British troops converged on American soldiers encamped on Longwoods road (Hwy 2) at the large ravine east of Wardsville on March 4, 1814. The British with a combined force of 240 troops were joined with 28 natives. The Americans with only about 160 men had a protective defensive position on the west side of the steep ravine and repelled the attack, but then retreated back to Detroit fearing a larger British force would soon arrive. The battle lasted under two hours: the British suffered 14 killed and 52 wounded.
Background: War of 1812
Initially the war went poorly for the Americans when their initial attack from Detroit was prevented by a force of 350 British troops led by Major General Isaac Brock and the capture of Fort Detroit. Another attack on the Niagara Peninsula was repulsed at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Along the Atlantic coast the British navy dominated, attacking at will and often placing levies on towns in return for not burning them to the ground.
The following year American naval capabilities increased within the Great Lakes and in 1813 the Americans gained control of Lake Erie, cutting off British and native forces from supplies. Detroit was recaptured and American forces entered Ontario, travelling up the Thames River. Tecumseh, leader of the confederation of native tribes allied with the British, was killed in the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813.
Control of Lake Ontario changed hands several times, and Lake Champlain was eventually won by the Americans. A large American victory at the Battle of Platssburgh resulted in the retreat of a large British force in 1814, and was the final significant battle prior to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814.
It took two months for news of the peace treaty to spread and fighting continued. The Americans won a major defeat over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, in which the British suffered 2000 casualties. The British then captured Fort Boyer only to discover news of the treaty the following day.
Battle of the Longwoods (1814)
Following the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown in 1813 British forces retreated to Burlington Heights near Niagara Falls. American forces had control of the lower and middle Thames river valley, but retreated back to the Detroit frontier unable to sustain a winter occupation of the area.
In early spring of 1814 a British force assembled near Delaware under the command of Captain Alexander Stewart. On March 3 an advance party of Caldwell’s Rangers spotted a large group of American soldiers moving up the Longwoods Road. A brief skirmish occurred, and then the Rangers retreated to wait for reinforcements.
Captain James Basden was sent to join Caldwell with forces from Delaware. A combined force of 240 British troops were joined with 28 native Indians. On March 4, at about 5:00pm Captain Basden led a frontal assault against the American forces, who had meanwhile established a defensive position at the top of a steep hill. The Americans had a force of only about 160 men, but decimated the British forces with unrelenting fire as they attempted the steep climb with minimal coverage. After less than two hours fighting the British retreated and returned to Delaware, having suffered 14 killed and fifty-two wounded.
The American troops suffered only 7 wounded, but retreated back to Detroit expecting another attack from the British.
Remembering and Honouring the Past
The early settlers in Canada and the United States persevered through incredible hardship. Conflicts such as the War of 1812 added to their burden. With several thousand men killed, towns burned, crops and livestock destroyed, the remaining populations carried the burden. The survivors of these events were our ancestors.
A monument in remembrance of the Battle of the Longwoods was erected beside Longwoods Road between Wardsville and Strathburn. In honour of the soldiers that fought in this conflict and the settlers that survived these events an annual memorial service is held at the monument on the Sunday closest to the date of battle, March 4. This event is arranged by the Upper Thames Military Reenactment Society.
The first weekend in May the Upper Thames Military Reenactment Society (UTMRS) host a fantastic set of events at the Longwoods Conservation Area, including historical battle re-enactments. Step back in time to March 4, 1814, as British troops attempt to expel American invaders. Hear the crack of the musket and the roar of the cannon. Come and experience life in the early 19th century. See the colourful clothing, smell the food prepared over open fires, and have great family entertainment for the day. For more information visit www.royal-scts.com.