The Story of Isaac Brock: Hero, Defender and Saviour of Upper Canada/27
|←26|| The Story of Isaac Brock: Hero, Defender and Saviour of Upper Canada by
XXVII. Van Rensselaer's Camp
After midnight, on the morning of the 11th, the American general, Van Rensselaer, believing, as he wrote, "that Brock, with all his disposable forces, had left for Detroit," launched from the Lewiston landing, under cover of the pitch darkness, thirteen boats capable of carrying 340 armed men.
To Lieutenant Sims, "the man of the greatest skill in the American service," was entrusted the command. Sims entered the leading boat, and vanished in the gloom. Whether he had taken all the oars with him, as reported, or whether the furious storm and the sight of the whirling black waters had frozen the hearts of the troops, must remain a mystery. The other boats did not follow.
Meanwhile, 350 additional regulars and thirty boats had arrived from Four Mile Creek. Flying artillery came from Fort Niagara, with still more regulars, and part of Smythe's brigade from Buffalo. Troops, as Brock's spies had truly reported, now overflowed the United States army headquarters—three more complete regiments from New York and another from Fort Schlosser. Lewiston bristled with bayonets. The entire expeditionary force was in command of Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer, a militiaman, between whom and the officers commanding the regular troops much jealousy and great friction existed. Both branches of the service were determined[Pg 145] to monopolize whatever credit might ensue. A storm, more furious than ever, prevailed for twenty-eight hours. The men sulked in their tents.
On the night of the 12th, the storm having abated, though the sky was black as ink, added numbers having developed greater courage, Van Rensselaer resolved on another attempt. He secretly notified Brigade-Major Smythe, in command at Buffalo, that in accordance with the letter reproduced in a previous chapter, he would storm the Heights of Queenston that night. With experienced river men as pilots, with picked crews, and protected by the big guns at Fort Gray, 600 men, with two pieces of light artillery, in thirteen boats, in the grim darkness of the morning of the 13th—a sinister coincidence—drew up in silence on the wharf. They comprised the first detachment of 850 regulars and 300 militia, the advance attacking party—"the flower of Wadsworth's army"—embarked to "carry the Heights of Queenston and appal the minds of Canadians."
Let us trace the fulfilling of Van Rensselaer's boast.
The regulars crossed first, almost out of the line of fire of the British batteries, and under cover of six of the enemy's field-guns that completely commanded the Canadian shore. Some of the boats of this flotilla effected, as we know, a landing above the rock, still visible at the water's edge, under the suspension bridge. Here they disembarked their fighting men—the 13th regulars and some artillery—and, under Van Rensselaer, attempted to form. The empty boats recrossed the river to ferry over more soldiers.
[Pg 146]A sentry of the 49th—our hero's regiment—overheard voices and tramping of feet. Scenting danger, he ran, without firing, to alarm the main guard.
In a few minutes Dennis advanced upon the landing place with forty-six men of his own company and a few militia, and discharged a murderous volley, leaving Colonel Van Rensselaer, with eight officers and forty-five men, killed or wounded. The enemy retreated to the water's edge for shelter, confused and shivering. The Lewiston batteries at once opened fire on the redan on Queenston Heights. The position of Dennis being thus revealed to Dearborn's gunners, they immediately turned their battery of six field-pieces upon his handful of men, and the position proving untenable, he withdrew to the shelter of the village, on the lip of the hill, still continuing to fire downwards on the invaders.
Vrooman's battery then opened fire, and Crowther brought his two "grasshoppers"—small three-pounders—to sweep the road leading to the river.