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WHERE WAS THE US POSITION AT THE BATTLE OF LUNDY’S LANE?

Path of the 21st detail

At the recent Ontario Municipal Board hearing, the Board accepted testimony from two acknowledged experts:

Canadian military historian Donald E. Graves, who wrote the definitive account of the battle – Where Right and Glory Lead! Battle of Lundy’s Lane 1814 – and War of 1812 military tactics expert Dr. John Grodzinski of the Royal Military College.

Mr. Graves testified that the American Army came onto the field via a path through the woods that terminated at a spot now occupied by the former Battlefield School building.

Dr. Grodzinski also testified that the American troops entered the field and came under fire in that same place.

WHAT ELSE DID THESE EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY?

DONALD GRAVES:

Mr. Graves explained the location of the “military crest” where the British guns were placed. This was not at the top of the hill, as is commonly assumed, but at a point lower down on the south-eastern slope, where a view could still be obtained and the gun’s trajectory was aligned to defend against an enemy moving from the south.

Mr. Graves testified that land now occupied by the school is important to the interpretation of a battle in which the British chose lands south of the crest of the hill, and now within the Drummond Hill Cemetery.

Mr. Graves repeatedly indicated that Miller’s US 21st Infantry advanced in their successful attack on the British guns over the area now occupied by the school footprint. He testified that one of the famous catchphrases in US history – Miller’s “I’ll try, Sir” – is associated with the school footprint area.

He also indicated that school area is important from a tactical (battle level) perspective, and that the battle was important from an operational (campaign) perspective since the British would have had to abandon Niagara if the Americans had won at Lundy’s Lane.

Mr. Graves additionally testified that the area occupied by the school building is important to interpreting the battle from the American side of the action. He described its protection as a “moral imperative.”

DR. GRODZINSKI:

Dr. Grodzinski testified that this was the largest battle fought in the northern theatre in the War of 1812, and that it demonstrates the tenacity of the US troops and the resolve of the British-Canadians. He ascribed operational importance to this battle since it blunted the American offensive for this region.

He indicated that the Americans were trying to influence events in Europe and hoped to achieve a decisive victory that they could use at Ghent to get the upper hand. If there had been a significant British defeat at Lundy’s Lane, the British could have traded territory in the negotiations. Dr. Grodzinski thus attached a strategic (highest level) importance to the outcome of the battle.

Dr. Grodzinski testified that the school footprint “takes up an important part of the battlefield, and interrupts the view and interpretation.”

He advised that Winfield Scott’s unit deployed on the south side of the school building. He described how, as they came to the south-eastern corner of the school property, nine companies of US General Scott’s units would have deployed to the east and west in shoulder to shoulder formation.

He stressed that the southeast corner of the school property is where the majority of the American forces came into the battlefield and became exposed to casualties. The school building is located where the US troops arrived and funnelled out, deploying from column formation into lines, were fired upon and decimated.

Dr. Grodzinski testified that the school building is in the way of seeing where that happened and that privatization of the lands would intensify an existing problem: “the Americans are behind us” when looking up at the hill from the rear of the building.

Dr. Grodzinski testified that the portion of the school land now fronting onto Barker Street was involved in all three phases of the battle. In the second phase of the battle, the US 21st Infantry on the attack moved through what is now the school building. In the third phase, it was the line of communication, and used for moving reinforcements up and casualties back. He attached especial significance to that area.

Dr. Grodzinski has led tours for senior representatives of other governments, serving military and NATO personnel, and representatives from other Canadian military alliances visiting the Lundy’s Lane battlefield to study and discuss how units move on the field.

He testified that interpretation requires being able to access the Southeast portion of the former school lands to get a sense of the terrain and convey what happened. The Americans formed and were fired upon there.

Dr. Grodzinski emphasized the great need for continued public access to this portion of the subject lands: “where the 21st moved is critical to understanding of the battle.” He testified that narrow access ways are not conducive to tours.

Dr. Grodzinski testified that preserving only the section the City proposes to keep would dismiss what happened outside of that area, and that what was left would be almost useless for interpretation.

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