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H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

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

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plana, subject to innumerable contingencies. Fortunately, be-
fore the arrival of general Izard, the success of the sortie plan-
ned by general Brown, had compelled the enemy to raise the
siege. The approach of general Izard, in all probability, had
furnished some inducement to the adoption of this step by the
enerny.

Asufficientgarrison,underlieutenant-coloncl Ilindman, being
left for the protection of Fort Erie, the army moved towards
the Chippewa, to operate ofiensively against the enemy ; but
nothing of moment occurred for some time, in consequence of
the shyness of the latter.

Before the close of tlie campaign, a gallant afTair was achiev-
ed by general Bissel, of the second brigade of the first division.
On the IStli of October, he was detached with nine hundred
men, to the neighbourhood of Cook's mills, at Lyon's creek,
a branch of the Chippewa, for the purpose of destroying the
enemy's stores in that quarter. After driving in a picket guard
and capturing its ofllcers, he threw across the creek two light
companies under captain Dorman and lieutenant Horrel, and a
rifle company under captain Irvine, and then encamped. The
next morning the detachment was assailed by the marquis of
Tweeddale with twelve hundred men. Tiie companies on
the other side of the creek received the enemy's first fire, and
sustained the attack until general Bissel had formed his men
and brought them to their support. Colonel Binkney, with the
Fifth regiment, was ordered to turn the enemy's right flank
and cut off a piece of artillery which they had brought into ac-
tion, while major Barnard advanced in front with instructions
to make a free use of the bayonet. These orders were rapidly
carried into execution. The whole line of the enemy began to
recoil; and the American reserve, composed of the Fifteenth
regiment under major Grindage, and the Sixteenth under co-
lonel Pearce, was no sooner discovered advancing, than the
marquis fell back in disorder to his intrenchments at the mouth
of the river, leaving his killed and wounded behind. After
pursuing him for a small distance, general Bissel, in compli-
ance with his orders, proceeded to destroy the stores at the
Mills ; and then retreated, with a loss of sixty-seven killed,
wounded and missing.

Immediately after the repulse of the marquis of Tweeddale,
the weather growing cold and the season for military opera-
tions drawing to a close, it was determined to destroy Fort
Erie, and evacuate Upper Canada. This was accordingly
effected; and the troops were transported to the American side,



240 BRACKENRIDGE'S

The Army retires into Winter Quarters Important Results of the Campaign.

and distributed in winter quarters at BufTalo, Black Rock and
Batavia.

Thus terminated the third invasion of Canada, if it could pro-
perly be so called ; for it was not generally expected that any
thing further would be accomplished, than keeping in check
the forces of the enemy and regaining what we had lost on
our own side. At the opening of the campaign, general Brown
indulged a hope of being able, in conjunction with commodore
Chauncey, to subdue the British forces in the neighbourhood
of Lake Ontario and to possess himself of Kingston ; but
towards the beginning of autumn, so material a change had
occurred in our situation, in consequence of the great augmen-
tation of the British force on the Canada frontier, and the inva-
sions of our territory on the sea coast, that all idea of making
an impression on Canada, with the means then on foot, was
abandoned. It was asserted by the friends of the administra-
tion, that the best mode of protecting the Atlantic coast, was
to threaten Canada, and thus compel Great Britain to concen-
trate the greater part of her force in that quarter. While the
British regulars, it has since been ascertained, exceeded twenty
thousand, nearly all veterans ; those of the Americans scarcely
reached ten thousand — the whole of which force, distributed in
the different Atlantic cities, could not have afforded much de-
pendence for defence fi'om the troops which would have been sent
against them, had Great Britain been relieved from the defence
of Canada. It is very questionable whether the permanent ac-
quisition of that province would materially have benefited us.
Many of its inhabitants were persons who fled from this country
during our contest for independence ; and it was not likely
that they would willingly consent that it should be incorporated
into our republic.

