Niagara Historical Society: No. 23: Letters of 1812 Contributed by Col. Cruikshank, F. S. R. C.
Never before published, from the Archives, Ottawa.
Draft of letter from General Sheaffe to Major General Van Rensselaer.
Fort George, 13th October, 1812.
Sir:—I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your communication of date, and was pleased to learn at the same time that the officer commanding at Queenston had acceded to your proposal of sending surgeons to that post for the aid of the wounded prisoners, (though the attention of our surgeons might have prevented their suffering from the delay that might have been occaaioned by his waiting for my sanction), without incurring the delay that would have been occasioned by an reference to me, but as our means of affording assistance to them as well to our own wounded may be inadequate, I beg leave to propose that the wounded prisoners whose cases may admit of removal should be sent over to you on condition of not serving again until regularly exchanged.
Though the proposition which I had the honor of making to you to-day did not go the extent that, by some mistake, you were led to suppose, yet I readily concur with you in agree ng to a cessation of firing for three days and I transmit orders to that effect to the officers commanding at the several posts on this line.
P. S. 14th October, 1812.
Having delayed sending the accompanying to give General Wadsworth and the other officors who are prisoners an opportunity of (sending) writing for some necessary articles, I have the honor at the same time to propose an exchange of prisoners including those who were taken some days ago in the two vessels cut out from Ft. Erie harbor. I have further to propose, Sir, that the militia taken prisoners, excluding the number that may be exchanged, shall be restored to their homes and families under an engagement not to serve against Great Britein or her allies during the war or until regularly exchanged.
The words in brackets have been struck out and those following substituted.
Fort George, 17th Oct., 1812.
Sir;—I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your note of this date and regret that I have made a proposition to you that you find it necessary to reject, especially as it was made at the particular request of B. General Wadsworth. As that has failed I presume that the prior agreement respecting the Indian in question which was entered into by Colonel Winder still retains its force, and that the Indian will be sent back to morrow. Not having yet heard of the return of the prisoners who were to have been sent over from Buffalo or Black Rock early this morning according to the assurance given by Col. Winder and for whom prisoners have been already sent as an exchange, I request that if they have been intentionally detained, that you will be pleased to inform me of the cause,
Mr. Hamilton who has been some time detained at Buffalo, has brothers and other near relations in this vicinity, who have heard some accounts of his health by which they are much alarmed. I, therefore, permit one of his brothers to go over with a flag to Buffalo to obtain some information of him, and I beg leave to propose that Mr. Hamilton shall be allowed to return to his friends, an officer of a rank that may be deemed equivalent, being released from his parole in exchange for him.
From Brig. General Smyth to Major General Sheaffe.
Head Quarters of the Army of the Centre
Camp near Lewiston, 18 October, 1812.
Sir:—Your letter dated yesterday, I have this moment had the honor to receive.
In the agreement respecting the exchange of prisoners signed by Colonel Winder and Major Evans there is nothing said of the Indian chief, but any verbal agreement entered into by Colonel Winder will be fulfilled.
Col. Winder addressed a note to Genl. V. Rensselaer stating that you estimated the Indian chief as equal to a militia major and requesting instructions.
I propose to exchange the Indian chief for the 24 men, 7 women, 6 children taken at Chicago or such of them as were not butchered.
The prisoners at Buffalo have not been intentionally detained. The transfer of command has prevented the order being given for their release. It shall be immediately given.
The conduct of Mr. Hamilton, particularly in attempting to cross to Canada by night alone, would perhaps justify us in treating him as a spy. But willing to proceed in a liberal manner I accept your proposition for his exchange. The delicacy of his situation and the importance of his connexion, will justify me in estimating him equal to a captain of regular troops.
For the master-commandant of the Detroit alias Adams, I expect a captain of regulars in exchange. I think he ranks so by your regulations. For Mr. Carr, Lt. of Marines and Mr. Molloy you will please to release Lieutenants Totton and Randolph.
I am very sorry that at the moment I am writing this despatch, a British prisoner is found exploring the camp, having left his quarters about a mile distant. I have placed him in close confinement.
As I am averse to taking a single life or occasioning a single calamity without an object, I propose a further continuance of the Armistice indefinitely, each party having a right to terminate it, giving thirty hours notice to the other party, the armistice to extend along the frontier from the Lake Brie to Lake Ontario.
Fort George, 18th October, 1812.
Sir:—I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your communication by Captain King, Assistant Inspector General.
That there was nothing said of the Indian Chief in the agreement for an exchange of prisoners signed by Colonel Winder and Major Evans was owing to a supposition on the part of the latter that the case was already provided for by a special agreement between Colonel Winder and myself; that an Indian was taken prisoner having been mentioned in a conversation before those two officers began the discussion of the subject on which they were to treat (and I was so strongly impressed with the idea that the exchange was finally settled that I gave an assurance to his friends that he was to be restored.) With regard to your proposition to exchange the Indian chief for the men, women and children, or such of them as (were not butchered) may survive, I infinitely regret, Sir, that it is not within my power to restore them all without conditions. In (the transaction to which you allude) operations against that place, neither the British Government nor the influence of its officer, nor at British force was concerned, or probably your present proposition would be needless. I must therefore disclaim any authority to make (any) stipulations regarding them, but whatever may be in my power towards obtaining the restoration of the survivors to their friends, I shall most joyfully do, unconnected with the present subject of discussion.
