This Week in History


Midnight Assault at Fort Niagara

For the week of Monday December 17, 2012

On December 19, 1813, British Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond commanded a surprise midnight assault on American-occupied Fort Niagara, New York. Despite a heavy snow storm and a fierce struggle, British troops and Canadian militia crossed the Niagara River at Youngstown and successfully captured the fort during the War of 1812.

Portrait of Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, George Theodore Berthon, circa 1882
© Government of Ontario Art Collection / 693127
Drummond arrived at Fort George on December 16, 1813, just six days after the Americans had abandoned the post – a mere watery kilometre away from American Fort Niagara, and burned Niagara-on-the-Lake in a hasty retreat. After the British re-occupied the charred remains of Fort George, Drummond wasted no time developing plans for surprise retaliation against Fort Niagara.

On the evening of December 18, about 560 men, including Canadian militiamen, soldiers of the 1st, 41st and 100th Regiments and Royal Artillery assembled at St. Davids, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), to march toward the Niagara River. From there, they boated across the river and landed south of the fort. Then they moved north toward Youngstown, taking the American guards in the town by surprise. After a brief march they burst through the lightly defended gate at Fort Niagara, finding the American soldiers stationed inside completely unprepared!

View of Fort Niagara from Fort George, circa 1863 
© Library and Archives Canada / S.P. Jenkins / 1970-188-2357
The taking of Fort Niagara was an important victory for the British. The attack influenced American strategy and the fort remained in British hands until the end of the War of 1812. Fort George was important to British efforts during the war. Because of its proximity to the United States border, the fort was a headquarters for action against the United States. Fort George was designated a National Historic Site in 1921. Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Drummond was declared a person of National Historical Significance in 1928 for his distinguished involvement in the War of 1812.

This year is the beginning of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. For more information on the war, please read Shot Through the Heart, Battle of Frenchmans Creek, and The Battle of Beaver Dams in the This Week in History Archives. Commemorative events will take place all across Canada! For more information on the War of 1812, visit Commemorating the War of 1812 on the Parks Canada website.

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