The battle of Chippawa was an American victory on the Niagara front during the War of 1812. The Niagara campaign was to be the main American offensive effort of 1814. It was hoped that General Jacob Brown would be able to cross the Niagara, sweep west along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and then around the western end of the lake to seize York, the capital of Upper Canada. When this plan was delayed, Brown was ordered to cross the Niagara River to seize Fort Erie, at the southern end of the river, and advance north to Chippawa, or possibly even towards Fort George and Fort Niagara, at the northern end of the river.
The American army was 4,000 strong. That force was made up of 2,400 regular infantry, divided into two brigades under Brigadier-Generals Winfield Scott and Eleazar Ripley, 300 artillerymen, 600 Pennsylvania volunteers and 600 Indians.
The British had just under 2,500 men on the Niagara front, most of them at the northern end of the Niagara River, under the command of Major-General Phineas Riall. Fort Erie was defended by a tiny garrison of only 137 men.
The Americans crossed the river on 3 July, and quickly captured Fort Erie. General Riall remained unaware of this for several crucial days, and assumed that a significant number of American troops were occupied in a siege of the fort. The day after the fall of Fort Erie, the Americans moved north, with Winfield Scott’s brigade in the lead. Later that day they reached the Chippewa River, where they found Riall’s advance guard. Scott decided to pull back to Street’s Creek, two miles further south. Later that day General Brown, with the remaining American brigade, joined Scott. The Americans now had 2,400 regulars at Street’s Creek, along with part of the artillery, the Pennsylvania volunteers and the Indians. Riall had 1,500 regulars and 300 Indians and militia.
Both Riall and Brown wanted to attack on 5 July, Brown because he expected the British to be reinforced and Riall because he believed that he faced a smaller force than he did. Previous experience on the Niagara front suggested that Riall’s 1,800 men may well have been enough to defeat just over 2,000 Americans.
Brown made the first move, ordering the Indians and the Pennsylvania volunteers to clear out some woods between the Chippewa River and Street’s Creek. Their advance came to an abrupt end when they ran into Riall’s entire force crossing the Chippewa.
Riall’s force advanced towards the American position. He then ordered an attack with the King’s Regiment on the right and the Royal Scots and the 100th Regiment in the centre. The troops in the centre came up against Winfield Scott’s brigade, which had crossed over Street’s Creek and taken up a position on open ground. There they demonstrated that American troops were now capable of effective musketry, driving off the British attack after a twenty minute short range exchange of musket fire.
The British suffered heavy losses in this battle. Riall reported his losses as 148 dead, 321 wounded and 46 missing. On the American side Scott’s brigade suffered most heavily, losing 48 dead and 227 wounded, out of a total of around 60 dead and between 300 and 350 total casualties. Scott’s brigade had held off an attack by a similar number of British regulars.
The Americans were unable to take clear advantage of their victory. The two armies remained in place for two days, before the British pulled back towards Fort George. Brown followed, and took up a position at Queenston, but promised naval support on Lake Ontario never appeared, and he was soon forced to pull back to Chippawa. An inconclusive battle followed at Lundy’s Lane on 25 July, before the Americans pulled back to Fort Erie.
|The Incredible War of 1812, J. Mackay Hitsman. This is a revised edition of a classic work on the War of 1812, one of the more neglected corners of military history. The author writes from a Canadian perspective, but without distorting his material, and the American side of the war is well represented. This is a good clear account of what can be a somewhat confusing conflict. [see more]|