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"Redcoated Ploughboys"
A History of the Volunteer Battalion of Incorporated Militia, 1813-1815

by Richard Feltoe

pnt007.jpg (23168 bytes)
Fort York in 1804 (Library and Archives of Canada).  One company of the Incorporated Militia received a number of casualties when the fort's powder magazine exploded in 1813.

Introduction.

    At the beginning of 1812, the wars between the various monarchies of Europe and the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte had been dragging on for years. Great Britain was fully occupied in expending most of its military resources in Portugal and Spain (under the command of Lord Wellington) and had little time for problems across the Atlantic in North America.

     There, the ongoing expansionist policies of the U.S. Government had been met with hostile resistance from the native Americans of the Mid-West. Repeated failures of the U.S. military against the "savages" were excused by reasoning that the British were abetting the Indian tribes in their campaigns. As a result, an opportunistic U.S. Government saw the involvement of the British in the Spanish Peninsula as a chance to destroy the Indian tribes and open up their lands for exploitation; while simultaneously expelling the British from the North American continent and occupying the resource-rich Canadian colonies along the St. Lawrence River and around the Great Lakes.

     Beginning with a well-orchestrated publicity campaign, those politicians favourable to the idea of a war fermented U.S. public outrage over the long-standing issue of British naval vessels using a policy of search and seizure of contraband goods bound for Napoleon’s Europe on U.S. ships. They then accelerated matters by exaggerating the situation of British naval impressment of U.S. seamen into an excuse to demand a declaration of war.

     However, once they had gained their aims and war was declared in June 1812, instead of pressing any form of attack against the British bases along the Atlantic seaboard (to confirm their demands to impede British naval activities) the entire American plan of campaign centred on the immediate invasion and conquest of the inland regions of Upper and Lower Canada.

     So confident were the U.S. politicians that an over-stretched Britain would be unable to defend its colonies along the St Lawrence and around the Great Lakes, that the former President, Thomas Jefferson, declared the seizure of the Canadas as "a mere matter of marching".

     However, instead of sweeping aside the few under-strength British regular regiments stationed along the frontier and being hailed as liberators by the population of the Canadas, as some had expected; the U.S. army found itself treated as a hostile invader and opposed, not only by the soldiers of the crown, but also by units of part-time local militias.

The Early days of the War

     Over the first few months of the war, incompetent American military leadership and decisive military action by the British commander in Upper Canada, Sir Isaac Brock resulted in the decisive U.S. defeats at Michilimacinac, Detroit and Queenston Heights. It cannot be denied that the British regular soldiers took the brunt of the military load for the defence of Upper Canada, but the local "Embodied" militias did serve as garrison troops, transport guards, etc. thus freeing the regulars for combat. While on other occasions they did, in fact, serve valiantly alongside the regulars in the thick of battle.

     By the start of the campaign season of 1813, the military situation for the new British Commander, General Shaeffe (Brock having been killed at Queenston Heights on Oct 13, 1812) was becoming serious. An increased American build-up of naval and land forces presaged an attack somewhere around Lake Ontario. Shaeffe recognised that his own British regular forces were too thinly spread to ensure a defence in depth at any of the military bases or settlements dotting the lake. Nor could he anticipate any support or re-inforcements from his superior, Sir George Prevost (over 800 miles away in Quebec City), because Sir George believed that only Lower Canada and the Maritimes were worth defending and he was quite prepared to abandon Upper Canada in the event of an American invasion. As a result, Prevost deliberately withheld badly needed supplies and manpower from the one front where the fighting was taking place.

     In consequence, Shaeffe was forced to look to the local militia forces of Upper Canada for a further infusion of military effort. The standing regiments of part-time "Embodied" militias (raised from the local populations of each settlement and township) had already been deemed inadequate to the war effort and in 1812 had been supplemented by the raising of "Flank" companies, these being composed of the younger and more militant members of the embodied Militias and subject to additional training for military duties in the event of a call – out. However, these measures were now also seen as failing to provide enough manpower to serve the demands of campaign and Shaeffe introduced a Bill into the Upper Canada Legislature for the raising of three full-time regiments, under the title of "Volunteer Battalions of Incorporated Militia".

Establishment of the Incorporated Militia

     These all-volunteer units were to be raised under the jurisdiction of the Upper Canada Legislature and not the Crown (as per the Fencible regiments already established elsewhere in the colonies). Its manpower was to consist of able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 45 that enlisted to serve on a full-time basis for the duration of the war. Bounties for enlisting were initially to be derived from the Legislative purse, but this was later supplemented from the military chest to encourage additional recruitment.

