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Smart Deception Saves Montreal

Battle of the Chateauguay

Battle of the Chateauguay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems strange that films showing cowboys fighting Indians should be so popular on North American television.  Perhaps cowboys fared better than soldiers in the Indian wars, but certainly the Canadian Indians terrified American troops during the War of 1812.

A great French-Canadian military leader, Colonel Charles de Salaberry, probably saved Montreal from being captured in 1813 by using the Indians to scare off a strong American force.  While General Wilkinson was moving 8,000 American soldiers down the St. Lawrence  towards Montreal, General Wade Hampton was preparing to attack from Lake Champlain, with 4,000 regular infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and 10 guns.  After two days of heavy going through woods and marshes, his troops came to the Chateauguay stream in Canadian territory.

The British knew of the American plan and had sent de Salaberry to Chateauguay with four companies of his own Voltigeurs, (French militia, originally created by Napoleon I), Canadian Militia and 170 Indians.  De Salaberry established a strong defensive position, where the only road through the woods, led to a ford across the river.

The attack began on October 25 and continued through the following day.  Colonel de Salaberry  had his Voltigeurs defending an advance position and the ford.  At the same time he sent a company of militia, some Indians, and all his buglers into the woods across the river.   As de Salaberry expected, the Americans made a frontal attack on the forward position, while sending another force to try to take the ford.  They ran into strong opposition from the Voltigeurs in their defensive positions, who were deadly shots with their muskets.

Then the sound of bugles and the war cries of the Indians were heard, giving the impression that a military force was coming from Montreal.  The Americans were in such a state of panic that they began firing at each other!  General Hampton ordered them to withdraw, spent three days considering what his next move should be, and then decided to retreat.  Four thousand American soldiers had been turned back by 400 French-Canadians and their Indian allies.

When General Wilkinson heard that General Hampton had withdrawn, he also decided to give up.  Montreal had been saved.

Do you still want to read more about today’s post?  I can suggest a few sites to get you started.  There’s the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Royal Canadian Mint, and then the CBC’s Canada: a People’s History. And lastly I highly recommend you stop by the Government of Canada’s Heroes of the War of 1812.

 

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It Was All Over In Just A Few Minutes!

Location : Frieze of the Rotunda of the United...

Location : Frieze of the Rotunda of the United States Capitol “Death of Tecumseh” – Tecumseh, a brilliant Indian chief, warrior, and orator, is shown being fatally shot by Colonel Johnson at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada during the War of 1812. Tecumseh and his followers joined forces with the British to resist the encroachment of settlers on Indian territory. With Tecumseh’s death, however, the momentum and power of the Indian confederacy was broken. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commodore Perry‘s victory over British ships on Lake Erie (see my Sept.10 post “We Have Met the Enemy and They are Ours”) set off a chain reaction of events which had serious consequences for Canada.  General Procter, who was responsible for defending the area from Detroit to Burlington, had sent men and guns to Barclay’s fleet, and now they were lost.  He was left with only 900 regular troops, and about 1,200 Indians under Tecumseh.  Most of the Canadians in the militia had gone to their homes to harvest their crops.

Procter could be cut off from the British force at Burlington, and it was important to retreat, quickly.  He ordered his troops at Detroit to burn the fort there, and return to the Canadian side of the river.   Tecumseh was disgusted.  He did not really understand how the situation had been changed by Barclay’s defeat on Lake Erie, and he and his Indians wanted to stand and fight the Americans as they came.  Tecumseh told Procter he was like a dog running away with his tail between his legs, and asked the British to give their rifles to his Indians.  Feelings ran high, but finally Procter persuaded Tecumseh to move up the Thames Valley towards the present site of London.  From there, if necessary, they would be able to use Dundas Street, the old military road built by Simcoe, to join British troops at Burlington.

