H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

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

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having been killed, and no drag ropes being at hand, they were
still on the place where they had been captured, when orders
were received from general Brown, to collect the wounded and
return to camp immediately. The British cannon were there-
fore left behind, the smaller pieces having first been rolled
down the hill. The whole of the troops reached the camp
in good order about midnight, after an unmolested march.

It is much to be regretted that these trophies of victory could
not have been secured; as the circumstance of their recovery
by the British gave them occasion, surprising as it may seem,
to claim the victory. To high praise they certainly were en-
tided; but to the merit of "a complete defeat of the Americans,"
they had no claim, and the assertion was an outrage to truth.
A compliment for such a victory ought to infuse the blush of
shame into the cheek of any honourable soldier who had a
share in the contest so named.

The British force engaged, of whom twelve hundred were
militia and five hundred Indians, was little short of five thou-
sand men ; being nearly a third greater than that of the Ameri-
cans. The loss on either side was proportioned to the nature of
this dreadful and sanguinary battle : its aggregate, in both armies,
amounted to one thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine ;
and the killed and wounded alone to near one thousand four
hundred. In the records of the most bloody battles we seldom
meet with so great a number of officers killed and wounded.
On the side of the British, one assistant adjutant-general, one
captain, three subalterns, and seventy-nine non-commissioned
officers and privates, were killed ; lieutenant-general Drum-
mond, three lieutenant-colonels, two majors, eight captains,
twenty-two subalterns, and five hundred and twenty-two non-
commissioned officers and privates were wounded : one major
general (Riall, who was also wounded), one aid-de-camp вАФ cap-
tain Loring, five other captains, nine subalterns, and two hun-
dred and twenty non-commissioned officers and privates, were
prisoners or missing : making in all eight hundred and seventy-
eight men. The American loss was, one major, five captains,
five subalterns, and one hundred and fifty-nine non-commis-
sioned officers and privates, killed ; major-general Brown,


British advance again the following Morning Americans Retreat to Fort Erie.

brigadier-generals Scott and Porter, two aids-de-camp, one
brigade major, one colonel, four lieutenant-colonels, one major,
seven captains, thirty-seven subalterns, and five hundred and
fifteen non-commissioned officers and privates, wounded; and
one brigade major, one captain, six subalterns, and one hun-
dred and two non-commissioned officers and privates, prisoners
or missing : making a grand total of eight hundred and fifty-one.
Thus there was a difference of twenty-seven only, between the
respective losses of the contending parties.

The commander-in-chief ordered general Ripley to refresh
the troops on their arrival at the camp, and in the morning to
proceed to the battle ground, and engage the enemy if circum-
stances permitted. On reconnoitering the enemy, he found
them drawn up in advance of their position of the preceding
day on the eminence, and presenting a formidable appearance.
It would have been madness to renew the combat with a force
which, on examination, amounted to only fifteen hundred men
fit for duty; and he therefore properly declined it. His con-
duct was hastily censured by general Brown, in his despatches
to the government. CJeneral Ripley, in consequence, had for
along period to contend with the obloquy of public opinion;
and it was not until some time anb.seqiiently that the full extent
of his merit was known. It is now generally admitted, that
much of the praise of this brilliant victory is due to the skill
and valour of this officer.

General Ripley, finding himself unable to make a stand
against the superior force of the British, retreated to Fort Erie,
and anticipating their approach, immediately set about extend-
ing its defences. The enemy, notwithstanding their pretended
victory, did not think proper to follow up the Americans, until
they had been reinforced by general l)e Watteville, with one
thousand men. 'J'heir whole force, now amounting to upwards
of five thousand men, appeared, on the 3d of August, before a
fortification which a few days previously had been considered
untenable, and commenced the erection of regular intrench-
ments. The besieged, at the same time, laboured incessantly
to complete their arrangements for defence. The position
which the American army had taken, for the purpose of main-
taining itself against so great a superiority, possessed few
natural advantages ; and the work called Fort Erie was little
more tlian a small unfinished redoubt. Situated about one
hundred yards from the lake shore at its nearest angle, and on
a plain of about fifteen feet elevation, this fort could be con-
sidered as nothing more than the strongest point of a fortified
camp. A line of works was yet to be constructed in front, and


Siege of Fort Erie Projected Attack on Buffalo repulsed.

on the right and left to tlie lake ; the rear on the shore being
left open. The fort itself probably did not occupy more than
a sixth of the space occupied by the line of defences ; and the
remainder could not be otherwise than hastily constructed.
Indeed, notwithstanding the sk)vv and cautious approaches of
the British, much remained unfinished at the last moment.

