Sunday 31 August 2008

My Town Monday - James FitzGibbon - Hero of War of 1812 (Canada) Part 1

[1-River Shannon, Limerick County, Ireland] James FitzGibbon was born in Glin, on the south bank of the River Shannon in County Limerick, Ireland November 23, 1782; the second son of Gerald FitzGibbon, a freehold farmer. He enlisted in the Knight of Glin’s Yeomanry Corps at age 15. Two years later, at age 17 he joined the Tarbert Infantry Fencibles, an Irish home service regiment, from which he was recruited into the British Army’s 49th Regiment of Foot as a private soldier on August 6, 1799 with the rank of sergeant.

[2- J. FitzGibbon]

The following morning his Regiment headed for Holland. He first fought in battle in 1799 at Egmond aan Zee, in the Netherlands with Lieut.-Colonel Isaac Brock and Savery Brock, the paymaster, who directed and encouraged the men to advance while keeping ahead of them. The French soldiers kept firing at Savery Brock while FitzgGibbon observed for two hours the large man remained untouched. After witnessing this conduct, FitzGibbon learned of those who advanced first, few fell under enemy fire.

He was taken prisoner at Egmont-op-Zee and carried into France. In January, 1800, he was exchanged, taken to England, and subsequently was present at the action before Copenhagen in April, 1801. Here he served as a marine in the Battle of Copenhagen, under Lord Nelson, for which he received the Naval General Service Medal.


In the autumn of 1801, FitzGibbon was pay-sergeant of the grenadier company. He was not a good accountant, and when making out his pay sheet for February, found himself deficient to the amount of nearly £2.

Following is an excerpt from “A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James FitzGibbon” covering military life in correspondence from FitzGibbon:

“Horror-stricken at this discovery, knowing he had not expended it upon himself, yet dreading the consequences. A recent occurrence in the regiment, of a squad sergeant being tried and reduced to the ranks for the deficiency of one shilling, roused his fears lest the greater deficit should be punished with the lash, and ‘he would take his own life rather than endure the degradation of stripping in the front of the regiment to be flogged.’

“Under the pressure of this fear, FitzGibbon did what in after years he said was "no doubt due to my early reading of such romances as the ' History of the White Knight,' of 'Parismus and Parismenus,' 'The Seven Champions of Christendom,' etc., I decided upon applying to the Commander-in-Chief for protection. " I asked for and obtained a pass for three days to go to London on pretended business. I walked up to town, and found my way to the Anchor and Vines tavern, close to the Horse Guards, and though tired, at once wrote a letter to the Duke of York, stating the case to him and praying of him to enable me to replace the money so that my colonel might not know of the deficiency; for, as I looked upon him as the father of the regiment, I dreaded the forfeiture of his good opinion more than any other consequence which might follow.

“On the following morning, I gave my letter in at the door to the orderly on duty. With an anxiety I cannot describe, I walked before that door till night fell, then in despair returned to my tavern. In the course of my romantic reading, I had learned how many were the evil influences surrounding courts and princes, and supposed my letter had been withheld — that probably such letters from people in humble circumstances were never presented to great men. I therefore wrote another letter, adverting to the one delivered at the office door, and again stating my case as before.

“The second morning I took my stand at the door before the hour of opening, and asked the sentry to point out the Duke of York to me.

“The Duke soon approached. He was in plain clothes and walking. I stepped up to him, saluted him, and held out the letter. He took it, looked at me from head to foot, and passed in without speaking. "After the lapse of a few, to me most anxious, minutes, I was called, shown into a waiting-room upstairs and told that Colonel Brownrigg would see me. He came in presently with my two letters in his hand. He asked if I had written them. I answered, ‘Yes.'

“Upon which he said, 'The Duke can do nothing in this matter before referring to your colonel.’

“ ‘But it is to avoid that I have made this application.’

“ 'In all cases of this kind,' he replied, ' nothing can be done before referring to the Commanding Officer.' Then seeing my agitation, he added, ' The Duke is not displeased with you. Return to your regiment and you will not be treated harshly.' I retired, and it being too late in the day to return to Chelmsford, I went back to my tavern.

“Never having been in a theatre, and learning that I might go into the gallery at Drury Lane at half price, I went, and saw John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons in the characters of Jaffier and Belvidera. On leaving the heated atmosphere of the theatre I found it raining, and was pretty well drenched before I reached my room. This, following the excitement of the two previous days, brought on a bad feverish cold, and I was unable to rise in the morning.

“As my leave expired that day I wrote a note to the agents of the regiment, Messrs. Ross and Ogilvy, to report my illness, and begged of them to forward it to the regiment at Chelmsford. In the course of the afternoon the servant came to my room and told me that two gentlemen were below desiring to see me.

“Startled at this announcement I desired them to be shown up, when to my dismay in walked the colonel and another officer of my regiment. ‘Well, young man, what's the matter with you?’

“I told him, ‘a cold.’

“’Well,’ he said, ‘take care of yourself this night and return to the regiment to morrow.’ Adding, ‘Perhaps your money is all spent,’ he laid a half guinea on the table beside me with the words, ‘there is enough to take you home.’

“This kindness so affected me that I could hardly say, ‘If you knew what brought me here, you would not be so kind to me.’

“I know all about it. Get well and go back to the regiment.’

“It so happened that the colonel had come up to town that morning, and was at the agents' when my note was received. He then went to the Commander- in-Chief's where my letters were put into his hands, when he came on to my room. Later in the evening the colonel's servant came to see me. He was a private servant, not a soldier, and a very intelligent man.

“ ‘What's this that you've been doing at the Horse Guards,’ he began.

“ ‘What I would gladly conceal from the world,’ I replied.

“ Well, I know something about it, for while attending at table at the colonel's brother's house to-day, I overheard a good deal of what the colonel said of you to the company. It seems you have been writing letters to the Duke of York about some difficulty you have got yourself into, and mentioned the colonel in a way that pleased him and his brother. He said that when the Duke gave him your letters he recommended you to him, saying that he (the Duke) would not forget you. Then the colonel added, ‘If the Duke forgets him I will not.’

“Upon his return to the regiment, FitzGibbon's accounts were examined and an error of £1 15s. erroneously entered against himself, discovered — his limited knowledge of arithmetic and book-keeping being accountable for the supposed deficiency.”

It was at this time that Lieut.-Colonel Isaac Brock began teaching FitzGibbon mathematics.


Life and Times of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. by D.B. Read, Q.C.,
Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1894), pp. 46-50.

Photo Credits: [1]-icelight CC=flickr, [2][3]-Wikipedia .

My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin, whose link is, where you can find other posts from around the world.

Saturday 30 August 2008

Snowbird Pass Trail (Berg Lake Trail), British Columbia

[1-Mt. Robson south face]

On August 2, 2008 I posted a visual hike of the Berg Lake Trail to Berg Lake and the northern face of Mt. Robson. This is a continuation of that post with the trail continuing to Snowbird Pass.

[2- Berg Lake, Berg Glacier and northern face of Mt. Robson]

Snowbird Pass is closed May and June due to caribou calving. A challenging route marked by rock cairns (caution required), which provides spectacular views of the back of Mount Robson. From Berg Lake campsite the trip is 22 km, return. Start north of Rearguard campsite, follow Robson River then travel up to Robson Glacier's moraine. Hike up to an alpine meadow, beyond which is Snowbird Pass.

