Wednesday, 15 October 2008

James FitzGibbon - Hero of War of 1812 (Canada) - Part 7

[1-General Gordon Drummond]

When General Drummond received reports of the enemy obtaining large reinforcements of regular troops, he decided to further concentrate his force behind Chippewa, and with the advance composed of the Light Companies of the 6th, 82nd, and 97th regiments under Major Stewart, the Glengarry Light Infantry, a squadron of the 9th Dragoons, and one gun, the whole under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Battersby, be prepared “to withstand any attack the enemy might make upon the position.”

The movements of the enemy and the rumoured extent of his reinforcements rendered it prudent to withdraw the defending force yet nearer to Chippewa, although advance posts were still left a little in front of Black Creek. These advance posts were “fifty men of the Glengarry Light Infantry.” The remainder of the regiment were stationed at Street's Grove.

“On the evening of the 13th, the enemy advanced to Black Creek, and having effected the passage of that creek during the night, he continued his advance as far as Street's Grove on the following morning, the Glengarry Light Infantry retiring before him with the utmost regularity. A line of pickets was taken up at a short distance in front of the tete de pont, and occupied until the morning, when they were obliged to retire into the works before the whole of the enemy's army.”

The fire from his guns continued the whole day, but at night he retired to his camp at Street's Grove. During the 16th, he continued to deploy columns of infantry in front of the British position at the mouth of the Chippewa, without, however, venturing within the range of the guns. About one o'clock on the 17th, his troops disappeared. Pickets were immediately thrown out, and both cavalry and infantry pushed in different directions to reconnoitre. The enemy had abandoned Street's Grove and retired to Black Creek. The steadiness of the retreat of the Glengarry Regiment, and the position of the British being stronger than they had anticipated, as well as the rumored approach of the British fleet on the lake, were the probable causes of this sudden retreat on the part of the Americans.

On the 18th, a large body moved up Black Creek in the direction of Cook's Mills (present day Welland, Ontario), on Lyon's Creek. The Glengarry Light Infantry are here again to the front. They, with seven companies of the 82nd, were immediately sent in that direction. Upon receiving further information of the enemy's force and probable intentions, the 100th Regiment, and the three remaining companies of the 82nd, with one gun, were ordered to join them. With a force of 750, Colonel Meyers was ordered to “feel the enemy very closely.”
Colonel Meyers carried out his instructions, and, in his letter to Major-General Drummond, spoke very highly of the conduct of the Glengarry Infantry. “I found the enemy's advance,” he wrote, “with a strong support, posted on the right bank of a ravine which runs to Lyon's Creek, a small distance from the mills. A part of the Glengarry Regiment turned down a small wood, which covered the front of the enemy, and crossed the head of the ravine, whilst the remainder passed through the wood. By this movement the enemy's light troops were driven back in admirable style, whilst a part of his force crossed Lyon's Creek for the purpose of annoying our left. Having chiefly the recognizance in view, and finding that object not to be attainable by a forward movement, from the thickness of the woods, I retired the Glengarry Regiment, and fell back a small distance in the hope of drawing the enemy forth to the open ground, and, if circumstances would justify it, to bring him to a more general action.”

The force that had been coaxed into action or skirmish, suffered greatly in numbers from 1,500 to 2,000. “The conduct of the Glengarry Regiment during the campaign has been so conspicuous, that Lieut.-Colonel Battersby and the officers and men of the corps can receive little further praise from any report of mine, but on this occasion I cannot refrain from adding my humble tribute of applause to their earned fame.” (Colonel Meyers' letter.)

This was replied to by a letter to the troops from the Lieut.-General, thanking them for their gallant behaviour.

In the General Orders of October 22nd, the regiment brigaded with Major-General De Watte ville, and formed at Street's.

The success of Colonel Meyers' reconnaissance resulted in the retreat of the American army.

[2-General Jacob J. Brown]

The American commander, General Jacob Brown, had detached two of his regiments to cover his retreat from Cook's Mills, and the Glengarry Regiment had also “felt them” which caused the retreat to be conducted in haste. They were unable to bring the guns with them due to the state of the roads, and in their hurry were unable to pause to burn the mills, or to hazard the engagement their pursuers were so anxious to provoke.

Falling back over the heights opposite Black Rock, they crossed over to their own shores, leaving only a few hundred in Fort Erie. Although General Drummond was able to report all the positions held by the British troops were in good order, he was well aware of the critical state of affairs, the want of provisions, the state of the roads, and the uncertainty of Sir James Yeo's movements on the lake, to heed the letters from headquarters urging him “not to let the season pass without striking some decisive blow.”

The retreat of the American army might well have been construed as a feint to draw the British on, that by turning their position and outflanking them, they might obtain by strategy what they had failed to accomplish by force. The British, however, were too well aware of the numerical superiority of their enemy to either imagine such a course had been necessary or doubt the reality of their retreat.

General Drummond had faith in his advance pickets, in the vigilance of his officers, and in the impression the valour of his light troops had made upon the enemy.

A rumour reaching the commanding officer that the enemy were about to evacuate Fort Erie, James FitzGibbon was detached with a small party to reconnoitre at closer quarters.

