The war, during its first two years, was confined, as we have seen, to the Canada frontier and to naval conflicts. In the latter the Americans had been remarkably successful. In the former the successes and failures were somewhat evenly balanced. Each side had invaded the territory of the other to some small distance, but at the opening of the campaign of 1814 the antagonists stood facing each other on their respective borders in much the same positions as at the opening of the war. There were important differences in the military situation of both the combatants, however, and the year 1814 was destined to be one of bolder movements of invasion and more effective fighting. The fall of Napoleon in Europe had released the armies and fleets of England and permitted a more energetic prosecution of the war in America. On the other hand, the militia of America had been converted into regulars by two years' experience in fighting, while the "plentiful lack" of the necessaries of war at the beginning of the conflict had been overcome sufficiently to put the American armies in efficient fighting condition.
An act was passed increasing the regular army to sixty-six thousand men. At the same time propositions for peace were listened to, and commissioners appointed, consisting of John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Henry Clay, Jonathan Russell, and, afterwards, Albert Gallatin. These peace sessions were held at Gottenburg, the terms demanded by America being a discontinuance of search and impressment, while the offer was made to exclude British seamen from American vessels and to surrender deserters.
Meanwhile, the war went on with new vigor. In the South Jackson continued the conflict with the Creeks, until it was brought to a conclusion by his signal victory at Horse-Shoe Bend early in the year. In the North an effort was made to retake Mackinaw, which proved a failure. Wilkinson made preparations for a reinvasion of Canada, but suffered himself to be so easily repulsed that he was tried for want of generalship before a court-martial. He was acquitted by the court, but condemned by public opinion.
The active work of the Northern armies was performed on the line of the Niagara River, where the hardest fighting of the whole war took place. An invasion of Canada was still projected, as a preliminary to which General Brown, in command of that division of the army, began operations in the section of country between Lakes Erie and Ontario. On the evening of July 2 he crossed the Niagara at Buffalo, and invested Fort Erie, which quickly surrendered. Advancing from this point, he encountered the British force under General Riall at Chippewa Creek.
The American advance fell behind Street's Creek, where they were joined by the main body on the morning of the 5th. While the brigade under General Scott was engaged in a dress-parade, the advance of the British came up, and opened fire from behind the screen of trees that fringed the creek. Scott's men were already on the bridge, and as other troops were hurried up Riall's force was attacked with energy and effect. A furious battle ensued. The British line becoming somewhat separated, the exposed flank was attacked, and the gap widened. The line gave way before this assault, and was driven back in rout, Riall retreating with a part of his force to Burlington Heights, and sending the remainder to the forts at the mouth of the Niagara. Brown now determined to move upon Kingston by the lake shore, driving back the foe, and reducing the forts. But, failing to gain the expected co-operation from the fleet on the lake, and learning that Riall had readvanced to Queenstown and had been reinforced by General Drummond from York, he felt compelled to give up his project of invasion and withdraw from his advanced position to Chippewa. General Winfield Scott was sent forward with a corps of observation, and found himself suddenly confronted by the whole British force, drawn up at Lundy's Lane, near Niagara Falls.
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL DRUMMOND, mortified that his veteran troops should have been beaten by what he considered raw Americans, was anxious for an opportunity of retrieving his credit. He had collected every regiment from Burlington and York, and, the lake being free, had been able to transport troops from Fort George, Kingston, and even Prescott. General Riall took post at Queenstown immediately after it was abandoned by the Americans in their retreat to Chippewa; thence he threw a strong detachment across the Niagara to Lewistown, to threaten the town of Schlosser, which contained the supplies of General Brown, and also his sick and wounded, and at the same time despatched a party in advance of him on the Niagara road. With the view of drawing off the enemy from his attempt on the village across the river, General Brown, having no means of transporting troops to its defence, directed General Scott to move towards Queenstown with his brigade, seven hundred strong, together with Towson's artillery and one troop of dragoons and mounted men. At four o'clock in the afternoon of the 25th, General Scott led his brigade from the camp, and, after proceeding along the Niagara about two miles and a half from the Chippewa, and within a short distance of the cataracts, discovered General Riall on an eminence near Lundy's Lane, a position of great strength, where he had planted a battery of nine pieces of artillery, two of which were brass twenty-four-pounders.
