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Gains and Losses for Both Sides

Gains and Losses for Both Sides

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was provoked by two major issues. The first was Britain's maritime policy of impressment in its war with France. This policy was where British officials often boarded U.S. ships to capture deserters from their own navy, often wrongfully taking American citizens in the process. The other issue that led to the war was Great Britain's overly friendly relations with Native Americans. Americans believed that the British were encouraging Native Americans to attack white settlers who were moving west. The Native Americans believed that the settlers were encroaching on (gradually taking over) their land. Although these two issues led to Americans being eager to fight a war with Britain, the United States was not necessarily ready to fight such a war. Except for a few memorable victories at sea, the War of 1812 had not gotten off to a good start for the United States, generally, due to poor preparation, poor leadership, and poor strategy.

Hearing of defeats on the battlefield and the failure of U.S. troops to successfully invade Canada, more Americans began to wonder if this war was a good idea after all. Some felt that President James Madison (1751-1836; see biographical entry) was mismanaging the war—including some Republicans, who switched their support from Madison to New York statesman DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) when it came time to vote in the November 1812 presidential election. Madison won the election, but just barely, and the Republicans also lost some ground in Congress: even though the Republicans were still a majority, more Federalists won seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Members of the Federalist Party favored a strong central government and did not support the war with Britain.)

Congress boosts the war effort

Addressing Congress in November after winning the presidential election of 1812, Madison avoided speaking of battles lost, focusing instead on the economic boom the country was enjoying as the government spent a lot of money running the war. Both Republicans and Federalists entered a series of long-winded debates on the merits of the war. More important in the long run were the measures Congress enacted to help with the war effort. They took steps to upgrade the army, which would be increased by twenty-two thousand regular soldiers to bring the total number to fifty-seven thousand. Soldiers' pay was boosted from five dollars a month (less than the wage a young man could earn as a common laborer) to eight dollars a month, and bounties (one-time sums of money paid as rewards for enlisting) and other incentives (such as free land) were offered to both short-and long-term recruits. Measures also were taken to improve the efficiency of the army.

Congress also endorsed an expansion of the navy, authorizing the construction of four ships-of-the-line (the biggest warship, carrying seventy-four guns), six heavy frigates (between twenty-four and sixty guns), six sloops (between ten and twenty-four guns) and other vessels. Despite their general opposition to the war, Federalists were in favor of strengthening the navy, because they felt that having a powerful navy roaming the seas increased the chances that trade could be carried on with less problems. Astonishing many observers, the Congress in office at the beginning of the war failed to enact any taxes to finance the war effort, leaving that unpopular task for the new Congress, which would meet in May.

Overall, as the year 1813 began, the United States did seem to be in a slightly better position as it faced another year of war. For one thing, leadership in Washington had improved dramatically when Secretary of War William Eustis (1753-1825), who almost everybody considered too militarily inexperienced (he had been a surgeon and congressman), was replaced with Revolutionary War (1775-83) veteran John Armstrong (1758-1843). And Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton (1762-1816), after an episode of public drunkenness, was replaced with William Jones (1760-1831), a Philadelphia merchant and former congressman with much more military experience and energy than his predecessor.

Under Armstrong's more able direction, talented army officers began to emerge, brought up from the lower ranks to positions of greater responsibility. Among them were William Henry Harrison (1773-1841; see biographical entry), who took over William Hull's (1753-1825) job as commander of U.S. forces in the Northwest Territory, and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry), who was put in command of the southwestern troops. Younger but promising officers like Winfield Scott (1786-1866; see biographical entry) and Zebulon Pike (1779-1813; see biographical entry) also were being more quickly promoted.

The higher pay authorized by Congress did make military service more attractive, so that by spring, the army's numbers had climbed to thirty thousand (more than twice what it had been at the beginning of the war). In general, the army was running more efficiently and benefiting from lessons learned during the past year.

The Battle of Frenchtown and the Raisin River Massacre

As the year 1813 dawned, the U.S. government was eager to win back control of the Northwest, which had been lost with the surrender of Detroit and defeats at forts Michilimackinac (located in northern Michigan territory) and Dearborn (present-day Chicago, Illinois). Recovering Detroit from its British captors was a high priority, but the advent of winter made that a difficult goal for the time being. (Since most of the events of the War of 1812 occurred in the northern part of the United States, cold weather limited the campaign season—the time when military action could take place—to the spring, summer, and fall months.)

When Harrison took over command of the northwestern forces, he immediately went to work building up his army and purchasing the huge quantities of food, clothing, and equipment he needed to support that army. Despite the adverse weather, Harrison was determined to press on with a winter campaign and proceeded to make plans to retake Detroit. He split his troops in two, leading one force himself to Sandusky, Ohio, while another, under the command of Brigadier General James Winchester (1752-1826), moved farther west into the Michigan Territory. Winchester's troops stopped at Frenchtown (present-day Monroe, Michigan) on the Raisin River and chased away a small British force that had invaded the town.

When British colonel Henry Procter (1763-1822), who was in the area, heard of this event, he headed for Frenchtown with about twelve hundred troops as well as Native American allies. On January 21, Procter's men attacked the U.S. force (numbering about nine hundred), which quickly surrendered. Several hundred Americans were killed, but the worst loss occurred after the battle had ended. Procter withdrew from the town, taking with him the American soldiers his troops had captured as well as some of the wounded Americans; the rest of the wounded were left in the care of the Native American warriors who had fought with the British. In what came to be known as the Raisin River Massacre, the warriors killed many of the wounded men, thus violating a standard of European warfare regarding treatment of prisoners. "Remember the River Raisin!" would become a rallying cry in many subsequent battles of the War of 1812 and for recruiting fresh soldiers—especially among volunteers from Kentucky, for many of those killed had been Kentucky natives.

His plans for an attack on Detroit now scuttled, Harrison began building a fort on the banks of the Maumee River in Ohio. Located near the present-day town of Perrysburg, Fort Meigs would, in May, become the site of a significant battle. For now, however, let's turn to examining the strategies being developed on the Great Lakes and in the Northeast.

