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War of 1812, Battle of Beaver Dams

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Battle of Beaver Dams (from Jason Ridler, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

The Battle of Beaver Dams is a lesser known battle that tends to get overshadowed by the larger battles in the Niagara theater in the War of 1812. Despite this, the Battle of Beaver Dams displayed an effective use of guerrilla warfare by the indigenous people, military tactics and intimidation, and the eyes and ears of a loyal British citizen leading to another British victory over the invading Americans.

The battle commenced on June 24, 1813 near the British outpost at Beaver Dams. An American regiment marched from Fort George with the intent of a surprise attack on the small British outpost. The regiment quartered themselves in the town of Queenstown. The British received intelligence of the Americans position, and began preparations for an ambush. With the majority of the ambush made up of natives, and few regular infantry, the British pulled off a successful ambush and forced a surrender from the Americans with little casualties.

Background

The Americans captured Fort George from the British on May 25, 1813, becoming the head of many operations in the Niagara theater for the Americans which produced a series of win-lose battles producing no gains for both the Americans and the British. In need of a morale boost and a win, the commanding officer of Fort George, Brigadier General John Parker Boyd planned a surprise attack on the Beaver Dams outpost.

They assigned Colonel Charles Boerstler of the 14th U.S. Infantry who commanded for this mission the 14th U.S. Infantry and detachments of the 6th, 13th and 23rd, made up of light infantry, dragoons and artillery. Boerstler and his force marched for Beaver Dams under the cover of darkness on the night of June 23 to later arrive and quartered themselves in Queenstown.

Prior to Boerstlers march and quartering at Queenstown, several American officers were quartered in the town after the Battle of Fort George in the Secord household. There the officers were discussing the secret plan of attack on Beaver Dams, when the wife of the house, Laura Secord, overheard their plans on June 21 and set out for DeCou’s house where the British Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon was quartered outside of the Beaver Dams outpost,  12 miles away by road. Early in the morning of June 22, Laura set out on her urgent mission. On the way she encountered an ally Native camp, where they led her the rest of the way to DeCou’s house. When Laura told of the plans to Fitzgibbon, the Lieutenant was skeptical and sent Native scouts to confirm the information. When they returned with confirmation, Fitzgibbon prepared for an ambush. 

The Battle

Fitzgibbon rounded up 300 Caughnawaga and 100 Mohawk warriors commanded by Captain Dominique Ducharme and Captain William Johnson Kerr, in addition to 50 men of the 49th Regiment. They set up an ambush on June 24th in the woods overlooking a trail 1.5 miles away from the outpost. The Natives successfully ambushed Boerstler and his men and engaged in a 3 hour exchange of muskets, attacking the flanks and rear. Broestler commanded his men to fight there way into an open field within the woods in order to use their artillery on the natives, but it quickly proved to be ineffective with the heavy onslaught from the Natives. Broeslter was later wounded by a round ball from a Native musket, and placed in a wagon during the conflict. 

Eventually the fire fight ceased when Fitzgibbon and his 50 men out of the 49th Regiment arrived on the seen, completely surrounding the Americans with regulars and Natives, and demand a formal surrender from Broestler or else face the brutality of the Natives. Wounded and concerned for the safety of his men, Colonel Boerstler surrendered and taken prisoner along with his 462 captured soldiers.

The British faced little casualties, the only ones to be killed and wounded were their ally Natives, 5-15 killed and 20-25 wounded. While the Americans had 25 killed and 50 wounded.

Hickman, Kennedy. “War of 1812: Battle of Beaver Dams.” ThoughtCo, Jun. 14, 2018, thoughtco.com/war-of-1812-battle-of-beaver-dams-2360820.

Ridler, Jason. “Battle of Beaver Dams”.  The Canadian Encyclopedia, 15 June 2018, Historica Canada. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-beaver-dams. 

McKenzie, Ruth. “The War of 1812 Website: Biography of Laura Secord”. University of Toronto, http://www.warof1812.ca/laurasecord.htm

Dowell, Erika. “War of 1812: Niagara Frontier 1813”. Indiana University, 2012,  https://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/warof1812/about