USS Constitution takes the Guerriere
By Ira N. Hollis
|Victory at sea by USS Constitution over HMS Guerriere painting by Anton Otto Fischer|
The Constitution stood to the eastward, skirting the coast of Nova Scotia, and then passed leisurely across the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to a point near Cape Race, which is supposed to have been sighted on August 15. During this voyage two British merchant-ships were captured and destroyed. The crew was continually exercised at the guns, with the most careful attention to every detail. It must be remembered that they had been on board only six or eight weeks, and were in the enemy's sea. Off Cape liace, five sails were sighted at daylight of the 15th, and a chase developed them into a fleet of four vessels apparently under convoy of a ship of war. As the Constitution overhauled them very rapidly the ship cast off a brig which she had in tow and made sail to windward, leaving the brig in flames. The other vessels were directed to scatter. The first of them overtaken proved to be a British ship on her way home as prize to an American privateer. She had been spoken by the British fleet, and would undoubtedly have been recaptured if the Constitution had not appeared. A second vessel overhauled and boarded proved to be an American brig with an English prize crew on board. She was released by taking out her prize master and crew and putting on board men taken from the Constitution.
Captain Hull now determined to change his cruising-ground, as he learned from some of the prisoners that the British squadron which had chased his ship off New York was cruising on the Grand Banks quite near him. On August 16, he therefore headed to the southward, and the next day gave chase to a brig, which he found to be the privateer Decatur, of Salem. During the chase, her captain, supposing the Constitution to be a British frigate, had made every effort to escape, and had thrown overboard twelve of his fourteen guns to lighten the ship. His voyage proved peculiarly unfortunate, as he had not made a single capture, and here he had lost his battery to no purpose. He did, however, induce Captain Hull to change his course more to the southward, by telling him that he had sighted a British frigate cruising in that direction on the day before. At two o'clock on the afternoon of the 19th, in latitude 41° 42', longitude 55° 48', a sail was discovered from the masthead bearing about E. S. E., and the Constitution bore off to intercept her with all sail set and a good breeze on the starboard quarter. One hour later she was made out to be a frigate sailing by the wind on the starboard tack. This ship proved to be the Guerriere. She had left the British squadron off New York and was proceeding to Halifax for repairs and equipment.
She maintained her course, and the Constitution approached her rapidly under a fresh breeze. At five o'clock they were about two miles apart. The Constitution took in her light sails, hauled up her courses, got all snug below and ready for action, and beat to quarters. The crew gave three cheers. In the meantime the Guerriere had run the British ensign up to each masthead and had backed her mainsail in order to wait for her enemy to come up. At 5.05 she discharged her starboard broadside without hitting anything, then wore around immediately and discharged her port broadside. Two shots took effect, but most of them were too high. The Constitution then hoisted an ensign and a jack at each masthead, and began firing with as many of her bow guns as she could bring to bear. For three quarters of an hour the battle continued in this way, the British ship wearing from time to time to fire a broadside, and the American ship yawing to avoid being raked and to send an occasional shot from her bow guns. Finding that nothing was accomplished in this way, Captain Hull wore around, set the main top gallant sail, and headed directly for the enemy, who now bore up with the wind on the port quarter. In this position the two ships were sailing in the same direction, with the Constitution overhauling the other on the windward side. She soon closed, and at five minutes after six both ships opened a very heavy fire as the broadside guns began to bear.
Up to this time, the greater part of the American crew had remained at their quarters, impassive spectators of what was going on, and while they were running up alongside of the Guerriere the gunners stood with locked strings in their hands waiting in silence for the order to fire. Several of them were killed beside their guns, and Lieutenant Morris became very impatient to begin firing. Hull restrained him. The situation must have been extremely trying to the men at both the sails and the guns, to be brought thus under a heavy fire without the heartening excitement of striking back. The order came at last, and Hull's good judgment was soon demonstrated. In ten minutes the enemy's mizzen-mast was struck by a carronade shot and fell over the starboard side, knocking a large hole in the counter. In the excitement of the conflict, one of the American sailors exclaimed at this moment, " Damn it, Jack, but we have made a brig of her! " The Constitution passed ahead about two hundred yards off the port beam continuing her fire. At twenty minutes past six Captain Hull put the helm hard aport to cross the Guerriere's bow and rake her, but many of the braces had been cut away and some of the sails had been disabled, so that the ship did not swing as quickly as he desired. There was time to fire only two raking broadsides, which did fearful execution, before the Guerriere's bowsprit and jib-boom had fouled the lee mizzen rigging of the Constitution.
