During the winter of 1812, General Alexander Smyth, after unsuccessfully attempting to invade Canada, retired his army to winter quarters in Williamsville, NY. Along the Garrison Road, between Main Street and Ellicott Creek, extending to the southeast, a series of cabins was built for the troops and there the army was quartered until the spring of the following year. The cabins would later be used as a hospital.
There is some confusion on where the regular Army wintered in WNY over the winter of 1812-13. Although the Army remained in Buffalo at Flint Hill until the beginning of December 1812 they then retired to Williamsville. There is no record of any cabins being built at Flint Hill and it would have been unlikely that soldiers in a Buffalo winter would have been forced to live in tents. The following letters also prove the Army was in Williamsville;
“Documentary History of the Campaign upon the Niagara Frontier” part V; Cruikshank
Pg. 19 letter dated December 12, 1812 Lt. Patrick McDonough to his parents
“We are now encamped in the woods, building huts which we expect to get into by the middle of next month. It is rather late in the season to be in tents. We have a very handsome situation on Eleven Mile Creek. The place is called after its owner Colonel Williams of New York. I hear he contemplated building his house next spring on the very ground on which we are building, and desired that not a piece of timber should be cut, as he wished it entirely shaded, but I can promise him that by that time there will not be a sapling standing within a mile of it. We marched from Black rock to this place on the 11th inst. “
From “Documentary History of the Campaign upon the Niagara Frontier” part IV; Cruikshank
Pg. 341 from Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser of Philadelphia – January 1813
Captain McKeon of the US Artillery arrived in New York on Tuesday last from the lines. He informs us that he left the Army in comfortable winter quarters at Eleven Mile River. (Eleven Mile Creek, Williamsville)
Pg. 341 letter dated January 6, 1813 Baptist Irvine to General Porter
“So petty is the force we have in Buffalo that to anything like an army it is only a picket guard. Two hundred men might destroy everything here if they surprised us. Many, if not all, agree that it was wrong to place the regulars so far off as Eleven Mile Creek, where they could afford us no assistance in case of attack.”
Also there is a letter written by General Smyth datelined December 16, 1812 Williamsville, just before he would turn over his command to Colonel Moses Porter on December 21, 1812 and travel to Washington D.C. There his name was dropped from the roles of the U.S. Army.
From “The Early Firm of Juba Storrs & Co.”; Rev. Albert Bigelow
The declaration of war at once brought business to the young firm especially at Williamsville. They made a contract with the government for all the mill products they could furnish, for the army, and had work enough to do. There were no other mills nearer than Niagara Falls, except, as Lucius Storrs with somewhat poetic license was wont to say, one that wasn’t bigger than a coffee mill. Then, in the winter of 1812-1813, barracks and a hospital were established about a mile from Williamsville up the creek, by cutting down trees and building huts in the woods.
Before these were built, one regiment of troops were cantoned in front of Williams house; afterwards another behind the house, down the creek. On the bank of the creek was a beautiful grove, and the engineers asked permission to cut down trees, to build barracks with. But this Mr. Caryl refused as unnecessary destruction. They replied, however, that his refusal made no difference – their asking was a mere matter of courtesy – and so they went to work in spite of his refusal, and cut down the trees.
Before the barracks were built, a temporary hospital had been established. In the tavern, Gen Brown and Gen Ripley and a British officer were sick, and the men were taken care of in the houses of the little village. And the saw mill of Juba Storrs & Co. furnished the lumber of which the boats were built that carried the troops across the river.
Thus on account of the mills and hospital, Williamsville was an important point in the war, and large rewards were offered to the Indians by the British for the burning of them. But they were afraid of being intercepted and cut off, so never attempted to burn them.
Thus began the War of 1812 Cemetery now located on Aero Drive. The cemetery was a bit southeast of the barracks and hospital and was the started on land belonging to the Holland Land Co. as noted in the title search done for the Town of Cheektowaga in 1985. The property was finally sold to Benjamin Barton in January 1816.
