Last Casualty: Sergeant Charles Collins
by Jim Yaworsky

On August 6, 1814, Secretary of War John Armstrong of the United States of America sent instructions to Brigadier General Duncan McArthur, in command at Detroit, to establish a plan for "the destruction of all settlements on the Thames and eastward", with a view to "quiet the frontier and break the chain that bound the Indian allies to the British cause". In other words, to depopulate the westernmost part of Upper Canada and thereby create a buffer zone that would make it hard for the British to again attack Michigan and Ohio or regain contact with the indians of the American midwest.

On October 22 1814, McArthur's "strike force", consisting of over 800 mounted men, mainly militia from Kentucky and Ohio, left Detroit. They headed northeast and crossed the St. Clair river near its mouth, raided the Baldoon settlement, and reached Moraviantown on the Thames on October 29th. The Anglo-Canadian defenders of the western region were caught unawares by this unexpected approach and McArthur's force continued east at a fairly rapid pace, arriving at Brant's Ford on the Grand River on November 5. It appeared that little stood in the way of the force reaching and raiding the base at Burlington Heights.

In fact, heavy rainfall had rendered the Grand River a formidable obstacle, and on the east bank of the ford, a small force of militia, a detachment of the 19th Light Dragoons, and an unknown number of indian warriors, all under the command of Major Adam Muir, 41st Regiment, were prepared to dispute the passage. Reinforcements were known to be on the march from Burlington Heights (200 men of the 103rd with militia, indian allies, and two 6 pound field pieces). As it turned out, the reinforcements were unnecessary, as after a short skirmish, McArthur decided he was not willing to risk attempting to force a passage. Instead, he turned his force south, to burn out the settlements along the north shore of Lake Erie, thereby making a large circuit of destruction while leading back to his base at Detroit.

The militia of 1st Oxford, 1st & 2nd Norfolk, and 1st Middlesex, under the overall command of Lt. Col. Bostwick, had fallen back to a defensive position at Malcolm's Mills, now the village of Oakland, nine miles southwest of Brant's ford and blocking McArthur's route to the Lake Erie shoreline. The militia were stationed along the crest of a fairly steep slope overlooking a bridge at the bottom of a marshy valley. The planking on the bridge had been taken up, a barricade improvised on the road, and an attempt made at "digging in" on the crest. The Americans arrived early in the day on November 6. Unfortunately, there were only about 400 men in Bostwick's force. With one exception, they were militia, and the approximately 800 men the Americans brought to the field, being mounted, also had the advantage of mobility. The American force included approximately 70 indian allies.

The sole British regular soldier known to be present at the action was Sergeant Charles Collins, on detached duty with the Canadian militia. Collins had enlisted as a private with the 41st at Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland, on January 2, 1799. He was promoted to corporal the next day, which suggests he had extensive militia experience. He was in a draft of reinforcements that sailed for Canada 16 August, and by October 25, 1799, was serving in Major John Grey's Company at Three Rivers. By 1809, he was a sergeant serving on command at York and Fort Erie.

Collins was amongst the men captured at Moraviantown 6 October 1813, and was incarcerated at Camp Bull, near Chillicothe Ohio, until released in September 1814. The return march to Upper Canada was a brutal one, and Collins probably was not overly fond of Americans.

On November 7, 1814, the main body of the regiment, over 500 men, was stationed as the garrison of Fort Niagara, but Collins - whose mere return to active service so quickly after his ordeal as a prisoner of war in Ohio speaks volumes of his toughness - was entrusted with the responsibilities of detached duty.

The aim of the Canadian militia appeared to be to either deflect McArthur's force back the way they had come, or to keep them busy until reinforcements arrived from Burlington Heights - perhaps catching McArthur in a pincer movement. As it turned out, this task proved impossible. The Americans easily forded the creek, and while some advanced skirmishing carefully and pinning down the Canadian force, two columns outflanked the Canadian position on both sides. The advance was slow, meticulous, and relentless, and the militia eventually collapsed and fled. There was no second line to fall back to. The action took about an hour and was relatively bloodless.

McArthur's force continued to the Lake Erie shore, burning and pillaging, then headed north and back to the Thames from St. Thomas. The force continued down the Thames and along the south shore of Lake St. Clair, arriving back at Detroit on November 17. A small party of the 19th Light Dragoons, led by Major Peter Chambers (41st Foot on staff duty) had shadowed McArthur's force for part of this distance, but essentially, the only resistance the Americans had met was at Brant's Ford, then Malcolm's Mills. At the latter, McArthur admitted a loss of 1 killed and 6 wounded.

Canadian losses at Malcolm's Mills included a number of wounded men, a large number of militiamen captured then released on Parole, and two fatalities. One was a 19 year old private of the 1st Middlesex named Edwin Barton. The second was Sergeant Charles Collins. In his report, Major Chambers reported that both men had been mutilated, scalped, and cut shockingly.

Collins was reported killed in the skirmishing which characterised the action - heroically attempting to lead his militiamen in a manner which made him a target. Leadership in the War of 1812 involved leading from the front, and all too often, from Sir Isaac Brock down to Sergeant Collins, the leader paid the price.

It would appear that Sergeant Charles Collins was the last battlefield casualty suffered by the 41st Regiment of Foot in the War of 1812.

 

 

 

This article is based primarily upon information set out in the book "The Militia Stood Alone - Malcolm's Mills, 6 November 1814", by Stuart A. Rammage (Valley Publishing, ISBN 1-896967-56-6, 2000).


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