Fort Niagara returns fire on Fort George at daybreak Nov 21st, 1812

Fort Niagara - Betsy Doyle carries red hot cannon balls

Betsy Doyle married Andrew Doyle, a private in the First United States Artillery Regiment. "Private Doyle was with the U.S. forces when they invaded Upper Canada. He was captured in the Battle of Queenston and became a prisoner of war. He was recognized by his captors as a native of Upper Canada. He was sent to Dartmoor Prison for treason for the rest of the war, Betsy was left alone with her four children at Fort Niagara . On November 21, 1812 the British opened fire on Fort Niagara. During the exchange, Betsy carried red-hot cannonballs from a furnace to the 6-pound cannon. Loading hot shot  to be fired at Fort George, 1,300 yards away was difficult and dangerous. The hot iron could cause gunpowder to explode prematurely in the cannon, wounding or killing anyone nearby. Although one man was killed and five others wounded while loading hot shot, Betsy survived and her bravery was mentioned in official reports." (1]

Lt. Col. George McFeely writes in his diary  "of an instance of extraordinary bravery in a female, the wife of Andrew Doyle, a private of the United States artillery, made a prisoner at Queenstown I cannot pass over During the most tremendous cannonading I have ever seen she attended the six on the old mess house with red hot shot and showed equal to the maid of Orleans. " [2]

Betsy, whose name is also given as “Fanny,” was one of many married women who accompanied their husbands into the field with both the British and American armies. Andrew Doyle was not present to witness his wife’s heroism. He had been taken prisoner on October 13, during the Battle of Queenston Heights.

"Women played important roles during the War of 1812, some women were on the battlefields but many women stayed at home. During the War of 1812 women were left with the responsibility of taking care of farms, homes, and businesses. Some also tended the wounded, defended their property against looters, sometimes they went with their soldier husbands on campaign, and also conveyed important messages across enemy lines. Women at the camps were laundresses, seamstresses and companions to the soldiers. Women who were at the forts and garrisons, were servants, cooks, nursemaids, and laundresses. " [3]

On March 14, 1812, George McFeely of Scotch-Irish decent was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 16th Infantry by President James Madison. He was now in the United States Army at the rank he had held in the Militia. McFeely would prove himself as an able officier during the War of 1812. In July George McFeely was transferred from the 16th to the 22nd Infantry Regiment. On September 19, 1812  McFeely was instructed to go to Niagara with all the men of the 22nd Regiment of Pennsylvania.

The diary written by Lieutenant Colonel George McFeely shows in detail and accurately describes the hardships, sacrifice and disaster associated with the War of 1812. McFeely writes about the hard fought actions as the bombardment of Fort Niagara took place.[4]

On October 17th. Had great difficulty in getting our wagons up the Alleghany mountains, the roads this day were very bad, rained in the afternoon.

On October 19th. Marched at seven o'clock this morning crossed the Tioge river this day four times. The day was very cold our men had to ford the river waist deep, and in their summer clothing, Government not having provided us with winter clothes.

On Nov 1st, 1812. Rained all last night, snowed this morning, very cold. Roads very bad for five miles at a strecth over this swamp country we travel on poles and logs, the timber principally Beech, 12 miles and encamped.

On Nov 10th, 1812. Marched  four miles and encamped on the banks of the Niagara river. I seen for the first time the enemy's batteries on the opposite shore. Here was a Navy yard, several schooners were building for the purpose of cruising on Lake Erie.

On Nov 12th. Took up the line of march this morning at daybreak without anything to eat, the weather cold and windy with some snow showers. Arrived at Old Fort Schlosser.  Our men however soon had plenty of fresh beef which some of them ate raw while others waited until  they half roasted as much as they could devour.

On November 14th. Arrived at Fort Niagara about 3 o'clock and relieved Colonel Winder. At this time there was an armistice between General Van Renssaler and the British General, either side was bound to give 30 hours notice before hostilities were to commence.

On the 20th of November we discovered a great stir and bustle in the town of Newark and about Fort George in manning their guns.

