The War With the United States: Chapter 5
1813: The Beaver Dams, Lake Erie, And Châteauguay
The remaining operations of 1812 are of quite minor importance. No more than two are worthy of being mentioned between the greater events before and after them. Both were abortive attempts at invasion—one across the upper Niagara, the other across the frontier south of Montreal.
After the battle of Queenston Heights Sheaffe succeeded Brock in command of the British, and Smyth succeeded Van Rensselaer in command of the Americans. Sheaffe was a harsh martinet and a third-rate commander. Smyth, a notorious braggart, was no commander at all. He did, however, succeed in getting Sheaffe to conclude an armistice that fully equalled Prevost's in its disregard of British interests. After making the most of it for a month he ended it on November 19, and began manœuvring round his headquarters at Black Rock near Buffalo. After another eight days he decided to attack the British posts at Red House and Frenchman's Creek, which were respectively two and a half and five miles from Fort Erie. The whole British line of the upper Niagara, from Fort Erie to Chippawa, a distance of seventeen miles by the road along the river, was under the command of an excellent young oncer, Colonel Bisshopp, who had between five and six hundred men to hold his seven posts. Fort Erie had the largest garrison—only a hundred and thirty men. Some forty men of the 49th and two small guns were stationed at Red House; while the light company of the 41st guarded the bridge over Frenchman's Creek. About two o'clock in the morning of the 28th one party of Americans pulled across to the ferry a mile below Fort Erie, and then, sheering off after being fired at by the Canadian militia on guard, made for Red House a mile and a half lower down. There they landed at three and fought a most confused and confusing action in the dark. Friend and foe became mixed up together; but the result was a success for the Americans. Meanwhile, the other party landed near Frenchman's Creek, reached the bridge, damaged it a little, and had a fight with the 41st, who could not drive the invaders back till reinforcements arrived. At daylight the men from Chippawa marched into action, Indians began to appear, and the whole situation was re-established. The victorious British lost nearly a hundred, which was more than a quarter of those engaged. The beaten Americans lost more; but, being in superior numbers, they could the better afford it.
Smyth was greatly disconcerted. But he held a boat review on his own side of the river, and sent over a summons to Bisshopp demanding the immediate surrender of Fort Erie ‘to spare the effusion of blood.’ Bisshopp rejected the summons. But there was no effusion of blood in consequence. Smyth planned, talked, and manœuvred for two days more, and then tried to make his real effort on the 1st of December. By the time it was light enough for the British to observe him he had fifteen hundred men in boats, who all wanted to go back, and three thousand on shore, who all refused to go forward. He then held a council of war, which advised him to wait for a better chance. This closed the campaign with what, according to Porter, one of his own generals, was ‘a scene of confusion difficult to describe: about four thousand men without order or restraint discharging their muskets in every direction.’ Next day ‘The Committee of Patriotic Citizens’ undertook to rebuke Smyth. But he retorted, not without reason, that ‘the affair at Queenston is a caution against relying on crowds who go to the banks of the Niagara to look at a battle as on a theatrical exhibition.’
The other abortive attempt at invasion as made by the advance-guard of the commander-in-chief's own army. Dearborn had soon found out that his disorderly masses at Greenbush were quite unfit to take the field. But, four months after the declaration of war, a small detachment, thrown forward from his new headquarters at Plattsburg on Lake Champlain, did manage to reach St Regis, where the frontier first meets the St Lawrence, near the upper end of Lake St Francis, sixty miles south-west of Montreal. Here the Americans killed Lieutenant Rototte and a sergeant, and took the little post, which was held by a few voyageurs. Exactly a month later, on November 23, these Americans were themselves defeated and driven back again. Three days earlier than this a much stronger force of Americans had crossed the frontier at Odelltown, just north of which there was a British blockhouse beside the river La Colle, a muddy little western tributary of the Richelieu, forty-seven miles due south of Montreal. The Americans fired into each other in the dark, and afterwards retired before the British reinforcements. Dearborn then put his army into winter quarters at Plattsburg, thus ending his much-heralded campaign against Montreal before it had well begun.
The American government was much disappointed at the failure of its efforts to make war without armies. But it found a convenient scapegoat in Hull, who was far less to blame than his superiors in the Cabinet. These politicians had been wrong in every important particular—wrong about the attitude of the Canadians, wrong about the whole plan of campaign, wrong in separating Hull from Dearborn, wrong in not getting men-of-war afloat on the Lakes, wrong, above all, in trusting to untrained and undisciplined levies. To complete their mortification, the ridiculous gunboats, in which they had so firmly believed, had done nothing but divert useful resources into useless channels; while, on the other hand, the frigates, which they had proposed to lay up altogether, so as to save themselves from ‘the ruinous folly of a Navy,’ had ready won a brilliant series of duels out at a.
