Wednesday, April 11, 2012

War of 1812 Wednesday, Part III, 1813 - The Second Year

Continued from Part II

General Proctor
As the war entered its second year, there was to be more bad news for the United States and yet another defeat. General Harrison sent forces northward again against Detroit, but these were defeated in January by General Proctor and forced to surrender at Frenchtown on the Raisin River. This ended the attempt by Harrison to retake Detroit, but a more significant blow to American morale was yet to come. General Proctor turned the US prisoners over to the Indians who subsequently executed sixty of them in what became known as the Raisin River Massacre. The US made much of this brutal act, using the phrase "Remember the River Raisin" as a battle cry afterwards. General Proctor and Chief Tecumseh followed up this victory in May when they besieged Ft Meigs, Ohio, however a victory by Tecumseh over arriving US reinforcements was not enough to force the fort to surrender and the Crown forces fell back to Canada. A second attack was repulsed again in July and an effort by the Indians of Tecumseh to take Ft Stephenson was also defeated quite bloodily and the effort to take Ohio was abandoned.

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.

Laura Secord
The United States though, was still not giving up their goal of Canadian conquest and on May 27 captured Ft George without loss of life in an amphibious attack from Lake Ontario. The victory was illusory however as the British garrison was able to escape without injury and soon launched a counter-attack. In an extraordinarily audacious move some 700 British, Canadian and Indian troops commanded by John Vincent launched a pre-dawn surprise attack against 3,500 Americans under William Winder and John Chandler at Stoney Creek, Ontario on June 6, 1813. Both American generals were captured and the rest of the invasion force retreated once again. The Crown forces won another remarkable victory soon after at the Battle of Beaver Dams on June 24 which decided control of the Niagara peninsula. The British commander, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon was warned of the American attack by the heroic loyalist Laura Secord and decided on a bold attack. With only 50 soldiers and 400 Indians he ambushed 575 US regulars, bluffing them into believing that he had a massive army behind him and convincing the Americans to surrender. It was yet another embarrassing end for a US effort to invade Canada.

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.

General Harrison
This victory gave the Americans a much needed morale boost after suffering one defeat after another the previous two years of the war. Although in a broader sense of the naval war the victory at Lake Erie meant little in that Britain still ruled the Atlantic and was never seriously threatened at all by the US Navy, in fact, by March the British blockade extended all the way from Long Island to the Mississippi River, it did have the tactical benefit of giving the United States control of the Great Lakes and forcing the British to return to Detroit and allowing US forces to make another attack on Canada. Eager for revenge, General Harrison did just that the following month. As General Proctor pulled back to protect his supply lines Harrison followed him into Upper Canada. Proctor finally turned to face Harrison, as Tecumseh had been urging him to do for some time, on October 5, 1813 at the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown. As usual, all of the odds favored Harrison who had about 3,500 troops compared to General Proctor with 1,300 British and Indian soldiers. General Harrison ordered a frontal assault that broke the British lines, forcing Proctor to flee and many to surrender. Chief Tecumseh carried on fighting for a while longer but was killed in the battle, which broke the morale of the Indians and with US reinforcements moving in on them they too finally retreated.

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.

General Prevost
On the British side, Sir George Prevost, Governor-General of Canada, had cleared the upper St Lawrence of American troops and for a time life resumed in the area along the same lines as it did before the war. The American command therefore decided on an offensive up the St Lawrence with the ultimate goal of seizing Montreal, the second city of Canada. General James Wilkinson and General Wade Hampton were to lead the attack, starting from Sackett's Harbor. Earlier in the year a British attack on Sackett's Harbor led by Sir James Lucas Yeo had been repulsed by the United States and conditions for an attack seemed ideal. Yet, as with earlier attempts, things seemed to go wrong for the Yanks from the start. Hampton and Wilkinson disliked each other intensely and Hampton fell behind schedule in linking up with the troops under Wilkinson. The result was yet another American humiliation.

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

1 comment:

  1. Great work, Sir. Just one comment: "an effort by the Indians of Tecumseh to take Ft Stephenson was also defeated quite bloodily and the effort to take Ohio was abandoned." The assault on Ft.Stephenson was carried out by 500 men of the British 41st Light Infantry and 800 Natives from the West under Robert Dixon. Tecumseh was posted on the road to Fort Meigs with 2,000 of his Warriors to ambush any detachments coming to the aid of Croghan's garrison or to annihilate Croghan's force if they attempted to retreat. So Tecumseh played no role in the assault, and nearly all casualties were from the Redcoats of the 41st. The British left 27 dead on the field, at least 41 WIA, and 26 were captured(of 29 MIA, 26 Captured, 3 KIA). The Americans lost only 1 KIA and 7 WIA. I've always been interested in this conflict because of my Family's involvement. I've written several articles on the War of 1812, focused primarily on Harrison's "Army of the Northwest", which would more rightly be called 'Army of Kentucky', for out of the 3,500 that crossed into Upper Canada(ONT), only around 120 US Regulars under Col.George Paull(from Ohio) were not Kentuckians. My name is Jace Gabbard, and I had an article on the Battle of the Thames/Moraviantown published on the Bi-Centennial, 05 OCT 2013. If it is OK to do so, and if you have time, I'd like to send you a copy or better yet, give you th link to it. I'd appreciate it if you can read it&give me your honest opinion. And I'd like to start posting some here too, if you approve of my writing. Email: . Link to page: . Again, great work, Sir.


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