Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (27 & 28 September 2016)

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Date of Auction: 27th & 28th September 2016

Sold for £42,000

Estimate: £20,000 - £30,000

The important Field Officer’s Gold Medal for ‘Fort Detroit’ awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel Peter La Touche “Little Otter” Chambers, C.B., 41st Regiment, who shared command of the regiment at the capture of Fort Detroit in August 1812; taken prisoner in a desperate last stand against General Harrison’s American cavalry in October 1813, Chambers endured a lengthy period of imprisonment in cells occupied by ‘condemned murderers, forgers and coiners’ and lost the sight of one eye; he afterwards distinguished himself in command of the 41st during the Burma campaign of 1824-25 and was speared in the mouth by a Burmese at Rangoon in May 1824

Field Officer’s Gold Medal 1808-14, for Detroit (Captn. P. Latouche Chambers 41st Regt.) complete with gold ribbon buckle, suspension post re-fixed and lunettes sometime replaced, some edge bruising, otherwise very fine and extremely rare, probably the only Gold Medal for a North American action available to collectors £20000-30000

Footnote

Sold with a small archive of original documentation, including a hand-written letter confirming the registration of the marriage of ‘Lieutenant Peter L. Chambers and Ann Warburton’ in the Parish Register of St George’s Church, Kingston, Canada, dated 24 March 1814; a letter to his daughter Emily following the action at Rangoon, describing the battle and with news of his gradual recovery, dated at Rangoon 22 June 1824; another letter to Emily from India, dated 26 February 1827, shortly before he was stricken with cholera; a hand-written copy of extracts from the Despatches of Sir Archibald Campbell for the First Burma War actions between June 1824 and December 1825; a number of pages from the recipient’s Journal of the Burmese War; together with a large quantity of more recent research and typescripts.

Peter La Touche Chambers was born on 29 December 1786, probably in County Waterford, and was commissioned Ensign in the 41st Foot on 16 June 1803, at the age of 16 years. He joined the regiment in Canada and spent the next nine years serving with detachments around the country, being promoted to Lieutenant in April 1806 and to Captain in May 1808.

The capture of Fort Detroit

In the summer of 1812 following the outbreak of hostilities with the United States, the 41st constituted the backbone of the forces available to Major-General Isaac Brock, commanding British Forces in Upper Canada, defending some 600 miles of frontier. In June the tobacco-chewing Brigadier-General William Hull of Michegan advanced with an invasion force on Fort Detroit, situated on the Detroit River, and opposite the British garrisons of Sandwich and Amherstburg. Finding Detroit short of all supplies except whisky and soap, Hull crossed the river and entered Sandwich unopposed but then wavered. Instead of advancing on the British garrison at Amherstburg he decided to withdraw to Detroit, repair his supply lines and await the arrival of reinforcements before proceeding any further. By this time the formidable Brock was hastening to the scene of the incursion, and shortly before midnight on 13 August he reached Amherstburg. Next day he inspected the small number of troops at his immediate disposal, these being 300 men of the 41st at Fort Malden, 400 Canadian Militia and fluctuating number of ‘lurking red men’ under the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in irregular support. That same day Captains Peter Chambers and J. Tallon of the 41st were ‘appointed to the rank of Major’ for the duration, and the troops divided into three ‘Brigades’, one of which was placed under Chambers.

Brock then warned Hull that he could not be held responsible for the actions of the Indians attached to his force if it came to a fight and advised him to surrender. But Hull, with a numerically superior force and 26 large cannon and copious amounts of ammunition, refused. Accordingly, on the night of the 15th, Brock sent Tecumseh across the river with a file of 600 Indians to cover the main crossing by the 41st and Militia at 6 o’clock the next morning. With the flanks covered by the American Indians and the fire from the guns of H.M. Ships
Queen Charlotte and General Hunter on the river, ‘the force advanced with double distance between the sub-units’ so as to give the impression of larger numbers. Then the supporting British five-gun battery at Sandwich, which had been firing ineffectually, suddenly found range and sent an 18-pounder shell hurtling through an embrasure into the American Officers’ Mess killing four men. This, with numbers of American Militia falling back into the fort in the face of the British advance, proved too much for Hull who at once showed a white flag, and shortly agreed to the British terms of surrender as the Union Jack was hoisted over Fort Detroit. The American Militia were stripped of their arms and set loose to find their way home while Hull and his 582 regulars were shipped to Canada pending future exchange.

‘Little Otter’

During his service in North America Chambers took a great deal of interest in the local Indians who, under Tecumseh, gave the 41st constant support for over a year. They in turn evidently thought highly of Chambers for they named him ‘Little Otter’, recognised him as a Chief and accepted him as an adopted son of the Delewar Nation.

