Text provided by Rob Hickson, ISAS archaeologist from Western Illinois Field Station (Jacksonville). Line drawing of button produced by Jada Lutzke from Western Illinois Field Station (Jacksonville).
War of 1812 American Socket Bayonet
This bayonet was found during excavation of a structure at Fort Johnson/Cantonment Davis in Warsaw, in the immediate vicinity of a limestone fireplace. It is a standard United States issue model 1808 bayonet, representing the first regulation U.S. accoutrements of the type that remained in service until 1828. Bayonets were an almost useless piece of required military hardware on the frontier during the War of 1812. They were intended for use in large formations of infantry that delivered disciplined volleys of musket fire followed by a bayonet charge en masse. This type of battle formation was the norm on contemporary European battlefields but was never employed in combat situations in the Illinois Territory. In hand-to-hand combat situations, soldiers on the frontier preferred to use knives and hatchets (tomahawks) or wield their muskets as clubs. More often than not, bayonets were used as camp tools such as tent stakes, roasting spits, or candleholders, so it is not surprising that this was left behind when the time came to vacate Fort Johnson/Cantonment Davis.
104th Regiment of Foot British Buttons
These two British buttons were recovered from the upper deposits of an in-filled structure basin in proximity to an associated limestone fireplace foundation. They are standard British other ranks (not officer) uniform buttons attributable to the104th Regiment of Foot (New Brunswick Regiment). This British Regiment was formed in Canada and placed on the rolls as the 104th Foot in 1810. This regiment participated with distinction in some of the fiercest and bloodiest land actions in the War of 1812 with armed engagement focused on the Niagara Peninsula or frontier, a portion of Southern Ontario, Canada, lying between the south shore of Lake Ontario and the north shore of Lake Erie just across the northern border of western New York. This theater of operation is approximately 780 miles (1255 km) east of the Fort Johnson/Cantonment Davis frontier.
With no documented contact with regular (uniformed) British forces at Fort Johnson or Cantonment Davis, the New Brunswick buttons presence in the recovered artifact assemblage posed a real mystery. A small bit of detective work discovered a possible explanation. Interestingly, the sutler [a civilian merchant that travels to remote military outposts and sells provisions to an army in the field], John Cleves Symmes, came in contact with the 104th at the siege of Fort Erie in Ontario, Canada. A partial biographical sketch shows that at age 22 John Cleves Symmes Jr. (1780–1829) pursued a career in the military and was commissioned as an ensign (an officer rank directly below second lieutenant)0 in the 1st Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army on March 26, 1802. Several promotions through the years led to his appointment as senior regimental captain on January 20, 1813. Symmes was stationed at military posts in Arkansas and Missouri (near the mouth of the Missouri River), and when the 1st Infantry Regiment was deployed to the Niagara frontier, he became engaged in direct combat. After his discharge in 1815, he served as sutler at several Mississippi River posts for three years, including Cantonment Davis.
Seldom are artifacts recovered that can be tied to a specific person, but the evidence points to sutler Symmes as the probable source of the two British buttons at Cantonment Davis in Warsaw. Symmes is the only documented entity relative to this military outpost that had direct contact with the British 104th Regiment of Foot. The buttons are likely mementos of battle collected while he was in combat service at the battle of Lundy’s Lane or the siege of Fort Erie, where heroic actions are attributed to him.