The most important results, however, followed the campaign
on the Niagara. The character of American troops when
under proper discipline, was thereby developed ; and was pro-
ductive of as much lionour to the United States, as of surprise
to the enemy. The experience gained in the two first years
of the war was scarcely sufficient to form good officers ; but
during the residue of the period, the army was composed of
better materials, the aversion for enlistment was gradually
subsiding, and commissions were sought by young men of
education and talents. Another year would have produced an
army, which Great Britain might have regarded with some
uneasiness. That spirit, which bestows superiority to man in
every station, was beginning to discover its resistless power ;
and the closing scenes of this campaign placed the army on a



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 241



Affairs of the West Croghan's — M'Arthur's Expeditions.

level with the navy. What is that spirit? It is the spirit of
freedom ; it is that which gives conscious dignity and worth
to the soldier and the citizen. It is that which gave victories
to Greece, and gained triumphs for Rome, and which has car-
ried the power of Britain round the globe. It was already proved
to the world, that we could conquer on land as well as at sea.
The battles of Niagara and Chippewa, both, were won by a
combination of military skill and personal courage ; and the
defence of Fort Erie, and the sortie from thence, had they been
achieved by the arms of Great Britain, would have ranked
among the most distinguished acts of valour.

In the course of the summer, several expeditions were un-
dertaken to the westward. An attempt was made by major
Croghan, with the co-operation of the tleet of Lake Erie under
commodore Sinclair, to regain possession of the fort and island
of Michilimackinac. On the 4lli of August, the gallant young
officer effected a landing on the island, but soon found that the
enemy was in such strength as to render the capture of the
place hopeless : he therefore, after a severe conflict, returned
to the shipping, with the loss of about sixty in killed and
wounded ; among the former, major Holmes, a valuable ofRcer,
and of the latter captain Desha of Kentucky. The expedition
was not altogetlier useless : Fort St Joseph's, and the British
establisliment at Sault St Mary's were destroyed. On leaving
the island, commodore Sinclair stationed two of his schooners,
the Scorpion and 'i'igress, near St Joseph's, to cut oft" the sup-
plies of the British garrison at Michilimackinac. These were
unfortunately surprised by a very suj)erior force of the enemy,
and carried by boarding, after great slaughter.

On the 22tl of October, general M' Arthur, with about seven
hundred men, marched from Detroit into the enemy's country,
and, after dispersing all their detachments in the neighbourhood
of the river Thames, destroying their stores, and taking one
hundred and fifty prisoners, arrived, without loss, at Detroit on
the 17th of the following month. A severe injury was thus
inflicted upon the British, and their project of attacking Detroit
rendered impracticable.



242 BRACKENRIDGE'S



War on the Sea Coast Commodore Barney's Flotilla.



CHAPTER XVIII.



War on the Sea Coast— Engagements between tlic Enemy and Barney's Flotilla in
Chesapeake Bay— Plunderincs of the British- Washington and Baltimore threatened
—Preparations for Defence— General Winder appninled to command the Troops to
be assembled— Impracticability of collecting a sutlicient Force— Arrival of Reinforce-
ments to the British— Landing of the British Army under General Ross— Advance of
the British on Washington— American Army takes post at Bl'adensburg— Battle of
Bladensburg — Defeat of the Americans — Washington abandoned to the Enemj' —
British burn the Public Buildings — Retreat of the British to their Sbipping— Plunder
of Alexandria— Repulse of the British at Moors Fields, and Death of Sir Peter Parker-
Resignation of the Secietary of War — Trial and Acquittal of General Winder —
Letter of Admiral Cochrane to the American Secretary of State— His Reply— Re-
flections.

The shifting scenes of this war, carried on over a surface sp
extensive, and with objects so various, once more bring us
back to the Atlantic sea coast. With the return of spring, the
British renewed their practice of petty plundering and barbarous
devastation on the waters of Chesapeake Bay, and to an extent
still greater than they had carried it the year before. A lioliila,
for the defence of the inlets and smaller rivers of the bay, con-
sisting of a cutter, two gun-boats and nine barges, was placed
under the command of that gallant veteran, commcdore Ikrney.
On the 1st of June 1814, he gave chase to two of the enemy's
schooners, one of which carried eighteen guns, but on the ap-
pearance of a large ship, which despatched a number of barges
to cut him off, the commodore ordered his flotilla, by signal,
to sail up the Patuxent. Here he engaged the enemy's
schooners and barges, and succeeded in beating them off and
inflicting considerable injury on tliem. In a few days, the
enemy, having been reinforced, followed the flotilla into St
Leonard's creek, and made another attempt on it, but were
again compelled to retire, and pursued to their ships. On the
10th, the enemy made a still more formidable attack upon the
flotilla, with the two schooners and with twenty barges. After a
smart action, the barges were driven for shelter to the eighteen-
gun schooner, which was then so roughly handled at long shot,
that her crew ran her aground and abandoned her. These



