June 6, 1813
The Battle of Stoney Creek may not have been significant in terms of the number of combatants or in casualties but the outcome had a profound impact on the course of the War of 1812. The war had entered its second year with the Battle of York on April 27th, 1813. Capturing York might have been good for morale after the series of losses the Americans had sustained the previous year, but holding it didn’t have great military purposes. So the Americans had withdrawn and focused their attention on capturing the Niagara Peninsula. On May 27th a force of 7,000 men had attacked Fort George with the support of 16 warships. The fort was captured and the British forces of 1,800 men had retired to Burlington Heights where they had dug in to make a defensive stand. The map below was taken from Pierre Burton’s War of 1812 and shows the formation of the battle.
The American forces slowly made their way up the peninsula from Fort George and by the night of June 5-6 had arrived at Stoney Creek. They camped on the property of James Gage who lived with his mother and his wife in their family homestead. Mary Jones Gage had moved to Canada in 1790 and had been building their home in stages since 1796. They had originally lived in the basement while the upper levels were being built. The Americans commandeered their house as a headquarters for Brigadier General John Chandler and had locked the Gage family in the basement.
Billy Green and his brother Levi spent the afternoon of June 5th tracking the advancing army from the top of the escarpment and scaring them by howling in the woods and pretending to be natives. Billy’s brother in-law Isaac had been taken prisoner by the Americans but had been released after claiming to be related to William Henry Harrison, the US President. They gave him the password of the day which he then shared with Billy. Armed with this information, Green made his way to the British camp at Burlington Heights.
Convinced that a surprise attack under cover of night was the only hope for the British due to their much smaller forces, they set off to march to Stoney Creek. The British removed the flints from their guns to prevent accidental firing so as not to alert the Americans of their approach. When they arrived in Stoney Creek they found that a sentry had been posted at the Methodist Church. While giving him the password, Billy Green dispatched him with his bayonet. The plan was to sneak into the camp and kill as many sleeping soldiers as possible by bayonetting them. Instead, the British started yelling in their excitement and the whole camp was awoken. A confusing battle ensued in the darkness with the British capturing four of the six the American field guns. One after the other, both of the American leaders approached the guns to see why they weren’t firing and were captured by the British. Eventually both sides retreat convinced the other side had won the battle.
The American forces retreated to Fort George where they were trapped until the end of the year at which time they slipped back across the Niagara River and returned home. With the exception of another loss at The Battle of Beaver Dams on June 24th, the American campaign on the Niagara Peninsula was over for the year.
Battlefield House has been restored as a museum and is furnished to illustrate life at the time of the war. There’s also plenty of artifacts to help illustrate the battle and these can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The picture below shows the back of the house as seen from the base of the monument.
Sara Calder was the great grand-daughter of Mary Jones Gage and had been born in 1846. When the Wentworth Historical Society had been formed in 1888 she was the president of the ladies committee. In 1899 the women broke away and formed the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society. Later that year they purchased the Gage Homestead for $1900.00 and on October 23, 1899 Battlefield Park was opened. The ladies began planning for a monument to mark the site of the battle and a corner stone was laid on May 26, 1910. With their $5000.00 grant expended, work on the tower was stopped after a year with just the first 25 feet built. It would take another $10,000.00 and three more years to complete the project.
It was 1:25 p.m. on June 6, 1913, exactly 100 years after the battle, that the monument was officially opened. Queen Mary, consort to King George V, pressed a button in Buckingham Palace and a signal was sent along a telegraph line to drop a shroud and reveal the monument.
The tower has been closed since the pandemic began but as I was the only visitor when I was there physical distancing wasn’t a problem and I was allowed inside to see the ground level displays. Regular safety inspections of the stairs had not been completed for months and so I wasn’t allowed to climb to the top. Perhaps another time I’ll have the opportunity to check out the view. Meanwhile, I love the castle doors at the base of the monument.
Allan Smith was plowing his field in 1899 when he started to find human bones in a small knoll. Scraps of cloth and buttons also came to the surface indicating that both British and American soldiers had been buried there. The plot of land became locally known as Smith’s Knoll and was consecrated as “Soldier’s Plot” on May 3, 1908. A cairn with a lion on it was dedicated on August 1, 1910. The pictures for this story were taken on November 6, 2020 which is why the trees are in their fall colours.
The Nash-Jackson house was built in 1818 and formerly stood at the corner of King Street East and Nash Road. Five generations of the Nash family lived in the home and an earlier home on the property was used as a field hospital following the Battle of Stoney Creek. The city was deeded the house in 1996 and moved it to Battlefield Park in 1999.
The Battle of Stoney Creek was a turning point in the war and the Americans would never again penetrate as far up the Niagara Peninsula.
Google Maps link: Battle of Stoney Creek
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