July 30, 2014

Total want of military command – Conjocta Creek

After the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the Americans withdrew to their defences at Fort Erie with the British following shortly after. The American position at Fort Erie was not desirable, possessing a position of 800 yards long by 250 yards wide. Porter lamented the American position claiming, “our position is a wretched one.” The American position necessitated an open supply line to resources positioned at Black Rock and Buffalo across the water, a fact that was not lost on Drummond.

Drummond believed that destroying the American supplies would force the enemy to “fight under desperate circumstances or surrendering unconditionally.” Drummond selected 39-year-old Colonel John Tucker of the 41st Foot to launch a raid to destroy the American supplies.  Tucker’s reputation in the Right Division was not very high with soldiers nicknaming him “Brigadier Shindy,” which indicated that Tucker was a “dancing master” who was prone to quarrelling over minor problems.
U.S. Riflemen

Tucker moved his 600 men across the water near Squaw Island just a few miles from Black Rock at about 2 a.m. on August 3, 1814. Tucker did not advance his force until about an hour before daylight. Their advance puzzled John Le Couteur, writing that they moved “without an advanced guard or any apparent precaution.” The British had already lost the element of surprise as the Americans were waiting for them. 

Major Lodowick Morgan of the First U.S. Rifle Regiment was waiting for the British near Conjocta Creek (also known as Scajacuada Creek). Morgan had been a prewar regular, serving as a rifle officer for six years. Morgan spotted the British movement on August 2 on the Canadian side and suspected a forthcoming attack on the American supplies. He ordered his men, about 240 in total, to remove the flooring from the bridge over Conjocta Creek and establish a defensive position.

As the British approached, Morgan waited until they were in within good rifle distance then blew his whistle for the men to open fire. One rifleman wrote that the first volley “completely ‘decapitated’ the head of the approaching column.” The first volley sent the 41st into chaos as the men began to fire without discipline and many ran to the woods to seek cover. Tucker eventually steadied his men and deployed them into line where he exchanged fire with the more accurate American riflemen.

Le Couteur noted that the Americans “shot every Fool that came near the Bridge.” Private Byfield,

received a musket ball, through my left arm, below the elbow. I went into the rear. One of my comrades, seeing that I was badly wounded, cut my [cross] belts from me and let them drop. I walked to the doctor, and desired him to take my arm off. He said it might be cured without it; and ordered me down to a boat, saying, that the wounded men were to cross the river, and they (the doctors) would soon follow.

Tucker continued his duel with the Americans for another hour before retreating to the boats. The results for the British were 12 killed, 17 wounded and 4 missing to the Americans 2 killed and 8 wounded. Le Couteur blamed Tucker’s “total want of military command” for the failure of the mission. Tucker blamed the failed mission on his men, noting to Drummond “the men displayed an unpardonable degree of unsteadiness, without possessing on solitary excuse to justify this want of discipline.”

Drummond was furious about the defeat and on August 5, he issued a strongly worded general order blaming the defeat on “the misbehaviour of the troops employed.” Drummond reminded the officers of the 41st that it was their duty to “punish with death on the spot any man who may be found guilty of misbehaviour before the enemy.”

With the failure at Conjocta Creek, Drummond decided that the best course of action was to lay siege to Fort Erie in order to remove the Americans from that position.

This weekend you can head to Buffalo to find out more about the Battle of Conjocta Creek. Click here for more information. Also, on August 9 & 10 don’t miss the 28th Annual Siege of Fort Erie re-enactment. Click here for more information.  

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