In the War of 1812-14 between Britain and the United States of America, one of the most fascinating soldier stories of that period is that of Lieutenant Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. During the War of 1812, Canada was not a popular theatre of service for the British regiments, as Britain was far more preoccuopied in its war with Napoleon. The exploits of soldiers serving in Canada were not well known and were overshadowed by soldiers serving under Wellington. Having said that, Bulger was one of the exceptions. He was one of the few, possibly the only one, of that campaign who achieved the rare distinction of two Service Medals, a Military General Service Medal, and a Naval General Service Medal. He is an authentic hero of the Regiment, and his story deserves much more attention than has been given.
The following piece was prepared by LCol Norman Bull, CD (ret).
Much has been written and posted online about Lieutenant Andrew Bulger and his career during the War of 1812-1814 and after. Some of this information can be found in contemporary newspaper items and more in historical archival material in the US and UK.
In 1865, after his death, “An Autobiographical Sketch of the Services of the Late Captain Andrew Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Regiment” was published outlining the role he played in the War. The following article is an edited version of his autobiography with the actual transcript in italics. Some other archival material is also used.
Early Days and Detroit
In October 1804-being then not quite fifteen years of age - I was appointed to a Ensigncy in The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel The Honourable W. T. Molesworth; and in July 1806, I succeeded to a Lieutenancy.
And so begins Bulger’s autobiography. He was born on 30 Nov. 1789 in Newfoundland, the son of John Bulger, himself a soldier, and Catherine Foran. On 7 June 1803 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry was formed as part of His Majesty’s regiments of the line, i.e. British Regulars. Bulger would have been one of the early recruits and by June 1805, 683 men had enlisted. From the summer of 1805 to 18 Jun 1812 the Regiment did garrison duty in Nova Scotia and Quebec, where it was stationed when the US declared war on Great Britain. There was a shortage of manpower within the British Regular force in Canada at that time as attested to by Bulger:
at that period our troops in Upper Canada scarcely amounted to a thousand men; and we had a frontier of almost as many miles to guard.
The Newfoundland contingent was ordered to form five companies for service as seamen and marines with the naval squadrons on the Great Lakes. In August 1812, Bulger’s detachment was placed in support of General Brock’s force for the capture of Detroit. After the battle Brock commended the Newfoundlanders as follows:
The detachment of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, under command of Major Moakler, is deserving of every praise for their steadiness in the field, as well as embarked in the King’s vessels. (from Colonel Nicholson’s Regimental history, The Fighting Newfoundlander.)
Bulger would have been in no small way part of the reason for this commendation because as he says, I have received a medal and clasp for Detroit. In fact he was awarded the Military General Service Medal for the part he played in the capture of Detroit.
The Military General Service Medal with a clasp for Fort Detroit. The location of Bulger's medal is unknown
Bulger’s account of activities from then to the withdrawal from Fort George follows:
During the remainder of the autumn of 1812, I was employed in command of a detachment, at times in an armed vessel acting against the enemy and at other times in a gun-boat, assisting to protect an exposed line of settlements, near the lake shore. While employed on these services, we had been twice under fire: besides encountering no small risk, in the violent storms, which frequently swept over the lake, especially during the month of November.
Fort George, Stoney Creek, and Chrysler’s Farm
Early in December 1812, upon the formation of winter roads, I was sent (with others) a distance of more than two hundred miles to the Niagara frontier; and, during the ensuing five months, served with the flank-companies of my Regiment upon the duty of guarding one of the weakest points upon our side of the river Niagara: upon the opposite bank of which the Americans were in strong force. For upwards of three months of the winter, we were posted in old, dilapidated farm-buildings. near the river-side, and within eight hundred yards of two heavy batteries of the enemy: from which, however, we experienced but little actual annoyance until towards the spring: when their fire having rendered our quarters untenable, we were ordered into huts, scarcely half-finished, in an adjacent ravine.
The Americans having, on the 20th May received reinforcements in boats from the west, it was then expected that a descent upon our shore would be attempted: in which event, our orders were, to meet the enemy at the water’s edge, while troops from other parts of the line would hasten to our support. We passed the nights of the 20th and 21st May, under arms, in our old stand, on the bank of the river; but, instead of crossing to our shore, the Americans, at day-break on the 22nd, having embarked a large force in boats, dropped silently down the stream. We waited anxiously for orders: upon the receipt of which, in the evening of the 25th May, we marched (in heavy rain) nearly the whole of that night and part of the next day - a distance of about twenty-eight miles - and, on the following morning, the 27th, shared in the action near Fort George, in which, not quite a thousand men of different corps, under the command of Brigadier-General Vincent, were opposed to an American force of fully ten thousand men, supported by a fleet of armed vessels carrying upwards of eighty guns.
