After acquittal Wilkinson returned to Washington to ascertain his future and settle a few problems that had grown out of his trial. In his defense he had often made caustic remarks, and to some of these Madison, as his commander-in‑chief, had taken exception. Wilkinson, therefore, tried to make clear that they were aimed exclusively at such persons as Clark, Power, and members of the Eleventh Congress who had been persecuting him. Toward the Secretary of War he confessed having "buried every sentiment of resentment"; he expressed willingness "to vary or expunge any harsh epithet or acrimonious expression, which in agony of mind may have escaped" his pen. Before long he was looking over the court-martial record, changing "the manner but not the substance" of his remarks. At the same time he evinced no desire to have the proceedings published immediately, an attitude very acceptable to the administration.1
Wilkinson was trying to restore himself to the good graces of those who controlled his immediate destiny; he knew that he would be working at loose ends until the War Department gave him a definite assignment of duty. It was not until the 10th of April, 1812, that he received orders to report at New Orleans and take command of the troops there and in the adjacent territory. Fearing a war with England, Congress had lately increased the federal forces and provided them with the framework of a better organization. To make sure of his own ground Wilkinson plied Eustis with innumerable questions.2 Some of them now seem superfluous, but the Army was then small and the Secretary liked to exert a large share of very personal control. Wishing to avoid any future charges of disobedience, Wilkinson wanted to know precisely how much latitude p277 he might expect in the task of preparing the country of the lower Mississippi against invasion.
In order to perform his mission more readily, he insisted that his personal staff be appointed and his accounts adjusted before leaving Washington. He wanted to feel sure that he would receive his salary regularly and would be repaid for the disbursements that he had made as a former commanding general at New Orleans. He figured that the government owed him $6,491.893 — a sum that he now very much needed. In trying to meet his expenses during the recent court-martial, he had been compelled to dispose of •65,000 acres in Kentucky and other property.4 In his need for cash, he now wanted the help of Eustis, who could curb any arbitrary action on the part of William Simmons, War Department accountant. With the Secretary apparently sympathetic and important members of the Senate supporting his claims, Wilkinson began to hope that his finances were on a firmer basis than they had been for some time. After the appointment of most of those with whom he had recommended for his personal staff, he was now ready to leave for his Louisiana home.
The home of Mr. Duplantier near New Orleans, once occupied as headquarters by Major-General Wilkinson.
From William Birch, "The Country Seats in the United States of North America," 1808.
Some time in June, 1812, Wilkinson embarked on the brig Enterprise, and he arrived at New Orleans on the 9th of the following month. Here news greeted him that war had been declared with England on the 18th of June. As a result, he was directed to employ such means and measures as he thought best under the circumstances. The General immediately set to work, planning the defense of an area easily vulnerable to attack. To Eustis he wrote almost continuously, asking consideration and help in solving the problem of making Louisiana safe against invasion. There were only three regular regiments with an aggregate strength of 1,680 men on the lower Mississippi. Many of the rank and file were absent on leave; those who remained with their companies were often badly scattered and poorly armed. Some of his best officers had been transferred to the North for service along the Canadian border. Arrangements had been made to call out volunteers, although they would be of little value until organized and trained. Permanent fortifications had to be erected and manned at important points, coöperation with the Navy systematized, stores laid by, and a system of rapid communication p278 devised and perfected.5 The smugglers and pirates at Baratariaa had become openly offensive and needed exemplary punishment. To restore the confidence of the people of New Orleans, after rumors of a prospective attack by the British white and black troops, he dispatched a respectable force to English Turn and paraded his men through the streets of the city, drums beating and colors flying.6
Spectators grew boastful; they need fear the British no longer. News had already come that reinforcements were on the way. The backwoodsmen of Tennessee had heard the call to arms and had quickly responded. Soon two thousand of them were accepted as volunteers by the federal government. Their commander was Andrew Jackson, then a major-general, gaunt, masterful, and patriotic. Under his leadership they left Nashville on the 10th of January, 1813, marching to the Tennessee River, where boats awaited them. For days they were delayed by ice jams near the mouth of the Ohio. The wind blew strong and cold. The men huddled close together in the heavily loaded boats; sometimes they went on shore, stretched their legs, cooked their rations, and listened to Chaplain Blackman's exhortations to piety. By the 16th of February they had traveled •eight hundred miles, and before them loomed the cliffs of Natchez. Here they climbed out of their thirty-odd boats and went into camp near Washington, •about four miles distant; for Wilkinson had warned that the country farther south was less healthy and could furnish little feed for their horses.7
Jackson occupied an anomalous position: he was in Wilkinson's department, dependent upon him for many things that the Regular Army detachments could supply but at the same time enjoying the prerogatives of an independent commander. Before long he found his way cluttered with difficulties. His cavalry, six hundred strong, had not been specifically authorized, and hence the deputy quartermaster of the department, Robert Andrews, a relative of Wilkinson, refused to furnish any forage. Nor could medicines and hospital stores for the sick be obtained.8 On the very day that Jackson reached Natchez, John Armstrong, the new Secretary of War, sent him the copy of an order dismissing his troops from the service.9 On its receipt Jackson was incensed; to discharge his men so far p279 from home, he felt, was outrageous. He foresaw the trouble that they would have in getting back to Tennessee as individuals when provided only with a stand of arms and perhaps ten dollars and forty rations. The disabled could not move without help. Jackson determined to march his men as a unit to Nashville and there discharge them. Those who were too weak for hiking were carried on horses or loaded in wagons. For their immediate wants, he turned over his own mount and spent a thousand dollars of his personal funds.10 Two months later his men were all in Tennessee. Jackson had shown ability as a soldier. The people of the West trusted him more than ever; neither Madison nor any other political enemy could now retard his advancement.
Although frequently expressing friendliness for Jackson, Wilkinson was probably glad to be rid of him; any officer would dislike having another acting independently in a department that had been set aside as peculiarly his own. Such a situation not only was provocative of friction but had made Wilkinson understand that he did not enjoy the full confidence of the administration. Jackson was especially objectionable; Wilkinson's memory was still seared by his flamboyant abuse during the Burr trial. But each hid his ill will behind a façade of courtesy. Wilkinson kept in his own orbit, narrowly interpreting orders and Army regulations and leaving Jackson to cope alone with the supply problems of the volunteers. This procedure was probably agreeable to John Armstrong, who had no liking for the hardy Tennesseean. On the other hand, it might have offended him greatly had Wilkinson tried to modify the War Department order concerning the discharge of the volunteers. Wilkinson had just been through a court-martial and did not care to alienate the good will of his superior merely to help an old enemy return to Tennessee in the full glory of a popular hero. He may also have thought that the thinning ranks of his own regulars might be filled with stranded volunteers. In a letter to Armstrong, he gives his own official reasons; he says that he could not "exceed the provisions of the General Order of 16th [of Armstrong] or direct the vast expense attending the march of two thousand men in military array, across a wilderness of •four hundred miles; and the more especially as the commanding officer held himself independent of and insubordinate to me."11
For two such independent and unyielding characters as Wilkinson p280 and Jackson, nothing requiring mutual coöperation on a large scale could be safely planned. Fortunately their efforts were never directed toward a joint enterprise like the capture of Mobile and Pensacola. Wilkinson was restless to do this very thing on his own account, but Eustis consistently opposed the idea and would spare no troops for the purpose. The Secretary wanted to use all the recruits he could get, in regaining the territory that Hull had disgracefully lost around Detroit; he felt also that there were "reasons of a peculiar and important nature against exciting hostilities" in the Floridas. Wilkinson resolutely argued that Mobile and Pensacola should be quickly occupied in order to prevent their use as hostile bases for operations against Louisiana; in fact, New Orleans was constantly menaced so long as they remained in the hands of the Spaniards, who were then allied with the English in a war with Napoleon.12 Personal reasons possibly abetted Wilkinson's strategic conclusions. In 1806 Forbes & Co., a great English trading house in the Floridas, had turned over to him, for an unknown consideration, Dauphin Island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.13 The company may have been merely a blind to hide a payment that the Spanish Crown wished to make to its old-time pensioner. No matter what induced the transfer, Wilkinson knew the island would increase greatly in value once it became a part of the federal domain. He could not foresee that his title would be disallowed ultimately by United States commissioners, strangely enough on the ground that he was not a Spanish subject at the time that the tract was acquired. He did not dare to turn over to them a paper that he had drawn up and signed in 1787, a paper Miró had accepted as equivalent to an oath of allegiance to the King of Spain.
