How Billy Led the British to Victory
Stoney Creek News, June 5, 1963
Last but not least is sometimes a very wise statement that in some cases can truly be applied, as is the case of writing up the family branch of the youngest child of Ensign Adam Green, U.E.L. from New Jersey, as previously stated.
The youngest child William Green, born 4 February 1794 in Saltfleet, when nineteen years of age helped to mould the history of Stoney Creek, Wentworth County, Ontario, because of the part he played in helping the British drive the Americans from Canadian soil during the War of 1812-14.
The Battle of Stoney Creek in the War of 1812 was inevitable. It began June 5, 1813, twelve o'clock noon. It was hot and humid in the pioneer village of Stoney Creek. The sky was almost clear except for a few scattered clouds which threatened rain before morning, but the people of Stoney Creek went about their daily tasks ignoring the clouds of rain gathering in the sky and trying to forget the clouds of doom which might at any moment come upon them from the East.
It was one week since the British army from Fort George had marched west through Saltfleet to Burlington Heights, the narrow strip of high land which lay about twelve miles west of Stoney Creek. Quickly the word had spread among the settlers that Fort George had fallen to the Americans, and that the British hoped to make a stand at Burlington Heights. If Burlington Heights fell, all of Upper Canada west of Kingston would belong to the Americans. These settlers were United Empire Loyalists. Most of them had left their homes in America and travelled hundreds of miles and endured great hardships to live freely under the British crown, and now they were threatened again with becoming part of the United States. The broad issues of the war in Europe and America did not matter to the settlers; to them it was simply a fight to maintain their society.
Suddenly the quiet of the village was shattered by a galloping horseman firing his pistol in the air and shouting frantically, "The Yanks are coming."
The American army had camped the night before at Forty-mile Creek (Grimsby) and in the morning they set out along the Indian path towards Stoney Creek and the British army at Burlington Heights. The army raised little dust as it moved down the narrow road, which was a sea of mud from the almost continuous rains of the past month.
There were over three thousand men in the American army, and their bright blue uniforms gleamed in the morning sun. Ten dragoons on horseback went ahead, then came the advance guard of one hundred men containing some cavalry, and finally the main body of the soldiers on foot. To a civilian, the marching men would look disorganized. Formation was haphazard and muskets were carried in a variety of positions, but at the slightest warning, the army could quickly take up formation.
As the Americans moved on towards Stoney Creek, two unseen observers watched from the escarpment. Billy Green, the shy nineteen year old son of a Stoney Creek settler, and his married brother Levi, had been watching for the American army since six in the morning. It was noon when the main bodv of troops passed through the village at the Forty. When the army had passed, the brothers set out along the mountain brow for Levi's home on the mountain side at Stoney Creek, warning the settlers as thev passed by.
The American forces which came to Stoney Creek were commanded by General John Chandler, a former blacksmith who had received advancements in the army, not because of his skill in the field, but because he came from the same town as General Dearborn.
Stoney Creek was to be his last military escapade. Second in command was General William Winder, a prominent lawyer, who had taken up army life only recently with the outbreak of the War of 1812. The three thousand men under their command consisted of three companies of artillery with nine field guns, two detachments of riflemen, one squadron of dragoons, and the 5th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 16th, 23rd, and 25th regiments of infantry, and two companies of the 20th regiment of infantry.
The British army meanwhile, which had taken up position on Richard Beasely's farm at Burlington Heights, consisted of 1,800 officers and men with eleven guns. Flanked on their left by the lake and on the other side bv the marsh, the forces hoped to withstand any attack by the American army.
Earthworks built perpendicularly across the Heights, behind which the guns were placed, still may be seen today in the Hamilton Cemetery.
General James Vincent, commander of the British forces at the Heights, was forty-eight years old and had earlier won distinction in Denmark and the West Indies. Second in command was Colonel John Harvey, who had already distinguished himself on three continents, having fought in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
When the American army arrived at the town of Stoney Creek, it was decided to spend the night there and go on the next day to attack Burlington Heights twelve miles to the west. To prevent the local people from carrying information to the British, the local residents were confined to their homes under guard. American officers, Winder and Chandler, set up their headquarters in the home of James Gage, the Stoney Creek merchant.
