A Glimpse At Humanity In The War Of 1812

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A depiction of the engagement between the American Navy frigate USS Chesapeake and the Royal Navy frigate H.M.S. Shannon on 1 June 1813 off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. The officers and crew of the Shannon, commanded by Captain Philip Broke, are shown boarding and capturing the Chesapeake.
Colored lithograph by M. Dubourg (circa 1813)

John Hollyday served in the War of 1812, where the British invaded the fledgling United States and almost reconquered the territory they had lost only three decades before.


A touching letter to his wife, Eleanor, offers a unique view of the war.

John had recently joined his father, a Presbyterian pastor, in the territory that would later become the state of Ohio. Living on the banks of the Buckskin River with his wife and their son Wilson, he enlisted in the military in the spring of 1813. The war, mostly skirmishes at this point, was dragging on and the need for more troops was evident.

Within a few months, John found himself on banks of the Sandusky River. From the unseasonably cold barracks at Fort Stephenson, John paints a grim picture of the situation. "There is a grat deal of confution in the camp" because the barracks commander had recently been discharged. Apparently it was politically motivated, since the governor was involved.”

Unlike our professional military, discipline and cohesion fluctuated wildly across units. "18 of our men deserted this morning" because their commanding officer, obviously respected, had been replaced.

Related: Read this beautiful Revolutionary War letter.

John was having none of it. He was a proud American soldier and recognized the consequences of desertion for his future prospects: "I think it is best to stay to such time as I can go home in safety and with some honor."

Nothing is sugarcoated for his wife, Eleanor. She was a obviously a strong and capable military spouse in the finest American tradition. Despite her youth and family obligations, the corn was planted and everything else is in order. She was steadfast and dependable, as so many have been during the harsh years of warfighting.

John had no way of knowing how long the war would last, or how bad it would get. Two months after his letter was written, the American forces at Fort Stephenson would repulse a daring attack by the British.

About a year later, the British would dispatch an army of 4,000 to Washington, burning down the entire city save for the Marine Corps barracks. Men like John would continue to march, though, protecting the republic in its early years.

His letter closes ominously. Both the danger and love are palpable: "I remaine your affecionate husband till death." Such is the life of an American soldier.

Original copied from the Sandusky County Scrapbook.

May the 27th 1813

Fort Stephens Lore Sandusky

Affectionate Companion I received your letter this morning of the 23rd instent Which gave me a grate deal of satisfaction to hear that you are well and that Wilson is a good boy

It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to hear that the corn is planted and that you expect it will be tended for I did not look for that to be done

Our troops at this place is generaly well but at this time there is a grat deal of confution in the camp and I do not know what it will end in the governor has discharged Major Harper and sent another Officer to comand the fort and we are of opinion it was an arbetery act and in consequences of this there is 18 of our men diserted this morning

It was reported that the queen Sharlote was at the mouth of the river and would atact this place but our speyes that we sent out on that ocation is returned from the bay and we find that account to be groundless they likewise stat that they believe that thar was not an Indian within forty miles of this place

We have plenty to eat and drink but the weather is very cold for the season we have frost in the mornings at this place yet and the wind blows very cold

I would be desireous to get home but I cant any way to get to without doing as them that has gon and I think it is best to stay to such time as I can go home in safety and with some honor as I cant think to lose my time for nothing and be farther back than when I started

I have nothing of importance to write to you I comit you to the ruler of all the earth whom trus will keep us from all danger and bring us together again to injoy each others company which will be a very desireable time to us I trust

Remember me to my frends and to all that may think fit to inquire after me nothing more at present but remaine your affectionate husband till death

John Hollyday

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