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The offender, says an Italian proverb, never forgives; and it is a singular fact that the deepest resentments and the most implacable hatreds are not those arising from a sense of injuries received, but from injuries inflicted. The victim of a deliberate wrong seldom treasures up a purpose of revenge, or demands anything more than a restoration of his rights; but the oppressor always hates those who have escaped from his oppression.That wise old philosopher, Ben Franklin, who died within seven years after the acknowledgment of our country as a separate nation in 1783, foresaw, even then, what did not take place till more than twenty years after his death. He declared that the war which had just closed in the surrender of Cornwallis was only the war of Revolution, and that the war of Independence was yet to be fought. When, in June, 1785, George III. received John Adams as United States Minister at his court, he said: "I was the last man in the kingdom, Sir, to consent to the independence of America; but, now it is granted, I shall be the last man in the world to sanction a violation of it." If the King was sincere in this declaration, he must have had—as Lincoln said of himself when President—very little influence with the Administration; for, almost from the first, there was systematic disregard of the rights of the new nation, with an evident purpose to humiliate her people and cripple their commerce...
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Copyright © 2016 by Rossiter Johnson
Published by Endymion Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
CAUSES OF THE WAR.
THE DETROIT CAMPAIGN.
FIGHTS WITH THE INDIANS.
THE ‘BATTLE OF QUEENSTOWN.
WAR ON THE OCEAN.
MINOR BATTLES IN THE WEST.
WAR ON THE LAKES.
BATTLE OF THE THAMES.
WAR IN THE SOUTH.
NAVAL BATTLES OF 1813
PEACE NEGOTIATIONS.—CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE CREEKS.
BROWN’S CAMPAIGN ON THE NIAGARA.
THE SECOND INVASION OF NEW YORK.
OPERATIONS ALONG THE COAST.
THE WASHINGTON CAMPAIGN.
NAVAL BATTLES OF 1814.
THE HARTFORD CONVENTION.
THE CAMPAIGN ON THE GULF COAST.
FRANKLIN’S PREDICTION—BRITISH FEELING TOWARD THE United States—The Unsurrendered Posts—Indian Troubles—Impressment of Seamen—The Decrees and Orders in Council—Declaration of War.
The offender, says an Italian proverb, never forgives; and it is a singular fact that the deepest resentments and the most implacable hatreds are not those arising from a sense of injuries received, but from injuries inflicted. The victim of a deliberate wrong seldom treasures up a purpose of revenge, or demands anything more than a restoration of his rights; but the oppressor always hates those who have escaped from his oppression.
That wise old philosopher, Ben Franklin, who died within seven years after the acknowledgment of our country as a separate nation in 1783, foresaw, even then, what did not take place till more than twenty years after his death. He declared that the war which had just closed in the surrender of Cornwallis was only the war of Revolution, and that the war of Independence was yet to be fought. When, in June, 1785, George III. received John Adams as United States Minister at his court, he said: “I was the last man in the kingdom, Sir, to consent to the independence of America; but, now it is granted, I shall be the last man in the world to sanction a violation of it.” If the King was sincere in this declaration, he must have had—as Lincoln said of himself when President—very little influence with the Administration; for, almost from the first, there was systematic disregard of the rights of the new nation, with an evident purpose to humiliate her people and cripple their commerce.
It was hard for the British Ministry and British commanders to realize that those whom they had so lately attempted to chastise as rebels, that they might again tax them as subjects, were now, after their triumph in a long war, and by the terms of a solemn treaty, entitled to the same privileges on the ocean, and the same courtesies in diplomacy, that were accorded to the oldest nation of Europe. They knew as little of the spirit of the American people and the mighty destinies within the coming century, as of the resources of the vast continent which lay behind that thin line of civilization along the Atlantic coast.
This failure to realize, or reluctance to admit, that the people of America were no longer British subjects, and that the United States was an independent nation, was forcibly illustrated in England’s disregard, for thirty years, of an important portion of the Treaty of 1783. It was there stipulated that the military posts on our western frontier should be surrendered to our Government. Yet not only did the British forces retain possession of them, but from them they supplied the Indians with arms and ammunition, and instigated savage hostilities against the American settlements. Attempts have been made to deny this, but the proof is unquestionable.
