The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The British Take Fort Niagara

American Withdrawal Leaves Towns Burning

Fort Niagara, 1814

Caption: Fort Niagara, 1814

To protect the naval base at Sackets Harbor, most of the American army stationed on the Niagara Peninsula was transferred there; the troops that had remained in the Niagara area were of inadequate strength and had to abandon Fort George in December because they could no longer maintain its defence. They did not leave Canada quietly, however, burning Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) and much of Queenston, a cruel act that left civilians without shelter as winter approached.

This devastation was not, however, the work of American soldiers alone. Some Canadians played a major role in this affair by wielding the torch with enthusiasm: these were the Canadian Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Willcocks. Willcocks, a member of the Assembly of Upper Canada when he joined the Americans in July 1813, had immediately been awarded an officer's commission to recruit a corps of Canadians. The Canadian Volunteers in the regular American army consisted of approximately 100 men who served as scouts in the Niagara Peninsula, as well as informers in the zone occupied by the Americans. This corps of renegades was to continue to function until the end of the war.