As not infrequently happened, Wilkinson's estimate of the situation was finally approved. During March, 1813, Congress, stricken with fear, authorized the seizure of West Florida, the territory lying south of the thirty-first parallel and east of New Orleans to the Perdido River.14 For such action some lamely offered the belated excuse that it really belonged to the United States as a part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Wilkinson was not concerned with these puerile afterthoughts to justify the high-handed seizure of territory belonging to a friendly country; he was elated that he could now p281 carry through a program of defense that met with his official and personal approbation. He began to gather and organize forces for a descent on Mobile.
At the time Mobile was a town of about one hundred houses, •twenty miles north of the Gulf of Mexico and a three days' journey by water from New Orleans. It lay in the midst of an attractive country and looked out upon a beautiful and tranquil bay. Nature had blessed the neighborhood. Game was abundant; the waters teemed with fish, and in the rich meadows of the adjacent islands and swine waxed fat and multiplied. Cotton and rice were easily planted and yielded uncommon returns. Peach, orange, and fig trees flourished with indifferent care. In fact, many of the good things of earth were to be had for the taking.15 Few of the inhabitants could perceive a valid reason for personal exertion; least of all, the somnolent Spanish garrison in Fort Charlotte at the entrance to Mobile Bay. The ease of living and their entire neglect by a mother country racked by civil discord, had made them listless guardians of their empire's frontier. Sunk in laziness and vice, they had lost all spirit of service and had allowed their defense to crumble away.
Wilkinson was not sure that Mobile could be easily taken. Although he knew the Spaniards in Florida to be indifferent soldiers, he was never sure to what tricks they might resort. The British and Indians might be inveigled to come to their rescue. He planned to strike swiftly and in such numbers that resistance would be useless. Troops from New Orleans and Fort Stoddard were ordered to move on Mobile. The Navy coöperated. Before long a few gunboats blocked all exits from the town by sea and seven companies of the 2nd and 3rd regiments with a handful of volunteers were investing it by land. In spite of the loss of his baggage and a narrow escape from drowning en route, Wilkinson was on hand to direct operations.16 On the 12th of April he sent the following note to Cayetano Pérez, the Spanish commandant:
"The troops of the United States under my command do not approach you as the enemies of Spain, but by order of the President they come to relieve the garrison which you command from the occupancy of a post within the legitimate limits of those States. I therefore hope, sir, that you may peacefully retire from Fort Charlotte, p282 and from the bounds of the Mississippi Territory [and proceed] east of the Perdido River with the garrison you command, and the public and private property which may appertain thereto."17
Pérez thought it best for himself and his sixty soldiers to comply, and during the late afternoon of the 15th they evacuated Fort Charlotte and prepared to board the United States vessels that waited to carry them to Pensacola. For a fortnight or more Wilkinson remained at Mobile, strengthening its fortifications, organizing a garrison, and celebrating his bloodless victory. He liked this land of plenty and the flattering addresses that the people made him. But there was more work to do — he had yet to seize the right bank of the Perdido; so he marched east, possessed it, and opened up an avenue of communication with Mobile. Thus in less than two months and with little expense West Florida had become securely ours.18 The British could no longer hope that their Spanish friends would help them by permitting the use of Mobile as a base for operating against New Orleans. To the land expansion of the Republic, Wilkinson had contributed for his last time, quickly and with distinct success.
So far in the War, Wilkinson's problems had been much simpler than those of the generals commanding along the northern frontier of the United States. In a minor rôle he had done well, while they had given one exhibition after another of sorry incompetence and failure. William Hull had proved himself a coward, Alexander Smyth a braying ass, and Henry Dearborn a colorless what not. The War Department was severely taxed to find leaders who could lead Americans to victory. Those laying claim to military fitness were confined to the Regular Army, militia, and veterans of the Revolution; and few of these possessed the elements of immediate success. Washington's one-time youthful subordinates had now turned gray and bore heavily the thirty-two years elapsing since the days of Yorktown. Their age and experience suited them for sage counsel but not for active leadership in grueling field operations. Many of the militia officers were younger. Nevertheless, they usually proved better fitted for parades, hard drinking, and political rumination than for the shock of long-continued battle far from their own homes. Once in a while they had handled the Indian in a way that had brought joy to the backwoods and embarrassment to the Capital, but for the p283 present more serious enterprises they head to undergo a change of training and viewpoint. Such a military remaking rested in the hands of the regulars who had been living isolated and inarticulate along the expanding frontier. Perhaps their friendly acts were sometimes recalled by settlers from New England who swept down the Ohio into the Northwest or by southern planters who trekked toward the setting sun with slaves and household treasures. While protecting this westward tide of immigration the regulars fought bravely in a world whose horizon shut down closely about them. When faced with new problems in a lengthened landscape they used the same tools and methods of approach that had won peace from the savages. This procedure did not always meet with favor; nor was it uniformly successful.
From sources like these, the War Department had to draw an assistant or successor for the aged Dearborn. The field of choice was barren of distinguished men; prior to March, 1813, only thirteen officers had reached the rank of general in the regular service.19 With the exception of William Henry Harrison none of these had shown marked ability in the War, while those destined to become great leaders still lacked opportunity to demonstrate their merit and win promotion.
For a bewildered administration the choice of Wilkinson was the easiest, if not the best, way out. Only Dearborn and Thomas Pinckney outranked him; none surpassed him in length and variety of service, and with the theater of operations on the northern frontier he had become well acquainted during the Revolution. Despite his success in the facile task of acquiring West Florida, there were those who resented his presence in the 7th District.20 His equivocal connection with the Spaniards, his high-handed measures during the Burr conspiracy, the great mortality in his command of Terre aux Boeufs, and his recent court-martial — all tended to diminish a reputation regarded by many in the Southwest with scant respect. Nevertheless, it was not possible to lay Wilkinson on the shelf and ignore him; he was too potent and expressive a personality for that. He had, also, a wealth of experience and occasionally exhibited a certain vigor of action. At one time or another, John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and other distinguished men had shown respect for his p284 professional ability. At his worst, he was never marked down as a fool.
Hence, the administration decided to transfer Wilkinson, in spite of his desire to remain in Louisiana. For some time he had gloomily realized that a change was imminent.21 On the 10th of March, 1813, John Armstrong, the successor of Eustis, sent him orders to proceed with the least possible delay to the headquarters of Major-General Dearborn.22 These, Wilkinson declared, were not received until the 19th of May, when he returned to New Orleans from West Florida.23 After sending the orders, Armstrong had written a very friendly letter urging him to come quickly "where grows the laurel," and where "we may renew the scene of Saratoga."24 Words like these stirred pleasant recollections. And his ambition was quickened with the receipt of a commission as major-general after twenty long years of service as a brigadier. He felt aggrieved that his promotion had come so tardily, but he accepted it as a matter of duty and declared that he would start north in twelve or fifteen days.25
Major-General James Wilkinson
From a portrait by Charles W. Peale.b
Courtesy of the Curator, Horace T. Carpenter, Independence Hall, Philadelphia.
There was much to do, and apparently Wilkinson wanted something to turn up and keep him where he was. For over two years he had been happily married to Celestine Trudeau; to leave her was hard; to take her with him was difficult, for she was now heavy with child.26 His own physique was not the kind to bear up against the severity of a climate that he had weathered with difficulty in the days of his youth. Only too well did he know the inefficiency with which the administration had so far conducted the war; he foresaw the danger to his own personal reputation in undertaking a major operation under its aegis. Success, at best, was doubtful, and defeat might mean the ruin of his military career. Whereas, in the South there were few portents of storm, here were many of his friends and fair prospects of fortune.
