History Timeline 1810s

Image above: The U.S.S. Constitution captures the British war ship Guerrier, War of 1812. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Battle of New Orleans, E. Percy Moran, 1910. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

War of 1812

U.S. Timeline - The 1810s

The War of 1812

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  • Timeline

  • 1813 - Detail

    April 27, 1813 - The Battle of York (Toronto, Canada) is held when American troops raid and destroy, but do not occupy the city.

    Battle of York

    The War of 1812 was in its second year, and was being fought throughout the United States and Canada. The new capital city of Washington, D.C., including the White House, had not yet been burned. However, American troops were convinced that taking the fight to the enemy in their territory might weaken the resolve of the British to lose their dominion in Canada. So on April 27, 1813, seventeen hundred American forces and sixteen ships with eight hundred sailors and one hundred and twelve cannons assaulted York, Canada, today's Toronto. Two of the ships were troop transport vessels.

    York was the capital of Upper Canada, a significant target, with a fort, Fort York, manned by seven hundred and fifty British soldiers and Ojibwe Indians. The American forces were led by Zebulon Pike; the British helmed by Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. He had been ordered to Canada when the war broke out and given a baroncy for his service. He had successfully led troops to victory in the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Pike was the explorer of the American west and Louisiana for Thomas Jefferson who had been promoted to Brigadier General for his part in the Battle of Tippecanoe in Tecumseh's War of 1811. He was only thirty-four on the day of the Battle of York.

    American strategy had been expansion into the rivers and waters of Canada with their potention for trade and transportation, and to take control of Canada. They had not done that yet, but it was an important goal set by President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr., and General Henry Dearborn. They concentrated their troops and warships at Sackett's Harbor and desired to capture Kingston, which harbored most of the British naval vessels. After that, they would capture York, the capital city. They had placed three thousand troops at Buffalo; three thousand three hundred on the Niagara frontier, and four thousand at Sackett's Harbor. There was an additional five thousand at Lake Champlain and two thousand south of Detroit. The total amount of British and Canadian forces across the entire area was seven thousand seven hundred. Sheaffe know of those deficiencies, as well as those at Fort York, and the rear of the town, which was defenseless.

    However, plans changed when Dearborn got a report that Kingston was too heavily fortified, and that the British ships at Kingston were still locked in by ice. So the strategy reversed. They would first send Zebulon Pike and Commodore Chauncey to leave Sackett's Harbor, New York and attack the capital city, then take Kingston. The winter with Lake Ontario frozen had slowed his progress north, but they finally reached the city by April 27, and took on enemy fire from the Indian allies along the path from the landing site west of town to the fort. However, Chancey had been very precise in positioning his fleet at three locations around the town after he sailed into position around Gibraltar Point after 5 a.m.; one, he landed troops west of downtown near Grenadier Lake in Humber Bay; two, he took a second position at the bottom of Dufferin Street near the British western battery; and three, he blockaded the harbor directly fronting Fort York.

    The residents had seen the approaching ships. Poet Charles Mair wrote," "What news afoot? Why every one's afoot and coming here. York's citizens are turned to warriors. The learned professions go a-soldiering. And gentle hearts beat high for Canada. For, as you pass, on every hand you see. Through the neglected openings of each house. Through doorways, windows, our Canadian maids, Strained by, their parting lovers to their breasts, And loyal matrons busy round their lords. Buckling their arms-on, or, with tearful eyes, Kissing them to the war."

    At each position, the guns from Chauncey's ships were too strong to contend with, allowing Pike's men to go ashore. They easily captured the fort with his superior numbers with General Sheaffe ordering a retreat by early afternoon, leaving the local militia to negotiate condition for their surrender.

    Outcome of the Battle

    The British, knowing that they stood little chance for victory, retreated as the battle continued, but not before setting the fort on fire to prevent the Americans from gaining its supplies and gunpowder, which exploded the powder magazine. That wounded two hundred and twenty-two American soldiers, and killed thirty-eight, including General Pike, as they rounded up prisoners around the fort. It also took the lives of up to forty British and allied soldiers. So the capture came at a very high cost, and the British and their allies reached Kingston during a hard march after the explosion.

    The remaining American soldiers retaliated against the city of York itself, burning public buildings, the Palace of Government and the Courthouse, plus other businesses and houses. However, they only occupied the city from April 27 to May 1. There seemed to be no strategic value to an attempt to remain, and the bounty gotten in the town and fort, outside capture of two ships that might assist on Fort Ontario that summmer, however one of which was destroyed by the British as they left. The capital was only a city of one thousand people, most of which lived along the River Don.

    It is often thought that the 1814 burning of Washington, D.C. and the White House was done by the British in retaliation for what the Americans had done to York.

    The surrender of the fort cost British Brigadier General Sheaffe his reputation for giving up the fort so easily, and he was recalled to England. The old Fort of New York is now Fort York National Historic Site, rebuilt after the attack and continued to be used for military purposes until turned into a historic site between 1923 and 1934.

    As far as the name change of the town, York became the incorporated city of Toronto on March 6, 1834.

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    Image above: Birdseye view of American ships approaching for the Battle of York, 1914, Owen Staples. Courtesy Toronto Public Library via Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Map of the Battle of York, 1868, Benson Lossing. Courtesy "The Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812," Harper and Brothers, New York, via Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: "Battle of York," American Battlefields Trust, battlefields.org; Toronto Public Library; "The Battle of York," 1913, Barlow Cumberland, M.A.; archives.org; Wikipedia Commons.

    Battle of York

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