Cyril Call in the War of 1812
Written by Adam Call Roberts, a 5th-great-grandson of Cyril Call, in 2012, the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812.
Cyril Call was born on June 29, 1785 in Woodstock, Vermont, to Joseph Call and Mary Sanderson. His father was a traveling Baptist preacher, who owned a farm in Woodstock. Joseph had fought for the Vermont Militia throughout the early years of the Revolutionary War, and was at the famous Battle of Saratoga in 1777.
In 1806, Cyril married Sarah “Sally” Tiffany, in the nearby town of Cambridge. Sally’s father, Christopher, was a German who had been hired to fight with the British against the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Despite the hostility that Americans felt against the “Hessians,” Christopher married an American, Rebecca Ellis, who was descended from Mayflower pilgrims. They were among the earliest settlers of Cambridge, and helped build the town’s first church.
The Calls must have been full of anxiety as news of more conflict between the United States and Great Britain poured into their small town. Cambridge is only 30 miles south of Canada, and they were virtually living on enemy lines.
The cause of these hostilities was the British practice of “impressment.” British ships were capturing American sailors at ports and essentially drafting them into the British Navy. The most famous episode was the “Chesapeake Affair,” which came in 1807, a year after Cyril and Sally’s marriage. A British ship fired on an American ship, in order to arrest three American citizens who had escaped from their impressment.
President Thomas Jefferson and his successor, James Madison, sought economic solutions, but popular opinion in the U.S. favored war against Britain, especially after rumors that Britain had been provoking Native American tribes to attack Americans. And, of course, the possibility that the United States could gain territory it conquered from Canada was just one more reason to support a war.
Call signed up on July 15, 1812, in Captain Roswell Wilson’s Company, organized in the 4th Regiment, under Colonel William Williams. During the War of 1812, men could enlist in the state militia for a set period of time, usually 6 months to a year. They would usually join a local company, headed by a captain that the men would elect. This system, also present during the Revolutionary War, allowed men to defend their homeland without becoming professional soldiers.
Captain Wilson’s Company was stationed at Swanton Falls, by the Maquam Bay of Lake Champlain, 10 miles south of British territory. President Madison had passed the Enemy Trade Act that month, which forbade American citizens from supplying Canadians with goods. Some New Englanders flaunted the Act, and declared their allegiance with Britain. Call and his fellow soldiers were charged with closing that part of the lake off to smugglers. Some of those smugglers would take the land route nearby, driving cattle into Canada and bringing goods back out. The company served until December 8th, when they were mustered out.
Cyril returned home to his farm, his wife and his three young sons. Harvey was 4 years old, Anson was two and Salmon Call was still an infant, having been born less than two weeks after Cyril left for Swanton Falls. Sadly, Salmon died the following year. The couple would have no more children until the war was over.
In 1813, the United States started a campaign to invade Canada, in the area north of New York and Vermont. After a few early battles, they set up camp near Lake Champlain and waited for reinforcements.
On September 25, 1813, Cyril Call enlisted in the militia once again, for a period of three months. Joseph Sawyer was a drummer in Cyril’s company in 1812, and both men joined again under the command of Captain Roswell Wilson.
Wilson’s Artillery Company was organized in a regiment commanded by a Colonel Dickinson or Dixon, commanded by Brigadier General Elias Fassett. The company started in Cambridge, and rendezvoused at Burlington. Colonel Clark’s Rifle Regiment journeyed with Wilson’s Company.
This “St. Lawrence Campaign” ended in disaster for the United States. The Battle of Chateauguay on October 26 and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm on November 11 were overwhelming Canadian victories that convinced the Americans to abandon their plans.
We don’t know if Cyril’s regiment took part in either of these battles. Joseph Sawyer’s pension says the company went north to Odelton, which is in Quebec, near the American border.
In the Spring of 1814, the British defeated Napoleon in Europe, freeing up experienced troops to North America. The British in the Atlantic captured and burned Washington, D.C. in August, while troops sent to the north prepared for an invasion of Lake Champlain.
More than 10,000 British troops amassed in Canada. On August 31, Lieutenant-General Sir George Prévost sent ships south down the lake, and marched troops on the western bank, on the New York side.