On the 10th of June, 1813, he regretfully left New Orleans and started for Washington.27 Mrs. Wilkinson accompanied him.28 Over near Mobile was a wayward son, James Biddle, who needed a bit of p285 parting advice.29 Apparently these two slowed up his traveling; he also enjoyed open-handed hospitality along the way, and he had to take precautions against Indian attack. Whatever the reasons, he did not reach Milledgeville, Georgia, something like •six hundred miles distant, until the 6th of July; on Saturday,30 twenty-five days later, he arrived in Washington. It was nearly five months after the original orders for his transfer had been issued, and less than half of the summer remained.
During the next few days Wilkinson found a comfortable place for his family, attended one of Dolly Madison's parties, and asked for the assignment31 of Cushing, Izard, Bomford, and Walbach to his staff. On the 5th of August the Secretary sent the General a proposed plan of campaign. In it he discussed but left open the choice of objectives — Kingston or Montreal. In the event that Montreal was chosen, the operation should be carried through in conjunction with the forces at Plattsburg under the command of Major-General Wade Hampton, that wealthy, petulant, and none too competent officer who had relieved Wilkinson in 1810 near Natchez. Sacketts Harbor was to be the point of concentration in either contingency.32
Theatre of Wilkinson's Operations in 1813 and 1814.
The next day, the 6th, the General replied. He asked a number of questions in order to find out where his powers began and ended. In one of these he wanted to know just what instructions had been given Hampton as his subordinate. He also advised attacking Kingston as promptly as possible, provided his forces were "competent" and the command of Lake Ontario was obtained. If his forces were "incompetent," operations should begin around Fort George while Hampton menaced Montreal. Once victorious on the west end of the Lake, a "lightning" movement should be made against Kingston. After reducing this place, he and Hampton should form a juncture for an attack on Montreal, provided the weather did not prevent.33
Armstrong answered, promising Wilkinson considerable latitude and support in the administration of his command and giving him definite assurance that Hampton would be subject to his orders. The Secretary thought operations should not begin around Fort George, p286 for even if successful they would leave the strength of the enemy unbroken, merely wounding the "tail of the lion." He believed, if William Henry Harrison succeeded against Malden, Fort George would be of diminished importance. In his mind, Kingston was the "first and great objective of the campaign; and if the means were "incompetent" for a direct attack, an indirect one should be made by marching on Montreal.34
The Secretary and the General alike considered the reduction of Kingston imperative, but they differed greatly on how to achieve it. Wilkinson's plan appeared the simpler, and less likely to fail. Without coming to any definite agreement, the two left Washington; time and circumstance were to determine the Army's immediate objective.
It was obvious that Kingston, being nearer Sacketts Harbor, might be more easily seized; and its loss by the British would cut their line of communications between eastern and western Canada. On the other hand, if Montreal, at the head of navigation, were left intact, England could readily dispatch reinforcements and regain Kingston. Obviously the best course of all would be to attack Quebec, provided the means were available.35
Appreciating that the season for active operations was daily growing shorter, Wilkinson hastened on his way. By the 14th he was in New York City, and the next day he stepped off the gangplank of the Paragon at Albany.36 Here he left his travelling companions, the Secretary of War and Governor Tompkins of New York, and pushed on to Sacketts Harbor, arriving there on Friday afternoon, August 20, 1813.37
The post was not an inviting one, though it then boomed with a welcome of fifteen guns. Ten months earlier, Colonel Alexander Macomb, its commanding officer, had described it as a "miserable cold place." The garrison had then consisted of about 1,285 sailors, marines, militia, volunteers, and regulars; some of whom every so often got ten to forty "cobbs" on their "bare posteriors" for drunkenness. Less frequently organizations were paraded to witness the execution of one of their number for desertion.38 Macomb was an p287 excellent officer and endeavored to train his men in the use of their weapons and make them appreciate the value of discipline.39
On July 5, 1813, he had been superseded by Major-General Morgan Lewis, a brother-in‑law of Armstrong and a quartermaster colonel of the Revolution.40 Though fifty-nine years old and feeble, great responsibility rested on him as Wilkinson's second in command. Another ineffective was John Boyd, a blustering soldier of fortune who had served nearly twenty years under potentates of India. Armstrong did not trust him, and Scott declared him "vacillating and imbecile, beyond all endurance, as a chief under high responsibilities."41 Little better was Robert Swartwout, who, without important experience, was such a military illiterate that he tried to act simultaneously as an infantry brigadier-general and as the quartermaster-general of the Army,42 a double task that would have tried the ability of a genius. Moses Porter, chief of artillery, was fairly efficient, but was too old for the work that lay just ahead. From subordinates of this type, Wilkinson could expect very little. For all practical purposes, he was as unable to relieve them from command as he was to rid the expeditionary forces of the meddling supervision of Armstrong or the drowsy efforts of Isaac Chauncey, commodore of the protecting flotilla.
Only from some of his younger officers might he expect stalwart action. Jacob Brown was one of these, a distinguished brigadier at thirty-eight. Others, like Scott, Macomb, Swift, and Walbach, were able and enterprising; unfortunately they lacked experience and were without the rank and position to make their influence felt. Only a few of the lieutenants and captains, like Totten, Wool, and Towson, were enterprising and able; the rest were recent appointees and had little inclination or opportunity to redeem their ignorance.
Of Wilkinson's command only one organization, the 5th Infantry, had been established since 1808; the others were little more than a year old.43 Though they were all known as regulars, they little deserved the name; for their enlisted personnel was untrained and their ill selected officers were almost wholly lacking in a knowledge of their profession. In 1808 Winfield Scott declared they were "imbeciles p288 and ignoramuses."44 Since then conditions had little improved; officers were still appointed chiefly for political reasons.
Men like Wilkinson and Lewis could neither train nor inspire and a superficial student of military science, tried hard to be useful in supervising the organization of the army at Sacketts Harbor.º But he and Wilkinson could seldom agree on any plan of concerted action. To the general in command the presence of the Secretary of War at the front was naturally irksome; to the impulsive Armstrong the dilatory tactics of the new major-general were exasperating and discouraging. Objectives often changed, and the work of preparation lagged. On August 25 the Quartermaster reported only fifteen vessels available for transporting men and supplies; something like three hundred were needed, along with a large number of pilots.45 Most of the provisions and stores of the contractor were at Oswego and had to be brought to Sacketts Harbor and put aboard ship.46 The ration then consisted chiefly of bread, meat, and whisky. Some thought that the flour was bad; almost every one knew that the bakers were lazy and mixed their dough with the inshore water near the latrines. Many had fallen sick with bowel complaints. Of the 3,483 men comprising the garrison, only 2,042 were fit for duty on the 24th of August.47
A lack of proper clothing also contributed to so large a sick report. No waterproof garments were issued, and only infrequently were overshoes, which were made of leather, supplied. A soldier was lucky if he had a greatcoat to protect himself from rain or snow; more often it was an issue blanket, sometimes a piece of oilcloth torn from one of the biscuit kegs. As a whole, the uniform was of comic opera design, acceptable for parades and good weather but totally unsuited for winter wear along the forty-fifth parallel. Unfortunately Wilkinson could not change the articles of clothing to be issued any more than the components of the ration; he could insist only that the quality of both should measure up to specifications.
In other things he was able to do more; he could, at least, make the preparations essential for a forward movement. On August 26, six days after his arrival, he called a council of war, which Chauncey, p2289 Brown, Swartwout, and Lewis attended. They decided to concentrate all available troops near Sacketts Harbor, slip by Kingston, and make for Montreal in conjunction with Hampton's forces.48 Thus for a time the Army's objective was fixed.
