One-hundred and ninety-eight years ago, on December 30, 1813, the Battle of Buffalo raged near the Niagara River in New York State during the War of 1812 between the United States and the British Empire.
Seen as an act of retaliation for the burning of the Canadian village of Newark (now called Niagara-on-the-Lake) by US forces, British troops repulsed the defenders and engaged in terrible destruction, including the burning of Buffalo, N.Y.
British Major General Riall crossed the Niagara River at midnight on December 29 and, in the early hours of the following day, delegated Lt. Colonel John Gordon and the Royal Scots to land at Black Rock to attack the enemy.
US Major General Amos Hall was alerted to the British presence when Riall’s advance guard seized a bridge at Conjunckaty Creek. He ordered a detachment to attack the British left and advanced toward Black Rock.
As dawn broke, Hall directed “a very heavy fire of cannon and musketry” at Gordon’s Royal Scots as they tried to land. Gordon was supported by a five-gun battery, but his regiment suffered heavy casualties before it could go ashore.
Riall advanced against Hall’s center, sending men from his left wing to strike the US right flank. Although the Americans fought fiercely, their right wing was routed in half an hour.
To avoid being outflanked, Hall ordered a retreat. The British pursued his forces to Buffalo, two miles away. Then, the British and their Indian allies sacked the city, burning down all but one building, the St. John House.
“We could see the smoke from burning Buffalo,” wrote one fleeing American. “We continued on about three miles, finding empty houses plenty. We went into one house where the folks had thrown everything into the garden.
“Butter, lard, pork, and feathers from the beds lay around in sweet confusion. We tried to straighten out matters, but with the owners not returning until spring, we remained in the house during the winter.”
British troops also destroyed the Buffalo navy yard, three armed schooners and a sloop before returning over the Niagara to Canada. The official US casualty figures were reported as 52 wounded and 50 killed.
The British commander-in-chief in North America, Lt. General George Prevost, issued a proclamation on January 22, 1814, expressing regret that the “miseries inflicted upon the inhabitants of Newark” had caused such severe retaliation against the citizens of the United States.