"The citizens appeared to be moving out of town, men, women and children running in all directions, carrying off beds and furniture. At about sun down a dragoon arrived from headquarters with a letter from General Smith informing me to be in readiness, that the armistice would cease at one o'clock that night. The enemy had information of this about five hours before us, such was the advantage they had over us owing to their telegraphs."[5]  The British established a system of beacons by which messages could be sent during the daytime by means of colored balls or flags or at night-time by burning wood in a basket hung on a pole. This telegraph system was reported by Nicholas Gray, in his survey of the Niagara Frontier during the summer of 1812.

As soon as we got the news all hands went to work, some cutting and collecting dry wood and others making large fires and heating shot. All manned and lighted my officers were all demanding orders to commence but I showed them orders which they were to act on the defensive, for 12 hours of cannonading would exhaust all the  ammunition in the fort. At about six o'clock the enemy opened all his batteries and guns from Fort George. In a few seconds we returned  the firearm three 18 pounders, 2 twelves and  2 sixes. The eighteens and twelves fired red hot shot. At about 9 o'clock we had the pleasure of seeing a schooner sink and several houses in flames in the town of Newark, as also at their Navy yard and in Fort George. The firing continued with little or no intermission until dark, our loss was three killed and six wounded, two or three of the wounded died afterwards."[6]

View of Fort Niagara from the Canadian side of the Niagara River - Balcer-commonswiki

Lt. Col. George McFeely commanding Fort Niagara to General Alex Smyth: Fort Niagara November 25th, 1812  SIR I beg leave to inform you that on the morning of the 21st instant at 5 o clock a heavy cannonading opened upon this garrison from all the batteries at and in the neighborhood of Fort George which lasted without intermission until after sun down.

"The garrison was not as well provided with artillery and ammunition as I could have wished however the batteries opened a tremendous fire upon them in return with hot shot admirably well directed. Several times during the cannonading the town of Newark was in flames but was extinguished by their engines as also the centre building in Fort George. Their mess house and all the buildings near it were consumed.  Captain M Keon commanded a 12 pounder in the south east block house and distinguished himself."[7]

" Captain Jacks of the 7th regiment militia artillery commanded a six pounder on the north block house and together with a part of his own company though placed in a situation most exposed to the fire of the enemy maintained their position like veterans Lieutenant Rees of the 3d regiment of artillery had the command of an eighteen pounder on south east battery which was pointed at a battery en barbette mounting a twenty four pounder and also at Fort George several well directed shot were directed from this gun which proved skill of its commander. " [8]

McFeely states  "Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Gray, commanded the artillery the unremitted attention paid to his duty proves him an officer whose zeal and science do honor to himself and country to this gentleman I feel much indebted for the manner he acquitted himself." [9]

Irishman Nicholas Gray made a survey of the Niagara Frontier during the summer of 1812. After studying the terrain and British preparations, Gray recommended the construction of an additional bastion (a projecting part of a fortification built at an angle to the line of a wall, so as to allow defensive fire in several directions) in Fort Niagara and batteries on the crest of Lewiston Heights and at Black Rock. The work was done without sufficient tools and heavy ordnance for the Forts.

Governor Tompkins of New York sent Nicholas Gray,  to the Niagara Frontier because of his military and artillery experience in Ireland.  Governor Daniel Tompkins states “He has made Military matters his study and was Lieut. General of the Irish Patriots. He is a gentleman of a patriotic turn, is ambitious of being useful to his adopted Country and is a man of modesty, information and amiable deportment. You will find him a good Engineer and Artillerist. He likewise sketches well and is well qualified to Organize the staff.”[10]

This is taken from a personal letter written by Nicholas Gray to Mrs.Codd of Buffalo, New York dated Aug 20, 1812. Mrs. Codd was a relative from Wexford, Ireland. " My Dear Madam, When I left your hospitable - I made you a promise to write to you from headquarters but in truth I have been so fully occupied here ever since my arrival in so various employments. I could not collect sufficient sentiment from War and destruction to compose a letter to a Lady of feeling. I sleep every night almost at the muzzle of the British Cannons. I have built three batteries which have placed the quarters of our troops in Security - one at Lewiston, one at Black Rock here, and one opposite Fort Erie. The country around here is really beautiful and picturesque. I write you on the Bank of the Niagara River, two miles or so from Lake Erie. I live at the Quarter Master Generals, Porter. To Mr. Traynor give my best respects. I got a dreadful shaking coming down here, and had some of my old wounds opened.  But now never had better health in my life.  My dearest Ellen and children are all well. Mr. Emmet has been ill but is now quite well thank providence God preserves him to his amiable family. General Van Rensselaer his aid Solomon V R  and secretary breakfast to here on Thursday last on their way to Lewiston Headquarters. When you write to me [you see I expect a letter from you] direct to Genl. Gray Headquarters, Lewiston. My dear Women the - Spirit take you into his protecting care and your little ones. Sincerely your friend Nicholas Gray. [11]

