Beginning of the End

February 21, 2013

The distinguished Shawnee chief from Ohio was gone. For years after the war great controversy arose over who had killed him and what happened to his body. Much credence was at first given to Colonel Johnson as being the one to fire the fatal shot. The only thing that seems certain is that he did shoot a warrior at close range. By 1830 he was a senator for Kentucky and was being touted as a candidate for president and did rise to vice president in 1837. During this time many so-called witnesses who backed Johnson came forward to corroborate the story. Those who opposed him produced many more deniers. Credit for slaying the great chief had become valuable political capital but he had always resisted never claiming to done the deed. After all he had never seen the great chief in person. Finally he succumbed to temptation in 1843 by affirming that indeed it was him that shot Tecumseh dead, but there is no definitive proof.

Just as many stories swirled about as to where his body was put to rest. Many of the fallen warriors were scalped and mutilated at the end of the battle. Some were skinned for such things as souvenirs and to make items like razor straps. Harrison was shown one body the day after the battle as it lay mutilated on the field. He was told it was Tecumseh but it was so badly abused and the face so swollen that he could not recognize him. One story has the body given to the Canadians who took it back to Sandwich for burial. Another has him buried at the site of the battlefield. Mythical stories arose of his closest companions spiriting the body away to be buried in a secret place. There is a monument at Bkejwanong (Walpole Island, ON) that claims him to be resting on the island. Another possibility, if the story of him being carried away by his comrades is true, is that he may have been interred at the great burial mound west of Chatham. Other great war chiefs were taken there for burial as it was a great honor to be laid to rest with other fallen warriors.

The Battle of Moraviantown and especially the lost of Tecumseh effectively broke his confederacy. Many of the warriors who drifted away never came back. Ojibwa chief Naiwash of Saugeen complained the following year saying “perhaps the Master of Life would give us more luck if we would stick together as we formerly did . . . and we probably might go back and tread upon our own lands. Chiefs and warriors, since our great chief Tecumtha has been killed we do not listen to one another. We do not rise together. We hurt ourselves by it. It is our own fault . . . We do not go to war , rise together, but we go one or two, and the rest say they will go tomorrow.” But there were those who carried on like Wawanosh from Aamjiwnaang who fought at Lundy’s Lane and Megish, a Shawnee who was living at Little Bear Creek (North Sydenham River) in Upper Canada, who also  was killed at Lundy’s Lane. And of course the Caughnawaga Mohawks continued in the east at battles such as Chateauguay.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. Nothing changed. The U.S./Canada border remained the same. First Nations were left out of the treaty process altogether. The war became a textbook example of how not to conduct a war. Like most wars it consisted of, at least for one side or the other, a series of blunders. One thing it did do for First Nations was usher in a new era. This was the last time they would be looked upon as allies. The future did not bode well for Tecumseh’s people.

In the fall of 1818 the Saulteaux Ojibwa of the St. Clair region were invited to an “Indian Council” at Amherstburg to treat with the British Indian Department for a large tract of land known as the Huron Tract. The Napoleonic Wars were over in Europe and there had been a great flux of immigration to Upper Canada. The Colonial Government of Upper Canada needed more land for the newly arrived settlers. On October 16th the council was convened. In attendance were twenty-seven chiefs and principal men of the bands as Chenaille Escarte, St. Clair, Sable and Thames rivers as well as Bear Creek. The colonial government was represented by John Askin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Lieutenant Colonel Evans recorded the minutes and J Bth Cadot served as interpreter.

The minutes record that it was the desire of the government to purchase all of the lands north of the Thames River owned by them and asked what their terms were for the tract’s disposal.

The chiefs responded affirmatively by saying a most curious thing. According to the minutes they replied they “were willing to sell our lands . . . that is our wish that he [the Lieutenant Governor of the Province] set the valuation on the tract required. The seller was asking the buyer to set the selling price!

We have here members from two different cultures not communicating. To understand the Ojibwa’s strange request one must also understand their culture. Various nations had always traded with each other but it was not like the trade Europeans conducted. For example when these Ojibwa lived on the north shore of Georgian Bay they traded with their Huron neighbors to the south. The Ojibwa were hunters and fishers while the Huron were more agrarian. Extra produce was exchanged each year but it was done in a spirit of sharing rather than one of negotiations. Commerce for this culture was a system of sharing and if one suffered some calamity such as drought and had no surplus the other shared theirs anyway.