From Berg Lake campground, follow the main trail northeast. In 100 m, immediately after the Toboggan Creek bridge, the trail to Toboggan Falls forks left and ascends generally northwest. Proceed on the main trail.

[3- Snowbird Pass Trail with Rearguard Mountain on the right]

Pass Rearguard campground at 1 km.

[4- view looking back to Berg Lake past Rearguard campsite]

Beyond Rearguard, the trail leads generally east-northeast onto a gravel flat. Reach a junction at 1.4 km. The trail leading straight passes a ranger station in 100 m then continues generally northeast to Robson Pass campground.

[5- Sign where toe of Robson Glacier was in 1911]

[6- view of Mt. Robson Glacier before long ascent]

For Snowbird Pass, go right and hike along the meltwater stream toward the toe of Robson Glacier.

[7- higher up, glacial pond, looking behind]

At 2.2 km, bear right (southeast) where a cutoff trail to Robson Pass forks left. Ahead, the marginal lake at the glacier’s toe is where the Robson River begins.

[8- toe of Robson Glacier]

[9- Looking back from last photo along trail]

The trail ascends the lateral moraine of Robson Glacier, enabling you to overlook the ice for the next 3 km. Be cautious: the rocks cave in where the ice has melted.

[10- More of Robson Glacier revealed]

[11- Along Robson Glacier]

At 7.4 km, the trail turns away from the glacier and begins a switchbacking climb past a cascade.

[12- Above Robson Glacier]

[13- waterfall on Snowbird Pass Trail]

A steep, eastward ascent follows the left side of a stream. The grade eases in an alpine meadow. Aim for the low point on the ridge ahead. The superior route bends left and stays north of the stream.

[14- alpine meadow]


[16- Crossing the meadow]

[17- Ptarmigan (snowbird) beside Snowbird Pass Trail]

These birds are 14 inches. In winter both adults have white plumage with a black tail and bill and a black eye line. The feet are feathered. In summer the male has dark brown plumage with white wings and a white belly. The female in summer has mottled brown plumage and white wings.

The ptarmigan feeds on seeds, fruits, buds, and insects in the summer but in winter is confined to buds and twigs. Its stomach is adapted to this diet having special bacteria enabling it to digest woody material Another adaptation is the feathered feet which act as snowshoes, allowing the bird to walk on soft snow. The feathers are hollow and filled with air which provide the bird with some insulation. The female will lay 6 - 9, sometimes as many as 16 buff-coloured eggs. The male defends the territory while the female incubates the eggs for around 21 days. The chicks are very quick to leave th enest and fly within ten days.

[18- Snowbird Pass Trail with late blooming wildflowers]

[19- Mt. Robson from Snowbird Pass Trail]

[20- View behind while ascending first of several minor ridges]

Follow cairns up a steep boulder field to crest Snowbird Pass at 10.6 km.

[21- Cairn at the end of meadow]

[22- Trail near top of Snowbird Pass with snow]

[23- Coleman Glacier at the top of Snowbird Pass with large cairn at Jasper National Park, Alberta]

It is not wise to attempt glacier travel unless experienced and with a guide.

[24- Heading back to Mt. Robson]

For more information about hiking and Canada's Parks go to the sidebar under "Conservation and Nature".

Research: BC Parks, A Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Michael Vanner (2006) Paragon Publishing p. 88

Photo Credits: [1][2]-Wikipedia, [3][13][15][17][18][19]-brilang-CC=nc-sa-flickr, [4][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][14][16][20][21][22][23][24]-HandsLive CC=flickr, [5]-merehike.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

The Hoary Marmot

The hoary marmot (Marmota caligata) is a species of marmot that inhabits the mountains of northwest North America. The largest populations are in Alaska. In the northern part of that state they may live near sea level. Hoary marmots live near the tree line on slopes with grasses and forbs to eat and rocky areas for cover. It is the largest North American ground squirrel and is often nicknamed "the whistler" for its high-pitched warning issued to alert other members of the colony to possible danger. The animals are sometimes called "whistle pigs." Whistler, British Columbia, originally London Mountain because of its heavy fogs and rain, was renamed for these animals to help make it more marketable as a resort.

The "hoary" in their name refers to the silver-grey fur on their shoulders and upper back; the remainder of the upper parts are mainly covered in reddish brown fur. The underparts are greyish. They have a white patch on the muzzle and black feet and lower legs.


These animals hibernate 7 to 8 months a year in burrows that they excavate in the soil, often among or under boulders. Mating occurs after hibernation and 2 to 4 young are born in the spring. Males establish "harems," but may also visit females in other territories. Predators include golden eagles; grizzly and black bears; and wolves.

Unlike most animals their size, hoary marmots are not shy around humans. Rather than running away at first sight, they will often go about their business while being watched.

Source: Wikipedia.
Photo Credits: [1]-ElaCol CC=flickr, [2]-pat_pelletier(busy) CC=nc-nd-flickr.

Monday 25 August 2008

Tuesdays For Travis - The Humber River, Toronto

[1 - Fishing on Humber River near Old Mill]

For fishing enthusiasts the Humber River is known for its salmon, small mouth bass and the presence of Brook Trout in the headwaters of the Humber. The high quality aquatic habitat in the Humber supports more than 50 species of fish.

The Humber River is one of two major rivers on either side of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the other being the Don River to the east. The Humber River was designated a Canadian Heritage River on September 24, 1999. The Humber collects from about 750 creeks and tributaries in a fan-shaped area north of the city. One main branch runs for about 100 km from the Niagara Escarpment to the northwest, while the other major branch starts in the Lake St. George in the Oak Ridges Moraine near Aurora, Ontario to the northeast. They join north of Toronto and then flow in a generally southeasterly direction into Lake Ontario at what was once the far western portions of the city.

[2] This bridge is over the Humber River as it exits into Lake Ontario and is flanked by by Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and Humber Bay Park East. The bridge carries a cycling path over the river. Some weekends when I feel like taking a longer walk by Lake Ontario I come here.

The Humber has a long history of human settlement along its banks. Native settlement of the area is well documented archaeologically and occurred in three waves. The first settlers were the Palaeo-Indians who lived in the area from 10,000 to 7000 BC. The second wave, people of the Archaic period, settled the area between 7000 and 1000 BC and began to adopt seasonal migration patterns to take advantage of available plants, fish, and game. The third wave of native settlement was the Woodland period, which saw the introduction of the bow and arrow and the growing of crops which allowed for larger, more permanent villages. The Woodland period was also characterized by movement of native groups along what is known today as the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, running from Lake Ontario up the Humber to Lake Simcoe and eventually to the northern Great Lakes.

[3-Salmon run every fall on the Humber River - this is just north of Old Mill]

Étienne Brûlé was the first European to encounter the Humber while travelling the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail. Brûlé passed through the watershed in 1615 on a mission from Samuel de Champlain to build alliances with native peoples. The Trail became a convenient shortcut to the upper Great Lakes for traders, explorers, and missionaries. A major landmark on the northern end of the trail in Lake Simcoe was used to describe the trail as a whole, and eventually the southern end became known simply as "Toronto" to the Europeans.

