On December 30, 1813, British forces and their Native American allies torched several towns along the U.S. - Canadian border, including Buffalo, New York. Here are five things you didn't know about the Burning of Buffalo and the War of 1812.
It Was an Act of Revenge The Burning of Buffalo didn't come out of nowhere. It was an act of revenge exacted after American troops had burned several Canadian towns as bad winter weather closed in, with the idea of leaving everyone in those towns homeless and at risk from the cold and snow. The burnings so enraged British and Canadian leaders, especially Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond, that they devised a plan to attack and burn several American border towns as revenge.
Nearby American Forces Fled Instead of Fought
American troops were stationed near both villages, and they outnumbered the British and Native American troops by a fairly large margin. The Americans may have had superior numbers, but they lacked superior soldiers. All except very few of them behaved in the most cowardly manner,” reported General Lewis Cass. “They fled without discharging a musket.”The troops near Buffalo simply put up no fight, fleeing instead and leaving the village open to attack.
The British Later Returned to Burn More of Buffalo It's bad enough your town gets burned to the ground once, but twice? On December 30, during the main Burning of Buffalo, one resident named Sarah Lovejoy did not flee and instead put up a fight as Native Americans ransacked her house during the attack. Some sources call her foolish or reduce her fight to an attempt to save her dresses—and according to neighbors, she said she'd stay behind to protect her property—but she put up more of a fight than some American troops who fled the scene. Lovejoy was killed and her house set on fire; her neighbors later returned, put out the fire in her house, and placed her corpse inside. Unfortunately, the British returned soon after (depending on the source, either December 31 or January 1) and torched her house again, leaving only her bones for burial.
The British Issued a Statement of Regret Later Believe it or not, the British leaders in North America actually recognized how bad the burning was, though that was of little comfort to people who'd lost homes and neighbors. One British leader, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, offered regret over the burnings a few weeks after troops were no longer attacking border towns and incinerating them. But before you assume that this regret was part of an act of repentance, realize that Prevost said the burnings were in response to the actions of the Americans on the Canadian side of the border, and he placed the blame squarely on the Americans' shoulders—not on the British or Canadian troops who had burned American towns.
Canadians Know More About the War Than You Probably Do The War of 1812 is one of the most overlooked conflicts in the history of the United States. Few Americans celebrate the War of 1812, or recall the fact that the U.S. invaded its northern neighbor three times in the course of the conflict. Although it produced patriotic icons such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Old Ironsides,” the War of 1812 is often lost in the American memory. Not so in Canada, where the war is credited with forging a national identity as Canadians united to repel a series of American invasions.