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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 16

Chapter XVI.

The American Forces, assembled on the Niagara River, placed under the Command of General Smyth—Ano­ther Invasion of Canada—The Invaders completely repelled—Indignant Feelings of the American Troops at the Conduct of General Smyth—Second Attempt of General Smyth to invade Canada—Complete Failure in that Attempt—The American Army retires to Win­ter Quarters—Geographical Description of the Country in the Vicinity of Niagara and Queenston—Remarks on the Conclusion of the first Year's Campaign—Effect the Result of the First military Operations had on the public Mind in America—Proposals of Mr. Madison for Terms of Pacification—Rejection of those Terms.

The American army lay in camp along the lines, until the latter part of the month, daily gathering fresh accessions of strength. During the 25th and 26th, the movements of General Smyth appeared to menace an immediate invasion.

On the morning of the 27th, at daybreak, agreeably to an order of General Sheaffe, issued the previous eve­ning, the guns of Fort George with those of the batteries in the vicinity, simultaneously opened a fire on Fort Niagara, which was continued throughout the day; and, according to the American official accounts, with consi­derable execution.

On the night of the 28th, a strong corps of the ene­my under Colonel Boerstler and Captain King, aided by a party of seamen, crossed the river about two miles below Fort Erie, apparently for the purpose of siezing the batteries, preparatory to the movement of the main body of General Smyth's force. The batteries were covered by detachments from the 49th Regiment, commanded by Lieutenants Bartley and Lamont, who defended their posts with the accustomed bravery of the corps to which they belonged; but the overwhelming force of the enemy obliged them to retire.

In this contest, Lieutenant Lamont was severely wounded, having received not less than twenty-one buck-shot in different parts of his body, and the detach­ment under his command literally "cut to pieces." Lieutenant Bartley, after making a circuitous retreat by the edge of the woods, joined Captain Whelan of the Newfoundland Fencibles, who, with his own company and three companies of the 3d Regiment of Lincoln Militia, was repairing in double quick time to the relief of the forces defending the batteries. The enemy had, by this time, gained possession of the works.

The enemy was again assailed, an escaldade was effected, and the batteries re-taken at the point of the bayonet. A most desperate resistance was made by the enemy, but without effect. Captain King, of the Ameri­can forces, a brave and meritorious officer, and about thirty-eight non-commissioned officers and rank and file, were made prisoners of war. Colonel Boerstler re­crossed the river; and from the number of killed and wounded of the Americans strewed over the ground on which the conflict was maintained, it was evident they had suffered very severely.

Upon hearing the fire of the contending parties, Colonel Bishop, who commanded at Chippawa, immedi­ately ordered the militia under Lieutenant Colonel Clark and Major Hatt towards the scene of action. Major Ormsby, too, commandant of Fort Erie, marched with a part of his command, consisting of a detachment of the 49th Regiment, to the succor of the troops engaged; but these detachments only arrived in time to witness the gallant conduct of their brethren in arms, who had effectually repelled the invaders from the shores of their country.

By the united exertions of Captain Kirby of the Mi­litia Artillery, and Bombardier Jackson of the Royal Artillery, with the men under their command, the guns, which the enemy had dismounted on leaving the bat­teries, were replaced on their carriages and brought to bear upon the retreating boats with much effect.

General Smyth was condemned and ridiculed by peo­ple of all ranks and conditions in the United States, for his pusillanimous conduct in the management of this expedition; and in order, in some measure, to wipe off the stain which justly adhered to his character, he pro­mised to make a more effectual attempt; but scarcely did even this promise suffice to suppress the indignant feelings which his conduct had already excited in the minds of the officers and men of his army.

In pursuance of General Smyth's promise, the army under his command was collected at Black Rock, for the purpose of making another attempt upon Canada, on the morning of the 1st December, at three o'clock; and at half past four o'clock, the troops and ordnance were all embarked and in readiness to proceed to the opposite side of the river.

General P. B. Porter had, pursuant to General Smyth's orders, placed himself in a boat, accompanied by Major Chapin with a few other officers and about twenty-five Buffalo volunteers, at the right of the first line which extended nearly half a mile, to lead the van of the en­terprise. But "at daylight," says General Porter in his expose of that affair to the public, "we discovered the troops disembarking, and were informed that the invasion of Canada had been abandoned for this season, and that the troops were ordered to winter quarters. A scene of confusion ensued which is difficult to describe: About four thousand men, without order or restraint, discharging their muskets in every direction."

After such a base betrayal of the trust leposed in General Smyth by his government, a flag of truce ar­rived from that general to Colonel Bishop, who had taken command of the troops in the neighborhood of Fort Erie, for the surrender of the fort and troops under his command. "Let your general come and take the fort and troops," was the reply of that officer; but General Smyth did not apparently covet another rencon­tre; his troops therefore disappeared, and he retired from the service.

The British forces engaged in this affair received tha unqualified approbation of the commander in chief. Indeed, when it is considered that Colonel Bishop, with a handful of regulars and militia, successfully repulsed such a formidable invasion, language seems barren to mete their praise.