Lord Dorchester, Governor of Canada, called a council of the Indian tribes, engaged to supply them with munitions of war, encouraged them to enmity against the United States, and gave them to understand that they would have the co-operation of his Government. These facts were published in British newspapers, and when the British Minister was asked to account for them, he could give no satisfactory answer. In pursuance of this policy, when war broke out, in 1812, the English commanders not only employed Indian allies, but offered and paid a regular bounty for American scalps. It seems incredible that such things could have been done, only seventy years ago, by one of the most enlightened governments on earth. And yet in our own day we have seen the performance repeated, when the English in South Africa armed the native savages with the best English rifles, that they might make war upon the peaceful and industrious Boers of the Transvaal Republic.
But our people had a grievance, of more than twenty years’ standing, which was even more serious than this. While the frontiersman was contending with British treachery and Indian ferocity, which combined to hinder the development of our inland resources, the American sailor—then the best in the world, as was proved by the result of the war—was confronted by a monstrous policy intended to check our growing commerce and recruit the English navy at our expense.
England was at this time the greatest commercial nation in the world. Her merchant ships and whalers were found on every sea, gathering and distributing the productions of every land. In herself she was but an island, not larger than one of our States—a very beautiful and fertile island, it is true; but if her jurisdiction had not extended beyond its borders, she would have been hardly more important than Switzerland or Sweden. But in her colonies and her commerce she was powerful. And now the finest of those colonies, casting off her authority in the only successful rebellion ever waged against it, were rapidly building up a mercantile marine that threatened to rival her own. They had thousands of miles of seacoast, with innumerable fine harbors; they had behind them, not a crowded island, but a virgin continent; the construction of their government and society was such that the poorest man before the mast might not unreasonably hope some day to command a ship. With all this, they were not involved in the wars which were then distracting Europe.
Being neutrals, of course they enjoyed those advantages which England has never been slow to reap when she herself has been a neutral while her neighbors were at war. Their ships could carry goods which in any other ships would have been seized by hostile cruisers. England was now—as she truly said, in extenuation of her depredation on American commerce—struggling for her very existence, against mighty armies led by the ablest general that had appeared since Alexander. Many of the most desirable ports were closed to her merchantmen, her entire coast was declared by Napoleon to be under blockade; and it was exasperating in the last degree to see these misfortunes redounding to the advantage of a people whom she had so lately treated as rebels and outlaws, whose military prowess she had affected to despise, until it had disarmed her legions and conquered an honorable peace. The motive that controlled British policy was plainly revealed in an editorial article which appeared in the London Independent Whig (January 10th, 1813), after the war had been begun and the British public had been astounded by the capture of two or three of their finest frigates. “Accustomed, as we have hitherto been, to a long and uninterrupted tide of success upon the watery element, and claiming an absolute and exclusive sovereignty over the ocean, to be defeated there, where we securely rested our proudest hopes and wishes, might reasonably be expected to check our insolence and mortify our pride. In this view of the case, and if we could not flatter ourselves that it would have the effect of inducing us to abate somewhat of our unwarrantable pretensions, and listen to terms of moderation and forbearance, our regret would be sensibly diminished; since even the misfortune, severe as it is, might be converted into a great and lasting benefit to the nation at large. But the mischief will not confine itself here; the charm of the invincibility of the British navy, like that of the Grecian warrior, being destroyed, the terror that has long preceded our flag, and commanded the abject homage of surrounding nations, will henceforward be dissipated, and every maritime power with whom we may be involved in war will fight with redoubled zeal, ardently and anxiously hoping to lower our ascendency and establish the freedom of the seas.” That was it exactly; they were afraid somebody would establish the freedom of the seas, and at that time the Americans seemed most likely to do it.
During the Napoleonic wars, in the early years of the present century, England’s navy consisted of about one thousand vessels. As she was recruiting this vast squadron by perpetual press-gangs, and maintaining its discipline by unstinted flogging, while at the same time the flourishing merchant marine of the United States was paying more liberal wages to men before the mast than could be obtained on the English merchantmen, it might have been expected that the number of desertions would only be limited by the number of opportunities to desert. Many of the deserters undoubtedly found employment on American ships, where British captains soon established the custom of searching for and reclaiming them. This was a gross violation of the sovereignty of the United States, for the deck of an American vessel is to all intents and purposes American territory; yet our Government permitted it, and only complained of what were considered its incidental abuses.
The troubles that followed from this beginning remind us of the fable of the camel and the tailor. England’s next step was to claim that no British subject had a right to enter any military or marine service but the British, and that any who did so might be taken by British authorities wherever found—just as if they were deserters.
