April 27, 1813 - The Capture of York
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Author:  pud [ Sun Apr 15, 2007 9:10 pm ]
Post subject:  April 27, 1813 - The Capture of York

Source: A History of The War between Great Britain and the United States of America During The Years 1812, 1813 & 1814. G. Auchinleck. Arms and Armour Press and Pen dragon House, 1972. Pp. 151-153.

“,… on the 25th April, 1813, Commodore Chauncey's fleet sailed from Sackett's Harbor for York having on board General Dearborn, as General in Chief, and a considerable force. It is not easy to get at the exact number of troops sent on this enterprise, nor to ascertain the material of which it was composed. General Dearborn does not enumerate them, and most American historians have taken the number mentioned by Chauncey, who says that "he took on board the General and suite, and about seventeen hundred men." Ingersol reduces, on what authority we are ignorant, this number to sixteen hundred, but an Albany paper, says James, actually states the number at "about five thousand." This is an evident exaggeration, but we think we may safely put the numbers down, after comparing the various accounts, including the crews of the armed vessels, at between two thousand five hundred and three thousand men.

This force reached its destination on the 27th, and preparations were immediately made for landing the troops. York seems at this time to have been in an almost defenceless condition, and a very reprehensible apathy appears to have prevailed. James represents that "the guns upon the batteries, being without trunnions, were mounted upon wooden sticks, with iron hoops, and, therefore, became of very little use. Others of the guns belonged to the ship that was building, and lay on the ground, partly covered with snow and frozen mud," James also mentions that the accidental circumstance of the Duke of Gloucester brig being in the port, undergoing some repairs, enabled the garrison to mount, on temporary fieldworks, a few six-pounders. Still the defences were of the most insignificant character, and we are at a loss to account for the undertaking the building of vessels in a place so open to, and unprepared for, an attack.

Their various positions having been taken up by the armed vessels destined to cover the landing, and take part in the attack on the batteries, the debarkation of the troops began about eight o'clock in the morning, and Forsyth with his rifle Corps were the first who attempted to make good a landing.

