Fort Klock Historic Restoration
& Indian Castle Church

History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, NY
F. W. Beers & Co. 36 Vesey Street, 1878

THE HISTORY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY

CHAPTER XVIII.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY IN THE WAR OF l8l2--THE MILITIA SYSTEM--HOW THE ELEVENTH BRIGADE WENT TO WAR.

Though the colonists had secured their independence and with the return of peace could pursue their various avocations undisturbed by an invading foe, they did not beat their swords into ploughshares, for they realized the necessity of preserving some military organization. Their recent sufferings from savage warfare had warned them to be on their guard against Indian depredations as well as a possible invasion by a foreign power. Hence arose the militia system, under which martial exercise was regularly practiced, the officers and privates supplying themselves with the necessary outfit. The apprehension that led to this military precaution was too soon justified. Scarcely had a quarter of a century rolled away before the signs of the times indicated the rapid approach of another war with Great Britain, which would require the yeomen to use their arms on the frontier, instead of flourishing them in harmless battles on some chosen field at home.

At this period the state of New York along the Canadian frontier was to a great extent an almost unknown wilderness, and communications and transportation were still slow and laborious. The Mohawk river, slightly improved in its natural wayward course by the Inland Lock Navigation Company, was the only.route, except the rough highways, for the westward conveyance of cannon, which were loaded upon the Durham boats. April loth, 1812, Congress authorized the drafting of 100,000 men from the militia of the country, 13,500 being assigned as the quota of New York. A few days later the detached militia of the State were arranged in two divisions and eight brigades. The fourth brigade comprised the loth, nth, 12th and 13th regiments in the Mohawk valley, and was under the command of Gen. Richard Dodge, of Johnstown.

The embargo act was extensively violated and much illicit trade carried on along the Canadian frontier, smugglers being sometimes protected by armed forces from the Canada side. To break up this state of things and protect the militiary stores collected at the outposts, a regiment of Mohawk valley militia, under Col. Christopher P. Bellinger, was stationed in May, 1812, at Sackett's Harbor and other points in northern New York. These, on the declaration of war in the month following, were reinforced by a draft on the militia not yet called into service. The Montgomery county militia responded promptly to the calls for troops to defend the frontier, and were noted for their valor and patriotic zeal, submitting, without complaint, to the various privations incident to the march and camp. A detachment of them, under Gen. Dodge, arrived at Sackett's Harbor September 21st, and the General took command at that post.

The house in the town of Florida, now owned by Waterman Sweet, was kept as a hotel by one VanDerveer during the war of 1812, and was a place of drafting the militia into the service. At Canajoharie a recruiting rendezvous was opened by Lieutenant Alphonso Wetmore and Ensign Robert Morris of the Thirteeth regiment, residents of Ames, who raised two companies, which were ordered to the Niagara frontier in time to take part in the first events of importance in that quarter. The Thirteenth suffered severely at the battle of Queenstown Heights, Ensign Morris and Lieutenant Valleau being among the killed and five other officers severely wounded. After that engagement operations were for some time confined to bombardment across the river from the fortifications at Niagara and Black Rock. At the latter point Lieutenant Wetmore lost his right arm by a cannon shot. He was subsequently promoted to the offices of major and division paymaster.

During the two succeeding years, the militia and volunteers from the Mohawk valley were on duty all along the frontier. When the term of service of any company or regiment expired, it was succeeded by another. Many of the garrison of Sacketts Harbor, when it was attacked by the British May 24, 1813, were from this section. That place was an important depot of military stores, a large amount of which was destroyed by the garrison in fear of their falling into the hands of the British, who, however, were finally repulsed. A good number of the Montgomery and Fulton veterans of 1812 still survive. Among those in the western part of these counties are : Moses Winn, Minden, in his 88th year (his father was a captain in the Revolution, and sheriff of the county after the war) ; George M, Bauder, Palatine, in his 92d year (he has a land warrant not yet located; ; John Walrath, Minden, nearly 82 ; William H. Seeber, Minden, about 86 ; Peter G. Dunckel, Minden, about 84 ; Henry Nellis, Palatine, about 84 ; John Casler, Minden, nearly 86 (after being blind for eight years his sight was restored) ; Abram Moyer, Minden, about 84 ; Cornelius Clement Flint, Minden, about 84 ; Benjamin Getman, Ephratah, 86 ; Henry Lasher, Palatine, 88 ; Pythagoras Wetmore, Canajoharie, So; John Eigabrandt, St. Johnsville, about 82. In the eastern part may be mentioned : J. Lout, Mohawk ; David Resseguie, Northampton, 94 ; and Amasa Shippee and Capt. Reuben Willard of the same town.

