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Chauncey ever formally admitted to himself this fundamental mistake,
which wrecked the summer's work upon Lake Ontario, does not appear;
but that he had learned from experience is shown by a letter to the
Secretary of the Navy,[127] when the squadrons had been laid up. In
this he recognized the uselessness of the heavy sailing schooners when
once a cruising force of ships for war had been created, thereby
condemning much of his individual management of the campaign; and he
added: "If it is determined to prosecute the war offensively, and
secure our conquests in Upper Canada, Kingston ought unquestionably to
be the first object of attack, and that so early in the spring as to
prevent the enemy from using the whole of the naval force that he is

In the three chapters which here end, the Ontario operations have been
narrated consecutively and at length, without interruption by other
issues,--except the immediately related Lake Erie campaign,--because
upon them turned, and upon them by the dispositions of the Government
this year were wrecked the fortunes of the war. The year 1813, from
the opening of the spring to the closing in of winter, was for several
reasons the period when conditions were most propitious to the
American cause. In 1812 war was not begun until June, and then with
little antecedent preparation; and it was waged halfheartedly, both
governments desiring to nip hostilities. In 1814, on the other hand,
when the season opened, Napoleon had fallen, and the United States no
longer had an informal ally to divert the efforts of Great Britain.
But in the intervening year, 1813, although the pressure upon the
seaboard, the defensive frontier, was undoubtedly greater than before,
and much vexation and harassment was inflicted, no serious injury was
done beyond the suppression of commerce, inevitable in any event. In
the north, on the lakes frontier, the offensive and the initiative
continued in the hands of the United States. No substantial
re-enforcements reached Canada until long after the ice broke up, and
then in insufficient numbers. British naval preparations had been on
an inadequate scale, receiving no proper professional supervision. The
American Government, on the contrary, had had the whole winter to
prepare, and the services of a very competent naval organizer. It had
also the same period to get ready its land forces; while incompetent
Secretaries of War and of the Navy gave place in January to capable
men in both situations.

With all this in its favor, and despite certain gratifying successes,
the general outcome was a complete failure, the full measure of which
could be realized only when the downfall of Napoleon revealed what
disaster may result from neglect to seize opportunity while it exists.
The tide then ebbed, and never again flowed. For this many causes may
be alleged. The imbecile ideas concerning military and naval
preparation which had prevailed since the opening of the century
doubtless counted for much. The intrusting of chief command to
broken-down men like Dearborn and Wilkinson was enough to ruin the
best conceived schemes. But, despite these very serious drawbacks, the
strategic misdirection of effort was the most fatal cause of failure.

There is a simple but very fruitful remark of a Swiss military writer,
that every military line may be conceived as having three parts, the
middle and the two ends, or flanks. As sound principle requires that
military effort should not be distributed along the whole of an
enemy's position,--unless in the unusual case of overwhelming
superiority,--but that distinctly superior numbers should be
concentrated upon a limited portion of it, this idea of a threefold
division aids materially in considering any given situation. One
third, or two thirds, of an enemy's line may be assailed, but very
seldom the whole; and everything may depend upon the choice made for
attack. Now the British frontier, which the United States was to
assail, extended from Montreal on the east to Detroit on the west. Its
three parts were: Montreal and the St. Lawrence on the east, or left
flank; Ontario in the middle, centring at Kingston; and Erie on the
right; the strength of the British position in the last named section
being at Detroit and Malden, because they commanded the straits upon,
which the Indian tribes depended for access to the east. Over against
the British positions named lay those of the United States. Given in
the same order, these were: Lake Champlain, and the shores of Ontario
and of Erie, centring respectively in the naval stations at Sackett's
Harbor and Presqu' Isle.

