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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXI.—Campaign of 1814


General Wilkinson repulsed at Lacolle Mill, March 13th—Yeo and Drummond capture Oswego, May 6th - Riall is defeated at Chippewa, July 5th -He is reinforced by Drummond-Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 25th—Night Attack on Fort Erie—Explosion and Sortie British fleet on Lake Champlain defeated, August 11th— Admiral Cockburn captures Washington and burns the Capitol, etc., August 23rd—Peace concluded at Ghent, December 24th— General Packenham defeated by Jackson at New Orleans, January 8th, 1815—Effects of the War on Canada and the United States—Valour and Patriotism of the Canadians.

Preparations for the campaign of 1814 were made on both sides with unabated energy. Stores of every kind and in vast quantities were forwarded from Quebec and Montreal by brigades of sleighs to Kingston as a centre of distribution for western Canada. A deputation of Indian chiefs from the West was received at the castle of St. Louis and sent home laden with presents and confirmed in their allegiance to the British.

Early in the year, the Emperor of Russia offered to mediate between the belligerents in the interests of peace. Great Britain declined his interference, but proposed direct negotiations with the United States. The commissioners appointed, however, did not meet till August, and meanwhile the war became more deadly and mutually destructive than ever. The campaign opened in Lower Canada. General Wilkinson advanced with five thousand men from Plattsburg, crossed the frontier at Odelltown, and on the 13th of March invested five hundred British militia and regulars at the stone mill of Lacolle. For four hours these gallant men withstood an army. Incapable of forcing the British position, the enemy retreated, baffled and defeated, to Plattsburg, and for a time the tide of war ebbed away from the frontier of Lower Canada.

Early in May, Sir James Yeo and General Drummond, with a thousand men, attacked Fort Oswego. The assaulting party of three hundred and forty soldiers and sailors, in the face of a heavy fire of grape, stormed the strong and well-defended fort. In half an hour it was in their hands, and the stores, barracks, and shipping were destroyed.

Napoleon was now a prisoner in Elbe, and England was enabled to throw greater vigour into her transatlantic war. In the month of June several regiments of the veteran troops of Wellington landed at Quebec. The most sanguinary events of the campaign, however, occurred on the Niagara frontier. On July 3rd, Generals Brown, Scott, and Ripley, with a force of four thousand men, crossed the Niagara at. Buffalo and captured Fort Erie. General Riall, with twenty-four hundred regulars, militia, and Indians, met the invaders, led by General Brown, at Chippewa. He boldly attacked the enemy, who had taken up a good position, and were well supported by artillery. The battle was fierce and bloody and the British were forced to retreat. Riall retired in good order to Twenty Mile Creek ; Brown followed to Queenston Heights, ravaged the country and burned the village of St. David's, and returned to Chippewa, followed again by Riall as far as Lundy's Lane.

In the meanwhile General Drummond hastened from Kingston to strengthen the British force on the frontier. Reaching Niagara on the 25th of July, he advanced with eight hundred men to support Riall. He met Riall's army in retreat before the immensely superior force of the enemy, but countermanding the movement, he immediately formed the order of battle. He occupied the gently swelling acclivity of Lundy's Lane. His entire force was sixteen hundred men ; that of the enemy was five thousand. The attack began at six o'clock in the evening, Drummond's troops having that hot July day marched from Niagara. The Americans made desperate efforts to capture the British battery, but the gunners stuck to their pieces till some of them were bayoneted at their post.

At length the long summer twilight closed, and the pitying night drew her veil over the scene. Still amid the darkness the stubborn combat raged. The American and British guns were almost muzzle to muzzle. Some of each were captured and recaptured in fierce hand-to-hand fight. About nine o'clock a lull occurred, and the moon rose upon the scene, lighting up the ghastly faces of the dead and the writhing forms of the dying, while the groans of the wounded mingled with the deep roar of the neighbouring cataract.

The retreating van of Riall's army now returned with a body of militia, twelve hundred in all. The Americans also brought up fresh reserves, and the combat was renewed with increased fury. At midnight, after six hours of mortal conflict, the Americans abandoned the hopeless contest. To-day the peaceful wheat-fields wave upon the sunny slopes fertilized by the bodies of so many brave men, and the ploughshare upturns rusted bullets, regimental buttons and other relics of this most sanguinary battle of the war.

