Major Battles




Fort St. Joseph and the Capture of  Michilimackinac (Mackinac), July 17, 1812

Michilimackinac (Mackinac) on Lake Huron (the site of a battle on July 17, 1812 during the War of 1812 where the British forces defeated the Americans and captured Michilimackinac)
Michilimackinac (Mackinac) on Lake Huron: the site of a battle on July 17, 1812  where the British forces defeated the Americans and captured Michilimackinac.

The United States declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, but it took time for the news to reach the forts along the borders between the United States and British North America. At Fort St. Joseph in the Mary’s River in Upper Canada, the most westerly of British outposts, Captain Charles Roberts learned of the war before the news reached nearby American Fort Mackinac in the Straits of Mackinac. Roberts gathered together his small garrison of older veterans; employees of the Northwest Fur Company based on St Joseph’s Island and First Nations allies. They launched a surprise invasion of Mackinac Island. The American fort surrendered without a shot being fired and northern Michigan remained in British hands for the rest of the War due to the gallant defence mounted there by a small but tenacious force of British regulars, Royal Newfoundland Fencibles, Canadian militiamen and their First Nations allies.

Fort Malden or Amherstburg and the Capture of Detroit, August 16, 1812

The meeting of Major General Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, during the planning to capture Detroit.
The meeting between Major-General Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, on the planning to capture Detroit.

On July 12, 1812, American General William Hull, in command at Detroit, crossed the Detroit River and invaded Canadian soil. Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation warning all British subjects that if they resisted the invasion they would be “considered and treated as enemies, and the horrors and calamities of war will stalk before.” The first skirmish of the War occurred at the River Canard, a small action that prevented Hull from continuing on to attack the British Fort Malden or Amherstburg. On learning of the surrender of Michilimackinac, Hull retired back across the river to Detroit.

The British commander in Upper Canada, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, stationed at Fort George in Niagara, received a report of Hull’s invasion and immediately took action. He hastened to Amherstburg with a small force of British reinforcements, Royal Newfoundland Fencibles, Canadian militiamen from the Lincoln and York regions and Haudenosaunee allies. On his arrival he met with the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh and the Wyandot Chiefs Roundhead and Split Log. Together they planned their attack on Detroit.

The surrender of American General William Hull at the capture of Detroit.
The surrender of American General William Hull at the capture of Detroit.

Brock set up cannon positions in what is now Windsor to begin a bombardment of Detroit. With his small force of regulars, militia and First Nations allies, he crossed the Detroit River to lay siege to Detroit.

With only a few shots from the cannon on the Canadian shore and a display of his force of redcoats and Aboriginal allies deployed near the American fort, Brock bluffed General Hull into surrendering Detroit, some 2,500 of his troops, and the entire territory of Michigan while suffering only two wounded among the allied forces.

From their new base at Detroit, the British were able to support Tecumseh and his First Nations warriors in a joint offensive against the Americans in north-western Ohio early in 1813.

Detroit would remain in British hands until September 1813.

Queenston Heights and the Death of Brock, October 13, 1812

Battle of Queenston Heights (Brock, “the hero of Upper-Canada” was killed early in this battle).
Battle of Queenston Heights where Brock, “the hero of Upper-Canada”, was killed early in battle.

Throughout September 1812, the Americans were assembling a large army on the Niagara frontier for an invasion of Niagara. The plan was to establish a bridgehead which could be held over the winter and used as a springboard for the conquest of southern Upper Canada, cutting off British supply lines to the Detroit frontier. On October 13, 1812, the invasion was launched on the village of Queenston. A large part of the American army, miltiamen from New York and Pennsylvania, refused to cross into Canada. British commander Major-General Sir Isaac Brock mustered his forces, British regulars, militiamen from the Niagara and Toronto areas and a hundred Haudenosaunee allies and marched to Queenston to oppose the American invasion.

Brock was killed early in the Battle of Queenston Heights, but eventually the British proved triumphant. A final charge on the heights, 12 hours after the first American assault, overwhelmed the numerically superior American army, forcing the surrender of nearly 1,000 soldiers.

While Brock, the “Hero of Upper Canada,” was killed, the battle did a great deal to bolster morale in Upper Canada. Further it showed the British that Upper Canadians, many of whom were recent immigrants from the United States, would fight tenaciously to defend their adopted land, even against their former countrymen and neighbours.