On the same day that the enemy appeared before Fort Erie,
a detachment, under colonel Tucker, crossed the Niagara, for
the purpose of attacking Buffalo and recapturing general Riall.
This party, although subsequenily increased by reinforce-
ments to twelve hundred men, was repulsed by major Morgan
with but two hundred and forty men. In this affair captain
Hamilton and lieutenants Wadsworlh and M'Intosh were killed.

The defences of Fort Erie were sufficiently completed, by
the 7th, to keep at bay an enemy who had learned to respect
our arms. From this day, until the 14th, there was an almost
incessant cannonade between the batteries of the besiegers and
the besieged. In the frequent skirmishes which took place,
the Americans were generally victorious ; in one of them, how-
ever, they lost major Morgan, a brave officer, who had dis-
tinguished himself as above mentioned, and whose death was
sincerely lamented. General Gaines had arrived shortly after
the commencement of the siege, and belbre any regular firing
had been entered upon. Being the senior officer, he assumed
the chief direction, and general Ripley returned to the com-
mand of his brigade.

On the night of the 14th, general Ripley perceived a bustle
in the British camp ; and conceiving that an assault was about
to be made, he despatched a messenger to apprize general
Gaines of his convictions, who, however, had already formed
a similar opinion. Dispositions, in which the troops enthusi-
astically participated, were now rapidly made to receive the
expected assailants.

General Drummond had made arrangements to assail the
American fortifications on the right, centre and left at the same
instant ; and general Gaines, not knowing where the enemy
would make his attack, was prepared to meet him at all points.
The fort and bastions were placed under the command of cap-
tain Williams, of the artillery ; and a battery on the margin of
the lake was assigned to captain Douglass of the engineers.
A blockhouse, near the salient bastion of the fort, was occupied
by major Trimble with a detachment of infantry. Captains
Biddle and Fanning, supported by general Porter's volunteers
and the riflemen, commanded the batteries in front. The
whole of the artillery throughout the garrison were directed by


Assault upon Fort Erie.

major Hindman. The first brigade, lately commanded by-
general Scott, now under lieutenant-colonel Aspinwall, was
posted on the right ; and general Ripley's, the second, brigade,
supported Towson's battery at the southwestern extremity of
the works, and the line of the works on the left. A few hours
before the commencement of the assault, one of the enemy's
shells exploded a small magazine within the American works,
which was succeeded by a loud shout from the besiegers.
The shout was returned by the Americans ; and captain Wil-
liams, amid the smoke of tlie explosion, immediately discharged
all his heavy guns.

At half past two in the morning-, the darkness being excess-
ive, the approach of the enemy's right column, one thousand
three hundred strong, under lieutenant-colonel Fischer, was dis-
tinctly heard on the left of the garrison. The second brigade,
and the artillery of Towson's battery were ready to receive
them. Advancing steadily and quickly, the British assailed
the battery with scaling ladders, and the line towards the lake
with the bayonet. They were permitted to approach close up
to the works, when a tremendous fire was opened upon them,
and their column fell back in confusion. Colonel Fischer, rally-
ing his men, again advanced furiously to the attack ; but was a
second time compelled to retire, with still greater loss. The
possession of Towson's battery being consiilered essential to the
general plan of assault, he next essayed to pass round the abattis
by wading breast deep in the lake ; but in this attempt he was un-
successful, and nearly two hundred of his men were either killed
or drowned. Without seeking to learn the result of the attack
on other points, he now ordered a retreat to the British encamp-

The enemy's central and left columns having waited until
colonel Fischer was completely engaojed, colonel ScrUt, who
commanded the left column, approached on the right along
the lake ; while lieutenant-colonel Drummond, with the central
column, at the same moment advanced to the assault of the
fort proper. Colonel Scott was checked by captain ])ouglass's
battery, captains Boughton and Harding's New York and
Pennsylvania volunteers on its right, the Ninth infantry under
captain Foster on its left, and a six-pounder stationed there
under the direction of colonel M'Kee. Their fire was so well
directed, that the approaching column made a momentary
pause at the distance of fifty yards, and then recoiled. Not-
withstanding the rapid and heavy fire from captain Williams's
artillery, the column of colonel Drummond, composed of eight
hundred select troops, firmly advanced to the attack of the fort.


