Captain Henry Craig and the Repatriation of Fort Niagara

After an absence of over 17 months, American troops re-occupied Fort Niagara on May 22, 1815. The Fort had been lost on the morning of December 19, 1813, and a British garrison occupied the post well past the cessation of hostilities at the close of the War of 1812.

According to the Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, 1814 and ratified by the United States Senate on February 16, 1815, “all territory, places, and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other…shall  be restored without delay.”  In the case of Fort Niagara, the reoccupation can be described as “protracted” rather than “without delay.”

The Buffalo Gazette was one of the first papers to report the American repatriation. On May 23, 1815 the Gazette reported:

Yesterday Fort Niagara was evacuated by the English and taken possession of by American troops. This event has been protracted to an unreasonable length,  but we understand it is to be explained in this way: Major General Murray, [provisional Lt.] Governor of Upper Canada, sent a dispatch to Sacketts Harbor in April last, for Major General Brown, notifying the general that he was authorized and ready to deliver up Fort Niagara, according to treaty. This dispatch reached the harbor a few days after General Brown left that place for Washington. Mails now pass to Lewiston and will shortly be extended to the fort. Captain Craig of the artillery is assigned to the command of Fort Niagara. [i]

Captain Craig’s 60-man detachment marched from Buffalo on May 21 and took possession of Fort Niagara at about 11:00 a.m. the next day. The Fort’s British garrison was prepared to hand over the Fort. In addition to writing to Brown, Murray notified British Major General de Watteville at Fort George of  the impending transfer. [ii]

Captain Henry K. Craig, was born at Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 7, 1791. He was educated at Pittsburgh and just after turning 21, was commissioned a  lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery. He fought at the capture of Fort George in May 1813 and at Stoney Creek in June. He advanced to Captain in December 1813 and in the spring of 1815, drew the assignment to reoccupy Fort Niagara.

Henry K. Craig came by his military profession honestly as both parents had strong connections with the American army during the Revolution. Craig’s father, Isaac, was a distinguished  artilleryman who had seen extensive service during the American Revolution. Isaac was born near Hillsborough in County Down Ireland in 1741 or 1742 (sources disagree).  He was trained as a carpenter, but left Ireland for Philadelphia in the 1760s. When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, Isaac Craig received a State commission as Captain of Marines.  In the closing days of 1776, he crossed the Delaware with Washington and fought in the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  Isaac Craig joined the 4th Continental Artillery Regiment in 1777 and fought at Brandywine and Germantown. He endured the difficult winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge and was then posted to the Washingtonburg laboratory at Carlisle, Pennsylvania to learn the art of ammunition preparation.  In 1779 he accompanied the Sullivan-Clinton campaign into the country of the Six Nations.

Isaac’s life changed in 1780 when he was ordered west of the Allegheny Mountains to support George Rogers Clark’s projected campaign against Detroit.  Posted to Fort Pitt, Craig assisted Clark in preparing his expedition, then accompanied Clark to the falls of the Ohio.  Craig returned to Fort Pitt when the expedition was cancelled due to lack of manpower and the decisive defeat of the expedition’s rearguard in August 1781 (by no less than Joseph Brant).  From then on, except for brief periods, Isaac Craig remained in Pittsburgh for the rest of his life becoming a prominent merchant in the fledgling community.  In 1791, about the time Henry was born, Isaac was appointed Deputy Quartermaster and Military Storekeeper at Pittsburgh. [iii]

Henry Craig’s mother Amelia, also came from a military family. Her father was General John Neville who fought in the French and Indian War, Dunmore’s War and took command of Fort Pitt early in the Revolution. Still in Pittsburgh, Neville played a prominent role on the government side of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

Considering his parents’ background, it is little wonder that son Henry was named Henry Knox Craig after his father’s friend, Henry Knox, the former Continental Army chief of artillery and, in 1791, President Washington’s Secretary of War.  

Henry Knox Craig’s tenure at Fort Niagara did not last long, as Captain William Gates of the Corps of Artillery was ordered here in July 1815. In fact, five days before he marched to Fort Niagara, Craig was officially transferred to the light artillery.

At 24 Craig still had a long career ahead of him. During the 1820’s he supervised lead mining operations in Missouri and Illinois and was promoted to major in 1832. Prior to the Mexican War he was assigned to the Ordnance Corps and served as Chief of Ordnance for General Zachary Taylor. Craig distinguished himself at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in May 1846 and was later brevetted Lt. Col. for “gallant and meritorious conduct.”  Following the Mexican War, he served as inspector of arsenals from 1848 to 1851 then was appointed Chief of Ordnance with the rank of Colonel.

The 1850s was a decade of retrenchment for the Army and Craig did his best to seek adequate funding for weaponry and munitions. He kept pace with developments in other countries and encouraged the testing of breech loading muskets as well as modified 12-pounder cannon.  According to the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, Craig was “regarded as an experienced, conscientious, and dedicated officer, although he held strong views and was sometimes acerbic with his subordinates.” [iv]

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron relieved the 70-year-old Craig of his duties, replacing him with “more vigorous leadership.”   Craig took the matter of his replacement to President Lincoln but the commander-in-chief declined to intervene. About this same time, Craig’s youngest son, Lt. Presley Oldham Craig, who had also joined the artillery, was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

Craig served another two years in an advisory capacity and finally retired in June 1863 after almost 50 years of military service. He died in Washington D.C. in 1869.


[i] Buffalo Gazette, May 23, 1815

[ii] Major General Louis de Watteville to General Sir George Murray, May 23, 1815

[iii] See Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, and John Trussell,  The Pennsylvania Line, Regimental Organization and Operations, 1775-1783. pp.197-198.

[iv] Colonel Henry K. Craig, Chief of Ordnance, 1851-1861, U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.

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