It was on this day, 202 years ago, that the American army under General Jacob Brown, pulled back to the Chippewa River to lick its wounds and count the dead. The night before, just a short distance from Niagara Falls, they had fought the bloodiest battle ever on Canadian soil.
Among the retreating American soldiers were the Canadian Volunteers. Yes, these were Canadians serving in the U.S. army. They were led by a man who had, two years before, been General Brock's emissary to bring the Iroquois into the war on the side of the British, Joseph Willcocks. He had represented Lincoln County in the Assembly of Upper Canada and had been an influential newspaper publisher.
The Canadian Volunteers had been organized only a year before by those Canadians who, for whatever reasons, thought that Canada would be better off as part of the American Republic rather than the British Monarchy. They quickly proved themselves to be among the most effective light infantry in the American army.
Among the residents of Upper Canada, however, they were not known for their prowess as warriors so much for the viciousness as predators. Across the Niagara peninsula, Willcocks and his troops extracted vengeance from his former constituents. The Volunteers were responsible for the burning of Newark in December 1813 and had advised the burning of St. Davids in the days before the battle at Lundy's Lane.
At Lundy's Lane, they took part in General Porter's night-time assault on the British gun positions in a cemetery on the top of a hill. Much of the fighting took place in a graveyard in the darkness, with the flash of musket fire giving away enemy positions. The fighting was fierce and Willcocks had a horse shot out from under him. He was one of the few American senior officers not wounded during the fighting.
As British subjects who had joined the enemy, Canadian Volunteers did not expect to be treated as prisoners of war if captured. Instead, they would have been hung for treason, and just the week before, eight American sympathizers had been executed in Ancaster.
It's not surprising then, that as midnight approached, the Canadian Volunteers were among the American soldiers who began to waver and back down the slope in the darkness. The Volunteers and the rest of the American army rallied briefly, but pulled back after midnight. General Brown had lost 174 killed, 572 wounded, 79 captured, and 28 missing.
On the British side, General Drummond's losses were almost as severe: 84 killed, 559 wounded, 169 captured and 55 missing. The large number of soldiers captured on each side is the result of the confusion of fighting in the darkness in a battle where both sides spoke the same language. Donald E. Graves' masterful study of the battle, Where Right and Glory Lead, contains several accounts of officers and soldiers blundering into the enemies lines.
Last April, I traveled to Niagara to meet with Marsha Skrypuch and other writers from the Authors' Booking Service, and I took the opportunity to pay my respects at the battle site. The Jake and Eli stories have not yet come to the point where they take part in the Battle of Lundy's Lane, but you can count on them being there in future episodes.
The question remains: whose side will they be on?