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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 29

Chapter XXIX.

Engagement on the Plains of Chippewa—the Advance of the British, under Colonel Pearson, moves out and engages the Enemy's Out-posts—Main Bodies of the two Armies advance to Battle—The British retire in Rear of their Works at Chippawa—Attempts of the American Army to cross the River Welland—Retreat of the Bri­tish Army to Fort George—General Brown moves down and invests that Fort—General Riall moves out of Fort George with Part of his Force—Both Armies reinforced—General Brown retreats on Chippawa.

The advance guard of the British, composed of the light companies of the Royal Scots, the 8th or King's Regiment, the 100th Regiment and the Lincoln Militia accompanied by a few Indian warriors, (that whole com­manded by Colonel Pearson,) advanced towards the plains with a view to draw the enemy into action, the militia and Indians occupying the woods; when, about half past three o'clock, they were sharply engaged with the enemy's riflemen and Indians, who at first checked their advance, and even, for a time, compelled them to retire, until the light troops of the regulars were brought up to their support, at which the enemy fled in all directions.

By this time, the main body of the British army was formed in line, which, when compared with that of the enemy, presented more the appearance of the wing of a regiment than an opposing army. The line was composed of four companies of the Royal Scots, on the right, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, (the light company of which was acting in the advance, the 8th or King's Regiment on the left, and the 100th or Prince Regent's Regiment in the centre, commanded by Lieu­tenant Colonel the Marquis of Tweedale; the left of the line, supported by two pieces of field ordnance, twenty-four pounders, planted on the margin of the river.

The armies, being thus arranged, commenced the conflict; a steady fire from both sides was for some time maintained; when the King's Regiment was order­ed to the right of the line, and the Royal Scots and 100th Regiment were directed to charge the enemy's crest, which was gallantly received by two regiments of General Scot's brigade which moved forward for that purpose; after which the fire re-commenced with re­doubled fury, while the artillery was literally making lanes through the columns; but the explosion of a British ammunition wagon so materially injured one of the guns as completely to silence it; and the increasing fire which the enemy was enabled to maintain, in conse­quence of his line continually filling up from the reserve, was making such a visible impression on the British ranks, that General Riall found himself no longer able to sustain the fight against a force so unequal in numeri­cal strength, and gave orders to abandon the field; the troops, therefore, retired in rear of the works at Chip­pawa, destroying the bridge they had previously repaired across that river.

The loss on both sides might be said to be nearly equal, amounting to four or five hundred. Lieutenant Colonel the Marquis of Tweedale and Lieutenant Colo­nel Gordon were amongst the wounded. The 2d Lincoln Militia, under Major David Secord, distinguish­ed themselves in this action by feats of genuine bravery and heroism, stimulated by the example of their gallant leader, which are seldom surpassed even by the most experienced veterans. Their loss was proportionate with that of the regular army.

Three or four days subsequent to the sanguinary con­flict on the plains at Chippawa, were mostly employed by the enemy in burying their own dead and burning those of the British; after which, several ineffectual ef­forts were made by General Brown to cross the Welland River, contemplating an advance on Fort George; but, at each of his attempts, he was promptly met by piquet guards of the British posted along the margin of the river for that purpose.

General Riall, however, in a few days, gave orders that the remnant of his army should retire under the shelter of Fort George and Mississauga, until reinforce­ments could be collected to place him on more equal ground with the enemy; after which, General Brown moved his army towards those posts within a mile and a half of the British—his army forming a crescent, his right resting on the Niagara River, his left on Lake Ontario.

The American army had no sooner taken up a position in front of Fort George, than their foraging parties, or rather marauders, commenced a systematic course of plunder upon the defenceless inhabitants within the vi­cinity of their camp, most of whom, at the time, consisted of women and children: even amongst the general officers were acts of pillage perpetrated, that, had such occurred with private soldiers in the British army, would have stamped a stigma on the character of the British, in the eyes of America, for which no course of conduct which they could ever after have pursued would have sufficiently atoned||.

The most unwearied vigilance had been exercised by the American General to watch every avenue by which any part of the British might possibly escape from the position within the works; yet, notwithstanding all the care and vigilance practised by General Brown and the forces under his command, General Riall contrived to march a part of his little army, a few ammunition wa­gons and two six pounders, field pieces, under night and unperceived, through his lines to a rendezvous for reinforcements at the 12 and 20 mile creeks.

During the interval in which General Riall was recei­ving reinforcements from York and other military posts on that side of Lake Ontario, General Brown also received a strong reinforcement under General Izard, after which he made a few ineffectual assaults on Fort George; but, finding all his efforts to carry that fort fruitless, and the British army receiving fresh acquisi­tions of strength, all seemed to conspire to render the case of General Brown entirely hopeless.

General Brown now perceiving the situation in which he was placed—the forts in his front to him completely impregnable, and an army in his rear in full flow of spirits and every day gathering new strength, (though by no means equal to his as regarded numbers,) a Cana­dian militia, unexpectedly to him, fervent beyond a parallel in the cause of their king and country—began now to think of a safe retreat, in pursuance of which, on the morning of the 25th July, he commenced his retrograde.

General Brown's movements, however, were too closely watched to permit him to escape unnoticed. Scarcely had the conception of a retreat matured itself into a purpose in the mind of the American General, ere it had unfolded itself to the penetrating eye of General Sir Gordon Drummond, who had that day arrived on the Niagara frontier, and preparations were immediate­ly made to intercept him.

At this crisis of the Action, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dickson, of the 2d Lincoln Militia, was wounded, after which the command of that corps devolved on Major David Secord.

||General S. of the New-York militia, who had joined the army in Canada, under General Brown, appeared, under night, with about two hundred mounted men, before a small farm house in the vicinity of Fort George, where a wealthy farmer, whose resi­dence was on the bank of the Niagara River, had sent the female part of his family with the most valuable part of his goods, as a place of safety, the house being surrounded with woods. The General took possession of the goods and divided with his fol­lowers, reserving for himself a set of silver spoons, a great coat sufficiently large to fit over his own, with as much of a chest of tea as he could conveniently carry in a flannel shirt sewed up at one end for that purpose. With these the gallant general march­ed off in quest of other "deeds of martial glory." He next met a young man of the name of Thompson, whom he made a pri­soner, and from whom he took a silver watch; but approaching too near the British piquets, in an encounter, he was mortally wounded. The young man from whom he had taken the watch was then commanded to pilot them to a place of safety, where the general's wound could be attended to: he very naturally con­ducted them to his father's house, where the general died, and the next officer in command restored the watch to the young man from whom it was taken.

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