Assault upon Fort Erie Death of Colonel Drummond.

Suddenly applyinjr his scaling ladders, he mounted the parapet,
his officers calling out to the line extending to the lake on
their left to cease firing. This artifice succeeded so well, that
Douglass's battery and the infantry, supposing the order to
have been given within the garrison, suspended their fire, and
suffered colonel Scott, who had rallied his men, to approach
their line. When the deception was discovered, it availed
nothing ; for the column, on its second charge, was resisted
with so much effect, as to be compelled again to retreat, with
the loss of its commander and a third of its numbers. The
central column was, in the meanwhile, with great difficulty
thrown back, although the troops within the fort were quickly
reinforced from general Ripley's brigade, and general Porter's
volunteers. Repeated assaults were made by colonel Druui-
mond. Each time they were repulsed by colonel Hindman's
artillery, and the infantry under major Trimble ; and now that
colonel Scott's column had withdrawn from the action, lieu-
tenant Douglass was engaged in giving such a direction to the
guns of the battery, as to cut off the communication between
colonel Drummond, and the reserve which was to be brought
up to his support under lieutenant-colonel Tucker.

Colonel Drummond, although three times repulsed, was un-
willing to renounce his undertaking. Availing himself of the
darkness of the morning, which was increased by the smoke,
he stole silently along the ditch, and suddenly applying his
ladders, once more rapidly gained the parapet, crying out to
his men to charge vigorously, and give the Yankees no quar-
ter! This order was faithfully executed ; and the most furiuu^J
strife now ensued that had been witnessed during the assault.
All the efforts of major Hindman and the corps supporting
him could not dislodge the enemy from tlie bastion, though
they prevented him from approaching Captain Wil-
liams was mortally wounded ; lieutenants Vvatmough and
M'Donough, severely. The latter, no longer able to fight, called
for quarter. This was refused by colonel Drummond, who
repeated his instructions to his troops to deny it in every in-
stance. The declining and almost exhausted strength and spirits
of the lieutenant being restored and roused by the barbarity of
this order, he seized a handspike, and, with the desperation of
madness, defended himself against the assailants, until he was
shot by colonel Drummond himself. The latter survived this
act only a few minutes : he received a ball in his breast, which
terminated his existence. Brutal courage merits nothing but
abhorrence ; it is only when tempered with mercy, that valour is
a virtue. The enemy still maintained their position, notwith-


Assault upon Fort Erie Tremendous Explosion British driven back.

Standing the death of their leader, and repulsed every attempt
to dislodge them until daylight : they had, in the meantime,
suffered excessively. The contest along the whole line of de-
fences, with this exception, having ceased, considerable reinforce-
ments were ordered up. The enemy now began to recoil;
and in a few moments many of them were thrown over the
bastion. The reserve coming up to their support, the can-
non of the Douglass battery entiladcd the column as it ap-
proached, and the artillery of lieutenant Fanning played upon
it with great effect ; while a gun under the charge of captain
Biddle was served with uncommon vivacity. A part of the
reserve, to the number of from three to four hundred men, was
nevertheless about to rush upon the parapet to the assistance of
the recoiling soldiers, when a tremendous explosion took place
under the platform of the bastion, which carried away the
bastion and all who were on it. 'J'he reserve now fell back ;
and the contest, in a short time, terminated in the entire defeat
of the enemy, and their return to their encampment.

