|The Battle of Lundy's Lane
by Birrion Sondahl
The Battle of Lundy's Lane was fought on July 25, 1814 between the British army
of General Sir Gordon Drummond and the American army of Major General Jacob S.
Brown. After their recent victory at the Battle of Chippewa (July 5, 1814), the
American army was advancing north towards Queenston. Before reaching this
objective they would have to face the British army which held a position in the
town of Niagara. Neither army was truly concentrated as numerous detachments
were spread across the surrounding countryside. This dispersal of force
resulted in an uneconomic usage of force as the battle progressed.  As
neither side had an accurate knowledge of the enemy's disposition, they each
attempted to concentrate upon the battlefield only after first contact had been
The British Army that fought in the Battle of Lundy's Lane was under the
command of Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond and Major General Phineas
Riall. According to John R. Elting, both of these men "had only limited combat
experience and undistinguished records, but both were energetic and ambitious."
 The portion of the force that Major General Riall commanded consisted of
"approximately 1,000 regulars and militia."  Lieutenant Colonel Hercules
Scott had 1,600 more troops at Twelve-Mile Creek that were also under Riall's
command in spite of their detachment. The morale of Riall's force could not
have been very high for they had just been defeated on July 5 at the Battle of
Chippewa and were still recovering from the damage taken in this battle. In
addition to Riall's command, Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond had a force
of between 600 and 800 men which was also stationed in Niagara.  The British
army was supported by "three 6-pounders, two 24-pounders, and a 5 ½-inch
Opposing this British force was the American army under the command of Major
General Jacob J. Brown. Although he was a militiaman, he had quite a bit of
military experience from the earlier years of the war and had proven himself to
be a competent commander. His most important subordinate during these
operations was Brigadier General Winfield Scott. Scott's well disciplined
troops had contributed significantly to the American victory at the Battle of
Chippewa. Brigadier General Scott's command were the advanced party of Brown's
force and consisted of 1,070 officers and men.  Scott's brigade was divided
into the Ninth, Eleventh, Twenty-Second and Twenty-Fight infantry regiments.
His force was accompanied by Captain Nathan Towson's artillery battery which
consisted of three guns.  The rest of the force which numbered around 1,200
men remained under the direct command of Major General Brown. For the most
part, all of these men were regulars though there was a small contingent of
militia present numbering around 300 men.
Figure 1. The Department of History at the United States Military Academy, "The
Battle of Lundy's Lane" in The War of 1812. Map. Retrieved from http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/1812/1812%20%20maps/LundysLaneBattle.gif.
United States Defense Printing Agency, 2007.
The field upon which the Battle of Lundy's Lane was to be fought was based
around the road from which it gained its name, Lundy's Lane. This road ran west
from the Portage Road, crossed a hill, which was about a quarter mile in
length, and then entered a forest.  It was this hill upon which the main
force of the British army had been stationed. This was a strong tactical
position as Elting explains that "this bit of high ground dominated the area."
 Mahon describes their position in the following manner, "The British
position followed Lundy's Lane and a road at right angles to it, but was more a
crescent than a square angle. Irregulars held the flanks; cannon were on the
hill in the center."  This position allowed the British to observe the
American troops as they advanced out of the forest along the Portage Road and
deployed. It also allowed their cannons a clear lane to fire upon the
Americans. As Clausewitz writes, "Physical force is always harder to exert in
an upward than in a downward direction, and this must also hold true of an
engagement. We can cite three obvious reasons. First of all, high ground always
inhibits the approach; second, though it does not add perceptibly to range,
shooting downward, considering all the geometrical relations involved, is
perceptibly more accurate than shooting upward, and third, heights command a
wider view."  The British army had all of these advantages when the battle
began. However, the overall British commander, Major General Phineas Riall did
not intend to hold this position and had ordered his men to evacuate it.
Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond countermanded this orders for he
believed the hill to be a strong defensive position that the British regulars
would be able to hold.