While they were entangled, the Constitution received a shot through her cabin and took fire, but the flames were soon extinguished. The Guerriere's bowsprit offered so convenient a passage for boarding that Mr. Morris got up on the taffrail to see if the British were collecting for that purpose. He evidently thought they were, and Captain Hull was therefore induced to call away men to repel the boarders. Captain Dacres had actually given the orders to board. Mr. Morris endeavored to pass a lashing around the Guerriere's bowsprit in order to keep her in a disadvantageous position, but he was shot through the body and fell over on the Hahdwq deck. Lieutenant William S. Bush, of the Marines, standing near by, was killed, and Mr. Alwyn was wounded at the same time. The log-book of an officer on the Guerriere states that the wreckage of the fallen mizzen-mast brought the ship up into the wind against her helm (very much as a drag thrown out to leeward would affect a ship under way), and exposed her to a heavy raking fire. When the Constitution wore around her bow she was practically helpless, and the resulting collision must have weakened her standing rigging; for immediately after they separated, the foremast and mainmast went by the board and left her an unmanageable wreck rolling her main-deck guns underwater. At half past six, when even-the spritsail yard had gone, the case was hopeless, and Captain Dacres fired a shot to leeward in token of surrender.
Captain Hull, seeing that the Guerriere was incapable of further resistance, stood off a few ship's-lengths to reeve new braces and examine his ship for injuries, but only a short time was required for this. At seven o'clock, he had come about and placed his ship under the enemy's lee in readiness to continue the fight. Captain Dacres immediately struck his flag. "When Lieutenant George C. Read went on board to take possession, he found the spar-deck a horrible spectacle. The masts and yards were hanging over the side, many guns were dismounted, and the bodies of the dead and dying were lying as they had fallen amid the tangle of ropes and rigging. The hull was in a sinking condition, and in some places adjacent portholes had been knocked into one by the tearing out of intermediate timbers. A report of the ship's condition was sent back to Captain Hull, and his boats were quickly hoisted out to remove the prisoners. A surgeon's mate went on board to assist with the wounded.
The crew which surrendered numbered 267. Fifteen had been killed, making a total of 282 men in all at the beginning of the action. Ten of these were Americans, who had been allowed to go below to spare them from serving against their own countrymen. The battery of the Guerriere was composed of thirty long 18-pounders on the gundeck, and two long 12-pounders, one 18-pound carronade and sixteen 32-pound carronades on the spar-deck, or forty-nine guns in all, firing a broadside of 556 pounds. Her tonnage was 1338, or about eighty-five hundredths of her adversary's.
The Constitution carried at this time 456 officers and men. Her battery has been given, but it may be re-stated here for a more ready comparison. There were thirty long 2-4-pounders on the gundeck, twenty-two 32-pound carronades on the spardeck, and two long 24-pounders and one long 18-pounder as bow chasers on the forecastle, in all fifty-five guns with a broadside weighing actually 684 pounds, nominally 736 pounds. She was in every respect, in size, construction, battery and crew, superior to her antagonist; besides, her men were vastly better trained in gunnery, and the ship was handled with greater skill. The Guerriere lost 15 killed and 63 wounded, as against 7 killed and 7 wounded on the American side. One of the latter's killed was accidentally blown from the muzzle of a gun while putting in the powder, because he had not thoroughly sponged out the powder-chamber. There was no comparison in the damage inflicted; one ship was practically destroyed, while the other was ready for another chase a few hours afterwards. Her masts and yards had received a few shots in them, and some of the rigging was carried away. The hull hardly suffered at all.
Our ship is said to have obtained her sobriquet, "Old Ironsides," during this fight. A seaman noticed a shot strike the side and fall back into the sea, and shouted, "Huzza, her sides are made of iron!" Sir Howard Douglass says of this battle that the masts of the Guerriere had already been crippled by stress of sail and by decay, and that several of the guns and carronades broke loose owing to the perishing condition of their breechings. The decayed state of the timbers permitted the breeching-bolts to pull through the side. He admits, however, that these untoward circumstances and the difference in size and equipment are not sufficient to account for the disparity of loss in killed and wounded. There is testimony, on the other hand, that Captain Dacres thought his ship an uncommonly good representative of her class.