There were some searchings of heart at Washington when all these military and naval misjudgments stood revealed. Eustis soon followed Hull into enforced retirement; and great plans were made for the campaign of 1813, which was designed to wipe out the disgrace of its predecessor and to effect the conquest of Canada for good and all.
John Armstrong, the new war secretary, and William Henry Harrison, the new general in the West, were great improvements on Eustis and Hull. But, even now, the American commanders could not decide on a single decisive attack supported by subsidiary operations elsewhere. Montreal remained their prime objective. But they only struck at it last of all. Michilimackinac kept their enemy in touch with the West. But they left it completely alone. Their general advance ought to have been secured by winning the command of the Lakes and by the seizure of suitable positions across the line. But they let the first blows come from the Canadian side; and they still left Lake Champlain to shift for itself. Their plan was undoubtedly better than that of 1812. But it was still all parts and no whole.
The various events were so complicated by the overlapping of time and place all along the line that we must begin by taking a bird's-eye view of them in territorial sequence, starting from the farthest inland Rank and working eastward to the sea. Everything west of Detroit may be left out altogether, because operations did not recommence in that quarter until the campaign of the following year. In January the British struck successfully at Frenchtown, more than thirty miles south of Detroit. They struck unsuccessfully, still farther south, at Fort Meigs in May and at Fort Stephenson in August; after which they had to remain on the defensive, all over the Lake Erie region, till their flotilla was annihilated at Put-in Bay in September and their army was annihilated at Moravian Town on the Thames in October. In the Lake Ontario region the situation was reversed. Here the British began badly and ended well. They surrendered York in April and Fort George, at the mouth of the Niagara, in May. They were also repulsed in a grossly mismanaged attack on Sackett's Harbour two days after their defeat at Fort George. The opposing flotillas meanwhile fought several manœuvring actions of an indecisive kind, neither daring to risk battle and possible annihilation. But, as the season advanced, the British regained their hold on the Niagara peninsula by defeating the Americans at Stoney Creek and the Beaver Dams in June, and by clearing both sides of the Niagara river in December. On the upper St Lawrence they took Ogdensburg in February. They were also completely successful in their defence of Montreal. In June they took the American gunboats at Isle-aux-Noix on the Richelieu; in July they raided Lake Champlain; while in October and November they defeated the two divisions of the invading army at Châteauguay and Chrystler's Farm. The British news from sea also improved as the year wore on. The American frigate victories began to stop. The Shannon beat the Chesapeake. And the shadow of the Great Blockade began to fall on the coast of the Democratic South.
The operations of 1813 are more easily understood if taken in this purely territorial way. But in following the progress of the war we must take them chronologically. No attempt can be made here to describe the movements on either side in any detail. All outline must suffice. Two points, however, need special emphasis, as they are both markedly characteristic of the war in general and of this campaign in particular. First, the combined effect of the American victories of Lake Erie and the Thames affords a perfect example of the inseparable connection between the water and the land. Secondly, the British victories at the Beaver Dams and Châteauguay are striking examples of the inter-racial connection among the forces that defended Canada so well. The Indians did all the real fighting at the Beaver Dams. The French Canadians fought practically alone at Châteauguay.
The first move of the invaders in the West was designed to recover Detroit and cut off Mackinaw. Harrison, victorious over the Indians at Tippecanoe in 1811, was now expected to strike terror into them once more, both by his reputation and by the size of his forces. In midwinter he had one wing of his army on the Sandusky, under his own command, and the other on the Maumee, under Winchester, a rather commonplace general. At Frenchtown stood a little British post defended by fifty Canadians and a hundred Indians. Winchester moved north to drive these men away from American soil. But Procter crossed the Detroit from Amherstburg on the ice, and defeated Winchester's thousand whites with his own five hundred whites and five hundred Indians at dawn on January 22, making Winchester a prisoner. Procter was unable to control the Indians, who ran wild. They hated the Westerners who made up Winchester's force, as the men who had deprived them of their lands, and they now wreaked their vengeance on them for some time before they could be again brought within the bounds of civilized warfare. After the battle Procter retired to Amherstburg; Harrison began to build Fort Meigs on the Maumee; and a pause of three months followed all over the western scene.
