The Action at Cook's Mills

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The Action at Cook's Mills
by Ernest Alexander Cruikshank
An address delivered by Brigadier-General E. A. Cruikshank, Chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada on the occasion of the dedication of the monument in memorial to the Battle of Cook’s Mills. Delivered on July 25, 1923 at the monument.

This monument has been erected here by the Department of the Interior to commemorate the Battle of Cook’s Mills, an event of some significance in the history of Canada. It was the last action of any importance fought in Upper Canada during the war of 1812-1814. The war had been continued for exactly twenty-eight months. It also marked the end of the most sternly contested and bloodiest campaign of the war, which began on July 3rd of that year and all but completed the devastation of this frontier. The events of the campaign may be briefly stated.

The invasion was undertaken with the hope of overrunning the province as far as Burlington Heights, or perhaps Toronto, and retaking Fort Niagara. The landing of a body of about five thousand men, mostly regular troops, was aided by a squadron of war-ships in undisputed command of Lake Erie, and the co-operation of a more powerful fleet on Lake Ontario was arranged for when the invaders had fought their way to its shores. Fort Erie was taken with scarcely a show of resistance, and an ill-judged attack by an inferior British brigade near Chippawa was sharply repelled with severe loss.

The fortifications at Chippawa and on Queenston Heights were then abandoned and, after leaving sufficient garrisons in the three forts at the mouth of the Niagara river, the remainder of the British field-force retired toward Burlington. The invaders advanced to Queenston Heights and waited there for two weeks for the fleet which failed to come to their support. Until this time all their supplies had been brought to them by boats from the other side of the river. Learning that he could not rely on receiving any naval assistance for some time, their commander decided to retire as far as Chippawa, with the intention of forming a supply train and moving across country against Burlington, then the chief military depot in the western part of this province.

The unexpected advance of a small British force to Lundy’s Lane, within striking distance, precipitated a hard fought battle there, which began an hour before sunset and lasted until midnight. The losses on both sides were heavy and those of the invaders were so severe that they retreated in haste to Fort Erie, where they formed an entrenched camp and awaited reinforcements in the hope of being able to resume the offensive. This position was besieged by a slightly larger British force under Sir Gordon Drummond, and , after a few days’ bombardment, a resolute assault was made on the night of August 14 and 15. This attack failed with the loss of nine hundred men. The siege was continued in the face of great difficulties for more than a month longer. The defence was obstinate and skilful but the chief antagonists of the besiegers were incessant rain and almost unfathomable mud, which made the transport of all supplies a task of enormous labor and wore the men out.

Being secretly reinforced by night by large bodies of volunteers and militia, the garrison made a vigorous sortie under cover of mist and rain, took several siege batteries and many prisoners, and although eventually driven in, inflicted such heavy loss the Drummond reluctantly raised the siege and retreated behind the Chippawa Creek. He had then learned that a fresh force of regular troops, estimated at five thousand men, was advancing from Sackett’s Harbour on Lake Ontario, by a route threatening Fort Niagara and his line of communication. Its arrival would give his enemy a great numerical superiority, and for many days he was menaced with attacks at the same time in front and upon his left flank.

The march of this division was, however, much retarded by rain and bad roads, and it did not arrive at Lewiston until October 5. The design of besieging Fort Niagara was then abandoned and a junction formed with the troops at Fort Erie on October 10 and 11. The united force of eight thousand men advanced as far as Black Creek on October 13. Drummond’s effective strength was less than half as large, but the field works on the north side of Chippawa Creek and in the angle formed by the confluence of Lyons’ Creek with that stream had been much improved and the water was high in both. His position there was bombarded by field artillery on October 15 with little effect.