At this point Vincent thought discretion the better part of valor and made a strategic withdrawal but not before dismantling the fort, and destroying the stores. He directed the troops to fall back to Burlington Heights.
The following, from Bulger, is part of a dispatch to HQ at Kingston from the Adjutant General regarding the withdrawal. ……Brigadier-General Vincent reports that the movements were ably covered by the companies of the Glengarry Light Infantry, strengthened by a Detachment of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles ….
The US forces seem to have been poorly organized and because of this and poor weather they did not immediately follow up on their success at Fort George. It wasn’t until 5 June that they were within striking distance of the British. The following is Bulger’s account of the battle of Stoney Creek, although he makes no mention of this name. This battle has been said to be the turning point of the war.
Our troops, when ordered to retire, had sustained a severe loss, but, in the course of the next day we received reinforcements, which raised our strength to about one thousand three hundred men. We reached Burlington Heights on the 30th of May, and on the 1st June, it became known that the Americans were advancing from Niagara in three bodies – their main division of three thousand five hundred men, by the centre road a corps of one thousand five hundred riflemen by the mountain on our right - and a considerable force in boats by the lake on our left. In the evening of the 5th of June, the main division of the enemy encamped within seven miles of our position: and, upon the following morning, shortly before daylight, our troops attacked them in their camp.
The affair occupied little more than half an hour, and was attended with complete success. The Americans abandoned their ground, and in the utmostconfusion, ….commenced a rapid retreat..... In the afternoon of the same day, I was ordered to proceed, in command of an escort, for the purpose of conducting American officers– prisoners of war - to Kingston . We were embarked in batteaux, and had to row two hundred miles round Lake Ontario while the enemy’s vessels were continually cruising thereon.
When Bulger reached Kingston with the prisoners he was appointed to the Great Lakes Squadron under Commodore Sir James Yeo as the senior military officer.
On the 1st of November the Americans decided to take a large force from the Eastern end of Lake Ontario down the St Lawrence to attack Montreal. In Bulger’s words,
a division of gun-boats, manned from the Squadron - and partly by its acting marines, with whom I proceeded - under the command of Captain Mulcaster, of the Royal Navy, hastened in pursuit of the enemy, overtook them on the following day, the 2nd of November, at a place where they appeared to have stopped for cooking purposes, cannonaded them for several hours, ……and upon the 11th of the same month, when the enemy, with from four to five thousand men ventured to land upon our shore they were met and signally defeated at “Chrystler’s Farm” by a corps of eight hundred British troops commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison of the 89th Regiment aided and supported by the flotilla of gunboats under Captain Mulcaster. For this affair, of which the result was an entire break up and dispersion of the American invading expedition……I have received a clasp for this action. (It is assumed that the clasp, referring to ‘Chrysler’s Farm’ was attached to the Military General Service Medal previously awarded to Bulger, which already had a clasp for Fort Detroit.)
Towards the end of 1813 and the beginning of 1814 Bulger was placed in command of a military guard of 150 men and 6 officers at the Point Frederick (Kingston) naval establishment. The Regiment had been reduced to less than 200 effective men by this time.
At this time also Bulger felt that he was being passed over for promotion and composed a letter stating as much to the Commander of the Forces and requested Yeo to support him. Yeo’s letter included in Bulger’s Autobiography follows:
Kingston, 1st January 1814.
I have received the enclosed from Lieutenant Bulger, who has evinced a zeal highly creditable to himself and beneficial to the good discipline of his men; and as he is the only officer of the corps embarked, who has made himself conspicuous, I feel the greater pleasure in complying with his wishes in forwarding his memorial to your Excellency.
(Signed) James Lucas Yeo
Commodore and Commander-in- Chief.
His Excellency Sir George Prevost, Bart.
Nothing came of this request and the next event in Bulger’s outstanding career was about to start.
