H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

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of the Americans, the enemy retreating to the garrison. Gen-
eral Pike here ordered the column to halt, for the purpose of learn-
ing the strength of the garrison, and obtaining further informa-
tion: as the barracks appeared to have been evacuated, he sus-
pected a stratagem, to draw him within the re^ch of some secret
force. Lieutenant Riddle was sent forward to learn the situa-


Taking of York Explosion of a Magazine Death of General Pike.

tion of the enemy. In the meanwhile, Pike, as humane as he
was brave, occupied himself in removing a wounded British sol-
dier from a dangerous situation ; and having performed this act
of humanity, wiiich speaks volumes in his favour, had seated
himself on the stump of a tree, and entered into conversation with
a Serjeant, who had been taken prisoner: when suddenly the air
was convulsed by a tremendous explosion. The magazine, at
the distance of two hundred yards, near the barracks, had blown
up. The air was instantly filled with huge stones and fragments
of wood, rent asunder and whirled aloft by the exploding of five
hundred barrels of powder. This was the treacherous attack
which the British had prepared, but which Pike could not have
suspected. Immense quantities of these inflamed and black-
ened masses fell in the midst of the victorious column, causing
a havock which the arms of the enemy could not have eflected,
killing and wounding upwards of two hundred, and amongst
them their beloved commander, the heroic Pike. The brave
troops, though for a moment confounded by the shock, were
soon called to their recollection by the national music, Yankee
Doodle: the column was instantly closed up; and they rent
the air, in their turn, with three loud huzzas!

The wound of Pike, a severe contusion, was soon found to
be mortal ; he still, however, preserved his undaunted spirit :
" Move on my brave fellows, and revenge your general," he
cried, addressing them for the last time. Tiiis they instantly
obeyed. He was then taken up by some of his men, to be
conveyed on board the ship; scarcely had he reached the shore
of the lake, when a loud and victorious shout iVom his brigade
brightened, for a moment, the expiring lamp of life ; a faint
sigh was all his strength would permit him to express. Shortly
after being carried on board the Pert, the British flag was
brought to him ; at the sight of it, his eye again resumed its
lustre for a moment, and making signs for it to be placed under
his head, he gloriously expired. 'J'hus fell a warrior who will
live with honour in the page of history. Brave, prudent and
chivalrous, he was adorned with that moral excellence which
is essential to the accomplished soldier and the real hero.
As he terminated his career in the very day-spring of life, we
can but imperfectly estimate what the ripened age of so much
promise would have brought forth. No oflicer entertained a
more refined sense of honourable warfare ; a proof of it is to be
found in the orders which he gave on this memorable day, that
any of his soldiers who should molest the possessions or per-
sons of the inhabitants, or wantonly destroy the public pro
perty, should suffer instant death.


Takinii of York.

On the fall of general Pike, the command devolved on
colonel Pearce, who advanced to the barracks, which he found
already in the possession of Forsyth ; the enemy having re-
treated to tlie fort. No one now being acquainted with the fur-
ther execution of the plan of attack, the enemy was not imme-
diately pursued ; otherwise the whole of the regulars and public
stores must have fallen into our hands. The Americans, after
halting a short time, moved on towards the town ; and on draw-
ing near it were met by officers of the Canada militia, with offers
of capitulation. This produced some delay ; but it being sus-
pected that it was only intended to facilitate the escape of
general Sheaffe and the principal part of his regulars, and to
gain time while they could destroy the military stores, and
burn the vessel on the stocks, Forsyth and Ripley pushed
forward, and were soon after followed by Pearce. The strictest
observance of Pike's order, with respect to the treatment of the
inhabitants and their property, was enjoined. At four o'clock
the Americans were masters of the town. Although with jus-
tice they might be enraged at the conduct of the British,
for their barbarous and unmanly attempt to destroy them
by a mine, the troops conducted themselves with the most per-
fect order and forbearance; perhaps considering this the best
testimonial of respect for their brave leader. The stipulations
of surrender were entered into with colonel Pearce, at the very
moment the British were engaged in the destruction of the pub-
lic property. By the terms of the stipulation, tlie troops,
regulars and militia, naval officers and seamen, were surrendered
prisoners of war ; all the public stores were given up, and all
private property was to be guarantied to the citizens of York ;
every thing relating to the civil departments was to be respected i
and the surgeons, attending on the wounded, were not to be con-
sidered as prisoners of war.

