War of 1812: Battle of Chippawa

battle-of-chippawa-large.jpg
American troops advance at the Battle of Chippawa. Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

The Battle of Chippawa was fought on July 5, 1814, during the War of 1812 (1812-1815). Crossing the Niagara River in July 1814, American forces led by Major General Jacob Brown sought to capture the Niagara Peninsula and defeat British troops under Major General Phineas Riall. Responding, Riall moved against a detachment of Brown's army led by Brigadier General Winfield Scott on July 5. Meeting near Chippawa Creek, Scott's well-drilled troops repulsed Riall's assault and drove the British from the field. The fighting at Chippawa showed that American troops were capable of standing up to British regulars. Uniting after the battle, Brown and Scott engaged Riall again on July 25 at the bloody Battle of Lundy's Lane. 

Background

In the wake of a series of embarrassing defeats along the Canadian frontier, Secretary of War John Armstrong made several changes in the command structure of American forces in the north. Among those to benefit from Armstrong's changes were Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott who were raised to the ranks of major general and brigadier general. Given command of the Left Division of the Army of the North, Brown was tasked with training the men with the goal of launching an assault against the key British base at Kingston, ON and mounting a diversionary attack across the Niagara River.

Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott
Major General Jacob Brown and Brigadier General Winfield Scott. Public Domain

Preparations

While planning moved forward, Brown ordered two Camps of Instruction formed at Buffalo and Plattsburgh, NY. Leading the Buffalo camp, Scott worked tirelessly drilling and instilling discipline in his men. Using the 1791 Drill Manual from the French Revolutionary Army, he standardized orders and maneuvers as well as purged incompetent officers. In addition, Scott instructed his men in proper camp procedures, including sanitation, which reduced disease and sickness.

Intending his men to be clothed in the standard blue uniforms of the US Army, Scott was disappointed when insufficient blue material was found. While enough was located for the 21st U.S. Infantry, the remainder of the men at Buffalo were forced to make due with the gray uniforms that were typical of the American militia. While Scott worked at Buffalo through the spring of 1814, Brown was forced to alter his plans due to a lack of cooperation from Commodore Isaac Chauncey who commanded the American fleet on Lake Ontario.

Brown's Plan

Rather than launch an assault against Kingston, Brown elected to make the attack across the Niagara his main effort. Training complete, Brown divided his army into two brigades under Scott and Brigadier General Eleazer Ripley. Recognizing Scott's ability, Brown assigned him four regiments of regulars and two companies of artillery. Moving across the Niagara River, Brown's men attacked and quickly took lightly defended Fort Erie. The next day, Brown was reinforced by a mixed force of militia and Iroquois under Brigadier General Peter Porter.

That same day, Brown instructed Scott to move north along the river with the goal of getting above Chippawa Creek before British forces could make a stand along its banks. Racing forward, Scott was not in time as scouts found Major General Phineas Riall's 2,100-men force massed just north of the creek. Retreating a south a short distance, Scott encamped below Street's Creek while Brown took the remainder of the army west with the goal of crossing the Chippawa further upstream. Not anticipating any action, Scott planned for a belated Independence Day parade on July 5.

Sir Phineas Riall
Major General Phineas Riall. Public Domain

Fast Facts: Battle of Chippawa

  • Conflict: War of 1812 (1812-1815)
  • Dates: July 5, 1814
  • Armies & Commanders:
  • Casualties:
    • United States: 61 killed and 255 wounded
    • Great Britain: 108 killed, 350 wounded, and 46 captured

Contact is Made

To the north, Riall, believing that Fort Erie was still holding out, planned to move south on July 5 with the goal of relieving the garrison. Early that morning, his scouts and Native American troops began skirmishing with the American outposts north and west of Street's Creek. Brown dispatched a contingent of Porter's unit to drive off the Riall's men. Advancing, they beat back the skirmishers but spotted Riall's advancing columns. Retreating, they informed Brown of the British approach. At this time, Scott was moving his men over the creek in anticipation of their parade (Map).

Scott Triumphs

Informed of Riall's actions by Brown, Scott continued his advance and placed his four guns to the right along the Niagara. Extending his line west from the river, he deployed the 22nd Infantry on the right, with the 9th and 11th in the center, and the 25th on the left. Advancing his men in line of battle, Riall spotted the gray uniforms and anticipated an easy victory over what he believed to be militia. Opening fire with three guns, Riall was surprised by the resilience of the Americans and reportedly uttered, "Those are regulars, by God!"

Pushing his men forward, Riall's lines became ragged as his men moved over uneven terrain. As the lines neared, the British halted, fired a volley, and continued their advance. Seeking a quick victory, Riall ordered his men to surge forward, opening a gap on his right flank between the end of his line and a nearby wood. Seeing an opportunity, Scott advanced and turned the 25th to take Riall's line in the flank. As they poured a devastating fire into the British, Scott sought to trap the enemy. Wheeling the 11th to the right and the 9th and 22nd into the left, Scott was able to strike the British on three sides.

After absorbing a pounding from Scott's men for around twenty-five minutes, Riall, whose coat had been pierced by a bullet, ordered his men to retreat. Covered by their guns and the 1st Battalion of the 8th Foot, the British withdrew back towards the Chippawa with Porter's men harassing their rear.

Aftermath

The Battle of Chippawa cost Brown and Scott 61 killed and 255 wounded, while Riall suffered 108 killed, 350 wounded, and 46 captured. Scott's victory ensured the progress of Brown's campaign and the two armies met again on July 25 at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. The victory at Chippawa was a turning point for the US Army and showed that American soldiers could defeat the veteran British with proper training and leadership. Legend states that the gray uniforms worn by the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are meant to commemorate Scott's men at Chippawa, though this is disputed. The battlefield is currently preserved as Chippawa Battlefield Park and is administered through the Niagara Parks Commission.