But presently it appeared that something more was needed in order to give Great Britain the full benefit of these assumptions. An English war-vessel stops an American merchantman on the high sea, and sends an officer with armed men on board to inspect the crew and take off any that are British subjects. The officer selects some of the ablest seamen he finds, and claims them. Immediately a dispute arises; the seamen say they are American citizens—or at least not British subjects; the officer says they were born subjects of the English king, and can never throw off their allegiance. Here is a question of fact, and by all the principles of law and justice it would devolve upon the officer to prove his claim. But as the purpose was, not to do justice, but to recruit the British navy, the admission of any such principle would hardly answer the purpose. So the British Government set up the doctrine that the burden of proof rested with the accused; that is, any sailor who was unable to prove on the spot, to the satisfaction of the boarding officer, that he was not a British subject, was to be considered as such, and carried off to serve against his will on a British ship.
The English naval commanders were now fully equipped for this new method of recruiting, and it soon became the practice for them to board American merchantmen and take off as many of the best sailors as they happened to be in need of at the time, with very little reference to their nationality. Some of the men thus forcibly carried off were released by order of the Admiralty, on the application of the American Consul, with the apology that, as English and Americans spoke the same language and were of the same race, it was often difficult to distinguish between them. But as a matter of fact the sailors thus impressed included men of nearly every European nationality—Germans, Swedes, Danes, Portuguese, and even negroes. In 1811 it was believed that more than six thousand American sailors were serving under compulsion in the British navy; and Mr. Lyman, United States Consul at London, estimated the number at fourteen thousand.
This was only the natural result of the original error committed by our Government when it admit ted the right to search for and carry away deserters. And the impressments took place not only on the high seas but often within the three miles from shore to which a maritime country’s jurisdiction extends, and sometimes in the very harbors of the United States. Coasting and fishing schooners were robbed of their men, and occasionally fired upon and plundered; while of larger vessels bound for distant waters, the crews were sometimes so depleted by visit from a British man-of-war that the voyage was broken up and the ship compelled to return to port.
The greatest of these outrages was the capture of the Chesapeake, a United States frigate, by the British man-of-war Leopard, June 23d, 1806. The Chesapeake, which had just left Hampton Roads for a cruise, had not been put in fighting trim; not a single gun was ready for use. Her commander, Commodore James Barron, refused to permit a search for British deserters, and the Leopard thereupon fired several broadsides into her, when she struck her flag. Three of her crew were killed, and eighteen wounded. The Leopardcarried away four of her men, claiming them as deserters; but it was afterward proved that three of them were Americans, and they were released, while the fourth was tried and executed at Halifax.
When the Chesapeake returned to Norfolk, Va., with the news, it created the greatest excitement the country had seen since the Revolutionary war. Indignation meetings were held, and the people seemed almost unanimous in a desire to plunge at once into war. A schooner was sent to England by our Government, carrying instructions to the American Minister to demand apology and reparation. These were made, after a fashion; but the English Government refused to give up the right of search. President Jefferson, who thought anything, under any circumstances, was better than war, issued a proclamation ordering all British vessels of war then in United States waters to leave at once.
Meanwhile, England had attempted to revive what was known as “the rule of 1756.” During the war of that year she had tried to establish a rule that neutral nations were not at liberty to trade with the colonies of a belligerent power from which, in times of peace, they were excluded by the parent state. For instance, if in time of peace France permitted none but her own vessels to trade at the ports of certain of her colonies, she should not be allowed, when at war, to have that trade carried on for her in vessels belonging to a neutral nation; and if such vessels attempted it, they should be liable to capture and confiscation by cruisers of the nation which was at war with France. Such a regulation of course belongs to the domain of international law, and cannot be established by one nation alone. This rule had been frequently disregarded by England herself, and had never received the sanction of other powers; but by orders in council, of November 6th, 1793, she secretly instructed her naval commanders to enforce it against American vessels trading to the French colonies of the West Indies. The United States Government sent commissioners to London, English commissioners were appointed to meet them, and a treaty of “amity, commerce, and navigation” was concluded, which was ratified by both governments in 1795. Yet the capture and condemnation of American vessels went on almost as before.
