December 13 1812: Theatre of Events Both Strange and New

On December 13, 1812, Cyrenus Chapin writes to Colonel S. Van Rensselaer. "This part of our country," he memorably starts, "seems destined to be the theatre of events both strange and new." He is writing to describe the duel between General Smyth and Moses Porter that took place on December 12. Both men had gone to Grand Island to fight their duel. They exchanged shots at twelve paces apart but both missed. It was noted at the time that the "The expected tragedy proved to be a solemn comedy." More sympathetically, it was not uncommon for men engaged in duels to miss intentionally thus saving their honour and their lives. General Smyth was soon discharged. He is now remembered for his botched invasions of Canada, for being the author of the U.S. army drill manual used during the war - borrowing heavily from French manuals - and for his gasconading proclamations.  

The letter of Cyrenus Chapin is reproduced below:
Buffalo Dec. 13, 1812. 
Dear Sir,  - This part of our country seems destined to be the theatre of events both strange and new. You will hardly believe me when I tell you that our two doughty Generals— Smyth and Porter, got into a boat yesterday with something like 20 men, and, with flying colors went over to Grand Island — burnt a charge of powder at each other, shook hands, and came "bock agen" without staining the ground with even one drop of their precious blood. The challenge was given by Gen. Smyth, who finding that no " ungathered laurels" were to be plucked on the Canadian shore this winter, even condescended to seek them on a little Island, the claim to which is in dispute between the two governments. The combatants were to have met between the hours of eleven and one; but it seems they were not willing or ready to quit this world, until about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when they met. The cause of this truly important and warlike movement, appeared in the Buffalo Gazette of last week; I mean, Porter's letter to the Editors, in which he directly calls Smyth a coward, and indirectly a liar. The conqueror of Canada, at first, took this in high dudgeon; but one shot from his antagonist, that just whistled over his head, completely satisfied him " that Gen. Porter was a man of honor, and had doubtless labored under some mistake, or misrepresentation, when he wrote the offensive paragraph." Captain Fitzgerald, of the 49th Regt. was over on Saturday after Gen. Smyth had taken Canada by his white flag, and told a number of our officers, who were collected round him, that the United States would never conquer Canada until some of their old Generals rose from their graves But when he hears how Gen. Smyth has the courage to be shot at, he will, no doubt, consider the situation of Canada as desperate. I remain dear Sir, Your sincere friend and hble. Servant
Cyrenus Chapin

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