Billy Green and his brother Levi, who had been observing the Americans that morning, returned to Levi's home on the side the mountain where Levi's wife, Tina, and his daughter, Hannah, were waiting. The group went to the brow of the mountain to watch the Americans enter the village, but the Americans spied them and fired on them. To protect his family, Levi moved them to the top of the escarpment into the vacant trapping hut of Jim Stoney.
Billy, who knew the woods as well as an animal, offered to go down to the village where his sister, Keziah, lived with her husband Isaac Corman. As Levi and Tina were worried about the fate of the Corman's, it was decided that Billy should go.
Stealthily Billy crept to the Corman house where he found Keziah and the children unharmed. Isaac had been taken prisoner he Americans he was informed, and as Keziah was worried about husband's safety, Billy promised to sneak to the spot where Isaac was held prisoner and make certain that he was safe. While slipping noiselessly through the woods, Billy came face to with Isaac making his way back home. Billy jumped to the conclusion that Isaac had escaped, but the latter filled him in the details of what had happened.
"The Major and I got atalking," Isaac told Billy, "and he said he was a second cousin to General Harrison. I said I was a first cousin to General Harrison and came from Kentucky. After talking a little longer, a message came for the Major; he said "I must go; you may go home, Corman." I said I could not get through the lines. "I will give you the countersign," he said and he did.
"What is the countersign?" Billy asked eagerly.
"I can't tell," said Isaac. "I promised I would not tell it to the British."
"Tell me," said Billy. "You don't have to tell the British. I'll take it to their camp at Burlington Heights and you will not have to break your promise."
Quickly Isaac told Billy the password: 'Will Hen Har,' based on the first syllables of William Henry Harrison's names.
Billy started on the greatest adventure of his life to carry the key to the American camp to the British army. When Billy returned to the main road, which he had to cross, he found it patrolled by sentries. Knowing the password, Bill could have shouted it out and walked bravely across, but for a moment, terror struck the young hero and he forgot the countersign. Crouching on all fours like an animal, Billy scampered across the road. In a moment Billy remembered the word and he knew exactly what he must do.
Running to Levi's home, he jumped on the back of Tip, his brother's old horse, and set out at a gallop up the mountain, and along the brow past Mount Albion. Leaving the horse on the mountain above Burlington Heights, Billy completed his journey to the British camp on foot.
As Billy Green made his way towards the British encampment, the invading American army had settled down for the night near the hamlet of Stoney Creek. The 13th and 14th Regiments, consisting of about 800 men under Colonel Chrystie, took up a position along the lake front four miles to the north of the village to guard the supplies and baggage which had come in by a flotilla of row boats.
In the Gage house, where the American officers were preparing to spend the night, Chandler remarked to Winder that the British might possibly attack before morning. However, as the possibility seemed remote, no rallying point was chosen for the various American regiments and'each commander was left on his own.
At 11 p.m., Major Smith of the 25th, considering a night attack inevitable, roused his men from their slumber. Leaving only a few cooks in the lane to finish baking the six-foot loaves of bread, the rest of the camp was moved about 150 yards to the east to the top of a ridge which ran perpendicular to the main road. The new camp, almost entirely on William Gage's property, was protected by a fence which ran across the crest of the hill.
The men of the 25th were ordered to sleep on their arms and every musket was loaded with twelve buckshot, but no ball. At close range in the darkness, buckshot would prove more effective for it would cover a wider area. It was this soldierly horsesense of Major Smith which saved the American army from utter defeat that night.
It was about 11 o'clock when young Billy Green made his way into the British camp but the sentries taking him for a spy, at first refused to allow him to see the officers.
When Billy finally convinced them of his sincerity, he was ushered into the headquarters of Colonel Harvey. Harvey, who had been to Big Creek that afternoon, had had a chance to make some observations of the American camp, but Billy was able fill him in on many details.
