Alfred Brunson (1793-1886) enlisted in the 27th
Regiment, U.S. Infantry from Trumbull County, Ohio as an Orderly
Sergeant. He was in Detroit the winter after its recapture by the
Americans. Brunson became a Methodist Episcopal minister and returned to
Detroit in 1822. He served as a Chaplain in the Civil War and
afterwards traveled extensively as a missionary on the frontier.
line, when landed, stretched about a mile a half. The place of landing
was on the beach of the lake, three miles below Malden. In two minutes
from the time the first boat struck the beach, the whole line was
formed, ready for action. Before reaching the shore I saw the
inhabitants about the house in front of us, and said there was no
fighting to be done there, for the enemy would not leave their own
people between us and them; and so it proved. Every drum and fife was
playing "Yankee Doodle" till we struck the beach, and then all was
silent. I sprang from the boat to the beach at the same moment General
Harrison did, and within six or eight rods of him, and had my company in
line as soon as any other.
On landing, and seeing no enemy, Harrison and suite went up
to the house, the inmates of which had now retreated within doors; but,
being assured that they would not be hurt, they opened the door, and
informed the General that the fort at Malden was burned, and the enemy
had retreated up the Detroit River. Upon this a scout was sent to the
woods, in the rear of the farm, and the army faced to the left, and
marched to Malden, and took possession of the smoldering ruins.
In crossing the lake we were supplied with jerked beef and
hard bread, which we carried in our knapsacks - haversacks not then
being known to military science. We had neither tents nor blankets. The
boats were too much crowded with men to carry any thing else. The
shipping followed, with provisions and baggage, as fast as they could;
but, having no steam vessels then, our fleet depended upon the wind,
which being light, they were behind us some distance. Some half a dozen
large Mackinaws had six, nine, and twelve pounder guns, on
field-carriages, on board, on our left, and being propelled by oars,
kept pace with us, but we had no use for them.
That night we camped in and about the ruins of the old fort,
in the open air. It rained on us, but we had to take it. It was
reported that the Indians intended to attack us in the night, or at
day-break, which was their ususal time of attack; and our lines were
formed for defense, and we lay on our arms, as a precaution. But the
idea of their burning their fort, and retreating, and then attacking us
in the open field, was so absurd that little faith was placed in the
report. Still, "as caution is the mother of safety," we were arranged
for the worst, if it did come.
I lay down on a piece of board, before the campfire, to keep
out of the mud, having no covering, with my cartridge-box under my
head, and my gun-lock between my thighs, so as to keep it dry. In the
night I awoke, and found my right, or upper, ear full of water, and
turned over to let the water drain out of my ear. In the morning I found
some men worse off than I was, for they lay in ponds of water.
My company was soon placed in a vacant house, out of the
rain, and finding wood, we had rousing fires to dry by. As some of the
vessels came up, with flour and pork, the bakers were set to work, and
by eleven o'clock we had bread and pork to eat. We had no cooking
apparatus with us, but necessity is the mother of invention, and we got
small sticks and rods, sharpened, and stuck the slices of pork on them,
and held them in the blaze of the fire till cooked. This, on bread,
tasted good to hungry men, and I thought, if ever I get home, I would
try it again; but at home, and in the absence of the appetite, it was
not so sweet.
We marched from Malden to Sandwich in line, ready for battle
at any moment. Colonel Johnson's mounted men, at the same time, moved
up the right bank of the river to Detroit, an found the fort there also
burned. Some of our baggage coming up on the vessels, one hundred and
sixty of us, of the Twenty-Seventh Regiment United States Infantry, were
detailed to accompany the volunteers in pursuit of Proctor and
Tecumseh. The rest of the regulars remained under General M'Arthur, to
protect Detroit against Indians, who refused to follow the British any
further, and who were said to have threatened to burn and plunder the
city. But finding the place protected, they went in a flag, and
surrendered. . . .
On our return to Detroit we met a gale of wind and heavy
rain, and the boats conveying the chief officers' baggage were driven
into the mouth of a little stream that empties into Lake St. Clair, some
twenty or twenty-five miles from Detroit. Here we camped without tents,
shelter, or supper; but we found wood and made large fires. In some
way, I never knew how, some of the men being wet, cold, and hungry, were
in quest of something to eat, when they found in a boat a keg of
brandy, from which they drew large rations. Others got possession of the
secret, and drew also till the keg was emptied. When the officers
sought for a little of the creature comfort, the keg proved to have
leaked it all out. Of course, they suspected the soldiers, but they
might as well have looked for a needle in a haymow as for the men or men
who had tapped the Governor's stores. If they had visited the
camp-fires near by them they could have found a number who were much the
worse for liquor; but what liquor, or where it came from, would have
been a difficult question to be answered, except by the men themselves.