But winter warfare was also going on elsewhere. A month after Procter's success, Prevost, when passing through Prescott, on the upper St Lawrence, reluctantly gave Colonel Macdonell of Glengarry provisional leave to attack Ogdensburg, from which the Americans were forwarding supplies to Sackett's Harbour, sending out raiding parties, and threatening the British line of communication to the west. No sooner was Prevost clear of Prescott than Macdonell led his four hundred regulars and one hundred militia over the ice against the American fort. His direct assault failed. But when he had carried the village at the point of the bayonet the garrison ran. Macdonell then destroyed the fort, the barracks, and four vessels. He also took seventy prisoners, eleven guns, and a large supply of stores.
With the spring came new movements in the West. On May 9 Procter broke camp and retired from an unsuccessful siege of Fort Meigs (now Toledo) at the south-western corner of Lake Erie. He had started this siege a fortnight earlier with a thousand whites and a thousand Indians under Tecumseh; and at first had seemed likely to succeed. But after the first encounter the Indians began to leave; while most of the militia had soon to be sent home to their farms to prevent the risk of starvation. Thus Procter presently found himself with only five hundred effectives in face of a much superior and constantly increasing enemy. In the summer he returned to the attack, this time against the American position on the lower Sandusky, nearly thirty miles east of Fort Meigs. There, on August 2, he tried to take Fort Stephenson. But his light guns could make no breach; and he lost a hundred men in the assault.
Meanwhile Dearborn, having first moved up from Plattsburg to Sackett's Harbour, had attacked York on April 27 with the help of the new American flotilla on Lake Ontario. This flotilla was under the personal orders of Commodore Chauncey, an excellent officer, who, in the previous September, had been promoted from superintendent of the New York Navy Yard to commander-in-chief on the Lakes. As Chauncey's forte was building and organization, he found full scope for his peculiar talents at Sackett's Harbour. He was also a good leader at sea and thus a formidable enemy for the British forces at York, where the third-rate Sheaffe was now in charge, and where Prevost had paved the way for a British defeat by allowing the establishment of an exposed navy yard instead of keeping all construction safe in Kingston. Sheaffe began his mistakes by neglecting to mount some of his guns before Dearborn and Chauncey arrived, though he knew these American commanders might come at any moment, and though he also knew how important it was to save a new British vessel that was building at York, because the command of the lake might well depend upon her. He then made another mistake by standing to fight in an untenable position against overwhelming odds. He finally retreated with all the effective regulars left, less than two hundred, burning the ship and yard as he passed, and leaving behind three hundred militia to make their own terms with the enemy. He met the light company of the 8th on its way up from Kingston and turned it back. With this retreat he left the front for good and became a commandant of bases, a position often occupied by men whose failures are not bad enough for courts-martial and whose saving qualities are not good enough for any more appointments in the field.
The Americans lost over two hundred men by an explosion in a British battery at York just as Sheaffe was marching off. Forty British had also been blown up in one of the forts a little while before. Sheaffe appears to have been a slack inspector of powder-magazines. But the Americans, who naturally suspected other things than slack inspection, thought a mine had been sprung on them after the fight was over. They consequently swore revenge, burnt the parliament buildings, looted several private houses, and carried off books from the public library as well as plate from the church. Chauncey, much to his credit, afterwards sent back all the books and plate he could recover.
Exactly a month later, on May 27, Chauncey and Dearborn appeared off Fort George, after a run back to Sackett's Harbour in the meantime. Vincent, Sheaffe's successor in charge of Upper Canada, had only a thousand regulars and four hundred militia there. Dearborn had more than four times as many men; and Perry, soon to become famous on Lake Erie, managed the naval part of landing them. The American men-of-war brought the long, low, flat ground of Mississauga Point under an irresistible cross-fire while three thousand troops were landing on the beach below the covering bluffs. No support could be given to the opposing British force by the fire of Fort George, as the village of Newark intervened. So Vincent had to fight it out in the open. On being threatened with annihilation he retired towards Burlington, withdrawing the garrison of Fort George, and sending orders for all the other troops on the Niagara to follow by the shortest line. He had lost a third of the whole force defending the Niagara frontier, both sides of which were now possessed by the Americans. But by nightfall on May 29 he was standing at bay, with his remaining sixteen hundred men, in an excellent strategical position on the Heights, half-way between York and Fort George, in touch with Dundas Street, the main road running east and west, and beside Burlington Bay, where he hoped to meet the British flotilla commanded by Yeo.
