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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 8

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Whilst these operations were going on, our blockading squadrons rode in every American port, and completely obstructed all commerce. Our vessels ascended many of their rivers, especially the Chesapeake and its tributaries. At the end of June Sir S. Beckwith landed, from the squadron of admiral Cockburn, at Hampton, in Virginia, where the Americans had a fortified camp, and drove them out of it, and captured all their batteries. In the following month admiral Cockburn visited the coasts of North Carolina, and seized the islands, towns, and ports of Portsmouth and Ooracoke. The complaints of the Americans of the miseries of this state of blockade began very unpleasantly to reach the ears of president Madison.

In the spring of 1814 the Americans made a fresh attempt to invade Canada. Wilkinson, who had retreated so precipitately the preceding autumn, was the first to cross the frontier; but lie was repulsed, and followed to Sacket's Harbour, where he took refuge. The English burned some of his block-houses and barracks, and carried off great quantities of stores. In April general Drummond, being put across Lake Ontario by Sir James Yeo's squadron, stormed Fort Oswego, destroyed it, and burnt the barracks. In May the English were not so successful in intercepting some naval stores which the Americans were conveying to Sacket's Harbour. They were repulsed with loss. At the beginning of July the American general, Brown, crossed the Niagara with a strong force, attacked and took Fort Erie, and advanced into Canada. General Riall attempted to stop him at Chippewa, with an insufficient force, and was compelled to retreat to near Fort Niagara. There he was reinforced by general Drummond, with a detachment of the troops recently landed from the army of the Peninsula. Riall and Drummond had now about three thousand men, and Brown had five thousand. A severe battle was fought, almost close to the cataract of Niagara, where the veteran Peninsular men defeated Brown, killing and wounding one thousand five hundred of his troops, but having six hundred killed and wounded themselves. They pursued Brown to Chippewa, and thence to Erie. There Drummond rashly attempted the reduction of the fort with his inferior numbers, and was repulsed with loss.

Sir George Prévost now put himself at the head of the brave troops which had so lately advanced from conquest to conquest under Wellington. He had eleven thousand of these brave fellows, including a fine regiment of cavalry, and a numerous train of artillery. With such an army, an able general would not only have cleared the whole frontier of Canada, but would have inflicted a severe chastisement on the Americans in their own territory. The great object to be accomplished was the destruction of Sacket's Harbour, with which must fall at once the whole naval power of America on Lake Ontario. Every military man expected that this would be done; but Sir George, after waiting in a camp at Chamblay advanced to Plattsburg harbour, on Lake Champlain. But there he would do nothing till the American flotilla, which lay in the harbour, was also attacked. For this purpose, captain Downie was sent by Sir James Yeo from the Ontario squadron suddenly to take command of a squadron of a few ships, and a miscellaneous naval force, as hastily mustered, and knowing little of each other - Downie knowing only one of his officers. The ship which lie commanded was just launched, was still unfinished, and everything was in confusion: yet, in this condition, Sir George Prévost insisted on their going into action against a superior and well prepared American squadron, promising to make a simultaneous attack on the harbour and defences on land. Downie commenced the attack on the water, but found no co-operation from Sir George on shore, who stood still till he had seen Downie killed, and the unequal British vessels, three in number, fairly battered to pieces, and compelled to strike. And, after all, Sir George never did commence the attack of the fort with that fine army, which would have carried it in ten minutes, but marched back again, amid the inconceivable indignation of officers and men, who could not comprehend why they should be condemned to obey the orders of so disgraceful a poltroon. On their march, or rather retreat, they were insulted by the wondering Americans, and abandoned vast quantities of stores, ammunition, and provisions. The loss of men during this scandalous expedition was not more than two hundred; but eight hundred veterans - who had been accustomed to very different scenes, under a very different commander - in their resentment at his indignity, went over to the enemy. In fact, had this unhappy general continued longer in command, the whole British force there would have been thoroughly demoralised, for they could not comprehend why they should be subjected to the hootings and scoffs of an American rabble without discipline, when they could, at a single word of command, have scattered them like autumn leaves.

