The Battle of Stoney Creek

After the fall of Fort George on May 27, 1813, Brigadier General John Vincent’s army retreated to Burlington Heights, just west of present-day Hamilton. The American Army under Brigadier General John Chandler slowly followed to Stoney Creek, where on the evening of June 5th they encamped. Chandler’s army numbered over three thousand men, and included field artillery and some dragoons. General Vincent had with him about seven hundred regulars from the 8th and 49th regiments. The situation was grim, for if the British retreated any further, the whole of the Niagara Peninsula would be under American control. There are several stories concerning Stoney Creek. One concerns the scouting of the American camp and the other with the obtaining of the password.

The reconnaissance story was told by Mary Agnes FitzGibbon in 1894 and concerns her grandfather, Lieutenant FitzGibbon of the 49th Regiment. In this story, FitzGibbon disguised himself as a farmer selling butter and made his way into the American camp where he studied the dispositions and noted their weaknesses. He later returned to Colonel Harvey and based on FitzGibbon’s report, General Vincent approved the night attack.

The obtaining of the password to the American lines was an incredible piece of luck, which so often occurs in war. Young “Billy Green” had obtained the password from his brother-in-law Isaac Corman, who had been briefly held in the American camp. Corman in turn had obtained it from a a gullible U.S. soldier. Billy went on to Burlington Heights where he related the information to Colonel Harvey. FitzGibbon’s reconnaissance of the enemy camp had shown that the American positions were scattered about and not in supporting distance of each other. Now armed with the American counter sign, Harvey urged General Vincent to launch a night bayonet assault on the American positions.

With a hand picked force of seven hundred regulars, Harvey moved towards the American lines at about 11:00 pm With flints removed from their muskets to prevent premature firing, The British troops bayoneted the American sentries who were posted at the meeting house just to the west of the main position. Past midnight, the British hit the American main line and in a nightmarish action of bayonet thrusts and musket shots at close range, the American forces were thrown into confusion. In the general melee, the two senior ranking American generals, Winder and Chandler, were captured near the Gage House. After that, the American command system broke down, and unaware of the size of the force opposing them, they retreated, taking the road to Fort George. The British also decided to leave the field, lest daylight should expose their inferior numbers. Colonel Harvey had become separated from the rest of his men, and when the British left the vicinity, they assumed he had been captured. The next morning, he was found miles from the battlefield by the famous Mohawk John Brant, son of Chief Joseph Brant.

Stoney Creek was one of the most decisive battles of the War of 1812. It yielded important results far out of proportion to the size of the forces engaged and it affected the entire American strategy for 1813. After Stoney Creek, the American Army abandoned its offensive against Burlington, and were content with defensive measures in the vicinity of fort George.

Over the past one hundred years, the Stoney Creek battlefield has been slowly absorbed by the growing city of Hamilton, but some of the historic ground is still preserved. The American generals Chandler and Winder, pitched their headquarters’ tents by the Gage House which still stands today. The Stoney Creek Monument was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle on June 6, 1913. The monument was unveiled by Queen Mary, who pushed a button in England and electronically opened the ceremony. This impressive monument towers above the ridge, where the American Army encamped more than 180 years ago. Gage House is open to the public and features tour guides in period dress and a small display area on the Battle of Stoney Creek.(Collins, Gilbert, Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812, 1998, pages 136-138)

For more information, see the Stoney Creek Battlefield House internet site.

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