A plan to gain control of the Great Lakes

As the warmth of the approaching spring began to thaw the snow and ice that blanketed the northeastern United States and the parts of Canada it borders, U.S. strategists began to make plans for the campaign of 1813. Armstrong and Major General Henry Dearborn (1751-1829), the commander of all troops in the northeastern region, agreed that they would gain the most from an attack on the large, important cities of Montreal and Quebec, but these were too well protected. Instead, they mapped out a plan to capture first Kingston and then York, both of which were naval bases and shipbuilding centers. Then the United States would try to gain control of Fort George, located at the northern, Lake Ontario end of the Niagara River (which connects lakes Erie and Ontario), and Fort Niagara, located on the southern, Lake Erie end.

Another crucial objective was to dominate the Great Lakes, especially Lakes Ontario and Erie. Dense surrounding wilderness and a lack of good roads made the lakes the best route for moving men, supplies, and equipment, and whoever controlled these large bodies of water would have the upper hand in this region. During the first year of the war, the British had maintained control of both lakes, with six ships anchored on Lake Ontario and six on Lake Erie, whereas the United States had only one ship on each lake. British general Isaac Brock (1769-1812; see biographical entry) had used the lakes to his advantage as he maneuvered into position for his successful attack on Detroit, underlining for the Americans the lakes' importance.

In September 1812 the U.S. government had wisely put a capable, experienced, forty-one-year-old officer in charge of its naval forces on Lakes Ontario and Erie. There was already a U.S. naval base on Lake Ontario, located at Sacket's Harbor, New York, and Captain Isaac Chauncey (1772-1840) quickly chose Presque Isle (now Erie), Pennsylvania, as the place to build a new base on Lake Erie. Then he began to put into action his plan to buy merchant ships and turn them into warships, while also building new vessels.

Meanwhile, the British understood very well that they must not allow the Americans to gain the upper hand on the Great Lakes, especially in view of the great distance between the source of much of their supplies and equipment (Great Britain) and the difficulties of transport if a water route was not available. In March 1813 James Yeo (1782-1818), a competent captain of the Royal Navy, was put in charge of Great Lakes operations. During the next year, under Yeo, the British held on to control of Lake Erie.

Both Chauncey and Yeo were cautious men, unwilling to needlessly squander the precious resources of sailors and ships unless the prospects for victory were bright. Yet both knew they must destroy or damage the other's naval bases to stop shipbuilding and prevent the other side from putting more ships and thus more power on the lakes.

The Battle of York

Although the original U.S. plan had been to attack Kingston first, Dearborn and Chauncey heard that Canada's governor-in-chief George Prevost (1767-1816) was waiting there with a huge force ready to attack Sacket's Harbor. This turned out to be untrue, but in the meantime the two officers had convinced Armstrong that the best plan would be to raid York (then the capital of upper Canada and a major shipping center) and destroy two ships that were being built there. From there, Dearborn would lead the army to the western end of Lake Ontario and attack Fort George. Armstrong agreed to the plan.

In 1813 York was defended by about eight hundred troops (a combination of regular soldiers, militiamen, and Native Americans) under the command of Major General Roger Hale Scheaffe (1763-1851), who had led Great Britain's victorious troops at the Battle of Queenston the previous year. Unsure where the American force would land or attack, Scheaffe had his soldiers dispersed throughout the town.

At dawn on April 27, 1813, about seventeen hundred U.S. soldiers under the command of Zebulon Pike crossed Lake Ontario and landed near York. Backed up by gun and cannon fire from Chauncey's ships on the lake, Pike's troops pushed the British back toward the fort. Seeing defeat was at hand, the Canadian militiamen (small armies made up of troops residing in a particular state) turned and fled the battle. Also preparing for a defeat, Scheaffe had the fort's magazine (ammunitions storehouse) blown up; the resulting huge explosion killed or wounded more than two hundred Americans. Pike was among those killed.

Scheaffe fled York with his remaining soldiers (150 had been killed or wounded and almost 300 captured) while the militiamen still in York were left to surrender to the Americans. Enraged by the deaths caused by the explosion and by the discovery of a scalp in a government office (for years it had been rumored that the British paid their Native American allies for American scalps), U.S. soldiers (along with some Canadian citizens) vandalized and destroyed public buildings. They also pillaged (took by force) property, which went against accepted rules of warfare. A little more than a year later, the pillaging would be used as an excuse for the British to burn Washington, D.C.

The costs of the Battle of York were high, for there had been a total of 320 casualties as well as the loss of the talented Pike, but the rewards were substantial too: the United States had gained a warship (one of those under construction at York; the other had been destroyed by the British), as well as a hefty amount of naval supplies that would later aid in the U.S. victory at the Battle of Lake Erie. Dearborn and Chauncey now returned to Sacket's Harbor to prepare for the planned attack on Fort George.

Success at Fort George, defeat at Beaver Dams

At the beginning of the War of 1812, Fort George had served as the main headquarters of General Isaac Brock. It was now defended by a force of one thousand under the command of Brigadier General John Vincent (1765-1848). In late May 1813, a combined U.S. Army and Navy force of twenty-five hundred under the command of Dearborn and Chauncey assembled across the Niagara River from Fort George. They began their attack on May 24 by opening fire on the upper-Canadian town of Newark (present-day Niagara), where many British soldiers were housed. Three days later the U.S. Navy provided a barrage of cannon and gun fire from the lake in front of the fort while the army attacked it from the rear. The British were forced to abandon the fort and flee; they had suffered 350 casualties to the Americans' 140.

The United States failed to follow up on this victory, for Vincent was able to regroup his troops at Burlington Heights (now Hamilton, Ontario). Finally the United States sent 2,600 troops under the command of two brigadier generals to chase Vincent. They made their camp at Stoney Creek, located about seven miles from the British camp. On June 6, a surprise attack on the U.S. troops by only 700 British soldiers (during which both American commanders were captured) forced the Americans to retreat. Later in the month, Dearborn tried to reestablish U.S. dominance by sending Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler (b. 1778) and a force of 500 to attack a British outpost at Beaver Dams, where Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon (1780-1863) was stationed with a small band of soldiers and about 450 Native American warriors.

En route to Beaver Dams, Boerstler stopped for the night in Queenston, where a patriotic Canadian woman named Laura Secord (1775-1868) overheard the American officers discussing their plans. Secord walked twenty miles to warn Fitzgibbon, who arranged for his Native American allies to ambush Boerstler's troops as they came close to Beaver Dams. The Americans managed to fight off this attack pretty well, but then Fitzgibbon approached Boerstler with a truce flag and demanded a U.S. surrender. He told Boerstler that he had a much bigger force of soldiers and warriors ready to surround the U.S. troops, and he would not be able to restrain the Native Americans from brutally massacring the Americans. Boerstler agreed to the surrender, only to learn that Fitzgibbon had been lying.

