Boone County Kentucky Historical Society

John Norris in the War of 1812

[Note: Although John Norris enlisted from Mason County, he moved to near Petersburg (Boone County) where he lived the rest of his life.   He told his story to John Uri Lloyd, of Boone County, who recorded and preserved it. Mr. Norris was one of five men, who late in life, was awarded a special medal by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for his military service in that war. Mr. Norris lived until his 80s in age.]
John Norris's Account of the War of 1812
by John Norris as recorded by John Uri Lloyd
I enlisted from Mason County, Kentucky, in May, 1813, and was soon after mustered at the old Barracks in Newport in a company of cavalry Captain John Payne of Augusta, commander. The company was made up of men from Mason, Bracken, Lewis, Lemon [? Fleming] and Fayette counties, and was mustered in for six months. We were assigned to Colonel Johnson's three months regiment - nearly all the members of which were also from Kentucky - and we then began scouring the Indian country toward Northern Ohio. We stopped in Fort Meigs and in Camp Seneca on the Sandusky river, then in command of General Harrison, and then we joined Colonel Ball's forces from Maryland and proceeded down toward Lower Sandusky. We were armed with sword and pistol. On the way down our advance guard was ambushed by a party of Indians, numbering only thirteen. This provoked an attack from our whole army, and the Indians were all slain. After the skirmish, as each man came filing back into line, over fifty men individually claimed to have "bloodied" their sword in the heart of a live Indian. Each of fifty men had killed a savage when there were only thirteen savages to kill. I didn't "bloody" my sword.
About this place and Seneca we skirmished the most of the summer, carrying on a sort of predatory warfare. Toward the latter part of the season commodore Perry sent word down to General Harrison that he wanted a company of fighting men, and General Harrison despatched [sic] a messenger over to our company asking for volunteers. The General had tickled the pride of us Kentuckians by saying we did not know when we were whipped, and when he sent his messenger he sent him with instructions to ask for volunteers only. The messenger came to our company. I had been eager to see some good fighting before my six months' time expired. As I heard the message delivered, therefore, I jumped at the chance and was the first to exclaim, "I am one to go". "I am second," "I am third," etc. in quick succession passed down the line until twenty men from our company had volunteered their services. We were taken down the Sandusky the next day to Perry's fleet, which was lying at Portage, near what is now called Sandusky City, and were placed on board the Caledonia, commanded by Captain Turner. This was toward the latter part of August, I don't just remember the day. The Commodore had made several ineffectual efforts to induce the British Commander to come out from his stronghold in Maiden and engage him, but the wily old Britisher did not respond. He maintained his dignity and strengthened himself by building and manning another vessel called the Detroit, and by cruising about on his own side of the lake, out of reach of Perry. We had eight vessels and the British only six, but these six were manned with more and heavier guns. If I remember rightly, we had only fifty guns, while John Bull had nearly or quite sixty nine.
Early on the morning of the 10th of September I was sleeping on the deck of the Caledonia, and being suddenly awakened by hearing men talking excitedly near me, I inquired the cause. I was told that the long-wished-for time was near at hand, that the enemy was approaching us. With the naked eye I could see nothing; but being proffered a spy-glass, I for the first time beheld the British squadron in battle array. For a moment the prospect was not cheering and my knees in spite of me would smite each other. This kind of feeling did not last long, however. The hurry and bustle of preparation gave no time for fear, and when at noon we came together my knees were ready to do my bidding.
The blue bunting, with the words of the dying Lawrence, "Never give up the ship," in white letters, was run up the masthead of Perry's ship the Lawrence, and then the terrible battle began. Prior to this and while drilling, it had generally required six and eight men to move the twenty-four-pounders with which the Caledonia was armed; now, in the excitement of battle, three of us could load and fire our gun as often as one could an ordinary musket.
So long as we saw our banner flying from the mast of the Lawrence we felt to fight like tigers. Suddenly, however, we saw the old flag coming down. Never could I forget the feelings I then experienced. I thought the day was lost and that the glory we had dreamed of was gone. I wanted to die. Yet we fought on, but without spirit. Meantime we saw a small row-boat leaving the Lawrence manned by six men, and suddenly we saw an officer rise up in that boat and fling out the same old banner that had waved from the Lawrence, and then our spirits took new courage. We knew that officer to be our Commodore, and we knew too, that the day was not lost. We saw the frail boat making for the Niagara, and soon we saw the old banner climbing the Niagara's mast, and then a cheer went up and the struggle was renewed. The Niagara pushed in between the enemy's men-of-wars-men, and vomited forth her broadsides. From Perry came the order to the Caledonia to close up nearer and let the enemy have it fresh from the mouths of our twenty-four pounders. The order was no sooner given than we did close up, and so did the whole line. The effect was terrible, and the British pride was soon conquered. One by one the enemy's flags kissed the deck, and one by one his guns ceased to speak, until just before four o'clock, three hours and forth minutes after the struggle began, the last gun was fired. That last gun was on the Caledonia, and was the one manned by myself and others, and not by Stephen Chaplain, as has been before stated. And it was the last shot that the gun ever fired, for she had then become disabled. At her breach she had a seam wide enough to insert a case-knife. This seam I discovered, and when calling Captain Turner's attention to it he said, "My God, how we have escaped! Another fire and we would have been blown to atoms." I know that after this there was not another shot fired, and I can recall all the circumstances. We on the Caledonia felt very proud. We felt proud when we learned of the Commodore's message, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours," and we felt proud when we heard that in his official report he would say "the Caledonia did more real damage to the enemy than any other vessel," and my Kentucky pride swelled, I tell you, when Colonel Todd told me that he heard Commodore Perry say to General Harrison, when talking of the men which the latter had sent him, that if it had not been for those twenty men sent him from Seneca he believed he would have lost the battle.
I escaped without a scratch, though on the deck of the Caledonia it would have been hard, after the battle, to have found a spot larger than your hand where a cannon ball had not done some damage.
[This document is from the Lloyd Library, Cincinnati, OH. It was transcribed and edited by James Duvall, M.A., 2004.]