Captain Sir James Lucas Yeo was an energetic and capable young naval officer of thirty, whom the Admiralty had sent out with a few seamen to take command on the Lakes under Prevost's orders. He had been only seventeen days at Kingston when he sailed out with Prevost, on May 27, to take advantage of Chauncey's absence at the western end of the lake. Arrived before Sackett's Harbour, the attack was planned for the 29th. The landing force of seven hundred and fifty men was put in charge of Baynes, the adjutant-general, a man only too well fitted to do the ‘dirty work’ of the general staff under a weak commander-in-chief like Prevost. All went wrong at Sackett's Harbour. Prevost was ‘present but not in command’. Baynes landed at the wrong place. Nevertheless, the British regulars scattered the American militiamen, pressed back the American regulars, set fire to the barracks, and halted in front of the fort. The Americans, thinking the day was lost, set fire to their stores and to Chauncey's new ships. Then Baynes and Prevost suddenly decided to retreat. Baynes explained to Prevost, and Prevost explained in a covering dispatch to the British government, that the fleet could not co-operate, that the fort could not be taken, and that the landing party was not strong enough. But, if this was true, why did they make an attack at all; and, if it was not true, why did they draw back when success seemed to be assured? Meanwhile Chauncey, after helping to take Fort George, had started back for Sackett's Harbour; and Dearborn, left without the fleet, had moved on slowly and disjointedly, in rear of Vincent, with whom he did not regain touch for a week. On June 5 the Americans camped at Stoney Creek, five miles from the site of Hamilton. The steep zigzagging bank of the creek, which formed their front, was about twenty feet high. Their right rested on a mile-wide swamp, which ran down to Lake Ontario, Their left touched the Heights, which ran from Burlington to Queenston. They were also in superior numbers, and ought to have been quite secure. But they thought so much more of pursuit that of defence that they were completely taken by surprise when ‘704 firelocks’ under Colonel Harvey suddenly attacked them just after midnight. Harvey, chief staff oncer to Vincent, was a first-rate leader for such daring work as this, and his men were all well disciplined. But the whole enterprise might have failed, for all that. Some of the men opened fire too soon, and the nearest Americans began to stand to their arms. But, while Harvey ran along re-forming the line, Major Plenderleath, with some of Brock's old regiment, the 49th, charged straight into the American centre, took the guns there, and caused so much confusion that Harvey's following charge carried all before it. Next morning, June 6, the Americans began a retreat which was hastened by Yeo's arrival on their lakeward flank, by the Indians on the Heights, and by Vincent's reinforcements in their rear. Not till they reached the shelter of Fort George did they attempt to make a stand.
The two armies now faced each other astride of the lake-shore road and the Heights. The British left advanced post, between Ten and Twelve Mile Creeks, was under Major de Haren of the 104th, a regiment which, in the preceding winter, had marched on snow-shoes through the woods all the way from the middle of New Brunswick to Quebec. The corresponding British post inland, near the Beaver Dams, was under Lieutenant FitzGibbon of the 49th, a cool, quick-witted, and adventurous Irishman, who had risen from the ranks by his own good qualities and Brock's recommendation. Between him and the Americans at Queenston and St David's was a picked force of Indian scouts with a son of the great chief Joseph Brant. These Indians never gave the Americans a minute's rest. They were up at all hours, pressing round the flanks, sniping the sentries, worrying the outposts, and keeping four times their own numbers on the perpetual alert. What exasperated the Americans even more was the wonderfully elusive way in which the Indians would strike their blow and then be lost to sight and sound the very next moment, if, indeed, they ever were seen at all. Finally, this endless skirmish with an invisible foe became so harassing that the Americans sent out a flying column of six hundred picked men under Colonel Boerstler on June 24 to break up FitzGibbon's post at the Beaver Dams and drive the Indians out of the intervening bush altogether.