This system flowed out of the Ojibwa worldview where human beings as in the Western creation story were created last. But the stories are diverse from there.  In the Western story humans are presented as the pinnacle of God’s creation and placed on the top of creation’s hierarchy even over and above their environment. The Creator instructs them to subdue and have dominion over it. In this culture any surplus was held back for the best price and if that could not be met the surplus goods could even be let go to waste.

In the Ojibwa story human beings were made weak and vulnerable. Their place on the hierarchy of creation was on the bottom. They were so vulnerable that the Creator called a council with all of creation. He asks the animals, birds, fish, and plants if they would give themselves as sustenance for humanity’s survival. They agreed. So all of nature provided for their sustenance making all things a gift from the Great Mystery. To hold any surplus back would be an affront to him so negotiations were unheard of. The word of this system of sharing was daawed.

Daawed was translated into English variably as sell, purchase, price or trade as understood in Western Culture. The British understood the treaty to mean land title transfer but the Ojibwa understood daawed to mean  a sharing of surpluses. They knew because of a great decrease in their population due to war and disease they had a surplus of land but they had no way of knowing what the government had in the way of a surplus to offer them. So they asked and daawed was translated here as valuation. All treaties with the Crown have such misunderstandings embedded in them and unfortunately these historic documents are still misunderstood today.

For the Ojibwa the treaty was set that day but for the British the treaty would undergo two more revisions and not be completed until nine years later. Treaty No. 29 would see the title for 2.2 million acres transferred to the Colonial Government of Upper Canada and the creation of four reserves containing less than 20,000 acres. From there it would be all downhill.For example, Canada would see the infamous Indian Act enacted in 1876. It is a stifling  paternalistic, monumental piece of legislation designed to control every aspect of First Nations lives. It is still in effect today. In 1887 the U.S. Congress would adopt the Dawes Act. This piece of legislation was designed to relieve First Nations of more of what little land they had left. Today, in Canada, First Nations are calling for the treaty relationship with the Government of Canada to be reset to a nation to nation basis. One of equal partnership sharing the land and its resources as the original treaties called for. The struggle continues.

Retreat up the Thames

February 19, 2013

The Americans continued their shipbuilding efforts at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania) unabated. Proctor wanted to use a naval attack to destroy the fruits of their labors but he was just not ready. All summer long they waited for supplies and ammunition to arrive. The supplies included sails and guns for the brig Detroit which was still under construction. There were few trained seamen at Amherstburg to sail the other three war ships anchored there. On June 3rd 1813 Captain Robert Heriot Barclay arrived at Amherstburg with nineteen sailors and the schooners Lady Prevost and Chippewa. These two brought the British fleet to six ships. Barclay had arrived from England that spring fresh from naval action in the Napoleonic wars. He had lost an arm at Trafalgar.

In charge of the American Lake Erie fleet was Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry. He was in charge of the shipbuilding at Presque Isle when Barclay arrived at Amherstburg. He also had to oversee the transfer of five ships built at Black Rock which, with the ships built and under construction at Presque Isle would consolidate his Erie fleet there. During the third week of June while Barclay was cruising the lake trying to catch the transfer Perry slipped the five vessels  into the harbor at Presque Isle under the cover of fog. Barclay missed them. The American fleet was now consolidated and the construction phase was nearing completion. But the British fleet was still not ready so Barclay advised Proctor to attack the U.S. shipyards by land. Proctor had 500 regulars and Tecumseh with 1,000 warriors at Amherstburg but he vacillated saying that he needed to wait for reinforcements to bolster his regiment the 41st Foot.

By August 10th Perry was out on the lake with his fleet of nine war ships. They included the brigs Lawrence 20 guns, Niagara 20,  Caledonia 3, schooner Ariel 4, schooner Scorpion 2, sloop Trippe 1 and schooners Tigress, Porcupine and Ohio 1 each. His plan was to attack Barclay’s fleet at Amherstburg before the Detroit could be completed but he became gravely ill along with 270 of his sailors with lake fever and had to postpone.