Prescott and the Capture of Ogdensburg, February 22, 1813

Early in the War, the Americans had established a garrison in Ogdensburg, New York across the St Lawrence River from Prescott, Upper Canada. This was a strategically important position, at the head of a set of rapids that impeded river traffic between Prescott and Montreal. Goods travelling into the interior had to be portaged and hauled through the rapids to Prescott where they could be transferred to sailing ships to continue their journey to Kingston, York (Toronto) or Niagara. It was a vulnerable spot as cannons on one side of the river could reach the opposite shore.

In January 1813, American riflemen from Ogdensburg made several raids into Canadian territory, attacking the towns of Gananoque and Elizabethtown (Brockville).  On February 22, 1813, the fiery Major “Red” George Macdonnell of the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, left temporarily in command of the Prescott garrison, took the initiative and considerably exceeded his orders to attack Ogdensburg.  Leading his force of Glengarries, regulars from the King’s 8th Regiment, soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Infantry, and militia volunteers he crossed the ice of the frozen St Lawrence River and captured Ogdensburg.  Government buildings and some ships frozen into the ice were burned before his force returned to Prescott.  The Americans would not replace the garrison of Ogdensburg for the rest of the War; thus the British supply route remained open.

The Capture of York, April 27, 1813

In the spring of 1813, the Americans had a more powerful presence on Lake Ontario than the British fleet based out of Kingston.  This enabled them to launch an amphibious invasion across Lake Ontario to attack the Upper Canadian capital of York.  An American army landed on April 27, 1813, and after fierce combat the British were forced to retreat from York.  As the British were abandoning the garrison of York they set a fuse to their gunpowder magazine.  The resulting explosion caused many American casualties, including one of their generals, Zebulon Pike, after whom Pike’s Peak in Toronto is named.

The Americans accepted the surrender of York, occupied the town for a few days, burned government buildings including Parliament and the shipyard, and then returned to Sacket’s Harbour, New York, their main naval base on Lake Ontario. In retaliation for the burning of York, the British would later burn the White House, the Capitol Building and other government buildings in Washington D.C., when they occupied that city in 1814.

The Battle of Fort George, May 27, 1813

The Battle of Fort George (served as the headquarters for the Centre Division of the British Army in Upper Canada, but was captured by the Americans during the Battle of Fort George in May 1813).
Fort George served as the headquarters for the Centre Division of the British Army in Upper Canada, but was captured by the Americans during the Battle of Fort George in May 1813.

A month after the capture of York (Toronto) the Americans planned to attack Niagara to use as a bridgehead for the conquest of southern Upper Canada. On May 25, 1813, a large number of American cannons shelled Fort George, destroying all of the fort’s wooden buildings.  Two days later, an amphibious American army of more than 5000 men overwhelmed the defending garrison of Niagara, which was outnumbered 3 to 1.

The Americans occupied Fort George and the Town of Niagara, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, for the next seven months but were unable to exploit the position to launch further conquests. Setbacks at Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams and a loose siege of Fort George by British forces and First Nations allies kept the Americans hemmed in and unable to break out to advance further into Upper Canada. By December 1813, they realized that there was no advantage to continuing to occupy the fort and the British advanced to recapture the position. The Americans abandoned the fort and retreated back across the Niagara River. They burned the town of Niagara on their retreat on December 10, 1813. The British reoccupied Fort George. They helped find shelter for the dispossessed inhabitants of the town, and then retaliated, capturing American Fort Niagara on December 19, 1813, and burning American villages along the Niagara River. They would occupy Fort Niagara for the next 15 months, finally leaving it after learning of the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War in 1815.

The Battle of Stoney Creek, June 6, 1813

On May 27, 1813, following the Battle of Fort George, the British abandoned Fort George and Fort Erie and retreated towards their post at Burlington Heights in present-day Hamilton, Ontario. The Americans consolidated their position at Niagara and then sent an army to pursue the British with plans to destroy the remnants of their army at Burlington Heights. On the night of June 5, 1813, the Americans stopped for the night at Stoney Creek, planning an attack on Burlington Heights the following day. The British realized that the Americans would likely be successful in a daylight attack on their position on the heights and planned a bold counter move. In the early hours of June 6, 1813, they launched a vicious bayonet attack on the American encampment at Stoney Creek. The British were outnumbered by the much larger American army but had surprise on their side. American generals Winder and Chandler were captured and the Americans were thrown into disarray. The British retreated before sunrise so that dawn would not reveal the small size of their army. 

The Americans retreated back towards Fort George, stopping at the Forty Mile Creek (Grimsby, Ontario) late June 6th, while their officers argued tactics.  They were still there on June 8 when attacked by British ships on Lake Ontario, and Haudenosaunee warriors and Upper Canadian militiamen who had followed their retreat from Stoney Creek.  The Americans retreated back to the safety of Fort George.

