H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

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

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persevered in the prosecution of the original object of the cam-
paign ; and besides, from the stale of his health, he was not
qualilied to carry into execution what would have required the
uimost vigour of mind and body. With respect to llampton,
military men will probably say, that it was his duty to have
obeyed ; but if we place implicit reliance upon the correctness
of the facts which he alleged, it will be dillicult to condemn his
conduct. The presence of the secretary at war, for the pur-
pose of superintending the operations of the campaign, was
perhaps more injurious than serviceable. He was by no means
in a situation in which he could be considered responsible for
the failure of the plan ; and yet, in the event of success, he
might have clainied the merit of it for his own. It was an
unfair and improper interference which ought to be condemned.

While these tilings were taking place on the land, the com-
mander of our squadron on Lake Ontario was not idle. Com-
modore Chauncey, it has been seen, after his first attempt to
bring the enemy to action, returned to Sackett's Harbour.
Being reinforced by an additional schooner, he again sailed on
a cruise. On the 7th of September, he discovered the British
squadron near the Niagara, and immediately stood for it. Sir
James Yeo, on perceiving the Americans, made sail to the
northward. He was pursued during four days and nights; but
owing to the dull sailing of most of the pursuing vessels, he con-
trived to keep out of their reach. On the fourth day, off Gene-
see river, commodore Chauncey took advantage of a breeze
which arose, and endeavoured, while sir James lay becalmed, to


Cruise of Commodore Chauncey on Lake Ontario.

close with liim; but he was not able to accomplish this, as the
breeze came up with the enemy when the American squadron
was still distant half a mile. After a running fight of more than
three hours, the British escaped ; and the next morning ran
into Amherst Bay. The American commodore, having no pilot,
did not think it prudent to follow them ; and contented himself
with forming a blockade. In this skirmish, the British sus-
tained considerable injury; while that of the Americans was
very trifling. The blockade was continued until the 17th of
September, when, in consequence of a heavy gale from the
westward, the British escaped into Kingston, and the American
fleet returned to Sackett's Harbour.

After a few hours delay at Sackett's Harbour, commodore
Chauncey again sailed towards Niagara, where he arrived on
the 24th of September. On the 19th, he passed sir James Yeo
at the False Ducks, but took no notice of him ; hoping thereby
to draw him out into the lake. On the 26lh, the American
commodore received information, tliat the enemy was in York
Bay. He therefore made for that place, as fast as his dull
sailing schooners would permit; and on the 28th, early in the
morning, discovered the enemy in motion in the bay, and im-
mediately run down for his centre. This being perceived by
sir James, he stood out and endeavoured to escape to the south-
ward ; but finding that the American fleet was closing upon him,
he ordered the vessels of his squadron to tack in succession, and
commenced a well directed fire at the General Pike, commodore
Chauncey's flag ship, with the view of covering his rear. As
he passed to leeward, he attacked the American rear; but this
part of his plan was frustrated by the skilful manoeuvring of
Chauncey. By bearing down in line on the centre of the enemy's
squadron, he threw them into such confusion, that Yeo immedi-
ately bore away, but not before his flag ship, the Wolf, had been
roughly handled by that of the commodore. In twenty minutes,
the main and mizen top-masts and main yard of the Wolf were
shot away ; but the British commander, by setting all sail on
his mainmast and keeping dead before the wind, was enabled
to outstrip the greater part of Ciiauncey's squadron. The chase
was continued until three o'clock, P. M. ; the General Pike
having the Asp in tow, and, during the greater part of the time,
being within reach of the enemy's shot. Captain Crane, in
the Madison, and lieutenant Brown, of the Oneida, used every
exertion to close with the enemy, but without success. The
pursuit was at length reluctantly given up ; as it came on to blow
almost a gale, and there was no hope of closing with the enemy
before he could reach the British batteries, nor without great


He captures five British Armed Schooners.

risk of running ashore. The commodore was justly entitled
to claim a victory in this affair. Although the enemy were not
captured, they were certainly beaten ; two of their vessels had
atone time been completely in the commodore's power; and but
for his eagerness to close with the whole fleet, they could not
have effected their escape. The loss on board the General
Pike was considerable, owing to her long exposure to the fire
of the enemy's fleet; which was seriously increased by the
bursting of one of her guns, an accident by which twenty-two
men were killed or wounded. The vessel also was a good deal
cut up in her hull and rigging.