During the whole of the next day strong columns of infantry were paraded about in sight, but out of range of gun-fire. On the afternoon of October 17, the whole American force retreated and again encamped at Black Creek for the night. Early the next morning Drummond learned that a long column was marching up Black Creek towards Cook’s Mills. The Glengary Light Infantry and seven companies of the 82nd Regiment were advanced along the left bank of Lyons’ Creek to protect his right flank from what seemed to be a serious attempt to turn it. Before night he was informed that the enemy had actually crossed Lyons’ Creek in force and occupied the mills. These troops were at once reinforced with three companies of the 100th Regiment and one field gun. Colonel Christopher Myers, their commander, was ordered to “feel the enemy” closely, so as accurately to ascertain their strength and the direction of their movement and enable Drummond to take measures for countering any attempt to penetrate in the direction of Burlington by the Beaver Dams. He was warned that any miscalculation in this respect might imperil the safety of the entire division, and instructed to refrain from attacking a very superior force. Orders were sent at the same time to destroy Brown’s Bridge, the only means of crossing the Chippawa above, and a regiment of militia was marched towards it to oppose any attempt to force a passage there.

The American force at Cook’s Mills consisted of four regiments of infantry, a company of riflemen, and a party of dragoons, probably numbering upwards of twelve hundred of all ranks, under Brigadier-General Daniel Bissell. A militia picket at the mill had been driven off and its officer captured. During the night an American advanced picket posted on the road to Chippawa was attacked and lost a man taken prisoner.

Myers advanced early in the morning of October 19 from Misener’s house on Lyons’ Creek, described as three miles distant from this place, with a force stated at about 750 men. This movement was led by the Glengary Light Infantry, a distinguished regiment raised in Canada and chiefly recruited in the country from which it derived its name. It bore the burden and heat of the conflict. The result of his reconnaissance was tersely related by Myers in the following manner —

“I found the enemy’s advance with a strong support posted on the right bank of a ravine, which runs to Lyons’ Creek, a small distance from the Mills. A part of the Glengary Regiment turned round a small wood which covered the front of the enemy and crossed the head of the ravine, whilst the remainder passed through the wood. By this movement, the enemy’s light troops were driven back in admirable style, whilst a part of his force crossed Lyons’ Creek for the purpose of annoying our left. Having chiefly the reconnaissance in view and finding that object not attainable by a forward movement from the thickness of the woods, I retired the Glengary Regiment and fell back a small distance, in the hope of drawing the enemy forth to the open ground, and , if circumstances would justify it, to bring him to a more general action. This had no farther the desired effect than that he advanced to the skirts of the wood, and showed two columns on our left and one on our right, opening a heavy fire of small arms and which from the distance we sparingly returned, but the fire of the six-pounder and the rockets the enemy’s column on our left suffered severely. From my own observation and the reports I have received, I cannot estimate the force of the enemy at less than 1,500 to 2,000 men. He had no cannon. Finding it impossible to draw him fairly from the woods, I retired the troops to the cantonments around this place (Misner’s house), keeping my advance close to that of the enemy.

“The conduct of the Glengary Light Infantry during this campaign has been so conspicuous the Lieutenant-Colonel Battersby and the officers and men of that corps can receive little further from any report of mine, but on this occasion I cannot refrain from adding my humble tribute of praise to their well-earned fame.”

His loss was one man killed and thirty-five wounded, some of whom died of their wounds. The only officer wounded was Captain Alexander MacMillan of the Glengary Light Infantry.

Bissell reported the loss of twelve men killed, fifty-four wounded, including four officers, and one prisoner. After destroying a small quantity of grain stored in the mill, he retired hastily the next day, by the route over which he had advanced, although he had been reinforced during the night by two more regiments of infantry, leaving the bridges undamaged. On October 21, the whole invading army retired to Fort Erie and soon after recrossed the Niagara.

Thus the last shots of that campaign were fired and “the battle flags were furled.” A good many lives were sacrificed elsewhere before that fratricidal contest between kindred peoples was ended. Let us hope that it may never be renewed. But let us not forget the heroic dead, nor the events which have preserved our country and enabled it to attain the dignity of nationhood. It is hoped that the establishment of these memorials may help to promote sound patriotism, may stimulate the study of national history, and may interest the traveller.

Reference[edit]

The Battle of Cook's Mills and the Dedication of its Monument, Welland, ON: Tribune printers (published 1923), pp. 17 - 21 

This work is now in the public domain because it originates from Canada and its term of copyright has expired.

The author died in 1939, so this work is in the public domain in Canada because, according to Canadian copyright law, all private copyrights expire fifty years after the year marking the death of the author. This work also in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.