On reaching a narrow strip of woods which intervened between the American and the British line, Captains Harris and Pentland, whose companies formed a part of the advance, and were first fired on, gallantly engaged the enemy. The latter now retreated, for the purpose of drawing the American column to the post at Lundy's Lane. General Scott resolutely pressed forward, after despatching Major Jones to the commander-in-chief with intelligence that he had come up with the enemy. He had no sooner cleared the wood, and formed in line on a plain finely adapted to military manoeuvres, than a tremendous cannonade commenced from the enemy's battery, situated on their right, which was returned by Captain Towson, whose artillery were posted opposite and on the left of the American line, but without being able to bring his pieces to bear on the eminence. The action was continued for an hour, against a force three times that of the American brigade. The Eleventh and Twenty-Second Regiments having expended their ammunition, Colonel Brady and Lieutenant-Colonel McNeill being both severely wounded, and nearly all the other officers either killed or wounded, they were withdrawn from action. Lieutenant Crawford, Lieutenant Sawyer, and a few other officers of those regiments attached themselves to the Ninth, in such stations as were assigned them. This regiment, under its gallant leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Leavenworth, was now obliged to bear the whole brunt of the action. Orders had been given him to advance and charge on the height, and with the Eleventh and Twenty-Second Regiments to break the enemy's line; but, on information being communicated to General Scott of the shattered condition of the latter, the order was countermanded. Colonel Jesup, at the commencement of the action, had been detached, with the Twenty-Fifth Regiment, to attack the left of the enemy's line.
The British now pressed forward on the Ninth Regiment, which with wonderful firmness withstood the attack of their overwhelming numbers. Being reduced at length to not more than one-half, and being compelled at every moment to resist fresh lines of the British, Colonel Leavenworth despatched a messenger to General Scott to communicate its condition. The general rode up in person, roused the flagging spirits of the brave men with the pleasing intelligence that reinforcements were expected every moment, and besought them to hold their ground. Lieutenant Riddle, already well known as a reconnoitring officer, was the first to come to their assistance, having been drawn to the place by the sound of the cannon while on a scouring expedition in the neighboring country. The same circumstance advised General Brown of the commencement of the action, and induced him to proceed rapidly to the scene, after giving orders to General Ripley to follow with the Second Brigade. He was already on his way when he met Major Jones, and, influenced by his communication, he despatched him to bring up General Porter's volunteers, together with the artillery.
The situation of Scott's brigade was every moment becoming more critical. Misled by the obstinacy of their resistance, General Riall overrated their force, and despatched a messenger to General Drummond, at Fort George, for reinforcements, notwithstanding that the number engaged on his side, thus far, had been more than double that of the Americans. During the period that both armies were waiting for reinforcements, a voluntary cessation from combat ensued; and for a time no sound broke upon the stillness of the night but the groans of the wounded, mingling with the distant thunder of the cataract of the Niagara. The silence was once more interrupted, and the engagement renewed with augmented vigor, on the arrival of General Ripley's brigade, Major Hindman's artillery, and General Porter's volunteers, and at the same time of Lieutenant-General Drummond with reinforcements to the British. The artillery were united to Towson's detachment, and soon came into action; Porter's brigade was deployed on the left, and Ripley's formed on the skirts of the wood, to the right of Scott's brigade. General Drummond took the command in person of the front line of the enemy with his fresh troops.
In the mean time, Colonel Jesup, who, as before mentioned, had been ordered, at the commencement of the action, to take post on the right, had succeeded during the engagement, after a gallant contest, in turning the left flank of the enemy. Taking advantage of the darkness of the night, and the carelessness of the enemy in omitting to place a proper guard across a road on his left, he threw his regiment in the rear of their reserve, and, surprising one detachment after another, made prisoners of so many of their officers and men that his progress was greatly impeded by it. The laws of war would have justified him in putting them to death; "but the laurel, in his opinion, was most glorious when entwined by the hand of mercy," and he generously spared them. One of his officers, Captain Ketchum, who had already distinguished himself at the battle of Chippewa, had the good fortune to make a prisoner of General Riall, who on the arrival of General Drummond had been assigned to the command of the reserve, and also of Captain Loring, the aide of General Drummond. The latter was a most fortunate circumstance, as it prevented the concentration of the British forces contemplated by that officer, before the Americans were prepared for his reception. After hastily disposing of his prisoners, Colonel Jesup felt his way through the darkness to the place where the hottest fire was kept up on the brigade to which he belonged, and, drawing up his regiment behind a fence, on one side of the Queenstown road, but in the rear of a party of British infantry posted on the opposite side of the same road, he surprised them by a fire so destructive that they instantly broke and fled. "The major," said General Brown, "showed himself to his own army in a blaze of fire." He received the applause of the general, and was ordered to form on the right of the Second Brigade
General Ripley, seeing the impracticability of operating upon the enemy from the place at which he had been ordered to post his brigade, or of advancing from it in line through a thick wood in the impenetrable darkness of the night, determined, with that rapid decision which characterizes the real commander, to adopt the only measure by which he saw a hope of saving the First Brigade from destruction, or of ultimately achieving the victory, and which, when made known to the commander-in-chief, was instantly sanctioned. The eminence occupied by the enemy's artillery was a key to the position. Addressing himself to Colonel Miller, the same who had distinguished himself at Magagua, he inquired whether he could storm the battery at the head of the Twenty-First Regiment, while he would himself support him with the younger regiment, the Twenty-Third. To this the wary but in-trepid veteran replied, in unaffected phrase, "I will try, sir," - words which were afterwards worn on the buttons of his regiment, - and immediately prepared for the arduous effort, by placing himself directly in front of the hill.
