The British were mad, and rightly so. In December of 1813 as the American’s retreated to winter quarters across the Niagara River they not only destroyed Fort George (Except for the powder magazine) and then at the urging of the treasonous Joseph Willcocks burned the town of Newark (Niagara-On-The-Lake) in an effort to turn the Canadian sentiment against the British rulers. This of course wasn’t the case, it made the local Canadian and British commanders turn their hatred towards the Americans.
When General George Drummond arrived in the Niagara region as the British retook the area he immediately ordered the retaliation for the atrocities he saw. The Americans had left the civilian population without shelter or supplies. Many had taken shelter in the ruins of Fort George or built crude shelters out of the ruins of the town. Drummond’s first goal was to take back Fort Niagara, although it was the most powerful and defendable fort in the region, after the American’s had taken the Niagara region the fort was poorly defended by a drunken commander some members of the 1st US Artillery and 24th US Infantry. The remainders of the troops at the fort were sick or recovering.
On December 18th, 1813 Colonel John Murray lead a force of 562 British regulars across the Niagara River. Troops from the 1st Royal Scots Grenadiers, the 41st Regiment of Foot’s Light and Grenadier companies, and the 100th of Foot with members of the Lincoln Militia acting as guides and boatmen struck out under the cover of darkness from Upper Canada landing a few miles from the Fort. Drummond had made it clear to Colonel Murray that he did not want a long siege against Niagara, but a quick strike to take it back by surprise. Murray ordered the troops to remove their flints to prevent any accidental discharges. The American pickets were too busy keeping warm than actually watching for troops and were quickly overcome, surrendering the password the brigade made quick work of the other pickets without raising the alarm.
As the British approached the fort, they answered the challenge with the correct password and putting on a fake accent; they quickly took the gatehouse and opened the gate to the rest of the forces before the alarm had been raised. But it was already too late; Colonel Murray’s Brigade was inside and making quick work of the fort’s defenders. American troops managed to barricade themselves inside the south redoubt refusing to comply with the surrender order. They held off for several hours before the British forced their way inside and the order was given to bayonet the men inside.
Fort Niagara once again flew the Union Jack, and remained under the flag for the rest of the war. Steel and surprise had taken the fort giving the British again a foothold in the US; from there they struck out and continued on their mission of revenge of the burnings of 1813 by burning everything from Fort Niagara to Buffalo. The capture of Fort Niagara cost the British five men, and six wounded. The Americans lost sixty-five men, another six wounded, and took four hundred prisoners. The British also seized seven hundred muskets, and various clothing items including much needed shoes.
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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