The British were now in a desperate situation. Supplies were held up at Long Point because Perry now controlled the lake. DeRottenburg had to impress wagons from the general populace and haul them to the Thames where they could be barged down river to Proctor. On September 5th some supplies along with thirty-six more sailors arrived at Amherstburg. Still not enough but Prevost and DeRottenburg both pressed Proctor to take action. Proctor gave in and stripped Fort Malden of its guns to outfit Detroit.

On September 14th Barclay sailed out of the Detroit River and into Lake Erie woefully out maned and out gunned. His fleet consisted of H.M.S. Detroit 21 guns, H.M.S. Queen Charlotte 18, schooners Lady Prevost 14 and Chippewa 1, the brig Hunter 10 and the sloop Little Belt 3. He could only supply each ship with ten experienced sailors. The balance of the compliment of 440 men was made up of  infantrymen supplied by the 41st.

They engaged Perry off the Bass Islands. For two hours the roar of the ship’s big guns could be heard back at Amherstburg but could not be seen. Then silence. It would be two days before Proctor got word of Barclay’s total defeat. In the meantime Harrison was moving north toward Detroit with 2,500 regulars, 3,000 Kentucky Militia and 150 Pennsylvania Militia. Proctor’s situation had gone from being desperate to hopeless. He planned to evacuate the fort and retreat up the Thames but kept his decision to himself for three days.

Tecumseh wanted to cross back into Michigan and ambush Harrison at the Huron River. But some men were seen dismantling Fort Malden and Tecumseh and the other chiefs demanded a conference with Proctor. Ojibwa war chiefs Naiwash and Nahdee were with him but his closest ally and staunchest supporter Roundhead was not. He had died unexpectedly of natural causes early that summer. Finally, after several days they met in council. Tecumseh spoke for the chiefs:

Listen! When war was declared, our Father [Proctor] stood up and gave us the tomahawk, and told us he was now ready to strike the Americans; that he wanted our assistance; and that he certainly would get us our lands back which the Americans had taken from us. Listen! You told us at that time to bring forward our families to this place. We did so, and you promised to take care of them, and that they should want for nothing while the men would go and fight the enemy . . . When we last went to the rapids [Fort Meigs] it is true we gave you little assistance. It is hard to fight people who live like groundhogs. Father, listen! We know that our fleet has gone out. We know they have fought. We had heard the great guns, but know nothing of what has happened to Our Father with One Arm . . . We are astonished to see our Father tying up everything and preparing to run . . . without letting his red children know what his intentions are . . . and we are sorry to see our Father doing so without seeing the enemy . . . Listen Father! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land; neither are we sure they have done so by water. We, therefore, wish to remain here and fight our enemy should they make their appearance. Father! You have got the arms and ammunition, which our Great Father [the King] sent for his red children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us, and you may go . . . Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it is his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.

Proctor was embarrassed by Tecumseh’s speech so promised his answer in two days. Again they met in council but this time Proctor was more forthcoming. With a map of the Detroit area laid out on a table he explained that both his supply lines were now cut off. Fort Malden was now defenseless having lost her guns along with the brig Detroit. Not only did Perry control Lake Erie but he could sail right past the fort into Lake St. Clair to stop supplies arriving via the Thames. Proctor saw no other option but to retreat up the Thames and make a stand near Chatham. Tecumseh reluctantly agreed but Main Poc left with his Potawatomi warriors crossing back into Michigan determined to harass Harrison’s advance.

Harrison crossed into Canada occupying Amherstburg unopposed seventeen days after the battle of Lake Erie. Proctor and Tecumseh left Sandwich about the same time heading for the Thames. Twelve miles upriver they passed the great burial mound left over from the Iroquois War more than a century earlier. They passed Chatham deciding instead to make a stand at the Delaware village of Moraviantown. Harrison left Brigadier General Duncan McArthur with 700 men to defend Detroit and pursued Proctor and Tecumseh up the Thames. On October 3rd Tecumseh decided to test the Americans. He had 1,500 warriors and he prepared an ambush after destroying the two bridges over McGregor’s Creek. One they burnt but the other was too wet so they tore up the planks. Harrison had over 3,000 men and the skirmish lasted for over two hours. Tecumseh’s lines finally broke and he retreated back to Moraviantown. Seeing the strength of the Harrison’s forces many of his warriors drifted away and he was left with only 500.

