MAC war of 1812


1812 -- Part 16: Fort Henry

Major-General Sir Isaac Brock was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey, England, on October 6, 1769. He was a British Army officer who was stationed in Canada in the early 1800s.

His early attempts to prepare the province of Upper Canada for war were frustrating, especially in dealing with the Legislative Council in Upper Canada. Although the Council was willing to grant funds to strengthen the militia, they refused the suspension of habeas corpus once the war began. With the declaration of war in 1812, Brock initiated an aggressive campaign even though he was advised by his superiors to remain on the defensive.

Major General Sir Isaac Brock, hero of the War of 1812, best known for his efforts to ensure the preservation of Upper Canada.

Brock's most daring exploit occurred August 16, 1812, when he led a force of regulars and First Nations warriors in the successful capture of Detroit by creating the illusion of a much larger Canadian force with the help of Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee, and his warriors. He continued to strengthen Upper Canada after Detroit in preparation for an American assault somewhere on the Niagara frontier. The first major American attack occurred at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812.

After losing his initial advantage in which the important Redan Battery cannon was captured, he rallied the troops that were present at the bottom of Queenston Heights and prepared to re-capture the Redan Battery position. Brock allegedly turned to his men and said "Take breath boys-you will need it in a few moments."

Brock led the troops himself in an attempt to charge up the Heights where he was singled out by an American marksman and killed instantly. British forces, Canadian militia, and First Nations warriors then rallied and drove back the Americans and forced nearly 1,000 to surrender. Today Brock's story serves as a reminder for all Canadians of his sacrifice at the Battle of Queenston Heights and his efforts that ensured the preservation of Upper Canada.

1812 - Part 4: The Battle of York.mp4

war of 1812

Major General Sir Isaac Brock died 200 years ago, Memorial Service Guernsey (HD)
On returning to England Brock was employed in recruiting, and subsequently was in charge of recruits on the island of Jersey. He purchased a majority in the 49th as of 24 June 1795, and rejoined the regiment after it came back to England from the West Indies in July 1796. He became a lieutenant-colonel in the 49th by purchase on 25 Oct. 1797, and before the end of the year was the regiment’s senior lieutenant-colonel and in command of it. In August 1799 the 49th sailed with an expedition under Sir Ralph Abercromby directed against north Holland. In this campaign Isaac Brock had his first experience of battle. The 49th was part of a brigade commanded by Major-General (later Lieutenant-General Sir) John Moore. The advanced brigades, including Moore’s, landed at Den Helder on 27 August with slight opposition, and Abercromby’s force took up a strong position in which it beat off a French attack on 10 September. In these operations the 49th was not actively involved; the regiment was inexperienced and had been in poor condition when Brock took it over, and Moore was probably sparing it. It is interesting to speculate about the possible influence of this celebrated leader and trainer of troops on Brock; but no comment by Brock on Moore (or vice versa) seems to have survived. After the arrival of the Duke of York with additional British troops and a body of Russians, the allied force took the offensive. On 2 October, in the action called on the colours of British regiments Egmont-op-Zee (more properly Egmond aan Zee), the 49th was heavily engaged and did well. It was a disjointed battle fought among sand-dunes, ending in the enemy’s withdrawal. The 49th had 33 fatal casualties. Brock himself was slightly wounded, evidently by a spent ball. He wrote to his brother John, “I got knocked down shortly after the enemy began to retreat, but never quitted the field, and returned to my duty in less than half an hour.” The allies were now able to occupy Egmond and Alkmaar, but in another battle on 6 October in which the 49th were not present they were badly mauled. The Duke of York proposed a convention, allowing his army to embark freely for England; the French agreed, and thus ingloriously the campaign ended.
War of 1812 Bicentennial: Battle of Queenston Heights - General Isaac Brock's death

Early in 1801 Brock’s regiment was selected to be the main component of the military force carried in the fleet under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker which was dispatched to the Baltic to overawe Denmark. Brock, however, was not the senior army officer present; this was Lieutenant-Colonel William Stewart of the Rifle Corps (subsequently the Rifle Brigade), though only one company of that regiment was present. The troops’ intended role in the attack on Copenhagen was to assault, along with a body of bluejackets, the batteries built on piles in the harbour, notably the formidable Trekroner battery. This was likely to be an extremely costly operation. Fortunately, it was not attempted, chiefly because some of the leading vessels ran aground during the approach on 2 April so that the ships never silenced the batteries sufficiently to make it remotely practicable. The 49th were distributed among the ships of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s squadron which attacked the Danish craft moored off Copenhagen. Brock himself was in the Ganges, though at the end of the action he visited Nelson’s flagship, the Elephant. The regiment shared the casualties of this bloody engagement, suffering 13 killed and 41 wounded.

When the 49th were ordered to Canada in 1802, Brock had still had comparatively little battle experience, having been present in two general actions, one of which was primarily a naval battle. The regiment embarked in June, and at Quebec on or about 25 August Lieutenant-Colonel Brock landed in the country with which his name was to be connected in history. The intention had apparently been to send the 49th to the far western posts, but they were kept in Montreal for the winter, and proceeded to Upper Canada in the spring of 1803, the headquarters going to York (Toronto), with a wing of the regiment under the junior lieutenant-colonel, Roger Hale Sheaffe*, at Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.).

