An Account of the
Battle of Ogdensburg N.Y., February 22nd, 1813
ed. by Robert Henderson
The following account was written by Lt. Col. George MacDonell, the British officer commanding the attack on Ogdensburg. The garrison at Ogdensburg under Captain Forsyth of the 1st US Rifles had been quite active with harassing British supply boats on the St. Lawrence and had raided a couple of Canadian towns. MacDonell wished to remove this threat and proposed to visiting Governor Prevost on February 21st that an attack be made across the frozen St. Lawrence. Not wishing to draw attention to vulnerability of his supply line, Prevost turned down MacDonells plan but allowed him to make a demonstration on the ice in front of Prescott across from Ogdensburg.
But to MacDonell the expulsion of Forsyth had become personal. Under a flag of truce, MacDonell had been sent two days earlier to see Forsyth to complain about the unmilitarylike and "predatory" raids on Canadian villages but Forsyth only insulted him. Later MacDonell admitted that he was "bent upon chastising the personal insolence he had received from the American Commander."
In the ensuing battle a large part of the town of Ogdensburg was damaged with Forsyth escaping with part of his riflemen overland to Sacketts Harbour. With his sword in the hands of the enemy, and bullet holes in his hat and coat, Forsyth was determined to take back Ogdensburg and requested troops from the officer in command at Sacketts Harbour. But were forthcoming. Instead of blaming the British, local and military officials placed blame for the attack on Ogdensburg squarely with Forsyth for "his known zeal for a small partizan warfare." Civil leaders in Ogdensburg became hostile to any US troops being stationed in their town again. It was not until October 1813 did US troops return to the area. Without federal troops around, a number of the towns citizens took up selling food and supplies to the British troops across the river, a trade that continued throughout the rest of the war.
National Archives of Canada, Record Group 8, Series I, vol. 678, pg. 100, Macdonell to Harvey, Prescott, February 25th, 1813.
In my hasty dispatch of the 22nd Instant I was unable to detail the operations of that day I now have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of His Excellency The Commander of The Forces, that, immediately on his departure from this post on that morning, I commenced my arrangement for the demonstration he had authorized me to make, by drawing in my Night picquets, &, to gain time, made my disposition for the movement without waiting for the troops of the line to take off their watchcoats, which I afterwards much regretted when I found the depth of the snow on the Enemy's shore -- My principal column, on the left, consisted of about 120of the King's Regiment & 30 of the Newfoundland, with about 230 of the Militia--
My Right CoIumn was composed of the Right flank Company of the Glengarry Light Infantry & 70 Militia, was commanded by Captain Jenkins of the Glengarry Regiment--I advanced with my principal Column in front of the Enemy's right as did my other Corps on his left, on the signal of a Gun, which I fired, with a view, principally, to rouse the Enemy, that I might judge from his appearance of the propriety of an Assault- It was past seven I began to cross the River-- I could plainly discover with my glass that the Enemy's force would prove no great obstacle, compared with the advantage attending success, which the confidence I had in the gallantry of my troops convinced me would be the result.