Commodore Chauncey, .shortly after this affair, communi-
cated with general Wilkinson on the subject of the expedition
then on foot ; and was advised to continue his watch of the ene-
my's squadron, and, if possible, to prevent its return to Kings-
ton. In the beginning of October, he again pursued the hostile
fleet for several days, and forced it to take refuge in Burlington
Bay; and, the next morning, on sending the schooner Lady
of the Lake to reconnoitre, he found that sir James had
taken advantage of the darkness of the night, and escaped
towards Kingston. Much pleasantry was indulged in, at the
shyness of the British knight, and his ungallant escape from
the Lady of the Lake. 'JMie chase was now renewed, and,
favoured by the wind, the commodore came in sight of seven
schooners belonging the enemy. Before sun-down, three of
them struck to the General Pike ; another to the Sylph and the
Lady of the Lake ; and afterwards a fifth to the Sylph. They
turned out to be gun vessels, bound to the head of the lake as
transports. Two of them were the Julia and Growler, which
had been taken from the Americans by the enemy, as mentioned
in a previous chapter. On board of the captured schooners were
three hundred soldiers, belonging to De Watteville's regiment.
It was ascertained that the ship of sir James Yeo, and the
Royal George, had suffered very considerable injury, as well
as loss in killed and wounded. The enemy's fleet were seen
going into Kingston the same evening ; and commodore Chaun-
cey remained master of the lake during the remainder of the

The consequences of leaving a large force in the rear, and
withdrawing the troops from the Niagara, soon began to be felt.
General Harrison reached Buffalo some days after the departure
of the commander-in-chief; and although directed to follow
immediately, he was compelled to wait until sometime in
November, in consequence of the deficiency of transports. It
was not until general Wilkinson had gone into winter quarters


Burning of Newark by the Americans Britisli Retaliation.

that Harrison embarked ; orders having previously been sent
for him to remain at Buffalo, which unfortunately did not arrive
until after his departure. Fort George was left under the com-
mand of general M'Clure, with troops consisting entirely of
militia whose term of service had nearly expired. By the 10th
of December, his force being reduced to a handful of men, and
a considerable body of the enemy being within a few miles of
him, he called a council of officers, at which it was unani-
mously agreed, that the place was no longer tenable. Scarcely
had the general time to blow up the fort and pass the river, be-
fore the British appeared. His retreat was preceded by an act
which excited universal dissatisfaction throughout the United
States. On the Canadian side of the Niagara and situated im-
mediately below where Fort George stood, was a handsome vil-
lage, called Newark. As this place, from its situation, would
greatly favour the besiegers, authority had been given by the
secretary of war, in case it became necessary for the defence of
the fort, to destroy the village. The general, misconceiving
these orders, gave twelve hours' notice to the inhabitants to re-
tire with their effects, fired the buildings, and left the village in
flames. This act was no sooner known to the American govern-
ment, than it was promptly disavowed. On the 6th of January
following, the order under which general M'Clure conceived
himself to have acted, was enclosed to sir George Prevost, with^
a formal intimation that the act was unauthorised. To this an
answer dated the 10th of February was returned by the governor
of Canada, in which he expressed " great satisfaction, that he
had received assurance that the perpetration of the burning of the
town of Newark was both unauthorised by the American govern-
ment, and abhorrent to every American feeling ; that if any out-
rages had ensued the wanton and unjustifiable destruction of
Newark, passing the bounds of just retaliation, they were to be
attributed to the influence of irritated passions, on the part of
the unfortunate sufferers by that event."