On reaching Detroit the volunteers left for their homes,
taking the prisoners with them as far as Chillicothe, Ohio, and General
Harrison took some of the regulars on board the fleet and went down the
lake, leaving a part of the regulars, including my regiment, to guard
the city, and the Canada shore, Sandwich and Malden.
To prepare for Winter we had a heavy job before us. The
British had burned the fort, leaving nothing but the heavy earthworks.
They left nothing combustible, not a board or stick of timber, and we
were compelled to go to the woods, from one to three miles distant, or
to the islands, still further, to get logs and poles with which to build
huts to winter in. Until these could be got ready, we occupied tents
and vacant houses in the city. Here began and ended a great mortality
among the soldiers, which carried off about eight hundred men, more than
all the loss in this campaign by the casualties of war on this
frontier. The surgeons treated their patients as for common bilious
attacks, but they died as many as six or eight a day. The surgeons had
been careless, and more intent upon their own comforts than those of the
sick, until they became alarmed for their reputation and office, when,
by a post-mortem examination, they discovered the nature of the disease,
and then soon put a stop to it. I was attacked among others, as I
supposed, with bilious fever, in part, if not in whole, from the foul
water I drank while crossing the portage from Sandusky Bay to the mouth
of Carrying River.
I was taken with vomiting and diarrhea in the night, which
continued till there seemed to be nothing left in me for the disease to
work upon. I took a paper from the shelf containing tartar emetic and
calomel, left for a sick soldier, but which he refused to take, and I
swallowed the whole of it. It was designed for two or three potions, and
its operations were very severe. Indeed, I have often wondered that it
had not killed me at once. Its effects were such that I could neither
stand nor sit up, but had to lie down on the floor helpless, and could
only roll over and let the green bile run out of my mouth, as thick as
jelly. Having an iron constitution, by the blessing of God I weathered
the storm, and having a paper of Peruvian bark, which was picked up
while following the British up the Thames, which, among other things,
they threw away to expedite their retreat, I used of it freely, and had
exceedingly good health the balance of my time in the army.
Our regiment and one company of artillery occupied the fort.
My company was detailed for artillery service, it requiring two
companies to man the guns mounted on the platforms. Two of these were
assigned to me to drill on, and handle in case of action, with a
complement of men to man them. Such was the skill and activity with
which our company handled the guns, we took the palm off the other
company, though they were regular artillerists.
We spent the Winter as best we could. We had to procure our
own wood, at least to send men to the woods to chop it, while the public
teams hauled it. When not engaged in this, or in drill or police duty,
the men amused themselves as the men of the world usually do, frequently
in sinful amusements. My office, and the extra duties I performed in
it, kept me pretty well employed; for, in fact, I not only did my own
duty, but much that belonged to the Captain and other officers of the
company to do. As is usual, the willing horse is apt to be overloaded or
hard pressed; so it was with me. The officers found that I could do
much that belonged to them, and they left it for me to do.
Still I found considerable leisure time, and not feeling
disposed to amuse myself as most did, I read my Bible, and such other
books as I could get hold of. In the pursuit of the enemy up the Thames
many books, among them some religious books, that were thrown away were
picked up by our men. In the lot were some Methodist books, indicating
that there were some of that sort among the British soldiers, and those
who had them not having a taste for such reading, and knowing me to be a
Methodist, gave them to me, which I gladly accepted and read.
While on the march I had seldom the opportunity - though I
sometimes succeeded in it - of formal, secret prayer; but in the fort,
where regular camp duty had to be performed, it was my duty to see that
every ma was in his quarters at tattoo, 9 o'clock, P.M., after which I
retired behind the huts, and at the breech of a cannon had a time and
place for secret prayer. There my soul was often greatly refreshed from
the presence of the Lord.
As the Spring of 1814 opened, new scenes of warlike life
occurred. Reports were rife that General Drummond was coming to retake
Detroit and Malden, if he could, and every preparation for defense was
made; but among the real there were some ludicrous events connected with
this alarm and preparations for defense, and some that proved the truth
of the old adage, that "there is policy in war."
