Niagara Gazette

War of 1812

October 8, 2012

Lewiston, Ontario step back into the War of 1812

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — For starters, New York Gov. Daniel Tompkins had named Gen. Stephen Van Rensselear, with no prior military experience, to head the invasion at Queenston. He ended up with more than 3,500 troops, facing a force of 2,000 British and Indians along the Ontario side. 

Historian Walter R. Borneman noted that Gen. Van Rensselear first ordered troops to cross the river on Oct. 11, 1812, only to discover that all the oars for the boats had “disappeared” downriver in a single boat. The general’s cousin, Col. Solomon Van Rensselaer, led 200 men across the river just two days later and was wounded six times in the process. The records show that most of his troops were pinned under the heights, unable to make much headway. Finally, a company of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment under Capt. John E. Wool managed to reach the top of the heights via an unguarded fishermen’s trail.

Without much warning, Wool’s troops started streaming down from the crest of the heights, Borenman recounts, making it almost impossible for the British forces to retreat into the village. Part way up that slope, Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock was leading about 100 men in a counterattack to retake the higher ground when he was killed by a U.S. sniper shooting down at the easy target, an officer in a bright red coat with golden epaulettes.

Eventually, the British regained the heights and U.S. Lt. Col. Winfield Scott was forced to surrender his command. In the end, more than 300 American soldiers were dead or wounded and nearly 1,000 had been taken prisoners. The British losses: 14 killed, 77 wounded, and 21 missing.

Gen. Brock, who had been knighted for his earlier capture of Detroit, died before ever learning about his honor. Today, an impressive monument stands atop Queenston Heights, a vivid reminder of the legendary military leader. 

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