It is gratifying to reflect that the deportment of the victors,
on this occasion, was such as to extort praise even from the
vanquished. So far from inflicting any injury on the inhabi-
tants, a considerable portion of the public stores, which could
not easily be transported, were distributed among them, and
they expressed themselves highly satisfied with the conduct of
the Americans. The principal civil officers of the place ad-
dressed a letter of thanks to general Dearborne, for the strict
regard which was manifested by the troops under his command,
for the safety of the persons and property of the inhabitants.

The commander-in-chief landed soon after the fall of Pike,
but did not assume the immediate command until after the sur-
render of the town.


Taking of York.

Great assistance was rendered during the engagement by the
co-operation of commodore Chauncey, after landing the troops.
The vessels, in consequence of a contrary wind, were com-
pelled to beat up to their several positions with great difficulty,
and under a heavy fire from the batteries. When this was
effected, they opened a galling and destructive fire, which con-
tributed much to the success of the attack. In the squadron,
three were killed and eleven wounded ; among the first, mid-
shipmen Thompson and Hatfield, both much regretted.

The loss on the American side was inconsiderable until the
explosion of the " infernal maciiine," which caused it to amount
to three hundred in killed and wounded. Several officers of
merit were killed or wounded by the explosion. The aids of
the general, captains INicholson and Frazier, were wounded;
the first mortally: also, captain Lyon, captain Iloppock, lieu-
tenant Bloomfield, and many other valuable officers. Much
praise was bestowed on lieutenant-colonel Mitchell, of the
third regiment of artillery : he formed the column after the
explosion, and througliout the whole of tlie affair behaved
with the greatest gallantry. M:ijor Eustis; captains Scott,
Young, Walworth, M'Glassin, and Stephen 11. Moore of the
Baltimore volunteers, who lost a leg by the explosion ; and
Lieutenants Irvine, Fanning and Riddle, were named among
the most distinguislied of the day.

There were taken from the British, one lieutenant-colonel,
one major, thirteen captains, nine lieutenants, eleven ensigns,
one deputy adjutant-general, four naval officers, and two hun-
dred and fifty-one non-commissioned ofilcers and privates;
and it was contended, that according to the capitulation, the
commanding general, his staff, and all his regulars, ought to
have been surrendered. There was certainly an unfair proce-
dure on the part of the British general, as well in this business,
as in the destruction of tlie public property after it had been
fairly surrendered. With respect to the explosion, it was
attributed by general Sheaffe to accident; and as a proof, he
mentioned the circumstance of forty of his own men having
been killed and wounded in the retreat. But the American
officers, who witnessed the affair, were perfectly satisfied that
it was designed. After the conflict had ceased for some time,
and the magazine and barracks had been entirely abandoned by
the enemy, tlie occurrence of such an accident was almost im-
possible ; and leads to the conviction, that a match had been
purposely laid, intended to explode on the approach of the Ame-
rican troops ; which, but for the fortunate precaution of their


Taking of York Taking of Forts George and Erie.

commander, would have involved them in one general destruc-
lion. It is unjust, on light grounds, to impute to the British gene-
ral, conduct so dishonourable ; and but for the circumstances we
have mentioned, it might be regarded as the unauthorized act of
some base individual. The fact of a partof liisown column hav-
ing been overtaken by stones propelled to an immense distance,
has no weight in his exculpation : this may have proceeded
from his not having calculated with suflicient accuracy for their
own safety, although nothing could have been better timed for
the complete destruction of our gallant countrymen. Had the
explosion taken place in the midst of the fight, there might
then be room for supposition that it was the result of accident;
but, under the circumstances, that this should have been the
case, appears next to impossible. The loss of the British,
amounted to seven hundred and fifty men in killed, wounded
and prisoners : of these, the killed and wounded were not
less than two hundred; the prisoners amounted to fifty regulars,
and five hundred militia. Property to an immense amount
was destroyed, and there still remained to the value of at least
half a million of dollars : in his hasty retreat, general SheafTe
abandoned his baggage, containing all his books and papers,
which proved a valuable acquisition. Upon the whole, the
capture of York was a brilliant achievement, and worthy of
Pike, its projector. It was the first dawn of that military dis-
tinction, to which we afterwards so rapidly attained under the
gallant ofiicers, whom the school of experience had fashioned.

