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This impeded movement in all quarters, by preventing the
formation of ice and of the usual hard snow surface, which made winter
the most favorable season for land transportation. Chauncey at
Sackett's Harbor chafed and fretted over the detention of the stores
and guns for his new ships then building, upon which he was reckoning
for control of the lake. "The roads are dreadful," he wrote on
February 24, "and if the present mild weather continues we shall
experience difficulty." A week later, "I have the mortification to
inform you that all our heavy guns are stopped at and below
Poughkeepsie in consequence of the badness of the roads, and that the
teamsters have abandoned them there." He has given up hopes of a
frost, and counts now only upon water communication; but the delay and
change of route were the cause of two smart affairs with which the
lake operations opened, for on March 29 he announces that the guns are
still below Albany, and now must come by way of Oswego and the
lake,[268] instead of securely inland by sleds. Yeo reported a like
delay on his side in the equipment of his new ships, owing to the
unusual scarcity of snow.

The same conditions imposed similar, if less decisive, limitations
upon the movements of bodies of men. The most important instance of
purpose frustrated was in an enterprise projected by Drummond against
Put-in Bay, where were still lying the "Detroit" and "Queen
Charlotte", the most powerful of the prizes taken by Perry the
previous September, the injuries to which had prevented their removal
to the safer position of Erie. On January 21 he communicated to
Governor-General Prevost the details of an expedition of seventeen
hundred and sixty men,[269] two hundred of them seamen, who were to
start from the Niagara frontier by land against Detroit, and from
there to cross on the ice to the Bass Islands, where it was hoped they
could seize and burn the vessels. The occupation of Fort Niagara, and
other dispositions made of his division on the peninsula, had so
narrowed his front of defence, and thereby strengthened it, as to
warrant this large detachment.

This project was one of several looking to regaining control of Lake
Erie, which during the remainder of the war occupied unceasingly the
attention of British officers. Although the particular destination was
successfully concealed, the general fact of preparations for some
offensive undertaking did not escape the observation of the Americans,
who noted that in the recent raid and destruction care had been taken
to spare a great number of sleighs, and to collect them within the
British lines. From this it was inferred that, when Lake Erie froze
over, a dash would be made against the naval station and ships at
Erie.[270] This would be undoubtedly a more valuable achievement, but
the enemy knew that the place was in some measure defended, with ample
re-enforcements at call; whereas a descent upon Put-in Bay could
encounter no other resistance than that of the small permanent
garrison of seamen. The mildness of the weather, leaving the lake open
on January 17, relieved the apprehension of the United States
authorities, and on February 3 Drummond had to report that his scheme
must be abandoned, as after that late period of the winter better
conditions could not be expected.[271]

In default of the control of Lake Erie, measures were taken by the
British to supply the remote and isolated posts of Mackinac and St.
Joseph's by land carriage from Toronto to Lake Simcoe, a distance of
only forty miles, and thence across the ice to Matchedash Bay, on Lake
Huron; where also were being built batteaux and gunboats, to transport
the stores to their destination when navigation opened. As far as
Huron this land route was out of reach of probable molestation, but
from there it was necessary to proceed at the earliest moment; for,
although there was no American naval force then on that lake, one
might be expected to arrive from Erie early in the season. To this
cross-country line there was an alternative one still more remote,
from Montreal up the Ottawa River, and thence by other water
communication, striking Lake Huron much higher up. It was practicable
only for canoes with light lading, and in other respects not
satisfactory. The maintenance of Mackinac therefore must depend upon
armed control of the upper lakes; and to this the destruction of the
prizes at the islands would doubtless have contributed, morally and
materially.

On the American side as little was accomplished during the winter.
Wilkinson's army, which at the end of 1813 was cantoned at French
Mills, on the Salmon River, just within the New York boundary, was
withdrawn from that position February 13. The greater part marched to
Lake Champlain, where they again took winter quarters in two
divisions; one at Burlington, Vermont, the other at Plattsburg. The
third contingent, under the command of General Brown, was sent to
Sackett's Harbor, where it arrived February 24.

