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War of 1812: Battle of Beaver Dams

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Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Beaver Dams was fought June 24, 1813, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).

Armies & Commanders:

Americans

  • Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler
  • approximately 600 men

British

  • Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon
  • 450 men

Battle of Beaver Dams Overview:

Following a successful amphibious assault on Fort George in late May 1813, American forces on the Niagara front were stopped on June 6 at the Battle of Stoney Creek. Falling back, American troops under General Henry Dearborn consolidated their position around Fort George. Carefully pursuing, the British advanced east and occupied two outposts at Twelve Mile Creek and Beaver Dams. These positions allowed British and Native American forces to raid the area around Fort George and keep American troops contained.

In an effort to end these attacks, the American commander at Fort George, Brigadier General John Parker Boyd, ordered a force assembled to strike at Beaver Dams. Intended to be a secret attack, a column of around 600 men was assembled under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles G. Boerstler. A mixed force of infantry and dragoons, Boerstler also was assigned two cannon. At sunset on June 23, the Americans departed Fort George and moved south along the Niagara River to the village of Queenston. Occupying the town, Boerstler quartered his men with the inhabitants.

A number of American officers stayed with James and Laura Secord. According to tradition, Laura Secord overheard their plans to attack Beaver Damns and slipped away from the town to warn the British garrison. Traveling through the woods, she was intercepted by Native Americans and taken to Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon who commanded the 50-man garrison at Beaver Dams. Alerted to American intentions, Native American scouts were deployed to identify their route and set up ambushes. Departing Queenston in late morning on June 24, Boerstler believed he retained the element of surprise.

Advancing through wooded terrain, it soon became apparent that Native American warriors were moving on their flanks and rear. These were 300 Caughnawaga led by Captain Dominique Ducharme of the Indian Department and 100 Mohawks led by Captain William Johnson Kerr. Attacking the American column, the Native Americans initiated three-hour battle in the forest. Wounded early in the action, Boerstler was placed in a supply wagon. Fighting through the Native American lines, the Americans sought to reach open ground where their artillery could be brought into action.

Arriving on the scene with his 50 regulars, Fitzgibbon approached the wounded Boerstler under a flag of truce. Telling the American commander that his men were surrounded, Fitzgibbon demanded his surrender stating that if they did not capitulate he could not guarantee that the Native Americans would not slaughter them. Wounded and seeing no other option, Boerstler surrendered with 484 of his men.

Aftermath:

The fighting at the Battle of Beaver Dams cost the British approximately 25-50 killed and wounded, all from their Native American allies. American losses were around 100 killed and wounded, with the remainder being captured. The defeat badly demoralized the garrison at Fort George and American forces became reluctant to advance more than a mile from its walls. Despite the victory, the British were not strong enough to force the Americans from the fort and were forced to content themselves with interdicting its supplies.

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