The officers who had served under Prévost had too long withheld their remonstrances, expecting that the British government would see plainly enough the wretched incompetence of the man. But now Sir James Yeo made a formal and plain-spoken charge against him, and especially for his wicked abandonment of captain Downie and his squadron to destruction. He was recalled; but it was too late: a natural death had, in the meantime, rescued him from that punishment which he so richly deserved. It could not, however, rescue him from the disgrace which must hang on his memory, so long as the history of these transactions remains.

In September the Americans in Fort Erie, being strongly reinforced, and elated by their repulse of general Drummond, marched out, and made an attack on the British lines. General de Watteville received them with such effect that they rapidly fell back on Fort Erie, and, no longer feeling themselves safe even there, they evacuated the fort, demolished its works, and retreated altogether from the shore of Upper Canada. When the news of peace, which had been concluded in December of this year, arrived in the spring, before the commencement of military operations - though thirty thousand men at a time had invaded our Canadian frontiers, and Hampton, Wilkinson, and Harrison had all been marching in the direction of Kingston and Montreal simultaneously - we were in possession of their fortress of Niagara, and of Michilimakinac, the key of the Michigan territory; and they had nothing to give in exchange for them but the defenceless shore of the Detroit. They had totally failed of their grand design on Canada, and had lost - in killed, wounded, and prisoners - nearly fifty thousand men, besides enormous quantities of stores and ammunition, and a heavy account of expenditure - sufficient to deter them from lightly assaying the Canadas again.

In July, 1814, whilst the struggles were going on upon the Canadian frontiers, the English projected an expedition against the very capital of the United States. This was carried into execution about the middle of August. Sir Alexander Cochrane landed general Ross, and a strong body of troops, on the banks of the Patuxent, and accompanied them in a flotilla of launches, armed boats, and small craft up the river itself. On entering the reach at Pig Point, they saw the American flotilla, commanded by commodore Baring, lying seventeen in number. They prepared to attack it, when they saw flames begin to issue from the different vessels, and comprehended that the commodore had deserted it; and it was firmly believed that he had so timed the setting fire to his vessels that they might blow up when the English were close upon them, if they had not already boarded them. Fortunately, the flames had made too much progress, and the English escaped this danger. The vessels blew up one after another, except one, which the English secured. Both soldiers and sailors were highly incensed at this treachery, and prepared to avenge it on Washington itself. On the 24th they were encountered at Bladensberg, within five miles of Washington, by eight or nine thousand American troops, posted on the right bank of the Potomac, on a commanding ridge. Madison himself was on one of the hills, to watch the battle, on the event of which depended the fate of the capital.

To reach the enemy the British had to cross the river, and that by a single bridge. This was commanded by the American artillery, and it might have been expected that it would not be easily carried; but, on the contrary, a light brigade swept over it, in face of the cannon, followed by the rest of the army; and, the troops deploying right and left the moment they were over, this single division - about one thousand six hundred strong - routed the whole American force before the remainder could come into action. Few of the Americans waited to be killed or wounded. Madison had the mortification to see his army all flying in precipitation, and the city open to the British.

Before entering Washington, general Ross sent in a flag of truce - or, rather, he carried one himself, for he accompanied it - to see that all was done that could be done to arrange terms, without further mischief or bloodshed. He demanded that all military stores should be delivered up, and that the other public property should be ransomed at a certain sum. But scarcely had they entered the place, with the flag of truce displayed, when - with total disregard of all such customs established by civilised nations in war - I the party was fired upon, and the horse of general Ross ( killed under him. There was nothing for it but to order the I troops forward. The city was taken possession of, under strict orders to respect private property, and to destroy only that of the state. Under these orders, the capital, the president's house, the senate-house, the house of representatives, the treasury, the war-office, the arsenal, the dockyard, and the ropewalk were given to the flames; the bridge over the Potomac, and some other public works, were blown up; a frigate on the stocks, and some smaller craft, were burnt. All was done that could be done by general Ross, and the officers under him, to protect private property; but the soldiers were so incensed at the treachery by which the Americans had sought to blow up the seamen in Baring's flotilla, by the firing on the flag of truce, and the like unprincipled manner in which the Americans had carried on the war in Canada, as well as by the insults and gasconading of the Americans on all occasions, that they could not be altogether restrained from committing some excesses. Yet it may be said that never was the capital of a nation so easily taken, and never did the capital of a nation which had given so much irritating provocation escape with so little scathe. The following evening it was evacuated in perfect order, and without any enemy appearing to molest the retreat. On the 30th the troops were safely re-embarked.