The difference of the principles, on which tlie war was car-
ried on by the Americans, and by the British, was very striking.
The former, uniformly disavowing the system of retaliation,
considered the outrages committed by British ofiicers unau-
thorized, until expressly acknowledged by the British govern-
ment: while the British, on the contrary, proceeded at once to
retaliate any violation of the laws of war, without waiting to
inquire whether it was disapproved or sanctioned by our
government. Had the Americans followed the example of
their enemies, the burning of Newark would have been amply
justified by the outrages which had been wantonly committed


Fort Niagara surprised Destruction of Lewistown, Buffalo and other places.

on Lake Champlain and on the sea-bord ; and yet, shortly-
after the massacre and conflagration of the village of Hampton,
when the captain of an American privateer had destroyed some
private property in the West Indies, on the score of retaliation,
his commission was instantly taken from him, and the act pub-
licly disapproved. Their high sense of honourable warfare,
was indeed manifested by the American government in a very
remarkable manner. Our humane treatment of British prison-
ers was acknowledged in the British house of commons even
by lord Castlereagh ; but he meanly attributed it to fear.

Sir George Prevost, however, without waiting for the disap-
proval by the American government of the burning of Newark,
had proceeded to inflict a retaliation sufiicient to satiate the ven-
geance of the fiercest enemy. At daylight, on the 19th of
December, Fort Niagara was surprised by colonel Murray,
with about four hundred British regulars, militia and Indians ;
and the garrison, nearly three hundred in number and princi-
pally invalids, was put to the sword. Not more than twenty
eflfected their escape. The commanding oflicer, captain Leon-
ard, appears to have been shamefully negligent, or perhaps he
had been bought by the enemy. He was absent at the time,
and had used no precautions against an assault. Having pos-
sessed themselves of tliis post, the British soon after increased
their force, and began to lay waste the Niagara frontier with
fire and sword. A spirited, but unavailing attempt was made by
major Bennett to defend Lewistown from the enemy. This
place, together with the villages of Manchester, Youngstown,
and the town of the Tuscarora Indians, was speedily reduced
to ashes ; and many of the inhabitants were butchered. Major
Mallory advanced from Schlosser, to oppose the invaders ;
but was compelled by superior numbers to retreat. On the
30th, a British detachment landed at Black Rock, and pro-
ceeded to Bufl'alo. General Hall had organized a body of
militia for the defence of the place; but on the approach of the
enemy, they could not be induced to hold their ground, although
great exertions were made by majors Staunton and Norton and
lieutenant Riddle. This village also was reduced to ashes.
The whole frontier, indeed, for many miles, exhibited a scene
of ruin and devastation.

Thus was ample vengeance taken for the burning of Newark.
Even the British general was satisfied. In his proclamation
of the 12th of January, he said, " the opportunity of punish-
ment has occurred, and a full measure of retribution has taken
place :^' and he declared his intention of " pursuing no further
a system of warfare so revolting to his own feelings, and so


Meeting of Congress Violence of Party Spirit.

little congenial to the British character." It would have been
well to ask, whether the conflagrations and pillaging antece-
dently committed on Lake C^hamplain, and the horrid outrages
in Chesapeake Bay, in the course of the previous summer, were
not an ample set-off for the burning of Newark? Would tliat
the enemy had so deemed tliem ! The affair continued to be
followed up by subsequent retaliatory measures in other quar-
ters of our extended territory. The devastating decree of ad-
miral Cochrane was founded, in part, on llie destruction of
Newark, and the charge that the Americans had burnt a brick
house in Upper Canada, in which they found a human scalp.
It was not enough that the burning of this unfortunate village
should have been reprobated and disavowed by our govern-
ment; it was not enough that it should be expiated by an ex-
tensive course of murder and conflagration, which, according
to the admission of sir George Prevost, amply glutted the ven-
geance of Britain ; but our extensive sea-coast of fifteen hun-
dred miles, and our populous and flourishing cities, must be
given up to destruction and pillage, to fill up the measure of
British retaliation. These events will, however, be detailed in
their proper place.


