History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 27
An American Army under General Wilkinson, intended to invade Montreal, assembles at Grenadier Island— Movement of that Army down the River St. Lawrence—Engagement at Crysler's Farm—The Enemy driven off the Field—An American Army, under General Hampton, enters Lower Canada at the Chateaugay River—General Hampton's Army driven back to the United States Territory—The United States Forces retire to winter Quarters—Colonel Murray, with a small Force, advances on Fort George—General Mc. Clure burns the Town of Newark and evacuates that Post—Capture of Fort Niagara by a British Force under Colonel Murray—Capture of Lewiston—Capture of Buffalo and Black Rock—Conflagration of the American Frontier on the Niagara River—Overtures of Mediation offered by the Russian Emperor—British and American Ministers treat at Gottenburg,
In the month of October, that portion of the American army stationed on the Niagara frontier was ordered to Sackett's Harbor; at which place, a short time afterwards, General Harrison arrived with such part of his army as was not required for the defence of the western frontier.
The enemy endeavored, by several false movements, to impose a belief on the British generals, that the intention of this force collecting at Sackett's Harbor, was a descent upon Kingston. However, their movements were so closely watched, that every information necessary was acquired in due time to ascertain the future disposition of this truly redoubtable host. After General Wilkinson had collected all his forces at Grenadier's Island, (between Kingston and Sackett's Harbor,) they were embarked on board the flotilla to descend the River St Lawrence. On the 6th of November they arrived at Williamsburg, where the stores and munitions of war of this invincible armada, together with all the troops, were disembarked on the Canadian side of the river, with a view to pass the British posts at Prescot and its vicinity in the night, undiscovered; but in this particular they were egregieusly deceived. A force, though small compared with that of the enemy, had been held in readiness at Kingston to follow the movements of the American army, under the command of Colonel Morrison, consisting of the skeletons of the 49th and 89th Regiments and three companies of the Canadian Voltigeurs with a few militia—in all, amounting to nearly eight hundred men, with a few gun boats to hover on the rear of the enemy's flotilla.
As the enemy came up with the Fort of Prescot, fully persuaded that all within was perfectly quiet, they were assailed upon both elements by such a fire of musketry and battery guns as at first quite disconcerted their advance.
After the enemy had passed Prescot, they continued their advance a few miles further down the river, where, in the morning, as they were preparing the flotilla to move on towards the rapids of the Long Soult, Colonel Morrison with his detachment came up with them. The American General Boyd was ordered to form his division consisting of nearly four thousand men. They were drawn up in three columns, (one of which was composed of cavalry,) under Generals Covington, Swartwout and Coles. Colonel Morrison, on account of the superior strength of the enemy, was compelled for a length of time to act altogether on the defensive. The enemy, by repeated charging with his cavalry on the left of the British line, attempted to turn that flank; but the moment Colonel Morrison perceived the manœuvre, he prepared the 49th in conjunction with the 89th to form an echelon, while the Voltigeurs and militia, under Lieutenant Colonel Pearson, were employed to flank the enemy's infantry. The enemy, perceiving the British column performing the field movements in double quick time, supposed the troops to be leaving the field, and in exultation gave a cheer; but before they arrived on the ground occupied by the British, a crest was presented, to penetrate which they had neither courage nor discipline sufficient to attempt; and the heavy oblique fire maintained by the echelon forced them to retire in confusion at every effort they made.
After the repeated and unsuccessful charges of the enemy's cavalry, the infantry was then ordered to advance, who charged with as little success as the cavalry; and in the last of those sallies of the infantry, the 89th, under Captain Barnes, captured a gun from the assailants. Colonel Morrison now closed his column with the enemy, who maintained a heavy fire in order to check his advance; but the cool, steady and determined front with which the British column advanced by platoons, who together with the artillery kept up such a tremendous and destructive fire that the enemy was driven from his position in dismay, and compelled to seek refuge in their boats.
Lieutenant Colonel Pearson with the three companies of Voltigeurs and militia at this moment routed the enemy's light troops which had been formed to cover his retreat; after which the British troops occupied for the night the ground upon which the enemy had taken up his position.
