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Lawrence, supported by posts on the
river garrisoned by detachments from Izard's army, so as to intercept
the water transport between Montreal and Kingston. It may be mentioned
that this particular method had specially commended itself to both Yeo
and Chauncey, as most suited to embarrass the British situation
throughout the upper province. In a subsequent report to the
Admiralty, Yeo characterized the failure of the Americans to do this
as an extreme stupidity, which had lost them the war, but upon a
repetition of which in future hostilities Great Britain should not
rely.[290] The importance of this intercourse is indicated by a
mention of Chauncey's, that in the week before June 15 more than two
hundred boats passed Ogdensburg for Kingston.[291]

All this, however, simply emphasizes the fact that the decisive point
of attack was Montreal or Kingston; not the line between them, which
would become useless if either fell. Still less could the Niagara
peninsula, though a valuable link in a chain of communication from the
lower to the upper lakes, compare in importance with either of the
places named. It matters not that a chain is complete in itself, if it
is severed from one of the extremities which it is designed to
connect. As regards any attempt on the part of the Americans to
interrupt the traffic, Drummond appears to have been satisfied with
Yeo's promise that "every brigade of batteaux should have a suitable
convoy of gunboats."

The Secretary of War, in his communication to the President before the
Cabinet met, had indicated plainly his preference for leaving Mackinac
alone and concentrating upon the central point of effort, Niagara or
Burlington. "Burlington and York carried, a barrier is interposed
which completely protects Detroit and Malden, makes doubtful and
hazardous the enemy's intercourse with the western Indians, reduces
Mackinac to a possession perfectly useless, renders probable the
evacuation of Fort Niagara, and takes from the enemy half his motive
for continuing the naval conflict on Lake Ontario. On the other hand,
take Mackinac, and what is gained but Mackinac itself?"[292] The
reasoning was indisputable, although Armstrong acquiesced in the
decision of the Cabinet. The main feature of the plan adopted, the
reduction of Burlington Heights and a successful advance on York, was
of doubtful issue; but, if successful, the vital end of the chain upon
which Mackinac depended for existence dropped useless to the ground.
All side enterprise that did not directly contribute to this decisive
movement should have been discarded in favor of concentration upon
Brown's army, to which its execution was committed, and the actual
strength of which was insufficient for the task. At the opening of the
campaign its total strength was four thousand seven hundred and
eighty, of whom eight hundred and thirty were militia.[293] On July 1
there were present for duty three thousand five hundred. There were
also six hundred Indians of the Six Nations. In this impotent
conclusion resulted the Secretary's estimate of five thousand regulars
and three thousand volunteers.

On July 2 Brown announced to his troops that he was authorized by the
Government to put them in motion against the enemy.[294] He had
decided to leave Fort Niagara, with its menace to his communications,
in his rear, unguarded, and to throw his command directly upon the
enemy on the west bank of the river. The crossing was made that night
in two divisions; one landing opposite Black Rock, below Fort Erie,
the other above that post, which surrendered July 3, at 5 P.M. The
garrison numbered one hundred and thirty-seven. From there Brown
proposed to turn north and advance towards Ontario, where he hoped to
join hands with the navy, which was expected by him, and by the
Government, to be on hand to co-operate. This expectation was based on
Chauncey's own assurance that he would take the lake on July 1, if
supplied with men, who were known since to have arrived. It does not
appear, however, that he had received specific instructions as to the
course he was intended to follow; and, in assuming that he would go to
the head of the lake, for direct co-operation, the Government and the
general were reckoning without their host, and in ignorance of his
views. He was as loath to leave Kingston and Sackett's in his rear,
unwatched, as Brown was willing to take the same risk with regard to
Niagara. It was a profound difference of temperament in two capable
men, to whom the Government failed to impart the unifying element of
orders.

