The Campaigns of '14
In the spring of 1814 another invasion of Canada was planned. The Niagara frontier was the scene of operations; but there was much delay in bringing the scatttered detachments of General Wilkinson's army into proper position. Not until the 3d of July did Generals Scott and Ripley, at the head of three thousand men, cross the Niagara from Black Rock to Fort Erie. This post, garrisoned by two hundred British, was surrendered without a battle. On the following day the Americans advanced down the river-bankin the direction of Chippewa village. Before reaching that place, however, they were met by the British army, led by General Riall. On the evening of the 5th a severe battle was fought on the plain just south of Chippewa River. The Americans, led on by Generals Scott and Ripley and the gallant Major Jessup, won the day; but their loss amounted to three hundred and thirty-eight men. The British veterans, after more than five hundred of their number had fallen, were driven into their intrenchments.
General Riall retreated first to Queenstown and afterward to Burlington Heights. General Scott, commanding the American right, was detached to watch the movements of the enemy. On the vening of the 25th of July he found himself suddenly confronted by Riall's army, strongly posted on the high grounds in sight of Niagara Falls. Here was fought the hardest battle of the war. A man less courageous and self-confident than Scott would have retreated; but with extraordinary daring he held his own until re-enforced by the other divisions of the army. The British reserves were also rapidly brought into action. Twilight faded into darkness, and still the barrle was undecided. A detachment of Americans, getting upon the British rear, captured General Riall and his entire staff. Still the contest raged. The key to the enemy's position was a high ground crowned with a battery. Calling Colonel James Miller to his side and pointing to the hill, General Brown said, "Colonel, take your regiment and storm that battery." "I'll try, sir," was the answer of the gallant officer; and he did take it, and held it against three desperate assaults of the British. In the last charge General Drummond, who led, was wounded, and the royal army, numbering fully five thousand, was driven from the field with a loss of eight hundred and seventy-eight men. The Americans engaged in the battle numbered about four thousand; their loss in killed, wounded, and missing was more than eight hundred.
After this battle of Niagara, or Lundy's Lane, as it is sometimes called, General Ripley took command of the American forces; for Generals Brown and Scott were both wounded. It was deemed predent to fall back to Fort Erie. To that place General Gaines crossed over from Buffalo, and being the senior officer, assumed command of the army. Very soon General Drummond received re-enforcements, moved forward, and on the 4th of August invested Fort Erie. The siege continued for ten days, and then the British attempted to storm the works, but were driven back with severe losses. But the enemy was re-enforced and the siege resumed. A regular and destructive bombardment was kept up by the British, and was answered by the Americans with equal energy. On the 28th of August, General Gaines was injured by the explosion of a shell and obliged to relinquish his command. General Brown, though still suffering from the wound received at Niagara, was again called to direct the defenses of the fort. On the 17th of September a sortie was ordered, and the advanced works of the British were gallantly carried. At the same time news arrived that the American general Izard was approaching from Plattsburg with strong re-enforcements. Alarmed at the threatening aspect of affairs, the British raised the siege and retreated to Fort George. On the 5th of November, Fort Erie was evacuated and destroyed by the Americans, who then recrossed the Niagara and went into winter quarters at Black Rock and Buffalo. So ended the war in the country between Lake Erie and Ontario.
The winter of 1813-14 was passed by the Army of the North at French's Mills, afterward called Fort Covington. In the latter part of February, General Wilkinson advanced his forces to Plattsburg, and in the following month began an invasion of Canada. At La Colle, on the west bank of the Sorel, he encountered a force of the enemy, made an imprudent attack, and was defeated. Falling back to Plattsburg, he was superseded by General Izard. How that officer marched to the relief of General Brown at Fort Erie has already been narrated. The remaining division of the northern army, fifteen hundred strong, was left under command of General Macomb at Plattsburg. At this time the American flotilla on Lake Champlain was commanded by Commodore MacDonough. For the purpose of destroying this fleet and obtaining control of the lake, the British general Prevost advanced into Northern New York at the head of fourteen thousand men, and at the same time ordered Commodore Downie to ascend the Sorel with his fleet. The possession of Lake Champlain and New York was important to the British. Their army had been depending for its supplies upon this section. Anti-war Americans did not hesitate to seel their cattle and other provisions to their country's enemy/ Also, since the British had taken Maine, they had determined to keep it at all hazards at the end of the war. New York must therefore be held as a military base.
