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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 23

Chapter XXIII.

Invasion of York, Upper Canada—Fall of the Redoubts defending the Harbor and Citadel—Explosion of a Magazine within the Citadel—General Pike dangerously wounded by the Fall of the Timbers, &c.—Retreat of General Sheaffe and the Surrender of the Town—Loss of the two Armies—Invasion of the Niagara Frontier—A vigorous Defence made by the Regulars and Militia employed in the Defence of that Post—The British compelled to retreat—The American Army moves on Burlington Heights—The American Army attacked, under Night, in their Camp at Stony Creek—Defeat of the American Army—American Force retreats to Fort George—British Forces, under General Vincent, follow the Enemy—Affair at the Beaver Dams.

In the month of April, 1813, the ice having completely broken up in the port of Sackett's Harbor, where the American squadron under Commodore Chauncey had wintered, General Dearborn, commanding the right di­vision of the Army of the Centre, consisting of four thousand men stationed in that vicinity, selected two thousand of the most efficient of his division*, and on the 22d of the month embarked them on board the fleet with which he ascended the lake, and with this force appeared off the harbor of York, the capital of Upper Canada, on the morning of the 27th.

The enemy appearing to threaten an attack upon the town, General Sheaffe collected his forces which consist­ed of about seven hundred men, including regulars and militia, with about one hundred Indians; and with these he made a most determined resistance to the landing of the enemy; but at length, overcome by numbers, he was compelled to retire; by which means the enemy was enabled to effect his landing a short distance above the fort, which was situated about two miles to the west­ward of the town, at the entrance of the harbor.

So soon as the American troops, who were led on by General Pike, had made good their landing, they formed into two lines, (the front of which was commanded personally by General Pike, and the rear or reserve line by Colonel Pearce,) and in this order advanced upon the first battery and carried it by assault; they then advanced towards the citadel in the same order, and by the same means captured an intervening battery.

Here the columns halted, in order to dress the lines for an attack upon the main works, At this moment a large magazine accidentally exploded, by which a quantity of stones and timbers were thrown into the air, and in their fall killed and wounded a number on both sides, amongst whom was the American General Pike.

The British regulars and militia, highly appreciating the charge committed to them by their king and country, in the defence of the capital, performed prodigies of valor; but being overpowered by a force nearly three times their number and in a high state of discipline||, they were compelled to retreat towards the town.

General Sheaffe then held a council with his principal officers and the civil authorities of the town, by whom it was advised that he should retreat towards Kingston with the remainder of His Majesty's troops; and that the commandant of militia should treat with the Ameri­can commander for terms for the surrender of York.

At the capture of York, the British lost not less than four hundred, three hundred of whom were made pri­soners of war, and about forty killed and wounded by the explosion. The Americans lost three hundred and seventy-eight, thirty-eight of whom were killed and two.hundred and twenty-two wounded by that explosion of the magazine. General Pike died of his contusions a few minutes after being carried on board one of the vessels.

On the 8th of May, the American army under Gene­ral Dearborn once more evacuated York, from whence they proceeded again to Sackett's Harbor, where prepa­rations were immediately made for invading the Niagara frontier. The necessary preparations being completed, the American fleet, on the 23d of the same month, again ascended Lake Ontario, and on the morning of the 27th, appeared off the harbor of Newark.

The morning proved very favorable to the invaders, as a dense fog had settled on the river and the margin of the lake for nearly half a mile out; and consequently they were not perceived until the flotilla of boats bear­ing the troops of the enemy were within a few rods of the shore. The boats employed in the transportation of the enemy from the right bank of the river, fell down the river under cover of the fog, until they joined those disembarking from the fleet, where the whole landed on the beach, on the right side of the entrance of the harbor.

So soon as the enemy's fleet made its appearance be­fore the harbor, the garrison was placed in the best possible posture of defence; and a vigorous stand was made by General Vincent to the landing of their troops; but being overpowered by the numerical strength of the assailants, it was found necessary to spike the guns, destroy the magazines, and retire as well from the main fort as from the outworks, though not until a loss had been sustained on the part of the British of nearly three hundred and fifty including regulars and militia.

It was evident from the conduct of the Canadian mi­litia at the captures of York and Fort George, that they were fast attaining to a high state of military discipline. The marked coolness and fearless intrepidity with which the York and Lincoln militia resisted the approach of the enemy towards their shores, would have reflected honor on a band of veterans long accustomed to "the din of arms."

The Americans moved forward in three strong brigades, under Generals Chandler, Winder, and Boyd, with an advance of light troops and riflemen, under Colonels Scott and Forsyth, the whole commanded by General Lewis the next in command to General Dearborn, whose low state of health at this time compelled him to keep his bed, from whence he issued all his orders. The loss of the Americans, according to their own account, at the action before Fort George, was not less than two hundred.

General Vincent continued his retreat as far as Bur­lington Heights, near the head waters of Lake Ontario; and, on the 1st day of June, was followed by an Ameri­can army of three thousand five hundred infantry and about three hundred cavalry, commanded by Generals Chandler and Winder, for the purpose, as was vainly boasted, of making prisoners of the whole British army, and Thus terminate the contest of the north-western frontier.

On the evening of the 5th, the enemy's forces encamp­ed near the village of Stony Creek, about nine miles from the British cantonments, with full purpose to close up with the British next day and attack their position. But General Vincent, who had taken every pains to ascertain the strength of the force with which he was menaced, despatched Colonel Harvey with two compa­nies of light infantry, to reconnoitre their camp; and from the report of that officer. General Vincent was re­solved to attack them that very night.

All the troops, both regulars and militia, that could possibly be spared from the garrison at Burlington Heights, together with those who had retreated from Fort George, amounting in all to about seven hundred, were ordered to be in readiness for a movement. Im­mediately after dark, they commenced an advance towards Stony Creek, where, after several halts, in order to reconnoitre the country through which they were marching, they arrived between one and two o'clock of the morning of the 6th of June. Immediately the quarter guard of the enemy was surprised and taken, and the assailants rushed into the camp where all was in apparent security. But such a scene of carnage com­menced—the huzzas of the besiegers, the yells of the Indians led on by Captain Brant, the clashing of bayo­nets and above all the thunder of the cannon and musketry, rendered it truly appalling. A column of the enemy was at length formed into some kind of order, but to no purpose; they were by this time completely unnerved and dispirited, which, together with the dark­ness of the night and the clouds of smoke, threw them into the greatest confusion and disorder. Not so, how­ever, with the British troops, their plans had been so well concerted that every man knew the rallying signal; they were, therefore, at all times beyond surprise. The American army, being completely discomfited, retreated from their bivouac in the greatest confusion.

As soon as General Vincent had completed the defeat of the enemy, he again fell back upon Burlington Heights, taking as trophies of his victory three field pieces and a brass field howitzer, captured from the enemy, besides both their generals and about one hun­dred and fifty officers, sergeants and rank and file.

After the defeat at Stony Creek, the American army, in the most indescribable terror, retreated towards Fort George, without the least military order or subor­dination: in fact, such officers as could avail themselves of horses on the road, regardless of the means employed for that purpose, took them and made their way to the lines with all possible speed, and left the rest of the army to shift for themselves; they therefore retreated in small detached parties, some of whom had exonerated themselves of their arms and equipments. Thus did they travel towards their head quarters in parties of from two or three to a dozen; and were, in compassion for their sufferings, succored by those very people whose houses, a day or two previous, they had ransacked and plundered.

A short time afterwards, General Vincent, receiving some reinforcements, marched towards Fort George with a view to invest that post. He formed his line on the Four Mile Creek, with his left resting on the lake.

General Lewis, who now had the full command of the American army, (General Dearborn having resigned,) finding his advanced posts and foraging parties continu­ally harassed and frequently made prisoners by small detachments of British troops stationed at different posts through the country in order to maintain a communica­tion that supplies might be received in the camp, despatched Colonel Boerstler with about six or seven hundred men to disperse these small camps so annoying to his army The American Colonel was however attacked by a body of Indian warriors headed by Captain Brant, supported by a piquet of nearly one hundred men, near the village of Beaver Dams; and such was the terror of Colonel Boerstler and those under his command, that he surrendered himself and his whole force to Colonel Bishop.

*American History of the War, published in New-York.

||The American troops had been preparing for this expedition the whole winter, and no pains had been spared in their discipline.

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