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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. "The
enemy," he wrote the following day, "have prepared a force of three
thousand troops, with gunboats and a number of small craft, to attack
the harbor the moment the fleet leaves it. They may, however, be
determined to make the attack at all hazards, and I am sorry to say
our force is but little adapted to the defence of the place. There are
not a thousand effective men besides the sailors and marines."[277]
His information was substantially correct. Drummond had arranged to
concentrate three thousand men from the north shore of the lake; but
he wanted besides eight hundred from the peninsula, and for lack of
these the project was abandoned.

The movement of Brown's small contingent to Buffalo, though contrary
to the intention of the Government, may be considered to have opened
the campaign of 1814; destined to prove as abortive in substantial
results as that of the year before, but not so futile and inglorious
to the American arms. The troops engaged had been formed under the
skilful organization and training of Scott. Led by Brown, who, though
not an educated soldier nor a master of the technicalities of the
profession, was essentially an aggressive fighting man of masculine
qualities, they failed indeed to achieve success, for which their
numbers were inadequate; but there was no further disgrace.

Wilkinson, indeed, in his district, contrived to give to the beginning
of operations the air of absurdity that ever hung round his path.
Although he was the senior officer on the whole frontier, the Department
had not notified him of Brown's orders. This vicious practice of
managing the campaign from a point as distant as Washington then was,
ignoring any local centre of control, drew subsequently the
animadversion of the President, who in a minute to the Secretary
remarked that "it does not appear that Izard,"--Wilkinson's
successor,--"though the senior officer of the district, has been made
acquainted with the plan of operations under Brown."[278] On the present
occasion Wilkinson explained that, hearing of Brown's march by common
report, and having ascertained that the enemy was sending
re-enforcements up the St. Lawrence, he undertook an incursion into
Lower Canada as a diversion against such increase of the force with
which Brown must contend.[279] His enterprise was directed against La
Colle, a few miles from Plattsburg, within the Canada boundary; but
upon arriving before the position it was found that the garrison were
established in a stone mill, upon which the guns brought along could
make no impression. After this somewhat ludicrous experience, the
division, more than three thousand strong, retreated, having lost over
seventy men. The result was scarcely likely to afford Brown much relief
by its deterrent influence upon the enemy.

This affair happened March 30, and in the course of the following
month Wilkinson was finally superseded. He was succeeded by General
Izard, who assumed command May 4, and remained in the neighborhood of
Champlain, while Brown continued immediately responsible for Sackett's
Harbor and for the force at Buffalo. On April 14 Yeo launched two new
ships, the "Prince Regent" of fifty-eight guns and the "Princess
Charlotte" of forty; and he at the same time had under construction
one destined to carry one hundred and two heavy guns, superior
therefore in size and armament to most of the British ocean navy, and
far more formidable than any in which Nelson ever served. Fortunately
for the Americans, this vessel, which Yeo undertook without authority
from home, was not ready until October; but the former two, added to
his last year's fleet, gave him for the moment a decided preponderance
over Chauncey, who also was building but had not yet completed.

Under these circumstances the project of attacking Sackett's in force
was again most seriously agitated among the British officials,
military and naval, upon whom the destitution of the Niagara peninsula
pressed with increasing urgency. Such an intention rarely fails to
transpire, especially across a border line where the inhabitants on
either side speak the same tongue and are often intimately acquainted.
Desertion, moreover, was frequent from both parties. The rumor brought
Brown back hastily to the place, where he arrived April 24. The
enemy, however, again abandoned their purpose, and after embarking a
considerable body of troops turned their arms instead against Oswego.