An examination of the Guerriere and an attempt at towing demonstrated the impossibility of getting her into port, and Captain Hull gave orders to burn her. All the prisoners were taken out, and Lieutenant Read set fire to her on the afternoon of the 20th. She blew up soon after, and the Constitution sailed for Boston, where she arrived on August 30. Captain Dacres had closed his interview with an American frigate wounded and a prisoner of war. lie had been so eager to meet one of them, and so confident of the result, that he had written a challenge on the register of the John Adams, a merchant-ship out of Liverpool, as follows:
"Captain Dacres, commander of His Britannic Majesty's frigate Guerriere of forty-four guns, presents his compliments to Commodore Rodgers, of the United States frigate President, and will be very happy to meet him or any other American frigate of equal force to the President off Sandy Hook, for the purpose of having a few minutes' tete-a-tete."
This communication would indicate a vainglorious, swaggering disposition, but Captain Dacres seems to have been a very honorable, conscientious officer. His report to Vice-Admiral Sawyer was to the point and perfectly straightforward, although he did not agree with Captain Hull in some minor particulars. He says of his captors,
"I feel it my duty to state that the conduct of Captain Hull and his officers to our men has been that of a brave enemy; the greatest care being taken to prevent our men losing the smallest trifle and the greatest attention being paid to the wounded."
It is said that just before setting fire to the Guerriere Captain Hull asked Captain Dacres if there was anything he would like to save from his ship. He said, "Yes, my mother's Bible, which I have carried with me for years." An officer was sent to get it, and from that moment a friendship sprang up between these two captains that lasted until Hull's death in 1843.
|Congressional Medal given Captain Isaac Hull in 1812 - image from Carpenter, Edmund J. (November 1897). "Old Ironsides". The New England Magazine XVII (3): 263-82|
Another story exhibits in a very favorable light the character, not only of Captain Dacres, but also of a Yankee merchant - skipper. An American brig, commanded by Elijah Adams, bound into Boston from the coast of Portugal, was captured by the Guerriere not long before the action with the Constitution. Her cargo was salt, with silk stowed between decks; and Dacres, after taking out the silk, agreed to ransom her for three or four thousand dollars, if the captain would give his note payable in Halifax. His son, a second Elijah Adams, was left on board as hostage, or guarantee. After the Constitution was sighted and her nationality made out, some of the English crew, by way of chaffing the young man, told him to cheer up, that he would have plenty of company soon. They really believed it, too. He was allowed to go into the cock-pit with other Americans in the crew, where they would be out of danger. They could hear the firing, but could not see it.
|Congressional Medal given Captain Isaac Hull in 1812 , obverse - image from Carpenter, Edmund J. (November 1897). "Old Ironsides". The New England Magazine XVII (3): 263-82|
After the surrender, the youth was transferred to the Constitution with the prisoners, and reached Boston in ten days. His father's ship was a slow sailer, and came jogging up the harbor after dark several days later. The old gentleman reached home in Sudbury Street at midnight, and the front door was opened by his son, the hostage. " Well, where in thunder did you come from ?" he exclaimed. The story of the fight was soon told. A day or two afterwards Captain Adams had an interview with Captain Dacres in reference to the status of his bond. He had no thought but to pay it, unless some arrangement could be made on account of the capture of the Guerriere. Captain Dacres said, "No, that money belongs to my crew. I will give you my share of it, but I can not relinquish theirs. I must take care of my boys." The old captain was a poor man, but he made no attempt to evade the responsibility, and paid Ins note on that basis.1 Some parts of young Adams's story are omitted, as they are only repetitions of what appears in the following extract from the private journal of Captain William B. Orne, published for the first time in Coggeshall's "History of the American Privateers."
" I commanded the American brig Betsey, in the year 1812, and was returning home from Naples, Italy, to Boston. When near the western edge of the Grand Bank of Newfoundland, on the 10th of August, 1812, I fell in with the British frigate Guerriere, Captain Dacres, and was captured by him. Myself and a boy were taken on board of the frigate ; the remainder of my officers and men were left in the Betsey, and sent into Halifax, N. S., as a prize to the Guerriere. On the 19th of the same month, when in latitude 41° 41' North, longitude about 55° 40' West, the wind being fresh from the northward, the Guerriere was under double-reefed topsails during all the forenoon of this day. At two P. M., we discovered a large sail to windward, bearing about North from us. We soon made her out to be a frigate. She was steering off from the wind, with her head to the Southwest, evidently with the intention of cutting us off as soon as possible. Signals were soon made by the Guerriere, but as they were not answered, the conclusion of course was, that she was either a French or an American frigate. Captain Dacres appeared anxious to ascertain her character, and after looking at her for that purpose, handed me his spy-glass, requesting me to give him my opinion of the stranger. I soon saw from the peculiarity of her sails, and from her general appearance, that she was, without doubt, an American frigate, and communicated the same to Captain Dacres. He immediately replied, that he thought she came down too boldly for an American, but soon after added : ' The better he behaves, the more honor we shall gain by taking him.'
