Engagements on Lake Ontario

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Engagements on Lake Ontario
Part of the War of 1812
SceneOnLakeOntario1812.jpg
A scene on Lake Ontario - United States sloop of war Gen. Pike, Commodore Chauncey, and the British sloop of war Wolfe, Sir James Yeo, preparing for action, September 28, 1813
Date 18 June 1812 – 23 March 1815
Location Lake Ontario
Result Indecisive
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  United States
Commanders and leaders
James Lucas Yeo Isaac Chauncey
Strength
1 first rate ship of the line
2 frigates
6 sloops and brigs
4 schooners and gunboats
2 frigates
6 sloops and brigs
12 schooners and gunboats
Casualties and losses
1 sloop destroyed
2 brigs destroyed
1 brig captured[1]
1 brig destroyed
2 schooners sunk
2 schooners captured[1]

The Engagements on Lake Ontario encompass the prolonged naval contest for control of the lake during the War of 1812. Few actions were fought, none of which had decisive results, and the contest essentially became a naval building race, sometimes referred to sarcastically as the "Battle of the Carpenters".

Operations in 1812[edit]

When war was first declared, the British had an early advantage on the Great Lakes in that they possessed a quasi-naval body, the Provincial Marine. Although not particularly well-manned or efficient, its ships were initially unopposed on Lake Erie and Lake Huron, and made possible the decisive early victories of Major General Isaac Brock.

On Lake Ontario, they possessed the ships Royal George and Prince Regent, and the brigs Earl of Moira and Duke of Gloucester, based at the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard. The schooners Seneca and Simcoe were also taken into service. The chief officer was Commodore John Steel, who was seventy-five years old, or even older. He was retired and replaced by Commander Hugh Earle.[2] The Americans possessed only one brig, the Oneida under Lieutenant Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, and a small navy yard at Sackets Harbor, New York. On 19 July, five vessels of the Provincial Marine attacked Oneida in the First Battle of Sackett's Harbor but were beaten off.

To redress matters, on 3 September, the United States Navy appointed Commodore Isaac Chauncey, then commanding the New York Navy Yard, to command on the lakes. Although Chauncey was nominally in charge of the naval force on Lake Erie also, he took little part in its construction or operations there but concentrated his attention on Lake Ontario. To supplement the Oneida, he first purchased or commandeered several trading vessels (including some captured Canadian schooners), but he also despatched large numbers of carpenters, shipwrights and so on to Sacket's Harbor to construct proper fighting ships. The chief architects were Adam Brown, his brother Noah and Henry Eckford. They launched their first new ship, the corvette Madison, on 26 November. The trees from which it was constructed had still been standing in September.[3]

Chauncey hoisted his broad pendant aboard Oneida on 6 November and with his squadron, pursued the British ship Royal George into Kingston. He too was beaten off, partly by shore batteries and gunboats, and partly because a gun exploded aboard the schooner Pert, mortally injuring the schooner's commander and throwing the American squadron into confusion. After this engagement winter closed in, immobilising the ships of both sides in port. Chauncey feared an attack across the ice by British regular soldiers, and kept his carpenters sawing the ice from around his vessels so that they could at least bring fire to bear on any attackers. However, the British had no intention at that stage of making such an attack.

The British began building two corvettes to match the Madison, one each at Kingston and York. Their efforts were hindered, especially at York, by disputes between shipwright Thomas Plucknett, who had been selected by Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, the Governor General, to superintend the work, and officers such as Captain Andrew Gray, a staff officer in the Army in Upper Canada. Plucknett's work was reckoned to be disorganised, as was that of the shipwright at Kingston, who was dismissed and replaced by the more experienced Daniel Allen.[4] Allen in turn was removed after fomenting disputes over working conditions in March, 1813.[5]

Three officers (acting Commanders Robert Heriot Barclay, Robert Finnis and Daniel Pring) had been detached by Vice Admiral Herbert Sawyer from the Royal Navy's North American Station in Halifax, Nova Scotia to the Provincial Marine, and did much over the winter to refit the existing vessels at Kingston. However, the Admiralty independently appointed Captain James Lucas Yeo to command the naval establishment on the Great Lakes. He collected reinforcements and materials in Britain, and crossed the Atlantic early in 1813.

