The Burlington Races

scotto

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I sure many of you have heard this old story from the War of 1812, the British fleet is fighting it out on the lake with the Americans near what is now Toronto and after some damage, decides to head to Hamilton Harbour (Burlington Bay) for cover.
This story has been written and rewritten many times in various history books, has it's own Provincial plaque dedicated to it's honour located in Harvey Park, not far from Dundurn Castle. This great moment in Canadian history even has many beautiful paintings brushed in it's memory. The problem is that this story is probably nothing more than that, a story.

Examples;
From: Harbour Lights-Burlington Bay by Mary Weeks-Mifflin & Ray Mifflin

"A nor'easter was blowing, the seas were rising, and the British flagship Wolf was struggling, her top main mast sheared off. The year was 1813 and Chauncey's American squadron was in pursuit. The "Burlington Races" had begun.
British commander Sir James Yeo signalled to the corvette Royal George, the brigantine Prince Regent, and the trio of schooners which followed, that they were heading for refuge at Burlington Bay, even though it was landlocked by a long, sandy beach. Only a shallow creek, known locally as the "Outlet," provided any entrance to the harbour, and there was a great risk that the 426-ton Wolf would be driven ashore.
Oddly enough, it was the gale that saved them. It had piled up the waters at the head of Lake Ontario and scoured a passage through the bar, allowing the squadron access. The American fleet chose to break off pursuit and head for the safety of Fort George, since a reconnaissance party in July of that year had revealed the shallowness of the Outlet.
The British had been lucky and they knew it. Had the engagement lasted a few hours longer, only the seaman's lantern hoisted on the flagpole by the blockhouse at the Outlet would have provided any aid for Yeo's young
navigator, Richardson."

From: Hamilton: An Illustrated History by John C. Weaver

The final local encounter was a naval engagement that began near York on 18 September 1813. After an hour of indecisive action, British Commodore Sir James Yeo broke off to avoid the growing superiority of the American squad-ron. In heavy winds, he made a run for Burlington Bay. With the storm waves adding depth to the channel at Burlington Beach and having aboard a youth familiar with the local waters, Yeo escaped into the bay.

From: Pathway to Skyway-A History of Burlington by Claire Emery.

The two fleets met in action in September of 1813. Sir James had landed supplies at the head of the lake and returned to York. The next day the American squadron of 11 ships appeared off shore and against this force Sir James mustered two corvettes, a brig, and three schooners. The Americans had more and heavier guns and, while staying out of range, battered the British squadron without having a shot fired near them in return.
Although Sir James was out-gunned and out-ranged, he put out to give battle off the present Canadian National Exhibition grounds at Toronto. Just after noon, Sir James broke off the action because his ship had suffered severely and a gale was coming up. The rest of the American ships were beginning to arrive so he decided to make a run for it to the head of the lake. This was referred to later by the British sailors as the "Burlington Races."
About five o'clock in the afternoon, riding the high water that was raised by the storm that day, the British entered what is now Hamilton Harbour, through a narrow channel near Brant House. Once inside the bay, Sir James' problem was to get out again, without Chauncey blocking him.


Photo # 1 Provincial Plaque at Harvey Park

Photo # 2 & 3 The Burlington Races paintings by Peter Rindlisbacher, All rights reserved, the Hamilton-Scourge Foundation
 

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scotto

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Continued:

This story went on for many, many years until Robert Malcomson wrote the book, Lord of the Lakes. This author's book was one of the better books written covering the War of 1812 and battle for the coveted Lake Ontario. Given the scenario, one would expect another Burlington Races story, but little at all was written about it in the book. More here-
http://www.warof1812.ca/chauncey.htm
This caught the attention of editor James Elliott and following editorial was printed in the Hamilton Spectator.
(I moved this article from another thread)
Lake Legend In Doubt

Posted with full permission from the Hamilton Spectator
LAKE LEGEND IN DOUBT; [Final Edition]
JAMES ELLIOTT, THE SPECTATOR. The Spectator. Hamilton, Ont.:
Mar 26, 1999. pg. A.1

