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Macdonough in his report does not mention this; nor was it
necessary that he should.

In short, though apparently so near, the two fractions of the American
force, the army and the navy, were actually in the dangerous military
condition of being exposed to be beaten in detail; and the destruction
of either would probably be fatal to the other. The largest two
British vessels, "Confiance" and "Linnet," were slightly inferior to
the American "Saratoga" and "Eagle" in aggregate weight of broadside;
but, like the "General Pike" on Ontario in 1813, the superiority of
the "Confiance" in long guns, and under one captain, would on the open
lake have made her practically equal to cope with the whole American
squadron, and still more with the "Saratoga" alone, assuming that the
"Linnet" gave the "Eagle" some occupation.

It would seem clear, therefore, that the true combination for the
British general would have been to use his military superiority, vast
in quality as in numbers, to reduce the works and garrison at
Plattsburg. That accomplished, the squadron would be driven to the
open lake, where the "Confiance" could bring into play her real
superiority, instead of being compelled to sacrifice it by attacking
vessels in a carefully chosen position, ranged with a seaman's eye for
defence, and prepared with a seaman's foresight for every contingency.
Prevost, however, became possessed with the idea that a joint attack
was indispensable,[421] and in communicating his purpose to the
commander of the squadron, Captain Downie, he used language
indefensible in itself, tending to goad a sensitive man into action
contrary to his better judgment; and he clenched this injudicious
proceeding with words which certainly implied an assurance of assault
by the army on the works, simultaneous with that of the navy on the

Captain Downie had taken command of the Champlain fleet only on
September 2. He was next in rank to Yeo on the lakes, a circumstance
that warranted his orders; the immediate reason for which, however, as
explained by Yeo to the Admiralty, was that his predecessor's temper
had shown him unfit for chief command. He had quarrelled with Pring,
and Yeo felt the change essential. Downie, upon arrival, found the
"Confiance" in a very incomplete state, for which he at least was in
no wise responsible. He had brought with him a first lieutenant in
whom he had merited confidence, and the two worked diligently to get
her into shape. The crew had been assembled hurriedly by draughts from
several ships at Quebec, from the 39th regiment, and from the marine
artillery. The last detachment came on board the night but one before
the battle. They thus were unknown by face to their officers, and
largely to one another. Launched August 25, the ship hauled from the
wharf into the stream September 7, and the same day started for the
front, being towed by boats against a head wind and downward current.
Behind her dragged a batteau carrying her powder, while her magazine
was being finished.

The next day a similar painful advance was made, and the crew then
were stationed at the guns, while the mechanics labored at their
fittings. That night she anchored off Chazy, where the whole squadron
was now gathered. The 9th was spent at anchor, exercising the guns;
the mechanics still at work. In fact, the hammering and driving
continued until two hours before the ship came under fire, when the
last gang shoved off, leaving her still unfinished. "This day"--the
9th--wrote the first lieutenant, Robertson, "employed setting-up
rigging, scraping decks, manning and arranging the gunboats. Exercised
at great guns. Artificers employed fitting beds, coins, belaying pins,
etc;"[422]--essentials for fighting the guns and working the sails. It
scarcely needs the habit of a naval seaman to recognize that even
three or four days' grace for preparation would immensely increase
efficiency. Nevertheless, such was the pressure from without that the
order was given for the squadron to go into action next day; and this
was prevented only by a strong head wind, against which there was not
channel space to beat.