Operations in 1813[edit]

Commodore Isaac Chauncey

Chauncey had the advantage in ships and men once the ice melted. He and General Henry Dearborn, the commander in chief of the American armies in the north, had the opportunity to strike a blow before British seamen and officers could reach Canada and travel up the St. Lawrence. An attack on Kingston would have been decisive, but Chauncey and Dearborn persuaded themselves that it was defended by 5,000 British regulars (there were in fact only 600). They instead attacked York, the provincial capital. On 27 April at the Battle of York, they defeated the outnumbered defenders under Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe and looted the town. They captured the brig Duke of Gloucester and also several cannon which were destined for the British squadron on Lake Erie, (which contributed to the later American victory at the Battle of Lake Erie). The British themselves set fire to the part-completed corvette Isaac Brock to prevent it falling into American hands.

Chauncey and Dearborn then defeated the British army on the Niagara River at the Battle of Fort George on 27 May. At both York and Fort George, Chauncey's schooners and gunboats (commanded at the latter engagement by Oliver Hazard Perry) had proved very effective in supporting troops landing from boats, by suppressing British batteries and inflicting heavy casualties on British troops who attempted to prevent the Americans landing.

The American commanders had left themselves vulnerable to a potentially decisive counter-attack. While they were preoccupied at the western end of Lake Ontario, Commodore Yeo had arrived in Kingston, accompanied by 465 officers and seamen of the Royal Navy, to take charge of the British squadron. Embarking troops under Prevost, who happened to be in Kingston on public and Army business, he almost immediately attacked the American base at the Battle of Sacket's Harbor on 29 May. Although this was a strategically bold stroke, both Yeo and Prevost attacked cautiously and called off the attack when they met with stiff resistance. The Americans had prematurely set fire to the captured Duke of Gloucester and a heavy sloop of war under construction, the General Pike, but managed to put out the fire when the British withdrew. The Gloucester and large quantities of stores were destroyed, but the Pike was saved.[6]

Chauncey hastened back to Sacket's Harbor, and remained in harbour awaiting the completion of the Pike. While the Americans declined to contest the lake, Yeo's squadron assisted in driving the American army on the Niagara peninsula back into Fort George, and captured or destroyed large quantities of stores. On 1 July, Yeo attempted to destroy the Pike while it was fitting out by mounting a raid on Sacket's Harbor in small boats, but called off the attack when he feared that deserters would have alerted the Americans.[7]

Chauncey's full squadron put out on 21 July. They first contemplated an assault on the British defensive positions at Burlington Heights at the western end of the lake, but found the defenders too well-prepared to risk the operation, and instead they briefly captured York again, this time causing little loss,[8] and even returned some property looted in the earlier attack.

Action off the Niagara[edit]

On 7 August, the Americans encountered Yeo off the mouth of the Niagara River. The two squadrons spent several days in cautious manoeuvres. Chauncey had an advantage in long guns and waited for calm conditions in which he could engage at long range, while Yeo had the advantage in carronades and wanted to close in heavy weather. On the night of 8 August, two American schooners (the Hamilton and Scourge) capsized and sank in a sudden squall. Of the 72 men aboard both schooners, 53 were drowned.[9]

On 10 August, the British were to windward. Chauncey formed his squadron into two lines; six schooners were nearest the British, with the heavier ships further away to leeward. As the British edged closer, firing became general. At 11:30 am, Chauncey ordered his windward line to steer downwind and reform to leeward of the heavy vessels. The two leading schooners, the Growler and Julia, failed to wear ship and were left cut off from the rest of Chauncey's squadron.[10] Rather than try to beat upwind to rescue the two schooners, Chauncey withdrew downwind, hoping that Yeo would follow him. Instead, Yeo concentrated on the two isolated schooners, both of which were captured.[11]

Action off the Genesee[edit]

Both squadrons withdrew to their bases for provisions before setting out again. On 11 September, there was an indecisive long-range skirmish off the Genesee River about 10 miles (16 km) east of the Niagara. The British squadron was becalmed and for several hours, the American schooners fired at them from long range, while the British attempted to work their vessels out of range by towing them with boats and using sweeps (long oars) through the gunports of the vessels. Towards evening, a land breeze sprang up, which allowed Yeo to pull away and withdraw into Amherst Bay.[12]

Action off Burlington[edit]

On 28 September, the two squadrons met again in York Bay. Chauncey was actually covering a proposed movement of the American army from the Niagara to Sacket's Harbor, while Yeo had just delivered supplies to the British forces on the Niagara peninsula. Both squadrons spotted each other early in the morning. They headed north until Yeo had sent a boat into York with dispatches, then reversed course and headed south in a heavy wind, with Yeo ahead and to leeward. Chauncey had been exasperated by the poor sailing qualities of most of his schooners, and his three fastest vessels (the Pike, the new purpose-built schooner Sylph and the Madison) were towing the schooners Asp, Ontario and Fair American.