Towards the end of January 1814, an expedition was ordered to be dispatched from Kingston, by a new route, of nearly six hundred miles, to the relief of Michilimackinac, then our only hold on the western lakes, and upon which an attack was expected to be made early in the ensuing spring. The relieving force consisted of ten officers and two hundred picked men, exclusive of twenty artillery-men with a lieutenant and twenty seamen of the Royal Navy. The Commander of the Forces had selected Lieutenant-Colonel M’Douall, of the Glengarry Light Infantry (previously of the 8th or King’s Regiment) to command the expedition, and I was appointed to serve there on as adjutant to that officer. A small party of workmen, including boat-builders,having been sent in advance, we commenced our route in the beginning of February, in severe wintry weather, proceeded two hundred and fifty miles into a wilderness;erected huts in a grove of pine; assisted in opening a road
Unveiling of a plaque at Fort Willow, Ontario. A detachment of Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry re-creators are flanked by the CO, LCol A. Heale, and the RSM, CWO W Allen. More details are seen by clicking Fort Willow Commemoration
through the woods for the conveyance of supplies; and, with timber cut down and prepared upon the spot, aided in the construction of twenty-nine large boats; embarked on the 22nd of April, having previously loaded the flotilla with provisions and stores; descended the Nottawasaga River – the ice in the upper part of which being still firm, we opened a channel through it – encamped on the night of the 24th of April, in a most dismal spot, upon the north-eastern shore of Lake Huron;
Image caption here
and on the following morning, entered upon the attempt to cross the lake covered, as it was as far as the eye could reach, by fields of ice: through which, in almost constant and at times terrific storms, we succeeded, with the loss of only one boat, in effecting a passage a distance of nearly three hundred miles, arriving at Michilimackinac on the 18th of May.
This exploit appears to be modestly understated by Bulger. In contrast, this is what General Prevost wrote about the crossing July 10, 1814: “The difficulties experienced in conducting open and deeply laden batteaux across so great an extent… as Lake Huron… covered by immense fields of ice… and violent gales of wind…could only have been surmounted by the zeal, perseverance and abilities of the officer commanding the expedition. For nineteen days it was nearly one continuous struggle with the elements…”
At this point Bulger’s Autobiography outlines the measures taken at the fort in anticipation of an attack from the Americans. Bulger was appointed Fort Adjutant. On June 28 the Americans appeared off the island in six warships each towing a gunboat.
The enemy’s flotilla, after hovering round the island until the 4th of August, on the morning of that day, anchored within a few yards of the shore, on the north side of the inland, and, after sweeping the landing place by a heavy fire, disembarked a force amounting to upwards of a thousand men with six guns.
McDouall had a force of one hundred and seventy men, artillery with two guns, and three hundred Indian warriors. Bulger doesn’t say how long the battle raged, only that the Americans were repulsed and departed leaving three war schooners to blockade the Island. By this time the garrison on the island was running short on provisions. They were to be resupplied from a Nottawasaga River depot but the Americans had blockaded the area and destroyed the vessel, Nancy, commanded by Lt Miller Worsley, RN, which cut off all communications between York and Michilimackinac. Some sources argue that the Nancy was scuttled by Worsley before escaping capture. Worsley’s party, having escaped inland, managed to deliver some supplies by canoe to Fort Michilimackinac on Aug. 31 (Canadian Encyclopedia). It was during this trip that the vessels Scorpion and Tigress were discovered by Worsley. Bulger continues:
As time passed on, our situation became a most anxious one; and, at length, towards the end of the month, we saw ourselves on the verge of starvation. On the 30th of August, two of the blockading vessels - war schooners of the American Navy - were reported to have anchored in the boat channel one in the lower, and the other in the upper passage, near the island of Saint Joseph’s; and, their exact position having, under cover of the night, been ascertained by Lieutenant Worsley of the Royal Navy, upon the report of that officer, it was resolved to attempt their capture.. Accordingly, in the afternoon of the lst of September - in the short space of an hour - four boats were equipped and manned, one by the naval officer alluded to, with a small party of seamen, and the other by volunteers, from the troops, placed under my command. We rowed with muffled oars, a circuit of nearly forty miles at night, keeping out of sight during the day; and, having carried both the enemy’s vessels, by boarding one on the night of the 3rd, and the other at dawn of day on the 6th of September 1814 had the satisfaction of conveying our prizes to Michilimackinac.
I have received the Naval war medal and one clasp for these captures.
The Naval General Service Medal and clasp which Bulger was awarded
Transcribed from The London Gazette November 19, 1814, p. 2286-7 (5)
Return of Killed and Wounded of the Troops employed in the Capture of the United States Schooners Scorpion and Tigress on the 3d and 6th September 1814.
Royal Artillery - 1 rank and file wounded
Royal Newfoundland Regiment - 1 lieutenant, (illegible)rank and file, wounded. Officer wounded: Lieutenant Bulger, slightly.
N.B. Three seamen killed.
For some reason Bulger makes no mention of his injury.
