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General Brock
Chapter XX - The Armistice


GENERAL BROCK lost no time in making preparations to return to the Niagara frontier, where he hoped to strike another sudden blow. He dismissed the militia of Michigan to their homes, placed the volunteers on parole, and sent General Hull with a thousand of his regular troops in boats to Fort Erie, en route to Montreal as prisoners of war. After issuing a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Michigan territory, by which their private property was secured and their laws and religion confirmed, he set out on his return journey on August 18th. On his voyage down Lake Erie in the schooner Chippewa he was met by the Lady Prevost, whose commander gave him the first intelligence of the armistice unfortunately concluded with General Dearborn.

General Brock could not conceal his regret and mortification, as the armistice prevented an attack on Sacketts Harbour which he had contemplated. At that place vessels were being fitted out whose construction would immensely strengthen the enemy's position on Lake Ontario, of which it was of the first importance to hold the mastery. He had given orders to Colonel Procter who was left in command at Detroit, to send a detachment of the 41st to join with the Indians in an expedition against Fort Wayne, a supply post in the Miami country. Brock was now compelled to write and request him on account of the armistice to postpone the attack, and also to keep the Indians back from predatory excursions on their own account. On August 25th General Brock arrived at Fort George, and on the 27th at York, where he was received in triumph. Addresses of welcome and letters of congratulation were showered upon him. One1 wrote: "There is something so fabulous in the report of a handful of troops supported by a few raw militia leaving their strong post to invade an enemy of double the number in his own fortress and making them all prisoners without the loss of a man, that it seems to me the people of England will be incredulous until they see the exterminating boaster a prisoner in London. I shall hardly sleep until I have the satisfaction of hearing particulars of the wonderful excursion, for it must not be called a campaign. The veni, vidi, vici is again the faithful report. Your good fortune in one instance is singular, for if your zeal had been thwarted by such adverse winds as frequently occur on the lake, the armistice might have intercepted your career."

In answer to the address from the people of York, General Brock said with characteristic simplicity: "Gentlemen, I cannot but feel highly gratified by this expression of esteem for myself; but in justice to the brave men at whose head I marched against the enemy, I must beg leave to direct your attention to them as the proper objects of your gratitude. It was a confidence founded on their loyalty, zeal and valour that determined me to adopt the plan of operations which led to so fortunate a termination. Allow me to congratulate you gentlemen at having sent out from among yourselves a portion of that gallant band, and that at such a period a spirit has manifested itself on which you may confidently repose, your hopes of future security."

It was by such unassuming, sincere words that Brock endeared himself to the people of Canada. The victory he had won had an immediate moral effect. It has been well said that it was as if an electric shock had passed through the country, awing the disaffected and animating the timid and wavering. The success at Detroit caused the Six Nation Indians on the Grand River to drop their policy of neutrality and to take an active part on the British side. If General Brock's hands had not been tied, he would doubtless have swept the frontier from Sandusky to St. Regis.

A letter from John Lovett, secretary to General Van Rensselaer, describes the arrival of the prisoners from Detroit on their way to Fort George, and shows the feeling that prevailed in the enemy's camp. Yesterday the first we saw was a guard of about fifty men passing with some wagons on the opposite shore. It was the victorious Brock returning to Fort George. He sent over Colonel Macdonell, his aide-de-camp, and Major Evans, two strapping lads in scarlet and gold, to make a communication to General Van Rensselaer. This part of the country now thinks their whole salvation rests upon our little raw army. I think I know the fact that after Brock had taken Hull he expressed his determination to return and take Niagara. I think his mind is altered by the armistice, but he can take Niagara any hour he pleases. Yes, my friend, we cannot defend Niagara one hour, and as for our present camp, I now write with an eye on a single gun on yon hill in Queenston which would rout us all in three minutes. The Ohio officers' prisoners were also last evening with us, and say that the Indians with Brock are the finest fellows they ever saw. They are commanded by the prophet's brother Tecumseh. He is hourly expected at Fort George, and it is said the tawny host is to follow. Well, be it so, one thing our friends may be assured of, we are not scared yet. We shall never be 'Hulled.' Our general is thoughtful but firm."

Of the loss of Detroit the same officer wrote on the 28th : " This event has animated Canada beyond anything you can conceive. It has put a serious face on our Indians on the whole frontier.