As I advanced, I conceived additionalhopes of success & determined on the assault- My advanced Guard consisting of the Company of the Newfoundland & volunteer light Company of the Militia, moved quickly on under the command of Staff Adjutant Ridge of the Kings Regiment, & was followed by the detachment of the Kings Regiment under Captain Eustace, &the Militia under Colonel Fraser &Captain LeLievre of the Newfoundland Regiment The Enemy's advanced Battery opened on the flank of this Colomn, which was soon after exposed to the direct fire of Grape &Cannister shot from a twelve, nine & six pounder -- Here the depth of snow & the commanding position of the Enemy's line of musquetry gave him a great advantage of fire.Being determined to carry everything with the Bayonet I pushed on my advance which was gallantly led on by Staff Adjutant Ridge &nobly supported by Captain Eustace & the detachment of the Kings & well followed up by the MilitiaThe advance took the Guns in front & the King's rushed up a parallel street to flank them, &,driving the Enemys Infantry, carried the Guns one of which was turned upon them -- Giving them in charge of a division of the Militia, the Colomn pursued the Enemy thro' the main Street leading to the bridge over the Black River, under a galling fire from the windows, & from the Guns in the old fort when it had gained the high bank of this RiverThe men being much fatigued & out of breath I then halted & lined this height with the King's Regiment, keeping a reserve of Militia in Column & detaching small parties on my left flank to dislodge the Enemy from the houses & woods -- My field pieces now came up from the bank of the St Lawrence, where we had left them sticking in the snow, & were ably directed by Ensign MacKay of the Glengarry Light Infantry & Ensign Kerr of the Militia & the Royal & Militia Artillery-- It required some rounds of grape & round shot to silence the musquetry from the Windows-- I now detached my advance & a Company of Militia to take a twelve pounder on the eastern Battery near the large Store which they soon effected- In the interim my right Column was gallantly led on by Captain Jenkins at the head of his own Company in advance in extended order and supported by his Militia, as a reserve--He kept pace with my Column & moved on as rapidly as the snow, which had drifted very deep, the preceding evening, would admit--In their eagerness to reach the Enemy they also lost breath, but notwithstanding pushed on bravely in face of very heavy fire of five guns, & when he had gallantly led them on to within charging distance, he fixed bayonets & pushed forward, but had not proceeded many paces, when his left arm (which he has since lost) was smashed to pieces with a grape shot & his Right: immediately after severely lacerated by cannister, but he still ran on cheering his men to the attack, till his arms dangling useless before him & becoming faint with loss of blood, he was compelled to stop -- His Company continued to advance with Lieut. Macauly & Ensign Macdonell, but the reserve not being able to keep up with them & being quite exhausted, they were compelled to fall back about the time that my Column gained the height on the other flankHaving soon formed my storming party, I sent in a flag to the Fort to require an immediate surrender on pain of being put to the Bayonet -The Enemy refused to comply "without more fighting"I immediately ordered a charge & Captain Eustace with Ensigns Powell & Lowrie (the latter of whom had left a sick bed to join his Company) & his men gallantly rushed on to the charge covered by a three pounder under Ensign Kerr, but the men, cheering loudly, prevented my orders being distinctly heard, to keep the road which lead to the proper declivity to descend to the River-- This however enabled me to form them in a better manner with the Company of the Newfoundland & Glengary Militia, under cover of a large building, & again they pushed on &entered the fort, just as the Enemy had evacuated it on the opposite side & was retiring to the woods -If Captain Skinner & the Indians had not been detached in the morning as an escort to His Excellency, I would have employed him in intercepting the Enemy on his retreat & would unquestionably have captured the whole Garrison, which retreated that day fourteen miles, leaving Officers & 70 men prisoners-The Enemy's force consisted of about 500 men including Militia--The action lasted about One hour & a half--The Gallantry displayed by all ranks under my command was highly gratifying--The Regular troops including the Royal Artillery maintained the high character of their respective Corps & their example was nobly followed by the Militia - I was well supported by Colonel Fraser of the Militia & Lieutenant Colonel Fraser of the same Corps who joined me towards the close of theaction, & I am much indebted to Captain LeLievre, for his active superintendence of this force, to which I had attached him, & for his occasional service at the Artillery - The Officers of the King's Regiment have my warmest commendation-The name of Ensign Powell, who was wounded by a bayonet was omitted in the return I had the honour of forwarding to you--I cannot sufficiently admire the heroic bravery of Captain Jenkins who speaks in such high terms of his gallant Company, that I am convinced they would themselves have carried the fort &Guns with the bayonet if he had not been disabled-- lieutenant Gaugreben of the Royal Engineers rendered essential service in bringing up the reserve of this Column after his gun had been disabled by a shot from the Enemy I must not omit to mention the brave conduct of the Newfoundland Company who had no Officer of that Regiment with them & led the advance Guard Having dislodged the Enemy from houses and woods I detached the Indians, whom the Cannonade had brought back to me, to pursue him, but without effect I took the necessary precautions to secure my position & emptying the Magazine, burnt the old & new Barracks, together with two Schooners & the gun boats, Guard houses, scows & boats &c & in a few hours evacuated the town, after carrying off all the Ordnance, Commissariat & Marine stores, and a quantity of camp equipage and clothing
I have the honour to be
Sir, Your most obdient humble Servant,
G. MacDonell, Lieut. Colonel"
Copyright The Discriminating General 1999
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