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Sketches Illustrating the Early Settlement and History of Glengarry in Canada
Chapter 18


General Dearborn in Turn Superseded.—Successful Attacks on Fort Schlosser and Black Rock.—Death of Colonel Bisshopp.—Attack, on Sackett's Harbour.— Prevost's Demonstration on Fort George.— The Glengarry Regiment's Timely Occupation of Burlington Heights. — York Again Taken.— Canada Menaced in Three Directions in the Autumn of 1813. — Disasters on Lake Erie.—Evacuation of Detroit.—General Proctor Defeated at Moraviantown.—Death of Tecumseth —Court-Martial on Proctor.

General Dearborn was succeeded by Generals Boyd and Lewis, The enemy, by these successes of the British, was compelled to confine himself to Fort George and its environs, where sickness broke out and his troops suffered considerably. Though General Vincent's force amounted to only eighteen hundred men, he beleagured the Americans, numbering some four thousand, and before the 1st of July the British had formed a line extending from Twelve Mile Creek on lake Ontario across to Queenston on the Niagara River, nor did they leave the enemy idle.

The "glorious Fourth" of July, of all days in the year, was selected by Colonel Clark, of the 2nd Lincoln Militia, for a descent of Fort Schlosser, immediately above Niagara Falls, and during the night a small party of militia with a few regular soldiers surprised the guard at that post and brought away a brass six-pounder, upwards of fifty stands of arms, a quantity of stores, with a gunboat and two batteaux, without loss of life. Again, on the 11th July, poor Colonel Bisshopp, who had so distinguished himself on the Niagara Frontier in the preceding autumn and spring, crossed over to Black Rock, near Buffalo, at daybreak with two hundred and forty men, consisting of a small party of militia and detachments of the Eighth, Forty-first and Forty-ninth Regiments. He effectually surprised the enemy and burnt his block houses, stores, barracks, dock-yard and a vessel, but while occupied in securing the stores the enemy, with a reinforcement of militia and Indians, under cover of the surrounding woods, opened a smart fire and compelled the British to hasten their retreat, with the loss of thirteen killed and a number of wounded, among the latter being Colonel Bisshopp himself, who died almost immediately, to the deep regret of his companions in arms. He was an officer of singular merit and but thirty years of age. A beautiful monument in the graveyard at Drummondville, erected by his family in England, marks his resting-place.

On the same day that the Americans took Fort George (27th May), Sir James Yeo having arrived in Kingston from England, with some naval officers and seamen to the number of four hundred and fifty, and Sir George Prevost being also at Kingston, it was determined by these two officers that an attack should be made on Sackett's Harbour, on the American side, somewhat higher up the Lake, the enemy's fleet being then at Niagara. Some seven hundred men, including a company of the Glengarry Regiment, set out from Kingston on board three frigates, four gunboats and some batteaux, and at noon of the 28th they were on Sackett's Harbour. An unfortunate delay occurred, however, which was the precursor of other miscarriages. This delay enabled the Americans to assemble their militia from the surrounding district, and thus, by the material addition of some five hundred men to their regular force (consisting of dragoons, artillery and infantry, to the number of seven hundred and eighty-seven) largely to outnumber the invading force. The landing took place, after much difficulty, on the morning of the 29th, not without strong opposition on the pan of the enemy, under General Brown, while the fleet which was to have supported the advance of the troops was, owing to adverse winds, a long way off. Colonel Baynes, Colonel commanding the Glengarry Regiment and Adjutant-General of the forces in British North America, who was in charge of the attacking party, having at length secured a landing, ordered his men to divide and scour the woods, where the enemy had taken refuge, and kept up a sharp fire on the British.

