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The
lookout boat had returned, reporting all clear, and after dark the
convoy started. Besides the regular crews, there were embarked one
hundred and fifty riflemen from the army. The next morning at sunrise
one batteau was missing, but the other eighteen entered the Salmon
River, over twenty miles from Oswego. The nights were short at that
season, and the boats heavy; moreover there had been drenching rain.

At Salmon River, a party of one hundred and twenty Oneida Indians
joined, who were to move along the coast on the flank of the convoy
through the next stage of the journey, by day, to support the defence
should the approach of an enemy compel refuge to be sought in one of
the creeks. As soon as they had taken up their march the batteaux also
started, and at noon, May 29, reached Big Sandy Creek, ten miles
further on, but eight miles short of the final destination at Stoney
Creek. Here greater care became necessary, on account of the nearness
of the enemy's fleet; and while awaiting information the division
moved two miles up the Big Sandy, where it anchored.

The missing batteau, carrying two long 24's and a cable, had been
captured; having wandered away from the rest of the detachment,
despite the watchful care exerted to keep them together. Her crew
betrayed the extent of the operation of which they formed part, and a
division of boats was sent in quest, in charge of two captains of the
blockading vessels; the senior officer of the whole being Commander
Popham. On his way Popham fell in with another group of armed boats,
which he took under his command, raising his total to three
gun-vessels and four smaller boats, with near two hundred seamen and
marines. Certain intelligence being received that the convoy had
entered the Big Sandy, he steered thither, arriving off its mouth soon
after daylight of May 30. A reconnaissance on shore discovering the
masts of the batteaux plainly visible over a marsh, with apparently no
intervening forest, an immediate attack was decided. Having landed a
party of flankers on either bank, the expedition proceeded up stream
with due caution, firing an occasional round into the brush to
dislodge any possible ambush. It was not known that an escort, beyond
the usual crews, had accompanied the movement. Such a precaution might
indeed have been inferred from the importance of the object; but the
same reason naturally, and not improperly, decided Popham that
considerable risk was justifiable in order to frustrate his enemy's
purpose.

Woolsey was already forewarned of his coming. At 2 A.M. of the same
day, May 30, he had received from Chauncey an express, in accordance
with which an officer was sent out upon the lake, to reconnoitre
towards the entrance of Black River Bay. At six o'clock he returned,
having been seen and pursued by some of Popham's division. The
riflemen and Indians were now advanced half a mile below the batteaux,
where they found cover and concealment in the woods. At eight the
British guns were heard. At nine a re-enforcement of cavalry and light
artillery arrived from Sackett's Harbor, but it was decided that they
should remain by the batteaux, the force already below being best
adapted for bush fighting. Towards ten o'clock the riflemen and
Indians attacked; a circumstance attributed by Captain Popham to an
accident befalling the 68-pounder carronade in the bow of the leading
gunboat, which compelled her to turn round, to bring into action her
stern gun, a 24-pounder. "The enemy thought we were commencing a
retreat, when they advanced their whole force, one hundred and fifty
riflemen, near two hundred Indians, and a numerous body of militia and
cavalry, who soon overpowered the few men I had.... The winding of the
creek, which gave the enemy a great advantage in advancing to
intercept our retreat, rendered further resistance unavailing." The
entire detachment surrendered, having had fourteen killed and
twenty-eight wounded; besides whom two captains, six lieutenants, and
one hundred and thirty-three seamen and marines remained prisoners.
The American loss was but two wounded; a result showing clearly
enough the disadvantage under which the British labored.