The British left on the lield two hundred and twenty-two
killed, among them fourteen officers of distinction ; one hun-
dred and seventy-four wounded; and one hundred and eightv-
six prisoners : making a total of five hundred and eighty-two.
The official statement of general Drummond makes it in all
nine hundred and five, of which fifty-seven were killed. The
American loss amounted to seventeen killed, fifty-six wounded,
and one lieutenant (Fontain, thrown out while defending the
bastion) and ten privates prisoners : in all, eighty-four men. It
was not until all hopes of carrying the fort were at an end, that
the British deigned to make prisoners of a few wounded men
who fell into their power.

The explosion of the bastion furnished the British with an
excuse for their defeat; and they represented its consequences
as much more serious than they really were. It is certain,
however, that the assault had already failed at every other point;
and the small body of men in possession of the outer bastion
could not by possibility have subdued the whole garrison.
Nor was the number killed by the explosion so great as they
stated : the slaughter of the enemy took place during the as-
sault, which, at the time when the occurrence took place, had
lasted upwards of an hour.

The enemy now remained quiet in his intrenchments until
he received a reinforcement of two regiments. When they ar-
rived, he renewed his assault on the fort from enlarged batteries,
continuing it, with little intermission, to the latter end of Au-
gust. On the 28lli, general Gaines being severely wounded by


Siege of Fort Erie Sortie from the Fort.

thebiirstino^ of a shell, which compelled him to retire to Buffalo,
the commatul again devolved on general Ripley.

The situation of the army in Fort Erie had begun to excite
considerable uneasiness ; but th.e operations of sir George Pre-
vost, about this time, in the vicinity of Champlain and Platts-
burg, rendered it for a period very uncertain whether any
relief could be sent by general Izard. It afterwards appeared,
that orders to that effect had been given to this officer by the
secretary of war ; but he was prevented, by a variety of causes,
from moving as rapidly as could have been desired. The
garrison, however, was strengtliened by the daily arrival of
militia and volunteers ; and general Brown, having sufficiently
recovered from his wounds, had returned to the command on
the 2d of September. The siege was still maintained with
vigour by the British, who had abandoned the idea of carrying
the place otherwise than by regular approaches, although their
force had been considerably augmented since their last defeat.
The Americans laboured with unrelaxing assiduity, to complete
their fortifications. Frequent skirmishes occurred, and a can-
nonade on either side was kept up ; but nothing of importance
took place until the 17th of September. General Brown, ob-
serving that the enemy had just completed a battery, which
would open a most destructive fire the next day, planned a
sortie, which has been considered a military chef d'oeuvre, and
which was carried into execution on the day just mentioned.
The British force consisted of three brigades, of one thousand
five hundred men each : one of them was stationed at the
works in front of Fort Erie ; the other two occupied a camp
two miles in the rear. The design of general Brown was to
" storm the batteries, destroy the cannon, and roughly handle
the brigade on duty, before those in reserve could be brought
up." A road had previously been opened by lieutenants Riddle
and Frazer, in a circuitous course, through the woods, within
pistol shot of the right flank of the line of hostile batteries,
and with such secrecy as to have escaped the notice of the
enemy. At two o'clock P. M. the troops were drawn up in
readiness to make the sortie. The division on the American
left, commanded by general Porter, was composed of riflemen
and Indians under colonel Gibson, and two columns, the right
commanded by colonel Wood, the left by general Davis of the
New York militia; and was to proceed through the woods by
the road which had been opened. The right division of the
troops, under general Miller, was stationed in a ravine between
the fort and the enemy's works, under general iMiller, with


Sortie from Fort Erie Destruction of the Enemy's Works.

orders not to advance until general Porter should have engaged
their right flank.

