When he heard that Major General Jacob Brown had crossed the Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie, UC, with a large force on 3 July, Major General Phineas Riall expected that the garrison at Fort Erie would put up a brave fight and delay Brown’s advance. Unaware that Brown had achieved the quick capture of Fort Erie (3 July), Riall thought that the Americans marching toward his headquarters at Chippawa on 4 July were only the lightly manned advance party.
To determine the strength of the American camp about one mile south of Chippawa, Riall sent militia and native warriors across Chippawa Creek early on 5 July as scouts, and, contrary to orders, they began to skirmish with the Americans. Riall concluded that his enemy numbered about 2,000 and would likely crumble under an aggressive attack and so decided to do battle. The reinforcements having arrived, Riall’s force, the British Right Division, consisted of about 1,500 regulars (1/1st, 1/8th, and 100th Regiments of Foot, about 70 of the 19th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, and about 70 Royal Regiment of Artillery with three 6-pdrs, two 24-pdrs, and one howitzer), elements of the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers, about 200 Lincoln County Militia, 200 Grand River Six Nations warriors under John Norton, and 100 of the “Western Indians.” Riall crossed the Chippawa with them around 3:30 P.M. and marched to form his line in a clearing of cultivated fields on the bank of the Niagara just south of Chippawa. He sent 300 of the Lincoln Militia and natives into the forest, bordering the clearing to the west to attack Brown’s camp from the cover of the trees.
Brown’s campaign on the Niagara River had begun with brigades of regular infantry under Brigadier Generals Winfield Scott and Eleazar Ripley and a third brigade of militia and native warriors under Brigadier General Peter Porter as well as artillery and dragoons. Scott and Ripley’s brigades were in the camp near Chippawa with the artillery and dragoons on 4 July. Porter’s men reached the camp only in the afternoon of 5 July, and, when Riall’s militia and natives began their attack after 3:30, Brown ordered Porter to clear the forest to the west of the camp. With about 500 volunteers, mainly Pennsylvania Militia and natives (Senecas, Tuscaroras, Onondagas, and Oneidas), Porter charged into the woods and pushed the British back. His progress was suddenly halted by volleys of musketry from part of Riall’s force, and Porter withdrew, chased by the British militia and natives.
Observing Porter’s skirmish in the woods, Brown realized that Riall had come to fight, and at 4:30 he ordered Scott’s brigade to advance. Under heavy artillery fire, the First Brigade (Ninth, Eleventh, Twenty-second, and Twenty-fifth U.S. Regiments of Infantry), about 1,300 strong, deployed with well-trained precision and was soon supported by a company of the Corps of Artillery. It was at this point that Riall, realizing that he was not facing a mob of unruly militia, is said to have exclaimed, “Why, these are regulars.”
Ordering bayonets, Riall signaled an advance and closed on Scott. The two lines exchanged repeated volleys, while Riall’s light infantry in the woods engaged the Twenty-fifth Infantry on Scott’s left flank. Commanded by Colonel Thomas Jesup, this regiment pushed back the enemy in the woods and then threatened Riall’s right flank. Meanwhile, Brown sent up two more companies of artillery and ordered Ripley to send the Twenty-first U.S. Regiment of Infantry through the trees to the west and north to attack Riall’s rear; they arrived too late. Brown also began to bring up the rest of the First Brigade. The ferocious firefight between the main portions of the opponents caused heavy losses, and Riall’s commanders were unable to get their men to charge home with their bayonets. Finally, Riall signaled a retreat that was conducted slowly and orderly, despite the harassing presence of a troop of the Regiment of Light Dragoons, until the entire British force had crossed the bridge to Chippawa and removed its center span. The Americans advanced to the bank of the Chippawa River and kept up their fire until Brown ordered them to return to camp around 6:30 P.M.
It had been a very bloody affair. Brown reported 58 killed, 241 wounded, and 19 missing, while Riall’s toll was 148 killed, 321 wounded, and 46 missing. Staggered by the defeat and his heavy losses, Riall soon retreated from Chippawa. Winfield Scott’s strictly disciplined brigade had shown its worth, and Brown had deployed his force effectively to win the first American victory of the war on the open field.
