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The Battle of Stoney Creek

The United States campaign of 1813 in this locality began in late May, when an American Army of 7,000 men and a naval squadron began a combined operation against Fort George, at the town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). In command of the American fleet was Commodore Isaac Chuancey, and the land force was under Major-General Henry Dearborn, a veteran of the American Revolution and past his prime. When Dearborn's army attacked Fort George, the British defenders - 1,400 men under Major-General John Vincent - were soon forced to evacuate their position.

Vincent's expelled garrison was some companies of the 8th (King's) Regiment, a detachment of the 41st, and the whole of the 49th - the late General Isaac Brock's unit now commanded by Vincent - some Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, and 300 militiamen from the flank companies. In the battle, before he resolved to withdraw, Vincent lost 52 killed and 306 wounded or missing.

With the survivors, Vincent marched across the country, parallel to the Niagara River and then in the direction of Beaver Dam, where he had a supply depot. There he was joined by two more companies of the 8th Regiment that had been driven from Fort Erie by the Americans, and a naval party from Amherstburg. With a force that now amounted to 1,600 regulars and fencibles, Vincent dismissed his militiamen and allowed them to return to their homes. He continued on to Burlington Heights, on the top of the escarpment above Burlington Bay. From there he could be supplied by the British Fleet commanded by Captain Sir James Yeo that was based at Kingston. With the Americans holding Fort Erie and Fort George, Vincent's supply line along the Niagara River had been severed.

At Fort George, Major-General Winfield Scott was in command, because Dearborn was ill. Scott ordered a pursuit force to move westwards and find a spot from which to prevent Vincent from linking up with Major-General Henry Proctor, then occupying Detroit. Scott assigned 3,000 infantrymen, 150 cavalry and 4 field guns, under two brigadier-generals, William Winder and John Chandler, for the expedition to confine Vincent. Brigadiers Winder and Chandler set out from Fort George in pursuit of Vincent's troops on the 4th and camped that night at Forty Mile Creek. On June 3rd, Sir James Yeo, in command of the Royal Navy and Provincial Marine vessels, left Kingston with a squadron bound for Niagara carrying supplies and 300 fresh troops from the 8th Regiment. Yeo's mission had a bearing of the actions of the American officers after the battle at Stoney Creek.

On the 5th the Americans marched on to the neighbourhood of Stoney Creek, a small settlement named after the branches of the stream that flowed down the face of the Niagara Escarpment, meandered across the flat and emptied into Lake Ontario. The American camp was poorly organized, with each commander deciding where his men would bivouac. No attempt was made to place the center, left and right wings in spots where they could form battle lines quickly. Few sentries were posted. The American camp was about ten kilometres from that of Vincent's army on Burliington Heights.

Vincent's second -in -command, Lieutenant-Colonel John Harvey, a Deputy Adjutant-General in Canada, led a party to reconnoitre the American camp, and when they returned Harvey recommended that Vincent organize a night attack. The night was dark for that time of year, and Vincent agreed to proceed. A spy had visited and gave him the American countersign. Vincent chose 700 men from the 8th and 49th, Major Charles Plenderleath would have field command the 49th. Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey commanded the attack and Major James Ogilivie of the 49th led the men of the 8th. Vincent set out, and his force reached the American camp at 2:00 a.m. on 6 June, incidently the birthday of King George the 3rd. With bayonets fixed the regulars ran, whooping like Indians, down upon what they thought was the American camp, but they found only dying fires and a few cooks. The enemy had moved to higher ground for the night, with orders to sleep on their arms. The elemnet of surprise was lost.

While the British paused to load their muskets, they were in full view of the Americans, who had time to rally somewhat, and several of the regulars were killed. The 49th, about 500 strong, wheeled left while the 8th moved to the right. Before the 49th could form a line the Americans sent out a barrage of fire. The British could not hear their officers commands, and they began to fall back. At this crucial momment, Major Plenderleath, with about 20 men of the 49th, dashed up the road and into the face of four of the American guns that were mounted on Smith's knoll (where the lion monument stands now). The Americans managed to fire two volleys before Plenderleath and his men were upon them and capturing their four artillery pieces. The men of the 49th turned the guns on their former owners, while everywhere confusion ruled. Here was an occasion when the well trained and usally steady British regulars got out od hand.

Lieutenant James FitzGibbon of the 49th lamented that the regulars had become so excited by the uncertainties of a night attack that they were less effective than they ought to have been.

The reports of both the British Harvey and the American Chandler attested to the disorder that prevailed at Stoney Creek. Many officers did not know who was who. Chandler was wounded trying to rally some troops he encountered. They were from the 49th Regiment and Chandler found himself a prisioner. Winder was also captured, and the command of the American troops fell upon Colonel James Burn of the 2nd Light Dragoons. Burn held a meeting with such officers he could find, who reported that they were short of ammunition. Burn ordered a withdrawl back to Forty Mile Creek. From there the army could be supplied for another movement against Vincent, Or if General Scott had other ideas, await his orders. Major-General Vincent, too, was almost captured. He got lost and after wandering around he found his way back to Burlington Heights on the morning of 7 June.

Because of the conditions under which the battle was fought, Vincent, the victor, lost more men than Chandler and Winder.

214 killed, wounded or missing,, against 168 American losses. Vincent's attack might have been a total failure had the Americans not been deprived of their two brigadiers. Chandler and Winder might have rallied them as daylight came on and they became aware of numerical superiority.

The American force, now led by Colonel Burn, camped the night of 6 June at Forty Mile Creek, but not for long. On the 8th Sir James Yeo's squadron appeared offshore , and he sent two warships in to bombard the American camp. Burn ordered his men to decamp and march for Fort George. Yeo's squadron had intercepted twenty boatloads of supplies that Scott had dispatched for the relief of Burn's men. By the 8th, Burn and his force were back at Fort George. They built new earth works and brought every available boat to the Canadian side of the Niagara River, to ensure if they were pressed to hard they would be able to retire to Fort Niagara, on the New York side of the river.

CLICK HERE to see the Battle Monument.

CLICK HERE to see the plaque about this battle.

For more information on this battle check out BATTLEFIELD MUSEUM