War of 1812

Journal Entries.

by Dr. William Beaumont

"A most distressing scene ensues."

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Sacketts Harbor [Lake Ontario, New York State], 20th April, 1813. The first Brigade, with several detachments from other corps, in readiness and waiting in suspense to embark on board the navy for an expected attack on the enemy. Genl. Dearborn arrived in Town tonight.

21st. Weather rainy, wind southeast. Sick mending. Troops waiting for orders to embark. 11 o'clock, nothing remarkable has occurred today. Wind south, weather rainy.

22nd. Embarked with Capt. Humphreys, Capt. Walworth and Muhlenburg and Compy. on board the Schooner Julia. The rest of the Brigade, the 2d with Fourth (?) Rifle Regts. And the light artillery on board the Ship, Brig and other Schooners, remained in the Harbor till next morning.

23rd, 11 Ock. A.M. Weight Anchor and put out under the impression of going to Kingston. Got out 15 or 20 miles. Came on a storm. Wind ahead and the fleet returned in to harbor. No one permitted to go on shore.

24th. 6 Ock. A.M. Put out of harbor with a fair wind, tho mild and pleasant. the fleet sailing in fine order, affording a very pleasant scene Thro the day.

25th, 6 Ock. A.M. Morning most delightful. Wind fresh and increasing, not fair, obliging us to beat. Getting along slowly.

26th. Wind pretty strong in the morning, increasing to a strong blow, so that the swells run high, tossing our vessels smartly about. Several seasick — was myself. At half-past four o'clock passed by the mouth of Niagara River. This circumstance baffled our imagination where we were going. We were first impressed with the idea of Kingston, then to  Niagara, but now our destination must be Little York. At sunset came in view of York Town & the Fort, where we lay off all night within 3 or 4 leagues.

27th. Sailed into harbor and came to anchor a little below the British Garrison. We now filled the boats and affected a landing, though not without some difficult and the loss of some men. The British marched their troops from the Garrison down the [hill] to cut us off in landing and then they had every advantage. They could not effect their [plan]. A hot engagement ensued, in which the enemy lost nearly a third of their men and were soon compelled to quit the field, leaving their dead and wounded strewed in every direction. We lost but very few in the engagement. The enemy returned into garrison, but from the loss sustained in the 1st engagement, the undaunted courage of our men, and the brisk firing from our fleet into the Garrison with 12 and 32-pounders, they were soon obliged to evacuate it and retreat with all possible speed. Driven to this alternative, they devised the inhuman project of glowing up their Magazine (containing 300 Bbls. powder), the explosion of which, shocking to mention, had almost totally destroyed our Army. Above 300 were wounded, and about 60 killed dead on the spot by stones of all dimensions falling like a shower of hail in the midst of our ranks. The enemy had about 20 killed and wounded by the explosion, tho the main body had retreated far out of the Garrison. After this sad disaster our Army marched into the Garrison, hawled down the British coat of arms (which they were too haughty to do), and raised the American Standard in its place. Our army was about 1500-strong — Theirs about the same. Encampt in Garrison this night, mounting a guard 500 strong to secure our safety through the night. A most distressing scene ensues in the Hospital — nothing by the Groans of the wounded and agonies of the Dying are to be heard. The Surgeons wading in blood, cutting off arms, legs, and trepanning heads to rescue their fellow creatures from untimely deaths. To hear the poor creatures crying. "Oh, Dear! Oh, Dear! Oh, my God, my God! Do, Doctor, Doctor! Do cut off my leg, my arm, my head, to relieve me from misery! I can't live, I can't live!" would have rent the heart of steel, and shocked the insensibility of the most hardened assassin and the cruelest savage. It awoke my liveliest sympathy, and I cut and slashed for 48 hours without food or sleep. My God! Who can think of the shocking scene when his fellow-creatures lie mashed and mangled in every part, with a leg, an arm, a head, or a body ground in pieces, without having his very heart pained with the acutest sensibility and his blood chill in his veins. Then, who can behold it without agonizing sympathy!

From The Life and Letters of Dr. William Beaumont, compiled by Jesse Shire Myer, Published by Mosby, 1912.



Dr. William Beaumont (1785-1853) was born in Lebanon, CT and served as a surgeon's mate in the War of 1812. His study of a live patient whose gastrointestinal wound would not close contributed greatly to our understanding of human digestion.

Articles in this Issue

The Revolutionary War, by James Thacher, M.D.
War of 1812, by Dr. William Beaumont
Mexican-American War, by James Nagle
The Civil War, by Bret Harte
The Spanish-American War, by Theodore Roosevelt
World War I, by Frank Buckles
World War II, by Audie Murphy
Korean War, by James Brady
Vietnam, by Crane Davis
The Iraq War, by Joshua Key
Pixels, by Clay McLeod Chapman
Clamor, by E. B. Moore