STONEY CREEK – In the early hours of June 6th, 1813, the quiet little settlement of Stoney Creek became the sight of one of the most pivotal battles in the War of 1812-14.
On June 5TH, 1813, an American force numbering around 3,400 came upon the farm of James Gage and set up their headquarters, sending the family to the basement of their home while generals and high-ranking officers commandeered what they wanted from the home. Soldiers set up camp on the lawn.
They were chasing down a British advance troop they knew was in the area unaware that a much larger British contingent of 704 infantrymen, primarily from the King’s 8th and 49th regiments, about 20 artillerymen and 30 militia volunteers were encamped at the nearby Burlington Heights. The British had intelligence that the Americans were encamped at Stoney Creek and at 11:30 p.m. on June 5th, they began moving in that direction for a rare night attack.
By some accounts, a group of Mohawk warriors were also in the region and began their own attack on the Americans in the cover of darkness. Other accounts say they were also at Burlington Heights and made the strategic maneuver of attacking in the night from a different direction than the main British force. The Americans had divided their troops to cover a broader area in case of any possible attack and as a result, only 1,328 American troops were engaged against the British and Mohawks.
The Mohawks and their allies were led by John Brant, the son of the fearsome warrior Joseph Brant from the American Revolution several years earlier, and John Norton, a close associate of the late Captain Brant. Norton, also known by his Mohawk name Teyoninhokovrawen, was born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and a Cherokee father who was captured as a boy in a skirmish by British troops and taken to Scotland where he was educated.
Norton met and was befriended by Joseph Brant and was eventually adopted as Joseph Brant’s nephew after coming to Upper Canada as a regular in the British army.
Norton learned the Mohawk language and because of his understanding of the British and his affinity to the Mohawks, was made a Pine Tree Chief, representing the Mohawks in negotiations with the Crown.
The Americans were alerted to trouble when an American sentry was killed but fired off a warning round from his musket before his death.
The Americans turned their canons and fire towards the noises they heard in the woods to face the oncoming attack, but they had no idea how many “Indians” there were. A tactic employed by Norton was to show some presence in one area, run to another and draw attention, then another, causing the Americans to think there were many more warriors than there actually were.
The skirmish with the Mohawks and their allies also held the Americans down while the British came up from behind and surprised them with huge volumes of firepower in the dark of night and the blanket of smoke from gunpowder.
The move sent the Americans into a panic and they began shooting at anything that moved in the night, even their own men. In the end the Americans ran into the woods and fled the area back to Niagara.
Norton’s own account play down their role in the battle, but although there weren’t many more than a handful of Mohawks under Norton and Brant, those who have studied the strategic significance they played have called this skirmish instrumental in the British victory, creating confusion and terror in the ranks of the Americans while providing time for the troops from Burlington Heights to arrive and surprise them from behind.
“Approximately 12 warriors under command of Captain John Norton, was composed of Cherokee, Delaware, Mohawk and Cayuga,” says author and historian James Elliott, who penned a book on the battle entitled ‘Strange Fatality’. “Among the Mohawk was John Smoke Johnson, Shakoyen’kwarahton. Although Norton said their role was limited in the action, they had a much wider psychological effect on the Americans who believed the native force to be much larger.”
The Americans erroneously believed for dozens of years afterwards, that they were attacked by a large contingent of native warriors.
In the afternoon of June 6th, 2015, that battle was commemorated with a huge historical re-enactment of that battle.
The Battle of Stoney Creek was a game changer in 1813 and is one of the most important battles of the war.