They succeeded in dislodging the enemy at the point of the bayonet, who thereupon fled to their fort and blockhouses, whither they were pursued by the British, who set fire to the barracks. Colonel Biynes considered, however, that it would be impossible to capture the enemy's blockhouses and stockaded battery without the assistance of artillery, which had not been landed, and without the aid of the fleet, which was still out of reach, while his men were exposed to the fire of the enemy, secure within his works. Colonel Bockus, of the American Army, had, however, in the meantime, been killed, and part of his force had fled. The signal for retreat to the boats was given to the British and the enterprise abandoned at the very moment that victory was within their grasp, the enemy so far calculating upon a decisive victory for our forces as to have set fire to their naval storehouses, hospital and marine barracks, by which all the booty previously taken at York was consumed. It was a most unfortunate occurrence, and all the more so owing to the presence of the leaders of the land and naval forces, and the attack having been under the immediate direction of the Adjutant-General. The British loss was one officer and forty-seven men killed and two hundred wounded and missing; that of the Americans about three hundred killed and wounded. The Glengarry Regiment lost six rank and file killed, Captain McPherson was severely and Ensign Matheson slightly wounded; one sergeant and seventeen of their rank and file were also wounded. Colonel Baynes, in his report to Sir George Prevost, stated that Captain Macpherson's company of the Glengarry Light Infantry, the one present in this action, evinced most striking proof of their loyalty, steadiness and courage.

This untoward event was a grievous blow to the military reputation of Sir George Prevost, nor was it strengthened by what took place on the Niagara Frontier in August following.

The two armies had there remained in sight of each other, inactive, until the Commander of the Forces had arrived from Kingston when the speedy reduction of Fort George, where the Americans were entrenched, was confidently expected. The Governor, to ascertain, as it was pretended, the extent of the enemy's works and the means he possessed of defending the position which he occupied, determined upon making a demonstration on that for on the 24th of August, and the army was put in movement as if for an assault anon. The enemy's pickets were driven in, several of them being taken- and the British advanced within a few hundred yards of the enemy, who. although supported by a fire upon the British from their bateries on the opposite shore, declined leaving their entrenchments to venture into the field. Sir George, however, did not deem it advisable to risk a trill for the recovery of the Fort, which, as he deemed it, was not of sufficient moment to compensate for the loss that must have ensued had an attack been made. It is true the American forces within the fort numbered four thousand, while those in the neighbourhood of Fort George did not exceed two thousand on an extended line, yet the Americans were totally dependent upon their own resources for their subsistence, and were compelled to act solely on the defensive from the hostile front assumed by the British in their neighbourhood.

This fruitless "demonstration," coming, as it did, so soon after the fiasco at Sackett's Harbour, dispelled whatever confidence in Sir George Prevost as commander of the forces, the army and those in the country best able to judge of his capacity as such previously entertained. nor was he ever able to regain it.

Shortly before this however, the Glengarry Regiment had another opportunity of distinguishing itself. On the 28th July the American fleet under Commodore Chauncey, which was then lying off the Niagara River, having on board a battery of artillery and a considerable number of troops under Colonel Scott, U.S.A., proceeded to the head of the Lake, with a view of seizing and destroying the stores at Burlington Heights, the principal depot of the army on the Niagara frontier, then garrisoned by a small detachment under Major Maule. The design of the enemy against the depot being suspected, the Glengarry Regiment, under Battersby, was ordered by Colonel Harvey from York, and by a march of extraordinary celerity arrived in time to save the place. The enemy, upon hearing of their arrival, wisely determining to abandon the proposed attack. The Glengarry Regiment unfortunately lost their baggage which they had left in some boats in a creek in the neighbourhood of York. Colonel Battersby wrote to Major William Allan to send some of the militia to secure it, but the letter did not reach its destination, as the gallant officer to whom it was addressed had retired to the woods when the Americans appeared off York. Commodore Chauncey, however, on ascertaining that York, by the advance of the Glengarry Regiment to Burlington Heights, was left unprotected, seized the opportunity and bore down upon that unfortunate place, which he entered on the 31st July. The Americans landed without opposition, and having taken possession of a small quantity of stores, set fire to the barracks and public storehouses, and having re-embarked their troops, and carrying with them some sick and wounded American prisoners found in York and a quantity of provisions from the shop of Mr. William Allan, bore away for Niagara.

