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Dearborn, as before at York, had not landed with his
troops; prevented, doubtless, by the infirmities of age increasing
upon him. Two days later he wrote to the Department, "I had presumed
that the enemy would confide in the strength of his position and
venture an action, by which an opportunity would be afforded to cut
off his retreat."[52] This guileless expectation, that the net may be
spread not in vain before the eyes of any bird, provoked beyond
control such measure of equanimity as Armstrong possessed. Probably
suspecting already that his correct design upon Kingston had been
thwarted by false information, he retorted: "I cannot disguise from
you the _surprise_ occasioned by the _two escapes of a beaten enemy_;
first on May 27, and again on June 1. Battles are not gained, when an
inferior and broken enemy is not destroyed. Nothing is done, while
anything that might have been done is omitted."[53] Vincent was unkind
enough to disappoint his opponent. The morning after the engagement he
retired toward a position at the head of the lake, known then as
Burlington Heights, where the town of Hamilton now stands. Upon his
tenure here the course of operations turned twice in the course of the
next six months.


While Vincent was in retreat upon Burlington, Captain Barclay arrived
at his headquarters, on the way to take charge of the Lake Erie
squadron;[54] having had to coast the north shore of Ontario, on
account of the American control of the water. The inopportuneness of
the moment was prophetic of the numberless disappointments with which
the naval officer would have to contend during the brief three months
preceding his defeat by Perry. "The ordnance, ammunition, and other
stores for the service on Lake Erie," wrote Prevost on July 20, with
reference to Barclay's deficiencies, "had been deposited at York for
the purpose of being transported to Amherstburg, but unfortunately
were either destroyed or fell into the enemy's hands when York was
taken by them; and the subsequent interruption to the communication,
by their occupation of Fort George, has rendered it extremely
difficult to afford the supplies Captain Barclay requires, which,
however, are in readiness to forward whenever circumstances will
permit it to be done with safety."[55] The road from Queenston to Fort
Erie, around Niagara Falls, was the most used and the best line of
transportation, because the shortest. To be thrown off it to that from
Burlington to Long Point was a serious mishap for a force requiring
much of heavy and bulky supplies. To add to these more vital
embarrassments, the principal ship, the "Queen Charlotte," which had
been lying at Fort Erie, had been ordered by Vincent to leave there
when the place was evacuated, and to go to Amherstburg, thus giving
Barclay the prospect of a land journey of two hundred miles through
the wilderness to his destination. Fortunately for him, a vessel
turned up at Long Point, enabling him to reach Amherstburg about June

The second step in Chauncey's programme had now been successfully
taken, and the vessels at Black Rock were free to move. With an energy
and foresight which in administration seldom forsook him, he had
prepared beforehand to seize even a fleeting opportunity to get them
out. Immediately upon the fall of York, "to put nothing to hazard, I
directed Mr. Eckford to take thirty carpenters to Black Rock, where he
has gone to put the vessels lying there in a perfect state of repair,
ready to leave the river for Presqu' Isle the moment we are in
possession of the opposite shore." Perry also was on hand, being
actively engaged in the landing at Fort George; and the same evening,
May 27, he left for Black Rock to hasten the departure. The process
involved great physical labor, the several vessels having to be
dragged by oxen against the current of the Niagara, here setting
heavily toward the falls. It was not until June 12 that they were all
above the rapids, and even this could not have been accomplished but
for soldiers furnished by Dearborn.[56] The circumstance shows how
hopeless the undertaking would have been if the enemy had remained in
Fort Erie. Nor was this the only peril in their path. Barclay, with
commendable promptitude, had taken the lake in superior force very
shortly after his arrival at Amherstburg, and about June 15 appeared
off Erie [Presqu' Isle]. Having reconnoitred the place, he cruised
between it and Black Rock, to intercept the expected division; but the
small vessels, coasting the beach, passed their adversary unseen in a
fog,[57] and on June 18 reached the port. As Chauncey had reported on
May 29 that the two brigs building there were launched, affairs on
that lake began to wear a promising aspect. The Lakes station as a
whole, however, was still very short of men; and the commodore added
that if none arrived before his approaching return to Sackett's, he
would have to lay up the Ontario fleet to man that upon Erie.

To do this would have been to abandon to the enemy the very important
link in the communications, upon which chiefly depended the
re-enforcement and supplies for both armies on the Niagara peninsula.
The inherent viciousness of the plan upon which the American
operations were proceeding was now quickly evident. At the very moment
of the attack upon Fort George, a threatening but irresolute movement
against Sackett's was undertaken by Prevost, with the co-operation of
Yeo, by whom the attempt is described as a diversion, in consequence
of the enemy's attack upon Fort George. Had the place fallen, Chauncey
would have lost the ship then building, on which he was counting to
control the water; he would have had nowhere to rest his foot except
his own quarter-deck, and no means to repair his fleet or build the
new vessels continually needed to maintain superiority. The case of
Yeo dispossessed of Kingston would have been similar, but worse; for
land transport in the United States was much better than in Canada.
The issue of the war, as regarded the lakes and the Northwestern
territory, lay in those two places. Upon them depended offensive and
defensive action.

At the time of the attack upon Sackett's only two vessels of the
squadron were there, the senior officer of which, Lieutenant Chauncey,
was in momentary command of the navy yard as well. The garrison
consisted of four hundred regular troops, the coming of whom a week
before had enabled Chauncey to leave for Niagara. Dearborn had already
written to Major-General Jacob Brown, of the New York militia, asking
him to take command of the station; for which his local knowledge
particularly fitted him, as he was a resident of some years' standing.
He had moreover manifested marked military capacity on the St.
Lawrence line, which was under his charge. Brown, whose instincts were
soldierly, was reluctant to supersede Colonel Backus, the officer of
regulars in command; but a letter from the latter received on the
27th, asking him to take charge, determined his compliance. When he
arrived five hundred militia had assembled.

The British expedition left Kingston with a fine fair wind on the
early morning of May 27--the same day that the Americans were landing
at Fort George. The whole fleet accompanied the movement, having
embarked troops numbering over seven hundred; chiefly regulars. At
noon they were off Sackett's Harbor. Prevost and Yeo stood in to
reconnoitre; but in the course of an hour the troops, who were already
in the boats, ready to pull to the beach, were ordered to re-embark,
and the squadron stood out into the lake. The only result so far was
the capture of twelve out of nineteen American barges, on their way
from Oswego to the Harbor. The other seven gained the port.

During the next thirty-six hours militia kept coming in, and Brown
took command. Sackett's Harbor is an indentation on the south side of
a broad bay, called Black River Bay, into which the Black River
empties. The harbor opens eastward; that is, its back is toward the
lake, from which it is distant a little over a mile; and its north
side is formed by a long narrow point, called Navy Point, on which was
the naval establishment. Where Black River Bay meets the lake, its
south shore is prolonged to the west by a projection called Horse
Island, connected with the land by a fordable neck. Brown expected the
landing to be made upon this, and he decided to meet the attack at the
water's edge of the mainland, as the enemy crossed the neck. There he
disposed his five hundred militia, placing the regulars under Backus
in a second line; a steadying point in case the first line of
untrained men failed to stand firm. It was arranged that, if the enemy
could not be resisted, Lieutenant Chauncey was to set fire to the
naval stores and shipping, and cross with his crews to the south side
of the harbor, east of a work called Fort Volunteer, where Brown
proposed to make his final stand. From there, although an enemy at the
yard could be molested, he could not certainly be prevented from
carrying off stores or ships; hence the necessity for destruction.


The British landed upon Horse Island soon after daylight of May 29,
and from there advanced. The militia met them with a volley, but then
broke and fled, as had been foreseen by Brown, himself yet a militia
officer. Their colonel behaved gallantly, and was killed in trying to
rally his men; while Brown in person, collecting a hundred of the
fugitives, worked round with them to the left flank of the approaching
British. These, moving through the woods, now encountered Backus and
his regulars, who made upon them an impression of overwhelming
numbers, to which the British official report bears a vivid testimony.
The failure to carry the place is laid by this paper upon the light
and adverse winds, which prevented the co-operation of the squadron's
heavy guns, to reduce the batteries and blockhouse. Without this
assistance, it was impracticable to carry by assault the works in
which the Americans had taken refuge.

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