To hasten the troops that were to come from Fort George, Wilkinson decided to go there himself. The decision was unwise, for he left his own natural post of command at a critical juncture and went on a mission another could have performed. Lewis, whose experience in army supply might have proved helpful, was absent on leave for nearly a month, beginning on the 28th of August. Brown, vigorous but inexperienced, took command as the next senior officer and tried to do the interminable list of things that Wilkinson had left him.49 Working hard, he was relieved by Lewis, who returned during the last week of September. In spite of many defective arrangements, Lewis declared that troops were ready to embark on the 4th of October.50
During this unfortunate changing of commanding officers at Sacketts Harbor, Wilkinson was making his way to Niagara, where he arrived on the 4th of September, feeble and rather dilapidated, suffering from ague and fever brought on by six days' exposure to rain and cold.51 From this time until his relief from duty along the northern frontier he was troubled with intermittent sickness. For ailments like this, as well as those common to camp, opium was commonly prescribed in one form or another.52 Wilkinson apparently used it. His friend, Swift, declares that the General was exhilarated with laudanum at least once when journeying down the St. Lawrence.53 If he used the drug frequently, this would help explain his unstable judgment, his easy belief in enemy apparitions, and his frequent suggestions of palpably impossible schemes of campaign.
At Fort George he found Boyd in command of the 3,000 men with whom the sick and "fluttery" Dearborn had taken the place in May. After the "strange fatalities" at Stony Creek and Beaver Dams, this Niagara force had contented itself with sporadic skirmishing. Wilkinson wanted more vigorous action; on September 18, he requested authority to destroy the hostile forces around the p290 west end of Lake Ontario. Armstrong had never favored any such scheme under the General's auspices; and now of course much less, for it would only delay progress to more important objectives.54
On September 20 Wilkinson came to conclusions entirely different. The Secretary appears to have wished that Fort George be put into a condition for defense and Moses Porter be left in command when the army moved from there to Sacketts Harbor. Wilkinson, nevertheless, discussed with a council of war the advisability of abandoning the post. The members were unanimously (with one exception) in favor of razing it.55 The General heard them out and then obeyed Armstrong's orders in part. He left Scott — instead of Porter — in command, with eight hundred regulars, and directed him to complete the dilapidated ramparts of the fort; the rest of the garrison and near-by troops were to join him at Grenadier Island as quickly as they could.
This island was the rendezvous that Wilkinson had selected for the men coming from the neighborhood of Fort George and those that were now concentrating at Sacketts Harbor. For over a week the Fort George contingents were hindered from embarking by boisterous weather and far of British attack. Finally on October 1 they began to ply their oars and shift their landlubber sails. Caught in a hurricane that swept the Lake clean of boats and ripped up trees along the shore, they straggled slowly along, not reaching their rendezvous until after the middle of the month, and then with their strength sapped and their morale worn down by days of continuous exposure.56 Eluding the British was easier than escaping the elements.
Wilkinson did not accompany these troops, but made directly for Sacketts Harbor in Chauncey's trim and swift little schooner, the Lady of the Lake. He reached there on October 4; his health was so poor that he had to be helped ashore when he landed. His arrival coincided with the departure of Armstrong, who, starting for Gravelly Point, was planning to accompany the army down the St. Lawrence.57 Changing his mind, the Secretary now had his baggage unloaded and remained at the harbor.
Armstrong liked being in the midst of things and experiencing the p291 thrill that small men enjoy in the exercise of power. He was essentially a hustler, usually a meddler, and frequently a pedant. His egotism led him to think himself infallible, but he lacked the character to assume responsibility for his own mistakes or those of his subordinates. He was gregarious, convivial, and ambitious; a rather skillful politician but a very mediocre general — one who thought less of military objectives than of safe political exits. Often a quibbler himself, he inspired fault-finding among others, much to his own injury and that of his generals.
The Secretary had been about Sacketts Harbor since the 5th of September,58 and now that his general was back he decided to remain a little longer. His presence was more of a nuisance than a help and soon contributed to a considerable lessening of Wilkinson's prestige. Inevitably the two began to disagree while the army stood by for two weeks, waiting for equipment and stores to be packed, storms to subside, and Chauncey to return and prepare his flotilla to act as convoy. They spent the time thrusting and parrying at each other over the first point of attack for the assembling forces. For a time Wilkinson had wanted it to be Montreal; now he had changed and urged Kingston. Simultaneously Armstrong recommended just the reverse. Finally Wilkinson asked for orders based on authority of the President in case he had to make Montreal his first objective.59 Armstrong gave none, confining himself to advice that could not be readily ignored.
Both seemed to sense that the campaign was destined to fail and each was trying to shift upon the other the burden of prospective disgrace. Armstrong, instead of accompanying the army and making sure of Hampton's coöperation, prepared to leave it and all its problems to Wilkinson. Before going, he felt that the expeditionary forces would never wrest their housing from the British, and so he ordered huts for 10,000 men to be built within the boundaries of Canada.60 He thus proved himself without the character to cancel the campaign, change its commander, or lead it himself; while Wilkinson, unable to find any satisfactory means of escape, ruefully continued as general. Kingston was to be attacked first if conditions warranted.61
On October 16 the embarkation began for Grenadier Island, the p292 first stopping place, •eighteen miles distant. Already snow had begun to fly; rough weather had set in on the Lake, and squalls were frequent.62 The boats, manned by untrained crews and directed by ignorant pilots, were buffeted by wind and water. Many of them were soon piled up along the shore. About 340,000 rations had been lldd without system, and seemingly fell into the care of nobody except the agent of the contractor, whose profits mounted as losses occurred. In this short leg of the voyage 138,000 of them were ruined or lost.63 Hospital stores, carelessly stowed, were hunted in vain by the medical officers while the contents of the casks containing port for invalids warmed the stomachs of a few successful searchers among the drenched enlisted men in the boats.64 Many guns and much ammunition were rendered worthless. For the cold and bedraggled, Wilkinson returned to Sacketts Harbor to get more clothing. To the same place also went one hundred and ninety-six invalids who could no longer endure the hardships of campaign.65 This initial confusion and number of casualties caused discouragement and delay.
Not until the 1st of November did the flotilla begin leaving the island and head for French Creek, •about thirty miles distant. It had to reorganize and await good weather and the coming of other contingents. Wilkinson did not follow until the 3rd. He was ill again and wanted to see Colonel Randolph whose regiment had been delayed.66 Meanwhile he wrote to Armstrong requesting that Hampton and his army near Lake Champlain threaten Chambly or join him near the confluence of the Grand and the St. Lawrence.67 Thus was the Secretary held to a responsibility that he had assumed, that of insuring Hampton's coöperation.
The futility of the request was soon to be proved. Nor was any immediate or future help to come from the slowly moving Chauncey. The Commodore allowed two brigs and other hostile craft to elude him and fire into the camp along French Creek; and only because some enterprising artillerymen made good use of eighteen-pounders were the British compelled to retire. When they reappeared next day, they were greeted with shot, red-hot from the furnace, and soon made off to Kingston. Chauncey hove in sight almost two hours after their p293 departure.68 Obviously Wilkinson could not depend upon this lethargic and constipated sailor for adequate protection against the swiftly moving fleet of a resourceful enemy.