The Americans, especially the cavalry, advanced with great speed.  When Procter reached Moraviantown, 6 miles beyond Chatham, Tecumseh refused to move farther.   He had been wounded in rearguard fighting, and his Indians were deserting in large numbers.  He insisted on making a last-ditch stand at Moraviantown, and placed his Indians in a swamp.  Procter, who would not desert him, placed his men as effectively as possible.  There were only about 900 fighting men left in the joint British-Indian force.

The battle took place on October 5, 1813, and was over in a few minutes.  Tecumseh was killed, but his body was hidden so that it could not be mutilated by Americans seeking revenge.  Rumours of the day say they liked to take strips of skin from bodies, make them into razor-strops, and present them to members of Congress.  Fortunately, the Americans did not follow-up their advantage after winning the battle at Moraviantown.

Tecumseh played a part in the War of 1812, and he merits attention and recognition. So I urge you to learn more about him. As such, a few sites I recommend are the History.com, and the Friends of Tecumseh Monument, and then the Final Days of Tecumseh (a blog dedicated to Tecumseh, including “Like a hero going home’: A new play written by Marion Johnson with George Henry”), and finally, a good place to visit is the Town of Tecumseh.

 

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“We Have Met the Enemy and They are Ours”

Painting by William Henry Powell depicting Per...

Painting by William Henry Powell depicting Perry’s transfer to the Niagara during the Battle of Lake Erie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

September 10, 1813, was a black day for British forces in Canada.  The key to the situation was the naval strength on Lake Erie; the British needed superiority there to supply Colonel Procter’s force.  The job was entrusted to Captain Robert Barclay.  His opposite number for the Americans was Captain Perry.

Five of the American ships were at Black Rock, near the entrance to the Niagara River, but they could not get out because they would have been shelled by British guns at Fort Erie.  Perry’s ships at Presqu’Isle (now Erie, Pennsylvania) were also in a bad position.   There was a sandbar at the entrance to the harbour and the heavy warships could not sail over it unless they were buoyed up by barges on either side.  They would be easy targets for British warships outside the harbour.

Then came the turning point.  The British gunners had to leave Fort Erie to help repel an American invasion of the Niagara Peninsula.  This enabled Perry’s ships to leave Black Rock.  Captain Barclay, for some mysterious reason, relaxed his guard at the entrance to Presqu’Isle and Perry took advantage of the lapse to get his warships over the sandbar.  The American warships were untied and free to operate on Lake Erie.

Colonel Procter was in a desperate situation.  Barclay, knowing he had to provide supply ships for him, had no other alternative but to attack Perry’s fleet.  He had only six ships to the Americans’ nine.  He did not even have proper guns, but had to take what he could from Fort Malden and install them on his ships, although they were not suitable.

Barclay knew he had little chance of success, but he had to try.  The rival fleets met on the morning of September 10 and after three hours of skilful, desperate fighting, the Americans won a complete victory.  Two days later, Perry was able to send his famous message scribbled on the back of an old letter, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  The defeat made it impossible for Procter to hold the Detroit sector.

There are a few interesting sites that cover the Battle of Lake Erie. A few I suggest are the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial 2013, and History.com, and then there’s About.com which has a great article by Kennedy Hickman. Another good site is at U.S. National Park Services. All good places to start your search.

 

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Laura Secord’s Bravery & Self-Sacrifice!

English: Laura Secord warning Lieutenant James...

English: Laura Secord warning Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon of an impending American attack, June 1813. Français : Rencontre entre Laura Secord et le lieutenant Fitzgibbon, juin 1813 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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This day in Canadian history belongs to Laura Secord.  The story of the Battle of Stoney Creek was told on June 6.  After being reinforced by the arrival of the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment, General Vincent was ready to counter-attack the Americans on the Niagara Peninsula.  He began to move his main force from Burlington, and sent several companies of infantry to Beaver Dam, ready to strike at Queenston.

The American commander, General Dearhorn, heard about the move and sent Colonel Boerstler with 570 men and two guns to make a night attack on Beaver Dam.  While they were marching there, they stopped to rest at Queenston.  Some of the American  officers were talking openly about the purpose of their mission.

