The year 1813 was an ambitious one for the Americans who were at war with the British, the colonists of BNA and their First Nations allies. Plans had been in the works to attack Canada in the southwest of Upper Canada, near Detroit and to attack Montréal using the ancient Lake Champlain route and finally to attack the Niagara Peninsula once again. The three pronged attack was not planned to take place at the same time.
On May 25, 1813 an American force had made an amphibious landing near Fort George on Lake Ontario and by May 27 had succeeded in causing the British to retreat from the fort ceding it to the Americans. For a number of reasons the Americans under General Dearborn did not maintain contact with the British who retreated first south to Queenston and then overland to the far west end of Lake Ontario at a high ridge called Burlington Heights.
Once it was learned where the British had gone, the Americans assembled a strong force of 3500 men and headed toward Burlington Heights.
The American force continued on the route toward Burlington heights and decided to encamp at the Gage farmhouse not far from Stoney Creek. The Gages were Loyalist Americans who had come north for land. The Americans didn't trust them and locked them in a cellar.
Built in 1796, Gage House is now referred to as Battlefield House as the ensuing conflict occurred on this site.
Billy Green was a 19 year old son of a Loyalist. His brothers were militia men but he would not join until after this battle. Billy and his brother Levi could see the Americans marching from their position on the Niagara Escarpment. The Americans had already detained his brother-in-law because he refused to divulge the position of the First Nations' warriors in the area. His brother-in-law was questioned by an American officer from Kentucky and during the discussion it became apparent that Isaac Corman, the brother-in-law may have been related to American General William Henry Harrison. Isaac was released and to allow him to pass by the American sentries, he was given the password which was Wil-Hen-Har. Isaac was told on his honour not to give this password to any British soldiers.
He did not but on his way home he met Billy Green and he gave him the password and told him to take his horse and to ride quickly to Burlington Heights with the information. Billy also committed to memory the positions of the American sentries and the positions of the American encampment.
The American officer had second thoughts about Isaac Corman especially because he now knew the password. So he sent 5 soldiers to the Corman house and kept the family under watch.
Billy rode hard, dismounted and then walked to the British camp. He was paraded before Col. Harvey and Gen. Vincent and questioned because they suspected that he could be an American spy. They asked him whether he could guide them to the American camp and he agreed and of course, provided the password. The troops assembled and left Burlington Heights at 11:30 PM. Billy had been given a sword for self defence. The total number of British troops is given as 704 while the American numbers, dependent upon source, vary from 2500 to 3500.
The British were ordered to remove the flints from their muskets and to march silently. The attack went in at about 4 AM on June 6. The plan was to bayonet the Americans in their sleep. The sentries were killed quickly but then the British soldiers got excited and began to whoop and holler. Some had loaded and fired before the order came to do so. Not all of the Americans were camped where Billy said that they were. Some were on a nearby rise and it was necessary to mount a bayonet charge to send them scattering.
The Americans were seen to be running from the battlefield leaving equipment and bodies behind. Two of their generals (Brig. Chandler, Brig. Winder) had been captured during the 45 minute encounter. This was demoralizing to the US fighting force and a boost to the British who realized that despite the disparity in numbers, they could still put up a defence of the colony.
This battle and the subsequent Battle of Beaver Dams gave the Americans pause and they decided that they had better stay closer to Fort George on the Niagara River. The Niagara Peninsula was safe for the rest of this year when the Americans abandoned Fort George and headed back to the American side. Stoney Creek was the farthest point west that the Americans would ever travel on the Niagara Peninsula.
They would have more success in October when the Battle of the Thames was won and the British were forced to cede SW Upper Canada to the invader though the Americans never maintained an occupation force, content to conduct raids into the territory and then return home.
Historians have debated just how much Billy Green influenced the battle but most agree that he was there and did lead the British to the American camp. It may well be that the British already knew where the Americans were but Billy was able to lead them easily to the site avoiding any contact with the Americans. This was his territory and he knew it well.
Today, the battle site contains the Gage House which is a museum and a monument to commemorate the lives lost on both sides. It was erected in 1913.
You can see the monument behind the Gage House in this photo.
Canadians are not very good at remembering their heroes. I daresay that the name Billy Green would be unknown to most unless living in the Stoney Creek area. But he has been commemorated in song by the now deceased but great Canadian folk singer, Stan Rogers.
The tales of Billy Green are found in many of the local historical societies in the Hamilton-Stoney Creek area. They rely on personal accounts of men who were there and from the man himself. But there has been revision of the history that does not place doubt of the existence of Green and his family. There are photos of them after all. But some dispute the claim that Billy was all that important to the result as it seems that the British had already dispatched scouting parties to ascertain the American positions.
Written accounts of the battle by Pierre Berton in "Flames Across the Border" and by Mackay Hitsman in "The Incredible War of 1812" give more in depth discussions of the battle itself. These are single volume surveys of the whole war and not specific to the Battle of Stoney Creek. There is a book by a person named James Elliot who has written specifically about the battle in his book, "Strange Fatality", but I have not read it yet and so cannot recommend.