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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. Mention has been made of the effect upon
Dearborn; morally, in the apprehension created, actually, in the
strength contributed to Vincent's army. "The enemy's fleet is
constantly hovering on the coast and interrupting our supplies," wrote
General Lewis, during Dearborn's incapacity. Besides incidental
mentions by American officers, Yeo himself reports the capture of two
schooners and boats loaded with stores June 13; and between that date
and the 19th he landed parties at the Genesee River and Great Sodus,
capturing or destroying a quantity of provisions. Transit between
Oswego and Sackett's was also in constant danger of an unexpected
interference by the British squadron. On June 20 it appeared off
Oswego, with apparent disposition to attack; but Yeo, who in his
exercise of chief command displayed a degree of caution remarkable in
view of his deservedly high reputation for dash acquired in less
responsible positions, did not pass beyond threat. All the same, the
mere uncertainty exercised a powerful influence on the maintenance of
intercourse. "If the schooners 'Lark' and 'Fly' are not now in
Sackett's," wrote Lieutenant Woolsey from Oswego, "they must have been
taken yesterday by the British boats. They were loaded with powder,
shot, and hospital stores for the army." He has also cordage, powder,
guns, cables, to send, and boats in which to ship them; but "under
existing circumstances I dare not take upon myself to send them
farther than to Sandy Creek, under strong guard. I think it would be
unsafe to venture round Stony Point [a projecting headland twelve
miles from Sackett's] without convoy or a good guard."[67]

On July 2, having ranged the lake at will since June 1, Yeo returned
to Kingston, and Chauncey again began to hear rumors. "The fleet has
taken on board two thousand men, and two thousand more are to embark
in boats; an attack upon this place is the object. The plan is to make
a desperate push at our fleet before the 'General Pike' can be got
ready.... His real object may be to land re-enforcements near Fort
George, to act with General Vincent against Dearborn. If this be his
object, he will succeed in obliging our army to recross the Niagara
River;"[68] a damaging commentary on the American plan of campaign.
This fear, however, was excessive, for the reason that an effective
American army on the Niagara had a land line of communication, bad but
possible, alternative to the lake. The British had not. Moreover, the
Niagara peninsula had for them a value, as a land link between Ontario
and Erie, to which nothing corresponded on the United States side. Had
Vincent been driven from Burlington Heights, not only would he have
lost touch with the lake, and been forced back on York, but Ontario
would for the British have been entirely cut off from Erie.

The "General Pike" was ready for service on July 20, and the following
evening Chauncey sailed. With this begins a period, extending over ten
or twelve weeks, which has no parallel in the naval lake history of
the war. It was unproductive of decisive results, and especially of
the one particular result which is the object of all naval action--the
destruction of the enemy's organized force, and the establishment of
one's own control of the water; nevertheless, the ensuing movements of
Yeo and Chauncey constituted a naval campaign of considerable
interest. Nothing resembling it occurred on either Lake Champlain or
Erie, and no similar condition recurred on Ontario. The fleets were
frequently in presence of each other, and three times came to blows.
On Erie and on Champlain the opposing forces met but once, and then
without any prolonged previous attempts at manoeuvring. They fought
immediately; the result in each case being an American victory, not
only complete but decisive, which has kept their remembrance alive to
this day in the national memory. On Ontario, after the close of the
season of 1813, the struggle resolved itself into a race of
ship-building; both parties endeavoring to maintain superiority by the
creation of ever-increasing numbers, instead of by crushing the enemy.
Such a contest sufficiently befits a period of peace; it is, for
instance, at this moment the condition of the great naval nations of
the world, each of which is endeavoring to maintain its place in the
naval scale by the constant production and development of material. In
war, however, the object is to put an end to a period of national
tension and expense by destroying the enemy; and the failure of the
commanders to effect this object calls for examination.

