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Without this
assistance, it was impracticable to carry by assault the works in
which the Americans had taken refuge. The gunboats alone could get
within range, and their small carronades were totally inadequate to
make any impression on the forts and blockhouses. "The troops were
reluctantly ordered to leave a beaten enemy." Brown makes no mention
of this retreat into the works, though it appears clear that the
Americans fell gradually back to their support; but he justifies
Prevost's withdrawal, bitterly criticised by writers of his own
nation, in the words, "Had not General Prevost retreated most rapidly
under the guns of his vessels, he would never have returned to
Kingston."[58]

In the midst of the action word was brought to Lieutenant Chauncey
that the battle was lost, and that the yard must be fired. Brown, in
his official report, expressly acquitted him of blame, with words of
personal commendation. The two schooners in commission had retreated
up Black River; but the prize "Duke of Gloucester," and the ship
approaching completion, were fired. Fortunately, the flames were
extinguished before serious damage was done; but when Commodore
Chauncey returned on June 1, he found that among a large quantity of
materials consumed were the stores and sails of the new ship. The loss
of these he thought would delay the movements of the squadron three
weeks; for without her Yeo's force was now superior.[59]

[Illustration: THE RETREAT OF THE BRITISH FROM SACKETT'S HARBOR.
_Drawn by Henry Reuterdahl._]

The defence of Sackett's Harbor obtained immediately for Brown, who
was just thirty-eight, the commission of brigadier general in the
army; for the new Secretary, Armstrong, was looking round anxiously
for men to put in command, and was quick to seize upon one when he
found him. To Chauncey, on the other hand, the affair in its
consequences and demonstration of actualities was a rude awakening, to
which his correspondence during the succeeding six weeks bears witness
by an evident waning of confidence, not before to be noted. On June 4
he tells the Secretary of the Navy that he has on Ontario, exclusive
of the new ship not yet ready, fourteen vessels of every description,
mounting sixty-two guns; whereas Yeo has seven, which, with six
gunboats, carry one hundred and six. "If he leave Kingston, I shall
meet him. The result may be doubtful, but worth the trial." This
resolution is not maintained. June 11 he hears, with truth, that Yeo
was seen at the head of the lake on the 7th, and that the Americans at
Fort George had taken his squadron to be Chauncey's. By the same
channel he learns of a disastrous engagement of the army there, which
was likewise true. His impulse is to go out to meet the British
squadron; but he reflects that the enemy may then again find an
opportunity to descend upon Sackett's, and perhaps succeed in burning
the new ship. Her size and armament will, he thinks, give him the
decisive superiority. He therefore resolves to put nothing to hazard
till she is finished.[60]

The impression produced by the late attack is obvious, and this
decision was probably correct; but Yeo too is building, and meantime
he has possession of the lake. On June 3 he left Kingston with a
squadron, two ships and four schooners, carrying some three hundred
troops for Vincent. On the evening of the 7th, about six o'clock, he
was sighted by the American army, which was then at Forty Mile Creek
on the Ontario shore; a position to which it had retired after a
severe reverse inflicted by the enemy thirty-six hours before.
Vincent's retreat had been followed as far as Stony Creek, ten miles
west of Forty Mile Creek, and somewhat less distant from Burlington
Heights, where the British lay. The situation of the latter was
extremely perilous; for, though strongly placed, they were greatly
outnumbered. In case of being driven from their lines, they must
retreat on York by a long and difficult road; and upon the same poor
communications they were dependent for supplies, unless their squadron
kept control of the lake. Recognizing that desperate conditions call
for desperate remedies, Vincent resolved to risk an attack with seven
hundred men under Colonel Harvey, in whose suggestion the movement
originated. These fell upon the American advance corps at two o'clock
in the morning of June 6. An hour of fighting ensued, with severe loss
on both sides; then Harvey, considering sufficient effect produced,
drew off his men before daylight revealed the smallness of their
numbers.

