Wrapped in Flames: The Great American War and Beyond

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CanadianCanuck

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Great to see an update although given the knowledge of the ground and how it aids the defence I wonder if attacking along this route is the best approach? Would it be better to defend a bit further north, where British supply lines are shorter so that if the Americans attack they can be badly mauled in any attempt, whereas men can be committed say further west or in the fighting on the coastline.

I get the feeling, reading Wolseley's description, written long afterwards that the hopes are going to end in disappointment, both along the path to Albany and possibly also at Washington despite the military edge they should have there in terms of firepower. Its mentioned in Wolseley's description that British artillery has more capability and I think its generally superior in range and impact whereas many of the union forces are using guns not greatly different from Napoleonic times.
In the strategic sense, just taking Rouse Point and Plattsburgh would satisfy British goals, and put them in a position where the Americans simply cannot invade Canada East and threaten Montreal. Conceivably they would be able to send another corps to Canada West and drive the Americans out. But the political reality is that Palmerston and the War Cabinet want a very big signal victory (ala Yorktown or Sevastopol) that will signal they have unambiguously beaten the Americans. Hence marching up this truly unenviable line of advance. In 1863, political issues are increasingly driving the war from London.

From all my research, the Armstrong field guns are essentially much more powerful/reliable than the American Napoleon or Parrot guns put into service. They can blast the Americans at a range that the American gunners cannot respond at. It would make for a pretty uneven contest in artillery so far as I can tell.
 

CanadianCanuck

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Chapter 61: Marching Through Canada
“The winter of 1862-63 had been unkind to all the combatants, but to the Army of the Niagara most of all. It’s 25,000 men were spread thin along the shores watching the British positions across the Trent River. Smith had been forced to recall all his divisions, leaving the garrisons along the St. Lawrence to the 4th Division of New York State Militia, which had decreased the ability of either side to mount any serious offensives across the river. His replacement, Prentiss, found the situation no better.

The grim stalemate had set in since the climactic battle of Mount Pelion in August of the previous year. Both sides had been exhausted and stretched to the limit, and the simple truth had been that neither London nor Washington had the material to spare for such a remote front. Other than a series of inconclusive naval actions on Lake Ontario, the front lines had been stalemated for months.

It had been in February that the dispositions of the armies had changed. The destruction of railroad bridges in the Union rear had meant that, with the lake frozen Prentiss was relying on a supply route stretching back to Buffalo some 200 miles distant. The network of rails ran largely through hostile country which, even with troops from the Northwest and militia scraped up from New York, was restive against the American presence. This created an intolerable situation in the late winter that forced Prentiss to take the fateful step of ordering a retreat from his lines on the Trent River, all the way to Toronto. This retreat had caused uproar in both Washington and Albany, Stanton and Halleck sending furious messages to his headquarters demanding to know the meaning of his cession of territory. Prentiss had replied “It was my duty to this army to preserve it. Though this loss of territory is regrettable, maintaining my force as a coherent deterrent to the British army is of the utmost necessity.”

Though censured, it did not take long for most observers to agree he had been correct. Over one thousand men had been invalidated from his force between December of 1862 and February of 1863. Placing the army in the more secure Toronto, had been absolutely necessary…”– For No Want of Courage: The Upper Canada Campaign, Col. John Stacey (ret.), Royal Military College, 1966


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Harassment of the occupiers caused considerable infrastructure damage

“The losses in men and material to the Canadian guerillas during the occupation were, in statistical terms, generally minor. Other than the occasional skirmish with patrols and fired wagons or stolen horses, the Canadians had done little to truly stop the American movements along the shores of Lake Ontario as far east as the Trent River. The coming of winter, and the subsequent completion of the harvest, meant that many hands which would otherwise have been engaged in business, were now idle and itching for revenge.

Although the American advance through Canada West had been, in comparison to many invading armies, rather gentle it was not without incident. Union troops had burnt the homes of those suspected or known to be serving in the militia, most famous was the destruction of Dundairn Castle, the palatial residence of Aide de Camp to the Queen Alan MacNab who had gained some infamy for the destruction of the Caroline in 1838, and many would say it was this news which spurred his November stroke in 1862. The incident which stuck out in Canadian minds however, had been the burning of Brantford. Though General Smith had taken Turchin to task for this remarkably poor decision, it had caused aroused great anger amongst the populace.

One Michigan colonel would note in a letter home “These people [Canadians] are like us in their manner. They go to the same churches, read the same prayer books and even sing the same hymns. But to them we are as foreigners. They loathe our acents[sic], despise our flag and openly wish for our ruin. Men and women turn their backs when we march by or when our trains travel through. There is a spirit of hostility wherever men in blue go, and rarely do they travel unarmed.

York County, and Toronto in particular, were most overtly hostile. Over 4,000 men from the city and surrounding countryside had marched south, then north, fighting the invaders. Even though they had been forced to abandon the city, the regions inhabitants found ways to spite the Americans. The remaining citizens were defiant, women spitting at soldiers, merchants charging outrageous prices for goods, and in one instance Captain William “Bull” Nelson had a chamber pot dumped on his head.

