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One discharge of her broadside was
substantially equal to that of the ten schooners, and all her guns
were long; entirely out-ranging the batteries of her antagonists.
Under some circumstances--a good breeze and the windward position--she
was doubtless able to encounter and beat the whole British squadron on
Ontario. But the American schooners were mere gunboats, called to act
in conditions unfavorable to that class of vessel, the record of which
for efficiency is under no circumstances satisfactory.

After leaving Sackett's, Chauncey showed himself off Kingston and then
went up the lake, arriving off Niagara on the evening of July 27. An
abortive attempt, in conjunction with the army, was made upon a
position of the enemy at Burlington Heights, then far in rear of his
main line; but it being found too strong, the fleet, with the troops
still on board, bore over to York and there retaliated the injury done
by Yeo at Genesee and Sodus. There was no opposition; many stores were
destroyed or brought away, some military buildings burned, and the
vessels then returned to Niagara. They were lying there at daybreak of
August 7 when the British appeared: two ships, two brigs, and two
large schooners. Chauncey had substantially his whole force: two
ships, the "Pike" and "Madison," the brig "Oneida," and ten
schooners. He got under way shortly and put out into the lake. Various
manoeuvres followed, his principal object being to get to windward of
the enemy; or, when the wind failed, to sweep[71] the schooners close
enough for their long guns to reach; the only useful function they
possessed. These efforts were unsuccessful, and night shut in with the
two opponents sailing in parallel lines, heading north, with the wind
at west; the Americans to leeward and in rear of the British. At two
in the morning, in a heavy squall, two schooners upset, with the loss
of all on board save sixteen souls. Chauncey reckoned these to be
among his best, and, as they together mounted nineteen guns, he
considered that "this accident gave the enemy decidedly the
superiority"; another instance of faulty professional arithmetic,
omitting from the account the concentration of power in the "General

Yeo did not estimate conditions in the same way, and persisted warily
in keeping the weather gage, watching for a chance to cut off
schooners, or for other favoring opportunity; while Chauncey as
diligently sought to gain the advantage of the wind, to force action
with his heavy ships. Manoeuvring continued all day of the 8th, 9th,
and 10th. The winds, being light and shifting, favored now one, now
the other; but in no case for long enough to insure a meeting which
the American with good reason desired, and his antagonist with equal
propriety would accept only under conditions that suited him. At nine
in the evening of August 10 the American squadron was standing
northwest, with the wind at southwest, when the British, which was
then following to windward, wore and stood south. Chauncey made no
change in direction, but kept his vessels in two lines; this being the
order of battle by which, not being able to attack himself, he hoped
to induce Yeo to engage incautiously. The six smallest schooners, of
the eight now left to him, were put in the weather line; therefore
toward the enemy, if he persisted in keeping to windward. The lee
line, abreast of the other, and six hundred yards from it, was
composed of the "Pike," "Madison," and "Oneida," astern of which were
the two heaviest schooners. The smaller vessels were displayed as a
tempting bait, disposed, as it were, in such manner that the opponent
might hope to lay hands on one or more, without coming too much under
the "Pike's" heavy guns; for her two larger consorts, carrying
carronades chiefly, might be neglected at the distance named. If such
an attempt were made, the schooners' orders were to edge imperceptibly
to leeward, enticing the enemy to follow in his eagerness; and when he
was near enough they were to slip cleverly through the intervals in
the lee line, leaving it to finish the business. The lure was perhaps
a little too obvious, the enemy's innocent forgetfulness of the
dangers to leeward too easily presumed; for a ship does not get out of
the hold of a clear-headed captain as a mob of troops in hot pursuit
may at times escape the control of their officers. In view, however,
of Yeo's evident determination to keep his "fleet in being," by
avoiding action except on his own terms, nothing better was open to
Chauncey, unless fortune should favor him.