1999 The Hamilton Spectator. All rights reserved.

It is, for Hamilton, our touchstone to the marine War of 1812, one of the few great and gallant stories of an otherwise frustrating and indecisive Lake Ontario campaign. It goes like this: It is a dark and stormy afternoon in September, 1813. The British naval squadron, mauled in action off present day Toronto by a larger and better armed American squadron, turns south to run with the wind toward the sanctuary of Burlington Bay. After a three hour running battle down the lake to its head, with the American squadron in hot pursuit, the prospects are grim for British commander Sir James Yeo. His ships could be captured or, worse still, wrecked on the lee shore ... unless there is some way to get into the harbour. The beach strip inlet that connects what will one day be Hamilton Harbour to the lake is normally a shallow stream that only allows the passage of small vessels. But on this day, the following seas are sending huge breakers through the inlet. With the right timing a large ship just might ... Guided by the young Canadian pilot on board Yeo's flagship, the entire squadron -- six ships in all -- rides a storm surge over the bar to the safety of the harbour and the protection of British guns on distant Burlington Heights. Cheated of almost certain victory, the 10 ship American squadron veers off at the last minute and makes for an anchorage at the mouth of the Niagara River. A pivotal moment in our history. Less than two weeks earlier, the Americans had taken control of Lake Erie by capturing a British squadron. Had Yeo lost the Lake Ontario squadron, it's doubtful the British could have held Upper Canada. We would be Americans today. Yeo's seamanship and the steady hand and local knowledge of his young pilot combined to snatch, if not victory, then at least another day from the jaws of defeat. The young pilot James Richardson, for his part, is awarded a handsome pension. The action, known as the Burlington Races, becomes part of the lore of the lakes, celebrated in books and art, and marked in provincial plaques. It's also one of those damned good sea stories, full of skill and derring-do. The problem is, it probably never happened. A new book by St. Catharines marine historian Robert Malcomson has shot some rather large holes in this legend of the lake. In Lords Of The Lake: The Naval War On Lake Ontario, 1812-1814, Malcomson has examined archival records, particularly the log of Yeo's flagship, the Wolfe, and concluded the incident could not have occurred. A British Admiralty chart of 1815, reprinted in the book, shows the lake area immediately outside what is now Hamilton Harbour as Burlington Bay. The harbour itself is designated as Little Lake. Malcomson says that on the day in question the British squadron anchored at Burlington Bay. Surprisingly, he makes no reference to Hamilton's cherished saga in his book. Asked why, Malcomson says, "I omitted any reference to the legend because it is wrong, like many of the other legends that have sprung up and most of which I similarly omitted. "The outlet for Little Lake was too shallow to allow the passage of even a small schooner. Richardson (the pilot) never mentioned the event in his memoirs, which you would think he might have -- a big ship like the Wolfe, damaged, unwieldy, shooting the curl?" SHOCKING DISCOVERY That omission piqued the curiosity of Hamilton naval history buff Bob Williamson, who contacted Malcomson and got a copy of the Wolfe's log. "It's the log of the ship that tells you where they were and what they did," Williamson says. And a careful reading indicates "they did not cross the bar. Beating over the sandbar would be suicidal. (A successful crossing) would have been a miracle." That discovery came as a bit of a shock to Williamson, a former commander of HMCS Star who described, as recently as three years ago in a Spectator Forum page article, crossing the sandbar as "a brilliant defensive manoeuvre ... boldly gambling that they could ride high waves through the shallow opening to the bay to save the day." Convinced otherwise by the documentation assembled by Malcomson, Williamson set about uncovering the origin of the legend and eventually found a book by Toronto journalist and amateur marine historian C.H.J. Snider. In The Wake Of The Eighteen-Twelvers, a collection of magazine articles on Lake Ontario's part in the War of 1812 published in 1913, includes a chapter entitled The Burlington Races. In this chapter, Yeo -- in the heat of the chase -- offers the old ship's pilot a five-guinea bounty to take them safely over the sandbar and a noose from the yardarm if he doesn't. Such was Snider's reputation in 1913 that, despite a complete lack of documentation, the accounts included were accepted as authoritative. The tale of riding the surf over the beach strip is a complete invention, Williamson contends. And Snider admits as much in his introduction. In that introduction, he writes that his sources are original logs and letters: "The men and the ships named here are the men and ships named there and what befell them is told as there recorded. Only in the why of things falling as they did has imagination been allowed any play; and then only when the records have been dumb." Williamson interprets that as an admission that the incident is pure fabrication. "No one wrote about the ships crossing the sandbar because it didn't happen. (Snider) made it up but most people haven't read the introduction and think he is writing fact. This caution has fallen on deaf ears, and so fancy has become fact." Indeed it has. A prominent blue and gold plaque erected by the Ontario Archeological and Historic Sites Board presides over Burlington Heights today. It lauds Yeo's skillful seamanship in bringing "his ships through the shallow channel in the sand bar to the safety of the bay." And a few hundred metres south in the Hamilton Military Museum hangs a dramatic painting by renowned marine artist Peter Rindlisbacher, showing the damaged Wolfe just after crossing the sand strip into the harbour 'BRILLIANT SEAMANSHIP' The accompanying text says it celebrates "a brilliant piece of seamanship and ... the nautical War of 1812 event most connected with this part of Ontario." The painting was commissioned in 1989 by the Hamilton-Scourge Society as a fundraiser and a commemoration of the city's marine heritage. After reviewing Malcomson's evidence to the contrary, the artist says: "I'm tending to believe he's right. It's what they don't mention that makes me worry. It's not impossible but chances are against it; I would say less than likely." Rindlisbacher acknowledges he would have painted differently had he known then what he knows now, but adds it's not really significant. "Originally I thought: Oh God! Horrors! This entire magical legend has got holes in it. But, honestly, which side of the sandspit it occurred is not that huge of a difference. I don't see any horrendous disappointment on the part of Hamiltonians that their harbour didn't save the squadron." Emily Cain, whose 1983 book Ghost Ships repeated the feat as fact, is somewhat less certain today -- although still reluctant to totally discount the story. "I wasn't there but I don't see why it couldn't have happened. In theory there's no reason why they couldn't have come over the bar because they built those vessels with a very shallow draught ... we know they brought small vessels in." Cain says while she hasn't read Malcomson's book, she is aware of the revisionist take on the Burlington Races. And, in the absence of definitive proof, she cautions would-be debunkers to go slow. "You have to love your local legends. It's not very nice to go around, jump up and down, and say this wasn't true." The final word on the legend goes to John Summers, former curator of Toronto's Marine Museum of Upper Canada and an authority on C.H.J. Snider. When Snider died in 1971, Summers says he left a houseful of records and files that have never been examined or organized by scholars. "Nobody has done enough research to definitively say what he wrote wasn't true. I can guarantee that. There's a lot of stuff in his papers that nobody's gone into. "Knowing who he was and what he did, I would not rule out that he might have had something ... a primary source that is now gone or lost. He could have had a letter from Yeo on his desk. You never know with him."
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Still with all the facts hopefully on board, there seems to be no real clear proof one way or the other if the legendary story was true or to be discarded.
 

scotto

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Finally the End

The one person who has finally ended this long story is Commander Robert J. Williamson, a former Secondary School Principal, was the Commanding Officer of Hamilton's Naval Reserve Division, HMCS Star 1985-88. He has also served as a member of the Directing Staff at the Canadian Armed Forces Staff College in Toronto. A published author, he has several heritage books to his credit including: HMCS Star, A Naval Reserve History; and UNTiDy Tales of Officer Cadets, an anecdotal history of the University Naval Training Divisions.

