Page images

had no cavalry. The little invading column, being quickly reformed, pushed on to Washington. Night presently closed in, and it became profoundly dark. No opposition, except an inconsiderable fire of musketry, was encountered. The government was dispersed,-a line of battle ship on the stocks, timber for several others, a sixty-gun frigate, a sloop of war, two hundred pieces of ordnance, and two or three millions' worth' of public property of all sorts are stated to have been destroyed. The force employed on this occasion scarcely amounted to three thousand bayonets. We had more artillery, indeed, than, from a deficiency in the means of transport, could, by possibility, be brought into the field; but the personnel of that arm, as well as that of the engineers, were prompt, as they ever are, to afford the most efficient and conspicuous assistance. Our object being accomplished, we retired, by easy stages, to the place where we had disembarked. The enemy were reported to have rallied on the day after the action a considerable corps; but they made no demonstration of a disposition to approach or follow us. The supporters of the federal ministry threw all or the greater part of the blame of this disaster on the general officer who commanded their troops, and who was assisted by the personal superintendence on the field of the president and secretary at war, Messrs. Madison and Munroe. They alleged that the 16,300 men, which had been placed at his disposal, ought to have been sufficient for every purpose. On the other hand, it was denied, that time admitted of his drawing together the whole of this force. Of the author's animated description of this operation, the following is one of the concluding passages :

In whatever light we may regard it, whether we look to the amount of the difficulties, which it behoved him to overcome, the inadequacy of the force which he commanded, or the distance he was called on to march, in the midst of a hostile population, and through deep and trackless forests, we cannot deny to General Ross the praise which is his due, of having planned and successfully accomplished an expedition, which none but a sagacious mind could have devised, and none but a gallant spirit carried into execution.'

It is in vain to allege that the clear brilliancy of our national fame in arms has altogether escaped some tarnish in the contests we have waged with these states; we have, therefore, dwelt on this hardy coup-de-main, for as such, and no more, can it be regarded; not that we would absurdly magnify it into any similitude to those stupendous European contests, in which embattled nations, it may be said, were actors, and empires the stake, and whose issues have covered our own armies, and their immortal leader, with such a blaze of glory,-but because we consider it to have been a remarkable instance, though on a small scale, of the admirable

admirable valour and characteristic superiority of the national troops; while it may be supposed to derive an additional interest from the accident of its having occurred at but a small distance from the scene of one of the most decisive and humiliating reverses experienced by us in the former war.

About a fortnight now elapsed, occupied in arrangements relative to the wounded, and in preparations for a descent against Baltimore. During this interval, it was, that permission was requested for the passage through our fleet of a cartel, bearing dispatches to the American commissioners then engaged on some of the preliminary discussions of the treaty of Ghent; and containing, as was openly avowed at the time, urgent injunctions to hasten the conclusion of peace. This request was, of course, freely granted; and the acceleration of the negociations, understood to have been the consequence, must be regarded, if such was really the case, as a circumstance of a far happier influence than any more immediate result attributable to the enterprise ;since it must unquestionably have tended to leave the government. of this country free and unembarrassed at a most eventful juncture, to take that great and leading part presently after, in continental affairs, which their extraordinary character so imperatively demanded.

On the 11th September, the squadron anchored off North Point, about thirteen miles below Baltimore. In good time, the next morning, the troops were disembarked, and immediately commenced their advance. At about four miles hence, some firing took place in front,-the Major-general was killed, and thus was the armament deprived of a chief whose personal character won for him the golden opinions of every rank, while in his abilities all had unlimited confidence. Though of the gentlest and most susceptible mind, he was not the less ardent and emulous of honour. Like Wolfe, he lived only long enough to give earnest of what might have been expected to adorn his career.

The command now devolved on Colonel Brooke; the column continued to advance, and shortly afterwards about six thousand of the enemy were discovered within the edge of a wood, ranged behind a high paling, with a considerable extent of open ground in their front. A ravine, concealed by some trees, passed round their left, through which the 4th British foot gained, unperceived, their flank, throwing them, in that quarter, into some disorder; a charge at the same time, in line, was executed against their front; the paling was clambered over; this barrier failing them, they gave way and fled in confusion; not, however, until after standing something approaching to a melée in parts of the line. Some guns and prisoners remained in our hands. Their loss is said to have


been considerable; ours was under three hundred, being about the same as that sustained in the previous affair.

It was now too late to reach or examine, before dark, the entrenched position about five miles distant in our front, and reported to be of more than ordinary strength. Besides, nearly 900 of our men, and four pieces of artillery, were still in the rear, partly from fatigue. The sun had been intensely powerful, and great numbers had been unable to keep pace with their regiments. Such is, we believe, usually the case, to an astonishing degree, on the first day's march in warm climates, particularly if troops have been any considerable time embarked; but fortunately these are effects which rapidly decrease. At day-break we again moved forward, and took up our ground, under cover of some inequalities, at the foot of a commanding ridge, presenting a steep and clear glacis in front, of about 400 yards descent, and forming a barrier around this part of the town. Along its crest a range of palisaded redoubts, connected by a breastwork, was constructed; within which, as has been since ascertained, 23,000 men, of all descriptions, with a considerable artillery, had been assembled.