On July 4 Scott's brigade, which had crossed below the fort, advanced
from Fort Erie fifteen miles, to Street's Creek, a small stream,
bridged near its mouth, entering the Niagara two miles south of the
Chippewa River, the defensive line selected by the British, who now
fell back upon it. The Chippewa is of respectable size, one hundred
and fifty yards wide, and from twelve to twenty feet deep, running
from west to east. In general direction it is parallel to Street's
Creek; both entering the Niagara at right angles to its course. In the
belt separating the two the ground is flat, and was in great part
open; but midway between them there was a strip of thick wood
extending down to within a few hundred feet of the Niagara. This
formed a dense curtain, hiding movements on either side from the
other. The British forces under Riall were now north of the Chippewa,
Scott's brigade south of Street's; each having a bridge by which to
advance into the space between. The other American brigade, Ripley's,
was in rear of Scott--to the south.

In this relative situation, Scott's pickets on the left being
disquieted by the British and Indians in the intervening woods, Brown
ordered up the militia and American Indians under General Porter to
expel them. This was done; but upon reaching the clearing on the
further side, the Indians, who were in the lead, encountered a heavy
fire, which drove them back upon the militia, and the whole body
retreated in a confusion which ended in a rout.[295] Riall had crossed
the Chippewa, and was advancing in force, although he believed Brown's
army much to outnumber his own now on the field, which in fact it did.
Gordon Drummond, in his instructions to him some months before, (March
23), had remarked that with the Americans liberties might be taken
which would seem hazardous "to a military man unacquainted with the
character of the enemy he had to contend with, or with the events of
the last two campaigns on that frontier."[296] This unflattering, but
not unreasonable, deduction from the performances of Dearborn and
others in 1813, as of Smyth and Van Rensselaer in 1812, was misplaced
in the present instance; but it doubtless governed Riall's action, and
justified it to himself and his superiors. He had not been engaged
since he drove the militia of New York before him like sheep, in the
preceding December; and he would have attacked on the very night after
the crossing, but that a regiment from York, which he had reason to
expect twenty-four hours before, did not arrive until the morning of
the 5th. The instant it came he made his dispositions to move at 4
P.M. of the same day.

It was this advance which met Porter and threw his division back,
uncovering the wood on the west. Scott at the same moment was marching
his brigade into the open space between Street's Creek and the
Chippewa; not to meet the enemy, whom he did not expect, but for some
drill in the cool of a hot summer's afternoon. As he went forward, the
Commander-in-Chief, who had been reconnoitring in front, rode by,
galloping to the rear to bring up his remaining force; for, while the
army in the aggregate was superior to Riall, the one brigade was
inferior. In passing, he called to Scott, "You will have a battle";
and the head of the latter's column, as it crossed the bridge, came at
once under the enemy's guns.

Although inferior, exposed, and in a sense surprised, both commander
and men were equal to the occasion. The division deployed steadily
under fire, and its leader, sending hastily one battalion to check the
enemy in the wood, formed front with the remainder of his force to
meet those in the plain. These, being yet unopposed, advanced beyond
the line of the wood, passing their own detachment within it, which
was held in check by the Americans charged with that duty. Losing thus
their support on that side, the British presented a new right flank,
to use Scott's expression. Thereupon he extended his two wings as far
as he dared, leaving between them a considerable interval, so as to
overlap his opponent at either extremity; which done, he threw his
left forward. His brigade thus formed an obtuse angle, the apex to the
rear, the bullets therefore converging and crossing upon the space in
front, into which it and the enemy were moving. In the approach both
parties halted several times to fire, and Scott says that the
superiority of aim in his own men was evident. When within sixty paces
a mutual rush, or charge, ensued; but the overlapping of the Americans
crowded the flanks of the enemy in upon his centre and produced
confusion, to which the preceding fire doubtless had contributed.
Scott's own description is that "the wings of the enemy being
outflanked, and in some measure doubled upon, were mouldered away like
a rope of sand."[297] In this brief and brilliant struggle only the
one brigade was engaged.

Riall's account agrees substantially with that of Scott, mentioning
particularly "the greatest regularity" with which his opponents
"deployed and opened fire."[298] He directed a charge by the three
regiments in line, "but I am sorry to say that they suffered so
severely that I was obliged to withdraw them, finding their further
efforts against the superior numbers of the enemy would be
unavailing." He was right in believing that the aggregate of Brown's
army, although much short of the six thousand he estimated, was
superior to that which he could bring together without abandoning
posts he had to hold; but he was mistaken in thinking that in the
actual collision his opponents were more numerous than the fifteen
hundred regulars at which he states his own force, besides three
hundred militia.



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