War of 1812 - Theatres of War - Great Lakes and Western Territories - Niagara and Plattsburgh Campaigns, 1814

Niagara and Plattsburgh Campaigns, 1814

By the middle of 1814, American generals, including Major Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, had drastically improved the fighting abilities and discipline of the army. Their renewed attack on the Niagara peninsula quickly captured Fort Erie. Winfield Scott then gained a victory over an inferior British force at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5. An attempt to advance further ended with a hard-fought but inconclusive battle at Lundy's Lane on July 25.

The outnumbered Americans withdrew but withstood a prolonged Siege of Fort Erie. The British suffered heavy casualties in a failed assault and were weakened by exposure and shortage of supplies in their siege lines. Eventually the British raised the siege, but American Major General George Izard took over command on the Niagara front and followed up only halfheartedly. The Americans lacked provisions, and eventually destroyed the fort and retreated across the Niagara.

Meanwhile, following the abdication of Napoleon, 15,000 British troops were sent to North America under four of Wellington’s ablest brigade commanders. Fewer than half were veterans of the Peninsula and the rest came from garrisons. Prevost was ordered to neutralize American power on the lakes by burning Sackets Harbor, gain naval control of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Upper Lakes, and defend Lower Canada from attack. He did defend Lower Canada but otherwise failed to achieve his objectives. Given the late season he decided to invade New York State. His army outnumbered the American defenders of Plattsburgh, but he was worried about his flanks so he decided he needed naval control of Lake Champlain. On the lake, the British squadron under Captain George Downie and the Americans under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough were more evenly matched.

On reaching Plattsburgh, Prevost delayed the assault until the arrival of Downie in the hastily completed 36-gun frigate HMS Confiance. Prevost forced Downie into a premature attack, but then unaccountably failed to provide the promised military backing. Downie was killed and his naval force defeated at the naval Battle of Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The Americans now had control of Lake Champlain; Theodore Roosevelt later termed it "the greatest naval battle of the war." The successful land defence was led by Alexander Macomb. To the astonishment of his senior officers, Prevost then turned back, saying it would be too hazardous to remain on enemy territory after the loss of naval supremacy. Prevost was recalled and in London, a naval court-martial decided that defeat had been caused principally by Prevost’s urging the squadron into premature action and then failing to afford the promised support from the land forces. Prevost died suddenly, just before his own court-martial was to convene. Prevost's reputation sank to a new low, as Canadians claimed that their militia under Brock did the job and he failed. Recently, however, historians have been more kindly, measuring him not against Wellington but against his American foes. They judge Prevost’s preparations for defending the Canadas with limited means to be energetic, well-conceived, and comprehensive; and against the odds, he had achieved the primary objective of preventing an American conquest.

Read more about this topic:  War Of 1812, Theatres of War, Great Lakes and Western Territories

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