November 05, 2014

The Niagara 1814 campaign ends

In late October, the commander at Fort Erie, General Izard, had a decision to make: retain Fort Erie or abandon the position. After the Battle ofCook’s Mills, Izard ordered his men to form on the Chippawa plain across from Drummond’s position on October 21, 1814. Izard’s plan was to coax Drummond out from behind his defences so that the British force on the Niagara could be destroyed, but Drummond refused to battle.

Both the British and Americans knew that fighting in Niagara was over for 1814 and both sides prepared for the long winter. Izard ordered a number of units across the Niagara to enter winter quarters. Eventually, Izard decided that holding Fort Erie would not be practical since crossing the Niagara River in the winter was difficult. Izard wrote to Secretary of War Monroe that the problems at Fort Erie,

Induced me to examine maturely the advantages, and inconveniences of retaining Fort Erie under the American flag. I can find not one of the former, (except it being a trophy) which in any point of view would justify my exposing in a weak, ill-planned, and hastily repaired redoubt (it scarcely deserves even that humble designation) some hundreds of valuable officers and men, with the cannon, and various stores, which if it were taken would necessarily fall with it into the hands of the enemy.   
 
Fort Erie in ruins, 1930s
Izard also pointed out that the battalion designated to defend Fort Erie was experiencing “daily and numerous” desertions. After consulting three of his trusted officers, Izard made the final decision that Fort Erie would be “dismantled, evacuated, and destroyed.” The garrison was tasked with digging huts into the side of the defences to be filled with gunpowder to destroy the fort. It rained incessantly during the last week of October and early November that Major Totten of the engineers, responsible for the demolition, found it difficult to dig shafts for the gunpowder anywhere in the fort “without meeting water in almost every instance of our attempts.” Finally, on November 5, the fuses were lit and the defence works were destroyed in clouds of mud, dirt, wood and stone. U.S. Lieutenant Norton wrote, “The explosion was tremendous and worth seeing.”

With Fort Erie evacuated and both sides moving to winter quarters, the Niagara 1814 campaign finally ended after 125 days of hard fighting during the longest and bloodiest fighting of the War of 1812.

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