[4- Salmon jumping]

A fort was constructed about 1 km inland from the mouth of the Humber to protect the Trail. During the 1660s this was the site of Teiaiagon, a permanent settlement of the Seneca used for trading with the Europeans. Popple's map of 1733 shows a prominent river beside "Tejajagon" which we can only assume was the Humber. Its name is given as the Tanaovate River. French missionaries used the area for many years, including Jean de Brébeuf and Joseph Chaumonot in 1641, Louis Hennepin in 1678, and Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle in 1680.

However, no permanent European settlement occurred until the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau (not the famous author) in the late 1700s. Rousseau piloted John Graves Simcoe's ship into Toronto Bay to officially begin the British era of control in 1793. Most of the British attention was focussed to the east of the Humber, around the protected Toronto Bay closer to the Don River. Settlement was scattered until after the War of 1812 when many loyalists moved to the area, who were joined by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland who chose to remain in British lands.

By the 1840s, agriculture had developed suffiently to support a grist mill and a sawmill, both built by Joseph Rowntree.

As the Toronto area grew, the lands around the Humber became important farming areas and were extensively deforested; in addition, some areas of the river's flood plain were developed as residential. This led to serious runoff problems in the 1940s, which the Humber Valley Conservation Authority was established to address. But in 1954, Hurricane Hazel raised the river to devastating flood levels, destroying buildings and bridges; on one street, Raymore Drive, 60 homes were destroyed and 32 people killed.

Since Hurricane Hazel showed the land to be unsuitable for housing, it has been largely developed or redeveloped as parkland, with the extensive and important wetlands on its southern end remaining unmolested.

Today the majority of the Toronto portion of the Humber is parkland, with paved trails running from the lakeshore all the way to the northern border of the city some 30 km away. Trails following the various branches of the river form some 50 km of bicycling trails, much of which are excellent. Similar trails on the Don tend to be narrower and in somewhat worse condition, but the complete set of trails is connected along the lakeshore, for some 100 km of off-road paved trails.

Research: Wikipedia
Photo Credits: [1]-diego3336 CC=flickr, [2]-wikipedia, [3]-ZaNiaC CC=nc-sa-flickr, [4]-re-Verse CC=nc-nd-flickr.

My Town Monday - Major-General Isaac Brock (War of 1812-Canada) - The Battle of Queenston Heights Part 6

The Americans, burning to wipe away the stain of Detroit, were determined to penetrate into Upper Canada at any risk, concentrated themselves along the Niagara frontier of 36 miles with 3,650 regulars and 2,650 militia. To oppose this force Major-General Brock, whose headquarters were at Fort George, had under his immediate orders part of the 41st and 49th regiments, a few companies of militia, amounting to nearly half these regulars, and from 200 to 300 Indians—in all about 1,500 men—but so dispersed in different posts at and between Fort Erie and Fort George, (34 miles apart,) that only a small number was quickly available at any one point.

[1-Brock on Arthur]

Before the dawn, about four a.m., the sound of distant firing roused him from his short slumber. The hour so long expected had come at last. In a few moments the general was in his saddle, and not waiting even for his aide-de-camp to accompany him, he galloped off by the road to Queenston, seven miles away, whence the ominous sound came. [Later, Walter Nursey wrote an account about Brock stopping for a stirrup cup of coffee from the hands of Sophia Shaw, a general’s daughter, said to be Brock’s fiancée. As Pierre Burton put it, “It is not convincing. On this dark morning, with the wind gusting sleet into his face and the southern sky lit by flashes of cannon, he will stop for nobody.” I will cover Sophia Shaw in a subsequent post. Brock was known to put duty first and foremost above all else.]

It was not only the general who had waited with impatience for the decisive moment. One of the young volunteers on guard, Lieutenant Robinson, in his account of that fateful day, wrote: “The lines had been watched with all the care and attention which the extent of our force rendered possible, and such was the fatigue which our men underwent from want of rest, and exposure to the inclement weather, that they welcomed with joy the prospect of a field which they thought would be decisive.”

[2-Plan of Battle of Queenston Heights from Lady Edgar’s book]

All along the river bank from Fort George to Queenston, a mile or two apart, Canadian batteries commanded different points where a crossing might be made. The principal were at Brown's Point, two miles from Queenston, and Vrooman's Point, nearer that village. At the former was stationed a company of York volunteers, under the command of Captain Cameron. The latter, which commanded Lewiston and the landing at Queenston, was guarded by another company of York volunteers under the command of Captain Reward.

Above the village of Queenston the channel of the river narrowed, and the banks rise to the height of three hundred feet, thickly covered with trees and shrubs. At the ferry between Lewiston and Queenston the river is 1,250 feet in breadth, with a depth of from 200 to 300 feet and a very rapid current. Half way down the hill, or the mountain, as it was called, was the redan battery, where the flank fight company of the 49th Regiment, under Lieutenant Robinson (afterwards the distinguished Sir John Beverley Robinson, chief justice of Upper Canada).

[3-Battle of Queenston Heights]

The other flank company of the 49th, the grenadiers, numbering only 46 men, under Major Dennis, was at the village of Queenston, where also was stationed Captain Chisholm's company from York, and Captain Hall's company of 5th Lincoln militia. There was a small detachment of artillery in the village, with two 3-pounders, under the command of Lieutenant Crowther and Captain Ball. On the height opposite Queenston, on the American side, was Fort Grey, whose guns commanded that village. From this point the firing first came.

About half an hour before daylight, probably about four a.m., in the midst of a violent storm of wind and rain, and under cover of darkness, that the Americans began to cross the river. They were seen by the militia sentinel on guard at Queenston, who immediately ran to the guardhouse to give the alarm. As soon as possible, the grenadier company of the 49th and the militia company stationed there, began firing on them, using the two 3-pounders with good effect. Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer, a relative of the general, who had charge of the American troops crossing, was at this time severely wounded, as well as many of the rank and file, before the boats had gone far from their side of the river. The gun at Vrooman's Point, which commanded the landing at Lewiston, also joined in, and many of the boats were driven back, whilst others in a battered condition drifted down the river and ran ashore near Vrooman's Point. Those on board, many of them wounded, were made prisoners.

The detachment of York Volunteers at Brown's Point, two miles below, had heard the firing, and made ready to join their comrades in helping to drive the invaders back. Dawn was now glimmering in the east, but the semi-darkness was illumined by the discharge of musketry and the flash of artillery. In spite of the constant fire, some boats succeeded in effecting a landing.

Captain Cameron, in command of the York company at Brown's Point, was at first undecided whether to advance or to remain at the post assigned him to defend. It had been thought that the enemy would make various attacks at different points on the line, and this might be a feint, while the real landing would take place elsewhere. However, he decided to go to the aid of the troops above, and had scarcely set off on his march in that direction when General Brock galloped past alone. He waved his hand as he flew by, shouting “Push on, brave York Volunteers,” bidding the little troop press on. Little need to tell them to follow. Their confidence in their general was unbounded. They were ready to follow him through danger and death. In a few minutes the general reached and passed Vrooman's Point, and was soon followed by his two aides, Major Glegg and Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell.

