August 28, 2013

The British – turn out the guard

The capture of Fort Niagara on December 19, 1813 was an overwhelming success for the British. After the burning of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) the British quickly retaliated with not only capturing Fort Niagara but by burning the length of the American side of the Niagara. A private in the 41st Regiment of Foot named Shadrach Byfield participated in the capture of Fort Niagara in 1813.

Byfield joined the military in 1807 as part of the militia before joining the 41st. His mother was so distraught that she died three days after he left. By 1809, Byfield was on a transport for Quebec and by the time of the War of 1812, he served extensively in Western Upper Canada, Michigan and Ohio before coming to the Niagara in 1813.
Fort Niagara
Byfield recounts that the 41st flank companies, along with the 100th Regiment of Foot, crossed the Niagara in the early hours on December 19, 1813. Byfield proceeded to Youngstown were a prisoner was taken and the countersign was obtained for the guards protecting the fort. Byfield describes that a sergeant,

“proceeded to the gate [of Fort Niagara], and was challenged by the sentry inside, he gave the countersign, and gained admittance, but the sentry cried out ‘The British – turn out the guard.’ Our force was fully prepared, and in a very short time we had possession of the fort, with very little lose.”   

Byfield later participated in the British destruction of the American side of the Niagara in the days following the capture of the fort. As a reward for the capture of Fort Niagara, the soldiers who participated in the attack were awarded prize money for their actions. As a private, Byfield would have received two pounds for his participation in the attack on Fort Niagara.  

If you want to learn more about the capture of Fort Niagara, you can visit the fort this weekend for their Annual 1812 Encampment event. Battle demonstrations and living history programs will occur during the day along with the re-enactment of the British capturing Fort Niagara on Saturday night. Click here for more details.

August 21, 2013

Butler’s Barracks

Along the Niagara River above Navy Hall the military reserve known as The Commons were used to build Fort George in 1796. Farther inland buildings were built to serve the British Indian Department in their dealings with aboriginal people in the Niagara. A council house and storage facilities stood at this location until they were destroyed during the War of 1812.

After the War of 1812, new buildings were built away from the exposed position of Fort George. By 1854, the site was known as Butler’s Barracks in honour of John Butler and his Butler’s Rangers who served during the American Revolution and founded the town of Niagara. The area around Butler’s Barracks included a variety of buildings such as a hospital, commandant’s quarters and storehouses, among others. This area became defence headquarters for the Niagara Region.  
Butler's Barracks
The site was transferred to Canada in 1871 and was used to train regular and militia units. During World War I, the site became a training camp for 14,000 soldiers of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By 1917, Butler’s Barracks became a winter training camp for the Polish Army known as Camp Kosciuszko.

During World War II, the area was known as Camp Niagara where buildings, tents, parade grounds and other facilities took over the area and Camp Niagara remained active until the 1960s as a military training ground. Soldiers who trained at the Butler’s Barracks site served in the Boer War, World War I and World War II, in the Korean War, and in peacekeeping efforts during the 20th century.

This weekend you can head to Fort George for their annual military timeline event. This event features military uniforms, weaponry and vehicles from various time periods. Click here to find out more.

August 14, 2013

Yankee Doodle went to town

The popular American military marching song originated in the 1750s as a British satire of the amateur American colonial militia. The most popular chorus for the song Yankee Doodle is:

            Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

Fort George Fife and Drum Corps
The ‘doodle’ word in the song is thought to derive from a German word meaning fool or simpleton. The ‘macaroni’ wig was extremely popular in fashion in the 1770s and became slang for foppishness or foolish. In general, the British were saying that the American colonials were effeminate and foolish looking.

Although the song was originally used by the British to mock the Americans, the song was quickly adopted by the colonials who made it their unofficial anthem during the American Revolution. By the time of the War of 1812, Yankee Doodle was perhaps the most popular song in the United States and American soldiers played it often. It was heard during the Battle of York in April 1813, at the Battle of Fort George in May 1813, and during the Niagara campaign in 1814. The song would have been played daily in American military camps and one version from 1812 goes:

            To meet Britannia’s hostile bands
            We’ll march, out heroes say, sir,
            We’ll join all hearts; we’ll join all hands;
            Brave boys we’ll win the day, sir.
                        Yankee doodle, strike your tent, yankee doodle dandy,
                        Yankee doodle, march away, and do your parts right handy.

            Full long we’ve borne with British pride,
            And sue’d to gain our rights, sir;
            All other methods have been tried;
            There nought remains but fight, sir.
                        Yankee doodle, march away, yankee doodle dandy,
                        Yankee doodle, fight brave boys, the thing will work right handy.

If you are interested in hearing some military music, make sure you head to Fort George this weekend for their annual Fife and Drum Muster and Soldiers’ Field Day. The event features military bands and infantry units from across Canada and the United States, and the event also features a sunset tattoo ceremony on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Click here to learn more about this event.

August 07, 2013

The worst regiment in Canada

The 103rd Regiment of Foot was formed from the Ninth Garrison Battalion in 1809. It arrived in Quebec in 1812 and soon earned the distinction as being the worst regiment in Canada, according to Governor General George Prevost. The 103rd was mostly comprised of very young recruits who spent most of their time on labour duties. The regiment was not well disciplined, its men committed numerous crimes and it had a high desertion rate. The 103rd had a shortage of officers and its commander Hercules Scott was absent for long periods on staff duties.

By the spring of 1814, the regiment was transferred to Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond’s Right Division. After the Battle of Chippawa, the 103rd came to the Niagara Region from Burlington. They helped to keep the British in the fight at Lundy’s Lane with their timely arrival of about 1,000 men at a critical moment in the battle. The unit marched 20 miles, the last few in double time, in order to reach Lundy’s Lane.

During the Siege of Fort Erie, the regiment participated in the unsuccessful assault to retake the fort on August 15, 1814. The 103rd attacked down by the water against Douglas Battery at about 3 a.m., as the crunch of the men’s feet along the shore altered the Americans. Upon the men’s approach, the Americans fired canister shot at close range, causing significant casualties. Hercules Scott was shot and killed during the assault and the column eventually retreated while some joined the assault on the North-East demi-bastion.

The British assault on the North-East demi-bastion gained some success until about 5 a.m. when a massive explosion occurred as the gunpowder magazine exploded destroying the bastion. American engineer Lieutenant Douglass described the explosion by stating:

“But suddenly, every sound was hushed by the sense of an unnatural tremor, beneath our feet, the first heave of an earthquake; and, almost at the same instant, the center of the bastion burst up, with a terrific explosion and a jet of flame, mingled with 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, to a great distance, all around.”
Bastion explosion during the Siege of Fort Erie re-enactment
During the assault, the 103rd Regiment lost about 424 men including 14 out of 18 officers. The 103rd actions at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie proved that they did not deserve Prevost designation as being the worst regiment in Canada. For their actions during the war, the regiment was authorized to bear “Niagara” on its colours before being disbanded in 1817.

This Saturday and Sunday, you can head to Old Fort Erie to witness the 27th annual Siege of Fort Erie. There will be tours, battles and demonstrations taking place throughout the weekend with the main event starting on Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the recreation of Drummond’s night assault followed by an ‘After the Battle’ lantern tour of the fort. Click here for a schedule of events. Don’t miss this Niagara Signature Event.