War of 1812Events and Locationsfrench

The Battle of York

Further Reading

Background to the Battle of York

The Americans at the Battle of York

The Aftermath of the Battle of York: The British and Canadian Perspective

The Aftermath of the Battle of York: The American Perspective


The British at the Battle of York

In the last days of April 1813, the American fleet is spotted making for York. Unfortunately, British general Roger Hale Sheaffe, the victor of the Battle of Queenston Heights, cannot be sure exactly where the Americans will land. He splits his little band of three hundred regulars to post a detachment east of the village in case that should prove the intended landing site. The rest of the regulars and perhaps a hundred native warriors, he keeps on standby at the garrison barracks near Government House. He then calls out the militia.

On the morning of April 27, the American warships come into the harbour and sail past the village to anchor a couple of miles west of Government House. Sheaffe promptly dispatches the warriors, a company of Glengarry Highlanders, and a company of British grenadiers to try and stop the Americans before they can establish a beachhead. The York Volunteers are sent out to protect the regulars' flank and act as guides. Unfortunately, under their guidance, everybody becomes temporarily lost in the woods and by the time everybody finally reaches the landing point, the Americans' first wave is already ashore and their riflemen taking pot shots at the late arriving British and Canadians.

The best the regulars and Glengarries can do is fight a delaying action along the lake road against the far more numerous invaders. The York Volunteers rapidly lose heart and all but vanish, along with the warriors who seem to melt into the woods. The American ships, meanwhile, are pouring a deadly barrage of grapeshot on the remaining British defenders.

Sheaffe realises he can't possibly stop the Americans, so he resolves to prevent them from seizing the Isaac Brock, the frigate still under construction in the harbour, and the several hundred barrels of gunpowder in the garrison's main magazine, before retreating with his regulars to fight another day. Luckily, the Duke of Gloucester, the other warship until recently also under construction here, sailed away only days before.

By the time the magazine explodes in a deafening roar, the Isaac Brock is ablaze and Sheaffe and his men are marching away at the far end of town. This leaves the two ranking militia commanders and their self-appointed "advisor," the Reverend John Strachan, to negotiate the terms of the surrender of the little capital.