The American occupation headquarters at Fort York in Stanley Barracks, always made for depressing news. Train derailments were almost daily problems, and sections of track were torn up often. “One man with a match causes more trouble than an entire Limey Division.” The commander of the occupation forces, MG John J. Jackson would complain.

Jackson himself had offered his services on the Northern frontier when war with the British broke out in February. Though he had been reluctant to serve against his fellow Virginians, he had no such qualms about fighting the British. His previous experience in the army before his resignation would come from garrison duty on the frontier and in Virginia, while when he resigned from the army in 1823 he had taken up a career in law. This made him a natural choice to work in an area fraught with potential danger and legal hurdles…

…in the winter of 1862 the garrison of Canada consisted of 29 regiments of infantry, four each from Michigan and Wisconsin and four others from across the West and Northwest and a further nine understrength regiments of New York State militia. Supported by six regiments of cavalry and batteries of artillery, this force was responsible for keeping the peace and deterring any advances by the British. Nearly 20,000 men were tied up on garrison duties, absent the 25,000 men in the field army.

Facing them were possibly as many as 2,000 irregulars. Most groups numbered less than 100 men, and many of the fighters were opportunists, ambushing patrols and stealing horses. One of the most persistent was led by Captain William D. Pollard who had previously been a company commander in the 31st Volunteer Battalion. Most of his men were stragglers from the disastrous action at Delaware Crossroads, but others were those galvanized by the invaders actions. They had carried out the action in January which had destroyed the Grand Trunk bridge across the Rogue River, which cut off Smith’s army from any resupply for near a month. Operating under the moniker “Pollard’s Rangers” they had caused unceasing headaches for the occupiers. Ambushing patrols, derailing supply and troop trains, and even making off with an entire shipment of artillery ammunition at one point.

…by March, Halleck in his headquarters at Albany had become thoroughly tired of the inability of Jackson or Smith to suppress the guerillas. He appointed one of his up and coming staffers, Phillip Sheridan, to deal with the problem.

Sheridan was a career officer. The New Yorker had in fact been born in Albany, and was familiar with many of its environs from his childhood. Enrolling at West Point in 1848, he had gained a reputation for aggressiveness which would serve him well on fields from Canada to the Great Plains. Commissioned into the 1st US Infantry, he had served out West in the Pacific Northwest, fighting the Yakima and Rogue River tribes, leading small fighting companies in intense skirmishes. When the Civil War had erupted the young officer had been scooped up by Halleck in November as the foreign crisis deepened. Quickly proving himself indispensable Halleck kept Sheridan on with his staff where he did exemplary work in the coordination of the offensives on the Niagara and across the border with Canada East.

However, ‘Little Phil’ was yearning for a combat command, and when the chance came to command a special brigade in coordination with the local garrison he leapt at the chance. His orders were to “clear the country of guerillas and bandits to ensure the operational success of our army in Canada West” and his ‘Detached Brigade’ would take to that work with aplomb.

Composed of three battalions of mounted troops, four companies of mounted artillery and two light batteries, the Brigade acted as a fire brigade, when trouble was reported, the men would pounce on a county. The mounted men would sweep through villages and towns, men with militia commissions or families with reported ties to the enemy would be swept up and hostages taken. Word would go out that if the guerillas did not surrender themselves, hostages would be executed. Almost immediately these tactics began to pay dividends, as numerous guerillas surrendered, or attacks in the areas associated with the known guerilla bands decreased with a remarkable rapidity. The only exception to this rule, were Pollard’s Rangers…

…By the start of May, with the British 3rd Corps advancing in the wake of Prentiss’s retreat, Pollard was determined to begin a general rising to try and drive the Americans off entirely. In doing so he began stirring up trouble in districts previously thought pacified. Sheridan though, prepared a trap. He took fifty hostages, and relocated them to the Short Hills region, putting them in an improvised stockade. Pollard gathered roughly two hundred men to mount a rescue operation, acting on information that the stockade was only guarded by a single company while Sheridan was supposedly reacting to an attack on blockhouses in the next county. Gathering his men for an audacious evening assault on May 9th, Pollard readied them to give another stinging defeat to the American occupation forces.

Instead, Pollard was met by four companies of infantry, and a regiment of cavalry led by Sheridan himself. In the ensuing battle, over half of Pollard’s group were killed or wounded, and another fifty captured. Pollard himself was among the dead…” – Rangers, Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, Irregular Fighters in the Great American War, West Point, 1971


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Harsh methods would be used to keep order

“Despite some confusion in the change of command during the winter, the newly christened Third Corps of the Army of Canada was looking much forward to taking the fight to the Yankees in the spring. To our surprise though, this task was made far easier as the Yankees decided discretion was the better part of valour and had withdrawn over 100 miles backwards to Toronto, abandoning all their gains from the previous spring.

