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Chapter 5

We did not know the cause of the last explosion, until after the firing
ceased. I had seen an awful black cloud, and objects in the air that I
took for men; but little did we imagine the explosion had cost us so dear.
Our schooner lay at no great distance from the common landing, and no
sooner were we certain of the success of the day, than Mr. Osgood ordered
his boat's crew called away, and he landed. As I belonged to the boat, I
had an early opportunity of entering the town.

We found the place deserted. With the exception of our own men, I found
but one living being in it. This was an old woman whom I discovered stowed
away in a potatoe locker, in the government house. I saw tables set, and
eggs in the cups, but no inhabitant. Our orders were of the most severe
kind, not to plunder, and we did not touch a morsel of food even. The
liquor, however, was too much for our poor natures, and a parcel of us had
broke bulk in a better sort of grocery, when some officers came in and
stove the casks. I made sail, and got out of the company. The army had
gone in pursuit of the enemy, with the exception of a few riflemen, who,
being now at liberty, found their way into the place.

I ought to feel ashamed, and do feel ashamed of what occurred that night;
but I must relate it, lest I feel more ashamed for concealing the truth.
We had spliced the main-brace pretty freely throughout the day, and the
pull I got in the grocery just made me ripe for mischief. When we got
aboard the schooner again, we found a canoe that had drifted athwart-hawse
and had been secured. My gun's crew, the Black Jokers, wished to have some
fun in the town, and they proposed to me to take a cruise ashore. We had
few officers on board, and the boatswain, a boat swain's mate in fact,
consented to let us leave. We all went ashore in this canoe, then, and
were soon alongside of a wharf. On landing, we were near a large store,
and looking in at a window, we saw a man sitting asleep, with a gun in the

hollow of his arm. His head was on the counter, and there was a lamp
burning. One of the blacks pitched through the window, and was on him in a
moment. The rest followed, and we made him a prisoner. The poor fellow
said he had come to look after his property, and he was told no one would
hurt him. My blacks now began to look about them, and to help themselves
to such articles as they thought they wanted. I confess I helped myself to
some tea and sugar, nor will I deny that I was in such a state as to think
the whole good fun. We carried off one canoe load, and even returned for a
second. Of course such an exploit could not have been effected without
letting all in the secret share; and one boat-load of plunder was not
enough. The negroes began to drink, however, and I was sober enough to see
the consequences, if they were left ashore any longer. Some riflemen came
in, too, and I succeeded in getting my jokers away.

The recklessness of sailors may be seen in our conduct. All we received
for our plunder was some eight or ten gallons of whiskey, when we got back
to the harbour, and this at the risk of being flogged through the fleet!
It seemed to us to be a scrape, and that was a sufficient excuse for
disobeying orders, and for committing a crime. For myself, I was
influenced more by the love of mischief, and a weak desire to have it said
I was foremost in such an exploit, than from any mercenary motive.
Notwithstanding the severity of the orders, and one or two pretty sharp
examples of punishment inflicted by the commodore, the Black Jokers were
not the only plunderers ashore that night. One master's-mate had the
buttons taken off his coat, for stealing a feather bed, besides being
obliged to carry it back again. Of course he was a shipped master's-mate.

I was ashore every day while the squadron remained in the port. Our
schooner never shifted her berth from the last one she occupied in the
battle, and that was pretty well up the bay. I paid a visit to the gun
that had troubled us all so much, and which we could not silence, for it
was under a bank, near the landing-place. It was a long French eighteen,
and did better service, that day, than any other piece of John Bull's. I
think it hulled us several times.

I walked over the ground where the explosion took place. It was a dreadful
sight; the dead being so mutilated that it was scarcely possible to tell
their colour. I saw gun-barrels bent nearly double. I think we saw Sir
Roger Sheafe, the British General, galloping across the field, by himself,
a few minutes before the explosion. At all events, we saw a mounted
officer, and fired at him. He galloped up to the government-house,
dismounted, went in, remained a short time, and then galloped out of town.
All this I saw; and the old woman in the potato-locker told me the general
had been in the house a short time before we landed. Her account agreed
with the appearance of the officer I saw; though I will not pretend to be
certain it was General Sheafe.

