August 06, 2014

Brilliant achievement – Commander Dobbs’s raid

Only a short distance away from Fort Erie, Lieutenant-General Drummond faced a tough situation with supply lines becoming stretched due to the renewed American presence on Lake Ontario, forcing supplies to be diverted around the lake. Commander Alexander Dobbs of the Royal Navy found that his usefulness on Lake Ontario was now limited and he decided to move his forces to Fort Erie to assist Drummond.

Dobbs joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 13 and saw service in the Mediterranean and Atlantic before coming to North America. At the age of 30, Dobbs was promoted to Commander in February 1814 and in the same month, he married Mary Cartwright, the daughter of Richard Cartwright of Kingston who was a prominent merchant and political figure in Upper Canada.

Dobbs assembled a force of 70 seamen and marries to capture three American vessels near Fort Erie. His small force portaged from Queenston to Chippawa where five boats and a gig were loaded onto wagons and transported eight miles around the American position at Fort Erie.
Fort Erie in peacetime

On August 11, 1814, one day before Dobbs launched his attack, a deserter from the De Watteville Regiment swam across the Niagara River and told the Americans of Dobbs’s plan. Colonel George McFeely in command at Black Rock warned Lieutenant Augustus Conckling, captain of the USS Ohio, of the impending attack. McFeely noted that Conckling did not take the threat seriously and that he, “scarcely condescended to listen, turned on his heel and said he would desire no better fun than to see twenty or thirty boats coming to take him.” Conckling did not have to wait long to get his wish.

On the evening of August 12 Dobbs began his mission. As his force approached one of the American schooners, a sentry hailed them, but the British force replied that they were provision boats. An American officer reported that this “deceived the Officer of the Deck, as our Army boats have been in the habit of passing, and repassing throughout the night.” In a few minutes, Dobbs’s men boarded the Ohio and Somers quickly capturing the vessels. A third vessel, USS Porcupine, cut its cable and escaped.

At the cost of only two killed and two wounded Dobbs managed to capture, as reported by Lieutenant Mermet of the De Watteville Regiment, “a long 18-pounder gun – two long 12-pound guns – munitions, two pretty Schooners, five naval officers and seventy-five sailors.” Lieutenant Conckling was also wounded and captured during the operation, a fact that Colonel McFeely was not entirely displeased with reporting that Conckling was taken prisoner before “he got on his clothes.”

Drummond issued a general order praising Dobbs and his men for their “brilliant achievement” and went on to note that he had a mission for the rest of the division. On August 15, 1814, the British launched a three-pronged attack to retake Fort Erie. During the failed attempt, Dobbs commanded a detachment of sailors and marines under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Drummond. Dobbs survived the war and went on to serve as the commander at Isle-aux-Noix in late 1814. By 1819, Dobbs was made a post captain but later died in Malta in 1827.

To find out more about Commander Dobbs and the Siege of Fort Erie, head to Old Fort Erie on August 9 & 10 for the 28th Annual Siege of Fort Erie, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the siege. Click here for details.

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