News of the disaster at Beaver Dams did not sit well in Washington, D.C., where outraged Republicans called for Dearborn's dismissal. In July 1813 Dearborn was relieved of his command.

The British attack Sacket's Harbor

The United States wished to limit British naval strength by attacking naval and shipping centers, and Great Britain had the same goal. Thus Prevost and Yeo decided, in May 1813, to attack the U.S. naval base at Sacket's Harbor, where the new frigate (a fast, medium-sized warship carrying between twenty-four and sixty guns) General Pike was under construction. On the night of May 27, Colonel Edward Baynes (d. 1829) set out across Lake Ontario with a squadron of ships carrying nine hundred soldiers. Their arrival at Sacket's Harbor was held up by winds that were blowing in the wrong direction—giving General Jacob Brown (1775-1828) of the New York militia time to call up more soldiers—but on the morning of May 29 they disem-barked. Because of their unfamiliarity with the shallow waters in the area, the British did not want to risk sending their ships in too close to shore. That meant that the British soldiers faced fifteen hundred American defenders with no back-up from the Royal Navy.

The outnumbered British troops put up a good fight, pushing through the first line of defense and scaring off some of the U.S. militiamen. Finally Prevost ordered Baynes to withdraw his force, but in the meantime they had managed to set two U.S. ships on fire (one of which the Americans would later be able to repair). A vast amount of naval supplies were destroyed by the Americans themselves, after someone told the young naval officer in charge of them that the British were going to win the battle (if defeat was at hand, it was common practice to destroy supplies and even ships to keep them from falling into enemy hands).

Throughout the fall and early winter, the British made raids on U.S. outposts—including Fort Schlosser and Black Rock—along the Niagara frontier, meant to exert pressure on the Americans to evacuate Fort George. Most of the fort's regular troops had already left to take part in action on the northeastern front. There were only about 250 defenders left at Fort George, and they were disgruntled about delays in receiving their pay and by the prospect of inadequate housing for the winter.

Led by General George McClure (1770-1851), the U.S. troops evacuated the fort on December 10. They stopped at nearby British-controlled Newark and burned it to the ground, so as to deny shelter there to British forces; despite the bitterly cold weather, U.S. troops gave Newark's residents only twelve hours to vacate their homes. To retaliate, the British attacked Fort Niagara on December 18, completely surprising its defenders, inflicting 80 casualties and taking 350 prisoners. The British would keep control of Fort Niagara for the remainder of the war.

The same day as the attack on Fort Niagara, British troops under General Phineas Riall (1775-1850) crossed over the U.S. border and destroyed Lewiston, New York, and two other nearby towns. The Native American warriors who accompanied them slaughtered some of the town's residents. It was clear that more militia was needed to protect the area from these attacks, but most people were much more interested in taking care of their own farms, property, and families than in fighting a war with the British.

Nevertheless, General Amos Hall (McClure's replacement) did raise two thousand militiamen who took part in a battle at Black Rock in late December. The British came out on top, and they celebrated their victory by burning the towns of Black Rock and Buffalo. As 1813 drew to a close, the Niagara frontier was essentially in the hands of the British.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio…

At the beginning of 1813, Harrison had overseen the start of construction of a new fort in northern Ohio. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River rapids, Fort Meigs was finished by April. It enclosed an area of almost ten acres, and was exceptionally strong and well protected; it was surrounded by a barrier of picket logs (fixed upright with ends carved into points) as well as large mounds of dirt to make it harder for attackers to approach or damage it.

Lurking a little farther downriver that spring were two thousand British soldiers under the command of Henry Procter, as well as one thousand warriors under the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh (c. 1768-1813; see biographical entry). Knowing that if this force attacked, his troops would be outnumbered, Harrison called for help from General Green Clay (1757-1826) of the Kentucky militia. The British began bombarding Fort Meigs on May 1, but due to the strength of the fort, their cannonballs did little damage.

On May 5 Clay's twelve hundred militiamen arrived. They attacked the British with gusto, but not enough planning; Harrison said, as quoted in Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States, During the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1815 by John Brannan, that their "excessive ardour [energy]" turned out to be "scarcely less fatal than cowardice." After making some headway against the British, the Kentuckians became confused about what they were supposed to do next, with the result that they became caught in a crossfire. The U.S. casualties were great, but still the British were unable to penetrate the fort.

At this point most of Tecumseh's warriors left the battle, and the Canadian militiamen who were fighting also were eager to depart—they told Procter they needed to get home and plant their crops. Thus Procter withdrew his troops. He made another unsuccessful attack on Fort Meigs in July, and in August sent 400 of his soldiers to Fort Stephenson, located on Ohio's Sandusky River. There 160 soldiers under U.S. Major George Croghan (1791-1849), who was only twenty-one years old at the time, caused the British (and their Native American allies) to retreat. These were the last British offensives in the Northwest Territory, for in September the U.S. naval victory on Lake Erie would leave them with no way to transfer supplies from the east, and they would have to retreat from the region.

And in Washington, D.C. …

Soon after the British attack on Fort Meigs, but in a different and—at least for the moment—more peaceful part of the country, the Thirteenth Congress was meeting. President James Madison's May 25, 1813, message to Congress expressed hope that an offer by the Russian government to mediate a peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States (submitted in March and accepted at that time by Madison) would be successful. He also discussed military and naval developments, criticized the British for using Native American allies to wage war, and recommended that Congress adopt a tax program.

Soon after Congress opened its session, Madison became seriously ill, probably with dysentery (a severe gastrointestinal disease), and he was bedridden for five weeks. During this period he was unable to take any part in the nation's affairs. His opponents in Congress, however, kept busy. They voted against approving Madison's nomination of Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) to the Russian peace commission (the group that would travel to Russia to work on a peace agreement; the other nominees were diplomat John Quincy Adams [1767-1848] and Senator James Bayard [1767-1815]). Those who opposed Gallatin resented him because he had previously urged an aggressive tax program but now, they felt, wanted to escape the heat such a program (which would have to be enacted soon) would bring.

