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ful. The object of it does not appear, as having been necessary to secure the ultimate and main object, that is, the possession of Burlington Heights. The capture of Fort George would undoubtedly have promoted that object, and might, perhaps, as well have been directed, all directions of such kind including the reservation, "provided it be practicable."
The possession of Burlington Heights would have cut off the retreat by land of the garrison at Fort George, (an advantage, in case that place were merely menaced,) besides giving the troops there such an advance on their way around Lake Ontario, if such a circuit were contemplated. Further benefits than these are not obvious in connexion with this main object of the campaign. Moreover, hinging the whole movement on the "ascendency and coöperation" of the fleet, when both were too problematical to be relied upon, was something like a foregone conclusion against all hope of success. Sir James Yeo had thus far showed equal skill and discretion in his tactics, knowing that to avoid being beat by his antagonist was something like a victory. Commodore Chauncey had chased him throughout the previous season from pillar to post, and had become satisfied that nothing but chance could throw a favorable opportunity in his way. He began the new season under the same auspices. His great and main object was to pursue Sir James when his strength permitted it, and watch for that tide in his affairs which was to lead on to better fortune. His next object was to keep up the energy of his shipyard. It was a game of launch, and he who built the most in the shortest time expected to win the stakes. The temporary ascendancy he might have at intervals could be of little or no benefit to the army, as it was not founded on the defeat, or even crippled state, of Sir James, who, while avoiding all encounters, was still able to interfere more or less with any coöperative measures. It was undoubtedly desirable that the fleet should lend assistance to the army, such assistance as, in 1813, had often proved highly advantageous; but the position of Commodore Chauncey necessarily made that assistance a subordinate consideration. He had a higher object, though not a "higher destiny." Nor do we think, judging by our present lights, that the fleet should have been made so indispensable to the army movements. It had a wider and more appropriate field
below; though on this subject, suggesting such a train of reflections, we do not feel warranted to enlarge.
Fortunately for the country, this campaign is not judged by the merits of the original plan. Little is thought of it in that respect. Few look beyond the hard-fought fields where so much blood was spilt, so much bravery displayed, so much glory acquired. It is not asked how the army got there, or whether suitable or attainable objects were in view. We see only the brilliant contest beneath the full blaze of a July sun at Chippewa, when every combatant could almost look into the countenance of his opponent, and the loss and gain were easily counted up, until the balance stood in fearful odds against the enemy; or the far more bloody, much longer doubtful, fight near the Falls, which wearied out the declining day, the twilight, the rising moon, and even startled the hour of midnight with its unintermitting din; or the siege of Fort Erie, where perseverance, endurance, and courage repulsed assaults with the steadiness of a solid wall; or the sortie, where skill, gallantry, energy, and combination, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of the siege, and overwhelmed the enemy with a surprise as unexpected as triumphant. The public does not see, through this glare of honorable achievement, the "spots" that the critic may detect.
Many versions of the details of some of these actions, particularly of that of the Falls, have solicited the attention and verdict of the public. That public is concerned only in the main and acknowledged facts, those which make the honor of the day, and elevate the national character. Whether the author of the "Notices" has succeeded in harmonizing the numerous conflicting accounts of the action, so as to have sifted out truth from error, and settled the record for future history, may not, as yet, be determined; but it is probable that his authority will be appealed to hereafter with great respect, and perhaps as decisive of disputed points.
Following down the course of events, the "Notices" give due place to those on the northern frontier, on the sea-coast, including the irruption on Washington and Baltimore, and at New Orleans. In determining to make a decisive campaign. on this side of the Atlantic in 1814, the British, having, by the submission of France, liberated large bodies of their veteran troops from European duty, resolved to transfer a sufficient force to North America, to end the contest there
as triumphantly as they had just ended the continental war. With this view some twenty thousand men were held in readiness to embark. They should have tried the effect of striking one strong blow instead of two weak ones. The force which diverged upon Canada and New Orleans might have made a deep impression at any one intermediate point. Sir Henry Clinton and General Burgoyne might, united, have made an avenue from New York to Canada; in two parts they failed. So the two armies which failed before Plattsburg and New Orleans, might, as one army, have succeeded, temporarily, anywhere else.
