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Niagara, Fort

A defensive work on the east side of Niagara River, near its mouth. Its building was begun as early as 1673, when La Salle enclosed a small spot there with palisades. In 1687 De Nonville constructed a quadrangular fort there, with four bastions. It was enlarged to quite a strong fortification by the French in 1725.

The plan of the campaign of 1755 (see French and Indian War) contemplated an expedition against Forts Niagara and Frontenac, to be led in person by General Shirley. With his own and Pepperell's regiments, lately enlisted in New England, and some irregulars and Indians drawn from New York, Shirley marched from Albany to Oswego, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, where he intended to embark for Niagara. It was a tedious march, and he did not reach Oswego until Aug. 21. The troops were then disabled by sickness and discouraged by the news of Braddock's defeat. Shirley's force was 2,500 in number on Sept. 1. He began the erection of two strong forts at Oswego, one on each side of the river. The prevalence of storms, sickness in his camp, and the desertion of a greater part of his Indian allies, caused him to relinquish the design against Niagara; so, leaving a sufficient number of men at Oswego to complete and garrison the forts, he marched the remainder back to Albany, where he arrived Oct. 24.

In 1759, accompanied by Sir William Johnson as his second in command, Gen. John Prideaux collected his forces (chiefly provincial) at Oswego, for an attack on Fort Niagara. The influence of Sir [455] William made the Six Nations disregard their late treaty of neutrality with the French, and a considerable number joined Prideaux's forces. Sailing from Oswego, the troops reached their destination, and landed, without opposition, on July 7, and immediately began a siege. On the 19th Prideaux was killed by the bursting of a cannon, and the command devolved on Johnson. The garrison, expecting reinforcements from the southern and western French forts, held out for three weeks, when the expected succor appeared (July 24)—1,200 French regulars and an equal number of Indians. Prepared for their reception, Johnson totally routed this relieving force. A large portion of them were made prisoners, and the next day (July 25) the fort and its dependencies, with the garrison of 700 men, were surrendered to the English. This connectinglink of the French military posts between Canada and Louisiana was thus effectually broken, and was never reunited. The encumbrance of prisoners and lack of transportation prevented Johnson from joining Amherst at Montreal, and, after garrisoning Fort Niagara, he returned home.

During the Revolutionary War the fort was the rendezvous of British troops, Tories, and Indians, who desolated central New York, and sent predatory bands into Pennsylvania. “Then,” says De Veaux, “civilized Europe revelled with savage Americans, and ladies of education and refinement mingled in the society of those whose only distinction was to wield the bloody tomahawk and the scalping-knife. Then the squaws of the forest were raised to eminence, and the most unholy unions between them and officers of highest rank were smiled upon and countenanced.” Fort Niagara remained in possession of the British until the frontier posts were given up to the Americans, in 1796.

In 1812 the fort was garrisoned by the Americans, commanded by Lieut.-Col. George McFeely. The British had raised breastworks in front of the village of Newark (q. v.), opposite the fort, at intervals, all the way up to Fort George, and placed behind them several mortars and a long train of battering cannon. These mortars began a bombardment of Fort Niagara on the morning of Nov. 21, and at the same time a cannonade was opened at Fort George and its vicinity. From dawn until twilight there was a continuous roar of artillery from the line of batteries on the Canada shore; and during the day 2,000 red-hot shot were poured upon the American works. The mortars sent showers of destructive bombshells. Buildings in the fort were set on fire several times, and were extinguished by great exertions. Meanwhile the garrison returned the assault gallantly. Newark was set on fire by shells several times; so, also, were buildings in Fort George, and one of its batteries was silenced. Shots from an outwork of Fort Niagara (the Salt Battery) sunk a British sloop in the river. Night ended this furious artillery duel.