The reception given to the invaders had been a warm one. To quote from Lieutenant Robinson: "Grape and musket shot poured upon them at close quarters as they approached the shore. A single discharge of grape from a brass 6-pounder, directed by Captain Dennis of the 49th, destroyed fifteen in a boat. Three of the bateaux landed below Mr. Hamilton's garden in Queenston and were met by a party of militia and a few regulars, who slaughtered almost the whole of them, taking the rest prisoners. Several other boats were so shattered and disabled that the men in them threw down their arms and came on shore, merely to deliver themselves up as prisoners of war. As we advanced with our company, we met troops of Americans on their way to Fort George under guard, and the road was lined with miserable wretches suffering under wounds of all descriptions, and crawling to our houses for protection and comfort. The spectacle struck us, who were unused to such scenes, with horror, but we hurried to the mountain, impressed with the idea that the enemy's attempt was already frustrated, and the business of the day nearly completed.”

Thus far, everything had gone well for the defense, and the general, on his approach to Queenston, was greeted with the news that the greater number of the boats had been destroyed or taken. Another brigade of four boats was just then setting off from Lewiston, and the 49th Light Company, which had been stationed at the redan battery on the mountain, was ordered down to assist in preventing them landing. General Brock had ridden forward to inspect this battery, where the 18-pounder had been left in charge of eight artillerymen. He had just dismounted to enter the enclosure when shots from above warned him that the enemy had gained the crest of the hill. As was learned afterwards, Captain Wool, of the United States army, on whom devolved the command of the boats when Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer was wounded, had very skillfully conducted his men up the river, and on shore, until they came to a fisherman's path leading up the south side of the mountain, a path so steep and narrow that it had been left unguarded. They had succeeded in reaching the height unobserved, where they remained concealed by the crags and trees. It was now about seven in the morning.

In the dangerous and exposed position in which General Brock found himself, there was nothing to be done but to order the gun to be spiked and to evacuate the battery with all the speed possible. There was no time for him even to mount his horse. He led it down the hill and entered the village to reform his troops and gather them for an assault on the enemy above. There were but two hundred men available for the work, two companies of the 49th, about a hundred men, and the same number of militia. It was a hazardous and daring enterprise to attempt to regain the heights with so small a force, but regardless of danger, as was his wont, General Brock, on foot, led his men to the charge up the hill. In vain was the attempt. The enemy above were so advantageously placed, and kept up such a tremendous fire, that the small number ascending were driven back.

[4-Isaac Brock leading charge]

A deflected bullet struck the wrist of his sword arm, but the wound was slight. Again the general rallied them, urged them on by word and gesture, “Push on, York Volunteers! Salient!” and proceeded by the right of the mountain, meaning to attack them in flank. His tall form and prominent position as leader made him too easy a mark. Scarcely had he ascended a few paces when the bullet struck him in the breast, and he fell.

Of the last words of a hero there are always conflicting stories. Some say Isaac Brock was conscious of his serious wounding, that he called on his men to press forward, some say he murmured his sister's name; and more audibly, as he gallantly strove to raise his head to give emphasis to his last faltering words—the same Isaac Brock, unmindful of self and still mindful of duty—he said to Clibborn, a soldier who was close at hand, “My fall must not be noticed, nor impede my brave companions from advancing to victory.”

They bore him from the place where he fell to a house at the foot of the hill, where his comrades covered his lifeless form, and then went back to the work he had left them to do. The handful of troops had retreated to the village, where they were joined by the two companies of York Volunteers from Brown's and Vrooman's Points. About half-past nine Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell, aide-de-camp, a lawyer with no military experience, formed them again for an advance up the hill to dislodge the enemy.

Lieutenant Robinson tells the story: "We were halted a few moments in Mr. Hamilton's garden, where we were exposed to the shot from the American battery at Fort Grey, and from several field pieces directly opposite to us, besides an incessant and disorderly fire of musketry from the sides of the mountain. In a few minutes we were ordered to advance. The nature of the ground and the galling fire prevented any kind of order in ascending. We soon scrambled to the top to the right of the battery which they had gained, and were in some measure covered by the woods. There we stood and gathered the men as they advanced, and formed them into line. The fire was too hot to admit of delay. Scarcely more than fifty had collected, about thirty of whom were of our company, headed by Captain Cameron, and the remainder of the 49th Light Company, commanded by Captain Williams.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell was mounted and animating the men to charge. . . . The enemy were just in front, covered by bushes and logs. They were in no kind of order, and were three or four hundred in number. They perceived us forming, and at about thirty yards distance, fired. Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell, who was on the left of our party calling upon us to advance, received a shot in his body and fell. His horse was at the same instant killed. Captain Williams, who was at the other extremity of our little band, fell the next moment apparently dead. The remainder of our men advanced a few paces, discharged their pieces, and then retired down the mountain. Lieutenant McLean was wounded in the thigh. Captain Cameron, in his attempt to save Colonel Macdonell, was exposed to a shower of musketry, but most miraculously escaped. He succeeded in carrying off his friend. Captain Williams recovered from the momentary effect of the wound in his head in time to escape down the mountain. This happened, I think, about ten a.m."

The two companies of the 49th and the militia, retreated to Vrooman's Point to wait there for further reinforcements, and the Americans remained in possession of the hill. They were enabled by the cessation of fire from the Canadian side to land fresh troops unmolested, and to carry back their dead and wounded in their boats.

The morning had ended most disastrously for the British. The beloved and trusted general was still in death, and near him lay his friend and aide-de-camp, mortally wounded. All along the line from Fort George to Erie, the evil tidings sped. How the news of defeat was brought to Fort Erie is told by an officer of the 100th stationed there. He relates how on the morning of October 13th the booming of distant artillery was faintly heard. Hunger and fatigue were no longer remembered, and the men were ordered to turn out under arms, and were soon on their way to the batteries opposite the enemy's station at Black Rock. The letter continues : —

"We had not assumed our position long, when an orderly officer of the Provincial Dragoons rode up and gave the information that the enemy were attempting to cross at Queenston, and that we must annoy them by every means in our power along the whole line, as was being done from Niagara to Queenston. The command was no sooner given than, bang, went off every gun we had in position. The enemy's guns were manned and returned the fire, and the day's work was begun.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when another dragoon, not wearing sword or helmet, bespattered horse and man with foam and mud, rode up. Said an old 'green tiger' (49th Regiment) to me, ‘Horse and man jaded, sir, depend upon it he brings bad news.'
‘Step down and see what news he brings.'
Away my veteran doubles and soon returns. I knew from poor old Clibborn's face something dreadful had occurred. 'What news, Clibborn — what news, man?' I said, as he advanced toward Captain Driscoll.

"Clibborn walked on, perfectly unconscious of the balls that were ploughing up the ground around him. He uttered not a word, but shook his head. The pallor and expression of his countenance indicated the sorrow of his soul. I could stand it no longer. I placed my hand on his shoulder. ‘For heaven's sake, tell us what you know.' In choking accents he revealed his melancholy information. ‘General Brock is killed, the enemy has possession of Queenston Heights.' Every man in the battery was paralyzed. They ceased firing. A cheer from the enemy on the opposite side of the river recalled us to our duty. They had heard of their success down the river.

"Our men who had in various ways evinced their feelings, some weeping, some swearing, some in mournful silence, now exhibited demoniac energy. The heavy guns were loaded, traversed and fired as if they were field pieces. 'Take your time, men, don't throw away your fire, my lads.' 'No, sir, but we will give it to them hot and heavy.' All the guns were worked by the forty men of my company as if they wished to avenge the death of their beloved chief."

