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Chrysler's field, battle of

When Wilkinson's expedition down the St. Lawrence River against Montreal, composed of land troops borne by a flotilla of boats, arrived at a point 4 miles below Ogdensburg, information reached the commander of the expedition that the opposite shore of the river was lined with posts of musketry and artillery, and that a large reinforcement of British troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison had arrived at Prescott. Wilkinson had already ordered Col. Alexander Macomb, with 1,200 of the best troops of the army, to cross the river to oppose the British detachments on the Canadian side (Nov. 7, 1813), and these were soon followed by riflemen under Lieutenant-Colonel Forsythe, who did excellent service in the rear of Macomb.

When news was received of the arrival of reinforcements at Prescott, Wilkinson called a council of war (Nov. 8), and it was decided “to proceed with all possible rapidity to the attack of Montreal.” General Brown was at once ordered to cross the river with his brigade and some dragoons. Morrison's troops, fully 1,000 strong, had come down to Prescott in armed schooners, with several gunboats and bateaux under Captain Mulcaster, and were joined by provincial infantry and dragoons under Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson. They pushed forward, and on the morning of the 9th were close upon Wilkinson, and the land troops were debarked to pursue the Americans—2,000 men, including cavalry.

General Boyd and his brigade were now detached to reinforce Brown, with orders to cover his march, to attack the pursuing enemy if necessary, and to co-operate with the other commanders. Wilkinson now found himself in a perilous position, for the British armed vessels were close upon his flotilla, and the British land troops were hanging upon the rear of Brown and Boyd. The latter also encountered detachments coming up from below.

The British gunboats attacked the flotilla, but Wilkinson made such disposition of his cannon in battery on the shore that they were repulsed, and fled up the river. Brown had captured a British post at the foot of the rapids, and Wilkinson had just issued orders for the flotilla to proceed down these rapids, and Boyd to resume his march, when a British column attacked the rear of the latter. Boyd turned upon his antagonist, and a sharp battle ensued. General Swartwout was detached with his brigade to assail the British vanguard, and General Covington took position at supporting distance from him. Their antagonists were driven back out of the woods on the main line in the open fields of John Chrysler, a British militia captain then in the service. [152] That line was covered by Mulcaster's gunboats, and protected in part by deep ravines.

Then General Covington led his brigade against the British left, near the river,

Chrysler's in 1855.

and the battle became general. By charge after charge the British were forced back nearly a mile, and the American cannon, under the direction of Col. J. G. Swift, did excellent execution. At length Covington fell, seriously wounded, and the ammunition of the Americans began to fail. It was soon exhausted. and Swartwout's brigade, hard pushed, slowly fell back, followed by others.

The British perceived this retrograde movement, followed up the advantage gained with great vigor, and were endeavoring by a flank movement to capture Boyd's cannon, when a gallant charge of cavalry, led by Adjutant-General Walbach, whom Armstrong had permitted to accompany the expedition, drove them back and saved the pieces. The effort was renewed. Lieutenant Smith, who commanded one of the cannon, was mortally wounded, and the piece was seized by the British.

For five hours the conflict had been carried on in the midst of sleet and snow, and victory had swayed between the belligerents like a pendulum. It would doubtless have rested with the Americans had their ammunition held out. Their retreat was promising to be a rout, when the fugitives were met by 600 troops under Colonel Upham and Major Malcolm, whom Wilkinson had sent up to the support of Boyd. These checked the flight, drove back the British, and saved the American army.

Meanwhile Boyd had reformed a portion of the army, and then awaited another attack. It was not made. The Americans, under cover of darkness, retired to their boats unmolested. Neither party had gained a victory, but the advantage lay with the British, who held the field. The British army on that occcasion was slightly superior in numbers, counting its Indian allies. The Americans lost in the battle, in killed and wounded, 339; the British lost 187.

On the morning after the battle, the flotilla, with the gunboats and troops, passed safely down the rapids, and 3 miles above Cornwall they formed a junction with the forces under General Brown. There Wilkinson was informed that Hampton, whom he had invited in Armstrong's name to meet him at St. Regis, had refused to join him. A council of war (Nov. [153] 12, 1813) decided that it was best to abandon the expedition against Montreal, although it was said there were not more than 600 troops there, and put the army into winter-quarters at French Mills, on the Salmon River, which was done. Thus ended in disaster and disgrace an expedition which in its inception promised salutary results. See Canada; MacOMBmb, Alexander; Montreal; William Prescott; Wilkinson, James.

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