The Battle of Ogdensburg was a unique chapter in the War of 1812. At the mouth of the Oswegatchie River on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, Ogdensburg was originally a French trading settlement and home to more than 3,000 Iroquois Indians. By 1812, American settlers had built a small village and established trade with British Canadians across the seaway.
The St. Lawrence River, as the border between the United States and Canada, was a vital waterway that saw dozens of small naval battles as each side sought to control it. Both sides attacked vulnerable supply shipments being ferried up and down the river.
With the outbreak of hostilities, Brig. General Jacob Brown used Ogdensburg as a jumping-off point for raids on British shipping. The Americans began building Fort Oswegatchie between what is now Franklin and Elizabeth Streets on Riverside Drive to defend the village.
On the chilly morning of February 22, 1813, the fort was still unfinished. The St. Lawrence River had completely frozen over, and a contingent of 520 British troops hauling several cannon on sleighs, led by Lieutenant Colonel “Red George” MacDonell, advanced across the ice.
Ogdensburg was defended by Major Benjamin Forsyth and 250 militia and regulars from the 1st U.S. Rifle Regiment.
On February 4, 1813, the British had similarly advanced across the ice from Prescott, Ontario and taken some prisoners. In retaliation, Major Forsyth took 200 regulars and volunteers 12 miles up river to Morristown, New York, crossed the frozen St. Lawrence, and raided Elizabethtown (now Brockville), Ontario. He freed the American prisoners and took 52 prisoners of his own.
Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, gave Lt. Colonel MacDonell permission to make a demonstration on the river across from Ogdensburg, but MacDonell wanted revenge. He ordered a full-scale attack. MacDonell took 380 men and advanced on the village, while a Captain Jenkins and 140 regulars and militia advanced on the old barracks and ruins of Fort La Presentation, where Forsyth was based.
Captain Jenkins was wounded in both arms, and his men retreated back to the Canadian shore. But they distracted Forsyth’s riflemen long enough for MacDonell’s contingent to overwhelm the small village garrison. As the rest of the militia withdrew, St. Lawrence County Sheriff Joseph York stood alone, single-highhandedly loading a cannon.
A captain in command of the British troops who surrounded York told them, “There stands too brave a man to shoot,” and they took him prisoner.
American forces abandoned the village and left it under British control until the war’s conclusion. 20 Americans were killed, six wounded, and 70 taken prisoner in the affair. British casualties numbered six killed and 44 wounded.
The Ogdensburg battlefield is in and around present-day downtown Ogdensburg, east of the mouth of the Oswegatchie River. Interpretive plaques tell the battle’s story along the paths between Morrisette Park and the Dobisky Center.
The site where the British came ashore is just east of Morrisette Park between Caroline and Franklin Streets. There is no memorial or sign marking this location. A memorial to Fort de la Presentation is located off Main Street (Route 68), west of the Oswegatchie River.