Monday, 18 August 2008

My Town Monday - Isaac Brock before the Battle of Queenston Heights (War of 1812-Canada) Part 3

Before proceeding into the Battle of Queenston Heights, a more indepth look at Isaac Brock is presented.

[1] The correspondence Isaac Brock sent to his brothers in England revealed much about the general’s nature and the qualities that earned him a reputation as an industrious officer, an able administrator and exemplary gentleman. His success as a military commander was based on his understanding of the psyche of the soldier, private and officer alike. While a commander at Quebec and Fort George, he made the effort to look after their clothing, food and accommodations, asserting at one time that because of this “the soldiers in this country live in a perfect state of luxury unknown any where else.” He believed in the importance of drill and thorough training but allowed the men the freedom to till and harvest their own gardens and to shoot game in their leisure time, providing they paid for the ammunition. He appreciated the difficulties created when a regiment was split up and detached to distant garrisons where conditions were spartan.

When called upon to discipline the troops, Brock was liable to talk to a man privately to get at the truth, but he was also just as likely to confront a potential trouble maker face to face at his post in public as he did in 1803 when a mutiny seemed imminent at Fort George. He wrote to his brothers in September 1808, “Valour the British troops always possessed, but unless they evince discipline, their fame will be blasted for a century to come.” His concern for discipline and order extended beyond the parade square, as he had an eye for detail and scoured accounts and reports to monitor and correct the internal workings of the various army departments; when necessary, he could berate a subordinate for conduct that might be “so very unsatisfactory” as to have “an appearance of inattention.” Brock did not reserve such plain criticism for subordinates alone, as he was prone to express his viewpoint to men of standing just as candidly. In 1807, for instance, he clashed with Thomas Dunn, president of Lower Canada legislature over several issues, suggesting at one point in a plainly facetious tone that “the correspondence which has already taken place between us . . . [must have] escaped your memory.”

Brock recognized the limitations of his formal education; “I never had the advantage of a master to guide and encourage me,” he admitted. From an early age he was said to be a serious scholar, the library he acquired through his career revealing his preference for military topics and literature with such titles as Expedition to Holland, The Walcheron Expedition and Elegant Extracts. Although he did not have opportunities in Canada to apply the lessons on warfare he learned from his reading, Brock manifested his understanding of military science through the improvements he undertook in the citadel at Quebec, reinforcing its walls and constructing batteries. As well, while on leave in England in 1806, he presented to the Duke of York, head of the British Army at its headquarters at Horseguards in London, a plan for a regiment of veterans to be stationed at the wilderness posts of the upper province. The Duke received Brock’s ideas well, and in 1807 the 10th Royal Battalion of Veterans, formed prior to the general’s submission, was sent to Canada.

Brock enjoyed the comradery of his brother officers and the pleasures of high society, especially when he was at Quebec. He described some of the fun to the wife of William Brock in July 1810: “We have been uncommonly gay the last fortnight: two frigates at anchor and the arrival of Governor Gore from the Upper Province, have given a zest to society. Races, country and water parties, have occupied our time in a continued round of festivities. Such stimulus is highly necessary to keep our spirits afloat.” Although he gloomily stated a preference for keeping his “intercourse to a very limited circle” while stationed at Niagara in 1811, Brock understood his social responsibilities as the commander at that backwoods post and managed to host soirees that delighted the locals; a colleague at Quebec informed him that he had heard “an account of a splendid ball given by you to the beau monde of Niagara and its vicinity.”

In 1811, Sir James Craig before he was to return to England due to poor health desired Brock to take ownership of his horse Alfred, a grey, who was 10 years old and described by Craig as being “very little worked…still perfectly fresh”. Alfred was reputed to be a “strong horse and steady under fire.”

Particularly galling to Brock was an armistice concluded by Major General Roger Sheaffe, under Prevost's orders, with Colonel Van Rensselaer on August 20. While Prevost was optimistic that the armistice was the first step towards a permanent cessation of hostilities, Brock was convinced that the Americans were buying time to reinforce their own position. The terms of the armistice permitted the use of the river by both powers as a common waterway, and Brock could only watch as American reinforcements and supplies were moved to Van Rensselaer's army without being able to take action. The armistice was to end on September 8, by which time Van Rensselaer's army would be considerably better supplied than it had been before.

