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In my letter of the 8th inst. I apprised you that a crisis in this campaign was rapidly advancing; and that, (to repeat the same words) "the blow must be soon struck, or all the toil and expense of the campaign go for nothing, and worse than nothing, for the whole would be tinged with dishonour.”
Under such impressions, I had, on the 15th inst. written to Brig. Gen. Smyth, of the United States' forces, requesting an interview with him, Maj. Gen. Hall, and the commandants of the United States' regiments, for the purpose of conferring upon the subject of future operations. I wrote Maj. Gen. Hall to the same purport. On the 11th I had received no answer from Gen. Smyth ; but in a note to me of the 10th Gen. Hall mentioned that Gen. Smyth had not yet then agreed upon any day for the consultation.
In the mean time, the partial success of Lieut. Elliott, at Black Rock (of which, however, I have received no official information) began to excite a strong disposition in the troops to act. This was expressed to me through various channels, in the shape of an alternative; that they must have orders to act.....or, at all hazzards they would go home. I forbear here commenting upon the obvious consequences, to me, personally, of longer withholding my orders under such circumstances.
I had a conference with, as to the possibility of getting some person to pass over to Canada, and obtain correct information. On the morning of the 4th, he wrote to me that he had procured the man, who bore his letter to go over. Instructions were given him; he passed over.....obtained such information as warranted an immediate attack. This was confidentially communicated to several of my first officers, and produced great zeal to act; more especially as it might have a controlling effect upon the movements at Detroit, where it was supposed that Gen. Brock had gone with all the force he dared to spare from the Niagara frontier. The best preparations in my power were, therefore, made to dislodge the enemy from the heights of Queenstown, and possess ourselves of the village, where the troops might be sheltered from the distressing inclemency of the weather.
Lieut. Col. Fenwick's flying artillery, and a detachment of regular troops, under his command, were ordered to be up in season from fort Niagara. Orders were also sent Gen. Smyth, to send down from Buffalo such detachment of his brigade as existing circumstances in that vicinity might warrant. The attack was to have been made at 3 o'clock, on the morning of the 11th, by crossing over in boats from the old ferry opposite the heights. To avoid any embarrassment in crossing the river (which is here a sheet of violent eddies, experienced boatmen were procured to take the boats from the landing below, to the place of embarkation. Lieut. Sim was considered the man of greatest skill for
this service.....he went ahead, and in the extreme darkness, passed the intended place far up the river; and there, in a most extraordinary manner, fastened his boat to the shore, and abandoned the detachment. In the front boat he had carried nearly every oar which was prepared for all the boats. In this agonizing dilemma stood officers and men, whose ardor bad not been cooled by exposure through the night to one of the most tremendous northeast storms, which continued unabated for twenty-eight hours, and deluged the whole camp. The approach of day light extinguished every prospect of success, and the detachment returned to camp. Col. Van Rensselaer was to have commanded the detach
After this result I had hoped the patience of the troops would have continued until I could submit the plan suggested in my letter of the 8th, that I might act under and in conformity to the opinion which might be then expressed. But my hope was idle : the previously excited ardor seemed to have gained new heat from the late miscarriage....the brave were mortified to stop short of their object, and the timid thought laurels half won by an attempt.
On the morning of the 12th, such was the pressure upon me from all quarters, that I became satisfied that my refusal to act might involve me in suspicion, and the service in disgrace.
Viewing affairs at Buffalo as yet unsettled, I had immediately countermanded the march of Gen. Smyth's brigade, upon the failure of the first expedition: but having now determined to attack Queenstown, I sent new orders to Gen. Smyth to march; not with the view of his aid in the attack, for I considered the force detached sufficient, but to support the detachment should the conflict be obstinate and long continued.