Throwing their heavy baggage and tents into the rushing rapids of the Niagara, the fugitives retreated to Fort Erie, where for three weeks they were closely besieged by half their number of British. On the 13th of August, after a vigorous bombardment, a night attack, in three columns, was made upon the fort. Two of the columns had already effected an entrance into the works, when the explosion of a magazine blew into the air a storming party, and caused the repulse. of the British, with a heavy loss in killed, wounded and captured of six hundred and fifty men. The Americans a month later made a vigorous sally from the fort, but were driven back with a loss on the part of both assailants and assailed of about four hundred men. Shortly after, General Izzard blew up the works and recrossed the river to United States territory.

Meanwhile hostile expeditions were launched from Halifax against the coast of Maine. Castine, Bangor, Machias, and the whole region from the Penobscot to the St. Croix, surrendered to the British, and were held to the close of the war.

The arrival of sixteen thousand of "Wellington's peninsular troops, the heroes of so many Spanish victories, enabled Sir George Prevost to vigorously assume the offensive. A well-appointed force of eleven thousand men advanced from Canada to Lake Champlain. Captain Downie, with a fleet on which the ship-carpenters were still at work as he went into action, was to co-operate with the army in an attack on Plattsburg. The British fleet gallantly attacked the enemy, but after a' desperate battle, in which Captain Downie was slain, it was compelled to surrender to a superior force. Prevost had tardily advanced his storming columns when the cheers from the fort announced the capture of the British fleet. Although on the verge of an easy victory, Prevost, to the intense chagrin of his soldiers, gave the signal to retreat. Many of his officers for very shame broke their swords and vowed they would never serve again. He was summoned home by the Horse Guards to stand a court martial, but died in the course of the following year before the court sat.

The launch at Kingston of the St. Lawrence, an "oak leviathan" of a hundred guns, gave the British complete naval supremacy of Lake Ontario, and enabled them strongly to reinforce General Drummond with troops and stores.

Along the Atlantic seaboard the British maintained a harassing blockade. About the middle of August Admiral Cockburn, with a fleet of fifty vessels, arrived in the Chesapeake River, and General Ross, with four thousand men, attacked Washington, and gave to the flames the Capitol, White House and other public buildings—a retaliation for the burning of York unworthy of a great nation.

On the 8th of January, 1815, General Packenham, with a force of about six thousand men, attacked the city of New Orleans, which was defended by General Jackson with a much superior army. Jackson had thrown up formidable breastworks, faced, it is said, with cotton bales, forming a very effective protection. The slaughter of the British in a series of engagements was frightful. Packenham with many of his bravest troops were slain, and the attack was completely repulsed.

Peace had already been concluded at Ghent on the 24th of December, and was hailed with delight by the kindred peoples, wearied with mutual and unavailing slaughter. The calm verdict of history finds much ground of extenuation for the revolt of 1776 ; but for the American declaration of war in 1812, little or -none. A reckless Democratic majority wantonly invaded the country of an unoffending neighbouring people, to seduce them from their lawful allegiance and annex their territory. The long and costly conflict was alike bloody and barren. The Americans annexed not a single foot of territory. They gained not a single permanent advantage. Their seaboard was insulted, their capital destroyed. Their annual exports were reduced from £22,000,000 to £1,500,000. Three thousand of their vessels were captured. Two-thirds of their commercial class were insolvent. A vast war tax was incurred, and the very existence of the Union imperilled by the menaced secession of the New England States. The " right of search" and the rights of neutrals—the ostensible but not the real causes of the war—were not even mentioned in the treaty of peace.

On Canada, too, the burden of the war fell heavily. Great Britain, exhausted by nearly twenty years of conflict, and still engaged in a strenuous struggle against the European despot, Napoleon, could only, till near the close of the war, furnish scanty military aid. It was Canadian militia, with little help from British regulars, who won the brilliant victories of Chrysler's Farm and Chateauguay; and throughout the entire conflict they were the principal defence of their country. In many a Canadian home bitter tears were shed for son or sire left cold and stark upon the bloody plain at Queenston Heights, or Chippewa, or Lundy's Lane, or other hard-fought field of battle.

The lavish expenditure of the Imperial authorities for shipbuilding, transport service, and army supplies, and the free circulation of the paper money issued by the Canadian Government,1 greatly stimulated the prosperity of the country. Its peaceful industries, agriculture, and the legitimate development of its natural resources, however, were greatly interrupted, and vast amounts of public and private property were relentlessly confiscated or destroyed by the enemy.


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