The Secretary of War, General Armstrong, despite his vacillating
course the previous year, had never lost sight of his perfectly
accurate conviction that Kingston, if not Montreal, was the true
objective for the northern army. Convinced that he had been misled in
the spring of 1813 by the opinions of the commanders on the spot,
Chauncey and Dearborn, he was again anxious, as he had been in the
intervening autumn, to retrieve the error. On February 28 he issued to
Brown two sets of instructions;[272] the one designed to transpire, in
order to mislead the enemy, the other, most secret, conveying the real
intention of the Department. In the former, stress was laid upon the
exposure of western New York, and the public humiliation at seeing
Fort Niagara in the hands of the British. Brigadier-General Scott
accordingly had been sent there to organize a force for the capture of
the fort and the protection of the frontier; but, as his numbers were
probably insufficient, Brown was directed to march to Batavia, and
thence to Buffalo, with the two thousand troops he had just brought
from French Mills. This letter was meant to reach the enemy's ears.
The other, embodying the true object aimed at, read thus: "It is
obviously Prevost's policy, and probably his intention, to
re-establish himself on Lake Erie during the ensuing month. But to
effect this other points of his line must be weakened, and these will
be either Kingston or Montreal. If the detachment from the former be
great, a moment may occur in which you may do, with the aid of
Commodore Chauncey, what I last year intended Pike should have done
without aid, and what we now all know was very practicable, viz.: to
cross the river, or head of the lake, on the ice, and carry Kingston
by a _coup de main_." The letter ended by making the enterprise depend
upon a concurrence of favorable conditions; in brief, upon the
discretion of the general, with whom remained all the responsibility
of final decision and action.

These instructions were elicited, immediately, by recent information
that the effective garrison in Kingston was reduced to twelve
hundred, with no prospect of increase before June, when
re-enforcements from Europe were expected. Certainly, Drummond at this
time thought the force there no stronger than it should be, and early
in April was apprehensive on that account for the safety of the
place.[273] Brown and Chauncey, however, agreed that less than four
thousand men was insufficient for the undertaking. Singularly enough,
this number was precisely that fixed upon by Yeo and Drummond, in
consultation, as necessary for the reduction of Sackett's Harbor;
which they concurred with Prevost in considering the quickest and
surest solution of the difficulty attending their situation about
Niagara, owing to the exhaustion of local resources upon the
peninsula.[274] The scarcity thus experienced was aggravated by the
number of dependent Indian warriors, who with their families had
followed the British retreat from Malden and Detroit, and now hung
like lead upon the movements and supplies of the army. "Nearly twelve
hundred barrels of flour monthly to Indians alone," complained the
commanding officer, who had long since learned that for this
expenditure there was no return in military usefulness. In the felt
necessity to retain the good-will of the savages, no escape from the
dilemma was open, except in the maintenance of a stream of supplies
from Lower Canada by keeping command of the Lake;[275] to secure which
nothing was so certain as to capture Sackett's and destroy the
shipping and plant.

Having decided that the enterprise against Kingston was not feasible,
Brown fell into the not unnatural mistake of construing the
Secretary's other letter to present not merely a ruse, but an
alternative line of action, more consonant to his active martial
temper than remaining idle in garrison. Accordingly, he left
Sackett's with his two thousand, an event duly chronicled in a letter
of Drummond's, that on Sunday, March 13, three thousand five hundred
left Sackett's for Niagara; a statement sufficiently characteristic of
the common tendency of an enemy's force to swell, as it passes from
mouth to mouth. The division had progressed as far as the present city
of Syracuse, sixty miles from Sackett's, and Brown himself was some
forty miles in advance of it, at Geneva, when one of his principal
subordinates persuaded him that he had misconstrued the Department's
purpose. In considerable distress he turned about, passing through
Auburn on the 23d at the rate of thirty miles a day, so said a
contemporary newspaper,[276] and hurried back to Sackett's. There
further consultation with Chauncey convinced him again that he was
intended to go to Niagara, and he resumed his march. Before April 1 he
reached Batavia, where his instructions read he would receive further
orders. General Scott was already at Buffalo, and there the troops
were placed under his immediate charge for organization and drill;
Brigadier-General Gaines being sent back to command at Sackett's,
where he arrived April 10.

At this moment Chauncey was undergoing his turn of qualms.



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