Crysler's Farm, 11 November 1813

The battle of Crysler’s Farm was a British victory in the War of 1812 that ended any hope of success for an American attack on Montreal. Over the summer of 1813 the Americans had decided to launch a two-pronged assault on Montreal. One army, under the command of General Wade Hampton would attack from Lake Champlain, while a larger force, under the command of Major General James Wilkinson would advance along the St. Lawrence River from Lake Ontario.

The St. Lawrence expedition left Sackets Harbour on 17 October. Wilkinson had just under 8,000 men, 300 transport boats and 12 gunboats, while Hampton had 4,000 men. At Montreal the British had 6,000 regulars, fencibles and militia, with another 8,000 sedentary militia in reserve. If the two American armies could unite, they would outnumber the British field army by two to one.

Unfortunately for the Americans the two expeditions were not coordinated. Wilkinson and Hampton were enemies, and Hampton had come close to resigning when he discovered Wilkinson had been given overall command of the two expeditions. Bad weather delayed the St. Lawrence expedition, and it did not enter the river until the start of November. By this time Hampton had advanced to the Chateauguay River, where he had been turned back by a force of Canadian militia and fencibles (26 October) and returned to American territory to go into winter quarters. News of this setback would not reach Wilkinson until after the battle of Crysler’s Farm.

When the British discovered that the American expedition had entered the St. Lawrence, and was not going to attack Kingston (on Lake Ontario), a small “corps of observation” was dispatched to follow the Americans. This contained 630 men from the 49th and 89th Regiments under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph W. Morrison and was supported by two schooners and seven gunboats.

The first obstacle to face the American expedition was Fort Lawrence, at Prescott. The guns of this fort commanded the river. Wilkinson passed the fort by disembarking his men on the American shore of the river and marching them past the fort, while the empty boats were floated past on the night of 7-8 November. The Americans were now coming under attack from Canadian militia who fired on their boats whenever the river was narrow enough. Wilkinson was also aware that he was being followed by Morrison. Having passed Prescott, he split his army. One part was landed on the Canadian bank, with orders to clear away the militia. At the same time Brigadier-General John Parke Boyd was given 2,000 regulars and ordered to form a rearguard.

Morrison picked up reinforcements at Prescott, giving him around 900 men. The American force had reached the next obstacle in the river, the Long Sault Rapids. Wilkinson decided that he needed to defeat the British force in his rear before he could safely move on, and so Boyd was given permission to attack the British.

Morrison had taken up a position at a farm owned by John Crysler. Here a narrow strip of farmland was bordered by the St. Lawrence to the right and by a swamp and woods to the left. Morrison put 450 of his regulars behind a log fence than ran along a road running inland at 90 degrees to the river. Ahead and to the right he placed another force of regulars. A small force of Canadian volitgeurs took up a position in front of the British line to act as skirmishers. A tiny force of 30 Indians was in the woods to the left.

On the afternoon of 11 November Boyd attacked in three columns. The Americans pushed in the Canadian skirmishers, but then came under fire from the line of British regulars and fell back. He then sent one column out to his right, in an attempt to turn the British left. This was a forlorn hope in such a narrow battlefield, and Morrison was able to reorganise his line to see of this second attack. Despite being outnumbered by two to one, Morrison then launched a counterattack, which forced the Americans to retreat.

Both sides suffered relatively heavy casualties in this battle. Morrison lost 22 dead, 148 wounded and 9 missing, nearly 20% of his force. The Americans lost 102 dead, 237 wounded and 100 prisoners, just over 21% of the force committed to the attack.

Wilkinson now found himself in a difficult position. His advance guard had prepared the way for a further advance towards Montreal, but he was well that the British would have strong forces defending the city, and he was still being trained by Morrison. On the day after the battle he was given an easy way out of this difficulty, when a letter finally reached him from General Hampton reporting the failure of his own expedition. Wilkinson called a council a war, which decided to enter winter quarters on the American bank of the St. Lawrence. His army spent the winter at French Mills, on the Salmon River, before dispersing in February 1814. 

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]
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Books on the War of 1812 | Subject Index: War of 1812

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 November 2007), Crysler’s Farm, 11 November 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_cryslers_farm.html

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