But this was not the only chastisement which the Americans had received. On the 27th captain Gordon, of the Sea-horse, accompanied with other vessels, attacked Alexandria, situated lower on the Potomac. They found no resistance from Fort Washington, built to protect the river at that point; and the authorities of Alexandria delivered up all public property, on condition that all private property should be spared. The English carried off all the naval and ordnance stores, as well as twenty-one vessels, of different freights. On the 12th of September general Ross made an assault on the city of Baltimore. This was a strongly fortified place, and the Americans can always fight well undercover; and, on that account, the attempt should have been made with due military approaches. But general Ross had so readily dispersed the army that defended Washington, and another which had been drawn up in front of Baltimore, that he made a rash endeavour to carry the place at once, but was killed in the attempt, as well as a considerable number of his men. He had inflicted a loss of six or eight hundred men, in killed and wounded, on the Americans; but this was little satisfaction for his own loss.

Earlier than this, in July, colonel Pilkington took all the islands in the Bay of Passamaquody; and in another expedition, in September, the British took the fort of Castine, in the Penobscot river - defeated double their number of Americans - pursued up the river the John Adams, a fine frigate, and compelled the commander to burn it. They took the town of Bangor, and reduced the whole district of Maine, from Passamaquody Bay to the Penobscot. In fact, these ravages and inroads, which rendered the whole seaboard of America unsafe, made the Americans, and especially the president Madison, exclaim loudly against our barbarity and wanton destruction of their capital and ports. This is the true system of warfare to be carried on against the United States - one in which we have the most complete advantage, and which at any time soon reduces that community to submission. This was the system recommended by colonel Barré and lord Barrington in the war of Independence, and which, whenever practised, has been successful.

But, not contented with this superiority, the English were tempted to invest and endeavour to storm New Orleans. This was returning to the old blunders, and giving the American sharp-shooters the opportunity of picking off our men at pleasure in the open field from behind their walls and batteries. This ill-advised enterprise was conducted by Sir Edward Pakenham. Nothing was so easy as for our ships to blockade the mouth of the Mississippi, and thus destroy the trade, not only of New Orleans, but of all the towns on that river; but this common-sense plan was abandoned for the formidable and ruinous one of endeavouring to take the place by storm. The city of New Orleans lies at the distance of one hundred and ten miles from the sea, on a low, boggy promontory, defended on the river side by a chain of powerful forts, and on the other by morasses. Having landed as near New Orleans as they could, our 'troops, on the 23rd of December, were met by an American army, and received a momentary repulse; but this was quickly reversed, and on Christmas day Sir Edward Pakenham encamped at the distance of six miles from New Orleans. But he found at least twenty thousand Americans posted between him and the city, behind a deep canal and extensive earthworks. There was no way of approaching them except across bogs, or through sugar plantations swarming with riflemen, who could pick off our men at pleasure. This was exactly one of those situations which the whole course of our former wars in that country had warned us to avoid, as it enabled the Americans, by their numerous and excellent riflemen, to destroy our soldiers, without their being in scarcely any danger themselves. In fair and open fight they knew too well that they had no chance with British troops, and the folly of giving them such opportunities of decimating those troops from behind walls and embankments is too palpable to require military knowledge or experience to point it out. Yet this Sir Edward Pakenham, who had fought in the Peninsula, was imprudent enough to run himself into this old and often- exposed snare. On the 26th of December he commenced a fight on these unequal terms, the Americans firing red-hot balls from their batteries on the unscreened advancing columns, whilst from the thickets around the Kentucky riflemen picked off the soldiers on the flanks. Pakenham thus, however, advanced two or three miles. He then collected vast quantities of hogsheads of sugar and treacle, and made defences with them, from which he poured a sharp fire on the enemy. By this means lie approached to within three or four hundred yards of the American lines, and there, during the very last night of the year, the soldiers worked intensely to cast up still more extensive breastworks of sugar and treacle casks, and earth.

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