History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 28
Review of the Effect the foregoing military Operations had on the Government and People of the United States—A British military Command despatched for the Protection of the London and Western Districts—Engagement at Long Woods—Unsuccessful Attack Upon Odeltown by a Part of General Wilkinson's Army—Invasion of Upper Canada by an American Army under General Brown—Surrender of Fort Erie—Advance of the American Army down the Niagara River—A Detachment of British Troops moves out to check the Advance of the Enemy.
The total failure of the expeditions which had been at so much expense fitted out for the invasion of Canada, had considerably subdued that ardor for military renown, which, at the commencement of the war, considering the defenceless state of Canada, promised so rich a harvest of laurels to the United States—add to this the tardy manner in which all diplomatic intercourse between the hostile nations was carried on, owing no doubt to the momentous interest which Great Britain took in the war on the Peninsula for the independence of Europe.
Nothing, therefore, of very great consequence occurred till the month of March—if we except the predal incursions of the enemy stationed at Malden, aided by a few traitors, on the inhabitants of the Western and London districts; in consequence of which a general order was issued for the Royal Scots and 89th light companies and a company of Kent militia under Captain Mc. Grigor, the whole detachment under the command of Captain Stewart of the Royal Scots, amounting to about one hundred and seventy, to take up a position at Delaware Town, on the River Thames. Here, for a few weeks, the detachment remained unmolested; and from the tranquil appearance which the whole country presented, it was conceived unnecessary longer to detain the militia on duty, they were therefore ordered home.
The militia had proceeded but a short distance on their route homeward, before they discovered a large column of the enemy fortifying a commanding position on the road leading through the Long Woods. The two light companies at Delaware Town, together with Captain Mc. Grigor's militia who formed the advance guard, on the morning of the 4th of March, commenced a march through a trackless desert towards the enemy*. During the day, the advance had several desultory skirmishes with the enemy's reconnoitering parties, which together with the great depth of snow tended very much to retard the progress of the troops; it was therefore nearly sunset before they came up with the main body of the enemy, who had strongly fortified themselves on the summit of a very steep hill, by a stockade work raised breast high, about twenty-two miles from Delaware Town.
Captain Mc. Grigor's militia was ordered to move round and engage the enemy on his left;, while the two companies of regulars engaged him in front: a line was formed under a most destructive fire from the enemy's breastworks. The hill upon which the enemy had taken up his position actually at this moment presented the appearance of a volcano belching forth cataracts of streaming fire and columns of smoke; the air was filled with one continued roar of musketry, resembling the rolling of a thousand drums; and as if to add a more terrific grandeur to the scene, the sun shot forth a few partial rays, through a dense forest, on the conflicting parties, many of whom were not permitted to see his last ray that evening.
The night was now fast approaching; it was therefore determined to charge the enemy in his works, for which service the Royal Scots Light company was ordered; and for the purpose of which, the road being exceedingly narrow, it was formed into an open column of sections right in front, in which order it proceeded down the hill in double quick time: but in attempting to ascend the hill on which the enemy was posted, it was discovered to have been rendered one solid sheet of ice by previously throwing on it a quantity of water, and again covering the deception with snow; every effort, therefore, to ascend the hill became completely ineffectual; and, what rendered the circumstance particularly mortifying, Captain Mc. Grigor perceiving the company advancing to the charge in the most fearless and undaunted manner, with a view to co-operate, led his company up to the left of the enemy's works, and was on the point of effecting an escalade, but unfortunately for want of timely assistance, was once more repulsed.
In this short but sanguinary engagement, every officer, except one, and nearly every noncommissioned officer, with an immense number of rank and file or the British forces, were either killed or wounded; and all who could not escape out of the ravine were made prisoners of war, though the enemy retreated that same night about nine o'clock, taking with him only a few prisoners that were able to ride on horseback, behind his mounted riflemen. The American strength was between four and five hundred, most of whom were Kentucky volunteers. Nothing particular transpired on the frontiers after this, until the beginning of July, if we except a descent which was made upon Odeltown in the month of March, by a division of General Wilkinson's army stationed at Plattsburgh; but who were, by the determined barvery of the troops composing the garrison at that post, under the command of Major Hancock, driven back, and with a considerable loss, to the besiegers.
Early on the morning of the 3d of July, an American army under the command of Major General Brown, consisting of about seven thousand men, invaded Canada, crossing the lines opposite to Black Rock, on the Niagara frontier, whence they immediately advanced on Fort Erie, the garrison of which consisted of one hundred and thirty-seven of the 8th or King's Regiment, commanded by Major Buck of the same corps. General Brown, commander in chief of the invading army, immediately summoned the garrison to surrender, with which summons the commandant complied without resistance.
The American general, flushed with a success so unusual lately to the arms of the United States, advanced his army down the Niagara River, towards the British post at the mouth of the Chippawa or Welland River, at which place, General Riall, commanding the British army on the Niagara frontier at that period, determined to give him a check until farther assistance should arrive; for which purpose he concentrated his little force at that place, consisting of five companies of the Royal Scots, a part of the 8th or King's Regiment, a part of the 100th Regiment, and the 2d Lincoln militia, amounting in all to about fifteen hundred men*.
On the approach of the American army next day towards Chippawa, a detachment composed of one troop of the 19th Light Dragoons commanded by Major Lisle, the Light Infantry company of the Royal Scots and a small detachment of the King's Regiment, with two brass field pieces, twenty-four pounders, was directed to move out in the direction of the enemy in order to reconnoitre his force and ascertain its strength.
The enemy's advance was discovered about two miles above the mouth of the Chippawa River; a few shots were exchanged, after which a strong column of the enemy issued from the woods (where they had previously taken shelter,) with a view to charge and capture the guns; but a charge from the cavalry drove them to their former retreat, in precipitation and dismay.
After the purposes of the reconnoitering party were as far accomplished as existing circumstances would admit, it retired in rear of the works at Chippawa, at the same time cutting away the bridge separating the two armies.
Thus lay the contending forces during that night, within pistol shot of each other—the outposts occasionally skirmishing, which increased at daybreak, when Major General Riall ordered that the bridge across the Chippawa should again be repaired, (resolving, notwithstanding the great disparity of force, to meet his antagonist in the field,) which was s» far completed as to render it passable for the army by three o'clock in the afternoon.
The British army now prepared to move out to meet the enemy, who had strongly posted his line on the plain, about a mile and a quarter above Chippawa—the right of which, commanded by General Scott, rested on the Niagara River, supported by a park of artillery under Captain Towson; the left, composed of the New-York and Pennsylvania volunteers under General Porter, rested on the woods, supported in front by a large body of riflemen and Indians; and a strong brigade in rear, under General Ripley, as a reserve.
*A more efficient advance for that service could scarcely have been selected from the whole force in Upper Canada, than this handful of militia, led by that gallant veteran Mc. Grigor.
*Five companies of the Royal Scots were left to garrison Fort George and Mississagua, and part of the 100th to garrison Fort Niagara; part of the 8th or King's were captured in Fort Erie.