It was the evening of July 25, 1814, on a pastoral tract above the
river that would become part of today’s Niagara Falls, Ontario. In view
were some dirt cart-roads, cleared fields and quaint buildings,
including a couple of homes and a church, as well as stands of trees
and patches of wood.
The natural world was at that precious equipoise between day and night,
before the gaudy summer sunset gives fully over to the thick turquoise
of the summer eve. It was that identical mood of time and place that
would inspire the poets of the age to try to catch its essence in
phrases, metaphors and full odes, with likenings to nightingales, music
and inspiration itself. At Lundy’s Lane, though, a different kind of
stasis was at work, before a different type of transition.
Here within hearing of the world’s greatest waterfall on a continent
young to this type of clash, two resolute armies were drawn up and
glaring. Like two duelists drawing breath before drawing blades or
taking paces, American and British-Canadian forces about to hurl
themselves into each other’s smoke and steel held their separate
positions in sight of the church and graveyard half a mile west of the
cliffs above the Falls. And if we look to Romantic Age artists to
summarize what was to come, we may need the painters. Only the outrage
of Goya would make us feel the tragedy and offense of all the
soon-to-be killed or envision the gloating brute that battle itself is,
stoking the satanic furnace with young lives. Only the turbulence of
Turner could make us sense the flashes on the gusts of cannon-smoke;
the fire-lit clouds; the clashing, chugging percussion; the commands of
officers; and the cries of men.
An American force under General Winfield Scott
(inset) had been led
into a target range by clever British planning and the circumstances of
territory. Its 1200 had emerged into an open field framed by woods and
flanked to the east by more woods and eventually the cliffs over the
forbidding, inspiring falls.
Up to 3000 of the Empire’s fighters were drawn up on the high ground by
Lundy’s Lane, a farmer’s road that started at the Queenston Road (the
Portage Road that would be today’s Niagara Parkway) and headed west
through today’s city of Niagara Falls. From this position their cannon
were a decisive advantage. Help was on the way for both sides, and as
of the delicate end-of-day window, each was waiting to swell to its
For the Americans, help was coming along the river from the south in
two deliveries. The first was led by General Eleazar Ripley and, when
the second arrived, by the Army of the Niagara’s high commander, Major
General Jacob Brown (1775-1828). For much of the month, the
stouthearted, ruggedly handsome north-country Quaker had kept his main
camp north of the Falls at Queenston. This was good for pressuring the
British power centers of Fort George and Fort Niagara, but it was also
too close to them. It was easy for their allied forces to harass
Brown’s supply lines on both sides of the river. By the last week in
July Brown had moved farther south to set up along the Chippawa River
closer to his Buffalo base.
For the British, their reinforcements came in piecemeal from many parts
of the Niagara Peninsula. This was good and bad. They were going to
solidly outnumber the American force, but a lot of organization was
involved in moving the pieces, shuffling units around and fitting new
ones in, trying to counter the other’s moves before the shooting
started, looking for any opening without giving one of its own. It was
almost dark before a glint of skin under the armor appeared, and it was
on the British side. Against great odds–a bigger, more seasoned army,
with better position and more firepower–Winfield Scott would attack.
Why would he dare?
General Winfield Scott has been criticized for the chances he took at
Lundy’s Lane, attacking before his force came to full strength and
repeatedly risking other men's lives, his critics say, all to bring
glory to his own name. But that’s just one faction of opinion, and to
me it doesn’t make sense in the light of Scott’s behavior elsewhere in
his career. War has a number of dirty little secrets and
counterintuitive understandings. One of them is that some retreats are
riskier than attacks.
