The Siege of Fort Erie was a prolonged event. After the Battle at Lundy's Lane, on July 25, 1814, the American Army retreated to their last remaining stronghold in Canada, Fort Erie. The British and Canadians followed them and by August 1st, 1814, the British began digging in at a distance of approximately 2 miles to the northeast of the American camp at Fort Erie. It took the British approximately nine days to construct a battery containing four guns and a first line of entrenchments. By the 10th of August in 1814 the British began to seriously harass the American Fort Erie. The Siege would last for nearly two months and shortly after it concluded, on November 5, 1814, the Americans and their Army left Canada, as enemies, for the last time.
From the time that the British arrived and began construction of their entrenchments until the events of August 12th, two non-regular regiments stood out as exemplary in their conduct. This was conveyed in a letter from Lieutenant-General Drummond to Sir George Prevost dated: "HEADQUARTERS, CAMP BEFORE FORT ERIE, 12th August, 1814... The enemy makes daily efforts with his riflemen to dislodge our advanced picquets and to obtain a reconnaissance of what we are doing. These attacks, tho' feeble and invariably repulsed, yet harass our troops and occasion us some loss., I am happy to report that on every occasion the troops show great steadiness, and invariably inflict a loss on the enemy more considerable than their own. The Indians went forward with great spirit the day before yesterday, and in the affair of this day it has just been reported to me they surprised, took, and scalped every man of one of the enemy's picquets., I cannot forbear of taking this occasion of expressing to Your Excellency my most marked approbation of the uniform exemplary good conduct of the Glengarry Light Infantry and Incorporated Militia, the former under command of Lieutenant-Col. Battersby, and the latter under Major Kirby:, These two corps have constantly been in close contact with the enemy's outposts and riflemen during the severe service of the last fortnight; their steadiness and gallantry as well as their superiority as light troops have on every occasion been conspicuous."
Throughout the Siege of Fort Erie there were two very significant dates on which Battle's occurred. The most significant date is sometimes referred to as the Battle for [Fort] Erie. Most often though, the date of August 15, 1814, is referred to as the Siege of Fort Erie. In order to fully understand what occurred on August 15, 1814, we must begin with the events of August 12, 1814.
As dark approached on the evening of August 12th Captain Alexander Dobbs of the Royal Navy, and a party of approximately 70 Marines and Seaman, set out in a gig and five bateaux to attack the American Navy. At a distance of approximately 8 land-miles Dobbs crossed the Niagara River to Lake Erie were three of the enemies schooners were at anchor. The Porcupine, Ohio, and Somers were positioned as such by the Americans to wreak havoc on the left of the British entrenchments. The Porcupine escaped while the Ohio and Somers were boarded and after a brief struggle captured by the British Royal Navy. Three long 12-pounders were captured, one American killed and approximately nine of them injured. The British losses were two killed, and four injured.
As a result of the naval victory General Drummond opened up an artillery assault on the American Fort Erie on August 13th. The bombardment continue throughout the day and all through the night and on August 14th, 1814, the following secret arrangements were made at the British Headquarters in camp before Fort Erie which would lead to the Battle for Fort Erie on the evening of August 14th and into the morning of the 15th, 1814:
The infantry picquets on Bucks road to be pushed on with the Indians to attack the enemy's picquets on that road. Lieutenant Col. Nichols, Quartermaster-General of Militia, will conduct this column.
The rest of the troops, viz:
Squadron of 19th Dragoons in rear of the battery nearest to the advance, ready to receive charge of prisoners and conduct them to the rear.
The Lieutenant-General will station himself at or near the battery, where reports are to be made to him.
Lieutenant-Col. Fischer, commanding the right column, will follow the instructions he has received, copy of which is communicated to Col. Scott and Lieutenant-Col. Drummond further guidance.
The Lieutenant-General most strongly recommends a free use of the bayonet. The enemy's force does not exceed 1500 fit for duty, and those are represented as much dispirited.
The ground on which the columns of attack are to be formed will be pointed out, and the orders for their guidance will be given by the Lieutenant-General commanding.
