Battle of Sackett’s Harbour – May 31, 1813

On Thursday evening last, the British fleet, consisting of the Wolfe and the Royal George with 24 guns each,  the brigattine’s Earl and Moira with 18 guns each; Prince Regent, Simcoe and Senca schooners mounting from 10 to 12 guns each along with two gunboats and about 40 various flat-bottomed boats and barges sailed from Kingston on Friday the 28th of May and appeared off Sacketts Harbour. This fleet was under the command of Sir James Lucas Yeo, having on board 1200 men, under the direction of Sir George Prevost.  The day was fair, the wind was light, and at noon became a leading breeze for the enemy’s vessels. The fleet hove to at five miles distance and transferred their men to the barges for disembarking. They then bore up at about two o’clock with their barges in tow – they had stood their course for  a short time when they discovered a fleet of our United States barges with troops from Oswego coming round Stoney Point.

The barges from the enemy’s fleet were dispatched to cut them off and succeeded in taking 128 barges.  Seven escaped and arrived at the harbour. The troops in the captured barges had previously succeeded in landing and escaping into the woods to later come in that evening. It is presumed that our command was under the impression that more barges were expected to come in from the British and in the event that cutting them off with troops on board the fleet hauled their wind and stood into South Bay. At 4:00 p.m. the fleet lay by and with the day being advanced, the intention to disembark that evening was abandoned.

In the meantime, Colonel Mills, with part of his regiment withdrew from their position on Horse island and with a detachment of infantry under Colonel Turtle and the militia under General Brown, occupied the opposite point of land during the night. As the day broke the enemy appeared at a small distance, approaching Horse Island, with upwards of 30 barges, boats etc. Filled with troops they came in under the cover of two gun-boats, which affected a landing about the island, in different parts, to the number of 300. They then advanced in column and forded the neck under a heavy fire from, our troops, in which several of the enemy were killed, and in this attack Col. Mills fell with two wounds in his body. The enemy, having succeeded in gaining the mainland advanced toward the harbour and our troops being forced by superior numbers were compelled to retreat through thick woods, but, disputing the grounds obstinately for nearly an mile.  At this time reinforcements came up under Colonel Bachus of dragoons and some of the best of the militia. As the British opened upon the rear of the village they were checked but contended obstinately an hour and a half.  Shortly the enemy opened upon the village and Colonel Bachus was mortally wounded through the side, and was taken off the field. Previous to this several officers were wounded, and obliged to retire.  The greatest number of the enemy fell at this place – they now began to retreat, taking off most of their wounded. Our troops did not pursue them into the woods immediately and they were suffered quietly to embark their men. Several were made prisoners who were found straggling after the boats had put off, among whom, were two captains.  By noon all the enemy were embarked and standing off in their barges for the fleet. General Sir George Prevost actually landed with the troops whether he personally landed or not is not ascertained.  At no time had we more than 600 men engaged; several prisoners state that all their men landed – they certainly landed at the first debarkation about 300, calculating about 25 to 30 men to a boat.

Fortunately the next morning was calm and the British fleet could not get up to the batteries. They attempted to tow but failed. One or two small vessels did approach within reach of the guns.  At about 10 o’clock a flag of truce came off the batteries by a naval officer demanding the surrender of Sackett’s Harbour in the name of the General and the Commodore, which was refused. Shortly after another flag came in requesting to send surgeons to the wounded of the British soldiers which were in our hands. This was denied as the enemy had not yet appeared to abandon the expedition and was lying by in their barges. Shortly after they put off to the fleet, which made sail and stood off towards Kingston. Unfortunately the British Naval Officers left in charge of this station set fire in the Naval Storehouse, Hospital and Marine Barracks, by which all the immensely valuable stores taken at York were destroyed. All the stores for the use of the fleet were destroyed and the new ship that was deposited there were consumed.  The Prize Schooner Duke of Glouster was preserved by Lieut Talman of the army, who boarded the schooner, extinguished the fire and brought her from under the flames of the storehouses. This vessel contained a considerable quantity of gunpowder.

Schooners Fair American, under the command of Lieut. Chancey ( the commanding officer at this time), and the Pert, commanded by Lieut Adams, were the only vessels here had cut the cables and retreated up the river. The invalid Officers and seamen spiked what few guns they had upon Navy Point, and went off in boats after setting fire to the storehouses.

The British loss must have amounted to 200 of the 41st regiment the evening before.

At ten at night after a march of 40 miles in one day and during engagements of 600, more regulars came in after forced marches. The village at Sackett’s Harbour was left almost defenseless because our fleet had left here but a few days before in detachments for Niagara. Three or four vessels left at a time and the Madison remained here alone, but a day or two before she sailed, and two schooners came in. The Wolfe is accompanied by Commodore Yeo and has on board 300 picked men from the Kent, 74, Yeo stated his only wish is to meet our fleet and is suspects they have gone to land their troops at Kingston and his squadron went to persue ours.

Tuesday June 1 – Our fleet has just returned here after its operation at Niagara. The British fleet is at Kingston, and has not been seen off here since the day of the attack. Capt. Mills was buried yesterday with honors of war.

by Bob Townsend

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