      Any volunteer joining the Incorporated Militia was given protection for being sued or arrested for a debt of under 50 /- /-. Nor could his goods, chattels, or land be seized or sold to cover such a debt. He was exempted from all taxes, rates and assessments, labour on public highways or parish duties while in the unit, and during service could not be subject to the punishment of flogging. Finally a promise of a future grant of land completed the package of inducements aimed at securing the service of the three separate Battalions that would be stationed within the main theatres of operation in Upper Canada, namely: the St Lawrence region (Prescott to Kingston), the Central region (York [Toronto] to Burlington and Ancaster) and the Niagara region (Newark [Niagara on the Lake] to Fort Erie.

      Recruiting began immediately and unlike the methods used within the regular army (whereby officers purchased their commissions); the officers for the Incorporated Militia gained their rank according to their ability to recruit men to the corps. According to the original documents, the quotas were as follows:

Lieutenant Colonel (1)… 40 men
Major (1)……………….30 men
Captain (10)……………20 men
Lieutenant (10)…………10 men
Ensign (10)……………...5 men

Each of the 10 companies in a battalion were to consist of a:

Captain (1)
Lieutenant (1)
Ensign (1)
Sergeants (3)
Corporals (3)
Privates (50)

In addition "…an Adjutant, Quartermaster, Quartermaster Sergeant, and Sergeant Major, to be obtained from the line if practicable, or otherwise fit persons to be selected…" (LAC:RG9 / IB1 / VOL 2)      In total, therefore, the theoretical effective strength of each Battalion was to be 606.

Service of the Regional Detachments of the Battalion in 1813-14.

      Once the notification of establishment was posted, companies of Incorporated Militia began to form in each of the three regions. Most of the officers and many of the men were already experienced in battle, having participated in the actions of 1812 at Detroit and Queenston Heights. In addition, numbers of the more ardent and loyalist portions of the Upper Canada population were keen to take the offensive against the American invaders and saw the Incorporated Militia as the potential nucleus of a future ‘Canadian’ army.

      Almost immediately, some of these company units were thrust into the war as the anticipated U.S. invasion took place at York [Toronto] in April 1813. Here Captain Jarvie’s company (later termed Coy No 2) served gallantly in the defence of the Fort and town, unfortunately they were left behind when the British regular forces retreated and exploded the magazine to deny its contents to the Americans. As a result Jarvie’s company suffered several casualties from the detonation, including the wounding of both its officers, while the remainder were subsequently taken prisoner and placed on parole.

    Shortly thereafter, the American forces switched their attentions to the Niagara frontier and in the attack upon Fort George, men of Captain Kerby’s company of Incorporated Militia (Coy No 1) were involved in the defence and covering the subsequent retreat of the British forces towards Burlington Heights. Following the British counterattack at Stoney Creek (June 6, 1813) the American Army retreated to Fort George, pursued by men of the Incorporated Militia and Indian warriors under the command of Captain Kerby.

     For the remainder of the summer, the three Niagara companies of Incorporated Militia were engaged in front line service, maintaining the siege of Fort George as well as fighting several skirmishes with U.S. piquets around the area of Fort George and Queenston Heights. Elsewhere, the companies stationed at Kingston participated in the construction of a new fortification that was later named Fort Henry, while the detachments at Prescott and along the St. Lawrence River served both as garrison forces for the various fortifications constructed along the riverside, as well as transport troops, assisting in the movement of supplies and troops up the river and U.S. prisoners of war downstream.

     In addition, some of those who were experienced in handling boats were detached to serve as crews on river gunboats, protecting the convoys of supplies coming up the St Lawrence river or engaging enemy vessels around the Thousand Islands. One such incident occurred in August, when a detachment of Incorporated Militia, under the command of Captain John Kerr (Coy No 8 ), crewed a gunboat that participated in an attack on American forces at Grass Creek. Their goal was to recapture supplies taken earlier in the summer by the Americans. In a severe contest, with several wounded on both sides, the American force was driven off and part of the consignment of much needed supplies was retaken.