The two ships were rapidly approaching each other, when the Guerriere backed her main-topsail, and waited for her opponent to come down, and commence the action. He then set an English flag at each mast-head, beat to quarters, and made ready for the fight. When the strange frigate came down to within two or three miles distance, he hauled upon the wind, took in all his light sails, reefed his topsails, and deliberately prepared for action. It was now about five o'clock in the afternoon, when he filled away and ran down for the Guerriere. At this moment Captain Dacres politely said to me: ' Captain Orne, as I suppose you do not wish to fight against your own countrymen, you are at liberty to go below the water-line.' It was not long after this before I retired from the quarter-deck to the cock-pit; of course I saw no more of the action until the firing ceased, but I heard and felt much of its effects; for soon after I left the deck, the firing commenced on board the Guerriere, and was kept up almost incessantly until about six o'clock, when I heard a tremendous explosion from the opposing frigate. The effect of her shot seemed to make the Guerriere reel, and tremble as though she had received the shock of an earthquake. Immediately after this, I heard a tremendous crash on deck, and was told the mizzen-mast was shot away. In a few moments afterward, the cock-pit was filled with wounded men. At about half-past six o'clock in the evening, after the firing had ceased, I went on deck, and there beheld a scene which it would be difficult to describe ; all the Guerriere's masts were shot away, and as she had no sails to steady her, she lay rolling like a log in the trough of the sea. Many of the men were employed in throwing the dead overboard. The decks were covered with blood, and had the appearance of a butcher's slaughter-house; the gun tackles were not made fast, and several of the guns got loose, and were surging to and fro from one side to the other.
"Some of the petty officers and seamen, after the action, got liquor, and were intoxicated ; and what with the groans of the wounded, the noise and confusion of the enraged survivors of the ill-fated ship rendered the whole scene a perfect hell."
This fight, one of the most dramatic in our history, both in its action and in its immediate effect upon the country, supplied the periodicals with many stories which have been told and retold to generations of our youth. Naturally, every man in a crew of 461 would have some individual experience to relate which lost nothing in the telling. The time of enlistment ran out, the men scattered to other ships, and the tales of the " Old Constitution " which within a generation became current throughout the service would fill volumes. They differ more or less in detail, and some would not now be recognized by their own parents; yet they all agree in representing Hull as a fearless and magnanimous commander. His skill and coolness in handling a ship became proverbial, and his crew had absolute confidence in him. It is said that when Captain Dacres was climbing up the side of the Constitution, Hull went to meet him, and reaching out his hand said, as to an old friend, " acres, give me your hand, I know you are hurt."
One incident connected with the action is well authenticated. The flag at the fore top gallant masthead was shot away, and an Irish lad, Daniel Hogan, climbed up and lashed it in place. He afterwards had his hand badly lacerated in the action with the Java by the lead flying from the scupper through which a shot passed, and in 1844 applied for admission to the Naval Asylum for aged seamen.
In order to comprehend the exultation over this victory, it is necessary only to consider the state of the country, and especially the discouragement of the port from which the Constitution had sailed. The summer of 1812 had presented a gloomy outlook. Incompetence reigned on land, and the campaign against upper Canada had proved an utter failure. General Hull's surrender on land occurred only a few days before Captain Hull's triumph on the sea. Nothing was expected of the Navy. Many merchant-ships were shut up in Boston, and trade was dead. The open talk of secession and the dismal prediction of disaster served only to intensify the gloom. The appearance of the Constitution was like a bright gleam in the darkness. We were not absolutely impotent after all, even against the greatest sea-power of the world, and ship for ship we had nothing to fear. The charm was broken. Here was something over which all sections alike could rejoice, in which all parties could unite, and which belonged to the country as a whole. It is small wonder that some people seemed to have gone mad.
Captain Hull and his officers were received with open arms. A dinner in their honor was given at Faneuil Hall on September 5. They were marched up State Street in a procession with many of Boston's leading citizens of both political parties, and thousands lined the sidewalks to see them. The repast was what the Palladium called an "excellent dinner." It must have been interminable, for seventeen toasts were drunk.