Laura Secord and her husband, United Empire Loyalists who had left Massachusetts to live at Queenston, overheard the American officers talking about the attack they were going to make on Beaver Dam, and decided that the British must be warned.  Laura’s husband had been wounded in the fighting at Queenston Heights the previous year and could not make the trip.  So, on June 23, 1813, Laura left their home and pretended that she was going to milk the cows.  She was barefoot and carried a milking pail.

It was a brave thing to do.  Laura Secord had to walk through the woods alone to get to the nearest British position.  There were many frightening moments, and she became weary and footsore.  On the way she suddenly found herself in the midst of a band of “whooping” Indians.  They let her continue on her way when she told them that the “Long Knives” were coming, and that she was going to warn the British.  Eventually, she reached a patrol of red coats under Lieutenant Fitzgibbon and related her story.

As it turned out, her journey had been unnecessary.  The British had already been warned and the Indians were in place to ambush the Americans.  This does not detract from Laura Secord’s bravery and self-sacrifice.

Colonel Boerstler and his men walked right into the ambush of 200 Mohawk and Caughnawaga Indians,  and after fighting in the woods for two hours, surrendered to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon to escape what hey thought would be scalping by the Indians.

Ms. Secord is indeed a heroine. To read more about her and what she did, I suggest going to the Toronto Public Library for a painting depicting “Where Laura Secord, on the 23rd of June 1813, Crossed the Twelve Mile Creek”. Then the Niagara Falls Info. For a treat, I suggest visiting Friends of Laura Secord. A very good start!

 

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Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia Rive...

Fishermen catching salmon on the Columbia River using a seine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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On June 15, 1846, Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Boundary Treaty.  There was a good deal of give and take in the Treaty, which extended the frontier along the 49th parallel, dipping south on the Pacific to give Britain all of Vancouver Island.

Britain had hoped to make the Columbia River “the St. Lawrence of the Pacific.”  The Hudson’s Bay Company had pioneered the area and it had also been claimed by explorers Vancouver, Thompson and Broughton.  An amazing mistake by a Royal Naval officer in 1813 may have cost Britain this territory.

the Americans hoped not only to acquire the Pacific coast to the 49th  parallel, but all the way to Alaska.  They were ready to go to war, if necessary.  In 1844, the Democratic Party slogan was, “fifty-four forty or fight,” and fifty-four meant the boundary of Alaska.  The Democrats won the election.  President Polk said in his inaugural address that Britain had no rights to territory on the Pacific.  Britain, however, took a firm stand and American Secretary of State Buchanan (who later became president) warned Polk that there would be war if he pushed the matter too far.  War with Mexico was imminent and it would be dangerous for the States to be fighting Britain at the same time.

Under these conditions, the Oregon Boundary was signed.  The negotiations for Britain were carried out by Lord Aberdeen, the Foreign Secretary.  His firmness in the matter was not undermined by the opinions of his brother, Captain Gordon of the Royal Navy, who had been sent to survey the region.  Captain Gordon wrote to Lord Alberdeen that he would not give one barren hill of Scotland for what he had seen of the Pacific.  The country was worthless because neither salmon nor trout would rise to the fly!  Captain Gordon was obviously using the wrong kind of fly!

To learn more about the Oregon Boundary Treaty, I would suggest going to History.com, and then the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, then after that X Timeline. Lastly, I would suggest a visit to the Internet Archives to read Treaty between Her Majesty and the United States of America for the settlement of the Oregon boundary : signed at Washington, June 15, 1846 (1846).

 
 

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Missed Opportunity

English: "Henry Dearborn," oil on ca...

“Henry Dearborn,” oil on canvas, by the American painter Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were few bright spots for British forces defending  Canada from the Americans in 1813.  York, the new capital of Upper Canada, had been captured and looted (see my April 27 post Americans Attack York, Destroy New Legislation) and Newark soon suffered a similar fate. General Henry Dearborn was well pleased with himself. He now had a solid line of communication from Buffalo to the head of Lake Ontario.

