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geurs, Newfoundland Regt., De Watterville's and
De Meuron's Regts. The two latter were foreign
corps, and the five preceding them, provincial regi-
ments. The 41st had two battalions^ but the greater
part of the ist battalion had been captured after the
battle of the Thames. The regular force in Canada



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THE WAR OF l8l2. ^65

was therefore considerably less than 10,000 rank and
file. The strength of the six battalions of the embodied
Militia of Lower Canada was, at this time, a little less
than 4,000 ; that of Upper Canada was of course much
less. These figures will serve to show what a strain
was put upon the zeal and courage of the sedentary
Militia of both provinces but especially of Upper
Canada in the year 1814.

In February, a welcome reinforcement came from
New Brunswick, in the second battalion of the 8th
RegL, which had been stationed in that province after
the 104th left there. As soon as their own regiment
was summoned to the front, the people of New Bruns-
wick with that loyalty and zeal which have ever dis-
tinguished them, organized another regiment, ''The
New Brunswick Fencibles," of which Lieutenant Gen-
eral John CoflSn, a resident of the Province, became
Colonel. The formation of this corps relieved the and
battalion of the 8th, from garrison duty in New Bruns-
wick, and made them available for service in Canada.
They reached Quebec by the same overland route,,
through the wilderness, which the 104th had traversed
the year previous, and were followed by 220 seamen for
the lakes. To expedite the progress of these reinforce-
ments, the legislature of New Brunswick voted 300
pounds, and the city of St. John gave an equal sum to
defray the expenses of conveying them in sleighs as far
as the nature of the roads would permit. Private in-
dividuals showed equal public spirit in giving the use
of their teams for the transport of the gallant soldiers
and sailors. At that period, although the British North
American Provinces were widely separated by natural
obstacles, they were closely united in spirit and patriotism.



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266 THE WAR OF l8l2.

Politically they are now one, and three independent
lines of railway now render communication between
New Brunswick and Quebec easy and rapid at all seasons
so that it takes fewer hours to accomplish the distance
than it did days eighty-seven years ago.

The complete collapse of the American power on the
Niagara frontier enabled Lieutenant General Drum-
mond to extend his protection to those portions of the
peninsula which were much exposed to the raids of the
enemy. In February, Capt. A. H. Holmes, of the
24th U. S. Infantry, was sent by Lieut -Col. Butler,
who was in temporary command at Detroit, to capture
Fort Talbot on Lake Erie, where a British detachment
was stationed. Holmes had with him 160 men,
rangers and mounted infantry of the 24th and 28th
Regts., and two 6-pounders. He was foiled in his
attempt on Fort Talbot, and was retreating by way of
Longwood, when Capt. Basden, of the 89th, advanced
against him from Delaware Town, with the two flank
companies of the ist Royal Scots, the light company of
the 89th, and 50 Militia Rangers and Kent Militia in
all, 196 rank and file, and 50 Indians under Colonel
Elliot. Holmes learning of the approach of the British,
fell back five miles to the Twenty Mile Creek, where he
secured himself on a commanding eminence beyond a
wide and deep ravine behind log intrenchments form-
ing a hollow square. There on the 4th of March, Capt.
Basden found and attacked the Americans in their
stronghold. The snow was about 1 5 inches deep with
a strong crust rendering the approach to the enemy
very difficult. Some of the Militia who were well
acquainted with the country offered to lead Capt
Basden by a circuitous route to the rear of their position



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 267

by which the Americans would have been caught in
a cul de sac and forced to surrender. Capt Basden,
however, preferred a direct attack, and assailed the
enemy in front with his three companies of Regulars
while the Militia made a flank movement to the right
and the Indians a similar movement to the left. The
British rushed across the ravine and up the height but
were received by such a heavy fire from the Americans,
who were almost completely sheltered, that after a long
and gallant struggle they were forced to retire with the
loss of 14 killed and 51 wounded. The Americans
were so completely sheltered that their loss was but
four killed and four wounded. Capt. Basden's excuse
for his refusal to adopt a plan of attack which would
have ensured success and saved many valuable lives,
was that he wished to show a good example to the
Militia, but, as the citizen soldiers of Canada had never
displayed any lack of courage, no such example seems
to have been necessary. Capt. Basden, no doubt,
was a brave officer, but he showed a lamentable lack
of common sense in his method of attack, and exhibited
his utter unfitness for a separate command.