Meeting of Congress— Violence of Party Spirit— Unfriendly deportment of the New
England States— Measures for carrying on the War— Recourse to Taxation— Adop-
tion of means for recruiting the Army — Interesting case of twenty-three American
Prisoners — Arrogance of the British Government— Debates in Congress on the subject
— Result of the Debates— Inquiry by Congress into the manner in which the War had
been carried on by the Enemy — American Commissioners of Peace sent to Gottenburg
— The War gains ground in Public Opinion.

On the 6th of December 1813, the congress of the United
States again assembled. The fever of party spirit had almost
reached its crisis, and the debates in that body were cliaractcr-
ized by a virulence and animosity which had never before been
witnessed since the foundation of our government. It would
be improper, at this date, to enter minutely into the discussion
of a subject which at any rate had better be forgotten; and in a




Unfriendly Deportment of the New England States.

narrative of the events of the war, there is scarcely room for it.
On the one side, we find the opposition accused of manifesting a
spirit of hostility to their country, and a determined resistance to
every measure for carrying on the war, although from the peremp-
tory rejection by Great Britain of the Russian mediation, there
existed no hope of peace. On the other hand, the party in
power were charged with having ruined the country, destroyed
its commerce, involved it in debts which it could never pay,
and with being engaged in a guilty project of conquest, under
the pretextof vindicating national rights. Every measure with
respect to the war was sure to involve in it a consideration of
its causes, and the same discussions were renewed until they
grew stale by repetition. The opposition to every measure
proposed for the prosecution of hostilities turned upon the in-
justice and wickedness of the war. By some it was denied that
any cause of war existed ; and by others it was alleged, that
although we had cause, the time chosen for declaring it was
improper. Among the members in opposition was Mr Webster,
of whom it is but justice to say, that his sentiments were uni-
formly national. The splendid abilities of this gentleman, and
the no less splendid but more popular career of Mr Calhoun,
first became conspicuous about this period. The opposition of
Mr Webster was manly and generous. The support given to
the administration by Mr Calhoun, was fervid and powerful.
Notwithstanding the warm and often intemperate debates to
which these subjects gave rise, the diflerent measures in sup-
port of the war continued to be carried by large majorities.
In some of the New England states, the opposition was carri-
ed on in a spirit of animosity, which occasioned serious regret
in the breasts of the more considerate. Such conduct did not,
by any means, meet with the concurrence of the opposition party
in otlier parts of the United Slates, and certainly not of the great
mass of the population of the states in which it was ex-
iiibited. The elfecls of the embargo, which was about this
time adopted, and the non-intercourse, it was said, were felt
much more severely by the people of New England, than in
the southern districts ; and the administration was accused of
partiality. It was alleged in reply, that the smuggling on the
Canada line, and the trade from the northern ports with the
British, was carried on to such an extent, as almost to put the
government at defiance ; and that the British squadron, which
had so much harassed the southern coasts, had been in a great
measure supplied to the northward, when without such assist-
ance it would have been difiicult, if not impossible, for it to
remain on our shores.


Measures for carrying on the War Recourse to Taxation.

The war had hitherto been supported by means of loans ; as
the resources of the government, which were derived exclusive-
ly from sales of public lands and from imposts, were altogether
inadequate. It was now perceived that even as the security upon
which to support a credit these were insufficient ; and it was
therefore determined to create an internal revenue. This mea-
sure, it may said, ought to have been coeval with the war : but
the unwillingness of the people to submit to taxation, had already
been seen ; and hence it w^as the wish of the administration
to avoid it as long as possible. At the declaration of war, it
was believed that England would scarcely require us to give
proof of our ability to carry it on. The proposals for a cessa-
tion of hostilities, and the proffered Russian mediation, kept up
the hopes of peace for a time ; and a measure disagreeable to the
people was therefore delayed until it had become unavoidable,
or rather until it was called for by themselves. The expenses of
the war had also unexpectedly increased, from the unlooked-for
reverses of our arms to the westv/ard, and the consequent neces-
sity for the creation of fleets on the lakes ; while the means of
meetiug them were diminished by the unwillingness of the
New England people to join heartily in its prosecution. Had
we possessed ourselves of Upper Canada, there is very little
doubt that we should have had peace the first year of the war;
for it was not until she discovered our weakness on our north-
ern and western frontiers, that England rejected the Russian
mediation. Not that the loss of Canada would have been a
matter of so much consequence to Great Britain ; but that it
would have furnished her with conclusive proof, that she could
have no hope of severing the union by sowing dissensions be-
tween the different states.