In the early European wars of this century, the days of paper blockade—a blockade which consists merely in a proclamation, without the presence of armed vessels to enforce it—were not yet over, and on May 16th, 1806, England declared the whole coast of the Continent, from Brest to the mouth of the Elbe, to be in a state of blockade. Napoleon retaliated by issuing from Berlin a counter decree, dated November 21st, 1806, which declared the entire coast of Great Britain to be under blockade, and prohibited any vessel which sailed from a British port from entering a Continental port. England then, by orders in council, published November 17th, 1807, prohibited all neutral trade with France and her allies, except in vessels that had first entered a British port. As paper and ink were cheap, and by this time so little was left of the rights of neutrals that it was hardly worth while to regard them at all, Napoleon tried his hand at one more decree. Under date of Milan, December 17th, 1807, he proclaimed that any vessel which should submit to search by British cruisers, or pay any tax to the British Government, should be forfeit as good prize.
These so-called measures of retaliation—which became famous as the “orders in council,” and the “Berlin and Milan decrees"—had very little effect upon the people who were at war, but they laid some of the heaviest penalties of war upon the one maritime nation that was at peace with all. Instead of resorting to war at once, the United States Government, being as well able as any other to issue a foolish proclamation, laid an embargo, December 22d, 1807, upon all shipping in American ports, prohibiting exportations therefrom. This measure met with violent opposition in New England, which was more largely interested in commerce than any other part of the country. The coast of New England presented innumerable harbors, and her forests were full of the finest ship-timber, while in agriculture she could not compete with the States having richer soils and a less rigorous climate. Cotton-spinning was in its infancy, and the manufactures that were to employ her water-powers had not been developed. She naturally and properly looked to the carrying trade as her best means of livelihood. The orders in council and the Berlin and Milan decrees imposed great risks and unjust restrictions upon it, but did not altogether destroy it; the embargo suppressed it at once.
In March, 1809, Congress repealed the embargo, and substituted a system of non-importation and non-intercourse with France and Great Britain. Voyages to their dominions, and trade in articles produced by them, were prohibited; but it was provided that whenever either of those nations should repeal its decrees against neutral commerce, the restriction should be removed as to that nation.
This at last produced some effect, and the French Government revoked the Berlin and Milan decrees, the revocation to take effect on the 1st of November, 1810; the letter of the French Minister communicating the fact to the American Minister adding that it was “clearly understood that the English orders in council were to be revoked at the same time.” In August of that year, Hon. William Pinkney, United States Minister at London, laid this before the British Government, but was told that the English decrees would be revoked “after the French revocation should have actually taken place.” This was a most palpable evasion, since it is very common for treaties and governmental orders to contain clauses which render them operative only in certain contingencies, and it was the easiest thing in the world for England to give her revocation precisely the same form as that of France, when each would have put the other in force on the date named. If any further proof had been wanted that the British Government was determined to suppress American commerce, at least till her own ships could resume the carrying trade of the world, it was supplied when in 1812 Lord Castlereagh, Minister for Foreign Affairs, declared officially that “the decrees of Berlin and Milan must not be repealed singly and specially, in relation to the United States, but must be repealed also as to all other neutral nations; and that in no less extent of a repeal of the French decrees had the British Government pledged itself to repeal the orders in council.” That is, the rights of the United States as a neutral nation were not to be regarded by England, unless the United States could induce or compel France to regard not only these rights but those of all other neutral nations!
With this tangle of orders, decrees, and proclamations, with an important part of the Treaty of 1783 unfulfilled, with unlawful impressments daily taking place on the high seas, and with no disposition on the part of the chief aggressor to right these wrongs, it is difficult to see how negotiations could have been continued longer, or the alternative of war avoided. On the first day of June, 1812, President Madison sent a message to Congress, in which he set forth the facts that necessitated war; Congress accordingly declared war on the 18th, and the next day the President proclaimed it. On the 23d, before this news was received, England revoked her orders in council, thus removing one of the grievances, but still leaving those which amply justified the declaration.
It thus appears that the immediate and specific causes of the war of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain were complex; but the general cause, the philosophic reason, was simply the determined purpose manifested by England to nullify and render valueless the political independence gained by the American colonies in the Revolution.
Since the inauguration of President Jefferson, in 1801, the Government had been in the hands of the Republicans, and all measures looking toward war with England were opposed by the party out of power—the Federalists. The young reader must not be confused by the change of names which political parties have undergone between that day and this. The Republican party of Jefferson’s day was the predecessor of what is now called the Democratic party; while the Republican party of our own day is to some extent the successor of the Federal party of that day. Presidents Washington and Adams were Federalists, or what would now be called Republicans; Presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were Republicans, or what would now be called Democrats.
