History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 15
An attack upon the Post of Queenston by a Part of General Van Rensellaer's Army, under the command of General Wadsworth—General Brock killed—Colonel Mc. Donald mortally wounded—Dies of his Wounds—Arrival of a small Reinforcement headed by General Sheaffe who now assumes the Command—Renewal of the Conflict—Communication opened with Chippawa—Victory declares herself on the side of the British—Cowardly conduct of the United States Militia—Surrender of General Wadsworth with all the Forces under his Command—Cannonading between Forts George and Niagara—Assembling of another American Force.
However complete might have been the victory at Detroit to the British arms, yet glories of a much more brilliant cast awaited them in the defence of their country.
Dispirited at such a total failure in General Hull's expedition, it became late in the season before the American government could collect a force on the frontiers, with which, with any safety, another descent upon Canada could be made. At length, Major General Van Rensellaer, of the New-York militia, with a force of four thousand men under his command, (fifteen hundred of whom were regular troops,) established his camp at Lewiston, on the Niagara River, nearly half way between Lake Ontario and the Falls.
Before daylight, on the morning of the 13th October, a large division of General Van Rensellaer's army, under Brigadier General Wadsworth, effected a landing at the lower end of the village of Queenston, (opposite to Lewiston,) and made an attack upon the position which was defended with the most determined bravery, by the two flank companies of the 49th Regiment commanded by Captains Dennis and Williams, aided by such of the militia forces and Indians as could be collected in the vicinity. Major General Brock, on receiving intelligence, immediately proceeded to that post, from Fort George, and arrived at the crisis when the handful of British regulars and militia was compelled to retire for a time before an overwhelming force of the enemy. However, on the appearance of their gallant chief, the troops were seized with a fresh animation, and were led on by that brave general to a renewed exertion to maintain the post; but just at the moment of charging the enemy's position, within pistol shot of his line, and while his ranks wavered with hesitation, General Brock was killed by a musket ball, and with him the position was for a short time lost. Colonel Mc. Donald, His provincial aid de camp, was mortally wounded about the same time, who afterwards died of his wounds.
A reinforcement of the 41st Regiment, commanded by Captain Derenzy, with a few of the Lincoln Militia and a party of Indians were immediately marched from Fort George to the succor of the troops at Queenston, under the direction of Major General Sheaffe who now assumed the command; and persons who were, both by their situations in life and by their advanced age, exempt from serving in the militia, made common cause; they seized their arms and flew to the field of action.*
The conflict was again renewed, and from the advantageous position taken up by Major Norton, the Indian chief, with his warriors on the woody brow of the high grounds, a communication was opened with Chippawa, from whence captain Bullock, of the 41st Regt. with a detachment of that corps, was enabled to march for Queenston, and was joined on the way by parties of the Militia who were repairing from all quarters, with all the enthusiasm imaginable, to the field of battle. The fight was maintained, upon both sides, with courage truly heroic. The British regulars and militia charged in rapid succession, against a force in number far exceeding their own, until they succeeded in turning the left flank of their column, which rested on the summit of the hill—the event of the day no longer appeared doubtful.
Major General Van Rensellear, commanding the American army, perceiving his reinforcements embarking very slowly, recrossed the river to accelerate their movements; but, to his utter astonishment, he found that at the very moment when their services were most required, the ardor of the unengaged troops had entirely subsided. General Van Rensellaer rode in all directions through his camp, urging his men by every consideration to pass over. Lieutenant Colonel Bloome, who had been wounded in the action and recrossed the river, together with Judge Peck who happened to be in Lewiston at the time, mounted their horses and rode through the camp, exhorting the companies to proceed, but all in vain.* Crowds of the United States militia remained on the American bank of the river, to which they had not been marched in any order but run as a mob: not one of them would cross. They had seen the wounded recrossing; they had seen the Indians; and were panic struck. There were wretches to be found in the American ranks, who, at this critical juncture, could talk of the Constitution, and the right of the militia to refuse crossing the imaginary line which separates the two countries.*
No sooner had the British forces succeeded in turning the left flank of the enemy than he visibly began to give way; one grand effort was therefore made upon the crest of his position, in which the heights were carried at the point of the bayonet.
General Van Rensellaer, having found that it was impossible to urge a man to cross the river to reinforce the army on the heights, and that army having nearly expended its ammunition, boats were immediately sent to cover their retreat; but a desultory fire, which was maintained upon the ferry from a battery on the bank at the lower end of Queenston, completely dispersed the boats, and many of the boatmen relanded and fled in dismay. Brigadier General Wadsworth was therefore compelled, after a vigorous conflict had been maintained for some time upon both sides, to surrender himself and all his officers with nine hundred men, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, to a force by far inferior to his in numbers, which circumstance speaks loudly in favor of the plan of attack adopted by Major General Sheaffe.
Soon after Major General Brock's arrival at Queenston, in the morning, he had sent down an order to Fort George, for cannonading the American fort, Niagara; the operations of which were so ably directed by Colonel Claus and Brigade Major Evans, who were left in command of Fort George and the adjacent batteries, as completely to silence the American guns, and to force the garrison to abandon it and take shelter in places of more safety; by which means much mischief was prevented to Fort George and Newark, as the enemy had been throwing heated shot into those places.
