Part 7 in a series by Mason Winfield
“In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three:
Now who will stand on either hand
And keep the bridge with me?”
“Horatius at the Bridge” (1842)
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay
History and legend are full of battles at bridges. One story attributed to one of Rome’s early heroes comes most likely from the latter source. Around 510 BC Publius Horatius Cocles was said to have fought single combats over the Tiber River against an Etruscan army, giving his comrades behind him time to tear up the timbers of the Sublician Bridge. He had two companions, but he stood alone at the last. Having saved the city, “Horatius at the Bridge” breathed a quick prayer to “Father Tiber” – a river personified as a spirit – dove in in full armor, and managed to make it to shore.
One from history and precisely 1066 AD involves the stand made at Stamford Bridge by a nameless Viking against an army under Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon king. Possibly using a four-foot man-feller called “the Dane Axe,” this determined giant may have dropped 40 Saxons – a group of people not remembered as wimps – so that a mass of his fellows camped on the other side of the river Derwent could ready themselves for an orderly retreat. He may have been there yet but that someone got into the water under him, stuck a lance up through the bridge’s laths, and gave him a shiver in the privies that weakened him enough to be overcome.
One pivotal bridge-battle that, except for our less heroic and superstitious age, could have become as legendary as either of those took place in Buffalo 200 years ago.
By late July 1814, the American Army of the Niagara had proved its point. The clash at Lundy’s Lane had been some kind of a victory, but probably that style best-described as Pyrrhic (“peer-ick”), meaning one that costs you more than you can afford. [After bloodily prevailing over a Roman army, Greek commander Pyrrhus famously declared, in rough translation, “One more ‘win’ like that and I’m toast.”
Two of the three top American commanders, Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, had been wounded, the latter seriously enough to be withdrawn from the war action. Having taken so many losses, the army’s fighting strength was dented. No more sashaying about the Canadian Niagara for this 2100-man outfit. In fact, within a few days of Lundy’s Lane, the Americans withdrew all the way back to their only defensible Canadian base, Fort Erie, licking wounds and digging in.
As long as they held an important fort that controlled water routes, the British would keep their strength on the Niagara divided and make no major moves into New York State. If the Americans at Fort Erie fell, the disaster would quite likely have been followed by an invasion. Lest that idea seem farfetched, 15,000 redcoats were at that moment on the move out of Canada into the Hudson Valley. Had the Americans not won the naval battle on Lake Champlain (September 11), destroyed the British supply lines, and put the commanders in fear of falling into the same trap the British had met at the Revolutionary Battle of Saratoga (1777), that juggernaut would have driven a wedge down the eastern part of the state and been having breakfast in Manhattan by Halloween.
With failure at Fort Erie, the least anyone could expect was another devastation of the American side. Fort Erie represented nothing less than a fight for Buffalo, still smarting from its last acquaintance with the Empire’s torch, tomahawk and sword. This was a high-stakes game, and the odds were long.
The British and Canadian war effort was getting only stronger. Supplies and reinforcements were coming in every day to the bases along the Niagara peninsula. So many redcoats eventually encircled the Americans that from a skycam it would have looked like there was a pink constrictor around Fort Erie. The British set up camp about a mile northwest of today’s Fort, fully out of cannon range.
But the British had given the Americans a week before putting the main squeeze on Fort Erie. They’d been waiting to gather even more strength, but in retrospect, this was a mistake. The Yanks used the interim well.
In 1814, Fort Erie was a far cry from a monument. An even simpler fort of the same name (1764) had stood near the present one. It was a wooden structure that was too often crumbled by lake ice from the massive pileup that occurred at many a winter’s end at the in-end of the Niagara. It’s fairly embarrassing when that happens to your fort. The revised, five-pointed stone version we see today had been moved back from the river and ringed with earth-mounds to stand up to cannon-fire. The Fort itself had been incomplete at the start of the war and occupied, abandoned and even hastily taken apart at least once by a retreating force. This was no place upon which to bet the fortunes of a region.
The bluecoats did their best to shape the compound before the Brits appeared, putting in round-the-clock shifts under blazing heat with little sleep. It was a race. Supplies came in from all over: ammunition, rifles, and sabers from Fort Schlosser in Niagara Falls; 600 “solid shot” (cannonballs) from Sacketts Harbor; 25 barrels of gunpowder from an arsenal at Batavia; and axes, shovels, horses, mules, and food from Buffalo.