The troops used these quarters until about April 1813 when they joined the battle force attacking York (Toronto) on April 27, 1813. The cabins were pretty much abandoned until October 1813 when it was decided to use the cabins as a winter hospital. The U.S. Army Medical department describes the attack at York and the casualties as follows;
US ARMY MEDICAL DEPARTMENT Office of Medical History
On the twenty-seventh of April the attack on Little York took place, and after four days occupation of the town, the army with the wounded and sick was moved to Fort Niagara, where a tent hospital was organized two miles from the river. The ground was wet and low, and many of the wounded died from camp diarrhea and typhus fever, and in June, after the capture of Fort George, a general hospital was established at Lewistown, eight miles up the river, by advice of Surgeon Mann, Medical Director. This hospital consisted of two barns, besides a large number of hospital tents, and was well supplied with everything necessary for the comfort of the sick and wounded; which by the first of August had increased to nearly seven hundred. Here the patients improved very rapidly, the position of the hospital being salubrious, the tents policed with great care, and the diet being generous. In the army at Fort George, however, a most lamentable degree of sickness prevailed.
Confusion exists concerning the nature of the medical facilities in the Fort Niagara-Fort George area. Dr. Mann described a tent hospital located two miles east of Fort Niagara where the wounded from the attack on Toronto were cared for beginning on 8 May 1813 and also noted that about two hundred wounded were moved from Fort Niagara to Lewiston in mid-June 1813.
There was also a general hospital at Fort George, which was taken from the British in late May 1813 and held for several months. In June, some of the patients at Fort George were also moved to the higher, healthier facility at Lewiston. By August, however, more than one-third of the men still there were sick and, with half the medical staff too ill to work, only three surgeons and four mates were available to care for six hundred to seven hundred patients. Hospital stores were running short by September when Mann decided to move the general hospital from Fort George to a site near Buffalo and to send all 100 invalids ready for discharge with a surgeon's mate from Fort George to Greenbush.
During the last weeks of October 1813, it was decided to remove the sick and wounded from Lewiston because of the approaching winter and the dangerous situation. Two hundred and fifty men were transported to Fort Schlossler (Niagara Falls) from where they were taken up river by boat to Black Rock, then to Williamsville by wagon. There, the barracks which had been erected by Smyth's army was improved and used as a hospital, six patients to each cabin. Dr. James Mann was appointed surgeon in charge, later to be succeeded by Dr. Whitridge. Having settled his patients in Williamsville's wholesome accommodations, Mann set out to join General Wilkinson at his winter camp at Malone, leaving surgeon's mate Joshua Whitridge, a physician whose "services cannot be too highly appreciated," in charge.
From “Medical sketches of the campaigns of 1812, 13, 14”; James Mann
At Williamsville, the barracks which the preceding winter had been occupied by General Smythe’s Division, were put into a comfortable state of repair, and improved during this winter as hospitals. These quarters were very extensive, and were, by much labor, rendered commodious for the number who composed this detachments of sick and convalescents. The wards were made warm; this was more important, as the men were destitute of clothing. The wards were not crowded, consequently were less liable to become infectious. Six patients only were placed in a room, wherefore it required but little labor and attention to preserve them in a state of cleanliness. This part of the duty the soldiers were, at all times, obliged punctually to execute. Those regulations which had respect to cleanliness were always scrupulously enforced within the hospitals under my direction.
At Williamsville before three weeks had expired, fifty of the convalescents were reported fit for duty, and were ordered to Fort Niagara. The barbarous deaths of most of these men, with the rest of the ill fated garrison, we have to lament, while emotions of just indignation irresistibly obtrude themselves, when reflecting upon the manner. Surprised and taken without resistance, most of the garrisons were deliberately murdered by the bayonet, after surrender.
Having deposed of the sick in quarters for winter, in conformity to the orders received from General Wilkinson, and finding their number daily decreasing; my services at Williamsville were believed to be no longer absolutely necessary. It became my duty, as it was my inclination, to pursue the army of General Wilkinson by land to Sackets Harbor, where information might be obtained to what point from Grenadier Island it had directed its course.
Permission was received from General Harrison, who had but just arrived from Detroit, and on whom the command of the post devolved, to leave the Niagara Frontier, and join the division of General Wilkinson. The charge of the hospital at Williamsville was resigned to Doctor Whiteridge, who, for assiduous attention to duty, was exceeded by no physician of the army.
The last week of November, I departed the Niagara Frontier, to follow the division of General Wilkinson.
