Hunterdon County, New Jersey Volunteers in the War of 1812

NEW JERSEY VOLUNTEERS IN THE WAR OF 1812
by Brian Murphy

During our War of 1812 – 1815 with Great Britain, dozens of Hunterdon County men served in the Fifteenth Regiment of U.S. Infantry. This unit earned an excellent reputation for its contributions to battles along the New York-Canadian border. John Lambert Hoppock, who was born and raised in the vicinity of Lambertville, commanded a company of this unit. Hoppock was the grandson of then U.S. Senator John Lambert who lived on his farm at Mt. Gilboa, just outside of Lambertville.

Shortly after receiving his military commission from Washington around March of 1812, Captain Hoppock began recruiting volunteers for the army. Many of those who enlisted were his friends and neighbors. The recruiting headquarters was located at the “rendezvous” near Coryell’s Ferry and one of the first men to enlist was the captain’s forty one year old uncle, Thomas Dennis.

The U.S. War Department’s primary objective once war was declared in June of 1812 was to invade Canada and drive the British permanently out of North America. Once formed, the Fifteenth Regiment was ordered north. The Hunterdon County soldiers spent their first winter with the regiment at “Camp Saranac” near Lake Champlain and Plattsburgh, New York. On Christmas Day 1812 Corporal Charles Wilson (one of the many Wilson brothers who enlisted) died after suffering from a “tedious sickness.” Three months later Private Andrew Aston’s feet froze on the march to Sackets Harbor and he lost one of his “little toes.”

The Fifteenth Regiment was part of the brigade chosen by New Jersey’s own Zebulon Pike to lead the invasion of York, the tiny capital of Upper Canada. In April 1813, the naval fleet, with 1700 of the army’s best troops onboard, including the volunteers of Hunterdon, sailed west across the Lake Ontario looking for a fight. As the soldiers attempted to land near York, Captain Hoppock was hit in the thigh by a musket ball and was sent back to the fleet. After a couple of hours of hard fighting, General Pike prepared his troops for a final assault on the enemy’s fortifications, but the British troops were in retreat and their commander, General Sheaffe, had ordered the destruction of the gunpowder magazine. The result was an enormous explosion that hurled heavy timbers and large stones far up into the air. These continued to rain down on the men for a couple of terrifying minutes. Two hundred sixty soldiers were either wounded or killed by the blast including General Pike, who was mortally wounded by the falling debris.

Captain Hoppock did not survive his gunshot wound. His body was brought onshore after the battle and was buried under the American flag in Canadian soil. Unfortunately, his final resting is forever lost to history. The capture of York had come at a terrible price. Still, more sacrifice was to come from the Hunterdon volunteers.

Detail of an English Staffordshire pitcher depicting the battle for the bridge at Plattsburgh where Lieutenant Runk was mortally wounded.

Detail of an English Staffordshire pitcher depicting the battle for the bridge at Plattsburgh where Lieutenant Runk was mortally wounded.

On Christmas Eve, 1813 “Uncle” Thomas Dennis died at the army hospital near Albany. The following year Andrew Aston was discharged from the army “due the loss of one foot to frostbite.” Another Hunterdon volunteer who never returned home was Captain Hoppock’s neighbor, Lieutenant George W. Runk of the Sixth Regiment, who died from a wound he received defending the bridge at Plattsburgh in September of 1814. In his book, A History of the English Speaking People’s, Winston Churchill called this battle at Plattsburgh “the most decisive engagement of the war.”

The brave volunteers of Hunterdon had surely suffered more than their share defending the country’s honor. As the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaches, let us revive the memory of our Hunterdon ancestors and honor their sacrifice.

Note: A version of this story appeared in the newspaper the Hunterdon County Democrat.
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