On the morning of October 5th Proctor formed a line three and one half miles west of the village of Moraviantown. It ran north from the river for 500 yards to a large swamp. That line was held by 540 men of the 41st Foot Regiment and 290 men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The warriors took up positions in the swamp and they waited.

Harrison arrived  at 8:00 o’clock in the morning with 1,000 Mounted Kentucky Riflemen, 2,300 Kentucky Volunteers and 140 regulars. The mounted riflemen were unusually well-trained by Colonel Richard M. Johnson. Each carried a tomahawk, a scalping knife and a long rifle and Johnson had drilled them over again in a highly unusual maneuver  Instead of charging a defensive line then dismounting and continuing the fight on foot they rode right through the line then dismounted attacking from the rear. This took the British by surprise and they surrendered almost immediately. When Proctor saw this he fled in his carriage.

Tecumseh fought on. Johnson’s tactic could not be employed because of the swamp. So they dismounted and advanced on foot. The warriors would wait until the Kentuckians were almost upon them then shower them with a hail of bullets. The Kentuckians kept coming screeching cries of “Remember the Raisin”. Then the great leader fell and the warriors broke away. The British suffered twelve killed, twenty-two wounded and 600 captured. The Americans lost seven killed and twenty-two wounded. The warriors’ casualties are unknown except for the incalculable loss of their august Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

NEXT WEEK:  The Beginning of the End

Fort Meigs II

February 16, 2013

Robert Dickson, a tall Scotsman with flaming red hair, had been appointed Indian Agent for the First Nations of the far North West Territories. He had traded with them for some time with the reputation of always honest and fair. The Sioux called him Mascotopah or The Red-Haired Man and he was married to one of their own, a Yanktonais woman. In short he was well liked. It was only natural that he was tasked by the British Indian Department to recruit warriors for the cause. Dickson had great success. Sioux war chiefs Little Crow, Itasappa and Red Thunder joined him easily as they had already been plied by Tecumseh and The Prophet a few years earlier.

Tecumseh’s warriors began amassing at Amherstburg again in July. Main Poc returned from Illinois Territory where he had been recruiting with the help of fellow Potawatomi chiefs White Hair and White Pigeon. At the same time a large group of warriors from the North West Territories, flags flying, all decked out in their finest war regalia paddled out of Lake St. Clair and into the Detroit River. In the lead canoe was the red-headed man Dickson. His entourage  included Ojibwa, Sioux, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Winnebago warriors all recruited from his base at Le Bay or Green Bay. Their arrival at Amherstburg bolstered Tecumseh’s forces to 2,500.

Tecumseh pressured Proctor to invade Ohio again. Captain Barclay warned Proctor of the fleet being built at the U.S. Naval Yards at Presque Isle. But Proctor was short on supplies for his heavy artillery so he postponed an attack on the ship yards. However, he did have 2,500 men to add to Tecumseh’s 2,500 which he felt was more than enough to mount an invasion. Tecumseh wanted to return to Fort Meigs but Proctor wanted to attack Fort Stephenson a much weaker fort on the Sandusky River. To take Fort Stephenson would have cut the supply line to Fort Meigs but Tecumseh was insistent so he left Amherstburg in the middle of July bound for Fort Meigs. Proctor followed on July 19, 1813.

General Harrison had left Fort Meigs in the command of General Green Clay while he moved to the Lower Sandusky. Tecumseh’s warriors arrived first at the mouth of the Maumee so Clay called for reinforcements from Harrison. He sent none convinced Fort Meigs with its current garrison was strong enough to withstand any assault. Instead Harrison withdrew up the Sandusky to Old Seneca Town leaving Fort Stephenson under the command of Major George Croghan. From this vantage point he could either move on Fort Stephenson or Fort Meigs wherever he was needed. This was good strategy the only hindrance being he would have to contend with the Black Swamp which lay between them.

Proctor settled in for a siege of the fort and began pounding the stockade with cannon fire. But his guns were not heavy enough. He had come with only three six-pounders and two howitzers. The warriors spread out among the thickets surrounding the fort taking pot shots at the men inside whenever they popped up to fire through the loopholes. Tecumseh complained it was too difficult fighting these Americans who were acting like groundhogs instead of coming out and fighting like men.