At about 12:40 pm, Yeo abruptly reversed course, intending to exchange a single broadside with the Pike while they passed on opposite tacks, and then concentrate against the weaker schooners at the rear of Chauncey's line. However, Chauncey also reversed course and the Pike and Yeo's flagship, the Wolfe, exchanged several broadsides on the same tack. The American fire brought down the Wolfe's mizzen- and main-topmasts. Yeo's second in command, Commander William Mulcaster, interposed his ship, the Royal George, between the Wolfe and the Pike and backed his sails while the crew of the Wolfe cleared away the wreckage and headed downwind towards Burlington Bay at the western end of the lake.

For a while, the two squadrons were mixed up together, and Chauncey's flag captain, Arthur Sinclair, urged Chauncey to capture the two rearmost British vessels (the Beresford and Melville) but Chauncey apparently exclaimed "All or none" and chased after the Wolfe. He nevertheless refused to cast off the towline to the Asp, and no other American vessels were able to get within effective range.

After a chase lasting ninety minutes, Yeo dropped anchor off the north shore of Burlington Bay. The wind had risen to a gale, the American squadron had straggled, and the Pike itself had received damage. (There were several holes beneath the water line forward, and a cannon on the forecastle had exploded, causing several casualties and much destruction. Several other cannon had split and could not be used in case they also burst.) Chauncey called off the action, stating officially that if he had tried to continue the attack, both British and American squadrons might be driven ashore, into British-held territory.[13][14]

Later operations[edit]

While Yeo made hasty repairs in Burlington Bay, Chauncey effectively controlled the lake. From 29 September, there was a gale which prevented Chauncey watching Yeo. Yeo escaped from Burlington on 2 October. The next day, Chauncey set off in the direction of Yeo's supposed flight. On 5 October, seven vessels were sighted, which turned out to be gunboats and unarmed British schooners transporting troops. One escaped and one was burned. Chauncey captured the other five (which included the Growler and Julia), taking 264 prisoners.[15]

The scene of action briefly shifted to the head of the Saint Lawrence River. The American control of the lake had allowed them to complete the movement of their troops from Fort George to Sacket's Harbour in preparation for the planned attack on Montreal late that year. As the army under Major General James Wilkinson moved in many batteaux and other small craft to French Creek near present-day Clayton, New York, some of the British vessels under Commander Mulcaster bombarded their encampments and anchorages until 5 November, when American artillerymen drove them off, setting fire to the brig Earl of Moira with hastily-heated red-hot shot. The crew scuttled the brig to extinguish the fire, and later salvaged it.

The American army then began to descend the St. Lawrence. Although Chauncey was supposed to blockade the British in Kingston and prevent them interfering, an effective blockade was difficult in the foul weather of late autumn, and amidst the many islets at the head of the river. This allowed Mulcaster's vessels to return to Kingston to embark a detachment of troops under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison and pursue the Americans down the river. On 11 November, Morrison's force, aided by three gunboats under Mulcaster, defeated the Americans at the Battle of Crysler's Farm.[16]

The last event of the year was the transport of William Henry Harrison's troops from the Niagara to Sackett's Harbor, to replace Wilkinson's army.[15] However, this left the Niagara frontier denuded of regular troops, and the British took advantage of this in the Capture of Fort Niagara and the Battle of Buffalo.

