Two hundred years ago, in July 1814, American troops attacked Fort Erie (in what was then British Upper Canada). The British surrendered with only a few shots fired (the fort’s commander was later court-martialled for giving up too easily). The British withdrew from the fort, but made plans to get the fort back. In early August, they set up camp outside the fort, just out of reach of the fort’s guns.
After dark, on August 15, 1814, about 2,400 British soldiers, Canadian militia and First Nations allies attacked. Under the cover of darkness and the heavy gun smoke that hung over the surrounding field, the British stormed the walls of the fort and captured the northeast bastion. Within the fort, the Americans turned a cannon around and fired at the British on top the bastion. The British turned one of the captured cannons and fired back. As this close-range cannon battle raged, a spark found its way to the powder magazine under the bastion. The explosion killed 400 men (mostly British and Canadians) and turned the tide of the battle in favour of the Americans.
The British retreated from the fort (with almost the entire column that had attacked the bastion, wiped out), but continued their siege for days. By the time the siege ended on September 17, 3,500 men were killed, wounded, or missing. It was the most devastating and prolonged battle of the war.
Today, Old Fort Erie is a museum, which I visited last fall to research the setting of my new novel Siege (for readers approx. ages 10-14), which will be out October 1. This coming weekend (August 9-10, 2014) hundreds of re-enactors from both Canada and the U.S. will be gathering at the fort to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the siege. It promises to be the largest War of 1812 re-enactment in Canada. Unfortunately, I won’t be at the re-enactment, but I’ll be imagining the characters of my novel on top the fort’s walls in the middle of the musket and cannon smoke.