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George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11780
Joined: 2009
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
7/3/2020 11:30:16 AM
In what would become the final year of the war, the US attempted again to invade the British colonies.

This invasion began with a siege of Fort Erie which guards the entrance to the Niagara River as the waters of Lake Erie enter.

You can see from this map that Fort Erie is opposite the US city of Buffalo in NYS.



This is a print of what the US forces would have seen just before the invasion. View from the US side in 1814




Fort Erie dates back to 1764, just after the French and Indian Wars which drove the French out of most of North America. The British decided to build a fort here and for 50 years it stood as a way station for ships travelling on the Great Lakes.
On two occasions the fort had been destroyed by ice storms and we who live near the lakes know that when the ice breaks up, it can be forced on shore by winds and it will do a lot of damage.

So the fort that the US troops attacked had been rebuilt in 1803 and so it was not fully completed by the time that the War of 1812 began. The US had attacked along the Niagara Peninsula in 1813 and if you check the map above, you will see Fort George which guards the exit of Niagara River waters into Lake Ontario. The US had taken Fort George and then sent troops to Fort Erie and burned the buildings. It took until Dec. of 1813 for the British and colonial militia to send the US back across the river, leaving the Niagara Peninsula in British hands.

And so on July 3, of 1814, the US decided to try to seize the important peninsula again. Success here would have permitted US troops to pursue the British around the west end of Lake Ontario and then to roll up the colony of Upper Canada including the key harbour at Kingston.

The US forces numbered about 4500 under the command of General Jacob Brown. Their first goal was to take Fort Erie which was garrisoned by 137 British troops commanded by Major Thomas Buck. Needless to say, the siege didn't last very long and General Drummond, in command of the British forces was upset that Major Buck did not try to hold on for a while so that he, Drummond, had more time to martial his forces.

Buck fired a few cannon shots and then surrendered the fort. He was court-martialed after the war.

And so the US was once again firmly planted in Upper Canada and the battles that followed at Chippewa and at Lundy's Lane were among the most bloody of the war with the US troops proving their worth as professional soldiers.

Chippewa was a great victory for the Americans on July 5 but the US met the British again at the bloody battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25. Both armies pounded one another, fighting at close range into the dark night and neither was in great shape in the morning. The US forces, now commanded by Brig. Ripley as Gen. Brown had been badly hurt by a Congreve Rocket at Lundy's Lane, retreated to Fort Erie.

The British followed up and laid siege to their own fort which was defended magnificently by the US troops. The British finally penetrated the walls of the fort but a magazine blew up, killing many of them.

This was a rather bumbling effort at siege warfare by the British but they had succeeded in bringing some boats up the Niagara River and taking them around the Niagara Falls. US troops killed a lot of British soldiers during the siege.

The British actually retired to Chippewa to plan and gather their forces for another attempt.

However, a brilliant effort by the RN, those ships that had come up the river, seized the US schooners that were supplying the US troops holding up in Fort Erie.

So the British retired but the US forces did not pursue. They were commanded at that point by Gen. George Izard. Izard elected to blow the place up and sent his forces across the Niagara River to the US side. That was Nov. 5 of 1814 and the peninsula was once again under British control.

Post war, the British used the remaining buildings at the fort as a barracks but they did not rebuild it.

Canada decided to rebuild Fort Erie in 1923 and it stands today as a popular tourist attraction. The restoration was completed for official opening on Dominion Day, July 1, 1939. (just in time for the 2nd WW )

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This is the Peace Bridge linking Canada and the US today.

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If interested in the final siege of Fort Erie ending in Sept. of 1814, here is an account by military historian, Brig. Gen. Ernest Cruickshank. He makes full reference to the British and US units involved including militia. US posters may find this of interest because they did inflict heavy casualties on British forces, forcing them to withdraw and yet, they still decided to leave Upper Canada.

From memory now, it seems to me that US Gen. George Izard had to answer for his decision to abandon Fort Erie. I don't believe that he attended a court martial but there was some sort of inquiry. If anyone has information on that, I would like to hear about it.

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Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5094
Joined: 2004
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
7/3/2020 3:41:13 PM
George,

Buck fired a few cannon shots and then surrendered the fort.

Truly a case of not getting much bang from your Buck !

Forgive my silly humour.

This warfare is too much an overlooked episode in the military annals.

The dramatic scenery excites imagination.

Lundy’s Lane was a pretty murderous affair.

Am I right if I say that Winfield Scott fought there ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11780
Joined: 2009
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
7/3/2020 10:01:02 PM
Yes Phil, Scott was there and he was wounded as well. Lundy's Lane was a bloody affair. The two sides were exchanging musket fire in the dark and soldiers described seeing clearly the face and eyes of their enemies as the flash of gunpowder occurred.
Neither force was able to continue the next day.

The final siege of Fort Erie was brutal for the British. 900 killed and wounded on the date that Gen. Drummond decided to attack with three columns. Only one breached the fort and they were blown to hell when the magazine below them exploded. The US troops were nearly unscratched because they were protected by a stone wall.
The other two columns were cut down by US forces waiting for them at the attack points.

Cheers,

George
MPReed
 
Posts: 31
Joined: 2005
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
7/26/2021 9:03:03 AM
The number of men killed in the explosion in Fort Erie has been somewhat exaggerated. A number of Americans were on the bastion as well (primarily the detachment of the 19th Infantry), but they did not lose all that many. The primary Redcoat killer was the U.S. Artillery. The story goes (from American sources) that the British could not bring themselves to believe that Americans commanded the artillery, but must have been Frenchmen. Of course it was widely believed by many on the British side that the U.S. was in cahoots with Napoleon (many believe it to this very day), when actually we were on the verge of war with France ourselves.

Of the Niagara campaign in general, it was seen (by most of the military) as a waste of time and resources. The main mover and shaker behind the 1814 campaign seems to have been Secretary of the Navy William Jones. Secretary of War John Armstrong was in the doghouse after the debacle of late 1813. Overall the idea was that George Izard (who took command of the division formerly belonging to Wade Hampton) would be at Plattsburg or Sacketts Harbor to operate on that frontier (exact particulars escape me at the moment). Izard would eventually have three brigades (about 4,500 regulars) when all was said and done. Chauncey was to have command of Ontario. Captain Arthur Sinclair was sent to Lake Erie to take over that command, which was made independent from Chauncey for 1814. I don't know what Jones was thinking as Sinclair was to transport and support Jacob Brown's division on the Niagara(two brigades of regulars, and a reinforced command of Volunteers about 3,000 men in all), while sending his main fleet against Mackinac with troops from Detroit. At the same time, Armstrong was stripping the Northwest of most of its troops.

Brown was given the choice of landing at Dover and moving directly on Burlington, or at Fort Erie. No thought was given for retaking Fort Niagara as it was always considered indefensible. Armstrong's preference was to take Fort Erie as the safer option, however this meant attacking the British more or less frontally. Reinforcements would eventually come up the lake via Sinclair's ships.

As the summer went along Izard informed Armstrong that a large reinforcement was landing at Quebec, but the Secretary poo-pooed that and chided Izard constantly on his alarmism.

As for the troops from the Northwest (i.e. the Eighth Military District) they were in an organizational disarray. Armstrong (who did not get along with any of his commanders, except Brown, bullied Harrison so much the latter resigned. Duncan MacArthur took command, but Armstrong basically ignored him, and sent orders directly to the various commanders. The 17th and 19th Infantry regiments had never really been brought up to strength, and had been (with the 24th Infantry) shifted from Ohio to Detroit to the Niagara to Sacketts, and, more or less, back. Many of their men were 18 month recruits whose time was up. The 17th and 19th were combined into a single regiment (with companies and detachments scattered from the Niagara-Erie-all over Ohio-and to Detroit). The 24th had been parceled out in small packets here and there as well. It was not until September that the 17th (about 700 strong) was able to move eastward. The one year regiments of the 26th and 27th were combined into a new 19th, but had to be rerecruited, with eventually some units arriving in time to take part in the siege of Fort Erie. Detroit was garrisoned with bits and bobs. The 1st Infantry pretty much ceased to exist except for one company at Fort Wayne. It had to try to recruit itself up, but only was able to get two companies recruited. These arrived to take part in the latter part of the Niagara campaign.

Therefore Brown could only expect to have the 900 men of the 2nd Brigade and 1,300 of the 1st Brigade supported by bits and pieces of Pennsylvania and New York militia volunteers and some Indians.

Lundy's Lane (as well as Chippewa) were, as George said, a blood bath for both sides. The British were defeated in both, but Drummond held the ace card. His true brilliant move was not his tactical abilities (he was aggressive, but tactically challenged to a degree), but that he had the cajones when he first took command to inform the Uppity Ups in London back in late 1813 that Prevost had been starving Upper Canada of resources. As a result, when the large reinforcements were sent to Canada, Prevost was directly ordered to send part of it (nice itemized) to Drummond. These arrived about the time of Lundy's Lane allowing the British to replenish their losses, while Brown had no choice but to fall back on Fort Erie.

Brown, naturally, screamed for help to both Armstrong and Izard, and Izard was ordered to Sacketts Harbor. Izard had a problem, and that was all those troops (10 grand worth) that arrived to oppose him (plus what Prevost already had in Lower Canada). Therefore he decided to not take the "quick" route across the northern extremity of New York direct to SH, but had to fall back down to Albany, then slowly make his way back up to SH, before boarding ship, and moving down to the Niagara. Armstrong criticized him greatly for this at the time and after the war (especially in his memoirs). However, he never took into account the dangers of Izard moving laterally with his enemy far outnumbering him on his flank.

Drummond was able to maintain the siege until September, when Brown's sortie overran the British batteries (and beat up the brigade that was on duty). The British retreated to a fortified line on the Chippewa. When Izard Arrived he slowly moved up the British line, and both generals played a game of "Come and attack me first." About all that came out of that is when Daniel Bissel took his brigade on a reconnaiscance in force to meet a British recce in force and beet them up at Cook's Mill. The last land battle in the North...or was it?

Duncan MacArthur had mustered up a force of 650 Kentucky and Ohio dragoons, some spies, and some Wyandotte and Shawnee indians, and pushed deep into British territory. His ultimate aim was Burlington or Fort Erie, but by the time he arrived (November), Izard had withdrawn his troops back across the Niagara. After a small battle with Canadian militia which were swept aside (I forget the name of the darned battle at the moment) near MacGregor's Mills, he turned burned the mills, public provisions, and returned to Detroit.

Izard did not receive any grief over the withdrawal. He and Brown and the new Secretary of War thought the Niagara an expensive and meaningless diversion to no end, and that Kingston was the most important object. Brown and his division moved to Sacketts Harbor. Izard remained on the Niagara line with some troops moving to Greenbush for redeployment at Plattsburg. Izard himself went on furlough for the winter as he had been in the field for two years straight. Whether or not he would have returned for an 1815 campaign, I do not know. Macomb was to be given overall command for the 1815 campaign, which was expected to take place on the St Lawrence cutting off Kingston and Upper Canada. British plans were never laid as, of course, they knew that war was over two months before the Americans. Drummond though was redeploying a large force (brigade sized) along the St Lawrence as "Line of Communications" troops, but what was planned for the rest of the troops in Lower Canada never came to be.

Michael
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11780
Joined: 2009
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
7/27/2021 2:46:23 PM
Thanks for that post, Michael. Informative and enjoyable.

I think that the last battle was at Malcolm's Mills.

US raiders under MacArthur had come up the Thames River, on their way to Burlington Heights I had thought, but got as far as Brant's Ford (now Brantford). That is a long way into Upper Canada, about 250 km I should think and not far from Burlington Heights which is another 50 km. or so.

But Brant's Ford was also the home of the Haudenosaunee of the Grand River reservation. These people were Mohawks and were led by the great warrior chief, John Norton. The US forces elected not to engage the Haudenosaunee and the militia at Brant's Ford.

So they burned some houses and destroyed crops as they turned south on the Long Point Trail. There was a blocking force at Malcolm's Mills of about 450 men from three different militia. I say 450 men but the commemorative plaque on the site only indicates 150 men.



It seems that the militia had good position on high ground. The mill pond was on their left and they had taken the bridge down. They could see the Kentuckians to the front on horseback. I wonder whether a professional soldier would have made a difference here because the militia were unconcerned about their flanks leaving both uncovered. The US forces outflanked them on two sides and sent the Kentuckians forward from the front. The militia faded away. It wasn't much of a battle.

Looking up the casualties it seems that the US lost one man and the militia, four.

And then MacArthur's forces headed back to Detroit. They had succeeded in destroying much of the flour and grain supply for the British forces in the area but also destroyed homes as well.

So that was the last battle and the exploits of the militia are extolled in the Brantford area. One local fellow has written a book on the battle and it is titled, "The Militia Stood Alone". I have not read the book.

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That is all part of the narrative, somewhat mythological in these parts, that the militia drove the Americans from Canadian soil.

And it is difficult to know what MacArthur's goals were. Some accounts say that he hoped to take Burlington Heights and then York (Toronto) so as to cut off the British forces fighting on the Niagara Peninsuala. Other accounts say that his purpose was just to raise hell and destroy infrastructure which is what happened.

Cheers,

George
MPReed
 
Posts: 31
Joined: 2005
July 3, 1814. Siege of Fort Erie, War of 1812
8/3/2021 12:58:03 PM
MacArthur's plans were to go to Burlington Heights if Brown's Army had advanced, or to Fort Erie if he was still there. In the event he simply returned to Detroit when he learned that the U.S. forces had withdrawn to the U.S.

The 450 number is probably more accurate as MacArthur reported that he had captured and paroled some 300 Canadian militia.


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