     Following the loss of the British Fleet on Lake Erie (September 10, 1813) and the defeat of General Proctor at the battle of Moravianstown, (October 5, 1813) the strategic advantage swung, once more, in favour of the Americans. As a result, the Niagara companies of the Incorporated Militia participated in another retreat of the British Army back to their base at Burlington Heights. Fortunately the Americans failed to capitalise upon their successes and chose instead to attempt a new invasion of the Canadas by a two-pronged attack on Montreal. As a result, most of the American troops were withdrawn from the Niagara to prepare for an attack down the St. Lawrence.

     In consequence, throughout October, the garrisons at Kingston, Prescott and all points between, were on constant alert for the expected American assault, unaware that the Americans were having difficulties in preparing their troops for the projected attack down the river towards Montreal.

     After several weeks of waiting, the expected invasion began in early November and it was one of the officers of the Incorporated Militia (Lieutenant Duncan Clark of Captain, Fraser’s Company {Coy No. 7}) that was on duty watching the river and brought warning to the garrisons along the riverbank of the American’s approach.

     Passing Prescott during the night (November 5, 1813), the American army was quickly pursued by a force of British regulars and Canadian militia drawn from the Kingston and Prescott garrisons. Although the Incorporated Militia was not officially part of this force, (they being assigned the duty of garrisoning the forts and manning the artillery batteries), individual officers and men with experience of the St Lawrence river joined the pursuers and acted as pilots for their fleet of boats.

     On November 11, 1813, the Battle of Crystler’s Farm took place and the invading American army was decisively defeated, frustrating their plan to link up with a second American invasion force entering Lower Canada from the south. In a subsequent report on this action, one American account attempted to excuse the defeat by vastly overestimating the forces placed in the field on the part of the British. Included in this report was an estimate that no less than 300 "Incorporated Militia’ were deployed in the battle. A number that far exceeded the entire roll for the several companies stationed across the region of Upper Canada at that time. But one that would soon become reality in the coming months.

     By early December, it was the turn of the Niagara detachments to see action once more as the Americans gradually withdrew from the Canadian side of the Niagara River. The arrival of a new military commander for Upper Canada (Sir George Drummond) also brought on a new round of offensive activity when, under normal conditions, both armies would be preparing to go into winter quarters to await the onset of spring.

     Taking advantage of the reduced American garrisons at Fort George and Fort Erie, the British pressed forward in horse-drawn sleighs under the cover of a snowstorm. Leading the way, Captain Kerby’s company reached Fort Erie in time to surprise the remaining U.S. troops in the act of retreating to their boats. After a brief firefight, some 20 prisoners and several boatloads of supplies were taken and Fort Erie re-occupied by Kerby and his men.

     At the same time, other companies of Incorporated Militia, (under Major Simons and Captain Rapelje {Coy No 3}) participated in the re-occupation of Fort George, unfortunately, not before the American troops had burned the nearby community of Newark to the ground.

     This wanton act of destruction on the civilian populace, including members of their own families, resulted in a strong determination to exact revenge on the part of the men of the Incorporated Militia. Therefore, when plans were made to cross the river and assault Fort Niagara, the men of the unit were amongst the first to volunteer their services.

     Unfortunately, all of the boats on the river had been taken or destroyed by the Americans during their retreat. As a result, a replacement fleet of boats was brought up from Burlington Heights, under the direction of Captain Kerby. To avoid detection by the American garrison at Fort Niagara, the entire fleet was hauled up out of the lake several miles short of the river mouth and dragged across country to a point well above the fort. The boats were then re-launched into the Niagara River undetected and loaded with troops. On the night of the attack (December 18 - 19, 1813) men of the Incorporated Militia not only acted as crews for the boats and guides for the advancing columns of troops, but in some cases participated in the final assault. According to one official account, Captain Kerby was credited as being the first officer to enter the Fort at the head of a storming party.

     Following the successful capture of Fort Niagara, it was assigned to Kerby and his men to act as escorts to the over 300 prisoners taken that night in their transportation to York where the prisoners were then handed over to Captain Jarvie and his company for further transport to Kingston and Montreal. Coincidentally also under the guard of detachments of Incorporated Militia detachments stationed at the various posts along the way.

     Later that month, reports began to emerge of American troops concentrating at Buffalo to recapture Fort Niagara. As a result, Major Simons and a detachment of men from the unit volunteered and were involved in assisting the regulars to cross the Niagara for a pre-emptive strike on the main supply base and naval yard at Buffalo. Here too, a complete British victory netted a large quantity of supplies and prisoners, which were forwarded on to York under the superintendence of Major Simons.

