Saturday, 13 October 2012
The Battle of Queenston Heights
Two hundred years ago today on October 13, 1812, American forces invaded Canada at the tiny village of Queenston in Upper Canada. The village consisted of 20 houses, surrounding farms and a military barracks.
Under cover of darkness at 4:00 a.m., some of the many American troops led by Major-General Stephen Van Rensselaer were ferried in boats across the Niagara River to the Canadian side. Navigating through direct cannon fire from the British soldiers stationed at the barracks, the Americans landed and started to scale the Niagara escarpment in order to take the high ground of Queenston Heights.
But Van Rensselaer was unable to get the bulk of his invasion force across the river. Partly it was because of the heavy artillery fire. But mostly it was because his troops were undertrained and inexperienced militia who were reluctant to go into battle.
Major-General Sir Isaac Brock arrived at dawn with more British troops and the York Volunteers militia units. They proceeded to charge up the steep escarpment under American fire. On the way up, Brock was shot first in the wrist and then in the chest. He died almost instantly.
The battle nevertheless went on, of course. More British reinforcements arrived by noon, as did 300 Mohawk warriors, and they all fought their way up the escarpment. The fierce Indian war cries were yet another reason why the rest of the militiamen on the U.S. side of the river continued their refusal to cross.
Even so, the battle was actually going quite well for the Americans until about 4:00 p.m. That's when Brock's second-in-command, Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe, arrived on Queenston Heights by a circuitous overland route, having detoured fresh British troops and more Mohawk warriors so as to arrive behind the American line.
And that made it pretty much game over. The American troops scattered but, with nowhere to go, had to surrender at the very edge of the precipice.
Upper Canada was saved, huzzah!
Monday: Memorializing Brock, Part 1
--First painting by James B. Dennis, 1866
--Second painting by John David Kelly, 1896