near Bloody Run Creek.
Young Hanks pestered his parents enough so they gave permission for him to join the Army as a drummer boy. His parents gave their consent on condition he not be put in combat situations, somewhat of an empty recruiting promise used by armies through the ages.
He was assigned to the 11th U.S. Infantry and sent to Burlington, Vt., for training, where he lived outdoors, slept in barns and ate Army food. However, in his autobiography, he chose not to make too many complaints.
After training, the unit was sent to the Sacketts Harbor military base at the eastern end of Lake Ontario near the Thousand Islands area. The Army then invaded Canada with about 4,000 troops, hoping to take Montreal. However, the British stood firm at the Battle of Crysler's Farm on Nov. 11, 1813, and the U.S. Army was turned back. This was
Hanks' first taste of combat, which he came through remarkably well.
The troops returned to the United States and the next year were sent to Buffalo for training and another invasion try. The troops at that time were trained under Gen. Winfield Scott, whom Hanks called "the most thorough disciplinarian I ever saw." Scott was credited with instituting the manual of arms and other training designed to turn raw civilians into fighting men.
On July 3, 1814, the Army crossed the river at Black Rock and quickly took Fort Erie from the British. The Army then proceeded to Chippawa where, under Gen. Jacob Brown, they defeated the British in some vicious fighting. During the campaign, Hanks said he became so tired that he could sleep standing up.
Brown decided not to follow the British to Fort George, on the other side of the river from Fort Niagara, but to move up Lundy's Lane to take a British artillery installation on high ground. Hanks took part in the Battle of Lundy's Lane, which many writers labeled the bloodiest of the entire war.
Niagara's own Peter B. Porter was a general who participated heroically in that invasion.
Hanks wrote of being under heavy rifle fire at one point and had a fence shot out from under him when he was crossing it, but escaped when "not so much of a hair on my head was hurt."
Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat, with slashing bayonets used adding to the bloodbath. Each side took turns occupying the hill, but eventually the Americans captured the hill and the British artillery. The Brits pulled back to organize for a counter assault.
However, because of the many wounded and exhausted soldiers, the Americans decided to pull back to Chippawa after Gen. Brown was wounded. They left the British artillery there intact, which the British took back the next day without any resistance.
Hanks survived the war, and when it was over in 1815, returned to his home in Vermont. Later in life, he moved to Ohio, where he died in Cleveland when he was 59.
HORRIBLE WAR -- The horrors of the Battle of Lundy's Lane and the entire War of 1812 were expressed by a Scottish doctor who unfortunately arrived at Fort George on the day of the battle.
Dr. William Dunlop was overwhelmed with the wounded from the Battle of Lundy's Lane and presided over many an amputation and death.
In those days, as in the later Civil War, amputation was the only way to combat infections and gangrene. Often amputations were performed when the patients were still awake. After the war, the doctor wrote:
"There is hardly on the face of the earth a less enviable situation than that of an army surgeon after a battle -- worn out and fatigued in body and mind, surrounded by suffering, pain and misery, much of which he knows it is not in his power to heal, while the battle lasts these all pass unnoticed, but they come before the medical man afterwards in all their sorrow and horror. It would be a useful lesson to cold blooded politicians to witness such a scene, if only for one hour."
Another journal keeper was Lt. John LeCouteur, a member of the 104th Regiment of Foot. He was a graduate of the British Royal Military College and was sent to Canada in 1812, as war was about to break out. His unit was sent to the Niagara area in June 1813, and took part in the Battle of Lundy's Lane.
In his journal, he wrote:
"I was on duty that night. What a dismal night. There were 300 dead on the Niagara side of the hill, and about 100 of ours, besides several hundred wounded. The miserable, badly wounded were groaning and imploring us for water. The scene of the morning was not more pleasant than the night's horrors. We had to wait in our slaughterhouse till 11 before we got a mouthful, when a great camp kettle of thick chocolate revived us surprisingly, though we devoured it among dead bodies in all directions."
LeCouteur survived the war, returned to England and entered public service. He was knighted in 1872, and died in 1875, when he was 81 years old.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||July 5, 2011|