You are on page 1of 5

114

MERRY HEARTS MAKE LIGHT DAYS

Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost (17671816). The governor-general and commander of the forces in North America, Prevost was criticized by many – including John Le Couteur – for his seemingly timid strategy during the war. What his critics did not know was that he had orders from the British government to refrain from undertaking any major offensives on American territory. (Château Ramezay Museum, Montreal)

parlance, a funky 31 affair but we got over safe. I got over in time to run for my haversack and to parade the company in Haversacks and light marching order with Sixty rounds of Ball Cartridge.32 At twelve we began to embark in Boats – detachments of the 8th, 100th, 104th, Glengarry Light Infantry, Can[a]d[ia]n Voltigeurs, and Newfoundland Regiments – when it leaked out that we were destined for Sackets Harbor, as a set-off for the damage they had done us at York. 28 May On Tuesday morning the 28th, a beautiful morning, we were about Seven miles from the harbour. The fleet stood in close to reconnoitre the batteries – it was supposed they were thought too strong, for we stood off again. About 8 a.m., our fire eater, Major Drummond, had got us into the bateaux to practice pulling, as He said, and was pulling toward the landing place when Sir George Prevost sent an ADC to order Him to re-embark his Men instantly. Drummond said He would engage to take the place with his own Regiment if allowed because it was evidently a surprise – the enemy were quite unprepared for an attack. In standing off, however, we cut off a brigade of bateaux, with a reinforcement of three hundred men that was en route to Sackets.33 It had come on to rain hard, and we were all thoroughly soaked, cold and shivering – having no great coats.34 Sir George gave the Americans all that day and the next night ample time for a fair stand up fight, like the old French Guards, who never fired first, however.35

MH test.indd 114

12-02-09 11:26 AM

“A scandalously managed affair”

115

29 May On the 29th May, the fleet was pretty close in at day break. At 4 a.m., we got into bateaux, formed in line, and pulled steadily for the Shore. The American troops were formed in Line, about a hundred yards from the beach. As we neared, they plied us with round shot from a Battery on our left. Just before we touched the shore, a round shot passed close over our boat, and plumped into the Grenadier boat on our right – Killed and wounded a couple of men – cut the boat nearly in two, and down she went. The Grenadiers behaved admirably, raised their firelocks high, and could just touch the bottom, we little fellows would half of us been drowned.36 We cheered lustily, so did they, soon Old Dick their Veteran Captain37 formed them, so did we form. The whole line was soon landed & formed under a roll of musquetry, when we charged and the Americans ran. We drove them at a skirmishing run a mile and a half. Sir James Yeo,38 was running in front of and with our men, in a round Jacket and waving his cap, cheering the men on, without sword or pistol. His cockswain was hit by a musket bullet in the head – the Commodore desired him

Sackets Harbor. One of the best harbours on the American shore of Lake Ontario, the sleep village of Sackets Harbor evolved by 1814 into one of the largest military and naval bases in the United States. In May 1813 Le Couteur took part in a major British attack on the place, intended to destroy the naval dockyard. (Painting by Peter Rindlisbacher, courtesy of the artist)

