Battle of Lundy's Lane - Date & Conflict:
The Battle of Lundy's Lane was fought July 25, 1814, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Lundy's Lane - Background:
In the wake of the American victory at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814, British forces along the Niagara River began retreating north towards Fort George. Advancing along the river, Major General Jacob Brown hoped to capture the fort before moving around the western shore of Lake Ontario. Lacking heavy guns and requiring naval support for such an operation, Brown halted at Queenston and sought assistance from Commodore Isaac Chauncey who commanded American forces on the lake. This request was rebuffed by Chauncey and Brown was forced to contemplate independent action.
To the north, British fortunes were bolstered by the arrival of Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, on July 22. Seeking to force Brown to re-cross the American shore, he devised a plan calling for a column led by Lieutenant Colonel John Tucker to march south along the west bank from Fort Niagara. Unsure of British intentions, Brown departed Queenston and fell back to a line along the Chippawa River. A British force under Major General Phineas Riall advanced in his wake and occupied a position along Lundy's Lane approximately four miles to the north (Map).
Scott Moves North:
In an effort to clarify the situation, Brown ordered Brigadier General Winfield Scott to take his brigade of regulars north to reconnoiter towards Queenston Heights. The victor of Chippawa and a gifted commander, Scott reached Willson's Tavern near Niagara Falls late on the afternoon of July 25. Though learning that the enemy were at Lundy's Lane, he believed that the bulk of the British troops were on the eastern bank. As a result, he pushed forward under the assumption that the troops at Lundy's Lane were a small force which could be swept aside.
Extending west from the Portage Road along the river, Lundy's Lane ran across a rise and hill which was topped by a church and cemetery. To the south lay an open field which extended to chestnut forest. Raill arrayed his force of around 1,800 men along the high ground and was supported by five guns and a detachment of Congreve rockets. Upon learning of the American advance, Riall began falling back towards Fort George, but was ordered to hold his position by Drummond who instead began marching south with reinforcements. As Riall's men were resuming their position around 6:00 PM, Scott's troops arrived on the scene.
The Battle of Lundy's Lane Begins:
Emerging from the forest, Scott's men quickly came under heavy fire from the British troops and guns. Rather than fall back, his men held their position in the field while word was sent for Brown to bring up the rest of the army. This stand by Scott's men led Riall and the newly arrived Drummond to believe that the bulk of American forces were nearby and preparing to strike their flanks. Taking losses, Scott ordered Major Thomas Jesup's 25th US Infantry to swing east and move around the British left flank. Finding an unguarded path leading down the river, Jesup succeeded in passing the British left (Map).
Attacking, Jesup drove back the British left and cleared the Portage Road. Sent to secure the intersection of Lundy's Lane and Portage Road, Captain Daniel Ketchum's company succeeded in capturing Riall who had been wounded early in the fighting. The action of the 25th Infantry compelled Drummond to withdraw his center to maintain alignment with the remnants of his left. This action left his artillery exposed between the two armies. While Scott's brigade held their ground, Brown arrived with reinforcements near sunset. Deploying the brigades of Brigadier Generals Eleazer Ripley and Peter Porter, Brown withdrew Scott.
The Battle Grinds On:
Seeing that the British guns were unsupported, Brown ordered Lieutenant Colonel James Miller of the 21st US Infantry to capture them. Responding "I'll try, sir!" he led his men forward as the rest of the American line attacked. Opening fire, they killed the majority of the British artillerymen and seized the guns. Immediately counterattacking, the British were thrown back by Miller and other elements of Ripley's brigade. As the fighting raged, additional British troops led by Colonel Hercules Scott reached the field. Their initial attacks were also thrown back.
Regrouping, Drummond began a series of three frontal assaults on the American position in an effort to regain his guns. Fighting raged until near midnight and frequently became hand-to-hand. In the course of the action, Scott was severely wounded by a ball that shattered his shoulder. Brown was hit as well, receiving two wounds. Carried to the rear, he was forced to turn over command to Ripley after learning that Scott was down. Along Lundy's Lane, American forces succeeded in turning back Drummond's last effort against the guns.
A Controversial Ending:
As he was taken to the rear, several of Brown's officers debated whether they should fall back to Chippawa or hold the position on Lundy's Lane. In the course of the conversation, a comment of Brown's was interpreted as an order to fall back by his artillery chief, Major Jacob Hindman, who relayed it to Ripley. At the front, several of Ripley's subordinates advocated both courses of action. In the end, Ripley elected to retreat believing that he was following Brown's orders. Lacking sufficient horses and men, Hindman was forced to leave many of the captured British guns on the field.
Aftermath of Lundy's Lane
In the fighting at the Battle of Lundy's Lane the British sustained 84 killed, 559 wounded, 193 missing, and 42 captured. American losses numbered 173 killed, 571 wounded, 38 missing, and 79 captured. On the morning of July 26, Drummond was surprised to find that the Americans had departed. Advancing, he reclaimed many of his guns and declared victory. That same morning, Brown issued orders for Ripley to return to Lundy's Lane to recover the abandoned guns. Nearing the battlefield with around 1,200 men, Ripley found himself outnumbered by the British and departed without a fight. Though effectively a draw, the Battle of Lundy's Lane saw Brown's army retreat south to Fort Erie as the losses incurred prevented continuing the campaign. Drummond pursued slowly and was later thwarted at the Siege of Fort Erie.