Some naval engagements took place about this time on Lake Ontario between the rival naval commanders, Yeo and Chauncey, each striving for the command of the Lake. The British captured two small vessels (the "Julia" and "Growler") off Niagara, and the Americans lost two others, the "Scourge" and "Hamilton," in a press of sail to escape the British; all the officers and men, except sixteen of the latter, being drowned. No general engagement, however, occurred. On the 1st October the American fleet set sail from Fort George with a convoy of troops for Sackett's Harbour, where an expedition was preparing whose destination was as yet unknown, and was, as we shall shortly see, fated ultimately to be untoward. In their way they fell in with and captured five small vessels out of seven, with upwards of two hundred and fifty men of De Watteville's Regiment, from York bound for Kingston, where an attack was apprehended, a loss which, although small, was. owing to the scarcity of troops in the Upper Province, severely felt.

It was during this autumn that the Americans made the most strenuous, and in one quarter, most successful efforts of the War. Three separate armies menaced Canada in as many directions. In the East, during the month of September, the forces which had been concentrated at Burlington, in the State of Vermont, under General Hampton, moved across Lake Champlain to Plattsburg, with a view of penetrating into the District of Montreal, the army under Hampton's command, consisting of seven thousand infantry and two hundred cavalry, and being well supplied with artillery.

General Wilkinson at Sackett's Harbour, on Lake Ontario, a short distance above Kingston, on the opposite side of Lake Ontario, was preparing, under the immediate direction of General Armstrong, the American Secretary at War, a large flotilla of batteaux and Durham boats for an expedition of ten thousand men, destined against Kingston or Montreal, though fated to reach neither place.

General Harrison, with an army shortly reinforced until it numbered eight thousand men, was camped on the Miami River, in Michigan, only awaiting the equipment of the American fleet fitting out at Presq' Isle, some distance below on Lake Erie, to move his forces against Detroit, which still continued in possession of the British (since its capture by Brock at the beginning of the War), and carry on offensive operations in the neighbourhood of Lake Erie. Fortunately only the latter was successful, and in the West the most disastrous engagements of the War, both on water and land, with the exception possibly of Plattsburg, took place, though the valour of the British naval forces retrieved to some extent the serious loss sustained.

The British fleet on Lake Erie was commanded by Captain Robert Barclay, who had seen service under Nelson, and lost an arm at Trafalgar, his flagship being the "Detroit"; his squadron consisting in all  of six vessels and sixty-three guns, while Commodore Perry was in command of the enemy's fleet, his flagship, the "Laurence," and his Squadron comprising nine vessels, with fifty-two guns, the weight in metal being, however, in favour of the Americans, in the proportion of over two to one in pounds.

During the month of July the British had maintained an effective blockade on the American fleet in Presq' Isle Harhour, where a sandbar prevented the larger American vessels moving out without unshipping their guns, but towards the end of August, Barclay having occasion to proceed to Long Point, on the Canadian side, for provisions, the Americans took advantage of his absence and crossed the bar. The British fleet then sailed for Amherstburg, followed shortly by Commodore Perry, for the head of the Lake. The British forces in the Michigan Territory, under the command of General Proctor, falling short of supplies, for which they depended solely upon the fleet. Captain Barclay had no alternative but a general engagement, which accordingly took place on the 10th September, near Put-in-Bay, though the British fleet had but fifty experienced sailors between its six vessels, the rest of the crews being made up of two hundred and forty soldiers and eighty volunteer Canadian seamen, while Perry's ships were fully manned with six hundred skilled seamen. The battle began about half after twelve, and continued with great fury until half past two, the advantage being then on the side of the British, Commodore Perry being obliged to abandon his flagship and take to another vessel, the "Laurence" shortly afterwards striking her colours, but the British, from the weakness of their crews, were unable to take possession of her. A sudden and strong breeze enabled the Americans to retrieve the fortunes of the day, Barclay's, vessels, owing to lack of seamen, becoming unmanageable.

