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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XX.—Campaign of 1813


Construction of Navy on the Lakes—York taken by General Pike-Explosion of Magazine, April 27th—Fort George taken—Vincent retreats to Burlington Heights, May 27th—Americans routed in Night Attack at Stony Creek, June 6th—Lt. Fitzgibbon's exploit at Beaver Dams, June 28th—Second capture of York by Chauncey, July 23rd—Perry's Victory on Lake Erie, September 10th -Proctor Retreats from Amherstburg—Is beaten by Harrison at Moravian Town, October 15th—Death of Tecumseh—Wilkinson, with nine thousand men, advances on Montreal — Battle of Chrysler's Farm, November 12th-Hampton's Invasion of Canada —Repulsed at Chateauguay, October 26th—McClure evacuates and burns /Niagara, December 10th—Fort Niagara-taken, and Lewiston, Black Rock, and Buffalo burned, December 18th-29th.

By both belligerents preparations were made for the campaign of 1813 with redoubled zeal. During the winter, the "King's Regiment," of New Brunswick, marched on snow-shoes through the wilderness, and did good service throughout the campaign.

The Americans gave special attention to the construction of strong, if roughly finished, vessels on Lakes Champlain, Ontario and Erie. The British Government, severely taxed by the war with Napoleon, could send few reinforcements to America, and an incompetent naval administration neglected the equipment of vessels for the lakes. Very tardily a few vessels were constructed at Kingston, York, and Chippewa, at the extravagant cost, it was said, of .£1000 per ton. To a country abounding with the best of timber, English oak and all other equipments were transported across the ocean, even to the superfluity on our "unsalted seas" of casks for the stowage of fresh water. All military stores had to be conveyed with incredible labour, in open batteaux, up the rapids of the St. Lawrence under the fire of the gun batteries on the American shore. More than one brigade of boats was attacked, and captured or defended with great valour and loss of life on both sides.

The American plan of the campaign of 1813 included the mastery of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the capture of the forts on the Niagara frontier, at York and at Kingston, and the reduction of the entire western peninsula. A concentration of forces on Montreal and Quebec, it was thought, would then drive the Union Jack from the valley of the St. Lawrence.

In pursuance of this design, Commodore Chauncey, with fourteen vessels and seventeen hundred men, under the command of Generals Dearborn and Pike, left Sackett's Harbour, and early on the morning of April 27th lay off the town of York, which was garrisoned by only six hundred men, under General Sheaffe., Under cover of a heavy fire, the Americans landed, drove in the British outposts, and made a dash for the dilapidated fort, which the fleet meanwhile heavily bombarded. They fought their way to within two hundred yards of the earthen ramparts, when the defensive fire ceased. Suddenly, with a shock like an earthquake, the magazine blew up, and hurled into the air two hundred of the attacking column, together with Pike, its commander; killing also several soldiers of the retiring British garrison. The town being no longer tenable, General Sheaffe, after destroying the naval stores and a vessel on the stocks, retreated with the regulars towards Kingston. The public buildings were burned, and the military and naval stores which escaped destruction were carried off.

Dearborn re-embarked his forces, and the fleet made for the mouth of the Niagara. On the 27th of May, at early dawn, his ships, some fifteen in number, lay in crescent form off Fort St. George, which was garrisoned by Colonel Yin-cent with about fourteen hundred men. Under cover of a tremendous fire from the fleet and Fort Niagara, after a triple repulse by the British, a force of six thousand men effected a landing on the beach, on the grounds now occupied by the Canadian Chautauqua Assembly. Vincent, having nearly four hundred men killed, wounded, or captured, his ammunition being well-nigh exhausted, and his fort almost in ruins, spiked his guns, blew up his shattered works, and, confronted by a force six times greater than his own, retired on Queenston Heights.