But the American commanders had not succeeded in hiding their preparations from the vigilant eyes of the Indian scouts or from the equally attentive ears of Laura Secord, the wife of an ardent U. E. Loyalist, James Secord, who was still disabled by the wounds he had received when fighting under Brock's command at Queenston Heights. Early in the morning of the 23rd, while Laura Secord was going out to milk the cows, she overheard some Americans talking about the surprise in store for FitzGibbon next day. Without giving the slightest sign she quietly drove the cattle in behind the nearest fence, hid her milk-pail, and started to thread her perilous way through twenty miles of bewildering bypaths to the Beaver Dams. Keeping off the beaten tracks and always in the shadow of the full-leaved trees, she stole along through the American lines, crossed the no-man's-land between the two desperate enemies, and managed to get inside the ever-shifting fringe of Indian scouts without being seen by friend or foe. The heat was intense; end the whole forest steamed with it after the tropical rain. But she held her course without a pause, over the swollen streams on fallen tree-trunks, through the dense underbrush, and in and out of the mazes of the forest, where a bullet might come from either side without a moment's warning. As she neared the end of her journey a savage yell told her she was at last discovered by the Indians. She and they were on the same side; but she had hard work in persuade them that she only wished to warn FitzGibbon. Then came what, to a lesser patriot, would have been a crowning disappointment. For when, half dead with fatigue, she told him her story, she found he had already heard it from the scouts. But just because this forestalment was no real disappointment to her, it makes her the Anglo-Canadian heroine whose fame for bravery in war is worthiest of being remembered with that of her French-Canadian sister, Madeleine de Verchères.1
Boerstler's six hundred had only ten miles to go in a straight line. But all the thickets, woods, creeks, streams, and swamps were closely beset by a body of expert, persistent Indians, who gradually increased from two hundred and fifty to four hundred men. The Americans became discouraged and bewildered; and when FitzGibbon rode up at the head of his redcoats they were ready to give in. The British posts were all in excellent touch with each other; and de Haren arrived in time to receive the actual surrender. He was closely followed by the 2nd Lincoln Militia under Colonel Clark, and these again by Colonel Bisshopp with the whole of the advanced guard. But it was the Indians alone who won the fight, as FitzGibbon generously acknowledged: ‘Not a shot was fired on our side by any but the Indians. They beat the American detachment into a state of terror, and the only share I claim is taking advantage of a favourable moment to offer protection from the tomahawk and scalping knife.’
June was a lucky month for the British at sea as well as on the land; and its ‘Glorious First’ so called after Howe's victory nineteen years before, now became doubly glorious in a way which has a special interest for Canada. The American frigate Chesapeake was under orders to attack British supply-ships entering Canadian waters; and the victorious British frigate Shannon was taken out of action and to a Canadian port by a young Canadian the Royal Navy.
The Chesapeake had a new captain, Lawrence, with new young officers. She carried fifty more men than the British frigate Shannon. But many of her ship's company were new to her, on recommissioning in May; and some were comparatively untrained for service on board a man-of-war. The frigates themselves were practically equal in size and armament. But Captain Broke had been in continuous command of the Shannon for seven years and had trained his crew into the utmost perfection of naval gunnery. The vessels met off Boston in full view of many thousands of spectators. Not one British shot flew high. Every day in the Shannon's seven years of preparation told in that fight of only fifteen minutes; and when Broke led his boarders over the Chesapeake's side her fate had been sealed already. The Stars and Stripes were soon replaced by the Union Jack. Then, with Broke severely wounded and his first lieutenant killed, the command fell on Lieutenant Wallis, who sailed both vessels into Halifax. This young Canadian, afterwards known as Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Provo Wallis, lived to become the longest of all human links between the past and present or the Navy. He was by far the last survivor of those officers who were specially exempted from technical retirement on account of having held any ship or fleet command during the Great War that ended on the field of Waterloo. He was born before Napoleon had been heard of. He went through a battle before the death of Nelson. He outlived Wellington by forty years. His name stood on the Active List for all but the final decade of the nineteenth century. And, as an honoured centenarian, he is vividly remembered by many who were still called young a century after the battle that brought him into fame.
The summer campaign on the Niagara frontier ended with three minor British successes. Fort Schlosser was surprised on July 5. On the 11th Bisshopp lost his life in destroying Black Rock. And on August 24 the Americans were driven in under the guns of Fort George. After this there was a lull which lasted throughout the autumn.
Down by the Montreal frontier there were three corresponding British successes. On June 3 Major Taylor of the 10th captured two American gunboats, the Growler and the Eagle, which had come to attack Isle-aux-Noix in the Richelieu river, and renamed them the Broke and the Shannon. Early in August Captains Pring and Everard, of the Navy, and Colonel Murray with nine hundred soldiers, raided Lake Champlain. They destroyed the barracks, yard, and stores at Plattsburg and sent the American militia flying home. But a still more effective blow was struck on the opposite side of Lake Champlain, at Burlington, where General Hampton was preparing the right wing of his new army of invasion. Stores, equipment, barracks, and armaments were destroyed to such an extent that Hampton's preparations were set back till late in the autumn. The left wing of the same army was at Sackett's Harbour, under Dearborn's successor, General Wilkinson, whose plan was to take Kingston, go down the St Lawrence, meet Hampton, who was to come up from the south, and then make a joint attack with him on Montreal.
