Niagara, 1814: The United States Army quest for tactical parity in the War of 1812 and its legacy

John Conrad Fredriksen, Providence College


From an American perspective, the 1814 Niagara Campaign is the most important military event of the War of 1812 in Canada. The principal formation of this endeavor, the Left Division, was a modest force of two small regular brigades and one of volunteer militia. Under the inspired leadership of Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, however, its tactical prowess was celebrated and became the focus of reforms in the post-war era. The Left Division's battle record, it has been historically asserted, also provided political support for standing forces that could function within the constraints of American political culture yet blaze the trail of manifest destiny in the decades that followed. The 1814 Niagara Campaign, with its contributions to professionalism and the perceptions of victory it bequeathed to a desperate nation, is viewed as a cornerstone of United States Army tradition.^ My objective in writing this study is three-fold. The first is to render close-focus analysis of the Niagara campaign, its course and consequences. To facilitate this I utilize an operational narrative, one possessing sufficient scope to address broad military concerns, while simultaneously allowing for battlefield discussions. My second goal is methodological. Because Niagara engagements were essentially "soldiers' battles", my narrative draws heavily upon primary evidence generated by men fighting in the ranks. I invoke these materials to counter the traditional reliance by historians on official accounts, which are invariably sanitized by their authors. My final investigation is biographical. By critically assessing lionized figures like Jacob Brown, Winfield Scott, and Sir Gordon Drummond, this study transcends polemics and treats them in a more realistic manner. In sum, critical analysis of the 1814 Niagara Campaign removes the veneer of military glory cloaking it and presents an alternative view: a dangerous undertaking, fraught with inept leadership on both sides and punctuated by unrealistic expectations. Given the inadequacy of existing Niagara scholarship, this study will provide fresh perspective on a seminal event in United States military history. (Abstract shortened by UMI.) ^

Subject Area

History, Canadian|History, United States

Recommended Citation

Fredriksen, John Conrad, "Niagara, 1814: The United States Army quest for tactical parity in the War of 1812 and its legacy" (1993). ETD Collection for Providence College. AAI9332746.