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The Battle of Stoney Creek was fought on 6 June 1813 during the War of 1812 near present day Stoney Creek, Ontariomarker. Britishmarker units made a night attack on an Americanmarker encampment. Due in large part to the capture of the two senior officers of the American force, and an overestimation of British strength by the Americans, the battle was a victory for the British, and a turning point in the defence of Upper Canada.


On 27 May, the Americans had won the Battle of Fort Georgemarker, forcing the British defenders of Fort Georgemarker into a hasty retreat, with heavy casualties. The British commander, Brigadier General John Vincent, gathered in all his outposts along the Niagara Rivermarker, disbanded the militia contingents in his force and retreated to Burlington Heightsmarker (at the west end of Burlington Baymarker), with about 1,600 men in total. The Americans under the overall leadership of General Henry Dearborn, who was elderly and ill, were slow to pursue. A brigade under Brigadier General William H. Winder first followed up Vincent, but Winder decided that Vincent's forces were too strong to engage, and halted at the Forty Mile Creek. Another brigade joined him, commanded by Brigadier General John Chandler, who was the senior, and took overall command. Their combined force, numbering 3,400, advanced to Stoney Creekmarker, where they encamped on 5 June. The two generals set up their headquarters at the Gage Farm.

One of Vincent's staff officers, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon, reconnoitred the American position and determined that it was badly placed and inadequately protected. He recommended launching a nighttime attack to take advantage of the element of surprise. A British column of five companies from the 1/8th Foot and the main body of the 49th Foot, about 700 men in all, was formed.

At this point, the story of Billy Green comes to light. Billy Green was a 19 year old local resident who had witnessed the advance of the Americans from the top of the Niagara Escarpment earlier in the day. Billy's brother-in-law, Isaac Corman, had been briefly captured by the Americans, but was released after he convinced them (truthfully) that he was the cousin of American General William Henry Harrison. In order to be able to pass through the American lines, he was given the challenge response password for the day - "Wil-Hen-Har" (an abbreviation of Harrison's name). He gave his word of honour that he would not divulge this to the British army. He kept his word, but did reveal the word to Billy Green. Green rode his brother-in-law's horse part way, and ran on foot the rest of the way to Burlington Heights. Here, he revealed the password to FitzGibbon. He was provided with a sword and uniform and used his knowledge of the terrain to guide the British to the American position.

However, it has been suggested that the password was actually obtained by Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey, who held the post of Deputy Assistant Adjutant General to Vincent. According to an account given after the war by Frederick Snider, a neighbour of the Gages, Harvey had executed a ruse on the first sentry to be accosted. Pretending to be the American officer of the day making Grand Rounds, he approached the sentry and when challenged, came close to the sentry's ear as if to whisper the countersign. But with bayonet secreted in hand, he grabbed the surprised sentry by the throat and threw him to the ground. With the bayonet at his throat, the sentry gave up the password.


Battle of Stoney Creek
Stoney Creek Battlefield House
Stoney Creek Battlefield House
The British left their camp at Burlington Heights at 11:30pm on June 5. While Vincent was the senior officer present, the troops were placed under the conduct and direction of Lieutenant Colonel Harvey, who led them silently toward Stoney Creek. They had removed the flints from their muskets to ensure that there were no accidental firings and dared not utter even a whisper. A sentry post of American soldiers was surprised and either captured or killed by bayonet.. Billy Green is said to have bayoneted one of the American sentries personally, although this is not mentioned in any official British record. The British continued advancing toward the American campfires in silence. However at the repeated urging of Second Lieutenant Ephraim Shaler, the U.S. Twenty-Fifth Regiment which had earlier been camped there had been moved from their previous exposed position, leaving behind only the cooks who were preparing the troops' meal for the next day. Shaler had returned to the original position when he heard a sentry cry out as he was being tomahawked after being shot with an arrow from one of John Norton's small band of First Nations warriors.

Around the same time, a group of Vincent's staff officers who'd come forward to watch the action let out a cheer which was contagious to the men who took up the cheer, relieving their tension but depriving them of the element of surprise that was their primary advantage given the lopsided number of troops they faced. Instead of striking fear in their adversaries, the yells served to direct their attention to where the British were, helping the rousing troops to focus their attention and musket fire and making it near impossible for officers' orders to be heard above the din. Any hope of catching the Americans unaware and bayoneting them in their sleep was now lost and the British fixed their flints to their muskets and attacked. Gradually, the American troops began to recover from the initial surprise, recover their poise and start firing at the attacking British, at times from as far away as . The American artillery also entered the fray after having previously been rendered useless due to the dampness settling into the powder.

Holding the high ground, the Americans were able to pour both musket and artillery fire into the exposed British line and the line began to lose cohesion. For ammunition, the U.S. Twenty-Fifth was firing a variant of 'buck and ball', in this instance firing 12 buckshot balls instead of the usual .65 calibre ball and 3 buckshot. This effectively turned their muskets into shotguns. Despite repeated charges by the British, the centre of the American line was holding and with the withering fire that the British line was sustaining, it was only a matter of time before they would have to retire.

A series of events coincided to change the course of the battle. General Winder ordered the U.S. Fifth Infantry to protect the left flank. In doing so, he created a gap in the American line while at the same time leaving the artillery unsupported by infantry. At the same time, the American commander, John Chandler, hearing musket shots from the far right of the Americna line and having already sent his staff officers off with other orders, rode out himself to investigate. But his horse fell (or was shot - Chandler used both excuses at different times) and he was knocked out in the fall.

Major Charles Plenderleath, commanding officer of the British 49th Regiment, was able to ascertain the position of the American artillery when two field guns fired in quick succession. Realising the importance of possession of the guns, he gathered troops of Fitzgibbon's and other nearby companies. With bayonets fixed, Plenderleath led the charge up Gage's Lane, 20 to 30 volunteers following at a run all fearing that the next discharge from the cannons might annihilate them. However, the U.S. 2nd Artillery under the command of Captain Nathaniel Towson at that moment responded to an order to cease firing, unaware of the British troops advancing on their position. The gunners were without arms of their own. The British charged the field guns, bayoneting man and horse and the position was quickly overrun and captured. The remaining British forces followed soon after..

At this point General Chandler, conscious again and aware of the commotion near his artillery but not of the reason, stumbled to the position to investigate. Thinking himself to be among the U.S. Twenty-Third Infantry and intending to bring order back to the "new and undisciplined" troops, he realised to his horror that the soldiers were British, who immediately took him prisoner at bayonet point. Winder fell prey to the same mistake and was made prisoner also. Major Joseph Lee Smith of the 25th U.S. Infantry was very nearly captured himself but having made good his escape, alerted his men to make a quick withdrawal, thereby avoiding capture. Command of the American forces fell to cavalry officer Colonel James Burn. The cavalry charged forward firing, but once again in the darkness, the Americans suffered from a case of mistaken identity - they were firing on their own Sixteenth U.S. Infantry, who were themselves wandering around without their commander and firing at each other in confusion. Shortly afterwards, the Americans fell back, convinced that they had been defeated, when in fact they still retained a superior force.

The battle lasted less than 45 minutes, but its intensity led to heavy casualties on both sides. As dawn broke, Harvey ordered the outnumbered British to fall back into the woods in order to hide their small numbers. They succeeded in carrying away two of the captured guns, and spiked two more, leaving them on the ground due to their lack of the ability to move them. They later watched from a distance as the Americans returned to their camp after daybreak, burned their provisions and tents and retreated toward Forty Mile Creek (present day Grimsby, Ontariomarker). By afternoon on June 6, the British occupied the former site of the American camp.

For much of the morning of June 6, General Vincent was missing. He had been injured after a fall from his horse during the battle and was found wandering in a state of confusion, convinced that the entire British force had been destroyed. He was finally located about seven miles from the battle scene, his horse, hat and sword all missing.


Casualties in the fight had been roughly even, but the Americans had been shaken. It is most probable that if their generals had not been captured, the battle may have turned out quite differently. However, the British were able to justifiably claim a victory in this battle. Under the de facto leadership of Colonel Harvey, and with some good fortune, they had successfully forced the Americans back toward the Niagara River. American forces would never again advance so far from the Niagara.

At Forty Mile Creek, the retreating American troops were met by reinforcements under Dearborn's second-in-command, Major General Morgan Lewis. Dearborn had ordered Lewis to proceed to Stoney Creek to attack the British, but almost as the two groups met, the British fleet under Captain Sir James Lucas Yeo appeared in Lake Ontario. The American armed vessels under Commodore Isaac Chauncey had abruptly vanished when they heard that Yeo and troops under Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost had attacked their own base at Sackett's Harbor, New Yorkmarker. (The Battle of Sackett's Harbor was a defeat for the British, but large quantities of stores and equipment had mistakenly been set on fire by the Americans, hampering the Americans' efforts to build large fighting vessels.)

With Yeo threatening his communications, which ran for along the edge of the lake, Lewis decided to retreat at once, leaving a large quantity of tents, arms and supplies for the British to acquire. The Americans retired into a small defensive perimeter around Fort George, where they remained until abandoning the fort and retreating across the Niagara River into U.S. territory in December.

Brigadier General Winder was later exchanged and subsequently commanded the Tenth Military District around Washington, where he attracted censure following the Burning of Washington.


Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument
The site of the battle is a National historic site. A stone tower, dedicated exactly 100 years after the battle by Queen Mary, commemorates the British soldiers who died at this location. The Gage farm house is also preserved and serves as a museum. The battle is re-enacted annually on the weekend closest to June 6.

The battle is commemorated in the song Billy Green from the 2000 album From Coffee House to Concert Hall by the late Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers.


  1. H.F. Wood, The Many Battles of Stoney Creek, in Zaslow (ed), p.57
  2. Extract - Niles' Register - Vol 11, pp.116-119, October 19, 1816, Cruikshank pp.30-38
  3. Letter, Lt. Col. Harvey to Col. Baynes - June 6, 1813, Cruikshank, p.7
  4. - Also see Genealogy of Benjamin Harrison IV - who is indicated as being grandfather to William Henry Harrison (via Benjamin Harrison V), and also to Issac Corman (via Sarah Harrison)
  5. Berton, pp.72-80
  6. Elliot Strange Fatality, p.115
  7. Letter, Lt. James FitzGibbon to Rev. James Somerville - June 7, 1813, Cruikshank p.12
  8. Elliot p.119
  9. Elliot p.119
  10. Elliot p.123
  11. Elliot p.121
  12. Elliot p.134
  13. Elliot p.136
  14. Elliot p.134
  15. Hitsman, p.150
  16. Letter, Brigadier General Vincent to Sir George Prevost - June 6, 1813, Cruikshank p. 8
  17. Niles' Weekly Register - 19 October, 1816, Battle of Stoney Creek
  18. Letter, Brigadier General Chandler to General Dearborn - June 18, 1813, Cruikshank p.25
  19. Berton, p.78
  20. Berton p.79
  21. Berton, pp.79-80


Referenced in notes


  • John R. Elting, Amateurs to Arms, Da Capo Press, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-306-80653-3
  • Jon Latimer, 1812: War with America, Harvard University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-67402-584-9

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