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The Battle of Lundy's Lane was a battle of the War of 1812, which took place on 25 July, 1814, in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontariomarker. It was one of the bloodiest battles in the War of 1812, and one of the deadliest battles ever fought on Canadianmarker soil.

Background

On 3 July, 1814, an American army under Major General Jacob Brown had launched an attack across the Niagara Rivermarker, near its source on Lake Eriemarker. His force quickly capturedmarker the British position at Fort Eriemarker and then advanced north. Two days later, one of his two brigades of regular U.S. Infantry under Brigadier General Winfield Scott won a battle against a British force at the Battle of Chippawamarker.

A few days after the battle, Brown outflanked the British defences along the Chippawa River and the British fell back to Fort Georgemarker near the mouth of the Niagara on Lake Ontariomarker. Brown lacked the necessary numbers and heavy artillery to attack this position. At the time, a British naval squadron controlled the lake. Commodore Isaac Chauncey, commander of the American ships based at Sackett's Harbormarker, was waiting for new frigates to be completed before he could challenge the British squadron (and when they were ready, the Americans were further delayed when Chauncey fell ill). As a result, no reinforcements or heavy guns could be sent to Brown, while the British were able to move several units across the lake to reinforce Fort George.

For most of July, Brown's army occupied Queenstonmarker, a few miles south of Fort George. In this forward position, they were harassed by Canadian militia and Indians. On 24 July, Brown fell back to the Chippawa River, intending to secure his supplies before advancing west to Burlingtonmarker. As soon as Brown retired, a British force under Major General Phineas Riall advanced to Lundy's Lane, north of the Chippawa, to allow light troops to maintain contact with the American main force.

Battle

Preliminary movements

Early on 25 July, the British Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, arrived in Fort George to take personal command on the Niagara peninsula. He immediately ordered a force under Lieutenant Colonel John Tucker to advance south along the east side of the Niagara River, hoping this would force Brown to evacuate the west bank. Instead, Brown ordered an advance north, intending in turn to force the British to recall Tucker's column to protect Fort George. The Americans apparently did not know that the British held Lundy's Lane in strength.

As soon as Riall knew the Americans were advancing, he ordered his troops to fall back to Fort George and ordered another column in the area under Colonel Hercules Scott to move to Queenston, to cover his withdrawal. These orders were countermanded by Drummond, who had force-marched a detachment of reinforcements to Lundy's Lane from Fort George. The British were still reoccupying their positions when the first American units came into view, at about 6:00 pm.

Scott's attack

The Niagara Frontier in 1814
Lundy's Lane, a spur from the main portage road alongside the Niagara River, ran along the summit of some rising ground (about 25 feet higher than the surrounding area) and therefore commanded good views of the area. The British artillery (two 24-pounder and two 6-pounder guns, one 5.5-inch howitzer and a Congreve rocket detachment) was massed in a cemetery at the highest point of the battlefield.

The American 1st Brigade of regulars under Winfield Scott emerged in the late afternoon from a forest into an open field and were badly mauled by the British artillery. Scott sent the 25th U.S. Infantry to flank the British left. The 25th found a disused track leading to a landing stage on the river, and used it to pass round the British flank and catch the British and Canadian units there (the light company of the 1st Battalion of the 8th and the Upper Canada Incorporated Militia Battalion) while they were redeploying and unaware of the American presence, and drive them back in confusion. The British and Canadians rallied, but had been driven off the Portage Road. Major Thomas Jesup, commanding the 25th U.S. Infantry, sent Captain Ketchum's light infantry company to secure the junction of Lundy's Lane and the Portage Road. Ketchum's company captured large numbers of wounded and messengers, including Major General Riall who had been wounded in one arm and was riding to the rear. Most of the prisoners (although neither Riall, nor militia cavalry leader Captain William Hamilton Merritt) escaped when Ketchum himself, having briefly rejoined Jesup, ran into an enemy unit while trying to return to the main body of the American army.

Jesup's action and the steadiness of Scott's brigade nevertheless persuaded Drummond to withdraw his centre to maintain alignment with his left flank, and also pull back the Glengarry Light Infantry, who had been harassing Scott's own left flank. The withdrawal of Drummond's centre left the artillery exposed in front of the infantry.

Brown's attack

As night fell, Scott's brigade had suffered heavy casualties, but Brown arrived with the American main body (a brigade of regulars under Brigadier General Eleazer Wheelock Ripley and another of volunteers from the militia under Peter B. Porter). As Ripley and Porter relieved Scott's brigade, Brown ordered the 21st U.S. Infantry under Lieutenant Colonel James Miller to capture the British guns.

James Miller's response to Brown's order, "I'll try, Sir", is now the motto of the 21st U.S. Infantry. While the British were distracted by another attack by the 1st U.S. Infantry on their right, Miller's troops deployed within a few yards of the British artillery. They fired a volley of musketry which killed most of the gunners and followed up with a bayonet charge which captured the guns and drove the British centre from the hill. The British infantry immediately behind the guns (the 2/89th) tried to counter-attack, but were driven back by Miller and Ripley.

Meanwhile, the British column under Colonel Hercules Scott was arriving on the field, already tired from its futile march and countermarch. Unaware of the situation, they blundered into Ripley's brigade and were also driven back in disorder, losing their own three guns. These were recovered by the light company of the 41st Foot, but were either abandoned again or remained in British hands but could not be brought into action.

Drummond's counter-attack

1869 map of the battle
While the Americans tried to deploy their own artillery among the captured British guns, Drummond (who had been wounded in the neck) reorganized his troops and mounted a determined attempt to retake his own cannon. There was no subtlety; Drummond merely launched an attack in line, without attempting to use his many light infantry to harass or disorder the American line, or to locate any weak points in it. The attack was beaten back after a short-range musketry duel over the abandoned guns, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties. The Glengarry Light Infantry, who had once again begun to harass the American left flank, were mistaken for Americans by other British units and forced to withdraw after suffering casualties from British fire.

Undeterred by his first failure, Drummond launched a second attack, using the same methods and formation. Although some American units wavered, they were rallied by Ripley and stood their ground. While the combat was taking place, Winfield Scott led his depleted brigade (which had been reorganized into a single ad-hoc battalion under Major Henry Leavenworth) in an unauthorized attack against Drummond's centre. Scott's brigade was engaged both by the British and by units of Ripley's brigade, who were not aware of the identity of the troops they were shooting at. Drummond's line was driven back but Scott's men broke in disorder and retreated, before rallying on the American left. Scott rode off to join Jesup's regiment, still out on the right flank, but was severely wounded shortly afterwards.

Shortly before midnight, Drummond launched a third counter-attack, apparently using every man he could find, although by this time the British line consisted of mixed-up detachments and companies, rather than organised regiments and battalions. The fighting over the artillery was even closer than before, with bayonets being used at one point, but again the exhausted British fell back.

End of the battle

By midnight, both sides were spent. On the American side, only 700 men were still standing in the line. Winfield Scott and Jacob Brown were both severely wounded. Brown would soon recover, but Scott's injury removed him from the campaign. With supplies and water short, Brown ordered a retreat. Porter and Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Hindman (Brown's artillery commander) protested but complied. Ripley was apparently left unaware of Brown's order until he realised that Hindman's artillery had been withdrawn. Although urged by Porter to maintain his position, he also withdrew. The British still had 1,400 men on the field, but they were in no condition to interfere with the American withdrawal. Drummond had ordered some units to hold the Portage Road and left some light infantry outposts near the Americans, but had withdrawn the remainder a short distance west along Lundy's Lane.

The American artillerymen had suffered severely during the fighting, and Hindman had difficulty finding sufficient horses to get all his guns away. One American 6-pounder gun had been lost earlier during the close-range fighting when its drivers had been hit by musket fire and the horses had bolted into the British lines, Hindman had also to abandon a howitzer with a broken carriage. However, the Americans were able to drag away one captured 6-pounder gun which had earlier been pushed to the bottom of the high ground in the centre of the former British position. Hindman later found some more horses and sent a team back to recover one of the prized British 24-pounder guns. The team was captured by British parties who were apparently wandering around the battlefield.

Aftermath

In the early hours of the morning, Brown ordered Ripley to recover the abandoned British guns the next day. Reinforcing his exhausted men with detachments which had been left at Chippawa, Ripley moved out with 1,200 soldiers but found that Drummond had reoccupied the battlefield with 2,200 men. Ripley withdrew, unmolested.

The American army now fell back to Fort Erie, first deliberately destroying Riall's old fortifications along the Chippawa River and burning the bridges behind them. Because they were short of transport, they had to abandon or destroy much equipment and supplies to make room for the wounded on the available wagons. Drummond was later to claim from this that the Americans had retreated in disorder. In fact, after burying some of the British and Canadian dead on the battlefield and burning many American corpses in large funeral pyres, the British had themselves withdrawn to Queenston until Drummond received reinforcements.

Both sides lost about the same number of men. The British had 84 killed, 559 wounded, 42 captured and 193 missing. The Americans lost 171 dead, 572 wounded, 7 captured and 110 missing. The discrepancies in the proportions of killed and wounded men is accounted for by the Americans not collating their casualty returns until three days after the battle, when some of those originally listed as missing were confirmed to have been killed, and some severely wounded men had died of their wounds.

Outcome and analysis

There had been much fighting at close quarters. Veteran British officers, who had fought against French armies in the Peninsular War, were horrified at the carnage they had witnessed at Lundy's Lane. Drummond reported, "Of so determined a Character were [the American] attacks directed against our guns that our Artillery Men were bayonetted by the enemy in the Act of loading, and the muzzles of the Enemy's Guns were advanced within a few Yards of ours".

The battle confirmed that the American regular forces had evolved into a highly professional army. Scott is widely credited for this progress, having modelled and trained his troops using French Revolutionary drills and exercises, although not all the American units present at Lundy's Lane had benefitted from his personal training.

Like the overall war, there is some dispute about the actual outcome of the battle. Some historians say that the Americans retreated, based upon General Drummond's report that the British ultimately held the field. Others state that the British retreated during the night but recaptured the position in the morning after the Americans retreated because of exhaustion and lack of supplies. Both views may be regarded as correct.

Evidence compiled by Donald Graves, a Canadian historian employed at the Directorate of History, Department of National Defence Canada, argues that General Drummond failed to use skirmish pickets to protect his guns, which were consequently captured by the Americans. Drummond also showed little tactical finesse during his counter-attacks, not using his light infantry to their best advantage and mounting only straightforward frontal attacks. American historian John R. Elting suggests that if Drummond had instead concentrated on the vulnerable American left flank, he might have won a decisive victory. (Drummond had much administrative experience, but had previously seen action only in the abortive campaign in Flanders in 1794 as a comparatively junior officer, and in the Egyptian campaign in 1801 as commander of a battalion.)

In respect to the effect of the battle on the War, the British may claim a strategic victory, since the Americans on the Niagara had suffered so many casualties that they were now badly outnumbered, and were forced to retire to Fort Erie. However, Drummond followed up so slowly that the Americans had time to reorganise and to prepare Fort Erie for defence. During the ensuing Siege of Fort Eriemarker, the British suffered very heavy casualties from a disastrous failed storming attempt and from sickness and shortages of supplies, and were forced to raise the siege, thus throwing away any advantage they may have gained as a result of the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

Battlefield and memorials





The site of the battle is now a residential and commercial area of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Part of the battlefield site was preserved next to the Drummond Hill Cemetery on Lundy's Lane east of Drummond Road. Other memorials added to the site include:

  • Soldier’s Monument — created by the Canadian Parliament and unveiled by Lundy’s Lane Historical Society in 1895
  • Commemorative Wall — added 1994
  • Laura Secord is buried at the Drummond Hill Cemetery
  • Lundy's Lane is mentioned in the unofficial Canadian patriotic anthem, The Maple Leaf Forever
At Queenston Heightsmarker and 'Lundy's Lane our brave fathers, side by side
for freedom, homes, and loved ones dear, firmly stood and nobly died.
And those dear rights which they maintained, we swear to yield them never.
Our watchword evermore shall be, the Maple Leaf forever!


Orders of battle

British order of battle American order of battle
Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond Note: the companies of the Royal Scots and 8th King's were veryunderstrength, after the Battle of Chippawa earlier in the month. Left Division (Major General Jacob Brown)
  • 1st Brigade (Brigadier General Winfield Scott)
    • 9th U.S. Infantry (Major Henry Leavenworth)
    • 11th U.S. Infantry (Major John McNeil)
    • 22nd U.S. Infantry (Colonel Hugh Brady)
    • 25th U.S. Infantry (Major Thomas Jesup)
    • Towson's Company U.S. Artillery (Two 6-pounder guns, One 5.5-inch howitzer)
  • 2nd Brigade (Brigadier General Eleazer Wheelock Ripley)
    • 21st U.S. Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel James Miller)
      • 17th U.S.Infantry (one company)
      • 19th U.S. Infantry (one company)
    • 23rd U.S.Infantry (Major Daniel McFarland)
    • 1st U.S. Infantry (four companies) (Lieutenant Colonel Robert Nicholas)
  • 3rd (Militia) Brigade (Brigadier General Peter B. Porter)
    • 5th Pennsylvania Militia (Major James Wood)
    • New York Militia Volunteers (Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Dobbin)
    • Canadian Volunteers (approx. 1 company) (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Willcocks
  • U.S. Artillery (Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Hindman)
    • Ritchie's Company (Two 6-pounder guns, One 5.5-inch howitzer)
    • Biddle's Company (Three 12-pounder guns)
  • Cavalry (Captain Samuel D. Harris)
    • Detachment, U.S. Dragoons
    • Troop, New York Volunteer Dragoons
Note: A company of three 18-pounder guns under Captain Alexander Williamsand another of two 18-pounder guns under Lieutenant David Douglassapparently could not be brought into action


Notes

  1. Graves, 1997, p.104
  2. Graves, 1999, p.107
  3. Elting, 1995, p.190
  4. Elting, 1995, p.191
  5. Graves, 1997, pp.129-131
  6. Graves, 1997, pp. 138-141
  7. Graves, 1997, p.145
  8. John L. Burns of Gettysburg, PA was a member of Miller's regiment.
  9. Elting, 1995, p.195
  10. Graves, 1997, p.167
  11. Graves, 1997, pp.170-171
  12. Graves, 1997, p.174
  13. Elting, 1995, p.194
  14. Graves, 1997, pp.180-181
  15. Graves, 1997, pp.182-183
  16. Graves, 1997, p.187
  17. Elting, 1995, p.193
  18. Graves, 1997, p.183
  19. Graves, 1997, p.185
  20. Elting, 1995, p.196
  21. Graves, 1997, pp.197-198


References



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