By the end of May 1813 the Americans had overrun the entire Niagara Peninsula. American troops occupied the town of Newark and Fort George, Chauncey, and Perry patrolled the Niagara River and Lake Erie with little resistance from the Provincial Marine. York was in ashes, and the only British strong point left was Burlington Heights. But the Americans knew that if they were to take all of Upper Canada, the fortifications at Burlington Heights must fall.
In early June of 1813 a force of 3,400 troops marched on Burlington Heights and by June 4th had reached 40-mile creek near what is today Stoney Creek, and made camp on the Gage Farm, the farmhouse serving as Headquarters for Generals William H Winder and John Chandler. But the one thing that the Americans didn’t realize was that the British knew they were coming, they knew their numbers, and how to get past the sentries. Earlier in the day the American column had been spotted by a local boy, Billy Green who went to tell his cousin, Isaac Corman. Corman had just been released as a prisoner of the Americans, after convincing them that he (Corman) was a cousin of William Henry Harrison, an American General. Corman had been given the password to get past the sentries after promising not to reveal this to the British. But Corman did tell this password to Billy. Green immediately took this to the General Vincent at Burlington Heights. Vincent sent a force of 700 troops under Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey to probe the American lines. One of Harvey’s officers, Lieutenant FitzGibbon infiltrated the American camp in disguise to scout out their numbers and positioning.
Harvey’s troops, along with General Vincent marched from Burlington Heights under the cover of night on June 5th, 1813 to the American Camp. The column even removed their flints; with bayonets fixed they aimed to take out any sentries or pickets by stealth. They achieved this fairly well taking two sentries without raising an alarm, but when they got into an area of the camp where they expected to find a surprised 25th US Infantry, they only found civilians and cooks, the soldiers had moved to a better position. A cheer from the British raised the alarm when it was overheard by an American officer, with the element of surprise lost, the British soon found themselves outnumbered. The Americans quickly organized themselves and having the high ground began to pour lead into the floundering British lines. Despite many attempts the British could not break through the American lines until they did it for them. The 5th US Infantry was called out to protect the failing left flank, leaving enough of a gap for the 49th Regiment of Foot under Major Plenderleath to charge the American guns. With the Americans now disorganized, their own cavalry charged US Lines and dawn breaking, the British with both Generals Winder and Chandler as prisoners withdrew into the woods to hide their numbers. And despite holding superior numbers the Americans withdrew as well.
The entire battle lasted all of forty-five minutes; the British took 7 officers prisoners, along with 93 enlisted men, but suffered 23 deaths, 136 wounded, 3 missing, and 52 captured. The Americans suffered 17 deaths and 38 wounded. General Vincent, thinking all was lost, rode off into the night. He was later found missing his hat, sword, and horse. The Americans withdrew further back only to be chased back to Fort George when a Royal Navy squadron appeared off the shore of Lake Ontario (Commodore Chauncey’s Squadron having been recalled to Sacket’s Harbor to repulse a failed British attack there). Stoney Creek was the furthest any American Army made it into Upper Canada, and they never made it that far again. After suffering another defeat at Beaver Dams at the hands of FitzGibbon they holed up in Fort George and then scattered back across the Niagara River near the end of 1813.
Today the site of the battle of Stoney Creek is marked by a massive tower built in 1913 at the 100 year anniversary of the battle, the Gage Farmhouse still stands and the grounds and farmhouse, now called Battlefield house is open to the public as a museum and historic site. Each year on the first weekend of June a re-enactment of the battle takes place.
With Files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
Photos: Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 80-160mm 1:4.5 – Kodak Portra 400 @ ISO-800 (no push in development)