Never were the cool intrepidity and superior discipline of the British troops and militia of Canada displayed to better advantage than at the battle of Chrysler's farm; (the name by which this engagement has been designated, from the place on which it was fought;) and it fairly demonstrated that in nothing but numbers was this American army formidable, and by which means it became unwieldy to its undisciplined generals.
The loss of the British, in this engagement, amounted to one hundred and sixty-eight in killed and wounded, exclusive of twelve missing: that of the enemy was three hundred and thirty-nine in killed, wounded and missing*.
In Sir George Prevost's despatches to Earl Bathurst, in speaking of the different attempts by the enemy to invade His Majesty's North American colonies, honorable mention is repeatedly made of the loyalty and great zeal for the service of their sovereign, evinced by the inhabitants of Canada; and General Wilkinson, in his despatches to his government of this affair, bears ample testimony to the truth of this statement. Among the killed of the enemy was one of their generals, Covington.
The enemy, under General Hampton, consisting of from eight to ten thousand, on the morning of the 21st October, commenced its entry into Canada, by the Chateaugay River, on its march for Montreal; and on the 25th, having passed his whole force, magazines, and warlike munitions into the British territory, he commenced his advance; and coming up with the British position which he found to be fortified by one continued succession of fortifications formed by angles well supplied with ordnance, with a line of breastworks extending between—the whole extending for some miles and covered by a wood*. Next morning, with a view it would appear to avoid coming in contact with the British position, General Hampton's light troops forming his advance, were discovered advancing on both sides of the Chateaugay; but Lieutenant Colonel De Salaberry, of the Canadian Voltigeurs, commanding the British advanced post, by a well concerted disposition of the troops under his command, consisting of the light company of the Canadian fencibles and two companies of the Voltigeurs, completely checked the advance of the enemy's light troops on the left bank of the river, with the whole main body of the American army under Generals Hampton and Izard; while Captain Daily's company of the third battalion of embodied militia and Captain Bruyer's company of Chateaugay Chasseurs turned the enemy's advance troops on the right bank of the river. The enemy finding himself completely foiled in his exertions to pass this post, retired for some distance; but attempted repeatedly in the course of the day to renew his efforts, all of which proved equally unsuccessful with his first endeavors; and that night they once more commenced their retreat to the opposite side of the line of demarkation.
By the reports of prisoners who were taken in this affair with the enemy at Chateaugay, General Hampton's army actually engaged must have amounted to at least seven thousand infantry and two hundred cavalry besides ten pieces of field ordnance, while the British troops actually engaged did not exceed three hundred. The loss sustained by the British in this action, in killed, wounded and missing, amounted to twenty-five: that of the enemy to fifty.
About the time the enemy made his appearance in front of the British position, Sir George Prevost arrived on the ground from Montreal, and was happily a witness to the heroic conduct of the troops engaged in that glorious achievement; and in his report to Earl Bathurst, in the most exulting language, expressed his high approbation of their conduct.
General Wilkinson had, at an early stage of the expedition, transmitted an order to General Hampton to join him at St. Regis; but that officer having learned the the low state of General Wilkinson's supplies of provisions, and considering the state of the roads which was at this season of the year very indifferent, conceived it the most prudent method to disobey the order, and not place himself at too great a distance from his own magazines; he therefore availed himself of the nearest route to Montreal, the unsuccessful result of which manœuvre has just been detailed.
The American army was again ordered to cross the lines and take up their winter quarters in their own territory, after repeatedly suffering themselves to be defeated under the most mortifying and humiliating circumstances; with the blame of which the commander in chief charged General Hampton, in consequence of his disobedience of orders, but with which the American Secretary of War more properly charged both; however, it had the effect of checking the military zeal which appeared to manifest itself in the American ranks at a distance from the theatre of hostile operations, and completely to extinguish the ardor of the troops on the lines.
