Learning About New York Part XIX

Since the retreat of the enemy from Chippewa they had received reinforcements of troops from Lord Wellington's army in Spain, and on the night of the battle encamped on a hill, with the design of attacking the Americans the next morning.

Battle of Niagara.--On his arrival at the Niagara cataract, General Scott learned that the British were in force directly in his front, separated only by a narrow piece of wood. Having dispatched this intelligence to General Brown, he advanced upon the enemy, and the action commenced at six o'clock in the afternoon. Although General Ripley with the second brigade, Major Hindman with the corps of artillery, and General Porter with the volunteers, pressed forward with ardor, it was an hour before they could be brought up to his support; during this time his brigade alone sustained the conflict. General Scott had pressed through the wood and engaged the British on the Queenstown Road, with the 9th, 11th and 12th regiments, the 25th having been thrown on the right. The fresh troops under General Ripley having arrived, now advanced to relieve General Scott, whose exhausted brigade formed a reserve in the rear. The British artillery had taken post on a commanding eminence, at the head of Lundy's Lane, supported by a line of infantry, out of the reach of the American batteries. This was the key of the whole position; from hence they poured a most deadly fire on the American ranks. It became necessary either to leave the ground or to carry this post and seize the height. The latter desperate task was assigned to Colonel Miller. On receiving the order from General Brown, he calmly surveyed the position, and answered, "I WILL TRY, SIR" which expression was afterward the motto of his regiment.

The first regiment, under the command of Colonel Nichols, was ordered to menace the British infantry and support Colonel Miller in the attack. This corps, after a discharge or two, gave way and left him without support. Without regarding this occurrence, Colonel Miller advanced coolly and steadily to his object, amid a tremendous fire, and, at the point of the bayonet, carried the artillery and the height. The guns were immediately turned upon the enemy; General Ripley now brought up the 23d regiment to the support of Colonel Miller; the first regiment was rallied and brought into line, and the British were driven from the hill. At this time Major Jessup, with the 25th regiment, was engaged in a most obstinate conflict with all the British that remained on the field. He had succeeded in turning the British left flank. Captain Ketchum, with a detachment of this regiment, succeeded in gaining the rear of the British lines, at the point where Generals Drummond and Riall, with their suites, had taken their stations, and made them all prisoners. The British officers, mistaking this detachment for a company of their own men, were ordering them to press on to the combat, when Captain Ketchum stepped forward and coolly observed that he had the honor to command at that time, and immediately conducted the officers and their suites into the rear of the American lines; General Drummond, in the confusion of the scene, made his escape. The British rallied under the hill, and made a desperate attempt to regain their artillery and drive the Americans from their position, but without success. A second and third attempt was made with the like result. General Scott was engaged in repelling these attacks, and though with his shoulder fractured and a severe wound in the side, continued at the head of his column, endeavoring to turn the enemy's right flank. The volunteers under General Porter, during the last charge of the British, precipitated themselves upon their lines, broke them, and took a large number of prisoners. General Brown, during the whole action, was at the most exposed points, directing and animating his troops. He received a severe wound on the thigh, and in the side, and would have given the command to General Scott, but on inquiring found that he was severely wounded. He continued at the head of his troops until the last effort of the British was repulsed, when loss of blood obliged him to retire; he then consigned the command to General Ripley. At twelve o'clock both parties retired from the field to their respective encampments, fatigued and satiated with slaughter.

The battle continued, with but little intermission, from six in the afternoon until twelve at night. After Colonel Miller had taken the battery, and driven the British from the heights, and General Riall and suite had been taken, there was a short cessation, and the enemy appeared to be about yielding the ground, when reinforcements arrived to their aid, and the battle was renewed with redoubled fury for another space of two hours; much of this time the combatants were within a few yards of each other, and several times officers were found commanding enemy platoons. Captain Spencer, aid to General Brown, was dispatched with orders to one of the regiments; when about to deliver them he suddenly found himself in contact with a British corps; with great coolness, and a firm air, he inquired what regiment is this? On being answered, the Royal Scots, he immediately replied, Royal Scots, remain as you are! The commandant of the corps, supposing the orders came from his commanding general, immediately halted his regiment, and Captain Spencer rode off. Colonel Miller's achievement, in storming the battery, was of the most brilliant and hazardous nature; it was decisive of the events of the battle, and entitled him and his corps to the highest applause; most of the officers engaged in that enterprise were killed or wounded. The battle was fought to the west of and within half a mile of the Niagara cataract. The thunder of the cannon, the roaring of the falls, the incessant discharge of musketry, the groans of the dying and wounded during the six hours in which the parties were engaged in close combat, heightened by the circumstance of its being in the night, afforded such a scene as is rarely to be met with in the history of human slaughter. The evening was calm, and the moon shone with luster when not enveloped in clouds of smoke from the firing of the contending armies. Considering the numbers engaged, few contests have ever been more sanguinary.

This was unquestionably the most severe and bloody battle that was fought during the war. One fifth of the combatants on each side were put hors de combat. On the American side, the commanding general and the second in command were severely wounded. On the British, their commander-in-chief was wounded, and for a few minutes a prisoner, and the second in command severely wounded and captured. The total loss of the Americans in killed, wounded and missing was 860; of the British, 878.

Schlosser's Landing is on the American side, about two miles from the cataract, and not far from the site of old Fort Schlosser. In the Canada rebellion of 1837, Navy Island, in the river opposite this point, became a rendezvous for "the Patriots" in December of that year. At this time an American steamboat, the Caroline, was burnt at Schlosser's Landing, at night, by a party of British from the Canada side. The warlike movements on the frontier had drawn many from curiosity to this spot, and as the only tavern at Schlosser's was filled, several persons observing the steamer had sought and obtained lodgings on it. The British boarded it, with the cry "Cut them down! give no quarter!" No arms were on board; no attack was expected, and no resistance made. One man was shot dead on the wharf and twelve were missing, either killed, or burnt and sunk with the boat. The boat was towed out in the river, set on fire and then left to float over the cataract.

Fort Niagara is at the junction of Niagara River with Lake Ontario. It is a spot of much historical note. Under the French, it was a little city of itself, and for a long period the greatest place south of Montreal or west of Albany. The fortifications originally covered about eight acres.

"In 1679, a small spot was enclosed by palisades, by M. De Salle, an officer in the service of France. In 1725, the fort was built. In 1759, it was taken by the British, under Sir William Johnson. The capture has been ascribed to treachery, though there is not known to be any existing authority to prove the charge. In 1796, it was surrendered to the United States. On the 19th of December, 1813, it was again taken by the British, by surprise, and in March, 1815, again surrendered to the Americans. This old fort is as much noted for enormity and crime as for any good ever derived from it by the nation in occupation. While in the hands of the French, there is no doubt of its having been at times used as a prison; its close and impregnable dungeons, where light was not admitted, and where remained for many years after, clear traces, and a part of the ready instruments for execution or for murder. During the American revolution, it was the headquarters of all that was barbarous, unrelenting and cruel. There were congregated the leaders and chiefs of those bands of murderers and miscreants that carried death and destruction into the remote American settlements.

Queenstown Heights, seven miles north of Niagara Falls, on the Canada side, is the spot where was fought the disastrous battle of that name, on the 20th of October, 1812, by which the Americans lost 1,000 men in killed, wounded and missing--principally missing. This action, while it covered the American militia with disgrace, conferred honor upon the small body of regular troops engaged, who fought with great desperation. Winfield Scott, then a lieutenant-colonel, was taken prisoner. A tall monument stands on the spot to the memory of Gen. Sir James Brock, who was among the slain.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part XIX
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
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