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Memorandum on Cabinet Meeting, 7 June 1814

Memorandum on Cabinet Meeting

In Cabinet June 7. 1814—present J. Monroe, G.W. Campbell Genl. Armstrong W. Jones. R. Rush. The subject, the opening of the Campaign.

  • 1. determined, nem-con:1 on an expedition into L. Huron, of 4 or 5 vessels, and 800, or 1000 troops—the first object to occupy Machedash & St. Josephs—leaving abt. 500 to hold at least the former.2
  • 2. do. nem-con. (except Mr. Monroe who did not positively oppose but thought the measure hazardous) on an expedition, with the forces under Genl. Brown, from L. Erie, near long Point, to Burlington Heights, preparatory to further operations for reducing the Peninsula, & proceding towards York, &c; the expedition to depend on Comodore Chauncy’s getting the Command of the L: without wch. supplies could not be secured; and with which they might be conveyed safely by water from Depots on the S. side of L. Ontario.3
  • 3. do. nem-con. 14 or 15. Armed Boats. to be built at Sacket’s Harbour to command the St. Laurence under protection of posts to be supplied by detachments from Izard’s command; and so as to intercept the water communication between Montreal & Kingston.4
  • 4. do. nem: con: the main force under Izard, to make demonstrations towards Montreal, as a diversion of the Eny. from operations westward—& affording a chance of compelling Prevost to fight disadvantageously, or break up his connection with L. Champlain.5

Ms (DLC); Tr (DLC, series 3). Ms in JM’s hand.

1Nemine contradicente: “without opposition or dissent” (Black’s Law Dictionary [9th ed.], 1138).

2In response to John Armstrong’s assertion that the British would not undertake significant military operations west of Lake Ontario in the summer of 1814, William Jones had agreed in early May to call off the planned naval campaign against rumored British activities on Lake Huron (see Armstrong to JM, 1 May 1814, JM to Jones, 4 May 1814, and Jones to JM, 6 May 1814, and n. 1). On 1 June, however, Jones received a 27 May letter from Capt. Arthur Sinclair, commander on Lake Erie, reporting information from reliable sources that the British had sent “more than a thousand” men, “a number of pieces of Cannon,” and “quantities of stores” to Lake Huron with the goal of obtaining naval superiority on the upper lakes. Jones immediately reauthorized the expedition, instructing Sinclair to destroy the British shipbuilding establishment believed to exist at Matchedash on Gloucester Bay, and to retake the forts at St. Joseph and Michilimackinac. On 2 June, Armstrong ordered Lt. Col. George Croghan, commander at Detroit, to cooperate with Sinclair in the effort. The combined force left Detroit on 3 July 1814, but “impenetrable Fog” and numerous rocks and islands prevented Sinclair’s passage through the “unfrequented part of the Lake” where Matchedash lay. He abandoned the attempt and sailed north, finding Fort St. Joseph abandoned by the British. Michilimackinac, however, was well defended, and Croghan’s troops were driven off when they landed there on 4 Aug. 1814, suffering heavy casualties.

With two of its major goals unaccomplished and the third rendered moot by the British withdrawal from St. Joseph, the expedition appeared a failure. Sinclair received information, however, that the men and materials sent from York to Lake Huron were destined to reinforce and supply Michilimackinac rather than to gain control of the lake, that the British had attempted to use Matchedash as a depot but found it unsuitable, and that they had adopted an alternative site on the nearby Nottawasaga River. Proceeding there on his way back to Lake Erie, Sinclair found a blockhouse and the British schooner Nancy loaded with stores for Michilimackinac, both of which were destroyed in the ensuing battle. He left two vessels to blockade the Nottawasaga, hoping that deprivation of supplies via that route and others would render Michilimackinac an “easy conquest” for the Americans the following spring (Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 3:503–4, 513–14, 564, 566–70, 572–73).

3Armstrong modified this plan in a 9 June 1814 letter to Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown, suggesting that since Capt. Isaac Chauncey’s fleet would not be on Lake Ontario until 15 July, Brown should in the meantime attack Fort Erie, and if successful, proceed to Chippawa or even Fort George. Brown did just this, taking Fort Erie on 3 July 1814 and defeating the British in the Battle of Chippawa two days later. He marched to Queenston Heights and wrote Chauncey on 13 July, requesting the fleet’s assistance, with which he anticipated taking not only Burlington Heights but York and Kingston as well. Chauncey, however, declined to cooperate, insisting that his primary assignment was “to seek and fight the enemy’s fleet.” Brown thereupon retreated to Chippawa, planning to march overland to Burlington. A reinforced British army pursued him, however, and the Battle of Lundy’s Lane ensued on 25 July. There was no clear winner, but the exhausted Americans withdrew to Fort Erie. No expedition against Burlington was undertaken during the remainder of the campaign (Quimby, U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 2:521–33, 541–45, 566–67, 574).

4Jones wrote Chauncey at Sackets Harbor on 7 June 1814, ordering him to have fifteen barges constructed. They were to be seventy-five feet long, fifteen feet wide, and four-and-a-half feet deep, carry two cannon, and be rowed by forty oars (Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 3:525–26). He sent a plan similar to the one used for the Chesapeake flotilla serving under Capt. Joshua Barney (see JM to Thomas Jefferson, 6 June 1813, PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:370–71 and n. 3).

5On 11 June 1814 Armstrong communicated the first three points of this plan of campaign to Maj. Gen. George Izard, commander at Lake Champlain, but said nothing about distracting the British with an ostensible attack on Montreal. Rather, he ordered Izard to locate a post on the lake from which U.S. forces could prevent the entry of the British flotilla. On 2 Aug., having received news of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Armstrong ordered Izard to move his army west to Kingston (George Izard, Official Correspondence with the Department of War, Relative to the Military Operations of the American Army under the Command of Major General Izard, on the Northern Frontier of the United States, in the Years 1814 and 1815 [Philadelphia, 1816; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 37938], 33–34, 61–65).

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