J. Harvey, D.A.G.
At four o'clock in the afternoon on August 14th, 1814, Lieutenant General Drummond sent out the assault column (the right column) that was to attack at Snake Hill, under the command of Lieutenant Col. Fischer, so that they might reach that point of attack on time. The other two columns of attack (centre and left) were to come from the British entrenchments directed at the northeast side of the Fort. These attacks took place at exactly the same time, two hours before daylight on August 15th. Unfortunately for General Drummond both attacks were a failure.
The attack at Snake Hill, by the DeWatteville, 100th, 89th, and King's 8th Regiments started off well enough, as they were able to enter the southwest area of the American Fort Erie with very little opposition (through the wooded area). However, they had no support and the attack faltered and became unsuccessful when as they approached the Hill itself an abbattis stopped them in their tracks and they were suddenly confronted by heavy fire of musketry and guns from Snake Hill itself. A breach around the abbittis was made but was ultimately unsuccessful. A dispatch from the American Brigadier-General Gaines to the Secretary of war explains best what happened: "H.Q., LEFT WING 2D DIVISION, FORT ERIE, U.C., Aug. 23d, 1814. , The night was dark and the early part of it raining, but the faithful sentinel slept not. One-third of the troops were up at their posts. At half-past 2 o'clock the right column of the enemy approached, and though I developed in darkness, black as his designs and principles, was distinctly heard on our left and promptly marked by our musquetry, under Major Wood, and artillery, under Captain Towson. Being mounted at the moment, I repaired to the point of attack, where the sheet of fire rolling from Towson's battery and the musquetry of the left wing of the 21st Infantry, under Major Wood, enabled me to see the enemy's column of about 1500 men approaching on that point. His advance was not checked until it approached within ten feet of our infantry; a line of loose brush representing as abattis only intervened; a column of the enemy attempted to pass round the abattis through the water where it was nearly breast deep; apprehending that this point would be carried, I ordered a detachment of riflemen and infantry to its support, but having met with the gallant commander, Major Wood, was assured by him that he could defend his position without reinforcements. At this moment the enemy were repulsed, but instantly renewed the charge and were again repulsed." - It was also later reported by various persons along the Niagara River's shoreline that several soldiers in red coats (likely DeWatteville) were seen floating down the river. These were most likely drowning or drowned men as a result of attempting to go around the abbattis at Snake Hill in order to attack the Americans.
The other columns of attack from the British entrenchments were made upon the northeast side of the Fort. The centre column was led by Lieutenant-Col. Drummond against the northeast bastion of the Fort with flank companies of the 41st, 104th, and a body of Seaman and Marines. The left column was led by Col. Scott against the American entrenchments (Douglas Battery) with two companies of the Royal Scot's (1st Regiment) and with the 103rd Regiment. As soon as the action at Snake Hill was heard in the distance, Col. Scott and Lieutenant Col. Drummond attacked the northeast side of Fort Erie.
Col. Scott's column was repeatedly turned away and unsuccessful in breaching the American battery and entrenchments. General Gaines reported that Scott's column ",was received by the veteran 9th, under the command of Captain Foster, and Captain's Boughton and Harding's companies of New York and Pennsylvania Volunteers, aided by a 6-pounder judiciously posted by Major McRea, chief engineer, who was most active and useful at this point. They were repulsed."
Lieutenant Col. Drummond, confronted by incredible and desperate resistance, managed to breach the northeast bastion through the gun embrasures and turned the guns against the Americans within the parade square and within the closest stone barracks building. It is at this point that a most unfortunate and tremendous explosion beneath the bastion (likely within the powder magazine) took place. Hundreds of British and Canadians were killed and wounded with the explosion. The Americans then took full advantage of their enemy's desperate state and pressed forward with a heavy fire of musketry into those that were fleeing and into those who were still managing to fight against them. As the able-bodied British attempted to escape the ruined bastion General Drummond sent out the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scot's to cover their retreat and offer support.
The cause of the explosion in the northeast bastion was listed by General Drummond as the result of ammunition being stored beneath the gun battery and that the constant fire of the guns caused the ammunition to catch fire and explode. Another theory exists: That is that a brave American soldier ran into the ammunition (whether or not it was stored in a magazine or stored beneath the fire step) and discharged his musket into it causing it to explode and, therefore, becoming a hero in the process. This theory, though, seems highly unlikely since the heroes name has never been recorded.
