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Action at Nottawasaga River

Naval battle in Nottawasaga (from

The action at Nottawasaga happened in 1814, which was part of the battle late in the War of 1812. The purpose of this action was wrecking the supply base of the British troops in Nottawasaga so that the United States could cut off the supply line of British troop headed to the Mackinac Island.

The War of 1812 was the first foreign war for the United States after the nation has been built. The War of 1812 was the second war of independence for the United States. After independence of US, the British still had lots power hold in South East of Canada and the military power directly threat the States. Moreover, the British still minded with the independence of America. In that time, the war waged by Napoleon shocked the whole Europe and Britain became one of the main power fight against with the French Empire. Most of the British elite forces were deployed to front line of Europe. Therefore, most of British troops in Canada were made by militia and part of regular force. At the same time, British navy sent many ships to cut the supply lines of French and also discourage the American transport fleets. The transport fleets had been attacked and the purpose of drive the British power out of North America became the main reason of States declare the war with Britain.

The Nottawasaga River and the bay located in the South East of Georgian Bay, which the north part of the Lake Huron. In 1813, the States finally recaptured the Fort Detroit from the British control after the failure in Frenchtown, and they got important victory in the Lake Erie. Indeed, the Americans limited the supply line of British troops successfully. In the next step, the intelligence of States army showed the place between North West of the Great Lakes and Eastern part of the Great Lakes probably became a “No man’s land”, which there was not any British troops around hundreds mails. However, the British troops still controled the most part of the Western Great Lake areas. Consecutive victories encouraged the States decides to fight for the control of the West part of Great Lake areas. Since the Americans decided to attack the Fort Michilimackinac, which was located in Mackinac Island. They found the British made the other supply line in Lake Huron from New York and head to Mackinac Island. Moreover, the Georgian Bay, where the Nottawasaga Bay belongs to, lay down the middle of the transport water road. It means the British could send out or hide their supplies and troops over there. Although, at the beginning, the United States didn’t exactly know there is a supply base of British army located in the Nottawasaga Bay, they still sent some troops to search and to destroy the British supply lines. Therefore, the American troops tried to attack the Mackinac Island, sent there some ships and hundreds of troops within the lead by Commander Arthur Sinclair to search the water area around the Matchedash Bay and South East of Georgian Bay, and destroy the possible British bases.

The beginning of the action was US Navy capturing the ship of Canadian North West Company. The prisoners provided the intelligence to Americans shows that the British had a supply base at the Nottawasaga River, where on the South East of the Georgian Bay. After some researches, Sinclair confirmed the location of the British basement. Moreover, the States Navy got the intelligence that the British transport ship HMS Nancy also carried lots of supplies and headed to the basement in Nottawasaga River. This was a rare opportunity for Americans to cut off the supply line of British troops if they could got the British supply base and also capture the Nancy. However, the Americans didn’t know the specific location of the HMS Nancy, so they decided to order USS Scorpion and USS Tigress searching the HMS Nancy and at the same time, sent some troops to destroy the British basement around the Nottawasaga River. The Americans thought the action should be very smooth, but what the Americans didn’t know is the HMS Nancy already arrived in the Nottawasaga River, and also, the British Commander Miller Worsley already got the intelligence from the British Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall about the movement of American troops. The British decided to hide the Nancy and make the defense around the island in the Nottawasaga River. In that time, the British Commander Worsley knew that he doesn’t have many forces and definitely can’t defend the base under the attack of Americans. Worsley decided to abandon the HMS Nancy and remove all the weapons and sailors out of the Nancy. They made some simple deployments around the bunker and the base to wait for the arrival of Americans. On the other hand, Worsley sent people to go for requiring the support troops but no one could sent support troops come because most troops were sent into battle at Fort Erie. The interest thing is the British could have enough time for making the defense because of the sluggish of American troops. The bad weather and other mistakes caused the American lost the direction many times, and it even was already July 15th when they finally arrived in middle area of the Lake Huron, which the States originally expected that they could arrived at 12th.

Finally on August 13th, the American troops arrived at the Nottawasaga River, and the British supply base finally shows in front of them. Sinclair deployed the action immediately. He sent the troops land on the island under the support firepower from the ships and attack the British troops, also, he ordered the USS Scorpion, USS Tigress, and other ships distributed and blockaded the water areas around the Nottawasaga River. During that battle, the composition of the British troops mostly were militias, Indian soldiers, and also the sailors from HMS Nancy. Even though, the fact which still surprised Americans was the first attack from American failed just because of the enough prepared defense of British troops. After the failure of first attack, Sinclair sent troops back and waited for next attack. Then, he set up some howitzers on the shore and kept shelling the defensive position of the British troops. However, at the same time, the British Commander Worsley knew that his troop would be hard defending the blockhouse under the second time attack of American troops, although the first time they defended successfully. Consequently, the British decided to shift down the supply from Nancy and burn the both Nancy and blockhouse. Then the British retreated and separated troops into the forest and many different directions to avoid the capture of American forces. Since the HMS Nancy and the British bunkers were under the heavy fire, US Commander Sinclair and his troops believed that the fire was caused by their shelled fire of howitzers. Although until the American troops captured the areas, Sinclair and his troops still didn’t know the British already prepared everything, also, they didn’t know the disaster was coming soon. Obviously, to obstruct the possible supply lines of British troops in Lake Huron is the original main order from headquarter. Therefore, after the “victory”, Sinclair quickly putted away the situation in the Nottawasaga River and sent most of his troops back to the Lake Huron with only left the USS Scorpion on the Georgian Bay to assort with the troops on the land for searching the retreated British troops.