In September the scene of action shifted to the West, where the British were trying to keep the command of Lake Erie, while the Americans were trying to wrest it from them. Captain Oliver Perry, a first-rate American naval officer of only twenty-eight, was at Presqu'isle (now Erie) completing his flotilla. He had his troubles, of course, especially with the militia garrison, who would not do their proper tour of duty. ‘I tell the boys to go, but the boys won't go’ was the only report forthcoming from one of several worthless colonels. A still greater trouble for Perry as getting his vessels over the bar. This had to be done without any guns on board, and with the cumbrous aid of ‘camels,’ which are any kind of air-tanks made fast to the sides low down, in order to raise the hull as much as possible. But, luckily for Perry, his opponent, Captain Barclay of the Royal Navy, an energetic and capable young officer of thirty-two, was called upon to face worse troubles still. Barclay was, indeed, the first to get afloat. But he had to give up the blockade of Presqu'isle, and so let Perry out, because he had the rawest of crews, the scantiest of equipment, and nothing left to eat. Then, when he ran back to Amherstburg, he found Procter also facing a state of semi-starvation, while thousands of Indian families were clamouring for food. Thus there was no other choice but either to fight or starve; for there was not the slightest chance of replenishing stores unless the line of the lake was clear.
So Barclay sailed out with his six little British vessels, armed by the odds and ends of whatever ordnance could be spared from Amherstburg and manned by almost any crews but sailors. Even the flagship Detroit had only ten real seamen, all told. Ammunition was likewise very scarce, and so defective that the guns had to be fired by the flash of a pistol. Perry also had a makeshift flotilla, partly manned by drafts from Harrison's army. But, on the whole, the odds in his favour were fairly shown by the number of vessels in the respective flotillas, nine American against the British six.
Barclay had only thirty miles to make in a direct south-easterly line from Amherstburg to reach Perry at Put-in Bay in the Bass Islands, where, on the morning of September 10, the opposing forces met. The battle raged for two hours at the very closest quarters till Perry's flagship Lawrence struck to Barclay's own Detroit. But Perry had previously left the Lawrence for the fresh Niagara; and he now bore down on the battered Detroit, which had meanwhile fallen foul of the only other sizable British vessel, the Queen Charlotte. This was fatal for Barclay. The whole British flotilla surrendered after a desperate resistance and an utterly disabling loss. From that time on to the end of the war Lake Erie remained completely under American control.
Procter could hardly help seeing that he was doomed to give up the whole Lake Erie region But he lingered and was lost. While Harrison was advancing with overwhelming numbers Procter was still trying to decide when and how to abandon Amherstburg. Then, when he did go, he carried with him an inordinate amount of baggage; and he retired so slowly that Harrison caught and crushed him near Moravian Town, beside the Thames, on the 5th of October. Harrison had three thousand exultant Americans in action; Procter had barely a thousand worn-out, dispirited men, more than half of them Indians under Tecumseh. The redcoats, spread out in single rank at open order, were ridden down by Harrison's cavalry, backed by the mass of his infantry. The Indians on the inland flank stood longer and fought with great determination against five times their numbers till Tecumseh fell. Then they broke and fled. This was their last great fight and Tecumseh was their last great leader. The scene now shifts once more to the Montreal frontier, which was being threatened by the converging forces of Hampton from the south and Wilkinson from the west. Each had about seven thousand men; and their common objective was the island of Montreal. Hampton crossed the line at Odelltown on September 20. But he presently moved back again; and it was not till October 21 that he began his definite attack by advancing down the left bank of the Châteauguay, after opening communications with Wilkinson, who was still near Sackett's Harbour. Hampton naturally expected to brush aside all the opposition that could be made by the few hundred British between him and the St Lawrence. But de Salaberry, the commander of the British advanced posts, determined to check him near La Fourche, where several little tributaries of the Châteauguay made a succession of good positions, if strengthened by abattis and held by trained defenders.
The British force was very small when Hampton began his slow advance; but ‘Red George’ Macdonell marched to help it just in time. Macdonell was commanding a crack corps of French Canadians, all picked from the best ‘Select Embodied Militia’ and now, at the end of six months of extra service, as good as a battalion of regulars. He had hurried to Kingston when Wilkinson had threatened it from Sackett's Harbour. Now he was urgently needed at Châteauguay. ‘When can you start?’ asked Prevost, who was himself on the point of leaving Kingston for Châteauguay. ‘Directly the men have finished their dinners, sir!’ ‘Then follow me as quickly as you can!’ said Prevost as he stepped on board his vessel. There were 210 miles to go. A day was lost in collecting boats enough for this sudden emergency. Another day was lost en route by a gale so terrific that even the French-Canadian voyageurs were unable to face it. The rapids, where so many of Amherst's men had been drowned in 1760, were at their very worst; and the final forty miles had to be made overland by marching all night through dense forest and along a particularly difficult trail. Yet Macdonell got into touch with de Salaberry long before Prevost, to whom he had the satisfaction of reporting later in the day: ‘All correct and present, sir; not one man missing!’
