Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The War with Canada

October 13, General Van Rensselaer crossed the Niagara River and attacked the British at Queenstown Heights. The latter retreated, and General Brock was killed. General Van Rensselaer went back after the rest of his troops, but they refused to cross, on the ground that the general had no right to take them out of the United States, and thus the troops left in charge at the Heights were compelled to surrender.

These troops who refused to go over and accept a victory already won for them, because they didn't want to cross the Canadian line, would not have shied so at the boundary if they had been boodlers, very likely, in later years.

August 19 occurred the naval fight between the Constitution and Guerriere, off the Massachusetts coast. The Constitution, called "Old Ironsides," was commanded by Captain Isaac Hull. The Guerriere was first to attack, but got no reply until both vessels were very close together, when into her starboard Captain Hull poured such a load of hardware that the Guerriere was soon down by the head and lop-sided on the off side. She surrendered, but was of no value, being so full of holes that she would not hold a cargo of railroad-trestles.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


The economy used by the early American warriors by land and sea regarding their ammunition, holding their fire until the enemy was at arm's length, was the cause of more than one victory. They were obliged, indeed, to make every bullet count in the days when even lead was not produced here, and powder was imported.

October 13, the naval fight between the Frolic and Wasp took place, off the North Carolina coast. The Frolic was an English brig, and she wound up as most frolics do, with a severe pain and a five-dollar fine. After the Wasp had called and left her R. S. V. P. cards, the decks of the Frolic were a sight to behold. There were not enough able-bodied men to surrender the ship. She was captured by the boarding-crew, but there was not a man left of her own crew to haul down the colors.

Other victories followed on the sea, and American privateers had more fun than anybody.

Madison was re-elected, thus showing that his style of administration suited one and all, and the war was prosecuted at a great rate. It became a sort of fight with Canada, the latter being supported by English arms by land and sea. Of course the Americans would have preferred to fight England direct, and many were in favor of attacking London: but when the commanding officer asked those of the army who had the means to go abroad to please raise their right hands, it was found that the trip must be abandoned. Those who had the means to go did not have suitable clothes for making a respectable appearance, and so it was given up.

Three divisions were made of the army, all having an attack on Canada as the object in view,—viz., the army of the Centre, the army of the North, and the army of the West. The armies of the Centre and North did not do much, aside from the trifling victory at York, and President Madison said afterwards in a letter to the writer's family that the two armies did not accomplish enough to pay the duty on them. The army of the West managed to stand off the British, though the latter still held Michigan and threatened Ohio.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


September 10, Perry's victory on Lake Erie occurred, and was well received. Perry was twenty-seven years old, and was given command of a flotilla on Lake Erie, provided he would cut the timber and build it, meantime boarding himself. The British had long been in possession of Lake Erie, and when Perry got his scows afloat they issued invitations for a general display of carnage. They bore down on Perry and killed all the men on his flag-ship but eight. Then he helped them fire the last gun, and with the flag they jumped into a boat which they paddled for the Niagara under a galling fire. This was the first time that a galling fire had ever been used at sea. Perry passed within pistol-shot of the British, and in less than a quarter of an hour after he trod the poop of the Niagara he was able to write to General Harrison, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."

Proctor and Tecumseh were at Malden, with English and Indians, preparing to plunder the frontier and kill some more women and children as soon as they felt rested up. At the news of Perry's victory, Harrison decided to go over and stir them up. Arriving at Malden, he found it deserted, and followed the foe to the river Thames, where he charged with his Kentucky horsemen right through the British lines and so on down the valley, where they reformed and started back to charge on their rear, when the whole outfit surrendered except the Indians. Proctor, however, was mounted on a tall fox-hunter which ran away with him. He afterwards wrote back to General Harrison that he made every effort to surrender personally, but that circumstances prevented. He was greatly pained by this.

The Americans now charged on the Indians, and Johnson, the commander of the Blue Grass Dragoons, fired a shot which took Tecumseh just west of the watch-pocket. He died, he said, tickled to death to know that he had been shot by an American.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Captain Lawrence, of the Hornet, having taken the British brig Peacock, was given command of the Chesapeake, which he took to Boston to have repaired. While there, he got a challenge from the Shannon. He put to sea with half a crew, and a shot in his chest—that is, the arm-chest of the ship—burst the whole thing open and annoyed every one on board. The enemy boarded the Chesapeake and captured her, so Captain Lawrence, her brave commander, breathed his last, after begging his men not to give up the ship.

However, the victories on the Canadian border settled the war once more for the time, and cheered the Americans very much.

The Indians in 1813 fell upon Fort Mimms and massacred the entire garrison, men, women, and children, not because they felt a personal antipathy towards them, but because they—the red brothers—had sold their lands too low and their hearts were sad in their bosoms. There is really no fun in trading with an Indian, for he is devoid of business instincts, and reciprocity with the red brother has never been a success.

General Jackson took some troops and attacked the red brother, killing six hundred of him and capturing the rest of the herd. Jackson did not want to hear the Indians speak pieces and see them smoke the pipe of peace, but buried the dead and went home. He had very little of the romantic complaint which now and then breaks out regarding the Indian, but knew full well that all the Indians ever born on the face of the earth could not compensate for the cruel and violent death of one good, gentle, patient American mother.

Admiral Cockburn now began to pillage the coast of the Southern States and borrow communion services from the churches of Virginia and the Carolinas. He also murdered the sick in their beds.

Perhaps a word of apology is due the Indians after all. Possibly they got their ideas from Cockburn.

The battle of Lundy's Lane had been arranged for July 25, 1814, and so the Americans crossed Niagara under General Brown to invade Canada. General Winfield Scott led the advance, and gained a brilliant victory, July 5, at Chippewa. The second engagement was at Lundy's Lane, within the sound of the mighty cataract. Old man Lundy, whose lane was used for the purpose, said that it was one of the bloodiest fights, by a good many gallons, that he ever attended. The battle was, however, barren of results, the historian says, though really an American victory from the stand-point of the tactician and professional gore-spiller.

In September, Sir George Prevost took twelve thousand veteran troops who had served under Wellington, and started for Plattsburg. The ships of the British at the same time opened fire on the nine-dollar American navy, and were almost annihilated. The troops under Prevost started in to fight, but, learning of the destruction of the British fleet on Lake Champlain, Prevost fled like a frightened fawn, leaving his sick and wounded and large stores of lime-juice, porridge, and plum-pudding. The Americans, who had been living on chopped horse-feed and ginseng-root, took a week off and gave themselves up to the false joys of lime-juice and general good feeling.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Along the coast the British destroyed everything they could lay their hands on; but perhaps the rudest thing they did was to enter Washington and burn the Capitol, the Congressional library, and the smoke-house in which President Madison kept his hams. Even now, when the writer is a guest of some great English dignitary, and perhaps at table picking the "merry-thought" of a canvas-back duck, the memory of this thing comes over him, and, burying his face in the costly napery, he gives himself up to grief until kind words and a celery-glass-full of turpentine, or something, bring back his buoyancy and rainbow smile. The hospitality and generous treatment of our English brother to Americans now is something beautiful, unaffected, and well worth a voyage across the qualmy sea to see, but when Cockburn burned down the Capitol and took the President's sugar-cured hams he did a rude act.