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General Smyth to a committee of the patriotic citizens of the
western counties of New York.
CAMP NEAR BUFFALOE, December 3d, 1812. GENTLEMEN,
Your letter of December 2d is before me; and I answer it in the following manner: On the 26th October, I ordered that 20 scows should be
prepared for the transportation of artillery and cavalry, and put the carpenters of the army upon that duty:
By the 26th of November, 10 scows were completed, and by bringing some boats from lake Ontario, above the falls of Niagara, the number was increased to seventy.
I had on the 26th of November, issued an address to the men of New York, and perhaps 300 had arrived at Buffaloe. I presumed that the regular troops, and the volunteers under colonels Swift and M'Clure, would furnish 2,300 men for duty; and of general Tannehill's brigade (from Pennsylvania) reporting a total of 1,650, as many as 413 had volunteered to cross into Canada. My orders were to “cross with 3,000 men at once.” I deemed myself ready to fulfil them.
Preparatory thereto, on the night of the 27th November, I sent over two parties, one under lieutenant colonel Boerstler, the other under captain King, with whom lieutenant Angus, of the navy, at the head of a body of seamen, united. The first was to capture a guard, and destroy a bridge about five miles below fort Erie; the second were to take and render useless the cannon of the enemy's batteries, and some pieces of light artillery. The first party failed to destroy the bridge; the second, after rendering unserviceable the light artillery, separated by some misapprehension. Lieutenant Angus, the seamen, and part of the troops, returned with all the boats; while captain King, captain Morgan, captain Sproul, lieutenant Houston, and about sixty men remained. The party thus reduced, attacked, took, and rendered unserviceable two of the enemy's batteries, captured thirty-four prison ! ers, found two boats, in which captain King sent the prisoners and about half his party with the other officers; he himself remaining with 30 men whom he would not abandon.
Orders had been given, that all the troops in the neighbourhood should march, at revellie, to the place of embarkation. A part of the detachment sent in the night having returned and excited apprehensions for the residue, about 250 men, under the command of colonel Winder, suddenly put off in boats for the opposite shore; a part of this force had landed, when a force deemed superior, with one piece of artillery, was discovered ; a retreat was ordered; and colonel Winder's detachment suffered a loss of six killed and nineteen wounded, besides some officers.
The general embarkation commenced as the troops arrived; but this being a first embarkation, the whole of the scows were occu
pied by about one third of the artillery, while about 800 regular infantry, about 200 twelve month's volunteers, under colonel Swift, and about 200 of the militia who had volunteered their services for a few days, occupied all the boats that were ready, the troops then embaked, moved up the stream to Black Rock without loss ; they were ordered to disembark and dine.
I had received from my commanding general an instruction in the following words—"In all important movements you will, I presume, consider it advisable to consult some of your principal officers.” I deemed this equivalent to an order; and the movement important. I called for the field officers of the regulars, and twelve month's volunteers embarked. Colonel Porter was not found at the moment. These questions were put- Is it expedient NOW to cross over? Is the force we have sufficient to conquer the opposite const?
The first question was decided in the negative by colonel Parker, colonel Schuyler, colonel Winder, lieutenant colonel Boerstler, lieutenant colonel Coles, and major Campbell. Colonel Swift, of volunteers, alone gave an opinion for then crossing over.
The second question was not decided. Colonel Parker, colonel Schuyler, lieutenant colonel Coles, and major Campbell, were decidedly of opinion that the force was insufficient. Colonel Winder, colonel Swift, lieutenant colonel Boerstler, and captain Gibson, deemed the force sufficient.
I determined to pospone crossing over until more complete preparation would enable me to embark the whole force at once, the course prescribed by my orders. The next day was spent in such preparation, and the troops were ordered to be again at the place of embarkation at 8 o'clock in the morning of the 30th November. On their arrival they were sent into the adjacent woods, there to build fires, and remain until 3 o'clock in the morning of the 1st of December; when it was intended to put off two hours before day-light, so as to avoid the fire of the enemy's cannon in passing the position which it was believed they occupied below, to land above Chippeway, assault that place, and if successful, march through Queenstown for Fort George. For this expedition the contractor was called on to furnish rations for 2,500 men for four days, when it was found he could furnish the pork but not the flour; the deputy quarter master called for 60 barrels and got but 30.
The embarkation commenced, but was delayed by circumstances so as not to be completed until after day-light, when it was found the regular infantry, 688 men, the artillery, 177 men, Swift's volunteers estimated at 23, six companies of federal volunteers under captains Collins, Phillips, Allison, Moore, Mather and Marshall, amounting to 276 men, commanded by lieutenant colonel M‘Clure, 100 men of colonel Dobbin's militia, and a few men in a boat with general P. B. Porter, had embarked, the whole on board amounting, exclusive of officers, to 1,466 men, or thereabouts, and it was now two hours later than had been contemplated.
There were some groups of men not yet embarked ; they were applied to, requested, and ordered by the brigade major to get into the boats; they did not. The number of these the brigade major estimated at about 150. It was probably greater.
It then became a question, whether it was expedient to invade Canada in open day-light, with 1,500 men, at a point where no reinforcements could be expected for some days. I saw that the number of regular troops was declining rapidly. I knew that on them chiefly I was to depend.
I called together the officers commanding corps of the regular army. Colonel Parker being sick, those present were, colonel Porter of the artillery, colonel Schuyler, colonel Winder, and lieutenant colonel Coles.