At least until the coming of urbanized warfare with all its social and
technical innovations–like career soldiers, year-round war and
high-powered weapons–the battlefield kill rate could be fairly low,
even for losing armies. In the boxing motif, most preindustrial-age
wins were on points, not knockouts. When two of the old armies stood up
and slugged it out like a pair of determined bar-fighters, they
bloodied each other’s noses, wore each other out, and then one got the
idea it might be losing and sullenly drew back. Often just happy to see
it go, the other might be too tired to follow up and simply stood there
woofing. When it recovered, the winner exploited the territory or other
gains and advanced, often with new allies. (History is a game of
fair-weather friends.) If the scenario happened the same way enough
times, a war was decided. When armies fight like this with the
old-style weapons and tactics, they don’t often hurt each other too
badly if they keep their guards up. The indispensable feature of the
best armies of the preindustrial world was cohesion, one reason they
almost always beat lower-tech, less-urbanized foes.
Military knockouts–massacres and annihilations–happen in disorganized
retreats, when an army no longer holds together, when small parts of it
can be attacked one at a time, when soldiers break and run or even drop
their weapons. Breaking formation for an army is like plates of a
knight’s armor dropping off in the middle of a duel; a panicky retreat
is the knight turning his back. The victor loses little, the loser
loses almost everything. The tactics of the British Empire’s armies
were in fact designed to capitalize on this stage of a battle, to hold
long enough in the face of anything for the opponent to finally crack.
This was what Winfield Scott faced with a withdrawal that would have
been slow and agonizing. Any retreat from the position he’d been led
into would have to be back down the dirt-trodden Portage/Queenston
Road, a bottleneck by any measure, that would have exposed him to a
ruinous fire and then a charge. Scott’s force was like a snake in a
drain; if it was going to be attacked, it had better be all the way in
or all the way gone. But standing in place was as suicidal as a poor
retreat; that was just making itself a target for those cannon. At the
cusp of sunset, Scott struck.
British Major General Phineas Riall
(inset) had had his army waiting
like a greeting party by about 6. He had been ordered as a steady
policy not to engage in battle. When the Yanks showed up by Lundy’s
Lane and acted scrappy, he followed the general plan by starting to
fall back. This meant keeping some units at the front in a state of
readiness while others cautiously withdrew. It was good news and bad
news when his boss, Gordon Drummond
, arrived from Fort George. Drummond
brought more troops; but he changed the plan that Riall had already
commenced, and it led to some confusion, particularly on the east side
of the British formation. (Go. Which way? Stop. Us? Who’s on first?)
This was a pretty rare moment for a British army, and the chink
wouldn’t be there long. American General Winfield Scott decided to see
if he could slip in the knife.
To encourage the chaos, Scott sent skirmishers at one of these shifting
units that wasn’t ready to do any fighting. He also sent Major Thomas
, an imposing Kentuckian, and the U.S. 25th Infantry north down an
unguarded dirt road, probably today’s Allen, according to the superb
Canadian historian Donald Graves. (It might have been Allendale,
between today’s Main and Ferry. It was a bit east of the battle
theater.) The 25th, “The Grey Doom” that had done so well at Chippewa,
came out of the twilight, caved in the British left, and got close
enough to commence musket-firing that wounded General Riall.
The relentless Drummond rallied other units easily and covered up the
gap, but a couple of things had happened: his army’s bell had been
rung; he’d lost his number two man; and he had pulled a heavy core of
his army back a bit to the north. The last move thinned the protection
he had set up for his cannon. This in turn meant that someone didn’t
have to go through the whole army to get at them, which would prove to
be a turning point an hour or so in the future.
This first skirmish led to surprises.
Jesup’s troop had sent out a flanking party led by U.S. Captain Daniel
. It was way into enemy territory northeast of Lundy’s Lane, and
in the thinning light, it was hard to tell from a unit of redcoats.
That’s understandable. In profile, the British and American soldiers of
the day could be indistinguishable. The equipment and, except for color
(red or navy blue), the uniforms differed only minutely. Even the war’s
distinctive head-gear, a top hat with a beanie-bill (the useless,
pretentious shako!), was period-generic.
