Page images
PDF
EPUB

indulged only by throwing forward a force competent to meet that which was well known to be at Malden. Frenchtown, left to itself, would doubtless have suffered, though the laws of war protect an unresisting people from violence. Ineffectual protection, however, is worse than utter abandonment. The unhappy residents of that place suffered, in the end, tenfold calamity, in consequence of their importunity for protection.

The criticisms of the veteran author on this train of evils have much force and correctness. He exhibits most obviously the errors committed in the arrangements for the second action, which, with better dispositions, might have resulted so differently. We are surprised, however, to see the speech of Colonel Allen inserted; not that the speech itself, as given, is not eloquent, and of a generous spirit. Addresses of this kind, purporting to usher in a military movement, have long since been omitted, as unnecessarily encumbering historic narration. Besides, in this case, the speech contained but few reasons which should have swayed a grave military council. These criticisms, however, as we have before remarked, exhibit throughout a tinge of disfavor towards the General-in-chief on that frontier. The misfortunes of General Winchester are made to hinge on movements of the commanding general, when the commonly received opinion is, that they were produced by a departure from express instructions from that quarter. It was not intended that General Winchester should obtrude himself, in that attenuated form, within reach of the enemy; and when, through an excited or liberal spirit, he resolved to incur hazards not strictly warranted by his instructions, or the rules of war, he became responsible for all the misfortune or disgrace which followed. If at any moment the steps he had taken were sanctioned by bis senior, it was doubtless when Colonel Lewis's gallant repulse of the first attempts of the enemy to dislodge him, encouraged a belief that General Proctor was less strong or less enterprising than there had been just reason to expect. Notwithstanding all the kind efforts of the “ Notices” to relieve General Winchester from that responsibility which has generally been fixed upon him, by public opinion, as to the River Raisin events, we believe that that opinion will remain the same. It was his act which led to the occupation of this salient point, and it was his disposition of the troops before the second attack by General Proctor, that would appear to have led to that general's triumph and his own captivity. Nor can his order, or recommendation, — let it assume what name it may, dictated, as it was, under the threats of bis captor, and sent in to the battalion of brave men still defending the stockade, ever be justified upon any military principles, or even any reasons of expediency. His command had ceased, as well as his capacity to judge of what might be expedient or necessary on the part of those, who were then apart from his observation, and as independent of bis control as if he had no longer existed. Captivity as effectually forecloses all authority in such cases, as death. He might safely have confided in the judgment of men, who, by their conduct, had shown themselves his superiors in skill, if not in bravery, and must have known that his message, however couched, whether in authoritative or recommendatory language, when sent in under such circumstances, would most naturally have a dispiriting influence over his late comrades, whose straitened condition called for every incentive to daring, even to a desperation of perseverance. The commander, whose want of heed or adroitness has led to his capture, should not increase the evils his ill luck or unskilfulness have drawn upon his command, by taking any steps which may involve others in the same predicament. General Winchester, when he could no longer be instrumental of good, should not have permitted bimself to be instrumental of evil, as he undoubtedly did, though from kind motives. But such motives are not to govern under such stern circumstances of war.

The simultaneous retreat of the two belligerents, General Harrison from the Rapids, and General Proctor from the scene of his victory, exhibiting, as it did, a seeming misapprehension on both sides, - furnishes the veteran author with ground for much severity of comment. No doubt one of the parties, at least, could have safely avoided such a retrograde. But circumstances are not always obvious until it is too late. In the present instances, it was not without reason that both parties came to the conclusion that prudence required a falling back upon stronger ground. General Proctor, notwithstanding his success, had reason to apprehend that his enemy, only a part of whose strength he had met, would be moving rapidly forward to arrest or avenge the disasters, which the imprudence of his advance seemed likely to bring on. He therefore withdrew with his captives and booty to Malden. On the

other hand, General Harrison, weakened by the destruction of his advance corps, and knowing that the ice made an easy communication along the lake shore with the Maumee, had ground for distrusting his ability to defend a position which had been but imperfectly established, against an enemy Aushed with success, and whose enterprise bespoke much confidence in his own strength. Events proved this abandonment unnecessary, at least, at that time, though it is not certain that, had the Maumee continued to be occupied, the attack, made the following season, would not have been made that winter. It was undoubtedly better to sacrifice the stores which had been collected there, difficult and expensive as had been their collection, than to expose raw troops to the chances of a second disaster. The reoccupation of the same ground the February following repaired the fault, if one had been committed.

The operations in this quarter the spring ensuing were full of interest and consequences.

