Essay About Unguarded Border
On 1 September, Prevost sent his army across the unguarded northern border of the United States at Rouses Point from their assembly point at Chambly, Canada. A single column was inhibited by the narrow dirt road that, according to Commissary General William Robinson, was nearly impassable. It was getting worse with each plodding unit. It took five days for the 15,000 men of the British Force to go the 25 miles to Plattsburgh. With them were six batteries of field guns, siege mortars and a company of Congreve rockets. Minor skirmishes occurred as the New York State Militia and 250 regulars under Major John Wool attempted to blunt the column that never even deployed in the face of such a feeble effort.
By the evening of the 5th, the skirmishers were driven back into Plattsburgh where they joined Macomb’s main force that was dug in on the opposite side of the river. What remained of the New York Militia was deployed three miles upstream at Pike’s Cantonment, the only ford. There, during a previous winter, the famed explorer and discoverer of Colorado’s Pikes Peak had wintered with his brigade prior to his attack on Toronto, where he was killed. De Meuron’s Swiss regiment, part of Prevost’s lead element, boasted clearing the town of the last defender.
Wellington provided Prevost with three of his best commanders, Major General Thomas Brisbane, who was positioned in the town facing Macomb across the turbulent river. He had, in addition to regiments from England, the bulk of Canadian formations. He was to fix the enemy in place, which he did with artillery while his men sniped across the stream which was no more that 50 yards wide. Major General Manley Powers led his brigade, which consisted of the 3rd, 5th, 58th and 27th Foot, in a right flanking maneuver to Pike Cantonment, forced a crossing of the stream and pushed back the defenders.
He was followed by Major General Frederick Robinson, whose command consisted of the 39th, 76th, 88th and the 3/27th infantry regiments, which would cross behind and turn to the left in an attack on the rear of the American formation. The only problem was the time it would take to get the two manoeuver brigades into position. All was in readiness by the afternoon of 6September. The American artillery attempted to disrupt the deployment of Brisbane’s troops and was met with counter battery fire as the slow-moving artillery arrived and got into position. The Congreve rocket company was still setting up on the evening of the 10th.
Prevost’s concern with the Royal Navy proved justified. Captain Downie was off Rouses Point on the 6th still training his crew in gun drill, while the carpenters were finishing the construction of the magazine. Until that was completed, Confiance was tugging a line of boats, like sausages on a string, behind her filled with gunpowder. Daily heated messages flew between the two men until the morning of 11 September when the Royal Navy appeared with the sun. The army stepped off. Commodore Downie’s plan would keep his vessels outside the range of the American short-range carronades. He boasted that the cannons of Confiance alone could destroy the enemy flotilla. He was correct but being unfamiliar with the winds, his movement was restricted and his attack drifted straight into the moored American fleet. By the time he secured his ship, Confiance was only 300 yards away and racked with accurate American fire.
Fifteen minutes after the battle began, Captain Downie was sighting a gun when the muzzle was struck with a shot from Saratoga. The force of the blow was so extreme that it ripped the 2,000-pound barrel out of the carriage, flipped it up on end and crushed James Downie to the deck, killing him. Today that gun is mounted in front of Macdonough Hall at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. The carnage was incredible; first to strike her colours was the British Chub, while the American Preble and then the Eagle withdrew. Now Linnit added her firepower to Confiance, ripping up the decks of Macdonough’s Saratoga. Ticonderoga contended with the Royal Navy’s Finch, while British gunboats fired point blank into her hull and attempted to board. At 1030 hours, Saratoga had lost her last gun when the carronade, along with her crew, were blown into the hold.
Macdonough sheltered his crew below and asked for volunteers to wind the capstan which would pull against the kedge anchor set before the battle. The manoeuver rotated the brig in place and presented a dozen loaded guns to Linnit and Confiance,which were also suffering badly. With the discharge of Saratoga’s new battery, the British flagship shuttered and struck her colours. A second salvo directed at Linnetproduced the same result. In the meantime, Finch had run aground on Crab Island and was captured. The British gunboats withdrew from the cloud of white smoke that obscured that morning, a sign to Sir George Prevost that the most important phase of the battle had been lost. Without control of the water, Wellington had warned, he could not sustain his force in the enemy territory. Without the ships, he could not transport his army south and establish a firm defensible position.
He decided to withdraw the army. The column that had been sent to envelop the American Army’s left flank had not been heard from since they stepped off at 0800 hours that morning. They were led through the dense undergrowth by a quartermaster officer who had been to Pike’s Cantonment prior to the Vermont Militia moving in on the night of the 10th. However, he had got lost as he led the 7,000-man column off in the wrong direction. By the time they found the ford, it was 1,000 hours. The Vermont Militia was pushed back five miles on a dead run by Powers’ brigade. Robinson reached the road, which led to the American side of the bridges.
In the court martial report taken on board HMS Gladiator in Portsmouth Harbour in August of 1815, he testified: ‘I could see the backs of the American artillery and I would have taken the enemy within 20 minutes.’ At that moment, he received a messenger from Prevost: ‘I am directed to inform you that Confiance and the Brig having struck their colours in consequence of the Frigate having ground, it will no longer be prudent to persevere in Service committed to your charge, and it is therefore the order of the commander of the Forces that you immediately return with the troops under your command.’ The loss of the naval battle was decisive, the fleet was gone and there was no point in risking the lives of his soldiers.
The Peace of Ghent would be signed on Christmas Eve 1814. Because of the inept raid at Baltimore and the defeat of the invasion forces at Plattsburgh, the British negotiating team was unable to acquire any property south of the existing Canadian border and so sued for the status quo of 1812.