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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. At this moment, the end of March, the
British naval force on Ontario was divided between York and Kingston;
in each were vessels afloat and vessels building. An attack upon
Kingston, Chauncey said, no doubt would be finally successful--an
initial admission which gave away his case; but as the opposing force
would be considerable, it would protract the general operations of the
campaign--the reduction of the northwest--longer than would be
advisable, particularly as large re-enforcements would probably
arrive at Quebec in the course of two months. On the other hand, to
proceed against York, which probably could be carried immediately,
would result in destroying at once a large fraction of the British
fleet, greatly weakening the whole body. Thence the combined Americans
would turn against Fort George and the Niagara line. If successful
here, the abandonment of Fort Erie by the British would release the
American vessels which by its guns were confined at Black Rock. They
would sail forth and join their consorts at Erie; which done,
Chauncey, leaving his Ontario fleet to blockade Yeo at Kingston, would
go to the upper lake and carry against the British the squadron thus
concentrated there, would co-operate with the army under General
Harrison, recover Detroit, and capture Malden. Lake Erie and its
surroundings would thus become an American holding. After this, it
would be but a step to reconquer Michilimackinac, thereby acquiring an
influence over the Indians which, in conjunction with military and
naval preponderance, would compel the enemy to forsake the upper
country altogether, and concentrate his forces about Kingston and
Montreal.

It is interesting to see an elaborate piece of serious reasoning
gradually culminate in a _reductio ad absurdum_; and Chauncey's
reasoning ends in a military absurdity. The importance of Kingston is
conceded by him, and the probability of capturing it at the first is
admitted. Thereupon follows a long project of operation, which ends in
compelling the enemy to concentrate all his strength at the very
points--Kingston and Montreal--which it is most important for the
Americans to gain; away from which, therefore, they should seek to
keep the enemy, and not to drive him in upon them. This comes from the
bias of the Government, and of the particular officer, regarding the
Northwestern territory as the means whereby success was to be
accomplished instead of merely the end to be attained. To make the
Western territory and control of the Indians the objects of the
campaign was a political and military motive perfectly allowable, and
probably, in view of recent history, extremely necessary; but to make
these things the objective of operations was to invert the order of
proceedings, as one who, desiring to fell a tree, should procure a
ladder and begin cutting off the outermost branches, instead of
striking at the trunk by the ground.

Eighteen months later Chauncey wrote some very wise words in this
spirit. "It has always been my opinion that the best means to conquer
Canada was to cut off supplies from Lower to Upper by taking and
maintaining some position on the St. Lawrence. That would be killing
the tree by girdling; the branches, dependent on ordinary supplies,
die of necessity. But it is now attempted to kill the tree by lopping
off branches" [he is speaking of the Niagara campaign of 1814]; "the
body becomes invigorated by reducing the demands on its
resources."[48] By this time Chauncey had been chastened by
experience. He had seen his anticipated glory reaped on Lake Erie by
his junior. He had seen the control of Ontario contested, and finally
wrung from him, by vessels built at Kingston, the place which he had
failed to take when he thought it possible. He had been blockaded
during critical months by a superior squadron; and at the moment of
writing, November 5, 1814, Sir James Yeo was moving, irresistible,
back and forth over the waters of Ontario, with his flag flying in a
ship of 102 guns, built at Kingston. In short, the Canadian tree was
rooted in the ocean, where it was nourished by the sea power of Great
Britain. To destroy it, failing the ocean navy which the United States
had not, the trunk must be severed; the nearer the root the better.

