One of the men who led this revolution in American military thinking was General Winfield Scott, a man so devoted to discipline, protocol and military pageantry that he would one day be given the nickname "Old Fuss & Feathers". The U.S. army began to get serious about training and discipline and would soon prove themselves a more dangerous opponent. However, as far as any great victory goes, they had waited too late to learn humility. In Europe, Napoleon had been defeated and the British lion began to roar as America could now be given the full attention of London. Soon 18,000 veteran British troops, some of whom had served in Wellington's brilliant Peninsular Campaign, were on their way to America to put those upstart Yankees in their place.
The Americans were buoyed by this victory and Brown and Scott continued their invasion northward confident of success and thinking that, finally, Canada was theirs for the taking. Yet, they were to meet a much more formidable force in their next engagement. The Crown Forces gathering to oppose them included British and Irish regulars, Canadian militia, Swiss mercenaries and Indian volunteers bringing their numbers to fully equal those of the United States. This army was under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond, a very competent officer, but also a Canadian. He had earlier led the Crown forces that took Ft Niagara and the benefit of having a Canadian officer in command of the troops defending his native soil was important and especially good for the morale of the Canadian militia.
Although the United States had improved in fighting ability, it was clear with this defeat in Canada that the initiative had slipped from their grasp. General Drummond pushed on in pursuit, and despite being stung at the siege of Ft Erie, the US forces eventually withdrew and the Canadian frontier on the Niagara was secured. With more troops arriving from Europe and across the Empire the Crown forces at last had enough strength to take the offensive against the United States. As the next phase of the war opened it would now be Crown forces invading the United States from Canada and from the sea. Sir George Prevost, the Governor-General of Canada, was charged with leading the counteroffensive into the American northeast.
Fortunately for the Americans, Lt. General Prevost was an extremely cautious man. Ironically enough, Prevost was one of the loyal Americans, having been born in New Jersey. He had been commander-in-chief in British North America since the outbreak of war, but had often clashed with his subordinates as he wanted all emphasis placed on defense while men like General Brock believed that only daring attacks would save Canada. Prevost, looking at the odds so heavily in America's favor, had refused any major offensive action and kept large numbers of reinforcements in reserve to guard Quebec City, though US troops never managed to advance anywhere close to that point. Nonetheless, as Governor-General of Canada the invasion of the United States was his duty and he did so with 11,000 troops and naval support down the Richelieu River. His goal was the control of Lake Champlain in order to give Britain control of the Great Lakes and Plattsburg, New York which had been the staging points for past American invasions of Canada. US forces in the area had been reinforced but still only numbered around 3,400 aided by a recently constructed naval flotilla on the lake.
|General Robert Ross|
Governor-General Prevost was determined to pay back the United States for pillaging and burning Toronto and the actions of the troops in each case is worth comparing. Advance units under Ross reached Capitol Hill on August 25 but when a British party was sent to parley under a flag of truce, they were fired upon by American partisans. The house was quickly destroyed and the British flag was raised over the city, it would be the first and only time in American history that an enemy nation would control the capitol city. However, whereas at Toronto American troops had gone on an uncontrolled rampage, at Washington discipline was retained and only government buildings were destroyed. In fact, the commanding British Admiral, George Cockburn was dissuaded from burning down the office of a notoriously anti-British newspaper when local ladies prevailed upon him the danger of the fire spreading to nearby houses. However, the Senate, House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, United States Treasury, Washington Navy Yard, the Patent Office and the Whitehouse itself were all put to the torch in retaliation for the destruction of the Canadian capitol.
|Francis Scott Key|
Continued next week with Part V - The End of the War