The Twenty-Third was formed in close column, by its commander, Major McFarland; and the First Regiment, under Colonel Nicholas, which had that day arrived from a long and fatiguing march, was left to keep the infantry in check. The two regiments moved on to one of the most perilous charges ever attempted, the whole of the artillery, supported by the fire of a powerful line of infantry, pouring upon them as they advanced. The Twenty-First moved on steadily to its purpose: the Twenty-Third faltered on receiving the deadly fire of the enemy, but was soon rallied by the personal exertions of General Ripley. When within a hundred yards of the summit, they received another dreadful discharge, by which Major McFarland was killed, and the command of his regiment developed on Major Brooks. To the amazement of the British, the intrepid Miller firmly advanced until within a few paces of their cannon, when he impetuously charged upon the artilleries, and, after a short but desperate resistance, carried the whole battery, and formed his line in its rear, upon the ground previously occupied by the British infantry. In carrying the largest pieces, the Twenty-First suffered severely: Lieutenant Cilley, after an unexampled effort, fell wounded by the side of the piece which he took; and there were few of the officers of this regiment who were not either killed or wounded. By the united efforts of these two regiments, and the bringing into line of the First, the fate of this bold assault was determined: the British infantry were in a short time driven down the eminence, out of the reach of musketry, and their own cannon turned upon them. This admirable effort completely changed the nature of the battle: every subsequent movement was directed to this point, as upon the ability to maintain it the result of the conflict entirely depended. Major Hindman was now ordered to bring up his corps, including Captain Towson's detachment, and post himself, with his own and the captured cannon, to the right of Ripley's brigade, and between it and the Twenty-Fifth, Jesup's regiment, while the volunteers of General Porter retained their position on the left of Scott's brigade.
Stung with rage and mortification at this most extraordinary and successful exploit of the Americans, General Drummond, the British commander, now considered it absolutely essential to the credit of the British army, and to avoid insupportable disgrace, that the cannon and the eminence on which they were captured should be retaken. Having been greatly reinforced, he advanced upon Ripley with a heavy and extended line, outflanking him on both extremes. The Americans stood silently awaiting his approach, which could only be discovered by the sound attending it, reserving their fire, in obedience to orders, until it could be effective and deadly. The whole division of the British now marched at a brisk step until within twenty paces of the summit of the height, when it poured in a rapid fire and prepared to rush forward with the bayonet. The American line, being directed by the fire of the enemy, returned it with deadly effect. The enemy were thereby thrown into momentary confusion, but, being rallied, returned furiously to the attack. A most tremendous conflict ensued, which for twenty minutes continued with violence indescribable. The British line was at last compelled to yield, and to retire down the hill. In this struggle General Porter's volunteers emulated the conduct of the regulars. The gallant Major Wood, of the Pennsylvania corps, and Colonel Dobbin, of the New York, gave examples of unshaken intrepidity.
It was not supposed, however, that this would be the last effort of the British general. General Ripley, therefore, had the wounded transported to the rear, and instantly restored his line to order. General Scott's shattered brigade, having been consolidated into one battalion, had during this period been held in reserve behind the Second Brigade, under Colonel Leavenworth, Colonel Brady having been compelled, by the severity of his wound, to resign the command. It was now ordered to move to Lundy's Lane, and to form with its right towards the Niagara road and its left in the rear of the artillery.