Some of Madison's most vocal detractors were members of his own party, a group of senators known as the "Invisibles." Led by William Branch Giles (1762-1830) of Virginia and Samuel Smith (1752-1839) of Maryland, these Republicans often sided with the Federalists—not so much because they were opposed to the war, but because they disapproved of Madison's administration and how it had handled the war.

Since early 1813 the government had been kept afloat financially by a $16 million loan funded for the most part by three wealthy merchants, David Parish, Stephen Girard (1750-1831), and John Jacob Astor (1763-1848). It was obvious that taxing U.S. citizens would be necessary not only to continue to wage the expensive war against Great Britain, but just to run the government. After long avoiding the issue—for members of Congress did not want to tackle the unpopular issue of taxes—Congress finally did enact a tax program. It was to bring in $5,500,000 for the government, but it would not go into effect until the beginning of 1814. That delay showed how reluctantly Congress approached taxes.

A squadron takes shape

Toward the end of 1812, Chauncey—who had been put in charge of building up the U.S. position on the Great Lakes—gave command of all Lake Erie operations to twenty-seven-year-old Commander Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819; see biographical entry). An ambitious young officer, Perry had previously been in charge of a fleet of gunboats in Newport, and he was ready for a greater challenge. Assigning Perry to Lake Erie left Chauncey free to concentrate his own energies on Lake Ontario.

In March 1813, Perry arrived at the U.S. naval base at Presque Isle, where work was already underway to finish four ships under construction and to bring in five more from the Niagara River. One of these was the Caledonia, captured the previous fall from the British. Perry spent the rest of the spring and the summer supervising the building and equipping of the ships, as well as working on the always-difficult task of finding enough sailors to staff them. He was grievously short on sailors and complained bitterly—at one point he was so angry he threaten to resign—that Chauncey kept the most able seamen for himself. Harrison helped to ease the pressure somewhat by supplying Perry with a hundred soldiers from his own army.

The commander of Great Britain's Lake Erie squadron (a group of warships assigned to a special task) was Captain Robert H. Barclay (1786-1837), a one-armed veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars. He, like Perry, lacked adequate numbers of sailors. Barclay also was short on guns and his food supply was running dangerously low. Adding to this dilemma was the fact that the British were feeding about fourteen thousand Native Americans—the warriors who had agreed to fight with the British, as well as their families—at Amherstberg, Ontario, where the Royal Navy was based.

By mid-August, Perry was ready to face the British with his nine warships. His squadron consisted of the USS Lawrence (which Perry commanded) and the USS Niagara (under the command of Lieutenant Jesse Elliott; 1782-1845), each equipped with twenty guns; the Caledonia (three guns); the Somers (two guns); the Trippe (one gun); and the gunboats Tigress, Porcupine, Scorpion, and Ariel, each with one to four guns. Barclay's six-ship opposing squadron included the HMS Detroit (eleven guns), the HMS Queen Charlotte (seventeen guns), the Lady Prevost (thirteen guns), the General Hunter (ten guns), the Little Belt (three guns), and the Chippeway (one gun). The U.S. squadron carried a crew of 532, while the British had 440.

Perry took his fleet to Put-in-Bay, located on Bass Island in the western end of Lake Erie. From this position he planned to disrupt the British supply lines and engage them in battle if possible. But it was Barclay who, just before noon on September 10, sparked the battle by opening fire on the U.S. squadron. (Lack of adequate food for his troops, as well as money to pay them, had forced Barclay into action; beating the Americans would relieve these pressures by opening up the British supply route). Aboard the Lawrence —flying its dark blue flag printed with the last words of Captain James Lawrence (1781-1813) during an earlier sea battle, "Don't Give Up the Ship"—Perry gave the order to engage the enemy.

The British and U.S. ships quickly moved towards each other, except for the Niagara which held back for some unknown reason. They fought intensely for about two hours. All the ships were damaged, but especially the Lawrence, and casualties were extremely high: 80 percent of Perry's crew was killed or wounded, and some of the wounded were ordered to continue fighting.

The situation looked hopeless, but Perry refused to surrender. Instead he made a daring move that, miraculously, worked: he climbed into a small boat with four crewmen who rowed him safely through a hail of gunfire to the Niagara. The Lawrence surrendered to the British, but due to all the damage to their ships, they were not able to claim their prize. In the meantime, Perry returned to the battle aboard the Niagara.

Meanwhile, Barclay had been severely wounded, and many other British officers were either dead or wounded. With all of his ships badly damaged, and lacking the sailors and officers necessary to continue the fight, Barclay surrendered. In accordance with naval tradition, he offered his sword to Perry, but Perry told all the British officers to keep their swords in honor of their brave and honorable performance.

In Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812, John R. Elting states "No major sea battle was ever more sternly and valiantly fought." Perry was praised for making the best possible use of his limited resources and for his personal courage under fire. In a note to Harrison soon after the battle, Perry wrote, "We have met the enemy and they are ours…," as related by Elting. This memorable phrase added to Perry's fame, and has continued to be widely quoted and used, even by people who do not know its source!

In addition to making Perry famous, the Battle of Lake Erie turned out to be the most important battle fought on the Great Lakes. It shifted the balance of power in favor of the United States, and it seemed to make up for the disheartening losses of 1812. The victory also paved the way for Harrison to chase the British back along the Thames River, and to achieve another U.S. success at the Battle of the Thames.

Harrison's troops pursue the British

Following his troops' failure to take Fort Meigs, Procter marched his troops back to the British base at Amherstberg. But the U.S. victory on Lake Erie made it impossible for them to stay there, because their supply lines were now cut off. Procter prepared to withdraw his troops, moving east along the Thames River. This plan was met with strong protests from Tecumseh and his followers, who had been promised land in the event of British victories. Tecumseh already held a very low opinion of Procter, and now he compared him—as reported in the Niles Register (a newspaper published in Baltimore, Maryland) several months later—to "a fat animal, that carries its tail upon its back, but when affrighted…drops it between its legs and runs off."

Despite Tecumseh's scorn, Procter's troops retreated. At the same time, Harrison had been recruiting soldiers in northern Ohio. He convinced Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby (1750-1826), a veteran of the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and a hero in the state, to promise that he would fight alongside any Kentuckians who signed up. And 3,000 of them did, bringing Harrison's roster to 5,500 troops. In late September they gathered at the west end of Lake Erie. They quickly occupied Detroit and Malden, which had been abandoned by the British as they fled eastward. Although about 150 Pennsylvania militiamen refused to cross into Canada, but the Kentucky volunteers had no such qualms, and Harrison's troops began their pursuit of Procter's forces.