The first serious operation undertaken by the
Americans in 18 14, was in Lower Canada. Secretary
Armstrong, indeed, had views of his own, which, if he
carried out, would have made the Niagara frontier the
first point of attack, and in a letter written to General
Wilkinson on the 20th January, he proposed that
Colonel Winfield Scott should have 2,400 men placed
under him with which to recapture Fort Niagara where
the British maintained a garrison of less than 300
men. This plan miscarried owing to the opposition of
General Wilkinson who was ambitious to distinguish



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268 THE WAR OF l8l2.

himself on the northern frontier and wipe away part of
the disgrace of the failure of the previous autumn.
After the abandonment of the expedition against
Montreal in November, 1813, Wilkinson's force was
hutted in winter quarters on the Salmon River, near
French Mills, but in January, orders were received
from the War Department to break up this post.
Early in February, these orders were executed and
General Wilkinson burnt his 300 boats and batteaux
which had been used for the carriage of his troops,
twelve gun boats, which had been employed to protect
his flotilla, and the barracks, block houses and huts for
his troops, which had been built at great labor and cost.
All this property having been committed to the flames,,
the American general detached General Brown with
3,000 men, besides artillery, to Sackett's harbor, and
with the remainder of his force and so much of his
stores and baggage as he could carry with him, retreat*
ed to Plattsburg. Colonel Scott of the 103rd Regt.
with detachments from that corps, the 89th, theCan-^
adian Fencibles and a few light cavalry, the whole
force amounting to about 1 100 rank and file, pressed on
Wilkinson's rear as he retreated, and captured about
100 sleigh loads of stores and provisions. Scott
returned to his post at Coteau du Lac, after having ad-
vanced to within 'a few miles of Plattsburg, without
encountering any opposition whatever.

General Wilkinson had not been long at Plattsburg
before he began to grow impatient to be in the field once
more. He had become impressed with the idea that the
British meditated some serious movement against him,
and he determined to anticipate it On the 19th of
March he advanced with his army from Plattsburg to



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tHE WAR OP l8l2 269

Chazee, which is on the road from Plattsburg to Cham-
plain^ and there detached Brigadier General Macomb
with a corps of riflemen and a brigade of infantry across
the Lake to St. Armands where they remained until the
26th, when they were suddenly withdrawn and rejoined
the main body of the army at Champlain. On the 29th,
General Wilkinson called a council of war at that place
which was attended by brigadiers General Macomb,
Bissel and Smith, Colonels Atkinson, Miller and
Cummings, and Majors Pitts and Totten. At this
Council the American General stated that the British
had 2,500 Regulars at Isle Aux Noix and La
Colle Mill, of whom, after leaving a garrison of two
hundred men at Isle Aux Noix, two thousand three
hundred might be brought into action. Wilkinson
stated his own force at four thousand combatants,
including one hundred cavalry and three hundred
artillery with eleven guns, and he propounded the
question, "Shall we attack the enemy?" The council
expressed the opinion that the light troops should cover
a reconnaisance towards La Colle Mill and, if found
practicable the position should be attacked and the
British works destroyed, and that the whole army should
move to support the light troops. The council also
approved the order of battle which the general had
submitted to them. On the same day Wilkinson issued
a general order directing the men to be supplied with
sixty rounds of ammunition and four days' cooked
provisions. He said to his soldiers: "Let every officer
and every man make the resolution to return victorious
or not at all ; for, with double the force of the enemy,
this army must not give ground." The troops in
approaching the enemy were ordered to be profoundly



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270 THE WAR OF !^I2,



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 2^1

silent and, by way of screwing their courage to the
sticking point the following interesting information was
communicated to them: ''An officer will be posted on
the right of each platoon, and a tried sergeant will form
a supernumerary rank, and will instantly put to death
any man who goes back."