With the arrival of the flotilla at French Creek, the British, now convinced that Montreal, not Kingston, was to be the first object of attack, were able to give better direction to obstructive tactics. The Americans' best antidote was haste. But snow and foul weather and unnecessary precautions delayed them; it was not until the 5th that their boats resumed floating down the St. Lawrence. About midnight they came straggling into Hoag's, •forty miles from their starting point of the morning. The movement had been long and hard, the men were cold, and organizations were in confusion.69
In this neighborhood the army remained for the 6th. During the day Colonel William King arrived, bringing news of Hampton and his defeat near Spears, •fifteen miles from the St. Lawrence and fifty from Montreal.70 Wilkinson could not resist damning the Carolinian's division and swearing that his own would do better. In a return letter by Colonel King, he expressed hope of taking Montreal and a desire that Hampton and his forces join him near St. Regis.71
Wilkinson's spirits were high. Perhaps a glass or two of wine had helped. Toward Colonel Winfield Scott, an enemy of long standing who had just arrived from Fort George, he was openly friendly. He knew the value of this energetic young man even if he did not like him. His services might prove valuable in passing Prescott, a fortified town a few miles down the river.72 The General planned to sneak by it during the night of the 6th and 7th. Skeleton crews were to be put on the boats, while the rest of the troops, with the powder, were to go by land on the American side under the command of Lewis. Wilkinson himself was to circulate in a gig and see that all went well. The net results were altogether satisfactory — only one man was killed and not a single boat was lost.73
Once past Prescott, the boats were brought to along the American shore a few miles below Ogdensburg. In this neighborhood, about sunrise of the 7th, Colonel John B. Walbach, the adjutant-general, p294 found Wilkinson sick, worn, and cold, standing by a fire in an open space in the woods. On learning that the enemy might hinder farther progress at a place called Fort Matilda, the General sent Colonel Alexander Macomb and Joseph G. Swift thither with twelve hundred men. The detachment left about four o'clock in the afternoon of the 7th, encountered a British force of three hundred militia and regulars at dusk, forced them to retreat, then burnt the hostile works that had been constructed near by.74 With these obstacles removed, the army, still intact, reached the White House around noon on the 8th. It had now traveled about half the distance to Montreal; only •a little over a hundred miles remained to be covered.
But Wilkinson, sick man that he was, had begun to worry, particularly when he realized that the British were in both his front and his rear. His spirit was without that daring quality which gives faith to the wavering; and his mind, never keenly analytical, easily gave credence to erroneous reports. The increased activity of the British had led him to magnify their forces, while he undervalued the ability of his own. Disturbed by such thoughts and grasping for the support of his subordinates, he called a council of war on the 8th at the White House, •about eighteen miles below Ogdensburg and •a hundred yards or more from where the river runs narrowest. Lewis, Boyd, Brown, and Swartwout were for pushing on to Montreal in spite of exaggerated reports that the enemy were nearly 25,000 strong; only Covington and Porter wavered, grudgingly accepting the others' opinion because they had no alternatives to offer.75 The exigency called for a clear vision and an iron will; but Wilkinson saw dimly, and his natural force was abated.
In keeping with the council's decision, movement was resumed on the 9th, Brown and his brigade acting as an advance guard for clearing the Canadian shore along the day's route. So swiftly did the boats move in the rapid current that they soon passed the covering troops on land. About sunset Brown's advance guard went into camp at Chrysler's Farm, while the flotilla lay over •about two miles in the rear.76
On the 10th Brown resumed the advance. His troops, now numbering from 2,300 to 2,500, were expected to prevent attacks on the boats while passing through the rapids. Around two o'clock in the p295 afternoon, he struck the British near Hoop-pole Creek, •eight or nine miles from Barnhart's; and, after defeating them, crossed the stream and went into camp a little farther along.77
Meanwhile the flotilla was harassed by a hostile galley and a few gunboats that the hesitant Chauncey had allowed to escape him. Men and artillery had to be landed to drive them off. The command was turned over to the sixty-year‑old Lewis, who was sick and weary of living in a hole •three feet high on one of the boats and stuffing himself with blackberry jelly to cure his dysentery. Even so, he was better off than the bedridden Wilkinson. Partly because of this shifting of generals, the day was one of vacillation and confusion. The army made only •about two miles, finally halting about a mile east of Chrysler's Farm.78
On the morning of November 11, the American troops on land, roused by an early reveille, ate what rations they had in the midst of drizzling, autumn rain. For hours they milled about, waiting for orders; two days without shelter, they were now cold, hungry, and drenched to the skin. At last they were told to start the march forward; before they could do so their orders were changed. Sick and volatile, Wilkinson had resumed command and thought best to countermand the arrangements Lewis had made. He did not want the boats to begin dropping down the river until he heard from Brown, in charge of the advance guard, that the route was entirely safe for •a dozen or more miles to the front. Before the morning had ended, the British gunboats attacked the American rear. They had eluded the pot-bellied Chauncey and were under the able leadership of Captain Mulcaster, who was vigorously supported on land by Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison commanding about 800 troops made up of the 49th and 89th British regiments and some Canadian militia and Indians. The enemy advanced eastward from near the house on Chrysler's Farm. The farm was bounded on the north by swamp and forest, on the south by the deep and swiftly running St. Lawrence; it was composed of cleared and undulating land, broadening out toward the American position and cut by two deep gullies fringed with trees and bushes and draining into the river. In this area, little more than a mile in length and half that in width, the issue of battle ebbed and flowed.
p296 About noon Boyd was ordered to beat the enemy back with his own brigade and what he could get of Swartwout's and Covington's. With a foggy notion of his mission and the whereabouts of the enemy, he hastily committed his men to the attack. Floundering around in the mud of open fields and struggling up the slippery sides of rain-washed gullies, they moved forward, often made fearful by Indian war whoops on their left flank, and frequently confused by changing and conflicting orders. •Thirty yards from the enemy they began firing with slight concentration and direction; they were mostly recruits and were not easily controlled; three times they charged, only to find themselves unsupported and their twenty-six rounds of ammunition exhausted. A lieutenant came up with two six-pounders; but soon he was killed, and his pieces were captured. A squadron of cavalry forming up in one of the gullies tried to reanimate the offensive. Riding bravely forward over the rough and muddy ground it met with a well directed fire from the British infantry and supporting boats. Many a horse and rider went down. Though it had failed to break "the thin red line," it had temporarily halted a counter offensive. Boyd was able to withdraw his beaten and demoralized forces. By four o'clock they were retreating to the boats with the British in no mood to pursue.
Never have so many Americans been beaten by such inferior numbers on foreign soil. One hundred and two of them had been killed. These and the hopelessly wounded were abandoned to the enemy. Two hundred and thirty-seven other casualties managed to reach the boats and on the morrow drifted down the river to meet their more fortunate companions at Barnhart's. Those unaccounted for Wilkinson did not mention in his report. Claiming one hundred prisoners, the British gave their own losses as twenty-two killed, one hundred and forty-eight wounded, and nine missing.79
Upon Wilkinson must largely rest the burden of this American disaster. Jockeying the command back and forth between himself p297 and Lewis is less indicative of sickness than of a desire to escape responsibility. It shows a weakness of moral fiber, and to some extent explains how on that cheerless winter day the Americans lacked the will to conquer. He could not create in others what he himself did not feel. Without this stimulus and good tactical judgment on the part of Lewis, Boyd, and Swartwout, troops floundered about to no purpose. Boyd's plea that he was ordered merely to drive the British back is no excuse when he had the means and opportunity of annihilating them. Even if he was confused by conflicting orders, he had almost 2,500 men, and this number was ample for decisive victory. Unquestionably the rank and file were brave, but their efforts were directed by thoroughly incapable leaders. To a certain degree, Madison and Armstrong were to blame; they were the ones who were responsible for keeping Wilkinson in command when sick and antagonistic, and foisting upon him for assistants a choice coterie of high-ranking incompetents.
Perhaps if Brown and Scott had been present at the battle of Chrysler's Farm, the Americans might have won decisive victory. At the time both of them were •fifteen miles away; and they did not rejoin the main body until it arrived at Barnhart's, on the following day. There foul weather and a full knowledge of recent defeat weakened still more the army's confidence that Montreal could be taken; none at all remained after news came from Hampton that no reinforcements might be expected from him.
Ever since the British victory near Spears and the receipt of Armstrong's letter directing the building of huts in Canada, Hampton seemed to think that the campaign was ended. Cherishing this idea, he had sent Colonel William King, about the 1st of November, to Armstrong with his resignation and dispatches for Wilkinson.80 Just what the Colonel told each of them is not clear. Nothing was done immediately about the resignation, and Wilkinson sent back a request for Hampton to join him near St. Regis.81 By this time, however, forces of Hampton had been defeated, possessed only scant supplies, and were greatly reduced by sickness. These and strong personal reasons led him to decline a juncture; and so it came about p298 that Colonel Henry Atkinson of his staff brought a letter to this effect to Wilkinson on the 12th.82
Thereupon the General called a council of war — his third since his arrival in the north country. Although Americans outnumbered the British forces opposed to them, the senior officers were agreed that the campaign must be abandoned.83 Montreal, the objective, lay only three days' easy sailing to the northeast. But the fighting spirit had gone, and none of the generals had the power to inspire it again. The decision to retreat was wise. Even if joined by Hampton's division, their chance of victory was remote; without it, and the supplies that he was expected to provide, success was impossible. Wilkinson was prepared to face the fact at last. He charged Hampton with the responsibility for the failure and seized for himself a convenient exit from a field of increasing difficulty.
