February 22, 1813, Ogdensburg, New York
The British gained a decisive victory over the Americans and captured the village of Ogdensburg, New York.
When war broke out, a flourishing illicit trade was soon established between Ogdensburg and Prescott on the other side of the Saint Lawrence River. This was checked early in October 1812 when the Americans reinforced the unenthusiastic militia with the regular 2nd Rifle Regiment under Maj. Benjamin Forsyth.
The British made an abortive attack with their own militia on October 3, after which the militia dispersed. During the next few months, Forsyth’s riflemen made several raids across the river, sniping at British troops. On February 21, the British Governor General of Canada, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost passed through Prescott on his way to review the situation in Upper Canada, accompanied by several detachments of reinforcements.
He appointed Lieutenant Col. “Red George” MacDonnell as commandant of British troops in Prescott, and left him instructions that he was to attack Ogdensburg only if the Americans weakened their garrison. He left for Upper Canada early the next day.
MacDonnell had other ideas. With the extra troops temporarily available, he determined to seize the opportunity. He planned for a company of the Glengarry Light Infantry, 70 militia and some light guns mounted on sleighs to make an attack on the fort which housed Forsyth’s riflemen. The main column (120 men of the 8th Foot, 30 of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles and 230 of the local militia flank companies) would cross the river lower down and attack from the flank.
The Americans were used to seeing British troops drilling on the frozen Saint Lawrence, and were taken by surprise when the troops suddenly charged. The riflemen in the fort held out, mainly because the guns became stuck in snow drifts. However, as the British main body threatened to surround them, they retreated and abandoned the town. The militia melted back into the civilian population.
The British burned the boats and schooners frozen into the ice, and carried off artillery and military stores. There was some looting of private property, but some of the plundered goods were later returned.
After the British withdrew, the Americans did not re-garrison Ogdensburg. This removed a threat to the British supply lines. The British were also able to purchase supplies from unpatriotic Americans there for the remainder of the war.
The normally cautious Prevost amended MacDonnell’s despatch to make it appear that the attack had been carried out on, rather than against, his orders.