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Fort George National Historic Site of Canada

The war of 1812



Commodore Isaac Chauncey
Commodore Isaac Chauncey
Commander American Naval operations on the Great Lakes
© Toronto reference Library / T-15206

Commodore Isaac Chauncey began the war running the Navy Yards in New York City. He had served on the forty-four gun frigate USS President in 1800 as a first lieutenant and saw action against the French in the West Indies during the Quasi-War. He was assigned to the Great Lakes as commodore and was based in Sackett's Harbour by August 31, 1812. One of Chauncey's first tasks was the development of a transportation route for supplies from New York City as well as the construction of several vessels at Sackett's Harbour. In 1813, Chauncey led the first ever combined American amphibious assault with Dearborn on York and Niagara. Over the course of the rest of the war he had several naval duels with Yeo on Lake Ontario although none of them were decisive. He was aboard the 'General Pike' on September 28th, 1813 when he nearly caught Yeo on board the 'Wolfe' near the head of the lake known as the Burlington Races.

Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Drummond
Portrait of Lieut. General Gordon Drummond
Portrait of Lieut. General Gordon Drummond
© Public Domain / FGE.HIP.0006

Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Drummond was the youngest of the general officers to serve in Upper Canada. He did not come from a family with a military background although his father was Deputy Paymaster General to the forces in the Canadas He entered the British army in 1789 as an ensign in the 1st Foot and was sent to Jamaica. In 1791 he transferred to the 41st of Foot as a lieutenant, rising to the rank of captain in 1792. He continued his rapid advancement and became a major in the 8th Foot in 1794 and junior Lieutenant-Colonel the same year.Drummond saw his first active service in the Netherlands campaign under the Duke of York. By 1798 he was promoted to colonel and soon afterwards became the senior Lieutenant-Colonel of the 8th Foot.He commanded his regiment in Minorca in 1800 and led the 8th in the British reconquest of Egypt in 1801.

After spending a period serving at Gilbraltar he was appointed Brigadier General in 1804 on Staff Duty in Britain. In 1805 he was promoted to major-general and was ordered to Jamaica as second-in-command to Lieutenant-General Sir Eyre Coote. He was transferred again in 1808 and sailed for Quebec to serve on the staff under Governor Craig where he developed his administrative skills in the Canadas. At the outbreak of war, Drummond was in Ireland, in command of the military district. He was recalled to North America and in December of 1813 he took command of Upper Canada from Major-General Baron Francis de Rottenburg and immediately established a headquarters in St. David's. On December 18th he ordered the assault on Fort Niagara followed by successful attacks on Lewiston thus ending the threat of an American attack north of Queenston. Drummond continued his offensive and moved his headquarters near Fort Erie and launched an assault against Black Rock and Buffalo on December 30th.

As President of the Council in Upper Canada he obtained approval for measures that strengthened his hand in prosecuting the war including approval to suspend habeas corpus, holding trials of suspected traitors in any district in Upper Canada, confiscating property of landowners who departed to the United States without permission, increasing the prohibition of the distillation and export of grain and eventually declaring martial law to procure military supplies. With the new campaign season of 1814, Drummond was forced to go on the defensive as a new American force crossed the Niagara River and captured Fort Erie. He continued to harass the American shipbuilding programs on Lake Ontario when he attacked Oswego in May of 1814. But by July he realised that the Americans would make a serious attempt to head north along the west bank of Niagara river to re-capture Fort George. On July 25th 1814, Drummond rallied the British forces at Lundy's Lane and stopped the American advance by successfully defending the high ground. His final attempt to force the Americans off Canadian soil occurred in August 1814 where he commanded the siege of Fort Erie. After a month long siege, Drummond abandoned his batteries and returned to Fort George. The Americans decided to pull back to Buffalo leaving Niagara free from American incursions for the rest of the war.