The Battle of the Thames

Held up by bad weather, poor roads, and the necessity of transporting a heavy load of supplies, Procter's troops moved slowly. They also neglected to burn the bridges they crossed. Both these factors allowed Harrison's men to overtake them. On October 5, near Moraviantown (located about fifty miles east of Detroit on the banks of the Thames), Procter's army turned to face its enemy. Procter had 430 soldiers and 600 Native American warriors under Tecumseh, while Harrison had 3,000 troops, including 1,500 cavalry (soldiers mounted on horseback) under the command of Congressman—and future vice president—Richard Johnson (1780-1850).

The battle was short, for the U.S. forces soon managed to surround the exhausted, hungry British soldiers and trap them in a crossfire. Even after the British had surrendered, the Native Americans were willing to keep fighting. Then the news spread that Tecumseh had been killed (possibly by Richard Johnson), and the warriors gave up. Although some American soldiers later claimed to have cut strips of skin from Tecumseh's body as souvenirs, other reports claimed that his corpse was carried away by his warriors and buried in a nearby swamp.

The victory at the Battle of the Thames (called the Battle of Moraviantown by the Canadians) was particularly sweet for the United States. Although casualties on both sides were relatively light, the Americans captured six hundred British soldiers and a large amount of supplies and equipment, including a cannon that had been taken from the British during the Revolutionary War and lost at the surrender of Detroit in 1812. Most important, though, was that thirteen months of British control of the Northwest had been brought to an end. In addition, the confederacy of tribes that Tecumseh hoped could protect Native American interests had crumbled with his death; this defeat would lead to greater opportunities for white Americans to move west.

After the battle, Procter was publicly scolded for his poor leadership during the retreat from Amherstberg and at the battle itself. Despite his status as the victor at the Thames and his having a much better reputation in general than Procter, Harrison's career also took a downturn. His continuing disagreements about strategy with Secretary of War John Armstrong soon led to his resigning from the army. Nevertheless, Harrison's fame as a war leader was established, and would help him win the presidency in 1840.

The northeastern frontier: An ill-fated plan to capture Montreal

The original U.S. plan for the 1813 campaign did not specifically include an invasion of Montreal, which was considered too well protected. In October, however, Armstrong changed his mind and ordered an attack on the city. This strategy was ill fated from the beginning, for two major reasons. First, the British had already established a strong foothold in the region when, in June, they had taken control of Lake Champlain. Located between New York and Vermont, Lake Champlain provided the British access to several important rivers and thus served as an important water route for transporting troops and supplies around the region.

The second factor that weakened the U.S. position was poor leadership. After Dearborn was fired, General James Wilkinson (1757-1825) was put in charge of northeastern operations, despite the unfavorable reputation he had earned as commander of troops in the Southwest. As recorded in Charles W. Elliott's Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man, Scott had called Wilkinson an "unprincipled imbecile," and he was widely viewed as untrustworthy.

Wilkinson arrived at Sacket's Harbor in August and met with Armstrong. The plan called for Wilkinson to approach Montreal from the west, traveling down the St. Lawrence River with seven thousand men while General Wade Hampton (1751-1835), who was in charge of U.S. forces stationed at Plattsburg, New York, moved up from the south with forty-five hundred troops. The plan was clouded by two issues. The first was the vagueness of the orders issued to the two generals. The second was Hampton's resistance to following Wilkinson's command. Hamilton resented the fact that Wilkinson had been appointed to supercede Hamilton as senior officer.

Hampton waited through September and October for specific orders to begin the invasion. He finally decided to take his troops up the Chateauguay River, heading for the point where it meets the St. Lawrence River, not far from Montreal; here he would join up with Wilkinson's force. When it came time to enter Canada, however, Hampton's forty-five hundred militiamen refused to cross the border, and the four thousand regular soldiers who continued with him were neither well trained nor had any experience in battle.

On October 26, Hampton's troops faced British troops under Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry (1778-1829) at the Battle of Chateauguay. Though far outnumbered, the British troops made so much noise by shouting and blowing bugles that the Americans assumed they were fighting a force of five or six thousand, and they fell back after only two hours of fighting. After the battle, Hampton heard that Armstrong had ordered the construction of winter quarters on U.S. territory, which suggested to him that the top leaders already considered the attack on Montreal a lost cause. Discouraged, Hampton took his troops back to U.S. territory. He would resign in March 1814.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson didn't manage to get his own force on the river until November 5. They were immediately beset by a host of problems, including bad weather and Wilkinson's erratic behavior, caused at least partly by his taking laudanum (a medication containing the strong drug opium) and whiskey to combat illness. At Chrysler's Farm (located on the north bank overlooking the Saint Lawrence River) on November 11, they encountered eight hundred British troops under the command of Colonel Joseph Morrison (1783-1826). Too ill to command, Wilkinson sent his troops into battle under General John Boyd (1764-1830).

Although they were outnumbered, the British troops were better trained and more experienced, and they drove the Americans back, inflicting 340 casualties and capturing 100 soldiers (the British suffered only 180 casualties). Wilkinson now called off the campaign to invade Montreal, and he set up winter quarters at French Mills, New York. There his troops spent a miserable winter, suffering from frostbite brought on by inadequate shelter and clothing, beset by sickness, and deprived of pay.

Wilkinson would be relieved of his command about three months later. He was charged with neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer (bad behavior by someone in a position of authority), drunkenness, and encouraging the disobedience of orders. Incredibly, Wilkinson was found innocent of these charges, and he returned to his New Orleans plantation.

Fighting Native Americans in the South

There also was fighting in the southeastern territories of the United States during 1813. Here, however, the enemy was not the British but the Creeks, a Native American people who occupied most of present-day Alabama as well as western Georgia. A civil war (conflict between two parties within a nation, rather than with an outside enemy) that broke out between different factions within the Creek nation led to brutalities against white settlers, requiring the U.S. government to take some kind of action. But U.S. leaders also thought the Creek War could provide an excuse to invade and conquer Spanish Florida—one of the underlying goals of American involvement in the War of 1812.