The Federalists in Congress protested against the declaration of war; and this protest was repeated in every possible form by the Federal newspapers, by mass-meetings, in numerous political pamphlets, and even in many pulpits. The opposition was especially strong in the New England States. The arguments of those who opposed the war were, that the country was not prepared for such a struggle, could not afford it, and would find it a hopeless undertaking; that the war policy had been forced upon Madison’s administration by the Republican party, in order to strengthen that party and keep it in power; that if we had cause for war with England, we had cause for war with France also, and it was unreasonable to declare war against one of those powers and not against both. The last argument was the one most vehemently urged, and the war party was denounced and sneered at as making our Government a tool of France. There was a certain amount of truth in each of these propositions. The country was poorly prepared for war at all, least of all with the most powerful of nations. Madison probably had been given to understand that unless he recommended a declaration of war, he need not expect a renomination at the hands of his party. And we certainly had cause of war with France, whose cruisers had captured or destroyed many of our merchantmen. But the position of the Federalists on this question furnishes a singular example of the fact that an argument may sometimes be true in each of its parts, and yet incorrect in its grand conclusion. It seldom happens that any people are prepared for a just and defensive war; they begin their preparations for such a contest after the necessity is upon them. While a portion of the Republican party were undoubtedly actuated by selfish motives, as is the case with some portion of every party, the greater part were unquestionably patriotic, and advocated war because they believed it to be necessary. The crowning argument—that the United States had a grievance against France as well as England, and should make war on both if on either—would have been unanswerable if it had been a moral warfare that was in question. But in military matters it is necessary to consider what is practicable as well as what is logical. For our Government to attempt to fight England and France at the same time, would have been simply suicidal. A good general strives to divide his foes, instead of uniting them. The shrewd thing to do was, to declare war against one only, and by saying nothing of any grievance against the other, make of that other either an ally or a neutral. Then if the war was successful on our part, it would put an end to the outrages complained of, not only on the part of the nation with whom we had fought, but also on that of the other; or if not, a war with the second offender would almost necessarily have the same result. The only question was, with which of those great European powers we should attempt to cope in battle. It was not difficult to decide. England was by far the greater offender. Not only had she done more than France to cripple our commerce, but she still held military posts on our frontier which she had solemnly agreed to give up, and kept the savages in a state of perpetual hostility to our western pioneers. England had colonies contiguous to our territory on the north, which we might make the battle-ground; France had no territory that would serve us for such a purpose. England was the power that our people had been compelled to fight thirty years before, to escape from oppression; France was the power that had assisted us in that war. Mr. Madison’s Administration was right in the conclusion that war could no longer be avoided, if the United States was to maintain an honorable place among nations; and right in the determination to wage it against England alone. But for the manner in which it began and conducted that war, the Administration was open to the severest criticism.
FIRST BLOODSHED—ATTITUDE OF POLITICAL PARTIES—PLANS for Invading Canada—Capture of Michilimackinac—Engagements at the River Raisin and Maguaga—Battle of Chicago—Hull’s Surrender.
It was perhaps characteristic of the conduct of the war, that the first blood spilled should be American blood, shed by Americans. This occurred in a riot, occasioned by high party feeling, and it is a curious fact that it took place in the same city where the first blood was shed, also by riot, in the great war of the Rebellion, half a century later. In the night of June 22d, three days after the proclamation of war, a mob in Baltimore sacked the office of the Federal Republican, edited by Alexander Hanson, because he had opposed the war policy. The mob also attacked the residences of several prominent Federalists, and burned one of them. Vessels in the harbor, too, were visited and plundered. About a month later Hanson resumed the publication of his paper, and in the night of July 26th the mob gathered again. This had been expected, and Hanson was ready for them. A large number of his friends, including Generals James M. Lingan and Henry Lee, offered to assist him in protecting his property. When the rioters burst into the building, they were at once fired upon, and one of them was killed and several were wounded. The authorities were slow and timid in dealing with the riot; and when at length a force of militia was called out, instead of firing upon the mob, or capturing the ringleaders, they arrested Hanson and his friends, and lodged them in jail. The rioters, thus encouraged by those whose business it was to punish them, attacked the jail the next night, murdered General Lingan, injured General Lee so that he was a cripple for the rest of his life, and beat several of the other victims and subjected them to torture. The leaders of the mob were brought to trial, but were acquitted!
