The Siege of Fort Erie by J.M. Harper

Sir Gordon holds the frontier line — all honour to his name —
Save only the stronghold to the south, near by Niagara’s stream —
Fort Erie of dismal remembrance, far up from the cataract,
Which the foe has strengthened all anew, since last it was attacked;
And as he thinks of the laurels won, on the field of Lundy’s Lane,
He fain would have the place re-ta’en, ere ends the year’s campaign.

That fort had fallen, the invader’s prize, a month or so before,
An easy prey to General Brown withstanding Britain’s power;
But amplified and girt around, as a citadel may be
A menace it stands to Drummond’s braves, who would the country free;
And its demilunes and bastioned wall, its batteries all in train,
Are his to seize in England’s name, her prowess to sustain.

And still, of a summer’s day, the book lies open to our hand,
As we linger amid the ruins, its tales to understand.
In the light and shade of the landscape, dotted o’er with homestead cheer,
We still may trace how the besiegers came to test the arts of war.
From the lintel-stone of some ruined keep, we may dream of the bloodstained din,
In the open field or round the walls, where mastery sought to win.

Who says the rival nations think to end their long-drawn feud?
Has any one heard in the ravelin such tiding there intrude?
Nay, rather, Sir Gordon is on his way, past the cataract’s echoing roar,
Awaking the hamlets, one by one, with nought but the tidings of war,
See, yonder, is where his army lay, beyond gun-range of the fort,
Prepared to dare every danger that lurked in its garrisoned court!

And the August sunsets come and go, like fringes of tragedy,
With bastion responding to battery, to the throbbing of woodland and lea;
While Sir Gordon is ever evolving his plans, to compass the place about,
In a nearer approach to its front and rear, from ravelin to redoubt;
And when he learns of Dobbs’ success, he decrees a night attack,
With three of his trusty colonels, the assault in line to make.

        ’Tis Fisher commands the wing to the right:
            ’Tis Towson’s he seeks to beset;
        And its twenty-four pounder greets his advance,
            From its ominous parapet.
        Will he dare these throbs of disaster?
            Will he reach the edge of the lake,
        Where under or over the palisades,
            An inner attack he may make?
        Yea, his courage will dare, whate’er the despair,
            All blasts from that cavern of wrath,
        As he keeps hovering near, his comrades to cheer,
            Amid the turmoil of death.

        But, alas, there is nought but the shedding of blood,
            No victory for him in the strife —
        A scaling of walls that cannot be scaled,
            Not even a life for a life.
        Five times does he gallantly rally his men,
            Five times have his men to retreat,
        Worn out from a spending of courage mis-spent,
            As they wrestle against defeat.
        And at lat there is heard his word of command:
            ”Give over, my lads, and re-form!”
        And at once the escape to the woodlands near
            From the overwhelming storm.

        ’Tis Scott who commands the wing to the left:
            Fort Douglas he seeks to beset;
        And stoutly he braves that battery’s frown,
            As its cannons roar and fret.
        The sheen from the lake is all the light
            That guides him to the rear:
        The entrenchments deep and all aghast
            Bespeak for him despair.
        Yet up to the cannon’s mouth he leads
            His lads all undismayed,
        His part to play, as a soldier brave,
            At the head of his brigade.
        But all in vain! There’s nought for him,
            Save the recompense of death —
        The reward of a hero fulfilling his task,
            Up to his very last breath.
        Brave Hercules Scott!  Yea, think how he died,
            As many another has done —
        As many another must do in the siege,
            Ere rises the next day’s sun!

        ’Tis Colonel Drummond the centre leads,
            And his goal is the central fort —
        The old Fort Erie of the brave Brock’s time,
            Renewed from wall to court.
        Like Fisher and Scott, he is brave to the core,
            As Sir Gordon knoweth full well —
        And his soldier’s courage, that fatal night,
            Is a tale for pride to tell —
        A tale these ruins still repeat,
            From ravelin to moat,
        As the zephyrs play round what is left
            Of bastion or redoubt.

        Under a cloud of battery smoke,
            A fourth assault is made,
        Across the ditch to the parapet,
            Despite the cannonade.
        By rope and ladder the redcoats stream
            From trench to inner wall,
        Till at last the outer bastion’s reached,
            As a striven-for countervail;
        And now the strife is hand to hand,
            In the confusing pall of night —
        Cry against cry, with bayonets fixed,
            With nought to do but smite.
        ”A life for a life to save the fort!”
            The besieged demand in train:
        ”A life for a life!” cries Drummond in turn,
            ”Fight till the fort be ta’en!”
        ”Stay ne’er a hand!” is wrath’s command,
            In every redcoat’s eye:
        ”Who fears the carnage in the game
            Of a soldier’s do-or-die?”
        Ha, ha, the bastion’s ta’en at last,
            The victory’s well in hand:
        The besieged are dismally in flight,
            A disconcerted band:
        The besiegers, flushed as with success,
            Pause for a moment’s breath:
        What next to do?  And still they pause,
            As in the face of death.
        What next to do?  There’s nought to do,
            Save, rushing as one may,
        To shun the fringe of calamity,
            As it cruel claims its prey.
        Oh God, what’s that?  The bastion heaves!
            Has Doomsday tolled its knell?
        Give way!  Give way!  The bastion’s gone!
            As with a blast from hell!
        Yea, scattered and strewn in one vast heap,
            The slain and wounded lie.
        Amid the ruins of what was lost
            By a soldier’s do-or-die.

And still the woe and wonderment of that wrath-begotten night
Keep thrilling the passing century, as it brings to pride a blight.
Fort Erie of dismal remembrance!  The bier of Drummond the brave!
There is writ on thy weather-worn ruins the record of bravery’s grave!
And still of a summer’s day the book lies open to our hand,
As we linger from lake to river its tale to understand.

Source:  J. M. Harper. The Annals of War: Illustrated by a Selection of Historical Ballads.  London: Musson Book Company, [1915?]

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