War of 1812

The peacefulness and civility of the newly developed region, would be put aside from 1812 to 1814 when the Niagara region became the battleground of some of the bloodiest battles in Canadian history. On June 18, 1812 the US declared war against Great Britain, and by extension Canada, in their desire for supremacy of the land. They believed they could capture and claim the British territory of Canada relatively easily, and they began attacking the country on three fronts via Lake Champlain, the Niagara Frontier, and Detroit.

On October 13, 1812 war came to the Niagara region when American troops crossed the Niagara River from Fort Niagara in the hopes of capturing the town of Queenston. The American troops landed their boats in the early hours of the morning hoping to catch the British soldiers by surprise.

Although they greatly outnumbered British troops, who had an army of only 500 soldiers and 800 militia, the Americans were met with much resistance and were unable to defeat the British troops. Led by one of the greatest Canadian Generals, General Brock, the British troops had taken position in the Redan battery, an artillery station, which had the vantage point of being on top of a hill.

When American troops landed on the shores of Queenston Heights, the British began firing upon them and a number of men were killed or wounded as they attempted to charge up the hill. With many losses the Americans retreated and regrouped. The Americans were able to alter their initial plan when they found an unguarded fisherman’s path that led up the hill, and they charged up the hill undetected, taking the British by surprise. The British troops were able to abandon the battery and retreat into the village, however, Brock would return to Queenston Heights with his troops in an attempt to reclaim it from the Americans. During this attempt Brock was killed and his troops were driven back by the Americans once again. With the help of Indian troops, who held allegiances with the British, they were able too regain the Redan after only half an hour of battle. The Americans lost 1,200 of their men, who were either wounded or killed and the troops that were still alive on the hill were taken prisoners. Although Brock died during the Battle of Queenston Heights his ideas were much respected by the troops and his strategies were carried on during the first two years of the war.

A few weeks later in the early hours of the morning of November 28th, 1812, 400 American troops travelled across the Niagara River from Black Creek, in an attempt to capture Fort Erie. A group of Americans had been ordered to seize the guns at Fort Erie and did so successfully despite British resistance. In the meantime a second group of Americans set out to destroy Frenchman’s Creek bridge, in an effort to delay British reinforcements coming from Chippawa. The British army was soon able to take control of the area and they forced the Americans to retreat back to Black Creek.

The Americans made much ground during the spring and summer of 1813. On April 27th, 1813 American troops had captured and burned the city of York, which was the capital of Upper Canada, and by May 27th they had moved onto Fort George and easily captured it. British troops fought back, however they were greatly outnumbered, and they were forced to retreat to the city of Hamilton. Fort George became the headquarters for US forces. Its strategic location was put to good use as they utilized it to invade the rest of Upper Canada. Fort George was eventually reclaimed by the British in December of 1813 and it was occupied by the British for the remainder of the war.

On June 24th, 1813, British forces, who were stationed at Decew Falls, received an advanced warning of an impending US attack. United Empire Loyalist, Laura Secord was at her homestead in Queenston when three American soldiers began pounding on her door demanding she let them in and provide them with meals. While they ate she over heard them speaking of an impending attack on the British at nearby Beaverdams. Knowing that a surprise attack could mean a major blow to the British, she walked 20 miles through wild bush and swamp to warn them of the impending attack.

The British had a limited number of troops in the area and in order to successfully defeat the Americans, British commander Fitzgibbons called for the help of the Indian warriors. The Indian warriors were able to successfully ambush and defeat American forces. The Americans had suffered heavy losses from the brutal battle and would eventually be forced to surrender to British troops. Laura Secord, along with the native fighters were largely responsible for this victory as British soldiers did not fire a single shot during the battle. Laura Secord is now considered a Canadian heroine, and legend, her homestead can still be seen in the quaint town of Queenston, and a monument was erected in her honour in Queenston Heights Park.

On December 10, 1813 the Americans who had been held up at Fort George decided to retreat as conditions were worsening due to the harsh winter. On their way back to Fort Niagara they burned the town of Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake. At the time the town largely consisted of women and children, and the American troops burned their homes to the ground, leaving them homeless and desolate in the middle of a cold December. Every building except one was burned to the ground and when dawn broke the next morning British troops found many dead women and children who had frozen to death because they were unable to find shelter from the bitter cold. The British soon retaliated by capturing Fort Niagara, which had large stores of food, clothing, and weapons. British forces along with their Indian compatriots began burning the surrounding towns of Youngstown, Lewiston, Manchester, and Buffalo, capturing and killing many Americans.

On July 3rd, 1814 6,000 American troops crossed the Niagara River, and took over Fort Erie with little resistance from the British, who had an army of just over 130 soldiers. They then began advancing north towards Chippawa. The British hearing of the advancement began to move towards the Americans who had set up camp at nearby Street’s Creek. As dawn broke on the 5th of July British forces along with their Indian compatriots began advancing on the Americans. When they reached Street’s Creek the battle began, it lasted only half an hour and ended in an American victory. The British sustained heavy losses with 415 men either being killed, wounded or captured, and they were forced to retreat under heavy gun fire to Chippawa Creek.

On July 12th, 1814 American troops came upon the small village of St. David’s. They began looting the village, killing off the livestock and taking whatever they could carry from the homes. In a final act of revenge they set the town ablaze, burning over 40 homes and businesses and leaving the villagers homeless.

The famous battle at Lundy’s Lane saw many casualties on both sides, and has been called “the bloodiest battle” of the War of 1812. It was fought on July 25th, 1814,  mainly during the night by 5,000 American and 2,200 British, Canadian militia and First Nations fighters. At the beginning of the battle British troops held their ground on the top of the high ridge that overlooked Lundy’s’ Lane and were able to fire on the advancing Americans with little resistance. The Americans attempted several volleys to take control of the road but the British held fast. It was not until the Americans advanced under heavy fire that they were able to seize the British’s cannons, and were then able to take control of the hill and subsequently take advantage of the field.

The two sides than fought throughout the night and would fight in a vicious hand to hand combat stabbing and shooting each other at close range in order to hold onto their artillery. The British would make several attempts throughout the night to retrieve the guns but were unsuccessful, tired and with many wounded they retreated to the woods behind the hill. The Americans too were exhausted from battle and they retreated to their Chippawa camp some 5 kilometres away.

When dawn broke the British returned to take control of the abandoned battlefield. They were met with a massacre in their wake, they reportedly lost over 800 men and the Americans had over 860 casualties. Hundreds of others had been badly wounded or captured by the enemy. The battle ended in a stalemate, with the Americans retreating to nearby Chippawa, then to Fort Erie, burning the small town of Bridgewater along the way.

The Americans were able to travel to Fort Erie with little resistance. On finding the Fort they immediately began to repair and expand it, enlarging it to 15 acres with three gun batteries. The British would arrive at the Fort a few days later ready to fight once again. They planned to take control of the Fort by attacking the batteries simultaneously. However, the Americans were well prepared having had several days to fortify it for battle.  A bloody battle would ensue with heavy losses for the British, over 900 men had been killed, wounded, or went missing. With the onset of heavy rain the British bunkered down for 13 days, before retreating to Chippawa. The Americans followed attempting to attack the British on several occasions with little success. After several days the Americans returned to the US to defend Buffalo, destroying Fort Erie in their wake. The historical Fort was eventually fully restored in 1938 and is now open to the public.

The bloody war saw great losses on both sides it finally concluded when the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve 1814. The Niagara River was once again established as the natural border between the two countries, who were now at peace with one another. Neither country would emerge as the victor, however, the war played a key role in establishing Canada as a nation. After the war the region was in ruins, as many villages and buildings were burned to the ground, and it took nearly a decade to fully restore the area.