Demonstration of these truths was not long in coming, and will be
supplied by the narrative of events. When Chauncey penned the plan of
operations just analyzed, there were in York two vessels, the "Prince
Regent" of twenty guns, the "Duke of Gloucester," sixteen, and two--by
his information--on the stocks. On April 14 the ice in Sackett's
Harbor broke up, though large floes still remained in the lake. On the
19th these also had disappeared. Eighteen hundred troops were embarked
by the squadron, and on the 24th the expedition started, but was
driven back by heavy weather. The next day it got away finally, and on
the early morning of the 27th appeared off York. The troops were
landed westward of the town, and proceeded to attack, supported by the
shipping. The enemy, inferior in number, retired; the small regular
force making its escape, with the exception of fifty who surrendered
with the militia present. The American loss, army and navy, was a
little over three hundred; among whom was General Pike, an excellent
soldier, who commanded the landing and was mortally wounded by the
explosion of a magazine. The "Duke of Gloucester" schooner was taken,
but the "Prince Regent" had gone to Kingston three days before; the
weather which drove Chauncey back had enabled her to join her fleet as
soon as released by the ice. By her escape the blow lost most of its
effect; for York itself was indefensible, and was taken again without
difficulty in the following July. A 30-gun vessel approaching
completion was found on the stocks and burned, and a large quantity of
military and naval stores were either destroyed or brought away by the
victorious squadron. These losses were among the news that greeted
Yeo's arrival; but, though severe, they were not irreparable, as
Chauncey for the moment imagined. He wrote: "I believe that the enemy
has received a blow that he cannot recover, and if we succeed in our
next enterprise, which I see no reason to doubt, we may consider the
upper province as conquered."[49] The mistake here was soon to be
evident.

No time was wasted at York. The work of destruction, and of loading
what was to be carried away, was completed in three days, and on May 1
the troops were re-embarked, to sail for Fort George on the morrow.
The wind, which for some days had been fair and moderate from the
eastward, then came on to blow a gale which would make landing
impossible off Niagara, and even navigation dangerous for the small
vessels. This lasted through the 7th, Chauncey writing on that day
that they were still riding with two anchors ahead and lower yards
down. So crowded were the ships that only half the soldiers could be
below at one time; hence they were exposed to the rain, and also to
the fresh-water waves, which made a clean breach over the schooners.
Under such circumstances both troops and seamen sickened fast. On the
8th, the weather moderating, the squadron stood over to Fort Niagara,
landed the troops for refreshment, and then returned to Sackett's; it
being thought that the opportunity for surprise had been lost, and
that no harm could come of a short further delay, during which also
re-enforcements might be expected.

Soon after his return Chauncey sent a flag of truce to Kingston. This
made observations as to the condition of the enemy which began to
dispel his fair illusions.[50] His purpose to go in person to Niagara
was postponed; and despatching thither the squadron with troops, he
remained at Sackett's to protect the yard and the ships building, in
co-operation with the garrison. His solicitude was not misplaced.
Niagara being a hundred and fifty miles from Sackett's, the fleet and
army had been committed to a relatively distant operation, depending
upon a main line of communication,--the lake,--on the flank and rear
of which, and close to their own inadequately protected base, was a
hostile arsenal, Kingston, harboring a naval force quite able to
compete with their own. The danger of such a situation is obvious to
any military man, and even to a layman needs only to be indicated.
Nevertheless the enterprise was launched, and there was nothing for it
now but to proceed on the lines laid down.

Chauncey accordingly sailed May 22, re-enforcements of troops for the
defence of Sackett's having meantime arrived. He did not reach Niagara
until the 25th. The next day was spent in reconnoissances, and other
preparations for a landing on the lake shore, a short mile west of
Fort George. On the 27th, at 9 A.M., the attack began, covered by the
squadron. General Vincent, in command of the British Niagara frontier,
moved out to meet his enemy with the entire force near Fort George,
leaving only a small garrison of one hundred and thirty men to hold
the post itself. There was sharp fighting at the coast-line; but
Vincent's numbers were much inferior, and he was compelled steadily to
give ground, until finally, seeing that the only alternatives were the
destruction of his force or the abandonment of the position, he sent
word to the garrison to spike the guns, destroy the ammunition, and to
join his column as it withdrew. He retreated along the Niagara River
toward Queenston, and thence west to Beaver Dam, about sixteen miles
from Fort George. At the same time word was sent to the officers
commanding at Fort Erie, and the intermediate post of Chippewa, to
retire upon the same place, which had already been prepared in
anticipation of such an emergency. The three divisions were thus in
simultaneous movement, converging upon a common point of
concentration, where they all assembled during the night; the whole,
as reported by Vincent to his superior, now not exceeding sixteen
hundred.[51] The casualties during the day's fighting had been
heavy, over four hundred killed and wounded; but in the retreat no
prisoners were lost except the garrison of the fort, which was
intercepted.



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