Battle of Queenstown Heights
October 13, 1812
by John Austin Stevens
October 13, 1812
by John Austin Stevens
|The Battle of Queenston Heights, James B. Dennis, circa 1866|
The battle of Queenston heights and the name of General Brock are Canadian household words associated with the war of 1812 which will ever live and be held sacred to the latest generation of Canadians. The ‘village of Queenston is on the bank of the Niagara river, at the foot of the heights, about seven miles above where stood Fort George of 1812, and is distant some four or five miles from the falls of Niagara. The battle-field of Lundy’s Lane, fought on the 25th of July, 1814, is close by the falls, bordering on the old village of Drummondville.
General Brock was at Fort George on the morning of October 13, and mounted his horse on the first alarm and rode at full speed to the threatened point. On his arrival he found the Americans on the heights above the village. Brock was killed at the very opening of_ the fight, while heading a company of the forty~ninth to retake the battery of one gun on the slope, which the Americans had captured; but in the afternoon of the same day, as will be hereafter shown, the scattered bodies of the little British force were mustered from Fort George, Chippewa, and the other outlying posts and attacked the Americans. After one volley, then a bayonet charge, they forced nearly one-half of them over the heights into the Niagara, capturing some five hundred prisoners on the verge of the precipice—thus avenging the death of their almost idolized leader by a glorious victory.
Let us now go back in retrospect nearly fifty years, to a Sunday morning in the month of June, 1845, when the writer took a seat on the summit of Queenston heights, close to where Brock's monument stands, to observe the magnificent view of hill, mountain, river, and lake from this historic point. Lewiston heights on the American side, to the right, are separated from the Canadian or Queenston heights by the deep, narrow gorge of some six hundred feet of the channel of the Niagara river, cut out at some far-off day by the force of that mighty mass of water from the falls, over which the whole waters of Lake Erie and the other upper lakes find their outlet into Lake Ontario. Just below, at the foot of the heights, is the quaint old village or town of Queenston. This mountain range or high tableland on which we are sitting is the same that passes along the head of Lake Ontario, and in rear and above the city of Hamilton. Between the lake shore and the foot of this range of heights the finest fruit in America is cultivated. The peaches here equal those raised on the most favored spots in the United States. Seven miles distant we have a full view of the deep, blue Ontario, stretching about two hundred miles eastward to Kingston ; it is from forty to sixty miles broad in some parts. Between our standpoint and the lake shore, on our left, is the rich, fertile plain of the Niagara, studded with orchards and gardens— the “garden of Canada"—and the old homesteads of the Loyalists, surrounded by smiling wheat fields and rich meadow lands, extending as far as Stony creek. This view is rendered doubly interesting from the fact that it embraces the war-path of both armies during the war of 1812. On the American side of the Niagara, to our right, the old town of Lewiston nestles beneath the shades of its own heights; and about seven miles below stands old Fort Niagara, overlooking Lake Ontario, directly opposite to where Fort George stood.
Truly this is historic ground. On and around these heights and along the whole river-bank of the Niagara, from Fort George to the ruins of Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, a distance of over thirty miles, every footstep recalls bygone stories of early Canadian life. Long before a British drum was heard, or a union jack of England floated in those remote wilds, the daring explorers of old France had visited the falls and were familiar with the locality. La Salle nearly two and a half centuries ago established a fur trading post on the very spot where Fort Niagara now stands; and a few miles above the falls, near Navy island, he built his little schooner the Grzfln, the rude pioneer of those magnificent floating castles which have since that day passed over the rough waters of Lake Erie.
During the three years of the war of 1812 the Canadian bank of the Niagara river, from Fort George to Fort Erie, was one continuous battlefield. There was a constant march and counter-march of armed men up and down its banks.
War was declared by the United States against Great Britain on the 18th day of June, 1812. General Brock was then in command of the British force in Upper Canada; General Hull was governor of Michigan with headquarters at Detroit, from which place he issued proclamations to the people of Canada to induce them to join the American cause or remain neutral. Brock decided to surprise Hull by a rapid movement westward, and for that end gathered what regulars and volunteers he could, with whom he started for Detroit and reached Malden, opposite Detroit, on the 15th of August, 1812. The next day General Hull surrendered Detroit and the whole state of Michigan, with all his army, guns, stores, shipping, etc., without firing a shot, as recorded in the history of that date. Brock lost no time after the taking of Detroit, but sailed immediately for Fort Erie with the prisoners, guns, etc., captured at Detroit. His intention was to attack Buffalo and Fort Niagara and to destroy all the American posts on the Niagara frontier; but to his disappointment and disgust, when he reached Fort Erie on the 22d of August, 1812, he found that an armistice had been concluded the week before his arrival.