Upon arriving on the battlefield, Brigadier General Winfield Scott advanced
upon the British position with his force. As Mahon describes in his account of
the battle, "He [Winfield Scott] believed his 1,070 men about equal to the
British detachment, and with his usual aggressiveness he prepared to attack."
 He did not know that the British force consisted of between 1,600 and
1,800 men. If he had the knowledge that the British had a significant numerical
superiority, perhaps he would have awaited reinforcements, for he understood
that "In tactics, as in strategy, superiority of numbers is the most common
element in victory."  The inability of the Americans to gain accurate
knowledge of the size of the British force was in great part due to their lack
of cavalry. This lack prevented them from being able to adequately scout the
position before advancing to the attack. Brigadier General Scott began his
attack at around 6:00 PM with the advance of the Ninth, Eleventh, and
Twenty-Second infantry regiments directly upon the British positions on the
hill.  The Twenty-Ninth infantry regiment under Major Thomas S. Jesup
meanwhile traveled north in a flanking movement. The frontal attack upon the
hill was supported by Captain Towson's three guns. While the Ninth, Eleventh,
and Twenty-Second were involved in hard fighting at the foot of the hill, the
Twenty-Ninth was still marching north. Although the Twenty-Ninth did eventually
become engaged, during the time that it was marching was not contributing to
the battle and the lack of its presence was felt during the frontal assault. If
this flank attack been made simultaneously with the advance of the other
regiments upon the hill, it would have been much more effective. As it was, the
frontal assault had exhausted itself by the time Major Jesup brought his troops
upon the British left flank and rear. It is unclear just what Brigadier General
Scott had hoped to accomplish by the detachment of the Twenty-Ninth regiment.
Elting writes, ". . . he [Winfield Scott] sent Major Thomas S. Jesup with the
25th Regiment into the woods east of Portage Road to develop the situations
there. . ."  Mahon's writings upon this subject are of a similar nature,
"Major T. S. Jesup, leading the Twenty-fifth, got upon the British left flank
and rear, but was pushed back by the reserves."  According to Adams,
"Drummond's left stopped slightly beyond the road, and was assailed by Jesup's
battalion, the Twenty-fifth regiment, while Scott's other battalions attacked
in front. So vigorous was Jesup's assault that he forced back the Royal Scots
and Eighty-Ninth, and got into the British rear, where he captured Major
General Riall himself, as he left the field seriously wounded."  It seems
from these accounts that the flank attack met some success but was not strong
enough or well enough supported to be decisive in nature. As neither the
frontal assault nor the flank attack were successful, the Americans withdrew to
the edge of the forest. It was about 7:00 PM when this withdrawal occurred as
the opening assaults of the battle had lasted for around an hour.
Throughout the next two hours, Scott attempted several more assaults upon the
British position. As Adams describes, "From seven till nine o'clock Scott's
brigade hung on the British left and centre, charging repeatedly close on the
enemy's guns; and when at last with the darkness their firing ceased from sheer
exhaustion, they were not yet beaten."  During this period of continuous
skirmishing the Americans took heavy casualties. As Mahon describes, "By 8:00
P.M. Scott's units were reduced to about 600 effectives."  Elting concurs
in his account, "By 9:00 P.M. The 9th, 11th, and 22d had suffered so heavily
that they were reformed as a single 'battalion' under Major Henry Leavenworth;
Jesup had been pushed back; Towson badly hurt."  Casualties of this
magnitude were only to have been expected, for the Americans were charging
through exposed territory up hill against an army superior in both men and
artillery. The British had not escaped these continuous assaults unscathed,
although their casualties were less due to their defensive position and an
exact figure for their casualties during this period cannot be determined.
Their casualties were high enough that Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond
considered himself unable to counter attack and believed that he was
outnumbered by the Americans. This shows that the hard fighting had taken its
toll upon British morale. The fighting had been so hard that the British
militia had been pulled back and stripped of their ammunition due to their
ineffectiveness; "Mostly raw farmers, they had been firing wildly; one shot the
cockade off their colonel's hat."  Even after this withdrawal, the British
still held a numerical superiority over the remnants of Brigadier General
Scott's force. It is unclear as to why Scott continued to press the attack when
he was suffering such casualties and knew that the rest of the American force
would soon arrive upon the field. Perhaps the withdrawal of the British militia
made it appear as if the Americans were upon the cusp of victory.
