Thursday, December 12, 2013

The War of 1812 . . . Year Two, Part 8 . . . Chippawa and Old Fort Erie

Dear gentle reader, we are finally returning to our War of 1812 trip (year two) from this summer.  By the time I finish these entries, it will be time for us to leave on trip three!  This is the last entry for the Niagara Falls area, for we vaguely started for home . . . like those "Hunters of Kentucky" 200 years ago (of course, we still had a couple more significant sites to visit along the way).

The Battle of Chippawa . . . July 5, 1814
"Those are regulars, by God!"  British General Phineas Riall supposedly exclaimed those words when he saw the precision maneuvers of the highly trained and disciplined US forces . . . it took a while, but the Americans had learned how to fight.  Many consider this to be the birth of the American Army. By the way, as you can tell by the photo above, Dudeboy was quite excited to visit the location where Brown and Scott first kicked the butts of the British Regulars.

Riall was expecting to encounter just a fraction of the invading US forces, and he was expecting the undisciplined militia which the British held in much contempt.  However, times had changed.  Due to the training efforts of Winfield Scott, his gray-jacketed troops showed they could certainly successfully engage with British regulars. West Point Cadets still wear gray "in recognition of General Scott and his gallant troops."

The US forces dominated the day.  They were superior with the artillery, and they were more accurate with their musket fire. However, the victory was complete when the left and right wings of the US forces angled inward allowing them to fire on the British flanks.

Riall retreated and was ultimately outmaneuvered all the way back to Fort George.  The armies would meet again at the bloody, but tactically indecisive Battle of Lundy's Lane. The plaque reads:
Here, on July 5th 1814, an American army under Major-General Jacob Brown launched the last major invasion of Canada during the War of 1812. The Americans defeated a British and Canadian force commanded by Major-General Phineas Riall consisting of regulars, militia and Aboriginal warriors. During the engagement about 200 men were killed and over 500 wounded. After four months of heavy fighting, with major action at Lundy's Lane, Fort Erie and Cook's Mills, the invaders were forced back to the United States.   
This is one of the few War of 1812 battlefields in Canada that we visited that hasn't fallen to modern encroachment of one form or another. One can really get a feel for the lay of the land and what transpired here.

Frenchman's Creek . . . plaque inscription:
In an effort to regain the initiative lost as Queenston, the Americans planned a general invasion for November 28, 1812. Before dawn advance parties crossed the Niagara River to cut communication between Fort Erie and Chippawa and to silence the British shore guns. The attackers failed to destroy the bridge over Frenchman's Creek and the batteries they had overrun were soon retaken by British reinforcements. After confused fighting the advance parties returned to the American shore. The main assault failed to materialize. The fiasco ended American hopes for victory on the Niagara Frontier in 1812.
Old Fort Erie . . . Siege of Fort Erie, August 4 to September 21, 1814.
The Siege of Fort Erie has the distinction of being the bloodiest battle site in all of Canada.  Of course, the Battle of Lundy's Lane was just one day . . . this siege lasted almost a couple of months with one major British assault followed by an American counterattack a good deal later. It is odd to me that you don't hear more about the significance of this place.

The fort was traded back and forth a couple of times early on in the war until US forces under Jacob Brown captured the fort July 3, 1814.  After the battles of Chippawa and Lundy's Lane, the American forces retreated back to the fort and then made significant improvements to its defenses.

Early on the evening of August 15, British forces under the command of General Gordon Drummond launched a three-prong assault upon the fort.  While the flanking columns were being repulsed with heavy losses, the center prong of the attack did gain some success.  Forces under the command of Drummond's nephew were actually temporarily able to penetrate the northeast bastion.  However, serendipitously for the US, a powder magazine exploded, repulsing the British attack.  One witness stated (source link opens pdf file):
every sound was hushed by the sense of an unnatural tremor, beneath our feet, like the first heave of an earthquake . . . the centre of the bastion burst up, with a terrific explosion; and a jet of flame, mingled with the fragments of timber, earth, stone, and bodies of men, rose, to the height of one or two hundred feet in the air, and fell, in a shower of ruins. . . . 
In his memoirs, American drummer boy Jarvis Hanks stated that:
I counted 196 bodies lying in the ditch and about the fort; most of them dead; some dying. Their faces and hands were burned black, many of them were horribly mutilated. Here an there were legs, arms and heads lying in confusion, separated by the concussion from the trunks to which they had long been attached. One trunk I observed, deprived of all its limbs and head. 
On September 17 during a heavy rain, US forces counterattacked three British batteries at the end of one of their siege lines. The assault surprised the British and US forces overran a couple of batteries before relenting and returning to the fort.  With the destruction of his batteries, Drummond lifted the siege. Sent as part of US reinforcements for Jacob Brown, Major General George Izard, being senior officer, took command. Much to the consternation of the bold Brown, Izard had the fortifications destroyed and the army withdrew to the American side.
"And the rockets' red glare . . . "  Congreve rockets, first developed in 1804, were used by both sides during the War of 1812.  They were stick-guided rockets with a range up to 2 miles.  However, they were somewhat unstable and unpredictable.  If anything, they were more of a psychological weapon.

This monument marks the mass grave of more than 150 British and American soldiers killed during the siege.

Some of the original earthworks lay just outside of the 1930's reconstructed fort.

Battle of Malcolm's Mills . . . Oakland, Brant County, Ontario.  The plaque reads . . .
In October, 1814, an invading American force of about 700 men under Brigadier-General Duncan McArthur advanced rapidly up the Thames Valley. He intended to devastate the Grand River settlements and the region around the head of Lake Ontario which supplied British forces on the Niagara Frontier. McArthur reached the Grand, and after an unsuccessful attempt to force a crossing, attacked a body of some 150 militia here at Malcolm's Mills (Oakland) on November 6th. Canadian forces, comprising elements of the 1st and 2nd Norfolk, 1st Oxford, and 1st Middlesex regiments, put up a spirited resistance but were overwhelmed.
The US force consisted of Kentucky and Ohio mounted volunteers.  Of course, Dudeboy was enamored with the name of the battle. Malcolm's Mills was the last land battle of the War of 1812 fought in Upper Canada.

This cemetery is located at the signage for the Battle of Malcolm's Mills. We saw cemeteries such as this more than a few times while in Canada. I assume when older cemeteries become disused and unmanageable they butt-up the headstones in lined patterns such as this or the like. I do recall something akin to this in the older sections of some Kentucky cemeteries (I am specifically thinking of the cemetery in Richmond). I'll have to look into the actual reason and report back.