I cannot admit it as a principle though Mr. Hamilton's conduct during his detention may not have been in some respects justifiable, yet I conceive that having been provided with a passport his attempt-) There are (particular) circumstances perhaps in Mr. Hamilton's case that (make me desirous of avoiding discussion) I am not qualified to discuss and as I am anxious for his returning into the bosom of a family that has suffered so much on his account, I am willing to grant more than perhaps ought to be deemed an equivalent for him.
The late commander of the Detroit belonging to the provincial marine, ranks with us only as a Lleut. of the regular troops. Mr. Molloy's rank is inferior to that of a Lieut, but, Sir, I am desirous that the opening of a correspondence between us should be marked by a spirit of liberality, conformably with which I propose that for Mr. Hamilton, Commr. Rolette, Lt, Kerr, Mr. Molloy and the Indian chief, there should be returned to you two captains of regular troops, the the two Lieuts. you have named and Lt. Smith who took the Indian chief and the Mr. Smith already offered with him, or a major of militia as originally proposed or if you have many substitute to name I beg that you will make it known to me.
As my sentiments perfectly accord with those you express in the opening of your proposal for continuing the armistice, I assent to its being prolonged indefinitely, each party having a right to terminate it, giving thirty hours previous notice.
I am extremely sorry to hear that a. British prisoner has been so indiscreet as to render himself liable to punishment. I hope that he has erred from ignorance and that an enquiry into the case will satisfy you that it was so.
N. B.—The words enclosed in brackets have been struck out.
From Charles Askin to John Askin.
Niagara, Wednesday, October 14th, 1812
Yesterday I am happy to say a great victory was gained by us over the Americans at Queenston, but it is a dear bought victory for our ever to he lamented General was killed. The action commenced about one hour before daylight and continued till three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Early in the day the General received a wound and I believe never spoke a word after. When the Americans first came over there were only two companies of the 49th regiment and two or three companies of militia to oppose them. In one of the companies of the 49th Wm. Robertson went with Mr. Robt. Grant as volunteer and distinguished himself very much. The Americans opened a battery on us and we threw over shells and cannonaded them as much as we could, but not to much effect for they continued coming over. The militia and 49th being engaged so much were soon much reduced by their killed and wounded. When information was given to the General that the Americans were getting on the mountain, he immediately ordered Col. McDonell to collect what men he could find and oppose them for at this time the 49th and militia were in difft parties. About 40 men were collected. They ran up the mountain and found about two or three hundred American regulars there well formed. Wm. R. who was at the head of the 40 men ran forward and called out to the Americans "Now, we will be at you." But the Americans immediately fired at them and obliged our men to retire down the hill. We had a battery halfway up the mountain which was but weakly guarded. The General was there and was obliged to leave it, and the Americans took possession of it. It was soon after this that the General got the wound which killed him. The Americans had possession of part of Queenston for some time and kept it as well as the battery and were busy bringing over their men as fast as they could, till reinforcements from this place and Chippawa of the 41st, the militia and the Indians, formed as I understand on the mountain, and attacked them so vigorously that they ran down the mountain as fast as they could and made for the river to get over and some attempted to swim when the American general on the other side seeing what a perilous situation they were in, sent over a flag of truce and they all surrendered prisoners of war They were all marched down to this place and got here about sundown. They came over to breakfast on this side, but I believe it was a day of fasting with them. There are about six hundred men taken and nearly fifty officers. One company of riflemen had made their way into the woods and remained all night. We heard this morning that the Indians were after them and a party of the 41st and militia are sent this morning to protect them, which I must say they hardly deserve. Had they not surrendered they must have all been driven into the river for they fled before our men, the grenadiers of the 41st who were anxious to retrieve their character were very anxious to charge them, but they ran before them so fast that they never could get up to them and went down what you might almost call precipices to get out of the way of our men. What number of our men were lost I cannot say, but there are few considering the time they were engaged. I think we have lost about sixty men and only one officer which was poor General Brock. Col. McDonell is dangerously wounded and several officers of the 49th are wounded but not badly. The Americans I think must have lost more than a hundred and I am told several of their officers were killed. at least six or seven. Among those taken are General Wadsworth, Cols. Allen, Van Ranselaer & Scott and some other Cols.
When the Americans were first coming over about 80 who were in a scow were so galled by the fire from a few of the 49th Regt that they begged for quarter and were taken prisoners. I saw a great many of the prisoners, one half of whom are militia, these were anxious to know and were in hopes of being allowed to go home as the militia taken at Detroit were, but when told they would have to go to Quebec, they were not very well pleased. Had they an idea of it there are not many of them would have put their foot on this shore. I regret much that I could not share in the honor of this victory. After my arrival at Queenston I was confined to my bed with boils and was for two days that I could not get up to my meals, nor could I hardly sit up in bed for the worst of the boils and the last broke the day before they came over. I was lying at George Hamilton's when we were first attacked and went from that to Robert's as well as I could, there I remained about an hour, but finding the Americans were gaining ground, I thought that as I could not run, that I should get out of their way if I could and went to a village about 2½ miles back and from that I came down here to get arms for some men that were there.
I have not time to write more or I would and paper is so scarce here that I can hardly get a sheet. This I had to beg.
The flank companies of the Newfoundland Fencibles are on their way to Amherstburg. I think there are nearly two hundred of them.