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The Battle of Big Sandy Memorial at Ellisburg.

To end the War of 1812 the Americans, as well as the British, both decided that they must build bigger and better warships. In Sackets Harbor, two brigs; the Jefferson and the Jones and two frigates; the Mohawk and Superior were quickly constructed. The Superior was armed with twenty-six forty-two pounders, thirty thirty-two pounders, two twenty-four pounders, weighed fifteen hundred eighty pounds and had a complement of five-hundred officers and men. These ships were built by the master ship builder Henry Eckford, and in 1814 the ships sat awaiting rigging and armaments. These supplies were shipped from the Brooklyn Naval Yards in New York City to Albany, and then from Albany up the Mohawk to Wood Creek and the Oneida Lake, and from there to the Oswego River. The British discovered this and on May 4th of 1814 James Yeo left Kingston Harbor with six vessels headed for Oswego. Earlier Lieutenant Colonel George E. Mitchell and a battalion of light artillery had been assigned to defend the fort at Oswego, Fort Ontario.

On the 5th of May, Mitchell's men sighted the enemy ships approaching. Mitchell saw that he would be greatly outnumbered so he recruited every man and boy from the nearest village and had them gather up every piece of material that they could. They then built a fake tent encampment nearby, making it seem as though he had three times the number of men. The ruse worked; the British attacked the fort instead of the village, and the Americans repelled the attack with a large twelve-pound gun. But the next day the British were back in force and landed, capturing a ship and stores, but the supplies for the Sackets' ships had been stored at Oswego Falls (now Fulton). Mitchell retreated, putting up obstacles and destroying bridges in his wake. They pursued him and his forces to Black Creek Bridge, but turned back when they saw that the bridge had been destroyed, thinking that they would be able to capture any supplies shipped via the water anyway.

On April 21st Commodore Isaac Chauncey in Sackets Harbor sent Lieutenant Melancthon T. Woolsey and men of his choosing in the Lady of the Lake to get the supplies in the best way that he could. When Woolsey got to where the stores and cable were hidden, he circulated rumors that they would be sent to Oneida Lake but in the meantime he hired ox carts and bought large wheels. On the 28th they ran the rapids with nineteen small boats loaded with the supplies, though one boat became separated. It was believed the soldier in charge deliberately deserted with the supplies and gave the British information on where the ships were heading, as well as other specifics. When the Americans reached Sandy Creek they decided to stop, since the British were close behind. By this time Oneida Indians (possibly a hundred and twenty or more) had been recruited and other regiments arrived, including those from Adams and Ellisburg, and Captain Appling's riflemen regiment, as well as locals who took up whatever arms they could. Runners were dispatched for more help from other militias and reinforcements from Sackets Harbor. At this time the British decided to send a number of armed boats and men up Sandy Creek. The boats and men were promptly taken after a twenty minute battle with the help of the riflemen regiment. Many prisoners were captured and sent to Sackets Harbor, and the dead British were buried with honors while the wounded were taken to a nearby home, converted to a temporary hospital.

The British were now blockading Oswego and Sackets so the supplies were taken by oxen to Sackets but one piece of equipment, a large cable, had to be moved also. It was said that a twenty year old, Silas Lyman of Lorraine, who had fought at the battle, suggested that they carry the cable after it was found not to fit fully into a cart. The cable was made of hemp, was six-hundred feet long, six inches thick, twenty-two inches around, and weighed nine-thousand six-hundred pounds. As much as would fit was loaded into a cart and the rest was carried by hand and some accounts say that the number of men at the beginning was less then a hundred, but along the way others joined while some dropped out after tiring. The cable was taken from McKee’s Landing (where the battle took place) on Big Sandy, through Ellisburg and Belleville to Robert’s Corners, and then the men carrying the cable rested overnight. The next morning the cable was taken through Smithville and then on to Sackets, arriving in the afternoon after the twenty mile trip.

Some say the cable was used for the anchor, while others say it was used for rigging. The Superior was launched under the command of Lieutenant John R. Elton and saw much action until the end of the war. The ship then sat at Sackets until she was sold around 1825.

There are a number of monuments for the battle as well as the carrying of the Great Cable, as it came to be known. One is right outside Sackets Harbor behind Pennocks Ice Cream Store, another is between Ellisburg and Belleville on Route 289 at the intersection of Lee/Machold Roads, and another in Smithville. These memorials consist of a large piece of granite weighing six tons, seven and a half feet tall and six feet wide, with a plaque. There is also a monument at the site of battle - a large boulder with an inscription, and a marker a short distance away at the McKee Hospital site. There have been five re-enactments of the cable route, some involving carrying actual cable, like the one in 1989.

[Much of the preceding was gleaned from the excellent paper An Analysis of the Events Surrounding The Battle of Big Sandy and the Carrying of the Great Rope in 1814 and the Ensuing 185 Years by Blaine Bettinger. Make sure you check out the whole story at the site put together by Mark Wentling.]


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