     For the remainder of the winter, the troops of the Niagara detachment remained in quarters, acting as garrison forces at the various blockhouses and barrack depots established between Fort Erie and Fort George. In a like manner, the companies stationed at York, Kingston and Prescott joined the regular troops in providing guard and fatigue parties in the separate stations.

     Seeking to relieve the monotony of long winter season and being in need of supplies, the company of the Incorporated Militia, under Captain John Kerr decided to remedy their situation by teaming up with Captain Reuben Sherwood (Quarter master Generals Department) and a party of Royal Marines in the early part of February 1814. Their goal was to cross the ice-bound St Lawrence River from Cornwall, move inland on the American side of the river and seize an American supply depot at the village of Hamilton. The depot was known to contain a large supply of clothing, food and other items, principally made up of material captured by American gunboats from British supply convoys attempting to reach Kingston the previous summer.

     Crossing unperceived, the raiding party marched to Hamilton and captured the village without incident. Unfortunately the warehouse was bare and interrogation of the local guards revealed the supplies had been moved a further 14 miles inland to the village of Madrid (now named Columbia). Unwilling to return empty handed, the party commandeered every available sleigh and horse, posted guards in the village to prevent anyone raising the alarm and then proceeded to Madrid where they successfully seized the supplies and began their return. According to one account of the action

… The party…returned about daylight, decked out with ribbons and streamers of brilliant colours, which formed part of their capture and recrossed the St Lawrence, without the loss of a man….(A History of St Lawrence and Franklin Counties N.Y. F.B. Hough)

In the event, a party of local American troops attempted to interfere with the return of the raiders. The official account reports that a return of gunfire deterred the Americans from any serious action. However another account reveals a slightly less martial deterrent may have been used.

… A party was hastily rallied to pursue and recover the goods, but a quantity of shrub, a very agreeable mixed liquor, was left in a conspicuous place… [by the militiamen]… which had its desired effect and …the pursing party were thus disarmed…(Ibid.)

Amalgamation and Service of the Battalion in 1814

     At the end of February 1814, General Drummond decided to amalgamate the various detached companies of Incorporated Militia into a single Battalion force. As a result, the individual companies at Prescott, Cornwall, Kingston, and along the Niagara, all marched to York to join up with the company already stationed there.

     Following a re-organisation of the companies and the establishment of a proper command structure. The Volunteer Battalion of Incorporated Militia began training as a single unit at Fort York. They also now came under the command of an officer seconded from the regular army and given the militia rank of Lieutenant Colonel, (Captain William Robinson of the King’s 8th Regiment).  Regimental rolls for this period record the following for the Incorporated Militia:

Lieutenant Colonel William Robinson (8th Rgt)
Major Titus G. Simons.
Adjutant Dennis Fitzgerald (41st Rgt)
Quartermaster George Thrower (41st Rgt)
Captain James Kerby (Coy No 1)
Captain William Jarvie (Coy No 2)
Captain Abraham A. Rapelje (Coy No 3)
Captain Daniel Washburn (Coy No 4)
Captain Edward Walker (Coy No 5)
Captain Archibald McLean (Coy No 6)
Captain Thomas Fraser (Coy No 7)
Captain John Kerr (Coy No 8)
Captain John McDonell (Coy No 9)
Captain Hamilton Walker (Coy No 10)
Lieutenants 13
Ensigns 12
Sergeants 32
Drummers 13
Rank and File 280
(
LAC: RG9 / IB7 / VOL3)

     In mid-March, General Drummond revised the Militia laws once again. Expecting a long and arduous campaign season and being denied the necessary reinforcements of regulars by General Prevost in Quebec, Drummond sought to expand the services of the militia by instituting a rotating quota of draftees from the ranks of the Embodied Militias. Those chosen to serve were then attached to the Incorporated Militia for an intensive three-month training period and served alongside their full-time companions throughout the months of May and June.

    At the beginning of July, the American Army invaded once more, crossing the Niagara River at Fort Erie and occupying that fortification with only minimal resistance. They then moved north along the Niagara River road towards the point at which the Chippawa River entered the Niagara, immediately above the great Falls. On July 5, 1814 a severe engagement took place between the contending armies, where the mixed British / Canadian force was severely handled and effectively beaten by a well-trained and re-organized American Army. As soon as the word of the American invasion reached York, General Drummond ordered all available troops to the Niagara frontier. One of the few effective, or near full strength, units he had at his disposal was the as yet untried Incorporated Militia.

