Mohawk Valley History: June 18, 1812

The Library of Congress and the Little Falls Historical Society.

This day in Mohawk Valley History: June 18, 1812

The War of 1812

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain, marking the beginning of the War of 1812. Frustrated by Britain’s maritime practices and support of Native American resistance to western expansion, the U.S. entered the war with ambitious plans to conquer Canada, a goal that was never realized.

The strength of the British army proved too great for U.S. forces. Both on land and at sea, U.S. troops suffered great losses. In August 1814, British troops entered Washington, D.C., and burned the Capitol and the White House. By December, both the Americans and the British recognized that it was time to end the conflict. Representatives of the two nations met in Belgium and signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, which ended the war and restored previously recognized boundaries between the United States and British territory in North America. The Senate unanimously ratified the Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815. (Library of Congress)

The Military Road

At the start of the War of 1812, the United States had fewer than 12,000 soldiers, of which nearly half were new recruits. (Little Falls Historial Society)

To fill the need for manpower, the Federal government instituted a draft, and called out each state’s militia. New York was asked to provide 13,500 militia men. While regular army soldiers typically served for four years, militia men’s active- duty time was measured in months. In addition, state militia men realized that by law they didn’t have to fight outside the borders of their state which sometimes caused problems.

Militia men had only rudimentary military training, (by the War of 1812 militia had not been called on to fight for nearly 30 years). All men between the ages of 16 and 65 were expected to serve in the militia. The training they did receive usually amounted to a two week stint, with marching and drilling on the Military Road for one day after which there was “light duty” visiting local taverns. Along the 24 mile stretch of the Military Road in Herkimer County there were twelve taverns. The militia boys expected large freedoms and often took over taverns. They sometimes “fished out” whiskey bottles using their ramrods with nooses on the end, picking the bottles out over the palings erected by the tavern keeper to protect his stock.

But Herkimer County militia did fight and distinguished themselves at the Battle of Sackett’s Harbor in May of 1813. Under the command of General Jacob Brown, the Herkimer County men shouldered their nearly six foot long, nine-pound Springfield flintlock muskets and repulsed a British raid meant to destroy shipbuilding at the harbor. It is a well-founded fact that during the British naval bombardment brave militia men raced out of their blockhouses to collect cannon balls to replenish their own artillery.

Norway, with an 1800 population of about 900, of which over half the men were either too young or too old to serve in the militia, supplied two regiments, one militia and one of regular army riflemen, to the American cause during the War of 1812. At the end of the war, as was the practice, Norway men petitioned the government for compensation for destroyed clothing and equipment, (officers wore uniforms but the rank and file soldier wore his own homespun and supplied most of his other necessities). From Norway, Ebenezer Hurd asked for $24, Edmund C. Pulman $65, John Rathbun $30, John Sisson $30, Jeremiah Smith $38, Ralph Tredway $55, and the Tompkins boys, Cornelius, Samuel and Stephen M. requested, respectively, $70, $75 and $70.

With the advent of canals, railroads and paved roadways, the Military Road lost its usefulness and became all but forgotten. Today, land invasion routes are less a priority as airplanes and missiles have become the preferred tools of destruction and defense. Most of the Military Road is paved, but sections are still dirt and barely able to allow a wheelbarrow to pass though. Our modern militia is a highly trained and well-equipped state army that has no use for such a relic as is the Military Road.

Pat Stock is both City of Little Falls historian and a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.