Tecumseh, the prophet's brother, a warrior of almost unbounded influence, now openly holds that the Great Spirit intended Ohio River for the boundary between his white and red children, that many of the first warriors have always thought so, but a cloud hung over the eyes of the tribes and they could not see what the Great Spirit meant, that General Brock has now torn away the cloud and the Indians see clearly that all the white people must go back east of the Ohio. Yesterday I beheld such a sight as God knows I never expected to see, and He only knows the sensation it created in my heart. I saw my countrymen, free born Americans, robbed of the inheritance which their fathers bequeathed them, stripped of the arms which achieved our independence, and marched into a strange land by hundreds as black cattle for the market. Before and behind, on the right and the left, their proud victors gleamed in arms, their heads erect in the pride of victory. I think the line, including wagons, was half a mile long. The sensations the scene produced in our camp were inexpressible, mortification, indignation, apprehension, suspicion, jealousy, rage, madness. It was a sad day, but the poor fellows went last evening on board the shipping, and I presume passed over to York. I saw a gentleman who was present when General Hull alighted from his carriage at Fort George, hale, corpulent, and apparently in high spirits. He goes to Quebec."

One other reverse the Americans had met with this month in the loss of Fort Dearborn, (Chicago). The Indians had attacked it, massacred the garrison, and destroyed it by fire.

On August 30th Brock left by a schooner for Kingston in order to review the militia there. On the way he wrote to his brothers. It was almost the last letter they were to receive from him, and it breathes throughout a spirit of love and of yearning that the unhappy differences between them might be healed.

Lake Ontario, September 3rd.—" You will have heard of the complete success which attended the efforts I directed against Detroit. I have received so many letters from people whose opinion I value, expressive of their admiration of the exploit, that I begin to attach to it more importance than I was at first inclined. Should the affair be viewed in England in the light it is here, I cannot fail of meeting reward and escaping the honour of being placed high on a shelf never to be taken down. Some say that nothing could have been more desperate than the measure; but I answer that the state of the province admitted of nothing but desperate remedies. I got possession of the letters of my antagonist addressed to the secretary of war, and also of the sentiments which hundreds of his army uttered to their friends. Confidence in the general was gone, and evident despondency prevailed throughout. I have succeeded beyond 266 expectation. I crossed the river contrary to the opinion of Colonel Procter. It is therefore no wonder that envy should attribute to good fortune what in justice to my own discernment, I must say, proceeded from a cool calculation of the pours and contres. It is supposed that the value of the articles captured will amount to thirty or forty thousand pounds. In that case, my proportion will be something considerable. If it enables me to contribute to your comfort and happiness, I shall esteem it my highest reward.

"When I returned heaven thanks for my amazing success, I thought of you all. You appeared to me happy—your late sorrows forgotten; and I felt as if you acknowledged that the many benefits, which for a series of years I received from you, were not unworthily bestowed. Let me know, my dearest brothers, that you are all again united. The want of union was nearly losing this province without a struggle, and be assured it operates in the same way in families.

"A cessation of hostilities has taken place along this frontier. Should peace follow the measure all will be well; if hostilities recommence, nothing could be more unfortunate than this pause.

"I shall see Vincent, I hope, this evening at Kingston. He is appointed to the command of that post, a most important one. I have withdrawn Plenderleath from Niagara to assist him. James Brock is likewise at Kingston. The 41st is an uncommonly fine regiment, but, with few exceptions, badly officered."

At Kingston, where he arrived on the morning of September 4th, General Brock was also received with demonstrations of joy. In answer to the address presented to him there, he said: "Nothing but the confidence which the admirable conduct of the York and Lincoln Regiments of militia excited, could have induced me to undertake an expedition such as lately terminated so much to the advantage of the country. I have reason, from the reports made to me by the officers stationed at Kingston, to rely with equal confidence on the discipline and gallantry of the militia in this district. It is with the highest satisfaction I understand, that in the midst of unavoidable privations and fatigue, they bear in mind that the cause in which they are engaged involves their dearest interests and the happiness of their families."

While at Kingston General Brock received a letter of congratulation from Sir George Prevost, dated August 30th. It was as follows: "I propose sending an aide-de-camp to England with your short despatch. I shall delay his departure from hence until September 1st in hopes of obtaining from you before that time, further particulars of the operations which led to General Hull's disgrace. Well aware of the difficulties you have surmounted for the preservation of your government entire, I shall endeavour to do justice to your merit in my 268 report to His Majesty's minister upon the success which has crowned your energy and zeal. I am in hourly expectation of receiving from General Dearborn intelligence respecting the reception of the proposed suspension of hostilities in consequence of the revocation of the orders-in-council, which are the plea for war in the American cabinet. The king's government having most unequivocally expressed to me their desire to preserve peace with the United States, that they might, uninterruptedly, pursue with the whole disposable force of the country the great interests committed in Europe, I have endeavoured to be instrumental in the accomplishment of their views, but I consider it most fortunate to have been enabled to do so without interfering with your operations on the Detroit. I have sent you men, money, and stores of every kind."