The invading army reached Plattsburg without opposition. Commodore MacDonough's squadron lay in the bay. On the 6th of September, General Macomb retired with his small but courageous army to the south bank of the Saranac, which skirted the village. On came the British, entered the town, and attempted to cross the river, but were driven back. For four days they renewed their efforts; the Americans had torn up the bridges, and a passage could not be effected. The British fleet was now ready for action, and a general battle by land and water was planned for the 11th. Prevost's army, arranged in three columns, was to sweep across the Saranac and carry Macomb's position, while Downie's powerful flotilla was to bear down on MacDonough. The naval battle began first, and was obstinately fought for two hours and a half. At the end of that tiem Downie and many of his officers had been killed; the heavier British vessels were disabled and obliged to strike their colors. The smaller ships escaped; for the American brigs were so badly crippled that pursuit could not be made. Nevertheless, the victory on the lake was complete and glorious. The news was carried ashore, where the Americans were bravely contesting the passage of the river against overwhelming numbers. At one ford the British column succeeded in crossing; but the tidings from the lake fired the militia with ardor; they made a rush, and the enemy was driven back. Prevost, after losing nearly two thousand five hundted men and squandering two and a half million dollars in a fruitless campaign, retired precipitately to Canada. The ministry of England, made wise by the disasters of this invasion, began to devise measures looking to peace.
In the country of the Chesapeake the scenes of the previous year were renewed by the British. Late in the summer Admiral Cochrane arrived off the coast of Virginia with an armament of twenty-one vessels. General Ross with an army of four thousand veterans, freed from service in Europe, came with the fleet. The American squadron, commanded by Commodore Barney, was unable to oppose so powerful a force. The enemy's flotilla entered the Chesapeake with the purpose of attacking Washington and Baltimore. The larger division of the British fleet sailed into the Patuxent, and on the 19th of August the forces of General Ross were landed at the town of Benedict. Commodore Barney was obliged to blow up his vessels and take to the shore. From Benedict the British advanced against Washington. At Bladensburg, six miles northeast of the capital, they were met, on the 24th of the month, by the militia and the marines under Barney. Here a battle was fought. The undisciplined militia behaved badly. Barney's seamen were overpowered by the British, and himself taken prisoner. The news of the defeat was rapidly borne to Washington. The President, the cabinet officers, and the people betook themselves to flight, and Ross marched unopposed into the city. he had been ordered by his superiors to use the torch, and the work of destruction was accordingly begun. All the public buildings except the Patent Office were burned. The beautiful but unfinished Capitol and the President's house were left a mass of blackened ruins. Mrs. Madison had the presence of mind to secure the famous picture of Washington by Stuart and the original draft of the Declaration fo Independence. Many private edifices were also destroyed; but General Ross, himself a humane man, did less than he was ordered to do.*
Five days after the capture of Washington, a portion of the British fleet, ascending the Potomac, reached Alexandria. The inhabitants of that town, in order to avoid the fate of the capital, purchased the forbearance of the enemy by the surrender of twenty-one ships, sixteen thousand barrels of flour, and a thousand hogsheads of tobacco. Blatimore redeemed herself more bravely. Against that city, after the capture of Washington, General Ross proceeded with his army and fleet. Meanwhile, the militia, to the number of ten thousand, had gathered under command of General Samuel Smith, a Revolutionary veteran. On the 12th of September the British were landed at North Point, at the mouth of the Patapsco; and the fleet began the ascent of the river. The land forces, after marching about halfway to Baltimore, were met by the Americans under General Stricker. A skirmish ensued in which General Ross was killed; but Colonel Brooks assumed command of the invading army, and the march continued. When approaching the city, the British came upon the American lines and were brought to a halt by a severe cannonade. General Stricker, however, ordered his men to fall back to a second line of defenses, from which they gave the enemy a permanent check.
Meanwhile, the British squadron had ascended the Patapsco and begun the bombardment of Fort McHenry, at the entrance to the harbor. From sunrise of the 13th until after midnight the guns of the fleet poured a tempest of shot and shells upon the fortress.* At the end of that time the soldiers of the garrison were as full of spirit and the works as strong as at the beginning. It was plain that the British had undertaken more than they could accomplish. Disheartened and baffled, they ceased to fire. The land forces retired from before the American intrenchments and re-embarked. The siege of Baltimore was at an end. General Ross was, himself, numbered among the dead.
New England did not escape the ravages of war. On the 9th and 10th of August the village of Stonington, in the southeastern corner of Connecticutt, was bonbarded by Commodore Hardy; but the British, attempting to land, were beaten back by the militia. The fisheries of the New England coast were for the most part broken up. The salt works at Cape Cod escaped only by the payment of heavy rnasoms. All the principal harbors from Maine to Delaware were under a rigorous blockade, and the foreign comerce of the Eastern States was totally destroyed. The beacons in the lighthouses were allowed to burn out, and a general gloom settled over the country.