Thus terminated the campaigns of 1812 on the Cana­dian frontiers. The affairs on the Lakes were not attended with any thing of sufficient importance to claim a notice in general history. The American army under General Dearborn, which was intended to make an attack upon Lower Canada, had lain comparatively dormant, suffering the season to glide past without scarcely being heard of, until the winter began to set in, when it removed into quarters more suitable to that season of the year.

The disappointments and defeats of Generals Hull, Wadsworth and Smyth were sufficient lessons, however, to admonish the American government, that the fidelity of His Majesty's Canadian subjects towards the British government and constitution, was founded upon too solid a basis to be shook by any effort in the power of that government to make

For the benefit of the distant reader, it might not be improper to close the account of this campaign with a geographical description of the theatre of military ope­rations, that a more correct idea may be formed of the manœuvring of the armies, and of the strength of the positions for which they had to contend.

Queenston is a neat little town about seven miles be­low the Falls of Niagara, at the head of the navigable waters of that strait. It is overlooked by a steep hill, called Queenston Heights, probably more than three hundred feet above the level of the river—the position for which the conflict with General Wadsworth's division was maintained. Queenston is the place of depot for all public stores and merchandise which are brought to that place from Kingston and Lower Canada. Public stores for forts Erie and Malden, and merchandize for all the country above, as well as the returns of furs and produce by that route downwards, are all stored for a time at Queenston. They are transported over the car­rying place by wagons, a distance of nine miles, to and from Chippawa above the falls. Queenston is an excel­lent harbor—deep water and good anchorage—the banks on both sides are elevated, and the landscape probably amongst the most splendid and sublime in the world.

Newark is on the same side of the the river with Queenston, close to where the Niagara river empties into Lake Ontario. Upon the evacuation of the western posts by the British, Fort Niagara, on the opposite side of the river to Newark, was surrendered to the United States. The site for this fort was selected in 1751, by the French, and was considered as the key to the inland country. In its best state it was, however, only a ram­part of earth, scarped with a stockade, and a spacious barrack within the works. The encroachment of the waters threatens to undermine it; but a work has been erected, of the same materials with Niagara, called Fort George, on the British side of the river, on a position which seems, by being more elevated, to command the position of Fort Niagara; but the works on both sides nave been suffered to fall into a state of dilapidation, especially that of Fort George. The point blanc distance of the two works is very little over a mile; and about three quarters of a mile, of a beautiful plain, separates Fort George and Newark.

The war, by this time, had become very unpopular throughout the United States; and the people, becoming every day more and more discouraged from the frequent disasters which befel their armies, and which every day's report was sounding in their ears, seemed to betray a strong anxiety that matters should be adjusted between the British government and that country, upon any sort of reasonable terms; but this Mr. Madison and his sa­tellites prevented by offering the most ridiculous and absurd terms of arrangement, on the least approaches to na amicable understanding that would show itself upon either side.

The President proposed an armistice, on condition that the Orders in Council should be immediately re­scinded and that the system of blockade should not be revived—and that all American seamen, on board of British shipping, should be forthwith discharged, without any condition or limitation as to how they might have become American citizens—and that a stop should be put to searching American vessels for British seamen. Thus did the American ruler demand that all advantages should preponderate on his side. The unconditional repeal of the Orders in Council did he require—the immediate discharge of every man, in the British navy, who had ever obtained a certificate of American citizen­ship, (and the most scrupulous honesty was not at all times observed either in giving or receiving those certi­ficates,) and that the system of blockade should not be revived. And what was to be the return for which the British government should make all these concessions? Verily Mr. Madison would suspend, for a time, (that is, during his sovereign pleasure,) the operations of his mighty means of warfare against Great Britain. To concede to such propositions was not consistent with the honor of a great and mighty nation like Great Bri­tain: they were therefore rejected. The President, in a subsequent message to Congress, complained loudly of the conduct of the British government, in rejecting every proposal for a pacific arrangement which had yet been offered; and he even indulged in a series of the grossest misrepresentations. He reiterated his old assertion, that the Indians in the service of the British government had been guilty of the most unheard-of atrocities towards such of the American people as had fallen into their hands as prisoners of war; and contrasted the conduct of the British with the pacific disposition evinced by the people of the United States, who, he stated, were only anxious to promote civilization among the Indian tribes. But probably the best evidence, as regards the humanity of the British and Indians in this respect, may be found in the despatches of General Brock to Sir George Prevost, dated Head Quarters, Detroit, 17th August, 1812. "Many of the Indian nations," says he, "when this contest commenced, were engaged in active warfare with the United States, notwithstanding the constant endeavors of this government to dissuade them from it. Some of the principal chiefs happened to be at Amberstburg, trying to procure a supply of arms and ammunition, which for years had been withheld, agreeably to the instructions received from Sir James Craig, and since repeated by your Excellency.

"From that moment they took a most active part, and appeared foremost on every occasion. They were led yesterday by Colonel Elliot and Captain Mc. Kee, and nothing could exceed their order and steadiness. A few prisoners were taken by them during the advance, whom they treated with every humanity; and it affords me much pleasure in assuring your Excellency, that such was their forbearance and attention to what was required of them, that the enemy sustained no other loss in men than what was occasioned by the fire of our batteries."

Now Niagara.

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.