At half-past ten the British again wore, now standing northwest after
the American squadron, the rear vessels of which opened fire at eleven
(A). At quarter-past eleven the cannonade became general between the
enemy and the weather line (B). Fifteen minutes later, the four rear
schooners of the latter, which were overmatched when once within
carronade range, bore up and ran to leeward; two taking position on
the other side of the main division, and two astern of it (c, c). So
far all went according to plan; but unhappily the leading two American
schooners, instead of keeping away in obedience to orders,
tacked--went about towards the enemy--keeping to windward (d).
Chauncey, seeing the risk involved for them, but prepossessed with the
idea of luring Yeo down by the appearance of flight set by the
schooners, made what can scarcely be considered other than the mistake
of keeping away himself, with the heavy ships; "filled the
maintopsail, and edged away two points, to lead the enemy down, not
only to engage him to more advantage, but to lead him away from the
'Growler' and 'Julia'" (C). Yeo, equally dominated by a preconceived
purpose not to bring his ships under the guns of the "Pike," acted
much as a squirrel would do with two nuts in sight; he went for the
one safely distant from suspected danger. "He kept his wind," reported
Chauncey, "until he had completely separated those two vessels from
the rest of the squadron, exchanged a few shot with the 'Pike,' as he
passed, without injury to us, and made sail after the two schooners"
(e). Some time after midnight these surrendered to odds plainly

The tacking of the two schooners was an act as ill-judged as it was
insubordinate, for which Chauncey was in no wise responsible. His
bearing up was certainly an error, which unfortunately lent itself to
the statement, contemporaneously made by an American paper, that he
retreated, leaving the two vessels to their fate. It was possible,
therefore, for Sir James to word the transaction as he airily did: "At
eleven we came within gunshot of their line of schooners, which opened
a heavy fire, their ships keeping off the wind to prevent our closing.
At half-past twelve this ship came within gunshot of the 'Pike' and
'Madison,' when they immediately bore up, fired their stern
chase-guns, and made sail for Niagara, leaving two of their schooners
astern, which we captured."[73] This gives a more victorious and
dashing air to the success than it quite deserves. As it stood, it was
real enough, though trivial. To take two vessels from a superior
fleet, within range of its commander-in-chief, is a handsome business,
which should not need to be embellished by the implication that a
greatly desired fight could not be had. To quote Marryat, "It is very
hard to come at the real truth of this sort of thing, as I found out
during the time that I was in his Majesty's service." Chauncey's
version is perfectly probable. Seeing that the enemy would not follow,
"tacked and stood after him. At twelve (midnight), finding that I must
either separate from the rest of the squadron, or relinquish the hope
of saving the two which had separated, I reluctantly gave up the
pursuit." His reading of Yeo's conduct is plausible. "From what I have
been able to discover of the movements of the enemy, he has no
intention of engaging us, except he can get decidedly the advantage of
wind and weather; and as his vessels in squadron sail better than our
squadron, he can always avoid an action.... He thinks to cut off our
small dull sailing schooners in detail." Here and always Chauncey's
conduct reflects the caution prescribed in his instructions to Perry,
rather than the resolute determination the latter showed to bring
matters to an issue. On the other hand, it is to be remembered that,
owing to the nearly equal facilities for ship-building--for replacing
ships lost--possessed by Kingston and Sackett's, a decisive naval
victory would not have the finality of result to be expected on Lake
Erie. Contrary to the usual conditions of naval war, the two ports,
not the fleets dependent on them, were the decisive elements of the
Ontario campaign; and the ignoring of that truth was the fundamental,
irremediable, American error.


Chauncey returned to Sackett's on August 13, provisioned the squadron
for five weeks, and sailed the same evening. On the 16th he was back
off Niagara, and there again sighted the enemy; but a heavy westerly
gale drove both squadrons to the lower end of the lake, where each
entered its own harbor on the 19th. August 29 the American put out
again, having an additional newly built schooner, named the "Sylph,"
large and fast, carrying three or four long 32-pounders. Chauncey
reported that he had now nine vessels with ninety-one guns, but that
the enemy was still superior. In number of guns, possibly; but it is
difficult to accept the statement otherwise, except in the one very
important particular of squadron manoeuvring power. This enabled Yeo
to avoid action, except when it suited him to fight; or unless
Chauncey was willing to engage first with part only of his squadron,
following it with the rest. Such advantage in manoeuvring greatly
increases the ability of the inferior to serve his own cause, but it
does not constitute superiority. The delusion of measuring force by
guns, irrespective of the ships that carry them, has been explained.

Yeo's intermediate movements do not appear, but on September 7 the
antagonists again met off the Niagara River.

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