Like a grizzly snagging the leaping salmon without leaving its perch by
the waterfall, Ketcham’s troop held its ground northeast of the British
positions and waited as prisoner after prisoner entered their clutches
along the Portage Road. Some were scouts and small units, but many of
them were messengers sent to find out what became of every missing
messenger before them. One of these hauls took in the brave and
composed Canadian dragoon leader William Hamilton Merritt. Another was
one of the biggest catches of the war.
As British General Riall was being ferried up the road with a serious
arm wound, his party came up to a group of soldiers. “Make room there,
men, for General Riall!” one of them barked out.
“Aye, aye, Sir!” called back the cheery commander, parting his troop so
the little caravan could enter. Those at the back did not give way, and
Riall’s procession found itself ringed with bayonets.
“What does all this mean?” asked Riall.
“You are prisoners, Sir,” he was answered.
“But I am General Riall!”
“There is no doubt on that point,” said the leader of the shadow-troop.
“And I, Sir, am Captain Ketcham of the United States Army.”
“Captain Ketcham! Catch ’em!” Riall forced a grim smile. “Well, you have caught us, sure enough.”
Ketcham’s troop already had too many prisoners to handle, and when
Riall fell into its lap it headed back to the American lines. Its luck
so far had been too good to be true, and it got caught in a clash in
the woods on its return trip during which some of its prisoners ran
off. But Riall and Merritt were still in custody. Captain Ketcham
delivered Riall to Winfield Scott in person. Riall would ask Scott to
be returned to his lines to have his wound treated, sort of a “the dog
ate my homework” free-pass request. General Winfield assured him that
the U.S. had good surgeons as well and directed him to be sent to them.
Riall was on his way to the military camp and hospital in
Williamsville. He would lose that arm.
Riall’s gift-wrapped delivery would be a cause for cheering, and the
Americans needed one. Winfield Scott’s three battalions below the hill
were catching hell from the British cannon.
Scott himself had led several charges, forging into weak points in the
British formations, coming into closing range, delivering volleys, then
surging out before conclusive force could lash back. It was keeping the
British on their toes. Not all his attacks succeeded, though. Anything
he sent against the British center broke like the water on the rocks
below the Falls. This was a rock-hard opponent he was facing, and
reinforcements for it were pouring in. Twelve hundred redcoats had just
arrived from a base at Twelve Mile Creek. Where was Scott’s help? Where
was his commander?
Just a single brigade under Eleazar Ripley
would turn out to be on its
way. American high commander Jacob Brown was not yet convinced that the
full British strength was at Lundy’s Lane and that the true pressure
might not be coming at another target. Even with Ripley, the American
force was outgunned, out-positioned, and outnumbered. It would find an
unexpected ally: confusion.
All the night’s conditions favored concealment and illusion. Part of
the fiendish obscurity was natural. The moon was wan and faint and
often blocked by the clouds above. By ten, they say, she may even have
been down on the other side of the slumbering form of the earth. The
battle-theater, too, had dips and rises and occasional clumps of woods.
But the clash of men would be just as much to blame.
Even in daylight, the musket-fire of the day gave off smoke that acted
like a shroud. Once the cannon opened up, the earthly curtains could be
impenetrable until a breeze parted them or long moments of stillness
settled them. And once the fighting at Lundy’s Lane heated up, so many
commanders were killed and wounded that many companies wandered
leaderless, looking for orders, often in parts of the battlefield in
which they were completely unexpected. Some were sent on missions and
got flat out lost. The circumstance, though, was probably the only
thing that kept the Americans from being completely overwhelmed. It was
also the cause of a number of almost comical incidents, and it seems as
if the British with their greater numbers of men and units were the
goats of more of them.
Retreating from one of its surges, Winfield Scott’s force was twice
mistaken for a British unit and allowed to pass without pressure. In
one case, just as a British regiment was ready to fire, one of its
leaders wanted to make sure this was not one of his own errant squads
and called his men to hold. “The 89th?” he shouted out.
