The War of 1812 in the Town of Alexandria

BLOODY BATTLE OF CRANBERRY CREEK

From the Thousand Islands Sun, courtesy of Jeanne Snow, editor

(22 July 1976 issue, after the article written by R. Gareth Service)

Few, if any, of the thousands of vacationers and sportsmen that fish the waters of Goose Bay summers and winters, that line the banks of Cranberry Creek in the spring in quest of bullheads or pan fish or hide in the marshes in autumn in quest of wild ducks, are aware that they are on the site of one of the bloodiest battles fought along the Canadian border in Jefferson County during the War of 1812-15 between the United States and Great Britain.

The confrontation went down in history as the "Battle of Cranberry Creek" and of the 600 British soldiers and seamen committed to the action only 80 of them were reported to have escaped death or capture. The American forces consisted of about 72 men, 32 of them sharpshooting riflemen from the Mohawk Valley and 40 of them volunteers from Jefferson and other north country counties.

Despite the numerical advantage enjoyed by the British attackers, the American forces apparently had little trouble in repelling the British advances, probably because the Americans excelled the enemy in tree-to-tree fighting and definitely had a terrain advantage for observation and the placement of their six- and twelve-pound guns.

The prize in the battle was the British bateaux loaded with munitions, 170 barrels of salt pork, 270 bags of pilot bread and other supplies bound up-river for Fort Henry at Kingston, Ontario. The bateaux and an armed escort vessel had been captured by the United States forces and moved into the protected waters of Goose Bay and the upper reaches of Cranberry Creek. The British attempted to recapture the bateaux and escort vessel.

For persons familiar with the shallow waters of the Goose Bay and Cranberry Creek section today, it is probably hard to visualize how a naval and land battle of any magnitude could have been waged there. However, it must be remembered that the boats involved were of shallow draft, depended on oars or sails for power, were at most 150 feet in length, and the two roads and low bridges that block off the upper reaches of the creek today did not exist 162 years ago.

Believe it or not, the battle is a matter of historical record. Cannon balls and grapeshot have been found and the skeletons of wrecked boats were once in evidence along the shores, one of them at Hibbard's Point, a rocky promontory at the entrance to Cranberry Creek.

Setting the Scene

The scenario for what turned out to be the Cranberry Creek adventure was mapped at Sackets Harbor in mid-July 1813, when it was learned a flotilla of supply-laden British bateaux, escorted by one gunboat, was headed up-river for the British garrison at Kingston, Ont.

Two schooners, the Neptune, an armed private ship commanded by Capt. Samuel Dickson, and the Fox, a privateer given letters of marque by the deputy collector of customs in Sackets Harbor, were dispatched to intercept and capture or destroy the bateaux and their escort, a ship named the Spit Fire. A Major Dimoch of the Forsyth Rifles, apparently a regular army officer, was in command of the land troops aboard the two vessels.

The Neptune and the Fox sailed down-river, touched at Cape Vincent and French Creek, now Clayton, and according to an account in the Jefferson County Centennial publication of 1905, contacted and captured 15 bateaux and the escort vessel off the Goose Bay gaps on July 20, 1813.

The Americans, realizing it would be impossible to return up-river to Sackets Harbor with their prize without running into stiff British opposition, ran the captured bateaux and the gun boat into Goose Bay, up Cranberry Creek, and set up defenses to repel the British counter attack that was sure to come.

Major Dimoch apparently knew his business. He set up six-and twelve-pound guns on high land--now known as Reester's Hill--and could observe and fire on any point on the winding channel of Cranberry Creek. He also deployed his 32 Mohawk Valley riflemen and 40 volunteers at possible landing points and was all set for the British when the scouts returned and reported an 18-gun British brig, the Elmira, and bateaux and gunboats armed with six-pound guns and 600 men had sealed off the Goose Bay gaps.

Going Gets Tough

The British, certain that they had the Americans boxed in, started up the creek but found the going tough when Major Dimoch opened up with his six- and twelve-pound guns, raking the creek and marshland with grape shot and cannon balls that scored a direct hit on the first British landing vessel, putting it out of action and halting the attack.

When the British fell back and attempted a landing, Major Dimoch was ready for them. He dispatched some of his riflemen to stall the landing and sent another group through dense woods around the landing site to the mouth of the creek, where they felled trees to block the creek and prevent escape. The Mohawk Valley riflemen took a heavy toll of British troops in the landing attempt, with accounts of the skirmish indicating one American wounded and two captured and executed.

Angered by the execution of the two American soldiers, Major Dimoch forced the British to retreat to their boats and ordered that no enemy be allowed to escape. The slaughter was reported to be terrible when the British reached the barrier at the mouth of the creek, which would have been where Hibbard's point is located on Number Nine Island.

Although the British landing force was practically wiped out, the brig Elmira and the gunboats remained on guard outside of Goose Bay gaps and Major Dimoch could not move his captured gunboat, bateaux, and the Neptune and the Fox from the protection of Cranberry Creek and Goose Bay without coming under the British guns.

According to the Jefferson County Centennial account, Major Dimoch managed to haul the bateaux over the marsh and shallow water at the head of Number Nine Island, a feat that ably could have been accomplished 162 years ago but would be impossible now because of the encroachment of week and brush growth and the fact that at some point over the years someone constructed a log road over the bogs from the mainland to Number Nine Island.*

The bateaux, once they were maneuvered over the narrow strip of marsh, would have been in open water, hidden from the British blockade at Goose Bay gaps, and free to proceed up-river to Sackets Harbor, which they did.** Major Dimoch's two armed schooners and the captured gunboat, however, posed another problem. Too big and heavy to be hauled over the marsh, their only route of escape was through the Goose Bay gaps. The Americans scouted the British blockade and waited until a foggy night gave them a chance to ease the vessels out of cranberry Creek and into the open waters of Goose Bay.

Accounts of the incident say the American ships were within a pistol shot of the British vessels before being observed and ordered to heave to and be identified. The American heaving to was from the six- and twelve-inch guns on their ships and they escaped since they were sailing under a stiff breeze while the British ships were at anchor. The British guns managed to damage one of the American schooners in the escape.

The Battle of Cranberry Creek was one of four engagements with the British along the Canadian border in Jefferson County. The other battles were at Sackets Harbor, Sandy Creek and French Creek.

~~~~~*~~*~~*~~~~~

While Mr. Service presented a traditional view of the Battle of Cranberry Creek, it differs in many respects from the supposed eye-witness account of THE AFFAIR AT CRANBERRY CREEK. One slight inaccuracy comes to mind: very seldom is a thick fog on the river accompanied by a stiff breeze, as noted in the next to last paragraph.

*Webmaster's note: The corduroy road over the marsh was barely visible in the low water of the 1930s, and hasn't been found in fifty years. In periods of high water, a creek empties into the river near the head of Marsh Island and has been navigable for some way with small power boats. It is easily navigable by a skiff nearly to Goose Bay. If 1813 had been a year of high water, flat bottomed bateaux could have made the trip fairly quickly, probably poled.

**A faint trace of a breastwork on then Wagoner Farm, to the west of Number Nine Island, now hidden by brush and trees, was visible in 1946. It was picked out by the sharp eye of a returning soldier fresh from World War II. He pointed out the tactical advantage of placing a gun or a sharpshooter overlooking the marsh and its creek, to cover the escape of the Americans should the British try to follow.

A map of the area has been extracted from the 1892 map of the Town of Alexandria.


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