The Americans took advantage of the armistice to concentrate large bodies of troops, guns, stores, etc., at various posts on the Niagara, so that by the middle of September they had fully eight thousand men concentrated between Buffalo and Fort Niagara. There were between four and five thousand men collected at Fort Niagara and on the Lewiston heights, opposite Queenston, while over four hundred bateaux laden with guns, stores, etc., from Sacket's Harbor and other places had reached the mouth of the Niagara and were safely moored under the guns of Fort Niagara. During the first week of October the Americans were prepared to attack, having a force four times as large as the British, and having provided themselves with a large number of boats of every description—bateaux, scows, etc.—not only at Fort Niagara, but at Buffalo, Black Rock, and at other places above the falls of Niagara, ready to transport troops across the river at any point they chose. General Brock had his headquarters at Fort George, seven miles below Queenston, and he had to garrison a line of outlying posts for over thirty miles to Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo. Brock's scattered forces stationed above the falls at Chippewa and Fort Erie, and the other outposts between these two places, required fully six hundred men to guard them, and weakened his main point of defense. The Americans were acting on the offensive, and they might invade Canada by way of Buffalo or Black Rock or at the mouth of the Niagara at Fort Niagara. Brock thought the main attack would be on Fort George, his headquarters.
Even on the 9th of October, four days before the battle of Queenston, early in the morning of that day a large body of marines from Buffalo crossed the Niagara and captured two armed vessels, the Caledonia and Dzlroit, richly laden with furs, etc., moored under the guns of Fort Erie. The Caledonia remained a prize in the hands of the Americans, but the Detroit was burned in an attempt to recapture her. This called Brock to Fort Erie, where he arrived before sunset that day; but having satisfied himself that this was merely a surprise, and that the Americans would not attempt to cross the river there, he returned to headquarters at Fort George the next day. This hurried visit of Brock's to Fort Erie, thirty miles distant, caused the American General Van Rensselaer, to take advantage of his absence to prepare to cross the Niagara at Queenston early on the morning of the 10th ; but a furious storm of wind and rain passed over their camp while the troops were drawn up in readiness to embark, by which the attack was delayed three days.
During the whole day and evening of the 12th the Americans could be distinctly seen from the Queenston heights—battalion after battalion concentrating in and around Lewiston and on the heights above, to the number of fully five thousand men; and it was believed on the Canadian shore the crossing would be made during that night, but whether the landing would be made at Queenston or at Fort George was uncertain. Brock himself was of the opinion it would be at Fort George. Their boats were all ready, some to carry thirty, others eighty men, and they could as easily float down the current of the river and land above Fort George, when the guns of Fort Niagara could open upon Fort George and at the same time cover the landing of an attacking party from Fort Niagara. This was Brock’s opinion even after he had mounted his horse to leave Fort George for the last time to reach the threatened but real landing at Queenston.
On that eventful morning, the 13th of October, 1812, a day never to be forgotten by Canadians, long before break of day the first of the American boats reached the Canadian shore. They were met by Captain Dennis's company, who poured several volleys into them with fatal effect. The flash of their muskets in the dark pointed out their position to the American gunners on Lewiston heights, who were standing by their guns with lighted matches, and who opened fire, causing Dennis to withdraw his men under shelter. The gunners at the one gun battery on the slope of Queenston heights and those at the one g‘zm battery at Brooman's point opened fire on the Lewiston landing with the hope of disabling the boats. It was a random fire, being quite dark. These two guns continued all the morning to throw shot and shell through darkness and distance, and if doing little execution created a panic in the ranks of the Americans and deterred hundreds of the boldest of them from crossing the river.
The British force at Queenston, being an outpost of Fort George, did not much exceed two hundred men, composed of Dennis's and Cameron’s companies of the York militia, with the light and grenadier companies of the forty-ninth regiment, stationed in the village, with two other companies of the York militia some three miles distant, besides a few of the local militia and the gunners to man the gun on the slope and the one at Brooman's point. This was the whole force at Queenston that morning to dis— pute the landing, while on the American side opposite stood four thousand to five thousand men prepared to cross to support their advance body. But their courage failed them on beholding the warm reception their vanguard met with ; and in the afternoon of the same day fully three thousand of them stood, panic-stricken, on their own Lewiston heights, as they beheld opposite them on Queenston heights the wreck and ruin of their brave companions of the morning who had crossed the river, now being driven over the heights into the Niagara or surrendering themselves as prisoners-of-war. Those three thousand stood on their own ground, not a mile distant from the scene of conflict, having plenty of boats to convey them across, with folded arms and gaping mouths—silent spectators of the defeat, capture, and destruction of their brave vanguard.