With the offensive abandoned, the boats drifted •fourteen miles down the St. Lawrence and then worked their way for nearly half that distance up the Salmon River to French Mills. On the cold, moonlight night of November 13, a demoralized vanguard reached this melancholy settlement of a half-dozen or more houses set down in the midst of an almost impenetrable forest of hemlock and pine.84 The blockhouse there could not hold all the sick and wounded, and so many of them were placed in tents or shanties. The body of General Covington was carried to Ware's tavern, and committed the next day to the frozen earth. As soon as possible the construction of huts began. The work progressed slowly; only a few were completed by the 14th of December; even a majority85 of the sick remained in tents until the first of the year. Carpenter tools were scarce, and suitable lumber could not be readily obtained. The weather turned bitterly cold, reaching thirty degrees below zero. Being poorly sheltered and clothed, only the hardiest and best troops maintained their health and character. Venal officers, political appointees, appropriated the pay of the dead, swindled privates of their eight dollars a month, and sold government rations and equipment for personal gain.86
Two weeks after reaching French Mills the men were put on p299 short rations. Some regiments were without bread for four days. Once flour was received, they found it to be made of sprouted wheat or mixed with plaster of Paris. Food from outside sources was almost impossible to get; soldiers had little money, and Hampton's army had already eaten up the meat and vegetables of the neighborhood. Meal designed for poultices had to be cooked for the sick in order to provide them with any food at all. Hospital stores had been largely stolen or lost; the black-clad surgeons had only a very little with which to do. What they did have was of poor while: "first grade" chocolate could not be eaten, and the wine had been watered until had only one-tenth of its original strength. Most of the necessities for the sick had to be brought all the way from Albany, •two hundred and fifty miles distant.87 Ordinary rations should have been forwarded from Plattsburg, but there the Quartermaster's department under the good-for‑nothing Colonel James Thomas had completely collapsed.88 Supplies were piled high in the streets, rapidly deteriorating from wind and snow, while at French Mills men were on the point of starvation. It was not until along in January that so deplorable a situation was remedied through the joint action of Wilkinson and Major-General Izard, who had relieved Hampton.
As a result of these conditions many were stricken with pneumonia, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhus fever, or atrophy of the limbs. •Eighteen miles away, at Malone, a general hospital was established in a few rented buildings; and here, at last, were separate beds and a little warmth for a maximum of four hundred and fifty patients. About one-third of the approximately six thousand men in camp were usually unfit for duty and needed medical treatment. During December, two hundred and sixteen died at French Mills, Sacketts Harbor, and Louisville. "The mortality spread so deep a gloom over our camps, that funeral dirges were countermanded."89
Few cared to remain and do their duty in misery like this. Officers advanced every conceivable reason to secure a leave, and some left without one. Soldiers deserted in the face of punishment and went home; others followed a blazed trail into Canada, whence news had come that they would be welcomed into the British service and would receive the pay that their own government owed them. Those p300 of better stuff, who remained with the colors, half-heartedly performed their tasks. Men on guard allowed hostile patrols to penetrate the outguards and reconnoiter the camp; they had become indifferent even to their own preservation. Captain Mulcaster of the British naval service, believed that he could rout the Americans with a force only eight hundred strong.90 Had he been permitted to make the attempt he might have succeeded.
While the army at French Mills was disintegrating from discharges, death, and desertion, Wilkinson, an ill and disappointed man, maintained his headquarters at Malone in a large frame house. He would have preferred to retire from active operations and go to Albany, where he hoped to be useful in supervising the training and equipment of troops, but, since such a transfer could not be arranged, he remained where he was, suffering many of the hardships that others were enduring. In carrying on as he did, he showed more character than his associate Wade Hampton, who had deserted his command. Wilkinson would have had him arrested and court-martialed; but he did not succeed in accomplishing either. The only thing that he could do was to write a letter to the Secretary of War, branding the Carolinian's action in a way that must have cut and seared. Thus it read:
"I will not charge this man with traitorous Designs, but I apprehend in any other Government, a military Officer who just defeated the object of a campaign by Disobedience of orders & then, without authority, furloughed all the efficient Officers of the Division he commanded on a national Frontier, in the vicinity of an Enemy, would incur heavy penalties."91
There was much truth in what Wilkinson wrote. William Duane, later Andrew Jackson's Secretary of the Treasury, was even more caustic in his strictures when he heard Hampton was being groomed for general-in‑chief. To a friend, he pungently and feelingly wrote:
"God is my judge, I would not trust a corporal's guard nor the defense of a hen-roost to him [Hampton] against any equal number of men. His obliquity of mind and judgment would sacrifice anything military placed under his command. But he is said to be Virginian and I presume that will make him as great a General as Alexander (the Copper) Smyth."92
p301 With his wealth and political following, Hampton was able to escape being brought before a court-martial as might have happened in the case of a less fortunate man for similar conduct. During April, 1814, he was allowed to resign. Already Brigadier-General George Izard had succeeded to his command. Wilkinson welcomed him as a subordinate and coöperated with him in trying to make something out of the demoralized force at Plattsburg. To learn more about conditions, the General visited there, riding in a sled on which a box was placed for a bed. He needed a sort of ambulance handy when his legs would not carry him farther. Travelling in a fashion like this, he urged the governor of New York to provide more help for protecting the frontier, because he was worried lest the British start an offensive.93
To thwart any such movement, Wilkinson toyed with various plans. He thought Ile aux Noix might be taken by troops based on Plattsburg.94 A month later, on January 7, he was intrigued with a most magnificent enterprise. If he could collect enough good rations and winter equipment, if the weather would favor and his troops turn healthy, if Governor Tompkins would coöperate with the militia and the enemy would remain immovable — then he would strike the British a blow that would "reach to the bone." And this was the way that it was to be done. Two columns of 2,000 men each from Plattsburg and Chateaugay would converge on St. Pierre, from which, after uniting, they would capture St. Philippe, L'Acadie, and St. Johns, settling down there perhaps or returning to their original cantonments. The force at French Mills would meanwhile coöperate by crossing the St. Lawrence and seizing Cornwall. If all of the plan were believed too risky, he could at least seize Cornwall or break up the hostile outposts in his immediate front. He did not like the idea of his troops eating the "bread of idleness."95
Several days later, January 16, 1815, after talking with the contractors, he could not even mesmerize himself into subscribing to such a harebrained operation. Barely enough bread could be got to subsist the troops, much less for a complicated offensive. He conjured up another plan: he would stay near his bases; he would merely reach out and take Prescott and Kingston with 7,500 men from French p302 Mills and Sacketts Harbor.96 Just how he was to raise so large a corps of "hardihood and resolution" from his sick and disabled, he did not explain. An official report declared that there were only 4,477 effectives at French Mills on the 27th of January.97 Nor did he hint from where the necessary transportation was to be forthcoming for backtracking and mopping up what he had failed to do in a previous campaign that had presented fewer natural hazards.
Often Wilkinson seemed bewildered, groping blindly for the best thing to do; on other occasions he came to conclusions swiftly, only to repudiate them completely within a short while. He wanted ever so hard to be Napoleonic, and sometimes he originated a complicated plan of campaign and sketched its outline in an exhilarated moment. When more thoughtful and serene, he realized that it had no earthly foundations. He was wise enough to discern that it was just one of his hopeful mirages, or perhaps the product of an opium dream. Not unlikely he was still using a good deal of laudanum, a stock remedy, to allay the pains that racked his frame.