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 243



Plunderings of the British Washington and Baltimore threatened.

attempts were frequently repeated until the 26tb, when the
commodore, having received a reinforcement of artillerists and
marines, moved against the enemy's squadron, two of the ves-
sels of which were frigates, and, after an action of two hours,
drove them from their anchorage. The commodore, finding
the blockade of the St Leonard's raised, sailed out, and ascended
the Paluxent.

After this, tlie enemy were constandy engnged in making
inroads on the defenceless and unprotected settlements and vil-
lages along the bay and its various inlets. The towns of Bene-
dict and Lower Marl ho rough, on the Patuxcnt, were plundered
of considerable quantities of tobacco, merchandize and cattle.
In the detail of these operations given by themselves, it appears
to have been their uniform practice, to destroy the shipping,
carry away the tobacco and other articles which they found
in quantities, and induce the negroes to join them. A great
number of individuals in easy, and even allluent circumstances
were reduced to poverty. Several gallant attempts were made
by general Taylor, and general Hungerford, in one of which
the former was wounded and unhorsed nnd narrowly escaped
capture, to repress their incursions into Virginia; but, generally,
the militia, being hastily assembled, were found ineHicient. At
Kinsale, St Mary's, and various other places, admiral Cock-
burn obtained considerable booty in tobacco, negroes and liouse-
hold furniture.

Towards the close of June, apprehensions began to be en-
tertained, that the enemy had in view some more serious
object of attack — either Baltimore, or Washington. Much
alarm had been felt in these places the previous year ; but
after it had subsided, an opinion, probably well founded, was
indulged, that a land force, greatly more considerable than was
then at the command of the British, would be required to make
any serious impression upon either of these places, or even
upon Annapolis or Norfolk. This was particularly proved in
the attack upon the latter; and it was justly thought, that the
enemy then received a lesson which would render him cautious
of attacking the larger towns. But sudden and unforeseen oc-
currences in Europe had entirely clianged the face of things:
Great Britain was now able to supply what she was not pos-
sessed of the year before, a powerfid land force. Our govern-
ment received certain intelligence from Messrs Gallatin and
Bayard, that our enemy was about to send powerful reinforce-
ments to America. From the English prints it appeared that
England was extravagantly elated by the great events which
had transpired on the continent of Europe, took to herself the



244 BRACKENRIDGE'S



Washington and Baltimore threatened Preparations for Defence.

whole merit of being the conqueror of Napoleon, and in reality
believed herself the mistress of the world. Slie was well ac-
quainted witli our situation : she knew that our regular troops
on the Canada frontier could not be withdrawn from thence, at
a moment when she was preparing a powerful army to penetrate
our northern states ; and that it was impossible for us, in the
short space of time which had elapsed since the overthrow of
Bonaparte and the consequent release of her land troops from
occupation, to embody a considerable and efficient force. The
American cities, although tolerably well fortified against any
approach by water, were all exposed to attack by land. A few
thousand regulars scattered along a coast of fifteen hundred
miles, and inexperienced militia drawn together on the spur of
the occasion, were all the force we had to oppose to the vete-
ran soldiers of our enemy. There is no doubt that militia
constitute the best materials for armies, because, individually,
each man is influenced by higher motives than those which
generally actuate the enlisted soldier ; but, in order to be effi-
cient, to use the words of a great friend of this species of
force, " they must be on a right foot ;" they must be encamped,
disciplined, harmonised, accustomed to see danger, and taught
to obey and confide in their officers. This is not the work of
a day. In the open field, where active and practised evolutions
are necessary, the novelty of the duty, as well as the want of
mutual reliance, renders it impossible for this description of
force to encounter, with effect, an army of veterans, used to
dangers, and so regularly compacted by discipline as to act
as it were with one mind.