Commander Williams has put all the facts together in one article and published his findings in the Canadian Military History magazine back in 1999. Hard to find as there is very little reference to the article at the library or on the Net.
Very long for a post, but worth reading if you want the facts.


The Burlington Races Revisited
A Revised Analysis of an 1813 Naval Battle for Supremacy on Lake Ontario
Robert J. Williamson
From the safety of the Lake Ontario shore near Burlington, military and civilian observers witnessed the jockeying for position of many sailing vessels during the afternoon of Tuesday, September 28, 1813. They likened the event to a yacht race. Thus, a pivotal naval engagement that would determine the outcome of the War of 1812 was facetiously labelled, "The Burlington Races." The facts of this important piece of Canadiana, have, like so many significant historical events, been cloaked by myth and misconception until recently. The discovery in the US National Archives of the log of the British flagship of the Lake Ontario Squadron, HMS Wolfe, has made it possible to interpret this episode in Canadian history more accurately.
The Wolfe's log came to light by accident during research for the Hamilton and Scourge project in 1971. How the log book of the Wolfe found its way to Washington was, until recently, a bit of a mystery. On 7 September 1999, the National Archives in Washington verified that the log was received in Washington on 2 December 1814 from Captain Tho. Macdonough of Plattsburgh, New York. Therein lies the link with Captain George Downie who, in June 1814, was appointed to command HMS Wolfe or Montreal as she had just recently been renamed. The name change would have made the log of the Wolfe, dated 8 June - 20 December 1813, redundant. As an archival record, it would have been the captain's responsibility to safeguard the log until it could have been forwarded to the British Admiralty. At the end of August, Downie was hurriedly ordered to the Isle-aux-Noix shipyard on Lake Champlain to command the newly-launched frigate HMS Confiance. On 11 September 1814, Downie was killed in action and his squadron surrendered to Captain

Macdonough at the Battle of Plattsburgh. It is almost certain that Macdonough found the log of the Wolfe, awaiting delivery to the Admiralty, in Downie's personal effects. Before being sent to Washington, the log was viewed and signed by Commodore Issac Chauncey, the senior officer of the US Navy on the Great Lakes.
The Burlington Races occurred just 18 days after Commodore Perry's stunning victory on Lake Erie. Many historians, however, have failed to realize that Perry's success was meaningless without the necessary sequel on Lake Ontario, the key to the Great Lakes. Commodore Chauncey, having been overshadowed by his subordinate's victory, was under pressure to administer the "coup de grace." The British lion on Lake Ontario had to be caged in order to bring about an end to hostilities in Upper Canada, the principal theatre of the war. This would allow Major-General Wilkinson to safely tranship his American army on the Niagara Peninsula to the St. Lawrence River where, according to the United States government's revised strategy for the war, he would co-ordinate with Major-General Hampton from Plattsburgh, New York, in a two-pronged attack on Montreal. A stranglehold on this choke point, the heart of the Canadian colonies, would end the war. On the other hand, an unchecked Royal Navy under the command of the feted Commodore Sir James Yeo, roaming freely on Lake Ontario, could spell disaster to this new American offensive. Therefore, the event that was to be called the Burlington Races would prove to be a crucial naval engagement and indeed, a turning point in the war.
On paper, the American squadron had the advantage in numbers, ten vessels to six; and in firepower, a broadside weight-of-metal ratio of three to two. They outgunned the British in long range cannon by three to one. The only statistic that favoured the Royal Navy was a 20 percent surfeit in short range smashers or carronade. These statistics are based on a report made by Commodore Yeo to Admiral Warren on 29 September 1813. In reality, the combatants were more equal than the figures imply. Six ships of the American squadron were converted merchant schooners, not fighting ships. They were more useful as gunboats for bombardment than naval battles. Top heavy and unwieldy in bad weather, their sailing characteristics were so divergent that Chauncey had great difficulty in keeping his ships in formation; so much so that in this action, three of the schooners were tied to mother ships in a towing formation. While these vessels added to the weight of Chauncey's firepower, they seriously hampered his speed and manoeuvrability. On the other hand, the British ships were faster, held their formation well and could better concentrate their effort.
When the two squadrons met off the port of York (Toronto) on this fateful day, the weather, described in the log of the WbZfe, was "cloudy with fresh breezes of E.N.E. wind." According to the navy's Beaufort Wind Scale which measures wind force from 0-10, fresh breezes

