Fort George National Historic Site of Canada

The war of 1812

1814- the U.S. return to Niagara

Across the Atlantic

Napoleon is defeated and exiled in May of 1814 with two immediate results. The first result was that Britain had thousands of soldiers at her disposal to throw into the fray in North America. The second was that the need for the British to control American commerce with France disappeared and 4 of the principal reasons for the War of 1812 vanished. Instead of immediately seeking peace, the British decided that a few battles would improve their bargaining position at the negotiating table. For the first time in the War the British developed an aggressive policy, which they backed up by sending 13,000 soldiers to the Canadas by the middle of 1814.

Defending Upper Canada

Although British reinforcements arrived from Europe the number of troops in Upper Canada did not increase substantially. For the troops in Upper Canada, the total defeat of the Right Division (Proctor, Moraviantown October 1813) and success in the Center Division (recapture of Forts George + Niagara) and Left Division (repelling American attacks at Chateauguay and Crysler's Farm.) changed the complexion of the War in 1814. Harrison held the Detroit frontier and threatened and raided the whole Western Frontier (right division) almost as far as London. Attempts were made in 1814 to eliminate the isolated British presence on Lake Huron and the Mississippi River and the Fort at Prairie du Chien exchanged hands briefly. The American attack and blockade of Michilimackinac was unsuccessful.

A more disciplined American Army built up on the Niagara Frontier under Major General Jacob Brown and Brigadier General Winfield Scott. The British control of the mouth of the Niagara was threatened by the American capture and occupation of Fort Erie (July - November) and by an American blockade on Lake Ontario in late August.

For the Americans on the Eastern Front of Upper Canada (fighting the Left Division and Lower Canadian Militia) a last unsuccessful attempt was made to push towards Montreal. The defeat a Lacolle Mill was the last American attempt toward the British Left Division. The bulk of the British reinforcements (over 10,000 recently arrived from the Napoleonic conflict) were used in a disappointing assault near Plattsburgh in September.

Black soldiers saw less active combat as members of the Provincial Corps of Artificers. They primarily worked on the construction of Fort Missisauga but also garrisoned Chippewa in 1814.

Natives

The death of Tecumseh at Moraviantown was a tremendous blow to the unity of the Western Tribes. The charismatic leader had not only gathered various nations under him but was an excellent liaison between the Natives and the British. Although Natives still contributed significantly in the battles of 1814 they never combined to the size of force that Tecumseh had achieved.

On the western front Natives contributed significantly to the British control of Fort McKay (Formerly Fort Shelby and Prairie du Chien) and Michilimackinac. Incessant raiding by the nearby U.S. invaders threatened the Aboriginal settlement on the Grand River and kept most of their warriors close to home.

Militia and Fencibles

As the number of British soldiers increased on all frontiers, the militia was shifted to a support and reserve function and saw less front line combat. After the British defeat at Chippewa by a dramatically improved American Army, more British regular soldiers were sent to the Niagara region and these professional troops bore the brunt of the conflicts in 1814.

Fort George

British modifications to Fort George in 1814
Plan for the modifications to Fort George during the War of 1812
© Public Archives of Canada

During the winter, Fort Niagara became the principal fortification for the British in Niagara. The buildings at Fort George were unhealthy and unpleasant. To compensate for the poor location of Fort George (as was made obvious by the assault in 1813) work began in 1814 to strengthen the defences at Niagara and construction began of a fortified brick tower and garrison called Fort Mississauga, located one kilometre north of Fort George, on the shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River.

Fort map 1814

This Map called the Plan of the present state of Fort George was made in 1814. To the upper right is the 1816 map which shows the outline of the old fort. The image below that is the 1814 map turned 90° to the left to illustrate the orientation of the 1814 map. Fort George still had to be defended from American forces, since it was located on high ground overlooking Fort Niagara and was the ideal place for US cannons to be placed in order to shell that fort. Fort George was garrisoned to protect British controlled Fort Niagara from attack.

Fort George 1816
Fort George 1816
© Public Archives of Canada / 1816

British modifications to Fort George in 1814
Plan for the modifications to Fort George during the War of 1812
© Public Archives of Canada

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