The Forgotten, Crucial Battle in the War of 1812: Sackets Harbor

SACKETS HARBOR, N.Y. -- The War of 1812 was in essence the conclusion of the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States. Americans were tired of the perceived threat from the British and the territory we now know as Canada, and were looking to get the Red Coats to back off.

"Sackets Harbor was important because it was truly the only location where the Americans could operate a naval force on Lake Ontario," said Royal Military College of Canada Associate Professor John Grodzinski.

"The Canadians thought they could come over here and eliminate the shipyard at Sackets Harbor and knock the United States out of the rest of the war," said North Country historian Tim Abel.

The British thought they had a chance when in late May of 1813, the American forces left Sackets Harbor to attack York. The British wanted to capture the stores the Americans held there for things like gunpowder and flour.

"The British Navy showed up on the 28th of May. The weather didn't cooperate with a landing," Abel said.

"The wind died, which meant their ships barely moved. They got within 10 miles of Sackets Harbor and the Americans could see their masts," Grodzinski added.

That gave time for the Americans to rally a citizen militia and troops who couldn't make the trip to York. The British would land the next day and the battle would begin.

"That single act was probably the one single act that saved Sackets Harbor because the full force of the British landing did not engage the regular forces," Abel said.

Not all was a victory. The U.S. troops accidentally mistook the militia for Red Coats.  In an effort to keep the stores out of British hands, they burned down their own supply stores.

"Basically, the Americans acheived the British mission for them," War of 1812 Re-enactor Clayton Nans explained.

The British decided to retreat back. That, in essence, ended the Battle of Sackets Harbor, leaving historians to wonder if anyone actually won.

"Now the Americans, the one left standing on the battlefield is the one that won the battle, so I guess by the rules of war, they won the battle.  Tactically, they lost," Abel said.

"That attack, tactially, was a failure for the British," Grodzinski said.

From there, the Americans beefed up security in Sackets Harbor and the British never tried to invade Sackets again.