are force 5 with wind speed between 17 and 21 knots. The gale force winds of legend appear to have been only in Chauncey's mind as he searched for excuses to explain his later actions. Yeo, having just arrived at York that morning, sent a boat ashore with dispatches. At 10:00 am the enemy squadron bore down on the anchorage. By 10:30, Yeo had recovered his dispatch boat and weighed anchor. He headed out into the lake to gain "sea room" on a port tack. Since the wind was from the ENE, this would have placed him on a SSE course towards the Niagara River. At 12:30 pm, he manoeuvred to bring the American squadron within range of his carronades while at the same time causing the sluggish American formation to become very extended. Consequently, as the two squadrons engaged, it was the two flagships, HMS Wotfe and USS Pike, that took the brunt of the action. It should also be noted that Yeo had manoeuvred the Americans into a position where their gunnery solutions were complicated. They had to engage the enemy with their port side guns while heeled over to port on a starboard tack. Nevertheless, by 1:20 pm, the Wolfe's main and mizzen topmasts were shot away while the Pike had been dangerously holed below the water line and had serious damage on her forward gun deck when one of her own cannons exploded, killing or wounding a large number of her crew. The damage to the Wolfe's sails meant a critical loss of manoeuvrability, but the disciplined British formation, led by HMS Royal George, intervened and helped extricate their flagship from the close action. In Yeo's report of the battle, he wrote, "[When] the main and mizzen topmasts of this ship were shot away, by which she became unmanageable on the wind, I put the squadron before the wind for a small bay at the head of the lake where he [Chauncey] would have been under the necessity of engaging on more equal terms, this however he declined.. .and on approaching the bay, he hauled off, leaving us in this state perfectly unmolested to refit the squadron."
Yeo's phrase, "engaging on more equal terms" has never yet been satisfactorily explained by historians. It certainly does not imply that he intended to run away and hide behind a sandbar at the head of the lake, an impression held by many people until Robert Malcomson published his recent book, Lords of the Lake. Military logic dictates that because of battle damage to the Wolfe's sails, Yeo could not engage in battle manoeuvres and would have to attempt to make a stand from an anchored position on a friendly shore. An examination of the ship's log confirms this. It states, "At 4.30 arrived with the squadron and came to an anchor off Burlington Bay, close in shore with springs on the cables." By anchoring his ships on their back springs (a heavy hawser pulled the anchor to the ship's stern) the ships could be swung in the wind by releasing the spring hawser, thus presenting a fresh bank of guns to the enemy when necessary. Yeo would have doubled his firepower by this procedure and negated his loss of manoeuvrability by establishing a strong and compact defensive unit at anchor. This was a standard tactic of the period, used by the American squadron successfully against the British at Plattsburgh in 1814 on Lake Champlain. Fifteen years earlier in 1798, the French fleet attempted this same strategy at Aboukir Bay in Egypt against the formidable Admiral Nelson. However, through daring and superb seamanship, Nelson was able to envelop the French line and destroy their immobile ships one by one. But Commodore Chauncey was no Nelson. Having put the British to flight, he was satisfied to claim a partial victory. He declined to take any further risk by being drawn into a situation where he would have to engage the enemy on more equal terms. It was a decision that would haunt his reputation ever after.
 

scotto

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By forming a battle line close into the shore in a constricted area at the head of the lake, Yeo's back was protected and the American ships, most of them rather unwieldy, especially those towing schooners, would have found manoeuvring in such close environs very difficult and dangerous. Chauncey made note of this in his report; "I considered that if I chased the enemy to his anchorage, we should [all] go on shore; he amongst his friends, we amongst our enemies.. .I [therefore] relinquished the opportunity of acquiring individual reputation, at the expense of my country." In other words, he rightly perceived the danger. Furthermore, in Chauncey's Report to the Secretary of the Navy, he stated, "At the time I gave up the chase, this ship was making so much water that it required all our pumps to keep her free, owing to our receiving several shots so far below the water's edge that we could not plug the holes from the outside." Many historians, having accepted the American claim to victory, have conveniently overlooked the fact that the Pike was perhaps more badly damaged than the Wolfe, and probably in danger of sinking. Furthermore, the weather was deteriorating and it was not the American policy to fight under such conditions which negated the accuracy of their long range guns. Chauncey turned away in order to get back to port in the Niagara River as quickly as possible. From there he was able to make repairs and keep the British, who were anchored on the lake, under his observation. If he was unable to defeat the British squadron, then his primary objective was to keep them away from the American convoys sailing from Niagara carrying the American army to the St. Lawrence River for the pending attack on Montreal. No one, of course, had any inkling of what misfortune lay ahead for the Americans at Chrysler's farm and Chateauguay.
It is a Canadian myth that the British squadron made a daring escape from Chauncey by sailing through the four-foot shallows of the Burlington Bay mouth sandbar at the head of the lake. This embellished account, full of swashbuckler "derring-do," first appeared in a magazine serial for the Canadian Collier's Weekly in 1913. It was to be part of the celebrations for the centennial of the War of 1812. Local historians in the Hamilton - Burlington area embraced the exciting story with pride, even though the author warned in his introduction, that imagination had been used to "clothe the dry bones of record with the flesh and blood of fancy." That fancy has become fact. Many writers since that time, including myself, have perpetuated this account. A provincial historical plaque on Burlington Heights now gives credence to this myth. The Hamilton-Scourge Foundation has further popularized the incident with their beautiful prints of renowned Canadian artist Peter Rindlisbacher's outstanding and dramatic depiction of the Wolfe running close inshore at Burlington Beach.
Yeo did not have to hide his squadron behind the safety of a sandbar to escape an enemy who had long since turned away, or to seek shelter from a non-existent gale. Tucked into the Burlington shore on Lake Ontario, he was perfectly safe, for he knew the capabilities of his enemy. Considering that Yeo arrived in Canada after a court martial for grounding his last command, it is highly unlikely that he would have risked his entire squadron in the shallow channel entrance to what is now Hamilton Harbour, especially when it was unnecessary. But, legends die hard.1
The only way of setting the record straight is to let the eye witnesses whose words were recorded, tell us what happened. They are the watchkeeping officers of the Wolfe who made the entries in the ship's Remarks Log. Although their individual script, with unique characters and long flourishing down or cross strokes, requires careful study, their record is legible. The log does not record speed or distance travelled, but it does give date, time, weather, direction of movement and position of ships. To depict the action of 28 September 1813 on a map to scale, an estimated speed of the Wolfe is required. To establish this, the writings of Patrick O'Brian, regarded by many as the greatest navy historical authority of the Napoleonic period, have been consulted. Eleven knots or 12.7 mph appears to be the top speed for a war ship under perfect conditions.11 However, most marine engineers agree that 7 knots is a more reasonable speed, considering the manoeuvering of the squadron and the Wolfe's battle damage. The average speed of advance would therefore have been about 8.05 mph or 13 kph. The distance from York to the head of the lake, over water, is 50 kilometres. It would have taken the Wolfe at least four hours to reach the bay at the head of the lake. However, she

