Page images

that the record becomes authoritative, or generally received as determinate. When new generations have sprung up, there is little interest felt in questions as to personal character, or pretensions of rival corps. The strongest appeals may be made for the reversion of what are termed hasty and unwarranted judgments, yet a work of established reputation and wide circulation is likely to prevail as the standard of history, in spite of the supposed errors it may have sanctioned, or the imputed wrongs it may have inflicted.

General Armstrong's qualifications for writing a history of the war of 1812, would appear to be very manifest. He bore an elevated and active part in that war; and had long been recognised as a skilful writer, having given, as is well known, proofs in this respect, early in life, while an officer of the revolutionary army. An apprehension was felt, by many, that his somewhat caustic humor would be likely to infuse too much severity into his accounts. It was notorious, that he had enemies whom he might wish to punish, and he was supposed to have friends, whom he might be well pleased to reward;feelings which most naturally exercise an unfavorable influence over the strict justice of a writer's decisions. How far the charge of having submitted to influences of this kind lies against the distinguished author of the "Notices," we shall have occasion to remark as we pass them under review. We believe that, when the first volume appeared, it was generally admitted to have been written in a more moderate and liberal spirit than had been anticipated.

From a brief but distinct account of the "causes of the war," the historian proceeds to the condition of the defences of the country at the time when hostilities were undertaken. It would have been well if he could have recorded that we showed as much prudence as we had received provocation. In this respect, there was little to say to our credit. The author of the "Notices" might have justly and properly dwelt with still greater severity on the singular want of this quality, which was exhibited in nearly all our preparations for this war of our own choosing. Had the initiative been taken by our antagonist, many excuses might rise up in our favor. The time, however, was our own choice. It was deferred or hastened at our own option. We are well aware of the often stated unsuitableness of a government, constituted like ours, for warlike preparation. It is not to legislative reluc

tance or tardiness to act until the hour of extreme necessity arrives, that we here allude. All acknowledge this, and it is in vain to reiterate lamentations over it. We are now regarding only executive agency in such cases. Here are few or none of the clogs that embarrass other departments of the government. The Executive has the power, even under our constitution, to use the means confided to its hands for national defence, with the utmost necessary latitude. The army and navy, whatever may be their force, are at its command. When the war with Great Britain was approaching, and considered unavoidable, were those means prepared, strengthened, and applied to the emergency with due care, forecast, and energy? This is a question which it is proper to ask, and which it is the province of history to answer, for the benefit of posterity.

Our army, at the opening of hostilities, was small, but had been unnecessarily and inexcusably reduced below its legal force, by a relaxation in the recruiting service during the years immediately preceding them. It is a singular fact, that, between 1809 and 1812, within which interval there was scarcely a moment when our foreign relations, particularly with England, were not of a threatening and alarming character, the Secretary of War reported funds, appropriated by Congress for this service, as having been unexpended, while the army lacked many hundreds, not to say thousands, of its proper complement. We had, nevertheless, some few thousands of men who had much efficiency, being well officered, and accustomed to subordination. We had maritime fortifications, and some on the interior frontier, -imperfect and dilapidated, it is true, but capable of defence. As soon as war was declared, the navy went forth in full readiness for battle. So far, the executive arm was fully nerved. But on land, no post, no corps, was awakened to heed by any precautionary orders. The fact, that many of our out-posts were behind antagonist posts in hearing of the declaration of war, is sufficiently mortifying, but should not have lessened the ability of each one to meet the emergency according to its means. It was not necessary that this declaration should be made, in order that every soldier should be on the qui vive, that every arm should be put in serviceable order, and that the national defences should be in a condition to meet hostility. There was no necessity that Mackinaw should fall,

because the British first heard the news of war, as there was certainly no reason why the wings of Mercury should have been formed in readiness to waft it on one side only. Months before the outbreak, the commanding officer of that post might have been forewarned of the necessity of vigilance and preparation, and should have had (as in fact he had) no excuse for allowing an armed body of men to approach his post with so little observation, as to knock at his gate before its presence was even suspected. Such an approach, which ought to have been duly seen, was a sufficient proclamation of hostility, at least so far as regarded that post. Resistance, under such circumstances, became justifiable and even imperative, whether a national war existed or not. This remote and important post had been permitted to slumber in fancied security, without any efforts to strengthen its decayed defences, and had only a subaltern in command at the time it was taken. The most common dictates of prudence would have led to some care of these guards on the outer wall, when danger was approaching, and even close at hand. But war seems to have found our army, most of our maritime fortifications, and all our frontier posts, just as many years of peace had left them. They were all nearly, or quite, as unprepared for such an event, as if there had been no reason to apprehend that that peace would soon end. It is of want of preparation in these respects, that we complain, a want that finds no excuse in any defects of our republican government. Our army, several thousands strong, as we have before remarked,might have been in perfect readiness for action, and all our posts could have been well apprized of the necessity of being constantly prepared for defence. A change from the state of peace to that of war, should have been supposed to make no other change in their condition, than that of giving them the authority to act on the offensive. Fitness for defence belonged alike to both conditions.