There was in this affair nothing intrinsically decisive, scarcely more
than a business of outposts; but by a singular coincidence both
American generals present were captured in the confusion. The officer
who succeeded to the command, a colonel of cavalry, modestly
distrustful of his own powers, could think of nothing more proper than
to return to Forty Mile Creek, sending word to Fort George. Dearborn,
still too weak to go to the front, despatched thither General Morgan
Lewis. On his way Lewis was overtaken by two brief messages from the
commander-in-chief announcing the appearance of Yeo's fleet, and
indicating apprehension that by means of it Vincent might come upon
Fort George before the main army could fall back there. It was most
improbable that the British general, with the command of the lake in
doubt would thus place himself again in the position from which he had
with difficulty escaped ten days before; but Dearborn's fears for the
safety of the forts prevailed, and he ordered a retreat. The movement
began by noon of June 8, and in a few days the army was back at
Niagara River, having lost or abandoned a quantity of stores. The
British followed to within ten miles of the fort, where they took up a
position. They also reoccupied Beaver Dam; and a force of six hundred
Americans sent to dislodge them, under Colonel Boerstler, was
compelled to surrender on June 24.[61] Dearborn, who had already
reported to the Department that he personally was "so reduced in
strength as to be incapable of any command," attributed his
embarrassments "to the temporary loss of command of the lake. The
enemy has availed himself of the advantage and forwarded
re-enforcements and supplies." The effect of controlling the water
cannot be contested; but the conditions at Stony Creek were such that
it should have been possible to drive Vincent away from any hold on
the south shore of Ontario. Creditable as had been the enterprise of
Colonel Harvey, it had accomplished no change in material conditions.
Dearborn was soon afterward relieved. His officers, including Scott,
joined in a letter of regret and esteem, prompted doubtless by
sympathy for the sufferings and miscarriage of an aged officer who had
served gallantly in his youth during the War of Independence.

To Colonel Harvey's attack, on the morning of June 6, a British
military critic has with justice assigned the turning of the tide in
the affairs of Upper Canada.[62] It is perfectly true that that
well-judged movement, admirable in conception and execution, checked
the progress of the American arms at a moment most favorable to them,
and put an end to conditions of advantage which never there recurred.
That this effect was produced, however, is attributable to the
inefficiency of the American officers in command. If Harvey had
divined this, from the previous operations, and made it a part of his
calculations, it is so much more to his credit; the competency of the
opponent is a chief factor to be considered in a military enterprise.
It detracts nothing from Harvey's merit to say that there was no
occasion for the American retreat, nor for the subsequent paralysis of
effort, which ended in expulsion from the Niagara peninsula at the end
of the year. "For some two months after this," wrote a very competent
eye-witness, afterward General Scott, "the army of Niagara, never less
than four thousand strong, stood fixed in a state of ignominy, under
Boyd, within five miles of an unintrenched enemy, with never more than
three thousand five hundred men."[63] Scott seems not to have known
that this inactivity was enjoined by the War Department till Chauncey
could resume control of the lake.[64] From this time, in fact, the
Niagara army and its plans disappear from the active operations.

Yeo remained in undisputed mastery of the water. That the British at
this time felt themselves the stronger in effective force, may be
reasonably inferred from their continuing to keep the lake after
Chauncey's new ship was out. She was launched June 12, and named the
"General Pike," in honor of the officer killed at the taking of York.
Her armament was to be twenty-six long 24-pounders, which under some
circumstances would make her superior, not only to any single vessel,
but to any combination of vessels then under the British flag. If it
was still possible, by use of favoring conditions, to contend with the
American fleet after the addition to it of this ship, by so much more
was Yeo able to deal successfully with it before her coming. A
comparison of the armaments of the opposing forces also demonstrates
that, whatever Chauncey's duty might have been without such prospect,
he was justified, having this decisive advantage within reach, in
keeping his fleet housed waiting for its realization. The British new
vessel, the "Wolfe," with the "Royal George"[65] and the "Melville,"
together threw a broadside weight of nine hundred and twenty
pounds,[66] to which the "Madison" and "Oneida" could oppose only six
hundred; and the batteries of all five being mainly carronades, there
are no qualifications to be made on the score of differing ranges. The
American schooners, though much more numerous than the British, in no
way compensated for this disparity, for reasons which will be given
when the narrative of operations begins. Unknown to Chauncey, the
vindication of his delay was to be found in Yeo's writing to the
Admiralty, that he was trying to induce the enemy to come out before
his new ship was ready.

Disappointed in this endeavor, the British commodore meantime employed
his vessels in maintaining the communications of the British and
harassing those of the Americans, thus observing the true relation of
the lake to the hostilities.



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