At Niagara, the other extremity of the line, in obedience to General Brock's last order, sent from Queenston, a brisk fire had been kept up all morning with the American fort opposite, whence hot shot poured on the little town, threatening to envelop it in flames. Captain Vigareaux, R.E., by a daring act of valour, saved a powder magazine from being ignited. As at Fort Erie, news of the disaster at Queenston only impelled the artillerymen to redouble their exertions. So well directed was their fire that by mid-day the American fort was silenced.

[5] Major-General Sheaffe [photo] had, early in the morning, in obedience to a summons from General Brock, prepared to march to Queenston with about four companies of the 41st, 380 rank and file, and nearly the same number of militia, together with the car brigade under Captain Holcroft. News of the repulse and the loss of the general was followed by a second despatch, telling of Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell's attempt to take the hill, which had ended so disastrously.

General Sheaffe, with the field pieces of the car brigade, arrived at Vrooman's Point about eleven o'clock, and found there the handful of troops who had retreated to that place to await his arrival. Captain Holcroft's company, with the heavy guns, was placed in position to command the landing at Lewiston, and to prevent any more troops from crossing. The general decided that it was useless to attempt a charge up the hill in the face of the addition that had been made to the enemy's force, and their commanding position on the heights.

He determined, therefore, to make a long detour through the fields and woods behind Queenston. His force had been strengthened by about 150 Mohawk Indians, under Chief Norton (a strapping six foot Scot who is more Indian than most Indians, having convinced many British leaders that he is a Cherokee), who had come from the lake shore near Niagara, had skirted the village of St. Davids near Queenston, and then had silently moved eastwards through the dense forest, hemming the Americans in. About two p.m. Major Merritt's troop of cavalry appeared on the scene, and later still, a detachment of the 41st and two flank companies of militia arrived from Chippawa.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the real battle of Queenston Heights began. General Sheaffe had gradually advanced towards the battery on the mountain held by the enemy. One spirit animated all the men, a fierce desire to avenge the death of their beloved chief, and to drive the aggressors back from Canadian soil. The main body on the right consisted of the 41st, and the flank companies of the Niagara militia, with two field pieces, 8-pounders, which had been dragged up the hill. The left consisted of the Mohawk Indians and a company of coloured troops, refugee slaves from the United States. The Light Company of the 49th, with the companies of York and Lincoln militia, formed the centre. In all a little over a thousand men, of whom half were regulars.

The Indians were the first to advance, and the Americans, who were expecting an attack from quite another direction, were completely taken by surprise. General Sheaffe had succeeded in reaching their rear unseen. There was scarcely time for them to change their front when a fierce onslaught was made on them from all sides, the Indians uttering their terrific war whoop, and the rest of the troops joining in the shout.

In vain did the American officers, among them Winfield Scott, attempt to rally their men. A panic seized them in the face of the determined fire that was poured upon them, and, scarcely waiting to fire a volley, they fled by hundreds down the mountain, only to meet more of their enemies below. There was no retreat possible for them. It was indeed a furious and avenging force that pressed upon them, and drove them to the brink of that river whose deep waters seemed to offer a more merciful death than that which awaited them above. They fell in numbers. “The river,” said one who was present, “presented a shocking spectacle, filled with poor wretches who plunged into the stream with scarcely a prospect of being saved.” Many leaped from the side of the mountain, and were dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

At last the fire from the American batteries at Lewiston ceased, and the battle was over in one short hour. Brock was indeed avenged. Two officers were now seen approaching bearing a white flag. They were conducted up the mountain to Lieutenant J. B. Robinson.

By the surrender, General Wadsworth and over nine hundred men, including sixty officers, were made prisoners of war. It was a complete victory, but dimmed by a national loss. That loss was felt through the two years of fighting that followed the battle of Queenston Heights. Sheaffe, who succeeded the fallen general, was lacking in the qualities that are requisite for a successful commander. His conduct at the taking of York in 1813, proved his unfitness for the position. Procter who had been left in command on the western frontier also lacked the firmness in action and fertility of resource that characterized the leader who had opened the campaign so brilliantly. But the influence which the lost leader wielded on the youth of the province lived after him, and stimulated them throughout the long struggle "to keep the land inviolate." Under Vincent and Harvey and Drummond and Macdonell and de Salaberry they fought as veterans, and when at the close of the war they laid down their arms not one foot of Canadian territory was occupied by the enemy.

Three times were Sir Isaac Brock's funeral rites observed. First, on that sad October day when a pause came in the conflict, and minute guns from each side of the river bore their token of respect from friend and foe for the general who had fallen in the midst of the battle. He was laid to rest first in the cavalier bastion of Fort George which he himself had built. Dark days were yet to fall on Canada, when shot and shell poured over that grave in the bastion, and fire and sword laid the land desolate; but the spirit kindled by Brock in the country never failed, and though his voice was stilled, the echo of his words remained and the force of his example.

When peace came again, a grateful country resolved to raise to his memory a monument on the field where he fell, and twelve years afterwards a solemn procession passed again over that road by the river, and from far and near those who had served under him gathered to do him honour. A miscreant from the United States shattered this monument on April 13th, 1840, a crime that was execrated in that country as well as in Canada.

[6 - Sir George Arthur, Govenor General after Prevost]

In order to take immediate steps to repair the desecration. Sir George Arthur, the new governor-general after Sir George Prevost, called upon the militia of Upper Canada and the regular troops then in the country, to assemble on Queenston Heights on June 30th of that year. The summons was obeyed with enthusiasm, and no greater civil and military display had ever been held in Canada. The youths whom Isaac Brock had led were gray-headed men now, judges and statesmen, the foremost in the land, but they had not forgotten him, and once again, in eloquent words, the story was told of how he had won the undying love and respect of the people.

[7 - Isaac Brock monument]

A resolution was unanimously passed, that another monument, higher and nobler still, should be built in place of the one destroyed. No public money was asked, but the regular troops, officers and men, and the militia gave a freewill offering. In due time the sum of $50,000 was raised. While the monument was building. General Brock's body was placed in a private burying-ground in Mr. Hamilton's garden at the foot of the hill. In 1854, more than forty years after the battle, the column was finished, and once again a long procession followed the hero's bier. Nor was this all. In 1860 there was a notable gathering on that historic hill, when King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, came to do honour to the dead hero, and laid the topmost stone on the cairn that marks the spot where he fell. One hundred and sixty survivors of the volunteers of 1812 were present.

Sir John Beverley Robinson was their spokesman. In his address to the prince he said: "In the long period that has elapsed very many have gone to their rest, who, having served in higher rank than ourselves, took a more conspicuous part in that glorious contest. We rejoice in the thought that what your Royal Highness has seen and will see of this prosperous and happy province will enable you to judge how valuable a possession was saved to the British Crown by the successful resistance made in the trying contest in which it was our fortune to bear a part, and your Royal Highness will then be able to judge how large a debt the empire owed to the lamented hero Brock, whose gallant and generous heart shrank not in the darkest hour of the conflict, and whose example inspired the few with the ability and spirit to do the work of many."

In reply the prince said: "I have willingly consented to lay the first stone of this monument. Every nation may, without offence to its neighbours, commemorate its heroes, their deeds of arms, and their noble deaths. This is no taunting boast of victory, no revival of long passed animosities, but a noble tribute to a soldier's fame, the more honourable because he readily acknowledges the bravery and chivalry of the people by whose hands he fell. I trust that Canada will never want such volunteers as those who fought in the last war nor her volunteers be without such a leader. But no less I fervently pray that your sons and grandsons may never be called upon to add other laurels to those which you so gallantly won."

