Battle of Stoney Creek: Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Stoney Creek was fought June 6, 1813, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Stoney Creek: Background:
On May 27, 1813, American forces succeeded in capturing Fort George on the Niagara frontier. Having been defeated, the British commander, Brigadier General John Vincent, abandoned his posts along the Niagara River and withdrew west to Burlington Heights with around 1,600 men. As the British retreated, the American commander, Major General Henry Dearborn, consolidated his position around Fort George. A veteran of the American Revolution, Dearborn had become an inactive and ineffective commander in his old age. Ill, Dearborn was slow to pursue Vincent.
Finally organizing his forces to chase Vincent, Dearborn delegated the task to Brigadier General William H. Winder, a political appointee from Maryland. Moving west with his brigade, Winder halted at Forty Mile Creek as he believed the British force was too strong to attack. Here was joined by an additional brigade commanded by Brigadier General John Chandler. Senior, Chandler assumed overall command of the American force which now numbered around 3,400 men. Pushing on, they reached Stoney Creek on June 5 and encamped. The two generals established their headquarters at the Gage Farm.
Seeking information on the approaching American force, Vincent dispatched his deputy assistant adjutant general, Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey, to scout the camp at Stoney Creek. Returning from this mission, Harvey reported that the American camp was poorly guarded and that Chandler's men were badly positioned to support each other. As a result of this information, Vincent decided to move forward with a night attack against the American position at Stoney Creek. To execute the mission, Vincent formed a force of 700 men. Though he traveled with the column, Vincent delegated operational control to Harvey.
The Battle of Stoney Creek:
Departing Burlington Heights around 11:30 PM on June 5, the British force marched east through the darkness. In an effort to maintain the element of surprise, Harvey ordered his men to remove the flints from their muskets. Approaching the American outposts, the British had the advantage of knowing the American password for the day. Stories regarding how this was obtained vary from Harvey learning it to it being passed on the British by a local. In either case, the British succeeded in eliminating the first American outpost they encountered.
Advancing, they approached the former camp of the US 25th Infantry. Earlier in the day, the regiment had moved after deciding that the site was too exposed to attack. As a result, only its cooks remained at the campfires making meals for the following day. Around 2:00 AM, the British were discovered as some of Major John Norton's Native American warriors attacked an American outpost and noise discipline was broken. As the American troops rushed to battle, Harvey's men re-inserted their flints as the element of surprise had been lost.
Situated on high ground with their artillery on Smith's Knoll, the Americans were in a strong position once they had regained their poise from the initial surprise. Maintaining a steady fire, they inflicted heavy losses on the British and turned back several attacks. Despite this success, the situation began to quickly deteriorate as the darkness caused confusion on the battlefield. Learning of a threat to the American left, Winder ordered the US 5th Infantry to that area. In doing so, he left the American artillery unsupported.
As Winder was making this error, Chandler rode to investigate firing on the right. Riding through the darkness, he was temporarily removed from the battle when his horse fell (or was shot). Hitting the ground, he was knocked out for some time. Seeking to regain the momentum, Major Charles Plenderleath of the British 49th Regiment gathered 20-30 men for an attack on the American artillery. Charging up Gage's Lane, they succeeded in overwhelming Captain Nathaniel Towson's artillerymen and turning the four guns on their former owners. Returning to his senses, Chandler heard fighting around the guns.
Unaware of their capture, he approached the position and was quickly taken prisoner. A similar fate befell Winder a short time later. With both generals in enemy hands, command of the American forces fell to cavalryman Colonel James Burn. Seeking to turn the tide, he led his men forward but due to the darkness mistakenly attacked the US 16th Infantry. After forty-five minutes of confused fighting, and believing the British to have more men, the Americans withdrew east.
Aftermath of the Battle of Stoney Creek:
Concerned that the Americans would learn the small size of his force, Harvey retreated west into the woods at dawn after carrying off two of the captured guns. The next morning, they watched as Burn's men returned to their former camp. Burning excess provisions and equipment, the Americans then retreated to Forty Mile Creek. British losses in the fighting numbered 23 killed, 136 wounded, 52 captured, and three missing. American casualties numbered 16 killed, 38 wounded, and 100 captured, including both Winder and Chandler.
Retreating to Forty Mile Creek, Burn encountered reinforcements from Fort George under Major General Morgan Lewis. Bombarded by British warships in Lake Ontario, Lewis became concerned about his supply lines and began retreating towards Fort George. Having been shaken by the defeat, Dearborn lost his nerve and consolidated his army into a tight perimeter around the fort. The situation worsened on June 24 when an American force was captured at the Battle of Beaver Dams. Angered by Dearborn's repeated failures, Secretary of War John Armstrong removed him on July 6 and dispatched Major General James Wilkinson to take command. Winder would later be exchanged and commanded American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814. His defeat there allowed British troops to capture and burn Washington, DC.