I put to them this question : shall we proceed? They unanimously decided that we ought not.
I foresaw that the volunteers, who had come out for a few days, would disperse-several of them had on the evening of the 28th, broke their muskets. I foresaw that the number of the regular troops would decrease; measles, and other diseases, being among them; and they were now in tents, in the month of December. I informed the officers that the attempt to invade Canada would not be made, until the army was reinforced; directed them to withdraw their troops, and cover them with huts immediately.
You say that on Saturday every obstruction was removed, and that a landing might have been effected without the loss of a single man.” This proves you unacquainted with the occurrences of the day. Colonel Winder, in retiring from the enemy's shore in the morning, lost a tenth part of his force, in killed and wounded. The enemy showed no more than 5 or 600 men, as estimated by colonel Parker, and one piece of artillery, supposed a 9 pounder. That force, we, no doubt, might have overcome, but not without loss; and that, from the great advantage the enemy would have had, might have been considerable.
To recapitulate.My orders were to pass into Canada with 3000 men at once. On the first day of embarkation not more than 1,400 men were embarked, of whom 400, that is, half of the regular infantry, were exhausted with fatigue, and want of rest. On the second embarkation, only 1,500 men were embarked, and these were to have put off immediately, and to have descended the river to a point where reinforcements were not to be expected. On both days many of the regular troops were men in bad health, who could not have stood one day's march; who, although they were on the sick report, were turned out by their ardent officers.
The affair at Queenstown is a caution against relying on crowds, who go to the banks of Niagara, to look at a battle as on a theatrical exhibition; who, if they are disappointed at the sights, break their muskets; or if they are without rations for a day, desert.*
I have made you this frank disclosure, without admitting your authority to require it, under the impression that you are patriotic and candid men ; and that you will not censure me for following the cautious counsels of experience; nor,
join in the senseless clamor excited against me by an interested man.
I have some reason to believe that the cautious counsel given by the superior officers of my command, was good. From deserters, we learn that 2,314 rations are issued daily on the frontiers on the British side. Captain King, prisoner at Fort George, writes to an officer thus—"tell our friends to take better care of themselves than it appears I have done." I am, gentlemen, with great respect, yours, &c.
Brigadier General. To Messrs. George M'Clure, Lewis Birdsall, John Griffin, and William B. Rochester, a committee from the patriotic citizens of the western counties of New York,
P. S. It will be observed that the force ready could be no otherwise ascertained than by an actual embarkation, it being uncertain what portion of the volunteer force would embark.
CAMP, ON MISSISSINEWAY,
Two miles above Silver Heels, December 12th, 1812. DEAR GENERAL,
After a fatiguing march of three days and one night from Greenville, I arrived with the detachment under my command at a town on the Mississinewa, thought by the spies to be Silver Heel's town; but proved to be a town settled by a mixture of Delaware and Miaini Indians.
About 8 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, a charge was made upon the town, when
many fled over the river, others surrendered ; those who fled made resistance after crossing, by firing across the river. Thirty-seven prisoners are taken, whom I shall bring in with me, including men, women and children ; seven warriors were killed. After disposing of the prisoners, I marched a detachment down the river, and burned three villages without resistance, I then returned and encamped on the ground where stood the first village attacked.
This morning about day-light, or a little before, my camp was attacked by a party of Indians (the number unknown, but supposed to be between 2 and 300) on my right line, occupied by major
* Six hundred of general Tannehill's brigade deserted in twenty-four hours. A court martial of this brigade have finod a man twelve and an half cents for the crime of desertion !
Ball's squadron, who gallantly resisted them for about three quar, ters of an hour, when the Indians retreated, after being most gallantly charged by captain Trotter, at the head of his troop of cavalry. We lost in the first action, one killed and one wounded (by accident the last); in the action of this morning, we have eight killed and about thirty-five or forty wounded. Not having yet gotten a report, I am unable to state the number exactly. The Indians have lost about forty killed, from the discoveries now made; the spies are out at present ascertaining the number. I have sent to Greenville for a reinforcement, and send you this hasty sketch. A detailed report shall be hereafter made known
you, noticing particularly those companies and individuals who have distinguished themselves signally.
I anticipate another attack before I reach Greenville, but rest assured, my dear general, that they shall be warmly received. I have a detachment composed of the bravest fellows, both officers and soldiers, in the world. Our return will be commenced this morning. Among our killed, I have to deplore the loss of the brave captain Pierce. Lieutenant Waltz, of captain Markle's troop of cavalry, is also mortally wounded. Their gallant conduct shall be noticed hereafter. Yours, with the greatest respect and esteem,
JOHN B. CAMPBELL,
Lt. Col. 19th Reg. U. S. Infantry. General W. H. Harrison,
Commanding N. W. army.
GENERAL P. B. PORTER TO THE PUBLIC.
In the Gazette of last week, I promised to give an account of some of the most prominent transactions of the 28th of November and 1st of December. Having since that time, received from general Smyth, assurances, which, as a man of honor, I am bound to believe, that the course pursued by him on those days, was such as was required by his orders and instructions from the Secretary of War and general Dearborn, this communication will assume a character quite different from the one then contemplated. I am pledged, however, to the public, to give facts, which I shall proceed to do without comment; leaving it to time to develope the object of military movements which have appeared to me and others not only extraordinary, but inexplicable.
On the 27th of November there were collected at this point a military force of about 4,500 effective men; consisting of regular troops, New York, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore volunteers, all under the command of general Smyth. There were lying at the