Monday 6 October 2008

My Town Monday - James FitzGibbon - Hero of the War of 1812 (Canada) - Part 6

[1-James FitzGibbon]

Last week the Battle of Beaver Dams was covered with James FitzGibbon’s version and how he felt the credit for his capture of the American regiment would be taken by Lieut.-Colonel De Haren. The following is an account taken from an American writer, who made the best of it from a national point of view:

“After the disaster of Winder and Chandler at Forty Mile Creek, Colonel Boerstler was pushed forward with six hundred men of all arms, dragoons, artillery and infantry, to dislodge a strong picket posted in a stone house about two miles beyond a hilly pass, called the Beaver Dam, seventeen miles from Fort George.

“Arriving at the Beaver Dam, Colonel Boerstler was surprised by a large body of Indians under the conduct of young Brant and Captain William J. Kerr, numbering about 450 warriors. The battle was maintained for about three hours, the Indians, of course, fighting after their own fashion, in concealment, having apparently surrounded Colonel Boerstler in the woods.

“Indeed the enemy must have conducted the battle with considerable adroitness, for Colonel Boerstler, galled on all sides, dared neither advance nor retreat, while the result of every observation was a conviction that he was surrounded by far superior numbers.

[2- Joseph Brant – Mohawk Chief, painting by George Romney 1776]

“At length, Lieut. FitzGibbon of the 49th (enemy's) Regiment arriving on the ground with forty -six rank and file, sent a flag of truce to Colonel Boerstler demanding a surrender. After some parleying, the British lieutenant magnifying the number of their troops and pretending to conduct the negotiations in the name of Major De Haren, not forgetting a few occasional suggestions touching the horrors of the Indian massacre, Colonel Boerstler, having neither reserve to sustain him nor demonstration to favor him, surrendered his detachment as prisoners of war. This battle occurred on the 24th of June, and was a brilliant affair for young Brant, since it was fought by Indians alone, not a single cartridge being expended by the regular troops of the enemy."*

In a private letter from William Kerr (who was Brant's brother-in-law) to Lieutenant FitzGibbon, he gave the number of the Indians as 250, who were actually retreating when Colonel Boerstler surrendered to your handful of men.”

The following are the official dispatches in which the notice of the event was conveyed to headquarters:

“Township of Louth, June 24th, 1813.

“Sir,—At De Cou's this morning, about seven o'clock, I received information that about 1,000 of the enemy with two guns were advancing towards me from St. David's. I soon after heard firing of cannon and musketry, and in consequence rode in advance two miles on the St. David's road. I discovered by the firing that the enemy was moving for the road on the mountain. I sent off' Cornet McKenzie to order out my detachment of the 49th, consisting of a sub-altern and forty-six rank and file, and closed upon the enemy to reconnoitre.

“I discovered him on the mountain road and took up a position on an eminence to the right of it. My men arrived and pushed on in his front to cut off* his retreat, under a fire from his guns, which, however, did no execution. After examining his position, I found it difficult to approach him, there being no wood in front or on the flanks to cover the Indians, and his force (apparently 600) I could not approach. I was here informed that he expected reinforcements. I therefore decided upon summoning him to surrender.

“After the exchange of several propositions between Colonel Boerstler and myself in the name of Lieut.-Colonel De Haren, Lieut.-Colonel Boerstler agreed to surrender on the terms stated in the articles of capitulation. On my return to my men to send an officer to superintend the details of the surrender—you arrived.

“I have the honour to be, etc.,
“(Signed) J. FitzGibbon,
“Lieutenant Fifth Regiment.”

The soldier left his brother soldier to continue the account, knowing well that if fairly told the credit due would be given to him. Whether the misstatement in Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop's dispatch to Brigadier-General Vincent was due to FitzGibbon or to Major De Haren, Mary FitzGibbon could not ascertain. The only reference to this was in FitzGibbon's papers:

“And here I will state what I believe caused Major De Haren to conduct himself so strangely towards me as he did, namely, his having retreated from the scene of action instead of advancing as I had done; and, afterwards witnessing my success, he felt how the two proceedings might be contrasted, and he hoped thus to give a turn to the passing circumstances which might change their appearance more in his favour than the real facts would do. Other proceedings were afterwards resorted to rob me entirely of what was due to me on this occasion; but I decline to state them from tenderness to the memory of the officers concerned, who are long since dead. I was, however, afforded an opportunity soon after to plead my cause before Major-General Vincent, Sir James Yeo and Lieut.-Colonel Harvey, and justice was in part done to me in a private letter to Sir George Prevost, for the letter of Lieut.-Colonel Bishop to Major-General Vincent, afterwards published, wholly wronged me.”

Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop's letter to Brigadier-General Vincent, now in the Canadian Archives, is as follows:

“Beaver Dam, June 24th, 1813.

“Sir, —I have the honor to inform you that the troops you have done me the honor to place under my command, have succeeded this day in taking prisoners a detachment of the United States army under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Boerstler. In this affair the Indian warriors, under the command of Captain Kerr, were the only force actually engaged. To them great merit is due, and to them I feel particularly obliged for their gallant conduct on this occasion.

“On the appearance of the detachment of the 49th Regiment under Lieut. FitzGibbon, the Light Company of the 8th King's Regiment, the two flank companies of the 104th under Major De Haren, and the Provincial Cavalry under Captain Hall, the whole surrendered to His Majesty's troops. To the conduct of Lieut. FitzGibbon of the 49th Regiment, through whose address the capitulation was entered into, may be attributed the surrender of the American army.

“To Major De Haren, for his speedy movement to the point of attack and execution of the arrangements I had previously made with him, I am very much obliged.

“I have the honor to enclose the capitulation entered into between Colonel Boerstler and myself, and a return of prisoners taken, inclusive of wounded, not yet ascertained. I lose no time in forwarding my Staff- Adjutant, Lieut. Barnard, to communicate to you this intelligence. He has been particularly active and useful to me on all occasions. I take this opportunity of mentioning him to you, and beg the favor of you to recommend him to His Excellency Sir George Prevost, as an active and promising young officer.

“I have the honor to be, Sir,
“Your most obedient servant,
“Cecil Bisshop,
“Lieut.-Colonel Commanding Troops in Advance.
“Brigadier-General Vincent,
Commanding Centre Division.”

From Tennyson:

“A lie that is all a lie can be met and fought with outright,
But a lie that is half a truth is a harder matter to fight,”

might be applied here. The fact of including the forces under De Haren with the small detachment under FitzGibbon's immediate command in his report to the General, leaves (and certainly did make on that officer's mind) the impression that the combined forces were present when the negotiations between Colonel Boerstler and the British were entered into — not, as was actually the case, that they arrived after the American general had surrendered at discretion to FitzGibbon. It should be remembered that De Haren reached the scene accompanied only by a colonel of militia, having in his anxiety outridden his detachment. In fact, FitzGibbon's fear that his captives should discover the smallness of his force, is further proof that De Haren's had not yet arrived.

The situation was aptly described by the late Judge Jarvis, of Brockville, who was with FitzGibbon at Beaver Dam: “And when the Yankees did surrender, we all wondered what the mischief he (FitzGibbon) would do with them.” That the “active and promising young officer” must, however, have let something of the truth out, General Vincent's letter with which he forwarded Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop, suggested:

“Forty Mile Creek, June 25th, 1813.

SIR; — I have the honor of transmitting to Your Excellency a report I received from Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop, commanding the troops in advance, of the success of a skirmish with a strong detachment of cavalry and infantry, advancing with two field-pieces.

“In the vigilance of Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop, I feel much indebted, and beg leave to refer Your Excellency to his report of the conduct of the officers and men under his command, which is deserving every commendation. I cannot but particularize that of Lieut. FitzGibbon, 49th Regiment, commanding a small reconnoitring party co-operating with the Indians, through whose address in entering into the capitulation, Your Excellency will perceive by Lieut.-Colonel Bisshop's report, that the surrender of the American detachment is to be attributed. I beg leave to recommend this officer to Your Excellency's protection.

“I have the honor to be, Sir,
“Your obedient, humble servant,
“John Vincent,
“Brigadier- General."

Montreal Gazette, Tuesday, July 6th, 1813: ‘Intelligence of the last week from the seat of war in Canada is not of a sanguinary nature; but, however, it is not the less interesting, and we have much pleasure in communicating to the public the particulars of a campaign, not of a general with his thousands or his hundreds, but of a lieutenant with his tens only. The manner in which a bloodless victory was obtained by a force so comparatively and almost incredibly small, with that of the enemy, the cool determination and the happy presence of mind evinced by this highly meritorious officer, in conducting the operations incident to the critical situation in which he was placed, with his little band of heroes, and the brilliant result which crowned these exertions, will, while they make known to the world the name of Captain FitzGibbon, reflect new lustre, if possible, on the well-earned reputation of the gallant 49th Regiment, and class this event with the most extraordinary occurrences of the present accursed war.

“We shall at present make no further comment, but refer our readers to the following details of Mr. FitzGibbon's operations, as communicated to us by a friend who had the particulars from the best authority:

“Immediately after the gallant affair of our advance on the 6th ultimo, Lieut. FitzGibbon made application to General Vincent to be employed separately with a small party of the 49th Regiment, and in such a manner as he might think most expedient. The oner was accepted, and this little band has since been constantly ranging between the two armies. Many events would naturally occur on such a service which would be interesting, but are necessarily prescribed in our limits of details, and we will confine ourselves to one very extraordinary occurrence.