anchored at 4:30 pm, just three hours after putting before the wind off York. The British Admiralty charts of 1815 show an anchorage off Bronte. Time and distance calculations indicate that this anchorage is the logical position reached by the British squadron. If these calculations are correct, then the British could not have reached the confines of Burlington Bay as the legend states.
There is, however, even more compelling evidence in the log. The squadron came to anchor off Burlington Bay, not in it. Each day from Tuesday, September 28 to Monday, October 4, while at anchor, the log of the Wolfe records that the enemy was in sight off Niagara. This observation would only have been possible if the British anchorage was in Lake Ontario off Bronte. On 29 September, HMS Melinlle and HMS Beresford weighed anchor and were sent to scout out the enemy. On 2 October, at 6:00 am the sick and wounded were sent to hospital in York on board the sloop Mary Ann. At 8:00 am the entire squadron weighed anchor and made sail towards 4 Mile Creek (just east of the Niagara River). Late that afternoon near 12 Mile Creek (St. Catharines), a boat came off shore with Colonel Harvey to communicate with the Commodore. The next morning, Sunday, October 3, the squadron returned to their anchorage at the head of the lake. During all these activities the log does not make any reference to crossing or re-crossing the sand bar into Burlington Bay. Such freedom of movement could only have been possible if the squadron was anchored on the lake.
The legend also claims that the Canadian pilot of the Wolfe, James Richardson Jr., was awarded a pension for his part in guiding the ship over the sandbar. Richardson wrote his memoirs after the war. While there is extensive coverage of his life on Lake Ontario, and in particular, the Battle of Oswego where he lost his arm, there is no mention of any heroic passage over the sandbar into Burlington Bay. His pension was most likely awarded for the loss of his arm at Oswego, not his supposed navigational expertise.13
The Wolfe's Remarks Log and Richardson's memoirs are the only contemporary records of what happened that day. If the squadron had crossed the sandbar and entered Burlington Bay, these most relevant sources would have recorded the fact. They do not. Therefore, the story is a myth, a tale dressed up to make an interesting magazine series, almost one hundred years ago.
In reality, the British and Americans eyed each other suspiciously from their respective anchorages across the lake and licked their wounds. Their commanders evaluated their situation and made out their reports. Chauncey stated that he had 27 men killed and wounded including 22 by the bursting of a gun.14 The log of the Wolfe reports, "two men viz. John Edwards, seaman and Charles Kinslea M. Arms, killed and two seamen, Robert Archibald and John Baker wounded." If casualty reports mean anything to the outcome of a battle, then Chauncey clearly had suffered the most.
 

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Continued:

But the greatest damage was done to his reputation. During this engagement when he appeared to have attained the upper hand, he proved wary and excessively cautious, not making the best use of his force. In 1814 he became even less effective. Throughout the war, he failed, except for brief periods, to establish a naval superiority on Lake Ontario. At last, the confidence of President Madison was shaken, and he ordered Commodore Decatur to relieve him. But the damage was done. Without naval superiority on Lake Ontario, the Americans had no chance of winning the War of 1812. In the aftermath of this event, both sides attempted to preserve a measure of pride commensurate with the battle's historic importance. Incredibly, both American and Canadian historians have generally accepted that it was an American victory because the British "ran away." However, on closer examination, we can interpret that the British squadron only retreated to where it could assume a strong defensive position by anchoring with springs on their cables, close inshore at the head of the lake. This was a standard practice employed by all navies of that period. With the American squadron heading for home, it was unnecessary for the British to salvage victory from defeat by brazenly crossing the sandbar and hiding in Burlington Bay (Hamilton Harbour). That is pure myth. It was, in fact, the Americans who turned away, their flagship in jeopardy of sinking, their ungainly mixture of ships wary of manoeuvring on a lee shore in deteriorating weather conditions and their commander unwilling to face the British on "more equal terms." Under these circumstances, one can hardly describe this event as a British defeat.
However, strategically, the Americans accomplished their goal. While the refitting squadrons surveyed each other from across the lake, General Wilkinson moved his army from the Niagara Peninsula to the St. Lawrence River, unmolested. In the end, however, this strategy accomplished nothing. It was, in fact, a disaster for the Americans. Both armies came to ruin in the St. Lawrence Valley: General Wilkinson's army at Chrysler's farm and General Hampton, at Chateauguay. The assault on Montreal fizzled out. The British army, meanwhile, occupied the weakened Niagara frontier and captured Fort Niagara, thereby making the Niagara River a British supply port for their troops on the Niagara Peninsula. Yeo's Lake Ontario naval squadron survived the scrape of 28 September as strong as ever. In fact, it went on the offensive in the following Spring and helped to capture Fort Oswego along with enough naval stores to significantly delay Chauncey's ship building program at Sackets Harbour. This had serious consequences for the American offensive in the summer of 1814.

