1813

During the winter of 1812/13 the Americans laid plans to once again launch a three-pronged attack on British North America, this time with more success on the Detroit and Niagara frontiers.

Initially, American efforts on the Detroit frontier ended in frustration. An army on its way to drive the British from Fort Detroit was ambushed and defeated by a combined British, Canadian and First Nations force at the Battle of Frenchtown (or River Raisin) on January 22. However, during the spring of 1813 they were able to successfully defend their post at Fort Meigs in Ohio from British and First Nations attacks launched from Amherstburg. They were also able to begin construction of a strong fleet that would eventually beat the British naval squadron on Lake Erie. This would ultimately lead to the American capture of western Upper Canada.

In the spring of 1813, the American Navy had the strongest squadron on Lake Ontario. On April 27 Commodore Chauncey's flotilla carried an American army to York, the capital of Upper Canada. An amphibious assault drove back a defending force of British regulars, Canadian militia and First Nations allies. Fort York was destroyed in an explosion, causing many American casualties but in the end they were able to occupy York. After a few days, this army burned the government buildings at York and captured British supplies, including cannons that had been destined to guard the ramparts of Fort George in Niagara before they retired to Sacket's Harbor and Fort Niagara.

Battle of Fort George May 27, 1813

Plan Of Operations At The Mouth Of The Niagara RiverBy late May 1813, the Americans had assembled a formidable army of more than 8000 men at Fort Niagara. Chauncey's flotilla still controlled Lake Ontario. Defending the British side of the Niagara frontier were 1050 regulars and a few hundred militiamen under the command of Brigadier General John Vincent and about 50 Six Nations allies led by John Norton. Fort George had been stripped of cannons to arm the British Lake Erie fleet and new cannons that were to be shipped to Fort George had been captured by the Americans at York in April.

On May 25 the Americans struck. Dozens of cannons and mortars from Fort Niagara and from cannon batteries constructed on the banks of the Niagara River opened fire on Fort George. Exploding mortar bombs and red-hot cannon balls destroyed the wooden buildings at Fort George and at Navy Hall.

Two days later, at dawn on May 27, the American army invaded. Protected by Chauncey's flotilla, the Americans rowed across the mouth of the Niagara to make a landing a mile north of the town of Niagara. After a very sharp engagement against a defending force of British regulars, Canadian Militia and Mohawk allies, the Americans were able to drive the defenders back and establish a beachhead. The British were pushed back through the Town of Niagara and forced to abandon the ruins of Fort George. By late afternoon the Americans had successfully captured Niagara and took possession of the fort. They would occupy the fort and town for the next seven months. The British abandoned the entire Niagara region including Fort Erie and retreated to their depot on Burlington Heights in present-day Hamilton.

Battle of Stoney Creek June 6, 1813

Soon after the British retreat to Burlington Heights, an American army was prepared to attack that post from the newly occupied Fort George. The American army under Brigadier General John Chandler was more than 3000 strong while British Brigadier General John Vincent at Burlington Heights had a quarter of that number. The Americans encamped at Stoney Creek on the approach to Burlington Heights on the night of June 5. In a daring night attack, Colonel John Harvey, under General Vincent's orders, assaulted the American encampment at the point of the bayonet. It was a confusing battle with both sides mixed up in vicious hand-to-hand combat. In the end, the British had to retire before the light of dawn revealed the small size of their force. However, they had succeeded in capturing General Chandler and his second-in-command Brigadier General William Winder. Without their leaders, the American retreated to Fort George.

Skirmish at the Forty June 8, 1813

As the defeated American Army was retreating from Stoney Creek, they regrouped at the Forty Mile Creek in modern-day Grimsby. On June 8, a British naval flotilla landed some soldiers who joined Six Nations warriors who had been harassing the American retreat. As British ships shelled the American camp, British and First Nations skirmishers attacked the Americans. This hastened the American retreat to Fort George. The British were able to capture much needed supplies from the retreating Americans.

By June 9, the Americans at Fort George consolidated their position, digging trenches to expand Fort George. They also took over several farmhouses to create defensive posts or 'piquets' within a mile of the fort. They also abandoned Fort Erie after occupying it for a week but continued to occupy the village of Queenston. The British quickly moved into the area and began a loose siege of Niagara, harassing Americans at their piquet stations. American soldiers venturing beyond Fort George for firewood, straw or provisions were ambushed in the woods surrounding the town.

Battle of Beaver Dams, June 24, 1813

One of the depots from which the British operated in a type of guerrilla warfare against the American occupiers was at the Decew House near present day Thorold. Learning of this post, an American force of several hundred men under Colonel Charles Boerstler was sent to capture this British post commanded by Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. FitzGibbon was informed of the American advance by Aboriginal allies from the Seven Nations of Canada and Six Nations of the Grand. A woman from Queenston, Laura Secord, also travelled through American lines to warn of the pending attack. Other civilians had also reported the American advance so Fitzgibbon was well prepared by the time the Americans approached.

As the Americans arrived at an area known as Beaver Dams on June 24, they were ambushed by men from the Seven Nations of Canada. The First Nations warriors poured heavy musket fire into the confused American ranks. Finally, Fitzgibbon brazenly approached the Americans under a flag of truce and concealed the fact that his force of regulars at Beaver Dams was a very small one. He offered the Americans the opportunity to surrender and Colonel Boerstler complied. John Norton who was a participant bitterly pointed out in his journal that 'the Caughnawagas fought the battle, the Mohawks got the plunder and Fitzgibbon got the credit.'

Following the Battle of Beaver Dams, the Americans were reluctant to leave the safety of their defences around Fort George. The British and their First Nations allies continued to harass the Americans, launching a raid on Fort Schlosser in New York on July 5 and continuing to fire on American piquet posts surrounding Fort George.

Action at Butlers Farm, July 8, 1813

The British guerrilla style campaign against the Americans at Fort George was seriously undermining American morale. American General Peter Porter described the situation well. He said of the American forces:

'this army lies panic-struck, shut up and whipped in by a few hundred miserable savages, leaving the whole of this frontier, except the mile in extent which they (the Americans) occupy, exposed to the inroads and depredations of the enemy.'

A few such skirmishes fought in the fields of the Corus, Ball and Butler farms are worthy of note.



The first action began as a small British force, protected by Native warriors, went to the farm of Casper Corus to retrieve a large cache of medicines buried by Corus following the capture of Fort George in May. On July 6, Hamilton Merritt of the Provincial Dragoons (cavalry) accompanied by several men, including Jonathon Ball, reconnoitred Corus' farm and learned that the medicines were still hidden. While on their scout, they chased away the nearby American piquet but were in turn chased by a large force of American dragoons and infantry. On the following day, July 8, a hundred First Nations warriors led by John Norton took position in the woods on Ball's farm. Merritt led a force of British soldiers to Corus' farm, retrieved the medicines and sent them back to the British camp with the soldiers. He then went with a few comrades to Peter Ball's house for breakfast and afterwards went towards John Ball's farm to find Norton.

At this point, the First Nations men began to skirmish with American soldiers. Eventually, several hundred US infantry accompanied by dragoons (cavalry) advanced on this force which took cover by Corus' farm. The greater part of the American force retired out of musket range but a group of some 40 or 50 men of the 13th US Infantry Regiment under their adjutant, Lieutenant Eldridge, came from the vicinity of the Butler farm to try to outflank the First Nations men. The warriors saw the move and raced to cut this group off from the main American force. After a sharp action on Butler's farm, twenty of the Americans lay dead and the balance surrendered. Eldridge shot one of the warriors after being surrounded (possibly after he had surrendered) and he in turn was killed by the warriors.

Four days after this incident, Ball's fields again rang with fire. About 19 Alonkin and Nippissing warriors advanced across the field and came up against a party of American dragoons. They killed two dragoons and took one prisoner.

On July 17, the British attacked and drove in several of the American piquets and again Ball's fields saw action. At this point, First Nations men under Blackbird and John Norton advanced across Ball's farm, driving off several hundred American troops. The Americans were reinforced with artillery and more infantry and re-advanced, driving the First Nations force to the far side of Ball's farm. Three companies of British regulars advanced, also with artillery and for some time the two forces fired at each other from either side of Ball's farm. Eventually the Americans retreated.

Again on July 31, the British drove in the American piquets along the entire American defensive line. On August 24, Governor General Prevost who had been in the area since early August ordered a general assault on all piquets and a reconnaissance in force. British troops entered the Town of Niagara and had dinner there while the Americans remained shut up within the defences of Fort George.

These skirmishes continued until early October when news of the defeat of the British at the Battle of the Thames forced them to consolidate their forces at Burlington Heights in anticipation of an American attack that never came

Battle of Lake Erie and Battle of
the Thames

Battle ErieWhile the Niagara portion of the 1813 campaign had not met expectations for the Americans the Detroit campaign met with a great deal of success. On September 10, 1813, an American naval flotilla on Lake Erie under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated and captured the British Lake Erie flotilla. This forced the British to abandon Fort Detroit and Fort Malden in Amherstburg. Control of the lake was vital to supplying these posts. The British could not maintain military bases in western Ontario following the Battle of Lake Erie.

The British under Major General Henry Proctor and some of their First Nations allies under the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh retreated up the Thames River, hoping to reach Burlington Heights. On October 5 they were overtaken by an American army under William Henry Harrison and defeated at the Battle of Moraviantown or the Thames. Tecumseh was killed during that battle.

Chateauguay and Chrysler's Farm

Elsewhere, the American campaign against Montreal resulted in disaster for American forces. An American army under Major General Wade Hampton advancing up the Richelieu valley towards Montreal was defeated and turned back by a much smaller force at the Battle of Chateauguay on October 26. A second army led by Major General James Wilkinson was sailing down the St Lawrence River and was supposed to link up with Hampton's army. This second army was beaten by a smaller British force at the Battle of Chrysler's Farm on November 11.

The Burning of Niagara, December 10, 1813

At the beginning of December 1813, Brigadier-general George McClure, commanding the Niagara frontier, heard of these setbacks and learned that a larger British force was advancing from Burlington to recapture Fort George. With winter approaching and the terms of enlistment for the bulk of his garrison expiring in a few weeks, McClure abandoned Fort George, retreating across the Niagara River to Fort Niagara. On his departure on December 10th, he ordered the destruction of the town of Niagara to deprive the approaching British army of its shelter.

This was considered an atrocity at the time and would cause the British to retaliate on American territory on the other bank of the Niagara River.

The Capture of Fort Niagara, Dec 19, 1813 and the Burning of Lewiston

The British reoccupied the Town of Niagara and the ruins of Fort George and laid plans for an assault on Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York. The Americans became aware of the pending assault but remained unprepared when it came. The British, under the command of Colonel John Murray, captured Fort Niagara at the point of the bayonet in the pre-dawn hours of December 19th.

Immediately, British Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond ordered Major General Phineas Riall to lead part of the army and their First Nations allies to proceed upriver to Lewiston where American artillery on Lewiston Heights threatened the Canadian town of Queenston across the river. The British found the village abandoned. The small garrison of Lewiston retreated as the British advanced.

Lewiston was put to the torch. An eyewitness stated that the Aboriginal warriors burned the town in retaliation for the American destruction of the town of Niagara. The fate of Lewiston would be repeated along the entire Niagara frontier from Youngstown to Buffalo, leaving many civilians without shelter. Inevitably, sensational and much exaggerated claims of massacres of civilians were reported. Drummond tried to wash his hands of the responsibility for any outrages, stating that his 'most positive orders' against such actions were ignored and 'several acts of violence' took place regardless.

While McClure was taken to task and eventually dismissed from the Army for ordering the burning of Niagara, neither Drummond nor Riall were censured for the burning of Lewiston and other settlements along the Niagara River. It was considered that McClure was the perpetrator of this 'total warfare' while the British and Aboriginal actions were simply retaliatory in nature.