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1813 Brunson

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.

Alfred Brunson...The 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 helter-skelter manner.

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 home.

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.

See Also:

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.