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Lower Canada

Letter Several American offensives were aimed at Lower Canada with the intention of cutting the St. Lawrence supply line by capturing Montreal. Invasions in the fall of 1812 and spring of 1814 barely crossed the borders before turning back.

A more vigorous attempt was made in the fall of 1813, but the American army retreated after the Battle of Châteauguay just south of Montreal. Colonel de Salaberry's clever use of terrain convinced the Americans that they were facing overwhelming numbers.

The Royal Navy and rugged terrain protected Quebec City and the Maritime Provinces from any serious threat of invasion from the United States. In the first year of the war the United States navy won a number of small ship actions in the Atlantic which provided the same boost to morale in the republic as arose in Upper Canada after the capture of Detroit and the Battle of Queenston Heights.

Watercolour: Montreal, Quebec [ca. 1792]

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Montreal, Quebec, [ca. 1792]
Elizabeth Simcoe
Simcoe family fonds
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-57
Archives of Ontario, I0006347

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1814: The Shift in Power

Number 1814 saw a shift in the relative power of the two protagonists in the Western Hemisphere. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 Great Britain was able to move large numbers of troops to North America for the first time. The Royal Navy provided the British with great flexibility in how they would bring these reinforcements to bear that year.

As both sides were already trying to negotiate a treaty of peace, the objective would be to capture territory and damage American interests to offset any territories in Upper Canada held by the United States at the conclusion of the conflict.

How was the power to be brought to bear against the United States?

Upper Canada remained a difficult place to mount military operations. It was decided to launch a three-pronged attack on the United States that would take advantage of their relative strengths.

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The Attack on Plattsburg

Letter Plattsburgh served as the main American naval base on Lake Champlain in New York State. It was hoped that destroying the American fleet on the lake and capturing the base could be used to bargain against the similar British loss on Lake Erie the previous year.

Illustration: Forts and Batteries at Plattsburg, 1809

The expedition ended in failure when General Prevost, with more than 12,000 troops, withdrew on the defeat of his war vessels at the Battle of Lake Champlain.

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Forts and Batteries at Plattsburg, 1809
Benson J. Lossing in
The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
An illustration
Reference Code: 971 .034 LOS, page 860
Archives of Ontario Library


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The Blockade and Raids on the America Atlantic Coast

Letter The Royal Navy was able to establish a blockade on the Atlantic coast of the United States that placed major restrictions on their ability to trade with other nations. It was also decided to make use of the mobility provided by the navy to launch raids on the coast and occupy territory to be used in negotiations for revisions to the border in the final settlement.

Parts of Maine were occupied and annexed. Washington was attacked, and at the Battle of Bladensburg American forces were defeated. This allowed the British to occupy the capital and destroy many of the public buildings in retaliation for the destruction of York in 1813.

The attempt to capture the naval facilities at Baltimore a short time later was defeated when the bombardment from the Royal Navy failed to force the surrender of Fort McHenry. The Star Spangled Banner commemorates this event.

Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane sustained a series of raids against American coastal communities and shipping throughout the summer of 1814 to put further pressure on the American authorities.

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March of the British army
from Benedict to Bladensburg
Benson J. Lossing in
The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
An illustration
Reference Code: 971 .034 LOS, page 929
Archives of Ontario Library


Illustration: March of the British Army from Benedict to Bladensburg

“Disembarked at Benedic point on 19th/ next day commenced our March for Washington, arrived at Blaydensburgh about 2 pm on 24th found the enemy drawn up in order of battle and possessing a very strong position they were immediately attacked by our light Troops who in the course of 3/4s of an hour beat them and took 13 pieces of cannon they retreated in the direction of Washington but our troops being much fatigued from the heat of the weather and Marching were not able to pursue them, therefore rested on the field of action until sunset…Arrived at Washington about 9 o’clock p.m. on entering the Town we were fired upon from a large House on our right…in consequence of which it was immediately set on fire, and then proceeded to the other public buildings which we served in the same manner…25th a party this day were sent to the Arsenal where was found 60 pieces of cannon chiefly brass, with a considerable quantity of Arms, Clothing, and a variety of other stores, the entire of which was destroyed; unfortunately we had several Men Killed & Wounded in the execution of this duty from a quantity of Gun Powder exploding, which the Enemy had concealed in a well…”

Journal entry August 1814
Lieutenant David Kinnear fonds
Reference Code: F 917
Archives of Ontario

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The Attack on New Orleans

Letter The Gulf coast of the United States also provided opportunities for combined action by the Royal Navy and the British army. The Mississippi was already a major commercial route and New Orleans an important port. The closing of the Mississippi (difficult because of the maze of waterways in the Mississippi Delta) required the capture of the city.

Illustration: Battle of New Orleans

A poorly executed attack led to a severe defeat of the British forces under General Packenham at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. This American victory played a role in the rise of their commander, Andrew Jackson, to the Presidency in the 1830s.

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Battle of New Orleans
Benson J. Lossing in
The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
An illustration
Reference Code: 971 .034 LOS, page 1040
Archives of Ontario Library


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