From the beginning many of the people of New England had opposed the war. Their interests centered in ships and factories; the former were captured at sea and the latter came to a standstill. Industry was paralyzed. The members of the Federal party cried out against the continuance of the contest. The legislature of Massachusetts advised the calling of a convention. The other Eastern States responded to the call; and on the 14th of December the delegates assembled at Hartford. The objects of the convention were not very clearly expressed; but opposition to the war and the policy of the administration was the leading principle. The leaders of the Democratic party who supported the war policy of the government, did not hesitate to say that the purposes of the assembly were disloyal and treasonable. Be that as it may, the convention ruined the Federal party. After remaining in session with closed doors for nearly three weeks, the delegates published an address more moderate and just than had been expected; and then adjourned. But little hope of political preferment remained for those who participated in the Hartford convention.
During the progress of the war the Spanish authorities of Florida sympathized with the British. In the month of August a detachment of the enemy's fleet was allowed by the commandant of Pensacola to use that post for the purpose of fitting out an expedition against Fort Bowyer, commanding the entrance to the bay of Mobile. On the 15th of September the latter post was attacked, but the assailants were driven off. General Jackson, who at that time commanded the American forces in the South, remonstrated with the Spaniards against this violation of neutrality, but received no satisfaction. Jackson, whose way it was to mete out summary justice to offenders, marched a force against Pensacola, stormed the town, and drove the British out of Florida. This was the beginning of the last campaign of the war.
After the taking of Pensacola, General Jackson returned to his headquarters at Mobile. There he learned that the British were making formidable preparations for the conquest of Louisiana. Repairing at once to New Orleans, he assumed control of the city, declared martial law, mustered the militia, and adopted the most vigorous measures for repelling the invasion. From La Fitte, chief of a band of smugglers in the Bay of Barataria, he obtained information of the enemy's plans. The British army, numbering twelve thousand, came in a fleet of fifty vessels from Mamaica. Sir Edward Packenham, borther-in-law of the duke of Wellington, was commander of the invading forces. On the 10th of December the squadron entered the outlet of Lake Borgne, sixty miles northeast of New Orleans. Four days afterward a flotilla of gunboats which had been placed to guard the lake was captured by the British, but not until a severe loss had been inflicted on the enemy.
On the 22d of the month Packenham's advance reached the Mississippi nine miles below the city. A detachment was sent to the western bank of the river, but this operation was checked by a counter movement on the part of the Americans. On the night of the 23d General Jackson sent a schooner down the Mississippi to bombard the British camp, while at the same time he and General Coffee advanced with two thousand Tennessee riflemen to attack Packenham's camp in front. After a bloody assault Jackson was obliged to retire, the enemy losing most in the engagement. On the following day Jackson fell back and took a strong position along the canal, four miles below the city. Packenham advanced, and on the 28th cannonaded the American position with but little effect. On New Year's day the attack was renewed. The heavy guns of the British had now been brought into position; but the Americans easily held their ground, and the enemy was again driven back. Packenham now made arrangements to lead his whole army in a grand assault on the American lines.
Jackson was ready. Earthworks had been constructed, and a long line of cotton-bales and sandbags thrown up for protection. On the morning of the memorable 8th of January the British moved forward. They went to a terrible fate. The battle began with the light of early morning, and was ended before nine o'clock. Packenham hurled column after column against the American position, and column after column was smitten with irretrievable ruin. Jackson's men, behind their breastworks, were almost entirely secure from the enemy's fire, while every discharge of the Tennessee and Kentucky rifles told with awful effect on the exposed veterans of England. Packenham, trying to rally his men, was killed; General Gibbs, second in command, was mortally wounded. General Keene fell disabled; only General Lambert was left to call the shattered fragments of the army from the field. Never was there in a great battle such disparity of losses. Of the British fully seven hundred were killed, fourteen hundred wounded, and five hundred taken prisoners. The American loss amounted to eight killed and thirteen wounded.
After the battle Jackson granted a truce for the burial of the British dead. That done, General Lmbert recalled the detachment from the west bank of the river and retired with his ruined army to Lake Borgne. At Fort Bowyer he received the news of peace. Jackson marched into New Orleans with his victorious army, and was received with unbounded enthusiasm. Such, so far as operations by land were concerend, was the close of the war. On the ocean hostilities lingered until spring. On the 20th of February the American frigate Constitution, crusing off Cape St. Vincent, caught sight of two hostile vessels, gave chase, and after a severe fight captured them. They proved to be British brigs--the Cyane, of thirty-six guns, and the Levant, of eighteen. On the 23d of March the American Hornet, commanded by Captain Biddle, ended the conflict by capturing the British Penguin off the coast of Brazil.