I ought to mention the kindness of the commodore to the poor of York. As
most of the inhabitants came back to their habitations the next day, the
poor were suffering for food. Our men were ordered to roll barrels of salt
meat and barrels of bread to their doors, from the government stores that
fell into our hands. We captured an immense amount of these stores, a
portion of which we carried away. We sunk many guns in the lake; and as
for the powder, _that_ had taken care of itself. Among other things we
took, was the body of an English officer, preserved in rum, which, they
said, was General Brock's. I saw it hoisted out of the Duke of Gloucester,
the man-of-war brig we captured, at Sackett's Harbour, and saw the body
put in a fresh cask. I am ashamed to say, that some of our men were
inclined to drink the old rum.

We burned a large corvette, that was nearly ready for launching, and
otherwise did the enemy a good deal of harm. The inhabitants that returned
were very submissive, and thankful for what they received. As for the man
of the red store, I never saw him after the night he was plundered, nor
was anything ever said of the scrape.

Our troops had lost near three hundred men in the attack, the wounded
included; and as a great many of these green soldiers were now sick from
exposure, the army was much reduced in force. We took the troops on board
on the 1st of May, but could not sail, on account of a gale, until the
8th, which made the matter worse. Then we got under way, and crossed the
lake, landing the soldiers a few miles to the eastward of Fort Niagara.
Our schooner now went to the Harbour, along with the commodore, though
some of the craft remained near the head of the lake. Here we took in
another lot of soldiers, placed two more large batteaux in tow, and sailed
for the army again. We had good passages both ways, and this duty was done
within a few days. While at the Harbour, I got a message to go and visit
Bill Swett, but the poor fellow died without my being able to see him. I
heard he was hurt at York, but never could come at the truth.

On the 27th May, the army got into the batteaux, formed in two divisions,
and commenced pulling towards the mouth of the Niagara. The morning was
foggy, with a light wind, and the vessels getting under way, kept company
with the boats, a little outside of them. The schooners were closest in,
and some of them opened on Fort George, while others kept along the coast,
scouring the shore with grape and canister as they moved ahead. The
Scourge came to an anchor a short distance above the place selected for
the landing, and sprung her broadside to the shore. We now kept up a
steady fire with grape and canister, until the boats had got in-shore and
were engaged with the enemy, when we threw round-shot, over the heads of
our own men, upon the English. As soon as Colonel Scott was ashore, we
sprung our broadside upon a two-gun battery that had been pretty busy, and
we silenced that among us. This affair, for our craft, was nothing like
that of York, though I was told the vessels nearer the river had warmer
berths of it. We had no one hurt, though we were hulled once or twice. A
little rigging was cut; but we set this down as light work compared to
what the old Black Joke had seen that day month. There was a little sharp
fighting ashore, but our men were too strong for the enemy, when they
could fairly get their feet on solid ground.

Just after we had anchored, Mr. Bogardus was sent aloft to ascertain if
any enemy were to be seen. At first he found nobody; but, after a little
while, he called out to have my gun fired at a little thicket of
brushwood that lay on an inclined plain, near the water. Mr. Osgood came
and elevated the gun, and I touched it off. We had been looking out for
the blink of muskets, which was one certain guide to find a soldier; and
the moment we sent this grist of grape and canister into those bushes, the
place lighted up as if a thousand muskets were there. We then gave the
chaps the remainder of our broadside. We peppered that wood well, and did
a good deal of harm to the troops stationed at the place.

The wind blew on shore, and began to increase; and the commodore now threw
out a signal for the boats to land, to take care of the batteaux that were
thumping on the beach, and then for their crews to assist in taking care
of the wounded. Of course I went in my own boat, Mr. Bogardus having
charge of her. We left the schooner, just as we quitted our guns, black
with powder, in our shirts and trowsers, though we took the precaution to
carry our boarding-belts, with a brace of pistols each, and a cutlass. On
landing, we first hauled up the boats, taking some dead and wounded men
out of them, and laying them on the beach.