In this state of affairs, the war party in the country being but little stronger than the peace party, the youngest and almost the weakest of civilized nations went to war with one of the oldest and most powerful. The regular army of the United States numbered only six thousand men; but Congress had passed an act authorizing its increase to twenty-five thousand, and in addition to this the President was empowered to call for fifty thousand volunteers, and to use the militia to the extent of one hundred thousand. Henry Dearborn, of Massachusetts, was made a major-general and appointed to command the land forces. Against the thousand vessels and one hundred and forty-four thousand sailors of the British navy, the Americans had twenty war-ships and a few gunboats, the whole carrying about three hundred guns.
But these figures, taken alone, are deceptive; since a very large part of the British force was engaged in the European wars, and the practical question was, what force the United States could bring against so much as England could spare for operations on the high seas and on this side of the Atlantic. In that comparison, the discrepancy was not so great, and the United States had an enormous element of strength in her fine merchant marine. Her commerce being temporarily suspended to a large degree, there was an abundance both of ships and sailors, from which to build up a navy and fit out a fleet of privateers. Indeed, privateering was the business that now offered the largest prizes to mariners and ship-owners. Yet so blind was President Madison’s Administration to the country’s main strength and advantage, that he actually proposed to lay up all the naval vessels, as the only means of saving them from capture. Of what use it would be to save from capture war-vessels which were not to sail the sea in time of war, he seems not to have thought. From this fatal error he was saved by the pluck and foresight of Captains Stewart and Bain-bridge. Those two officers happened fortunately to be in Washington at the time, and succeeded in persuading the Administration to give up this plan and order the vessels fitted for sea at once.
War with Great Britain being determined upon, the plan of campaign that first and most strongly presented itself to the Administration was the conquest of the British provinces on our northern border. This had been attempted during the Revolution without success, but none the less confidence was felt in it now. And it was certainly correct in principle, though it proved wofully disastrous in the execution. It is observable that in all recent wars, the party on whose ground the fighting has taken place has been in the end the losing party. Thus the Mexican war in 1846-7 was fought in Mexican territory, and the Mexicans were defeated. The Crimean war was fought in Russian territory, and the Russians were defeated. The war between France and Austria, in 1859, was fought in Austrian territory, and the Austrians were defeated. The Schleswig-Holstein war was fought in Danish territory, and the Danes were defeated. The war between Prussia and Austria, in 1866, was fought in Austrian territory, and the Austrians were defeated. The Franco-German war of 1870 was fought in French territory, and France was defeated. The Russo-Turkish war of 1877 was fought in Turkish territory, and the Turks were defeated. The war of the American Rebellion was fought in territory claimed by the rebels, and they were defeated. It only needs that a war should continue long enough for us to see where the battle-ground is to be, and we can then tell what will be its result. The reason is obvious. A nation that is strong enough to carry the war into its enemy’s country, and keep it there, will certainly prove strong enough to win in the end, unless interference by some other power prevents it; while a nation that is too weak to keep war, with all its devastation and ruin, out of its territory, must certainly be defeated unless assisted by some neighboring people. The invaders may, and probably will, lose the greater number of men in the pitched battles; but it is not their harvests that will be trampled, not their mills that will be burned, not their bridges that will be blown up, not their homes that will be desolated, not their families that must fly for shelter to the caves and the forests. Their sources of supply are untouched. This principle was recognized by Scipio, when he declared that the war with Carthage “must be carried into Africa.” As England claimed to be mistress of the seas, and practically the claim was almost true, the determination to send our little navy and a fleet of privateers against her was essentially carrying the war into English territory. And as this part of the contest was conducted with skill and valor, it was gloriously successful.
An invasion of Canada being determined upon, the first question that necessarily arose was, at what point that country should first be attacked. To any one not skilled in military science the most obvious plan would seem the best—to march as large a force as possible, without delay, into Canada at the nearest point. A young officer, Major Jesup, of Kentucky, sent a memorial to the Secretary of War, in which he set forth a totally different plan from this. He proposed that a strong expedition should be fitted out to capture and hold Halifax, which was then a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants, with the most important harbor in the Canadian provinces. As a precedent, he could refer to the capture of Louis-burg in 1748. But the Secretary, Hon. William Eustis, of Massachusetts, spoke of it contemptuously as “a very pretty plan,” and set it aside. Yet it was sound in principle, and if properly carried out could hardly have failed to secure important results. In striking an enemy on the flank, it is always desirable, to choose that flank by which he holds communication with his base. A blow on the other flank may inflict injury, but it only drives him back toward his base. A movement that cuts him off from such communication compels him either to surrender or to fight at great disadvantage Canada’s base—for many supplies, and largely for soldiers—was England. The port of Quebec was frozen up nearly half the year, and the occupation of Halifax by an American force would have gone far toward severing the connection between the provinces and the mother country. That harbor, too, was all-important for the refuge and refitting of British naval vessels on this side of the Atlantic.