Already a treaty of peace had been made and ratified. Both nations had long desired such a result. In the summer of 1814 American commissioners were sent to Ghent, in Belgium, and were there met by Lord Gambier, Henry Goulburn, and William Adams, ambassadors of Great Britain. The agents of the United States were John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Henry Clay, Jonathan Russell, and Albert Gallatin. Several months were spent in negotiations; and on the 24th of December, 1814, a treaty was agreed to and signed. In both countries, but especially in the United States, the news was received with deep satisfaction. On the 18th of February the treaty was ratified by the Senate, and peace was publicly proclaimed. It was in the interim between the conclusion of the treaty and the reception of the news in the United States that the battle of New Orleans was fought. A telegraph would have saved all that bloodshed.
There never was a more absurd treaty than that of Ghent. Its only significance was that Great Britain and the United States, having been at war, agreed to be at peace. Not one of the distinctive issues to decide which the war had been undertaken was settled or even mentioned. Of the impressment of American seamen not a word was said. The wrongs done to the commerce of the United States were not referred to. The rights of neutral nations were left as undetermined as before. Of "free trade and sailors' rights," which had been the battle-cry of the American navy, no mention was made. The principal articles of the compact were devoted to the settlement of unimportant boundaries and the possession of some petty islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy. There is little doubt, however, that at the time of the treaty Great Britain gave the United States a private assurance that impressment and the other wrongs complained of by the Americans should be practiced no more. For nearly a century vessels bearing the flag of the United States have been secure from such insults as caused the war of 1812.
At the close of the conflict the country was burdened with a debt of a hundred million dollars. The monetary affairs of the nation were in deplorable condition. The charter of the Bank of the United States expired in 1811, and in the following years the other banks of the country were abliged to suspend specie payment. The people were thus deprived of the currency necessary for the transaction of business. Domestic commerce was paralyzed by the want of money, and foreign trade destroyed by the enemy's fleet. In the year after the close of the war a bill was passed by Congress to recharter the Bank of the United States. The measure being objectionable, the President interposed his veto; but in the following session the bill was again passed in an amended form. The capital was fixed at thirty-five million dollars. The central banking-house was established at Philadelphia, and branches were authorized at various other cities. On the 4th of March, 1817, the new financial institution went into operation; and the business and credit of the country were thereby greatly improved. Meanwhile, the United States had been engaged in a foreign war.
During the conflict with Great Britain, the Algerine pirates renewed their depredations on American commerce. As soon as the treaty of Ghent was concluded the government of the United States ordered Commodore Decatur, commanding a fleet of nine vessels, to proceed to the Mediterranean and chastise the Barbary sea-robbers into submission. On the 17th of June, Decatur, cruising near Gibraltar, fell in with the principal frigate of the Algerine squadron, and after a severe fight of twenty minutes compelled the Moorish ship to surrender. Thirty of the piratical crew, including the admiral, were killed, and more than four hundred taken prisoners. On the 19th Decatur captured another frigate, bearing twenty guns and a hundred and eight men. A few days afterward he sailed into the Bay of Algiers, and dictated to the humbled and terrified dey the terms of a treaty. The Moorish emperor was obliged to release his American prisoners without ransom, to relinquish all claims to tribute, and to give a pledge that his ships should trouble American merchantmen no more. Decatur next sailed against Tunis and Tripoli, compelled both of these states to give pledges of good conduct, and to pay large sums for former violations of international law. From that day until the present the Barbary powers have had a wholesome dread of the American flag.
The close of Madison's troubled administration was signalized by the admission of Indiana--the smallest of the Western States--into the Union. The new commonwealth, admitted in December, 1816, came with an area of nearly thirty-four thousand square miles, and a population of ninety-eight thousand. About the same time was founded the Colonization Society of the United States. Many of the most distinguished men in America became members of the association, the object of which was to provide somewhere in the world a refuge for free persons of color. Liberia, on the western coast of Africa, was finally selected as the seat of the proposed colony. A republican form of government was established there, and immigrants arrived in sufficient numbers to found a flourishing negro State. The capital was named Monrovia, in honor of James Monroe, who, in the fall of 1816, was elected as madison's successor in the presidency. At the same time Daniel D. Tompkins, of New York, was chosen Vice-President.
*An excuse for this outrageous barbarism was found in the previous conduct of the Americans, who, at Toronto and other places on the Canadian frontier, had behaved but little better.
*During the night of this bombardment, Francis S. Key, detained on board a British ship and watching the American flag over Fort McHenry--seen at intervals by the glare of rockets and the flash of cannon--composed The Star-spangled Banner.
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