We were now ordered to divide ourselves into groups of three, and go over
the ground, pick up the wounded, and carry them to a large house that had
been selected as a hospital. My party consisted of Bill Southard, Simeon
Grant, and myself, we being messmates. The first man we fell in with, was
a young English soldier, who was seated on the bank, quite near the lake.
He was badly hurt, and sat leaning his head on his hands. He begged for
water, and I took his cap down to the lake and filled it, giving him a
drink; then washing his face. This revived him, and he offered us his
canteen, in which was some excellent Jamaica. To us chaps, who got nothing
better than whiskey, this was a rare treat, and we emptied the remainder
of his half pint, at a pull apiece. After tapping this rum, we carried
the poor lad up to the house, and turned him over to the doctors. We found
the rooms filled with wounded already, and the American and English
doctors hard at work on them.

As we left the hospital, we agreed to get a canteen apiece, and go round
among the dead, and fill them with Jamaica. When our canteens were about a
third full, we came upon a young American rifleman, who was lying under
an appletree. He was hit in the head, and was in a very bad way. We were
all three much struck with the appearance of this young man, and I now
remember him as one of the handsomest youths I had ever seen. His wound
did not bleed, though I thought the brains were oozing out, and I felt so
much sympathy for him, that I washed his hurt with the rum. I fear I did
him harm, but my motive was good. Bill Southard ran to find a surgeon, of
whom several were operating out on the field. The young man kept saying
"no use," and he mentioned "father and mother," "Vermont." He even gave me
the names of his parents, but I was too much in the wind, from the use of
rum, to remember them. We might have been half an hour with this young
rifleman, busy on him most of the time, when he murmured a few words, gave
me one of the sweetest smiles I ever saw on a man's face, and made no more
signs of life. I kept at work, notwithstanding, until Bill got back with
the doctor. The latter cast an eye on the rifleman, pronounced him dead,
and coolly walked away.

There was a bridge, in a sort of a swamp, that we had fired on for some
time, and we now moved down to it, just to see what we had done. We found
a good many dead, and several horses in the mire, but no wounded. We kept
emptying canteens, as we went along, until our own would hold no more. On
our return from the bridge, we went to a brook in order to mix some grog,
and then we got a full view of the offing. Not a craft was to be seen!
Everything had weighed and disappeared. This discovery knocked us all
aback, and we were quite at a loss how to proceed. We agreed, however, to
pass through a bit of woods, and get into the town, it being now quite
late in the day. There we knew we should find the army, and might get
tidings of the fleet. The battle-ground was now nearly deserted, and to
own the truth we were, all three, at least two sheets in the wind. Still I
remember everything, for my stomach would never allow me to get beastly
drunk; it rejecting any very great quantity of liquor. As we went through
the wood, open pine trees, we came across an officer lying dead, with one
leg over his horse, which was dead also. I went up to the body, turned it
over, and examined it for a canteen, but found none. We made a few idle
remarks, and proceeded.

In quitting the place, I led the party; and, as we went through a little
thicket, I heard female voices. This startled me a little; and, on looking
round, I saw a white female dress, belonging to a person who was evidently
endeavouring to conceal herself from us. I was now alone, and walked up to
the women, when I found two; one, a lady, in dress and manner, and the
other a person that I have always supposed was her servant. The first was
in white; the last in a dark calico. They were both under thirty, judging
from their looks; and the lady was exceedingly well-looking They were much
alarmed; and, as I came up, the lady asked me if I would hurt her. I told
her no; and that no person should harm her, while she remained with us.
This relieved her, and she was able to give an account of her errand on
the field of battle. Our looks, half intoxicated, and begrimed with the
smoke of a battle, as we were, certainly were enough to alarm her; but I
do not think one of the three would have hesitated about fighting for a
female, that they thus found weeping, in this manner, in the open field.
The maid was crying also. Simeon Grant, and Southard, did make use of some
improper language, at first; but I brought them up, and they said they
were sorry, and would go all lengths, with me, to protect the women. The
fact was, these men supposed we had fallen in with common camp followers;
but I had seen too much of officers' wives, in my boyhood, not to know
that this was one.