“The 89th!” called back the Americans brightly, and continued their
passage as if under British orders. In those days it was hard to tell a
Yank from a Brit by speech, and so many Irish were on either side that
one of those accents was no clue, either. Scott’s luck ran out, though,
on the way back to the American position south of the main contest. In
some thin woods, his brigade was beset by two tough British regiments,
the Royal Scots and the 41st (nicknamed, “The Invalids”), forward of
their own lines and likewise not where they were expected.
When the gun only holds one bullet at a time and the reloading under
duress is nearly impossible, there’s only one way to stop a brigade in
its tracks: get right in its way, which the Scots and Invalids rushed
in to do. The Americans got in their way right back.
Those long guns were clubs at one end and spears, with the bayonet, at
the other, and most officers carried swords. The fighting was intense:
hand-to-hand, toe-to-toe, slashing, clubbing, stabbing and hacking. Up
came a Scottish-Canadian militia outfit, the Glengarry Light Infantry,
to help out, and this could have been the end of Scott’s force. But the
Glengarry boys couldn’t tell who was who and started fighting the men
on their own side. This could have been a bit of inadvertent revenge,
at least as regards the Scots. Earlier in the evening, the Glengarries
had been in the woods on the west side of the Lundy’s Lane church and
gotten shot up by the Royal Scots. Surely the Glengarries were still
smarting. In the mixup, Scott’s troop went on its way.
If the British had been in any doubt that the Americans could be
resolute fighters, it was all over by this point in the evening. Both
sides knew there would be no easy victory.
One horse, then another, was shot from under Winfield Scott. He was
covered with cuts and bruises. A cannonball bounding like a big black
grounder knocked him off his third horse. Still, he stayed and fought,
rallying his men, hoping to give his troops some breathing room. On of
these charges, a heavy musket-ball shattered Scott’s left shoulder and
put an end to his war. Canadian Volunteer Benajah Mallory was among the
party that helped him off the field. Scott would be lucky to survive a
wound that would have killed so many others. He’d be off recuperating
in Williamsville with Sir Phineas Riall.
It was full dark when American General Jacob Brown
finally arrived with
the rest of the American force. They were still outgunned and
outnumbered, but the obscurity–and the gunsmoke–was a big equalizer.
Those cannon in the cemetery were the key. The British needed to keep
firing them, and the Americans had to turn them around or still them.
That meant taking the hilltop cemetery, but how?
American high commander Jacob Brown called over Lieutenant Colonel
(inset | 1776-1851), a promising New Hampshireman, to ask
if his 21st Infantry might be up to the task of scooting round the
lines, sneaking up the hill, turning off the cannon, and holding on
till his mates could join him. If it was one of those moments that any
light broke the clouds, Brown could probably have seen the man’s eyes.
He was not sure he would ever see them again. “I’ll try, Sir,” was all
Miller said. Then he met with his men.
Leading up to the cemetery was an old rail fence with a bit of
undergrowth along it. It was just possible that with British attention
turned to other points, this could provide enough cover for a force of
modest size to creep into the woody high ground and come upon the
cannon teams undetected until within closing range. Otherwise, this was
a suicide mission.
Like a tennis player opening up one side of the court by hitting to the
other, Brown ordered attacks on other positions by the 23rd Infantry
and other skirmishers as feints. The rest of the army held. Miller and
his 300 were the true spearhead.