Lieutenant Col. Fischer survived his attempt to take Snake Hill. Col. Scott and Lieutenant Col. Drummond were not so lucky as both men lost their lives either due to the explosion or because of their locations at the front of their men and fighting alongside them. Lieutenant General Drummond writes: ", and Your Excellency will perceive that almost every officer of those columns [on the northeast side] was either killed or wounded, by the enemy's fire or by the explosion." "My thanks are due to the under mention officers, viz: To Lieutenant Col. Fischer, who commanded the right attack; two Major Coore, aide-de-camp to Your Excellency, who accompanied that column; Major Evans of the Kings, commanding the advance; Major Villatte of DeWatteville's; Captain Basden, light company, 89th; Lieutenant Murphy, light company, 100th. I beg also to add the name of Captain Powell of the Glengarry Light Infantry, employed on the staff as Deputy-Assistant in the Quartermaster-General's Department, who conducted Lieutenant Col. Fischer's column and first entered the enemy's entrenchments, and by his coolness and gallantry particularly distinguished himself." "To Lieutenant Col. Tucker, who commanded the reserve, and to Lieutenant Col. Pearson, Inspecting Field Officer, and Lieutenant Col. Battersby of the Glengarry Light Infantry, and Captain Walker of the Incorporated Militia, I am greatly indebted for their active and unremitting attention to the security of the outposts." ", and the care and attention of Staff Surgeon O'Malley and the medical officers with the division to the sick and wounded, also claim my thanks."
When the American General Gaines reported to the Secretary of War on August 23rd, 1814, he actually included details of Lt. Col. Drummonds death: "The assault was twice repeated and as often checked, but the enemy having moved round in the ditch, covered by darkness added to the heavy cloud of smoke which had rolled from our cannon and musqetry enveloping surrounding objects, repeated the charge, re-ascended the ladders, and with their pikes, bayonets and spears fell upon our gallant artillerists. The gallant spirits of our favorite Captain Williams and Lieutenant's McDonough and Watmough, with their brave men, were overcome; the two former and several of their men received deadly wounds. Our bastion was lost. Lieutenant McDonough being severely wounded, demanded quarter; it was refused by Col. Drummond. The Lieutenant then seized a handspike and nobly defended himself until he was shot down with a pistol by the monster who had refused him quarter, who often reiterated the order, "give the damned Yankees no quarter." This officer, whose bravery if it been seasoned with virtue would have entitled him to the admiration of every soldier - this hardened murderer - soon met his fate. He was shot through the breast by -[?]- of the - [?]- regiment while repeating the order to give no quarter. The battle now raged with increased fury on the right, but on the left the enemy was repulsed and put to flight."
Reports of those killed, wounded and missing of the Right Division (British) by morning of the 15th of August, 1814 are as follows:
Confirmed Killed: 2 Lieutenant Colonels, 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 1 Sergeant, 1 drummer, 51 rank and file.
Confirmed Wounded: 1 Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General, 1 Major, 8 Captains, 11 Lieutenants, 2 Ensigns, 1 Master, 12 Seaman, 20 Sergeants, 3 drummers, 250 rank and file.
Missing: 1 Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General, 1 Captain, 3 Lieutenants, 2 Ensigns, 1 Midshipmen, 1 Adjutant, 7 Seaman, 41 Sergeants, 3 drummers, 479 rank and file. *the greater part of those reported as missing were supposed to have been killed by the explosion at the northeast bastion.
Another later report (undated) by Nathaniel N. Hall, Assistant-Inspector-General, stated: " Report of the Killed, Wounded and Prisoners taken at the Battle of Erie, U.C., August 15th, 1814. Killed - left on the field, 222; wounded - left on field, 174; prisoners - 186. Grand total, 582. Two hundred supposed to be killed on the left flank (in the water) and permitted to float down the Niagara. The number on the right flank near the woods could not be ascertained."