Captain Barclay himself was dangerously wounded, his thigh being battered and his only arm disabled. Captain Finnis, of the "Queen Charlotte," killed, and every British commander and officer second in command either killed or wounded, forty-one of the British officers and seamen and soldiers were killed and ninety-four wounded. Little wonder the flag was struck! The American loss was twenty-seven killed and ninety-six wounded, though the battle lasted but little over three hours.

Mrs. Edgar, in her interesting book, "Ten Years of Upper Canada," states that when some months afterwards the gallant Barclay (who had been placed on parole and then exchanged), was brought before a court of enquiry to answer for the loss of his fleet, his judges were moved to tears as they looked at the mutilated form of the hero who had fought so well. She mentions that he was a Scotchman, and had attended school at Keltie, at which Bishop Strachan, who afterwards taught at Cornwall, was the master.

Disastrous was the engagement itself, in that the whole British squadron on Lake Erie was captured by the enemy, who now became masters of the Lake, it was even more so by reason of the fact that the British army in possession of the Michigan Territory, and in the neighbourhood of' Detroit, was thus deprived of every prospect of obtaining future supplied and a speedy evacuation of Detroit and a retreat towards the head of Lake Ontario became inevitable. Fort Detroit, therefore, was immediately evacuated; Proctor, on leaving, destroying the magazines, barracks and public stores. Had the retreat been properly managed matters would not have been so bad.

Commodore Perry, as soon after the engagement of the 10th as circumstances permitted, transported the American forces under command of Harrison to Put-in-Bay, from whence they were conveyed to the neighbourhood of Amherstburgh (or Maiden, as it was then called), which also had been abandoned by the British, which they occupied on the evening of the 23rd September.

Proctor's troops were altogether too inadequate in numbers and destitute in resources to make a stand against the overwhelming forces of the enemy and retreat along the River Thames was determined upon, the Indians, under Colonel Elliott, of the Indian Department, with their great Chief Tecuinseh, still adhering to his standard in his reverses with unshaken fidelity, and covering his retreat. He was closely followed by General Harrison, whose force was escorted by a number of batteaux under the immediate direction of Commodore Perry, by which they were enabled to overtake, on the 4th October, the rear guard of the British, and succeeded in capturing the whole of their ammunition and stores. It was under these adverse circumstances that Proctor was compelled to stake the fate of his small army in a general engagement. He accordingly assumed a position on the right bank of the River Thames, at the Indian Village of Moraviantown, where he awaited the approach of the enemy, who had crossed the river in the morning, and came up in the afternoon of the 5th October. The battle was of short duration. Harrison had among his forces a large number of Kentucky cavalry, accustomed to ride with extraordinary dexterity through the most intricate woods. These he ordered to charge full speed upon the British. By this charge of the enemy our soldiers, worn out with fatigue and hunger, and dispirited by the unpromising appearance of the campaign, became totally routed, and for the most part surrrendered prisoners to the enemy, while General Proctor and his personal staff sought safety in flight. The Indians behaved with a gallantry worthy of the chief who led them, and for a considerable time carried on the contest with the left of the American line with great determination, but finding all hope of retrieving the day to be futile, at length yielded to the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, and reluctantly left the field, but not until the great Tecumseh had fallen.