The object of this expedition being now fully attained, the
American forces evacuated York on the 1st of May, and re-em-
barked. The fleet, however, did not leave the harbour until
the 8th. A schooner had in the meantime been despatched
to Niagara, to inform general Lewis of the success of the ex-
pedition, and of the intended movements of the troops.

The next thing to be undertaken, was the attack of Fort
George and Fort Erie, which had been unsuccessfully attempted
the year before. Commodore Chauncey having the command
of the lake, forces could be transported to any part with facility.
On the evening of the 8th, the troops were landed at Four
Mile creek, so called, from being four miles distant from
Niagara. The next day, two schooners, under the command
of lieutenant Pettigrew, sailed with a detachment of one hun-
dred men, commanded by captain Morgan of the Twelfth, for the
purpose of destroying some of the enemy's stores at tlie head
of the lake. On their approach, the guard, about eighty men,
retired; the public buildings were burnt, and the party returned


Taking of Forts George and Erie.

with the greater portion of the property. On the 10th, commo-
dore Chaimcey sailed to Sackett's Harbour, for the purpose of
leaving the wounded men and officers, and of bringing such
additional force as could be spared from that place. He again
sailed on the 22d, leaving the Pert and the Fair American to
watch the movements of the enemy. Two days afterwards he
arrived safely at Niagara, with three hundred and fifty men of
colonel Macomb's regiment of artillery, and an additional num-
ber of guns.

Arrangements were now made for carrying the contemplated
enterprise into immediate execution. Commodore Chauncey
having, on the 26iii, reconnoitered the opposite shore, and ascer-
tained the best places for landing, and the stations for the
smaller vessels to occupy ; the next morning was fixed upon for
the attack. A number of boats Mere made ready ; and others,
which had been building for the occasion, were launched in the
afternoon ; this being observed by the enemy, a fire was open-
ed upon the workmen, from a battery, erected for the purpose,
nearly opposite. This brought on a severe cannonade from
the forts and batteries, which continued for some hours, and in
which the Americans had the decided advantage. Fort George
appeared to sutler considerable injury. The guns of the Ame-
rican battery were directed with so much precision, that the
halliards of the fiag-staff were shot away; and the buildings of
every description around the fort were much damaged : while
the loss on the American side was very inconsiderable. All
the boats in the meanwhile passed safely to the encampment at
Four Mile creek : and as soon as it grew dark, the artillery
was put on board the Madison, the Oneida, and the Lady of the
Lake: the troops were to embark in the boats and follow the
fleet. At three o'clock in the morning, signal was made to
weigh ; but in consequence of the calm which prevailed, the
schooners were obliged to resort to sweeps to gain their
stations. These consisted of tiie Julia, Growler, Ontario,
Governor Tompkins, Conquest, Hamilton, Asp, and Scourge;
each within musket shot of the shore, and skilfully disposed
to attack the difterent batteries, and cover the landing of our
forces. The troops had now all embarked, and amounted to
about four thousand men ; and at daybreak, generals Dearborne
and Lewis, and suits, went on board the Madison. The ene-
my's batteries immediately opened, as the troops advanced in
three brigades. The advance was led by that accomplished
officer colonel Scott, who had so much signalized himself in
this place the year before ; and was composed of Forsyth's
riflemen, and detachments from various infantry regiments : it



Taking of Forts George and Erie.

landed near the fort, which had been silenced by the Governor
Tompkins. General Boyd, to whom the brigade lately com-
manded by general Pike had been assigned, formed the first
line, which \vas flanked by the Baltimore and Albany volun-
teers under colonel M'Clure. He reached the shore immedi-
ately after the advance had landed. General Winder followed,
at the head of the second brigade ; and was closely succeeded
by the third, under general Chandler. The wind suddenly
springing up from the east, and producing a considerable
swell, the troops from the Madison and Oneida could not
reach shore until the second and third brigades had advanced ;
Macomb's regiment, and the marines under captain Smith,
therefore, did not land until the debarkation had been com-