It will be remembered that the mildness of the winter had prevented
the transport of guns and stores by land, and made necessary to
accumulate them by water carriage at Oswego, whence there remained the
lake voyage to Sackett's Harbor. This, though a coasting operation,
involved much danger while the enemy possessed naval control.
Meanwhile Oswego became a somewhat congested and much exposed
intermediate station, inviting attack. Chauncey therefore had taken
the precaution of retaining the most important articles, guns and
their equipment, at the falls of the Oswego River, some twelve miles
inland. The enemy's change of plan becoming suspected, Brown detached
a small party--two hundred and ninety effectives--to defend the place,
in conjunction with the few seamen already there. The British fleet
appeared on May 5, but the attack was not made until the following
day, weather conditions being unfavorable. Despite the unprepared
state of the defences characteristic of the universal American
situation, on both lakes and seaboard, in this singular war, the
officer in command offered a spirited resistance, inflicting
considerable loss; but the urgency to preserve his force, for the
superior necessity of protecting under more favorable circumstances
the valuable property in the rear, compelled him to retreat, to escape
the risk of being surrounded and captured. He accordingly drew off in
good order, having lost six killed and thirty-eight wounded; besides
twenty-five missing, probably prisoners. The casualties of the
British, by their official reports, were eighteen killed and
seventy-three wounded. They kept possession of the town during the
night, retiring next day with two small schooners, over two thousand
barrels of provisions, and a quantity of cordage.[280] The most
serious loss to the Americans was that of nine heavy cannon; but the
bulk of the armament for the fleet remained safe at the falls.

After this Yeo took position with his squadron off Sackett's Harbor,
where the Americans on May 1 had launched a new big ship, the
"Superior", to carry sixty-two guns, thirty-two long 32-pounders, and
thirty carronades of the same calibre. Besides her there was building
still another, of somewhat smaller force, without which Chauncey would
not consider himself able to contend with the enemy.[281] On the 20th
of the month he reported that "five sail were now anchored between
Point Peninsula and Stoney Island, about ten miles from the harbor,
and two brigs between Stoney Island and Stoney Point, completely
blocking both passes." He added, "This is the first time that I have
experienced the mortification of being blockaded on the lakes."[282]
The line thus occupied by the enemy covered the entire entrance to
Black River Bay, within which Sackett's Harbor lies. This situation
was the more intolerable under the existing necessity of bringing the
guns by water. Drummond, whose information was probably good, wrote at
this period that not more than fifteen of the heavy cannon needed for
the new ships had arrived, and that they could come from Oswego only
by the lake, as the roads were impassable except for horsemen.
Carronades, cordage, and other stores were going on by wagon from
Utica, but the long guns which were imperatively required could not do
so.[283]

American contrivance proved equal to the dilemma, and led to a marked
British misadventure. A few miles south of Black River Bay, and
therefore outside the line of the British blockade, there was an inlet
called Stoney Creek, from the head of which a short land carriage of
three miles would strike Henderson's Bay. This, like Sackett's, is an
indentation of Black River Bay, and was well within the hostile ships.
The transit from Oswego to Stoney Creek, however, remained open to an
enemy's attack, and to be effected without loss required address,
enterprise, and rapidity of movement. The danger was lessened by the
number of streams which enter Mexico Bay, the deep bight formed by the
southern and eastern shores of Lake Ontario, between Oswego and
Sackett's. These, being navigable for batteaux, constituted a series
of harbors of refuge.

Chauncey directed all the lighter equipment to be turned back from
Oswego River to North Bay, on Lake Oneida, and the long guns to be
placed in batteaux, ready to move instantly, either up or down, as the
movements of the enemy or a favorable opportunity might determine.
Discretionary power to act according to circumstances was then given
to Captain Woolsey, in local command on the Oswego. Woolsey made great
parade of his preparations to send everything, guns included, back
across the portage from the river, to North Bay. The reports reached
Yeo, as intended, but did not throw him wholly off his guard. On May
27 Woolsey despatched an officer in a fast pulling boat to reconnoitre
the coast, while he himself went with the requisite force to the
falls. On the 28th the batteaux, nineteen in number, carrying
twenty-one long 32-pounders, and thirteen lighter pieces, besides ten
heavy cables, were run over the rapids, reaching Oswego at sunset. The
lookout boat had returned, reporting all clear, and after dark the
convoy started.



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