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The Battle of Hampden, though a minor action of the War of 1812, was the last serious clash of arms on land in the American state (then district) of Mainemarker. It represented the end of two centuries of violent contest over Maine by surrounding political units (initially the French and British, and then the British and Americans). Although a British victory, the subsequent retirement of the British expeditionary force from its base in Castine, Mainemarker back to Nova Scotiamarker ensured that eastern Maine would remain a part of the United States. Lingering local feelings of vulnerability, however, would help fuel the post-war movement for Maine statehood.

Prelude: Capture of Castine

On Sept. 3, 1814 a British fleet from Halifax, Nova Scotiamarker captured the coastal town of Castine, Mainemarker, as had a previous British fleet during the American Revolution (see Penobscot Expedition). The 8 war-ships and 10 transports (carrying 3,500 British regulars) were under the overall command of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, then Lt. Gov. of Nova Scotiamarker. Maj. Gen. Gerard Gosselin had charge of the soldiers and Rear Adm. Edward Griffith of the ships.

The intention of the expedition was clearly to re-establish British title to Maine east of the Penobscot River, an area the British had re-named "New Ireland". Carving off "New Ireland" from New England had been a goal of the British government and settlers of Nova Scotia ("New Scotland") since the American Revolution.

The nearby town of Belfastmarker was also briefly occupied, as was Machiasmarker. Eastportmarker had earlier been captured by a different British squadron.

Expedition up the Penobscot River

Almost immediately after landing at Castine, Sherbrooke sent an expeditionary force of 3 warships, a transport, and 500 men up the Penobscot River toward Hampdenmarker and Bangormarker under the command of Naval Capt. Robert Barrie in the battleship HMS Dragon. Their mission was likely to capture the USS Adams, a frigate which was beached and under repair at Hampden, having previously run aground in Penobscot Baymarker. Capt. Charles Morris of the Adams requested the help of local militia to defend the ship. Most of the cannon were removed from the frigate and used to establish fortified positions on shore, overlooking the river and a riverine road from Frankfortmarker.

Barrie's force first anchored at Frankfortmarker (now Winterportmarker), landed troops under the command of Lt. Col. Henry John, and then cautiously worked its way toward Hampden via both land and river.

Battle of Hampden

On the morning of Sept. 3, 1814, about 400 American militia under the command of Brig. Gen. John Blake of Brewer, Mainemarker were waiting for the British regulars at Hampdenmarker, now a suburb of Bangormarker but then the larger of the two towns. They included some men from the Adams and a small militia force from Castine, under Lt. Andrew Lewis, who had escaped that town in advance of Sherbrooke's landing.

The British assault on Hampden was helped by heavy fog, which masked the soldiers from view until they were nearly on the militia's line, at the crest of a hill. The sudden emergence of the disciplined British regulars out of the fog apparently incited panic in the ranks of the militia, the center of whose line collapsed before a British bayonet charge. The American side lost at least 1 killed and 11 wounded, and the British side, 2 killed (one an officer) and an unknown number wounded. At least two civilians were also killed.

When the militia line failed to hold, the crew of the Adams burned the ship to avoid her capture, and subsequently escaped into the woods and toward the Kennebec River.

Casualty Figures

The casualty figures for the battle are actually unclear. William James' book includes a report written by Lt. Col. John stating casualties, and a list prepared by Lt. Col. Pilkington, Dep. Adj. Gen. to General Sherbrooke. Both state 1 enlisted soldier killed (29th Redt.) and 5 wounded (1 from the 62nd and 4 from the 98th). One officer was wounded - Capt. Gell of the 29th Regt. One soldier of the 62nd was also reported missing. Capt. Barrie reported 1 sailor killed. Two British graves in Hampden remain there today, but no details are carved on the stones. These could be the soldier and sailor killed that day.