This was rather an aggravating statement under the circumstances^ for by reason of the armistice, of which the Americans knew how to take full advantage, stores of all kinds were at this time being sent as rapidly as possible by Lake Ontario to the enemy's camp at Niagara, and vessels at Ogdensburg were moved in perfect safety to Sacketts Harbour, there to be fitted out as ships of war.

On the 31st Sir George wrote again: "I had scarcely closed the letter addressed to you yesterday when an aide-de-camp from Major-General Dearborn made his appearance and delivered to me the despatch herewith transmitted." The despatch announced that the president of the United States had not thought proper to authorize a continuance of the provisional measure entered into by His Excellency and General Dearborn, through the Adjutant-General Colonel Baynes ; consequently, the armistice was to cease four days from the time of the communication reaching Montreal and the posts of Kingston and Fort George. This despatch had been written while the authorities at Washington were in ignorance of what had happened at Detroit, for it said: "If a suspension of offensive operations shall have been mutually consented to between General Hull and the commanding officer of the British forces at and near Detroit, as proposed, they will respectively be authorized at the expiration of four days, subsequent to their receiving copies of this communication, to consider themselves released from any agreement thus entered into."

General Brock .adds a postcript on September 4th to the letter to his brother: "Hostilities, I this instant understand, are to be renewed in four days, and though landed only two hours I must return immediately to Niagara, whence I shall write fully." General Brock was of the opinion that an expedition should be' immediately sent to Sacketts Harbour, thirty-five miles across the lake from Kingston, in order to destroy the arsenal there, but Sir George Prevost disapproved. The official intelligence of the president's refusal to continue the truce reached the commander-in-chief at Montreal on August 30th, a day or two before the arrival there of Captain Glegg with the trophies and the despatches relating to the capture of Detroit. The attack on Sacketts Harbour could have been carried into effect immediately on the cessation of the armistice, but the opportunity was allowed to pass. In fact, in his general order of August 31st, Sir George Prevost was rather apologetic for having dared to invade the territory of the United States.

The British government approved of Sir George Prevost's pacific policy at the commencement of the war, as we gather from a letter of Lord Bathurst to the governor-general, written on October 1st, 1812, before the refusal of the American president to ratify the armistice was known in England: " The desire which you have unceasingly manifested to avoid hostilities with the subjects of the United States, is riot more in conformity with your own feelings than with the wishes and intentions of His Majesty's government, and therefore your correspondence with General Dearborn cannot fail to receive their cordial concurrence." By the time this letter reached its destination, had it not been for General Brock's more' vigorous measures, Sir George Prevost's careful avoidance of hostilities, so much approved of by the home government, would probably have led to the loss of the Canadas.

As it was, the month's armistice had immensely strengthened the position of the enemy on the Niagara frontier. General Brock, who had hastened back there from Kingston, wrote from Fort George on September 7th to the commander-in-chief:—

"Sir, on my arrival here yesterday morning I found that intimation had been received by Major-General Sheaffe to renew hostilities at noon tomorrow. During the cessation of hostilities vast supplies have been received by the enemy. His field artillery is numerous, and I have reason to believe his heavy ordnance has been considerably increased. He is now busy erecting batteries in front of Fort George, and everything indicates an intention of commencing active operations. Reinforcements of troops of every description have evidently arrived. I have written to Amherstburg for such troops as Colonel Procter conceived the state of affairs in that quarter enabled him to part with. Colonel Vincent has likewise been written to on the same subject. The prodigious quantity of pork and flour which have been observed landing on the opposite shore from a number of vessels and large boats which have entered the river during the armistice, are sufficient to supply the wants for a long period of a -considerable force. I expect an attack almost immediately. The enemy will either turn my left flank, which he may easily accomplish during a calm night, or attempt to force his way across under cover of his artillery. We stand greatly in need of officers, men and heavy ordnance. Captain Holcroft has been indefatigable and has done everything in the power of an individual, but on such an extended line assistance is necessary.

