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"Light Infantry in the 1814 Niagara Campaign" Topic

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Trockledockle10 Jun 2024 5:24 a.m. PST

I'm unclear on how light infantry were organised in the above campaign. This is my understanding but can anyone help to confirm or clarify?


They seem reasonably straightforward. The light infantry companies from the line battalions were combined and I assume skirmished. There was also the Glengarry Light Infantry regiment. My understanding is that British LI battalions kept half their men in line and the rest were deployed in skirmish order. Of course there were also Native Americans (for both sides).

Did the Upper Canadian militia (particularly the Incorporated and Lincoln) have a portion trained as skirmishers?


This is unclear to me but here's a summary.

Line Regulars
It seems that some line regular battalions had one or two light companies so roughly 10-20% of men could(?) be deployed as skirmishers. However, I'm uncertain if this was done in practice.

Rifle Regiments
These seem to have been dispersed across the nation and deployed as single companies in a skirmish role.

This is the most confusing. Some references indicate that they were used as skirmishers in forests. This doesn't seem likely as skirmishing requires additional training to be effective. If they were used as skirmishers, does anyone know what % of the unit was deployed in this role?

My thinking is that, on paper, the British had more and, on average, better trained skirmishers.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2024 8:26 a.m. PST

For the Canadian militia, the New Brunswick Regiment of Fencibles (who despite the title actually fought most of the war in Upper Canada including the Niagara Penninsula) were essentially a light infantry unit by virtue of training and tactical doctrine

The Canadian Fencibles had a light infantry company and the Glengarry Light Infantry were – well – Light Infantry including wearing a dark green Rifle style uniform – although they were armed with muskets and not rifles

The US forces did have a Rifle Regiment in theatre (2nd Rifles) which I believe spent most of 1814 in garrison in Detroit and Fort Malden, largely as they were chronically under-strength – in 1814 two other Rifle regiments were being formed and there was stiff competition for the limited number of recruits available

For the militia not sure but some of the militia units were less than eager to serve outside of their home state – so while I think the US forces did have in theory access to a fair number of woods-smart light infantry they had difficulty getting those numbers into the Niagara Penninsula

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2024 9:27 a.m. PST

Porter's Pennsylvania volunteers certainly were used to clear woods at Chippewa, Trockledockle. Perhaps they hadn't read the books insisting they weren't capable of it? Living in a wilderness sometimes has the effect. Certainly the Canadian Volunteers--that is, Canadians in US service--were experienced light troops, and I seem to recall some of Porter's New Yorker's being a small light infantry element.

Agreed on the US flank companies--custom not finalized until postwar. And agree with Frederick that the 2nd Rifles missed the battles of the Niagara Campaign.

Can't recall any reference to British regular light companies in the Niagara Campaign operating as a consolidated unit.

Overall, I can only say that neither side acted as though they had any marked superiority in skirmishers. No one's trying to whittle down the opposition before closing, and no one complains in letters or reports of being beaten down by the other side's skirmishers. I'd have said "roughly equal" myself.

TimePortal10 Jun 2024 10:36 a.m. PST

Most of the American forces in the south were State raised companies and volunteers. Terms could be confusing. Mounted troops were often listed as Mounted Gunmen. A few independent platoons used for scouting, 10 to 20 men, were called Mounted Rifles. Sometimes the term scouts were called Spies.
Volunteers, since they provided their own weapons had a greater number of long Kentucky rifles in their units.
A main function of the rifles were to hunt fresh meat for the unit.
A large number of small units were used to patrol the vast empty areas between forts , settlement stockades and friendly Creek towns. This was a main function of the Choctaw-Chickasaw battalion.
In a formal battle a volunteer and State troop battalion would have a single rifle company or intermixed with musket companies. Many battalions had companies detached to guard stockades, supply points and patrol duties.

Trockledockle11 Jun 2024 8:53 a.m. PST

Thanks for your replies. It's an interesting discussion.

Robert Piepenbrink.

I was reading Barbuto's book on Niagara 1814. Porter's men did drive out the Canadian militia from the west wood at Chippawa but in turn were driven out very easily by the British regular light companies who in turn were held by the US regulars. Scott appears to have been very unhappy about having to rescue Porter's men and had a low opinion of the training/capability of the militia.
On the surface, someone used to hunting should have a head start as a skirmisher but that doesn't seem to have been the case. I suppose squirrels don't shoot back.