Like shadows Miller’s men moved along the fence. They probably crawled
one after the other most of the way. Like ghosts they crept through the
darkened cemetery at the back of the British positions and drew
together, then closed until within a few yards of the cannon. They took
positions silently, then took aim. The insufferable smoke and pounding
of the cannon teams was a blessing to the attackers here. When they saw
the faces of the cannoneers in their flashes, they fired, then charged,
bristling rifle-knives. It must have been horrific for the British
cannon teams to see half their fellows drop, then enemy soldiers appear
out of the stones; they must have thought the dead were rising to stick
them. In moments the bloody work was over. Miller had his hill, and the
A robust British force was stationed in the ravine below to protect
this cannon battery from just such an attack from the logical
direction. As soon as its soldiers got the picture, they fired on
Miller’s position, killed some of his men, and charged uphill with
swords and bayonets. They were repelled in determined close-quarters
fighting. Reinforced, they tried two more times. Miller’s men could
quite well have braced themselves and even fired from behind
gravestones if they had time to reload. But Miller held his hill. Even
better, he was getting some help.
Now that they were no longer ducking cannon-fire, American units
advanced on the hill from different directions. The British tried to
head them off or supplant them. This was the final stage of the
fighting at Lundy’s Lane. For the men of that night, this hill and the
cannon on it became the focus of everything in the world.
Regiments and units groped and clawed each other at the blood-slick
cross of the two roads and the trampled field on the slope behind it.
They fought on the hill, or they fought those trying to reach the hill.
All the while, Sir Gordon urged his men on. “Stick to them, my fine
fellows!” Then one of the Americans shot him through the neck, and his
foppish cheerleading was done for the night.
Few clashes in history have been this grim. None were ever fought under
more surreal circumstances. Like the army-spelling mists the old Druids
were said to call up, dessicating tempests of gun- and cannon-smoke
blocked sightlines, clogged the woods, and hid whole regiments. They
were silvery if any light broke the high clouds and fell through them,
and dusty gold at the instant one of their own flashes lit them. As if
driven by a capricious enchanter, when a breeze parted the caustic
shrouds, teams of foes who had never known of each other’s presence
rushed to the attack. When the sky blinked and the gun-clouds surged,
the struggle might have been inside a cave for all anyone could see of
it. At any lapse in the fighting, the mighty gust of the greatest
cataract in the world could just be heard to the southeast.
The British tried desperately to take back the cemetery and the
artillery. Three redcoat waves were driven back from the hill over the
next two hours. Many of the British here were fresh from the European
wars and the worst fighting against Napoleon. They had seen nothing
like what they saw here. “A desperation that bordered on madness,”
remembered one observer of this action at Lundy’s Lane.
The night had more ironies based on the difficulty of telling friend
from foe. Many British regiments had been so gouged by the fighting
that patchy units were often coupled with others in a similar
condition, adding to their confusion about orders, position and
British wit is everywhere praised, but it seems as if more of the
night’s capital lines were delivered by Americans. Mounted New York
Army Captain Ambrose Spencer heard the tramp of marching and saw a
company approaching in the dimness. He rode up to them and called out
in a firm voice. “What regiment is that?”
“The Royal Scots, Sir,” he was answered.
“Halt, Royal Scots,” Spencer called out and rode off chuckling. Pontius
Pilate’s Bodyguard stood where they were, useless to their own cause
until someone found them there and gave them new orders.
Likewise lost in the dark with his 41st Infantry was the memoirist,
Englishman Shadrach Byfield. Byfield reported hearing another
authoritative voice-in-the-night call to his unit and order it to form
up and stand tall as if readying for an inspection. This they did,
which made them perfect targets. A company of concealed Americans took
aim and ripped a musket-volley into them. The 41st fired angrily and
charged in several directions, but the Americans were already off into
the woods, tittering like goblins fresh from a prank.
The last British attack was late in the night and inadvertent. Still
thinking the cemetery held by his own side–as it was when he got the
message to come and reinforce it–British General Hercules Scott’s fresh
103rd Infantry blundered in and found itself surrounded by the U.S.