The memorial below states that United Irishman Nicholas Gray commanded the Artillery at Fort Niagara. To James Madison The President of the United States March 1st, 1815, City of Washington. The Memorial of Colonel Nicholas Gray Inspector General of the 3rd. Military District. That your Memorialist has been employed since the Commencement of the War in the service of the United States.

That he served on the Niagara frontier in the year 1812 as a Volunteer, part of the time in the Capacity of Engineer, and towards the latter part of the year by the Appointment of Genl. Smyth Commanded the Artillery in Fort Niagara until discharged.[12] .

"Men in the warmest part of cannonading having fired away all their cartridges cut up flannel waistcoats and shirts and the soldiers their trow to supply their guns I cannot say too much of all the officers and soldiers of the immediately under my observation in this garrison they merit the thanks and esteem of their country for the defense of and I believe it never sustained so sharp and continued a bombardment The enemy threw more than two thousand red hot M balls into it and a number of shells amounting to more than 180 only one of which did injury to our men. "[13] .

"To the officers of my regiment particularly captain Milligan and the soldiers who assisted the artillery and those employed in extinguishing the fires and carrying off the killed and wounded I am also much indebted they merit my warmest thanks. To Doctor West of the garrison doctor Hugan of the 14th regiment United States infantry and doctor Craig of the 22d regiment United States infantry I offer my thanks they were employed during the entire day in the most critical duties of their profession. Our killed and wounded amounted to eleven From the numbers we saw carried off from the enemy's batteries I presume many more were killed and wounded on their side. Only two of the above men were killed by the enemy's shot the rest by the bursting of a 12 pounder in the south east block house and by the spurges of the guns on the north block house and at the salt battery." Lt Col. George McFeely commanding Fort Niagara General Alex Smyth 95 [14]

Lt. Col. McFeely is offered supper at sundown by Dr. West  "This evening we doubled our guards, Lt. Col. Young of New York Militia and myself attended to the placing of different sentinels. It was after dark in passing we were asked by Doctor West if we had gotten anything to eat that day, we replied that we had not. Dr. West then said that he had got some tea made and invited us in to take supper with him. This we agreed to do and went into his room where he had been amputating the wounded through the course of the day. On going round to take my seat at the table I saw a pile of legs and arms lying in the corner on the floor. This sight with the smell took away my appetite, I gave the Colonel a look and he smiled. We both asked the Doctor to excuse us that we could could not eat any supper. The Doctor saw the cause and began to laugh, we bade him good evening and withdrew. "[15]

In December 1813, Betsy Doyle fled when the British invaded and captured Fort Niagara. In a four month journey Betsy and her children walked over 300 miles to the East Greenbush Cantonment near Albany, New York. [16] .

1) WikiTree  "Women in the War of 1812"
2)" Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
3) WikiTree  "Women in the War of 1812"
4) " Chronicle of Valor"  by John C. Fredriksen
5)" Chronicle of Valor"  by John C. Fredriksen
6) "Chronicle of Valor"  by John C. Fredriksen
7) "Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
8) "Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
9) "Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
10) Public papers of Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor of New York, 1807 - 1817 Volume 3-Page 19
11) [Letter by Nicholas Gray to Mrs. Codd, Buffalo, Aug 20, 1812. B.A.G. Fuller Autograph File. fms Am 1603 [142], Houghton Library, Harvard University
12) Founders Early Access   DNA RG 94-Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General
13) "Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
14) "Official letters of the Military" by John Brannan
15) "Chronicle of Valor"  by John C. Fredriksen
16) WikiTree  "Women in the War of 1812"

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