With the aid of information provided by the log of HMS Wolfe it is now clear that the naval engagement known as the Burlington Races, was conducted by the British with characteristic professionalism, in keeping with the high standards of the Royal Navy during the Nelson period. By maintaining the integrity of his squadron, Yeo played a far more important role in the events of the War of 1812 that shaped our future, than generations of historians have been prepared to grant him. If the British naval squadron on Lake Ontario had not thwarted Chauncey's attempt to attain complete control of the Great Lakes on 28 September 1813, it is safe to say that Southern Ontario would probably be a state of the American Union today. If in doubt about Yeo's accomplishment, then refer to the words of the greatest military authority of that period, the Duke of Wellington, who is reported to have said, "Any offensive operation founded upon Canada must be preceded by naval superiority on the Lakes."
---------------------------------------------------------------------------Thank you to Commander Williamson for allowing his work to be posted.
 

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More Information....

This bit of history comes from the American side and backs Commander Williamson findings.
__________________________________________________________
A section from;
SEA POWER IN ITS RELATIONS
TO THE WAR OF
1812
BY
CAPTAIN A.T. MAHAN, D.C.L., LL.D.
United States Navy


As the schooner gun-vessels sailed badly, the "Pike," the "Madison," and the "Sylph" each took one in tow on the morning of the 28th, steering for York, where the [107]British fleet was soon after sighted. As the Americans stood in, the British quitted the bay to gain the open lake; for their better manœuvring powers as a squadron would have scope clear of the land. They formed on the port tack, running south with the wind fresh at east (Positions 1). When about three miles distant, to windward, Chauncey put his fleet on the same tack as the enemy and edged down towards him (Positions 2). At ten minutes past noon, the Americans threatening to cut off the rearmost two of the British, Yeo tacked his column in succession, beginning with his own ship, the leader (a), heading north toward his endangered vessels, between them and the opponents. When round, he opened fire on the "General Pike." As this movement, if continued, would bring the leading and strongest British ships upon the weaker Americans astern, Chauncey put his helm up and steered for the "Wolfe" (b), as soon as the "General Pike" came abreast of her; the American column following in his wake. The "Wolfe" then kept away, and a sharp encounter followed between the two leaders, in which the rest of the squadrons took some share (Positions 3).

At the end of twenty minutes the "Wolfe" lost her main and mizzen topmasts, and main yard. With all her after sail gone, there was nothing to do but to keep before the wind, which was fair for the British posts at the head of the bay (Positions 4). The American squadron followed; but the "Madison," the next heaviest ship to the "Pike," superior in battery power to the "Wasp" and "Hornet" of the ocean navy, and substantially equal to the second British ship, the "Royal George," "having a heavy schooner in tow, prevented her commander from closing near enough to do any execution with her carronades."[109] The explanation requires explanation, which is not [108]forthcoming. Concern at such instants for heavy schooners in tow is not the spirit in which battles are won or campaigns decided; and it must be admitted that Commodore Chauncey's solicitude to keep his schooners up with his real fighting vessels, to conform, at critical moments, the action of ships of eight hundred and six hundred tons, like the "Pike" and "Madison," to those of lake craft of under one hundred, is not creditable to his military instincts. He threw out a signal, true, for the fleet to make all sail; but as he held on to the schooner he had in tow, neither the "Madison" nor "Sylph" dropped hers. His flagship, individually, appears to have been well fought; but anxiety to keep a squadron united needs to be tempered with discretion of a kind somewhat more eager than the quality commonly thus named, and which on occasion can drop a schooner, or other small craft, in order to get at the enemy. As the dismasted "Wolfe" ran to leeward, "the 'Royal George,'" says the American naval historian Cooper, "luffed up in noble style across her stern to cover the English commodore" (c), and "kept yawing athwart her stern, delivering her broadsides in a manner to extort exclamations of delight from the American fleet (Positions 5). She was commanded by Captain Mulcaster." Her fighting mate, the "Madison," had a heavy schooner in tow. This interposition of the "Royal George" was especially timely if, as Yeo states, Chauncey was holding at a distance whence his long twenty-fours told, while the "Wolfe's" carronades did not reach.

At quarter before three Chauncey relinquished pursuit. Both squadrons were then about six miles from the head [109]of the lake, running towards it before a wind which had increased to a gale, with a heavy sea. Ahead of them was a lee shore, and for the Americans a hostile coast. "Though we might succeed in driving him on shore, the probability was we should go on shore also, he amongst his friends, we amongst our enemies; and after the gale abated, if he could get off one or two vessels out of the two fleets, it would give him as completely the command of the lake as if he had twenty vessels. Moreover, he was covered at his anchorage by part of his army and several small batteries thrown up for the purpose." For these reasons, the commodore "without hesitation relinquished the opportunity then presenting itself of acquiring individual reputation at the expense of my country." The British squadron anchored without driving ashore. The American returned to Niagara, having received a certain amount of damage aloft, and one of the purchased schooners having lost her foremast; but the killed and wounded by the enemy amounted to only five, all on board the "General Pike." That vessel lost also twenty-two men by the bursting of a gun.