In 1810 the United States had taken control of much of western Florida (which was made up of what are now the states of Mississippi and Alabama), territory that the United States had a reasonable claim to anyway under the Louisiana Purchase. Eastern Florida (what is now the state of Florida) was still held by the Spanish. The United States was not at war with Spain, but Spain and Great Britain were allies in the wars being fought against Napoleon's French forces in Europe (see "Napoleonic Wars" in chapter 2). Spain had been weakened by the fighting at home and could spare few forces to defend its territory in North America.

Although the Creeks were initially fighting amongst themselves and not against the United States, the cause of their civil war had everything to do with white Americans and especially white American settlers. Guided by American Indian agent (a person assigned by the U.S. government to work with Native Americans) Benjamin Hawkins (1754-1816), a significant portion of the Creeks had adapted themselves to the ways of white people. Convinced that they must learn to fit in with white society or perish, they had learned to use white methods of agriculture (although many Creek men still considered farming women's work), they raised livestock, owned private property (instead of the joint ownership practiced in traditional Native American cultures), and had a tribal government.

Nevertheless, there were many Creeks who bitterly resented the encroachment of white settlers on native lands and the adoption of white culture. In 1811 the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whom the Creeks considered one of their own because his mother was a Creek, had visited the area, preaching his message of solidarity among tribes and a return to traditional ways. The older Creek chiefs resisted this message, but many of the younger warriors were persuaded by Tecumseh's message to rebel against their elders. The group was called the Red Sticks, which referred to the Creek custom of sending bundles of sticks to indicate the number of days until an event would occur: if the sticks were red, the event was war.

The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek

The Red Sticks were eager to fight to defend their lands and traditions, and they were inspired by the news of victories the British, with Native Americans fighting alongside them, had been winning against the United States in the northwestern territories. In addition, they knew that Spanish officials in Florida stood ready to help them. In early 1813, a small group of Red Sticks who had traveled north took part in the Raisin River massacre. On their way home, these warriors paused at a white settlement near Nashville, Tennessee, and murdered several white people.

When news of the murders reached Creek territory, Hawkins told the chiefs he would bring those responsible to justice. The chiefs decided to take matters into their own hands, and they had the guilty warriors killed. This action sparked a full-fledged civil war among the Creeks, and the older chiefs were forced to seek refuge with Hawkins. Red Stick raids and attacks on whites increased. Several influential Red Stick leaders came to the forefront, especially Peter McQueen (c. 1780-1820) and William Weatherford (also known as Red Eagle; 1780-1824; see biographical entry), both of whom were of mixed Native American and white heritage.

In July 1813 a group of Red Sticks went to Pensacola, Florida, to pick up some weapons that Spanish officials had promised them. They were returning to their own territory and had traveled about eighty miles north from Pensacola when, on July 27, they were attacked at Burnt Corn Creek by a force of Mississippi militiamen led by Colonel James Caller. The Battle of Burnt Corn—considered the opening battle of the Creek War (1813-14)—ended with the Americans fleeing. Even though the U.S. soldiers escaped with all of the Red Sticks's supplies, the Red Sticks felt they had won this confrontation, and news of the victory helped them recruit even more warriors.

The massacre at Fort Mims

The next major event of the Creek War took place on August 30 at Fort Mims, Alabama, about forty miles north of Mobile. Many families in the region were seeking protection at various forts and stockades, and there were about 300 people huddled at Fort Mims, including 120 militia under the command of Major Daniel Beasley. The major took a very relaxed approach to defense, and he and his men were completely surprised by the Red Stick attack; Beasley received a fatal wound while he was trying to close a gate that had been open so long that sand had drifted against it.

The attacking warriors killed about 250 people, including women and children who were slaughtered after the fort had already fallen to the Red Sticks. A few survivors were able to escape, and most of the African American slaves present were allowed to live, though they were then taken as slaves of the Red Sticks. All along the frontier, from the north to the south, news of the massacre at Fort Mims spread terror among the white settlers, and soon it became clear that the United States would have to counter the Native American violence.

A campaign against the Red Sticks

Secretary of War John Armstrong appointed Major General Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) to coordinate the various state militias in a combined campaign against the Creeks. That annoyed Major General Thomas Flournoy (1775-1857), who was already commanding an army that occupied much of the Creek territory. Nevertheless, the expedition went ahead. Brigadier General Ferdinand L. Claiborne (1773-1815) of the Mississippi militia was to lead his troops to where the Coose and Tallapoosa rivers met, joining militia from eastern Tennessee (under Major General John Cocke; 1772-1854), western Tennessee (under Major General Andrew Jackson; 1767-1845) and Georgia (under Major General John Floyd; 1783-1837).

The Mississippi forces were closest to Creek territory, but their progress was held up when the still-angry Flournoy withdrew some of his troops from the campaign. They were late to arrive on the scene and didn't meet any Red Sticks until December, when they defeated a Red Stick force at a place called the Holy Ground. Floyd's progress was similarly slow, held up by a lack of food to sustain his forces and the fact that the enlistment terms of many of his militiamen ended before they even saw the action. Floyd's troops did attack the Red Stick town of Autosse on November 29, but the Red Sticks escaped, and the Georgians did little else in the remaining month of 1813.

Meanwhile, Tennesseans had responded most enthusiastically to the call for help in taming the Red Sticks, even though they were the most removed from the Creek territory. In the fall of 1813, twenty-five hundred Tennessee militiamen gathered to take part in the campaign, including two who were to become legendary frontier figures: Sam Houston (1793-1863; later the governor of Texas), and Davy Crockett (1786-1836; who became a champion of "settlers' rights" in the Congress). They were commanded by Jackson, whose legendary toughness had earned him the name "Old Hickory" and who was very experienced in fighting Native Americans.

The Battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega

Jackson's men were the first to arrive in Creek Territory, pausing on the banks of the Coosa River, about fifteen miles south of the town of Gadsden, to build Fort Strother as their base of action. On November 3, Jackson sent General John Coffee (1772-1833) and nine hundred cavalry to attack the Red Stick village of Tallushatchee. Coffee employed the time-honored military strategy of forming troops in a semicircle in front of the enemy, then closing the loop after the enemy attacks. The plan succeeded. Two hundred Red Sticks were killed, and eighty-four women and children were captured; on the Americans side only five were killed and forty-one wounded.

On November 9, Jackson himself led his troops in an attack on the village of Talladega, where Native Americans friendly to the United States had been besieged by hostile Red Sticks. The troublemakers escaped, but Jackson's troops inflicted such heavy casualties on the Red Sticks that the U.S. Army considered themselves victorious.