The troops of general Porter advanced with so much celerity
and caution, that their attack upon the enemy's flank gave the
first intimation of their approach. A severe conflict ensued,
in which those gallant oflicers, colonel Gibson and colonel
Wood, fell at the head of tlieir columns. Their respective
commands now devolved on lieutenant-colonel MTJonald and
major Brooks. In thirty minutes, possession was taken of the
two batteries in this quarter, and also of a blockhonse in the
rear, and its garrison. Three twenty-four-pounders were
rendered useless, and their magazine blown up by lieutenant
Rid'dle, wlio narrowly escaped the eflects of the explosion.
At this moment the troops under general Miller came up. Aided
by colonel Gibson's column, they pierced the British intrcnch-
ments, and, after a sharp conflict, carried a battery and a block-
house. In this assault brigadier-general Davis fell at the head
of his volunteers. These batteries and the two blockhouses
being in the possession of the Americans, general Miller's
division directed its course toward the battery erected at the
extremity of the enemy's left flank. At this moment they
were joined by the reserve under general Ripley. The resist-
ance here was much bolder and more obstinate. The works
being exceedingly intricate, from the studied complexity of the
successive lines of intrenchmenls, a constant use t)f tlie bayonet
was the only mode of assailing them, 'i'he enemy had also,
by this time, received considerable reinforcements from their
encampment in the rear. General xMiller continued to advance,
notwithstanding the absence of those valuable oflicers, colonel
Aspinwall and major Trimble, the former severely, the latter
dangerously wounded, 'i'iie Twenty-hrsl regiment, under lieu-
tenant-colonel Upham, belonging to the reserve, and part of the
Seventeenth, uniting with the corps of general Miller, charged
rapidly upon the battery, whir h was instantly abandoned by
the British infantry and artillery. General Ripley, being
the senior ofliccr, now ordered a line to be formed for the pro-
tection of the detachments engaged in destroying the batteries,
and was engaged in making arrangements for following up,
on the rear of general Drummond, a success which had so
far transcended expectation, v/hen he received a wound in the
neck, and falling by the side of major Brooks, was immediately
transported to the fort. The objects of the sortie having been
completely effected, general Miller called in his detachments,
and retired in good order, with the prisoners and many
trophies of this signal exploit. Thus, in a few hours, the


British raise the Siege of Fort Erie, and retreat to Fort George.

labour of the enemy for forty-seven days, was destroyed ; and,
in addition to the loss of their cannon, upwards of a thousand
of their men were placed hors de combat, of whom three hun-
dred and eighty-five were taken prisoners. The American loss
amounted to eighty-three killed, two hundred and sixteen
wounded, and a like number missing. Besides those already
mentioned, several otlier officers of great merit were killed in
this affair : captains Armistead of the rifle corps, Hall of
the Elevenlii infantry, Bradford of the Twenty-first, and Buel
of the volunteers ; ensign O' Fling, of the Twenty-third infantry,
a gallant officer; and lieutenants Brown, Belknap, and Blakes-
ley, of the volunteers. On the third day after the British
had achieved tiiis splendid victory ! for as such it was claimed
by them, they broke up their encampment, and marched to Fort

Soon after tiiis affair, general Izard arrived witli reinforce-
ments from t*lattsburg, and being the senior officer, succeeded
to the command ; while general Brown was ordered to Sackett's
Harbour. By tliis accession of force, and the completion of
the defences, all apprehensions of any further attempt against
Fort Erie were removed. About the latter end of July, the
secretary at war, hearing that the British were sending strong
reinforcements from Montreal to Kingston, had intimated to ge-
neral Izard, the propriety of proceeding from Plattsburg to Sack-
ett's Harbour with the principal part of liis forces, for the pur-
pose of tiireatening Prescottand Kingston, and at the same time
of aiding general Brown in the prosecution of his part of the
campaign. In pursuance of this intimation, the general moved to
Sackett's Harbour, with nearly all his effective force, amounting
to four thousand men, arriving there on the 17th of September.
The events which had in the meantime occurred, and which
have been already detailed, had given a new face to the cam-
paign. Shortly before the arrival of the general at Sackett's
Harbour, he liad received a letter from general Brown, giving
information of his critical position, and calling for speedy re-
lief. It was not before the 20th, that general Izard was en-
abled to em.bark his troops on lake Ontario, and the 12th of
October had arrived before he actually reached Fort Erie. It
will be seen, in a subsequent chapter, that the post which he
left was, soon after his departure, placed in a situation as crit-
ical as that which he had come to relieve. These were the
unavoidable results of prosecuting the war with a handful of
men, along a frontier of such immense extent, in the expectation
that small corps, at distances of four or five iiundred miles apart,
could march to the relief of each other, or act on concerted


Americans advance Destruction of Fort Erie, and Evacuation of Canada.

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 26 of 32)