The next day, having withdrawn the garrisons from the frontier forts on the Niagara river, he retreated with sixteen hundred men toward the head of the lake, and took up a strong position on Burlington Heights, near Hamilton. Dearborn despatched a force of over three thousand men under Generals Chandler and Winder, to dislodge him. On the 6th of June they encamped at Stony Creek, seven miles from Vincent's lines. The position of the latter was critical. Niagara and York had both been captured. Before him was a victorious foe. His ammunition was reduced to ninety rounds. He was extricated from his peril by a bold blow. Colonel John Harvey, having reconnoitered the enemy's position, proposed a night attack. Vincent heartily co-operated. At midnight, with seven hundred British bayonets, they burst upon the American camp. A fierce fight ensued, in which the. enemy were utterly routed. The British retired before daybreak, with a hundred prisoners, including both of the American generals.

The invaders soon met with another reverse. Colonel Boerstler, on the 28th of June, with four hundred and seventy men, including fifty cavalry and two field-pieces, advanced to dislodge a British picket at Beaver Dams (near Thorold). Mrs. Secord, a heroic Canadian wife, whose husband had been wounded at Queenston Heights, walked twenty miles through the woods to give warning of the attack. Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, with a handful of soldiers and two hundred Indians, by a skilful disposition of his forces, captured Boerstler's entire command, more than twice his own number, to the intense chagrin of the Americans.

Dearborn, whose forces were wasted away to about four thousand men, was now beleaguered in Fort George by Vincent with less than half the number of troops. During the month of July the British made successful raids on Fort Schlosser and Black Rock, on the American side of the river, destroying barracks and dockyards, and capturing stores and arms.

In accordance with the British policy of strengthening the naval force on the lake, Sir James Yeo, with four hundred and fifty seamen, had, early in May, arrived at Kingston. The American fleet being engaged in the attack on Fort George, at Niagara, it was resolved to make a descent on Sackett's Harbour. On May 27th, the day of the capture of Fort George, Sir James Yeo, with seven armed vessels and a thousand men, under the personal command of Sir George Prevost, the Governor-General, sailed from Kingston to destroy the shipping and stores of the principal American naval depot on the lakes. The landing of the British was stoutly opposed. Nevertheless, the Americans everywhere gave way, and had already fired the barracks, naval stores, and shipping, when, to the intense chagrin of his victorious troops, the over-cautious Prevost ordered a retreat.

In retaliation for this attack, Commodore Chauncey, on the 23rd of July, appeared with twelve sail off the defenceless town of York—all the regular troops being absent and the militia on parole. He landed without opposition, and burned the barracks and such public buildings as had previously escaped. On the 8th of August he encountered, off Niagara, Yeo's fleet of six vessels—less than half his own number. In a running fight of two days' duration, he lost two vessels by foundering and two by capture, and escaped to port. Yeo returned to Kingston with his prizes without the loss of a single man.

Meanwhile two squadrons were preparing to contest the supremacy of Lake Erie. Perry, the American commodore, had nine vessels, well manned with experienced seamen from the now idle merchant marine of the United States. Barclay, the British captain, had only fifty sailors to six vessels, the rest of the crew being made up of two hundred and forty soldiers and eighty Canadians. On the 10th of September, the hostile fleets met off Put-in-Bay, at the western end of Lake Erie. - Perry's flagship soon struck her colours, but Barclay, his own ship a wreck, could not even secure the prize. The British ships fouled, and the heavier metal of the enemy soon reduced them to unmanageable hulks. The carnage was dreadful. In three hours all their officers and half their crew were killed or wounded. Perry despatched to Washington the sententious message: "We have met the enemy. They are ours."

Proctor, cut off from supplies, exposed in flank and rear, and attacked in force in front, could only retreat from Michigan. He dismantled the forts at Detroit and Am-herstburg, and fell back along the Thames with eight hundred and thirty white men and five hundred Indians, under Tecumseh. Harrison, the American general, followed rapidly with three thousand five hundred men, and fell upon his rear guard at Moravian Town, October 15th. Proctor was forced to fight at a disadvantage, on ill-chosen ground. The mounted Kentucky riflemen rode through and through his ranks, dealing death on every side. The brave Tecumseh was slain while rallying his warriors. The rout was complete. Proctor, with a shattered remnant of his troops, retreated through the forest to Burlington Heights. General Harrison assumed the nominal government of the western part of Upper Canada.