Vessels on Lake Ontario in 1813[edit]

Both sides (especially the British) renamed, re-rigged and re-armed their ships several times during the war. Both sides also possessed several unarmed schooners or other small vessels for use as transports or tenders.[17]

Nationality Name Type Tonnage Crew Armament Notes
 United States Navy General Pike sloop of war 875 300 28 long 24-pdr Launched 12 June 1813
" Madison corvette 593 200 28 32-pdr carronade Launched 26 November 1812
" Oneida brig 243 100 16 24-pdr Already serving at start of war
Notoriously slow-sailing[18]
" Sylph schooner 300 unknown 4 long 32-pdr
6 long 6-pdr
Launched 18 August 1813
" Hamilton schooner 112 50 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 24-pdr
8 long 6-pdr
Formerly trading vessel Diana
Sunk in squall 08 August 1813
" Scourge schooner 110 50 1 long 32-pdr
8 12-pdr carronade
Formerly Canadian trading vessel Lord Nelson
Sunk in squall 08 August 1813
" Conquest schooner 82 40 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
4 long 6-pdr
Formerly trading vessel Genesee Packet
" Governor Tompkins schooner 96 40 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
4 long 6-pdr
Formerly trading vessel Charles and Anne
" Julia schooner 82 35 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
Captured 10 August 1813
Recaptured 5 October 1813
" Growler schooner 81 35 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
Captured 10 August 1813
Recaptured 5 October 1813
" Ontario schooner 53 35 1 long 32-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
" Fair American schooner 53 30 1 long 24-pdr
1 long 12-pdr
" Pert schooner 50 25 1 long 24-pdr Formerly trading vessel Collector
" Asp schooner 57 25 1 long 24-pdr Formerly British trading vessel Elizabeth
" Lady of the Lake schooner 89 15 1 long 9-pdr Launched 1813 as purpose-built despatch vessel
 
 Royal Navy Wolfe sloop of war 637 220 1 long 24-pdr
8 long 18-pdr
4 68-pdr carronade
10 32-pdr carronade
Launched 5 May 1813
" Isaac Brock sloop of war 637 unknown unknown Burned on stocks 27 April 1813
" Royal George sloop of war 510 200 3 long 18-pdr
2 68-pdr carronade
16 32-pdr carronade
" Lord Melville brig 279 100 2 long 18-pdr
12 32-pdr carronade
" Earl of Moira brig 262 100 2 long 9-pdr
12 24-pdr carronade
" Duke of Gloucester brig unknown unknown "10 guns" Captured 27 April 1813
Subsequently burned 29 May 1813
" Beresford schooner 216 80 2 long 12-pdr
10 32-pdr carronade
formerly the ship-rigged Prince Regent
" Sidney Smith schooner 187 70 1 long 12-pdr
1 long 9-pdr
6 18-pdr carronade
formerly named Simcoe
transferred from Upper Canada
provincial government[19]

Note: another British schooner of similar tonnage and armament to Simcoe, the Seneca, was part of the Provincial Marine in 1812 but does not appear to have been used as a warship in 1813 or 1814.

Operations in 1814[edit]

May to July[edit]

Over the winter of 1813-14, the Americans diverted shipbuilder Noah Brown and some shipwrights and materials to Lake Champlain, which allowed them to construct the squadron which later won the decisive Battle of Plattsburgh. In Kingston, an officer, Captain Richard O'Conor, who had served alongside Yeo during his earlier career, had been in charge of the dockyards since he arrived in May 1813,[20] and had greatly extended the facilities.

Having been outgunned by Chauncey's vessels in 1813, Yeo had ordered the construction of two big frigates (HMS Prince Regent and HMS Princess Charlotte). When these were ready shortly after the ice broke up, he held the initial advantage. On 6 May, he mounted the Raid on Fort Oswego to interrupt the supply line from the New York Navy Yard to Sacket's Harbor. The raid was partially successful and the British captured several unarmed vessels, including the schooner Growler which changed hands for the third time.[21]

Yeo's main aim had been to capture heavy guns intended for Chauncey's own new frigates and heavy brigs, but although seven guns had been captured with the Growler, most of the American guns had not yet reached Oswego and were still 12 miles (19 km) up the Oswego River. Yeo and the troops under Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond did not attempt to capture them. Instead, Yeo established a blockade to prevent them reaching Sacket's Harbor. A few weeks later, Lieutenant Woolsey nevertheless tried to take several boats loaded with cannon, cables and other stores for Chauncey's new ships to Sacket's Harbor but was driven into a creek a few miles south of the base. A party of British marines and sailors under Captain Stephen Popham proceeded up the creek to "cut out" the American boats, but on 30 May they were ambushed and all were killed or captured at the Battle of Big Sandy Creek.

Shortly after this, Chauncey received his guns and completed two frigates (the Superior and Mohawk) even larger than Yeo's, and the heavily armed brig sloops Jones and Jefferson. However, his squadron was not ready for service until mid-July, and then delayed in port until the end of the month, as Chauncey was ill but refused to delegate responsibility to his second in command, Captain Jacob Jones. This seriously hindered the operations of the American army commanded by Major General Jacob Brown, and forced him to abandon a projected attack on Kingston and make an attack across the upper Niagara River instead. When the American squadron eventually did set out onto the lake, Yeo quickly retired into Kingston. The pattern for the year was set; whichever flotilla had a fleeting disadvantage in ships or guns stayed in harbour until they had built something bigger.

August to October[edit]

While the Americans controlled the lake, they destroyed a 10-gun brig under construction at Presque Isle on the Saint Lawrence before it could be launched.

On 5 August, three British vessels (the Netley, Charwell, and Magnet) sailed from York to the Niagara River with supplies. The Magnet had sailed later than the other two, and when Chauncey's squadron appeared suddenly, the Magnet was unable to escape. It was run ashore about 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Fort George. After some stores were removed, the Magnet was set on fire and blew up before American landing parties could take possession of it. The Magnet's commander, Lieutenant George Hawkesworth, was court-martialled in November, and found guilty of causing the loss of his vessel. He was dismissed from the Royal Navy, and later defected to the Americans.[22]

However, Chauncey concentrated on "blockading" Kingston, which Yeo had no intention of leaving while he was inferior in strength, and was criticised by Major General Jacob Brown and other army commanders for his failure to assist the American army on the Niagara peninsula any further, which contributed to the indecisive result of the campaign there.[23] Only three of the smaller American vessels maintained a loose blockade of the Niagara River. The crews of the three small British vessels (Star, Netley and Charwell) blockaded in the river under Commander Alexander Dobbs carried a gig and six batteaux overland, and boarded and captured two American schooners, belonging to the squadron on Lake Erie, in the upper reaches of the river. They subsequently took part in a storming attempt during the Siege of Fort Erie, which failed with heavy casualties.

Eventually, on 21 September, Chauncey's ships transported Major General George Izard's division from Sacket's Harbor to the Genesee River to reinforce the American army on the Niagara. Izard, who was senior to Jacob Brown, refused to make an all-out attack on the outnumbered British army, and eventually retired to the American side of the Niagara.

Late October to November[edit]

On learning that Chauncey was constructing frigates, Yeo had ordered a ship of the line to be laid down. Originally, Yeo had been authorised to construct a Third-rate ship of 74 guns, but under Yeo and local shipwright William Bell (who replaced O'Conor, who had been promoted to post captain and appointed to the Princess Charlotte), the plans became rather more ambitious. On 15 October, Yeo put out in the three-decked First-rate ship of the line Saint Lawrence. On 19 October, the Saint Lawrence was struck by lightning, and narrowly avoided destruction.[24] Chauncey retired into Sacket's Harbor and Yeo dominated the lake until 21 November, when winter set in. Like Chauncey, Yeo preferred to cruise off the enemy anchorage, neglecting to support Drummond's badly-provisioned British army at the western end of the lake until the last few days of navigation before the lake froze.

Winter to the end of the war[edit]

Although the Americans at Sacket's Harbor immediately laid down two ships of the line even larger than the Saint Lawrence, British construction over the winter of 1814-15 matched American attempts to regain the lead. However, Prevost and Yeo were becoming increasingly hostile to each other, following the Battle of Plattsburgh. Prevost had recommended that a Rear-Admiral be appointed to Quebec to superintend the Royal Navy's establishment on the Lakes[25] but before this could be considered Prevost himself was relieved, partly because of Yeo's complaints on Prevost's conduct during the Plattsburgh campaign, and also through his conflicts with veteran Army officers of the Peninsular War sent to reinforce the troops in Canada. The Admiralty nevertheless replaced Yeo also, on the grounds of his infrequent returns of accounts and correspondence.[26] His replacement, Captain Edward Owen, did not arrive to take command until after news of the Treaty of Ghent ended hostilities.

Vessels on Lake Ontario in 1814[edit]

The rival commanders and propagandists often exaggerated or discounted ships' capabilities during the 1814 campaigning season. Most of the American schooners (converted merchant vessels which had been alarmingly unstable with their heavy armament) had been disarmed and were now used as transports only.[27] The British had re-rigged their schooners as brigs and renamed most of their vessels since many of them formerly belonging to the Provincial Marine had names which duplicated those of Royal Navy ships in commission at sea.[28]

Nationality Name Type Tonnage Crew Armament Notes
 United States Navy Superior frigate 1,580 500 30 long 32-pdr
2 long 24-pdr
26 42-pdr carronade
4 guns later removed
" Mohawk frigate 1,350 350 26 long 24-pdr
2 long 18-pdr
14 32-pdr carronade
" General Pike sloop 875 300 26 long 24-pdr
2 long 24-pdr chase guns
" Madison corvette 593 200 2 long 12-pdr
22 32-pdr carronade
" Jones brig 500 160 2 long 12-pdr
20 42-pdr carronade
Over-gunned and unstable[29]
" Jefferson brig 500 160 2 long 12-pdr
20 42-pdr carronade
Sister ship to Jones
" Sylph brig 300 100 2 long 12-pdr
14 24-pdr carronade
" Oneida brig 243 100 2 long 12-pdr
14 24-pdr carronade
 
 Royal Navy St. Lawrence battleship 2,305 700 28 long 32-pdr
40 long 24-pdr
4 68-pdr carronade
32 32-pdr carronade
" Prince Regent frigate 1,450 485 32 long 24-pdr
4 68-pdr carronade
22 32-pdr carronade
" Princess Charlotte frigate 1,215 315 26 long 24-pdr
2 68-pdr carronade
14 32-pdr carronade
" Montreal sloop 637 220 7 long 24-pdr
18 long 18-pdr
Formerly Wolfe
" Niagara sloop 510 200 2 long 12-pdr
20 32-pdr carronade
Formerly Royal George
" Charwell brig 279 110 2 long 12-pdr
14 32-pdr carronade
Formerly Earl of Moira
" Star brig 262 110 2 long 12-pdr
14 32-pdr carronade
Formerly Melville
" Netley brig 216 100 2 long 12-pdr
14 24-pdr carronade
Formerly Beresford
" Magnet brig 187 80 2 long 12-pdr
12 24-pdr carronade
Formerly Sydney Smith
Set on fire to avoid capture 5 August 1814

Ships under construction at the end of the war[edit]

Nationality Name Type Tonnage Crew Armament Notes
 United States Navy New Orleans battleship 2,805 unknown 130 guns
(mainly 42-pdr)
Not completed (remains sold 1882)
" Chippawa battleship unknown unknown 130 guns
(mainly 42-pdr)
Not completed
" Plattsburgh frigate 1,748 unknown "64 guns" Not completed
 
 Royal Navy HMS Wolfe (II) battleship 2,152 unknown 36 long 32pdr
76 long 24pdr / 24-pdr carronade
Not completed (cancelled 1831)
Destroyed on stocks by storm 31 July 1832
" HMS Canada battleship 2,152 unknown 36 long 32pdr
76 long 24pdr / 24-pdr carronade
Not completed (cancelled 1832)
" Psyche frigate 769 315 28 long 24-pdr
28 32-pdr carronade
Frame constructed in Britain, 1814
Completed after end of war
Originally called "Frigate B"

Aftermath[edit]

The first-rate battleship HMS Saint Lawrence

After the Treaty of Ghent which ended the war, a separate pact known as the Rush-Bagot Treaty was signed in 1817, to limit the number and strength of warships which could be maintained on the Lakes. On Lake Ontario, Britain and America could keep in commission one vessel each, of no more than 100 tons, and armed with one 18-pounder gun. No other armed ships could be built, and those already built should be dismantled.

In fact, very few of the existing ships were broken up. The British constructed a storehouse, referred to as a "stone frigate", to keep the rigging and other fittings - the building survives today as dormitory to Hudson Squadron at the Royal Military College of Canada and is still referred to by the same name. In theory, they could have recommissioned their entire squadron within a few days. By 1827 however, all the ships were mouldering, and unfit for service. The stores were auctioned in 1834 and the surviving ships were written off or disposed of over the next few years. Several were sunk in Navy Bay near Kingston.

The American squadron also quickly fell into disrepair. It had been acknowledged when they were built that they would last only five or six years, with their green wood and rough finish. One survivor was the unfinished battleship New Orleans, which was enclosed by a great shed on the slipway. The shed collapsed in 1881 and the remains of the ship were sold in 1883.[30]

Results[edit]

Because neither side had been prepared to risk everything in a decisive attack on the enemy fleet or naval base, the result of all the construction effort on Lake Ontario was an expensive draw. The great demands for men and materials made by both squadrons adversely affected other parts of the war effort.