Brock reached Queenston before break of day, splashed with mud from his hard ride, and at once galloped to the one gun battery on the slope; but shortly after reaching it a loud shout or cheer came from the hillside above, followed by a volley of random bullets whistling overhead, while a body of the Americans charged down the heights upon the battery. Brock and the gunners had to make an immediate retreat, spiking their gun, but on reaching the lower end of the village Brock found the light company of the forty-ninth drawn up in line awaiting orders; then, wheeling his horse in the direction of the heights, he exclaimed: “Follow me, my boys,” and led them at a run to the foot of the heights, supported by the grenadiers of the forty-ninth and a company of the York militia, who were detached to the right to attack the left and rear of the Americans. Brock halted at the foot of the heights, behind a stone wall, and dismounted, saying to his men: “Take breath, boys; you will need it in a few moments."
Shortly after, observing that his skirmishes on the right had reached the left and rear of the Americans, causing confusion in their ranks around the battery, he sprang over the stone wall, waving his sword, and calling on the grenadiers to follow him. He then led the way up the steep toward the battery. The ascent was difficult; the late rains had caused the fallen leaves to be treacherous foot-holes; the men slipped at nearly every step, some falling to the ground; causing the ranks to be much broken, so much so that Brock angrily exclaimed: “This is the first time I have ever seen the forty-ninth turn their backs." Colonel McDonnell then came up with two companies of the York militia, increasing the attacking party in front and on the right to nearly two hundred men. The American force was now increased around and above the battery to about five hundred men. Brock called on Colonel McDonnell to push on the York volunteers. At that moment he was struck by a bullet in the wrist of his sword arm, to which he paid no attention, continuing to wave his sword. In the dull gray mists of that October morning, half way up the heights, could be seen the tall, portly form of General Brock, standing in front and far in advance of the grenadiers of the forty-ninth, a living target‘ for the bullets of the unerring American rifle, waving his sword and calling on his men, and encouraging them, both by word and gesture, to hasten their steps. He did not long stand there. The fatal bullet sped its way—striking him near the heart—causing almost instantaneous death.
Colonel McDonnell immediately spurred his horse to the front and assumed command. Everything was in disorder. The men became dispirited at the death of their almost idolized leader. After repeated attempts to rally and to keep his force together, McDonnell also was killed. The British force then gave way and retreated to the foot of the heights, carrying the bodies of their general and McDonnell and most of the wounded with them. This closed the morning fight on the slope of the heights, leaving the Americans in possession of the one gun battery.
By this time fully fifteen hundred of the Americans had landed, and several hundred of them made their way to the top of the heights, increasing their force there to about nine hundred men. The arrival of Captain Derenzy from Fort George with four companies of the fortyfirst regiment, Holcroft's battery of royal artillery of two six-pounders, and a few Indians and militia, forming a junction with the retreating force from the heights, held the Americans in check, and with well-directed shots from Holcroft’s guns, placed at first below the village and afterward within the walls surrounding the “Hamilton homestead," played havoc amongthe boats and silenced the American guns at the Lewiston landing, so that from that time few boats attempted to cross the river. The British force-around and below Queenston held possession of the roads leading to St. David's and in rear and on the left of the heights, thus keeping open their communication with Chippewa above the falls, and also with Fort George ; the Americans holding possession of the heights above Queenston, while hundreds of them remained below at the landing, under protection of the river-bank, ready to find their way back to their own shore when opportunity offered.
The Americans took up a position having the precipice of the Niagara on their right and rear, without providing for a line of retreat or escape in case of disaster. The first duty of an experienced general, after getting possession of the heights, would seem to have been to have detached one hundred and fifty to two hundred riflemen to his left through the woods (afterward taken possession of by the British~Indians) and to have secured the roads leading from Queenston to Chippewa, thus cutting off all communication between Queenston and Chippewa; but their general did not see it. They appear to have stood inactive for over six hours. The British general at once detached his Indians, about one hundred, to hold the woods on the American left, and secure the roads leading to Chippewa. This, and this alone, was the cause of the American defeat on Queenston heights.