Early in October, 1813, General McClure, of the New York militia, was left in command of Fort George, on the Niagara River. In November the startling intelligence reached him from the westward that Lieutenant-General Drummond was approaching with a heavy force of white men and Indians. McClure's garrison was then reduced to sixty effective men, and he determined to abandon the post and cross over to Fort Niagara. The weather became extremely cold, and on Dec. 10 he attempted to blow up the fort while his troops were crossing the river. He also wantonly set on fire the village of Newark, near by, and 150 houses were speedily laid in ashes.

The exasperated British determined on retaliation. They crossed the Niagara River on the night of Dec. 18, about 1,000 strong, regulars and Indians, under Colonel Murray. Gross negligence or positive treachery had exposed the fort to easy capture. It was in command of Captain Leonard. When, at 3 A. M., a British force approached to assail the main gate, it was standing wide open. Leonard had left the fort on the evening before, and spent the night with his family, 3 miles distant. With a competent and faithful commander at his post, the fort, with its garrison of nearly 400 effective men, might have been saved. The fort was entered without resistance, when the occupants of a block-house within and invalids in the barracks made a stout fight for a while. This conflict was over before the [456] remainder of the garrison were fairly awake, and the fort in the possession of the British. The victory might have been almost bloodless, had not a spirit of revenge, instigated by the black ruins of Newark, prevailed. A large number of the garrison, part of them invalids, were bayonetted after resistance had ceased. This horrid work was performed on Sunday, Dec. 19. The loss of the Americans was eighty killed—many of them hospital patients—fourteen wounded, and 344 made prisoners. The British loss was six men killed, and Colonel Murray, three men, and a

Fort Niagara, from form George, in 1812.

surgeon wounded. The British fired a signal-cannon, announcing their success, which put in motion a detachment of regulars and Indians at Queenston for further work of destruction. They crossed the river to Lewiston, and plundered and laid waste the whole New York frontier to Buffalo.

In 1814, on the retirement of General Wilkinson, General Brown, who had been promoted to major-general, became commander-in-chief of the Northern Department. He had left French Mills (Feb. 15), on the Salmon River, where the army had wintered, with most of the troops there (2,000 in number), and on reaching Sackett's Harbor received an order from the Secretary of War to march with them to the Niagara frontier, to which line Generals Scott and Ripley had already gone. The object was to recover Fort Niagara, restrain British movements westward, and, if possible, to invade Canada. Brown, however, did not go to that frontier until many weeks afterwards, owing to menaces of the British on the northern border. It was during Brown's suspense that Oswego was attacked and captured. General Scott finally led the army to the Niagara and made his headquarters at Buffalo, where General Brown appeared at the close of June. On the morning of July 3, Generals Scott and Ripley crossed the Niagara River with a considerable force and captured Fort Erie, nearly opposite Black Rock. The garrison withdrew to the intrenched camp of General Riall at Chippewa, a few miles below. The Americans pressed forward, and in the open fields near Chippewa they fought Riall's army (July 5), and drove the British in haste to Burlington Heights (see Chippewa, battle of). Lieutenant-General Drummond then gathered all available troops and advanced to the Niagara River. He met the Americans near the great cataract of the Niagara, and there, on the evening of July 25, one of the most sanguinary battles of the war [457] was fought, beginning at sunset and ending at midnight (Lundy's Lane, Battle of.). The Americans were left in quiet possession of the field. Brown and Scott were both wounded, and the command devolved on General Ripley, who withdrew to Fort Erie. Drummond again advanced with 5,000 men, and appeared before Fort Erie on Aug. 4 and prepared for a siege. There was almost incessant cannonading from the 7th to the 14th. On the 15th Drummond attempted to carry the place by assault, but was repulsed with heavy loss (see Erie, Fort). Nearly a month elapsed without much being done, when General Brown, who had resumed the chief command, ordered a sortie from the fort. It was successful (Sept. 17). The Americans pressed the besiegers back towards Chippewa. Informed that General Izard was approaching with reinforcements for Brown, Drummond retired to Fort George. The Americans abandoned and destroyed Fort Erie Nov. 5, crossed the river, and went into winter quarters at Black Rock, Buffalo, and Batavia.

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