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.

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