The Americans built forts and defenses at the town of Plattsburgh, about 35 miles south of the border. The 3,000 people who lived in the town fled, worried it could be destroyed like Washington had been.
Cyril enlisted in a company and elected Josiah Grout as captain. They crossed the lake a few days before battle, probably on Wednesday. The American forts were on the west bank of the Cumberland River and the south bank of the Saranac River, using the river as a defense.
The British build their own defenses on the north bank of the river. The two sides had minor skirmishes during the week, but the British waited. Their plan was to destroy the American ships in a naval battle, and then send their land troops south in a parallel invasion.
On Sunday, September 11, between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., the British ships rounded Cumberland Head, and the naval battle began. Cyril Call would have been able to see the action from the forts. Each side had more than a dozen ships, firing canons at each other.
At 10:00 a.m., the British land invasion began. The troops were some of the finest in the world, having defeated Napoleon’s French army. The Americans held their ground as the British advanced, hoping to rely on their strong defenses.
But by 11:00 a.m., the American navy gained the upper hand. Despite coming under heavy fire themselves, the Americans blasted the British ships and put them out of commission. American soldiers on land watched as the British ships lowered their flags, surrendering to the United States.
That gave the Americans the signal to attack, and the British the signal to flee. Captain Grout’s company, of which Cyril was a member, overtook a British company, killing several men, including the British captain. They took the rest as prisoners and marched them into camp.*
The Battle of Plattsburgh was a great victory for the United States. It had ruined British plans for seizing American territory during the war. It helped lead to the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war on December 24, 1814.
* (It seems most likely that this capture took place after the naval battle, at the time described in this narrative. But it is possible that it was one of a few minor skirmishes the militia was involved in in the days before the main battle. My sources are unclear; hopefully future discovery of primary sources can help settle the question)
A few years after the war, Cyril and Sarah moved their family with Cyril’s father’s family to Northeastern Ohio, where Cyril became a schoolteacher. In 1831, he and his wife joined the Church of Christ headed by Joseph Smith, and followed the Mormons through the country and eventually to Utah in 1850.
Sarah passed away on March 15, 1856, in Bountiful, Utah. She was buried in Bountiful Memorial Park. Cyril later died on May 22, 1873, also in Bountiful, after a lingering illness. He was buried alongside his wife.
The couple had 13 children together. His son, Anson Call, kept a journal, which tells of his exploits in the Nauvoo Legion, a paramilitary group of Mormons in Illinois, and of his participation in the Utah War and the Walker War. Another son, Josiah Howe Call, also fought in the Walker War, and was killed by Native Americans in Utah in 1858.
 Ancestry.com, Vermont Men in the Revolutionary War (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003.Original data – Goodrich, John E., ed.. The State of Vermont. Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War 1775 to 1783. Rutland, VT, USA: Tuttle, 1904.Original data: Goodrich, John E), Ancestry.com, http://www.Ancestry.com, Rolls of Men > 29.
 War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, compiled ca. 1871 – ca. 1900, documenting the period 1812 – ca. 1900; Call, Cyril, National Archives record Group S.C. 10459; National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
 War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, compiled ca. 1871 – ca. 1900, documenting the period 1812 – ca. 1900; Sawyer, Joseph, National Archives; National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. http://www.werelate.org/wiki/Person:Joseph_Sawyer_(3)#_ref-N3_0
 Abby Maria Hemenway, Transc. Karima Allison, The Vermont Historical Gazetteer: A Magazine Embracing A History of Each Town, Civil, Ecclesiastical, Biographical and Military (1871; Electronic Transcription, : Gateway to Vermont, 2004); Vo. II, p. 165 – 190. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~vermont/FranklinFairfax_2.html
 Almira Larkin White, Genealogy of the Descendants of John White of Wenham and Lancaster, Massachusetts, 1638- (1900; pdf, : Archive.org, 2008); p. 429; Archive.org, http://www.archive.org.
 Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868 (http://lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanylist-information/1,16281,4117-1-2144,00.html, LDS Church History), Warren Foote Company (1850).