On the 30th of March General Wilkinson, with his
4,000 men divided into three brigades, commenced
his march to La Colle, which is distant about seven
miles from his camp at Champlain. The American
general had been misinformed as to the strength of
the British and consequently his army was out of alt
proportion to the force to be encountered. Instead
of there being 2500 men at Isle Aux Noix and La
Colle Mill, there were less than 750 troops between
both places, and not more than 1500^ including
500 Militia, within 25 miles of La Colle. The mill at
Lsi Colle was a stone structure, 50 feet in length and
36 in width with walls 18 inches in thickness. To
make it capable of defence the windows had been filled
up with logs, leaving horizontal loop holes for muskets.
It stood on the south side of the La Colle River about
three quarters of a mile above its junction with the
Richelieu. The river at this point was crossed by a
wooden bridge which formed a means of communica*
tion with a small wooden block-house which stood on
the north bank of the river. To the north of this
block-house was an ordinary wooden barn. The
clearing extended about 100 yards to the northward of
the block-house and about 200 yards to the southward
of the mill; beyond these points was a thick wood
which on both sides approached quite close to the mill
and blockhouse. The mill was occupied by a garrison



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272 THE WAR OF l8l2.

of I So men under the command of Major Handcock
of the 13th. It consisted of Capt Blake's company
of that regiment, a small detachment of Frontier Light
Infantry under Capt. Ritter^ 70 Marines and four
Marine artillerymen.

General Wilkinson's army commenced its march
at 10 o'clock, but did not arrive in front of the mill until
2 o'clock in the afternoon. The advance had been
delayed by the badness of the road, which was covered
with melting snow, and also obstructed for some
distance by trees which had been felled across it In
its march. Colonel Bissel's brigade encountered a
British picket and lost 13 men killed and wounded by
its fire. This incident showed the Americans that
Major Handcock had notice of their approach. He
had been early informed of their advance against him,
and had sent to Isle Aux Noix for reinforcements,
which, however, did not arrive until the action had
commenced.

When General Wilkinson's army reached the mill,
the very elaborate plan of operations which he had
formed for its investment and capture was fiilly de-
veloped. Colonel Clark and' Major Forsyth who
commanded the advance, were sent across the La
Colle to the rear of the block-house, and were im-
mediately followed by Colonel Miller with his regiment
of 600 men. The duty of this detachment was to cut
off the British garrison in case it attempted to retreat,
and to prevent the arrival of any reinforcements. The
remainder of Wilkinson's force was drawn up in front
of the mill. Captain McPherson with his artillery, being
covered by the brigades of Generals Smith and Bissel.
General Macomb commanded the reserves.



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 2J3

Macomb endeavored to place an i8-pounder in a
favorable position to breach the walls, but the carriage
broke and it could not be sent forward. McPherson's
guns, a 12 and a six-pounder, and a five and a half inch
howitzer were then brought to the front, and placed in
a good position in the woods about 250 yards from the
mill. They opened fire upon it briskly but produced
no impression upon its thick and honestly built walls.
The garrison of the mill responded with an equally
vigorous fire of musketry. Soon after this cannonade
commenced, the two flank companies of the 13th
Kegt., under Captains Ellard and Holgate, arrived
from Isle Aux Noix, and occupied the block-house on
the north side of the La Colle. Major Handfield, who
from the nature of the ground they occupied, was
unware of the strength of the enemy, at once ordered
these two companies to charge the guns. This they
did with the utmost intrepidity, but a charge executed
by hardly more than 100 men against a numerous force
of artillery supported by two brigades of infentry, could
not be successful. Capt Ellard was severely wounded
and his two companies had to retire to the block house.
At this moment the grenadier company of the Canadian
Fencibles under Capt. Cartwright, and a company of
Voltigeurs, arrived from Burtonville, and a second
charge was ordered, which was headed by Capt. Blake
of the 13th Regt. The four companies advanced
against the guns with such resolution that the
artillerymen deserted them, and they were only saved
from capture by the powerful force of infantry behind
them. This fact was attested to both by General
Bissel and Lieut -Colonel Totten of the American
Engineers, at General Wilkinson's court martial, and



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274 '^HS ^^^ OP Ibl2.

McPherson, who commanded the American Artillery,
gave equally strong testimony. "The conduct of the
enemy that day," said he, *'was distinguished by
desperate bravery. As an instance, one company made
a charge on our artillery, and, at the same instant,
received its fire and that of two brigades of infantry."

