Posts Tagged ‘War of 1812’

On 12 December 1814 a British fleet was anchored off Cat Island in the Mississippi Sound. It was there to prepare for an attack on New Orleans. One of the ships was the 38-gun frigate HMS Cydnus commanded by Captain Frederick Langford, a long-time colleague of Admiral Lord Nelson. Second in command was a twenty-one year-old Lieutenant Charles Grisdale.  Charles was about to take part in the final acts of the ‘War of 1812’.

In 1812 the United States had opportunistically and rather sneakily declared war on Britain, believing that with Britain fully stretched fighting Napoleon’s French they could use the distraction to grab Canada. Yet even with Britain fighting on two fronts on either side of the Atlantic the war had gone badly for the Americans until the Battle of Plattsburg in September 1814. Even then the British went on to capture Washington until driven out by an unprecedented storm. After a bombardment of Fort McHenry – which inspired the words of the Star Spangled Banner – the British left Baltimore intent on an invasion of Louisiana. And so the British fleet left Jamaica and assembled off Cat Island.

Fort McHenry 1814

Fort McHenry 1814

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

American gunboat Alligator

American gunboat Alligator

The task was to secure a safe place to land the British army on the Gulf Coast. They choose Lake Borgne just east of New Orleans. But this bay was too shallow for warships to enter and it was defended by five American gunboats and two other US ships called the Alligator and the Sea Horse. These would have to be taken before any landing could be made. And so it was that late on December 12 forty-five small boats and barges filled with 1,200 sailors and marines, including Lieutenant Grisdale, started to row from the fleet towards the entrance to Lake Borgne. Arriving on the 13th they anchored overnight and with the next dawn they started their attack. Under the command of Captain Nicholas Lockyer the British soon stormed the American ship Alligator and captured it. Lockyer then ordered the boat flotilla to anchor just beyond the range of the American long guns. His men had rowed 36 miles and now received a much needed rest and breakfast.

At 10.30 they weighed anchor and made straight at the line of American gunboats. The Americans opened fire but their targets were small and little damage was done. The British returned fire with the small canons they carried and grappled and stormed the gunships with musket and bayonets.

By the early afternoon of 14 December it was all over, all the American gunships had been taken. The Americans had lost 6 men with 35 wounded, while British casualties were higher: 17 dead and 77 wounded, many mortally. So ended the ‘Battle of Lake Borgne’, in which Charles Grisdale had taken part.

Battle of Lake Borgne

Battle of Lake Borgne

The British were now free to land, which they did at Pea Island under General John Keane. HMS Cydnus, with Charles Grisdale still second-in-command, helped with the landing.

I won’t here retell the story of the subsequent Battle of New Orleans, which culminated on the 8th January 1815. It was a victory for the Americans under General Andrew Jackson, caused both by British mistakes and the heroic defence of the city by the Americans. In fact the battle had taken place after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in December officially ending the War, but news of this had yet to reach America.

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

We know from reports that Charles Grisdale was with his ship during the Battle of New Orleans, but not what he did. But after the battle while again anchored off Cat Island one final event took place on board the Cydnus that Charles would have witnessed: the court-martial of Captain Henry William Percy. Captain Percy had led a force to try to capture Fort Bowyer in September but had failed. During the action his ship, HMS Hermes, had grounded and Percy had fired it to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. For this he was being court-martialled; but was after much acrimony he was exonerated. Whether this event had something to do with what followed I don’t know.

HMS Cydnus then sailed for Jamaica where Captain Langford and his second-in-command Lieutenant Grisdale parted company. Langford died a few days later in Jamaica and Grisdale set off for home.

Mail Packet Princess MaryThe Royal Cornwall Gazette reported on Saturday 18 February 1815:

During the homeward passage of the Princess Mary Packet, which arrived at Falmouth, from Jamaica, on Monday last, she experienced the most dreadful weather. We lament to state that during its continuance Lieutenant Grisdale, of the Navy, was struck by lightning which caused his death instantaneously. This Gentleman had been Second Lieutenant of the H.M.S Cyndus, 38 Capt. Langford; but in consequence of some disagreement with his Commanding Officer, he had quitted that ship and was on his return to England when he met his untimely fate. We understand that Lieut. Grisdale, was a meritorious young man, and highly respected by his brother Officers for his many estimable qualities.

Charles Grisdale was just twenty-one. I wrote about his family in an article called ‘The extinction of a line’.

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus - HMS Pomone

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus – HMS Pomone

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 when all Britain’s attention was focussed on, and resources stretched, fighting Napoleon’s French, who had subjugated much of Europe. Many factors were involved but essentially it was an attempt by the Americans to grab more or all of British North America (Canada) while Britain was occupied elsewhere. So Britain had to fight a war on two fronts, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a long and fascinating story, at one point the British captured Washington D.C. and burnt the White House; the Americans were only saved by a huge storm which forced the British to withdraw. The war dragged on the two and a half years before being formally ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, although fighting continued into early 1815.

Throughout all this time the Royal Navy was actively involved, blockading the American coast, fighting American ships and landing troops on the coasts. One young Royal navy Lieutenant involved in all of this was a certain Charles Grisdale. Charles was most likely involved when a fleet of some 30 warships sailed out of Negril Bay, Jamaica on 26 November, 1814. ‘The fleet under command of Admiral Cochrane moved into the Gulf of Mexico ready to attack New Orleans. Cochrane’s fleet was transporting 14,450 British troops who had recently been fighting in the Napoleonic wars in France and Spain.’

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans. January 1815

Perhaps Charles Grisdale was injured at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, whatever the case shortly thereafter Charles was back in Jamaica where he boarded the ‘postal packet’ Princess Mary bound for Falmouth in England.

But shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship ‘experienced the most dreadful weather’, in fact a ‘hurricane’, during which it ‘was struck by lightning… by which Lieutenant Charles Grisdale, of the Royal Navy, was killed, and several of the crew seriously injured’.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary

The newspapers reported the ‘instantaneous’ death after the Princess Mary arrived in England and mentioned Charles’ father, the Reverend Benjamin Grisdale of Withington in Gloucestershire. When Benjamin and his family heard of Charles death in their Rectory in Withington they must have been devastated. Whether Charles was buried at sea or brought back to England I don’t know, I presume the former.

Charles was only twenty-two and Benjamin’s first born child. He was named after Benjamin’s close friend General Charles Cornwallis, the commander of the British forces which had surrendered to George Washington’s Americans at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin had been a long-time chaplain in the British Army and served throughout the American War of Independence; he was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I wrote about him in a story called Rev Benjamin Grisdale and the siege of Yorktown 1781.

But in 1815 Benjamin still had three other living sons: Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William (1807), another son had died in infancy. He and his wife Elizabeth Unwin also had two daughters, all born in Withington Rectory. But before his death in 1828 aged eighty-four, Benjamin would have another tragedy. His next oldest living son, Edmund, had joined the Indian Army been made an Ensign then a Lieutenant and was shipped with his regiment to Bombay in 1819. But on 4 December 1820 Edmund died at Surat. We don’t know the circumstances of his death – I suspect he died of something like malaria rather than in battle.

Bombay 1820

Bombay 1820

Before I tell of the fate of Benjamin’s other children after his death I would like to say a little about his family and particularly that of his younger brother Browne Grisdale.

Both boys were the sons of Matterdale-born Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Anne Browne. They were born in Threlkeld, the next-door parish to Matterdale – Benjamin in 1744 and Browne in 1750. I don’t yet know which Grammar School they attended; it might have been St. Bees or Barton, or possibly Carlisle where Browne was later headmaster. But no doubt with the help of their uncle, Joseph Browne, who was both the provost of Queen’s College and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, they both went to study to be priests at Queen’s College in Oxford.

Joseph Browne was elected Fellow 1 April 1731, and became a successful tutor; took the degree of D.D. 9 July 1743, and was presented by the college with the living of Bramshot, Hampshire, in 1746. In that year, he was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and held that office until his death. He was instituted prebendary of Hereford Cathedral on 9 June of the same year (he was later called into residence), and on 13 February 1752 was collated to the chancellorship of the cathedral.

On 3 December 1756, Browne was elected Provost of Queen’s College. From 1759 to 1765 he held the office of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He had a severe stroke of palsy 25 March 1765, and died on 17 June 1767.

In 1776, while his older brother Benjamin was still in America with the army, Browne by now a priest and schoolmaster in Carlisle, married Ann Dockray in St. Cuthbert’s church in Carlisle. Five children followed, one after the other: Joseph Browne 1777, named after the Rev Joseph Browne, Mary Ann 1778, Elizabeth 1779, John 1780 and Caroline 1782.

Carlisle Cathedral - where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Carlisle Cathedral – where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Of course this family had sprung from yeoman farming stock in Matterdale, but Browne and his brother had both gone to Oxford and entered the priesthood and so other courses were expected of their children. Both of Browne’s sons, Joseph and John, were pupils at Carlisle Grammar School where their father was first a teacher and then headmaster. Browne himself later became the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle and a powerful local Justice of the Peace.

Son Joseph entered the army and became a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, which was posted to the island of Minorca in 1800 as part of the long struggle with Napoleon. And there he died in early 1801, aged just twenty-three. In April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

I wrote of Joseph in a story called Death in Minorca.

Browne’s younger son John on leaving Carlisle Grammar School (where he was a bit of a star) had gone to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity College in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

I told John’s story in an article called Alas how false our hopes! – the short life of John Grisdale.

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Not to repeat the story here, but John became at lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn in London but died suddenly ‘in his office’ there in 1812, aged just thirty-two. His father Browne, the Chancellor of Carlisle, died two years later

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Down in Gloucestershire, Browne’s brother Benjamin, the Rector of Withington, would have heard of his nephews’ deaths with sadness. But then as we have seen he was soon to experience the deaths of two of his own sons: Royal Navy officer Charles returning from Jamaica in 1815 and army officer Edmund in Bombay in 1820.

What became of Benjamin’s other sons – Henry and William?

Henry followed a career path I don’t yet know, but on 27 June 1829 the Oxford Journal reported that ’an inquest was held at Withington, Gloucestershire, by Joseph Mountain, gent. coroner, on the 10th..  (for) Mr. Henry Grisdale, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, destroyed himself with a razor’

When I get a copye of the inquest report we will know more of Henry and his suicide.

After attending Rugby School youngest son William had followed his father and uncle and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. He became a curate at Cubberley in Gloucestershire where his brother-in-law William Hicks was Rector. (William Hicks had married Mary Grisdale in 1833.) But in August 1841 William died in Cubberley Rectory aged just thirty-four – I don’t know the circumstances.

Cubberley Church

Cubberley Church

So the upshot of all this tragedy and death is that not one of the six sons of the ‘successful’ cleric brothers, Benjamin and Browne Grisdale, had survived long enough to have families of their own! There are no descendants bearing the Grisdale name.

On another occasion I might tell something of the daughters. Brown’s daughter Mary Anne married the Reverend Walter Fletcher who became Browne Grisdale’s successor as Chancellor of Carlisle. Benjamin’s daughter Mary married the Rev William Hicks of Cubberley as already mentioned.