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War of 1812: Advances in the North & A Capital Burned



War of 1812: Advances in the North & A Capital Burned

American troops advance at the Battle of Chippawa

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History

1813: Success on Lake Erie, Failure Elsewhere | War of 1812: 101 | 1815: New Orleans & Peace

A Changing Landscape

As 1813 came to a close, the British began to focus their attention on the war with the United States. This began as an increase in naval strength which saw the Royal Navy expand and tighten their full commercial blockade of the American coast. This effectively eliminated the majority of American commerce which led to regional shortages and inflation. The situation continued to worsen with the fall of Napoleon in March 1814. Though initially heralded by some in the United States, the implications of the French defeat soon became apparent as the British were now freed to increase their military presence in North America. Having failed to capture Canada or force peace during the war's first two years, these new circumstance put the Americans on the defensive and transformed the conflict into one of national survival.

The Creek War

As the war between the British and Americans raged, a faction of the Creek nation, known as the Red Sticks, sought to halt white encroachment into their lands in the Southeast. Agitated by Tecumseh and led by William Weatherford, Peter McQueen, and Menawa, the Red Sticks were allied with the British and received arms from the Spanish in Pensacola. Killing two families of white settlers in February 1813, the Red Sticks ignited a civil war among between the Upper (Red Stick) and Lower Creek. American forces were drawn in that July when US troops intercepted a party of Red Sticks returning from Pensacola with arms. In the resulting Battle of Burnt Corn, the American soldiers were driven away. The conflict escalated on August 30 when over 500 militia and settlers were massacred just north of Mobile at Fort Mims.

In response, Secretary of War John Armstrong authorized military action against the Upper Creek as well as a strike against Pensacola if the Spanish were found to be involved. To deal with the threat, four volunteer armies were to move into Alabama with the goal of meeting at the Creek holy ground near the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. Advancing that fall, only Major General Andrew Jackson's force of Tennessee volunteers achieved meaningful success, defeating the Red Sticks at Tallushatchee and Talladega. Holding an advanced position through the winter, Jackson's success was rewarded with additional troops. Moving out from Fort Strother on March 14, 1814, he won a decisive victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend thirteen days later. Moving south into the heart of the Creek holy ground, he built Fort Jackson at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. From this post, he informed the Red Sticks that they were surrender and sever ties with the British and Spanish or be crushed. Seeing no alternative, Weatherford made peace and concluded the Treaty of Fort Jackson that August. By the terms of the treaty, the Creek ceded 23 million acres of land to the United States.

Changes Along the Niagara

After two years of embarrassments along the Niagara frontier, Armstrong appointed a new group of commanders to achieve victory. To lead American forces, he turned to newly promoted Major General Jacob Brown. An active commander, Brown had successfully defended Sackets Harbor the previously year and was one of a few officers to have escaped the 1813 St. Lawrence expedition with his reputation intact. To support Brown, Armstrong provided a group of newly promoted brigadier generals which included Winfield Scott and Peter Porter. One of the few standout American officers of the conflict, Scott was quickly tapped by Brown to oversee the army's training. Going to extraordinary lengths, Scott relentlessly drilled the regulars under his command for the upcoming campaign (Map).

A New Resilience

To open the campaign, Brown sought to re-take Fort Erie before turning north to engage British forces under Major General Phineas Riall. Crossing the Niagara River early on July 3, Brown's men succeeded in surrounding the fort and overwhelming its garrison by noon. Learning of this, Riall began moving south and formed a defensive line along the Chippawa River. The next day, Brown ordered Scott to march north with his brigade. Moving towards the British position, Scott was slowed by an advance guard led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Pearson. Finally reaching the British lines, Scott elected to await reinforcements and withdrew a short distance south to Street Creek. Though Brown had planned a flanking movement for July 5, he was beat to the punch when Riall attacked Scott. In the resulting Battle of Chippawa, Scott's men soundly defeated the British. The battle made Scott a hero and provided a badly needed morale boost (Map).

Heartened by Scott's success, Brown hoped to take Fort George and link up with Commodore Isaac Chauncey's naval force on Lake Ontario. With this done, he could begin a march westward around the lake towards York. As in the past, Chauncey proved uncooperative and Brown advanced only as far as Queenston Heights as he knew Riall was being reinforced. British strength continued to grow and command was assumed by Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond. Unsure of British intentions, Brown dropped back to the Chippawa before ordering Scott to reconnoiter north. Locating the British along Lundy's Lane, Scott immediately moved to attack on July 25. Though outnumbered, he held his position until Brown arrived with reinforcements. The ensuing Battle of Lundy's Lane lasted until midnight and was fought to a bloody draw. In the fighting, Brown, Scott, and Drummond were wounded, while Riall was wounded and captured. Having taken heavy losses and now outnumbered, Brown elected to fall back on Fort Erie.

Slowly pursued by Drummond, American forces reinforced Fort Erie and succeeded in repelling a British attack on August 15. The British attempted a siege of the fort, but were forced to withdraw in late September when their supply lines were threatened. On November 5, Major General George Izard, who had taken over from Brown, ordered the fort evacuated and destroyed, effectively ending the war on the Niagara frontier.

1813: Success on Lake Erie, Failure Elsewhere | War of 1812: 101 | 1815: New Orleans & Peace

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