MH test.indd 115

12-02-09 11:26 AM

116

MERRY HEARTS MAKE LIGHT DAYS

to go to the rear, to the Doctors. Not a bit, He swore He would not leave his Captain in a fight. Our gallant Drummond was also running on Sword in hand, like Roderick Dhu in a foray. An American Soldier, who was skirmishing very gallantly, saw the effect of his presence. He quietly waited until Drummond was about twenty yards from Him, amidst shot and Yells of fury, levelled his piece and knocked the Major over, apparently stone dead. Our men bayoneted the gallant fellow in an instant. Drummond was lifted, said “tis not mortal, I can move my legs.” No blood appeared. “Charge on Men!” He shouted. We had induced Him to remove his E ­ paulettes. He had deposited them in the front pockets of his overalls, which saved his life. The ball had struck the pad and steel plate – it was a dreadful bruise that He received. Jobling, my Senior Sub., made a dash with half the Light Company at a Battery but lost half his men. We had then reached the Town. We saw the Pike,39 a ship of war, on the Stocks in flames or rather smoke. We had turned the battery, and got up to the Stockade round the barracks I believe. It was ticklish work, for as I had nothing but a sword, there was nothing to do. The Yankees were poking the muzzles of their guns, on each side of me while I made myself as flat as I could edgewise behind one of the posts of the stockade. It was a really uncomfortable position there was neither glory nor pleasure in being riddled, or rather fringed, with balls. This did not last long, our men got round the flank and soon cleared the space. Major Moodie & I with my Servant Mills40 then tried to turn a small howitzer on the blockhouse in which a handful of men were keeping us at bay. My servant was slightly hit in five places, and Moodie was wounded in this operation. Moodie told me “it won’t do.” I said: “What is that Sir?” “The retreat is sounding, See our Men are forming, are you much hurt?” “No. It must be a mistake, there are the Americans running away en Masse to the left,” which we both distinctly saw. The Bugles continued to sound the recall so we formed in good Line, just out of range of the block house. Major Drummond immediately offered, wounded as He was, to proceed to summon the Americans to surrender which Sir George41 permitted. But brother Jonathan was too grass sharp. “Why do you retreat, if you wish us to surrender?” “Only to form a fresh attack and to save a further effusion of blood.” “Then tell Sir George Prevost, we will await the issue of his attack.” Poor Sir George, if no worse, mistook the body of three thousand Americans Moodie & I saw in retreat for a fresh reinforcement. We continued our own retreat and embarked unmolested, save by a few straggling shot.42

MH test.indd 116

12-02-09 11:26 AM

Could add to caption heere,1 or 2 lines
“A scandalously managed affair”

117

The Attack on Fort George, May 1813. On 27 May 1813, the United States launched a very wellplanned amphibious attack on Fort George as the prelude to a major invasion of Upper Canada. (From the Portfolio Magazine, 1816)

Our young43 troops went into action admirably, formed and advanced as on field day. It is a strange, an awful sense that first feeling of deadly encounter – it is not fear We feel, but a glorious sense of awe, the spirit desiring to urge the flesh to aid its fellow man. Strange to witness death and wounds on every side – still to rush into the very Jaws of danger. As we charged, a fine young American Soldier fell and was caught by our light bobs, two or three bayonets were flourishing over his handsome imploring face, with hands uplifted. “For Gods sake spare me!” “For shame men, never kill an unarmed man who begs for quarter!” I struck their Bayonets aside, and sent the poor fellow to the rear. A sad scene disturbed us much as were embarking. The D[eputy] Q[uarter] M[aster] G[eneral]44 had been killed in the action, and his Son a Youth of eighteen, an Ensign in our Regiment,45 was in the saddest state of grief – desiring to remain by his Father’s body. There was no step46 in our Regiment but Maj. Drummond, Major Moodie, Captains Leonard & Shore, Lieutenants Rainsford, Moore, and De Lancey47 were wounded48 – 25 men killed & 75

MH test.indd 117

12-02-09 11:26 AM

118

MERRY HEARTS MAKE LIGHT DAYS

wounded of our Regt.49 Our force in all amounted to [870] men, and our loss was [48] killed & [195] wounded.50 It was a scandalously managed affair. We gained a surprise and threw it away to allow the enemy to gain time. The murmurs against Sir George were deep, not loud. Our sweet little Band was sadly cut up, three of them being killed in this affair. It was a folly to take them. Dear W[illia]m51 and Miss Robison52 told me that their anxiety and alarm was indescribable. All the Ladies, who had relatives in the attacking force, with those who had only friends, were listening in breathless trepidation to the distant roar of Guns & musquetry while the action lasted. My friend Moore was shot in the left Jaw, the ball had passed through the Cheek and horribly disfigured Him. I fed Him with a spoon for several days & nights and took his hand to mine in order to prevent his touching his bandages.53

MH test.indd 118

12-02-09 11:26 AM