The battle of Lundy’s Lane was one of the hardest fought battles of the War of 1812. Although neither side won a clear cut victory on the day, the British held their ground against American attacks, forcing the Americans to abandon their campaign on the Niagara front.
That campaign had begun well with a victory at Chippewa River (5 July 1814), but the American commander, General Jacob Brown, was aware that he would not be received reinforcements, and soon abandoned a move north towards Fort George at the northern end of the Niagara River. By late July Brown had under 2,600 effective troops.
When he learnt of the American retreat, the British commander at Fort George, General Phineas Riall, sent an advance guard 1,000 strong under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Pearson south to take advantage of the retreat. On the morning of 25 July Pearson’s advance guard took up a position when Lundy’s Lane crossed the portage road around Niagara Falls, about a mile inland from the falls.
Sir George Drummond, the British commander in chief in Upper Canada then arrived on the scene and decided on a different plan. The 89th Regiment was sent to join Riall at Lundy’s Lane, while a second force crossed to the American bank of the Niagara to attack the American supply depot at Lewiston. Brown responded by sending Winfield Scott and his 1,000 strong brigade towards Queenston, in an attempt to force the British to abandon their attack on the American bank of the river.
Late in the afternoon on 25 July Scott discovered the British force at Lundy’s Lane. At this point Riall and Scott had roughly equal forces, although strong British reinforcements were on their way. Scott realised this, and ordered an attack, but Riall believed he faced Brown’s entire army and ordered a retreat. Before that order could be implemented Drummond arrived at Lundy’s Lane and countermanded it.
Scott’s attack began at six, and for the next three hours his brigade bore the brunt of the fighting. By nine it had been reduced in strength from 1,000 down to only 600 men. The Americans succeeded in pushing back the British left, reaching Lundy’s Lane, but had little success elsewhere along the line.
At nine Scott was reinforced by Ripley and Porter’s brigades. Ripley’s brigade managed to capture some British guns while attention was focused on an attack further along the line, but the British line held. Late in the day another 1,200 British troops under Colonel Hercules Scott arrived on the field, helping to secure the British line.
By now most of the senior officers on both sides had been wounded. On the American side Brown and Scott were both out of action, and Ripley was in command. On the British side Riall and Drummond were both wounded, and Riall was captured by the Americans when his stretcher bearers got lost. The battle ended when the Americans disengaged and returned to their camps.
American losses were reported at 171 dead, 572 wounded and 110 missing. Drummond reported his losses as 84 dead, 559 wounded, 193 missing and 42 prisoners. On the following morning it became clear that the Americans had been too badly mauled to consider renewing the battle, and Brown was forced to retreat back to Fort Erie.
Lundy’s Lane has to count as a British victory. They were fighting a defensive battle, and successfully held their ground. The American failed to break the British line, and were forced to abandon their plans for a campaign west of the Niagara River. However the American troops at Lundy’s Lane had fought with much more determination than in earlier battles. They would successful hold on to Fort Erie against a determined but poorly organised siege.
|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]|