Major Handcock soon perceived that the enemy were
too powerful to be driven away, and ordered the four
companies engaged in the sortie to retire to the block
house. The Americans continued to batter the mill with
their artillery until nearly dark without in any degree
impairing its defensive strength, and finally, about six
o'clock, they retired from the field and retreated by the
same road by which they had advanced. They had lost
13 killed, 128 wounded and 13 missing, a total of 154*
The British lost 1 1 killed, 44 wounded and four missing*
The whole British force engaged that day did not exceed
four hundred men and the defence of the post at La Colle
was one of the most gallant afifairs of the war. The
American General certainly showed an incredible
amount of stupidity in not ordering the occupation of
the wooden block house which was without defenders
when he advanced, and his officers on the north side of
the river displayed great negligence in permitting the
reinforcements from Isle Aux Noix and Burtonville to
elude them and occupy the blockhouse. In the course
of the contest, Capt. Pring brought up his sloop and gun-
boats from Isle Aux Noix, and moored them at the
entrance of the La Colle River, but the fire from his
guns did the enemy no harm, as they were protected by
the thick woods. Major Handcock very prudently did
not pursue Wilkinson's retreating forces, but they were
followed for some distance by a small party of Indians



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 275

who had one of their number killed and one wounded..
During the night, by the active exertions of Lieuts.
Caswick and Hicks of the Royal navy, two 1 8-pound
carronades were got up from the vessels to the block
house, but they were not needed, for the enemy had
disappeared. Wilkinson retreated to Plattsburg and the
La Colle episode closed his military career, for a few
days later he was relieved of his command by an order
trom the War Department. He was afterwards tried by
court martial, but as he proved that he had acted
throughout under the instructions of Secretary Arm*
strong, he was acquitted. On the retirement of Wilkin-
son General Brown became Commander-in-chief in the
Northern department.

General Brown had arrived at Sackett's harbor with
his 2,000 men from French Mills on the 24Ch of Febru-
ary, and a few days later received a dispatch from Secre-
tary Armstrong in the following terms: — "You will
immediately consult with Commodore Chauncey about
the readiness of the fleet for a descent on Kingston the
moment the ice leaves the lake. If he deems it prac-
ticable and you think you have troops enough to carry
it, you will attempt the expedition. In such an event
you will use the enclosed as a rvse de guerre." The
enclosure thus referred to was in the following terms: —
''Public sentiment will no longer tolerate the possession
of Fort Niagara by the enemy. You will therefore
move the division which you brought from French
Mills and invest that post. General Tompkins will co-
operate with you with 500 militia, and Colonel Scott,
who is to be made a brigadier, will join you. You wilf
receive your instructions at Onondago Hollow." Gen-
eral Brown, had for several years, been a schoolmaster^



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^76 THE WAR OF l8l2.

but he would seem to have forgotten his French, for he
did not know the meaning of rvss de gusrre; neither
did Chauncey; probably they took it for a new kind of
howitzer. At all events, both of these capable com-
manders wholly misunderstood the Secretary's inten-
tions, and Brown set out for the Niagara frontier. His
force consisted of the 9th, the nth, 21st and 25th
Regts. of infantry, the 3rd Regt. of Artillery and Capt
Towson's Company of the 2nd Regt. of Artillery, in all
more than 2,000 men. When Brown arrived at Onon-
dago Hollow, there were no instructions at that place
for him, and General Gaines, with the help of a French
dictionary, succeeded in convincing the American com*
mander that he had made a mistake, and that Kingston
was the place he had been ordered to attack. Brown
accordingly retraced his steps to Sackett's harbor.
There, Chauncey, who did not desire any nearer view of
Kingston than could be had from a spy glass, made
Brown believe that the first interpretation of the Secre-
tary's orders was the correct one, and that officer again
marched westward with his army. These pendulum
like movements necessarily took a good deal of time,
and it was the end of March before Brown reached
Batavia. Here he remained about a month, and then
moved towards Buf&lo. In the meantime he had
heard from the Secretary and been told that he had
misunderstood his orders. The Secretary, however,
does not appear to be much worried at the failure of his
own plans against Kingston, for he wrote Brown: — "If
you left the harbor with a competent force for its de-
fence, go on and prosper. Good consequences are
sometimes the result of mistakes."