The Battle of Beaver Dams, June 24, 1813

Laura Secord travelled more than 12 miles to warn British forces of an American invasion at the British outpost at Beaver Dams.
Laura Secord travelled more than 19 miles (32 kilometres) to warn British forces of an American invasion at the British outpost at Beaver Dams, Ontario.

While the Americans were retreating to Fort George, the British were sending reinforcements to Burlington Heights.  Following the retreating Americans, the British began a loose siege of their position at Fort George, establishing outposts and supply depots in several places near the town of Niagara.  One such depot was at the Decew House, in present-day Thorold, Ontario.

On June 23, 1813, an American army was ordered from Fort George to attack the depot at the Decew House. The army marched from Fort George to Queenston on June 23, 1813, and continued to advance towards the British position the following morning. An inhabitant, Laura Secord, had warned the British commander, James Fitzgibbon, of an American attack on June 22. Similar warnings were received from Mohawk allies and other civilian inhabitants. A large number of warriors from the Seven Nations of Canada from eastern Upper Canada and western Lower Canada had joined Fitzgibbon a couple of days prior and laid an ambush against the advancing Americans. In the battle that followed the warriors stopped the American army and forced their surrender. Nearly 500 Americans were taken prisoner.

British Defeat on the Detroit Frontier—the Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813 and the Battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813

Plan of Fort Erie showing a map of the fort that would be capture by the Americans July 3, 1814, as part of an American invasion of Niagara.
Map of Fort Erie captured by the Americans on July 3, 1814, as part of an American invasion of Niagara.

During the spring and summer of 1813, the Americans had been building a flotilla of war vessels to challenge the British for control of Lake Erie. By September 1813, the British on the Detroit frontier were in dire straits. Supplies from the east were severely curtailed following the American occupation of Niagara. The British Lake Erie flotilla was undermanned and did not have enough cannons to fully arm the British naval vessels. The garrisons of Fort Malden and Fort Detroit and the First Nations allies and their families were facing a shortage of food. To ensure that a supply line remained open, the British had to control Lake Erie and to do so they had to defeat the American Lake Erie fleet. On September 10, 1813, British Commodore Robert Barclay attacked the American fleet under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry and was defeated. The British fleet was forced to surrender and the Americans were in control of Lake Erie and were able to take the offensive against weaker British forces at Detroit. Fort Detroit and Fort Malden could no longer be held, so British commander Henry Procter destroyed the shipyard at Amherstburg and the military buildings of Fort Malden and retreated up the Thames River towards Burlington Heights, much to the scorn of Tecumseh who nonetheless accompanied the British on their retreat.

Battle of the Thames at Chatham (Ontario), where Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, died during battle.
Battle of the Thames at Chatham, Ontario, where Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, died during battle.

A pursuing American army under General William Henry Harrison overtook Major-General Henry Procter’s force near Moraviantown in present day Chatham-Kent and defeated the British in the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. Tecumseh was killed in action but Procter was able to escape, arriving later at Burlington Heights.

The Americans would remain in control of the Detroit frontier for the rest of the War (though northern Michigan remained in British hands). Many of Tecumseh’s allies returned to their homes and made peace with the Americans, while others joined the British on the Niagara frontier.

The Failed American Campaign against Montréal, the Battles of Chateauguay, October 26, 1813 and Crysler’s Farm, November 11, 1813

The Battle of Chateauguay (on October 26, 1813, the Canadian troops under the command of Charles-Michel de Salaberry won an important victory over the invading American forces).
The Battle of Chateauguay. On October 26, 1813, the Canadian troops under the command of Charles-Michel de Salaberry won an important victory over the invading American forces.

Part of the American strategy for 1813 was to capture Kingston or Montreal or both if possible.  An American army under General Wade Hampton was to assemble at Plattsburg, New York and travel up the old Lake Champlain-Richelieu River invasion route while a second army under General James Wilkinson was to advance from Sackett’s Harbor towards Kingston.  The idea was that if the British sent reinforcements to Kingston, weakening Montreal, then Wilkinson and Hampton would attack Montreal.  If part of the Kingston garrison were sent to reinforce Montreal and the opportunity presented itself, then Kingston would be the main target.  As it turned out, neither scenario worked for the Americans.

Hampton’s force advanced up the Richelieu Valley but, at the Chateauguay River (near present day Ormstown, Quebec), they came up against a much smaller force of the Canadian Voltigeurs and Canadian Fencible Regiments, Lower Canadian militia and their First Nations allies who had dug trenches protected by breastworks of abattis, a tangle of trees that had been cut down with their branches sharpened to points. British commander Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry tricked Hampton into believing that the Canadian and Aboriginal force was much larger than its actual numbers and, after a sharp battle, the Americans retreated back to American territory.