     Boarding two small ships on the night of July 6, 1814 the Battalion crossed to Newark (Niagara on the Lake) and immediately undertook a forced march up to Queenston where they initially remained as part of the forces gathering at that location.

According to the regimental rolls of that time the numbers in the field were as follows.

33 Officers
27 Sergeants
10 Drummers
309 Rank and File

While 1 Officer, 1 Sergeant, 17 Rank and File, and 12 Sick were left as part of the Garrison remaining at York with 66 regimental wives and 133 children.(LAC: RG8 / REEL 3840 / VOL 1709 / P87)   The following day, the Battalion continued its march upriver (south) to Chippawa, where it formed as part of the rearguard (covering the further retreat of the British forces from the Chippawa defence lines), in the face of an American outflanking movement on the British right.

     Returning to their point of landing at Newark, the Incorporated Militia was stationed at the new fortification of Fort Mississauga, alongside troops from the 1st (Royal Scots) Rgt, the 8th (Kings) Rgt, the 100th Rgt, and Royal Artillery. Together with the troops stationed in the nearby main garrison at Fort George, the men of the Battalion set to work improving the defences of the Fort and prepared to engage the advancing enemy as soon as they arrived.

     On July 10, 1814 the American Army was seen on the heights at Queenston. Seeking to develop a flanking position on the advancing Americans, General Riall withdrew a substantial proportion of his force, including the Incorporated Militia, from their positions at the mouth of the Niagara towards the 12 and then the 20 Mile Creek.

     Once the several contingents of British and Canadian troops were collected at the 20 Mile Creek, they were brigaded into separate units. The Incorporated Militia formed part of the 2nd or Light Brigade, in conjunction with the Glengarry Light Infantry, a section of the 19th Light Dragoons, and 2 x 6 pounder artillery pieces from the Royal Artillery.

    Returning to the vicinity of Fort George, the Light Brigade spent the next week skirmishing with the piquets of the American force until the American Army retired from its positions around Fort George and moved south, back towards Chippawa.

     On July 23, 1814. The Incorporated Militia was moved up to Queenston to reconnoitre the movements of the Americans before returning to the 12 Mile Creek. The following evening, the Light Division marched and pressed forward on an all-night march, arriving in the light of the early morning of July 25, 1814, at the small hilltop position of Lundy’s Lane, about a mile or so from the Great Falls.

The Battle of Lundy’s Lane

    Settling down, the men spent a quiet morning, either resting or participating in the duties of preparing meals. In the afternoon, initial reports came in of the appearance and advance of a substantial force of American troops from the direction of Chippawa.

     Determining that his own force was insufficient to maintain the position against the number of the enemy approaching, General Riall ordered a retreat along the main Portage road towards Queenston Heights, where he hoped to find General Drummond with re inforcements.

    Commencing their movement from the hilltop, the column had retired less than two miles before it met the supporting column of General Drummond moving up to Lundy’s Lane. Taking immediate charge, General Drummond ordered an immediate about face of the retiring troops and sent them at the "double-quick’ back to the hilltop, there to establish a defensive line and hold off the Americans until he could bring up his main body of troops and engage them with a combined force of around 1600 men.

    Running back to their previous positions, the Incorporated Militia took up post on the left of the crest of the small hilltop, while the Glengarry Light Infantry extended to the right of the slope. As successive regiments of regular infantry reached the hill, General Drummond stationed them in the centre, while the two Light regiments echeloned outwards to their respective flanks. Following a series of movements, the Incorporated Militia found itself positioned on the far left of the British line and faced the brunt of the American attacks for some time. As part of this action, large numbers of the US 25th regiment succeeded in moving along a pathway in the thick woods on the left of the British line. Having positioned themselves in the rear of the Incorporated Militia, the Americans opened fire from the cover of the woods and then attacked.

     Taken by surprise, the men of the Incorporated Militia could easily have broken and run in the face of this assault from the rear. Instead, they stood firm and then wheeled backwards by companies on their right flank, a field manoeuvre that would have required considerable discipline and skill to achieve successfully on the parade square, let alone on a battlefield, while under heavy fire from two directions at once.

    Taking up a new position at right angles to the main British line, the Incorporated Militia secured the flank and prevented a further incursion of the Americans behind the British line, but not without cost, as a number of officers and men were killed, wounded, or captured in the redeployment.

    Almost without ammunition and with its Commanding Officer, Lt Col Robinson, badly wounded, the Battalion maintained its position until the Americans on the flank were seen to retire in the fading light of the day. In the ensuing respite, new ammunition was issued and the companies reformed their ranks.

