History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 22
A large American Force marched to the Frontiers of Upper and Lower Canada—Movement of the Western Division of the American Army—General Winchester advances to the River Raisin—Colonel Proctor attacks General Winchester in the Village of French Town—Surrender of General Winchester with his whole Force—Affair at Ogdensburgh—Lieutenant Colonel Mc. Donald, of the Glengary Light Infantry, attacks that Post—The garrison completely routed—Review of the Conquest—Remarks.
Before the close of the year 1812, it was manifest from the movements of the American army to the frontiers of Upper and Lower Canada, that on the opening of the campaign of 1813, a descent upon those colonies was menaced in earnest. Measures were therefore immediately adopted by Sir George Prevost, the governor general, for their defence; but the small British force then occupying the Canadas, and the wide extent of frontier the British commander in chief had to defend, rendered it impossible, at any one spot, to cope with the enemy in point of numbers.
The American army, to whom was committed at this time the honor of conquering Canada, was divided into three divisions denominated, from the positions they had taken, the Army of the North, commanded by General Hampton, and stationed along the southern shore of Lake Champlain, on the south precincts of Lower Canada; the second, the Army of the Centre, consisting of seven thousand effective men, which was again subdivided into two, commanded by Generals Dearborn and Wilkinson, were posted from Buffalo, at the Lower extremity of Lake Erie, to Sackett's Harbor at the Lower end of Lake Ontario; and the third; the Army of the West, consisting of "eight thousand effective men*," commanded by Generals Harrison and Winchester, whose limits extended along the south shore of Lake Erie, from Buffalo westwardly as far as the British frontier extended.
The shameful and unlooked for surrender by General Hull of the whole Michigan Territory with all the regular and militia forces under his command, had so completely astounded the American government, that no effort had been made, up to this period, to recover their lost possessions by that surrender. The army under Generals Harrison and Winchester was therefore directed to that enterprise, after which it was to cooperate with the other two armies in the invasion of Canada.
General Winchester, certainly unadvisedly, advanced to the village of French Town on the River Raisin, about eighteen miles from Detroit, and about thirty-four miles from the rapids of the Miami, with the advance of the army consisting of "one thousand effective men," chiefly composed of the Kentucky volunteers. With thisibrott General Winchester meditated an attack upon Detroit, with a view to force a capitulation) as a preliminary to the descent upon Upper Canada.
"Too confident in the fears of the enemy," for his own good, General Winchester very incautiously advanced too far. Colonel Proctor, to whom was committed the command of the British forces on that part of the lines, moved out with a body of regulars and militia consisting of five hundred and forty-seven, including officers and men, and about two hundred Indians, in order to dislodge General Winchester from his position. On the evening of the 21st of January, the enemy was first discovered, with his right wing lodged in the houses in the village, each of which was strongly defended by stockade work, and formed, as it were of itself, a little fort: his left wing had fortified themselves in the rear of a picket fence.
About daylight, on the morning of the 22d, the attack was commenced On the right wing of the American army, and such was the ardor and impetuosity displayed by the British forces employed in the attack, that, in fifteen or twenty minutes from the commencement, that wing was completely dislodged and driven across the river in disorder; but a body of Indians, that had been purposely posted in their rear, intercepted their retreat, and the whole was either killed or taken prisoners. Colonel Proctor followed up the attack upon the left wing; but, as their position was yet more strongly fortified and their strength more easily united, they were enabled to sustain an action of nearly an hour and a half, in which they received three or four successive charges; but finding themselves outflanked, and by their position which, in consequence of the nature of the ground, it was impossible to change, they were in danger of being enfiladed
Terms of capitulation were agreed upon, by which the whole of General Winchester's command that had survived the fury of the battle were surrendered prisoners of war, amounting to upwards of six hundred*. In this sanguinary engagement, the loss of the Americans, in killed and wounded, was nearly five hundred; while that of the British was only twenty-four killed and one hundred and sixty-one wounded.
The next affair in succession occurred at Ogdensburgh, a post on the American side of the River St. Lawrence, on the morning of the 22d February, 1813. The expedition, was undertaken, in pursuance of an order from Sir George Prevost, who had arrived at Prescot the day previous, with a view effectually to stop certain predal inroads of the enemy.
About sunrise on the morning of the 22d, Lieutenant Colonel Mc. Donald, of the Glengary Fencible Light Infantry, with most of the Garrison of Prescot under his command, consisting of about five hundred men, composed of regulars, fencibles and militia, crossed the St. Lawrence, on the ice, which at this place is about a mile and a quarter in width. The British forces, under Lieutenant Colonel Mc. Donald, were divided into two wings, the right of which was commanded by Captain Jenkins of the Glengary Fencibles, and was ordered to attack the enemy's left, and, if necessary, to cut off his retreat. Capt. Jenkins moved on with his detachment to execute the orders he had received; while Lieutenant Colonel Mc. Donald marched forward toward the enemy's batteries in the town. Both wings, but especially that under Captain Jenkins, while crossing the river, were exposed to a galling oblique fire from the American batteries; and the snow being uncommonly deep on the ice, very materially obstructed their passage. The columns, however, advanced in the face of every opposition; and that under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mc. Donald, first gaining the American shore, proceeded to drive the enemy from his strong-holds.
