Battle of Fort George, 25-27 May 1813

The battle of Fort George (25-27 May 1813) was the first American victory on the Niagara front during the War of 1812. It was the second phase of General Henry Dearborn’s planned campaign for 1813 around Lake Ontario. The first phase of this plan was an attack on York, the capital of Upper Canada. This would be followed by the attack on Fort George, the British fort at the northern end of the Niagara River, and finally by an attack on Kingston, the main British naval base on Lake Ontario.

The attack on York was successfully carried out on 27 April. The troops used at York were then shipped across the lake to Fort Niagara, the American position opposite Fort George, arriving on 8 May. Dearborn planned to make another amphibious assault, landing his troops west of Fort George on the shore of Lake Ontario, and hopefully trapping the British garrison of the fort. With the troops from York he had between 4,000 and 5,000 men to make his assault.

The British forces on the Niagara front were commanded by Brigadier-General John Vincent. He had a total of just over 2,000 regulars and a few hundred militia spread out along the entire front from Fort Erie to Fort George. Under his direct command at Fort George were 1,000 men from the 8th and 9th Regiments of Foot, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, supported by 300 militia. He was in a very weak position. Fort George itself was not strong. He was outnumbered, although apparently did not realise by how much until the day of the attack itself. Finally, the Americans could choose to attach from Lake Ontario or across the Niagara River. He decided to split his force into three detachments – one at the fort, one for the lake and one for the river. Once the location of the American attack was known, then he would be able to concentrate against that attack. 

The American attack began on 25 May with a naval bombardment of Fort George. The wooden buildings inside the fort were soon on fire, although the outer fortifications were not so badly affected. General Dearborn was ill on 27 May, and so Colonel Winfield Scott, his Adjutant General, took command of the landing.

Those landings began early on 27 May, two miles west of Fort George. Winfield Scott’s men were supported by heavy fire from the American naval squadron on the lake. The British and Indian forces on the lakeshore were forced to retreat, and when Vincent’s reinforcements arrived they found it almost impossible to launch a counterattack. The majority of Vincent’s 52 dead and 300 wounded or missing were suffered during this phase of the fighting.

After failing to prevent the American landings, General Vincent pulled back to a new position inland, out of the range of the naval guns, where he prepared to resist an American attack. However, after half an hour he discovered that the Americans were attempting to turn his right flank (closer to the Niagara River), and that he was outnumbered by at least four to one. He decided to abandon the line of the Niagara River. The guns of Fort George were spiked, and then Vincent withdrew south, moving parallel to the river until he reached the hills south of Queenston. There he met up with the garrisons of Fort Erie and the other British positions along the river. The reunited British army then retreated west, taking up a new position at Burlington Heights, at the western end of Lake Ontario.

At a cost of 40 dead and 120 wounded the Americans had finally established a foothold west of the Niagara, but they were soon to undo all of their good work. General Dearborn dispatched an expedition west to drive Vincent from this new base, but instead on 6 June the Americans were ambushed at Stoney Creek. Both of the American Brigadier-Generals with the expedition were captured, and the army retreated back towards the Niagara. By the end of June the Americans were themselves blockaded in Fort George, and the British once again held the line of the Niagara.

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 (25 November 2007), Battle of Fort George, 25-27 May 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fort_george.html

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