True to his usual custom of going himself to the front when there was any risk of capture, or the information acted upon being incorrect, FitzGibbon posted his party in the wood, and rode forward alone to within a few yards of the fort. There appearing to be none of the usual signs of activity or life within its walls, he ventured nearer, and entering the fort rode through every part of it.

The enemy had evacuated it only a few hours before, having blown up the works and in every other respect completely dismantled and destroyed it, leaving nothing but ten or twelve kegs of damaged musket ball and cartridge.

The Glengarry Regiment was destined for York, to be quartered there during the winter, but the movements of the enemy made it necessary to retain a force on the frontier. FitzGibbon's company was stationed at Turkey Point.

[3-Norfolk County where Turkey Point is situated]

Although the war was almost over, the country along the frontier and throughout the Niagara peninsula had been so desolated, and was still in such a defenceless condition, were a prey to bands of marauding freebooters, that the Glengarry Regiment had still some exercise for its abilities as light troops, in pursuing these wretches and protecting the inhabitants.

Upon the official declaration of the peace in March, the Glengarry Regiment was stationed at York. The knowledge of woodland warfare acquired during these two campaigns on the frontier of Canada, bore fruit in after years in a paper written for the advice of FitzGibbon’s second son, when in 1840 he obtained for him a commission in the 24th Regiment, then serving in Canada.

The “Hints,” as he called the letter, were printed for private circulation among his soldier friends. The following letter from Sir John Harvey, at that time Lieut.-Governor of New Brunswick, is an acknowledgment of one of these sheets:

“Government House,
“New Brunswick, October 29th, 1840.

“My Dear Sir, — It will always afford me, as it has ever done, very sincere satisfaction to hear of your welfare and of the high degree of esteem and respect which your public and private worth appears to have obtained for you, on the part not only of the authorities under which you have acted, but of the community in which you have lived.

“I have not forgotten, nor am I capable of forgetting, how admirably you justified my selection of you for a difficult and hazardous service — one from the able and successful accomplishment of which both the country and yourself reaped honour and advantage.

“I thank you for the paper you have sent, but more for the warm expression of your friendly good-wishes, and accept mine for yourself and all your family, and believe me

“Very faithfully yours,
“J. Harvey.
“Col. FitzGibbon,
“Toronto."

In the early 1800’s the Cook brothers came from Pennsylvania as Loyalists and established flour mills on Lyons Creek. In 1814, the last year of the war the American invaders burned down Niagara-on-the-Lake and half of Fort Erie opposite Buffalo. In mid-October a small army was sent out from the fort to take Cooks Mills for what grain and flour the mills might contain. The Canadian forces, under the Marquis of Tweedale, met the invaders a short distance east of the Mills. The battle lasted two days without decisive results. On the third day, the 20th of October, 1814, the Americans withdrew to the fort and on the following day crossed the Niagara to Buffalo.

After this date there is no mention in the biography of James FitzGibbon of further skirmishes and battles during the War of 1812, although it did not come to a close until 1815. A peace treaty had been signed December 24, 1814.

Next week the life of James FitzGibbon will continue until his death, as there remain interesting achievements, historical events, anecdotes and correspondence. After this section is completed I will be returning to the War of 1812 (Canada) to those areas not covered.

[For Travis Erwin who inquired, and other readers who would like to know where the present day locations of some of the battle locations mentioned in this and previous articles, please go to this weblink: http://www.conservation-niagara.on.ca/corporate/Watershed_Map.pdf.pdf . Here you will see “Two Mile Creek”, “Lyon’s Creek”, “Black Creek”, “Chippawa”, “St. David’s”, and other locations. The majority of the battlefields on the Niagara peninsula have been paved over. “Chippawa” battlefield is 121 hectares (300 acres) of farmland on Navy Island just offshore. Weblink of current location and photos can be found here. This link also provides photos and video reenactments of several battles during the War of 1812. I have placed the main link on the side bar under WAR OF 1812 HISTORICAL LINKS.]

For those interested in the sailing vessels of the 1800s this weblink provides information and photographs of schooner replicas during the War of 1812, i.e. HMS Bee.]

Research: Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock by Ferdinand Tupper (1845),
A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1894).

Photo Credits: [1][2][3]-Wikipedia.

8 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

It sure would be great if you could get this series a wider venue. Are there any magazines or newspapers that might be interested in this fantastic historical information?

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, a friend (history buff) just suggested the same thing. I am looking into it. My reference material on James FitzGibbon was a find 'out of the blue'. There is very little information on FitzGibbon in other historical books on Canada.

Travis Erwin said...

I'll check out the site when I get a chance.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

a bit stunned by all this....interesting how you relate the war was over but for residents the trouble continued, due to marauders and such...

Barbara Martin said...

Travis, it's all quite interesting.

Gary, I made amendments to the end of the post. The biography doesn't mention much after this last incident except for what appears to be clean-up operations. Once I am done with James FitzGibbon's biography, I will be filling in the areas I did not cover. There are numerous gaps.

Originally, I had not considered an in-depth look at the War of 1812, and as I researched for the posts on Isaac Brock the historical aspect caught my fancy and here we are.

David Cranmer said...

I'm with Charles. This is great work and needs a wider distribution. Some really fine work here.

BernardL said...

I believe the Canadian history texts would do well to include your series on the War of 1812.

Barbara Martin said...

David and Bernard, thanks for your kind comments.