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War of 1812

When the Frasers come, it’s best to call it a night

By Tom Villemaire, Special to Postmedia Network

Alexander Fraser captured two American generals in one day during the Battle of Stoney Creek with only a bayonet mounted on his unloaded musket.(Illustration by Keith Milne and colourist Gord Coulthart, Special to QMI Agency)

Alexander Fraser captured two American generals in one day during the Battle of Stoney Creek with only a bayonet mounted on his unloaded musket.(Illustration by Keith Milne and colourist Gord Coulthart, Special to QMI Agency)

Alexander Fraser not only captured two American generals in one day during the Battle of Stoney Creek, he also turned the tide of the battle from a British and Canadian defeat into victory.

And he did it with his only weapon, a bayonet mounted on his unloaded musket.

Fraser and his brother, Peter, served in Gen. Isaac Brock’s old regiment, the 49th. It has been described as an “Irish Regiment” but included plenty of Scots and Englishmen, many of whom stayed on in Canada after the war.

That regiment had been retreating from the battle at Niagara Falls, planning to continue to the stronghold of Kingston.

When they arrived at Burlington Bay, they knew the American forces following them could use their superior numbers to send the British and Canadians reeling back around Lake Ontario as far as Kingston.

But when the British saw that the Americans, led by two inexperienced generals, had camped in a disorganized sprawl with plenty of campfires to allow British and Canadian scouts to find them, they reconsidered. The night attack began.

It started off well for the British, bent on surprising and blunting the American forces before they could organize. As the battle progressed, the British plan for a quick, quiet mission was ruined by cheering, started by officers when the first British successes against the American force became apparent. The Americans, outnumbering the joint British forces by almost two to one, rallied and began firing into the attacking redcoats.

The redcoats had removed the flints from their muskets to prevent accidental discharges during their silent advance under cover of darkness. While the British refitted their weapons with flints, the Americans fired away, ripping apart the attackers.

Scottish-born Maj. Charles Pleanderleath was tracking the firing to determine where the Americans were when he heard cannon fired from very near his position. He decided to charge the cannons before they were reloaded. The Fraser brothers led the charge — down a dark farm lane they didn’t know in the middle of a moonless June night towards a detachment of American artillery, with no ammunition in their muskets.

As the brothers crashed into the American artillery, Alexander Fraser promptly bayoneted an American soldier who had just fired one cannon. The Americans attempted to fire a second cannon but the damp powder prevented it from igniting.

Peter Fraser killed four Americans with his bayonet. When American Gen. John Chandler, who had been reportedly playing cards with fellow general William Henry Winder, arrived on the scene, he thought the artillery unit was falling apart and set about rallying the troops. But the bayonet held at his chest by a giant Scot quickly made it apparent the artillery had been captured. Winder was also taken prisoner by Alexander Fraser moments later.

Fraser continued his brave service, but was unable to surpass his night of capturing two generals with only a bayonet. When he retired from military life, he moved to a farm in Perth where he fathered 13 new citizens of Upper Canada.

 


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