Immediately under these heights, on the other side, lay this popu lous and wealthy city; the possession of which, though temporary, -the capture of its numerous shipping and stores, and consequent effect on public opinion, as regarded the then urgent financial embarrassments and discredit* of the American executive, formed altogether strong temptations to the further prosecution of the undertaking. There was, it is true, a vast disparity in the amount of the contending forces; but every military man knows how little comparatively formidable an imperfectly disciplined body of men, however numerous, is usually found to be when put to the test. The loss of an army may be the ruin of a state, but an independent detachment, engaged on a project not absolutely unfeasible, should usually take the consequences of its best endeavour to succeed. For in this manner, it is conceived, will be best upheld the high tone of the national spirit and its repute in martial affairs, which certainly are amongst the main elements of public strength. We are aware that in ascending, in open day, this formidable glacis, swept by such a fire as could be brought to bear upon it, we should most probably have suffered too much to reap the fruits of victory. But under cover of darkness, the case might have been otherwise. Their fire,

Their treasury was, at this period, literally empty, the sources of their revenue, which during the war are extremely small, were for the time completely exhausted, nor could the merchants be induced to contract for the public loans, though immense premiums were tendered :-in short, towards the close of this war, the North American Union was, unquestionably, on the brink of dissolution.

which was all that we had to apprehend, could not have been equally destructive. These were, it appears, amongst the considerations by which the officer, now in charge of the troops, was actuated in resolving to make the assault during the middle of the ensuing night. An officer was thereupon dispatched to the viceadmiral, then presumed to have arrived off the harbour, to acquaint him of the hour fixed on for the attack, in order that he might time his operations accordingly. The remainder of the day was occupied in a diligent reconnoissance, and in the preparation of planks and fascines, &c. for the passage of obstacles. But in the evening • A communication,' says the writer of Relfe's Historical Memoirs,' was received from the admiral, discouraging the attempt, as the ships could render no assistance, in consequence of the town being retired so far within the forts, and a barrier of vessels sunk at the entrance; and that a great loss of life would prevent the squadron from proceeding upon other services, which they were fully to consider. Being thus made responsible for ulterior proceedings, and as it was not possible to storm such an entrenchment with four thousand* men, without considerable loss, and as the onus of preventing other services was to be thrown upon any such loss, the rear-admiral and colonel hesitated in their proceedings, and felt themselves obliged to abandon the attempt.'

[ocr errors]

There are inaccuracies in this statement, though not essential ones. The singular should have been used instead of the plural number; for this communication was directed to be submitted, not to the joint consideration of the rear-admiral and colonel,' but, of course, solely to that of the latter, who was alone responsible. Circumstances, unnecessary to be related here, required that the utmost deference should be paid to every counsel and advice coming from the source from which the above emanated. But an effort was nevertheless made to obtain some counterbalancing sanction for persevering in the offensive. A council of commandants of brigades and corps was called; but this expedient was not attended with the desired result. They rather coincided in the general tenor of the dissuasive communication submitted for their consideration; and this, it must be acknowledged, was but reasonable, since the naval chief by whom it was transmitted was, beyond all comparison, of the highest relative experience and distinction, and the only person then with the expedition to whom the ultimate views of government were confidentially known. It is clear, then, that to the officer who had only accidentally fallen into military command, there now scarcely remained any choice. The troops were withdrawn early next morning to ground of more security a short distance in the rear. On the following day they fell back a very few miles farther, this tardiness of movement being resorted to in the hope

*This is an over estimate by at least three or four hundred bayonets.


that the enemy might be induced to descend from their vantage ground. This, however, not taking place, the division was reembarked on the 15th, leaving not a man behind, except those who were no longer able to be removed, and bringing away the captured guns and a considerable number of prisoners. Of course there is always a feeling of disappointment on occasions of this sort. The exaggerated hopes of our military were not fulfilled; but the objects of government were a great deal more than accomplished; since all they ever expected from the detachments was a diversion in favour of the northern frontier, where it alone was meant to press the war with vigour. And, accordingly, it must ever be matter of unfeigned satisfaction to those who, from a paramount sense of duty, felt bound to recede from this inviting attempt, that, in doing so, they were eventually honoured by an express and most unqualified approval on the part of the highest authorities in the state. Our author's remarks on this subject are just, and, in the main, we fully coincide in them. But we here beg to observe, that we should not have presumed to enter so minutely into this detail, were it not for the degree of publicity previously given to the subject of it, in Relfe's Historical Memoirs, relative to a distinguished rear-admiral who served on that station, from which production we have already quoted

some sentences.

But speaking generally, and without the least reference to this operation, the prudence and sound judgment evinced in the conduct of which have been so fully recognised and established, we would venture to suggest, that the problem, after all, to be solved, in embryo or unessayed projects of any pith and moment, is the distinction between difficulty and impracticability-between temerity and a just and well-grounded boldness,-to confound, rather than define which, is an error into which the unpractised will ever be prone to fall. War is no mere game of physical calculation : there is another, and, in some respects, even a higher department of it ;—and, on this point, we would adventure a general maxim— that when numbers are arrayed against skill, the former should be made to purchase at the dearest possible rate the slightest trophy or advantage. To regular troops, such things may with safety be conceded they know how to estimate, and will not presume on them. But permit a mob, or popular, or ill-organised assemblage of any kind, to discover the slightest ground of confidence in their effectiveness, and you forthwith bestow on them all the formidability of which they are susceptible. If once allowed to cherish a prospect of success,-if their morale be not kept thoroughly down-physical odds, unless egregiously misdirected indeed, must eventually tell. In such contests, no cost ought to be spared for the purpose of preserving, as long as possible, the


« PreviousContinue »