Looking at the matter as purely a military problem, it was a pity that this brilliant plan was not adopted. But in a larger consideration it is probably fortunate for us that it was not. It might have resulted—indeed, that was contemplated in the plan—in leaving the Americans, at the close of the war, in possession of Canada. As the structure of our government almost precludes the holding of conquered provinces as such for any length of time, the Canadas must have soon become States of the Republic. But, so far from that being desirable in 1815, it may be doubted whether even yet the time has arrived when it would be wise to incorporate that undesirable population, in a body as they are, with the people of the United States.
In planning for the invasion of Canada, the Administration counted largely upon a supposed readiness of the Canadians to throw off their allegiance to Great Britain and join with the United States. Such expectations have almost never been realized, and in this instance they were completely disappointed.
In the preceding February, William Hull, Governor of the Territory of Michigan, who had rendered distinguished service in the Revolution, had been made a brigadier-general and placed in command of the forces in Ohio, with orders to march them to Detroit, to protect the Territory against the Indians, who were becoming troublesome. In June he was in command of about two thousand men, in northern Ohio, moving slowly through the wilderness. On the day when war was declared, June 18th, the Secretary of War wrote him two letters. The first, in which the declaration was not mentioned, was despatched by a special messenger, and reached General Hull on the 24th. The other informed him of the declaration of war, but was sent by mail to Cleveland, there to take its chance of reaching the General by whatever conveyance might be found. The consequence was, that he did not receive it till the 2d of July. But every British commander in Canada learned the news several days earlier.
Hull arrived at Detroit on the 5th of July, and set about organizing his forces. On the 9th he received from the War Department orders to begin the invasion of Canada by taking possession of Malden, fifteen miles below Detroit, on the other side of the river, if he thought he could do so with safety to his own posts.
He crossed on the 12th, and issued a proclamation to the Canadians. In this he told them that he came to do no injury to peaceable citizens, who might remain at their homes and pursue their usual occupations in security; that he neither asked nor needed their help, but would accept the services of such as might volunteer; and that no quarter would be given to any who adopted Indian modes of warfare or were found fighting in company with the savages who were accustomed to scalp prisoners and murder non-combatants. After the campaign had resulted disastrously, General Hull was censured and ridiculed for this proclamation; but a copy had been transmitted to the Secretary of War, and approved by him; and indeed, if a proclamation was to be issued, it is difficult to find any serious fault with Hull’s. The error was in issuing any at all—a thing which a general seldom does with any good effect.
Hull fortified his camp on the east side of the river, and while waiting for his artillery sent out reconnoitring parties toward Fort Malden, and detachments to bring in supplies. As his troops grew impatient, he called a council of war, explained the situation to his officers, and offered to lead them in an attempt to carry the fort by storm, without waiting for artillery, if they thought their men could be relied upon for such an enterprise. Colonel Miller answered that his regiment of regulars could be depended upon for anything they might be ordered to do; but the three militia colonels very wisely answered that raw militia could not be expected to storm a fortified place, unaided by artillery—one of the most hazardous of all military exploits.
So it was decided to defer the attack, and in a few days came the news that on the declaration of war, a force of over six hundred—British and Indians—had promptly moved against the American post at Michilimackinac—on the rocky little island of Mackinaw, commanding the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan—and the garrison of sixty-one officers and men capitulated on the 16th of July. This disaster to the Americans roused the Indians to renewed hostility against them, while it proportionately disheartened Hull, and seems to have been the first step in the breaking down of his courage. After a few skirmishes, he recrossed to Detroit on the 7th of August.
Meanwhile the British Colonel Proctor had arrived at Malden with reënforcements, and on Hull’s withdrawal to Detroit he threw a force across the river to intercept his supplies. This force consisted of a small number of British regulars and a considerable number of Indians commanded by the famous Tecumseh.