Mr. James states that Tecumseh, although he had received a musket ball in the left arm, was still seeking the hottest of the fire, when he encountered Colonel Johnson, Member of Congress for Kentucky. Just as the chief; having discharged his ride, was rushing forward with his tomahawk, he received a ball in the head from the colonel's pistol. Thus fell the great Indian warrior in the forty-fourth year of his age. What Brant had been to the British in the Revolutionary War, Tecumseh was in the War of 1812, and the memory and services of these two great men would, were other motives wanting, of themselves constitute a reason why the Indian tribes of British America should be treated with justice, consideration and respect by those who are charged with the administration of affairs. He was a great leader of his people, of strong intellect and lofty spirit, sufficiently austere in manner to control the wayward passions of those who followed him in war. He had a flow of oratory that enabled him, as he governed in the field, so to guide in council. Though he frequently levied subsidies to a large amount, yet he preserved little or nothing to himself—not wealth but glory being his ruling passion. After the capture of Detroit, in which his knowledge of the surrounding country, as well as the awe inspired by his followers, had been of inestimable value. General Brock, as soon as the business was over, publicly took off his sash and placed it around the body of the chief. Tecumseh received the honour with evident gratification, but was the next day seen without the sash. General Brock, fearing something had displeased the Indian, sent his interpreter for an explanation. The latter soon returned with an account that Tecumseh, not wishing to wear such a mark of distinction when an older, and, as he said, abler warrior than himself was present, had transferred the sash to the Wyandot Chief Roundhead, which act of disinterestedness proved him to have had the highest and best instincts of a gentleman. The Prince Regent, cut of respect to his memory, sent out a valuable sword as a present to his son, a lad seventeen years of age, who fought by his father's side when he fell. That he was scalped by the Americans is beyond doubt, and Mr. James proves conclusively that the Kentucky soldiery, not content with his scalp, which would be the property of but one, absolutely flayed his body in order to procure "trophies" which all might share, quoting from Burdick's Pol. and Hist. Reg., p. 84, which American authority admits that "some of the Kentuckians disgraced themselves by committing indignities on his dead body. He was scalped and otherwise disfigured. He held the rank of Brigadier-General in the British Army.

The British loss at Moraviantown was twelve killed, twenty-two wounded, while thirty-three of our Indians were found dead on the field. Upwards of six hundred of the army, including twenty-five officers, were made prisoners of war. The American loss was but seven killed and twenty-two wounded. Such of the British as escaped made the best of their way to Ancaster, at the head of Lake Ontario, exposed, at an inclement season, to all the horrors of the then wilderness. On the seventeenth of October they arrived at that place to the number of two hundred and forty-six, including General Proctor and seventeen officers.

General Proctor was tried by court-martial at Montreal in December, 1814, on five charges preferred against him for misconduct on this occasion. He was found guilty of portions of the charges and sentenced to be publicly reprimanded and to be suspended from rank and pay for six months, but though it was found that he did not take proper measures for conducting the retreat, and had been guilty of errors of judgment and deficient in those energetic and active exertions which the situation of his army so particularly required, the Court nevertheless most fully acquitted him of any defect or reproach in regard to his personal conduct during the action of the 5th October. The Prince Regent, in confirming the finding of the Court, animadverted upon its "mistaken lenity " towards the accused, and directed the general officer commanding in Canada to convey to General Proctor His Royal Highness' high disapprobation of his conduct, and directed that the charges preferred against him, together with the finding and sentence of the Court, and the Prince Regent's remarks thereupon, should be entered in general orders and read at the head of every regiment in His Majesty's service. His previous services in this war, when he defeated the enemy at Brownstown, which contributed much to the fall of Detroit and the capitulation of Hull, and the American army, and his brilliant victory over a superior force under Winchester on the River Raisin, in Michigan, were however, remembered to his advantage, and the Canadian people viewed the defeat at Moraviantown with generous indulgence. He commanded again during the War, was afterwards promoted to the risk of Lieutenant-General, surviving until 1859, when he died at his seat in Wales.

Shortly after this untoward event General Vincent, who continued the investment of Fort George, deemed it expedient to raise the siege of that place and fall back upon Burlington Heights, lest General Harrison, by a bold and rapid march, or by a sudden descent in the fleet from Amherstburg, should re-occupy that important position, which would have the effect of placing him, Vincent, between the two hostile armies. This he succeeded in doing, though not without great difficulty, being closely pressed for several days by a brigade of one thousand five hundred men under Generals McClure and Porter from Fort George.

Fortunately, though General Harrison had carried all before him in the extreme west of the Province, neither Wilkinson's force, which had assembled at Sackett's Harbour, nor Hampton's, which it was intended should invest Montreal, were equally successful.


 


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