August 29, 2012

A most horrid slaughter

It was a frigid night on December 18, 1813 when the British prepared for a daring attack on Fort Niagara. A British force under Lieutenant-Colonel John Murray waded across the Niagara River and crept upon the shore just below Fort Niagara in preparation for their assault.

The capture of Fort Niagara Plaque
The American burning of Newark (modern-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) precipitated the daring assault upon Fort Niagara. This action saw the destruction of about 150 private homes and forced many inhabitants into the below freezing weather. The burning of these homes has been blamed on a group of former Canadians serving in the U.S. army as part of the Canadian Volunteers.

In retaliation for the burning of Newark, General Drummond ordered the assault on Fort Niagara. The Canadian militia eagerly produced enough boats for the crossing. As the British made it across an advanced guard quickly dispatched with the American sentries and forced their way into the fort. The Americans were caught off guard and suffered nearly 65 dead and 350 captured in the engagement, mostly preformed by the bayonet. Brigadier General George McClure, the commander of the American forces and the one who ordered the burning of Newark, reported, “Our men were nearly all asleep in their tents, the Enemy rushed in and commenced a most horrid slaughter.”

The British victory at Fort Niagara was the first action by the British in their winter campaign that saw the destruction of the American Niagara frontier and the capture of much needed weapons and supplies.    

If you want to see the recreation of this engagement, make sure you visit Fort Niagara on September 1 and 2 for their annual 1812 event. The highlight of the weekend begins on Saturday at 7 p.m. with a performance by the MacKenzie Highlanders Pipes and Drums. Following the performance there will be a battle re-enactment of the British capture of the fort in December 1813. Click here for more details.

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