While Jackson was leading the attack on Talladega, fellow-Tennessean Cocke was stirring up trouble. Resentful because he was supposed to become subordinate to Jackson as soon as the two armies met, Cocke went off on his own and attacked some villages. Unaware that Jackson had previously made a peace agreement with these towns, Cocke's actions renewed hostilities.

During the remaining month of 1813, Jackson's supplies ran lower and lower. Adding to that problem was the fact that many of his militiamen were eager to return to their homes, as their terms of required service would soon expire. Jackson tried to keep his force intact, even resorting to threats if the men left, but finally he had to let them go. He was left at Fort Strother with less than 150 soldiers, and it would not be until early 1814 that the reinforcements necessary to continue the war against the Red Sticks would arrive.

The British bolster their naval forces

Although the inland war went better for the United States in 1813, the action on the high seas came almost to a standstill. That happened because the British finally realized that they had underestimated U.S. naval strength and were going to have to make more of an effort to oppose it. They increased their naval force in U.S. waters by one hundred ships of various sizes and used their naval power in three important ways: 1) through blockades of ports and harbors, which meant that U.S. ships that ventured out on the high seas would risk immediate attack; 2) through raids on towns along the East Coast; and 3) through actual battles at sea.

Experienced naval officer John Borlase Warren (1753-1822) was in charge of Royal Navy forces in the North Atlantic and Caribbean regions. His superiors had told him to put a quick end to the naval war. In the fall of 1812, Warren had established a blockade that extended from Charleston, South Carolina, to Florida, and with the arrival of a bigger fleet of ships in 1813 he was able to extend the blockade north to the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays as well as various other harbors and ports in the middle and southern states.

By November 1813, the whole Atlantic coast south of New England was blockaded. The British left New England alone due partly to that region's opposition to the war and partly because merchants there were sending goods to British troops in Canada and the West Indies. The blockade had a disastrous effect on the U.S. economy, causing a serious drop in foreign trade that deprived the government of the money it usually earned from taxes on imports. Domestic trade also was damaged, since merchants had to rely on overland transport of their goods, and bad roads made such transport difficult.

The blockades caused both over-supply and shortages of goods, resulting in some cases in ridiculously high prices; for example, a barrel of flour that cost $4.50 in Richmond, Virginia, cost $8.50 in New York and almost $12 in Boston. Because so few imported goods were being brought into the United States, people began panic-buying, and the prices of coffee, tea, sugar, salt, cotton, molasses, and spices doubled, tripled, and sometimes even quadrupled.

Cockburn harasses the Chesapeake Bay area

Warren assigned Admiral George Cockburn (1772-1853; pronounced coe-burn) the task of harassing the towns and cities along the East Coast of the United States, especially the Chesapeake Bay area. Cockburn's job was to destroy as many warships and as much government property as he could, while also disrupting trade along the coast. Another of his important aims was to show Americans firsthand the costs and perils of going to war with the Mistress of the Seas (Great Britain's nickname).

In late April 1813, Cockburn's forces attacked and burned Frenchtown, Maryland, and destroyed some ships in the harbor. They spent the next twelve days roaming freely through the region, raiding and burning other Maryland towns, including Havre de Grace, Principio, Georgetown, and Fredericktown. In mid-June, attracted by the prospect of capturing the USS Constellation, Cockburn directed an attack on Norfolk, Virginia, but the British were pushed back by the defending militia.

Cockburn's troops launched a more successful attack on Hampton, Virginia, on June 25, easily brushing aside the 450 militiamen who attempted to defend the town. The citizens of Hampton suffered greatly from the actions of the occupying troops, who were said to have pillaged the town, stealing and destroying private property as well as committing rape and murder. Cockburn would later claim that the evil deeds had all been done by Canadian chausseurs, deserters from the French army who had chosen to fight on the side of the British rather than go to jail.

"Don't give up the ship"

There were very few sea battles in 1813 because so few ships could get out of U.S. ports. The United States won only one major sea battle. Out of one of its defeats, however, came a phrase that was to serve as a rallying cry of sailors for the rest of the War of 1812 and even future conflicts.

In May 1813 Captain James Lawrence was given command of the USS Chesapeake, a frigate fitted with fifty guns that was considered an unlucky ship, perhaps due to its involvement in the Chesapeake-Leopard affair in 1807. Cruising off the coast of Boston on June 1, the Chesapeake —flying a flag printed with the motto of the U.S. Navy, "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights"—met up with the HMS Shannon, carrying fifty-two guns.

The two ships lined up side by side and exchanged broadsides (firing all guns on one side of a warship at more or less the same time), and after only fifteen minutes the Shannon emerged victorious. Attired in his colorful dress uniform, Lawrence had made a conspicuous target on the deck of the Chesapeake, and he had been mortally wounded. Before dying, he had told his men, "Don't give up the ship." They were, however, forced to surrender the Chesapeake to the British.

The British were thrilled with this victory, which was their first defeat of a U.S. frigate. Coming after a long string of sea victories for the United States, it was a great morale booster to British at home and in North America. Meanwhile, Lawrence was given a hero's funeral, and his praises were sung by newspapers across the country. His dying words became the navy's new motto and the rallying cry of the War of 1812, and Commander Oliver Hazard Perry paid Lawrence a high tribute when he named his Lake Erie flagship after him.

Time is running out

Other naval actions at sea during 1813 included the defeat of the USS Argus (ten guns) by the Pelican (eleven guns) off the Irish coast on August 14. On September 5 the American ship Enterprise defeated the Boxer (both carrying fourteen guns) off the coast of Maine in a battle in which both ships' captains were killed. The frigate USS Essex (forty-six guns) cruised the Pacific doing a lot of damage to the British whaling industry, but in late 1813 it was virtually trapped at Valparaiso, Chile—a neutral harbor—by the British ships Phoebe and Cherub. In March 1814, the Essex would try to make a run for the open sea, but she would be caught and beaten by the British.

The blockades made the efforts of the privateers (private ships equipped with weapons and hired by a government to fight a war) even more valuable, but it was now more difficult for them to attack British merchant ships, which had started traveling in convoys (in groups, as a protection against attack). Privateers who stayed either in the West Indies or close to the British Isles had the best chances for success. The best example is probably the True-Blooded American, owned by an American living in Paris, France, which roamed British waters for more than a month. In that period the ships took twenty-seven prizes, occupied an Irish island for six days, and burned seven ships anchored in a Scottish harbor.