Despite the depressing news of Prevost’s armistice, Brock was barely able to conceal his delight over the bloodless victory at Detroit. He was irked that his enemies attributed his success to blind luck, as his belief was in careful preparation, not luck. His victory has proceeded from “a cool calculation of pours and contres” and it is his alone, for he crossed the river against the advice of the conservative Proctor.

The best news of his conquest of Detroit was that he would receive the largest share of the prize money. The value of captured articles had been reckoned to be between £30,000 to £40,000. Doubting his fellow countrymen would hold the trophy in much esteen, he wrote to his brothers in England, “Nothing is prized that is not acquired with blood.”

In Canada he was a national hero, and he knew it. The congratulations poured in from the Chief Justice of Lower Canada, General Alexander Maitland, and his old friend Justice William Dummer Powell wrote: “There is something so fabulous in the reports of a handful of troops supported by a few raw militia leaving their strong post to invade an enemy of double numbers in his own fortress, and making them all prisoners without the loss of a man, that…it seems to me the people of England will be incredulous…”

[2] After Brock reached Fort George on September 6 he discovered how heavily the Americans had reinforced themselves during the armistace and expected an immediate attack when the armistace ended in two days. He contacted Procter at Amherstberg and Lieutenant-Colonel John Vincent at Kingston requesting more troops. He had three hundred Mohawk Indians and another two hundred on their way under John Norton, an adopted Mohawk Chief, of the Indian Department. Also, Prevost’s armistice has shaken the loyalty of the natives, who have been suspicious of British intentions since the gates of the fort were closed to them after the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and they have grown uneasy.

Prevost had Brock shackled with the armistice, even when it ends he has wistful notions that the Americans will come to terms if only the British do nothing to annoy them. He has not seemed to consider that the Americans have been sullied, and nothing will satisfy it but blood. The defeat and destruction of the British frigate Guerriere by the Constitution off the Grand Banks on August 19th have buoyed America’s flagging spirits. It makes a hero of the Constiution’s commander, Isaac Hull, at the moment when his uncle William has become a national scapegoat.

Prevost made it clear to Brock in his instructions that since the British are not interested in waging a campaign of conquest against the United States but only in containing the war with as little fuss as possible while battling their real enemy, Napoleon, it certainly made sense to let the enemy take the offensive “having ascertained by experience, our ability in the Canadas to resist the attack of a tumultuary force.”

Brock wrote to his brother Savery where he poured out his frustrations: “I am really placed in a most awkward predicament…. My instructions oblige me to adopt defensive measures, and I have evinced greater forbearance than was ever practised on any former occasion. It is thought that, without the aid of the sword, the American people may be brought to a full sense of their own inerests. I firmly believe that I could at this moment sweep everything before me from Fort Niagara to Buffalo….”

To warn of attack Brock ordered a line of beacon signals along the frontier. Now he can only sit and wait.

On September 9, the day after Prevost’s armistice ended, Napoleon launched and won the Battle of Borodino, opening the way to Moscow. The casualties on that day exceed eighty thousand—a figure greater than the entire population of Upper Canada. On the Niagara frontier, two small, untrained armies face each other across the boiling river, each afraid to make the first move, each expecting the other to launch an attack.

The following is a letter taken from Ferdinand Brock Tupper – The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock (1847), which Brock would not have received before the Battle of Queenston Heights.

“General the Honorable Alexander Maitland to Major-General Brock_.

TOTTERIDGE, October 8, 1812.

Yesterday being mail day for America, I dispatched my usual monthly letter to the regiment, and in which, as I always do, I desired to be remembered to you with my best and warmest wishes for your health, happiness, and success. I had not then heard, but did a few hours after, of your glorious victory over our most unnatural enemies, (such an one as can hardly be equalled in the annals of history,) that of not only beating, but taking prisoners, more than double your numbers; and now that you have conquered them in the field, I trust that their wrong-headed government will be brought to reason and peace, for it will prove to them, if they persevere, that they will be forced to it, and terms dictated to them. Therefore allow me, Sir, with the warmest feelings of an old friend to congratulate you, as I do the public, on the essential service you have done the country on the present occasion; as I do my friend, your aide-de-camp, Captain Glegg, as far as the sphere of his duty could assist in the great work; and I glory to say you are both 49-thers. I could write sheets on the subject, but, not to take up your valuable time longer than I have done to express my pleasure and feelings, I will stop by adding the sincere congratulations of all related to me here as well as elsewhere. But I cannot help now observing how prophetic I was in what I wrote to Colonel Vincent yesterday concerning you, which was, that if you were properly supported, I thought the enemy would never cross the line of your command, a proof of which I had a few hours afterwards.