The noble shaft on Queenston Heights dominates a wide expanse of land and lake. Deep and strong is the current of the river that flows at its base, but not deeper and stronger than the memory of the man who sleeps below.

This monument to Alfred was erected in 1976. As to the fate of Alfred, in none of the research materials from reputable sources did I find anything that stated Alfred had been killed at the Battle of Queenston. The General's Horse "fully caparisoned, led by four Grooms" is listed as preceding the coffin at the General's interment at Fort George. Tupper (1847) p.341.

Other commemorative tributes to Major-General Isaac Brock was a postal stamp Guernsey issued in 1996;

and a stamp from Canada issued in 1969.

[8 -Isaac Brock uniform worn on fateful day on display at Military Museum in Ottawa - click to enlarge]

Isaac Brock is the first Canadian war hero, an Englishman who hated the provincial confines of the Canadas, who looked with disdain on the civilian leaders, who despised democracy, and who could hardly wait to escape Canada to join Wellington. None of that matters now.


His monument erected on the ridge, not far from where he fell, became a symbol of remembrance for his contribution to the country; his military prescience, his careful preparation for war during the years of peace, his astonishing bloodless capture of an American stronghold; and of that final impetuous dash, spendidly heroic but tragically foolish, up the slippery heights of Queenston on a gloomy October morning.

The Makers of Canada – General Brock by Lady Matilda (Ridout) Edgar [1844-1910] (1904)
The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. by his nephew, Ferdinand Tupper Brock (1845)
The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813 by Pierre Berton

Photo Credits: [1][3][4][5][6]-wikipedia, [2]-Lady Matilda Edgar, 1904, [7][8][9]-Lone Primate CC=nc-sa-flickr.

This is a My Town Monday post of which Travis Erwin is the founder. At his blog you can find other participants from around the globe providing a look at their corner of the world.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Pre-Battle of Queenston Heights - Isaac Brock (War of 1812-Canada) Part 5

It was on October 6th, 1812, General Brock's forty-third birthday, when the despatches announcing the victory of Detroit and the colours taken there, arrived in London. At this time England waited anxiously for news of her army abroad while in the midst of the life and death struggle with her arch-foe in Europe, and blood was being poured on the fields of Spain. The news of a victory in distant Canada was hailed with acclaim, with bells set ringing and guns were fired to let the people know the good news.

Early in the day the wife of William Brock asked her husband why the park and tower guns were saluting. "For Isaac, of course," was his reply. "Do you not know that this is his birthday?" Later he would learn that what he had said in jest was true: that it had been for Isaac Brock the bells were ringing and guns saluting.

Sir George Prevost's despatch to Lord Henry Bathurst [photo] told of the great ability and judgment with which General Brock had planned to preserve Upper Canada without sacrificing too many British soldiers. Lord Bathurst's written answer was prompt: "I am commanded by His Royal Highness to desire you to take the earliest opportunity of conveying His Royal Highness' approbation of the able, judicious and decisive conduct of Major-General Brock, of the zeal and spirit manifested by Colonel Procter and the other officers, as well as of the intrepidity of the troops. You will inform Major-General Brock that His Royal Highness, taking into consideration all the difficulties by which he was surrounded from the time of the invasion of the province by the American army under the command of General Hull, and the singular judgment, firmness, skill and courage with which he was enabled to surmount them so effectually has been pleased to appoint him an extra knight of the most honourable Order of the Bath."

[Prince Regent of England: George IV]

On October 10th the honours were gazetted. It was on October 13th, a date not to be forgotten, that Irving Brock received the short note, written at Detroit: "Rejoice at my good fortune and join me in prayers to heaven. Let me hear you are united and happy." William Brock wrote on that day to his brother Savery in Guernsey: "Since I sent you on Tuesday last the Gazette containing the despatches, I have been so engrossed with the one all-exciting subject as to be unable to attend to your business. As I well know that Isaac would not consider his good fortune complete unless a reconciliation took place between Irving and myself, I went up to-day on seeing him and shook hands. He then showed me two lines which he had just received from Isaac. It is satisfactory to me that we shook hands before I was aware of the contents. I have again seen Captain Coore, who told me that the Prince Regent had spoken to him about Isaac for nearly half an hour. His Royal Highness was pleased to say that General Brock had done more in one hour than could have been done in six months' negotiation with Mr. Russell, that he had by his exploit given a lustre to the British army, etc. The very prompt manner in which the red riband has been conferred, confirms the flattering remarks of the prince, and proves the favourable impression of the ministry. I look forward to Isaac receiving the thanks of parliament when it meets again. Captain Coore thinks he will now take Niagara. May Sir Isaac long live to be an example to your Julian and an honour to us all."

While the brothers rejoiced in his good fortune, the general passed anxious days and nights. He knew an attack on the frontier was coming, but at what point on the line it was impossible to determine. An American spy had visited the British camp and reported that General Brock had left for Detroit with all the forces he could spare from Niagara. It is possible that this report encouraged the American general to hasten his movements.

The night of October 12th was cold and stormy.

General Brock sat late at his desk writing despatches and instructions for the officers commanding at different locations of the river. His last letter to Sir George Prevost was written then: "The vast number of troops which have been this day added to the strong force previously collected on the opposite side, convinces me, with other indications, that an attack is not far distant. I have, in consequence, directed every exertion to be made to complete the militia to two thousand men, but I fear that I shall not be able to effect my object with willing, well-disposed characters."

It was past midnight when the general sought repose.


The Makers of Canada – General Brock by Lady Matilda (Ridout) Edgar [1844-1910] (1904)
The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. by Ferdinand Tupper Brock (1845)

Photo Credits: wikipedia

Saturday 23 August 2008

Correspondence regarding Major-General Isaac Brock (War of 1812-Canada) Part 4

This post is part of a continuing series on Isaac Brock begun while posting historical events for the My Town Monday group organized by Travis Erwin (whose link is on the sidebar). The next My Town Monday post will be on the Battle of Queenston Heights. The post today covers correspondence between Isaac Brock, George Provost (Governor-General of Canada), Major-General Van Rensselaer (American army leader) which provides details on the reasons the British preferred defense over attack; including the incident at Black Rock.

The month’s armistice had immensely strengthened the position of the enemy on the Niagara frontier. General Brock hastened from Kingston to Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake) [photo above] where he wrote on September 7, 1812 to the commander-in-chief.

From “The Makers of Canada – General Brock” by Lady Edgar (1904) is this letter dated September 7, 1812: —

"Sir, on my arrival here yesterday morning I found that intimation had been received by Major-General Sheaffe to renew hostilities at noon tomorrow. During the cessation of hostilities vast supplies have been received by the enemy. His field artillery is numerous, and I have reason to believe his heavy ordnance has been considerably increased. He is now busy erecting batteries in front of Fort George, and everything indicates an intention of commencing active operations. Reinforcements of troops of every description have evidently arrived. 1 have written to Amherstburg for such troops as Colonel Procter conceived the state of affairs in that quarter enabled him to part with.

