Wednesday, May 28

The Northern Campaign

To: Captain Robert Freymann,
HMS Acasta,
At sea.

From: Captain Thomas Hurlbut,
Royal Navy Dockyard,
Upper Canada.

May 20, 1814.

Dear Captain Freymann,

It has been a while since last I wrote, and also long since I have heard about your exploits off the coast of America but I know that duty keeps us too busy for much of the social activities. Since I have but little of amusements to report on, instead I shall tell you of goings on here in the interior of the continent.

As I had previously mentioned, two frigates’ keels were laid down last summer and two frigates were launched April 14: the Princess Charlotte, 121’ on deck, 37’ 8” maximum breadth and a burthen of 755 tons, carries 24-24 pdr long guns on her upper deck and 16-32 pdr carronades on her forecastle and quarterdeck making her very powerful for her size; and Prince Regent, 155’ 10” on deck, 43’ maximum breadth and a burthen of 1293 tons, carries 30-24 pdr guns on the upper deck and 20-32 pdr and 8-68 pdr carronades on her spar deck. Sir James is confident these vessels will give us the naval superiority on Lake Ontario that has been in question since the war began.

Men for these vessels have been in short supply and the a draft of 500 men arrived from Quebec in the fall and  a further 210 under Commander Collier from Halifax March 22. In addition, a battalion of Royal Marines has been added to our force here. We only awaited permission from Governor Prevost to begin the attack on our adversaries.

Begin we must as we recently discovered that the Americans woke up to the dangers of a superior Royal force and began the construction of capital ships of their own, though late in the season (the second week of January!). A frigate and two large brig-sloops were known to be on the stocks at Sacket’s Harbour soon after and, information recently arrived describing the launch of the brigs Jefferson and Jones in early April and the frigate Superior in the first week of May.

The brigs are said to be modeled on the new American Peacock class of sloops of war being built on the Atlantic coast, so 122’ between perpendiculars, 33’ 2’ on the beam and they are to carry 18-42 pdr carronades, 2-24 pdr long guns as chase guns and an 18 pdr gun on a pivot on a topgallant forcastle. While the main battery of carronades lack range, they are each at least the equal of our two sloops Royal George and Wolfe, and probably of greater force due to heavier shot.

The frigate is a monster. It is 175’ between perpendiculars with a beam of 40’ and will carry 30-32 pdr long guns on the upper deck and 26-42 pdr carronades and 2-24 pdr long guns on the spar deck. So Captain, we now have one of those great American warships such as Constitution, United States and President to cope with, although this ship has greater weight of metal.

New information is in, describing a second frigate under construction, that begun after the launch of the Superior. This ship, to be called Mohawk is to have dimensions similar to that of the US 36 gun frigates, so 144’ between perpendiculars, a 37’ beam but will be armed with 26-24 pdr long guns on the upper deck and 16-32 pdr carronades.

We might have a slight superiority if we acted before Mohawk is ready and certainly not after.

Governor Prevost forbade an attack on Sackets as he refused to bring in the necessary troops from Lower Canada. A lesser target was selected, and preparations were made to attack Oswego on Lake Ontario as it is an important transhipment point on the Americans’ supply route.

On 5th May, the entire squadron anchored off Oswego and, although delayed by sudden bad weather, the town was captured and some stores and  a few heavy ships’ guns taken on the 6th. Feeling that the required ordnance for the new US ships had been effectively intercepted, Sir James then took the squadron to anchor off Sacket’s Harbour and commenced a blockade of that place. As the US squadron did not come out, it may be assumed that he was correct.

A blockade, as you are aware, is a difficult thing to maintain and as our freshwater warships have no storage space, vessels cannot maintain a position away from port for more than a few days. Hopefully it can be maintained until all the guns for the new enemy ships can be captured. Then these “tigers” will be toothless and of little consequence.

While the “Shipbuilders’ War” continues apace (Sir James has ordered another large vessel in Kingston), the war on the upper lakes requires more devious methods. As there are only two transport schooners and perhaps some two dozen boats and as many fur trading canoes in British hands on lakes Huron and Michigan, supply is carried out in small lots., parcelled out to the individual boats. The commandeered North West Company schooner Nancy carried most of the supplies to Michilimackinac until cut off from her port by the American victory on Lake Erie and at Fort Maldon in the fall. She then fled up into Lake Huron and wintered there awaiting orders.

This past winter, a party of sailors and shipwrights commanded by Lt. Newdigate Poyntz, a company of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles (said by General Brock “to be a race of men familiar with boats”) under Lt. Andrew Bulger and some gunners and some field pieces, marched from Kingston to York, all under the command of Lt. Col. Robert McDouall of the Glengarry Regiment with the needed supplies for Mackinac. They took these supplies north from York on the military road to Lake Simcoe and from there by sleigh to the Indian path from Kempenfelt Bay to Willow Creek and there constructed a depot to keep the supplies and shelter themselves. Before the ice was out on the creek, they built 29 of the unique flat-bottomed boats simply known as “bateaux” and readied them for the remainder of their journey. On the 22nd of April, they departed downstream to where Willow Creek flows into the Nottawasaga River which empties into Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. On the 24th, they made camp on the sandy shores of the bay.

They then departed for Michilimackinac on the morning of the 25th. We’ll not know for many weeks whether the made it to their destination or not but, if successful, they will have opened up a very important supply route bypassing the normal path through Lake Erie and US forces.

It may be assumed that the United States Navy will appear on Lake Huron as soon as they are able and they may in fact be there already. The small boats can hide in the many inlets and pick their way to the far flung outposts but it will be difficult. At the moment, we have no fighting vessels on the upper lakes capable of standing up to any of the US Naval units. The only way this can be addressed is to build them there in a secure harbour. Perhaps this hare-brained scheme to build ships “in frame” and transport them overland in pieces for assembly in some bay in the wilderness has some merit after all.

Dispatches from Montreal have arrived that tell of 900 Naval officers and men that will be here in two weeks. Would that we have had them last year when a want of men were all that separated us from maintaining our ascendency on the lakes.

As always, I wish you good fortune and good hunting!

Your Humble Servant,
Thomas Hurlbut

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