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Battle of Frenchman's Creek

For the week of Monday November 26, 2012

 On November 28, 1812, during the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, American troops launched an attack in Canada’s Niagara region with the objective of neutralizing a battery of British artillery, destroying a bridge to slow down the arrival of reinforcements, and ultimately capturing Fort Erie. However, they were driven back by enemy forces in the area.

Uniform of the 100th Regiment of Foot, 1812-1814
© Library and Archives Canada / Frederick M. Milner / 1937-441 / ca. 1915-1916
To ensure the victory of American forces, Brigadier General Alexander Smyth assembled an army of about 3,000 troops at Black Rock (nowadays the city of Buffalo) near the Niagara River. In the early hours of November 28, seven of the 11 boats carrying two detachments of troops came alongside the river bank. The first detachment, under the command of Captain William King, was to attack and neutralize a battery of British cannons located on the Canadian shore opposite Black Rock. The mission of the second detachment, under the command of Colonel Charles Boerstler, was to destroy the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek, a tributary of the Niagara River, and thus cut Fort Erie off from reinforcements and enable the Americans to capture it

However, confusion reigned as soon as the American troops disembarked from the boats. They faced resistance from a combined force of regular British Army troops and Upper Canada militia from Lincoln and Norfolk counties and later First Nations warriors. The force had gotten wind of the attack and was waiting when the Americans landed. Nonetheless, the Americans, who were greater in number, overwhelmed the defending force and seized the battery. Meanwhile, the troops of Colonel Boerstler’s detachment arrived at the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek, but discovered that they had left their axes behind in the boats. Consequently, they were only able to inflict superficial damage on the bridge. At daybreak, British reinforcements arrived from Chippawa and Fort Erie and counter-attacked, forcing the invaders to fall back and abandon the captured batteries.

Map showing military engagements in 1812
© Gavin Watt / Fort George Education Programs
The American troops rushed to board their boats and leave the Canadian shore behind. In the confusion, soldiers were stranded on the Canadian side and captured. Moreover, two boats were sunk by the British artillery. The engagement proved to be an all-round defeat for the Americans, who lost men without actually destroying the bridge. The American Army was thrown into disarray and demoralized. This skirmish would be the last offensive undertaken by the Americans in the Niagara region in 1812.

Frenchman’s Creek was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1921 in recognition of this British victory which resulted in the expulsion of American forces from the Canadian shore of the Niagara River and discouraged American troops from returning for the remainder of 1812.

The year 2012 marks two hundred years since the start of the War of 1812. To learn more about the War of 1812, read the following articles in the archives of This Week in History: The British Lose Ground, Americans Take Fort George, Victory at Fort Detroit!A Warrior's Death, Repelling the Last American Invasion of Lower Canada: the Battle of Lacolle, Laura Secord Dies, Birth of Sir Isaac Brock and Fort Erie : Rebuilt Three Time!.
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