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iii. p. 351.

[36] Captains' Letters, April 13, 1813.

[37] Ibid., May 22.

[38] Niles' Register, vol. iv. p. 134.

[39] Letter of Governor Winder, April 26, 1813. Niles' Register, vol.
iv. p. 204.




CHAPTER X

CAMPAIGN OF 1813 ON THE LAKE FRONTIER, TO THE BATTLE OF
LAKE ERIE


In April, 1813, on the land frontier of the north and west, no
substantial change had taken place in the conditions which gave to the
United States the power of the offensive. Such modification as
Chauncey's energy had effected was to strengthen superiority, by
promising ultimate control of the upper and lower lakes. The British
had not been idle; but the greater natural difficulties under which
they labored, from less numerous population and less advanced
development of the country and its communications, together with a
greater severity of climate, had not been compensated by a naval
direction similar to that exercised by the American commodore and his
efficient second, Perry. Sir John Warren had been ordered to pay
attention to the lakes, the naval service of which was placed under
his charge. This added to his responsibilities, and to the drain upon
his resources of men and materials; but, with an oversight already
extending from Halifax to Jamaica and Barbados, he could do little for
the lakes, beyond meeting requisitions of the local authorities and
furnishing a draft of officers. Among those sent from his fleet was
Captain Barclay, who commanded the British squadron in Perry's action.

The Admiralty, meantime, had awaked to the necessity of placing
preparations and operations under competent naval guidance, if command
of the water was to be secured. For that purpose they selected Captain
Sir James Lucas Yeo, a young officer of much distinction, just turned
thirty, who was appointed to the general charge of the lake service,
under Warren. Leaving England in March, accompanied by a body of
officers and seamen, Yeo did not reach Kingston until May 15, 1813,
when the campaign was already well under way; having been begun by
Dearborn and Chauncey April 24. His impressions on arrival were
discouraging. He found the squadron in a weak state, and the enemy
superior in fact and in promise. They had just succeeded in burning at
York a British vessel intended for thirty guns, and they had, besides,
vessels building at Sackett's Harbor. He had set to work, however,
getting his force ready for action, and would go out as soon as
possible to contest the control of Ontario; for upon that depended the
tenure of Upper Canada.[40] Barclay, upon the arrival of his superior,
was sent on to Amherstburg, to fulfil upon Erie the same relation to
Yeo that Perry did to Chauncey.

It had been clearly recognized by the American authorities that any
further movement for the recapture of Detroit and invasion of Canada
would depend upon the command of Lake Erie; and that that in turn
would depend largely upon mastery of Ontario. In fact, the nearer the
sea control over the water communications could be established, the
more radical and far-reaching the effect produced. For this reason,
Montreal was the true objective of American effort, but the
Government's attention from the first had centred upon the
northwestern territory; upon the extremity of the enemy's power,
instead of upon its heart. Under this prepossession, despite adequate
warning, it had persisted in the course of which Hull's disaster was
the outcome; and now, though aroused by this stunning humiliation, its
understanding embraced nothing beyond the Great Lakes. Clear
indication of this narrow outlook is to be found in the conditions on
Lake Champlain, the natural highway to Canada. Only the scantiest
mention is to be found of naval preparation there, because actually
little was being done; and although the American force was momentarily
superior, it was so simply because the British, being in Canada wholly
on the defensive, and therefore obliged to conform to American
initiative, contemplated no use of this lake, the mastery of which,
nevertheless, was soon afterward thrown into their hands by a
singularly unfortunate occurrence.

Dearborn, who still remained in chief command of the armies on the New
York frontier, was therefore directed to concentrate his effort upon
Ontario, starting from Sackett's Harbor as a base. Chauncey, whose
charge extended no farther than the upper rapids of the St. Lawrence,
had of course no other interest. His first plan, transmitted to the
Navy Department January 21, 1813,[41] had been to proceed immediately
upon the opening of navigation, with the fleet and a land force of a
thousand picked troops, against Kingston, the capture of which, if
effected, would solve at a single stroke every difficulty in the upper
territory. No other harbor was tenable as a naval station; with its
fall, and the destruction of shipping and forts, would go the control
of the lake, even if the place itself were not permanently held.
Deprived thus of the water communications, the enemy could retain no
position to the westward, because neither re-enforcements nor supplies
could reach them. To quote Chauncey's own words, "I have no doubt we
should succeed in taking or destroying their ships and forts, and, of
course, preserve our ascendency on this lake."

This remark, though sound, was narrow in scope; for it failed to
recognize, what was perfectly knowable, that the British support of
the Lake Erie stations and the upper country depended on their power
to control, or at worst to contest, Ontario. Of this they themselves
were conscious, as the words of Yeo and Brock alike testify. The new
American Secretary of War, Armstrong, who was a man of correct
strategical judgment and considerable military information, entered
heartily into this view; and in a letter dated February 10
communicated to Dearborn the orders of the President for his
operations, based upon the Secretary's recommendation.[42] Four
thousand men were to be assembled at Sackett's, and three thousand at
Buffalo. The former, under convoy of the fleet, was to proceed first
against Kingston, then against York (Toronto). After this the two
corps should co-operate in an attack to be made upon the British
Niagara frontier, which rested upon Fort George on the Ontario shore,
and Fort Erie upon Lake Erie. This plan was adopted upon the
assumption, which was probably correct, that the enemy's entire
military force upon Ontario did not exceed twenty-one hundred regular
troops, of whom six hundred were at Kingston and twelve hundred at
Niagara. Armstrong, who recognized the paramount importance of
Montreal, had received the exaggerated impression that there might be
in that neighborhood eight to ten thousand regulars. There were not
yet nearly that number in all Canada;[43] but he was perhaps correct
in thinking that the provision for the offensive, which he had found
upon taking office a few weeks before, was insufficient for an advance
in that quarter.

Dearborn very soon discovered objections to proceeding against
Kingston, in his own estimates of the enemy's numbers, based upon
remarkable reports received from sources "entitled to full credit."
On March 3 he was satisfied that from six to eight thousand men had
been assembled there from Quebec, Montreal, and Upper Canada; while
the presence of Sir George Prevost, the Governor General, and
commander-in-chief in Canada, who had seized an opportunity to make a
hurried visit to Kingston to assure himself as to the progress of the
ships building, convinced the American general that an attack upon
Sackett's was contemplated.[44] From that time forward Dearborn
realized in his own person the process of making pictures to one's
self concerning a military situation, against which Napoleon uttered a
warning. Chauncey was more sceptical, although he could not very well
avoid attention to the reports brought in. He expresses himself as
believing that a considerable number of men had been assembled in
Kingston, but that their real object was to proceed against Harrison
in the Far West.[45]

There seems to have been no foundation for any of these alarms.
Prevost was a soldier of good reputation, but wanting in initiative,
audacity, and resolution, as the current war was to prove. His
presence at Kingston at this moment was simply one incident in a rapid
official visit to the upper military posts, extending as far as
Niagara, and accomplished in four weeks; for, leaving Quebec February
17, he was again writing from there on the 17th of March. As far as
can be deduced from his correspondence, four companies of regulars had
preceded him from Montreal to Kingston, and there may very well have
been a gathering of local forces for inspection or otherwise; but no
re-enforcements of regulars, other than that just mentioned, reached
Kingston from down the river before May. Dearborn never renounced his
belief in the meditated attack, though finally satisfied that it was
abandoned; and his positive reports as to the enemy's numbers wrung
from Armstrong acquiescence in a change of plan, by which York, and
not Kingston, should be the first object of the campaign.[46]

Chauncey, who had some sound military ideas, as his first plan showed,
was also brought round to this conclusion by a process of reasoning
which he developed in a second plan of operations, submitted March
18,[47] but evidently long since matured. It apparently antedates
Dearborn's apprehensions, and is not affected by them, though the two
worked together to a common mistaken decision. The commodore's letter
presents an interesting study, in its demonstration of how an
erroneous first conception works out to false conclusions, and in the
particular instance to ultimate military disaster. The capture of
Kingston, his first plan, and its retention, which Armstrong purposed,
would have settled the whole campaign and affected decisively the
issue of the war. Chauncey's new project is dominated throughout by
the view, which was that of the Government, that the great object of
the war was to control the northwestern territory by local operations,
instead of striking at the source of British power in its
communication with the sea.



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