The advance under Scott, consisting of five hundred men,
had been exposed, on its approach to the shore, to an incessant
volley of musketry, from at least twelve hundred regulars, sta-
tioned in a ravine. This spirited corps, com.posed of the flower
of the army, moved on without faltering, and briskly returned
the fire from the boats. As they drew near the shore, a sur-
prising degree of emulation manifested itself both amongst
officers and soldiers ; many of them leaping into the lake, and
wading to land. Captain Hindman, an accomplished young
officer of the second artillery, was the first on the enemy's ter-
ritory. No sooner were the troops formed on the beach, than
they were led to the charge, and instantly dispersed the enemy
in every direction ; some flying to the woods for shelter, and
others seeking refuge in the fort. The first were briskly as-
sailed by Forsyth ; while the advanced corps and the first bri-
gade, under general Boyd, vigorously attacked the latter. The
prevailing panic had seized the garrison, which made but a
feeble resistance. Fort JNiagara, and the batteries on the Ame-
rican side, opened at the same time ; and Fort George having
become untenable, the British laid trains to their magazines,
abandoned all their w^orks, and retreated with the utmost pre-
cipitation by difljerent routes. Colonel Scott and his light
troops followed closely in their rear, when he was recalled by
general Boyd, Lieutenant Riddle, with his party, not receiv-
ing the order, pursued the enemy almost to Queenstown, and
picked up a number of stragglers. The light troops took pos-
session of Fort George ; captains Hindman and Stockton en-
tering first, and extinguishing the fire intended to explode the
magazine. The former withdrew a match at the imminent haz-
ard of his life. General Boyd and colonel Scott mounted the
parapet for the purpose of cutting away the stafi^; but Hind-


Taking of Forts George and Erie.

man succeeded in taking the flag, which he forwarded to gene-
ral Dearborne. The American ensign was then immediately
hoisted ; and the troops ordered in and quartered. At twelve
o'clock the whole of the British fortifications on this shore,
from Fort George to Fort Erie inclusive, were in the quiet
possession of the Americans. The enemy had moved off with
such rapidity, that in a short time nothing more of them was
to be seen ; and our troops, having been eleven hours under
arms, were too much fatigued to pursue them far. The loss
of the British in this affair, considering the time during which
the contest lasted, was very considerable. There were one
hundred and eight killed, and one liundred and sixty wounded,
who fell into our hands : besides which, one hundred and
fifteen regulars, and five hundred militia, were taken prisoners.
The loss of the Americans was thirty-nine killed, and one
hundred and eight wounded : among the former, lieutenant
Hobart of the light artillery; and of the latter, major King of
the Thirteenth, captains Arrowsmilh of the Sixth, Steel of the
Sixteenth, Roach of the Twenty-third (who had been wounded
the year before at the heights of Queenstown, and promoted
to the rank of captain for his good conduct on that occasion),
and lieutenant Swearingen of the rifle corps. The Forty-ninth
British regiment, the Invincibles, was in this affair, and its com-
mander, colonel Myers, wounded and taken prisoner. The ac-
tion, notwithstanding, was fought on the American side with
inferior numbers ; the advance, and part of Boyd's brigade only
having been actually engaged. Shortly after the surrender of
the fort, the lake became so rough as to render the situation of
the fleet somewhat dangerous. Commodore Chauncey, there-
fore, made signal to weigh ; and proceeding up the river, chose
a place of safety between the two forts, where he anchored.

High praise was given, both by the commodore and general
Dearborne, to the forces under their respective commands.
Scott and Boyd were particularly mentioned. The commander-
in-chief also acknowledged himself much indebted to colonel
Porter, of the light artillery, to major Armistead, of the Third
regiment of artillery, and to captain Totten of the engineers,
for their skill in demolishing the enemy's forts and batteries.
We here find the first mention of the hero of Lake Erie, lieu-
tenant-commandant Oliver H. Perry, who had volunteered his
assistance on the night of the 2Gih, and had rendered good
service in the arrangement and debarkation of the troops.
Much of the success of this gallant enterprise was attributable
to the judicious plan of commodore Chauncey, in attacking the
diflferent batteries of the enemy with his vessels, and rendering


Battle of Stony Creek.

them untenable. General Dearborne had been much indis-
posed ; but he refused to yield the command of the expedition,
and issued his orders from his bed.