Brock at once encountered the problem of desertion, which was particularly serious at posts close to the American border. In the summer of 1803 seven soldiers deserted from York in a stolen boat. Brock set off across Lake Ontario in pursuit with a party of the 49th in a bateau. At Fort George he sent an officer’s party by boat along the American shore of the lake to search for the deserters, while he himself turned back along the Canadian shore in case they were coasting it. The other party in fact apprehended the men on American soil, with the assistance of one or more Indians, and they were brought back to Canada – a violation of American law, which however seems to have led to no protest. Later the same season the officers at Fort George got wind of a conspiracy, said to have been brought on by the severity of Sheaffe, to imprison the officers and desert to the United States. Before taking any action, the officers thought it well to send particulars to Brock at York. He at once crossed the lake in a schooner, and arrived at the fort gate alone. Finding that the guard turned out to receive him was commanded by the sergeant and corporal reported to him as the ringleaders, he ordered them into confinement on the spot, ending the conspiracy at a stroke. The conspirators and the deserters lately apprehended were shipped off to Quebec, where after court martial seven of them were shot the following March.

Brock was promoted colonel as of 30 Oct. 1805, and about the same time went home on leave. While in England he made detailed recommendations for dealing with desertion in Canada, arguing that a veteran battalion formed of reliable old soldiers should be organized to occupy the border posts. His advice was acted on shortly; and this expedient was resorted to again a generation later, when the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment was formed in 1840–41 on Brock’s principles for the same purpose, and did duty until the withdrawal of the British troops from central Canada in 1870. While Brock was still on leave there was apprehension of war with the United States, and he decided of his own volition to cut his leave short and return to his post. He left London for the last time on 26 June 1806. In September he found himself in temporary command of all the troops in Canada, with headquarters at Quebec, and this situation lasted until Sir James HenryCraig arrived to take up the appointments of governor-in-chief and commander of the forces in October 1807.

During this period of authority Brock worked with characteristic energy to improve the defences of the country. His chief care was to strengthen the fortifications of Quebec, the position on which communication with Britain ultimately depended. He reconstructed the walls facing the Plains of Abraham, and built an elevated battery mounting eight heavy guns in the temporary citadel made during the American Revolutionary War, with the object of commanding “the opposite heights,” that is, those south of the river. This came to be known as “Brock’s Battery,” a name which Craig changed on his arrival to the King’s Battery. Brock’s activity brought him into difficulty with the civil government of Lower Canada (then administered by Thomas Dunn) on several issues: civilian encroachments on military lands; the use of waste land near the Jesuit college in Quebec for drill; responsibility for the cost of the Indian Department; Brock’s request for civil labour to work on the fortifications; and his desire that part of the militia should be called out for training, and volunteer corps authorized and armed. The colonel got little satisfaction on any of these questions. One useful reform which lay entirely within his military competence Brock was able to carry out. Late in 1806 he gave orders that the “marine department” on the lakes and rivers of the Canadas should be under the superintendence of the deputy quartermaster general. The Provincial Marine’s chief function was providing transport service for the army, but from this time on it was increasingly developed as a force capable of naval action in case of war. Under one assistant quartermaster general at Kingston and another at Amherstburg it was more effectively administered than ever before, and it seems fair to say that Brock’s action in 1806 was largely responsible for the existence of the force that six years cater gave him naval command of the Great Lakes and thereby made possible his successful defence of Upper Canada.

Craig after his arrival made Brock a brigadier-general (an appointment rather than a rank, shortly confirmed from England) and placed him in command at Montreal. A few months later he returned to Quebec, where he remained until July 1810, when Craig sent him to take charge in Upper Canada. This command he retained until his death. He frequently complains in his letters of being left idle in Canada (“buried in this inactive, remote corner”) while the main body of the British army is winning laurels in Europe. But the danger of war with the United States (and, he himself said, the possibility of a French-Canadian rising in the event of a French invasion) kept him where he was. Finally, early in 1812, letters from London indicated readiness to give him employment in Europe, but by then the aspect of affairs in North America was very threatening; and on 12 February Brock wrote, “I beg leave to be allowed to remain in my present command.” On 4 June 1811 he had been promoted major-general; the same extensive block promotion brought this rank to Sheaffe as well. In October 1811 Francis Gore*, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, left for England on leave (he did not return until the war with the United States was over); Brock now became “president” and administrator of the government of the province. For the final year of his life he headed both the military command and the civil government.

Financial disaster had struck the Brocks in 1811. The general’s brother William was senior partner in a London firm of bankers and general merchants which failed. William had advanced Isaac some £3,000 to purchase his commissions in the 49th, with no intention of ever requiring payment; but the loans had been entered, without Isaac’s knowledge, in the firm’s books. He now unexpectedly found himself faced with a demand for payment which he could not meet, but he made the whole of his new civil salary over to his brother Irving, to begin discharging the debt or to relieve distress in the family, as he thought best.

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