Accepting these definitions, which are too obvious to admit of
dispute, what considerations should have dictated to the United States
the direction of attack; the one, or two, parts out of the three, on
which effort should be concentrated? The reply, as a matter of
abstract, accepted, military principle, is certain. Unless very urgent
reasons to the contrary exist, strike at one end rather than at the
middle, because both ends can come up to help the middle against you
quicker than one end can get to help the other; and, as between the
two ends, strike at the one upon which the enemy most depends for
re-enforcements and supplies to maintain his strength. Sometimes this
decision presents difficulties. Before Waterloo, Wellington had his
own army as a centre of interest; on his right flank the sea, whence
came supplies and re-enforcements from England; on his left the
Prussian army, support by which was imminently necessary. On which
flank would Napoleon throw the weight of his attack? Wellington
reasoned, perhaps through national bias, intensified by years of
official dependence upon sea support, that the blow would fall upon
his right, and he strengthened it with a body of men sorely needed
when the enemy came upon his left, in overwhelming numbers, seeking to
separate him from the Prussians.

No such doubt was possible as to Canada in 1813. It depended wholly
upon the sea, and it touched the sea at Montreal. The United States,
with its combined naval and military strength, crude as the latter
was, was at the beginning of 1813 quite able in material power to
grapple two out of the three parts,--Montreal and Kingston. Had they
been gained, Lake Erie would have fallen; as is demonstrated by the
fact that the whole Erie region went down like a house of cards the
moment Perry triumphed on the lake. His victory was decisive, simply
because it destroyed the communications of Malden with the sea. The
same result would have been achieved, with effect over a far wider
region, by a similar success in the east.


[104] Canadian Archives MSS.

[105] Scott says, "The selection of this unprincipled imbecile was not
the blunder of Secretary Armstrong." Memoirs, vol. i. p. 94, note.

[106] Both these names are used, confusingly, by Armstrong. Madrid was
the township, Hamilton a village on the St. Lawrence, fifteen to twenty
miles below the present Ogdensburg.

[107] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 464.
Armstrong's italics.

[108] Ante, p. 60.

[109] Chauncey's report, Oct. 1, 1813, Niles' Register, vol. v. p. 134.
The extract has been verified from the original in the Captains'
Letters. The report of Sir James Yeo (British Records Office) agrees
substantially with Chauncey's accounts of the movements, but adds that
upon the fall of the "Wolfe's" topmasts the "Pike" immediately took a
distance out of carronade range, whence her long 24's would tell. "I can
assure you, Sir, that the great advantage the enemy have over us from
their long 24-pounders almost precludes the possibility of success,
unless we can force them to close action, which they have ever avoided
with the most studied circumspection."

[110] Chauncey to Navy Department, Dec. 17, 1813. Captains' Letters.

[111] Armstrong, Oct. 5, 1813. American State Papers, Military Affairs,
vol. i. p. 470.

[112] Ibid., p. 471.

[113] Armstrong, Oct. 20, 1813. American State Papers, Military Affairs,
vol. i. p. 473.

[114] Scott's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 106. In consequence, though Scott
personally succeeded in joining the movement from which so much was
expected, this considerable number of regulars were withdrawn from it.
They ultimately reached Sackett's, forming the nucleus of a garrison.

[115] Captains' Letters, Oct. 30, 1813.

[116] Chauncey to the Navy Department, Nov. 11, 1813. Captains' Letters.

[117] Wilkinson to Hampton. American State Papers, Military Affairs,
vol. i. p. 462.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Hampton's Letters during this movement are in American State
Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. pp. 458-463.

[120] Ridout, Ten Years in Upper Canada, p. 269.

[121] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 465.

[122] Chauncey to Navy Department, Nov. 11. Captains' Letters.

[123] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 483.

[124] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 484.

[125] American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. i. p. 486.

[126] Report of General A. Hall, Niles' Register, vol. v. p. 394.

[127] December 17, 1813. Captains' Letters, Navy Department.



Upon the Canada frontier the conditions of 1813 had permitted the
United States an ample field for offensive operations, with good
prospect of success. What use was made of the opportunity has now been
narrated. Upon the seaboard, continuous illustration was afforded that
there the country was widely open to attack, thrown wholly on the
defensive, with the exception of preying upon the enemy's commerce by
numerous small cruisers. As a secondary operation of war this has
always possessed value, and better use of it perhaps never was made
than by the American people at this time; but it is not determinative
of great issues, and the achievements of the public and private armed
vessels of the United States, energetic and successful as they were at
this period, constituted no exception to the universal experience.
Control of the highways of the ocean by great fleets destroys an
enemy's commerce, root and branch.

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