Scott during the War of 1812
WINFIELD SCOTT, (1786–1866)
Born in Virginia, Scott was a lawyer when he obtained a captain’s commission in the U.S. Regiment of Light Artillery in May 1808. He was advanced to lieutenant colonel of the Second U.S. Regiment of Artillery in July 1812 and marched with part of this unit to the Niagara Frontier early in October. On 13 October, he volunteered his services to Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer during the battle of Queenston Heights and ended up commanding the U.S. force in its final stages, where he was captured. Paroled by the British, he returned home and was promoted to colonel and appointed adjutant general of Major General Henry Dearborn’s Left Division of the Ninth Military District. He played a critical role in the planning of the landing and attack in the battle of Fort George on 27 May 1813, when he was wounded. He remained in Niagara through the blockade of Fort George (July–October), participating in the skirmish at the Ball property (17 July) and the raid on York (31 July–1 August).
Major General James Wilkinson reached the Niagara Frontier early in September and left a month later with over 3,000 men for use in his campaign on the St. Lawrence River (October–November). Scott remained in command with instructions to complete the planned improvements of Fort George. This he did, and when it was confirmed that the British had ended the blockade and withdrawn to Burlington Heights, he happily followed a clause in his orders that allowed him to leave Niagara with his men, much to the dismay of Brigadier General George McClure, who remained in command.
On 13 October, Scott, with about 850 regulars (apparently a mix of elements of the units stationed there through the summer), marched for the Genesee River, where he expected Commodore Isaac Chauncey to provide transportation to Sackets Harbor. Chauncey’s orders were changed, and while his men trudged slowly to Sackets, Scott hurried on ahead and joined Wilkinson, where he was put in charge of the Third Artillery under Brigadier General Moses Porter. Scott missed the battle of Crysler’s Farm on 11 November but, the previous day, had fought under Brigadier General Jacob Brown at the skirmish at Hoople’s Creek near Cornwall, UC, as part of Wilkinson’s advance guard.
During the winter, he was ordered to Albany to prepare for the campaign of 1814 and was made a brigadier general in March. Soon after, he marched for Buffalo, where he joined now–Major General Jacob Brown’s Left Division of the Ninth Military District. He was given command of a brigade and trained it (and other parts of Brown’s force) strenuously. His brigade led the way at the bloodless capture of Fort Erie (3 July) and beat the British regulars at the battle of Chippawa (5 July). But at the battle of Lundy’s Lane (25 July), Scott deployed his brigade well within the range of British artillery without closing to musket range or attacking, and his men suffered deplorable casualties. Similarly—and incomprehensibly—in the final stage of the battle, he led the remains of his brigade in a slow march between opposing forces where they were further cut to pieces by friend and foe alike. Late in the action, Scott received a musket ball through his left shoulder and was removed from the action. Following the battle, he convalesced near Buffalo and then headed for Philadelphia for further treatment. He went to Washington and in September was given command of the Tenth Military District.
Scott was awarded a gold medal by the U.S. Congress and pursued an active and influential military career following the war, rising to general in chief of the army in 1841. He commanded the victorious American troops during the Mexican War of the 1840s, was a presidential candidate in 1852, and retired from the service in 1861, greatly admired.
ELEAZAR WHEELOCK RIPLEY, (1782–1839)
New Hampshire was Ripley’s birthplace. He was educated at Dartmouth College and undertook the practice of law in Maine Territory. From 1807, he served in the legislature of Massachusetts and was living in Portland, Maine, in 1812, when he accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel of the newly formed Twenty-first U.S. Regiment of Infantry. He raised the unit in New England and then marched it to Plattsburgh, New York, in time to participate in Major General Henry Dearborn’s weak attempt to invade LC, which ended with the skirmish at Lacolle (20 November 1812).
Ripley was promoted to colonel in March 1813 and took his regiment to Sackets Harbor, from where it went with Commodore Isaac Chauncey’s squadron as part of the force at the battle of York (27 April). Ripley’s unit had been well trained and performed efficiently. The Twenty-first was also present during the battles of Fort George (27 May) and Stoney Creek (6 June) and through the long British blockade of Fort George (July–October). Ripley led his regiment during Major General James Wilkinson’s campaign on the St. Lawrence River (October–November) and, at the battle of Crysler’s Farm (11 November), the unit again performed well.
