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October 8 1812: Appalling the Minds of the Canadians

On October 8, 1812, General Van Rensselaer, at Lewiston near Niagara, writes to General Dearborn. Van Rensselaer lays out the plan and the justification for crossing the Niagara and seeking to take the heights of "Queenstown". Van Rensselaer is motivated by the "disgrace" of the loss of Detroit. "The blow must be struck soon," he writes, "or all the toil and expense of the campaign go for nothing or worse than nothing, for the whole will be tinged with dishonour." The main objective of the attack appears to be to shake the morale of the Canadians or, as he describes it, "appalling the minds of the Canadians". Rensselaer writes:
The proposal which I shall submit to the Council will be, that we immediately concentrate the regular force in the neighborhood of Niagara and the militia here, make the best possible dispositions, and at the same time, the regulars shall pass from the Four-mile Creek to a point in the rear of the works of Fort George, and take it by storm: I will pass the river here, and carry the heights of Queenstown.
Should we succeed, we shall effect a great discomfiture of the enemy by breaking their line of communication, driving their shipping from the mouth of this river, leaving them no rallying point in this part of the country, appalling the minds of the Canadians, and opening a wide and safe communication for our supplies. We shall save our own land, wipe away part of the score of our past disgrace, get excellent barracks and winter quarters, and at the least be prepared for an early campaign another year. 
Van Rensselaer's letter is reproduced below.

Gen. Van Rensselaer to Gen. Dearborn. Sir, Head Quarters, Lewiston, Oct. 8th, 1812.

Sir - It is now nearly three months since, in obedience to the call of my country, I took the field to form and discipline an army, and to shape and direct a campaign on the very extensive frontiers of this state This service, even in prospect, presented innumerable difficulties and embarrassments. Thus far I have met them in that manner which my own mind justifies and I trust my country will approve. After a general review of our frontiers, my own judgment did not suffer me to doubt that the Niagara river must be the scene of our decisive operations, and I selected this neighbourhood as the place best adapted to our measures, and here encamped. Well knowing that the duties of the station you hold were complicated and embarrassing, I have patiently endured much, that the affairs of my department might embarrass you less. The crisis through which I have passed for the last month has been trying indeed; particulars upon this occasion are unnecessary; but the result has justified my measures and I am satisfied. Yet I am well aware that any merit which may be attached to this negative service, will not satisfy the expectations of my country: to have barely escaped disaster, will not be thought enough; the object of the war remains unaccomplished, a new crisis is opening, and as in it, you, sir, as well as I, have a deep stake of responsibility, I shall with great freedom, state to you a number of facts, submitting my opinions connected with them, and with deference leave the general conclusion to your own judgment; and as the honor and interests of the United States, your own character and mine, are most intimately connected in the subject of deliberation, I hope and trust it may receive all the attention which its importance merits.

The United States declared the war. One army has surrendered in disgrace, and another has but little more than escaped the reiteration of the blow. The National character is degraded and the disgrace will remain corroding the public feeling and spirit, until another campaign; unless it be instantly wiped away by a brilliant close of this. A detail of particulars is needless: you, sir, know service. Our best troops are raw; many of them dejected by the distress their families suffer by their absence, and many have not necessary clothing: we are in a cold country, the season is far advanced, and unusually inclement; we are half the time deluged with rain. The blow must be struck soon, or all the toil and expense of the campaign go for nothing or worse than nothing, for the whole will be tinged with dishonour. With my present force, it would be rash to attempt offensive operations. I have only seventeen hundred effective men [his reinforcements had not then arrived] of the militia on this whole line. The regular troops have nearly all arrived in the vicinity of Buffalo, except Schuyler's regiment The bateaux have not arrived and I learn they very narrowly escaped the Royal George, at the mouth of Genesee river, where she had just cut out the schooner Lady Murray and a Revenue Cutter. But two or three companies of the Pennsylvania troops had arrived at Buffalo, when I received mylast advice from thence.

Under these circumstances and the impressions necessarily resulting from them, I am adopting decisive measures for dosing the fall campaign; but shall wait your approbation of the plan, and the arrival of a competent force to execute it. I have summoned Maj. Gen. Hall, Brig. Gen. Smyth, and the commandants of the United States Regiments, to meet me on a consultation; and I am well aware that some opinions entitled to great respect, will be offered for crossing the Niagara a little below Fort Erie, and pursuing the march down the river. I think this plan liable to many objections. The enemy have works at almost every point, and even an inferior force might hold us in check and render our march slow; by taking up the bridges at Chippewa, they might greatly embarrass us; the cleared county is but a mile or two wide; one flank would be constantly liable to be galled by Indians from the swamps; for a considerable distance, the rapidity of the current, and the height of the banks render transportation across the river impracticable; of course, our supplies must follow the line of march, with the trouble and hazard of them every day increasing; and should the enemy retreat from Gen. Harrison, they would have a double object in intercepting our supplies; and by falling on our rear, and cutting off our communication, we might experience the fate of Hull's army. Besides these, and many other objections, there is no object on that side, until we should arrive at the commanding heights of Queenstown, which are opposite my camp. 

The proposal which I shall submit to the Council will be, that we immediately concentrate the regular force in the neighborhood of Niagara and the militia here, make the best possible dispositions, and at the same time, the regulars shall pass from the Four-mile Creek to a point in the rear of the works of Fort George, and take it by storm: I will pass the river here, and carry the heights of Queenstown.

Should we succeed, we shall effect a great discomfiture of the enemy by breaking their line of communication, driving their shipping from the mouth of this river, leaving them no rallying point in this part of the country, appalling the minds of the Canadians, and opening a wide and safe communication for our supplies. We shall save our own land, wipe away part of the score of our past disgrace, get excellent barracks and winter quarters, and at the least be prepared for an early campaign another year. As soon as the result of the Council shall be known, I shall advise you of it. I have received your letter of the 29th ultimo, and shall acquaint Mr. Harrison with your direction. I regret the slowness of the mail. I have furnished an escort for it from this to Buffalo.

With great respect and consideration, &c.
Stephen Van Rensselaer.

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