     However, following a successful American assault on the British centre (that resulted in the capture of the British guns and the forcing of the British line back from the crest to the foot of the north side of the hill), General Drummond decided to use the men of the Incorporated Militia to bolster his line at different parts of the front. As a result, the unit was split into three sections and brigaded as detached companies, directly alongside the British regular troops. Because of this, the men of the Incorporated Militia participated in all of the various charges and counter attacks that took place in the centre and right of the British line during the remainder of the battle.

    In the pitch darkness of the night, a succession of hand to hand combats and point blank exchanges of volleys took place between the two armies around the hilltop, in these engagements, the men of the Incorporated Militia proved they could manoeuvre and fight as well as any of the British regular troops and suffered casualties accordingly.

     Around midnight, with both sides exhausted and with most of the senior commanders of both armies being wounded, the Americans relinquished their earlier successes, abandoned the strategic position of the hilltop and retired to Chippawa, leaving the British in possession of the field. Unfortunately General Drummond was unable to capitalise on this opportunity and only a small number of British troops moved forward to reclaim the abandoned guns on the hilltop, while the main part of the British Army retired behind the hill to regroup.

     In the hours immediately following the battle, the accounts of losses in killed and wounded were totalled and were accounted as:

Killed:  1 Officer   2 Sergeants  4 Rank and File
Wounded:  1 Lt. Colone7 Officers   3 Sergeants  32 Rank and File
Missing:  3 Sergeants  72 Rank and File
Prisoner:  2 Officers  1 Quartermaster   14 Rank and File

However during the course of the following day, a number of the men who had become detached from their companies in the dark or had been captured and succeeded in escaping, returned to the ranks, thus reducing the official tally. On the other hand, some of those who had been accounted as wounded succumbed to their wounds. Thus by July 27, 1814, its interim Commanding Officer, Major Kerby, penned a new list of casualties of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, which read;

Killed: 1 Officer(Ensign); 3 Sergts;13 Rank & File
Wounded:1 Lt Col; 7 Officers(3 Capts, 3 Lts, 1 Ensign);3 Sergts;33 Rank & File
Prisoner: 4 Officers(2 Capts, 2 Ensigns);1 Quartermaster;1 Qmr Sergt; 2 Sergts 29 Rank & File.

In his official report on the battle, General Drummond later wrote:

… In reviewing the action from its commencement… the very creditable and excellent defence made by the Incorporated Militia under Lt Colonel Robinson, who was dangerously wounded… Major Kerby succeeded Lt Colonel Robinson in the command of the Incorporated Militia Battalion and contrived very gallantly to direct its efforts; this Battalion has only been organised a few months and … has attained a highly respectable degree of discipline…(LAC: MG19 / A39 / P267 – 272)

Furthermore in the General Order issued in praise of the efforts of the troops involved in the battle, General Drummond noted: "… the Incorporated Militia by whom the brunt of the action was for a considerable time sustained and whose loss has been severe…"  (LAC: MG19 / A39 / P264 – 266).

    With the retreat of the American Army from its camp at Chippawa to Fort Erie on July 26, 1814, the British force sent out recconaisance forces, including the Incorporated Militia, to shadow the Americans.

The Siege of Fort Erie

     Arriving at Fort Erie on July 30, 1814, the men of the Incorporated Militia established a perimeter of posts around the Fort, while the main army followed some way behind Unfortunately too much time had elapsed following the American retreat before the main British army arrived at Fort Erie and the Americans were able to strengthen their defences to such an extent that upon its arrival, the British force was reduced to creating a static line of siegeworks in preparation for an investment of the American position.

     During the creation of these works, the Americans made regular sorties to disrupt the workparties, including that of August 12, 1814, when troops of the Incorporated Militia and Glengarries were attacked while in the trenches. After some severe hand to hand fighting, the Americans were beaten off, loosing 1 officer and 12 men while the Incorporated Militia lost Captain Edward Walker killed, Major James Kerby severely wounded, and 4 rank and file wounded. In a report to his superior, General Prevost, General Drummond recorded the following

… I cannot forbear of taking this occasion of expressing to your Excellency my most marked approbation of the uniform exemplary good conduct of the…Incorporated Militia… under Major Kerby… [the Incorporated Militia]… have constantly been in close contact with the enemy’s outposts and riflemen during the severe service of the last fortnight; their steadfastness and gallantry, as well as their superiority as light troops have, on every occasion, been conspicuous… (LAC: RG8 /REEL C3174 / VOL 685 / P76 – 82)

With the wounding of Major Kerby, command of the Battalion was now assigned to Captain Fitzgibbon of the Glengarry Light Infantry, supposedly until a new commanding officer could be assigned from the regular forces, (a situation that did not actually happen until mid-November). As a result, once he had sufficiently recovered from his wounds Major Kerby resumed the effective command of the Battalion in early September.