For the full text and the rest of the report;
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25912/25912-h/25912-h.htm#PageV2_104


A good write up on the whole topic;

https://museumsofburlington.com/sys...ed_and_Final_Document_May_2011.pdf?1305821951
Also attached below;
 

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scotto

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Feb 15, 2004
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The Beach Strip
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More comment....

A section from; The Naval War of 1812
Author: Theodore Roosevelt



As already mentioned, the British authorities no longer published accounts of their defeats, so Commodore Yeo's report on the action was not made public. Brenton merely alludes to it as follows (vol. ii, p. 503): "The action of the 28th of September, 1813, in which Sir James Yeo in the Wolfe had his main- and mizzen-top-masts shot away, and was obliged to put before the wind, gave Mulcaster an opportunity of displaying a trait of valor and seamanship which elicited the admiration of friends and foes, when he gallantly placed himself between his disabled commodore and a superior enemy." James speaks in the vaguest terms. He first says, "Commodore Chauncy, having the weather-gage, kept his favorite distance," which he did because Commodore Yeo fled so fast that he could not be overtaken; then James mentions the injuries the Wolfe received, and says that "it was these and not, as Mr. Clark says, 'a manoeuvre of the commodore's' that threw the British in confusion." In other words, it was the commodore's shot and not his manoeuvring that threw the British into confusion-a very futile distinction. Next he says that "Commodore Chauncy would not venture within carronade range," whereas he was within carronade range of the Wolfe and Royal George, but the latter did not wait for the Madison and Oneida to get within range with their carronades. The rest of his article is taken up with exposing the absurdities of some of the American writings, miscalled histories, which appeared at the close of the war. His criticisms on these are very just, but afford a funny instance of the pot calling the kettle black. This much is clear, that the British were beaten and forced to flee, when but part of the American force was engaged. But in good weather the American force was so superior that being beaten would have been no disgrace to Yeo, had it not been for the claims advanced both by himself and his friends, that on the whole he was victorious over Chauncy. The Wolfe made any thing but an obstinate fight, leaving almost all the work to the gallant Mulcaster, in the Royal George, who shares with Lieutenant Finch of the Tompkins most of the glory of the day. The battle, if such it may be called, completely established Chauncy's supremacy, Yeo spending most of the remainder of the season blockaded in Kingston. So Chauncy gained a victory which established his control over the lakes; and, moreover, he gained it by fighting in succession, almost single-handed, the two heaviest ships of the enemy. But gaining the victory was only what should have been expected from a superior force. The question is, did Chauncy use his force to the best advantage? And it can not be said that he did. When the enemy bore up it was a great mistake not to cast off the schooners which were being towed. They were small craft, not of much use in the fight, and they entirely prevented the Madison from taking any part in the contest, and kept the Sylph at a great distance; and by keeping the Asp in tow the Pike, which sailed faster than any of Yeo's ships, was distanced by them. Had she left the Asp behind and run in to engage the Royal George she could have mastered, or at any rate disabled, her; and had the swift Madison cast off her tow she could also have taken an effective part in the engagement. If the Pike could put the British to flight almost single-handed, how much more could she not have done when assisted by the Madison and Oneida? The cardinal error, however, was made in discontinuing the chase. The British were in an almost open roadstead, from which they could not possibly escape. Commodore Chauncy was afraid that the wind would come up to blow a gale, and both fleets would be thrown ashore; and, moreover, he expected to be able to keep a watch over the enemy and to attack him at a more suitable time. But he utterly failed in this last; and had the American squadron cast off their tows and gone boldly in, they certainly ought to have been able to destroy or capture the entire British force before a gale could blow up. Chauncy would have done well to keep in mind the old adage, so peculiarly applicable to naval affairs: "L'audace! toujours l'audace! et encore l'audace!" Whether the fault was his or that of his subordinates, it is certain that while the victory of the 28th of September definitely settled the supremacy of the lake in favor of the Americans, yet this victory was by no means so decided as it should have been, taking into account his superiority in force and advantage in position, and the somewhat spiritless conduct of his foe.

For the full text;

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/9104/pg9104.html

And more info from this Site;
http://www.uppercanadahistory.ca/1812/18128.html
 

David O'Reilly

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Dec 15, 2012
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On September 28, 1813 as Yeo was at anchor in the bay at York, Chauncey appeared from the east. Chauncey’s squadron consisted of his flagship the "Pike", along with the "Madison", three brigs and six schooners - eleven vessels in all. In comparison, the British squadron under Yeo was comprised of 6 vessels – the flagship "Wolfe", the "Royal George", two brigs and two schooners. The advantage that the American fleet held, besides their superior number, was the fact that they had long guns on board. This meant Chauncey was able to stand off at long range and batter his opponents. The British, meanwhile, had few long guns but were strong on carronades or short range weapons.

It is worthy to note that six of the American ships were converted merchant schooners – not fighting ships. Three of these armed schooners were actually tied to other ships in a towing formation to augment Chauncey’s firepower. However, they were also a detriment to his squadron as they seriously hampered his speed and maneuverability. (25)

The battle of the fleets, that day, began at noon as the Americans moved in on Yeo’s position. The fighting was both intense and fierce as both sides tried to maneuver to their advantage. It was the HMS Wolfe and the USS Pike that took the brunt of the action as they exchanged broadsides.