Billy quickly told Harvey that the American line was long and broken, and that the guards were few and negligent. Most important of all, Billy gave Harvey the password: Will-Hen-Har.
Harvey, who had already been considering a night attack, was convinced that the British would be foolish not to make one. His superior officer, Vincent, immediately went along with the plan because Vincent realized that his position at Burlington Heights was weak.
To make the attack on the American camp a success, the British needed a guide, for, between the Heights and Stoney Creek, lay miles of swampy marsh.
"Do you know the way?" Colonel Harvey asked of Billy Green.
"Yes, every inch of it," replied the lad. Billy was immediately given a uniform and a sword.
At 11:30, 704 men set out into the darkness towards Stoney Creek, Colonel Harvey was given command of the attack, and General Vincent came along in the rear. The attacking force consisted of the well-disciplined men of the 8th and 49th Regiments, and the best of the Canadian militia. At the head of the army, went 19-year-old Billy Green.
Directly behind the young guide, came the light companies of the two Regiments under Captain Munday of the 8th and Lieutenant Danford of the 49th. The rest of the 49th under Maior Plenderleath came next, followed by the remainder of the 8th under Major Ogilvie.
A brief shower of rain fell on the small army as the March began, but soon stopped. There was no moon to light the British towards the American camp.
Billy Green hurried ahead of the army, stopping now and then, till they caught up.
"It will be daylight when we get there if you don't hurry," he told them.
"That will be soon enough to die," someone replied.
After three miles, the men were halted and told that heir muskets were to be unloaded. A premature firing of a gun had caused the brief conflict that afternoon at Big Creek, and Harvey did not want this to happen again. The job was to be done entirely by bayonet.
When the British reached Red Hill, Billy led them into the ravine which led to the American camp. With the aid of the password, the British were able to approach the first sentry. Believing them to be friendly, he relaxed his vigilance and was rewarded with a bayonet thrust. The second sentry was similarly disposed of, and it seemed as if the British would reach the main American camp without a shot being fired.
Reaching the Church, the British were able to surprise and capture some thirty Americans who were asleep inside with their heads pillowed on their boots. The British continued on towards the American camp, but the element of surprise was lost when the third American sentry, realizing what was taking place, fired his musket in the air. Sentry after sentry answered the warning and suddenly the American camp was alive and ready to fight.
With the enemy alerted, the British solders rushed forward on the American campfires along the lane to the north of the road. The men, who had been silent during the march, suddenly began to shout for they were convinced that victory was theirs. Colonel Fitzgibbon, leader of one of the British companies, turned to his men and told them to remain silent, realizing that orders could not be heard or obeyed in the noise. When the British soldiers reached the American campfires, they found them almost deserted, for the enemy was now on the hill above the British.
"Fix flint and fire. Charge the Damn Yankees," ordered the British general, but the command came too late. As the British soldiers stopped to load their guns, they were silhouetted against the American campfires, and many were mowed down without a chance to fire a shot.
It was at this moment, when the British situation seemed desperate, that the tide of the battle was turned by the heroism of Major Plenderleath. Rallying 20 or 30 men, Plenderleath charged towards the American artillery, which greeted him with two blasts. Bayonetting or capturing the men who manned the guns, the small group of British soldiers were able to capture four of the American guns and split the American line.
As the battle continued in the dark, foggy, night, confusion reigned. The Americans made many unsuccessful attempts to rally, many of them firing on their own men. In an attempt to charge the British, some American dragoons ran over some of their own infantry. The British meanwhile, learned that General Vincent had disappeared. Both sides believed that they were losing the Battle.
As the first glimmer of dawn showed in the east, General Harvey, who was now in possession of the field, gave orders for his men to retreat before the Americans could observe how small the British force really was. 213 British soldiers, nearly one-third of the attacking force, were already killed, wounded, or missing. The number of American casualties, although never determined exactly, was approximately equal to the British loss, even though the Americans had nearly three times as many men in the battle. Confused and disorganized, with both their Generals missing, and believing that the woods were filled with hostile Indians, the American soldiers wished to return to Fort George as soon as possible.