It was around nine o'clock that the reinforcements arrived for both sides. For
the Americans, Major General Jacob J. Brown now arrived upon the field with
1,200-1,300 men.  This force consisted of Brigadier General Eleazer W.
Ripley and Brigadier General Peter B. Porter's brigades as well as Ritchie and
Biddle's artillery. Ripley's brigade had been strengthened by the 1st Infantry
Regiment. This additional force brought the number of effectives for the entire
American force up to at most 1,900 men supported by seven twelve-pound guns.
However, most of Brigadier General Winfield Scott's force was exhausted from
the earlier fighting and was pulled back with the arrival of fresh troops. The
British reinforcements under Colonel Hercules Scott arrived on the battlefield
at around the same time.  The British reinforcements consisted of 1,230 men
made up of "Seven companies of his own [Colonel Scott's] 103d Foot, with
elements of the 1st, 8th, and 104th regiments, some 250-300 assorted militia,
and a Royal Artillery detachment."  These reinforcements brought the total
number of British effectives up to around 2,600 men with seven guns, two of
which were twenty four pounders. It must be noted that the militia were most
likely of the same quality as those which had been taken out of line earlier
and could not have been of much assistance. The British numerical advantage was
no longer as great as it had been when they just faced Winfield Scott's force,
but was still present. Their greatest advantage now lay in their artillery,
which could continually fire upon the open field where the American troops were
formed. For the Americans, "As long as the British battery maintained its fire
in the centre, victory was impossible and escape difficult."  Nevertheless,
with the arrival of fresh troops the Americans were determined to renew their
assault upon the hill.
A prime objective of the new American assault was to neutralize the British
artillery. For this task, Major General Jacob J. Brown assigned Brigadier
General Eleazer W. Ripley. Ripley assigned Colonel James Miller and the
Twenty-first regiment to the assault on the battery while the Twenty-third
regiment supported his right flank and Brigadier General Peter B. Porter held
the left flank. The conglomerate of the Ninth, Eleventh, and Twenty-Second
regiments which had suffered so severely in the earlier fighting were reformed
under Major Henry Leavenworth and were left in the rear alongside Captain
Towson's artillery. Captain Ritchie's guns supported the American left while
Captain Biddle's supported the right.  It was a bit before ten o'clock when
the American attack was launched.
Under the cover of darkness, the Twenty-First and Twenty-Third advanced upon
the British positions. These two regiments consisted of around seven hundred
men.  The Twenty-Third advanced along the Portage Road, drawing the fire
from the British. While the British were distracted by the Twenty-Third's
movements, as Adams describes, "The Twenty-first silently advanced in front,
covered by shrubbery and the darkness, within a few rods of the British battery
undiscovered, and with a sudden rush carried the guns, bayoneting the artillery
men where they stood."  Mahon describes the same advance, "Miller worked
his men up through brush to a rail fence, fifteen yards from the hostile
cannon. He ordered them to rest their guns on the fence, take careful aim, fire
once, and rush the battery. They were inside the British position before the
defenders knew they were threatened."  The advantage of surprise had been
on the American side, for Colonel James Miller's avenue of advance had been
covered by the brush/shrubbery and darkness. This allowed him to maneuver his
men into a position where they could fire with devastating effectiveness.
Brigadier General Ripley's approach with the Twenty-Third regiment had not been
as well covered as that of Colonel James Miller for his force was traveling
down the open road. His force "attracted the enemy's fire at about one hundred
and fifty yards from the hill, and was thrown back."  Following this first
repulse, the Twenty-Third reformed and once again advanced upon the British
position. This second advance coincided with Miller's surprise attack. The
effectiveness of Miller's attack allowed Brigadier General Ripley to advance
his men "within twenty paces of it [the British position] before the first
volley was discharged."  This volley was extremely effective and the charge
which followed it broke "the British left, composed of fresh, veteran
reinforcements, and pushed it back half a mile."  This was quite a
remarkable achievement. Miller and Ripley's attacks marked the first successful
American advance of the night.
