The army maneuvers of American General Brown and British General Riall following the Battle of Chippawa lead to an unexpected clash at Lundy’s Lane.
After the Battle of Chippawa, the armies tended their battlefield casualties and rested for a day. On July 7, Brigadier General Winfield Scott’s victorious brigade advanced down a logging road through the forest to their left and forded the Chippawa River. Seeing that his entrenchments were outflanked, British Major General Phineas Riall withdrew his troops north to Fort George. Most of his tribal allies and militiamen returned home.
Major General Jacob Brown and his American army followed the British as far as Queenston, then stopped and waited for Commodore Sir Isaac Chauncey to arrive with his fleet. The original invasion plan called for combined army and navy assaults on Forts George and Niagara; however, the glory-seeking naval commander preferred the glamour of ship-to-ship battles to the secondary roles of transporting troops and serving as heavy artillery for a ground action. Commodore Chauncey and the United States Navy never arrived.
The British Army Invades the United States
General Brown and his army remained in Queenston for almost two weeks. They were in an exposed position where British reinforcements, Canadian militia, or Native warriors could easily get between them and Fort Erie. Despairing of Commodore Chauncey and their missed opportunity to capture the Lake Ontario forts, General Brown finally ordered a withdrawal. By July 24, his army was once again encamped on the south side of Street’s Creek near Chippawa.
During the afternoon of July 25, messages arrived that British troops were in Queenston. Even more alarming, a large force had crossed the Niagara River into Lewiston, New York and was threatening an important American supply depot at Fort Schlosser. General Jacob believed the troops were General Riall’s army and took action based on that assumption. As a countermove, he ordered General Scott to march north with his 1st Brigade, the American cavalry, and Towson’s artillery. This threat to Fort George would force General Riall to recall his troops from New York.
Unfortunately, the intelligence reports were not completely accurate. The army in Queenston was General Riall’s commanding officer, Lieutenant General Sir George Gordon Drummond, with 800 reinforcements. Among these troops were hardened veterans from the Duke of Wellington’s victorious army in Europe. The force that had invaded New York was approximately 1,000 additional reinforcements that General Drummond had ordered to threaten Fort Schlosser.
General Scott’s Brigade Collides with General Riall’s Army
Unknown to the Americans, General Riall’s entire army was gathering near Niagara Falls with instructions from General Drummond to avoid a major engagement with the enemy until reinforced. An advance brigade of 800 British light troops already occupied a defensive position along Lundy’s Lane, one mile north of Niagara Falls. They were directly across the path of General Scott and his 1,200 soldiers marching towards Queenston.
As they approached the falls, General Scott’s forward units observed British officers exiting a small white tavern. The enemy officers paused to observe the approaching American troops through their spyglasses, then turned their horses and rode north. The home, near Table Rock, belonged to a widow named Wilson. When General Scott arrived to interview her, Mrs. Wilson told him the officers were General Riall and his staff. She claimed there were 800 British Regulars, 300 militia, and 2 artillery pieces positioned nearby. General Scott did not believe her. He estimated that only a small reconnaissance force was in front of him while General Riall and the bulk of his forces were in Queenston or across the river in New York.
Continuing their advance, the 1st Brigade learned the truth when they marched into a clearing at the bottom of the hill on Lundy Lane. Blocking their path, with bugles blaring and flags whipping, was a crescent line of British infantry with several artillery pieces on a hill at the center. General Riall’s brigade was in a parenthetic ‘(’ defensive formation, and General Scott and his men had marched right into the middle of it. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was about to begin.
Charles Anderson, A True and Impartial Account of the Actions at Chippawa & Lundy’s Lane During the Last War With The United States, (Niagara: John Simpson, 1840)
Ernest Cruikshank, The Battle of Lundy Lane, 25th July 1814, (Welland, ON: Tribune Office, 1893)
Galafilm, “Background to the Battle of Lundy’s Lane”, Galafilm War of 1812
Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868)
William R. Wilson, “Battle of Lundy’s Lane”