General Vincent, who had defended Fort George at Newark, led his surviving troops to Burlington (near Hamilton) and expected help, if necessary, from Colonel Procter’s force in the Detroit area.

In the meantime, Dearborn missed an opportunity to finish him off. Instead of following up the success at Fort George, Dearborn waited for five days, perhaps because it was raining hard. Then he heard rumours that Procter was sending reinforcements to Vincent and decided that he had better take action before they arrived. Generals Winder and Chandler set out for Burlington with 2,000 infantry, cavalry and artillery, whereas Vincent now had about 1,600 men.

The Americans force camped at Stoney Creek for the night of June 6, about 6 miles from Burlington, but their movements had been followed and reported by Canadian volunteers. General Vincent sent out a scouting patrol which brought him word that the American tents were strung out in a long line, and that their artillery was badly placed. Vincent immediately ordered an attack. His troops made their way through the woods in the darkness and stormed the camp at two o’clock in the morning. There was a sharp fight in which the British lost 214 men, but both Generals Winder and Chandler were taken prisoner with 123 others.

The Americans still had enough strength to retaliate, but lost heart when Admiral Yeo’s ships were seen approaching. Yeo bombarded the American position at Forty Mile Creek, and they decided to retreat to Fort George.

Vincent received help from an unexpected quarter when the 104th New Brunswick Regiment arrived. It had left Fredericton in winter, marched 400 miles on snowshoes to Quebec and was then transported to Kingston by ship. After fighting at Sackets Harbor, New York, it travelled another 500 miles to join Vincent’s army. The march of the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment was one of the notable achievements of the war.

If you want to read more about the Battle at Stoney Creek, I suggest About, .com‘s article written by Kennedy Hickman, and then History of War. There’s also Battlefield House Museum and Park and finally, Wikipedia.

 

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Americans Attack York, Destroy New Legislation

Battle of York

Battle of York (Photo credit: Loozrboy)

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In the early morning hours of April 27, 1813, the people of York, the capital of Upper Canada, were startled to hear gunfire.  American troops had landed on what is now Sunnyside Beach, and were fighting their way along the shore.

The Americans had sailed from Sackets Harbor, New York, two days before, but the only opposition on Lake Ontario had been rough weather.  General Dearborn, who was so stout that he had to be carried in a special carriage, became seasick and his second in command, General Pike, directed the landing of 1,700 men.

The garrison at York was commanded by General Sheaffe who had not expected an attack and so had spent the winter at Niagara.  Consequently, arrangements for defence were very poor.  The only new artillery guns were lying in the mud near the shore, where they had been unloaded from a ship the previous autumn.  Two companies of red-coated “regulars” happened to be staying at the fort on a march from Kingston to Niagara.  They brought the strength of the garrison to 510 regulars, 250 militia and 40 Indians.  Sheaffe ordered them to try to stop the Americans who were working their way through the woods towards the west battery (where Toronto Argos play their football games).  British bayonets were ineffective against American guns and the fight was over in half an hour.

General Dearborn then led a victory parade through the muddy streets of York in his special carriage. Some of the Americans were undisciplined volunteers and spent four days looting the town.  Then even let the prisoners out of York jail and urged them to help themselves.  Finally, they decided to burn down the new Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada.

While they were looting the legislature, they found the Speaker’s wig which they sent to Washington as, “an example of British barbarity.”  They thought it was a human scalp!

After storing as much loot as possible in their ships, including York’s only fire engine, the Americans sailed away to attack the British at Niagara.

The British retaliated for the attack on York by raiding Washington the following year and burning the Capitol and other government buildings.

There are a few places to visit to learn more about this battle. For instance, visit the April 2013 issue of Maple Leaf on National Defence and the Canadian Forces’s site, and then 680 News Radio. Other good links are the Canadian Heritage site, the Friends of Fort York; you can see a beautiful painting by Owen Staples of a bird’s-eye view of the battle at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; there’s an extensive article at Wikipedia.

There are interesting books, as well, THE INCREDIBLE WAR OF 1812 A Military History and Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813.

 

 

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