Black Rock Battlefield

Photo by Michael Kleen

A roadside sign is all that reminds us of that time the British savagely burned the towns of Buffalo and Black Rock, New York to the ground.

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The Battle of Black Rock was fought on December 30, 1813 between British forces commanded by Major General Phineas Riall and American militia commanded by Major General Amos Hall in the present day city of Buffalo, New York along the Niagara River during the War of 1812. The engagement was a decisive British victory, resulting in the burning of Black Rock and Buffalo.

On December 10, 1813, Brigadier General George McClure decided to abandon Fort George on the eastern bank of the Niagara River, which the United States had captured in May. His troops burned the nearby village of Newark to the ground before retreating across the river. The British wasted little time in retaliating, and they captured Fort Niagara by surprise on December 18th.

Maj. Gen. Phineas Riall then floated 600 British regulars, 50 Canadian militia, and 400 American Indian allies to a landing site two miles downstream from Black Rock. Lt. Col. John Gordon and 370 men from the Royal Scots Regiment landed at Black Rock. Opposing them was Maj. Gen. Amos Hall and approximately 2,000 New York militiamen.

When many of the inexperienced militiamen fled after the first gunshots, Maj. Gen. Hall had to take personal command to steel their resolve. They stood their ground to oppose the Royal Scots landing, but wavered after Riall’s main body arrived. Hall’s right flank crumbled under sustained attack, and he retreated to avoid being outflanked.

The British, who suffered 31 killed, 72 wounded, and five captured, went on to burn Black Rock and Buffalo, destroying the naval yard and three schooners. The Americans suffered 50 dead, 52 wounded, and 56 captured.

The War of 1812, fought between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1815, arose from a dispute over maritime trade and U.S. territorial ambitions on British Canada. The war went badly for the U.S., with British troops burning Washington, DC in August 1814. A late victory by Andrew Jackson at New Orleans led to the perception the U.S won the war, despite the Treaty of Ghent establishing peace without any territory changing hands.

The village of Black Rock (annexed by Buffalo in 1853) has changed significantly in the past two centuries. British troops came ashore near the present-day intersection of Amherst and Niagara streets and Market Square Park. An interpretive sign relating the British raid on Black Rock has been erected near the park. Street parking is available.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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