As long as Prevost was contending with the difficulties of his own
advance he seems not to have worried Downie; but as soon as fairly
before the works of Plattsburg he initiated a correspondence, which on
his part became increasingly peremptory. It will be remembered that he
not only was much the senior in rank,--as in years,--but also
Governor-General of Canada. Nor should it be forgotten that he had
known and written a month before that the "Confiance" could not be
ready before September 15. He knew, as his subsequent action showed,
that if the British fleet were disabled his own progress was hopeless;
and, if he could not understand that to a ship so lately afloat a day
was worth a week of ordinary conditions, he should at least have
realized that the naval captain could judge better than he when she
was ready for battle. On September 7 he wrote to urge Downie, who
replied the same day with assurances of every exertion to hasten
matters. The 8th he sent information of Macdonough's arrangements by
an aid, who carried also a letter saying that "it is of the highest
importance that the ships, vessels, and gunboats, under your command,
should combine a co-operation with the division of the army under my
command. I only wait for your arrival to proceed against General
Macomb's last position on the south bank of the Saranac." On the 9th
he wrote, "In consequence of your communication of yesterday I have
postponed action until your squadron is prepared to co-operate. I need
not dwell with you on the evils resulting to both services from
delay." He inclosed reports received from deserters that the American
fleet was insufficiently manned; and that when the "Eagle" arrived, a
few days before, they had swept the guard houses of prisoners to
complete her crew. A postscript conveyed a scarcely veiled intimation
that an eye was kept on his proceedings. "Captain Watson of the
provincial cavalry is directed to remain at Little Chazy until you are
preparing to get underway, when he is instructed to return to this
place with the intelligence."[423]

Thus pressed, Downie, as has been said, gave orders to sail at
midnight, with the expectation of rounding into Plattsburg Bay about
dawn, and proceeding to an immediate attack. This purpose was
communicated formally to Prevost. The preventing cause, the head wind,
was obvious enough, and spoke for itself; but the check drew from
Prevost words which stung Downie to the quick. "In consequence of your
letter the troops have been held in readiness, since six o'clock this
morning, to storm the enemy's works at nearly the same moment as the
naval action begins in the bay. I ascribe the disappointment I have
experienced to the unfortunate change of wind, and shall rejoice to
learn that my reasonable expectations have been frustrated by no other
cause." The letter was sent by the aid, Major Coore, who had carried
the others; and both he and Pring, who were present, testified to the
effect upon Downie. Coore, in a vindication of Prevost, wrote, "After
perusing it, Captain Downie said with some warmth, 'I am surprised Sir
George Prevost should think necessary to urge me upon this subject. He
must feel I am as desirous of proceeding to active operations as he
can be; but I am responsible for the squadron, and no man shall make
me lead it into action before I consider it in fit condition.'"[424]
Nevertheless, the effect was produced; for he remarked afterward to
Pring, "This letter does not deserve an answer, but I will convince
him that the naval force will not be backward in their share of the

It was arranged that the approach of the squadron should be signalled
by scaling the guns,--firing cartridges without shot; and Downie
certainty understood, and informed his officers generally, that the
army would assault in co-operation with the attack of the fleet. The
precise nature of his expectation was clearly conveyed to Pring, who
had represented the gravity of this undertaking. "When the batteries
are stormed and taken possession of by the British land forces, which
the commander of the land forces has promised to do at the moment the
naval action commences, the enemy will be obliged to quit their
position, whereby we shall obtain decided advantage over them during
their confusion. I would otherwise prefer fighting them on the lake,
and would wait until our force is in an efficient state; but I fear
they would take shelter up the lake and would not meet me on equal
terms."[426] The following morning, September 11, the wind being fair
from northeast, the British fleet weighed before daylight and stood up
the narrows for the open lake and Plattsburg Bay. About five o'clock
the agreed signal was given by scaling the guns, the reports of which
it was presumed must certainly be heard by the army at the then
distance of six or seven miles, with the favorable air blowing. At
7.30, near Cumberland Head, the squadron hove-to, and Captain Downie
went ahead in a boat to reconnoitre the American position.

For defence against the hostile squadron, Macdonough had had to rely
solely on his own force, and its wise disposition by him. On shore, a
defensive position is determined by the circumstances of the ground
selected, improved by fortification; all which gives strength
additional to the number of men. A sailing squadron anchored for
defence similarly gained force by adapting its formation to the
circumstances of the anchorage, and to known wind conditions, with
careful preparations to turn the guns in any direction; deliberate
precautions, not possible to the same extent to the assailant
anchoring under fire. To this is to be added the release of the crew
from working sails to manning the guns.

Plattsburg Bay, in which the United States squadron was anchored, is
two miles wide, and two long. It lies north and south, open to the
southward. Its eastern boundary is called Cumberland Head. The British
vessels, starting from below, in a channel too narrow to beat, must
come up with a north wind.

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