In February 1813, the Americans created a plan to invade Canada. They would first attack Fort Henry (Kingston), and then Fort York (Toronto), with a compliment of 4,000 soldiers. Then, after the these two British forts fell, they would focus on Fort Erie and Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake). The plan had another force of 3,000 soldiers to capture Fort Erie, before they went onward to take Fort George.
Fort George was key as it sat across the Niagara River from the American Fort Niagara. By controlling both sides of the river, the American fleet could come and go without hindrance. The British fleet roamed Lake Ontario too, and was able to fire inland at the Americans to disrupt their movements along the edge of the lake.
However, Major General Henry Dearborn, commander of the United States armies on the frontier with Canada, believed there were 6,000 to 8,000 British soldiers at Fort Henry due to a false report. So, he decided, based upon this inaccurate information, to forget about Fort Henry and to focus on the easier targets.
Armed with a cavalier attitude, and executed at a lackadaisical pace, an abundance of indecision, and with casual disregard for military professionalism, the vast American military forces invaded Canada during the war of 1812. And at first, they rather easily encircled and overran Fort George. However, the British were quickly able to escape capture due to gaping holes in the American’s planned combined land and sea attacks. Regardless, the overwhelmingly large American forces took Fort George from the British rather effortlessly in May 25-27, 1813. This straightforward success only served to bolster the American confidence.
With the capture of Fort George accomplished in late May, US Major-General Henry Dearborn was poised to pursue an aggressive campaign in Upper Canada, but indecision and poor weather forestalled American Brigadier Winder and his 1400 men from marching toward Burlington Heights until June 2, followed by another brigade under the command of Brigadier Chandler. Both units met at Forty Mile Creek (Grimsby), setting out for Stoney Creek on 5 June where they camped overnight in a field beside the road.
The rather casual pace and attitude of the US forces provided an opportunity for the British. A local youth named Billy Green had gathered critical intelligence on the approaching US forces, including their location and disposition. He rode on horseback to the British forces at Burlington Heights, where he was initially considered an American spy. Green quickly shared all he had heard with Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey, who had also obtained passwords of the US forces at Stoney Creek from a recently paroled prisoner. There were few sentries, and they were ill placed; the nearby forest also offered excellent cover.
Harvey pleaded with his superior, Brigadier General John Vincent, to make a dangerous night raid against the sleeping enemy, to hit them hard and fast before they could consolidate their forces with reinforcements. Vincent agreed, and in the dead of night Harvey and 700 men of the 8th and 49th regiments initiated a surprise night attack on the 3500 invading American troops. They marched in silence, the flint being removed from their muskets to prevent any accidental firing. According to a statement left to his grandson, Green, a native of Stoney Creek, was asked to lead the way through the forest.
The Americans awoke to find their camp swarming with redcoats, illuminated by firelight, and they were hard pressed to load their muskets as the British unleashed their attack. Despite the confusion and heavy bloodshed, Harvey’s forces managed a raid retreat with critical booty. Major Charles Plenderleath, commanding officer of the British 49th Regiment, ordered his men to capture the enemy’s field guns before they had time to load. Chandler, seeing the commotion at the guns, ran to reorganize the men, whom he thought were his own, and he was captured by the British at bayonet point. The same fate awaited Winder, and both senior brigade commanders were captured with the guns, crippling both the command structure and the possible firepower the Americans might have used to rally and change the raid into a rout. Instead, the British retreated with a decisive victory.
It was a brazen, dangerous, and successful raid that turned on luck as much as skill, but it paid off for the British. Still, the cost was heavy: 23 killed, 134 wounded and 5 missing. The Americans suffered 55 killed or wounded, with 100 thought to be missing, and soon retreated to Fort George, with British and Aboriginal scouts chasing them on land. Colonel James Burn, of the 2nd Light Dragoon, had been commanding officer of the retreat, and related his actions to General Dearborn; with the capture of both generals, and low on ammunition, he convened a council of his senior officers. While the Americans hoped to be resupplied at Forty Mile Creek, they soon discovered the camp ruined by the naval squadron of Sir James Yeo, the new British naval commander on Lake Ontario. With Yeo capable of harassing the 65 kilometres of logistics and communications to be crossed to get any reinforcement, there was no choice but to return to Fort George. The Americans faced skirmishes the entire way back, losing men to capture along the way.
The Battle of Stoney Creek was a turning point for American operations in Upper Canada. While the Americans still controlled Fort George, their range of movement to extend and consolidate this gain was limited by the series of British outposts that penned them in, and the fear of First Nations warriors conducting guerrilla warfare tactics in the wilds. Along with the Battle of Beaver Dams (Thorold) two weeks later, the engagement at Stoney Creek returned the Niagara Peninsula to British and Canadian control and ended the US attempt to conquer the western part of the province. The battle was also a turning point in Harvey’s career, which would soon add more victories to its tally at Crysler’s Farm (Cornwall), Lundy’s Lane (Niagara Falls), and Fort Erie. Billy Green’s efforts earned him the laurel of being “the Paul Revere of Canada“; he was immortalized in a folksong by Canadian musician Stan Rogers.
History will record these battles as the only war that the USA has ‘officially’ lost.
Today, both countries share a great mutual respect built over several centuries of commerce and peace and the world’s longest unprotected border.
The Stoney Creek Monument and the Battlefield House, both stand as a reminder of this historic victory. The park and the monument were unveiled, via electricity, one hundred years after this decisive battle, by Her Royal Majesty Queen Mary, to commemorate this military triumph.
Unknown. (2015). Battle of Stoney Creek. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved on June 16, 2020 from, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-stoney-creek
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.