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The TALES you probably never heard about

AN INCIDENT OF 1812-14

LIEUT. MURRAY AT THE TAKING OF FORT NIAGARA

A Letter From His Daughter to Rev. Cannon Bull, Which Gives Many Facts Not Mentioned by Historical Writers.

Glen Farm, Stamford, Dec. 18, 1890.

[Welland Telegraph, 8 May 1891]

MY DEAR CANNON BULL- I know nothing about Gen. Brock that is not known to the world. I suppose Mr. Read’s book will not give any details of the war after the death of Brock. I wish some capable writer with the requisite historical faculty for sifting the truth from the rubbish of fables that so often gathers round past events, making so-called history valueless, would write one authenticated by military dispatches and trust-worthy records at first hand, wherever they can be had. As an instance of the little reliance to be placed on relations of historical events written long after they took place, and apparently having no authority for their statements, I may instance the case of my father, though it is a case of no importance except to the cause of truth, as a proof of historical inaccuracy. You have seen Col. Murray’s letter in which he states that my father led one of the storming parties at the taking of Fort Niagara. Col. Murray, you must remember, planned, arranged and commended the attack, and of course knew what officers he had appointed to lead the detachments he had chosen from the regiments under his command at that time. I have two accounts of the taking of the fort, one published in the Montreal Garland in 1832, and reprinted a year or two ago in a number of the Welland Tribune now in my possession. In this account the names of the officers leading the different storming parties are given, but among them my father’s name does not appear. I have another account in a pamphlet entitled “Canada from the Lakes to the Gulf,” the writer adapting the nom de plum of “Captain Mac.” In this account, the discovery of an open wicket forgotten by the garrison, and discovered by Sergeant Spearman, through which the advanced party found entrance, is related. My father, when telling us about the war in Canada and the taking of Fort Niagara, always mentioned this incident and described the sergeant as a fine looking man and an excellent soldier. My father led the Light Company of the 100th regiment, of which company he was lieutenant, and he and the sergeant were in advance together when the sergeant saw the open wicket and showed it to my father, and through it the first entrance was made. The Americans had expected an attack, and had been watching for it under arms for two nights. They now believed the English had never intended an attack or had given up their intention, and the men, tired out, were sleeping. When the British soldier and Canadian military got in they met with no resistance; but unfortunately they were enraged at the burning of Niagara town and in a fit of frenzy began bayoneting the sleeping men. Their officers could not restrain them. A party of American officers were playing cards in a room off that part of the fort entered by my father and his party; on hearing the noise they rushed out and claimed my father’s protection, offering their swords to him and surrendering as prisoners of war. He took their swords and handed them to one of his men, who afterwards delivered them to him. He then directed the American soldiers to sit  down in a corner of the room and placed over them a guard of soldiers whom he could trust to protect them. I think there were nine officers. Some of the swords I remember very well; particularly one with an ornamented handle of ivory and silver. After the taking of Niagara my father fought with his regiment on the frontier until the battle of Chippawa, in which the 100th were led by their colonel, Marquis of Tweedate, most gallantly my father always said. In this battle my father was taken prisoner. Having been severely wounded in the thigh and leg, he had fallen in the thickest of the fight where he would have been trampled to death if a soldier of his regiment had not carried him to some place of comparative safety. “A drunken old rascal,” my father used to say, “whom I had saved more than once from a flogging, and whose gratitude saved my life.” There he was safe out of the battle, but taken prisoner after a while by some followers of the American army. He wore a little ivory whistle around his neck suspended by a green cord, and one of the men who lifted him into the cart in which he was taken away said, with a usual twang which my father imitated to the delight of us children.: “I guess, mister, you’re one of the chief musicianers.” Such whistles were worn by the officers of the Light Companies. For a long time I remember it as a much coveted plaything, but it was lost like many another precious relics in the steady downfall of our fortunes. When his captors had my father safe on the other side he was attended by the American doctors; not very skilful surgeons I suppose, for they insisted in cutting off my father’s leg, being unable to extract the bullets. But to this my father vehemently objected, and when they told him if he would not submit to have the leg amputated, he would die, he replied he would much rather prefer death to the loss of his leg. So the surgeons let him have his way and the wounds healed. He had the bullets that they were unable to extract (two I think) in his leg until he died. He remained a prisoner on parade until the peace came. On rejoining his regiment he was given leave of absence for some months, and visited his friends in Ireland who received him like one raised from the dead. When he returned to his regiment the claims on the war office, after the great continental war, were enormous; in comparison, services in America were little thought of, however, my father was awarded a sum of money, a couple of hundred pounds I think, as compensation for his wounds and imprisonment. There seemed no career for a soldier in the peace that followed the long war, and my father having lately married my mother whom he had known as a little girl in Canada, left the army on half pay, and went to live in Ireland.

You asked me once why I did not make some public statement of my father’s services in the war, and especially at the taking of Fort Niagara? But people do not like to have their old beliefs and traditions interfered with, and I have no proof to offer except Colonel Murray’s letter; and that does not seem to have caused any doubt of the accuracy of former accounts in those who have seen it. I do not think any authorized account of the taking of Fort Niagara has ever been written. All have been written long after the event from such second, or third hand descriptions as the writers were able to obtain, and as they thought most probable. Some of the circumstantial incidents related seemed to me wholly legendary-such as the details of the interview between Col. Murray and the officers that were to lead the storming parties-the very words of the conversation being given as in all legendary histories. Then the story of the apropos retort, “Bayonets are trumpets,” called out to the card players certainly is an invention-a jeu d’esprit of a grim sort that seemed to fit the situation, made up long after the event. Mr father remained a prisoner till the peace, when he was sent to England with other prisoners. The other officers remained in Canada until the end to the war; some of them long after it. They were remembered and my father forgotten. He never met with any of the accounts of the taking of Fort Niagara, and I am sure it never occurred to him that if any had been written his name would have been ignored any more than those of his brother officers. All who were engaged with him in the war are dead; all who knew him in this country when he was a young officer are dead; nearly all were dead when he came to Canada with his family and settled in the country. He was the only man of the true heroic type I have ever known. Unselfish, generous, honest and truthful; a man who never knew fear nor falsehood.

This is a long story to inflict upon you, but it is the penalty you pay for the vivid interest you have shown in all that concerns the brave struggle made by Canada against the invaders of her soil in 1812. I do not ask or expect you to answer this letter, but I hope you will read it, and then I am sure you will understand how I feel at the injustice done to my father’s memory. On reading what I have written, I have had to make so many erasures and supply so many committed words, that I fear you will find it troublesome reading. I wish I could rewrite it, but the memories it recalls of a beloved and honored father have agitated me so that I must beg you to accept it as it is.

Very truly yours,

LOUISA MURRAY

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