The attention of the president of the United States being
seriously awakened to the approaching danger, by the news
that reinforcements \vere to be sent to the British fleet then in
Chesapeake Bay, he called a council of the heads of the depart-
ments, and suggested tlie propriety of collecting all the regu-
lars within reach, of forming a camp of at least three thou-
sand men at some point between tlie Patuxent and the Eastern
Branch of the Potomac, and of embodying ten thousand militia
at Washington. These ideas appeared to meet the approbation
of all ; and there is little doubt, that could they have been car-
ried into execution, both the cities of Baltimore and Washing-
ton might safely have bid defiance to the British arms. Steps
were immediately taken in furtherance of these view^s. Requisi-
tions were made on the District of Columbia, for her whole
quota of militia, amounting to two thousand men ; on Mary-
land for the same, six thousand men ; on Pennsylvania for five
thousand men ; and on Virginia for two thousand men ; making




^AMIS3 SiL^3"a^2To



344



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 245



Impracticability of collecting a sufficient Force.

in the whole fifteen thousand men ; of which ten thousand, it
was thought, woukl not fail to take the field. It was ascer-
tained, that about a thousand regulars could be depended on ;
besides a squadron of horse then in Pennsylvania, some addi-
tional regulars which were ordered from North Carolina, and
commodore Barney's men, in case it should be found uecessarv
to abandon his flotilla. This, on paper, was a formidable army :
but, with the exception of the regulars, the soldiers of whieli
it was to be composed were at their respective homes — many
of them at a considerable distance; and the work of collecting,
embodying, arming and disciplining them, operations requiring
time and subject to delays, was yet to be performed.

A new military district, composed of Maryland, the District
of Columbia and part of Virginia, was formed ; and on the 5th
of July the command of it was given to general Winder, an
ofRcer who had been taken prisoner by the British at the battle
of Stony Creek, anil who had recently been exchanged. The
duties assigned to him were among the most important entrusted
to any one during the war, and were of an exceedingly ar-
duous and diliicult nature. The army, with which he was to
defend the important cities of Baltimore and Washington, existed
only in prospect ; and whether it could be brought into the field
or not, depended upon events beyond his control. In justice
to himself, it is to be regretted, that, in these circumstances,
he had not declined the command ; but the desire of distinction
and a sincere wish to serve his country overcoming every per-
sonal consideration, he diligently employed himself, from the
moment of his appointment, in visiting every part of the coun-
try and examining its dilferent fortifications — itself a work of
considerable labour and time, and in assiduously collecting his
force. In this latter undertaking, unexpected dilliculties oc-
curred. The governor of Maryland, after issuing draughts for
three thousand men, found tliat scarcely as many hundred could
be collected. Willi the governor of Pennsylvania, matters were
still worse : he informed the secretary at war, that in conse-
quence of the deranged state of the militia law, the executive
had at tliat moment no power to enforce a draught ; but that
he would appeal to the patriotism of the people, in the hope
that the legal objection would not be made. Seven thousand
men were thus at once out of the question, and of the remain-
ing eight thousand men, not more than one-third could be
relied on. At the beginning of August, the general had but a
thousand regulars, actually collected ; and about four thousand
militia, of which only the smaller part were collected. On
the iailure of the draught in the state of Maryland, the forcQ

V*



^ 246 •• BRACKENRIDGE'S



Arrival of Reiiiforcemejits to llie British Landing of tlie British Army.

then embodied at Annapolis was, by the consent of the gover-
nor, taken as part of the state requisition. A brigade of Mary-
land militia, under general Stansbury, was also placed at the
disposal of general Winder ; but the inhabitants of Baltimore,
near which city it was collected, recollecting their own exposed
situation, could not part with it without reluctance.

This is a candid statement of the causes which produced the
subsequent disaster; for in the circumstances the event could
scarcely have happened otherwise than as it did, without the
occurrence of one of those extraordinary turns of fortune, of
which we can form no calculation. It would be wrong to charge
the blame, which was justly due, exclusively to the agents in
the affair. A portion must be assumed by the nation, and by
our political institutions.

