Daniel Appling is known as Georgia’s most prominent soldier in the War of 1812. His reputation stemmed from an action at the Battle of Sandy Creek on Lake Ontario in upstate New York in 1814. There, Appling’s command of around 130 riflemen and a similar number of Oneida Indians effectively ambushed and prevented a force of approximately 200 British marines from seizing naval stores and guns that the American navy was moving by boat to the Sackets Harbor shipyard. He later distinguished himself in the battle for Plattsburgh, New York.
Appling, the son of Rebecca and John Appling, was born in Columbia County, Georgia, on or around August 25, 1787. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1808 at the age of twenty-one. During the War of 1812 Captain Appling was a member of Colonel John Williams’s 1813 expedition to Florida to assist in the seizure of St. Augustine before the British could occupy the territory.
Following a brief posting to Amelia Island, Florida, Appling was promoted to major in April 1814. Assigned to Sackets Harbor, New York, the largest U.S. naval base on the Great Lakes, Appling was given command of a rifle battalion. By early May 1814, the Royal Navy was blockading the harbors at Oswego and Sackets Harbor in New York, preventing the safe passage of munitions and supplies to outfit and finish construction of three American warships. Hence on the evening of May 28, 1814, Appling and a force of riflemen and Oneida Indians escorted nineteen bateaux (barges) laden with cannon and naval stores from Oswego Falls, sixty miles upriver, around the British blockade to Sackets Harbor. About noon on Sunday, May 29, within sixteen miles of Sackets Harbor, the boats pulled into Sandy Creek. Appling reported one boat missing from the flotilla.
Learning of the American convoy, British commodore Sir James Yeo sent several gunboats, with approximately 200 marines on board, in pursuit. Warned by a communique from Commodore Isaac Chauncey at Sackets Harbor of the British pursuit, Appling deployed and concealed his men in the wood line along the banks of the creek, a short distance from the cargo-laden barges. At about 10 a.m. on May 30, a force of Royal Marines landed and began making their way up the shoreline. It was then that Appling ordered his force to open fire. The clash lasted approximately ten minutes. Ultimately, Appling is said to have killed 14 sailors and marines, wounded 30, and taken 143 prisoners. One American was killed. The naval guns and stores reached Sackets Harbor without further incident, and the British blockade was withdrawn. For his actions Appling was brevetted lieutenant colonel.
In September, Appling and 110 riflemen, along with the New York cavalry, successfully fought delaying actions against a British force of more than 8,000 men advancing toward Plattsburgh. He was brevetted a colonel for the operations there. Appling resigned from the army in June 1816 and returned to Georgia. The Georgia General Assembly voted Colonel Appling a ceremonial sword, but before it could be presented, he died at Fort Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1817. The sword was placed in the care of the State Executive Department in Milledgeville and in 1883 was transferred to the Georgia Historical Society, from whose collection it has disappeared.
Appling County was named in his honor, as was the county seat, Appling, of Columbia County.