Army of the Niagara. Greeted from all sides with hot lead and then
bloody steel, the number three ranking redcoat and his outfit were
extracted from the meat grinder only by the mad charges of other
It was midnight. Both sides were exhausted and most high-ranking
officers were hurt. The last British wave had fallen back, and the
firing had faded out. As if caused by the wake of so many souls
departing, an unsummerly chill took Lundy’s Lane. Men remembered
feeling the eerie cold, noticing the bristly roar of the Falls once
again, and realizing for the first time that all along they had fought
to its eternal sigh. The sudden realization of stillness was as
shocking as a sudden sound. As they had been at Chippawa, the Americans
again were left in control of the field, looking out over what they had
By the time the last British rush was over, General Brown
been dealt a wound that would leave any of us thinking of nothing else.
A musket ball had shattered his hip. Brown took stock of the scene.
Those cannon were valuable, but he didn’t have the horses to haul them
off. Manpower could have done it, but his soldiers were exhausted, and
rations and especially water were nonexistent. The last factor may have
been the decider.
Another of the 1812 war’s little secrets was the dehydration that
overtook fighting soldiers. Not only was the smoke in the air a factor,
but to load their guns, the soldiers had to rip open paper gunpowder
cartridges with their teeth. Constantly spitting to get rid of the bit
of powder they always tasted in the process, they needed water as much
as an athlete. They seldom got it. One of the kindest things anyone
could do for a man dying on the battlefield was to give him some water.
Brown left General Ripley to keep an eye on the hill and the cannon and
ordered a general withdrawal. Many officers objected. The cannon were
in American hands. The British had fallen back. But Brown overruled
them and headed most of the army to home base by the Chippawa River.
The British made no attempt to bother them as they left. Once they knew
the fight was over, most of the redcoats dropped and slept where they
But American General Ripley dropped the ball. He left the hill but
didn’t take the cannon with him. He sent a wagon train back the next
day and found the British set up again, all dressed up and planning to
stay. It would have been the Lundy’s Lane battle all over again to take
them back, though with diminished forces. This lapse on Ripley’s part
and a few other errors giving him the appearance of timidity would end
up tarnishing his reputation once the feel-good season was over.
In conservative estimates, each side had taken 900 casualties, and over
250 men had died fighting on the spot by that church and cemetery. Many
wounded would die later. Somehow this obscure collective heroism at
Lundy’s Lane–to no point but pride and no consequence but loss–bespells
me. If there is a Valhalla, many righteous new spaces were reserved at
that eternal banquet. Oh, for a line to it that first night after the
battle when each newcomer from Lundy’s Lane told his tale. Oh, for a
link to the index of the Akhashic records and a way to honor with
memory each of the lost! What stories could have been retold, of gutty
courage in the face of bloody conflict, and then the pathos of a
too-short life passing in a single flicker. One we know stands out.
Captain Abraham Hull
(inset) of the U.S. 9th Infantry was raised like a
brother with his cousin, naval Commodore Isaac Hull, the national hero
of the USS Constitution. Abraham Hull’s father, General William Hull,
was a national disgrace for his meltdown at the Battle of Fort Detroit.
Captain Abraham would have been a walking nerve about that, and there
seems to have been some incident in his own past that may have exposed
him to mockery in front of his whole unit, possibly during a river
crossing at a moment that he was too far into his cups. His sentiments
can hardly be understood in our land and time in which few of us but
struggling once-celebrities or political has-beens can grasp such
desperation at what the Asians might call, “loss of face.”
The early 19th century was still an age in which little was more vital
to a certain class of Western men than the perception of their own
honor. (The female correspondent might have been the perception of
virtue.) It may have been one of the last practical vestiges of
chivalry, the idealized code of knighthood. So important was the
concept of personal honor that men would risk their lives over the
image of it. Dueling was still a practice, often over tiny insults.