Lieutenant Perry was despatched, the day after the battle,
to Black Rock, with fifty men, for the purpose of taking five
vessels to Erie as soon as possible, and also of preparing the
squadron at that place, to commence operations, in conjunction
with general Harrison, by the 15lh of June.

A iew days afterwards, it was ascertained that the enemy,
under general Vincent, had retired to the Beaver Dams, and
formed a junction with the command of lieutenant-colonel
Bishop from Fort Erie and Chippewa. The day after this
was effected, the British general retreated hastily to the upper
end of Lake Ontario, and took a position on the heights at the
head of Burlington Bay. His force, it was supposed, did not
exceed a thousand men. General Winder, at his request, was
detached, by the commander-in-chief, in pursuit, with his
brigade. Having reached Twenty Mile creek, on the second
day's march, the general received information, that the enemy
had been reinforced by several hundred men from Kingston ;
that his force, besides Indians, and a few militia, might
amount to fifteen hundred men : he, in consequence, thought
it prudent to despatch an officer to general Dearborne for an
additional force ; that under his command not exceeding twelve
hundred infantry, exclusive of the dragoons under colonel
Burns, and Towson's artillery. He nevertheless continued his
march to Forty Mile creek, where, selecting a good position,
he proposed to wait for the expected reinforcement. This,
consisting of Chandler's brigade, in a short time arrived, after
a rapid march ; when general Chandler, being the senior oflficer,
assumed the command.

On the same day, the united force proceeded to a rivulet
called Stony Creek, where they encamped, having in the
course of the afternoon skirmished with, and driven back the
advance parties of the enemy. In order to secure the baggage
of the army, which had been conveyed in batteaux along
the lake shore, colonels Christie and Boerstler, with their
respective regiments, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth, were
detached, to take a position at the distance of two miles from
the main body, on the neck of land which divides the lake
from Burlington Bay, and on the road from Fort George to
York and Kingston. The distance of the main body of the
British was about eight miles.

The ground occupied by general Chandler was a high bank
on Stony Creek : on the opposite side of the stream there was


Battle of Stony Creek.

a small meadow, and the bank was much lower. He halted im-
mediately on the road, as the centre of his encampment. The
Fifth, a small detachment of the Twenty -third, and one company
of the Sixteenth infantry, occupied a height, a short distance to
the left. The object of this was to prevent, in case of a night
attack, the occupation of ground which commanded the road ;
while, at the same time, the troops stationed there could with
facility be wheeled into line with the Twenty-fifth, along the
higii bank of the creek. The light artillery of captains Tow-
son and Leonard, were posted immediately to the right of the
last mentioned regiment, so as to command the road in the
direction of the enemy. The cavalry, under colonel Burns,
were placed in the rear, to be ready at a moment's warning.
A guard of eighty or a hundred men was posted a quarter of a
mile in advance, at a wooden cliapel on the road side. In other
respects the usual precautions were taken.

The situation of the British army was almost hopeless. To
contend openly with the superior force of the Americans, was
out of the question. No possibility of escape remained but
by marching through the thinly inhabited country towards
Detroit, and joining general Proctor; or attempting the fortune
of a night attack, 'i'iie first, in their present deficiency of
supplies, was considered almost impracticable: t!ie latter was,
therefore, resolved upon, 'i'he existence of this alternative
could not have escaped the penetration of the American gene-
rals; and therefore the necessity of tlie utmost precaution. To
the ultimate character of the campaign, the capture of the
British would be of the greatest importance : as the necessary
consequence, the contest to the westward would terminate, for
it would no longer be possible for Proctor to hold out, after his
communication with the lower provinces had been cut off".

Until late in the evening, the soldiers of the Twenty-fifth had
occupied the meadow ground on the opposite side of the creek,
where they had kindled fires for the purpose of cooking; but
towards midnight they were withdrawn to the position assigned
tliem on the brow of the high bank. This precaution had well

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 12 of 32)