     Following several probes of the defences, General Drummond decided that only an all out attack would succeed in evicting the Americans from the Fort. As a result, a three-pronged night assault was planned for the night of the 14-15th August. Unfortunately the Americans were fully aware of the impending attack and inflicted substantial casualties upon the advancing columns of British troops. Held as part of the reserve, the men of the Incorporated Militia were luckily not part of those units cut to pieces by cannon and musket fire or killed in the detonation of an ammunition magazine within the Fort (that together killed or wounded over 700 men from the attacking force). Instead they covered the British retreat to its own lines and formed a principal part of the defence of the British batteries in case of an American counter offensive over the next two days.

     During the succeeding month, The Incorporated Militia continued to serve in the lines around Fort Erie as well as providing detachments sent to assist nearby farmers in harvesting and threshing their vitally needed crops (as the supply situation for the British was becoming increasingly difficult due to the American fleet controlling the supply route from Kingston across Lake Ontario).

    By September 17, 1814, General Drummond had decided to abandon the siege and retire on the Chippawa. Unfortunately the Americans also chose this moment to make their largest sortie yet upon the British lines. Under the cover of a severe rainstorm, the Americans succeeded in penetrating the British lines and spiked several cannon while destroying the blockhouses and entrenchments. British reinforcements were soon sent to expel the enemy from the lines and a severe fight resulted, occupying most of the regular troops. Concerned that a second American attack might be planned from across the Niagara river at Black Rock, General Drummond held the men of the Incorporated Militia in reserve and detailed them to secure the riverbank and British camp.

     In the days that followed, the Incorporated Militia provided much of the piquet duty for the British force as the siege was abandoned and the bulk of the army moved north to the Chippawa River and beyond. Kept as part of the rearguard during the retreat, the Incorporated Militia successfully skirmished with parties of the American advance guard, forcing them to keep their distance and affording the British army time to establish a defence line at the Chippawa.

     Expecting an American attack and desperately short of supplies and ammunition, General Drummond decided against a further retreat and concentrated his forces behind the Chippawa, using his Light troops, including the Incorporated Militia, as his advance and flanking force. Finding the British defences more formidable than they expected, and following some ineffectual probes along the Chippawa River, the Americans unexpectedly withdrew south from their positions, leaving behind a substantial amount of provisions, which the men of the Incorporated Militia and other elements of the advance guard willingly took into their possession. The advance also succeeded in capturing some additional supplies and American troops when

… two U.S. boats that were sent across to Fort Schlosser for fresh provisions, not knowing of the retreat, returned. One being captured…containing fresh meat, bread, spirits for at least a brigade… (LAC: CO42 / REEL B296 / VOL 355 / P169)

Retreating back to Fort Erie, the American Army made no further offensive activities during the remainder of the month of October. Instead they undertook to completely destroy the bastions and entrenchments of the Fort before retiring across the Niagara River to Buffalo.

     For his own part, General Drummond felt his army was too weak to undertake any form of attack on the Americans. Instead he took the opportunity of this fortunate respite to retire several of the British Regular regiments that had been all but destroyed in the summers campaign and detach them to Kingston and Lower Canada. As a result, the Incorporated Militia formed a sizeable part of those troops who remained on the frontier and maintained the British defence lines from Chippawa to the mouth of the Niagara river while the campaign season of 1814 wound down.

     With the onset of the winter, the men of the Incorporated Militia were initially stationed at Butler’s barracks near Fort George. They also came under the supervision of a new Commander, Lieutenant- Colonel Joseph Glew ( Major, 41st Rgt). Lieutenant Colonel Glew replaced Colonel J.G. Tucker (also of the 41st Rgt) whom although officially commander of the Incorporated Militia since late October, had not served in any effective capacity before being transferred to the post of Commander of the garrison at York.