The investment of Fort Meigs by General Proctor was begun with spirit, little answering its impotent conclusion. One of the incidents accompanying this investment is conspicuous for the instruction it affords. The attack directed to be made by Colonel Dudley's regiment on the left bank of the river was well devised, and promised the happiest results, though converted into a deplorable reverse by the blindfold impetuosity of those who conducted it. The “ Notices " dwell on this subordinate disaster with a just desire to exhibit, in the strongest light, the destructive consequences of disobedience to orders in military affairs. An officer who assumes the responsibility of departing from orders, when he is performing only a part in some plan of attack or defence, becomes at once as disqualified for his position as a horse for the race, when it has burst all restraints of the bridle. Colonel Dudley's part was nearly consummated when he surprised the enemy's batteries, which he could have rendered useless, and then effected a secure retreat. Remaining on the ground, from a mistaken and arrogant idea that an initial success insures a continned triumph, he dallied and skirmished, until, being surrounded, he lost all he had gained, and nearly the whole of his detachment also.

This recklessness and folly on one bank did not frustrate the plan of attack on the other. General Proctor was sufficiently discouraged by these evidences of strength and enterprise in bis antagonist, to determine on an abandon

ment of his objects in that quarter ; first, however, trying the effect of a summons to surrender, under cover of which he effected his retreat without molestation.

The habit of suinmoning places to surrender, so often resorted to by the British in this war, is severely condemned by the author of the “ Notices,” particularly when, no attempt being made at a subsequent enforcement, the summons wears the aspect of an empty bravado. When General Hull proclaimed to the inhabitants of Canada that he could look down all opposition,” it behoved him to look well to his after movements, and especially to see that he succumbed to no appearances, but only to the stern reality of superior power. But General Brock, who had discerned the weak points of bis enemy, which lay rather in his morale than his physique, believed that a trumpet would shake down the walls before him as effectually as his cannon).

In this he was not mistaken. General Proctor may have borne this in mind, as well as the surrender to a summons of Mackinaw, where a threat of the tomabawk overcame all resistance. Or, what is more probable, after the proofs he had seen of the firmness of his adversary, he may have intended only to raise a smoke to cover his meditated retreat. We are warranted to conclude, from the use he made of this attempt at a parley, that he anticipated no other benefits from it. It was a successful stratagem, and as such, creditable to bis lact in war.

We have permitted ourselves to dwell so long on the scenes of the northwestern frontier, — scenes which, though they minister nothing to our pride, are profitable to dwell upon, that we have little room for turning back upon the operations of General Van Rensselaer and General Smythe, which are fruitful themes of animadversion to the author of the “Notices." And well may he hold them up to unsparing condemnation. The amiable and excellent patriot who conducted, or rather permitted, the attack on Queenstown, showed his willingness io peril fortune and reputation in endeavours, the bearing and issue of which were, no doubt, entirely beyond his comprehension. Though free to set an example, that might help to fill up the ranks of the Levies, then so earnestly called for by the government, and thus become a general malgré lui, yet he probably had little share in planning the attempt on Canada, which has given his name such an undesired and inappropriate celebrity. The “ Notices” fully expose the character of this affair ; its want of proper object; its deficiency of available means to compass it, shadowy as it was ; the extreme consusion and insubordination that marked its progress; but also acknowledge the instances of gallantry and good conduct displayed by a few regulars, who succeeded, with still fewer equally gallant volunteers, in taking the enemy's batteries ; only, however, to be unnecessarily abandoned to captivity. Queenstown is a name that should not be forgotten, though remembered with mortification. It suggests a lesson of instruction which may not arise from the most glorious battle-fields.

The campaign of 1813 most naturally awakens the author of the “ Notices” to a new interest in his work. Quorum pars fuit. The active agency which the Secretary of War had in planning the operations of the war during that year are well recollected; nor has it been forgotten, that his ardent zeal, overstepping ordinary limits, gave to an office before supposed to have only a local habitation, an ambulatory character, which detached the War Department for a time froin the Cabinet, and fixed it in the tented field.

The plans of this campaign were undoubtedly highly creditable to the sagacity and military acumen of the mind which originated them. They looked to attainable objects, which were likely to be beneficial when attained, and proposed ample means for their attainment. We now reser more particularly to the campaign on Lake Ontario. Though the Secretary of War laid down the plan of operations at Washington, yet he most properly left some discretion to the General in command, who thought proper to depart in a degree from the order of movements prescribed. Whether this was injudicious in the beginning, and unlucky in the end, is the question to be answered. The “ Notices” endeavour to prove the affirmative, and with an earnestness that bespeaks something like an apprehension that any other answer would recoil upon the War Department. We do not, however, see that in this case, juder damnatur, if the General were acquitted.

It is probably a false view of the subject, to suppose that praise or blame ensues according to the success with which the plan was executed. The views entertained at Washington were doubtless correct, according to appearances presenting themselves there. To the general commanding on the spot other views might present themselves. Kingston, York, and Fort George, was unquestionably the natural series, looking only to the effect of crippling the enemy most effectually in detail. The

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »