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Chapter 8: our northern frontier defences.—Brief description of the fortifications on the frontier, and an analysis of our northern campaigns.

In discussing engineering as a branch of the military art, we spoke of the use of fortifications on land frontiers, and their influence on the strategic operations of a campaign. A brief notice was also given of the different systems that have been proposed for arranging these defensive works. Let us now apply this discussion to our northern frontier.

The principle laid down by Napoleon and Jomini, “that fortifications should always be constructed on important strategic points,” is undoubtedly the correct one: but how to determine these points is a question that will often perplex the patience and try the skill of the engineer; yet determine them he must, or his fortifications will be worse than useless; for a fort improperly located, like a cannon with its fire reversed on its own artillerists, will be sure to effect the destruction of the very forces it was designed to protect.

The selection of positions for fortifications on our northern frontier must have reference to three distinct classes of objects, viz.: the security, first, of the large frontier towns, where much public and private property is exposed to sudden dashing expeditions of the foe, made either on land or by water; second, of lake harbors, important as places of refuge and security to our own ships, or to the enemy's fleets while engaged in landing troops or furnishing supplies to an invading army; third, of all strategic points on the probable lines of offensive or defensive [211] operations. These objects are distinct in their nature, and would seem to require separate and distinct means for their accomplishment; nevertheless, it will generally be found that positions selected with reference to one of these objects equally fulfil the others, so intimately are they all connected. To determine the strategic points of a probable line of military operations is therefore the main thing to be attended to in locating fortifications. That such points of maximum importance are actually marked out by the peaceful or hostile intercourse of nations cannot be doubted.

The relative importance of cities and towns is less varied by the fluctuations of commerce on a land frontier than on the sea-coast. The ever-changing system of “internal improvements,” by furnishing new highways and thoroughfares for the transportation of the products of manufacturers and agriculture, either continually varies the relative standing of the seaports already opened, or opens new ones for the exportation of these products, and the importation of foreign articles received in exchange. But these “internal improvements” are seldom carried so far as to connect together two separate and distinct countries, and consequently the principal places on the dividing line usually retain their relative importance, no matter how often they may have declined during times of hostility, or again flourished with the increased commercial intercourse which results from peace. The principal European places of traffic near the frontiers have remained the same for ages, and in all probability ages hence the great frontier marts will be nearly the same as at present. This stability of rank among border towns is not confined to commercial influence; the same holds true with respect to that established by intercourse of a hostile character. Military history teaches us that lines of hostile operations, and the fields upon which the principal battles [212] between any two countries have been fought, are nearly the same, no matter how remote the periods of comparison. These points and lines, so important in commerce as well as in war, result from the natural features of the ground, and we ought therefore to expect that they would be as little liable to sudden changes as the character of the earth itself.

From these remarks it will readily be perceived that there are three distinct methods of determining the strategic points between this country and Canada: 1st, by an examination of the topography of the two countries; 2d, by tracing out the main channels of commercial intercourse; 3d, by reviewing the lines of their military operations. The last method is the least liable to error, and perhaps is the most easily understood, inasmuch as it is sometimes difficult to point out the precise degree of connection between prospective military lines and the channels of commerce, or to show why these two have a fixed relation to the physical features of the country. In the present instance, moreover, this method furnishes ample data for the formation of our decision, inasmuch as the campaigns between this country and Canada have been neither few in number nor unimportant in their character and results.

In tracing out the main features of the early wars upon our northern frontier, it must be borne in mind that nearly the same portion of country which is now possessed by the English, was then occupied by the French, and that the English possessions in North America included the present Middle and Northern States. At the period of the American revolution the French and English had completely changed ground, the armies of the former operating in the “States,” while the English were in possession of Canada.

The first expedition to be noticed against that portion of [213] the country, was conducted by Samuel Argall, who sailed from Virginia in 1613, with a fleet of eleven vessels, attacked the French on the Penobscot, and afterwards the St. Croix.

In 1654, Sedgwick, at the head of a small New England army, attacked the French on the Penobscot, and overrun all Arcadia.

In 1666, during the contest between Charles II. and Louis XIV., it was proposed to march the New England troops across the country by the Kennebec or Penobscot, and attack Quebec; but the terrors and difficulties of crossing “over rocky mountains and howling deserts” were such as to deter them from undertaking the campaign.

In 1689, Count Frontenac, governor of Canada, made a descent into New York to assist the French fleet in reducing that province. His line of march was by the river Sorrel and Lake Champlain. An attack upon Montreal by the Iroquois soon forced him to return; but in the following January a party of French and Indians left Montreal in the depth of a Canadian winter, and after wading, for two and twenty days, with provisions o their backs, through snows and swamps and across a wide wilderness, reached the unguarded village of Schenectady. Here a midnight war-whoop was raised, and the inhabitants either massacred or driven half-clad through the snow to seel protection in the neighboring towns.

In 1690, a congress of the colonies, called to provide means for the general defence, assembled at New York, and resolved to carry war into Canada: an army was to attack Montreal by way of Lake Champlain, and a fleet to attempt Quebec by the St. Lawrence. The former advanced as far as the lake, when the quarrels of the commanding officers defeated the objects of the expedition. The Massachusetts fleet of thirty-four vessels, (the largest carrying forty-four guns each,) and two thousand men, [214] failed to reduce Quebec, though the defences of that place were then of the slightest character, and armed with only twenty-three guns.

In 1704, and again in 1707, Port Royal was attacked by costly expeditions fitted out by the eastern colonies; and again, in 1709, a land force of fifteen hundred men advanced against Montreal by Lake Champlain; but nothing of importance was effected by either expedition.

In 1711, Lord Bolingbroke planned the conquest of Canada. The land forces, numbering five thousand men in all, were separated into two distinct armies, the one sent against Detroit, and the other against Montreal by Lake Champlain; while a fleet of fifteen ships of war, forty transports, and six store-ships, carrying a land force of six thousand five hundred men, was to attack Quebec. The maritime expedition failed to reach its destination, and after losing a part of the fleet and more than a thousand men in the St. Lawrence, this part of the project was abandoned. Nor was any thing important accomplished by either division of the land forces.

The same plan of campaign was followed in 1712. An army of four thousand men marched against Montreal by Lake Champlain, but on hearing of the failure of the naval expedition and of the concentration of the French forces on the river Sorel, they retired towards Albany.

The next expedition of any importance was the naval one of 1745 against Louisburg. For the attack of this place the colonies raised about four thousand men, and one hundred small vessels and transports, carrying between one hundred and sixty and two hundred guns. They were afterwards joined by ten other vessels carrying near five hundred guns. This attacking force now, according to some of the English writers, consisted of six thousand provincials, and eight hundred seamen, and a combined naval force of near seven hundred guns. The troops [215] landed, and laid siege to the town. The garrison of the fortifications of Louisburg consisted of six hundred regulars and one thousand Breton militia, or, according to some writers, of only twelve hundred men in all. The armament of these works was one hundred and one cannon, seventy-six swivels, and six mortars. Auxiliary to the main works were an island-battery of thirty twenty-two-pounders, and a battery on the main land armed with thirty large cannon. Frequent attempts were made to storm the place, but the most persevering efforts were of no avail, many of the New Englanders being killed and wounded, and their boats destroyed, while the garrison remained unharmed. At length, after a siege of forty-nine days, want of provisions and the general dissatisfaction of the inhabitants, caused the garrison to surrender. When the New Englanders saw the strength of the works, and the slight impression which their efforts had produced, they were not only elated but greatly astonished at their success. It should be noticed, that in the above attack the number of guns in the fleet was almost three times as great as that of all the forts combined; and yet the naval part of the attack was unsuccessful. The besieging army was more than four times as great as all the garrisons combined; and yet the place held out forty-nine days, and at last was surrendered through the want of provisions and the disaffection of the citizens. This place was soon afterwards restored to the French.

We see that, thus far in these wars, the English were vastly superior in strength and numbers, yet the result of the several campaigns was decidedly in favor of the French, who not only retained their possessions in the North, but extended their jurisdiction to the mouth of the Mississippi, and laid claim to the whole country west of the Alleghany mountains. This success must be attributed, not to any superiority of the Canadians in bravery, [216] but to the higher military character of their governors, and more especially to their fortifications, which were constructed in situations most judiciously selected, to influence the Indians and facilitate incursions into the English colonies. The French pursued interior and central lines, while the English followed exterior and divergent lines. The disparity of numbers was always very great. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the whole population of the colonies amounted to upwards of one million of souls, while that of both Canada and Louisiana did not exceed fifty-two thousand. But the French possessions, though situated at the extremities of a continent and separated by an almost boundless wilderness, were nevertheless connected by a line of military posts, strong enough to resist the small arms that could then be brought against them. This fort-building propensity of the French became a matter of serious alarm to the colonies, and in 1710 the legislature of New York especially protested against it in an address to the crown. While the military art was stationary in England, France had produced her four great engineers-Errard, Pagan, Vauban, and Cormontaigne; and nowhere has the influence of their system of military defence been more strikingly exhibited than in the security it afforded to the Canadian colony, when assailed by such vastly superior British forces. Still further accessions were now made to these English forces by large reinforcements from the mother country, while the Canadians received little or no assistance from France; nevertheless they prolonged the war till 1760, forcing the English to adopt at last the slow and expensive process of reducing all their fortifications. This will be shown in the following outline of the several campaigns.

Very early in 1755, a considerable body of men was sent from Great Britain to reinforce their troops in this [217] country. These troops were again separated into four distinct armies. The first, consisting of near two thousand men, marched to the attack of Fort Du Quesne, but was met and totally defeated by one-half that number of French and Indians. The second division, of fifteen hundred, proceeded to attack Fort Niagara by way of Oswego, but returned without success. The third, of three thousand seven hundred men, met and defeated Dieskau's army of twelve hundred regulars and six hundred Canadians and Indians, in the open field, but did not attempt to drive him from his works at Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The fourth, consisting of three thousand three hundred men and forty-one vessels, laid waste a portion of Nova Scotia; thus ending the campaign without a single important result. It was commenced under favorable auspices, with ample preparations, and a vast superiority of force; but this superiority was again more than counterbalanced by the faulty plans of the English, and by the fortifications which the French had erected, in such positions as to give them a decided advantage in their military operations. Washington early recommended the same system of defence for the English on the Ohio; and, after Braddock's defeat, advised “the erection of small fortresses at convenient places to deposite provisions in, by which means the country will be eased of an immense expense in the carriage, and it will also be a means of securing a retreat if we should be put to the rout again.”

But this advice of Washington was unheeded, and the campaign of 1756 was based upon the same erroneous principles as the preceding one. The first division, of three thousand men, was to operate against Fort Du Quesne; the second, of six thousand men, against Niagara; the third, of ten thousand men, against Crown Point; and a fourth, of two thousand men, was to ascend the Kennebec river, destroy the settlements on the Chaudiere, and, by alarming [218] the country about Quebec, produce a diversion in favor of the third division, which was regarded as the main army, and was directed along the principal line of operations. The entire French forces at this time consisted of only three thousand regulars and a body of Canadian militia. Nevertheless, the English, with forces nearly six times as numerous, closed the campaign without gaining a single advantage.

We here see that the French, with very inferior forces, still continued successful in every campaign, uniformly gaining advantage over their enemy, and gaining ground upon his colonies. By the possession of Forts William Henry, Ticonderoga, and Crown Point, they completely commanded Lake George and Lake Champlain, which afforded the shortest and easiest line of communication between the British colonies and Canada. By means of their forts at Montreal, Frontenac, Detroit, &c., they had entire dominion of the lakes connecting the St. Lawrence with the Mississippi, and Canada with Louisiana; moreover, by means of Fort Du Quesne and a line of auxiliary works, their ascendency over the Indians on the Ohio was well secured. But experience had at length taught the English wherein lay the great strength of their opponents, and a powerful effort was now to be made to displace the French from their fortresses, or at least to counterbalance these works by a vast and overwhelming superiority of troops.

In 1757, a British fleet of fifteen ships of the line, eighteen frigates, and many smaller vessels, and a land force of twelve thousand effective men, were sent to attempt the reduction of the fortifications of Louisburg; but they failed to effect their object.

In 1758 the forces sent against this place consisted of twenty ships of the line and eighteen frigates, with an army of fourteen thousand men. The harbor was defended [219] by only five ships of the line, one fifty-gun ship, and five frigates, three of which were sunk across the mouth of the basin. The fortifications of the town had been much neglected, and in general had fallen into ruins. The garrison consisted of only two thousand five hundred regulars, and six hundred militia. Notwithstanding that the number of guns of the British fleet exceeded both the armaments of the French ships and of all the forts, these British ships did not risk an attack, but merely acted as transports and as a blockading squadron. Even the French naval defence, and the outer works commanding the harbor, were reduced by the temporary land-batteries which Wolfe erected; and the main work, although besieged by an inequality of forces of nearly five to one, held out for two months, and even then surrendered through the fears and petitions of the non-combatant inhabitants, and not because it had received any material injury from the besiegers. The defence, however, had been continued long enough to prevent, for that campaign, any further operations against Canada. The whole number of the English land forces in this campaign was computed at fifty thousand men, of which more than forty thousand were in the field. The first division, of nine thousand men, was directed against Fort Du Quesne, whose garrison did not exceed as many hundred. The second division, of sixteen thousand effective troops, proceeded against Ticonderoga and Crown Point; while a detachment of three thousand men captured Fort Frontenac, then garrisoned by only one hundred and ten men. The whole force of the French amounted to only five thousand; the English attempted to drive them from their works by storm, but were repulsed with a loss of near two thousand men, while their opponents were scarcely injured. The third division acted, as has just been stated, in concert with the naval force against Louisburg.

In 1759, the western division of the English army, consisting [220] of a strong body of Indians, and five thousand troops, wasted the whole season in reducing Fort Niagara, which was garrisoned by only six hundred men. The central column of thirteen thousand men was sufficiently successful to enable it to winter at Crown Point. The eastern division of eight thousand men under Wolfe ascended the St. Lawrence with a fleet of twenty-two ships, thirteen frigates, and fourteen sloops, and smaller vessels, carrying one thousand nine hundred and ninety guns, and five thousand five hundred and ninety seamen. The naval defence of Quebec consisted of eight frigates, carrying two hundred and ten guns; the land forces numbered about nine thousand, and the fortifications were armed with ninety-four guns and five mortars, only a part of which could be brought to bear upon the anchorage ground. Several attempts were made by the combined forces to carry these works, but they proved equally unsuccessful. Although the English fleet carried twenty times as many guns as the forts, their inability to reduce these works was acknowledged. The siege had continued for two months, and still the fortifications were uninjured. General Wolfe himself distinctly stated, that, in any further attempt to carry the place, the “guns of the shipping could not be of much use;” and the chief engineer of the expedition gave it as his opinion, that “the ships would receive great damage from the shot and bombs of the upper batteries, without making the least impression upon them.” Under these circumstances it was finally determined to endeavor to decoy Montcalm from his work s, and make him risk a battle in the open field. In an evil hour, the French consented to forego the advantages of their fortifications, and the contest was finally decided on the plains of Abraham, with forces nearly equal in number. Both Wolfe and Montcalm fell in this battle, but the former on the field of victory; arid five days afterwards the inhabitants of Quebec, [221] weakened and dispirited by their losses, surrendered the town, although its fortifications were still unharmed.

The French, in this campaign, had relinquished all idea of opposing the enemy in the open field, and confined their efforts to retard the advance of the English till France could send troops to their relief; but no such relief came: and when the campaign of 1760 opened, the little French army was concentrated at Montreal. As the English divisions advanced, one by Oswego, one by Lake Champlain, and the third by Quebec, they afforded to the French a fine opportunity for the strategic movement from a centre against converging lines; but the garrison was too weak to hope for success in either direction, and therefore awaited the enemy within their works. Montreal, being but slightly fortified, was soon reduced, and with it fell the French empire erected in this country at infinite labor and expense.

At the first outbreak of the American Revolution, it was so obviously important to get possession of the military works commanding the line of Lake Champlain, that expeditions for this purpose were simultaneously fitted out by Massachusetts and Connecticut. The garrisons of these works were taken by surprise. This conquest, says Botta, the able and elegant historian of the Revolution, “was no doubt of high importance, but it would have had a much greater influence upon the course of the whole war, if these fortresses, which are the bulwarks of the colonies, had been defended in times following, with the same prudence and valor with which they had been acquired.”

In the campaign of 1775, an army of two thousand seven hundred and eighty-four effective men, with a reserve of one thousand at Albany, crossed the lake and approached the fortress of St. John's about the 1st of September. The work was garrisoned by only about five [222] or six hundred regulars, and some two hundred militia. This was the only obstacle to prevent the advance of our army into the very heart of Canada; to leave it unreduced in rear would cut off all hope of retreat. Allen had already made the rash and foolish attempt, and his whole army had been destroyed, and he himself made prisoner. The reduction of this place was therefore deemed absolutely necessary, but was not effected till the 3d of November, and after a long and tedious siege. This delay decided the fate of the campaign; for, although Montreal fell immediately afterwards, the season was so far advanced that a large portion of our troops, wearied with their sufferings from cold and want of clothing, now demanded their discharge. The eastern division, of one thousand men under Arnold, crossing the country by the Kennebeck and Chaudiere, through difficulties and suffering almost unparalleled, arrived opposite Quebec on the 9th of November. The place was at this time almost without defence, and, had Arnold possessed a suitable ponton equipage, it might easily have been taken by surprise. But by the time that the means for effecting a passage could be prepared, and a junction could be effected between the two American armies, Quebec was prepared to sustain their attack. The result of that attack is too well known to require a repetition here.

Early the next season it was deemed necessary to withdraw the American army from Canada. This retreat of undisciplined troops, in the presence of vastly superior numbers of the enemy, would have been extremely hazardous had it not been effected on a line of forts which were held by our own troops. As it was we sustained no considerable loss.

Carleton pursued on rapidly, to co-operate with General Howe, who was now lying at New York with over one hundred ships and about thirty-five thousand troops; but [223] he received a decided check from the guns of Ticonderoga, and retired again to Canada.

By the British plan of campaign in 1777, the entire force of their northern army was to concentrate at Albany. One division of fifteen hundred men, including Indians, advanced by Oswego, Wood Creek, and the Mohawk; but Fort Stanwix, with a garrison of only six hundred men, arrested their progress and forced them to return. Another, leaving New York, ascended the Hudson as far as Esopus; but its progress was so much retarded by the small forts and water-batteries along that river, that it would have been too late to assist Burgoyne, even if it could possibly have reached Albany. The principal division of the enemy's army, numbering about nine thousand men, advanced by the Champlain route. Little or no preparations were made to arrest its progress. The works of Ticonderoga were so out of repair as to be indefensible on the flanks. Its garrison consisted of only fifteen hundred continental troops, and about as many militia, over whom the general had no control. Their supply of provisions was exhausted, and only one man in ten of the militia had bayonets to their guns. Under these circumstances it was deemed best to withdraw the garrison six days after the investment. Burgoyne now advanced rapidly, but with so little precaution as to leave his communications in rear entirely unprotected. Being repulsed by the American forces collected at Saratoga, his line of supplies cut off by our detached forts, his provisions exhausted, his troops dispirited, and his Indian allies having deserted him, retreat became impossible, and his whole army was forced to capitulate. This campaign closed the military operations on. our northern frontier during the war of the Revolution.

We now come to the war of 1812. In the beginning of this war the number of British regulars in the Canadas did [224] not exceed three thousand men, who were scattered along a frontier of more than nine hundred miles in extent. In the whole of Upper Canada there were but seven hundred and twenty men, and at Montreal, Three Rivers, and on the whole line of the Sorel the whole defensive force amounted to only thirteen hundred and thirty men, and the garrison of Quebec was so small, that no detachment could be made without great inconvenience and danger. The fortifications of Isle aux Noix, then emphatically the key of central Canada, was without a garrison during nearly the whole of the first campaign. Under these circumstances an American force of fifteen hundred or two thousand men marching rapidly from Albany, might readily have broken the energy's line of defence, and cut off all Upper Canada from supplies and reinforcements from England by way of Quebec. Let us see what course was pursued.

On the 1st of June an army of two thousand men was collected at Dayton, in Ohio, placed under the command of an imbecile old officer of the Revolution, and directed by Detroit against the Canadian Peninsula. The dilatory march, absurd movements, and traitorous surrender of Hull's army to a British force of three hundred regulars and four hundred. militia, are but too well known. Another American army of about ten thousand men was afterwards raised in the west; the main division of this army under Harrison marched by three separate routes to invade Canada by way of Malden; but they failed to reach their destination, and wintered behind the river Portage. The Eastern army was collected at Albany in the early part of the summer and placed under the command of General Dearborn, another old officer of the Revolution. Instead of pushing this force rapidly forward upon the strategic line of Lake Champlain, the general was directed to divide it into three parts, and to send one division [225] against the Niagara frontier, a second against Kingston, and a third against Montreal. These orders were dispatched from Washington the 26th of June, nearly a month after Hull had begun his march from Dayton. Dearborn's army, on the first of September, consisted of six thousand five hundred regulars and seven thousand militia--thirteen thousand five hundred in all: six thousand three hundred for the Niagara frontier, two thousand two hundred at Sacketts Harbor, and five thousand for Lake, Champlain. Even with this absurd plan of campaign and faulty division of the forces, we might have succeeded if the general had acted with energy, so exceedingly weak were the Canadian means of defence; but instead of taking advantage of his superiority in numbers and the favorable circumstances of the time, he entered into an armistice with the British general, and his whole army of thirteen thousand five hundred men lay inactive till the 13th of October, when the absurd project of crossing the Niagara at Lewiston failed, because the New-York militia had constitutional scruples against crossing a river so long as the enemy were on the other side. The Lake Champlain column, consisting of three thousand regulars and two thousand militia, a considerable portion of which had been collected as early as the first of August, had in four months advanced as far as La Cole river, a distance of about two hundred miles from Albany. The unimportant action at this place terminated the campaign, and the army of the North returned to winter-quarters.

All the early part of the campaign of 1813, on the northern frontier, was spent in a war of detachments, in which our troops captured Fort George and York, and repelled the predatory excursions of the enemy. In these operations our troops exhibited much courage and energy, and the young officers who led them, no little skill and military talent. But nothing could have been more absurd [226] than for a general, with superior forces in the vicinity of an enemy, to act only by detachments at a time when his opponents were daily increasing in number. This useless war of outposts and detachments was continued till July, when General Dearborn was recalled, and General Wilkinson, another old officer of the Revolution, put in his place. It was now determined to make a push for Montreal, with the combined forces of the Northern army. Wilkinson, with 8,000 men, descended the St. Lawrence, but did not reach Prescott till the 6th of November, thus affording to the English plenty of leisure to prepare for his reception. Hampton, another old officer of the Revolution, ascended Lake Champlain with another column of 4,000 men, but refused to form any cooperation with Wilkinson, and after the unimportant combat of Chrystler's Field, the whole army again retired to winter-quarters.

In the mean time the army of the West, under Harrison, who was assisted by the military skill and science of McCrea and Wood, and the bravery of Croghan and Johnson, held in check the British and Indians; and the battle of the Thames and the victory of Lake Erie formed a brilliant termination to the campaign in that quarter. Had such victories been gained on the Montreal or eastern portion of the frontier, they would have led to the most important results.

The plan of operations for the campaign of 1814 was of the same diverse and discordant character as before. But the command of the troops had now fallen into the hands of young and energetic officers; and Brown, assisted by such men as Wood, McCrea, Scott, Ripley, Miller, soon gained the victories of Fort Erie, Chippewa, and Lundy's Lane; while McComb and McDonough drove back the enemy from the line of Lake Champlain. With these operations terminated the Northern campaign [227] of 1814, the last which has been conducted on that frontier.

Let us now turn to the system of works projected for the defence of this line.

The first works are at the Falls of St. Mary, on the western extremity of the line.

The second works are at Mackinaw.

The third works are at the foot of Lake Huron.

The fourth works are near Detroit.

The fifth works are near Buffalo.

The sixth works are at the mouth of the Niagara river

The seventh works are at Oswego.

The eighth works are at Sacketts Harbor.

The ninth works are below Ogdensburg.

The tenth works are at Rouse's Point.

The eleventh works are near the head-waters of the Kennebec or the Penobscot.

The twelfth works are at Calais, on the St. Croix.

All these works are small, and simple in their character, well calculated to assist the operations of armed forces in the field, but incapable of resisting a protracted siege. They are entirely different in their character from those on the coast, the latter being intended principally for the use of our citizen-soldiery, in the defence of our seaport towns, while the former are intended merely as auxiliaries to the operations of more disciplined troops.

This system of defence for our Northern frontier has been much commented on by men professing some knowledge of the military art, and various opinions have been advanced respecting its merits. Some have thought that more and larger works should be placed on the western extremity of this line; others attach by far the greatest importance to the central or Montreal portion of the frontier; while others, again, attach a higher value to the eastern extremity of the line. [228]

These last would have us concentrate our main forces on the head-waters of the Kennebec and the Penobscot, and then advance upon Quebec, a distance of some 250 miles, along the isolated carriage-road, through the valley of the Chaudiere. Here is only a single road, but little travelled, and penetrating a wide and almost uninhabited wilderness. General Jomini says emphatically, that a line of operations should always offer two or three roads for the movement of an army in the sphere of its enterprises,--an insuperable objection to the Kennebec route, except as a diversion to the main attack. But there are still stronger objections to this route, than its want of feasibility for the transportation of the main army; for even should that army succeed in reaching Quebec in safety, the expedition would be entirely without military results, unless that fortress could be immediately reduced,--a contingency which would be extremely doubtful under the most favorable circumstances; and even should we be ever so fortunate in our operations, the siege of such a place would occupy a considerable length of time. It would be throwing our forces along the most difficult line of operations, against the strongest point in the enemy's line of defence, and making the success of the whole plan depend upon the contingency of a reduction, in a few days, of one of the strongest fortresses in the world. What principle in military science would justify such a plan of campaign? We are fully aware of the great advantages to be derived from the reduction of Quebec; and we are also aware of the great difficulties to be encountered in any attempt to accomplish that object. It may, and probably will ere long, be made to surrender to our arms; but it would be utter folly to base our military operations on the contingency of a short and successful siege. By advancing upon Montreal by the Lake Champlain route, we could cut off the Canadian forces in the [229] West from all reinforcements; and then, as circumstances might direct, could besiege Quebec, or attack the enemy in the field, or perhaps, manoeuvring as the French did at the siege of Mantua, accomplish both objects at the same time.

We have seen that it was one of Napoleon's maxims that an army should choose the shortest and most direct line of operations, which should either pierce the enemy's line of defence, or cut off his communications with his base. It is the opinion of men of the best military talent in our army that the Lake Champlain line satisfies all these conditions at the same time;--that it is the most direct, most feasible, and most decisive line which can be pursued in case of operations against Canada; and that it is indispensable to success in war that this line be well fortified in time of peace. All agree that the St. Lawrence above Quebec constitutes the key point of the enemy's defence, and the objective point towards which all our operations should be directed. To reach this point, all our Boards of Engineers have deemed it best to collect our troops at Albany and advance by Lake Champlain, a distance of only two hundred miles. Besides the advantages of a good water communication the whole distance for the transportation of military stores, there are several roads on each side, all concentrating on this line within our own territory. It has already been shown by the brief sketch of our northern wars, that this line has been the field of strife and blood for fifteen campaigns. Nature has marked it out as our shortest and easiest line of intercourse with Canada, both in peace and war. Military diversions will always be made on the eastern and western extremities of this frontier, and important secondary or auxiliary operations be carried on by the eastern and western routes; but until we overthrow the whole system of military science as established by the Romans, revived by Frederick, and [230] practised and improved by Napoleon, the central and interior line, under all ordinary circumstances, will furnish the greatest probabilities of success.

If the line of Lake Champlain is, as we have endeavored to show, the most important line in the north, its security by fortifications is a matter of the greatest interest. The works recommended by the Board, consist of a single fort, costing $600,000, at Rouse's Point, on the extreme frontier, and unfortified depots at Plattsburg and Albany. But is this sufficient to accomplish the object? If the hostile army should pass the extreme frontier barrier, what is to retard his advance,--what defensive works are to protect the debouche of the Northern canal, or even to save the great central depot? We know of no foreign engineer who has recommended less than three lines of fortifications for the security of a land frontier; and Napoleon, the Archduke Charles, and General Jomini, agree in recommending at least this number of lines. There may be circumstances that render it unnecessary to resort to a three-fold defence throughout the whole extent of our northern frontier; but upon our main line of communication with Canada,--a line of maximum importance both to us and to the enemy, we know of no reason for violating the positive rules of the art,--rules which have been established for ages, and sanctioned by the best engineers and greatest generals of modern times.

Ticonderoga has more than once stayed the waves of northern invasion; and we know of no change in the art of war, or in the condition of the country, that renders less important than formerly the advantages of an intermediate point of support between Albany and the Canadian lines. Indeed it would seem that the connection of the Hudson with the lake by the northern canal had even increased the value of such a point.

It would seem, moreover, that the great value of a central [231] depot near Albany would warrant a resort to the best means of security which can be afforded by defensive works. Here we already have one of our largest arsenals of construction; here are to be located magazines for the collection and deposite, in time of peace, of gunpowder; here, in time of war, is to be formed the grand military depot for our whole northern armies; and here is the point of junction of the lines of communication of our northern and eastern states, and the great central rallying-point where troops are to be collected for the defence of our northern frontier, or for offensive operations against Canada. Such a place should never be exposed to the coup-de-main of an enemy. The chance operations of a defensive army are never sufficient for the security of so important a position. We do not here pretend to say what its defences should be. Perhaps strong tetes-de-pont on the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, and detached works on the several lines of communication, may accomplish the desired object; perhaps more central and compact works may be found necessary. But we insist on the importance of securing this position by some efficient means. The remarks of Napoleon, (which have already been given,) on the advantages to be derived from fortifying such a central place, where the military wealth of a nation can be secured, are strikingly applicable to this case.

But let us look for a moment at what is called the western plan of defence for our northern frontier.

Certain writers and orators of the western states, in their plans of military defence, would have the principal fortifications of the northern frontier established on Lake Erie, the Detroit river, the St. Clair, and Lake Huron; and the money proposed for the other frontier and coast works, expended in establishing military and naval depots at Memphis and Pittsburg, and in the construction of a ship-canal from the lower Illinois to Lake Michigan,--for [232] the purpose of obtaining the naval control of the northern lakes.

It is said that British military and steam naval forces will ascend the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario; that to counteract these operations we must build an opposition steam-navy at Pittsburg and Memphis, and collect our troops on the Ohio and Mississippi, ascend the Mississippi and Illinois, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and the Georgian Bay, cross over to the Ottawa by French river and Lake Nipissing, or Moon river and the Muskago, then descend the Ottawa river to Montreal. But as there might be some difficulty in conveying their war-steamers over some twelve or fifteen portages between the Georgian Bay and the Ottawa, and as the upper waters of that river are not navigable by such craft, it has, by some of the military writers before alluded to, been deemed preferable to descend Lake Huron, St. Clair river and lake, run the gauntlet past the British forts on the Detroit, descend Lake Erie and the Niagara1 into Lake Ontario, so as to meet the English as they come steaming up the St. Lawrence!

It is agreed upon all sides that the British must first collect their forces at Quebec, and then pass along the line of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to reach the Niagara and Detroit frontiers. Our boards of engineers have deemed it best to collect troops on the Champlain line, and, by penetrating between Montreal and Quebec, separate the enemy's forces and cut off all the remainder of Canada from supplies and reinforcements from England. But it has been discovered by certain western men that to cut the trunk of a tree is not the proper method of felling it: we must climb to the top and pinch the buds, or, at [233] most, cut off a few of the smaller limbs. To blow up a house, we should not place the mine under the foundation, but attach it to one of the shingles of the roof! We have already shown that troops collected at Albany may reach the great strategic point on the St. Lawrence by an easy and direct route of two hundred miles; but forces collected at Pittsburg and Memphis must pass over a difficult and unfrequented route of two thousand miles.

Our merchant marine on the lakes secures to us a naval superiority in that quarter at the beginning of a war; and our facilities for ship-building are there equal if not superior to any possessed by the enemy. The only way, therefore, in which our ascendency on the lakes can be lost, is by the introduction of steam craft from the Atlantic. The canals and locks constructed for this object will pass vessels of small dimensions and drawing not over eight and a half feet water.

How are we to prevent the introduction of these Atlantic steamers into our lakes? Shall we, at the first opening of hostilities, march with armed forces upon the enemy's line of artificial communication and blow up the locks of their ship-canals, thus meeting the enemy's marine at the very threshold of its introduction into the interior seas; or shall we build opposition steam-navies at Pittsburg and Memphis, some two thousand miles distant, and then expend some forty or fifty millions2 in opening an artificial [234] channel to enable them to reach Lake Ontario, after its borders have been laid waste by the hostile forces? Very few disinterested judges would hesitate in forming their opinion on this question.3

1 How they are to pass the Falls was not determined either by Harry Bluff or the Memphis Convention.

2 The construction of the Illinois ship-canal, for vessels of eight and a half feet draught, is estimated at fifteen millions; to give the same draught to the Mississippi and lower Illinois, would require at least ten millions more; a ship canal of the corresponding draught around Niagara Falls, will cost, say, ten millions; the navy yard at Memphis, with docks, storehouses, &c., will cost about two millions, and steamers sent thence to the lakes will cost about fifty thousand dollars per gun. On the other hand, the military defences which it is deemed necessary to erect in time of peace for the security of the Champlain frontier, will cost only about two thousand dollars per gun; the whole expenditure not exceeding, at most, two millions of dollars!

It is not to be denied that a water communication between the Mississippi and the northern lakes will have great commercial advantages, and that, in case of a protracted war, auxiliary troops and military stores may be drawn from the valley of the Mississippi to assist the North and East in preventing any great accessions to the British military forces in the Canadas. We speak only of the policy of expending vast sums of money on this military (?) project, to the neglect of matters of more immediate and pressing want. We have nothing to say of its character as a commercial project, or of the ultimate military advantages that might accrue from such a work. We speak only of the present condition and wants of the country, and not of what that condition and those wants may be generations hence!

3 There are no books devoted exclusively to the subjects embraced in this chapter; but the reader will find many remarks on the northern frontier defences in the histories of the war of 1812, in congressional reports, (vide House Doc. 206, XXVIth Congress, 2d session; and Senate Doc., No. 85, XXVIIIth Congress, 2d session,) and in numerous pamphlets and essays that have appeared from the press within the last few years.

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