Battle of Crysler’s Farm National Historic Site

Photo by Michael Kleen

Canadians are so polite, they physically erased this humiliating loss for the American Army from existence, except for this small monument and museum overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

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The Battle of Crysler’s Farm was fought on November 11, 1813 between American forces under the command of Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson and British forces commanded by Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison near Morrisburg, Ontario during the War of 1812. It was a complete victory for the British, and this, alongside another defeat at the Battle of the Chateauguay, persuaded the Americans to abandon plans to march on Montreal.

The American effort to capture Montreal in 1813 was known as the St. Lawrence Campaign, since it focused on militarily dominating the St. Lawrence River, at the border of the United States and British Canada. In September, Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson and 8,000 men departed from Sackets Harbor, New York and advanced east along the river, while Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and 4,000 men advanced north from Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain. Hampton was defeated at the Battle of the Chateauguay on October 26.

Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison’s much smaller force of 900 to 1,200 men had pursued the American expedition to Morrisburg, where the two sides made camp on November 10. The next morning, battle occurred almost by accident when scouts began firing at each other, making both armies believe an attack was imminent. Morrison had chosen Crysler’s Farm because of its open terrain, while the Americans had to slog through swampy ground to reach the British.

As luck would have it, Maj. Gen. Wilkinson was sick, so Brig. Gen. John Parker Boyd was left in command. He attacked piecemeal, and with only 2,500 men. The American attack quickly faltered over rough terrain and a British counterattack drove them back. The American expeditionary force withdrew, leaving 102 killed, 237 wounded, and 120 captured. The British lost 31 killed and 148 wounded. Maj. Gen. Wilkinson was later accused of negligence during the campaign but was exonerated in a court martial.

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.

Canadian Parliament designated Crysler’s Farm a National Historic Site in 1920, but in 1958 it was destroyed to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway (seaway expansion also submerged several historic farms, villages, and cemeteries). Dirt from the battlefield was piled up to create a man-made hill, on top of which was raised the 1895 obelisk that formerly marked the battle site.

There is a reconstructed British encampment and interpretive center nearby. Camp figures and tents are made of painted metal and provide a neat photo opportunity. The center, called the Battle Memorial Building, contains artifacts from the War of 1812, as well as two life-size dioramas depicting moments from the battle.

Battle of Crysler’s Farm National Historic Site is adjacent to Upper Canada Village, at 13740 County Road 2, Morrisburg, Ontario along the St. Lawrence River. Free parking is available at a gravel parking lot on site. The grounds are open 24-hours, but the Battle Memorial Building is only open July and August, 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm. Admission is free. Call 1-800-437-2233 or email getaway@parks.on.ca for more information.

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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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