“Regulars, by God.” General Phineas Riall
Summer 1814: American regular troops perform superbly at the Battle of Chippawa
For the first two years of the War of 1812, the performance of US Army regulars had been dismal. All that changed in July 1814 at the Battle of Chippawa.
Winfield Scott’s political affiliation held him back during the war’s early years. Because he was a Federalist officer, Scott did not receive major commands in the opening months of the war. But after distinguishing himself at Queenston Heights and the Battle of Fort George, Scott was assigned to train what would become the Army of the Niagara in preparation for the 1814 campaign season.
Scott instituted a relentless training program based on his knowledge of French regulations and tactics. The soldiers’ exercises focused on discipline, learning commands, and studying methods of attack.
When the Niagara campaign commenced in July 1814, Scott advanced his brigade north along the west bank of the Niagara River. On July 5th, British forces advanced across Chippawa Creek, a few miles south of Lundy’s Lane. Scott seized the opportunity, ordering his men to extend their lines, and threatening the flanks of the British regulars.
Scott’s men were dressed in gray coats rather than the standard blue uniforms of regular soldiers. The British commander General Phineas Riall thus assumed he was facing poorly-trained militia troops. But as Scott’s men upheld good order and discipline under steady cannon fire, Riall called out: “Those are Regulars, by God.”
Scott’s concave formation caught the British in a crossfire, where his troops could inflict heavy losses. After losing the last of his artillery, Riall ordered a retreat back across Chippawa Creek.
Thanks to Scott’s training and leadership, US Army regulars stood up to British professionals for the first time during the war. For that reason, the engagement is often considered a major milestone in the development of the US Army.
Those army regiments that battled at Chippawa would later be merged to form the 6th US Infantry Regiment. Today its motto is “Regulars, by God.”