Service in British North America
After garrison and staff duty and service in Jamaica, Drummond returned to Canada a brigadier general in July 1808 under the command of General Sir James Henry Craig, commander of the forces in British North America. He reached the rank of lieutenant general in 1811 and briefly served in Northern Ireland before returning to Kingston and taking command of the forces of Upper Canada on 3 December from Francis de ROTTENBURG. It was a desperate time: the Detroit and Niagara frontiers had been wrested from British control; defeats at MORAVIANTOWN and on LAKE ERIE had forced evacuations. Shortages of food compounded civilian and military dislike of the war. War protests, and support for the enemy, grew.
Drummond ordered an advance on the weakening American troops at FORT GEORGE, forcing the Americans to retreat. In response, they burned Newark to the ground on 10 December. Drummond arrived in person on 16 December and immediately ordered an attack on Fort Niagara, New York. Troops rushed across the river and stormed the fort on the 19th, capturing more than 300 Americans and vast stores of needed supplies. The forces under British Major General Phineas RIALL crossed the river the following day and in the wake of operations the town of Lewiston was ruined. Riall followed up with more raids, chasing American militia, and razed the town of Black Rock (Buffalo) in reprisal for the destruction of Newark. Drummond's aggressive, short and decisive campaign restored control of the Niagara front to the British.
Drummond was also critical of the politics of Upper Canada, supporting the passage of tough legislature against American sympathizers, including the suspension of habeus corpus for those accused of aiding and abetting the enemy. Trials, prison terms and hangings increased for enemy sympathizers. He repealed the unpopular martial law on certain farm districts. But when he found that hoarding continued, he evoked martial law in the entire province to battle the food shortages. Drummond maintained martial law as an unavoidable necessity.
In planning the campaigns of 1814, Drummond, along with Sir George PREVOST and Sir James Lucas YEO, believed that control of Lake Ontario was paramount to British victory. This victory required destroying American ship building capacity. An attack on SACKETS HARBOR, NY, the main American ship building facility on the lakes, was essential. Drummond drew up plans, but Prevost continually refused Drummond's request for reinforcements from Lower Canada. As a result, the less defended depot at Oswego, NY, was the target, where supplies for Sackets Harbor could be destroyed. Drummond led the assault himself on 6 May. Initially a success, the raid failed to destroy the material bound for Sackets Harbor; the Americans and their material made their escape by water. Yeo dispatched gunboats to destroy them, but these boats were defeated and captured at Sandy Creek, NY, 30 May 1814.
Desperate and on the defensive, Drummond was confronted with the threat of invasion. American Major General Jacob Jennings Brown crossed the Niagara River with 4000 men, taking Fort Erie. Riall's attempt to stop the American advance guard at CHIPPAWA failed. As the Americans waited two weeks for delivery of the artillery necessary for a decisive blow against either Fort George or Fort Niagara, Drummond summoned reinforcements to the frontier from York and Kingston, and sailed from York to lead the assault against Brown. On 25 July the forces clashed at the Battle of LUNDY'S LANE, near Niagara Falls. Brown had received reinforcements and commanded 3000 men, while Drummond held on to 2800. A violent slogging match ensued until the Americans abandoned Fort Erie. Each side suffered more than 850 casualties, making Lundy's Lane the bloodiest battle fought on Canadian soil. Brown, who was wounded, handed command to Brigadier General Eleazar Wheelock Ripley, who led the American retreat to Fort Erie.
In early August, with the Americans making camp in a quickly built fortification, Drummond ordered a raid on the American supply depots at Black Rock and Buffalo, but the raiders were discovered. Drummond was forced to lay siege to the US forces, knowing he could not be supported by British naval power: the Americans had wrested away control of the Great Lakes that summer. Drummond carried on, with a battery of four guns, and ran two days of bombardment (13-15 August) before beginning his assault. 1600 men attacked the camp from the south, 1500 from the north. Despite Drummond's daring and well-conceived plan, the American commander, Colonel Edmund Pendelton Gains, had expected an attack and repulsed the southern advance with violent fire. The northern forces broke into the fort and fought hard for hours, but lack of ammunition and follow-on support meant they could not bolster their victory. The explosion of a stock of ammunition killed many British soldiers and the rest retreated to their lines.
An End to the War of 1812
It was a daring attack and a brutal failure; 906 British soldiers were lost, compared to a mere 84 Americans. Drummond redoubled his efforts to prepare for the likely American assault from Brown, now in command at Fort Erie. 3000 Americans attacked Drummond's defences 17 September 1814, capturing two batteries before Drummond repulsed the American forces back to Fort Erie, and 609 casualties were sustained. Drummond engaged the American forces in skirmishes throughout the fall, supported by Yeo's forces. The Americans abandoned Fort Erie, blowing it up before retreating. With Prevost being recalled to be held accountable for the BATTLE OF PLATTSBURGH, Drummond was made administrator and commander of the troops in the Canadas. Prevost left Québec without providing any insight into operations to Drummond, who did his best to negotiate the difficult end of the war, from implementing the end of hostilities after the approval of the TREATY OF GHENT, to the debacle of British failure at the BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS.
