Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Joining the Regiment

Tracing the history of John Jay Jackson's involvement with the United States Army's 4th Regiment of Riflemen during the War of 1812 can be challenging. First of all, there are no less than three different dates of enlistment stated in the Jackson pension papers: May 31, June 4, and August 31—all during the year of 1814.

One constant among all those varying details was that he enlisted in Erie, Pennsylvania, under the command of Captain John Morris. In hopes of finding more about John Jackson's service—his pension file lacking much detail on the campaigns in which he was involved—I decided to take a look at what could be found about each of the five captains named in the Jackson papers, the first of whom was John Morris.

Before launching into a report of what I discovered about John Jackson's first captain, it was helpful to glean some information on the company in which he served. Consistent to all his assignments was his connection with what was called the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Riflemen. While keeping my eye open for mentions of his regiment was helpful, I found that even learning about the establishment and organization of that regiment helped inform about John Jackson's whereabouts during and after the War of 1812.

When the regiment was first activated in 1808, there was only one such unit in the United States Army. Only upon an act of Congress in February, 1814, establishing three additional regiments of riflemen was each then designated by number. John Jackson was assigned to the 4th Regiment.

Complicating matters in my search for John Jackson's whereabouts during the war was the discovery that the regiment never fought together as one unit. Companies or detachments from the regiment were often allocated to other commands, thus partially explaining the list of captains under which John Jackson served. However, that also complicated the ability to determine whether he was present at any of the specific battles I was able to link with the various commanders.

As for determining Jackson's whereabouts from records concerning the captain under which he enlisted, I wasn't able to find much. The few mentions I found led to tangential information describing the times and conditions under which he likely served. However, these, too, helped inform a more complete understanding of the setting at the end of Jackson's service—that unclear time when, incredibly, he met and married Sarah Howard Ijams at an outpost of Missouri Territory sometime around 1818.

The most factual biographical sketch I could find on Captain John Morris was his entry in Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Issued by the Government Printing Office in 1903, the book contained two volumes of Army history from the date of its organization in 1789 to the year of publication.

While the John Morris entry was factual, it was also brief. It showed him to be from Indiana, having served as captain of that state's volunteers since 1812. Then, with the addition of the three extra regiments of riflemen in 1814, he was designated that year as captain of the 4th Regiment on March 17. The only other note about his service was that he was honorably discharged on June 15 of the subsequent year.

It was a Google search that led me to additional details on Captain Morris' life—and an overview of conditions just before the time of John Jackson's own enlistment. At the beginning of the conflict, in the vicinity of his post near Fort Wayne in what was then Indiana Territory, Captain Morris became one of the survivors of what was called the Pigeon Roost Massacre.

A footnote to the narrative about the massacre in Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812 provides a description of life in Indiana Territory during that time:
The manner in which I used to work was as follows: on all occasions I carried my rifle, tomahawk, and butcher knife, with a loaded pistol in my belt. When I went to plow, I laid my gun on the plowed ground, and stuck up a stick by it for a mark, so that I could get it quick in case it was wanted.  I had two good dogs. I took one into the house, leaving the other out. The one outside was expected to give the alarm, which would cause the one inside to bark, by which I would be awakened, having my arms always loaded. I kept my horses in a stable close to the house, having a port-hole so that I could shoot to the stable-door. During two years I never went from home with a certainty of returning, not knowing the minute I might receive a ball from an unknown hand...

On the evening of September 3, 1812, a "scalping party"—possibly in league with the British as a diverting tactic in conjunction with a plan to attack Fort Wayne—descended upon a small settlement known as Pigeon Roost, killing three men, five women and sixteen children. Two men escaped the scene under cover of night, along with two surviving children in their care, and made it to safety at the home of another settler six miles away.

If you have been wondering why I've taken this sudden detour into the minutiae of Indiana history—and suspect the only possible reason for this rabbit trail—you are correct in assuming it involves Captain John Morris. Sadly, among those killed in the massacre were the captain's wife, mother, and only child. Although the accounts of this event don't explain the circumstances for his presence, they indicate Captain Morris had been there at one of the homes, had helped in its defense, and had, along with the owner of the home, aided in the escape of the two surviving children from that home.

While that vignette in Indiana history occurred before the Captain ever became the enlistment officer under whom John Jackson entered the service of the U.S. Army, it does serve to illustrate the conditions in which John Jackson found himself, once the war was over, when the 4th Regiment—along with the 2nd and 3rd—had been disbanded and re-organized into the original Regiment of Riflemen and then re-assigned to service along the Mississippi at Fort Bellefontaine.

An interesting footnote to that period of military history is my discovery that the original Regiment of Riflemen now has its own re-enactment group, complete with website describing its traditional duties at the time of its formation. While, unlike lineage societies, one does not need to be a direct descendant of those who served in the original regiments to be part of the re-enactment group, it would be interesting to see if anyone has researched his role enough to portray his own ancestor.

Besides the information provided in their website that I've already mentioned, the site also includes some additional details that may shed some light on the unexpected (at least to me) presence of women in these military settings. Along with some other details we'll glean from our tour of the biographical sketches of the other captains under which John Jackson served, this may provide possible reasons for the presence of Sarah Howard Ijams and her mother at Fort Bellefontaine after the close of the war.

Above: Sketch of Fort Wayne in 1812, from Benson J. Lossing's The Pictorial Field-book of the War of 1812 published 1868; in the public domain.


  1. Very interesting description of daily life under the threat of a scalping party. I can see how people sought safety at the fort, thus explaining how couples from various parts of the country could have met.

    1. It's this milieu of daily life under these circumstances that I'm hoping to understand more of--but which also prompt me to question even more the circumstances behind the connection between John Jackson at his fort assignment near Saint Louis and his bride-to-be from central Ohio. Awful long way to run for cover, don't you think? There has to be more to this story...

  2. Life on the frontier was pretty brutal - it is unfortunate that relations with Native Americans weren't open, honest, aboveboard and considerate. Things could have been very different.

    1. Combine that with the intrigue and alliances formed between various tribes and also with the British (and, in other cases, other international influences) and we are introduced to a whole additional layer of instigations influencing the course of history.

  3. You should contact the re-enactment group, they are all history buffs and really are a wealth of knowledge! Many times they have a blog!
    A scalping party...hmmmm. That would cause me to have good dogs and lots of weapons too:( After all you couldn't just dial 911.

    1. Good thinking, Far Side. I'm actually hoping to be in pursuit of the participants in one particular re-enactment, in fact, although it is one no longer in existence. Here's hoping that search leads to some answers to my questions.


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