This affair has been related in detail,[284] because, although on a
small scale, it was actually one of great consequence; but yet more
because it illustrates aptly one kind of those minor operations of
war, upon the success of which so much greater matters turn. The
American management throughout was admirable in its detailed foresight
and circumspection. To this was due the trivial loss attending its
final success; a loss therefore attesting far greater credit than
would the attaining of the same result by lavish expenditure of blood.
To Captain Popham must be attributed both enterprise and due
carefulness in undertaking an advance he knew to be hazardous, but
from which, if successful, he was entitled to expect nothing less than
the capture of almost the entire armament of a very large ship. In
such circumstances censure because of failure is unjust, unless the
risk is shown to be taken reckless of due precautions, which was not
the case in this instance. Yeo, whose deficiency in seamen was
reported at two hundred and seventy-nine,[285] three days after this
affair, appears to have been more exasperated by the loss of the men
than sensible of the merit of his subordinate. He had charged him not
to enter any creek in the endeavor to capture the stores, and
apparently laid the disaster to disregard of this order. The
subsequent customary court martial decided that Popham, having greatly
re-enforced himself by junction with a division of vessels, in a
manner which Yeo could not have contemplated, was fully justified by
the importance of preventing the convoy from reaching Sackett's
Harbor. The court regretted that Sir James Yeo should have used such
reproachful expressions in his letter to the Admiralty communicating
Captain Popham's capture. Popham, and his second, Spilsbury, were
included in the promotions of a year later.

Soon after this mishap Yeo abandoned the immediate blockade of
Sackett's Harbor, returning to Kingston June 6. The recent experience
demonstrated that it would be impossible to prevent the forwarding of
supplies by the mere presence of the fleet at the mouth of the port.
The armament of the "Superior" had arrived despite his efforts, and
her speedy readiness to take the lake was assured. An exchange of
letters between himself and Drummond as to his proper course[286] led
to the conclusion that the blockade had not had all the effect
expected; and that, in view of the large re-enforcements of men coming
forward from England, the true policy was to avoid battle until the
third new ship, the "St. Lawrence" of one hundred and two guns, should
be ready. "The enemy," wrote Yeo, "are not in sufficient force to
undertake any expedition in the face of our present squadron, but any
disaster on our side might give them a serious ascendancy." Drummond,
who had rejoiced that the blockade "assures us a free intercourse
throughout the lake," concurred in this view. "I have no hesitation in
saying that there exists at present no motive or object, connected
with the security of Upper Canada, which can make it necessary for you
to act otherwise than cautiously on the defensive," until the large
ship is ready or other circumstances arise.

On June 7 the Cabinet of the United States held a meeting, in which
was settled the plan of campaign on the northern frontier;[287] where
alone, and for a brief period only, an expected superiority of numbers
would permit offensive operations. As in the year before, the
decision, in general terms, was to direct the main effort against the
enemy's right and centre, Mackinac and the Niagara peninsula, instead
of against his left, at Montreal or Kingston. The principal movement
was to be by a concentration near Buffalo of forces from New York and
the western territory, which the Secretary of War estimated might
place under Brown's command five thousand regular troops and three
thousand volunteers. He had proposed that these, with the assistance
of the Erie navy, should be landed on the coast between Fort Erie, at
the entrance of the Niagara River, and Point Abino, ten miles to the
westward. Thence they were to act against Burlington Heights, at the
head of Lake Ontario, the tenure of which by Vincent in 1813, had
baffled, on two occasions, the advance of the Americans, and
maintained the land communications of the British with York (Toronto)
despite their enemy's control of the water. The Secretary's
anticipation was that, after gaining this position, the force could
proceed along the north shore of the lake towards York, receiving its
supplies by the fleet, which was expected to be ready by June 15.
Chauncey himself stated June 8 that he would be ready by July 1, if
men were sent him.[288] On the 11th was launched a second new ship,
the "Mohawk," to carry forty-two guns. The crew of the "Congress" was
ordered up from Portsmouth, and part of them, with other
re-enforcements, were reported to have arrived before June 20. June 24
Chauncey wrote, "I shall sail the first week in July to offer the
enemy battle."[289] He did not, however, take the Lake until August 1.

The Cabinet had approved the Secretary's suggestion, but extended the
place of debarkation to be between Fort Erie and Long Point, eighty
miles from the Niagara River, and well west of Burlington Heights.
Subsidiary to this main attack, General Izard at Plattsburg was to
make a diversion towards Montreal. Coincidently with these movements
an expedition of four or five of the Erie fleet, with eight hundred to
one thousand troops, should go against Mackinac; their first object,
however, being Matchedash Bay, on Lake Huron, which was the seat of an
incipient naval establishment, and the point of deposit for supplies
proceeding to Mackinac from York by way of Lake Simcoe. This attempt
to choke the communications of Mackinac, by holding a vital point upon
their line, was to have its counterpart in the east by the provision
of fifteen armed boats on the St.



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