After the United States Commander Sinclair left from the Georgian Bay and headed to the Lake Huron, the opportunity for revenge of the British Commander Worsley finally came. Furthermore, the British Commanders McDouall, who also knew it was a rare opportunity for them to protect their supply line and also decrease the pressure from the attack of Americans in Mackinac Island, because they could try to hit the American ships in Lake Huron. At the end of August, the British Lieutenant Colonel Mcdouall sent 60 soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to Worsley and ordered him to achieve revenge action. Under the order and extra support force, the British Commander Worsley and his troops started their actions. They rented some boats from the local citizens and Indians, then they fully armored those boats with the weapons from the HMS Nancy. At the same time, they hired about 200 native warriors from Manitoulin Island.

The loss of battle between the Worsley’s troop, the schooner USS Tigress, and the schooner USS Scorpion was a disaster for States, even the US Commander Arthur Sinclair described the capture of the USS Tigress and USS Scorpion as “mortifying” to the Americans. The reason is just the warships were very valuable for States in that time. According to the report of United States Captain A. T. Mahan in 1908, the scale of US Navy at the beginning of the War of 1812 was only include several warships, hundreds of vessels, and lots of privateers. Therefore, the main strategy for States Navy in the war was send ships to raid the enemy transport fleets and try to cause the damage to the economy and support of enemy as much as possible. Although, the Navy of States during the War of 1812 achieved much more success than army, especially in the Great Lakes areas, the loss of USS Scorpion and USS Tigress was certainly a huge damage to the Navy.

Back to the battle, at the beginning of September, the British Commander Worsley started to scout the motion of the USS Tigress and on September 3rd, one of the British scouting troop finally found the location of the USS Tigress. Then, Worsley ordered everyone get back and ready for attack. After enough preparation and clearly search of the motion of USS Tigress, Worsley finally started his action before the dawn of September 4th. The British troops fast approached both sides of the Tigress at the same time, the Americans didn’t find them until they were really close to the ship. The British troops started to fire immediately after had been found. It was really a surprise attack for States and also because of the basic battle skills of Americans worse than the British. Worsley and his men captured the USS Tigress very fast with very little damages. The success of capturing Tigress really inspired the morale of British troops, but at the same time, other States troops don’t know the loss of Tigress. One day after, which on September 5th, Worsley lead his troops with riding the Tigress met with the next States ship: the USS Scorpion. In that time, the USS Scorpion didn’t know the British troops attacked and already captured the USS Tigress. Worsley let his men hide themselves as much as possible so that they couldn’t be found easily by American sailors, also, they kept every detail of the ship same as before and kept the States flag up in the air. Therefore, the USS Scorpion didn’t realized the identity of the British until Worsley started the surprised attack. The battle ended very soon, and Worsley’s troop captured USS Scorpion within almost no casualties.

In the end, the Americans finally knew how they failed, when Worsley led his troops and two captured warships back to the Mackinac Island. Moreover, the Commander Worsley also bring lots of supplies to the island so that the British garrison even could hold their basement though another winter. Fortunately, the War of 1812 ended soon after the States signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24th, 1814. Although, the States finally got the Fort Michilimackinac back after the war ended, it might was hard for them to get it if the war couldn’t end very soon.

Burning the HMS Nancy (from


Primary Sources

  1. Mahan, T, Alfred. Sea Power In Its Relations of The War of 1812.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1968. Printed.
  2. Gilpin, R, Alec. The War of 1812 In The Old Northwest. East Lansing: The Michigan State University Press, 1958. Printed.
  3. Horsman, Reginald. The Causes of The War of 1812. Philadelphia: The Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania, 1962. Printed.
  4. Hamil, C, Fred. Michigan In The War of 1812. Lansing: Michigan Historical Commission, 1960. Printed.

Secondary resources

  1. Gough, Barry. 2002.Disaster on Lake Huron. Naval History, 16(4), 27-31.
  2. W. A. B. Douglas. Worsley Miller“. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6. University of Toronto. 1987.
  3. John Boileau. “1812 Journal Then & Now (July/August)”5 July. 2014. web. 25 Oct, 2015.
  4. May, S, George. War 1812. Lansing: Wellman Press Inc, 1962. Printed.
  5. Yanik, J, Anthony. The Fall and Recapture of Detroit in the War of 1812. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011. Printed.
  6. Alex. 1812 – Battle of lake huron. 5 Aug. 2014. web. 23 Oct, 2015.
  7. Klein, M, Julia. “Napoleon and America“. The Wall Street Journal. 11 June, 2009. web. 12 Nov, 2015.

Further reading