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Friday, June 14, 2024
Part 2: Battle of Fort George: Americans bombard Niagara and capture the town
A watercolour depicts the Battle of Fort George on May 27, 1813. It is a view toward the mouth of the Niagara River from Lake Ontario, with Fort Niagara to the left and the town of Niagara (today's Niagara-on-the-Lake) on the right. (NOTL MUSEUM)

 This year marks the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Fort George. This is the second in a three-part series about the battle and how, for a time, what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake was controlled by the Americans.


Aiden Lord
Friends of Fort George

Dawn breaks on the morning of May 25, 1813.

The crisp morning air is pierced by the crack of naval guns and shore batteries from the American side of the river and the waters of Lake Ontario.

The target of this barrage of cannon fire is Fort George, the sole British bastion at the northern end and mouth of the Niagara River.

It is the beginning of the bombardment by both naval craft from Admiral Isaac Chauncey’s fleet, shore batteries, fort guns (from the neighbouring Fort Niagara on the American side) and mortars.

It spelled disaster for the defenders of the fort and lasted into the mid-afternoon.

The British attempted to return fire, launching a counter barrage on the opposing shore and Fort Niagara. 

However, it was feeble and ineffective, as the fort had been stripped of most its guns.

At its conclusion, the bombardment permanently silenced Fort George’s guns and left most of the fort’s buildings in ruins.

The British defenders remained stationed in the Commons nearby and the small garrison inside the fort attempted to salvage what they could of their position, hoping to regain some measure of defensibility.

After the Americans consolidated their forces on May 26, a time was set to attempt an invasion, the goal of which was to seize the British fort and destroy the British forces there and in the surrounding area. 

On the morning of the 27th, as a thick fog blanketed the shores of Lake Ontario, the British sentries heard an American force approaching somewhere between One Mile Creek and Two Mile Creek, not far from the mouth of the Niagara River.

The invasion was afoot.

The American ships anchored offshore, sent a multitude of small craft, heavily laden with soldiers, toward the shore while they bombarded the shoreline with cannon fire. Fort Niagara did likewise.

The Americans landed and formed up in the shelter of the high clay banks onshore. However, as they did so, they were struck by volley after volley of musket fire from British forces who had sheltered through the worst of the artillery barrage nearby.

Elements of the Glengarry Light Infantry, the Lincoln Militia, the Grenadiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and Indigenous warriors, engaged the American vanguard, determined not to let them land uncontested.

This bought time for the remaining British forces coming from the area of Fort George to muster alongside their comrades – the remainder of the Royal Newfoundlanders, more Glengarries, and a sizable portion of the venerable Coloured Corps composed their reinforcements.

They held their ground for a spell, repeatedly harassing and pinning the Americans on the beach.

However, this was not to last, as the Americans’ ever-increasing force eventually got the best of them, aided by heavy cannon fire, which tore through the British line.

The British were eventually forced to retreat and regroup farther inland, but they did not go quietly. This game of fire and retreat (once overwhelmed) continued, with the British yielding ground only when they absolutely had to.

Every bit of ground the Americans seized they paid for in blood.

As the Americans continued to advance through the town, all those in the garrison at Fort George and all remaining British troops were ordered to abandon their posts, and withdraw toward Burlington Heights (Hamilton).

Fort George and what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake were in American hands.  

Next: Niagara under American occupation and what is was like for the seven months Fort George was in American hands.

*The Friends of Fort George is a non-profit, charitable organization that works with Parks Canada for the protection, preservation, and interpretation of Niagara’s national historic sites. Special events commemorating the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Fort George will include a special re-enactment weekend on July 15 and 16.

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