Nonetheless, these actions convinced both sides of the need to control the Great Lakes and in particular the Saint Lawrence River. Both sides geared up for a naval confrontation and US forces launched attacks into Canada. Of greatest significance was an attack on April 27 led by General Zebulon Pike. The original goal of US General Dearborn was Kingston across Lake Ontario, but when the British guessed his move and sent in reinforcements the Americans turned toward the capital of Canada, York, present-day Toronto. Roughly 2,000 American troops landed before the Crown forces under General Roger Sheaffe arrived to oppose them. Seeing that the cause was lost, Sheaffe destroyed the gunpowder stockpile as well as HMS Isaac Brock which was being built for battle on the Great Lakes. The explosion of the Isaac Brock killed the US General Pike but Sheaffe retreated to Ft York and the Canadian militia who remained behind were forced to surrender. In an act that was to have far-reaching consequences, after the battle American troops pillaged and burned Toronto. Vital supplies meant for the Great Lakes squadron and Detroit were destroyed, but the Americans also looted private homes and destroyed public buildings, including the Parliament. It was an act of cruelty that would not be soon forgotten. General Dearborn claimed to have conquered Ontario, but without taking Kingston as he had planned the sack of Toronto was meaningless and the US forces soon retreated back to their own soil. Nonetheless, the lack of the supplies that were destroyed was to play a part in deciding control of the Great Lakes.
Although there was no contesting British rule of the seas, the Americans decided on a major effort to gain control of the Great Lakes in the hope of stopping any further threat from Canada. On September 10, 1813 American forces attacked the British squadron in Lake Erie under the command of Master-Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry had two 20-gun brigs, a captured British brig and six schooners with which to attack the six Royal Navy vessels commanded by Commodore Robert Heriot Barclay. The two sides were not evenly matched since the American ships, were more numerous, and while the British ships were of better quality, they were not well equipped due to the destruction of so much of their supplies at Toronto and the crews were poorly trained or prepared for battle. Perry blocked the British into the western end of the lake near Put-in-Bay, Ohio and sailed in to destroy them. The British ships put up a terrific fight and the USS Lawrence, Perry's flagship, was totally wrecked with more than half the crew killed, forcing Perry to transfer his flag to the USS Niagara. He then went on to capture the British flagship, HMS Detroit and ultimately the rest of the British squadron as well, accepting the surrender of Commodore Barclay on the blood-soaked deck of the ruined Lawrence.
The US had finally won a victory on Canadian soil at the battle of the Thames, but its actual results were mixed. Canada was not conquered and Harrison knew he could not advance any further and retreated back to Detroit. The Northwest Territory was regained for the United States and with the death of Tecumseh the Indian alliance soon dissolved; so it was somewhat significant. The US had gained nothing, but they had taken back the British conquests of General Brock from the previous year. The area was to remain in American hands forever after, a fact more significant to the Indians who had been hoping the war would be an opportunity for them to take this territory back permanently. The strategic situation was not significantly changed and the British continued to make use of the St Lawrence River to supply Ontario. The US had gained enough courage and still harbored enough animosity to keep trying to conquer Canada.
On October 25, 1813 General Hampton, with 4,000 US regulars and state militiamen, met a small force of about 500 Indians and Canadian militia under the French Canadian lieutenant colonel Charles de Salaberry on the Chateauguay River. Salaberry delayed Hampton and with help from the local populace managed to dupe Hampton into believing he was outnumbered. The battle was light on violence, but heavy on theatrics as the Canadian and Indian troops put on such a show of force that Hampton was totally intimidated and soon retreated. Total American casualties were 250 while the Crown forces lost only about 21 men killed or wounded. Once again overwhelming American numbers had been defeated by clever bluffs and sheer guile. Nonetheless, Wilkinson, with 8,000 men, continued on with the operation until news of the ignominious defeat of Hampton, and the presence of British forces in his rear forced him to make an early landing at Morrisburg, Ontario. Incidentally, one of the British officers pursuing him, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morrison was an American, having been born in New York in 1783. On November 11, the rearguard of Wilkinson's army, numbering some 2,500 men, attacked Colonel Morrison, who had only 800 men, at the battle of Crysler's Farm near Cornwall, Ontario. Once again, the American forces were soundly defeated and took heavy losses. Wilkinson was forced to retreat and was eventually court-martialed for neglect of duty.
Continued Next Week with Part IV - The Third Year