The Battle of Ogdensburg

In December of 1812 the war in the Niagara Peninsula was very quiet. The militiamen were allowed to return home to get things prepared for spring planting. The regulars were in Fort Erie and Fort George.

Even though things were quiet on the Niagara Frontier there were activities along the St. Lawrence to the east of Kingston during this time. Sir George Prevost the Governor-General, left Quebec on the 13th of February 1813 for a long journey to review the the military situation in Upper Canada.

On February 20th Governor-Genral Prevost arrived at Fort Wellington at Prescott, and was met immediately by the Commander of the Glengarry Light Infantry (a Provincial Corp of the regular army) and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Pearson, Both came forward with a proposal to raid the town of Ogdensburg, New York.

Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell was the commanding officer of the Glengarry Light Infantry, he was a stubborn Scot who was known to everyone as Red George. He was furious at the successful raids of Major Benjamin Forsyth, commanding the American Army at Ogdensburg. In the fall of 1812 Forsyth raided Ganaoque and on Feburary 7th led 200 men in the darkness to occupy Elizbethtown. While he was there he freed all the prisoners from the jail and also took some 50 prisoners along with a number of muskets a other supplies back to Ogdensburg. This had the Glengarry Light Infantry commander wanting to teach the American commander a lesson.

However, Governor General Prevost was still trying to avoid a long war and felt that a raid might just stir up the Americans. Prevost's policy had been strickly defensive and he did not want to authorize a move against Ogdensburg. Macdonell stated that the next American offensive might be a major one cutting off communications between Upper Canada and Lower Canada. He even told Prevost that he might be attcked by the Americans at Elizabethtown on his way to Kingston.

On his breakfast stop Prevost kept hearing the warnings of Macdonell and he sent orders back to Prescott that read: "You will not undertake any offensive operations against Ogdensburg without previous communication with Major-General de Rottenburg, unless the imbecile conduct of the enemy should offer you an opportunity for his destruction and that of the shipping, batteries and public stores, which does not admit of delay in availing yourself of it, as I would not have the essential service of the transport of stores to Upper Canada interrupted on any consideration; nor do I think it proper to beget irritation in the mind of the people of the United States by any act that does not bear on the face of it to be just retaliation on the military force of that country for wanton and unprevoked injuries." This was at least an approval for Macdonell to move and on February 22nd the Glengarries with the Glengarry Militia started a march across the frozen ice to Ogdensburg.

The wind was blowing and swirling the snow around on the ice and it was building up as well, it was so cold that any and all exposed skin was soon numbed. Marching across the ice was extremely hazardous as well and many men lost their footing and hit the ice with a thud.

The first sight of Ogdensburg put all thoughts of the weather out of the Glengarries minds and they formed up for a demostration that was to make the Americans think twice about attempting another raid. One man commented to his friend that he had heard a rumour that "Red George" Macdonell most likely would disobey Prevost's order and attack the settlement. No sooner had he said the words and the advance was sounded.

The Glengarries advanced to the encouragement of the leaders. The Americans had not opened fire and the anticipation of the volley that must surely come worked on everyones nerves. As they approached the first snow drift near the river, the fortifications in front of them opened in a cloud of smoke and fire. Men began to cry out and fall to the snowy ground. The column wavered, another volley jolted the line back. The left column led by Colonel Macdonell pressed forward and gained the deep snow on the river bank. The Glengarries rallied and charged the American positions.

It was what can only be described as a wild charge over the bank of the river towards the Americans, all the while facing heavy fire the line kept moving forward.

Although they took casualies, the British and Canadians closed with the American defenders, who hastily abondoned the village. Forsyth and his riflemen retreated to Sackets Harbour, leaving Ogdensburg in the possession on Macdonell and his men, who removed eleven pieces of artillery and a considerable amount of ammunition and other military stores to Prescott and also burned a number of schooners and gunboats frozen in the ice. American casualties in this action were twenty killed and seventy captured while the British and Canadians lost seven killed and forty-eight wounded.

Ogdensburg fell into British hands.

*NOTE* The Glengarry Light Infantry would go on to fight in many battles on the Niagara Frontier,the Battle of Chippawa and the Battle of Lundy's Lane to name just two. Most Canadians should have heard of the "Glengarry Light Infantry" they are mentioned in many British and American dispatches.