The Americans set up cannon batteries in the likeliest defensive positions. At the extreme southern end of their position was Captain Nathan Towson’s five-gun battery on the strange, ancient Snake Hill, a site and spot that would make itself legendary in about two weeks. The northern end was anchored by the stone fort itself and protected by the two-gun Douglass battery. The middle of the American defenses was secured by new earthworks, Captain Biddle’s three-gun mound and Lieutenant Fontaine’s two-gun breastwork. The Niagara River did it all for them on the east side.
The Americans also dug new trenches outside the fort and filled their perimeter with nasties, including a fretful obstacle course called abbattis (in the rhyme and rhythm of, “quick release”). Sort of an inanimate porcupine, abbattis was the day’s version of razor-wire, a man-made thornbush formed largely of small felled trees with sharpened branches and festooned with prickers, sticks, arrows, flint shards, and anything else that might sting an approaching foe. Abbattis was particularly effective against night attacks, even serving as an advance-warning system. (Upon a surprise entanglement with abbattis, even the most stoic attackers tended to yodel.)
This was all well and good for digging in and ducking cannon, but Fort Erie was too far from the river to protect its supply lines down to the Niagara. The most significant project the Americans undertook was to build a defensive ramp down to the riverside so that men, munitions, and other supplies could get to them safely. This was 700 yards long, and the eventual construction would be seven feet high and eighteen feet thick. From the ditch below – doubtless filled with more abbattis – the climb to the top would be about 14 feet, with some grim defenders waiting. Attacking this formation would be no walk in the park. It was also a lot of contested real estate to patrol. Any way you look at it, the Americans were going to be spread thin.
By the last day of July the Americans’ earthy fortifications, thus their supply lines, extended out from the Fort to the edge of the Niagara River. As long as this situation stood, the Americans could camp out at Fort Erie indefinitely. The next move would come from the redcoats. Right on cue, Major General Gordon Drummond, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, pulled up before the fort, probably on August 1. Time to dance.
In the window between Lundy’s Lane and the war’s next action, something interesting happened in Buffalo. It involved one of Buffalo’s heroes, the famous Seneca Farmer’s Brother (1730?-1815).
The model of the warrior-statesman, Farmer’s Brother was a true Seneca, loyal to a people, not a concept or a nation. Farmer’s Brother fought where the Great Hill people fought, which took him to an adventurous career in a series of wars. Farmer’s Brother may have fought for the French against the Empire, the Empire against the Americans, and then the Americans against the Empire. The ever-dramatic historian Crisfield Johnson reported him leading the Seneca “through many a carnival of blood.” He might have been at the Devil’s Hole in 1763. He might have been at the 1778 massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley. Still, in all three years of the 1812 War, Farmer’s Brother was one of Western New York’s staunchest defenders and a friend to many individuals and families in Buffalo. He might have been in his 80s at the time of the 1812 war, though he was still described as remarkably fit, even powerful and imposing. They don’t make them like that any more.
One of his remarkable episodes came during the spring of 1813. When the Seneca turned out for the American cause, a large body of Native Americans camped in the woods near Buffalo, which then crept up to well within today’s city limits. One night several of them got away from the main camp and tried to break into the Algin family home around the spot of today’s North and Linwood. These Native renegades were not the only parties known occasionally to use the homes and farms of Buffalo’s citizens as all-night delis and liquor stores. The widely-despised state militia did so much of it in the winter of 1812-1813 that the citizens formed vigilante groups in response. The desperadoes besieging the Algin clan found the doors and windows barred – settler-era homes could be little forts – so they climbed to the roof and started tearing it up to get in from above. The smallest of the Algin boys squeezed out an escape portal and ran through the dark woods for Farmer’s Brother, then sleeping with his mates not far off. With the little lad’s hand in one of his own and a tomahawk in the other, Farmer’s Brother approached the scene. One glimpse of his formidable form stalking through the trees sent the thugs running. As with the great Shawnee Tecumseh (1768-1814), respect flowed out of Farmer’s Brother like a psychic force, with the effect of an electric field that people could sense before seeing him. The big chief spent the rest of the night at the family’s fireside.
