On July 25, it will be 204 years since armies representing the United States and Britain (Canada was only a British colony back then) collided head-on in and around the Stanley Avenue and Lundy’s Lane intersection, spilling east onto the Drummond Hill Cemetery in 1814.
The Americans had declared war in June 1812, mostly over two issues: the British were taking American seamen into custody and forcing them into the Royal Navy against their will, and the British were supporting hostile native tribes on the Great Lakes frontier.
By the time forces for both sides met head-on at Lundy’s Lane, they had been at war for two years. At the start of the battle, there were about 2,800 fighters present (1,800 British, 1,000 American).
The nighttime fight – a rarity in those days – killed 258 men and left more than 1,500 casualties (which, ironically, is pretty close to what the civilian population was back then in the settlement around Niagara Falls).
The community must have been overwhelmed. Most homes and public buildings in the area would have been used as hospitals for the wounded and dying.
The wives and daughters in the community that was made up mostly of farmers and merchants would have been called on to tend to the injured men.
The battle is considered a draw, but the American forces had to withdraw south to Fort Erie due to their depleted manpower. In most cases, they left their dead behind – in the hot July weather, the stench of death must have hung in the air as it was left to civilians and British soldiers to bury the corpses.
At the time of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the two sides had already squared off several times and there had been other battles all along the Great Lakes area.
In Niagara, the Americans were on the move and pushing toward York (now Toronto), having captured Fort Erie earlier that month and passed through Chippawa.
The Americans made it as far as Queenston but were pushed back south by Canadian militia and First Nations fighters, to the Chippawa Creek area.
Soon, though, they were moving north again and that’s where they met the British on July 25, 1814.
The battle featured musket and cannon fire, a bayonet charge and several counter-attacks.
Fighting at night meant it was difficult for commanders to keep their regiments organized. Muskets were notoriously inaccurate and slow to load, but when they hit, musket balls and especially cannon fire could cause ghastly damage. It would have been traumatizing for those who had to care for the survivors.
After several hours of conflict and facing exhaustion and disorganization among the troops, by midnight both sides had given their all. The approximately 700 Americans withdrew back to Fort Erie, badly beat up and lacking the supply line that the home side had.
Fighting was so savage that British Lt. Gen. Gordon Drummond later wrote, “our artillerymen were bayonetted by the enemy in the act of loading, and the muzzles of the enemy’s guns were advanced within a few yards of ours.”
The War of 1812 ended on Christmas Eve 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, in Ghent, Belgium. Fighting continued for about a month afterward until word reached the troops.