Barbuto also mentions that three British light companies (1st, 8th and 100th?) were in an ad-hoc unit under the command of Pearson in the wood. There is also a mention in the Osprey Niagara of the light and flank companies being amalgamated in two of the columns for the later attack on Fort Erie. My understanding is that it was standard practice to combine light companies within a brigade in the Peninsula on the battlefield but they reverted to their battalions when in camp or for administrative purposes. I wonder if this also happened in North America but the combined unit was not recorded as a separate command as it was obvious to everyone who needed to know.

I take your point that skirmishers don't seem to have been important. I find it a bit surprising but if that's the way it was, that's the way it was. It may be that the Niagara area was less wooded and the commanders were looking for decisive battles. Graves states that the 1791 French Regulations (the basis for US training/doctrine) don't mention light infantry.

IronDuke596 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2024 10:32 a.m. PST

Further to the inputs above;
The British:
The militia regiments each had two 'flank companies' that were better trained (6 days per month) than their sedentary line company brethren. During a crisis these flank companies were embodied (full time service). Generally, each battalion's flank companies would consist of one grenadier and one light company. In the case of the five Lincoln regiments the five light companies could theoretically be combined to form a light battalion. The only instance I can remember of this happening was during latter stages of the Battle of Queenstown Heights when a Lincoln battalion of flank companies arrived from Chippewa to reinforce MGen. Sheaffe's force.

AFAIK there were no British regular light battalions serving in the Niagara operational area (the 85th L.I. served in the Chesapeake and New Orleans campaigns). Combining light companies for battle was a common tactic both in most theaters of operation.

U.S.A. By late 1813 most regular infantry regiments had at least one light and one grenadier company per battalion. I can remember only one instance of combined light companies being formed into a separate battalion at the battle of Chateauguay in October of 1813. The light battalion under the command of Major Snelling operated with First Brigade of MGen. Hampton's Division. This is not to say that it not happen elsewhere but this instance is only one that I have seen documented.

American Militia and Volunteers.
I believe that most so called militia skirmishing was in fact done in a quasi open order formation vice a formalized skirmish formation. Formal skirmishing consisted of sub elements (usually 3 to 4 shooters) of a skirmishing formation of light infantry that were trained to have one firing, one ready to fire and one loading being stationery or maneuvering etc.. This formalized skirmishing took considerable training and discipline under the strict control of NCOs and officers so that they could rapidly form up in close order on their supporting company/companies if required. Of course this is an over simplification of the skirmishing craft but it gives one a glimpse of just two aspects.

Most militia and volunteer units simply did not receive this training and officers preferred to operate in close order so that they could keep control during combat. As stated when they were 'skirmishing' they were generally in loose or open order so that the officers could better control their men.

I hope this helps.

Trockledockle12 Jun 2024 1:29 p.m. PST

Iron Duke,

Thanks for the reply, it is very helpful.

I agree with your comments about LI training and the militia. I came across the point about the Canadian militia flank companies in the Malcolmson book on Queenston yesterday. If I remember correctly, Brock decided that he didn't have the resources to train everyone.

Ultimately, I'd like to find a realistic way of representing skirmishers in a game. Some rules make them overly effective which doesn't seem to be the case in this campaign. I'm thinking of just limiting the numbers allowed from each unit. My current proposal is:

British LI -50%
Native Americans -100%
American militia – none. They can keep normal order in the woods and become disorganised
British Line- 10% or whatever an OOB says
US Line -10 or possibly 20% or whatever an OOB says
Canadian militia- probably the same as US

Robert Piepenbrink

I've found a reference that confirms your comment about a potential NY LI battalion. Barbuto's book states that Porter intended his brigade to have 2 line regiments of 10 companies each and a light battalion of 2 light, 1 rifle and 1 mounted rifle companies. As there was a shortage of men and equipment, he managed to form 1 regiment of 8 companies and a mounted rifle company.

TimePortal17 Jun 2024 4:22 p.m. PST

Several rules have classified American militia in several terms. One is eastern militia, town militia, and western/ rural militia.

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