The spot at which the landings was intended to have been made was close to the site of an old French fort,…; the boats were, however, carried by a strong breeze and heavy sea, considerably to leeward of the intended point, and nearly half a mile to the westward the landing was effected. Armstrong says this point was "thickly covered with brushwood, and already occupied by British and Indian marksmen." Had the spot been occupied as thus represented, the chances are, when we consider with what difficulty they overcame a mere handful of men, that the Americans would never have landed on that day; in reality it was occupied by Major Givens, with about five-and-twenty Indians and a company (about sixty) of Glengarry Fencibles. Armstrong adds; "in the contest that followed, Forsyth lost some men, but no credit." We grant the former, as the defence made by the handful of men, then on the ground, was so determined that Forsyth would have found it difficult to effect a landing had he not been speedily reinforced by Major King and a battalion of infantry. The landing of the main body under General Pike now enabled the enemy to advance more boldly, and to drive back the British, (whose numbers had been in the meantime increased by the arrival of some two hundred and twenty militia, and fifty of the Newfoundland regiment,) from one position to another. The stand made at some of these positions was very gallant, as two companies of the 8th regiment (about two hundred strong) had now joined. James says, "the whole of the American troops, at this time on shore, amounted, by their own accounts, to upwards of one thousand. These were met by two hundred and ten men of the 8th, and Newfoundland, regiments, and about two hundred and twenty militia, who made a formidable charge upon the American column, and partially compelled it to retire." Reinforced, however, by the fresh troops that were continually being landed, the Americans rallied and compelled the British to retire, partially covered in the retreat by the batteries which, insignificant as they were, had still done good service, by partially occupying the attention of the enemy's vessels, which had by this time, from their light draft of water, approached within gun-shot. The companies of the 8th regiment suffered materially from their ignorance of the roads, the Grenadiers being nearly annihilated, and this was the more to be regretted, as their gallantry was without any beneficial results, the main landing having been effected before their arrival. General Sheaffe appears to have lead his plans very badly; by early dawn the alarm of the enemies’ approach was given; yet so confused does every movement appear to have been, that we find only a few Indians and a handful of militia on the spot to oppose a landing, while the two companies of the 8th were left to find their way through woods and cover without proper direction or guides. We find, in addition, Adjutant General Shaw, with a body of men and a brass six-pounder, taking up a position on the line of Dundas Street, where he remained, taking no part in the action. We do not blame Adjutant General Shaw for this, as we presume he had his orders, but we question the judgment which placed him in such a position, as it was not probable that the Americans would advance by that route, leaving in the rear, a force which, small as it was, had kept them in check for six hours. On the retreat of the British, a movement effected through the woods, the Americans advanced and carried, without much resistance, the first defence: advancing towards the second, and observing the fire cease suddenly, Pike concluded, and not unreasonably, that it was for the purpose of making proposals for a surrender, and unfortunately halted his troops well yet at a distance of two hundred yards from the main battery. We say, unfortunately, as, had they advanced, the major part of them must have perished in the explosion which took place on the firing of the magazine, which had been just blown up by Sergeant Marshall to prevent the enemy gaining possession of a large quantity of powder deposited there. Ingersol styles the blowing up of the magazine "a vile stratagem;" and Thomson accuses General Sheaffe of treacherously ordering the train to be laid, and of artfully placing several cartloads of stones to increase the effect. This is quite incorrect, as we do not think Sheaffe clever enough to have suggested such a plan; besides, Marshall distinctly stated that had he known General Sheaffe wished it, or had it occurred to himself, he could easily have blown up the enemy by giving ten minutes more port fire. Had he done so, the destruction of the whole column would have been the natural consequence. A vast amount of nonsense, relative to this affair, has been penned by American historians, who do not seem to reflect that this was an invading force, and that the mine has always been a legitimate mode either of attack or defence. In the present instance, the only object in blowing up the magazine was to prevent General Pike getting possession of the powder; it was, therefore, blown up, and very clumsily too, it was done, as several of the British troops were killed or wounded by the explosion. We heartily agree with James, "that even had the whole column being destroyed, the Americans would but have met their deserts;" and if disposed to commiserate the poor soldiers, at least, we wish, with him, "that their places had been filled by the American President, and the ninety-eight members of the Legislature who voted for the war." The explosion, partial as were its effects, killed and wounded more than two hundred Americans, spreading its mischief far and wide, and creating in the remainder much temporary alarm and confusion. The stones and rubbish were thrown as far as the decks of the vessels near the shore, and, according to Ingersol, "the water shocked as with an earthquake."

General Pike was literally stoned to death, his breast and sides were crushed, and he lingered in great agony till he expired. General Pike was a native of New Jersey, and is represented to have been a gallant and thoroughbred soldier, and one of the best commanders the Americans had. His death was a glorious one. Through motives of humanity he halted to prevent unnecessary effusion of blood, and paltry as was the victory gained with such overwhelming odds, still he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had gained a victory, such as it was. Thompson and Ingersol are very eloquent on his death; "carried on board the Commodore’s ship, General Pike was laid on a mattress, and asking for the British captured flag to be laid under his head, in a few hours he nobly breathed his last upon it, without a sigh."

All honor we are ready to pay to the brave man who dies a sacrifice for his country, but considering the immense superiority of numbers, by which, after a long and desperate struggle, the feat of supplanting the flag was achieved, the officiousness of the American historians has conferred more of ridicule than of honor upon the last moments of their hero.

General Sheaffe was careful to avail himself of the temporary panic into which the enemy had been thrown, and collecting what regular force he could, and leaving to their own resources the civil authorities and embodied militia, he made a hasty retreat in the direction of Kingston, destroying, as he passed along, two ships on the stocks, and a magazine of military and naval stores in the harbour. The defence of the town being no longer practicable, a surrender necessarily followed, by which it was stipulated, that the militia and others attached to the British military and naval service, who had been captured, should be paroled; that private property of every kind should be respected, and that all public stores should be given up to the captors."

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