History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 25
Expedition formed at Kingston against Sackett's Harbor—Failure of that Expedition—Affairs in the Neighborhood of Detroit—General Proctor marches a Force against Fort Meigs—Arrival of General Clay with a Reinforcement for the Army under General Harrison—An Attack upon the British Batteries—The British, in turn, attack the American Position—The Americans suffer a total Defeat—Loss sustained on both Sides—General Proctor returns to Detroit.
During the operations on the Niagara frontier, an expedition was fitted out at Kingston for a descent upon Sackett's Harbor, under a mutual arrangement between Sir George Prevost the commander in chief and Sir James Lucas Yeo the British commodore.
On the 28th of May, the expedition was ready for sailing. It consisted of thirty-three gun boats, each carrying a proportion of troops, accompanied by the commodore's flag-ship About ten o'clock that night, they weighed anchor and stood for the American side of the lake. On their appearance before Sackett's Harbor, the alarm was instantly given; and the regulars and militia, posted in the neighborhood, hurried to the relief of the troops left by General Dearborn for the defence of the place.
Colonel Baynes, who commanded the British troops on this expedition, lost no time in effecting a landing, though in the face of a large body of American militia under Colonel Mills, posted on the beach for the purpose of opposing their debarkation. No sooner had the British troops formed on the beach and thrown in a volley upon the enemy, than they fled in confusion. The grenadiers of the 100th Regiment formed the British advance-guard, who gallantly drove the enemy from every post of which they had taken possession.
General Brown, of the United States militia, having collected a large force, hurried to Sackett's Harbor where he assumed the command of the whole; and, advancing, attacked the rear of the British, while they were assailed in front by the batteries, which completely disconcerted the movements of the troops for a moment.
Colonel Baynes perceiving from the immense force which was now opposed to him, that it would be impossible to attain the primary object of the expedition, it was therefore deemed advisable to abandon the enterprise; the troops were accordingly re-embarked, after having sustained a loss of two hundred and fifty-nine in killed, wounded and missing, while that of the enemy must have been double that number.
Had the object for which this expedition was planned succeeded, namely, the capture of the town and arsenal, the American loss would have been immense, as this was the grand depot for the whole naval and military stores for the service of the lakes and the Army of the Centre as well as the militia in that vicinity. Already had the enemy burnt a quantity of the stores, with an intention no doubt of evacuating the place, when General Brown arrived with a large reinforcement which immediately arrested the current of victory.
The movements in the neighborhood of Amherstburg and the Michigan and Ohio frontiers, are next in succession for consideration. After the signal defeat of General Winchester at the River Raisin, General Harrison took up a position with the whole remaining force, consisting of two thousand, five hundred men, at Fort Meigs, a post on the left bamk of Maumee river, there in await the arrival of reinforcements to enable him, with effect, to attack forts Detroit and Amherstburg. The American commander had employed every means which art could suggest, in order to strengthen Fort Meigs: he had so completely entrenched himself as to bid defiance to an assault by any British force which could in that quarter be brought against him.
About the 20th of April, 1813, General Proctor collected a force of about nine hundred and thirty men including four hundred and sixty of the militia, besides twelve hundred Indians, at Detroit, and embarked them on board a flotilla of gun boats and batteaux, whence they proceeded across the lake to the mouth of Maumee River which they ascended about twelve miles, and landed at Fort Meigs, the position of General Harrison. Here the construction of batteries was immediately commenced; but owing to the torrents of rain which continued to fall during the whole period the batteries were being erected, rendered it impossible to complete them before the first of May; on the morning of which a regular siege was commenced upon the enemy's fort, but without making the least apparent impression.
A detachment consisting of the flank companies with a field-piece was then selected to cross the river with a view to enfilade the enemy's position, while an incessant fire was maintained by the artillery upon both sides until the morning of the 5th, when an officer arrived at Fort Meigs with a small detachment from General Clay's division, bearing intelligence that that general was now only a few miles distant, on his way to reinforce the garrison of Fort Meigs with his whole division consisting of thirteen hundred men. On this information. General Harrison immediately despatched an express to General Clay, with orders that he should land the troops under his command on the right bank of the river, with a view to penetrate and destroy the British batteries and spike the guns. At the time General Clay was met by the courier from General Harrison, he was only a short distance from Fort Meigs: he immediately passed to the opposite side of the river, and after examining the banks for some distance downwards, found a convenient place to disembark. After landing, the troops were formed into two columns, the command of the front of which was confided to Colonel Dudley, which was intended for the attack. In this order they advanced so rapidly on the British batteries, and had so completely eluded the view of the sentinels, that within a few minutes, and without the loss of a single man on their part, they had executed General Harrison's orders, and taken a few prisoners.
At the moment that Colonel Dudley commenced the assault upon the British batteries, General Harrison made a sortie with his whole force upon the flank companies; but their defence was so determined, that he was completely foiled in every assault. The British reserve troops were immediately rallied, amounting to about two hundred including regulars and militia, the most of the latter being employed by the commissariat, collecting supplies for the troops. This small detachment, under the gallant Captain Muir of the 41st Regiment, advanced upon the enemy who was strongly posted in line in rear of the British batteries, with his right resting on the river, his centre extending through a clear space, while his left was lost to view in the adjoining woods.
So soon as Captain Muir advanced within view of the enemy's line; he formed line within the verge of the woods, with files a little extended, and in this position threw in a well directed volley upon the enemy's right. The enemy immediately returned the fire; after which, for some time, an incessant fire was maintained upon both sides with great effect. It was evident, however, that the British, whose number was originally small, was fast decreasing, when the brave and intrepid Captain Chambers of the 41st Regiment, who had previously equipped himself with the arms and accoutrements of an unfortunate soldier of his own regiment, who had already fallen in the field, exclaimed, "This will not do—we must charge them."
The order to charge was instantly communicated along the line, when immediately the little band, chiefly composed of the 41st Regiment supported by a few militiamen, emerged from the woods, with the gallant and fearless Muir at their head, and his brave coadjutor Chambers on the left, (at once performing the duty of a soldier in the double capacity of an officer and private,) and rushed upon the right of the enemy's column. This movement was as gallant as it was prompt and decisive, and entirely confirmed the fortunate issue of that brilliant achievement: the enemy hesitated, wavered, and at length gave way; the panic was immediately imparted throughout their whole line, when they turned in confusion and retreated towards their boats, spreading terror in their flight; but the Indians, who all this time had remained silent spectators of this sanguinary struggle, watching for a favorable moment to commence the work of death, intercepted their retreat; and, before they could reach their boats, upwards of six hundred and fifty of them were killed.
The enemy's loss, in this affair, in killed, wounded and prisoners, was no less than eleven hundred and forty-five. Among the killed was the American Colonel Dudley, a brave, intrepid and magnanimous officer. The British lost, in the action of the 6th, fourteen killed and forty-seven wounded. Of this loss the 41st Regiment alone had eleven killed and thirty-nine wounded.
After the action, General Proctor was informed by the Indian chiefs, that it was impossible to restrain their warriors from their ancient and established custom of returning home to their villages, after a battle of any consequence, (as was the action just fought,) to enjoy themselves in a revelry in the plunder they had acquired; he was, therefore, on the 9th of the month, compelled to embark his guns and stores, under the fire of the enemy's batteries, and henceforth abandon the enterprise.