When you see any of our friends of the 49th, pray remember me in the kindest manner to them, and I am sure they will thank you that they are safe and warm in their quarters in place of having a winter campaign in so severe a climate. And now I will only add my warmest wishes for your health and happiness, and that the same good fortune that has hitherto attended you may continue; and I beg that you will be so good as to convey the same to my friend, your aide-de-camp. Believe me to be, my dear general, &c.

P.S.--I send this after the mail, which left London last night, in hope it may overtake it at Falmouth, as I know the packet seldom sails for some days after her time.”


Photo Credit: [1][2-portrait of Major General Brock]-wikipedia
Ferdinand Brock Tupper – The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock (1859),
The Invasion of Canada: 1812-1813 by Pierre Burton

My Town Monday is the brain child of Travis Erwin, whom you will find listed in the group MY TOWN MONDAY on the sidebar with other My Town Mondayers.


gary rith said...

So there they are, the two armies facing each other across the Niagara River??? What a cliff hanger...

pattinase (abbott) said...

As usual the work involved in your post amazes me.

debra said...

Brock sounds like he was a wonderful leader. Journals give us so much insight into people---not only their daily lives, but also how they think about things. I often wonder how the cyber world will impact on this aspect of history. Thanks for more food for thought, Barbara.

Bernita said...

So that's how Brock acqured Alfred.
Thank you.

BernardL said...

Very thorough rendering of Brock and the obstacles his own leaders put upon him even after his proven success.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Barbara,

Brock was some guy! This story gets more fascinating each week. Thanks for all your work in pulling this together.


L.A. Mitchell said...

I think I want to steal his name for a future book :)

Linda McLaughlin said...

Very interesting, Barbara. Brock sounds like an estimable gentleman.


Travis Erwin said...

If I ever go on a trivia game show, I'm putting you on my phone a friend list.

Reb said...

Barbara, you do such a wonderful job making history interesting.

Steve Malley said...

This is more exciting narrative than many of the thrillers I've read!

Barbara Martin said...

Gary, I was going to go a bit further and then realized I had left something out; and it was already late into the wee hours.

Patti, when I began doing the Canadian history posts I thought there must be something else much more interesting to a reader than the usual dry stuff. My digging seems to be paying off with the little extra slices of history I can ease into my posts. Also, Patti, later in the week I will post a letter Brock wrote to his family in England describing Detroit. He uses such exquisite words.

Debra, yes the journals do give us a fair insight into their lives, but I found the letters written to the people are sometimes quite profound in their viewpoints about the actions of the government, military and persons at that particular time.

Barbara Martin said...

Bernita, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to do a bit of digging to find this information. Generals, for the most part, always ride grey horses into battle.

Bernard, Prevost being an American before he came to Upper Canada may have had a bearing on the pressure he exerted on Brock.

Terrie, glad you like the history. It seems every time I research I find another interesting part, and then a hard decision whether to include it in the post or not.

L.A., then your character should be 6'4", well built, muscular, very strong, blonde and blue-eyed with impeccable manners.

Linda, yes, this man would have been a good catch, except it appears from the history I have read so far...there was no young lady in his life. Perhaps I have to dig deeper.

Barbara Martin said...

Travis, you should remember this, I do not know everything. Thank you for mentioning it, though.

Reb, thank you.

Steve, thank you. My reading of authors who write descriptive paragraphs seems to have rubbed off in my own writing: fiction and non-fiction.

gary rith said...

well, sure, so let the story continue, right?

Barbara Martin said...

Gary, the remainder of the War of 1812 will be posted, as well as other pertinent Canadian history (in my view, that is).

RuneE said...

Having been involved in research (of quite another character) I know a bit about the amount of work that needs to done to get such information correct. And then there is the writing...

It is interesting for us from the other side of "the pond" to read about what is for us quite an obscure war. Thank you for enlightening us!

PS And thank you for all those nice comments!

Barbara Martin said...

Runee, this is a period of history I had little knowledge of and now, after my research, I am interested in delving deeper.

As for comments, you deserve them for those wonderful photographs you take.