History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 31
The British Army, under General Drummond, pursues the Enemy to Fort Erie—General Drummond invests that Fort—Nocturnal Assault on Fort Erie and the adjoining Batteries in Possession of the Enemy—Disposition of the Force intended for that Assault—Failure of that Assault—Sortie by the American Forces on the British Batteries in Front of Fort Erie—Result of the Sortie—Retreat of both Armies—Concluding Remarks.
The American generals, unacquainted with the policy of war, had suffered themselves to be too easily elated by the imaginary successes which attended the American arms during the first operations in this campaign, were now proportionably overwhelmed with disappointment at the signal defeat with which they met at Lundy's Lane; and confined themselves within the limits of Fort Erie and the adjacent shore, as far as Snake Hill, a distance of two miles; in front of which position, General Drummond, with as many of the remaining British forces as could be spared for that service, advanced in a few days.
The British army had no sooner taken up their position in front of Fort Erie than preparations were immediately made to storm the fort and American posts. General Gaines, on whom had devolved the command of the second division of the northern army of the United States, in the absence of Generals Brown and Scott, who had both been wounded at Lundy's Lane, now directed his whole attention to strengthening the Fort and outworks as far as Snake Hill.
On the 13th of August, General Drummond having previously completed his batteries, commenced a brisk cannonade on the position of the enemy, which, with a few intermissions, was continued for two days; after which it was determined to carry the fort and outworks of the enemy hy a nocturnal assault. In pursuance of this purpose, General Drummond formed his troops into three divisions; the first under Lieutenant Colonel Fischer of De Wattville's regiment, consisting of the King's Regiment, the Regiment De Wattville and flank companies of the 89th and 100th regiments, directed against the enemy's entrenchments at and near Snake Hill; the second, under Lieutenant Colonel Drummond of the 104th Regiment, consisting of the flank companies of the 41st and 104th regiments and a body of seamen and marines under the direction of Captain Dobbs of the Royal Navy, against the fort; and the 3d, under Lieutenant Colonel Scott of the 103d Regiment, consisting of the 103d Regiment supported by two companies of the Royal Scotts, against the entrenchments adjoining the fort.
This arrangement being completed, the division destined for the attack of Snake Hill, marched by a circuitous route at four o'clock on the afternoon of the day previous to the attack, in order to gain the vicinity of the point of the enemy's works in sufficient time to co-operate with the other divisions of the army.
About two o'clock on the morning of the 15th, the several divisions of the British army moved on towards the enemy's entrenchments; but as soon as the column directed against Snake Hill had emerged from the woods, it came in contact with an abbattis within twelve or fifteen paces of the enemy's entrenchments, defended by a heavy column of infantry under the command of Major Wood and the artillery under Captain Towson. this for a time completely checked its advance.
However, it was soon announced by a tremendous fire from the guns in the fort, and from the columns of infantry defending the entrenchments near the shore of the lake, that the other two columns, under Lieutenant Colonels Scott and Drummond, had commenced an assault on the enemy's works.
At the first outset of the two last columns, the enemy succeeded in turning the column on the left under Colonel Scott; but that under Colonel Drummond penetrated the enemy's works and charged through his ranks with such irresistable impetuosity that nothing seemed sufficiently impregnable to arrest its progress. Lieutenant Colonel Scott, in the mean time, rallied his column which had been partially turned on one flank, and the fort was assailed in almost every quarter by the besiegers; an escalade was effected, the enemy drove from the ramparts at the point of the bayonet, and the guns of the fort turned upon the garrison; all of which preludes of victory had actually been gained a few minutes after the first alarm.
The battle raged with a fury seldom equalled. The British troops having previously, in pursuance of an order to that effect, divested their muskets of the flints, every foot of ground was contended at the point of the bayonet, which rendered the carnage more dreadful and appaling.
Lieutenant Colonel Drummond, during the conflict within the fort, perfonned most extraordinary acts of valor: in the hottest of the battle he would present himself encouraging his men both by example and precept. But in the very moment when victory was declaring herself in favor of the British arms, some ammunition which had been placed under the platform ignited from the firing of the guns to the rear, and a dreadful explosion was the result, by which the greater part of the British forces which had entered the fort, were literally blown into the air.
All the exertions of the few British troops who survived the explosion were found ineffectual to maintain their ground against such an unequal force as the enemy was then enabled to bring up against them; the enterprise was therefore abandoned; and the British forces retired in rear of their works before daybreak.
The loss of the British, in consequence of the explosion, was much greater than that of the enemy; and amongst the killed were Colonels Scott and Drummond.
In General Drummond's report of this action, the return of the killed, wounded and missing stands thus, namely:
|Killed, 2 lieutenant colonels, 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 1 serjeant, 1 drummer, 51 rank and file,||57|
|Wounded, 1 deputy assistant quarter master general, 1 major, 8 captains, 11 lieutenants, 2 ensigns, 1 master, 12 seamen, 20 serjeants, 2 drummers, 250 rank and file,||308|
|Missing, 1 deputy assistant quarter master general, 1 captain, 3 lieutenants, 2 ensigns, 1 midshipman, 1 adjutant, 7 seamen, 41 sergeants, 3 drummers, 479 rank and file,||539|
Nothing particular occurred for the space of a month after the affair of the 15th August, if we except occasional skirmishes with the advanced posts, and the frequent cannonading maintained between the British batteries and the enemy's works, as well at Black Rock, on the opposite side of the river, as at Fort Erie and its neighborhood. At about the expiration of a month, however, General Brown, having recovered of his wounds, again resumed the command of the American army on the Niagara frontier, and brought with him a strong reinforcement, resolving to attempt the destruction of the British batteries in front of the fort. Pursuant to this determination, on the 17th September, at about 12 o'clock, noon, the whole American force including both regulars and militia sallied forth in three divisions under Generals Porter, Miller and Ripley; and before the ready and reserve columns of the British could be brought up from the camp, (about a mile in rear,) the enemy had succeeded in penetrating the batteries, destroying the works with one magazine of ammunition, and spiking the guns. But ere he could effect his retreat, the ready and reserve columns had arrived, who immediately commenced a determined attack upon his columns; and after about a half hour's desperate fighting, notwithstanding his great superiority of numbers, he returned before the bayonets of the British line, in great precipitation, under the cover of his works, after losing nearly six hundred of his force.
The incessant rains which had fallen that season rendered it impossible for General Prummond to repair his batteries, or, indeed, longer to keep the field; he, therefore, on the 21st of September, broke up his camp, and retired to winter quarters in rear of his works at the mouth of the Chippawa.
During the retreat. General Brown feigned some inclination to follow on the rear of the British army; yet, notwithstanding all the efforts which could possibly be exercised by a general, were called into contribution by Sir Gordon Drummond, to bring General Brown into action; but it all proved unavailing. The American general, "as soon as the coast was clear," evacuated Fort Erie and retreated across the river into his own territory.
Thus terminated the campaign of 1814, on the Niagara frontier; and whatever might have been the object of the American government when they sent that army to invade Canada, it is certain that nothing was acquired, if we except a fresh proof (if such had been now necessary,) of the loyalty of the Canadian people to their sovereign, and their unshaken zeal to defend their country from the grasp of its enemy, at whatever time he might think proper to invade it.