American casualties were low, but sources are conflicting. Williamson's data may reflect only the losses to the Hampden militia companies. Capt. Barrie could form no estimate, but noted noted upwards of 30 laying wounded in the woods. Lt. Col. John states he had no correct number, but reports 30 to 40 killed, wounded or missing. Militia leaders could not confirm how many men actually reported for duty. A list for pay purposes was finally produced but is missing entire companies and states no casualties except for one "Tobias Oakman - killed" (the basis for the "1 killed" that Williamson repeated). Claims by citizens for various compensations were filed for numerous years after the battle without a final tally or surviving documentation.

Sacking of Hampden

The consequences of the militia's defeat were grave, as the British force looted and vandalized Hampden with abandon, even wrecking the interior of the local church. 60-80 citizens of the town were taken prisoner aboard one of the British ships, though all but a dozen were paroled the next day, and the rest soon after. Capt. Barrie, in response to a plea for mercy from some of the inhabitants, reportedly declared: "I have none for you. My business is to sink, burn, and destroy. Your town is taken by storm, and by the rules of war we ought to lay your village in ashes and put its inhabitants to the sword. But I will spare your lives, though I mean to burn your houses." He was only prevented from doing so by timely intervention from Sherbrooke.

Surrender and sacking of Bangor

Learning what had happened in Hampden, the selectmen of Bangor surrendered the town to Barrie without a fight. The subsequent sacking of Bangor was thus less vindictive, but soldiers and sailors were given license by their officers to take all they could carry. Six of the town's ships were confiscated and loaded with loot, while the remaining fourteen were burned. Four ships still in stocks (under construction) were bonded by the British, and ordered to be delivered to Castine on completion. All male citizens were declared prisoners of war, made to sign a paper pledging that they would not fight for or aid American forces, and then paroled. The British remained in Bangor for about 30 hours, and reportedly withdrew when they did because the soldiers were becoming dangerously drunk on confiscated rum.

Hampden was looted a second time in the British retreat, as was Frankfortmarker.

British evacuation of Castine

Sherbrooke declared "New Ireland" (Eastern Maine) a province of British North America (Canada) and left Gen. Gosselin in Castine to govern it. For the next 8 months (from the fall of 1814 to the spring of 1815) the Penobscot River was essentially an international boundary. That Hampden and Bangor were on the wrong (American) side might have contributed to their rough treatment.

With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in Dec. 1814, however, the British claim to Maine was effectively surrendered. The British were forced to evacuate Castine on April 25, 1815, and the pre-war boundary was restored. The final boundary between the inland, wooded portion of Maine and Canada would remain open to dispute until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

Aftermath and consequences

Local memory of this humiliation contributed to subsequent anti-British feeling in Eastern Maine, which would find outlet again in the Aroostook War of 1838-1839. It would also contribute to the post-war movement for Maine's statehood (given that Massachusetts had failed to protect the region) and to the building of a large, expensive granite fort (Ft.marker Knoxmarker) at the mouth of the Penobscot River starting in the 1840s.

Gen. Blake and two other officers, Lt. Col. Andrew Grant of Hampden and Maj. Joshua Chamberlain of Brewer, grandfather of the later Civil War general, were court-martialed in Bangor in 1816 for their part in the defeat. Blake and Chamberlain were both exonerated, but Grant was cashiered.

{The elderly Blake was court-martialed first and cleared of charges. He in turn brought charges against his two subordinates in perhaps a move to clear his name. Grant was found guilty of actions unbecoming an officer before the enemy and banned from being re-elected as a militia officer. One report claims he ran from battle and changed out of his uniform into civilian clothes before eventually being captured and identified.)

Further reading

  • William D. Williamson, The History of the State of Maine (1832) online

References

The Williamson book is generally accurate, but some facts could be based on legend or "tall tales." The Seymour book is largely based on Chapman's book. Chapman's book is again based on bad facts and even contains a map showing displacement of forces that must be taken very lightly and generally because his placement of naval guns is wrong. Reports contained in William James' Military Occurrences of the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States of America are the most accurate.


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