In the turbulent summer of 1814, each of the Niagara Frontier’s opponents was curious to know what the other was doing. Both had Native American allies, scouts and spies. On the last day of July, a man of the British-allied Chippawa nation crossed the river from Fort Erie and fell in among the pro-American Seneca in Buffalo. He claimed to be a deserter, but the Seneca weren’t too sure he wasn’t just a spy poking around for information. A party of them shared the flask with him all the same. Before long everybody was telling war stories.
The Seneca couldn’t help but relive the butt-kicking they’d given the British, Canadians and Native allies in the woods at the July 5, 1814, Battle of Chippawa, Ontario. For his own part, the Chippawa brave recounted all the Americans and Seneca he’d killed on the same day. When asked to name just one of them, he mentioned the Seneca Chief Twenty Canoes, lifelong friend of Farmer’s Brother then yards away from the party.
Landon’s Mansion House was a tavern on the southwest corner of today’s Exchange and Washington streets. It was then being used as a hospital. Convalescing there was Captain William Jenkins Worth (1794-1849), a dashing young member of Winfield Scott’s staff destined to be a big man. (Ever hear of Fort Worth, Texas? Worth Square in New York City?) On the day in question, the 20-year-old was not expected to survive a grisly leg wound, courtesy of a delivery of British grapeshot at Lundy’s Lane a week before. Worth had become a particular favorite of the Senecas, in particular Farmer’s Brother, who watched long hours by his bedside and happened to be with his young friend when word came of the braggart who’d killed an old one.
Somewhere east of Main Street where it meets today’s Swan, Farmer’s Brother walked right up to the Chippawa and set a few items before him. “A hero like you deserves a reward,” he said. “I’ve got just the thing. I’ve got a knife, a tomahawk, and a gun here. Which would you like?”
The Chippawa took a shine to the gun and expressed as much. Farmer’s Brother picked it up and plugged him between the eyes. Four young Seneca carted off the carcass, dumped it in the nearby woods, and left it to be eaten by animals. In the spring of 1820, soon-to-be Buffalo mayor Orlando Allen found a skull with a hole in it near the crossing of Seneca and Chicago streets. It was presumed to be that of the whiskey-tongued Chippawa.
In every part of the world that ever had them, walled forts were vital for controlling territory. This maxim held even into the early 19th century in America. If you didn’t hold the fort you hadn’t won the ground. Forts were usually positioned at choke points of transportation and trade: mountain passes, river mouths and major trails. A small, beaten foe could often hold that spot against a mighty army and rush out to gouge it at the worst possible time.
In the European Middle Ages it was generally figured that every man behind a wall was worth ten on the other side of it. Even then, holding a fort against a siege was no latchkey operation, and the development of projectile weapons, particularly cannon, shrank both the defender’s edge and the majesty of a fort.
By the late summer of 1814 those picturesque castle-walls were gone. (Cannon would have turned Camelot into a sandbox.) Forts kept such low profiles that, from a distance, they were innocuous piles of dirt surrounding solid one-and-two-story buildings. A charging army was discouraged from running right over them only by trenches, obstacles (like that blasted abbattis), and fire from the defenders’ musket and cannon.
British commander Gordon Drummond (inset) had come to Fort Erie with 5350 friends, almost double the foes he faced and plenty enough to win an open battle; but open battle this wasn’t. This was an outright siege.
Sir Gordon had a couple options. Were siege warfare likened to assassination, there are several ways to knock off an opponent. The most obvious is Plan A – attacking. It’s often tried first perfunctorily to see if something gives, but it’s head-butting. It usually hurts the attacker a lot more.
A hunkered-down defender has a second enemy, the simple basics of life: food, water, and other materials. Plan B has always been just to cut off a fort’s supply lines and wait, what might be considered starving the defender out. That plan wouldn’t work if the defender was well-enough stocked or could resupply himself. Unless something disrupted that ramp-to-the-water system at Fort Erie, Plan B was going to flop. And one thing that isn’t always remembered in many historic recountings of sieges is that the besieger is often under some of the same pressure, especially in Western New York on the verge of its dread winter.
“Here let them lie/Till famine and the ague eat them up,” laughs MacBeth at the English round his castle, and it was no joke. It’s always dangerous for armies to sit still very long, and the vast numbers needed to besiege a fort can be in that sense a disadvantage. Siege warfare has often developed into a race to see which side would run out of the necessities – or fall victim to a plague (MacBeth’s ague) – first. If the British were to win at Fort Erie before the snow set in, something was going to have to crack.