He came up with a plan to lure them out. The warriors moved to road that led to Fort Stephenson just out of Clay’s sight. They began firing their rifles and hollering loud war whoops increasing in intensity. This ruse was intended to convince Clay they were engaging a relief force sent by Harrison. But Clay had already received word from Harrison that he would not sent reinforcements unless he received the call from Clay and he had sent no such message. Although he had trouble convincing his officers it was a trap he did manage to hold them back. Tecumseh’s plan failed.

The siege of Fort Meigs was also a failure. A few hundred of Dickson’s warriors from the west drifted away since there was no plunder to be had. Proctor packed up his cannon and sailed to the mouth of the Sandusky and up the river to within a mile of Fort Stephenson. It was a much smaller post than Fort Meigs and although it was an impressive looking fort it was in truth weakly defended. It had a stockade of sixteen foot pickets and was surrounded by an eight foot wide moat. Each picket had a bayonet thrust horizontally through its tip. However, it only had one heavy gun, an old six-pounder left over from the Revolution affectionately referred to as “old Betsy”.

Tecumseh had moved his warriors up the Sandusky between Fort Stephenson and Old Seneca Town to cut off any retreat or prevent any reinforcements arriving. Okemos was a redoubtable Ojibwa war chief from Saginaw and also a nephew of the renowned war chief Pontiac. He and his cousin Manitocorbway were further upriver scouting for any signs of Harrison coming to Croghan’s aid. They ran into one of Harrison’s patrols and Okemos was severely wounded in the skirmish. Meanwhile, the seven hundred warriors with Proctor settled in among the surrounding woods as spectators. A frontal assault facing cannon fire out in the open was not their style of warfare.

Proctor decided to storm the fort. He was in the habit of becoming unsure of himself when patience and resolve was required. His men were unprepared to storm the garrison. They didn’t have the ladders to scale the palisade which was higher than they thought. Their axes were dull from lack of use. The moat was deeper than they realized. Proctor’s men became bogged down in the moat and “old Betsy” raked them lengthwise with grape-shot. They lost 150 men either killed or wounded. Proctor made no second attempt to take the fort but withdrew limping back to Amherstburg.

The Americans had a clear and decisive victory at last. And they had a national hero in Major Croghan a mere youth just turned twenty-one, who had defeated the British General in command of their western army and a force five times his size. Proctor had to explain himself to his superiors. He openly admitted he ordered the disastrous assault on Fort Stephenson under the threat of First Nations withdrawal from the war. General Prevost retorted he never should have committed any part of his valuable force due to the clamoring of “the Indian warriors”.  To Tecumseh the failure to take either fort may have been a sign that the tide of the war was turning but he was resolved to fight on.

NEXT WEEK:  Retreat up the Thames

Fort Meigs

February 13, 2013

Meanwhile, in the Detroit theater General Harrison was laying plans for his second attempt at a Canadian invasion. In February 1813 he set Captain Wood busy improving Fort Meigs’ fortifications. The fort was vital to his plans as he planned to use it as a springboard for his invasion. Wood work feverishly and by spring the improvements were almost complete. The fort was a potato shaped structure near the mouth of the Maumee River just south of the old British Fort Miami but on the opposite bank. Wood had added a twelve-foot palisade fronted by huge mounds of earth.

On April 1st the six month tour of duty was up for the Virginia and Pennsylvania militias and all but 250 men left the fort for home. The 250 men that remained only planned to stay another two weeks. Tecumseh’s scouts had the fort under surveillance and reported the departure to him immediately. Tecumseh told General Proctor the time to attack Fort Meigs had come and Proctor agreed but bad weather held him up at Amherstburg until April 23rd. Proctor arrived at the mouth of the Maumee on April 26th with 450 regulars and 475 militiamen. Tecumseh joined him with 600 warriors and then Roundhead arrived with another 600.

Harrison who had heard of the British plans to advance on Fort Meigs rushed forward from his winter quarters at Cincinnati. He managed to arrive at Fort Meigs before Proctor and his First Nation allies. All he could do now was take shelter in the fort along with the few troops left there and their Shawnee scouts. They anxiously awaited reinforcements who were on their way from Kentucky.