Deaths at Williamsville from “A War of 1812 Death Register” Jack Bilow
Deaths 1812 - Oct – 1, Nov – 4, Dec -8 (total – 11)
Deaths 1813 – Jan – 9, Feb – 3, Mar – 4, Apr – 2, May – 0, Jun – 1, July – 0, Aug – 0, Sep – 1, Oct – 0, Nov – 2, Dec – 4 (total – 25)
Deaths at Williamsville 1814 - Jan – 11, Feb – 4, Mar – 11, Apr – 5, May – 8, Jun – 1, July – 2, (total – 42)
During the first half of 1814 there was a total of forty two deaths listed at Williamsville. But after the battles of Chippewa, Lundy’s Lane and Fort Erie the number of wounded and sick became immense.
Deaths at Williamsville from “A War of 1812 Death Register” Jack Bilow
Deaths at Williamsville 1814 Aug – 40, Sep – 75, Oct – 69, Nov – 36, Dec – 44 (total - 264)
Deaths at Williamsville 1815 Jan – 49, Feb – 28, Mar – 7, Apr – 3, May – 2, Jun – 4, Jul – 1, Oct – 1 (total – 95)
Other deaths no dates 27, (total 464)
Pgs. 50, 55, 56 “While Washington Burned: The Battle of Fort Erie 1814”, Whitehorne
Before the invasion, General Scott had periodically visited all the various regimental hospitals, warning the physicians that the campaign would bring busy times for them.21
21. LC, Amasa Troubridge Papers, ibid
His predictions were all too accurate. These field hospitals were supported by an existing hospital system. By 1814, general hospitals already were established in Burlington, Vermont, Plattsburgh, Malone and Greenbush, New York. The threat to facilities at Fort Schlosser convinced General Brown in late July to erect a permanent general hospital at Williamsville, about 12 miles east of Buffalo. Williamsville was the headquarters of the 5th Brigade of the New York State Militia. It had been used by the Army ever since General Smyth had established winter quarters there in 1812. At that time, log barracks were built along the south side of the village’s Main Street between Ellicott Creek and the Garrison Road. These barracks were converted into temporary medical facilities in October 1813. Patients from Lewiston were transported by boat to Fort Schlosser, then overland. Those capable of the trip were then sent to convalesce at the Greenbush hospital near Albany. The Buffalo area hospital was commanded by Dr. James Mann and Surgeons Mate Joshua B Whiteridge. 22
22. Robert W Bingham “The History of Williamsville” Niagara Frontier Miscellany xxxv, (Buffalo Historical Society, 1947): pp. 100-101; Carolyn Shrauger, et al, Williamsville NY Where the past is Present (Village of Williamsville Historical Society, 1985) p 14.
The site for the new (General) hospital was selected on 29 July (1814) on the recommendation of senior surgeon, Doctor Ezekiah Bull. Thus, 90 acres and the stables of Raphael Cook’s farm were leased for the construction of a general hospital. Ironically, the contract specified “no burying place in the premises” Despite this, a well kept series of mass graves along Aero Drive remain as the last vestiges of this hospital. These further provide evidence that having a burying ground adjacent to a medical facility was an accepted practice. The Williamsville Cemetery contains the remains of both US and British personnel. The British remains are in their own grave on one edge of the plot. The segregation of enemy and friendly dead has been a tacit, if not official, practice on both sides. The Williamsville facility was designated a general hospital in August, and Surgeon’s Mate Joseph Lovell was assigned to its command. He was succeeded in 1815 by Doctor William Thomas.23
23. NA, RG 94 Entry 407, Box 90, Hogan Vouchers.
As soon as General Brown decided to concentrate patients at Williamsville, a vigorous building project was begun. At first, a large tent city was erected as indicated by the use of 3,000 board feet of timber for flooring 100 hospital tents and 12 loads of hay for bed ticking. Each tent could hold 16 to 18 men. In early September, General Brown, once more in command, embarked on his extensive effort to shelter the troops at Fort Erie.
Additional amounts of timber were sent across the Niagara to make tent flooring. Likewise, canvas was delivered for use by the besieged troops. Brown directed that the wounded be moved into permanent buildings so that every tent possible would be available for troops in the field. Captain John Larkin was named supervisory quartermaster for the construction of the Williamsville Hospital. He brought in skilled workmen from as far away as Rochester and Utica. Huge quantities of locally produced brick were purchased in Buffalo and hauled to Williamsville to help construct the hospital barracks. Subsequent purchases of glass and shingles to complete the buildings substantiate the permanent nature of the structures. Patients, among them Generals Scott and Riall, began being moved to the Williamsville site on 30 July.24
24. NA, RG 94 Entry 125, Box134 Vouchers; Percy M Ashburn, “American Army Hospitals of the Revolution and the War of 1812” Bulletin of John Hopkins Hospital 46, pg 32
An additional general hospital was opened in Buffalo in July to accommodate the surge of wounded from the Battle of Chippewa. This was located at Sandy Town (The Front) 400 yards from Buffalo Creek. The wounded were brought to the site by boat then carried by litter the last few hundred yards. By 1 August, it held nearly 1,100 patients. The British raid on 3 August a few miles north at Scajaquada Creek demonstrated the hospital’s vulnerability. Consequently, as many men as possible were removed to the growing Williamsville facility. Doctor Bull and Surgeons Mates Thomas and Lovell supervised the Williamsville facility. Surgeons Mate William E Horner remained at Buffalo caring for the small number of patients who could not be moved. Thereafter, the Buffalo Hospital served as the clearing center for casualties from Fort Erie sending patients to Williamsville as quickly as it could. Those who died there were buried in an adjacent graveyard, identified only years later when human remains were discovered.25
25. Percy M Ashburn, “History of the Medical department of the United States Army” (1929) pp. 33-34. Severance, ibid, p 247;
Several smaller regimental hospitals in the Buffalo and Black Rock areas had come in with their units. Despite their regimental affiliation, they supported all troops sent to the area. Buildings were leased to house these facilities. In addition, rooms in private houses were rented for the use of convalescent officers. Beginning in October, the sick and wounded at Williamsville who could travel were sent in a series of convoys to the hospital at Greenbush. Beginning on 8 November, everyone possible was moved to Williamsville. Most officers and about 80 critical patients remained in private houses around Buffalo. The unprecedented casualty rate experienced throughout the campaign combined with that of Plattsburgh and elsewhere to place heavy demands on the medical supply system.
Apothecary General Francis LeBaron at Albany advised his superiors in Philadelphia that the Williamsville Hospital “devoured” reserve stocks “like cormorants” so that by November nothing was left on hand.26
26. See annex K NA RG 94 Entry 125, Box 134; RG 94, Entry 225, Box 651, Medical Department, Francis LeBaron letter 14 November 1814 to Callender Irvine.
US ARMY MEDICAL DEPARTMENT Office of Medical History
In 1814, the hospital at Williamsville, New York, did not occupy the same quarters it had used the previous year, and patients were sheltered in tents while awaiting the completion of buildings designed specifically for use as a hospital. Progress on the construction was extremely slow, however, and General Izard wrote that "the jealousy and quarrels between surgeons and the Quartermaster's department of General Brown's division" were to blame. In early November 1814, the new building was still "far from ready for the reception of the sick and wounded."16
16 Major General Izard to Secretary of War, 8 Nov 1814, Cruikshank, Documents, 4: 298.
Some of the construction may have been complete by 26 November, for General Izard referred to the Williamsville facilities at that time as an "extensive hospital establishment," but in early November, because of the inadequacies of the facility, General Izard, following a suggestion from the hospital's senior surgeon, ordered that as many as could tolerate the journey be sent on to Greenbush. Nevertheless, almost two thousand patients were in such poor condition that they had to remain behind in the tents at Williamsville.17
17 Quote from Major General Izard to Secretary of War, 26 Nov 1814, Izard, Correspondence, p. 121; Major General Izard to Secretary of War, 8 Nov 1814, Cruikshank, Documents, 4: 298.
There was, for a time, also a hospital set up at Buffalo in 1814 in the tents left behind when camp there was broken. The Americans wounded in July's battle at Chippewa and some of the enemy wounded, probably those from the Battle of Lundy's Lane, were sent to Buffalo. Among the British patients were some so badly burned in the explosion of a powder magazine that their "faces and hands were so crisped that the skin peeled off like a baked pig." Among a number of American wounded who were rowed up the Niagara River in a flat-bottomed boat to Buffalo was General Scott himself. Only those in the poorest condition were retained at Buffalo for any length of time, however, and although some difficulties were experienced in obtaining transportation, all but eighty to ninety men too seriously injured to be moved were sent eastward, apparently within a few weeks, to the facility at Williamsville. The Buffalo facility was closed on 23 December 1814.18
18 Quote from Eber D. Howe, "Recollections of a Pioneer Printer," Buffalo Historical Society Publications 9 (1906): 398; Clayton Tiffin to Major General Izard, 6 Dec 1814, RG 94, M566, roll 59; Scott, Memoirs, 1: 147, 148; Report of Hospital Surgeon Lovell, 1 Aug 1814, Cruikshank, Documents, 4: 452-53; Louis L. Babcock, The Siege of Fort Erie, An Episode of the War of 1812 (Buffalo: Peter Paul Book Co., 1899), p. 44n; W. E. Horner, "Surgical Sketches," Medical Examiner and Record of Medical Science, new ser. 8 (1952): 761, 764, 768, 791; Jacob Brown to Secretary of War, 6 Jul 1814, in Herman Allen Fay, Collection of the Official Accounts, in Detail, of All the Battles Fought by Sea and Land Between the Navy and Army of the United States and the Navy and Army of Great Britain During the Years 1812, 13, 14, & 15 (New York, 1817), p. 210.