By noon all the men that could be spared from Fort George had assembled around Queenston; General Roger Sheaife arrived and assumed command. The force consisted of Holcroft's two guns, six-pounders, of the royal artillery; Swayze's two guns, three-pounders, of the provincial artillery; four companies of the forty~first regiment ; James Crooke’s and McEwen's companies of the first Lincoln militia; William Crooke's and Nelles's companies of the fourth Lincoln; Applegarth's, Hatt's, and Durand's companies of the fifth Lincoln; a few of Merritt’s provincial dragoons, and the remnants of the two companies of the forty-ninth and the three companies of the York militia engaged in the morning—in all about eight hundred men. The lndians in the woods on the heights on the left of the Americans, under john Norton and John Brant, made up about one hundred more. The Canadian reader will see and be proud to learn that fully one-half of the British force that day on Queenston heights was "Canadian militia," composed chiefly of the brave fighting boys of Lincoln and York.
General Sheafl'c left Holcroft's battery with a small body of militia in support to guard the village of Queenston and to prevent the Americans landing more men, and then ascended the heights on the left flank of the Americans, in rear of the woods held by the Indians. The Americans had expected the attack straight up the slope of the heights, and were now obliged to change their front by throwing back their left and advancing their right, so as to face the British line advancing on the rear of their left. The British force from Chippewa, consisting of the light company of the forty-first regiment under Lieutenant McIntyre, and Hamilton's and Rowe’s companies of the second Lincoln, with a few volunteers, formed a junction with the main body from Queenston at about two o’clock in the afternoon, increasing their numbers to about nine hundred and fifty men. The line of attack was formed, having the light company of the forty-first and the two companies of the forty-ninth under Captain Dennis on the left of the line next to the Indians, supported by a battalion of militia under Colonel Butler. The centre and right were composed of the other four companies of the forty-first, supported by the rest of the militia under Colonel Thomas Clarke. Swayze's two three-pounders, drawn by men with ropes, preceded the advance of the line. The actual number of the Americans facing General Sheaffe's advancing column was between nine hundred and one thousand, the rest of them being around the battery on the slope, while hundreds remained below at the landing, under cover of the river-bank. Therefore the actual number on both sides engaged on the heights was about equal. The battle was opened by the light company of the forty-first, on the left, firing one volley, then charging with fixed bayonets upon the riflemen on the right of the American line, who gave way in great confusion, having no bayonets to their rifles, leaving that flank exposed. General Sheaffe then gave the signal for a general advance of his whole line.
The gun in front of the American position was carried almost without resistance, and the whole body of the Americans was forced steadily back upon the river to the very crest of the precipice in their rear. The fight was short, rapid, and decisive. The advance of the British line, having assumed the form of a crescent, overlapped the Americans on both flanks. General Wadsworth and Colonel Christie with over five hundred men surrendered on the very verge of the cliff. Many of the fugitives scrambled down the sides of the heights toward the landing, with the hope of escaping to their own shore; but Holcroft’s battery below, in rear of the village of Queenston, had rendered the passage of the river so dangerous that the boatmen refused to cross. Many plunged into the river and attempted to swim across. Half of them were drowned, while the remainder secreted themselves among the rocks and bushes along the shore. During this time our Indians lined the cliff or perched themselves high in the trees above, firing at the fugitives whenever opportunity offered. The American General Scott, to preserve the rest of his command from utter destruction, raised a white flag and surrendered his whole remaining force of about three hundred men; some evaded by secreting themselves, but surrendered the next day, making the whole number of prisoners over nine hundred and fifty officers and men—thus closing a GLORIOUS CANADIAN VICTORY, and avenging the death of General Brock.
The American loss in killed, wounded, drowned, and missing has never been correctly ascertained, owing partly to the immediate dispersal of a large portion of their militia. Some accounts give their killed and drowned at one hundred, and their wounded at two hundred; others place their drowned alone at one hundred, and three hundred killed and wounded. Another American account stated that sixteen hundred Americans were engaged, of whom nine hundred were regulars, and the number of killed and drowned was estimated at from one hundred and ‘fifty to four hundred. Take it all in all, it was a great victory ; the Americans losing nearly one thousand prisoners and from two to three hundred in killed, drowned, and missing. The British loss was small—sixteen killed and sixty-nine wounded. The returns are missing, and this may not include the Indians. The total casualties, however, on the British side may be set down as under one hundred.
The writer’s stand-point view on Queenston heights, in 1845, is still there. The monument erected to the memory of General Brock by a grateful people still stands. The waters of Niagara roll silently but swiftly by, as of old. All is now quiet and peaceful around those heights, and the conflict is almost forgotten by the people of Canada, except when aroused by some uncalled-for statements of the “American press" as to how they could “gobble up Canada." Then Canadians proudly point to the glorious victory won by their little army of 1812, on Queenston heights, and so long as breathes a patriotic Canadian, or Canada remains a portion of the British empire, that battle and the name of General Brock will ever be held sacred as “Canadian household words."
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