Paul and I have set a goal for ourselves - this year we will visit all of the Niagara area War of 1812 historic sites. It seems like a fitting goal this year as we recognize the bicentennial of the war.
We visited Queenston Heights last Sunday. We found a busy park full of people enjoying a picnic on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I suspect few folks had any idea that one of the War of 1812's most decisive battles was fought here.
The Battle of Queenston Heights took place in October of 1812, when an American invasion force was defeated. The battle was instrumental in marshalling public opinion against Americans at the beginning of the War of 1812, in demonstrating the determination of the Crown and the populace to defend British North America, and in contributing to the development of Canadian national consciousness.
On the night of 12 October 1812, the New York militia launched its invasion across the treacherous Niagara currents. British General Brock was convinced they would cross further down the river at Fort George and the initial attempt was so poorly organized that he assumed it was a feint and did not consolidate his forces at Queenston. This provided the American commander an opportunity to repeat the attempt before dawn on 13 October. Discovering a hidden path to the top of the escarpment, the Americans were able to seize the cannon which had been hampering the flow of reinforcements across the river and used it to gain control of the battle.
Brock was awakened by the sound of the guns he took to his horse and rode hard to Queenston, where he regrouped his forces and personally led a charge to regain the gun position on the heights that the Americans had taken. Sword drawn, Brock charged forward and became an easy target for snipers. He was shot just above his heart, and died almost instantly.
Most of the American army had taken position nearbyand were pinned down by a small group of Mohawk and Delaware warriors who were loyal to the British crown. American reinforcements did not arrive as many of the militiamen assembled at Lewiston refused to cross into Upper Canada.
Attacking from the rear, the British and Canadian forces trapped the enemy between thearmy and the cliff. The America reserves, amassed on the American side of the river,refused to participate in the battle, claiming that they were legally not obligated to fight on foreign soil. Denied any ability to renew an attack or bolster his defence, the American force at Queenston crumbled to a mere 350 regulars and 250 militia, who were soon running low on ammunition and the will to continue.
The American forces were taken by surprise by volleys of fire and a charge of bayonets. It wasn't long before the waved a white handkerchief to signal their surrender. When the smoke had cleared, almost 1000 Americans were taken prisoner, with 300 killed or wounded, while the victors lost only 28 killed and 77 wounded - regular, militia and Aboriginal. Unfortunately, one of the losses was irreplaceable - the much-admired Isaac Brock. But both Brock's death and British victory had a fortifying effect on the people of Upper Canada, who had started the war with both doubt and apathy about any possible British victory against its mighty southern neighbour and foe. With two victories, the British and Canadian forces would have to plan their next moves without the aid of Brock's dynamic, popular and aggressive leadership
Today the heights are crowned by a giant monument to Brock. Here you can visit his final resting place. This tall structure is the second one to stand here - the first having been destroyed in 1840 when one of the last acts of the 1837 Rebellion was to see an explosive charge set off in the base of the column. Extensive damage was done by the explosion and it stimulated immediate action to repair the damage.
Modelled on Nelson's Column in London, the second monument was conceived as the primary monument to the defence of Upper Canada. This second monument's Neoclassical design is a beautifully detailed and proportioned composition featuring a 4,8 metre (16 foot) statue of Major General Sir Isaac Brock atop a classical fluted column. The column rises from an elaborate pedestal anchored on a rusticated square base. Trophies of classical armour stand at the corners of a low enclosing wall. Four figures symbolizing victory adorn the column’s capital. An interior stone staircase leads to a viewing deck at the top. A crypt beneath the monument contains the bodies of General Brock and Colonel MacDonnell.
Given the important role that the Mohawk and Deleware forces played in this battle it is fitting that a special memorial is erected there by Canada's First Nations.