The Glengarry Light Infantry (GLI) were not part of any of the three attacking columns that night but were held in reserve and remained at the British entrenchments to assist in their protection during the assault on Fort Erie. As far as GLI strength is concerned, a dispatch by the American Brigadier-General Gaines to the Secretary of War, dated August 7th, 1814, states: "General Drummond's force, from the best information we are able to collect from deserters and others, amounts to upwards 4,000, principally regulars. DeWatteville's regiment has joined since the battle of the 25th ultimo, together with two or three companies of the Glengarry corps, making a total joined since the 5th of about 1,200."
The Battle for Fort Erie (August 15, 1814) was, most certainly, a tragic event for the British. Of the three columns of attack one, the middle, was successful only to be destroyed by an unfortunate explosion in the Northeast bastion’s powder magazine. The British were now reeling and almost in a desperate way.
General Drummond, on August 21, 1814, sent a letter to Sir George Prevost indicating his immediate and additional needs to reinforce his army at Fort Erie. In his letter he acknowledges that his troops have been refreshed and that ammunition has also been brought up to his lines. He even indicated that there was an 18-pounder piece of artillery being brought up from Fort George. Drummond also indicates that the Americans made a feeble attempt to support their own picquets on August 20th but were repelled by the Native Indians supporting the British who attacked the Americans and took scalps numbering almost 50. The enemy fled leaving rifles behind that were captured and brought to the British lines. Drummond also indicates that, since August 15th, almost seven deserters a day, for fear of the Indians, surrender to the British lines. The remainder of the 82nd Regiment are expected shortly as is the arrival of the 6th Regiment. Drummond continues by saying that he intends to establish a second battery within 500 yards of the American Fort Erie. Drummond also requests specific additional needs and he does so by addressing the following categories: Ammunition, Artillery, Artificers, Provisions, and Barracks. In closing, Drummond suggests that the 90th Regiment be sent to him so that he can relieve some of his most exhausted corps.
On August 24th, 1814, General Drummond indicates that they, too, have desertions and that the majority of them are from the DeWatteville's Regiment. One enemy schooner has returned and some of the enemy’s brigs have resumed their positions on the lower Lake (Erie) but that a violent gale on August 20th drove them away temporarily. American deserters have been sent to York by batteaux and hopefully supplies will be brought back in their place. Drummond also issues a Militia General Order on the 25th of August, 1814. In it he addresses the officers of the regiments of the Lincoln Militia empowering them to force each local inhabitant to surrender from between 5 and 12 bushels of wheat to be used by his army at Fort Erie. The inhabitants are to be paid, however, a price of $2.50 per bushel of wheat and $2 per bushel of rye and $14 per bushel of flour.
On August 25th, 1814, the enemy Americans, upon hearing the continuous construction by the British of their advanced battery, attempt to attack. The 82nd Regiment took the brunt of the blow and suffered 2 killed and 13 wounded but managed to repel and defeat the American attack. That evening more American deserters, primarily from their 23rd Regiment, come to the British lines. Drummond also acknowledges his desire to silence the American guns at Black Rock (on the opposite shore near Buffalo, New York) but is hesitant to do so until the 6th Regiment arrives to assist in doing the job. Drummond also indicates in a letter to Sir George Prevost, dated August 27th, that Col. Talbot arrived in his camp on the 26th of August telling Drummond that an American militia unit of white men, painted and dressed as Indians, attacked his settlement just days before and plundered it taking, or destroying, all of his property as well as his horses. They even captured a member of the House of Assembly, Mr. Burwell, and several other local inhabitants of importance. And, they threatened to return and administer complete destruction and to take away all the cattle.
In another letter from Drummond to Prevost, on August 30th, 1814, it is indicated that the new British battery (No. 2) has been completed and that it consists of two long 18-pounders, one 18-inch howitzer, and one 24-pounder carronade, and that a bombardment on the American Fort was commenced throughout the night before. The 6th Regiment have still not arrived but they are at Beaver Dams and continuing to March upon Fort Erie Drummond is also contemplating a day light attack since he has found that far too many mistakes are made after dark. Drummond closes his letter to Prevost by requesting two more General officers and that he is hoping to receive Major-General's Kempt and DeWatteville from Kingston, Upper Canada.