The next thing with which the national legislature occupied
itself, was the provision of means for filling the ranks of the
army. The difficulty of inducing men to enlist continued to
increase, and even furnished an argument to prove that the
war was not popular. But this could be easily accounted for,
from the natural reluctance of all men, not actually urged by
their necessities, to enter into a positive engagement to serve as
common soldiers for a number of years. Besides, the profession
of the common soldier, during our long peace, and on account of
the inconsiderable force kept on foot, had sunk very low in the
estimation of the people : an enlisted soldier was almost a pro-
verbial name for a lazy, worthless fellow. An idea was also
prevalent, that the obligations of the enlisted soldier created a
species of slavery ; or, at least, were incompatible with repub-



Means of recruiting the Army Case of twenty-three American Prisoners.

lican freedom : this was sufficient to prevent a great number
of spirited and enterprising young men from entering the army.
The sons of farmers, and young mechanics, were willing
enough to engage as volunteers, or to turn out on a tour of
militia duty ; but to enter into engagements which were perma-
nent, or which they regarded as disreputable, was a very different
matter. The only mode of combating this aversion, was the
offering of extravagant bounties ; not so much with the view of
holding out a bait to cupidity, as to overcome the popular pre-
judice against this mode of serving the country. A law was
passed, increasing the pay of privates, and giving them bounties
in money and lands to a considerable amount. This, it was
confidently hoped, woukl produce the desired effect.

During this session a very interesting subject was submitted
to the consideration of congress. Twenty-three American sol-
diers, taken at the battle of Queenstown in the autumn of 1812,
were detained in close continement on the charge of being
native-born British subjects, and afterwards sent to England to
undergo a trial for treason. On tliis being made known to our
government, orders were given to general Dearborne to confine
a like number of British prisoners taken at Fort George, and
to keep them as hostages for the safety of the Americans; in-
structions wliich were carried into eflect, and soon after made
known to the governor of (Canada. The British govern-
ment was no sooner informed of this, than governor Prevost
was ordered to place foriy-six American commissioned and
non-commissioned officers in confinement. Governor Prevost,
in his letter to general Wilkinson upon this subject, stated,
that he had been directed to apprise him, that if any of the
British prisoners should suffer death, in consequence of the
twenty-three American soldiers above mentioned being found
guilty and the known law of Great Britain and of every other
country in similar circumstances being executed on them, double
the number of American officers should sufler instant death : he
further notified the general, for the information of his govern-
ment, that orders had been given to the British commanders to
prosecute the war willi unrelenting severity, if unhappily, after
this notice, the American government should not be deterred
from putting to death the British soldiers now in confinement.
General Wilkinson, in his reply, forbore to animadvert on the
nature of the procedure, but could not help expressing his sur-
prise at the threat by which the British government supposed
the United States could be awed into submission. " The govern-
ment of the United States," said he, " cannot be deterred by
any considerations of life or death, of depredation or conflagra-


Arrogance of the British Government Warm Debates in Congress.

tion, from the faithful discharge of its duty towards the American
people." The arrogance and haughtiness of the British officer
in holding this language, so far from intimidating a people
who are proud of their independence and jealous of their na-
tional honour, was only calculated to render resistance more
obstinate ; and justly excited the indignation of every American.
General Wilkinson soon after informed governor Prevost, that,
in consequence of orders he had received from his government,
he had put forty-six British officers in confinement, to be there
detained until it should be known that the American officers
were released. On the receipt of this intelligence, the Canadian
governor ordered all the American prisoners into close confine-
ment ; and a similar step was soon after taken by our govern-

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 19 of 32)