The lady then told her story. She had just come from Kingston, to join her
husband; having arrived but a few hours before. She did not see her
husband, but she had heard he was left wounded on the field; and she had
come out in the hope of finding him. She then described him, as an officer
mounted, with a particular dress, and inquired if we had met with any such
person, on the field. We told her of the horseman we had just left; and
led her back to the spot. The moment the lady saw the body, she threw
herself on it, and began to weep and mourn over it, in a very touching
manner. The maid, too, was almost as bad as the mistress. We were all so
much affected, in spite of the rum, that, I believe, all three of us shed
tears. We said all we could, to console her, and swore we would stand by
her until she was safe back among her friends.

It was a good bit before we could persuade the lady to quit her husband's
body. She took a miniature from his neck, and I drew his purse and watch
from him and handed them to her. She wanted me to keep the purse, but this
we all three refused, up and down. We had hauled our manly tacks aboard,
and had no thoughts of plunder. Even the maid urged us to keep the money,
but we would have nothing to do with it. I shall freely own my faults; I
hope I shall be believed when I relate facts that show I am not altogether
without proper feelings.

The officer had been hit somewhere about the hip, and the horse must have
been killed by another grape-shot, fired from the same gun. We laid the
body of the first over in such a manner as to get a good look at him, but

we did not draw the leg from under the horse.[7]

When we succeeded in persuading the lady to quit her husband's body, we
shaped our course for the light-house. Glad were we three tars to see the
mast-heads of the shipping in the river, as we came near the banks of the
Niagara. The house at the light was empty; but, on my hailing, a woman's
voice answered from the cellar. It was an old woman who had taken shelter
from shot down in the hold, the rest of the family having slipped and run.
We now got some milk for the lady, who continued in tears most of the
time. Sometimes she would knock off crying for a bit, when she seemed to
have some distrust of us; but, on the whole, we made very good weather in
company. After staying about half an hour at the light-house, we left it
for the town, my advice to the lady being to put herself under the
protection of some of our officers. I told her if the news of what had
happened reached the commodore, she might depend on her husband's being
buried with the honours of war, and said such other things to comfort her
as came to the mind of a man who had been sailing so near the wind.

I forgot to relate one part of the adventure. Before we had got fairly
clear of the woods, we fell in with four of Forsyth's men, notoriously the
wickedest corps in the army. These fellows began to crack their jokes at
the expense of the two females, and we came near having a brush with them.
When we spoke of our pistols, and of our determination to use them, before
we would let our convoy come to harm, these chaps laughed at our pop-guns,
and told us they had such things as 'rifles.' This was true enough, and
had we come to broadsides, I make no doubt they would have knocked us over
like so many snipes. I began to reason with them, on the impropriety of
offending respectable females; and one of the fellows, who was a kind of
corporal, or something of that sort, shook my hand, said I was right, and
offered to be friends. So we spliced the main-brace, and parted. Glad
enough was the lady to be rid of them so easily. In these squalls she
would bring up in her tears, and then when all went smooth again, she
would break out afresh.

After quitting the light, we made the best of our way for the town. Just
as we reached it, we fell in with a party of soldier-officers, and we
turned the lady and her woman over to their care. These gentlemen said a
good word in our favour, and here we parted company with our convoy, never
hearing, or seeing, anything of either afterwards.

By this time it was near dark, and Bill Southard and I began to look out
for the Scourge. She was anchored in the river, with the rest of the
fleet, and we went down upon a wharf to make a signal for a boat. On the
way we saw a woman crying before a watch-maker's shop, and a party of
Forsyth's close by. On enquiry, we learned these fellows had threatened to
rob her shop. We had been such defenders of the sex, that we could not
think of deserting this woman, and we swore we would stand by her, too. We
should have had a skirmish here, I do believe, had not one or two rifle
officers hove in sight, when the whole party made sail from us. We turned
the woman over to these gentlemen, who said, "ay, there are some of our
vagabonds, again." One of them said it would be better to call in their
parties, and before we reached the water we heard the bugle sounding
the recall.