After the lapse of half an hour, General Drummond was heard again advancing to the assault with renovated vigor. The direction at first given by General Ripley was again observed. The fire of the Americans was dreadful; and the artillery of Major Hindman, which was served with great skill and coolness, would have taken away all heart from the British for this perilous enterprise, had not an example of bravery been set them by the Americans. After the first discharge, the British general threw himself with his entire weight upon the centre of the American line. He was firmly received by the gallant Twenty-First Regiment, a few platoons only faltering, which were soon restored by General Ripley. Finding that no impression could be made, the whole British line again recoiled, and fell back to the bottom of the hill. During this second contest two gallant charges were led by General Scott in person, the first upon the enemy's left and the second on his right flank, with his consolidated batalion; but, having to oppose double lines of infantry, his attempts, which would have been decisive had they proved successful, were unavailing. Although he had most fortunately escaped unhurt thus far, subsequently, in passing to the right, he received two severe wounds: regardless of himself, however, he did not quit the field until he had directed Colonel Leavenworth to unite his battalion with the Twenty-Fifth Regiment, under the command of Colonel Jesup.
Disheartened by these repeated defeats, the British were on the point of yielding the contest, when they received fresh reinforcements from Fort George, which revived their spirits and induced them to make another and still more desperate struggle. After taking an hour to refresh themselves and recover from their fatigue, they advanced with a still more extended line, and with confident hopes of being able to overpower the Americans. Our countrymen, who had stood to their arms during all this time, were worn down with fatigue, and almost fainting with thirst, which there was no water at hand to quench. From the long interval which had elapsed since the second attack, they had begun to cherish hopes that the enemy had abandoned a further attempt; but in this they were disappointed On the approach of the British for the third time, their courageous spirit returned, and they resolved never to yield the glorious trophies of their victory until they could contend no longer. The British delivered their fire at the same distance as on the preceding onsets. But, although it was returned with the same deadly effect, they did not fall back with the same precipitation as before; they steadily advanced, and repeated their discharge. A conflict, obstinate and dreadful beyond description, ensued.
The Twenty-First, under its brave leader, firmly withstood the shock; and, although the right and left repeatedly fell back, they were as often rallied by the personal exertions of the general, and Colonels Miller, Nicholas, and Jesup. At length the two contending lines were on the very summit of the hill, where the contest was waged with terrific violence at the point of the bayonet. Such was the obstinacy of the conflict that many battalions, on both sides, were forced back, and the opposing parties became mingled with each other. Nothing could exceed the desperation of the battle at the point where the cannon were stationed. The enemy having forced themselves into the very midst of Major Hindman's artillery, he was compelled to engage them across the carriages and guns and at last to spike two of his pieces. General Ripley, having brought back the broken sections to their positions and restored the line, now pressed upon the enemy's flanks and compelled them to give way. The centre soon following the example, and the attack upon the artillery being at this moment repulsed, the whole British line fled a third time; and no exertions of their officers could restrain them until they had placed themselves out of reach of the musketry and artillery. The British now consented to relinquish their cannon, and retired beyond the borders of the field, leaving their dead and wounded.
General Brown had received two severe wounds at the commencement of the last charge, and was compelled to retire to the camp at the Chippewa, leaving the command to General Ripley. The latter officer had made repeated efforts to obtain the means of removing the captured artillery; but, the horses having been killed, and no drag-ropes being at hand, they were still on the place where they had been captured, when orders were received from General Brown to collect the wounded and return to camp immediately. The British cannon were therefore left behind, the smaller pieces having first been rolled down the hill. The whole of the troops reached the camp in good order about midnight. after an unmolested march.
The British force engaged in this battle amounted to nearly five thousand men, the American to about two-thirds that number. The losses were severe, being eight hundred and seventy-eight men on the British and eight hundred and fifty-one on the American side, the proportion of officers killed and wounded being unusually large. After the battle the army was compelled to fall back to the camp on the Chippewa, for want of food and water. The enemy claimed the victory, on the plea of being left in occupation of the field. Ripley was severely blamed for not bringing off the guns captured by Miller, and for a subsequent retreat to Fort Erie before the advancing British, with what seemed unnecessary haste. He was, in consequence, removed from his command, which was given to General Gaines. Drummond followed the retiring Americans to Fort Erie, and made a midnight assault upon it, on August 14. This effort proved a disastrous failure, costing him nearly a thousand men. He then began a regular siege of the fort, and brought his works so close that shells and hot shot were thrown daily into it. Drummond's camp was two miles in the rear, a third of his force being sent each day to work in the parallels. General Brown, who had sufficiently recovered from his wound received at Lundy's Lane to resume command, sent out, on September 17 a sudden sortie of two thousand men, which fell upon the British working-party, dismounted the guns, destroyed the works they had been forty-seven days in making, and drove them back with a loss of nine hundred men. This so disheartened Drummond that he abandoned the siege. Shortly afterwards the Americans destroyed Fort Erie and returned to their own soil. Thus ended the campaign on the Niagara, with no permanent advantage gained by either party.
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