Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Windmill Battle: 7. Hunters Fortify Their Position

The morning of Wednesday, November 14, 1838, dawned cold, windy, and clear. The wet snow that covered the bodies the day before had hardened to icy coffins. Shortly after dawn, the three British gunboats returned and lobbed 18-pound balls of iron into Newport, doing little physical damage but rattling the Hunter raiders’ nerves. Both sides traded shots at each other, more to stifle boredom than for military value.

In mid-morning, several companies of militia joined the cordon around Newport, not to attack but to reconnoiter. Under the local militia commander, Colonel Plomer Young, they fired on the outer ranks of Hunters, forcing them closer to the stone buildings. This allowed two British officers to get a good view of the hamlet.

One officer was Lt.-Colonel Henry Dundas, commander of the British 83rd Regiment of Foot. The other was Major Forbes Macbean, an artillery expert. While the officers watched, the Cobourg gunboat fired at the windmill. As usual, the cannonball bounced off. Dundas and Macbean concluded that much heavier ordinance was required. They returned to Kingston to arrange for it.

Hunter Captain Daniel Heustis relates that a band of Canadian militia occupied one of the stone houses on the periphery of Newport that morning and began sniping at the Hunters. In response, Hunter Colonel Nils von Schoultz led 11 men (some towing a small cannon) to retake the house. The Hunters drove off the enemy, set the house on fire, and returned with two wounded militiamen as prisoners.

Later that morning, Canadian militia Colonel Richard Fraser called a truce so that both sides could recover their dead and any remaining wounded. Von Schoultz agreed, and for an hour both sides politely helped each other recover most of the dead from their wintry tombs.

At some point during the brief peace, von Schoultz asked to speak to Colonel Fraser. Historians speculate that Hunter commander wanted to discuss terms of surrender. The bad tempered Fraser refused to speak to him. To Fraser, von Schoultz was a brigand somehow aligned with Bill Johnston, worthy only of hanging and not treatment as a gentleman.

For the rest of the day, the Hunters fortified their positions by blocking windows and doors with stone blocks. They entered these fortresses by ladders to second-story windows. Heustis related that his men behaved in good spirit. He singled out Garret Hicks, 45, a farmer from Alexandria Bay, NY, who amused them for hours with endless stories of the antics of dogs.

In contrast to Hicks’ high spirits, one young raider named Hunter Vaughan, 19, from Sackets Harbor, NY, strolled in solitude along the river. Once a fervent Patriot and recruiter for the Hunter army, he now stood forlorn and disillusioned, gazing out at the lights of the American steamer Telegraph. His father, William Vaughan, captained that ship and it was his duty to prevent Hunters on the American side from bringing aid to his son and his comrades. Witnesses saw Hunter feebly wave a white handkerchief at the passing vessel.

Another snowstorm struck that night. Without candles, lamps, or firewood, the Hunters shivered through the long night in complete darkness.

Further Reading

Next installment of the Battle of the Windmill.
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