On Sunday, the 19th of July, 1812, Captain Woolsey, of the Oneida, discovered from the mast head of his brig, five sail of the enemy beating up the harbor, viz: the Royal George, 24 guns; the Seneca, 18; Prince Regent, 22; Earl of Moira, 20; and Simcoe. The Oneida attempted to gain the lake, but failing, returned, and was moored outside of the point, where the ship-house now is, with one broadside of nine guns to the enemy, while the others were take out anSd hastily placed on a breastwork on the shore, near which, on the day previous, a 32 pounder (intended for the Oneida, but found too heavy) had been mounted on a pivot, upon a mound about six feet high. Alarm guns were fired, and expresses sent to call in the neighboring militia, who did not, however, arrive in time to render assistance, but who, in the course of the day, came in to the number of 3,000.
The British had, early in the morning, captured a boat laden with flour from Cape Vincent, and the crew were set on shore, and sent the message "that all they wanted was the brig Oneida, and the Lord Nelson (a vessel taken a little before for violation of the revenue), and that they would burn the village if there was a single shot fired at them."
The enemy had been misinformed about the defences of the place, and especially of the 32 pounder, and supposed there was nothing to be feared in the way of ordnance. The force at that time in town was, besides the crew of the Oneida, the regiment of Colonel Bellinger, a volunteer company of artillery under Captain Camp, and a few militia.
Captain Woolsey, leaving his brig in charge of a lieutenant, took the general command on shore, the 32 pounder being in charge of Mr. William Vaughan, sailing master, and the other guns under that of Captain Camp. There were no shot in town larger than 24 pound balls, which were used (with the aid of patches formed of carpet), in the 32 pounder.
By the time these arrangements were made, the enemy had arrived within gun shot, nearly in front of the battery, when the action was begun, the first shot being from the 32 pounder on the mound; upon which a shout of laughter was heard from the fleet, at the supposed imbecile attempt at resistance. The fire was returned briskly, and continued for two hours, all of the enemy's balls but one or two, falling against the rocks at the foot of the bluff, where our force was stationed. One ball fell near by, and plowed up the ground for some distance. It was caught up just as it had spent its force, by a man who came running in and shouting that he had "caught them out;" and so it proved, for from its commanding position, it was seen that our big gun had every advantage, and that several of its shots told with effect.
Towards the close of the action, as the Royal George, the flag ship, was wearing to give another broadside, a 24 pound shot struck her stern, and raked her whole length, killing eight men, and doing much damage. Upon this the signal of retreat was given, and the whole fleet bore away for Kingston without ceremony. At this, the band struck up the national tune of Yankee Doodle, and the troops, who had through the whole affair behaved like veterans, sent up three cheers of victory. The shots from our battery had broken their chest of medicines, their fore top gallant mast, and their vessels, in a dozen places, while the enemy broke nothing butthe Sabbath.
In a letter to the governor, of July 24th, General Brown attributed the success of the day to the gallant spirit of Woolsey, Bellinger and Camp, in their respective capacities, and especially to the nice shots of the 32 pounder. Mr. Vaughan, who had fired this piece, claims honor of having fired the first hostile gun in the war. One of the men at this gun, named Julius Torry, a negro, better known as Black Julius, and a great favorite in the camp, served at his post with remarkable activity and courage. As there was no opportunity for the use of small arms, the greater part of the troops who were drawn up, were spectators of the engagement.
© 2001, Mark A. Wentling