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December 20, 2012

Disaster upon disaster!

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, Dec.19, 1812

Compiled, with comments


Weather: Utica 1812 Almanack: Look for some snow about these days.

Disaster upon disaster!

The old scenes of imbecility, treachery and cowardice, have been again displayed upon our frontier. With grief and shame do we record that [Alexander] Smyth who promised so much, who centered in himself the generous confidence of strangers, of friends and of his government, who was to convince the American people that all their generals were not base, cowardly and treacherous, even Smyth must be added to the catalogue of infamy which begun with the name of [William] Hull.

Our minds are depressed with shame and our hands tremble with indignation, at this final prostration of all our dearest and fondest hopes. But we will endeavor to assume some calmness, while we state to our readers the disgraceful events that have occurred on the Niagara river.... 

Three thousand men were embarked: fifteen pieces of light artillery completely equipped in every respect, were in the scows or flats; and a corps de reserve of at least 5000 men, were waiting for a chance to cross. At this auspicious moment, when the enemy’s batteries were completely silenced, instead of crossing or attempting to move, Gen. Smyth sent over a flag of truce to the enemy.... [There were further negotiations.] Suddenly orders were received for all to return to their tents. The volunteers who had come out under Smyth’s proclamation, were coldly told that they might stack their arms and go home. The regulars were ordered into winter quarters!

Smyth was universally denounced as a coward and a traitor; he was shot at several times, and was hooted thro’ the streets of Buffalo.... Every tavern-keeper in and near Buffalo, declined the infamy of his company. — Canandaigua Messenger, Dec. 8.

COMMENT: According to Wikipedia, “During the Battle of Queenston Heights he [Smyth] refused to support his commander, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, a militia commander with no experience. After Van Rensselaer’s disgrace, Smyth was given command and proved himself equally inept. His plan to invade Canada started with the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek but was then abandoned because of problems due to poor organization. After arguing with Brigadier General Peter B. Porter, he challenged him to a duel, but both men went unscathed. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating ‘Unfortunately, both missed.’ In the wake of his failure, Smyth’s name was removed from the U.S. Army rolls.” 

America’s military activities on land in 1812 were almost uniformly disastrous, beginning with the surrender of Fort Detroit (without a shot being fired) by William Hull. American generals at this period tended to be either superannuated Revolutionary officers, long past their prime, or political appointees without serious military experience. A few naval victories were all that balanced this sorry show. In subsequent years (1813-15) American military skill improved, ending with Gen. Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans in 1815, after peace had been signed but before the peace treaty had come into effect.

Burning of Moscow

To make room for the last bulletins of Bonaparte, from Russia, we have omitted several local matters as well as foreign articles of some moment. The burning of Moscow, one of the largest cities of the Russian empire, as detailed in the 20th bulletin, is one of the most awful events in the history of nations. — Albany Register.


Paris, Oct. 5. Twentieth Bulletin of the Grand Army. Moscow, Sept. 17....

Moscow is the entrepot of Asia and of Europe. Its warehouses were immense; every house was provided for eight months with necessaries of every description. It was only the evening before and the day of our entrance, that the danger became known. We found in the house of the miserable Rostopchin some papers, and a letter half written; he fled without finishing it.

Moscow, one of the finest and richest cities in the world, is no more. On the 14th the Russians set fire to the Exchange, to the Bazar, and the Hospital. On the 16th a violent wind arose. Three or 400 ruffians set fire to the city in 500 different places at the same time, by order of the governor Rostopchin. 

Five sixths of the houses were built of wood, and the fire, spread with a prodigious rapidity: it was an ocean of flame. Churches, of which there were 1600, above 1000 palaces, immense magazines [storehouses], nearly all have fallen a prey to the flames. The Kremlin has been preserved.

Their loss is incalculable for Russia, for her commerce, and for her nobility, who had left all there. It is not over-rating its value to state it at many milliards [billions].

About 100 of these incendiaries have been apprehended and shot; all of them declared that they acted under the orders of Rostopchin, and the director of the police.

Thirty thousand sick and wounded Russians have been burnt. The richest commercial houses in Russia are ruined. The shock must be considerable. The clothing, the magazines, and equipments of the Russian army have been consumed.

They have thus lost every thing; they would remove nothing, because they always thought it impossible for us to reach Moscow, and because they are willing to deceive the people. When they saw all in the hands of the French, they conceived the horrible project of destroying by fire this first capital, this holy city, the centre of the empire; and they have reduced to beggary 200,000 respectable inhabitants...

COMMENT: Fyodor Vasilyevich, Count Rostopchin (1763-1826) was Military Governor of Moscow during the French invasion of 1812. A 1911 account said that the fire destroyed 6,500 out of 9,200 private dwellings, 8,250 shops and warehouses, and 122 out of 329 churches. 12,000 bodies were found. The French Army was forced to retreat, and thanks to a combination of Russian attacks and a bitterly cold winter, lost most of its men on its way back to France (see Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” for vivid details).