Only generations of stable achievement could make family honor, and
nothing but glory could restore it once lost. Honor was gold, but it
was also heavy. A man could live in its glow or even build a name that
shined glory decades back; but he had to uphold it, and a single public
disgrace could doom his own self-worth and pitch shadows into the halls
of the elders. War was opportunity, one of the only chances life gave
to make or restore honor in a single gesture on a grand stage. It was
also a damned desperate one. Like the disgraced Spartan who came home
neither with his shield nor on it, young Abraham Hull may have fought
recklessly at Lundy’s Lane. He may have been fighting to redeem his
Wounded in one of the last attacks, Hull had been left where he fell as
one of the dead. He had been found and revived during the night by
British Lieutenant John Le Couteur, a doctor who left vivid memoirs of
his time in the Niagara war. They shared water, brandy and
conversation. Le Couteur offered to have Hull’s watch, his ring, a
message and other items sent to his wife and family. Still clinging to
the hope of his flickering life, Hull asked to be left alone with a bit
of water and suggested that the pair talk again in the morning. At
daybreak Le Couteur found Hull’s body, stripped of valuables. “Thus
ended the life of a valiant American officer,” ends another of the fine
passages of Canadian author-journalist Pierre Berton. Hull’s marker is
the only one at Drummond Hill to an American. Nine of his unknown
comrades rest like an honor guard behind him.
The next day the British gathered the dead. Their own they buried as
reverently as they could manage. The American dead they burned in a
gigantic pyre, which, considering the circumstances, seems a lot more
noble. A certain related incident stands out in the memoirs of Shadrach
An incapacitated American mistaken for one of the dead had been tossed
onto the bonfire. Revived by the flames, he dragged himself off. One of
the British-allied Native warriors pitched him back on. Again he hauled
himself down, and once more was set in place. The cycle went a couple
more rounds. Each time but the last he was thrown back. An outraged
redcoat officer came up, shot and wounded the Native warrior, pitched
him onto the pyre, and left him sizzling on his own grill.
Historians differ in their interpretation of Lundy’s Lane. Some call
the battle a stalemate; after all, both armies withdrew. Some say the
British and Canadians were victors; after all, the defender wins ties,
and the Americans were so stung by this battle that they were done
crusading about the Niagara peninsula. But since the immediate goal of
the contest was the cannon and the hill, which the Americans held when
the armies parted, you could also say the Americans won. They simply
failed to take the spoils with them. Maybe, as Buffalo’s treasured
historian John Percy suggests, the Grim Reaper was the only winner. I
think there was another: the image of the American soldier.
Until this point in the war, the British high command weren’t sure the
Americans could fight. The win at Chippewa three weeks earlier could
have looked like a one-off. There were no such doubts about Lundy’s
Lane. As for the American fighting spirit, after the battle even “Cold
Steel” Drummond wrote of it, finding the Americans who had wrested the
church grounds away from him “of so determined character.” And
everybody else got it the moment news of the battle got back to London.
“The important fact is,” said an English writer of the day, “that we
have now got an enemy who fights as bravely as ourselves. For some time
the Americans cut no figure on land… They have now proved to us that
they are the same sort of men as those who captured whole armies under
Burgoyne and Cornwallis; that they are neither to be frightened nor
silenced.” The terrible beauty so recently born at Chippewa had just
slouched its first steps to Lundy’s Lane.
The immediate aftermath of Lundy’s Lane was all too mortal, though, and
we take an image of it from the pages of Pierre Berton. A massive,
60-year-old New York farmer who had volunteered to defend his country
lay writhing in a British hospital. A heavy musket ball had shattered
his thigh, but the one that was killing him in such agony was in his
torso. His wife crossed the river under a flag of truce, and British
doctor William “Tiger” Dunlop–another of the war’s characters–let her
go to him. She cradled his head in her arms and rocked back and forth
in incoherent mourning. Then her eyes found their focus, and she lifted
them to the highest ranking officer she could see and delivered her
curse upon history: “O, that the King and the President were both here
this moment to see the injury their quarrels lead to–they would surely
never go to war without a cause that they could give as a reason to God
at the last day, for thus destroying the creatures that He hath made in
his own image.”