The expected reinforcements to the British fleet, twenty-one
sail of the line, under admiral Cochrane, arrived in Chesapeake
Bay on the 16th of August, and were soon joined by a fleet in
great force under admiral jMalcolm. Accompanying these were
several thousand land troops, under one of Wellington's most
active officers, general Ross. An expedition was destined
against Baltimore or W^ashington, but until the last moment it
was uncertain against which in particular. The enemy divided
his force into three parts. One division was sent up the Poto-
mac, under captain Gordon, for the purpose of bombarding
Fort Warburton, and opening the way to the city of Washing-
ton ; and another, under sir Peter Parker, was despatched to
threaten Baltimore. The main body, whose proceedings we
are now to relate, ascended the Patuxent, apparently with the
intention of destroying commodore Barney's flotilla, which had
taken refuge at the head of that river, but with the real inten-
tion, as it was soon discovered, of attacking "Washington. In
prosecution of this plan, the expedition proceeded to Benedict,
the head of frigate navigation. This place, on the west bank
of the Patuxent, was reached on the iOth of August ; and on
the next day the debarkation of the land forces under ge-
neral Ross, to the number of six thousand, was completed.
On the 21st, pursuing the course of the river, the troops moved
to Nottingham, and on the 22d arrived at Upper Marlborough ;
a flotilla, consisting of launches and barges, under the command
of admiral Cockburn, ascending the river and keeping pace
with them. The day following, the flotilla of commodore Bar-
ney, in obedience to orders to that effect, was blown up by men
left for the purpose ; the commodore having already joined
general Winder with his seamen and marines.

General Winder at this time, when the enemy were within



HISTORY OF THE WAR. 247



Advance of the British on Washington.

twenty miles of the capital, was at the head of only three thou-
sand men, lifteen hundred of whom were militia entirely un-
tried. The Baltimore militia, those from Annapolis, and the
Virginia detachment, had not yet arrived. His camp was at
the Woody ard, twelve miles from Washington. It was still
doubtful whether the British intended an attack upon Fort
Warburton, which could ofler but little resistance to their
land forces, although it could be formidable to their ships,
or intended to march directly on Washington. The first was
certainly the safer course of action, and as the enemy did not
take it, it must be inferred that they were well acquainted with
the incapacity of the city at this moment to resist an attack.
On the afternoon of the 22d, the British army again set out, and
after skirmishing with the Americans, hailed for the night, five
miles in advance of Upper Marlborouffh. (ieneral Winder
now retreated to a place called the Old Fields, whicii covered
Bladensburg, the bridges on the Eastern Branch of the Poto-
mac, and Fort Warburton. Colonel Monroe, the secretary of
state, and subsequently president of the United States, had
been with him for several days, assisting him with his coun-
sel, and actively engaged in reconnoitering the enemy ; and
he was now joined by the president and heads of departments,
who remained until the next evening. The anxious and pain-
ful situation of the general rendered him desirous of benefiting
by the counsel of the first officers of the nation ; and their
uneasiness, in the urgency of the moment, induced them to
hazard their opinions, perhaps too freely, on matters purely
executive. Where prompt decision is necessary, the sugges-
tions and expedients of too many minds do more harm than
good. On the 2.3d, colonel Scott and major Peter were detached
with some field pieces, and the companies of captains David-
son and Stull, to skirmish with the enemy ; who however con-
tinued to advance, and took a position, on the evening of the
same day, within three miles of Old Fields. Apprehensive
of a night attack, which would deprive him of his great supe-
riority in cannon, general Winder retired to the city, intending
to select a position between it and Bladensburg, where he
might oppose the enemy with his whole force.

On the preceding evening, general Stansbury had arrived with
his brigade at Bladensburg, after a very fatiguing march, and
immediately despatched his aid, major Woodyear, with the
intelligence to general Winder. On the evening following, he
was joined by colonel Sterrett's, the Fifth Baltimore, regiment,
five hundred strong, and a rifle battalion under major Pinkney,
late attorney-general of the United States. General Stans-



248 BRACKENRIDGE'S



American Army takes post at Bladenshurg.



bury's command amoiinled to two thousand men. About
twelve o'clock at night, the secretary of stale arrived at the
general's quarters, and communicating the circumstance of the
enemy's advance on general Winder, advised him to fall in
the enemy's rear immediately ; but the general objected, on



Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 27 of 32)