Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Rivers of War: Snippet Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Friday, March 11, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 28:

    July 4,1814 Street’s Creek

    “Goddamn them!” Scott snarled, blatantly disregarding his firm and clear regulations prohibiting blasphemy.

    Of course, other men took the Lord’s name in vain when they did so. The brigadier didn’t, since—surely—the Almighty was in agreement with his viewpoint.

    Patrick Driscol wasn’t going to argue the matter. First, because he was a sergeant. Secondly, because given his deist views, he didn’t care much about blasphemy anyway. Finally, because he shared the brigadier’s attitude toward the object of the curse—the Sassenach; who better deserved damnation? However, he didn’t share the brigadier’s surprise and disgruntlement.

    Just as Driscol had foreseen the night before, within an hour after marching north that morning, Scott’s brigade had begun encountering British detachments. The detachments hadn’t sought any decisive engagement, where they would have been overwhelmed by Scott’s numbers. They had simply been sent to delay the American advance long enough to enable Riall and his main force to seize the bridge over the Chippewa, and establish a firm foothold.

    With the Chippewa bridge in their possession, the British would enjoy a very strong defensive position from which to resist any further American encroachment into Canada.

    It was the best move for the British commander to have made. Brown’s forces numbered almost four thousand men, of whom three-fourths were regulars. To oppose it, Riall had no more than two thousand men at his immediate disposal in Fort George, according to the intelligence Scott had collected. Granted, Riall probably didn’t realize what a high percentage of Brown’s army was made up of regular soldiers. Because of supply shortages, most of the American regulars were wearing undyed gray uniforms, barely distinguishable from the standard militia issue. Only a few actually had the regulation blue coats and white trousers.

    Still, outnumbered two to one, Riall would probably wait behind his defensive lines until Lieutenant General Drummond could bring up reinforcements from other British units in Canada.

    So, the entire day of July 4 was spent in a frustrating series of minor engagements with British skirmishers. Just to make things worse, the day had turned out hot and dry. For an army tramping up a road, that translated into “very dusty.”

    Again, Driscol was impressed with Scott’s ability to keep driving the brigade forward. The sergeant hadn’t expected to reach the Chippewa until sometime on the fifth, but Scott managed to get his brigade there by late afternoon of Independence Day. In the process, he left the rest of Brown’s army lagging far behind.

    Nevertheless, the brigadier’s energy and determination turned out to be futile. By the time the First Brigade was in sight of the Chippewa, Riall and his army were thoroughly entrenched.

    “Damn them!” Scott repeated. He sat back in his saddle and glared at the enemy force across the river. Then, sighing softly, he turned his head and scanned the terrain his brigade had just passed through.

    Driscol waited patiently for the command, even though he knew perfectly well what it would be. Not even a commanding officer as impetuous as Winfield Scott would be rash enough to order a brigade of thirteen hundred men to attack a force of almost two thousand men who had a river to provide them with a defensive position.

    A commander unsure of himself might have kept his brigade muddling around in the open field south of the Chippewa, but Scott was no indecisive muddler. Since he couldn’t attack, the only intelligent thing to do was retreat half a mile and have his brigade take up defensive positions of their own.

    “We’ll move back across Street’s Creek,” Scott announced to his aides. “See to it, if you would.”

    The junior officers trotted off to attend to the matter. Driscol, as he usually did unless Scott gave him a specific order, remained behind.

    Scott often asked his advice, though rarely when other officers were around to overhear. He was notorious for being self-confident to the point of rashness, but at least half of that was for public show. In private, Driscol had found that Scott was quite willing to solicit the opinion of his master sergeant. Whatever else, the brigadier was no fool.

    “What do you think, Sergeant? Not much chance, I suppose, that we could get Riall to come at us directly.”

    From the vantage point of his own saddle, Driscol examined the terrain. Off to the right, the Niagara River formed the boundary to the east, and the Chippewa to the north. Without boats, there was no way to cross the Niagara at all, and no way to cross the Chippewa except at the bridge. To the south, where the American units were already starting to move back, lay Street’s Creek, nestled a short distance back into the trees. The creek wasn’t the barrier that the Chippewa was, but it would still provide the Americans with a reasonably strong defensive position of their own.

    Between Street’s Creek and the Chippewa lay an open plain one mile deep and about the same distance wide. There was a dense woodland to their left, on the western side of the plain, which completed the enclosure.

    In short, it was a classic battlefield terrain. There was a clearly defined open area for the clash of arms, and no easy way for either side to maneuver around it. The trick, of course, would be to get the British to come out onto the field at all. Why should they? They were the defending force, and they were outnumbered to boot, with a very strong position from which to break any further American advance.

    “Probably not, sir,” the sergeant replied. “Although . . .”

    A bit surprised, Scott lifted his eyebrow. “Although . . . what?”

    Driscol paused for a few more seconds, studying the American troops moving to the rear.

    “Well, it’s the uniforms, sir. From a distance, they look just like militia uniforms.” He turned his head and scanned the British forces across the Chippewa. “Riall’s an aggressive sort of general, by all accounts. We’re so far ahead of the rest of the army that he has us outnumbered, for the moment. And if he thinks we’re just a militia force . . .”

    “Interesting point,” Scott murmured. “Yes, he does have us outnumbered at the moment. About seventeen hundred men, as best as I can determine, to face our thirteen hundred in the brigade.”

    Scott thought about it himself, and then shook his head regretfully. “It’s still not likely he’ll come out. Certainly not today, as late as it is in the afternoon. And by tomorrow, General Brown will have arrived with the rest of our army.”

    Driscol was amused. Most American officers would have been relieved to avoid an open battle with British regulars. Scott was disgruntled that the enemy wouldn’t come out for it.

    Driscol nodded. “You’re most likely right, sir. Still, if he thinks we’re militiamen, Riall might just think he could rout us easily.”

    “I fear it’s not likely to happen, Sergeant. If I were in Riall’s position, I certainly wouldn’t take the chance.”

    With some difficulty, Driscol managed to keep a straight face. He knew perfectly well that if the positions had been reversed, Scott would already have been marching his army onto the field.

    But he kept all that to himself.

    “I’ll be seeing to the men’s encampment then, sir. It’s beginning to look like rain.”

    Scott nodded. “Thank you, sergeant. There’s nothing else to do at the moment. Damn them.”


Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image