In the meantime, the second American army, realizing that Kingston was too hard a nut to crack, slowly descended the St Lawrence to meet up with Hampton’s advancing army. A small British force accompanied by gunboats was led from Kingston by British Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison to shadow the Americans sailing down river. Morrison’s force gathered militia reinforcements along the route while other militia harassed the Americans with musket and artillery fire as they descended the St Lawrence. Finally, American general Wilkinson landed a few thousand men to confront Morrison’s force on November 11, 1813,  near present-day Morrisburg, Ontario on John Crysler’s fields. In the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, the outnumbered British, together with Canadian regulars of the Canadian Fencible and Canadian Voltigeurs regiments, twelve cavalrymen of the Provincial Light Dragoons and thirty First Nations allies, staved off several American attacks, inflicting heavy casualties and forced the Americans to retreat from the field. The Americans retreated to the area of Cornwall, Ontario, to recover from the shock of the battle and learned of Hampton’s problems at Chateauguay. Wilkinson’s army returned to American territory. Neither Montreal nor Kingston would be seriously threatened for the rest of the War.

The Battle of Chippawa, July 5, 1814, Lundy’s Lane, July 25, 1814, and the Siege of Fort Erie, August 4 – September 21, 1814

In the late spring of 1814, the Americans learned that the British and allies had finally defeated the French in Europe and could now send many more soldiers and naval vessels to fight in Canada. They realized that they had one last chance to occupy southern Upper Canada, which they might be granted in any ensuing peace treaty if they firmly occupied that land.  Another invasion of Niagara was launched.  On July 3, 1814, an American army landed near Fort Erie and quickly captured that fort before advancing towards Fort George.  On July 4, 1814, they reached a position south of the Chippawa River on the road to the town of Niagara.  On the following day, the American army of 3,500 men under General Jacob Brown was attacked by a British force of regulars, militia and First Nations allies numbering about 2,100 men.

The British, although outnumbered, expected the Americans to retreat. The Americans, however, had drilled and trained during the winter to match the professional standards of the British army. After being repulsed with heavy losses, the British retreated across the Chippawa River, eventually retiring all the way back to Fort George and the newly constructed Fort Mississauga in the town of Niagara. After dealing with their heavy casualties and organizing their supplies, Brown’s army followed, laying a loose siege to Fort George. Brown was waiting for American Commodore Chauncey to arrive so the American navy could help with an attack on the British positions at Forts George, Mississauga and Niagara. But when the fleet failed to arrive, Brown retreated back towards his supply base near Chippawa. The British followed and established a defensive position at Lundy’s Lane in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Brown realized that Fort George was too strong to attack without the support of the American fleet. He decided to attack the British position at Burlington Heights, thereby isolating the British in the Niagara Peninsula. His advancing army clashed with the British at Lundy’s Lane on July 25, 1814. The action escalated as both sides continued to reinforce those fighting at Lundy’s Lane while the casualties mounted. Finally, both sides withdrew and the Americans finally retreated back to Fort Erie. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was the bloodiest of the War with both sides claiming victory.

The Battle of Lundy’s Lane (the bloodiest of the war with both sides claiming victory).
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was the bloodiest of the war with both sides claiming victory.

Following the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the American army retreated to Fort Erie and began strengthening the defences of that stronghold. The British followed, beginning a formal siege of the fort on August 4, 1814. The British dug trenches and ditches, slowly advancing towards the American position. Batteries of cannons were emplaced to bombard the fort and weaken the defences. A British night assault on August 13, 1814, ended in disaster when an exploding powder magazine killed and injured many of the British attackers. By August 16, 1814, British commander Lieutenant-general Sir Gordon Drummond realized that his force of 3000 men was insufficient to capture the American fort, defended by 2,500 American soldiers. He decided to lift the siege. The following day, an American attack overwhelmed the principle British cannon battery, but failed to drive off the besieging force. The Americans did not know that the British were planning to abandon the siege, which they finally did on September 21, 1814. The Americans continued to hold the fort, but realized that it would be a difficult post to maintain during the winter. On November 5, 1814, the Americans set charge to destroy the fort and returned to the American territory.

As a result of the bloody fighting at Fort Erie and Lundy’s Lane, regular Canadian-recruited Fencible Regiments (notably the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles and the 104th Regiment of Foot from New Brunswick) as well as the Battalion of Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada were awarded the battle honour NIAGARA for their actions and exemplary service at Lundy’s Lane and in the 1814 Niagara campaign.