Another figurative tactic might be Plan C, basically giving Plan B a nudge. If you can’t stop something from coming in when it arrives, stop it from leaving where it was in the first place. It was choking off the enemy’s lifeline at its source. This is what General Drummond set out to do.
The Americans at Fort Erie were getting most of their deliveries from a base and docks at Black Rock, the old cousin of Buffalo proper that lay along the Niagara just south of the Scajaquada Creek. It’s well sheltered from the west by Squaw Island. While crossing the open river to and from Fort Erie, the American supply boats were getting protection from the batteries of riverside cannon. Someone who could sweep down alongside the Niagara from the north with a bit of force could have destroyed the naval base and its docks, knocked out all the cannon on the river, and blasted all the way to Buffalo. Under the right circumstances it wouldn’t have taken much to do it. Almost all the American strength on the frontier was off holding onto Fort Erie. But for the attacker coming in on Buffalo from the north, the only reasonable direction as things stood in August 1814, there were roadblocks.
While someone driving on the 190 along the Niagara today might never notice, 200 years ago any traveler would have observed that Western New York has a lot of creeks. Some big ones feed into the north-flowing Niagara, and they are barriers to anyone who hopes to move in numbers, with baggage, or in force. You can only cross them in certain places. The Scajaquada is the one cutting across the landscape north of Buffalo.
The Scajaquada has never been a hazardous creek, but as far as an attacker was concerned, it was just about unfordable near the Niagara. Wading across the neck-high water and keeping one’s powder dry would have been a tall order even for able young soldiers. Climbing the steep, slick banks, one was likely to take a ball or a bayonet if there were determined defenders. Wagons, cannon… forget it. One needed a bridge. The only one over the Scajaquada Creek substantial enough to hold a passing army was about where today’s Grant Street crosses the creek. This bottleneck above the American supply depot would have been Buffalo’s northern defense point.
Buffalo residents had formed a small militia to patrol this vital area, but they were day watchmen. They weren’t strong enough to repel a serious attack, anyway. Every twilight a battalion of regular soldiers was sent across the Niagara from Fort Erie to defend the bridge. Every next morning those men returned to the Fort and hiked by that 700-foot ramp from the river in safety. A British sneak attack was always possible during the day, but everybody would spot it as it crossed the river, and American reinforcements from Fort Erie would be only a few minutes behind them. The window of opportunity was dawn or dusk.
Throughout the dark hours of August 2 and 3, the British stealthily landed troops north of the Scajaquada Creek, where they massed until an hour before sunrise. They were under the overall command of British Colonel John Tucker of the 41st, another of the characters of the local war.
Tucker’s own men referred to him as “Brigadier Shindy,” which in the lingo of the day might have meant something like “Colonel Chaos.” They didn’t address him as that, though. A little like the sobriquet “Smoke” assigned with rueful respect to stock car racer/NASCAR owner Tony Stewart, it suggested that the bearer of it was prone to outbursts. One senses that Tucker’s, unlike Stewart’s, were directed at social or political inferiors who aired any suggestion that he might be fallible.
This force was accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel William Drummond (1779-1814), another Scots-English fire-breather and the nephew of high commander Gordon Drummond. These guys had plenty of force to do the job – up to 1700 redcoats – which was pretty close to the size of the crew that had taken down Buffalo seven months before. They had also arrived at the only place and time they could have to escape detection, but they were on the wrong side of the Scajaquada. To get at their targets – the supply depot, the docks and the cannon batteries – they would have to use the bridge nearest the Niagara that everyone was keeping an eye on.
Tucker’s American counterpart was Major Lodowick Morgan, a Marylander in charge of protecting the American base from just this possibility. Morgan was a sharpie. Anticipating night attacks, Morgan removed the planks from the southern end of the bridge every dusk, making it impassable. Every morning he put them back so the citizens of Buffalo could use it. This partial dismantlement of the bridge was not only an effort-saving maneuver, it was a virtual booby-trap for a dim-light attacker.
Though it would have cost you to have told him so, Tucker hadn’t done a very good job of covering up his intentions once on American soil. The Americans had suckered him in, anyway. Morgan’s men had done their sabotage at the bridge unbeknownst to the British, slunk off like they were retreating in the full view of some scouts, took a breakfast break– doubtless a brigade-sized takeout order of Egg-McWhupass – snuck back through the cover and spread out along the creek. The British were immediately spotted as they started moving in. How could they not be? Tucker came right up to the bridge with a batch of redcoats and just stood there looking at it as the Americans opened fire. Once again citizens of Buffalo would awake to percussion, not knowing whether their city, just beginning to be rebuilt, would be burned to ash once again.
