While the success of the British and American arms had been alternating (with eventual triumph to the latter) in the manner we have shown during the campaign of 1813, on the Western District of Upper Canada, some highly important operations had taken place in the army of the centre. Of these our space will admit but of a detail of one, and we thus travel out of the scene to which we have hitherto confined our labors, not only because it was the most dashing affair that occurred during the war, but because it offers a striking parallel to the enterprise and daring which destroyed the American power, at the outset of hostilities, and was productive of similar results.
Towards the close of May 1813, the Americans, after having hotly bombarded Fort George on the Niagara frontier, for two successive days, crossed the river and succeeded in establishing themselves in that post which was evacuated as untenable. The British loss on this occasion was considerable, and General Vincent, who commanded the army of the centre, retreated with much precipitation towards Burlington Heights, withdrawing at the same time the garrison from Fort Erie.
Emboldened by the absence of serious opposition, the American Generals (Winder and Chandler) pushed forward a force, exceeding three thousand men, as far as Stoney Creek, close to the position then occupied by the little British army, not more than one fifth of this number. Here they halted for the night, evidently to refresh their troops for the attack, which was meditated for the following morning.
The result of such attack, with so overwhelming a force, upon a small body of men dispirited, by recent discomfiture, and destitute of supplies or reserves, could scarcely have been doubtful. Fortunately however for the honor of the British arms, Colonel Harvey, to whose conduct on this occasion allusion has been incidentally made in an early chapter of the present volume, had recently joined the centre Division from Lower Canada, and to his quick and comprehensive mind it immediately suggested itself, that if the attack of the American army should be awaited, the result, under the circumstances already alluded to, and in the position occupied by the British force (literally a Cul-de-Sac) must inevitably be attended by their utter discomfiture, if not annihilation. On the contrary, he felt persuaded that, even with the small force at the disposal of the British General, there was every probability that a bold and well concerted night attack would have the effect of restoring to the assailants that confidence in themselves, which had been weakened by a series of reverses, while it must necessarily, and in the same proportion, carry dismay into the ranks of the hitherto victorious enemy.