Learning that a supply train, accompanied by a few volunteers, was coming to him and had got as far as the River Raisin, about thirty-five miles south of Detroit, General Hull sent out a detachment of about two hundred men, under Major Thomas B. Van Horne, to meet it and escort it to camp. This detachment was attacked by the British and savages at Brownstown, twenty miles from Detroit. Van Horne was surprised, and retreated to the edge of a wood. His men behaved badly, and could not be got into line, another retreat was ordered, and finally they ran away in confusion, having lost eighteen killed, twelve wounded, and seventy missing.
Hull sent out another detachment, of six hundred men, under Lieutenant-Colonel James Miller, to open communication with the supply train, which was more fortunate. At Maguaga, fourteen miles from Detroit, they came upon the enemy intrenched behind a breastwork of logs. The British were commanded by Major Muir, the savages by Tecumseh.
Miller at once ordered a bayonet charge, which his men executed in gallant style. The enemy were driven from their works, after some hard fighting, and pursued for two miles. They finally reached their boats, and crossed to Malden, but nearly a hundred Indians lay dead on the field, and the English had lost fifteen killed and forty wounded. The American loss was fifteen killed and sixty wounded. Instead of pushing on to the River Raisin, and securing the supplies. Colonel Miller returned with his command to Detroit.
As the direct road on which all these operations had taken place lay along the river-bank, in sight of the enemy and exposed to the fire of his gunboats, Hull now sent out a detachment under Colonels McArthur and Cass, to escort the train by a circuitous route, farther from the river.
During this gloomy state of things at Detroit, a bloody affair took place on ground that is now within the city of Chicago. Fort Dearborn stood at the mouth of Chicago River, and was occupied by a garrison of about fifty soldiers, with several families. Captain Nathan Heald, commanding the post, had been ordered by General Hull to abandon it and remove his force to Detroit. With so small a force, moving more than two hundred miles through a wilderness in time of war, it was especially desirable to retain the good will of the Indians. Captain Heald accordingly called a council of those who professed to be friendly, told them of his intended movement, and promised to give them all the property in the fort that he could not take with him, at which they were greatly pleased. But in the night, knowing their intemperance and fearing their treachery, he destroyed all the alcohol, firearms, and gunpowder which he could not take away. These were the very articles that the Indians most highly valued, and when, after his departure next morning (August 15th), they discovered the trick that had been played them, they were very much enraged, and hurried on to overtake him. He was moving slowly southward along the shore of the lake, when the crest of a low range of sand-hills on his right was suddenly lighted up with a blaze of musketry. The savages were there in ambush, mercilessly firing upon the little caravan. As quickly as possible the wagons were drawn up together, and the women and children given shelter in and behind them, while the soldiers stood their ground, and returned the fire of the Indians. It was a brave and bloody fight, and when some of the men had fallen the women took up their rifles and fired upon the savages with all the courage and coolness of soldiers. But after heavy losses, the survivors of the party were compelled to surrender. In the course of the fight, an Indian had made his way to the wagons, and, springing into one in which twelve children had been placed, tomahawked every one of them. The victorious savages scalped all the wounded, claiming that they had not been included in the capitulation, and the bloody trophies were sold to Colonel Proctor, who had offered a premium for American scalps.
The fight near Fort Dearborn took place on the same day that the detachment under Colonels McArthur and Cass left Detroit. The next day, August 15th, the British General Isaac Brock, who had arrived at Malden a few days before and assumed command there, formally demanded the surrender of Detroit. This demand included a plain threat of massacre in case of refusal. Said Brock in his letter: “It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination; but you must be aware that the numerous bodies of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences.” This is a fine example of the art of putting things; The reader would suppose from Brock’s words—"the Indians who have attached themselves to my troops"—that the savages in red skins had insisted on accompanying the expedition in spite of the most strenuous efforts on the part of the savages in red coats to shake them off; whereas Brock had just held a formal council with the Indians, and regularly arranged the terms of alliance. Two years later, when peace was being negotiated, the British commissioners spoke of these Indians, not as an irresponsible force, but as regular allies, who must share in the treaty.
General Hull gave a defiant reply, ordered McArthur and Cass to return at once with their detachment, and made admirable arrangements to defend the place. In the afternoon there was an artillery duel between two twenty-four pounders in the fort and a British battery at Sandwich on the opposite side of the river.
Brock’s force, according to his own testimony, numbered 1330 men, including 600 Indians, and he had also two ships of war. Hull had present for duty about 1000 men. * Brock sent a large body of Indians across the river that night, at a point five
* It is impossible to reconcile the conflicting statements as to the numbers on either side.
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