Ill health and personal matters ended his political work and Drummond returned to Britain in 1816, where he attained several colonelcies. At the time of his death, he was the senior officer of the British Army. While Drummond's military successes showed pragmatism and persistence, his failures showed a lack of dynamism compared to his opponents. A highly capable officer whose strengths and weaknesses shaped the outcome of the war, Drummond was an instrumental figure in the conduct of the War of 1812.
Author JASON RIDLER
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Fort George National Historic Site of Canada
Take a virtual tour of Fort George National Historic Site, a much fought over location in the War of 1812. From Parks Canada.
Sir Gordon Drummond
This biography of Sir Gordon Drummond, president of the government and commander of the troops in Upper Canada, chronicles some of the key military actions that influenced the outcome of the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Battle of Chippawa National Historic Site of Canada
This site describes the unique heritage features of the Battle of Chippawa National Historic Site of Canada. From “Canada’s Historic Places.”
Courage and Reward in the War of 1812
This article reviews issues concerning the recognition and rewarding of courage and bravery shown by British forces and local militia in the War of 1812. Scroll down to page 99 for a note about British soldiers at the siege of Fort Meigs in 1813. See page 102 for a reference to John Norton. From the Canadian Army Journal.
Glengarry Light Infantry
A brief article about the participation of the Glengarry Light Infantry in many of the major actions in the War of 1812. Includes a description of their armaments. From the "Canadian Army Journal."
Command Structure and Appointments in Upper Canada, 1812 to 1814
An outline of the British military command structure in Canadian territory during the War of 1812. From the "War of 1812 Magazine."
Attack on Fort Oswego (1814)
A painting depicting the British attack on the Americans' Fort Oswego in 1814. Click on the image for a larger view. From the NYPL Digital Gallery.
History of the War of 1812
Read the full text of a digitized copy of a 1905 book that chronicles key events in the War of 1812 from a Canadian perspective. Also describes issues and events leading up to the conflict. See pages 14 and 15 for a table of contents. Includes numerous maps and illustrations. From archive.org.
Review: The Battle of Lundy's Lane on the Niagara in 1814
A review of the 1993 book "The Battle of Lundy's Lane on the Niagara in 1814." From the journal "Canadian Military History."
The Siege of Fort Erie August 1st - September 23rd, 1814
See the full text of a short 1905 book about the 1814 siege of Fort Erie from the Lundy's Lane Historical Society. From openlibrary.org.
A contemporary photograph of a section of Fort Erie that deterred a British assault during the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory
A critical review of David G. Fitz-Enz's book "The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory." From the War of 1812 Magazine at napoleon-series.org.
"Gentlemen, let us set an example!"; An Account of the British Attack on Oswego, 1814
An account of the British military and naval amphibious assault on the small port and town of Oswego, on the south shore of Lake Ontario in 1814. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Much To Be Desired: The Campaign Experience of British General Officers of the War of 1812
See brief profiles of senior British officers who served in Upper Canada during the War of 1812. Focuses on their overall quality of leadership and prior military experience. From the War of 1812 Magazine at napoleon-series.org.
British Official Account of the Battle of Chippawa
Click on the digitized image of the August 13, 1814 edition of the Niles Weekly Register newspaper to see an article about the Battle of Chippawa. Then, click on "Select" at the top to view other pages of the newspaper. Click on the arrow buttons at the bottom of the image to move to different sections of each page. From 1812history.com.
Drummond to Bathurst
See a digitized copy of a letter from Sir Gordon Drummond to Henry Bathurst in regard his reaction to Major General de Rottenburg's proclamation of martial law in Upper Canada in 1813. See page 441 for Bathurst's reply to Drummond and subsequent documents on this topic. From "Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada, 1791-1818" at canadiana.org.
Dobbs and the Royal Navy at Niagara
A detailed account of various Royal Navy maneuvers in support of British ground forces along the Niagara frontier in 1814. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
A biography of Phineas Riall, British army officer. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Early history of the town of Amherstburg
View an online copy of the 1902 book "Early history of the town of Amherstburg : a short, concise and interesting sketch, with explanatory notes." Includes the text of letters from British military commanders detailing local conditions during the War of 1812. From ourroots.ca.
The War of 1812 Heats Up on the Niagara Frontier
Read professor Arthur Bowler's chilling acounts of cross-border attacks on military targets and civilian communities in the Niagara region during the War of 1812. Click on the link at the bottom of the page for "The Burning of Buffalo". From the website Buffalo Architecture and History.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...