Sir George Provost was always unlucky as an officer. His administration was active and vigilant, but his military attempts ended uniformly in discomfiture, or abandonment of their object. When, on Lake Champlain, he linked his fortunes on land to the fate of his fleet, he lost half the strength of his position. Regarding his water craft merely as auxiliaries, without depending upon it for success, he might have inflicted great injury upon the country he invaded, even after this craft ceased to sustain his flank. It is true, that, when Commodore M'Donough rode triumphant on Lake Champlain, his facility of obtaining supplies would have been much diminished. But the land was all open behind him, and the loss of his fleet deprived him of but a minor element in his operations for a short campaign. The retreat of his thousands before the mere hundreds of General Macomb, can be explained upon no military or even prudential reasons. The irruption on Washington and Baltimore claims the especial attention of the author of the "Notices." The enemy here trenched on the very ground occupied by the Honorable Secretary himself. The War Department itself was assailed and broken up. These circumstances furnish ample motives for making up the record with circumspection. It is well known that the Secretary of War was not the military commander in that quarter. Responsibility rested on subordinate shoulders. Still, the public believed that an officer, encamped under the very eaves of the War Department, would most naturally consult with, and even receive directions, either semi-official, or ultra-official, from the incumbent of that high station; and, accordingly, the events of those days have always been referred, more or less, to the unavoidable influences arising from that juxtaposition.
Those who visited Washington in the spring of 1814, will recollect the extreme anxiety that pervaded that community on the subject of an invasion, and the common impression that that anxiety found little sympathy in the War Department, to which the "District" looked up as its quasi military chief, an officer of the army at that time not having been appointed to that particular charge. Many suggestions were thrown out by some of the citizens, who thought they snuffed the battle afar off. Whether any precautions thus suggested would have averted the destruction that fell upon the Capitol a few months afterwards, cannot be asserted; but timely preparation seldom diminishes the chances of safety, and prevention is proverbially better than cure.
There is but one opinion as to the operations in that quarter, which is, that they were misdirected, or that the means at hand were generally misapplied. Fort Washington, the key of the principal avenue to the federal city, was confided to hauds which threw that key at the enemy's feet, even before he demanded it. Such extreme incompetency should have been suspected. The fleet that came up the Potomac would never have attempted to pass that obstacle, had it stood with any show of defence. As to the main attack of the enemy, any endeavours, more than were made, to arrest the landing on the Patuxet, would probably have been unavailing. The troops which were opposed to the enemy were mostly raw militia. These could be hoped to be used to advantage only where some natural obstacles would greatly favor any stand they might make. It was, therefore, prudent to confine all operations preliminary to such a stand at such a point, to mere partisan annoyance. This point was the East River, or the branch on which Bladensburg stands. Small bodies of troops, or corps of observation, were accordingly placed here and there on the routes leading from the Patuxet to that branch, to watch the enemy's advance, and occasionally, when fitting opportunities presented, to offer resistance to his advance guards.
There were two bridges over the stream here alluded to. It seems inexplicable that one of them was not destroyed as soon as it became suspected that Washington was the object. Even if there had been an uncertainty in this respect, and it was apprehended that a junction with the fleet near Alexandria was in view, still the lower bridge should have been removed, for the reason that the security of the capital greatly
counterbalanced the preservation of a mere facility to fall on the enemy's rear, in case he should turn aside from this main object. The early destruction of the lower bridge would have necessarily confined the enemy's advance to one avenue, and all preparations to meet him would have had the same convenient limits. Leaving that bridge untouched until the last moment, and keeping there a large body of troops until it became certain that they were in a false position, was a capital error. These troops, including the gallant Barney's detachment, were hurried to their true position through the heat of mid-day, reaching it in an exhausted state, just in time to swell the tide of retreat. This error was sufficient to cause the loss of the day.*
It has often been said that the President and his Cabinet, who are known to have been on the skirts of the battle of Bladensburg, were in a false position; that their presence was an embarrassment, rather than an assistance, to the General in command. The latter may be true, and yet we do not see how, when the enemy was sounding the trumpet in their ears, they could have done otherwise than lend their countenance to a battle that was to decide the fate of the Capitol, unless they were expected, like the Roman senators at the Gaul invasion, to sit in their official chairs, until hurled out of them by the modern Gauls, or to have prudently retired even before the shadow of coming events. Mr. Monroe, the then Secretary of State, kindling up with Revolutionary fire, was actively mingling in all the movements preliminary to the battle of Bladensburg, not, we trust, as the "Notices" would have the reader infer, to perplex and mislead them, — and he was among the combatants at that place, vainly striving to stem the ebbing fortunes of the day. His civil station permitted him thus to mingle, without any appearance of intrusion on the province of the military commander. He was where a Revolutionary soldier might be expected, under such circumstances, to be found. He was in his proper place. And so was
*The appendix gives the diary of " Colonel Allan McClure," who appears to have mingled officially in all these movements. He gives the advice of the Secretary of War to General Winder, soon after the British had landed, which was, in substance, either to harass the enemy as he was harassed at Lexington and Concord, in 1775; or, to fall slowly back, inviting the enemy onward, and occupy the Capitol, making the main defence there. Both of these suggestions appear to have been truly military and pertinent, and we cannot but regret that one or both of them had not been adopted.