By the summer of 1814, it appeared that Napoleon would finally be defeated in Europe, an event that the American’s feared. Because up until recently the bulk of the British Army had been employed in fighting the French Emperor, and when his defeat finally came, they would be sent to put down the petulant former colony, re-enforcing Upper and Lower Canada, or even invading the United States itself. It was a prospect the American’s weren’t looking forward to, so they decided that if they were to kick the Imperial elements out of North America, they would have to act quickly. In July of 1814 the American’s launched an offensive into the Niagara peninsula once again. They quickly took Fort Erie on July 3rd, and started marching towards Chippawa.
On the evening of July 4th, General Winfield Scott marched north with 1300 American troops, setting up camp near the Chippawa River to await reinforcements and General Jacob Brown. By midnight 2000 more American troops had arrived. American forces consisted of elements from 25th, 11th, 9th, and 22nd US Infantry. Learning of this the British forces in the area, under the command of Major General Phineas Riall, sent a small force of mostly snipers in to harass the American pickets and gain intelligence to the number and type of force the American’s had in the area. The force returned to General Riall’s camp, informing him that the American force is mostly militia, having seen them in grey coats instead of the blue of the US regulars. Riall is confident with his 2000 troops in launching an attack on the American forces, knowing that even American regulars could not stand up to a group of well commanded British red coats, not to mention militia.
Riall marched on the American camp, taking with him 1st battalion 1st Royal Scotts Regiment of Foot, the 100th Regiment of Foot with the 1st battalion 8th The King’s Regiment of foot in reserve. Riall’s force moved through the wooded area to avoid detection by American pickets, encountering a force of 56 American troops in the woods, and was able to quickly push them back to their own camp. However this engagement loses the British element of surprise. Scott of course was not expecting an attack, as it was mid-afternoon at this point, but when the picket force returns, he quickly rallies his troops to meet the British attack. Riall was still expecting the American’s to cut and run under the fire from John Norton’s snipers, but they didn’t. They continue to march, despite this, filling in the gaps as their comrades fell. Riall did not count that the grey uniformed men were in fact American regulars, which under the command of Brown and Scott had been formed into an effective fighting force; one that could in fact stand toe-to-toe with British Red Coats.
Riall himself stated “Those are regulars, by God!” Scott’s men were fighting using the traditional European rules, firing volley after volley into the British lines. Separated by only 100 meters, and with the American artillery firing canister shot into the British lines cost the lives of not only regular troops but officers. With the British artillery silenced by their American counterparts, Scott orders a unique U-shaped formation, creating a devastating cross-fire. After twenty-five minutes of this, Riall knowing the battle was lost pulls his troops back across the river, destroying the bridge in his retreat. American forces pursue the British almost all the way back to the village of Chippawa.
It was the victory that the American’s were hoping for, they had stood up to British Regulars using their own rules of engagement and won. Riall’s defeat saw the British forces pushed all the way back to Fort George and saw the American’s gain a major foothold on the peninsula once again. Of course this was short lived, as a few weeks later at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the American’s were pushed out of Upper Canada for good.
The Chippawa battlefield is located along the Niagara Parkway between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. The site is marked by a stone cairn, built of stone from Fort Niagara and cannon balls from Fort George. Plaques mounted on the sides list the regiments that participated in the battle. There are no guides on site instead a series of plaques allow visitors to read about the battle. Chippawa’s legacy continues even today in the United States Military. The 6th US Infantry’s motto is “Regulars, By God” and there’s a myth about West Point’s grey parade uniforms that they were adopted to commemorate Scott’s troops at Chippawa. The reality was that grey wore well and were much cheaper than blue uniforms.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
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