Colonel Vincent has likewise been written to on the same subject. The prodigious quantity of pork and flour which have been observed landing on the opposite shore from a number of vessels and large boats which have entered the river during the armistice, are sufficient to supply the wants for a long period of a considerable force. I expect an attack almost immediately. The enemy will either turn my left flank, which he may easily accomplish during a calm night, or attempt to force his way across under cover of his artillery. We stand greatly in need of officers, men and heavy ordnance. Captain Holcroft has been indefatigable and has done everything in the power of an individual, but on such an extended line assistance is necessary.

"I look every day for the arrival of five 24-pounders from Detroit, and other artillery and stores which are not required there, beside two thousand muskets. Should your Excellency be in a situation to send reinforcements to the upper country, the whole of the force at present at Kingston might be directed to proceed hither. One thousand additional regulars are necessary. A force of that description ought to be stationed at Pelliam on the Grand River, to act as exigencies might require. At present, the whole of my force being necessary for the defence of the banks of the river Niagara, no part can look for support. If I can continue to maintain my position six weeks longer the campaign will have terminated in a manner little expected in the states. I stand in want of more artillerymen and a thousand regulars. I have thus given your Excellency a hasty sketch of my situation, and this I can aver, that no exertions shall be wanting to do justice to the important command with which I am entrusted."

Sir George Prevost was again complicating affairs by his vacillating and contradictory orders. He wrote on September 7th finding fault with General Brock's conduct of affairs on the Detroit frontier. It drew from the general the following reply, dated September 18th: "I have been honoured with your Excellency's despatch, dated the 7th inst. I have implicitly followed your Excellency's instructions, and abstained under the greatest temptations and provocations from every act of hostility." He enclosed a letter from Colonel Procter containing the information of the force sent under Captain Muir against Fort Wayne, and continued: "I gave orders for it previous to my leaving Amherstburg, which must have induced Colonel Procter to proceed upon receiving intelligence of the recommencement of hostilities, without waiting for further directions. I regret exceedingly that this service should be undertaken contrary to your Excellency's wishes, but I beg leave to assure you that the principal object in sending a British force to Fort Wayne is with the hope of preserving the lives of the garrison. By the last accounts the place was invested by a numerous body of Indians, with very little prospect of being relieved. The prisoners of war, who knew perfectly the situation of the garrison, rejoiced at the measure, and give us full credit for our intentions. The Indians were likewise looking to us for assistance. They heard of the armistice with every mark of jealousy. Had we refused joining them in this expedition I cannot calculate the consequences. I have already been asked to pledge my word that England would enter into no negotiation in which their interests were not included. Could they be brought to imagine that we should desert them, the consequences must be fatal."

General Brock added that the attack of the enemy on his frontier could not be long delayed, and that he thought the militia could not be kept together without such a prospect.

On September 14th Sir George Prevost wrote again, evidently in a panic, and advised General Brock to take immediate steps for evacuating Detroit, together with the territory of Michigan. This must have indeed been galling to the second in command. The reason for this advice. Provost said, was a despatch dated July 4th from Lord Bathurst, which seems to have been somewhat belated. It said that His Majesty's government trusted he would be able to suspend with perfect safety all extraordinary preparations for defence which he might have been induced to make, also that every special requisition for warlike stores and accoutrements had been complied with, except the clothing of the corps proposed to be raised from the Glengarry emigrants, and that the minister had not thought it necessary to direct the preparation of any further supplies.

Provost added : "This will afford you a strong proof of the infatuation of His Majesty's ministers upon the subject of American affairs, and show how entirely I have been left to my own resources in the event which has taken place." He informed Brock that he could not expect any more reinforcements.

Brock did not agree with Sir George Prevost's opinion as to the advisability of evacuating Detroit and the Michigan territory, the fruits of his splendid victory. He wrote from York on September 28th to the commander-in-chief: " I have been honoured with your Excellency's despatches dated the 14th inst. I shall suspend, under the latitude left by your Excellency to my discretion, the evacuation of Fort Detroit. Such a measure would most likely be followed by the total extinction of the population on that side of the river, as the Indians, aware of our weakness and inability to carry on active warfare, would only think of entering into terms with the enemy.

“The Indians, since the Miami affair in 1793, have been extremely suspicious of our conduct, but the violent wrongs committed by the Americans on their territory have rendered it an act of policy with them to disguise their sentiments. Could they be persuaded that a peace between the belligerents would take place without admitting their claim to an extensive tract of country fraudulently usurped from them, and opposing a frontier to the present unbounded views of the Americans, I am satisfied in my own mind that they would immediately compromise with the enemy. I cannot conceive a connection more likely to lead to more awful consequences. Should negotiations of peace be opened I cannot be too earnest with your Excellency to represent to the king's ministers the expediency of including the Indians as allies, and not to leave them exposed to the unrelenting fury of their enemies.

“The enemy has evidently assumed defensive measures along the strait of Niagara. His force, I apprehend, is not equal to attempt the expedition across the river with any probability of success. It is, however, currently reported that large reinforcements are on their march. Should they arrive an attack cannot be long delayed. The approach of the rainy season would increase the sickness with which the troops [of the United States] are already afflicted. Those under my command are in perfect health and spirits.

"It is certainly something singular that we should be upwards of two months in a state of warfare, and that along this widely extended frontier not a single death, either natural or by the sword, should have occurred among the troops under my command, and we have not been altogether idle; nor has a single desertion taken place."

On September 17th General Brock had written to Colonel Procter that he approved of his expedition against Fort Wayne, which would probably save the garrison from the fate of Chicago. He added, however, in obedience to Sir George Prevost's instructions : "It must be explicitly understood that you are not to resort to offensive warfare for purposes of conquest; your operations are to be confined to measures of defence and security. It may become necessary to destroy the fort of Sandusky and the road which runs through it from Cleveland to the foot of the rapids. The road from the river Raisin to Detroit is perhaps in too bad a state to offer any aid to the approach of an enemy except in the winter. As to the Indians, Colonel Elliott does not possess the influence over them that Captain McKee does. In conversation with him you may take an opportunity of intimating that I have not been unmindful of the interests of the Indians in my communications to ministers; and I wish you to learn (as if casually the subject of conversation) what stipulations they would propose for themselves or be willing to accede to in case of either failure or success. I wish the engineers to proceed immediately to strengthening Fort Amherstburg, the plan for which I shall be glad to see as soon as possible."

On September 18th the general wrote to his brother Savery: "You doubtless feel much anxiety on my account. I am really placed in a most awkward predicament. If I get through my present difficulties with tolerable success I cannot but obtain praise. But I have already surmounted difficulties of infinitely greater magnitude. Were the Americans of one mind the opposition I could make would be unavailing; but I am not without hope that their divisions may be the saving of this province. A river of about five hundred yards divides the troops. My instructions oblige me to adopt defensive measures. It is thought that without the aid of the sword the American people may be brought to a due sense of their own interests. I firmly believe I could at this moment sweep everything before me between Fort Niagara and Buffalo, but my success would be transient.

"I have now officers in whom I can confide. Six companies of the 49th are with me here, and the remaining four are at Kingston under Vincent. Although the regiment has been ten years in this country, drinking rum without bounds, it is still respectable and apparently ardent for an opportunity to acquire distinction. It has five captains in England and two on the staff in this country, which leaves it bare of experienced officers. The United States regiments of the line desert to us frequently, as the men are tired of the service. Their militia, being chiefly composed of enraged Democrats, are more ardent and anxious to engage, but they have neither subordination or discipline. They die very fast. You will hear of some decided action in the course of a fortnight, or in all probability we shall return to a state of tranquillity. I say decisive, because if I should be beaten the province is inevitably gone; and should I be victorious, I do not imagine the gentry from the other side will care to return to the charge. I am quite anxious that this state of warfare should end, as I wish much to join Lord Wellington and to see you all."