The British were gathering, in force, on the head of the
Thames, threatening a descent upon us at Detroit. A flag-officer came to
our head-quarters on some business, real or pretended, and while there,
a regiment of Pennsylvania Militia, whose term of six months' service
had expired, demanded their discharge. No arguments or patriotic
persuasions could induce them to remain till another regiment that was
to relieve them should arrive. Their time was out, and go they must, and
go they would, and go they did. Means were taken to have them leave the
place by a back way, and not to pass by the window where the
flag-officer was quartered - being head-quarters - but no, they were
free men now, and they would go where they pleased, and the whole
regiment went by, and in sight of the officer, in an unarmed and
This must be counteracted, or the officer might make such a
report back to his chief, as would induce an immediate attack upon us.
To do this, the Seventeenth Regiment of Infantry, whose quarters were
outside, and east of the fort, just about sundown shouldered their guns
and knapsacks and moved stealthily round back of the fort, and down
toward Spring Wells; and then marched up the road by the head-quarters,
straggling along as if greatly fatigued, from a long and hard march. It
was beginning to be dark, so that they could not be seen distinctly from
the window of the officer, to enable him to form an opinion of their
number; but the line stretched along for half a mile, or more.
As the head of the column came up by the gate, at
head-quarters, Colonel Croghan, by order of Colonel Butler, who was in
command, went out to and conversed with the officer in command of the
new-comers, to receive his report. After talking sometime, while the
column was straggling along by, the new officer leaned against the
fence, as if greatly fatigued from the long march.
In the mean time the door of the flag-officer's room was
purposely left ajar, so that he could hear what was said in the hall
between the two Colonels. When Colonel Croghan came in, he reported to
General Butler that the troops just passing were under command of Major
---; that they were the advance of General ----'s Brigade of Regulars,
who would reach there the next day; that this advance had made a forced
march of thirty-six miles that day, on account of the Militia's leaving,
of which they had learned by the express sent them, thinking possibly
they might be needed, etc.
All this reached the flag-officer's ear at nightfall. The
next morning he was hoodwinked and put across the river, and led some
distance - too far off to see anything of the force or fortifications of
the place - when he was let loose with a flea in his ear. But it had
its desired and designed effect; for the enemy kept at a respectful
distance, and made no attack.
This event raised a question in my mind, as to whether a lie
was justifiable in any case. If so, certainly this is the kind of case
to justify it; for it is probably that this well-concocted lie, and the
admirable manner in which it was carried out, saved many lives, and
possibly the place from capture. . . .
As my term of service was about to expire, the officers of
my regiment began to take measures to re-enlist me for the war; one was
deputed to wait on me and propose that if I would re-enlist, I should be
made sergeant-major of the regiment, and all the officers would sign a
recommendation of me to the President, for a lieutenancy; and, further,
in case of my promotion, of which they had no doubt, they would make up a
purse to buy me a sword and suit of uniform.
I informed the officer that I had been disappointed once,
and might be again; I had expected that merit would be rewarded in the
army. My merit had been acknowledged and promotion promised, but it had
not come, and I should trust to uncertainties no longer. If I had been
promoted when it was promised, or even then, if a commission was
tendered to me, I might accept it, and continue during the war, if I
lived. But as it was, I could do without Uncle Sam as long as he could
without me; and he wanted me, it must not be under officers whose
abilities were greatly inferior to my own, as I had been. This was
admitted, and also, that I ought to have had precedence of any officer
in the company in which I came out, all of whom had now left and gone
But I had reasons for going home that I did not state. I had
promised God, if he would spare me to the end of my term, I would
return home and give myself to the work to which he had called me. I
thought, probably, He had controlled, and prevented my promotion, lest
if it had occurred, the inducement to remain in the service might be too
strong for resistance; as it was I took my discharge and went home.
(Note: Brunson came back to Detroit in 1822, see account in that year)
From: A WESTERN PIONEER: OR, INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE AND TIMES OF REV. ALFRED BRUNSON, A.M., D.D., EMBRACING A PERIOD OF OVER SEVENTY YEARS written by himself. Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1872: 134 -152.
Bay, J. Christian. Going West; The Pioneer Work of Alfred Brunson. Cedar Rapids, IA: Privately Printed for the Friends of Torch Press, 1951.
Brunson, Ella C. Alfred Brunson, Pioneer of Wisconsin Methodism. Wisconsin Magazine of History 1918 2 (2):
Schulte, Steven C. Alfred Brunson and the Wisconsin Missionary Frontier. Methodist History 1981 19 (4): 231-237.