The indecisive result on Ontario was due to the particular composition
of the two squadrons; to the absence of strong compelling conditions,
such as made fighting imperative on Barclay upon Erie, and perhaps
also on Downie upon Champlain; and finally, to the extreme wariness of
the commanders, each of whom was deeply impressed with the importance
of preserving his own fleet, in order not to sacrifice control of the
lake. Chauncey has depicted for us his frame of mind in instructions
issued at this very moment--July 14--to his subordinate, Perry. "The
first object will be to destroy or cripple the enemy's fleet; but in
all attempts upon the fleet you ought to use great caution, for the
loss of a single vessel may decide the fate of the campaign."[69] A
practical commentary of singular irony was passed upon this utterance
within two months; for by sacrificing a single ship Perry decided his
own campaign in his own favor. Given the spirit of Chauncey's warning,
and also two opponents with fleets so different in constitution that
one is strong where the other is weak, and _vice versa_, and there is
found the elements of wary and protracted fighting, with a strong
chance that neither will be badly hurt; but also that neither will
accomplish much. This is what happened on Ontario.

[Illustration: THE FLEETS OF CHAUNCEY AND YEO MANOEUVRING ON LAKE
CHAMPLAIN.
_Drawn by Carlton T. Chapman._]

The relative powers of the two fleets need to be briefly explained;
for they constituted, so to say, the hands in the game which each
commander had to play. The British had six vessels, of varying sizes
and rigs, but all built for war, and sailing fairly well together.
They formed therefore a good manoeuvring squadron. The Americans had
three vessels built for war, and at the beginning ten schooners also,
not so designed, and not sailing well with the armaments they bore.
Whatever the merits of this or that vessel, the squadron as a whole
manoeuvred badly, and its movements were impeded by the poorer
sailors. The contrast in armaments likewise had a very decisive
effect. There were in those days two principal classes of naval
cannon,--long guns, often called simply "guns," and carronades. The
guns had long range with light weight of shot fired; the carronades
had short range and heavy shot. Now in long guns the Americans were
four times as strong as the British, while in carronades the British
were twice as strong as the Americans. It follows that the American
commodore should prefer long range to begin with; whereas the British
would be careful not to approach within long range, unless with such a
breeze as would carry him rapidly down to where his carronades would
come into play.

There was another controlling reason why short range favored the
British against the Americans. The schooners of the latter, not being
built for war, carried their guns on a deck unprotected by bulwarks.
The men, being exposed from the feet up, could be swept away by
canister, which is a quantity of small iron balls packed in a case and
fired from a cannon. When discharged, these separate and spread like
buckshot, striking many in a group. They can maim or kill a man, but
their range is short and penetrative power small. A bulwarked vessel
was, so to say, armored against canister; for it makes no difference
whether the protection is six inches of wood or ten of iron, provided
it keeps out the projectile. The American schooners were in this
respect wholly vulnerable.

Over-insistence upon details of advantage or disadvantage is often
wearisome, and may be pushed to pettifogging; but these quoted are
general and fundamental. To mention them is not to chaffer over
details, but to state principles. There is one other which should be
noted, although its value may be differently estimated. Of the great
long-gun superiority of the Americans more than one half was in the
unprotected schooners; distributed, that is, among several vessels not
built for war, and not capable of acting well together, so as to
concentrate their fire. There is no equality between ten guns in five
such vessels and the same ten concentrated on one deck, under one
captain. That this is not special pleading, to contravene the
assertion advanced by James of great American superiority on Ontario,
I may quote words of my own, written years ago with reference to a
British officer: "An attempt was made to disparage Howe's conduct (in
1778), and to prove that his force was even superior to that of the
French, by adding together the guns in all his ships, disregarding
their classes, or by combining groups of his small vessels against
D'Estaing's larger units. For this kind of professional arithmetic
Howe felt and expressed just and utter contempt."[70] So Nelson wrote
to the commander of a British cruising squadron, "Your intentions of
attacking the 'Aigle'"--a seventy-four--"with your three frigates are
certainly very laudable, but I do not consider your force by any means
equal to it." The new American ship, the "General Pike," possessed
this advantage of the seventy-four.



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