July 02, 2014

Close call at Chippawa – Joseph Henderson

During the Battle of Chippawa, one individual had more narrow escapes than perhaps anyone else involved in that battle. Joseph Henderson of the Twenty-Second U.S. Infantry had three close encounters with death during the engagement.

Born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in 1791, Joseph Henderson attended public school and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1813. By the spring of 1813, Henderson gained a commission in the Twenty-Second Regiment, earning a promotion to captain in the fall of 1813.

During Winfield Scott’s training camp at Buffalo, Henderson wrote that his company often drilled late into the night. The Twenty-Second was well prepared for the upcoming Niagara 1814 Campaign as their participation at Chippawa soon proved.

At dawn on July 5, 1814, Henderson received his first close call that day. A British and native picket approached the American camp and began to snipe at their position. Henderson was posted just north of Street’s Creek with his men when the firing began. The captain recalled that several of his men were wounded and a “ball entered a Knapsack upon which I was seated and another entered the Supplies against which I was leaning close to my head.”

The captain’s second encounter came as Scott was marching his brigade over Street’s Creek. The clustered Grey Coats presented a tempting target for British gunners as they began firing at the bridge. A shell fragment knocked off Henderson’s hat during the exchange. A soldier was kind enough to return the hat to Henderson remarking, “an inch is as good as a mile.” Scott’s brigade managed to get across the bridge, stepping over the dead and dying in the process.

As the fierce firing between the British and American lines continued, Henderson received his third close call of the day. During the fight, a British shell fragment killed a large man in front of Henderson causing the man to fall on Henderson, knocking him flat on the ground. Henderson was once again unharmed, managed to manoeuvre himself up from under the weight, and resumed his position.

When the battle finally ended, Henderson was unable to rest. The number of casualties overwhelmed the American Army surgeons, forcing Henderson to put his medical degree to use as he personally treated the casualties from his company. The casualties from Chippawa were horrendous; Riall reported 456 casualties and Brown reported 295 casualties. 

On July 5 and 6 head out to the Chippawa Battlefield to learn more about the battle. Historic merchants, battle re-enactments and a commemorative ceremony are just a few of the activities throughout the weekend. Click here to find out more information about this Niagara 1812 Signature Event. 

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