The Americans had been based at Sacket's Harbor, and this small town was unable to cope with the great numbers of soldiers, sailors and shipwrights there. There were many deaths from cold, exposure and inadequate rations during the winter months, and from disease during the summer. (Blackwater Creek, on which the town lay, had no fresh water flowing into it, and quickly became a stagnant sewer.) On the British side, the effort required to ship all the ordnance and naval stores up the Saint Lawrence prevented them from deploying sufficiently large numbers of troops in Upper Canada. Prevost once reported paying £1,000 to transport one monstrous cable for the battleship Saint Lawrence to Kingston, and complained that the demands of Yeo's squadron pre-empted the entire transport service up the Saint Lawrence during the later months of 1814.[31]

Both Yeo and Chauncey have been criticised by historians for their unwillingness to act decisively, and for the long and rambling excuses they made in their despatches for their setbacks. Chauncey has received more abuse from American historians than Yeo has from British historians. Roosevelt (and subsequent authors) argued that, since the overall American strategy was offensive, the American forces on Lake Ontario ought to have risked an attack against Kingston, or Chauncey should have sought an all-out action against Yeo's squadron when opportunity offered.[32] Instead, Chauncey (and the Army commanders Dearborn and Wilkinson) repeatedly shied away from any attack on Kingston, while Chauncey failed to pursue Yeo to destruction after the action in York Bay on 28 September 1813. After the British attack on Sackett's Harbor, Chauncey continually hampered operations against targets other than Yeo's ships. He either kept his vessels in port waiting for more ships, or refused to use them to support the Army's attacks elsewhere (on the Niagara peninsula, for example).[33]

By contrast, it has been argued that since the British strategy under Governor General Prevost was defensive for most of the war, Yeo needed only to avoid defeat, and certainly succeeded in this.[34] However, British (and Canadian) historians such as Forester and J. Mackay Hitsman have argued that he did so at such cost that other operations were curtailed or thwarted. For example, Yeo's hoarding of men and supplies, and failure to forward sufficient of these to the British squadron on Lake Erie, contributed to their complete defeat. Similarly, a far smaller effort on Lake Champlain than that required to construct battleships on Lake Ontario would have made British victory on Champlain certain.[35]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b These include vessels lost while serving or being constructed as warships only, not as transports, tenders etc.
  2. ^ Malcolmson, p.29
  3. ^ Forester, p.122
  4. ^ Malcolmson, pp.69-70
  5. ^ Malcolmson, pp.95-96
  6. ^ J. Mackay Hitsman, pp. 147-9
  7. ^ Malcolmson, pp.151-153
  8. ^ Elting, p.99
  9. ^ Account by Ned Myers, retrieved 10/07/2011
  10. ^ Malcolmson, pp.174-177
  11. ^ Roosevelt, pp. 131-135
  12. ^ Malcolmson, pp.189-193
  13. ^ Malcolmson, pp.200-207
  14. ^ Roosevelt, pp.136-139
  15. ^ a b Roosevelt, p.139
  16. ^ Elting, p.142
  17. ^ Roosevelt, p. 125
  18. ^ Roosevelt, p.126
  19. ^ Lardas (2012), p.14
  20. ^ Malcolmson, p.122
  21. ^ J. Mackay Hitsman, pp. 209-210
  22. ^ Robert Malcolmson (June 2000). "Dobbs and the Royal Navy at Niagara". The War of 1812 Magazine. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  23. ^ Roosevelt, pp.200-201
  24. ^ Malcolmson, pp.307-308
  25. ^ Malcolmson, p.308
  26. ^ Malcolmson, pp.319-320
  27. ^ Roosevelt, pp. 196-197
  28. ^ J. Mackay Hitsman, p.345 fn
  29. ^ Malcolmson, pp.291, 309
  30. ^ R.A. Preston, The Fate of Kingston's Warships, in M. Zaslow (ed.), The Defended Border, pp. 283-295
  31. ^ J. Mackay Hitsman, p.230
  32. ^ Roosevelt, pp. 203-204
  33. ^ Elting, p.188
  34. ^ Elting, pp.94, 102
  35. ^ C.S.Forester, pp.187-188

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