Not suspecting that the bridge could be booby-trapped, Tucker’s first idea was to just run across it. He had a squad of his men launch another of their famous bayonet-rushes, supported by gunfire from the heavy trees and foliage along the creek. Lodowick Morgan may have had as few as 250 men, but he quickly turned this move into a nightmare for the British.
Under the best of circumstances these charges were costly if they did not quickly disperse or engage the enemy; but in this case many Redcoats fell through the sabotaged bridge, and others piled up and made fat targets once the picture cleared. Dozens of British were shot as they floundered in the creek or in their crimson logjam at the far end. And the Americans shot true.
These professional soldiers of the Army of the Niagara were supplemented by up to 80 volunteers from Kentucky, some of the straightest shooters the smooth-bore (unrifled barrel) age had. (Without the “rifled” – spiral-grooved – barrel, that little black ball could start freelancing at only a few dozen yards.)
These “Kentucky Riflemen” so proverbial in the 19th century had had their dander up against the Empire ever since the incident remembered as “the Raisin River Massacre.” The January 1813 Battle of Frenchtown (about 30 miles south of Detroit) was a bad loss for the Americans, and up to 100 wounded POWs were massacred by British-allied Native Americans. A number of them had been Kentuckians, and all the rest of the war the Bluegrass boys were gunning for the British and especially their Native allies. It sounds as if the whole state enlisted, and its migrant sons developed a reputation for both wildness and pugnacity. These Kentuckians were “perhaps the best materials for forming an army the world has ever possessed,” wrote William Henry Harrison. “But no equal number of men was ever collected who knew so little of military discipline.” The future president and victor at Tippecanoe furthermore observed, “They appear to think that valor alone can accomplish anything… Such temerity… is scarcely less fatal than cowardice.” Ol’ Tippecanoe had his issues with their focus, but these Kentuckians came in mighty handy at the upcoming Battle of New Orleans later in the war – and at Scajaquada.
At least two more British charges on the bridge were turned away by the outnumbered Americans (see lead image). Even Brigadier Shindy conceded they were stymied. They pulled back from the fray for a bit of stock-taking. Though badly stung, the redcoats were still well strong enough to win the day. How they gnashed their teeth to close with these Americans! Another plan was needed. Tucker picked the one that would have occurred to any of us: test a different point.
The British sent a chunk of their force a ways east along the north side of the creek and tried to cross upstream of Morgan’s position. The spot is uncertain today, but it would have been about a half mile east of Grant Street, possibly in today’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. Had they been successful, one more of those bayonet rushes would have come charging in on the Americans by the bridge from their right and on their own side, and the day’d have ended up differently. But Lodowick Morgan had anticipated even that move. He had sent several dozen of his Buffalo militiamen and Kentucky riflemen to shadow the British flankers. When they started their crossing they got another dose of the medicine they’d been prescribed downstream. They backed down at neither point. Charge, die and regroup; charge, die and regroup…
At the first caress of Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn,” the battle was at its deadliest. Once-secure sniping-spots came into plainer sight every minute, often too late for the sniper. The clash continued well into mid morning. On at least one occasion the British commander ordered some of his men to attempt to fix the bridge so others behind them could cross, all the while under fire from the Kentucky riflemen. The work was so inefficient and the toll so fearful that they broke off the maneuver. The redcoats performed admirably under the conditions, though. Even the kids from ol’ Caintuck were impressed.
At last Tucker retreated to the north, found his boats, and headed back to the Canadian shore – greatly understating his losses for posterity, it would seem. British casualties are still uncertain, though calculated in the scores. There were also surrenders and desertions by the handful. Even the killed are in dispute. So many British were shot in the water that the dead or wounded often drifted away from the battle sites into the Niagara and were probably on their way over the Falls within an hour. Witnesses reported the creek flowing red with redcoats.
Old-time sources often refer to this clash as “The Battle of Conjockety (sometimes Conjocta or Kenjockety or Conjuncta) Creek” after one of the Scajaquada’s only-slightly-easier-to-spell alter names. Major Lodowick Morgan would be remembered as “The Hero of Conjockety.” His cool tactics and quick decisions had won the day. A new American superstar was born. They were talking about him in Washington.