As day broke, the American generals held a council of war to determine what course they should take. The command had now fallen on Colonel James Burn, who was unprepared for this responsibility. Colonel Chrystie's forces from the lake front returned to the American camp in the morning to find the American army preparing to retreat.
Bearing a flag of truce from the British, a number of local residents came in the early hours to bury the dead. Among them, were Billy Green, John Lee, John Yaeger, and Peter Gage. The bodies were loaded on William Gage's stoneboat and pulled by oxen to the little churchyard. Here the soldiers who had fought so bitterly the night before, were lain to rest side by side.
After the Battle was finished, the homes of the local residents were converted to hospitals. Wounded were cared for in the homes of William and James Gage. Injured British soldiers at the Red Hill Tavern, owned by William Davis, drank water from large tubs on the floor. Their flowing blood splashed the furniture, and turned the water red. Dr. Case's home near Hamilton was also used as a hospital.
Merritt of the Canadian militia, was sent by the British as a scout to discover what the Americans planned to do. His blue Militia uniform was mistaken by the Americans for an American's uniform, and he was able to take two prisoners.
Merritt returned to the British camp with news that the Americans were preparing to retreat. In the absence of General Vincent, Colonel Bishop had assumed command of the British forces. He was about to convene a council of war, when General Vincent entered the camp on foot. Dazed from a fall off his horse during the battle, he had become lost and had had to seek shelter for the night. Vincent immediately ordered a force back to Stoney Creek to hasten the American retreat.
During the morning, the Americans burned all the supplies and baggage left on the battle field to prevent it falling into the hands of the British. It was twelve o'clock noon on June 6, when the American army left Stoney Creek. An orderly retreat had been decided upon, and the band struck up "In My Cottage By The Woods," as the men started back towards Niagara. On the mountain above, the settlers yelled like Indians. Believing that they were about to be attacked and scalped by Indians, the Americans retreated more hurriedly than had been anticipated.
A British victory at Beaver Dams a few days later ended for ever the proposed American invasion of Canada, and the people of Saltfleet were left to live in peace. The courageous acts of a few men on June 5 and 6, 1813, had changed the destiny of a country.
For many years after the battle, the local inhabitants delighted their acquaintances by retelling tales of the invading American army, and of the British attack which drove them back. Billy Green who led the British army, became a local hero. The Battle of Stoney Creek lived on in the memory of the Stoney Creek residents.
In 1899 enough money was raised to buy the Gage farm house, together with 4-1/2 acres surrounding it. The house was renovated and turned into a Museum. In that same year the ground was declared open as a public park ... . Later 17 acres of historic ground were purchased and preserved.
With the aid of a government grant, the impressive monument, which no visitor to Stoney Creek can fail to notice, was built behind the Gage house.
The story of the Battle and of the building of the monument, are told on plaques on the outside of the structure. On the eight shields around the octagonal tower, are the names of eight heroes of Stoney Creek: Vincent, Scout Green, Harvey, James Gage, Ogilvie, Fitz-Gibbon, Merritt, Plenderleath. On a bronze tablet left of the doorway, are the names of the British soldiers who lost their life and the words:"Their fame liveth, Canada Remembers."
In 1938, a memorial to William Green "Billy the Scout" was unveiled near the entrance to the Stoney Creek Cemetery, where the scout is buried. On its gray granite face, is inscribed:
"In memory of Billy Green, the scout,
On the north side, appear the words:
"In memory of Isaac Corman,
The east side is dedicated to General Harvey.
The devotion of the people of Stoney Creek to preserve the memory of the Battle, has thrust the town into the headlines such as on the occasion when Stoney Creek made the headlines on July 2, 1959 when Her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, visited the Stoney Creek Battlefield Park as part of the itinerary of her Royal Tour.
[Reproduced with permission from The Stoney Creek News]