It must be noted that Elting's account of this phase of the battle differs from
both Adams' and Mahon's views. In his history, the British reinforcements had
not yet arrived when the Americans made their attacks with the Twenty-First and
Twenty-Third regiments. According to Elting, Colonel Hercules Scott arrived
immediately following the American attack. In Elting's accounting, it was
"Probably in the brief lull that followed Brown's seizure of the hill, that
Hercules Scott's dog-tired column came trailing onto the field from DeCou's
Falls."  This is an interesting deviation from the other accounts and goes
far towards explaining how the American attack was so successful. Had the
British left wing been battle weary troops instead of "fresh, veteran
reinforcements"  it would not have been too difficult for the fresh
American reinforcements to push it back. No matter which of the accounts is
correct, it is clear that the Americans were able to successfully push the
British from their position of strength upon the hill at this point in the
After losing his position upon the hill,Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond
reformed his ranks and prepared a counter attack with the objective of retaking
the hill. The British line was formed from their left to right in this order:
The King's Dragoons, a regiment of Militia, the Eighty-Ninth Regiment, the
Royal Scots, the Forty-First Regiment, the Glengarry Regiment, another Regiment
of the Royal Scots, and the Hundred-Fourth Regiment. Colonel Hercules Scott's
force which due to its later arrival upon the field was the freshest was placed
in the center.  This reforming took a significant amount of time as the
American attack had sowed much confusion in its ranks. As Adams describes the
immediate result of the American attack, "The British force was then in much
confusion, a part of it marching into the American line by mistake, and
suffering a destructive fire; a part of it firing into the regiment on its own
right, and keeping up the fire persistently."  Nevertheless, Lieutenant
General Drummond and Colonel Scott were able to overcome this confusion and
reform their forces in the darkness.
While the British were occupied reforming for their planned counter attack, the
Americans worked upon consolidating their position upon the hill. Captain
Biddle's artillery battery was placed at the junction of Lundy's Lane and the
Portage Road. Major Thomas S. Jesup and the Twenty-Fifth regiment were placed
to the left of Captain Biddle's battery and together with the artillery formed
the American right flank. The Twenty-Third, Ninth, Eleventh, Twenty-Second,
Twenty-First, and Towson's battery were formed up along Lundy's Lane in the old
British positions as the center of the American line. The left flank was made
up of Brigadier General Peter B. Porter's brigade supported by Captain
The goal of this British counter attack was to retake the guns that they had
lost. In order to do this they would have to throw the entire American
formation off of the hill. The British still had a slight numerical advantage
and their right flank had not yet been heavily engaged in the fighting. The
entire American formation had now been heavily engaged and many of the officers
had been wounded. At this point, the American force which was formed up on the
hill had no more than 1,500 effectives, most likely less.  In spite of
their numerical inferiority, the Americans did now have the advantage of the
terrain for they had been able to consolidate their position on the hill. It
was due to this advantage that the first of the British attacks was repulsed.
As Captain McDonald later described, "We having much the advantage of the
ground, the enemy general fired over our heads but the continual blaze of light
was such as to enable us distinctly to see their buttons."  The fighting
was close and brutal, reminiscent of Clausewitz's description of "The Nature of
Battle Today." As Clausewitz described, "Gradually, the units engaged are
burned out, and when nothing is left but cinders, they are withdrawn and others
take their place. So the battle smolders away, like damp gunpowder."  This
pretty well sums up the final stage of the Battle of Lundy's Lane. By midnight,
on the American side both Major General Jacob J. Brown and Brigadier General
Winfield Scott had been badly wounded. Winfield Scott had been badly bruised by
a spent musket ball while Brown had been shot through the thigh.  Major
General Brown's last statement as he left the battlefield was, "We will all go
back to camp. We have done all we can."  Up until this point, the battle
had remained much in doubt. After receiving Brown's order to retreat, it was up
to Brigadier General Ripley to oversee the American retreat back to their camp.
Mahon described this retreat in the following manner, "Ripley's withdrawal, as
the British reported it, was virtually a rout. Equipment was thrown into the
rapids, but no one thought to spike the cannon which fell to the British in
operating condition."  The sloppiness of the retreat does not come as a
surprise, for morale must have been quite low and a retreat in darkness through
woods is quite a difficult maneuver even in the best of circumstances.
The entire battle had lasted from six o'clock to well after midnight. The
fighting had been hard on both sides and the casualty count reflects this. The
casualties were: 171 Americans, 84 British killed; 572 Americans, 559 British
wounded; 117 Americans, 233 British missing or captured.  On the American
side, Generals Brown and Scott had both been injured. For the British, General
Drummond been injured and General Riall was taken prisoner. In addition to this
loss in men, the Americans had also lost a significant portion of their
artillery during the battle and retreat. The British emerged victorious but it
was greatly a Pyrrhic victory due to the number of casualties sustained in the
fighting. These casualties could have been avoided if the British had used
their superior numbers before the American reinforcements arrived. Due to the
mismanagement of their force, it took over three more hours of hard fighting
for the British to finally force the Americans from the field. As Clausewitz
writes, "In a sense, the duration of an engagement can be interpreted as a
separate, secondary success. The decision can never be reached too soon to suit
the winner or delayed long enough to suit the loser. A victory is greater for
having been gained quickly; defeat is compensated for by having been long
postponed."  The length of time it took to gain the victory detracted from
the over all value of the battle to the British war effort. Nevertheless, they
were still victorious and to turn once more to Clausewitz, "The real thrust and
blow, the object, the value is victory in battle. It is the only thing that
really counts and can be counted on, and one must always bear it in mind,
whether it be in passing judgment in books or in taking action in the field."
 Therefore the British must be commended for achieving a victory at Lundy's
Lane in spite of the difficulties they had in gaining this result.
The bulk of the Battle of Lundy's Lane was fought on the hill over which
Lundy's Lane ran. This hill was the key position and was the main objective of
both sides during the battle, insofar as a piece of terrain can be an
objective. The true objective of both armies, as Clausewitz so often reminds
us, was the destruction of the enemy's forces.  In order to destroy the
enemy, both sides found it necessary to seize control of the hill. As
Clausewitz writes, "Every engagement has a specific purpose that gives it its
peculiar characteristics. . ."  The purpose of the Battle of Lundy's Lane
for the British was to repulse the American offensive while for the Americans
it was to press north towards Queenston in order to continue an invasion of
Canada. In order to achieve this purpose, the British Army had to be defeated
and therefore the high ground of Lundy's Lane had to be captured. This small
hill, which was considered so insignificant as to not even have a name, was the
dominant feature on the battlefield for from it all the avenues of approach
could be covered by the British artillery and musketry. The advantage of this
was lost when darkness fell, for observation became much more difficult and the
Americans were able to sneak up to confront the British position. In this they
were supported by the natural cover of shrubs and brush. "Geography and the
character of the ground bear a close and ever-present relation to warfare. They
have a decisive influence on the engagement, both as to its course and to its
planning and exploitation."  These factors were indeed decisive for both
sides, but more so for the British. The advantages gained by their position
upon the hill allowed them to wear down the Americans so that even once the
hill was lost, they were able to retake it from a fatigued and smaller force.
However, the British had suffered so greatly in the battle that they did not
pursue the defeated American force.
As a result of their defeat at Lundy's Lane, the American invasion of Canada on
the Niagara front was halted. The American retreat halted in the vicinity of
Chippewa. Major General Brown ordered the battle to be renewed the next day in
order to recapture the lost cannon, but Brigadier General Ripley considered
this move to be "sheer folly" and withdrew to the American camp at Chippewa
after briefly considering the British forces.  After burning the defenses
there and the bridge over Chippewa Creek, the Americans fled further south to
Fort Erie. Lieutenant General Drummond advanced his force to Chippewa shortly
after the Americans had abandoned their camp there. Rather than closely
following the American retreat, he remained cautious and stayed there for two
days before advancing up the river towards Fort Erie.  The American
withdrawal to Fort Erie marked the end of their invasion of Canada in the
Show Footnotes and
. Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and Peter
Paret. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984, pg. 213. As
Clausewitz writes, "One of these simplified features, or aids to analysis, is
always to make sure that all forces are involved – always to ensure that no
part of the whole force is idle. If a segment of one's force is located where
it is not sufficiently busy with the enemy, or if troops are on the march –
that is, idle – while the enemy is fighting, then these forces are being
managed uneconomically. In this sense they are being wasted, which is even
worse than using them inappropriately. When the time for action comes, the
first requirement should be that all parts must act: even the least appropriate
task will occupy some of the enemy's forces and reduce his overall strength,
while completely inactive troops are neutralized for the time being." The
Battle of Lundy's Lane would have been completely different had either side
concentrated their forces prior to contacting the enemy.
. Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: De Capo Press, 1991, pg. 153.
. Ibid., pg. 190.
. Ibid., pg. 190. These numbers are also supported in: Mahon, John K. The
War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: De Capo Press, 1972, pg. 274.
. Elting, pg. 191.
. Mahon, pg. 272.
. Adams, Henry. The War of 1812. New York, New York: Coopersville Press,
1999, pg. 183.
. Elting, pg. 191.
. Ibid., pg. 191.
. Mahon, pg. 274.
. Clausewitz, pg. 352.
. Mahon, pgs. 272-274.
. Clausewitz, pg. 194.
. Mahon, pg. 274.
. Elting, pg. 192.
. Mahon, pg. 274.
. Adams, pgs. 181-183.
. Ibid., pg. 183.
. Mahon, pg. 274.
. Elting, pg. 192.
. Ibid., pg. 192.
. These numbers are given by Elting, pg. 192 and Mahon pg. 274.
. Adams, pg. 183 and Mahon pg. 274 agree that the British reinforcements
arrived at this time. Elting differs in his account of the time of arrival of
the British reinforcements.
. Elting, pg. 193. Elting describes this force as being "dog-tired."
. Adams, pg. 183.
. Ibid., pgs. 184-185.
. Ibid., pg. 183. "The two regiments thus thrown on the enemy's centre and
left numbered probably about seven hundred men in the ranks. . ."
. Ibid., pg. 184.
. Mahon, pg. 275.
. Adams, pg. 184.
. Ibid., pg. 184.
. Mahon, pg. 275.
. Elting, pg. 193.
. Mahon, pg. 275.
. Adams, pg. 185.
. Ibid., pg. 184.
. Ibid., pg. 186.
. Ibid., pg. 186.
. Clausewitz, pg. 226.
. Elting, pg. 194.
. Ibid., pg. 195.
. Mahon, pg. 275.
. These numbers are given in Mahon, pg. 275 and Elting, pg. 195. Adams, pg.
188, gives only the numbers for the American side.
. Clausewitz, pg. 238.
. Ibid., pg. 354.
. Ibid., pgs. 236, 320, Clausewitz also mentions this objective in many
other places throughout his work.
. Ibid., pg. 225.
. Ibid., pg. 348.
. Elting, pg. 196.
. Adams, pg. 190.
Adams, Henry. The War of 1812. New York, New York: Coopersville Press,
Clausewitz, Carl von, On War, Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and
Peter Paret. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500
B.C. To the present. New York, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers,
Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina: De Capo Press, 1991.
Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: De Capo Press,
Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington,
Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
The Department of History at the United States Military Academy, The War of
1812. Mr. Edward J. Krasnoborski and Mr. Frank Martini, cartographers.
United States Defense Printing Agency, 2007.
Copyright © 2008 Birrion Sondahl
Written by Birrion Sondahl. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Birrion Sondahl at:
About the author:
Birrion Sondahl recently completed his degree in Military History from American Military University.
In addition to studying military history, he is an avid freestyle skier. He lives at home
with his parents, three cats, and a flock of chickens in Spirit Lake, Idaho.
Published online: 04/27/2008.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.