On September 1, 1814 General DeWatteville arrives in the British camp. On the morning of September 2, 1814, the 6th Regiment march into camp and almost immediately began construction of another advanced battery (No. 3) on the British right flank. Drummond is optimistic that it will be ready by the morning of September 4th. In it he proposes to have a single eight-inch howitzer, a heavy mortar, and 3 heavy long guns.
Meanwhile, the Americans are filling Buffalo, New York, with militia numbering upwards of 4000 men. They are doing so in hopes that a show of sheer numbers will drive the British and Canadians from the area of Fort Erie.
Major-General DeWatteville, on the evening of September 6th, 1814, was directed to advance upon the enemy's pickets (number 4) and he did so with a company of the 6th Regiment and a company of the Glengarry Light Infantry as well as a detachment of the 19th Light Dragoons. The surprise was sprung at daylight on the 7th and twenty-one of the enemy were taken (14 killed). The remainder of the enemy fled back toward the fort and the Dragoons gave chase. The only British loss was one of the 6th Regiment killed and another wounded.
In the American camp, General Brown, on September 11, 1814, writes to the man who is to replace him, General Izard, pleading for him to reinforce his army quickly so that he can attack the British and either capture them, beat them or repel them before the weather gets worse. General Drummond, on the same day writes to Prevost indicating, and acknowledging, that the Americans have received thousands of new men and he politely pleads with Prevost to send him additional rounds for mortar and to send him the 97th Regiment from York so that he can send down some of the exhausted troops from the Royal Scots, the Kings 8th Regiment, the 100th Regiment and the 41st Regiment.
On the 14th of September, 1814, a warning of what is to come occurs; 400 American riflemen and militia attacked the British batteries at daylight. They were, however, repulsed and their commanding officer was killed and another man was taken prisoner. The British picquets sustained several casualties in the attack. This American attack was a test and it foreshadowed what would happen in just three more days.
It was at three o'clock on the afternoon of September 17th, 1814, that the second most significant event during the Siege of Fort Erie took place. It is commonly known as: The American Assault at Fort Erie.
At noon on September 17th, General Brown ordered the infantry and riflemen of his regulars and militia to parade and ready themselves for action. Brown's focus was on the British battery closest to the American Fort. Brown acknowledged that the British batteries had been doing tremendous damage to his ranks over the past month and so he would attack the British on this day.
General Porter commanded the volunteers while Col. Gibson commanded the riflemen. Major Brooks controlled the American 23rd and 1st Infantry as well as a few dragoons on foot. They were ordered into the woods on the British right while General Miller took his men directly through a ravine that was situated between Fort Erie and the British batteries. The 21st Infantry were given to General Ripley and were held in reserve. All of these were out of view of the British. At twenty minutes to three o'clock Brown ordered General Porter to advance and commence the attack. It took thirty minutes for the Americans to take possession of the two blockhouses and the batteries, number two and three, belonging to the British The Americans blew up the powder magazine in battery number three and either destroyed or spiked all the guns in their possession. General Ripley advanced his men and passed through the captured batteries aiming toward battery number one that the British had, by now, abandoned. Hundreds of British were put down or captured. The real fighting took place to the British right, in the woods. It is here that the British and Canadians regained some of their dignity.
When the British retreated from batteries number two and three, General Drummond immediately attached some of the 6th Regiment to support the 82nd Regiment in attacking the lost batteries. They did so under Lt.-Col. Campbell. General DeWatteville was to observe and enforce all movements directed by General Drummond. General Stovin commanded the troops and guns left as a reserve. Drummond's second decision was to put the Glengarry Light Infantry into the woods to stop the American Advance. The result was that the Glengarry's saw much action and bore the brunt of the attack.
