The Surrender of Detroit: Annals of the War
The Surrender of Detroit
The August sun makes double fringe of the pickets on the wall,1
As the bugle wakes reprisal, in every sergeants call:
There is zeal in every movement, save in the general's eye,
As company stands to company, their colonel's word to obey;
For well they know the Britisher has brought his lines in sight,2
To invest Detroit, should he win the day, after an open fight.
And all the while from Sandwich come encroaching peals of wrath,
Making target in their hardihood, of the general's failing faith;
For had he not foresight betrayed, when he let Fort Malden 'scape,3
With Maguaga's battle won and lost4 from counsel gone agape?
Where is the olive branch he brought?5 Withered and trampled down!
Should prudence rank as cowardice? Is there fear in caution's frown?
'Twas thus within his marquee, the invader pondered fate,
When the summons came from General Brock, involving short debate;
While conned he still the lesson of the soldier's woes and pains,
That were his of late as he led his men, through the forest's friendless lands6—
Yea, still are pressing round him sore, in his game of do or die,
With the foe near by impatient to fight, where'er the chances lie.
"Alas the task! Is duty distrust? Is the choice of the right accurst?
The saving of life! The enhancing of pride! Which of these is it ours to choose first?
When the news spread afar of Mackinaw's fate, the tribes of the north broke away
To join with the tribes of the south—east and wets—their compact with us to betray;
And this call for surrender, rejected, will loosen the passions of hell:
While, conceded, the pride of our nation will reel, as if some one had sounded its knell.
"'The forces I have at my command,' this Britisher says in his pride,
'Demand your instant surrender, howe'er your nation may chide!'
And his attitude stands as an omen that mine will be the blame,
When the Indians break from their bridle, beyond all counsel to tame!
O God, what answer is mine to make? Must I humble myself to the dust?
Giving the lie to a nation's pride, betraying a nation's trust?
"My army counts only a thousand or two,7 courageously trained to face death;
While the trenches vibrate with the helpless, afraid of the redman's breath;
The trails are pregnant with ambush, the tomahawk threatens each glade;
While our enemies fight for their hearths and homes, inflamed beyond being afraied.
What strategy is there in parley, to save us from instant disgrace?
Is this campaign all of a roisteri mistake, that courage can hardly efface?"
Thus pondering, the general sits waiting the truce-flag the British have sent,
Till his wavering seized with a spasm, he proceeds to the door of his tent:
"Tell your master," he said to the ensign, "that, army to army, I await
The contest out in the open, his message there to debate:
Perchance he may learn from the issue thereof, with victory coming our way,
That the fate of Fort Malden is yet in our hands, as a staying to British sway."
And when the general's staff had heard, they heard it with delight:
From never a soldier on duty escaped a sound of affright:
And the bravest of all the subalterns was speeding it soon to Spring Wells,
Returning hot haste to the general's tent, wherein these tidings he tells:—
"The English are marching to Sandwich, their gun-boats lie close to the shore:
With a twenty-four pounder handled well, we can make them their rashness deplore.
"Yes, their musterings advance on the yonder bank, one can see them all in their red,
With their general leading the vanguard's ranks, one can see the flash of his blade;
And all we need is a battery near, armed with the heaviest gun,
To forbit approach to the Spring Wells strand, with their plans for a landing undone."
But the wavering Hull was gloom-struck again, and waved the subaltern aside:
"There is no gun to spare, nor would it be wise!" was the tell-tale in what he replied.
And when a further appeal was made for a hundred men or more,
To spike the guns on the Sandwich side, that were vexing the townsfolk sore,
Hull muttered again, "'Twere well to delay," as he passed from within to the court,
Giving orders to urge concentration, from the outworks into the fort—
With his colonels sorely disheartened and the men they had under command—
Militia and regulars and sutlers, a sad disconcerted band.
And still the guns kept bellowing, from the Sandwich side of the stream,
With alarm and death in their passion-play, enough to make patience blaspheme:
Within, there was anguish from waiting; without, there was hailing of men,
Still plying the general for orders, as they ward off the ominous strain.
What outlook is still in the reckoning? Will he hold us in agony long?
Was there ever such lingering in action, with the weak defying the strong?
At length, near the line of the casemates, disaster tears loose in its rage,8
Swooping down on the officers' quarters, as if mocking the general's gage—
Strewing its chambers with corpses, amid the wrath of despair:
O Fate, what a wringing of purpose there is in the rampage of war?
What say you? The general is waiting still! Waiting for what so long?
Waiting to nullify action, till the weak make a sport of the strong?
Far other was it with General Brock, when once he had sailed from York,
With Niagara's frontier well in hand, and its Loyalists leal at work:
There was rallying round his standard, whatever the rough array,
As he made for Burlington Heights beyond, to muster around the Bay—
As he marched across to Point-aux-Pins to re-embark his men,
For the seat of war at Amherstburg, where Proctor for weeks had been.
The August wind is winged full strong and the waves are running high,
As they sailalong the unsheltered shore, under a rain-swept sky—
Three hundred men as true as steel, two hundred miles to steer—
Four days and nights in the open, as their boats swing to and veer;
And all the while the intrepid Brock, with courage in his eye,
Keeps his courage lit within their breasts, as a gage of loyalty.