The capture of the Scorpion and Tigress was cited for many years in the Royal Navy as a classic demonstration of a cutting-out operation using stealth and surprise against superior odds.
Fort McKay (at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin)
Keeping in mind that it has been less than a year since Bulger and company left Kingston he is now challenged with another appointment, that of taking over command of Fort McKay at the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. This is Bugler’s assessment of that appointment.
Extract from Garrison Orders Michilimackinac, 17th October 1814.
Lieutenant Bulger, of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, is appointed to the command of Fort M’Kay, at the Prairie du Chien, with the rank of Captain. This command of course invests Captain Bulger with the exclusive direction of all operations on the Mississippi. (Signed) Rt. M’Douall, Lieutenant Colonel Commanding at Michilimackinac
Bulger set out from Michilimackinac on 29 October 1814 and arrived at Fort McKay on the 30th of November 1814. His party travelled about 500 miles in 32 days with 5 loaded boats across Lake Michigan, up Green Bay and the Fox River, portage to the Wisconsin River and down to Fort McKay at Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River. His description of the journey, in part, follows:
With the exception of a small settlement of Canadians, situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the route from Michilimackinac to the Mississippi a distance of more than five hundred miles was known to be a complete wilderness: to proceed through which, I left the former station, with five deeply-laden boats,on the 29th October 1814. Snow had commenced to fall previous to our departure; and the weather, at night, had become cold. Our tents the best that could be obtained at Michilimackinac were too old and thin to be of much use; and in little more than a fortnight,the winter had regularly set in. ....... The consequence, however, was that, while working for our lives in the ice, we, ourselves, fell short of provisions, and, in the end, had nothing whatever to eat from the morning of the 29th November until we reached Fort M’Kay, after dark, on the 30th of that month-the day upon which I completed my twenty-fifth year.
Bulger spent a difficult winter at Fort McKay. He had to command the militia-like company of Michigan Fencibles; manage the security of the 200 French Canadian inhabitants of the area; and ensure that the Indians in the region maintained allegiance to the British crown. Also, his authority was challenged by the Indian agent and there was unrest in the ranks of the Fencibles. Difficult as it was, he persevered and appreciation for his work is attested to by the following letter:
Fort McKay. 15th January 1815.
We, the inhabitants of the Prairie du Chien, not knowing how to express the sentiments with which we are imbued, humbly request you will accept our acknowledgments and thanks, for the protection afforded by you to His Britannic Majesty’s subjects. Your conduct and activity, in rendering justice in a savage territory, heretofore exposed to so many misfortunes, leads us to hope that we shall in future live peacefully under your government: and permit us at the same time to express our zeal, courage and loyalty towards our sovereign. We beg of you to believe us to be, with profound respect, Sir, your very humble Servants,
Francois Bouthillier Denis Courtois Joseph Rolette You Queri
Antoine Brisbois Francois LaChapelle J. Bts. Faribault Joseph Mercier
Joseph Jourdain Antoine LaChapelle Paul Ducharme and 32 others.
(Bulger Papers p. 52, Wisconsin Historical Collections, Volume XIII (1895)
Peace Treaty and Bulger's Rejection
The first News of the peace settlement signed at Ghent (Belgium) on 24 Dec.1814 reached Bulger at Prairie du Chien from Governor Clark in St. Louis.
on the 16th of April-by a communication from Governor Clark, the American officer in command at St. Louis, addressed “ to the British Officer on the Mississippi” - I was apprized of the re-establishment of peace between Great Britain and the American States. This unexpected announcement being accompanied by a printed copy of the treaty of peace, as published by the American Civil authorities at Washington, … and, before many days had elapsed, an official intimation of the peace reached me, by express, from Michilimackinac.
Michilimackinac 25th April:1815
My Dear Bulger,- I hasten to communicate to you the important news of Peace between our Government & the United States.
Worsley arrived last night in the Scorpion but unfortunately did not bring my dispatches, which were entrusted to the Indians who have not yet arrived. ….
It is interesting to note here also that Worsley is using the Scorpion as transport from Wasaga to Michilimackinac.
On 24 May, after convincing the Indian tribes allied with the British on the upper Mississippi to ratify the treaty, Bulger burned the fort and abandoned the area to the Americans.
Fort McKay being turned over to the Americans in 1815. Bulger is reported to be on the far right, hatless.