By May 1st the British had built reinforced blockhouses across the river and were firing on the fort. However, their cannonballs sunk uselessly into the soft mud of the earthen ramparts. Meanwhile, hidden among the woods the warriors busied themselves by taking pot shots at any slight movement behind the stockade. The siege continued for four days during which General Green Clay made his way down the Maumee with 1,200 Kentucky Militiamen.

Most of the Shawnee scouts loyal to the Americans were holed up in the fort but a few others were leading Clay’s forces. These Shawnee were rather reluctant participants. They had preferred to remain neutral in the conflict but were enlisted by the Indian agent John Johnston after he put them under considerable pressure. Among these reluctant warriors was Black Fish the son of a Shawnee war chief.

Black Fish and three militiamen traveling ahead of the main force in a canoe reached a point within sight of the fort. There they ran into a hostile party of Pottawatomie. They turned and fled back up the river but two of the Kentuckians were captured. However, Black Fish and the other man who was wounded in the encounter escaped. Clay kept coming.

On May 1st they landed just south of the fort on the American side of the river. Clay, acting upon Harrison’s orders, split his forces in two. He sent 800 militiamen under Colonel William Dudley along with all his Shawnee warriors across the river with orders to capture and spike the British cannon then recross the river to the fort as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, he and the other 400 fought their way to the fort.

Dudley was successful. The warriors who were fighting Clay outside the fort realized what Dudley was up to and quickly swam the river to engage him. Dudley’s men were raw recruits with no military experience and they became over exuberant at their victory. Tecumseh’s warriors arrived and lured the militia deeper and deeper into the woods. When the Shawnee, who were adverse to the adventure in the first place, saw what was happening surrendered to the British immediately. Tecumseh and Roundhead sprung their trap and the militia panicked and fled back toward British lines to surrender. Dudley was killed and many were cut down. Many more were captured. Of Dudley’s 800 Kentucky Militia fewer than 150 made it back to the fort.

The prisoners were escorted to old Fort Miami where they were held under a small British guard. The warriors were in a highly excitable state and began tormenting the Americans by making them run the gauntlet. Suddenly one was tomahawked and scalped on the spot. Things were getting out of hand. The British soldiers in charge tried to control the situation but one of them was killed so they backed off and sent for help.

Help quickly arrived in the form of one very recognizable warrior riding into the ruins that was once a British fort brandishing a tomahawk and yelling ordered to cease and desist. I was Tecumseh and he quickly took control. He reamed out the leaders of the agitated warriors by threatening death to the next one to disturb any of the prisoners. He didn’t want another massacre like Frenchtown laid at the feet of his confederacy.

Black Fish insisted he and his warriors had been coerced into service by the Americans. In fact he told proctor that all the Shawnee in Ohio had British sentiments but were being held prisoner in their villages at Wapakoneta and Lewistown. Upon hearing this Proctor made an offer to Harrison; the return of all American prisoners if they would allow any loyal Shawnee to remove to Canada. However, this British offer only served to cast suspicion on the Shawnee at Wapakoneta loyal to the Americans. They came under attack again by militia and settlers alike. Black Hoof complained so Johnston intervened managing to settle things down.

The warriors collected all the booty from the battlefield. One by one individual war parties withdrew following their chiefs back to their villages as was their custom after a great military victory. This left Proctor and Harrison stalemated so Proctor withdrew. The weather had been bad the whole time so he blamed his failure to take Fort Meigs on it. He also blamed his commanding officer, General DeRottenburg for not adequately supplying the mission.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Meigs II

Beaver Dams

February 5, 2013

In the spring of 1813 the Americans made another attempt at invading Canada. This time they enjoyed more success. General Dearborn left Sackett`s Harbor on April 25th with a flotilla carrying 1,700 men. Although Dearborn was on board he gave the field command to Brigadier General Pike. They managed to establish a beachhead just east of the town of York. It was a small town with a population of only 625 but was the capital of Upper Canada. They fought their way to the town where General Sheaffe was commanding. Seeing he was about to be overpowered he withdrew to Kingston taking his regulars with him. However, before the fall of York a main magazine blew up with a tremendous force exacting a heavy toll on the American forces and killing Pike.