Plans for the Battalion in 1815

     With the New Year, several detachments of officers and men were sent to various parts of the province to act as recruiting parties for the Incorporated Militia. Under the new regulations, a bounty of 10/-/- was to be offered for any new recruit. In addition, General Drummond was so impressed by the previous services of the Battalion, that he submitted the following proposal to Lord Bathurst in London.

My Lord,

In consequence of the very meritorious conduct of the Battalion of Incorporated Militia of this Province, from the time they were first embodied, and particularly from the great gallantry and good conduct evidenced by them on every occasion during the late campaign, but especially in the arduous and trying conflict in which they were engaged on the 25th of July last, where their bravery and steadiness, under the hottest fire, contributed not a little to the glorious result of the action.

I have now been induced with the view of increasing the numbers of that most serviceable body of men to offer an increase of bounty to that originally provided by the Legislature… With this increased inducement to enlist, I am sanguine in my expectations that the effective numbers of this valuable Corps will shortly be augmented to six hundred.

The loss of both officers and men during the last campaign has been severe indeed, but the respectable bounty of ten Pounds … will gain many recruits, not only from the inhabitants of this country, from which materials alone the regiment has hitherto been formed, but likewise from the vast number of men discharged on account of the expiration of their service from regular corps…

…The Regiment of Incorporated Militia has, from its being particularly adapted for that service, been chiefly employed as a Light Corps and as such very frequently engaged with the enemy’s riflemen in the woods. Here the natural expertness in the use of the gun and the axe in clearing their way, throwing up breastworks of timber etc. for which the inhabitants of Upper Canada are so remarkable was certainly productive of the most beneficial service….

I likewise from a conviction that the regiment merits every encouragement, further beg leave to recommend that your Lordship will procure for them two stand of colours with the gracious permission of H.R.H. the Prince Regent that they may bear the word Niagara on them and on their appointments as an honourable testimony of their gallantry and meritorious conduct throughout the whole of the arduous operations on that frontier…." (LAC: CO42 / REEL B296 / VOL 356 / P6 – 10)

In reply to this proposal, a note written on the reverse of the paper read as follows:

…as far as that dispatch relating to military arrangements for the future defence of the province, it is unnecessary to enter into details, the ratification of the treaty of Peace having superseded the necessity of increasing the Colonial military force…(Ibid.)

Reduction of the Battalion

     With the coming of peace in early 1815, the Volunteer Battalion of Incorporated Militia was moved to Fort York where the companies were notified that the unit was to be stood down. In his speech upon the opening of the new session of the Upper Canada Legislature, General Drummond stated,

… It is with pleasure that I have assented, in his Majesties name, to the Bill affecting the Incorporated Militia of this province, who after having been honoured with the most substantial marks of your approbation will be enabled to retire to their domestic avocations animated with a consciousness of having in the day of trial proved that they merited the gratitude and applause of their country…(LAC: CO42 / REEL 296 / VOL 356 / P33)

Under the terms of the above mentioned parliamentary Bill, the men of the Battalion were to be granted a single lump sum of six months pay, without deductions. In addition, an official ‘de-mob’ clothing issue of a pair of pants and a new pair of shoes were to be issued at the time their regimental arms, accoutrements and ammunition were delivered into the government stores. Finally, an assurance was made that at some point in the future a grant of land would be made, but without any specific timetable being applied.

     Thus came to an end the active service of the Volunteer Battalion of Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada. The men returned to their families and homes and for the most part resumed their lives. In the years to come, several of the officers and men became prominent citizens of the developing Province, sitting as Magistrates, Judges, Members of Parliament, Customs officials, etc. as well as holding senior ranks within the Post-war regiments of county militias. They also eventually came to receive grants of land under the terms of their enlistment according to the following scale:

 Privates 100 acres
Drummers 100 acres
Sergeants 200 acres
Ensigns 200 – 500 acres
Lieutenants 500 – 800 acres
Captains 500 – 800 acres
Majors 1000 acres

Unfortunately by the time the bureaucracy of allocation had worked its way to actually issuing grants, many of the men had died or were too old to work the land. As a result numerous grants of monetary scrip were issued during the 1840’s and 1850’s, in lieu of actual deeds of land to the aged veterans of the Battalion.

     As a final word, in 1837, the Upper Canada rebellion prompted the Provincial Legislature to enact the terms for the raising of a new "Incorporated Militia". Records not only indicate that many of the men who had served in the original regiment returned to the colours, but ironically were issued with the same weapons and accoutrements that had been stockpiled from the regiment in 1815.

 


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