The following is part of a letter from Bulger to M’Douall as he was leaving Fort McKay for the last time:
I cannot sufficiently express my approbation of the conduct of all the officers who were under my command. The cordial support which I have received from Captain Anderson, who since Mr. Dickson’s departure from the Mississippi, has conducted the duties of the Indian Department, demands my gratitude: and the uncommon merits, and good conduct of Lieutenant Keating, require that I should recommend him particularly to your notice. The Fort has been destroyed.
I have the honor to be Sir,
Your most obedient and humble servant A. Bulger,
Lieut. R Newfoundland Regt
late Capt. Commanding at Fort McKay
Lt. Col. McDouall
(Wisconsin Historical Collections, Volume XIII (1895)- see link at bottom of this article. In the contents list at the right you will find “The Bulger papers “ Click + for the dropdown and go to Page 151.)
He returned to Michilimackinac, then to Army HQ Quebec.
I proceeded thither traveling in boats and bark-canoes, a distance of at least one thousand four hundred miles.
But at AHQ he met with disappointment.
Upon arriving at Quebec, in the middle of July 1815, I had the mortification of learning that the recommendations of the preceding autumn in my favor, had not been successful.
The following is the letter of Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Drummond to His Royal Highness The Commander-in- Chief recommending the promotion:
Quebec, 9th August 1815. Sir. I have the honor to enclose the memorial of Lieutenant Andrew Bulger, of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles, for promotion. This officer during the last twelve months has been successfully employed under Lieutenant-Colonel M’Douall, in the arduous and insulated command of our remotest possessions in the Indian countries, and was selected by that officer for the command of Fort M’Kay, on the Mississippi, during a period of embarrassing difficulty, and acquitted himself with the greatest zeal and judgment. He was present at the repulse of the enemy in their attack of Michilimackinac, on the 4th August 1814. He commanded a detachment of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, of fifty rank and file, and bore a prominentand conspicuous part in the gallant and judicious attack and capture, by boarding, of the enemy’s two schooners, Tigress and Scorpion, on Lake Huron, whereby the intention of intercepting our supplies and starving the garrison of Michilimackinac into a surrender, was frustrated, and the security of that, then, most important post, fully secured and maintained. Lieutenant Bulger was particularly mentioned on the occasion by Lieutenant- Colonel M’Douall, and in the dispatch of Sir George Prevost, and he was recommended for a company in the New Brunswick Fencibles, or in any regiment in British North America; which recommendation I beg leave to renew, by requesting you will be pleased to submit his memorial to the most favourable consideration of the Commander-in-Chief. I have &c. (Signed) Gordon Drummond Lieutenant-General Commanding Major General Sir Henry Torrens K.C.B
After the war was over and the Regiment was disbanded (June 1816) Bulger was put on half pay as a lieutenant. His disappointment of being turned down for promotion was quite understandable given all that he had done and the hardships he had endured. A number of his senior officers had put him forward for promotion to Captain but for some unknown reason it did not happen. It was not until 1820 and after much persistence that he was finally granted a military allowance equal to the half pay of a captain. At this time his career changed and in the winter of 1821 he was offered a three-year appointment by The Hudson Bay Company as secretary and registrar for the Red River settlement as well as being appointed the Governor of Assiniboia. He is mentioned in the History of the Hudson Bay Company by George Bryce as follows:
On the removal of Governor Macdonell, Captain A. Bulger was, in June, 1822, installed as Governor of Assiniboia. His rule only lasted one year and proved troublous, though he was a high-minded and capable official.
A summation of his final years follows from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography .
Bulger left Red River in August 1823 and returned to England. Although he had made enemies in the colony and was later criticized by HBC governor George Simpson as wasteful and extravagant, he had inspired confidence and loyalty in his councillors and was appreciated by the settlers who credited him with bringing peace and prosperity to the settlement. In the summer of 1825 Bulger sailed for Quebec to become principal and confidential clerk to the military secretary. His health, never again robust, continued to deteriorate. He was none the less conscientious and industrious in the service of Quebec’s various military secretaries. In 1839 he moved with the civil administration to Montreal, where he continued to serve faithfully until his death in March 1858. He would appear to have been survived by his wife, Alicia.
Andrew H. Bulger. (1865). An autobiographical sketch of the services of the late Captain Andrew Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Regiment. Bangalore: printed at the Regimental Press 2nd Battalion 10th Regiment.
Nicholson, C.G. (1964) The Fighting Newfoundlander. Government of Newfoundland
Bryce, G. (1910) The remarkable history of the Hudson’s Bay Company Including that of the French Traders of North-Western Canada and of the North-West, XY, and Astor Fur Companies.. Project Guttenberg eBook, p. 352-3 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44312/44312-h/44312-h.htm