That this was the work of the noble resistance of the firm yeoman and patriots of Canada could be doubted by no man. Marching in glory from our winter camps we were much cheered throughout the country as the people had suffered from the Yankee despotism throughout the winter. No fences were left intact, and much had been requisitioned from an already hungry populace where so many men had left to take up arms against the invaders. Despite this, the women and old men turned out and cheered and gave beyond their means so that the army marching back to drive off the invader might be comforted for only a while. It was enough to drive even a stoic man to tears. One farmer mounted his roof and energetically waved the British flag as our army marched by, rejoicing as he sat once again under the protection of that same flag.

General Williams was much in evidence, handing out rations and ordering blankets donated to the local population. The infantry would often stop for a day to help collect firewood and the firm men of the British regulars endured much privation so that private lands might not be disturbed by their presence. The army baked bread and paid well for anything it took, even accepting the much inferior Yankee currency at loss on occasion.

My cavalry was much in evidence in this period. The Yankees were not totally without fight, and every other day we would skirmish with his pickets and patrols who ranged beyond his lines. Though from all reports, they had no major presence save that at the City of Toronto itself.

However, we moved as swiftly as we could, and by the middle of May, we faced the enemy on the outskirts of the city. The York Brigade was in a fierce mood upon seeing their home once again, and so when the General ordered that the Yankee works be probed, they volunteered to a man to do so. The probing actions on May 20th and 21st determined the Yankees had entrenched themselves on the Scarborough Heights, with a long line stretching to the north with its flank anchored on the River Don, and another line of works covering the city to the north and west.

My own troop, knowing the land, were instructed to scout around it and attempt to determine the depth of these lines. Here we found ourselves in a lovely little skirmish around Garding’s Mill north of the city. We chanced upon a Yankee cavalry company, perhaps equal in strength to our own. Not willing to let our reconnaissance be in vain, I ordered the charge. With sabers drawn we hurtled towards our blue counterparts, who fired wildly and engaged us in piecemeal with a great collision of horseflesh. I found myself in combat with a dashing looking Yankee captain who, though while he had a fine mount, knew little of the sword and managed to wound me but slightly while I delivered to him a great slash to the throat.

I confess, it was here I came closest to meeting my maker in the war. A Yankee trooper had drawn on me and I found myself reaching for my pistol. There was the crack of the gun and I waited for the sting of the wound and hopefully a quick end, only to see the Yankee’s horse fall and the man himself flail wildly as his mount collapsed under him. Once again I was saved by the shooting of the venerable Sergeant Charles Smith who rode to my rescue. The old regular made no comment on it, but rode on. It was yet another clue that I should revise my opinion on the cavalryman and firearms.

With information from the loyal townsfolk, we determined the Yankee line was manned but weakly, though their numbers exceeded our own with some 25,000 men in the city, while our whole force numbered a mere 19,000 who were able to face the occupier. Any attack was bound to be costly, and so we dug our own counter works, and searched for an opportunity…” Soldiering In Canada, Recollections and Experiences of Brigadier General George T. Denison III, Toronto Press
 

steve59p

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Great to see an update and that the tide seems to be turning against the invaders although it sounds like the cost has been heavy for the Canadians under occupation. Plus the more the British/Canadian forces advance, especially across a plundered land the longer their logistics become while the Americans get near their bases. Hopefully they can win a decisive battle to largely destroy the American army but that could be difficult. Also hopefully Sheridan will get his come uppance. :wink:

Steve
 
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CanadianCanuck

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Great to see an update and that the tide seems to be turning against the invaders although it sounds like the cost has been heavy for the Canadians under occupation. Plus the more the British/Canadian forces advance, especially across a plundered land the longer their logistics become while the Americans get near their bases. Hopefully they can win a decisive battle to largely destroy the American army but that could be difficult. Also hopefully Sheridan will get his come uppance. :wink:

Steve
The occupation certainly hasn't been gentle, but it has been arguably less harsh than the mini-civil wars we saw in places like Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee where mild brutality by both sides seemed to be the norm. But, it is basically showing that the people of Canada West (particularly areas like Toronto and York County) don't welcome the invaders. The destruction of property and the 'requisitioning' of supplies has been a sore point, and the Canadians aren't completely in the dark on certain things, like the weakness of the American greenback.

I should note that this has happened with British forces too, but to a much lesser extent as they either a) don't control a whole lot of American territory or b) are largely bringing in supplies from the sea rather than marching across large inhabited stretches of territory where they could 'requisition' supplies of their own. The fact that they're issuing hard currency is also something that helps tamp down on many more hurt feelings.

As for whether Sheridan will get his comeuppance, only time will tell...

Excellent chapter as always. It also goes a long way to illustrating why the costs to both sides made war such an unpalatable prospect in OTL.
Thank you! Though my apologies for the length of time replies/new updates are taking. RL has been getting in the way far too much lately. That and I've been doing endless research on other things.

But yeah, the war is really unpalatable for both sides at the present. The British are running up against the larger American armies or the sheer depth of the United States, while the US is learning how much it sucks not to have naval superiority. The Confederates meanwhile are earning the most from the whole war, but let's see how far they will be able to push that...
 
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