The country along the St. Lawrence being entirely exonerated from the incursions of the enemy, Colonel Murray, of the 100th Regiment, was ordered to advance from Burlington Heights, with a small force, towards Fort George, with a view at that time merely to prevent the predatory incursions of the enemy under General Mc. Clure (then in possession of that post,) on the defenceless inhabitants of the surrounding country. But General Mc Clure, having heard of the disasters which had befallen the army destined for Montreal, and conscious that a like fate might probably await him and his army, with that dastardly cowardice peculiar to himself and a few of his compatriots and traitors who joined themselves to his train, and against the very spirit of the law of nations and of civilized warfare, immersed the flourishing town of Newark in one continued sheet of flame, and ignobly fled with his followers into his own territory. The historian laments that it is not in his power to record one magnanimous act of that recreant general, to rescue his name from that gulf of infamy to which his nefarious conduct has for ever doomed it.
On the advance of Major General Riall towards the Niagara frontier, the American army, abandoned Lewiston, leaving the command of Fort Niagara to Captain Leonard of the artillery. On the evening of the 18th December, preparations were made for taking Fort Niagara from the enemy, for which service Colonel Murray of the 100th Regiment was selected to take the command; and early on the next morning this gallant officer at the the head of the grenadier company of the Royal Scots, the grenadier and light companies of the 41st Regiment and a detachment of his own corps, crossed the river about two miles above the fort upon which they immediately advanced. On approaching the fortress, the centries planted on the outer works were surprised and taken, the countersign obtained, and in a few minutes the fort was carried at the point of the bayonet.
The loss on the part of the British, in this affair, wa« only six killed and five wounded: that of the enemy amounted to sixty-five killed and fourteen wounded, and the whole of the garrison made prisoners consisting of nearly three hundred and fifty. There were in the fort, at the time of its capture, twenty-seven pieces of ordnance of weighty calibre, three thousand muskets with the apparatus, besides large magazines of camp equipage and military clothing, which of course fell into the hands of the victors.
Major Leonard, the commandant of the garrison, who owned a farm on the margin of the river about five miles above the fort, conceiving every thing on the lines to be reduced to a state of tranquility, ventured to leave the fort the preceding evening for his farm, in order to attend to some domestic affairs, only received his first appraisal by hearing a royal salute fired from the garrison at daybreak in honor of the glorious achievement.
On the same day in which Fort Niagara was captured, the village of Lewiston, about eight miles above Fort Niagara, was taken possession of by a British force under Major General Riall, without opposition, in which place the public magazines were well filled with provisions and other military stores.
Towards the latter part of the same month, General Riall crossed the Niagara River at Black Rock, at the head of a force consisting of about six hundred men, detachments from the 8th or King's Regiment, 41st, 89th and 100th regiments, with a few militia volunteers, exclusive of six or seven companies of the Royal Scots under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, who were directed to land between the villages of Buffalo and Black Rock, about two miles distant from each other, with a view to divert the garrison of Black Rock while the other troops were landing in front of that post; but in consequence of the severity of the weather, a number of the boats were stranded, by which means the troops were unable to land in time to effect the object for which they were previously intended; however, the enemy was driven from both positions in a short time. The American loss in this affair was upwards of five hundred, one hundred and thirty of whom were prisoners of war: the loss of the British was inconsiderable compared with that of the enemy.
The state of exasperation to which the mind of every British subject had been wrought by the conduct of Mc. Clure, in burning the town of Newark, and exposing to all the inclemency of a Canadian winter both the helpless infant and infirm old age, that nothing but a similar retaliation could assuage; the whole line of frontier, from Buffalo to Fort Niagara, was therefore burnt to ashes.
During this year, the Russian Emperor, Alexander, had tendered his services as mediator between Great Britain and the United States; but Great Britain declined submitting the question to a monarch who was already known to entertain a great share of jealousy at the extent of the maritime power Great Britain possessed; but offered to treat with America by plenipotentiaries immediately named by the two governments, in any neutral dominion. To this the United States acceded, and Gottenburg was determined as the place of negotiation.
*General Wilkinson's Despatches to the Secretary of War.
According to British accounts, upwards of one hundred of this number were prisoners of war.
* General Hampton's Report, dated 1st November, 1813.
Sir George Prevost's Report of this Affair, dated Montreal, 30th November, 1813.