Lieut. Col. Christie, who had just arrived at the Four Mile Creek, had late in the night of the first contemplated attack, gallantly offered me his own and his men's services; but he got my permission too late. He now again came forward, had a conference with Col. Van Rensselaer, and begged that he might have the honour of a command in the expedition. The arrangement was made.. Colonel Van Rensselaer was to command one column of 300 militia; and Lieut. Col. Christie a column of the same number of regular troops.
Every precaution was now adopted as to boats, and the most confidential and experienced men to manage them. At an early hour in the night, Lieut. Col. Christie marched his detachment, by the rear road, from Niagara to camp. At 7 in the evening Lieut. Col. Stranahan's regiment moved from Niagara Falls.....at 8 o'clock, Mead's....and at 9, Lieut. Col. Blan's regiment marched from the same place. All were in camp in good season. Agreeably to my orders issued upon this occasion, the two columns were to pass over together; as soon as the heights should be
carried, Lieut. Col. Fenwick's flying artillery was to pass over; then Maj. Mullany's detachment of regulars; and the other troops to follow in order.
At dawn of day the boats were in readiness, and the troops commenced embarking, under the cover of a commanding battery mounting two eighteen pounders and two sixes. The movements were soon discovered, and a brisk fire of musquetry poured from the whole line of the Canada shore. Our battery then opened to sweep the shore; but it was, for some minutes, too dark to direct much fire with safety. A brisk cannonade was now opened upon the boats from three different batteries.....our battery returned their fire, and occasionally threw grape upon the shore, and was itself served with shells from a small mortar of the enemy's. Col. Scott, of the artillery, by hastening his march from Niagara Falls in the night, arrived in season to return the enemy's fire with two six pounders.
The boats were somewhat embarrassed with the eddies, as well as with a shower of shot but Col. Van Rensselaer, with about one hundred men, soon effected his landing, amidst a tremendous fire directed upon him from every point; but to the astonishment of all who witnessed the scene, this van of the column advanced but slowly against the fire. It was a serisous misfortune to the van, and indeed to the whole expedition, that in a few minutes after landing, Col. Van Rensselaer received four wounds ....a ball passed through his right thigh, entering just below the hip-bone....another shot passed through the same thigh, a little below..... a third through the calf of his leg....and a fourth cartused his heel. This was quite a crisis in the expedition. Under so severe a fire it was difficult to form raw troops. By some mismanagement of the boat-men, Lieut. Col. Christie did not arrive until some time after this, and was wounded in the hand in passing the river. Col. Van Rensselaer was still able to stand; and with great presence of mind ordered his officers to proceed with rapidity and storm the fort. This service was gallantly performed, and the enemy driven down the hill in every direction. Soon after this both parties were considerably reinforced, and the conflict was renewed in several places....many of the enemy took shelter behind a stone guard-house, where a piece of ordnance was now briskly served. I ordered the fire of our battery directed upon the guard house; and it was so effectually done, that with eight or ten shot the fire was silenced. The enemy then retreated behind a large store house; but in a short time the route became general, and the enemy's fire was silenced, except from a one gun battery, so far down the river as to be out of the reach of heavy ordnance, and our light pieces could not silence it. A number of boats now passed over unannoyed, except from one unsilenced gun. For some time after I had passed over the victory appeared complete: but in the expectation of further
attacks, I was taking measures for fortifying my camp immediately....the direction of this service I committed to Lieut. Totten, of the engineers. But very soon the enemy were reinforced by a detachment of several hundred Indians from Chippewa. They commenced a furious attack; but were promptly met and routed by the rifle and bayonet. By this time I perceived my troops were embarking very slowly. I passed immediately over to accelerate their movements; but to my utter astonishment I found at the very moment when complete victory was in our hands, the ardour of the unengaged troops had entirely subsided. I rode in all directions, urged the men by every consideration to pass over, but in vain. Lieut. Col. Bloom, who had been wounded in the action, returned, mounted his horse and rode through the camp; as did also Judge Peck, who happened to be here, exhorting the companies to proceed, but all in vain.