Because of the casual nature of some of the reports which survive from the time of the War of 1812, it is difficult to be sure of the nature of all of the hospitals serving the Army during that time. The Tilton report of 20 August 1814, for example, mentioned a return from a hospital surgeon, E. W. Bull, concerning the sick and wounded from Chippewa. It did not, however, make clear whether Bull was referring to men who became incapacitated during the battle of that name or to men hospitalized at some facility or facilities at or near Chippewa. If the former is true, however, the figures furnished Tilton by Bull (approximately 900 wounded, 300 sick) are, as Tilton commented, surprisingly high and probably included, as the Physician and Surgeon General commented, British casualties. It is difficult to believe that 300 men would fall ill as a result of one battle, and therefore it is likely that the reference was to the number of patients at a hospital. There is no record of a general hospital at Chippewa, however, but since the reporting physician was a hospital surgeon rather than a regimental surgeon, it is reasonable to assume that the Chippewa facility was a flying hospital.19
19 James Tilton to Secretary of War, 20 Aug 1814, RG 107, M221, roll 66; Major General Jacob Brown reported that 249 were wounded at the Battle of Chippewa ("Report of the Killed and Wounded of the Left Division Commanded by Major General Brown in the Action of 5th July 1814, on the Plains of Chippewa, Upper Canada," Brannan, Letters, p. 372).
Patients at Fort Erie, which was taken from the British in July, were cared for by regimental surgeons who received high praise in the summer of 1814. The men there suffered from the high rate of illness which was to be expected in the area, but by early August, they were in better health than had been expected. Not long thereafter, however, the British began an unsuccessful five-week siege of Fort Erie, during which a strongpoint blew up just as the British were about to take possession of it. The wounded left behind by the British, their faces, in some cases, "so fearfully disfigured, that the sight of them was sickening," were carried to the American hospital. The care two surgeons and three mates gave the men entrusted to them at Fort Erie20 led the commanding general to comment upon their "active, humane, and judicious treatment of the wounded, both of the enemy and of our own."21
20 Effner, "Adventures," pp. 51-52, quote from p. 52; E. P. Gaines to Secretary of War, 7 and 23 Aug 1814, Brannan, Letters, pp. 384, 399; Mann, Sketches, pp. 70, 111.
21 E. W. Ripley to Brigadier General Gaines, 17 Aug 1814, Brannan, Letters, p. 392.
From Niagara Frontier #12 1965 pgs 51-57 “Jacob Porter Norton, A Yankee on the Niagara Frontier”
Jacob Norton was a young Lieutenant assigned to the 4th Infantry Regiment during the War of 1812. During his time of service he wrote letters home to his father and kept a diary of his activity.
Among his entries in his diary are;
November 14th 1814 “The 4th Regt marched from our encampment near Buffalo, and took quarters in the Hospital Barracks, at eleven mile Creek in Williamsville, 11 miles from Buffalo.”
June 1815, while writing his thoughts about fellow officers he had this to say about Lt Col Ranney; “The army burying ground at this place when we first came, was in a miserable situation,- Many of the graves were not more than half filled, and they had been dug promiscuously without regard to order, so that it was difficult in some places to distinguish the graves. Lt Col Ranney had them mounded up and clotted with sard, the stumps dug up, a fence built round it, a gate with an arch over the way, upon the arch was inscribed” – “Sacred to the memory of those men who died of wounds received in the memorable fields of Chippewa, Bridgewater and Erie, - They rest in honor and deserve the gratitude of their country”
On June 14th 1815 the 4th Infantry Regt marched out of Williamsville beginning their journey home.