Once in the woods the Glengarry Light Infantry were meant not only to attack the American advance but also support their own troops retiring from that position. The Glengarry action was combined with the support of the first battalion of Royal Scots as well as the 89th Regiment. After nearly a two-hour struggle the British batteries and entrenchments were regained and the enemy was driven back inside the Fort. Of the action, Drummond said the following: "The enemy did not again attempt to make a stand, but retreated in great disorder to the fort and was followed by our troops to the glacis of the place. To Major General DeWatteville's report I must refer Your Excellency for the cause of the enemy's success in the first instance, viz: the overwhelming number of the enemy, to which we had only the Kings and DeWatteville's to oppose. The spirit which the troops displayed in all the subsequent operations deserves the highest commendation, and entitles them to my warmest approbation. I have only to regret that the scene of action, (a thick wood,) was so unfavorable to the display of the valuable qualities which are inherent in British troops. The charge made by the 82nd Regiment under Major Proctor, and detachment of the 6th under Major Taylor, led to the recovery of battery No. 2, and very much decided the precipitate retrograde movement made by the enemy from the different points of our position, of which he had gained a short possession. Major-General DeWatteville reports most favorably of the steadiness evinced by the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots, under Lt.-Col. Gordon, (commanding 1st Brigade,) and the remains of the 2d Battalion, 89th, under Captain Basden. I myself witnessed the good order and the spirit with which the Glengarry Light Infantry, under Lt.-Col. Battersby, pushed into the wood, and by their superior fire drove back the enemy's light troops. Lt.-Col. Pearson, inspecting field officer, accompanied this part of his demi-brigade, and, I'm sorry to say, received a severe, though I hope not a dangerous, wound." Drummond continues by concluding the following: "The enemy, it is now ascertained, made the sortie with his whole force, which, including the militia volunteers by which he has lately been joined, could not consist of less than 5000. About 200 prisoners fell into our hands, and I cannot estimate the enemy's loss in killed and wounded at less than that number. The dreadful state of the roads and of the weather, it having poured with rain almost incessantly for the last 10 days, rendered every movement of ordinance or heavy stores exceedingly difficult. By great exertions the commanding artillery officer has succeeded in moving the battery guns and mortars with their stores,… towards Chippawa, to which place I mean to withdraw them for the present."
Of the American Assault at Fort Erie Major-General Brown, on September 18, 1814, says the following: "A sortie was made upon the enemy's principal batteries-these were carried; we blew up his principal work, destroyed his battering pieces and captured 400 prisoners. The enemy resisted our assaults with firmness, but suffered greatly; his total loss cannot be less than 800 men."
As the Glengarry's gained the upper hand in the woods they, along with Norton's native troops, cleared the entire forest in that area of retiring American troops. They did so in a moving skirmish line and by suppertime the Americans were back in their fort. Of the nearly 300 men used within the Glengarry ranks that day they suffered 19 wounded and 3 killed. Of the entire affair, Drummond acknowledged a total of 590 casualties of which 115 were killed and 297 were missing, the remainder were the wounded. As a final note, it was also acknowledged between the times that the Battle for Fort Erie (August 15) and the American Assault at Fort Erie (September 17) took place that an additional man of the Glengarry Light Infantry was killed during the Battle for Fort Erie.
By now the real enemy for both armies was the rain. Drummond suddenly decided to order a complete withdrawal from the area. The result was that the last of the British vacated their camp at Fort Erie by the morning of September 22nd. The Siege of Fort Erie was finished, but the Americans pursued the British and encountered the British advance troops, the Glengarry Light Infantry, at Frenchman's Creek along the Niagara River. It was at Frenchman's that the Glengarry's destroyed the bridge and where they also kept a small advanced picquet to deter the American advance. The remainder of the Glengarry's were kept at their main camp located at the Miller Farm, parts of which became the property of the Pudwell Farm, 140 years later.
The next day, on September 23, the Glengarry's engaged with the American advance forces. It was at this time that the Glengarry's became engaged in peacekeeping by assisting/protecting local civilian Canadians as they moved their personal effects and stock away from the Americans at Fort Erie. Between September 23rd and October 13th, 2 more Glengarry's were killed and 4 of the original wounded died during their defensive operations fought between or at the Chippawa River, the Black Creek, and Frenchman’s Creek along the Niagara River. It should also be noted that during the same time period an additional 15 men of the Glengarries died (of wounds or of fever and disease) as indicated by their regimental register and casualty reports.
The days of war were quickly coming to an end, but the Glengarries were not yet finished. A newer, refreshed American Army, under a new commander (Izard;Izzard), had one last muscle to flex and the Glengarries would prove themselves one last time when their small force would engage thousands of Americans at Cooke’s Mills near the end of October.
A.Jesse D. Pudwell