We attach little importance to the circumstance that General Hull, when advancing to the northwestern frontier, did not receive intelligence of the declaration of war as soon as the British; though we dwell with amazement on the blunders of the arrangement, which, starting off two letters written by the war department to him, on the 18th of June, one communicating information of the declaration of war (declared on that day), and the other silent on that subject, permitted the latter to

reach him on the 24th of that month, and left the former to loiter on the route until the 2d of July. The "Notices" account for this inversion of the rule of speed, by stating that the last letter went by an express or private hand, while the first was abandoned to the ordinary mail facilities, which terminated at Cleveland at that time. Chance, or special instructions, alone provided for any advance beyond that point. The calculations of the War Department doubtless were, that the mail would outstrip the individual. This was probable, but the case would appear to have demanded an arrangement that should have outstripped both these means. The loss of the schooner and its contents, which was consequent on the omission to inform General Hull of the war in the shortest possible time, would have defrayed the extra expense of such despatch many times



We think, however, that General Hull was engaged in an expedition that called for nearly all the vigilance and precaution of a state of avowed hostility. He was advancing, at a time when such a state of things was hourly expected, with a strong force, on a point which threatened a weak flank of the quasi enemy, and had reason to anticipate a readiness on the part of the British to take advantage of the first hint of a rupIt was clearly his duty to be prepared for open hostility, and to have incurred no hazard which that state of things would have forbidden. Disincumbering his army, about to take a march through a wilderness of some seventy miles, by embarking his sick in a schooner at the Maumee, was, perhaps, an excusable measure; but there was no excuse for exposing his returns and confidential papers to any hazards at all. This was a miscalculation that amounted to wanton heedlessness. The capture of those papers no doubt eventually turned the scale of the campaign. Instructions, returns, correspondence, all that an adroit enemy could wish to acquire, were there thrown into his possession; proving a want of ordinary foresight, and, it is said, so many other defects of character in his antagonist, as to warrant General Brock, in that hardy, almost fool-hardy, course of operations, with which he shortly afterwards overawed rather than overpowered that antagonist.

The critical remarks with which this first chapter (after a manner that prevails throughout the work) is closed, will probably receive the assent of most military men. They are

based on maxims which are admitted to have weight, and which cannot be violated with impunity. In this opening of the war on the northwestern frontier, the author sees nothing but blunders and disasters, excepting in the affair at Maguaga, which was well fought and successful, the main body of the regulars there having already tried their courage and steadi ness at Tippecanoe.

The errors of government, as well as of General Hull, are passed under this critical review. The "Notices" do not repeat the common remark, that the appointment of this general was one of those errors. The author's revolutionary recollections led him to know that General Hull stood high, for his rank, in the opinion of one whose estimation was considered as decisive of merit. The position he held at the time of his appointment in Michigan peculiarly fitted him for the command confided to him. The capital error was, omitting to make any efforts to secure ascendancy on Lake Erie. little forecast, and a little expense, would have effected this object. Another, and hardly less error was, omitting to occupy the enemy on the Niagara frontier. His force there was liberated by an armistice just in time to become applicable to the northwestern frontier. The first error may not have been so obvious to those who committed it. The last was a blunder that seems to mock all attempts at justification or palliation.


The "Notices" dwell long and somewhat minutely on the disastrous campaign of the northwest. Misfortunes would be dearly bought indeed, if they were not made subservient to the instruction of posterity. The general who has connected his name prominently with them must be content to point the moral. This is the best compensation he can make for his miscalculations or ill luck.

General Hull's surrender, darkened by the like fate of Mackinaw, and the miserable tragedy at Chicago, and scarcely relieved by the gallant but fruitless success at Maguaga, came upon the public like a heavy fog; preparing it, however, for the calamities that followed at the River Raisin. The "Notices" take up the narration of this melancholy sequence to Hull's campaign, with an evident desire to vindicate General Winchester at the expense of higher authority. The anxiety on the part of General Winchester to protect the small settlement on that river was generous, but could have been safely VOL. LIII.-No. 112. 28

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »