Remembering the Battle of Lundy's Lane: July 25: Snapshots in History
On July 25 and beyond, take a moment to reflect back on the War of 1812 and in particular the Battle of Lundy’s Lane (also known as the Battle of Niagara Falls) that took place on July 25, 1814. Earlier in July 1814, American forces attacked across the Niagara River near its source and captured Fort Erie. The Americans followed up with a victory at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814. The British forces retreated to Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario. American forces had occupied Queenston (near Fort George) for much of July 1814 but fell back to the Chippawa River on July 24, 1814 after harassment by Canadian militia and aboriginal allies. British militia and light infantry advanced to Lundy’s Lane 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) north of the Chippawa River to maintain contact with nearby opposing American forces.
The Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond, took personal command of British forces on the Niagara peninsula on July 25, 1814. Drummond ordered some troops to advance south from Fort Niagara along the eastern shore of the Niagara River with the intention of forcing American troops to evacuate the west bank of the river. Instead, American Major-General Jacob Brown ordered a northward advance by U.S. forces with the hope of blunting the British southerly advance. However, the Americans were not aware of the presence of British troops in Lundy’s Lane. Despite some contradictory orders regarding placement of British forces between Major-General Phineas Riall and Lieutenant-General Drummond, additional British troops were force-marched quickly to Lundy’s Lane from Fort George, arriving just in time as the Americans approached Lundy’s Lane.
Late in the afternoon of July 25, 1814, the American 1st Brigade (regular soldiers) under General Winfield Scott left the forested area and emerged in an open field, whereupon they were attacked by British artillery. The Americans sent the 25th U.S. Infantry to outflank the British and Canadian positions on the left side, catching them off-guard and resulting in the capture of the Portage Road and Lundy’s Lane intersection. Prisoners were taken including British Major-General Riall and militia cavalry Captain William Hamilton Merritt (later of Welland Canal fame). British Lieutenant-General Drummond decided to withdraw his centre positions to realign them with the left flank, leaving British artillery open to the possibility of capture. Under orders, Lieutenant-Colonel James Miller of the 21st U.S. Infantry and his troops were able to capture the British artillery. More British artillery fell into American hands when the British column under Colonel Hercules Scott blundered into the U.S. 2nd Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General Eleazer Wheelock Ripley.
British Lieutenant-General Drummond initiated three unsuccessful counterattacks in line to recapture artillery, with no attempts to harass or destabilize the American lines at concentrated points. This tactic proved costly to both sides with close hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets and musket fire, including friendly fire carried out accidentally on allied troops by both sides. The resulting flashes from exploding gun powder and the subsequent thick smoke must have provided an eerie background atmosphere as men screamed after being shot or stabbed on the battlefield. Despite capturing the British artillery, the American forces withdrew south towards Chippawa and left the British artillery behind.
British troops, Canadian militia, and Aboriginal warriors remained and slept in close proximity to the battlefield until the following morning. It was difficult to ignore the groans of the wounded men on the battlefield and their requests for water. Casualty rates in terms of soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing were similar on both sides at approximately 900 in total.
Despite the questionable tactics looking through today’s eyes, the British were able to halt the American incursion into Upper Canada. Following the American withdrawal to Fort Erie, British Lieutenant-General Drummond’s forces pursued the Americans and instigated a siege of Fort Erie.
Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:
Please also explore some of the following historical sources that have been digitized for the convenience of readers and researchers alike:
An Account of the battle of Lundy's Lane, fought in 1814, between the British & American armies, from the best and most authentic sources / [Unknown?], 1853. eBook. PDF format.
Canada in memoriam, 1812-14; her duty in the erection of monuments in memory of her distinguished sons and daughters; a paper read July 25, 1890...at the annual commemoration of the battle of Lundy's Lane, of 1814, before the L.L. historical society / Sarah Anne Curzon, 1891. eBook. PDF format.
Pen and ink sketch of Lundy's Lane and district, showing General Brown's encampment, the 9th and 22nd regiments, Forsyth's house, and Mrs. Wilson's / [Unknown?], 1814. eManuscript. PDF format.