Battle of Crysler's Farm, War of 1812
Posted on: 11/12/2019 11:27:17 AM
|The St. Lawrence Campaign|
With all of the fighting that had occurred on the Niagara Peninsula and in SW part of Upper Canada, sometimes insufficient attention is paid to the St. Lawrence campaign in which the Americans determined to take the British naval base at Kingston and then to move eastward toward Montréal and then possibly Québec city.
Some historians point to the Battle of Chateauguay and the Battle of Crysler's Farm, both taking place in 1813, as the battles that saved British North America.
The British and Canadian militia and the First Nations' warriors had been fighting defensively since the beginning of the war.
The British commanders had been advised that they should protect the sparsely populated areas of SW Upper Canada and the part of UC on the Niagara peninsula but should refrain from an aggressive posture.
General Isaac Brock did not concur but he had been killed at Queenston Heights in October of 1812.
The British plan had been that if forced they would retreat eastward toward Kingston and even to the fortress of Québec if necessary, until they could provide sufficient troops to attack.
And so the American decision to mount a St. Lawrence campaign and to commit thousand of soldiers to these 1813 battles was a good one. If the campaign had been successful, the whole territory of Upper Canada from the far east end of Lake Ontario to the border at Detroit would have fallen into their hands. And the St. Lawrence River itself was the key to the provision of men and supplies to the westernmost reaches of Upper Canada and to the Niagara Peninsula.
The British realized that the river was important but so did the Americans and so troops were amassed on both sides. The town of Prescott, stationed at the top of a series of rapids that were 60 km long was a key defensive position on the British side. Directly opposite Prescott was Ogdensburg, NY which was a thriving town. Artillery from either side could easily reach the town opposite.
And so the Americans determined to seize Montréal in a pincer movement involving Wade Hampton taking the Lake Champlain route while James Wilkinson headed down river from the naval base at Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario.
Initially the Americans wanted to take the RN naval base at Kingston but an inter-branch rivalry between the USN and the army made that a difficult proposition. The naval commander, Isaac Chauncey was not a coward but he was disinclined to take orders from an army General and he did not wish to participate in a full attack on Kingston where the RN vessels were being blockaded. At this time, Chauncey controlled Lake Ontario.
So Chauncey was supposed to keep the RN vessels hemmed in at Kingston while Gen. Wilkinson and his force of 8,000 men departed from near Sacket's Harbor en route to Montréal where they would meet Gen. Hampdon's force of over 4,000 men marching beside the Chateauguay River. The two forces would meet where the Richelieu River enters the St. Lawrence and then attack Monréal.
The weather turned and Chauncey was unable to maintain his blockade and RN gunboats escaped from Kingston and followed the American troops in bateaux and other vessels as they descended the St. Lawrence. This was a critical development as the Battle of Crysler's Farm unfolded.
The three RN gunboats were commanded by Lt. William Mulcaster.
But Gen. Hampdon, in a rather inept display of generalship had been bested by a French Canadian Lt. Col. named Charles de Salaberry and his militia and fencible units. That was Oct. 26, 1813 and Gen. Wilkinson was unaware of the defeat as he headed down river, near the end of October.
With RN gunboats in pursuit, the Americans eventually met a smaller British and Canadian and First Nation's force on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River, not far from Prescott, Upper Canada and Ogdensberg, NY.
The actual battle would take place on the farms of six different people, one of whom was Crysler. Those farms were about 50 km east of Prescott and Ogdensberg, NY
Note that the actual battle site doesn't exist anymore as it is under water. With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, several towns and those farms were flooded.
British forces were aware of Wilkinson's positions and they tracked them from the shoreline. Troops began to gather near the town of Prescott.
Nov. 6: Wilkinson reaches a point just west of Ogdensberg and he orders his troops in 300 boats to disembark. Wilkinson knew that there was British artillery in Prescott that would pepper his force if he got too close. His men marched around Ogdensberg and the empty boats were floated down stream during the night.
The artillery opened up but did not do too much damage to the boats. However, Wilkinson became more cautious and slower as they marched eastward. The artillery had bought the British and Canadian troops a little time.
Nov. 7. As US Admiral Chauncey could still not blockade Kingston, the RN transported troops and artillery, following the American forces. Two regiments under British Col. Morrison arrived by boat from Kingston. This was the Corps d'Observation.
As well, a group of mounted artillery had been sent by land earlier and they had been harassing the Americans as they made their way down river. This harassment had allowed Morrison's reinforcements to catch up to the Americans.
And so Morrison's Corps was added to Canadian Regiment (fencibles), Canadian Voltiguers, and militia under the direction of Pearson.
Remember that the British and Canadian force were following the Americans and on Nov. 11, 1813, Col. Morrison engaged Wilkinson's rear guard at Crysler's Farm.
Col. Joseph Morrison was born in New York but he had joined the British Army in 1793.
By this time Gen. Wilkinson had received word of the defeat of the US force attacking at the Chateauguay River under Wade Hampton. One wonders what his comment would have been as Wilkinson despised Hampton and the feeling was mutual.
Wilkinson held a war council on Nov. 9 and his officers said that they wished to continue with the mission. Wilkinson sent Brig. Gen. Jacob Brown ahead with a vanguard. Note that Brown would prove to be an outstanding soldier in the battles of 1814 on the Niagara Peninsula. Brown's advanced force had reached the Long Sault rapids and sent word back that he was preparing to run the rapids. He had defeated a small British group in a skirmish as he advanced.
Wilkinson decided to turn to defeat the pursuing British force which was about 3 km. to his west, camped at Crysler's farm.
The British force numbered only 1200 to the 4,000 or more of Wilkinson's remaining troops.
This battle is frequently described as a "classic, European style battle".
Lt. Col. Morrison had hoped that Wilkinson would engage on these open fields and he did so. As the British, Canadians and Mohawks formed for battle, Wilkinson attacked but his men had to cross two deep ravines to get to the fields.
Wilkinson was too sick to lead and so he assigned that task to Br. Gen. Boyd.
You can look up the details but the American forces were bested by the volleys of fire from the 49th and 89th regiments.
As the Americans began to fall back, Lt. Col. Morrison counterattacked and defeated the American force.
Stunned by the defeat, nonetheless Wilkinson continued to head east and he linked with the vanguard under Br. Gen. Brown at the Long Sault rapids. At that time, an officer from Gen. Hampton's force arrived to explain how Hampton had resigned from service and had taken his men into winter quarters.
Wilkinson knew for sure that he was not going to be reinforced by Hampton and that he probably did not have sufficient numbers to attack Montréal on his own.
He met with his officers and then decided to call off the campaign. They crossed the river to the US side and retired to winter quarters at French Mills in NY state.
In Mar. of 1814, Wilkinson again was defeated at the Battle of Lacolle Mills and at that point, Sec. of War, John Armstrong removed him from command.
It is difficult to pinpoint what went wrong. The Americans had the numbers and the plan was sound and the objective was selected wisely. But it all went sideways and the British supply lines were secure as thousands of reinforcements from the continent would transfer to the North American theatre with the defeat of Napoleon.