Thursday, July 30, 2015

Captain Magee and the Pittsburgh Blues

The more I read about the War of 1812, the more I realize how little I know about that episode in our nation's history.

I am not alone. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting on a local bicentennial commemoration had commented on the "handful of spectators" attending the outdoor ceremony, calling the War of 1812 "the nation's forgotten conflict."

Because you and I have an inordinate interest in genealogy, we may have seen that recent bicentennial mark in a different light. That same year inspired the launching of the crowdsourced effort to make the war's pension papers freely available to the public through an ambitious project to digitize and index that entire National Archives collection. The Federation of Genealogical Societies partnered with lead sponsors to raise funds for the "Preserve the Pensions" project—an still-ongoing effort, as thirty five percent of the holdings are not yet digitized, with an estimated fifty percent of the cost yet to raise. Regardless, because so much of the collection is now accessible—for free at this website—the genealogy community has been more focused on researching this time period.

Fortunately, among the pension papers already searchable online is the folder of War of 1812 veteran John Jay Jackson, my husband's fourth great grandfather. If you've been clicking through the hyperlinks on my recent posts, you've been able to view the material in his packet.

It was there that I realized many of the captains he served under were listed in his file. In an attempt to learn more about his assignments, I've launched on an exploration of resources detailing the responsibilities—and, hopefully, battles—of each captain.

We've already taken a look at what could be found about the captain under which John Jackson enlisted yesterday. With today's post, I'll begin a review of what can be found about the next captain mentioned in the official acknowledgement of receipt of Jackson's application for pension: Captain Magee.

If it weren't for the handy Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, I wouldn't have found anything about Captain Magee. For one thing, there was no first name provided. When my search revealed no resources, I worried that "Magee" could have been a poorly-spelled attempt at a name like "McGee"—or worse, perhaps something like "McGehee."

As it turns out, the officer in question was Matthew J. Magee from Pennsylvania. As had the captain we reviewed yesterday—John Morris of Indiana—Captain Magee first served with his state's militia, and entered the war at the earliest point in 1812.

That Captain Magee hailed from Pennsylvania turned out to be a significant detail. Apparently, at the time, the question of war was not a popular proposition, politically—with few exceptions. One of those notable exceptions was the support offered the President by the governor and representatives from the state of Pennsylvania. Thus, Captain Magee and his regiment were listed as volunteers as early as August for a war not declared by Congress until June 18, 1812.

The group the Captain was assigned to lead was known as the Pittsburgh Blues—among the first of the Pennsylvania units to respond to the governor's call for troops. Originally a company of the state militia formed in 1807, once war was declared by the United States, members of the Blues became federal troops. Serving, at one point, under General William Henry Harrison—later to become a United States President—the Blues' campaigns took them primarily to various outposts in Ohio, then known as the Old Northwest.

Captain Magee's duties, however, took him elsewhere. By March 17, 1814, he was assigned as captain of the 4th Regiment of Riflemen—the very company which John Jackson was soon to join.

Once again, just as I had seen in attempting to research the history of Captain Morris' campaigns, I was unable to locate listings of which battles involved Captain Magee—and thus, Sergeant Jackson. However, as in my foray into the history of Captain Morris, the extraneous material I located on Captain Magee—and, along with him, another of Jackson's superiors, Charles Pentland—provided a sense of just what the terrain was like in the last outpost where we later found John Jackson.

Though a project organized just after John Jackson was discharged from service, both Magee and Pentland were involved in what was called the Long Expedition. Occurring in 1819 and 1820, the Long Expedition was the first federally-funded exploratory expedition accompanied by professional artists. Their journey up the Missouri River was captured on more than four hundred drawings and paintings.

Also pertinent to our understanding of the surroundings in which John Jackson was last assigned—and through which his future bride apparently traveled to meet up with him at Fort Bellefontaine in Missouri Territory—is the fact that Charles Pentland kept an extensive journal of his assignments and expeditions, including that of the Long Expedition.

Because of the material there that helps provide context for that era and location—remember, I'm still questioning the circumstances surrounding this wilderness tryst between John Jackson and Sarah Howard Ijams of Ohio—we'll take another detour tomorrow to explore what we can glean from the Pentland journals and other contemporaneous reports of such military expeditions.

Above: "Encampment of the Travelers on the Missouri," aquatint published circa 1839 by Johann Carl Bodmer, printmaker and illustrator who accompanied the expedition of German explorer, Maximilian, Prince of Wied; courtesy Wikipedia, via website; in the public domain.


  1. My mom likes to say, "It's a good day when you learn something new."

    So, it's a good day!

    1. Well, in my case, it's going to be a good week ;)

  2. The journal of S W Kearny might be of interest.

    Note the link goes to the footnote. Scroll up for the journal.

    1. Yes! I can't tell you how many such journal excerpts are printed in various publications, all containing these same footnotes. These guys all seem to show up in the same documents--as we'll see as we go through the rest of the names of Jackson's captains.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...