September 17, 2014

The most splendid achievement – The Sortie

After the failed British assault on Fort Erie on August 15, 1814, the British continued to siege the American held position. New artillery positions were installed and skirmishing between both sides continued into September.

The American commander of Fort Erie, Major-General Jacob Brown, decided on a plan “to storm the batteries, destroy the cannon, and roughly handle the brigade upon duty before those in reserve could be brought into the action.” On September 17, 1814, Brown ordered his men to attack the British position. At the time, the British were busy removing their artillery since they had decided to abandon the siege the day before.

The weather was rainy on the 17th, helping to obscure the American advance through the tree line. At around 2:30 p.m. men from Porter’s column burst forward into the British position with bayonets fixed and quickly overwhelmed the De Watteville Regiment on duty. Private Ford recounted that the Twenty-Third

charged upon the blockhouse from which the enemy kept up a brisk fire until they were compelled to surrender” and “took about eighty prisoners while the ground was strewed with the dead bodies of the enemy.

Porter and his men quickly captured Battery No. 3 and worked upon disabling the British artillery pieces.

A short time later, a second attack commenced on Battery No. 2 where the Americans overwhelmed the British position. General Drummond ordered his men stationed at the main camp to move forward and recover the captured gun batteries.

Major-General Jacob Brown
Members of the 82nd Regiment entered Battery No. 2 and “poured a volley into the mass of the enemy, who were huddled together into so small a space that they could not return it.” As the fighting continued, Le Couteur recorded that the attack on the battery “was a very savage affair” as “our Men bayoneted every Soul” and the battery “was full of corpses.”

The fight for Battery No. 3 resulted in a musket duel. Porter moved forward with some of his men, but in the confusion, he found himself alone and surrounded by British infantry. Porter grabbed one of the soldier’s muskets and demanded them to surrender, claiming that he had reinforcements on the way. The British in turn demanded that Porter surrender. Thankfully, for Porter, some of his men appeared and fired at the British, allowing him to escape.

Eventually, Brown ordered a withdrawal believing that he had accomplished his goal. The battle lasted less than two hours, causing heavy casualties on both sides. The Americans listed 511 casualties: 79 killed, 216 wounded and 216 missing. The British listed 579 casualties: 115 killed, 148 wounded, 316 missing with the De Watteville’s receiving 264 casualties. One American officer said that the sortie was “by far the most splendid achievement” of the Niagara 1814 campaign.

This Friday, September 19th, head to Old Fort Erie to hear Jim Hill speak about the “Military and Militia in the War of 1812.” The talk begins at 6 p.m.

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