At the end of 1812, the United States had won some unexpected victories at sea and endured some unexpected defeats on land. A year later Great Britain reasserted its superiority on the sea (though not on the Great Lakes) while U.S. troops won some hard-fought battles on land. Yet the United States had not been able to take territory in Canada, and time was running out.

That was especially clear to anyone who kept an eye on events in Europe: in October Great Britain's allies had defeated forces led by French emperor and military general Napoleon I (1769-1821) at the Battle of Leipzig, and the British also had gained ground against Napoleon in Spain. Because Napoleon's fortunes had taken a turn for the worse, Great Britain could now begin to divert more soldiers and supplies to North America. Their approach had previously been defensive, but now they could afford to go on the offensive.

For More Information

Books

Brannan, John, ed. Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States, During the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1815. Manchester, N.H.: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1971.

Cleaves, Freeman. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939.

Coles, Harry L. The War of 1812. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

Dillon, Richard. We Have Met the Enemy: Oliver Hazard Perry, Wilderness Commodore. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.

Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Dudley, William S., and Michael S. Crawford, eds. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 1985 and 1992.

Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms!: A Military History of the War of 1812. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Press, 1991; Reprint, Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 1995.

Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1997.

Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Old Hickory's War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire. Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 1996.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Hollon, W. Eugene. The Lost Pathfinder: Zebulon Montgomery Pike. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949.

Moir, John. "An Early Record of Laura Secord's Walk." Ontario History. 51(1959): 105-08.

Sugden, John. Tecumseh's Last Stand. Norman: University of OklahomaPress, 1985.

Terrell, John Upton. Zebulon Pike: The Life and Times of an Adventurer. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968.

Web sites

"The War of 1812 Website." The Discriminating General. [Online] http://www.militaryheritage.com/1812.htm (accessed on November 26, 2001).

"War of 1812." Galafilm War of 1812 Website. [Online] http://www.galafilm.com/1812/e/index.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).

War of 1812-1814. [Online] http://www.members.tripod.com/~war1812/ (accessed on November 26, 2001).

"War of 1812—Forgotten War." History Central.com. [Online] http://www.multied.com/1812/ (accessed on November 26, 2001).

The Journals of Anne Prevost

Born January 1, 1795, Anne Prevost was the daughter of George Prevost, who served as governor in chief of Canada and commanded the British troops in North America from 1811 to 1815. Discovered in the mid-1990s among Prevost family papers, Anne's journals give the reader an idea of what life was like for the daughter of a government official and military officer living in Canada in the early nineteenth century. A teenager during the War of 1812, the journals reveal her loyalty to her father, who was faulted for his leadership during the ill-fated Battle of Plattsburg, as well as her crush on a British colonel. Prevost died before he could defend himself against the charges. Anne's mother soon also died, as did her brother and sister. She never married.

Declaration of War!

June 25 th: I was summoned in the midst of my French lesson to hear some news that had arrived. It was indeed an important piece of intelligence:—"America has declared War against England.…"

On this day I saw nothing before me but my Father's honour and glory. Although I knew how small a force we had to defend the Canadas, such was my confidence in his talents and fortune, that I did not feel the slightest apprehension.… I thought those abominable Yankees [Americans] deserved a good drubbing for having dared to think of going to War with England, and surely there was no harm in rejoicing that the War had happened during my Father's Administration, because I thought he was the person best calculated to inflict on the Yankees the punishment they deserved… Yet I must do myself the justice to say it was pure fame I longed my Father to win—I thought of fame more than of its accompaniments.…

The attack on Sackett's Harbour; and Anne's "beau ideal"

June 3rd: We heard that an attack has been made on Sackett's Harbour. My Father was there, and as much exposed to danger as any common soldier. Thanks be to the Almighty he is safe! The attack was made with only 800 men, and the American prisoners say their force was 3000. We were not altogether unsuccessful—we drove the enemy to their block houses—blew up a magazine [ammunitions storehouse], caused them to set fire to some valuable stores—took …150 prisoners, and then retreated to our ships.…

Sunday 6th: The 89th Regiment commanded by Colonel Morrison … arrived from Halifax. I took a great fancy to Colonel Morrison … and I always admired his character exceedingly and considered him as agreeable as he was excellent. He afterwards became quite a hero, and I used very blushingly to declare him to be my beau ideal.…

Summer of 1814; George Prevost arrives at Plattsburg

On the 30th August I made breakfast for my Father and his suite [soldiers]… previous to their departure.… I was most sanguine [hopeful] that something very brilliant would be achieved. I had often thought with regret that my Father had never yet been engaged in any bright affair—he had considered it necessary to conduct the defence of the Canadas with much caution—defence, not conquest was necessarily his object. But now I thought the time had arrived when all murmurs would be silenced.… Precious as was my Father's life, still I was so true a Soldier's daughter, I valued his renown even more.… I looked forward to certain Victory.…

Defeat at Plattsburg!

Monday 12th [1814], the mortifying news arrived that our Squadron was defeated, captured, and Captain Downie killed.… and when Mr. B. went on to say the Army is to retreat, it seemed to me I heard a death's knell [stroke of a bell] ringing in my ears. I never was given to shedding tears, far from it—but I now wept bitter tears—not for poor Captain Downie or his Squadron, but because the Army was to retreat without having first destroyed Plattsburg! I felt certain that however necessary this determination might be, it would bring the greatest odium [disgrace] on my Father—it would not be tolerated at a period especially when our troops were so perpetually victorious. That my Father acted from the purest motives, who can doubt. He must have known that not one individual in that Army could be blamed for the retreat but himself; he took upon himself all the odium which he knew would be exited by an unpopular measure, and acted as he thought best. As the fleet was lost, Plattsburg must have been abandoned as soon as captured.… The weather was very rainy and the difficulty of moving artillery, stores, etc., increased every hour.—But it is useless to dwell on this most painful subject. Military fame cannot be rescued by argument—like woman's honour it is sullied [dirtied] even by the breath of calumny [false and malicious accusation]. And I know too well that not even the gracious approval of my Father's services, which George IV granted to his family, is sufficient to raise his memory to the estimation which it merits.

Source: War of 1812. [Online] http://www.galafilm.com/1812/e/index.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).

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