"I look every day for the arrival of five 24-pounders from Detroit, and other artillery and stores which are not required there, beside two thousand muskets. Should your Excellency be in a situation to send reinforcements to the upper country, the whole of the force at present at Kingston might be directed to proceed hither. One thousand additional regulars are necessary. A force of that description ought to be stationed at Pelham on the Grand River, to act as exigencies might require. At present, the whole of my force being necessary for the defence of the banks of the river Niagara, no part can look for support. If I can continue to maintain my position six weeks longer the campaign will have terminated in a manner little expected in the states. I stand in want of more artillerymen and a thousand regulars. I have thus given your Excellency a hasty sketch of my situation, and this I can aver, that no exertions shall be wanting to do justice to the important command with which I am entrusted." Two days afterwards he wrote again that news had come from Colonel Procter that another attack was expected at Amherstburg, as reinforcements for the Americans were on their way from Kentucky. Although so short himself of men, General Brock determined to send to the Detroit frontier two flank companies of the Newfoundland Regiment, which had just joined him at Fort George. Fresh troops were still arriving for the enemy at Niagara, supposed to belong to the Pennsylvania quota. They were reported as in a wretched state as to clothing, and ill-fitted to brave the rains and cold of the coming season. There was much sickness in the American camp. Two or three hundred Indians had joined them, but General Brock did not believe they would act against him. It all depended, however, on which side success lay. Any disaster would send them to the winning side.

On September 10th Colonel Procter wrote that the Queen Charlotte had been sent off from Detroit with ordnance and stores for Fort Erie, and also the remainder of the prisoners of war, with a guard of twenty subalterns and forty men of the 41st Regiment, with whom, as Procter says, "I cannot now afford to part." The Detroit, formerly the Adams, captured at Detroit, was to sail in a few days with prisoners and stores.

The expedition to Fort Wayne had already set off before any counter orders arrived. It was a troublesome and difficult journey of several hundred miles into the enemy's country, but its capture was important as being the base of supplies for the left division of the American army. It was at this time invested by a body of Indians. Captain Muir of the 41st, with one hundred and fifty men of that regiment, the same number of militia, some field guns and a howitzer, crossed Lake Erie to the Miami River, thence to the village of that name, where they were joined by three hundred Indian warriors. They had proceeded only about half way to the fort when they were met by some Indians who informed them that two thousand five hundred Ohio and Kentucky volunteers under General Winchester were advancing to the Miami, and were then only about three miles distant. As a proof of this story they produced the scalps of five Americans, part of the advance guard, whom they had treacherously killed while engaged in friendly conversation. Under the circumstances it would have been folly to proceed, so Captain Muir conducted an orderly retreat, expecting at any moment to be attacked by the advancing force. He at last reached his boats without the loss of a man or any of his supplies, and returned to Amherstburg after a fruitless absence of three weeks. As it turned out afterwards the Americans had avoided an engagement, thinking the British had a much superior force.

In the meantime Sir George Prevost was again complicating affairs by his vacillating and contradictory orders. He wrote on September 7th finding fault with General Brock's conduct of affairs on the Detroit frontier. It drew from the general the following reply, dated September 18th: "I have been honoured with your Excellency's despatch, dated the 7th inst. I have implicitly followed your Excellency's instructions, and abstained under the greatest temptations and provocations from every act of hostility." He enclosed a letter from Colonel Procter containing the information of the force sent under Captain Muir against Fort Wayne, and continued: "I gave orders for it previous to my leaving Amherstburg, which must have induced Colonel Procter to proceed upon receiving intelligence of the recommencement of hostilities, without waiting for further directions. I regret exceedingly that this service should be undertaken contrary to your Excellency's wishes, but I beg leave to assure you that the principal object in sending a British force to Fort Wayne is with the hope of preserving the lives of the garrison. By the last accounts the place was invested by a numerous body of Indians, with very little prospect of being relieved. The prisoners of war, who knew perfectly the situation of the garrison, rejoiced at the measure, and give us full credit for our intentions. The Indians were likewise looking to us for assistance. They heard of the armistice with every mark of jealousy. Had we refused joining them in this expedition I cannot calculate the consequences. I have already been asked to pledge my word that England would enter into no negotiation in which their interests were not included. Could they be brought to imagine that we should desert them, the consequences must be fatal." General Brock added that the attack of the enemy on his frontier could not be long delayed, and that he thought the militia could not be kept together without such a prospect.

On the 14th Sir George Prevost wrote again, evidently in a panic, and advised General Brock to take immediate steps for evacuating Detroit, together with the territory of Michigan. This must have indeed been galling to the second in command. The reason for this advice, Sir George said, was a despatch dated July 4th from Lord Bathurst, which seems to have been somewhat belated. It said that His Majesty's government trusted he would be able to suspend with perfect safety all extraordinary preparations for defence which he might have been induced to make, also that every special requisition for warlike stores and accoutrements had been complied with, except the clothing of the corps proposed to be raised from the Glengarry emigrants, and that the minister had not thought it necessary to direct the preparation of any further supplies.

