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September 17 1812: Van Rensselaer writes to Dearborn


On September 17 1812, General Van Rensselaer writes to General Dearborn complaining again about  inadequate support. He writes: "My force bears no proportion to the duties required; besides, the discipline of the troops is not such as to warrant perfect reliance, and many of our arms are not fit for action." He is concerned that the British troops are also coming down from Fort Malden to Fort Erie. "Indeed there can be no possible doubt," he writes, "that the enemy are very actively engaged in concentrating their forces to act in this vicinity." The letter is reproduced below.

Letter from Gen. Van Rensselaer to Gen. Dearborn.
Head Quarters, Lewiston, 17th Sept., 1812. 

The situation of my little army is becoming every day more and more interesting, and I believe existing circumstances would fully warrant me in saying critical. As soon as our operations at and near Fort Niagara indicated a disposition to maintain the garrison, the enemy became exceedingly active. New works were thrown up, and old ones modified to meet us at every point. Their works appear now to be all completed, and they are daily receiving very considerable reinforcements of men. Last evening, the Royal George arrived at Fort George, with about two hundred artillerists. About one hundred boats, loaded with stores for the British army in Upper Canada, have lately passed up the St. Lawrence. Two regiments of troops are also on their way up, and I am induced to believe that those lately arrived at Fort George, are detachments from those regiments. The information which you had received on the subject of the enemy's reinforcements and destination, was undoubtedly correct. Troops are also coming down from Fort Malden to Fort Erie. Indeed there can be no possible doubt, that the enemy are very actively engaged in concentrating their forces to act in this vicinity. When the scene of action will open, I know not; it probably cannot be far distant. Such movements of the enemy have been observed for three or four days past, as have induced many to believe, that the hour of attack was at hand. On the 13th instant, boats were engaged in putting a considerable detachment of troops on board a ship, which, at evening, got under way from Fort George and stood out into lake Ontario.

It was apprehended that these troops were, that night, to be landed on the south side of the lake, in the rear of our guards. The night before last, the enemy moved some boats from the landing at Queenstown, down the river. This excited alarm, and late last night a rumour ran through the camp, that the garrison was actually summoned to surrender. I only mention these things to show you what apprehensions prevail. Should the enemy attack, I have every reason to believe we shall be very severely pressed; but so serious will be the consequences of any retrograde movement, or a total abandonment of Fort Niagara, that, upon mature consideration of all circumstances, I have determined to hold, if possible, my present position, and dispute every inch of ground. My force bears no proportion to the duties required; besides, the discipline of the troops is not such as to warrant perfect reliance, and many of our arms are not fit for action. These are considerations which you, sir, and my fellow citizens will do me the justice to bear in mind, whatever result may happen.

For the application of the means entrusted to me, I hope I shall be able to justify myself to my country. My greatest fear is, that the troops destined to reinforce me, will not join me in season. In every calculation heretofore made upon my reinforcements, both as to time and strength, I have been disappointed. Col. Bloom's regiment, which was reported to me before its arrival, for seven hundred, is but little more than four hundred. I am erecting a store-house and magazine upon the high grounds, in the rear of my camp; but for want of teams, tools, and nails, the work proceeds but slowly ; we build with logs, and rive our shingles from bolts of oak. It is with extreme difficulty we can procure teams upon any emergency. The horses of the cavalry and flying artillery are badly supplied with hay, and as for grain they are almost entirely destitute. I have completed the road through the woods, from my camp to the garrison. Amidst all our difficulties, this is the most cheering day for the troops which I have witnessed, their clamor for pay has been high and incessant. I felt many of its bad consequences, and apprehend still greater, but assurances now received that their pay is near seems to elate them.

By the Return of Ordnance which I yesterday received from Fort Niagara I discover that our two Mortars are 10} inches, instead of 13} as Capt. Leonard's Memorandum to me states them, the Shells will be calculated accordingly. I have enclosed a copy of a letter which I last night received from General Hull. On the same subject I yesterday received a communication from General Brock, covering an Extract of a letter from Capt. Dyson of the United States Regiment of Artillery to him, and I this morning sent Col. Van Rensselaer to Fort George when he had an interview with Capt. Dyson's and such arrangements have been made that Capt. Dyson's Company will this day receive their clothing from Fort Niagara: the other Companies, in Quebec, I learn from General Brock's letter, are in great distress for want of clothing.

I have the Honor, &c. 

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