Fortunately John Armstrong, the Secretary of War, did not harken to Wilkinson's visionary schemes of immediate conquest. On the contrary, he gave orders that French Mills be abandoned. General Brown and 2,000 men were ordered to Sacketts Harbor, the rest to Plattsburg, excepting the sick and wounded, who were to be carried to Burlington. On the 3rd of February preparations for the abandonment of the camp began. The boats, three hundred and twenty-eight of them, obtained earlier at great cost, were sunk or burned, the huts, recently completed, were destroyed, and the stores that could not be carried along were either set on fire or dumped into the river. Brown, setting out with seven regiments of infantry, reached his destination quickly without the loss of either men or equipment. The distance to Plattsburg was shorter, and Wilkinson's men arrived there without incident.98
About four hundred and fifty casualties of the campaign were sent in relays by sleigh to Burlington. Here the hospitals provided them with single beds that were warm and free from vermin; here they were washed with vinegar and water when feverish, shaved every other day, and shirted twice a week. About them the floors were covered with fresh, clean sand, and the walls glistened with p303 whitewash. The food, too, was better and more abundant. For them a "new heaven and a new earth" were being tardily provided.99
The evacuation of French Mills marked a definite and disgraceful end to a campaign inauspiciously begun. From the very beginning its future had been mortgaged with hazards. Cold weather had already set in when the troops left Sacketts Harbor, and when once on their way they were ill protected by the clumsy flotilla of the ponderous Chauncey. The laws governing rations favored the contractor in the collection of his bills, but they hampered the army in its movements and failed to give the soldier a satisfactory diet. Issue clothing, tolerable for wear in a warmer climate, lacked necessary articles, and was fundamentally unsuited for winter wear along the Canadian frontier. The miserable roads in the north country made land transportation almost impossible, while the boats and pilots necessary for a large movement by water were hard to obtain. In the first place, because of Jefferson's and Dearborn's shortsighted policy, the Regular Army was so demoralized and insignificant at the outbreak of the war that it could not assimilate the great body of ignorant officers appointed by Madison. These neophytes could scarcely function at simple tasks; when faced with the trying demands of a rigorous campaign, they frequently failed. The staff and high command had little confidence in them, a feeling they reciprocated for vastly better reason. With Armstrong constantly invading the province of subordinates, there was even less likelihood of efficient and loyal performance.
Wilkinson, old in politics and the Army, visualized such problems; but, unlike Sir Jeffery Amherst of an earlier day, he did not have the capacity to solve them. Where close thinking and good judgment were required, he jumped to hasty conclusions; where straightforward action and quick assumption of responsibility were imperative, he procrastinated and evaded. Where dynamic enthusiasm and physical stamina were demanded, he followed without strength or genius either to lead or to inspire. Thus did he fail, and in no magnificent way that might have dulled the edge of criticism.
The people, in turn, rightly thought that they had been cheated, that victory would have been won had the campaign been ably directed.100 Many wounded, sick, and time-expired men bore testimony p304 that they had served to no purpose. Hobbling back to their homes in the north country they deterred recruits from filling the places they had just vacated. Enemies of the administration, ignoring the fact that they were partly responsible for some of the fundamental causes of the fiasco, scornfully pointed to Madison and his colleagues as the pusillanimous leaders of an unpopular war waged with ineptness and disgrace. Armstrong, oblivious to his own contributions to disaster, tried to thrust most of the blame on Wilkinson; he did not assail Hampton until death made retaliation impossible. Lewis and Boyd, subjects of considerable criticism, were quietly shelved in unimportant positions where they might wither away in innocuous dignity.
Wilkinson could not be handled that way; he could not be set aside so readily. He always started a scandalous racket when his importance was questioned. For the present he might just as well be left at Plattsburg; time and circumstances might take care of his case. Perhaps he thought so himself, for he never doubted his ability to cope with any situation. As his health improved and the winter began to wear away, his ideas began to revolve around a plan for reviving his moribund reputation. Just across the border at Lacolle Mill, •thirty miles north of Plattsburg, was a small detachment of the British blocking any advance the Americans might make in the Champlain valley. To take this outpost looked easy and might help General Brown, who was fighting farther to the west. Even a demitasse victory would gratify the administration and perhaps thwart an investigation of his own shortcomings. Such an inquiry appeared to be imminent. The operation would furnish excellent training for troops and would pave the way for a more important offensive during the summer — provided, of course, it was successful.
During the last days of March an oversized raiding party marched out of Plattsburg; it was made up of 3,999 troops and eleven pieces of artillery. By the 29th it had covered •twenty-two miles and had decided to attack Lacolle Mill, provided reconnaissance warranted. With the auspices apparently favoring, the men moved forward next day. All were urged to do their duty, and tried sergeants were ordered to kill those who turned and fled. With only •eight miles for the column to go, ignorant guides led it astray, and Lacolle was not reached until between one and two in the afternoon. Here some six hundred British lay in wait, most of whom were safely protected behind p305 the •two-foot walls of a three-story stone mill. The Americans closed in until about one hundred and fifty yards from the enemy, opening up with ineffective musketry fire. The British replied in kind to better advantage. Artillery was then invoked to relieve the stalemate; but only twelve-pounders got into action, for heavier guns had broken down along the trail and no one seemed able to bring them up. The walls could not be breached with the light pieces employed, and so the battle went on as indecisively as before. The British made a sally or two, but the Americans failed to use these opportunities for driving home the attack; they contented themselves by shooting from the edges of the clearing at the various openings of the mill and other buildings along the Lacolle River. As evening approached, the attack petered out. The raiders had suffered a few casualties and were ready to quit. Disturbed by the signs of bad weather and the menace of the British, Wilkinson ordered a retreat. About sunset the column started on the •four-mile march to Odeltown.101 Next day it wearily set out from there for Plattsburg, demoralized with its own contempt.
As at Chrysler's, the Americans had been defeated. On both occasions Wilkinson had a chance to demonstrate able leadership; each time he had failed. In moving down the St. Lawrence he proved his inability to command successfully 8,000 men in a difficult offensive; now he showed that he could not handle even half the number in one of much greater simplicity. At Lacolle Mill fundamental details of preparations were neglected; reconnaissance was spasmodic and indifferent, and, once troops were committed to battle, they fought without plan or cohesion. Wilkinson had hoped to enhance his military reparation; instead, he had irretrievably ruined it. The public would not allow the War Department to bear with him longer. On April 12,102 he received orders relieving him from command of the 9th District. His days as an Army officer on the northern frontier were over.
1 To Madison, Feb. 27, 29, 1812, Madison Papers, Vol. XLIV.
2 To Eustis, April 11, 1812, W. D., A. G. O., O. R.
3 To Eustis, Apr. 11, 21, May 12, 18, 21, 1812, W. D., A. G. O., O. R.
4 Hay, "Some Reflections on the Career of General James Wilkinson," in Miss. Valley Hist. Rev., XXI, 485.
5 To Eustis, May 18, 1812, W. D., A. G. O., O. R.
6 To Armstrong, Mar. 23, 1813, Rawle Collection; Bartigs' Republican Gazette, Feb. 27, 1813.
7 Bassett, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, I, 256‑268.
8 Jackson to Armstrong, Mar. 1, Apr. 8, 1813, Ibid., 285‑287, 303.
9 Armstrong to Jackson, Feb. 5, 16, 1813, Ibid., 275‑277.
10 Ibid., 303 n.
11 To Armstrong, Mar. 23, 1813, Rawle Collection.
12 Wilkinson to Eustis, Aug. 4, 10, etc., 1812, and Eustis to Wilkinson, Aug. 26, Sept. 12, 1812, Rawle Collection.
13 Amer. State Papers, Public Lands, V, 498‑499.
14 Memoirs, II, 339‑340.
Thayer's Note: The bulk of West Florida — the Baton Rouge District, now the "Florida parishes" of Louisiana — had already been taken possession of by the United States and incorporated into the Mississippi Territory by W. C. C. Claiborne on December 1, 1810 acting on orders of the executive branch dated October 27 of that year (S. C. Arthur, The West Florida Rebellion, pp133 ff.).