Whether Brown had left a competent force at



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 277

Sackett's Harbor for its defence was not tested, for the
British made no attack upon it. Yet the capture of the
place at that time would have rendered the Americans
utterly powerless in the next campaign and altogether
changed the aspect of the contest, for their entire fleet
was at Sackett's Harbor. Chauncey was nervously
apprehensive that the post would be attacked, and had
3,000 men quietly collected and marched against it, its
capture would have been certain. But Sir George
Prevost had no heart for such daring enterprises, and
so that American depot on Lake Ontario was left
unmolested.

Sir James Yeo displayed a great deal of energy
during the winter in strengthening his fleet. On
the 14th of April two new frigates, the Prince Regent
58, and the Princess Charlotte 42, were launched at
Kingston, and their rigging and equipment were
advanced so rapidly that they were ready for service on
the 3rd of May. The Prince Regent, the largest of
these frigates, was a more heavily armed ship than the
Constitution) while the Princess Charlotte was a more
powerful vessel than the Shannon, Commodore Yeo's
original six cruisers had all been re-named, some
of them re-armed, and both the schooners changed into
brigs. Besides the two large frigates already mention-
ed, his fleet consisted of the ships Montreal 25 and
Niagara 22, and the brigs Charwell 16, Star 16, Netly
16 and Magnet 12. With such a force at his disposal.
Sir James did not propose to remain idle, and on the
very day his ships were ready for sea, he set sail from
Kingston for Oswego, which Sir George Prevost had
reluctantly consented to permit him to attack, on the
urgent representation of Lieutenant-General Drummond



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278 THE WAR OF l8l2.

and himself. Fortunately for the success of the
expedition, the Commander-in-chief did not think it
necessary to accompany it in person.

Sir James Yeo, with his fleet, was off Oswego by
noon on the 5th of May. General Drummond had
command of the land forces, and the troops embarked
with him, consisted of six companies of De Wateville's
Regt. under Lieut-CoL Fischer; the lig^t company of
the Glengarry Light Infentry, under Capt M'Millan;
the 2nd Battalion of Marines under Lieut. -Col. Malcolm;
a detachment of Artillery, with two field pieces, under
Capt Cruttenden ; a detachment of the rocket company,
under Lieut* Stevens, and a few sappers and miners,
under Lieut Gosset of the engineers, — the whole
numbering 1,080 rank and file. Oswego was defended
by a fortification called Fort Ontario, which stood in a
commanding position on a bluff on the east side of the
river, overlooking the lake. The fort which was star-
shaped, covered upwards of three acres of ground and
mounted six guns, three long 24-pounders, a long 12
and two long 6's. The batteries had been recently
repaired and picketed and new platforms laid for the
guns. The fort had a garrison consisting of Lieut-
Col. Mitchell's battalion of artillery, numbering
upwards of 300 rank and file, in addition to a number
of artillery and engineer officers. In the river was the
United States schooner Growler, having on board
seven heavy guns and a large quantity of stores and
ammunition intended for the fleet at Sackett's Harbor.

At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the day of their
arrival at Oswego, the ships lay to, within long gun-
shot of the fort> and the gunboats, under Captain
Collier, were sent close in for the purpose of inducing



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THE WAR OF l8l2. 279

the enemy to show his fire and particularly the number
and position of his guns. A mutual cannonade was
kept up for an hour and a half, the Americans replying
to the British fire with four cannon from the fort, and a
long 1 2-pounder, which had been posted on the beach.
The object of this reconnoissance having been fully
accomplished, the gunboats withdrew, and arrange-
ments were made for the attack which it was intended
should be made at 8 o'clock in the evening. But at
sunset, a very heavy squall came up from the north-
west, blowing direcdy on the shore, and compelled the
fleet to gain an offing. Four of the supply boats had
to be cast adrift and one of them went ashore, and this
circumstance has enabled some American writers like
Lossing, with no regard for truth, to concoct a re-
markable narrative describing the gallant fashion in
which the British were driven back by the fire from the
fort. That evening the British fleet disappeared from
in front of Oswego, but Mitchell was under no de-
lusion as to the cause of their departure, and, knowing
that he might expect them back next day, he sent out
messengers to bring in the Militia, and ordered the
Commander of the Growler, to sink that vessel and


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Online LibraryNova Scotia Historical SocietyCollections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society → online text (page 19 of 28)