The American losses had been slight. Even more important for the Americans than the direct victory was the psychological toll among the British/Canadian ranks. In the preceding month the Empire had taken some bloody hits. After this battle and during the coming siege of Fort Erie, morale would slide and desertions rise. This might have been the first real motivational gut-check on the other side of the Niagara.
For some reason the Battle of Scajaquada Bridge is often overlooked or diminished. Some call it a skirmish, this two-and-a-half hour clash in which between 1500 and 2700 men tried to kill each other. Although a clear U.S. victory and the one absolute clobbering of the summer, it had titanic bookends. Grander battles were to come, and soon.
While Tucker’s co-commander William Drummond was said to have delivered comments that made his uncle Sir Gordon furious with Brigadier Shindy, the official report blamed the failure at Scajaquada on Tucker’s men, who “displayed an unpardonable degree of unsteadiness.”
“The indignation excited in the mind of the Lieutenant-General… will not permit him to expiate on a subject so unmilitary and disgraceful,” Drummond’s General Order declares. “It is the duty of all officers to punish with death on the spot any man under their command who may be found guilty of misbehavior in front of the enemy… Crouching, ducking, or laying down when advancing under fire are bad habits and must be corrected.” Dodging a bullet is misbehavior? No wonder there were desertions.
Drummond’s reaction could seem mind-boggling today, even inhuman. I agree that it looks detached. Drummond was not the only tone-deaf British commander, but they were not all like him, in general or on the Niagara. Prominent local-war figures like Isaac Brock, James Fitzgibbon, and Cecil Bisshopp were revered for their humanity. In those commanders who seem harsh to us today, the cause was not just a lack of compassion. It was largely an aspect of cultural and military philosophy that some commanders bought into.
It was truly believed at the time that on and off the battlefield, British character was the difference-maker in the success of the Empire. The tactic that most directly expressed this character was the unflinching march into danger at the tipping point of a battle so as to attain a military objective. A few in the forefront would drop at first, but that was fated, anyway–it’s battle; and it would save more British lives in the end. Then the enemy would quail, the defenses would break, the day would be won, and the losses would be repaid tenfold. It was thought that any slack given to the soldiers might cost them the winning edge. It would have been hard to argue these commanders out of their strategy. As far as the British could tell, it had worked for centuries, at least in the age of slow-firing, wild-shooting rifles.
Sir Gordon Drummond saw Scajaquada Creek as a setback. It was not a disaster. The Empire replaced the men he lost in a week. What it could not replace was the strategic defeat this clash had represented. There was going to be no easy way out with Fort Erie. Back to the head-butt: the seige.
We’ve met Shadrach Byfield a couple times in this series. He’s the redcoat from Wiltshire, England whose slightly dizzy memoirs have left us such dramatic visual images of some Niagara-region wartime events. As one of the grunts, Byfield didn’t always know where he was or why he was being sent there. He messes a few things up. Still, Byfield remembered what he saw.
This Byfield was a survivor. Of the 110 men of his original 41st Regiment who took Detroit in 1812, less than 15 were left in it by early August, 1814, and most of them had been wounded at least once. Byfield himself dodged death at the River Raisin; survived the siege at Fort Meigs; escaped from the ditch after the failed attack on Fort Stephenson; was one of the few who ducked William Henry Harrison’s dragnet after the Battle of the Thames; joined the bloody night-raid that took Fort Niagara; and stormed the hill at Lundy’s Lane without getting a scratch.
Byfield’s luck ran out at the Battle of Scajaquada Bridge. A black-powder ball from someone on the American side – maybe one a’ them Kentuckians–plugged him in the right arm just below the elbow. Taken back with the wounded to the Canadian side, Byfield struggled for days at the hospital in Fort George and eventually lost the arm.
When he came to, Byfield was enraged to hear that his truant limb had been tossed onto a dung heap. He went out to the unsavory pile and looked through it until he found an arm he was sure was his. At this point he got some lumber, had a tiny coffin made, and gave his missing limb a Christian ceremony and burial. While Byfield’s rite might seem a little precious to us now, he’s not the only one who gave such treatment to a missing limb. Amputation was so common in the Niagara war that a full spectrum of reactions was to be understood.
About the author: The founder of Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., a Buffalo-based tourism company, Mason Winfield is the author of eleven books, including ghosts of 1812 (2009, Western New York Wares).