At this time a large reinforcement from Fort George were discovered coming up the river. As the battery on the hill was considered an important check against their ascending the heights, measures were immediately taken to send them a fresh supply of ammunition, as I had learnt there were left only twenty shot for the eighteen pounders. The reinforcements, however, obliqued to the right from the road, and formed a junction with the Indians in the rear of the heights. Finding to my infinite mortification, that no reinforcement would pass over; seeing that another severe conflict must soon commence; and knowing that the brave men on the heights were quite exhausted and nearly out of ammunition, all I could do was to send them a fresh supply of cartridges. At this critical moment I despatched a note to Gen. Wadsworth, acquainting him with our situation....leaving the course to be pursued much to his own judgment....with assurance that if he thought best to retreat, I would endeavour to send as many boats as I could command, and cover his retreat by every fire I could safely make. But the boats were dispersed..... many of the boatmen had fled panic struck.....and but few got off. But my note could but little more than have reached Gen. Wadsworth about 4 o'clock, when a most severe and obstinate conflict commenced and continued about half an hour, with a tremenddous fire of cannon, flying artillery, and musketry. The enemy succeeded in repossessing their battery; and, gaining advantage on every side, the brave men who had gained the victory, exhausted of strength and ammunition, and grieved at the unpardonable neglect of their fellow-soldiers, gave up the conflict.
I can only add that the victory was really won; but lost for the want of a small reinforcement. One third part of the idle men might have saved all.
I have been so pressed with the various duties of burying the dead, providing for the wounded, collecting the public property, negociating an exchange of prisoners, and all the concerns conse
quent of such a battle, that I have not been able to forward this despatch at as early an hour as I could have wished. I shall soon forward you another despatch in which I shall endeavour to to point out to you the conduct of some most gallant and deserving officers. But I cannot in justice close this without expressing the very great obligation I am under to Brig. Gen. Wadsworth, Col. Van Rensselaer, Col. Scott, Lieut. Cols. Christie and Fenwick, and Capt. Gibson. Many others have also behaved most gallantly. I have reason to believe that many of our troops fled to the woods, with the hope of crossing the river. I have not been able to learn the probable number of killed, wounded, or prisoners. The slaughter of our troops must have been very considerable, and the enemy have suffered severely.
Gen. Brock is among the slain, and his aid-de camp mortally wounded.
I have the honour to be, sir, with great respect and consideration, your most obedient servant,
Maj. Gen. DEARBORN.
STEPHEN VAN RENSSELAER,
The following additional interesting particulars of the battle of Queenstown, are derived from a source which may be deemed authentic.
On the 12th Oct. Gen. Van Rensselaer had under his command about 5800 men, thus disposed: 2900 militia at or near Lewistown 1300 regular troops, under Gen. Smyth, near Black Rock, 28 miles from Lewistown: 500 militia and volunteers at Black Rock and Schlosser; about 300 men in six companies of field and light artillery; about 500 men of the 6th and 13th reg. iments, at fort Niagara ; about 300 regulars of the 23d regiment, under Maj. Mullany, at the same place.
On the same day Maj. Gen. Brock had under his command and under arms, at different posts, from and including fort George and fort Erie, 2800 men, of whom 2400 were disciplined troops of the 41st and 49th British regiments and Canadian flank companies, and 400 were Indians.
Gen. Van Rensselaer decided to attempt to cross the river and attack the enemy's batteries at Queenstown, on the night of the 12th. The regular troops at Niagara, under Lieut. Col. Fenwick, and Maj. Mullany, were ordered up to Lewistown, and 13 boats were provided to effect the crossing.
The detachment that was to make the attack, consisted of some militia under the command of Col. Van Rensselaer, the General's aid-de-camp; a part of the 13th infantry, under Lieut. Col. Christie; and detachments of the 6th and 23d, under Maj. Mullany; and Col. Van Rensselaer was to command the whole.
At 3 o'clock, in the morning of the 13th of Oct. the detachment, about 400 men, marched from the camp near Lewistown.