A report from Yeo at the Head of the Lake to Admiral Warren in Halifax Sept 29,1813:

"…They [the Americans] immediately bore down, in a long extended line, our Squadron keeping their wind, under a press of sail, at 12 o’clock, the Pike, Commodore Chauncey’s Ship, being nearly with Gun Shot, our Squadron Tack’d in succession, to close with the centre and rear of their line, the Enemy at the same time and the Action became general, to one the Main & Mizen topsail of this ship were shot away by which she became unmanageable on a wind…"


Meanwhile, Chauncy also suffered heavy damage. In communicating to the Secretary of the Navy on Oct 1, 1813, Commodore Chauncey reports:

"….The loss sustained by this ship was considerable, owing to her being so long exposed to the fire of the whole of the enemy’s fleet. But our most serious loss was occasioned by the bursting of one of our guns…..our main top gallant mast was shot away in the early action…." (28)


With the Wolfe seriously damaged and in danger, Yeo made a move to retreat with his fleet. By this time, the winds on the lake were rising and weather conditions began to deteriorate.

If only he could reach safe anchorage at the Head of the Lake, he would have a friendly shore behind him. Chauncey, although battered, was equally determined to further cripple Yeo’s fleet so he pursued him and thus the name "Burlington Races" was born.

To claim the waters of Lake Ontario meant a great deal to both sides. If Chauncey could deliver the final blow to Yeo’s fleet here, the Americans most certainly would have free range on the Lake allowing supplies and troops to be transported without fear of reprisal. This victory would, without doubt, swing the balance of war in favour of the Americans.

Yeo, meanwhile, had other thoughts.

In a report from Yeo at the head of Lake Ontario to Warren at Halifax Sept 29, 1813 it states:

"….I therefore put the Squadron before the Wind, for a small Bay at the head of the Lake, where he [Chauncey] would have been under the necessity of engaging on more equal terms…" (29)


By forming a battle line close into the shore in a constricted area, Yeo’s back was protected and the American ships, most of them unwieldy by having schooners in tow, would have found maneuvering in such close quarters very difficult and dangerous. (30)

Chauncey, suspecting Yeo’s strategy and evaluating his own fleet’s capabilities, chose to break off the pursuit.

In his report to the Secretary of the Navy dated Oct 1, 1813 Chauncey gave this reasoning:

"…I very reluctantly relinquished the pursuit of a beaten enemy; the reasons which led to this determination, were such as, I flatter myself, you will approve. – they were these: at the time I gave up the chase, this ship was making so much water, that it required all our pumps to keep her free, the Governor Tompkins with her fore-mast gone, and the squadron within about six miles of the head of the lake, blowing a gale of wind from east and increasing with a heavy sea on, and every appearance of the equinox. I considered if I chased the enemy to his anchorage at the head of the lake, I should be obliged to anchor also, and although we might succeed in driving him on shore, the probability was that we should go on shore also; he amongst friends, we amongst our enemies, and after the gale had abated, if he could succeed in getting off one or two vessels out of the two fleets it would give him as completely the command of the lake as if he had 20 vessels. Moreover, he was covered at his anchorage by a part of his army, and several small batteries thrown up for the purpose…" (31)


Chauncey declined any further engagement with the British fleet and turned away to make for port in the Niagara River. Here he made repairs and vowed to do his utmost to keep Yeo away from the American convoys that were headed towards Montreal for a pending attack.
Yeo, meanwhile, made his necessary repairs and regained his position on Lake Ontario.

So, what of the legend that states Yeo and his fleet escaped from Chauncey by riding the storm surge through the old outlet into the safety of Burlington Bay ? This appears to be just that – a legend.

Robert J. Williamson, author of "The Burlington Races Revisited", has traced the origin of the tale to Charles Snider who penned it in his book "In the Wake of the Eighteen Twelvers" (1913). Snider relates that the pilot of the Wolfe was offered a bounty by Yeo if he could maneuver the Wolfe through the outlet into the safety of the inner bay. He further contends that due to a storm surge that day, the waters in the outlet were at such a depth that it allowed the British to pass through. It was a daring feat that local historians embraced and have written about since. (33)


The troubling thing is, no evidence has ever been found to substantiate this event. In recent years, more reliable authors have researched the records and found no evidence in any logbook or military correspondence to support the claim. When Yeo wrote of putting "….the squadron before the Wind, for a small Bay at the head of the Lake…" it is more than likely he was referring to the waters at the end of the lake and the protection of the encircling shoreline. Yeo had navigated these waters when bringing supplies to Burlington Heights and would have been familiar with the anchorage out in the lake. In fact, an entry in the logbook of the Wolfe supports this: *

"…At 4:30 arrived with the squadron and came to anchor off Burlington Bay, close in shore with springs on the cables…" (34)


Where Yeo’s anchorage on the lake was actually positioned has been a topic of some debate. Williamson has done extensive research of the lake conditions on that fateful day, the capabilities of the fleet and the speed of sail. He estimates Yeo’s defensive position to be in the area of present day Bronte, where Admiralty charts of 1815 show an anchorage. However, with his familiarity of the lake waters off Burlington Heights and the land defenses that would be available to him there, it is plausible that Yeo would have set anchor somewhere closer to the Head of the Lake.

Regardless of whether or not Yeo actually entered Burlington Bay through the old outlet or merely headed for the shores at the Head of the Lake, one fact remains. Yeo outmaneuvered the Americans, thereby saving the British fleet and regaining his position on the Lake to fight another day.

______________________________________________________________________________



https://museumsofburlington.ca/syst.../69/original/war_of_1812_paper.pdf?1331327111
 
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