Fort Meigs and Battle Honour ‘Miami’

In early 1813 Chambers distinguished himself during General Proctor’s attempt to take Fort Meigs on the Miami River. Meigs was held by 1300 Americans under General William Harrison (later ninth U.S. President) who was expecting reinforcements of an equal number under General Clay. Proctor, with a force of 1,000 men (41st, Militia and Tecumseh’s Indians), and with Chambers acting as D.A.Q.M.G., left Amherstburg and having reached the Miami River in April, established two batteries on the north bank which proved ineffectual. The construction of another battery was ordered on the south bank but while this was underway 800 Americans took possession of the batteries on the north bank which had been left unguarded. Three companies of the 41st, together with some Indians, were ordered to counter-attack. Major Adam Muir, 41st, attacked the enemy’s left and centre, while Chambers commanded the right of the assault on the batteries themselves: ‘On approaching the battery, Major Chambers threw away his sword and picked up a musket and equipment of a man who had just been killed. He called out indignantly to the men following him “Who’ll follow me and take the battery?” Two Subalterns, Sergeant-Major Keynes and a dozen men, all of the 41st, followed... opened fire. The Sergeant-Major and several men were soon wounded but the party pressed on and entered the battery with the bayonet.’ A total of 450 prisoners were taken, and Chambers’ Regiment was subsequently authorised to bear the Battle Honour ‘MIAMI’ on its colours.

Chambers taken prisoner

Owing to the arrival of American reinforcements, harsh climatic conditions and the prevalence of ‘ague, dysentery and fever’, Proctor was forced to raise the siege of Fort Meigs and a painful withdrawal to the north ensued, culminating five months later, on 5 October 1813, in a last desperate stand a couple of miles outside Moravian Town against General Harrison’s cavalry. Tecumseh and his staunchest braves were killed; 28 British officers and 606 men were killed or taken prisoner. Chambers survived and was marched back with the ragged remains of his regiment in drenching rain to Fort Detroit, which had been recovered by the Americans earlier in the year, and was subsequently imprisoned at Frankfort, Kentucky, with his brother officers in cells occupied by ‘common criminals’, identified by one authority as ‘condemned murderers, forgers, coiners and other offenders which need not be mentioned on these pages’. Hearing of this treatment, the men, who were in a camp outside the town, concocted a plan to escape but were discovered and their luckless officers were handcuffed as a further punishment.

In early 1815 Chambers, having ‘lost the sight of one eye’ and having been promoted Major by Brevet on 23 February, was finally released with the other prisoners on the termination of the War and on 24 June sailed from Quebec for Spithead. No sooner had he arrived than the regiment was ordered to Paris for service with the Army of Occupation until November 1815. He was subsequently awarded a pension of £200 per annum in compensation for his impaired sight occasioned in America in 1813, to date from 25 December 1814.

The Burma Campaign of 1824-25

After eight years home service Chambers embarked with the 41st for the East and was next present in the opening engagements of the First Burmese War, landing at Rangoon on 11 May 1824. On 10 June he was severely wounded in the face at the storming of the Lesser Stockade at Kemmedine, and twelve days later described the affair in a letter to one of his daughters at Madras: ‘When I wrote to your dear Mother I was labouring under much pain from my wounds, but as I am now much better I can give you a more detailed account of the occurrences of that day... I was ordered to bring up some 18-pounder guns... [and] after a heavy fire on the enemy’s fort I was ordered to storm the breach with whilst in the act of encouraging the men a Burmese soldier speared me in the mouth. It must have been a desperate weapon as it made five wounds in my mouth and cheek... it had torn the gum from my front teeth and at one point separated my upper lip and entered just under my nose. The man who wounded me was shot immediately by one of my men and there were a great number of enemy put to death...’

Attacked with dysentery and rheumatism, Chambers was invalided to Madras but, ignoring medical advice, resumed command of the 41st in October 1825, and on 1 December was present with Sir Archibald Campbell’s force before Prome: General Campbell ‘took my glass,’ wrote Chambers in his personal account of the 1825 Campaign, ‘and... said “Well Chambers what say you? Shall we dash ‘em?” “With all me heart, General” Chambers replied. ‘I then brought up the Regiment and never was a more brilliant dash made... At length we got in and then the Burmese crowded so close together that they impeded each other. The bayonet was used with murderous effect and some hundreds of the enemy were killed in the stockades... never was there a more complete rout...’

Companion of the Bath and command of his Regiment

On his return from Burma Chambers was created a Companion of the Bath and ‘specially selected’ by the Commander-in-Chief in India for promotion to the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of H.M’s 87th Regiment on 12 April 1826, but exchanged back into the 41st as soon as the command of his old regiment became available on 5 April 1827. It was not, however, a distinction that he was able to enjoy for long. Just four months later he and his wife were struck down with cholera at Bangapilly, Mysore: ‘Ah what a scene,’ he wrote to his eldest daughter, Emily, four days before the end, ‘your poor Mother is on the point of death. I am attacked with the same disease but perhaps Almighty God will spare me. If not be a good sister to poor Matilda and a Mother to Selina, to you I bequeath them as the last gift of a father who adored you. God bless you...’ Peter La Touche Chambers died on Thursday 29 August 1827, his wife predeceasing him by a few hours.