The loss of the British anny, in this battle, did not exceed one hundred men, including killed, wounded and missing—while that on the side of the Americans, including deserters, was not less than two thousand: but amongst the killed, the British government and the country had to deplore the loss of one of their bravest and most zealous generals, in Sir Isaac Brock, and one whose memory will long live in the warmest affections of every British subject in Canada.||
Nothing could possibly excel the heroic bravery manifested on both sides, during this sanguinary contest Colonel Van Rensellaer, aid de camp to the general of that name, who led the van of the invading army, displayed much real courage in the gallant and intrepid manner in which he formed the division under his command, on the margin of the river, and led them on to the attack. He even, after receiving four wounds, continued to issue his orders.
Captain Wool, an officer only twenty-six years of age likewise displayed great courage and self-devotedness to his country's service.
The names also of Brigadier General Wadsworth, Colonel Scott, Lieutenant Colonels Christie and Fenwick, and Captain Gibson with several others of an inferior rank, are honorably spoken of in General Van Rensellaer's communications to General Dearborn on the subject.
On the morning subsequent to the battle of Queenston, General Sheaffe entered into an armistice with the American general commanding at Lewiston, to be confined to that part of the frontier comprised between lakes Ontario and Erie, subject to a condition that forty-eight hours notice should be given by either party for a recommencement of hostilities. This arrangement was at first censured, by individuals unaware of the motives by which General Sheaffe was actuated; it was not, in the flush of victory, taken into consideration, that the number of American prisoners then in his charge far exceeded the numerical strength of his army, when the Indian force was withdrawn; and that with his very limited means of defence, he had a frontier of forty miles to protect.
The Americans, after recovering in some measure from the disastrous defeat with which they had met at the heights of Queenston, commenced the most vigorous and gigantic preparations for assembling another army, at Buffalo, for a second descent upon the Niagara frontier, under the command of General Smyth; and if numbers constitute force, they had succeeded beyond their most sanguine hopes.
With an army, the least account of which, in any of the American reports, was eight thousand strong—with fifteen pieces of field ordnance—a populous and fertile country in his rear, and the facility afforded him by good roads to draw the supplies for his army, and to bring into the field a formidable artillery—General Smyth was enabled to come well prepared for the enterprise in which he had engaged; and so sanguine was he of the successful result of his expedition, that he vauntingly promised, on the 10th of the month, "that in a few days the troops under his command would plant the American standard in Canada;" and in pursuance of which, he issued an order to the commandant of Fort Niagara, to save the buildings of Fort George and the adjacent town of Newark, as they would be required for winter quarters for the "Army of the Centre."
Such formidable preparations were not unnoticed by the vigilance of General Sheaffe and the efficient officers under his command; but successfully to repel such terrific odds was conceived to be, at least, very doubtful; for, up to the period at which the American general had violated the terms of the armistice, not a single British soldier had arrived to reinforce the army; and, after the conflict at Queenston, the militia, which constituted the majority of the British force, had been permitted to return home to secure the remainder o their harvest.
However, on the first alarm being given of the hostile movements of this American army, those sufficiently harassed but loyal militiamen promptly returned to their posts, fully determined to dispute every inch of ground while a man was left to defend it.
The flaming proclamations of General Smyth—the extended columns of cavalry and infantry, and the immense park of artillery with which he was enabled to line the American shore—and the continued marching and countermarching of countless battalions—attended with all the pomp of war and parade of martial bombast which the prolific mind of General Smyth was capable of calling into contribution, for the purpose of intimidation—were lost upon men so firmly attached to their king and devoted to the service of their country.
*Judge Clench of Niagara, an old half pay officer from His Majesty's service, who had, for some cause or other, some time previous, retired from the command of the 1st Lincoln Militia, in company with a few others equally exempt from service, with a truly patriotic zeal, followed their beloved general from Fort George to Queenston, and ranged themselves in the ranks as volunteers, to drive the enemy from their shore.
*Major Geaneral Van Rensellear's letter to Major General H. Dearborn, dated "Head Quarters, Lewiston, 14th Oct. 1812."
American Report of the Battle of Queenston.
*American Report of the Battle of Queenston.
Great praise is bestowed on Lieutenant Kerr of the Glengary Fensible Light Infantry, in General Sheaffe's Report, for his intelligence and active services while employed in communications with the Indian warriors and other flanking parties during this conflict.
Amongst the officers mentioned in the Report of General Sheaffe, as having particularly signalized themselves, appear the names of the following of the militia forces, for the gallant and steady manner they led the troops under their command into action, and, with that unparalleled bravery peculiar to British troops, for a length of time sustained the conflict with an overwhelming enemy—viz. Lieutenant Colonels Butler and Clark, Captains Hatt, Durand, Rowe, Applegarth, Jas. Crooks, Cooper, Robert Hamilton, Mc. Ewen, and Duncan Cameron; and Lieut. Thomas Butler, commanding a flank company of Lincoln Militia, and Lieutenant Richardson, commanding a flank company of York Militia; Captain A. Hamilton is likewise highly spoken of, for his usefulness and activity at the guns under Captain Holcroft, to whose company he attached himself, after being disabled from accompanying his troop in the Niagara Dragoons, to which he then belonged.
The guns in Fort George were under the immediate direction of Captains Powell and Cameron of the Militia Artillery, during the 13th.
||Such was the high esteem in which the character of General Brock was held even with the enemy that, during the movement of the funeral procession of that brave man, from Queenston to Fort George, a distance of seven miles, minute guns were fired at every American post on that part of the lines; and even the appearance of hostilities was suspended.