Millions of tourists visit Niagara Falls each year from all over the world to experience its wonder and natural beauty. Little do these visitors know that this region was the site of fierce and deadly battles during the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain.
Following the revolutionary war, tensions between the United States and Great Britain escalated significantly leading to America declaring war in June of 1812. President James Madison was determined to achieve two goals: (1) stop Britain from seizing American ships, cargoes, and sailors on the high seas and (2) persuade British officials to stop inciting Indians to attack Americans in the West. President Madison was aware that American naval forces were no match for the Royal Navy, which led to him setting his sights on capturing Canada. The idea, according to historians, was that Britain might be willing to make concessions for the return of Canada. This led President Madison to order three invasions to take major cities in Canada. One of the offensives was to take place across the Niagara River.
In October of 1812, the American army departed from Fort Niagara and rowed across the Niagara River from Lewiston, NY, to invade the Village of Queenston. British forces were stationed at Queenston, but it was a small number as the American attack was anticipated to take place at nearby Fort George. When the battle commenced, forces at Fort George could hear the cannon fire and knew that the American forces did not plan to attack Fort George and departed to Queenston.
Prior to the reinforcements arriving from Fort George, the British forces were overwhelmed by the Americans. After arriving, the tide shifted. The American forces quickly became disorganized in the midst of fending off attacks from a combination of British forces, men of the York and Lincoln Militia Regiments, and Six Nations allies. The American forces did not recover. Many of the remaining soldiers tried to run down the escarpment and fell to their deaths. Others even tried to swim back to Lewiston. All remaining soldiers surrendered.
Although defeated in their invasion attempt, the Americans remained busy fortifying defenses and planning future attacks in the Niagara Frontier. In fact, just one month later a force of American soldiers crossed the Niagara River north of Fort Erie to attempt capture of a British cannon position at Frenchman's Creek. Although initially successful, the American forces were forced to retreat by British reinforcements from Fort Erie.
The following year in May, the Americans had amassed an army of 8,000-plus at Fort Niagara. Defending the Niagara Region at Fort George in Canada was 1,050 soldiers, a few hundred militiamen, and roughly 50 Six Nation warriors. Fort George had been stripped of cannons to aid the British Lake Erie fleet and new cannons that were shipped to Fort George were captured by Americans in April. The Americans knew this was their best opportunity to attack.
The Americans' target was Fort George. They struck on May 25th with dozens of cannons and mortars from Fort Niagara, and cannon batteries installed on the banks of the Niagara River, opening fire on Fort George. Less than 48 hours later on May 27th, the American army invaded. Forces rowed across the Niagara River and landed a mile north of Fort George at the Town of Niagara.
Americans drove British forces out of the Town of Niagara and to abandon Fort George. By the afternoon of the May 27th, the Americans had captured Niagara and took control of Fort George, which they would occupy for the following seven months. After this battle, the British completely abandoned the Niagara Region including Fort Erie.
Interested in learning more about the War of 1812? Visit Old Fort Niagara during your trip!
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