General Dearborn assumed command and headed west with all his forces toward Fort George, but not before some general looting and burning down the Government House. Dearborn arrived on the 8th of May at the mouth of Four Mile Creek just four miles east of Fort Niagara where he established a base camp. By May 25th Commodore Isaac Chauncey had arrived from Sackett`s harbor with Brigadier General John Chandler and 1,450 reinforcements. They began to bombard Fort George with seventy cannon while Brigadier General John Vincent, commander of Fort George, could only answer with twenty canon. Vincent had 1,900 troops in the fort but most of them were unreliable militia.

Dearborn was too ill to participate and watched the battle through his spyglass from the deck of the Madison. Major General Morgan Lewis was tactical commander but the actual battle was directed by Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott and Major Benjamin Forsyth. With the fort about to be overwhelmed General Vincent ordered the canon spiked and abandoned the fort Meanwhile, Chauncey who had received word that Sackett`s was under attack sailed away to assist taking 2,000 men with him.

Now with the town of Newark in their control and the capture of Fort George the Americans finally have a firm foothold on Canadian soil.On the 1st of June Lewis began his advance on Vincent by sending out Brigadier Generals William Winder and John Chandler. The pursuit of Vincent did not go well. The Americans made camp on June 4th along Stoney Creek. Vincent`s forces were camped seven miles away and Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey convinced Vincent that the American`s position was vulnerable. Vincent allowed a night attack where Harvey employed the ruse of using the loud and terrifying war whoops of feared Mohawk warriors. The results were devastating. Both American generals were captured along with large piles of stores. The result of the Battle of Stoney Creek was the Americans were now penned up in Fort George.

The men in the fort had to be supplied with provisions from the lake head. Captain James Lucas Yeo of the British navy was having great success intercepting American supply boats capturing up to fifteen at a time. British patrols were also having the same kind of success bushwhacking American patrols. So Dearborn ordered Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler to take a detachment and clear out Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon who had a company of rangers trained in forest warfare.

Fitzgibbon had appropriated the two-story house of John Cew, a militia captain to serve as his headquarters. The house was near Beaver Dams on Twelve Mile Creek.  After nightfall on June 23rd Boerstler left Fort George with 570 men, two canon and two four-horse wagons headed for Fitzgibbon’s headquarters. As they marched through Queenston civilians who were loyal to the crown realized where the Americans were headed. Someone had to rush on ahead and warn Fitzgibbon. That duty fell to a woman, one Laura Secord who made her way across country. She didn’t get too far when she fell into the hands of some Caughnawaga warriors. She was able to communicate her mission well enough to them that they escorted her to their leader.

Dominique Ducharme, a captain in the Indian Department, was camped near De Cew’s house between Fitzgibbon and the advancing Boerstler. Ducharme commanded some 500 Caughnawaga Mohawk warriors from Lower Canada. So Ducharme was the first to receive Secord’s warning and while she continued on to the De Cew house the warriors headed out to prepare an ambush.

By dawn the warriors had taken up their position hidden among a thick stand of beech trees just east of their main camp. Between 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. the head of Boerstler’s column entered the cool shade of the beechwood. When the whole column was strung out along the narrow path the warriors opened fire. There was little room for maneuvering and the first volley knocked all twenty  of the advance point off their horses sending the whole column into a state of confusion.

Boerstler got control of his men and they fought their way out of the woods and into the open. They took up a position at the top of a hill which they held for about two hours. Meanwhile eighty British regulars and about 200 militia had joined the skirmish. Fitzgibbon arrived late as did Norton and his Grand River Mohawks. Fitzgibbon called a ceasefire to parlay with Boerstler. He managed to convince him he was hopelessly outnumbered and Boerstler, seeing no way to escape, surrendered. The Americans began to lay down their arms and the Grand River warriors rushed in to collect the booty. The Caughnawaga warriors were incensed leaving the Niagara area for Quebec.

The Battle of Beaver Dams cost the Americans dearly. The Caughnawaga warriors neutralized almost 600 men and the British captured two cannon and the Grand River warriors looted the supply wagons. Later Norton would write of the battle that the Caughnawaga warriors did the fighting, the Grand River warriors got the booty and Fitzgibbon got the credit.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Meigs