15 Hamilton, Colonial Mobile, 404‑407.
16 Hamilton, Colonial Mobile, 409‑410; Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 339‑340.
17 Hamilton, op. cit., 411.
18 Hamilton, op. cit., 414‑415; Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 340.
19 Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 409.
20 Niles' Register, IX, 425.
21 Memoirs, III, 338‑339.
22 Armstrong to Wilkinson, Mar. 10, 1813, Ibid., 341.
23 To Armstrong, May 22, 1813, W. D., A. G. O., O. F.
24 Armstrong to Wilkinson, Mar. 12, 1813, Memoirs, III, 342.
25 To Armstrong, May 23, 1813 (two letters), W. D., A. G. O., O. F.
26 To H. Lee, Aug. 12, 1814, Wilkinson Papers, Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
27 Memoirs, III, 342.
28 Claiborne, Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State, 322.
29 J. B. Wilkinson to Wilkinson, Apr. 5, 1805, May 11, 1808, Files of T. R. Hay.
30 To Armstrong, July 31, 1813; W. D., A. G. O., O. F.
31 To Armstrong, Aug. 2, 1813, Rawle Collection.
32 Armstrong to Wilkinson, Aug. 5, 1813, Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 463.
33 To Armstrong, Aug. 6, 1813, Ibid., 463‑464.
34 Armstrong to Wilkinson, Aug. 5, 8, 9, 1813, Ibid., 463‑465.
35 Sellar, The U. S. Campaign of 1813 to capture Montreal, 7‑8.
37 N. Y. Gazette and General Advertiser, Aug. 26, 1813.
38 Reg. Orders, 3rd Reg. Artillery (no page numbering), N. Y. State Library.
39 Jenkins, The Generals of the Late War with Great Britain, 302‑304.
40 The National Encyclopedia of American Biography, III, 43.
41 Armstrong, Notices of the War of 1812, I, 1; Scott, Memoirs, I, 93‑94.
42 Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 50‑51, 71‑72.
43 Returns of December 1, 1813, Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 474; Acts of Jan. 11 and June 26, 1812, in Callan, Mil. Laws of U. S., 212, 213, 230.
44 Scott, Memoirs, I, 36.
45 Return of Transport, etc., Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, App. LXVII.
46 Instructions to Brown, Ibid., Appendix XXX.
47 Statement of Lewis's Division, Ibid., App. XXVIII.
48 "Minutes of a Council of War," Ibid., App. I.
49 "Instructions to Brown," Ibid., App. XXX.
50 Ibid., 116‑117.
51 To Armstrong, Sept. 11, 16, 1813, in Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 466‑467.
52 Mann, Medical Sketches, etc., 119.
53 Swift, Memoirs, 116.
54 Wilkinson to Armstrong, Sept. 18, 1813, Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 467.
55 Memoirs, III, App. XII; to Armstrong, Sept. 20, 1813, in Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 469.
56 Testimony of Bissel, Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 240; testimony of Boyd, Ibid., 81‑82.
57 Testimony of Swartwout and Lewis, Ibid., 56, 179; Memorandum . . . of Oct. 4, 1813, Wilkinson Papers, Vol. III, Chicago Hist. Soc.
58 Adams, History of the United States, VII, 179.
59 Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 470‑472.
60 Armstrong to Swartwout, Oct. 16, 1813, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 70‑71.
61 Lewis to Mrs. Livingston, Oct. 16, 1813, in Delafield, Biographies of Francis Lewis and Morgan Lewis, II, 91‑92.
62 Memoirs, III, 405‑406.
63 Ibid., 101‑104, 423.
64 Testimony of Major Eustis, Ibid., 203‑204.
65 To Armstrong, Oct. 24, 2, 1813, Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 473‑477.
66 To Armstrong, Nov. 3, 1813, Ibid., 474.
67 To Armstrong, Nov. 1, 1813, Ibid., 474.
68 Testimony of Eustis, Ibid., 200.
69 Testimony of Lewis and Ripley, Ibid., 121, 137.
70 Adams, History of the United States, VII, 193‑198.
72 Testimony of Bull, in Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 211.
73 Testimony of Pinkney, Ibid., 310.
74 Testimony of Macomb, Ibid., 168‑170.
75 Minutes of a Council of War, Nov. 8, 1813, Ibid., App. XXIV.
76 Ibid., 123, 149, 285.
77 Ibid., 178‑179, 301‑302, 325.
78 Ibid., 123‑125; Lewis to Mrs. Lewis, Nov. 13, 1813, in Delafield, Biographies of Francis Lewis and Morgan Lewis, II, 96‑100; Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 475.
79 For descriptions of the battle by Americans engaged in it: Gardner's, in Gardner to Armstrong, Nov. 15, 1813, Rawle Collection; Trowbridge's, in Hough, History of St. Lawrence County, 647; Wilkinson's, in Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 475‑476; Lewis', in Lewis to Mrs. Lewis, Nov. 13, 1813, in Delafield, Biographies of Francis Lewis and Morgan Lewis, II, 96‑100; Boyd's, in Boyd, Documents and Facts, etc., passim; Swift's, in Swift, Memoirs, 117. For description from the British point of view, see Morrison to Rottenburg, Nov. 12, 1813, Canadian Archives, C. 861, pp62‑64, and "Casualty Report," Ibid., p60. For secondary source accounts: Wood, Select British Documents of the Canadian War of 1812, I, 89‑91; Sellar, The U. S. Campaign of 1813 to Capture Montreal, 27‑34.
80 Adams, History of the United States, VII, 197‑198, and Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, 461‑462.
81 To Hampton, Nov. 6, 1813, in Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 462.
82 Hampton to Wilkinson, Nov. 8, 1813, and Wilkinson to Hampton, Nov. 12, 1813, Ibid., 462‑463.
83 To Armstrong, Nov. 16, 1813, in Ibid., 475‑476.
84 Totten to Wilkinson, Dec. 14, 1813. Official Letter Book, 1803‑1825, W. D., Engr. Dept.
85 Mann, Medical Sketches of the Campaigns of 1812, 1813, and 1814, 119.
86 Sellar, The U. S. Campaign of 1813 to Capture Montreal, 36‑37.
87 Mann, op. cit., 119‑127; Wilkinson, Memoirs, III, App. IX.
88 Wilkinson, to Swartwout, Dec. 2, 1813; Izard to Wilkinson, Dec. 3, 1813; Wilkinson to Izard, Dec. 7, 1813, Rawle Collection.
89 Memoirs, III, App. IX.
90 Mulcaster to Provost, Dec. 2, 1813. Canadian Archives, C. 681, p184.
91 To Armstrong, Dec. 8, 1813, Rawle Collection.
92 Duane to Parker, Jan. 24, 1814, Rawle Collection.
93 To Armstrong, Jan. 9, 18, 1814, W. D., A. G. O., O. R.; Niles' Register, Jan. 29, 1814.
94 To Armstrong, Dec. 7, 1813, Memoirs, III, App. XLIII.
95 To Armstrong, Jan. 7, 1813, Ibid., App. XLVIII.
97 Report of Col. A. Y. Nicoll, Jan. 27, 1814, Rawle Collection.
98 Sellar, op. cit., 37‑38.
99 Mann, op. cit., 243.
100 Albany Gazette, Jan. 13, 1814; Gazette and General Advertiser, Jan. 31, 1814.
101 Testimony of Clark, 155‑159; Totten, 224‑238; Bissel, 238‑250; M'Pherson, 317‑331: all in Wilkinson, Memoirs, Vol. III.
102 To Armstrong, Apr. 12, 1814, W. D., A. G. O., O. R.
a Barataria was a sort of pirate enclave and stronghold in Louisiana: see "Lafitte, the Louisiana Pirate and Patriot", Louisiana Hist. Quarterly, Vol. II No. 4, pp422‑423, and more fully, Grace King, New Orleans, The Place and the People, chapter 10: The Baratarians. Barataria would play a significant rôle in the War of 1812: see Gayarré, History of Louisiana, Vol. IV, chapter 7, 289‑290, 301‑306, and chapter 8, passim.
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