When peace was once more restored and the militia were allowed to remain at home, instead of camping on the frontier to dispute the ground with a foreign enemy, martial exercises were still required of them by the law of the State. The militia consisted of all the able-bodied white male citizens, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. State officers, clergymen, school teachers and some others when actively employed, were exempt from military duty. Students in colleges or academies, employees on coasting vessels and in certain factories, and members of fire companies were also exempt, except in cases of insurrection or invasion. Persons whose only bar to military service was religious scruples, could purchase exemption for a stated sum annually. The Major-General, Brigade-Inspector and chief of the staff department, except the adjutant and commissary generals, were appointed by the State. Colonels were chosen by the captains and sabalterns of their regiments, and these latter by the written ballots of their respective regiments and separate battalions. The commanding officers of regiments or battalions appointed their staff officers. Every non-commissioned officer and private was obliged to equip and uniform himself, and perform military duty for fifteen years from his enrollment, after which he was exempt, except in case of insurrection or invasion. A non-commissioned officer, however, could get excused from duty in seven years, by furnishing himself with certain specified equipments, other than those required by law. It was the duty of the commanding officer of each company to enroll all military subjects within the limits of his jurisdiction, and they must equip themselves within six months after being notified.

The first company of cavalry organized in this part of the Mohawk valley took in a large district of country, and was raised and commanded by Capt. Hudson, a merchant at Indian Castle (now Danube), early in this century. Peter Young, of Fort Plain, became its second captain ; and was succeeded by Capt. Wemple. At his death the command of the company devolved upon Jacob Eacker, of Palatine. His resignation was followed by the appointment of Nicholas N. Van Alstine, as its captain. As he was not the unanimous choice of the company, which was then large, his appointment led to a division of the one into two companies, one upon each side of the river ; that on the north side being commanded by Barent Getman.

On the first Monday in September of each year, every company of the militia was obliged to assemble within its geographical limits for training. One day in each year, between the ist of September and the i5th of October, at a place designated by the commander of the brigade, the regiment was directed to assemble for a general training. All the officers of each regiment or battalion were required to rendezvous two days in succession in June, July, or August, for drill under the brigade-inspector. A colonel also appointed a day for the commissioned officers and musicians of his regiment to meet for drill, the day after the last mentioned gathering being generally selected. Each militiaman was personally notified of an approaching muster, by a non-commissioned officer bearing a warrant from the commandant of his company ; or he might be summoned without a warrant by a commissioned officer, either by visit or letter. A failure to appear, or to bring the necessary equipments, resulted in a court-martial and a fine, unless a good excuse could be given ; delinquents who could not pay were imprisoned in the county jail. When a draft was ordered for public service it was made by lot in each company, which was ordered out on parade tor that purpose.

" General training " was usually regarded as a pleasant occasion by the men, as it gave them a chance to meet many acquaintances; and was the holiday of the year for the boys. Provided with a few pennies to buy the inevitable ginger bread from the inevitable peddler, they were happier than the lads to-day would be with shillings to spend among the greatest variety of knicknacks. The place of meeting and the extent of the parade ground were designated by the commanding officer. The sale of spirituous liquors on the ground could only be carried on by permission of the same official. Total abstinence was not the rule, however, on such occasions ; and an officer who had the right to throw away the contents of a private bottle, did not always practice such extravagant wastefulness, particularly if fond of the " critter," being persuaded, that if spared, some of the beverage would ultimately find its way down his own throat. A general training was once held at Glen, during an exceedingly severe drought, and the inhabitants of the neighborhood fearing that their wells would be drained of their scanty supply, resorted to the prudent precaution of taking away the fixtures for drawing up the water. This measure proved highly profitable to the innkeeper, who had plenty of whisky to sell, and water to give only to the purchasers of his liquor.