The American troops, who were stationed on the banks to oppose the columns in their approach to the land, fled towards the works in confusion. The left wing then ascended the height, and under a heavy fire of artillery from the fort, drove a column of the enemy's infantry to the woods for shelter. Colonel Mc. Donald then proceeded to the first battery, which he carried at the point of the bayonet. Captain Eustace then, with a detachment of the same wing, made his way into the main fort, in order to follow up the success; when he drove the enemy from the works, who left the fort in the utmost confusion, by an opposite sallyport, in pursuit of their companions, who had previously taken refuge in the woods.
About the same moment that Colonel Mc. Donald's division drove the enemy's infantry towards the fort, Captain Jenkins had made the shore, and with his division was charging a seven gun battery, covered by a body of infantry, two hundred strong, who maintained a galling fire upon him with musketry, while the battery continued to pour upon him the most tremendous showers of grape and canister.
At the very commencement of this charge, the brave Jenkins received a wound with a grape shot in his left arm, which literally shivered it in pieces; still his courage nothing abated, he continued to lead on his gallant followers to the assault, when he received a severe wound in his right arm; yet with the most enthusiastic gallantry did he continue to advance at the head of his little band of Spartans, cheering them forward, until by the loss of blood and the increasing pain of his wounds, he fell in the snow completely exhausted. The command of the right wing then devolved on Lieutenant Mc. Alley, of the same corps, who continued the charge upon the enemy's works; but, for want of discipline, the militia were unable to maintain their order through the snow, and keep up with the more disciplined troops; that division was, therefore, forced for a time to retire without effecting its purpose.
Sir George Prevost, in his despatches to Earl Bathurst, when detailing this affair, dwells emphatically on the gallantry and self devotion to the service of his king and country, of the brave Captain Jenkins, and earnestly recommends him to the peculiar favor and protection of His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent.
In this brilliant enterprise there was captured from the enemy a vast quantity of military and marine stores, together with eleven pieces of ordnance. Two schooners and two or three gun boats which were laid up in the harbor, with the military barracks, were all committed to the flames. About eighty prisoners, four or five of whom were officers, were also taken and marched to Prescot for further disposal.
Much has been said by American writers regarding the conduct of the combined forces at the affair of Frenchtown. They have not even stopped to charge British officers and soldiers with the most enormous cruelties, committed in conjunction with the Indians, when it was in their power to have prevented them. Such have been the contemptible misrepresentations to which many publications, otherwise deserving merit, have descended, as well of this as many other affairs during the war; and even amongst a few British subjects they have gained credence.
General Harrison, however, in writing his despatches to Governor Meigs, as well as several officers of his army who avail themselves of the General's express to write to their friends in Chilicothe, in most of their letters give the details of the battle, but seem to be ignorant as regards the greatest part of that "massacre" as it has been gravely termed. It is gathered from these despatches and letters by a Chilicothe Journal of the 2d February, 1813, that "those who surrendered themselves on the field of battle were taken prisoners by the British, while those who attempted to escape were pursued, tomahawked and scalped." Now, even this account, in part, is incorrect; for the Indians, by whom they were assailed in the rear, were posted there for the express purpose of cutting off their retreat; and those who surrendered to the Indians were safely conducted to the British camp; but such was the panic with which these unfortunate fugitives were seized, that no persuasion on the part of the Indian chiefs, who were fully disposed to comply with the orders of General Proctor, could prevail on them to surrender until they were either wounded and taken, or overtaken in the chase by their pursuers, when no efforts of the chiefs could save them from their fury.
In a letter containing copies of despatches from General Harrison, dated 24th January, 1813, it is stated, "that when the attack commenced. General Winchester ordered a retreat, but, from the utter confusion which prevailed, this could not be effected; and he then told them to take care every man for himself, and attempted to make his own escape on horseback, but was overtaken before he had gone a mile, by the Indians, and killed and scalped. His body was cut up and mangled in a shocking manner, and one of his hands cut off." Now, here is an awful Indian tale, manufactured as many others have been of the like description, which turns out to be a mere fabrication; for when General Winchester found himself pursued in his attempt to escape, he with a few others surrendered themselves to a chief of the Wyandot nation, and not a hair of their heads were hurt, except the injury received from the fright.
It is also stated in the same letter, that Colonels Allen and Lewis were among the slain; in contradiction of which, in General Harrison's letter to Governor Meigs, dated 29th January, it is stated that General Winchester, Colonel Lewis and Brigade Major Gerrard are among the prisoners. The conclusion is plain, that had those deluded people not have been overcome by fear, and surrendered themselves at once, they might have enjoyed the same safety as did General Winchester and his companions.
General Harrison's Letter to Governor Meigs, dated, Head Quarters, North Western Army, Rapids of the Miami, 13th June, 1813.
It may not be improper to remark that the number which General Winchester had under his command, at the River Raisin, is stated in British accounts to be eleven hundred.
A horde of marauders, who for a length of time had made the village of Ogdensburgh their chief place of resort, were in the continual habit, by their nocturnal predatory incursions, of infesting the peaceable and defenceless inhabitants within their reach, residing along the Canadian side of the River St. Lawrence, remotely situated from a military post.