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May 9, 2013

Canadian capital captured

(Continued)

By a gentleman direct from Sacket’s Harbor we learn that the force that sailed from there on Sunday the 25th consisted of Comm. Chauncy and about 1,000 sailors; with Gen. Dearborn and Gen. Pike, who took with them the 6th, 15th, and 16th regiments, Col. M’Clure’s regiment consisting of the New York, Baltimore and Albany volunteers, and Capt. Forsyth’s company, all of Infantry; and a detachment of Artillery, in all about 3000 men.

COMMENT: This was one of the first important American victories in the War of 1812. American land forces were now under the command of the elderly (and apparently lazy) Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn (1751-1829), while her naval forces on the Great Lakes were assigned to the able but very cautious Commodore Isaac Chauncey (1779-1840). British forces, after the death of Sir Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights the year before, were now led by much less effective Maj. Gen. Roger Sheaffe (1763-1851), and her naval forces by the equally cautious Commodore James Yeo (1782-1818), who had taken over the former local British Provincial navy on the Great Lakes.

While General Dearborn remained aboard one of the American ships, the landing force of some 1,800 soldiers was led by Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), best known today as the explorer of the American west in 1806-1807, and for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. The actual attack was led by the riflemen headed by Maj. John Forsyth (born ca. 1760 in North Carolina), noted for his bravery, bravado and apparently larcenous instincts. Facing him were only 1000 British (including Canadian militia and Indians), and the Americans quickly seized the tiny town of York (today’s Toronto), which was then the capital of Upper Canada (today’s Province of Ontario).

British Gen. Sheaffe quickly decided that the battle was lost, and, after burning the dockyards and a ship under construction, he retreated from the town with his small number of British Army regulars. For this he was subsequently relieved of command. In leaving he blew up a magazine of 300 of gunpowder, heard as far away as Niagara, and killing or wounding 265 American soldiers, one large flying stone crushing Gen. Pike.

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