On July 5, Major General Jacob Brown’s invasion forces defeated General Phineas Riall’s British and Canadian army at the Battle of Chippawa. Over the next few weeks, the two armies warily watched each other. The Americans advanced to Queenston and hoped to attack Fort George, where General Riall’s army had retreated. The plan was abandoned, however, when the U.S. Navy refused to participate.
General Brown’s army temporarily withdrew to Chippawa in late July, with the British army close behind. On July 25, hearing news that enemy soldiers had invaded the state of New York, General Brown sent his 1st Brigade north to threaten Queenston. This force, commanded by Brigadier General Winfield Scott, unintentionally marched into the middle of General Riall’s defensive position on a road called Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls.
General Winfield Scott Prepares to Attack
Finding himself in the center of a crescent line of British infantry, General Scott did not hesitate. He sent word back to General Jacob Brown that he was preparing to attack and requested reinforcements. While deploying his troops into battle formation, General Scott spotted a potential weakness on the British left. He instructed Colonel T. S. Jessup and his regiment to use the scrub pine and bushes near the Niagara River escarpment to hide their movements in an attempt to outflank the enemy.
The rapid advance of General Scott’s brigade had surprised General Riall. Earlier reconnaissance had suggested the enemy was encamped for the night. Since General Sir George Gordon Drummond had left orders to avoid combat until reinforcements arrived, the bulk of General Riall’s army was several miles away. He quickly sent a message to his commanding officer telling him that a large American force was preparing to attack.
General Sir George Drummond Takes Charge of the British Defense
General Drummond rode swiftly forward and arrived at Lundy’s Lane shortly after 6 PM. Expecting General Riall’s entire army to be in position, he was dismayed to find only a small force of British light troops. Even more alarming, per General Drummond’s earlier instruction to avoid combat, the soldiers were in the process of withdrawing. The situation was critical. Four American battalions were only a few hundred yards away.
General Drummond immediately countermanded General Riall’s withdrawal order. The excellent defensive position was centered on a small hill, where a large Presbyterian church stood with a little cemetery. He ordered an artillery unit with two 24-pounders onto the hill to stall the Americans’ advance.
The Battle of Niagara Falls Begins
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, also known as the Battle of Niagara Falls, began thirty minutes before sunset. General Scott attacked the entire British line, with two battalions attacking the center and one battalion attacking the British right. Meanwhile, the scrub pines and long shadows of dusk had hidden Colonel Jesup’s force, which made a surprise attack on the British left. In the confusion, the Americans were able to capture nearly one hundred men and four British officers, including General Riall, who had suffered a severe injury that later required the amputation of his arm.
The British cannons on the hill stopped every attack on the center of the line, despite fierce fighting by General Scott’s men. Both sides were suffering heavy casualties and being reinforced piecemeal as new units reached the battlefield. When General Peter B. Porter’s American militia arrived, they entered the forest and attacked the British right. Then General Ripley arrived with his brigade followed by General Jacob and the reserve units.
The Americans now had nine fieldpieces in action, while British 24-pounders returned fire from atop the hill. Long-range artillery fire was inaccurate, however, because the sun had set and only moonlight and gun flashes illuminated the battlefield.
A Vicious Struggle for the Hilltop
With General Scott’s men exhausted and mauled, General Ripley’s brigade led the next attack. The center forces were decimated at close range by the cannons, but flanking units led by Colonel James Miller used the darkness to hide their approach and capture the hill. General Ripley’s brigade formed to the right, between the church and the Queenston Road, while what was left of General Scott’s brigade formed to the left of the captured cannon.
With both armies now on top of the hill, a desperate struggle began. For an hour, the opposing sides fired at each other from as close as 20 yards, often followed by a charge when fighting would be hand-to-hand with bayonets and gun butts. During the savage battle, a musket ball struck General Scott and broke his shoulder. General Brown received a thigh wound and gave overall command to General Ripley as he left the field. General Drummond was nearly killed by a bloody neck wound but continued to lead.
Nearing midnight, a desperate British charge pushed the Americans off the hill. The remnants of General Brown’s army withdrew, too exhausted and battered to continue the fight. The British army was in the same state and did not pursue. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was over.
Results of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane
General Brown’s invasion forces withdrew to Chippawa and then to Fort Erie. General Drummond and most of the British army returned to Queenston, leaving behind a burial company on the battlefield and light troops to keep an eye on the Americans.
Immediately after the battle, General Brown reported 988 casualties. Later, when stragglers were accounted for, the actual number was estimated to be 853, with 171 dead, 571 wounded, and 110 captured or missing. General Drummond reported casualties of 998, but the actual number was closer to 878. The British had suffered 84 dead, 559 wounded, and 193 captured or missing.
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was a tactical draw but a strategic victory for the British and Canadians. Although both sides suffered approximately the same number of casualties, another American invasion of Canada had been defeated.
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)
J. T. Headley, The Life of Winfield Scott, (New York: Charles Scribner, 1861)
Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868)