They had given us up on board the schooner. A report of some Indians being
out had reached her, and we three were set down as scalped. Thank God,
I've got all the hair on my head yet, and battered as my old hulk has got
to be, and shattered as are my timbers, it is as black as a raven's wing
at this moment. This, my old shipmate, who is logging this yarn, says he
thinks is a proof my mother was a French Canadian, though such is not the
fact, as it has been told to me.

Those riflemen were regular scamps. Just before we went down to the wharf,
we saw one walking sentinel before the door of a sort of barracks. On
drawing near and asking what was going on inside, we were told we had
nothing to do with their fun ashore, that we might look in at a window,
however, but should not go in. We took him at his word; a merry scene it
was inside. The English officers' dunnage had been broken into, and there
was a party of the corps strutting about in uniform coats and feathers. We
thought it best to give these dare-devils a berth, and so we left them.
One was never safe with them on the field of battle, friend or enemy.

We met a large party of marines on the wharf, marching up under Major
Smith. They were going to protect the people of the town from further
mischief. Mr. Osgood was glad enough to see us, and we got plenty of
praise for what we had done with the women. As for the canteens, we had to
empty them, after treating the crew of the boat that was sent to take us
off. I did not enter the town after that night.

We lay some time in the Niagara, the commodore going to the harbour to get
the Pike ready. Captain Crane took the rest of us off Kingston, where we
were joined by the commodore, and made sail again for the Niagara. Here
Colonel Scott embarked with a body of troops, and we went to Burlington
Bay to carry the heights. They were found to be too strong; and the men,
after landing, returned to the vessels. We then went to York, again, and
took possession of the place a second time. Here we destroyed several
boats, and stores, set fire to the barracks, and did the enemy a good deal
of damage otherwise; after which we left the place. Two or three days
later we crossed the lake and landed the soldiers, again, at Fort Niagara.

Early in August, while we were still in the river, Sir James Yeo hove in
sight with two ships, two brigs, and two schooners. We had thirteen sail
in all, such as they were, and immediately got under way, and manoeuvred
for the weather-gauge. All the enemy's vessels had regular quarters, and
the ships were stout craft. Our squadron sailed very unequally, some being
pretty fast, and others as dull as droggers. Nor were we more than half
fitted out. On board the Scourge the only square-sail we had, was made out
of an English marquée we had laid our hands on at York, the first time we
were there. I ought to say, too, that we got two small brass guns at York,
four-pounders, I believe, which Mr. Osgood clapped into our two spare
ports forward. This gave us ten guns in all, sixes and fours. I remember
that Jack Mallet laughed at us heartily for the fuss we made with our
pop-guns, as he called them, while we were working upon the English
batteries, saying we might just as well have spared our powder, as for any
good we did. He belonged to the Julia, which had a long thirty-two,
forward, which they called the "Old Sow," and one smart eighteen aft. She
had two sixes in her waist, also; but _they_ disdained to use _them_.

While we were up at the harbour, the last time, Mr. Mix who had married a
sister of Mr. Osgood, took a party of us in a boat, and we went up Black
River, shooting. The two gentlemen landed, and as we were coming down the
river, we saw something swimming, which proved to be a bear. We had no
arms, but we pulled over the beast, and had a regular squaw-fight with
him. We were an hour at work with this animal, the fellow coming very near
mastering us. I struck at his nose with an iron tiller fifty times, but he
warded the blow like a boxer. He broke our boat-hook, and once or twice,
he came near boarding us. At length a wood-boat gave us an axe, and with
this we killed him. Mr. Osgood had this bear skinned, and said he should
send the skin to his family, If he did, it must have been one of the last
memorials it ever got from him.

James Fenimore Cooper

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