He was made a brigadier general on 15 April 1814 and sent to Buffalo, where he joined Major General Jacob Brown’s Left Division of the Ninth Military District with command of a brigade and participated in Brown’s campaign on the Niagara River (July–October). Ripley’s brigade was present at the bloodless capture of Fort Erie (3 July), and only a small portion of it saw action during the battle of Chippawa (5 July). At the battle of Lundy’s Lane (25 July), Ripley’s brigade came into the action after Winfield Scott’s had been shattered. He deployed his men effectively, following Brown’s orders, and formed the main strength that held the line on Lundy’s Lane until the British retreated and the fighting ended. With both Brown and Scott indisposed by wounds, command devolved onto Ripley. Confusion in orders and the chaos of night on a battlefield led to the loss of all but one of the captured British guns. Ripley did not execute Brown’s order the next morning to renew the conflict, earning a sharp rebuke in return.
Brown and Ripley had argued since early in the campaign, and Brown was pleased to pass command to Major General Edward Gaines when he arrived early in August. Ripley continued to serve through the siege of Fort Erie (August–September) and was praised for his part in the assault on Fort Erie (15 August). During the Fort Erie sortie (17 September), Brown reluctantly gave Ripley command of a reserve column meant to cover the main body’s withdrawal. When the British counterattacked, Ripley’s force came into action, and he was severely wounded, ending his war service.
For his service during the Niagara campaign, Congress voted its thanks to Ripley and ordered a gold coin struck bearing his likeness. However, Brown’s dissatisfaction with Ripley bloomed into a feud, and the latter demanded an inquiry into his conduct. For political reasons, President James Madison forbade the inquiry. Ruffled feathers took a long time to smooth, and it was not until 1834 that Ripley received his gold medal. He left the army in 1820, made his home in New Orleans, resumed his law career, and served as a state senator and then as a member in the U.S. House of Representatives for one term before his death.
PETER BUELL PORTER, (1773–1844)
A native of Connecticut, Porter was educated at Yale and then studied law, opening a practice at Canandaigua, New York, in 1795. He became a successful entrepreneur on the Niagara Frontier, was involved in civil affairs, supported the Republican Party, served in the state legislature, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1808. Porter was identified as a “War Hawk,” although by the spring of 1812 he believed that the nation was unprepared for war and that New York would suffer because of it.
A brigadier general in the New York Militia, Porter served on the Niagara Frontier as a quartermaster general under Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer, but his enmity with the general’s politics (Van Rensselaer was a Federalist) resulted in halfhearted efforts on Porter’s part. Although he knew of Van Rensselaer’s intentions, he did not get involved in the battle of Queenston Heights (13 October 1812), not even to deal properly with logistical needs. Porter was also dissatisfied with Brigadier General Alexander Smyth and his failed invasion of UC (28 November) and fought an inconsequential duel with him afterward.
Porter finally saw action at the raid on Black Rock (11 July 1813), during which he narrowly missed capture by the British under Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Bisshopp and then rallied the militia, regulars, and Seneca warriors to effectively counterattack Bisshopp’s party. Within a short time, Porter organized a force of about 200 militia volunteers and 200 Seneca warriors with whom he crossed into UC at Fort George to join the command of Brigadier General John Boyd. This was during the blockade of Fort George (July–October), and Porter and his men took part in at least one of the numerous skirmishes at the Ball property.
In the spring of 1814, Porter assembled what became the Third Brigade in Major General Jacob Brown’s campaign on the Niagara River (July–October). It consisted of about 800 men, including Pennsylvania Militia, New York Militia, the Canadian Volunteers, and warriors from the Seneca, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and Oneida nations. During the battle of Chippawa (5 July), Porter commanded a portion of this brigade in a sharp action on the west flank of the battlefield. His native allies left him after that, and many of Porter’s militia were sent to man posts on the New York side of the river. Porter ended up leading about 300 New York and Pennsylvania Militia and the Canadian Volunteers into the final phase of the fighting at the battle of Lundy’s Lane (25 July), taking and holding a position on Brown’s left flank and helping to repulse the repeated British attacks. He continued to serve with notice during the siege of Fort Erie (August–September), was present during the assault on Fort Erie (15 August), and played a leading role in the Fort Erie sortie (17 September), during which he was slightly wounded.
Following the war, Porter was voted a gold medal by Congress, and he sat again briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives, served on a commission to implement some provisions of the Treaty of Ghent (24 December 1814), and in 1828–1829 was President Quincy Adams’s secretary of war. He then retired to private life and ended his days on the Niagara Frontier.