The advanced British forces under de Salaberry were now, on October 25, the eve of battle, occupying the left, or north, bank of the Châteauguay, fifteen miles south of the Cascade Rapids of the St Lawrence, twenty-five miles south-west of Caughnawaga, and thirty-five miles south-west of Montreal. Immediately in rear of these men under de Salaberry stood Macdonell's command; while, in more distant support, nearer to Montreal, stood various posts under General de Watteville, with whom Prevost spent that night and most of the 26th, the day on which the battle was fought.
As Hampton came on with his cumbrous American thousands de Salaberry felt justifiable confidence in his own well-disciplined French-Canadian hundreds. He and his brothers were officers in the Imperial Army. His Voltigeurs were regulars. The supporting Fencibles were also regulars, and of ten years' standing. Macdonell's men were practically regulars. The so-called ‘Select Militia’ present had been permanently embodied for eighteen months; and the only real militiamen on the scene of action, most of whom never came under fire at all, had already been twice embodied for service in the field. The British total present was 1590, of whom less than a quarter were militiamen and Indians. But the whole firing line comprised no more than 460, of whom only 66 were militiamen and only 22 were Indians. The Indian total was about one-tenth of the whole. The English-speaking total was about one-twentieth. It is therefore perfectly right to say that the battle of Châteauguay was practically fought and won by French-Canadian regulars against American odds of four to one.
De Salaberry's position was peculiar. The head of his little column faced the head of Hampton's big column on a narrow front, bounded on his own left by the river Châteauguay and on his own right by woods, into which Hampton was afraid to send his untrained men. But, crossing a right-angled bend of the river, beyond de Salaberry's left front, was a ford, while in rear of de Salaberry's own column was another ford which Hampton thought he could easily take with fifteen hundred men under Purdy, as he had no idea of Macdonell's march and no doubt of being able to crush de Salaberry's other troops between his own five thousand attacking from the front and Purdy's fifteen hundred attacking from the rear. Purdy advanced overnight, crossed to the right bank of the Châteauguay, by the ford clear of de Salaberry's front, and made towards the ford in de Salaberry's rear. But his men lost their way in the dark and found themselves, not in rear of, but opposite to, and on the left flank of, de Salaberry's column in the morning. They drove in two of de Salaberry's companies, which were protecting his left flank on the right, or what was now Purdy's, side of the river; but they were checked by a third, which Macdonell sent forward, across the rear ford, at the same time that he occupied this rear ford himself. Purdy and Hampton had now completely lost touch with one another. Purdy was astounded to see Macdonell's main body of redcoats behind the rear ford. He paused, waiting for support from Hampton, who was still behind the front ford. Hampton paused, waiting for him to take the rear ford, now occupied by Macdonell. De Salaberry mounted a huge tree-stump and at once saw his opportunity. Holding back Hampton's crowded column with his own front, which fought under cover of his first abattis, he wheeled the rest of his men into line to the left and thus took Purdy in flank. Macdonell was out of range behind the rear ford; but he played his part by making his buglers sound the advance from several different quarters, while his men, joined by de Salaberry's militiamen and by the Indians in the bush, cheered vociferously and raised the war-whoop. This was too much for Purdy's fifteen hundred. They broke in confusion, ran away from the river into the woods under a storm of bullets, fired into each other, and finally disappeared. Hampton's attack on de Salaberry's first abattis then came to a full stop; after which the whole American army retired beaten from the field.
Ten days after Châteauguay dilatory Wilkinson, tired of waiting for defeated Hampton, left the original rendezvous at French Creek, fifty miles below Sackett's Harbour. Like Dearborn in 1812, he began his campaign just as the season was closing. But, again like Dearborn, he had the excuse of being obliged to organize his army in the middle of the war. Four days later again, on November 9, Brown, the successful defender of Sackett's Harbour against Prevost's attack in May, was landed at Williamsburg, on the Canadian side, with two thousand men, to clear the twenty miles down to Cornwall, opposite the rendezvous at St Regis, where Wilkinson expected to find Hampton ready to join him for the combined attack on Montreal. But Brown had to reckon with Dennis, the first defender of Queenston, who now commanded the little garrison of Cornwall, and who disputed every inch of the way by breaking the bridges and resisting each successive advance till Brown was compelled to deploy for attack. Two days were taken up with these harassing manœuvres, during which another two thousand Americans were landed at Williamsburg under Boyd, who immediately found himself still more harassed in rear than Brown had been in front.
