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Indiana University Bloomington


Niagara Frontier 1814

Battle of Niagara
Battle of Niagara
Glorious news ... British force on Lake Champlain captured.
Glorious news ... British force on Lake Champlain captured. (1814.)

Battle of Chippewa — Battle of Lundy’s Lane — Battle of Lake Champlain — Battle of Plattsburg

The summer of 1814 saw another American foray into the Niagara frontier. Brigadier General Winfield Scott sent a company of approximately 3,500 men led by Major General Jacob Brown across the Niagara River into Upper Canada to seize Fort Erie. They easily took the Fort and continued to push north looking for the main British force. They found the enemy on July 5, 1814, and now joined by General Scott and 1,000 regulars, the U. S. army confronted British forces led by General Phineas Riall. The two armies were of comparable size, but Scott’s well-trained troops surprised the British and forced them to retreat. The U.S. victory at the Battle of Chippewa was the first time the United States had defeated British forces in an equal contest on open ground.

Brown continued to push northward with his troops, confronting British forces again in the bloodiest battle of the war at Lundy’s Lane. Here the American troops overran part of the British line but were unable to gain control of the field during a day-long battle whose sound was nearly drowned out by the noise of the nearby Niagara Falls. Brown’s forces eventually returned to Fort Erie. Nearly 1,700 soldiers died at Lundy’s Lane, evenly split between both sides, and the U.S. push into the Niagara frontier was effectively stalled.

In the fall of 1814 British North American forces led by Governor-General George Prevost invaded upstate New York, marching south seeking to control the Lake Champlain region and prevent further U.S. incursions toward Montreal and Quebec. On September 11, 1814, Prevost was poised to attack the U.S. position at Plattsburg, while on the lake, Captain George Downie led a British squadron to attack U.S. navy ships stationed near Plattsburg. The British army was much larger than the American forces in place and stood a likely chance of taking Plattsburg if events on the lake had not interfered. The fighting between the two squadrons on Lake Champlain was fierce. The two sides exchanged heavy artillery fire, and the British captain Downie was killed. Heavy fire had disabled the flagships of both nations when Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough turned the tide of the battle. Using a “winding” maneuver, he turned his flagship U.S. Corvette Saratoga and exposed fresh guns on the British shop Confiance. The British ship could not respond in kind, and most of the British squadron surrendered. Back in Plattsburg, upon seeing the surrender of the British squadron, Prevost withdrew his troops. He was criticized for retreating when his army could have overtaken the smaller American force, but Prevost was concerned that U.S. control of the Lake Champlain would cut his lines of supply.