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Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra
The War between Norway and Sweden 1808
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Solferino: Slaughter and Rebirth
Battle of Lundy's Lane
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Military History of War of 1812
Austerlitz: Napoleon Makes His Own Luck
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Trafalgar Remembered
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Birrion Sondahl Articles
The Battle Tannenberg
Battle of Lundy's Lane
Battle of Leuthen
Napoleon's Campaign of 1809

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The Battle of Lundy's Lane 
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. [1] 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 made.

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." [2] The portion of the force that Major General Riall commanded consisted of "approximately 1,000 regulars and militia." [3] 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. [4] The British army was supported by "three 6-pounders, two 24-pounders, and a 5 ½-inch howitzer." [5]

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. [6] 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. [7] 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. [8] 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." [9] 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." [10] 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." [11] 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." [12] 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." [13] 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. [14] 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. . ." [15] 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." [16] 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." [17] 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." [18] 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." [19] 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." [20] 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." [21] 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. [22] 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. [23] 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." [24] 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." [25] 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. [26] 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. [27] 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." [28] 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." [29] 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." [30] 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." [31] 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." [32] 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." [33] 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" [34] 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 battle.

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. [35] 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." [36] 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 Ritchie's artillery.

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. [37] 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." [38] 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." [39] 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. [40] 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." [41] 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." [42] 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. [43] 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." [44] 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." [45] 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. [46] 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. . ." [47] 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." [48] 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. [49] 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. [50] The American withdrawal to Fort Erie marked the end of their invasion of Canada in the Niagara area.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2008 Birrion Sondahl 

Written by Birrion Sondahl. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Birrion Sondahl at:
birrion@slewfoot.us.

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.

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