This new British force in Boyd's rear was only a thousand strong; but, as it included every human element engaged in the defence of Canada, it has a quite peculiar interest of its own. Afloat, it included bluejackets of the Royal Navy, men of the Provincial Marine, French-Canadian voyageurs, and Anglo-Canadian boatmen from the trading-posts, all under a first-rate fighting seaman, Captain Mulcaster, R.N. Ashore, under a good regimental leader, Colonel Morrison—whose chief staff officer was Harvey, of Stoney Creek renown—it included Imperial regulars, Canadian regulars of both races, French-Canadian and Anglo-Canadian militiamen, and a party of Indians. Early on the 11th Brown had arrived at Cornwall with has two thousand Americans, Wilkinson was starting down from Williamsburg in boats with three thousand more, and Boyd was starting down ashore with eighteen hundred. But Mulcaster's vessels pressed in on Wilkinson's rear, while Morrison pressed in on Boyd's. Wilkinson then ordered Boyd to turn about and drive off Morrison, while he hurried his own men out of reach of Mulcaster, whose armed vessels could not follow down the rapids. Boyd thereupon attacked Morrison, and a stubborn fight ensued at Chrystler's Farm. The field was of the usual type: woods on one flank, water on the other, and a more or less flat clearing in the centre. Boyd tried hard to drive his wedge in between the British and the river. But Morrison foiled him in manœuvre; and the eight hundred British stood fast against their eighteen hundred enemies all along the line. Boyd then withdrew, having lost four hundred men; and Morrison's remaining six hundred effectives slept on their hard-won ground.
Next morning the energetic Morrison resumed his pursuit. But the campaign against Montreal was already over. Wilkinson had found that Hampton had started back for Lake Champlain while the battle was in progress; so he landed at St Regis, just inside his own country, and went into winter quarters at French Mills on the Salmon river.
In December the scene of strife changed back again to the Niagara, where the American commander, M‘Clure, decided to evacuate Fort George. At dusk on the 10th he ordered four hundred women and children to be turned out of their homes at Newark into the biting midwinter cold, and then burnt the whole settlement down to the ground. If he had intended to hold the position he might have been justified in burning Newark, under more humane conditions, because this village undoubtedly interfered with the defensive fire of Fort George. But, as he was giving up Fort George, his act was an entirely wanton deed of shame.
Meanwhile the new British general, Gordon Drummond, second in ability to Brock alone, was hurrying to the Niagara frontier. He was preceded by Colonel Murray, who took possession of Fort George on the 12th, the day M‘Clure crossed the Niagara river. Murray at once made a plan to take the American Fort Niagara opposite; and Drummond at once approved it for immediate execution, On the night of the 18th six hundred men were landed on the American side three miles up the river. At four the next morning Murray led them down to the fort, rushing the sentries and pickets by the way with the bayonet in dead silence. He then told off two hundred men to take a bastion at the same time that he was to lead the other four hundred straight through the main gate, which he knew would soon be opened to let the reliefs pass out. Everything worked to perfection. When the reliefs came out they were immediately charged and bayoneted, as were the first astonished men off duty who ran out of their quarters to see what the matter was. A stiff hand-to-hand fight followed. But every American attempt to form was instantly broken up; and presently the whole place surrendered. Drummond, who was delighted with such an excellent beginning, took care to underline the four significant words referring to the enemy's killed and wounded—all with the bayonet. This was done in no mere vulgar spirit of bravado, still less in abominable bloody-mindedness. It was the soldierly recognition of a particularly gallant feat of arms, carried out with such conspicuously good discipline that its memory is cherished, even to the present day, by the 100th, afterwards raised again as the Royal Canadians, and now known as the Prince of Wales's Leinster regiment. A facsimile of Drummond's underlined order is one of the most highly honoured souvenirs in the officers' mess.
Not a moment was lost in following up this splendid feat of arms. The Indians drove the American militia out of Lewiston, which the advancing redcoats burnt to the ground. Fort Schlosser fell next, then Black Rock, and finally Buffalo. Each was laid in ashes. Thus, before 1813 ended, the whole American side of the Niagara was nothing but one long, bare line of blackened desolation, with the sole exception of Fort Niagara, which remained secure in British hands until the war was over.
1 For Madeleine de Verchères see The Fighting Governor in this Series.
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