“At seven o'clock on the morning of the 24th ult., Lieut. F. received a report that the enemy was advancing from St. David's, with about a thousand men and four pieces of cannon, to attack the stone house in which he was quartered at Beaver Dam. About an hour afterwards he heard the report of cannon and musketry. He rode off to reconnoitre, and found the enemy engaged with a party of Indians, who hung upon his flanks and rear, and galled him severely.

“Lieut. F. despatched an officer for his men, and by the time of their arrival the enemy had taken up a position on an eminence at same distance from the woods in front. He estimated the enemy's strength at 600 men and two field-pieces — a 12 and a 6-pounder. To make the appearance of cutting off his retreat, Lieut. F. passed at the charge-step across the front to gain the other flank under a quick fire from his guns, which however did not the slightest injury. He took post behind some woods, and saw the Indians were making very little of the enemy, and it would have been madness in him, with forty-four muskets, to dash at them across open fields, where every man he had could be so easily perceived.

“Many of the Indians were at this time taking themselves off, and he began to think of his own retreat. He had a hope, however, that Colonel De Haren would soon join him; but fearing the enemy would drive him off, or make good his retreat, he determined to play the old soldier, and summon the enemy to surrender. He tied up his handkerchief and advanced, with his bugles sounding “Cease firing.” A flag was sent to him by a Captain McDonald of the Artillery. Lieut. F. stated that he was sent by Colonel De Haren to demand their surrender, and to offer them protection from the Indians, adding that a number had just joined from the North-West who could not be controlled, and he wished to prevent the effusion at Fort George, which he always resisted, because the position and means of the enemy enabled him to reinforce with far greater facility than the American army could.”


Research: * Ferdinand Tupper's “Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock,”
A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1894),

Photo Credits: [1][2]-wikipedia.

This post is part of Travis Erwin's My Town Monday group where you can learn about other places in the world. Check out his link


Gary's third pottery blog said...

In other news? DEEP PURPLE is the bees' knees alright....

Tess Kincaid said...

Your posts on Canadian history are always very interesting, Barbara.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You have nearly a book-length ms. with these posts. And illustrated!

BernardL said...

You've presented this from different points of view very well, Barbara; and while the number of warriors involved can be debated, the fact Fitzgibbon developed the courageous strategy which led to a nearly bloodless victory for the Canadians appears beyond dispute.

Barrie said...

Thank goodness for your posts on Canadian history! I'm embarrassed by how little I know.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


I really enjoy your "history lessons." You have a great talent with words and facts.


Travis Erwin said...

What does this area look like today. The beaver dams I mean? Just curious.

Barbara Martin said...

Gary, gets the blood flowing for writing about battles.

Willow, thank you.

Patti, I'm hoping my fantasy stories will have some illustrations and maps. These history posts are training grounds.

Bernard, FitzGibbon was considered a wild card by some due to his impulsiveness. He made decisions in an instant when it was necessary.

Barrie, the book from which I have gathered the background from was little used by Canadian historical writers in the last century. Even Pierre Burton did not research it for his work on the War of 1812.

My own knowledge of Canadian history was limited before I began. While in school I had no interest in it, finding history boring except where it involved the opening of the Canadian west, or my ancestors coming to Canada. Now, however, with these posts I can see the glimmer of a possible story.

Terrie, thanks; I'm hoping this talent is rubbing off in my fiction.

Travis, last week's post, Part 5, had a photo of Thorold and the Welland Canal in winter. That's the site of the battle. The gully is located where the canal is now.

Thanks for the head's up. Now I'll try to inform readers of current locations of the past battles and skirmishes.

Steve Malley said...

ANother exciting installment-- thanks!

Sienna said...

This is such valuable work, the event unfolds like I am able to visualise it as a movie, (in my mind).

So interesting to hear this, thankyou for doing this.


Barbara Martin said...

Steve, you are very welcome. Now I have a standard to continue.

Pam, it's good to hear that my arranging the text makes sense. Sometimes I doubt myself.

Sekhar said...

I am getting to know some really good unknown piece of history here.
Thanks for sharing :)

Webradio said...

Hello Barbara !
Very interesting BLOG...
There are a lot of texts, also I'll come again for reading all...
See You later.

Barbara Martin said...

Sekhar, glad to hear our history appeals to you.

Webradio, welcome and feel free to browse anytime. If there is something specific you would like to know about Canada, just ask.