The Battle of Lundy's Lane (also known as the Battle of Niagara Falls) was a battle of the Anglo-American War of 1812, which took place on 25 July 1814, in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, and one of the deadliest battles ever fought on Canadian soil.
Background[edit | edit source]
On 3 July 1814 an American army under Major General Jacob Brown launched an attack across the Niagara River near its source on Lake Erie. His force quickly captured the British position at Fort Erie and then advanced north. Two days later one of his two brigades of regular U.S. Infantry under Brigadier General Winfield Scott defeated a British force commanded by Major General Phineas Riall at the Battle of Chippawa.
A few days after the battle Brown outflanked the British defences along the Chippawa River and the British fell back to Fort George near the mouth of the Niagara on Lake Ontario. Brown lacked the necessary troops 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 Harbor, New York, was waiting for new frigates and heavily armed brigs to be completed before he could challenge the British squadron. When these were finally ready to sail, the American squadron was further delayed in port 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 from York to reinforce Fort George.
For most of July, Brown's army occupied Queenston 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 Burlington. As soon as Brown retired, British light infantry and militia under Major General Riall advanced to Lundy's Lane 4 miles (6.4 km) north of the Chippawa to allow light troops to maintain contact with the American main force.
Battle[edit | edit source]
Preliminary movements[edit | edit source]
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 from Fort Niagara (which the British had captured in December 1813) 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 under Colonel Hercules Scott to move from St. Davids to Queenston to cover his withdrawal, rather than advance to his support. 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[edit | edit source]
Lundy's Lane was a spur from the main portage road alongside the Niagara River. It 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, commanded by Major Thomas Jesup, to outflank 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. They caught the British and Canadian units there (the light company of the 1st Battalion of the 8th (King's) Regiment and the Upper Canada Incorporated Militia Battalion) while they were redeploying and unaware of the American presence, and drove them back in confusion. The British and Canadians rallied, but had been driven off the Portage Road. Jesup 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 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, although Riall and militia cavalry leader Captain William Hamilton Merritt remained prisoners.
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[edit | edit source]
By nightfall, Scott's brigade had suffered heavy casualties, but Brown had arrived with the American main body (the 2nd Brigade of regulars under Brigadier General Eleazer Wheelock Ripley and a brigade of volunteers from the militia under Brigadier General 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. Miller famously responded, "I'll try, Sir".
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 2nd Battalion of the 89th Foot) 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 unnecessary diversion via Queenston. Unaware of the changed situation, they blundered into Ripley's brigade and were also driven back in disorder, losing their own three 6-pounder guns. These were recovered by a charge 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 as the drivers and gunners had been scattered.
Drummond's counter-attack[edit | edit source]
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 British 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 as in the first. 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 at which they were shooting. 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, 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[edit | edit source]
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 draught 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 drawing it had bolted into the British lines. Hindman also had 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 wandering around the battlefield.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
In the early hours of the morning of 26 July, 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 at daybreak with 1,200 soldiers but found that Drummond had reoccupied the battlefield with 2,200 men. Ripley withdrew, unmolested. The American army fell back to Fort Erie, first deliberately destroying the old British 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.
Casualties[edit | edit source]
The British official casualty return had 84 killed, 559 wounded, 42 captured and 193 missing. The Americans captured 19 British officers and 150 other ranks, giving a revised British casualty total of 84 killed, 559 wounded, 169 captured and 55 missing.
The original American official casualty return, dated 30 July 1814, gave 171 dead, 572 wounded and 117 missing. A slightly later version gave the same number of killed and wounded but only 110 missing. Donald Graves says, "British records state that four officers and 75 Americans of other ranks captured at Lundy's Lane were imprisoned at Quebec in the autumn of 1814. The remainder of the missing were probably the wounded or dead left on the field after Ripley withdrew". Three officers of the 22nd U.S. Regiment of Infantry; Lieutenants William Sturgis, John D. Kehr and Robert M. Davidson, who appear on the casualty list as "missing" and "supposed to be killed" were later confirmed as having been killed on 25 July. This gives a revised American loss of 174 killed, 572 wounded, 79 captured and 28 missing. Graves speculates that the discrepancies in the proportions of killed and wounded men between British and American casualties may be accounted for by the Americans not collating their casualty returns until five 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[edit | edit source]
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 Army drills and exercises, although not all the American units present at Lundy's Lane had benefitted from his personal training.
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 Flanders Campaign 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 won 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. Richard V. Barbuto says, "On 26 July, Brown's plan to advance on Burlington Heights was irretrievably shattered... Drummond had secured the forts at the northern end of the Niagara, and he had blunted an American advance. Although there was still a lot of fight in both forces, the balance of combat power on the Niagara Peninsula had swung from the invaders to the defenders".
Battlefield and memorials[edit | edit source]
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:
Legacy[edit | edit source]
Orders of battle[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
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