August 08, 2012

A brave and excellent officer – William Drummond

William Drummond was described as above the medium height, dignified appearance, regular and clear-cut features, and a charming expression. At the beginning of the war, Drummond served with the 104th regiment in New Brunswick until February 1813 when the regiment was ordered to move west. Drummond, along with six companies of the 104th, made a hazardous trek through the Canadian wilderness in the middle of the winter. By April 1813, the 104th made it to Kingston after trekking through 800 miles of wilderness. While in Quebec an officer from the Canadian Voltiguers described Drummond as a “brave and excellent officer with many estimable qualities, together with his reputation for courage caused him to be idolized.”

Drummond participated in the ill-fated attack on Sackets Harbor in late May 1813. Although the assault was described as “a scandalously managed affair,” Drummond distinguished himself by rallying his troops during the battle. Drummond managed to escape death during the battle when a musket ball grazed him.

Aside from Drummond’s courage in battle, he was also a great diplomat. Drummond earned the respect of John Norton and his native allies. Norton presented Drummond with strings of wampum beads that he wore until his death. Due to Drummond’s good relationship with the natives, he was often called upon to settle disputes between Norton and the Indian Department.  

Siege of Fort Erie map
With the American invasion of Niagara in July 1814, Drummond was ordered with the two flank companies of the 104th to proceed to the Niagara. Drummond arrived in time for the Battle of Lundy’s Lane where he had two horses killed under him. After the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Drummond participated in the failed British attempt to destroy American supply bases at Conjocta Creek. After this failed assault, the British laid siege to the American held defences at Fort Erie. After a few days bombardment, the British launched a daring assault on August 15, 1814.

As Drummond assembled his men for the assault, he bid farewell to the officers as he believe he would not survive the night. Drummond gave his sword to Surgeon William Dunlop before the assault for safekeeping and opted to carry a pike into battle. As Drummond led his men to the North-East demi-bastion they were repulsed by the American gunners inside. After a few attempts, Drummond and his men managed to take the bastion and began pouring into the fort. As Drummond charged into the fort he was shot dead. One American officer describes the incident:

“an officer advanced as far as the door of the mess house . . . [and] gave us orders to kill him - we shot him down and his party gave back at his fall.”  

After Drummond’s death, the British in the bastion managed to turn around a cannon and began firing into the fort. This action caused the gunpowder magazine in the bastion to erupt in a “a jet of flame, mingled with the fragments of timber, earth, stone, and bodies of men, rose, to the height of one or two hundred feet in the air, and fell, in a shower of ruins.”
Explosion of the bastion during the failed British night assault

The British failed to take Fort Erie that night and Drummond lay dead in the American held fort. The next day as the young drummer boy Jarvis Hanks sees the bodies he notes that Drummond’s body was looted and that one of the American officers purchased his gold watch. William Drummond was buried, along with a number of his comrades, in a mass grave in the ditches of Fort Erie.

If you want to learn more about William Drummond and the Siege of Fort Erie, don’t miss the Siege of Fort Erie on August 11 and 12th. There will be battle reenactments all weekend long as well as a lantern tour after the Saturday night battle. All battles are free to watch! Don’t miss Canada’s largest 1812 reenactment. Click here for the schedule of events.


  1. William Dunlop (Tiger) Surgon whom recieved Drummonds sword was quite the character in his own right. Something should have been written about him and his attempts to save wounded soldiers lives as the only doctor at Butlers Barracks after the battle of Lundys Lane.

  2. Thanks for the post. We hope to write about Dunlop in the future. He is certainly an interesting character from reading his account of the war.