The Americans were now free to concentrate their efforts on the reduction of Kingston and Montreal. On the 24th of October, an army of nine thousand men, with ample artillery, under General Wilkinson, rendezvoused at Grenadier Island, near Sackett's Harbour; but the stone forts of Kingston, garrisoned by two thousand men under De Rottenburg, protected that important naval station from attack even by a fourfold force. Wilkinson, therefore, embarking his army in three hundred batteaux, protected by twelve gun-boats, in the bleak November weather threaded the watery mazes of the Thousand Islands in his menacing advance on Montreal. Passing Prescott on a moonlight night, Wilkinson's batteaux received considerable damage from a British cannonade. He was forced to land strong brigades on the Canadian shore in order to secure a passage for his boats. At the head of the Long Sault Rapids, Wilkinson detached General Boyd, with a force of over two thousand men, to crush the opposing British corps, which had taken a stand at Chrysler's Farm—a name thenceforth of potent memory. The collision took place in an open field. For two hours the battle raged. But Canadian valour and discipline prevailed over twofold odds, and the Americans retreated to their boats and crossed the river to their own territory.

Similar disaster attended the invasion of Canada by way of Lake Champlain. With a force of nine hundred soldiers, on the 31st of July, Colonel Murray advanced from Isle-aux-Noix against the American works at Plattsburg, where he captured or destroyed an immense quantity of stores, and burned the newly-built barracks for four thousand men. Early in September, General Hampton, with an army of five thousand men, advanced from Lake Champlain, with a view to a joint attack with Wilkinson on Montreal. On the 21st of October he pushed forward his forces along both sides of the Chateauguay River. Colonel de Salaberry, with four hundred voltigeurs—sharpshooters every one—defended by a breastwork of logs and abattis, held the enemy well in check, till he was in danger of being surrounded by sheer force of numbers. By a clever ruse, he distributed his buglers widely through the woods in his rear, and ordered them to sound the charge. The enemy, thinking themselves assailed in force, everywhere gave way, and retreated precipitately from the field. Hampton soon retired across the borders to his entrenched camp at Plattsburg. Thus the patriotism and valour of a few hundreds of Canadian troops repulsed from our country's soil two invading armies of tenfold strength.

These disasters carried dismay to the heart of Colonel .McClure, commanding at Fort George. Strongly pressed by the British force, he hastily evacuated the fort, and crossed the river, with the whole of his troops, December 10th. With inhuman barbarity, he fired every house in Niagara at thirty minutes' warning, and drove four hundred helpless women and children, amid the rigours of a Canadian winter, to seek shelter in the log huts of the scattered settlers, or in the bark wigwams of the wandering Indians. The British, who immediately occupied the desolated town, soon wreaked a grim revenge for the atrocious act. In a night attack by Colonel Murray, with five hundred men, Fort Niagara, on the American side of the river, was surprised, when its garrison was wrapped in sleep, December 18th. The sentries were bayoneted, the guard overpowered; three hundred prisoners, three thousand stand of arms, and an immense quantity of stores, were captured.

With ruthless retaliation for the burning of Niagara, the British ravaged the American frontier, and gave to the flames the thriving towns of Lewiston, Manchester, Black Rock, and Buffalo.

Thus the holy Christmas-tide, God's pledge of peace and good-will toward men, rose upon a fair and fertile frontier scathed and blackened by wasting and rapine, and the year went out in " tears and misery, in hatred and flames and blood."

The commerce of the United States was completely crippled by the blockade of her ports, her revenue falling from $24,000,000 to $8,000,000. Admiral Cockburn swept the Atlantic coast with his fleet,, destroying arsenals and naval stores wherever his gun-boats could penetrate. Great Britain also recovered her old prestige in more than one stubborn sea-fight with a not unworthy foe.


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