Those Are Regulars, By God!

Of all the major wars fought by the US, I would designate the War of 1812 as The Unknown War.  Other than the Battle of New Orleans and the burning of Washington, even educated Americans know precious little about it.  That is a great pity.  During that war the US fought both miserably and with high skill, and it has fascinating lessons for any student of military history.

The battle of Chippawa was one of the high points of the US military effort on the Northern US eastern front.  Since the beginning of the war the US had sought to invade Canada, usually suffering humiliating defeats in the process. 

In early 1814 it was obvious that the Napoleonic Wars in Europe were drawing to a close with Napoleon’s defeat, and that the British would soon be shipping Wellington’s veterans across the Atlantic to deal with the upstart Americans.  The Americans were therefore eager to win a victory in Canada before these new troops could arise.

The American war effort had suffered due to reliance on untrained militia and partially trained regulars.  Secretary of War John Armstrong had taken steps to remedy this lack of training for regulars by establishing two “Camps of Instruction” where regular troops could be comprehensively trained and drilled before facing the British on the battlefield.  One of the camps was at Plattsburg, New York, and the other was at Buffalo, New York under Winfield Scott, 27 years old and already a Brigadier General.

Scott drilled his troops ten hours a day, using the manual of the French Revolutionary Army.  He rid his ranks of officers who owed their rank to political pull rather than military skill.  Unable to locate enough blue uniforms to clothe his men, he dressed them in grey jackets.

Scott did not have long to see how his men performed in battle.  British Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, was captured on July 3, 1814 by a small American army under Major General Jacob Brown.  The army consisted of two brigade of regulars, Scott and his men numbering 1,377, and Brigadier General Ripley leading 1,082 men, with four companies of artillery.  After the capture of Fort Erie, the army was joined by 753 militia and 600 Iroqois on July 4.  The army began to advance north along the portage road running parallel to the Niagara River.  At the end of the day Scott encounter British forces along the Chippawa creek, near the town of Chippawa.  Scott withdrew a few miles and camped for the night.

The force encountered by Scott was the Right Division of the British Army in Canada, approximately 2100 troops under Major General Phineas Riall.  Riall assumed that Fort Erie was still holding out and planned the next day to cross Chippawa creek and drive the Americans away from Fort Erie.

The British crossed the Chippawa early on July 5, and quickly collided with the Americans.  Deploying his troops into line, Scott began to advance against the British.  Riall, seeing the grey jackets of Scott’s troops assumed they were militia.  As Scott’s regulars stood firm against British fire, Riall realized his error and exclaimed, “Those are regulars, by God!”.

Forming his line into a U shaped formation, Scott subjected attacking British troops to a heavy cross fire.  After 25 minutes, the British had enough and Riall retreated, ending the battle.  American losses were 60 killed, 249 wounded and 19 missing.  The British lost 148 killed, 321 wounded and 46 missing.  Training had paid off, and American troops had stood face to face with British regulars and defeated them.  The 6th Infantry regiment of the US Army remembers the battle of Chippawa with the regimental motto “Reulars, by God.”.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 4:41 am  Comments (2)  


  1. My older brother and his wife live next to a very old graveyard. In recent years, a local historical society put a small sign next to a headstone that so worn down by the elements it is illegible: “War of 1812 veteran.” I can’t even make out the name on the stone, (John was his first name) but I’ve wondered about the man buried there, probably a New Englander, who ended up in what was “the Wild West” in the early 19th century – southeast Wisconsin. I like having this little reminder of our nation’s early history in a quiet Milwaukee suburb.

    If I remember correctly, DeTocqueville got as far west as Green Bay, which was still rough frontier country in 1834.

  2. Local American legion and VFW posts will often fix up the graves of veterans.

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