Sir George adds: "This will afford you a strong proof of the infatuation of His Majesty's ministers upon the subject of American affairs, and show how entirely I have been left to my own resources in the event which has taken place." He informed Brock that he could not expect any more reinforcements.

The latter did not agree with Sir George Prevost's opinion as to the advisability of evacuating Detroit and the Michigan territory, tiie fruits of his splendid victory. He wrote from York on September 28th to the commander-in-chief: "I have been honoured with your Excellency's despatches dated the 14th inst. I shall suspend, under the latitude left by your Excellency to my discretion, the evacuation of Fort Detroit. Such a measure would most likely be followed by the total extinction of the population on that side of the river, as the Indians, aware of our weakness and inability to carry on active warfare, would only think of entering into terms with the enemy.

"The Indians, since the Miami affair in 1793, have been extremely suspicious of our conduct, but the violent wrongs committed by the Americans on their territory have rendered it an act of policy with them to disguise their sentiments. Could they be persuaded that a peace between the belligerents would take place without admitting their claim to an extensive tract of country fraudulently usurped from them, and opposing a frontier to the present unbounded views of the Americans, I am satisfied in my own mind that they would immediately compromise with the enemy. I cannot conceive a connection more likely to lead to more awful consequences. Should negotiations of peace be opened I cannot be too earnest with your Excellency to represent to the king's ministers the expediency of including the Indians as allies, and not to leave them exposed to the unrelenting fury of their enemies.

"The enemy has evidently assumed defensive measures along the strait of Niagara. His force, I apprehend, is not equal to attempt the expedition across the river with any probability of success. It is, however, currently reported that large reinforcements are on their march. Should they arrive an attack cannot be long delayed. The approach of the rainy season would increase the sickness with which the troops [of the United States] are already afflicted. Those under my command are in perfect health and spirits."

It speaks well for the discipline and morale of Brock's little army that he is able to say: "It is certainly something singular that we should be upwards of two months in a state of warfare, and that along this widely extended frontier not a single death, either natural or by the sword, should have occurred among the troops under my command, and we have not been altogether idle; nor has a single desertion taken place."

On September 17th General Brock had written to Colonel Procter that he approved of his expedition against Fort Wayne, which would probably save the garrison from the fate of Chicago. He added, however, in obedience to Sir George Prevost's instructions: "It must be explicitly understood that you are not to resort to offensive warfare for purposes of conquest; your operations are to be confined to measures of defence and security. It may become necessary to destroy the fort of Sandusky and the road which runs through it from Cleveland to the foot of the rapids. The road from the river Raisin to Detroit is perhaps in too bad a state to offer any aid to the approach of an enemy except in the winter. As to the Indians, Colonel Elliott does not possess the influence over them that Captain McKee does. In conversation with him you may take an opportunity of intimating that I have not been unmindful of the interests of the Indians in my communications to ministers; and I wish you to learn (as if casually the subject of conversation) what stipulations they would propose for themselves or be willing to accede to in case of either failure or success. I wish the engineers to proceed immediately to strengthening Fort Amherstburg, the plan for which I shall be glad to see as soon as possible."

On September 18th the general wrote to his brother Savery: "You doubtless feel much anxiety on my account. I am really placed in a most awkward predicament. If I get through my present difficulties with tolerable success I cannot but obtain praise. But I have already surmounted difficulties of infinitely greater magnitude. Were the Americans of one mind the opposition I could make would be unavailing; but I am not without hope that their divisions may be the saving of this province. A river of about five hundred yards divides the troops. My instructions oblige me to adopt defensive measures. It is thought that without the aid of the sword the American people may be brought to a due sense of their own interests. I firmly believe I could at this moment sweep everything before me between Fort Niagara and Buffalo, but my success would be transient." No doubt the general thought of that other victory, which by the supineness of the commander-in-chief had been taken so little advantage of.

The letter continues: "I have now officers in whom I can confide. Six companies of the 49th are with me here, and the remaining four are at Kingston under Vincent. Although the regiment has been ten years in this country, drinking rum without bounds, it is still respectable and apparently ardent for an opportunity to acquire distinction. It has five captains in England and two on the staff in this country, which leaves it bare of experienced officers. The United States regiments of the line desert to us frequently, as the men are tired of the service. Their militia, being chiefly composed of enraged Democrats, are more ardent and anxious to engage, but they have neither subordination or discipline. They die very fast. You will hear of some decided action in the course of a fortnight, or in all probability we shall return to a state of tranquillity. I say decisive, because if I should be beaten the province is inevitably gone; and should I be victorious, I do not imagine the gentry from the other side will care to return to the charge. I am quite anxious that this state of warfare should end, as I wish much to join Lord Wellington and to see you all."


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