During the long period of peaee which followed the second war with Great Britain, the militia who had seen service dropped out of the lists ; and when the riotous anti-rent disturbance, or Helderberg war, as it was called, gave the next prospect of belligerent operations, the ranks were filled by a generation entirely unacquainted with scenes of carnage, and anything but eager to take the field. Their reluctance was increased by the fact that many of them had the same grievances as the anti-renters, whom they were expected to quell. Particularly was this the case among the members of the Fourteenth Brigade, who lived along the south side of the Mohawk from Schenectady nearly to Canajoharie.

This brigade was also distracted with controversies over the office of brigade-inspector. Aaron Freeman, of Schenectady county, had held that position with great acceptability, but removing to Albany was obliged to resign it. He recommended the appointment of a certain man to fill the vacancy thus created, but the governor,- probably influenced by political motives, made another choice. The appointment required the sanction of the Senate, but the Legislature was not in session, and the governor, without consulting the Senate, appointed Robert Green, of Duanesburgh, Schenectady county. Shortly after the officers of the brigade were summoned to meet for drill at Minaville, in the town of Florida. When Green appeared as brigade-inspector, the officers to a man bolted and refused to drill under him. Robert B. Harris, now living at Fultonville, who had formerly been Colonel of the 26th regiment, covering the towns of Charleston and Glen and part of Root, was present, and by unanimous request conducted the drill exercises. At the general muster of the 26th Regiment, held at Charleston Four Corners soon after, a similar scene was enacted. The Brigadier-General, having refused to recognize Green as brigade-inspector, was put under arrest. Such being the unhappy state of affairs in the Fourteenth Brigade at the time of the anti-rent insurrection, no call was made upon it.

The Eleventh Brigade, however, north of the Mohawk, was called to gird on the armor and repair to the seat of war to gather its share of laurels. The invitation seems not to have been universally appreciated. The militiamen did not all grasp their firelocks with the cheerful alacrity and determination so becoming to the soldier. On the contrary, some rather amusing feats were performed in the endeavor to evade being warned. One reluctant patriot, anxiously expecting the messenger of war, one evening heard the sound of hurried footsteps. He did not jeopardize his chances of safety by lingering to scrutinize his visitor, but taking it for granted that the dreaded notice had arrived, bolted from the house and fled at the top of his speed. As it happened, the comer was one in the same strait with himself, and whether seeing the joke, or hoping to catch up with the fugitive and have his company in their retreat, or infected with the panic which had seized his fellow soldier, he pursued the latter, and both ran until they were completely exhausted.

When the brigade had been mustered and had proceeded as far as Schenectady, a halt was made. There were many among the militia whose courage was settling toward zero, in anticipation of soon treading fields of carnage, and their plight was enjoyed by the majority of the force, who were not in similar trepidation. Among the latter was a waggish fellow named Abraham Soule, who had gained some notoriety in horse-trading, and who took great pride in b-ing heard and observed by the crowd. It was suggested to him that he should make a speech appropriate to the occasion. He promptly prepared himself and addressed the martial assembly with becoming gravity. If he assured his hearers that they were on the way to glorious triumph, he did not soothe the weak-kneed by promising that it would be gained without a struggle. On the contrary, he represented that he had been down among the Helderbergers and seen how desperately they were preparing for the conflict. They had broken up their plowshares to charge their field-pieces with the jagged fragments, and even the old gray-headed men with spectacles on were lying behind the fences and practicing sharpshooting. The force proceeded to Albany, but at roll-call next morning it appeared as though, during the night, a pestilence of mushroom growth had seized a portion of the brigade. When the drill exercises had been performed, and the militia were ordered to the arsenal to get their ammunition, a number more were taken. It was something wonderful how sickness had depleted the ranks by the time they were drawn up for parade and review in the afternoon, in anticipation of an immediate march to the seat of war; but on their being unexpectedly ordered home instead of to the front, the suddenness of their recovery was equally remarkable. Convalescent symptoms instantly appeared, and when the heroes set out for home, they did so in full force and good spirits. The militia system was modified not long after, so as to make it less rigorous and encourage the formation of volunteer organizations.

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