Niagara Gazette

War of 1812

March 26, 2012

Major-General's death marred British victory at Queenston


NIAGARA FALLS — Meanwhile the American troops invading that day were falling at every turn. Their lack of leadership and discipline was shocking.

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brock ...

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It didn’t help that some boats shoving off from the Lewiston shoreline toward Queenston were soon stranded because many oars   had been left in another boat drifting aimlessly downstream.

To compound matters, a number of American troops under Major General Stephen Van Rensselear, a political appointee with hardly   any military experience, refused to cross the river to fight in a foreign country. The insisted they had joined the Army to   defend the homeland.

And in a classic case of insubordination, Brig. Gen. Alexander Smith, a regular Army officer, refused to obey the U.S. War   Department order to put his troops under Van Rensselear’s command.

The outlook supposedly was improved when Lt. Col. Winfield Scott arrived on the scene, taking charge of some 600 troops on   the heights. Even with that, he needed more reinforcements to confront Brock’s successor, Maj. Gen. Sheaffe, advancing from   Fort George with an entire garrison and about 100 Mohawk Indians known for their savage onslaught.

Realizing it would be impossible to hold his position, Scott was ordered to evacuate and take the boats back across the river.   When he reached the landing below, however, there were no boats. Scott then surrendered his entire force.

Brock, 42, a native of Guernsey (Channel Islands) completed his studies in Southampton, England, and bought a commission as   an ensign in the 8th (the King’s) Regiment of the British army. When the war broke out in 1812, Brock was delighted because   he expected to win glory by foiling the American invasion.

Alan Taylor, who teaches American and Canadian history at the University of California, says Brock was aware of the interdependence   of Upper Canada’s prime sources of defense: regular soldiers, militiamen and Indians. “In a frontier colony, the Indians were   pivotal,” Taylor added, “If alienated, they could ravage exposed settlements, paralyzing the militia and negating the regulars.   But if rallied to defend Upper Canada, the natives could daunt American invaders, who especially dreaded Indians.”

Despite his pleas for more troops, Brock was allowed only 1,200 regulars to garrison seven forts, scattered from the St. Lawrence   River to Lake Huron. Short on regulars and militia, he needed Indians more than ever to defend the province.

Jim Hill, superintendent of heritage for the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario, noted that Brock was first buried at Fort   George. His remains were later removed to the summit of Queenston Heights where a stately monument was built in his honor.

When rebels destroyed that monument in 1840, Hill said, Brock’s body was then interred in a grassy area below the hill. After   the new 184-foot monument was raised in 1856, Brock was buried a fourth time beneath the splendid memorial that stands as   a symbol to Canada’s struggle for nationhood.

What do the tour guides in the park tell visitors when they ask, “Who won the war?”

Hill said, “We try hard to provide an objective answer to that since there were, of course, losses on both sides. The fact   is, however, that for a number of years we had plaques in the park that provided a very one-sided interpretation. They’re   gone now.”

The toll from the Queenston Heights fighting: Americans, 300 killed and wounded, and 958 taken prisoner; The British, 14 killed,   77 wounded and 21 missing.

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