In September courteous messages were passing from Major-General Stephen Van Rensselaer [photo] to Major-General Brock as to the disposition of the prisoners of war, and of the women and children who had accom-panied them from Detroit. General Brock wrote to the American general : "With much regret I have perceived very heavy firing from both sides of the river. I am, however, given to understand that on all occasions it commenced on your side, and from the circumstance of the flag of truce which I did myself the honour to send over yesterday, having been repeatedly fired on while in the act of crossing the river, I am inclined to give full credit to the correctness of the information. You may rest assured on my repeating my most positive orders against the continuance of a practice which can only be injurious to individuals, without promoting the object which both our nations may have in view."

In a letter from John Lovett, secretary to General Van Rensselaer to Joseph Alexander, gives an idea of the state of affairs from the American point of view, and indirectly bears testimony to the unceasing labour and watchfulness of the British general: —

Headquarters, Lewiston, September 22nd, 1812.

"The enemy appears to be in a state of preparedness to give or receive an attack. Every day or two they make some movement which indicates a disposition to attack us immediately. The night before last every ship they have on Lake Ontario came into the mouth of Niagara. Then, to be sure, we thought it time to look out for breakers. But yesterday, when Colonel Van Rensselaer went over with a flag to Fort George, there was not a ship in sight nor a general officer there; where gone we know not. Notwithstanding the most positive orders on both sides, our sentries have kept up almost a constant warfare for a month past. On the bank of the river musket balls are about as thick as whip-poor-wills on a summer evening. We are promised reinforcements by companies, battalions, regiments, brigades, and I might almost say armies, but not a single man has joined us in some weeks. Besides our men here are getting down very fast. The morning's report of sick was one hundred and forty-nine. Give Mrs. Lovett the enclosed. It contains an impression of General Brock's seal, with his most appropriate motto, 'He who guards never sleeps.' "

A letter to Brock from Sir George Prevost of September 25th, showed that he still held the idea of simply being on the defensive, and had a slavish fear of doing anything that might draw on himself blame from the English ministry. He wrote: "It no longer appears by your letter of the 13th that you consider the enemy's operations on the Niagara frontier indicative of active operations. If the government of America inclines to defensive measures, I can only ascribe its determination to two causes, the first is the expectation of such overtures from us as will lead to a suspension of hostilities preparatory to negotiations for peace; the other arises from having ascertained by experience our ability in the Canadas to resist the attack of a tumultuary force. I agree in opinion with you that so wretched is the organization and discipline of the American army, that at this moment much might be effected against them; but as the government at home could derive no substantial advantage from any disgrace we might inflict on them, whilst the more important concerns of the country are committed in Europe, I again request you will steadily pursue that policy which shall appear to you best calculated to promote the dwindling away of such a force by its own inefficient means."

[1812 War Ships]

General Brock's letter relating to the disaster is dated Fort George, October 11th, 1812: "I had scarcely closed my despatch to your Excellency, of the 9th, when I was suddenly called away to Fort Erie, in consequence of a bold, and I regret to say, successful attack by the enemy on His Majesty's ship Detroit and the private brig Caledonia which had both arrived the preceding day from Amherstburg. It appears by every account I have been able to collect, that a little before day a number of boats, full of men, dropped down with the current unobserved, boarded both vessels at the same moment, and cutting their cables were proceeding with them to the American shore, when Major Ormsby who witnessed the transaction, directed the batteries to open upon them, and soon compelled the enemy to abandon the Detroit, which grounded about the centre of Squaw Island, a little more than a mile below Black Rock. She was then boarded by a party of the 49th Regiment, but as no anchor remained, and being otherwise unprovided with every means by which she could be hauled off, the officers, throwing her guns overboard, after sustaining a smart fire of musketry, decided to quit her. A private, who is accused of getting drunk, and a prisoner of war, who was unable from his wounds to escape, with about twenty prisoners brought by the Detroit from Amherstburg, remained, however, behind; these it became necessary to remove before the vessel could be destroyed, and Cornet Pell, major of the Provincial Cavalry, offered his services. Being unfortunately wounded as he was getting on board, and falling back into the boat, a confusion arose, during which the boat drifted from the vessel, leaving on board two of the 41st who had previously ascended. In the meantime the Caledonia was secured by the enemy, and a cargo of furs belonging to the South-West Company landed. I reached the spot soon after sunset, and intended to have renewed the attempt to recover the Detroit, which I had every prospect of accomplishing, assisted by the crew of the Lady Prevost, which vessel had anchored a short time before, but before the necessary arrangements could be made, the enemy boarded her, and in a few minutes she was seen in flames. This event is particularly unfortunate, and may reduce us to incalculable distress.

"The enemy is making every exertion to gain a naval superiority on both lakes, which if they accomplish I do not see how we can retain the country. More vessels are fitting out for war on the other side of Squaw Ishmd, which I should have attempted to destroy but for your Excellency's repeated instructions to forbear. Now such a force is collected for their protection as will render every operation against them very hazardous. The manner our guns were served yesterday points out the necessity of an increase, if possible, of artillerymen to our present small number of regulars. The militia evinced a good spirit, but fired without much effect. The enemy, however, must have lost some men, and it is only wonderful that in a contest of a whole day, no life was lost on our side. The fire of the enemy was incessant, but badly directed till the close of the day, when it began to improve.

"Lieutenant Rolette, who commanded the Detroit, had, and I believe deservedly, the character of a brave, attentive officer. His vessel must, however, have been surprised — an easy operation when she lay at anchor, and I have reason to suspect that this consideration was not sufficiently attended to by the officers commanding on board and on shore. We have not only sustained a heavy loss in the vessel, but likewise in the cargo, which consisted of four 12-pounders, a large quantity of shot and about two hundred muskets, all of which were intended for Kingston and Prescott. The only consolation is that she escaped the enemy, whose conduct did not entitle him to so rich a prize.

"The enemy has brought some boats overland from Schlosser to the Niagara River, and made an attempt last night to carry off the guard over the store at Queenston. I shall refrain as long as possible under your Excellency's positive injunctions, from every hostile act, although sensible that each day's delay gives him an advantage."

On the same day General Brock wrote to Colonel Procter, who was still in command on the Detroit frontier. After various instructions the letter concludes as follows: "An active, interesting scene is going to commence with you. I am perfectly at ease as to the result, provided we can manage the Indians and keep them attached to your cause, which, in fact, is theirs. The fate of the province is in your hands. Judging by every appearance we are not to remain long idle in this quarter. Were it not for the positive injunctions of the commander of the forces I should have acted with greater decision. This forbearance may be productive of ultimate good but I doubt its policy — perhaps we have not the means of judging correctly. You will, of course, adopt a very different line of conduct. The enemy must be kept in a state of constant ferment. Nothing new at Montreal. Lord Wellington has totally defeated Marmont, near Salamanca."


Research: The Makers of Canada – General Brock by Lady Matilda (Ridout) Edgar [1844-1910](1904)
Photo credits: Wikipedia