Major General Henry Procter
Colonel Henry Proctor
Artist impression of Henry Proctor of the 41st Regiment
© Parks Canada Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada / C.H.J. Forster / 1973

Major General Henry Procter commanded the Right Division of the British forces based in Amherstburg on the Detroit river. He joined the British army at the age of eighteen in 1781 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1812 taking command of the 41st Regiment. Procter was assigned command of Fort Malden after Brock's capture of Detroit. Threatened by William Henry Harrison's American forces, Procter crossed the Detroit River supported by Native Allies under Roundhead the after Brigadier General James Winchester routed a militia outpost on the River Raisin on January 17th 1813. Procter and Roundhead surprised and defeated Winchester at Frenchtown January 22. Procter's victory led to his promotion as Brigadier General. In order to forestall Harrison's advance, Procter and Tecumseh continued to attack the Americans in the hopes of keeping them contained and the British allied Indians interest in the war. On May 1st of 1813 Procter along with his regular troops, militia and Indians approached Fort Meigs and captured supplies and troops that were destined for the garrison. The combined force moved on Fort Meigs but were unsuccessful in forcing the Americans to capitulate. By May 5th Procter was forced to retire when his militia demanded they return to their farms to plant spring crops and the Indians to display their plunder. On July 27thProcter and Tecumseh made a second attempt on Fort Meigs in the hope of enticing the American garrison into a contest in the open. The garrison remained safely of the fort and Procter was once again compelled to withdraw.

Procter attempted to save the expedition by turning his army's focus on Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River. But without the necessary siege artillery Procter was once again unable to breach the American defences. After a failed assault on the fort, the British were forced to retreat to Upper Canada again. Procter felt compelled to continue his retreat towards Burlington when he learned of Barclay's defeat on Lake Erie on September 10th 1813. When Procter retreated, Harrison landed his US forces and pursued the retreating British army. Procter's inability to co-ordinate the retreat forced him to make a stand near Moraviantown on October 5th 1813.

He was defeated by Harrison's Kentucky militia leaving the Indians under Tecumseh to defend themselves. Tecumseh was killed leaving the Americans in control of the Western District of Upper Canada until the end of the war. In 1814 Procter faced a court martial in Montreal and was suspended from duty for six months. The verdict was posted at every military post in the Empire. Procter died in Bath England in 1822.

Brigadier General Winfield Scott
US Army Brigadier-General Winfield Scott
US Army Brigadier-General Winfield Scott
© Lossing, Field-Book 1869

Brigadier General Winfield Scott first saw action at Queenston Heights where he attempted to rally American forces after Sheaffe's victory.

He was forced to officially surrender to the British as the senior regular American officer in charge.
He led the initial attack on Fort George May 27th, 1813 whereScott himself narrowly missed a bayonet thrust, falling unceremoniously into the water.' (Stanley) After the disasters of 1812 and limited American victories of 1813, Scott drilled officers and men with an emphasis on discipline and field hygiene at Buffalo prior to the 1814 campaign.

On July 3rd, 1814 the re-trained American army, under the command of General Jacob Brown, invaded Upper Canada from Black Rock and captured Fort Erie. Scott led his infantry brigade, dressed in the grey jackets they would make famous, with distinction at the Battle of Chippewa where British General Riall was defeated on July 5th. At the bloody battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25th, Scott's brigade was decimated and Scott was wounded. His courage and leadership made him a national hero, and Scott would rise to the command of the United States Army.

(Commodore) Sir James Lucas Yeo
Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo RN
Engraving after painting by A. Buck
© Toronto Reference Library / T - 15241

Sir James Yeo commanded the Royal Navy on the Great Lakes in the spring of 1813. He began his campaign with an attempt to capture Sackett's Harbour on May 28th, 1813 the day after Dearborn had taken Fort George. Yeo's attempt forced the American naval commander Chauncey to pull back to Sackett's Harbour leaving Yeo in control of Lake Ontario. With Yeo in control, the south shore of the lake was free of American vessels allowing Vincent and his army to move against Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams without fear of coastal attack. Eventually, Yeo's blockade allowed Vincent's army to be re-supplied at Burlington Heights and reoccupy the Niagara region surrounding Fort George. Yeo continued to assist the army by leading raiding parties at the mouth of the Genesee River capturing food supplies June 15th, 1813. Yeo was able to remain on and off the lake for the remainder of the war helping to foil American attempts to recapture the Niagara region in 1814 by keeping Chauncey bottled up at Sackett's Harbour.