Isaac Brock: letters after his death, 1813
'Poor General Brock's high spirit would never descend to particulars.' Contemporary letters that vary in their opinon of Guernseyman Sir Isaac Brock, from A Documentary History of the Campaign upon the Niagara Frontier in 1813. 'Alas! my dear Colonel, we are now no longer commanded by Brock, and our situation is most materially changed for the worse. Confidence seems to have vanished from the land, and gloomy despondency has taken its place.' Brock's own voice can be heard in his letters, in The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock, K.B: interspersed with notices of the celebrated Indian chief, Tecumseh collected and edited by his star-struck nephew, Ferdinand Brock Tupper, copies of which are available in the Library.
Colonel Meade's Statement (American Commander)1
Although our loss was great and the issue truly unfortunate, the enemy have no reason to boast of their advantage. To them it is a victory which will be remembered with pain. Major-General Brock, an experienced and brave leader, with one of his aides, was slain in the early part of the action. The British acknowledged that his death was more serious than would have been the loss of a thousand of the rank. They have no commander in the Canadas who can fill his place.
Major Thomas Evans to the Hon. William D. Powell.
Private. Fort George, 6th January, 1813.
My Dear Sir :
I write a line, if only to indulge my inclination of wishing you all very many happy returns of the New Year.
[...] We are going on tolerably, tho' since the return of the militia to their homes the duties have fallen heavily on the line in spite of the arrangements and precautions taken to ease them. I pity much the General's situation with regard to the inefficient state of the Militia, the Barrack Department, and, I may add, even the Commissariat. These certainly are not the results of any fault in General S[heaffe], tho' I plainly see he will have to bear the blame.
I would feel sorry to attach blame to our late lamented commander, whose high personal merits stood recorded in almost every act of his valuable life, but in justice to the living I own that the two former of these departments have from the commencement of the war been miserably defective, without any system or arrangement whatever, and I hesitate not to declare that the persons holding the ostensible positions never have been nor are they now possessed of the necessary information or energy to render them competent to a successful and satisfactory discharge of their several duties. These are not new or hasty observations, but such as have been intimated to poor General B[rock] and which, as Myers can vouch, now stands registered by me as not having been attended to.
Indeed, my d[ear] Sir, it is a melancholy truth that everything that had for its object arrangement and method was obliged to be done by stealth. Poor General Brock's high spirit would never descend to particulars, trifles I may say in the abstract, but ultimately essentials. How much I may with truth say is our success indebted to the foresight, arrangements and decision of poor Myers. He is not a man of words but acting, and too modest to make known his own deserts. Never shall I forget his toils, prompted by his devotion for the service, in arranging and equipping the force and providing shipping boats, &c., for their conveyance to Amherstburg, thereby ensuring the success of our enterprise, which, from the necessity of leaving him here, considered a more responsible trust, his reputation had nigh suffered in proportion as others of very inferior professional abilities has been enhanced.
Myers is now enabled to go about, and is already active in his attention to his duties.
Captain Hall arrived last evening from Amherstburg. Nothing new except a report that Tecumseh had cut off one of the enemy's parties, but few escaping.
(MS. in possession of G. M. Jarvis, Esq., Ottawa.)
Sir George Prevost to Earl Bathurst.
Quebec, 28th April, 1813.
After the affair of Queenston Sir R. H. Sheaffe lost a glorious opportunity of crossing the Niagara River during the confusion and dismay which then prevailed, for the purpose of destroying Fort Niagara, by which the command of the Niagara River would have been secured to us during the war, and Niagara, like Ogdensburg, would have cease to be an object of disquietude. But the eminent military talents of Sir Isaac Brock having ceased to animate the little army, the advantage of that day was not sufficiently improved.
[This is not generally the modern opinon of Sheaffe's conduct; contemporary historians hold a more positive view of General Sheaffe.]
A letter to the Editor of the Kingston Gazette describing the Battle of Queenston heights and its aftermath.
From the Kingston Gazette, Kingston, (Upper Canada,) Vol. II, No. 48, Saturday, October 31, 1812.Printed and published by Stephen Miles, a few doors east of Walker's Hotel.
Mr. Editor, if you have room in your Gazette for the enclosed very interesting letter it cannot fail to be highly acceptable to the public. A Subscriber.
Brown's Point, October 14, 1812.
My Dear Sir:
The affair of yesterday terminated so gloriously for this Province and does so much honor to its spirited defenders that I hasten to give an account of it to you, whom I know to be most warmly interested in the success of the present contest. Few things occurred either of general moment or of peculiar interest which I had not an opportunity of observing, and what I did see, from its novelty, its horror and the anxiety it occasioned made so great an impression on my mind that I have the picture of it all fresh and perfect in my imagination and am anxious to detail the particulars to you, because I know your heart will glow with fervor at our success, while it feelingly and sincerely laments the price at which it was purchased.
About half an hour before daylight yesterday morning (Tuesday, the 13th of October) being stationed at one of the batteries between Fort George and Queenston, I heard a heavy cannonade from Fort Grey, situated on the height of the mountain on the American side and commanding the town of Queenston. The motions of the enemy had for a few days before indicated an intention to attack and the launching of boats and incessant activity generally on the other side occasioned suspicions which called for the utmost vigilance and precaution. The lines had been watched with all the care and attention which the extent of our force rendered possible, and such was the fatigue our men underwent from want of rest and exposure to the inclement weather which had just preceded, that they welcomed with joy the prospect of a field, which they thought would be decisive or allow them at least some leisure for the future. Their spirits were high and their confidence in the General unbounded. They despaired not of the event.
From our battery at Brown's Point, about two miles from Queenston, we had the whole scene most completely in our view. The sight was awful and solemn. Day was just glimmering. The cannon from both sides roared incessantly, shells were bursting in the air and the side of the mountain above Queenston was illumined by the continual discharge of small arms. This last circumstance convinced us that some of the enemy had landed and in a few moments, as day advanced and objects became more visible, we saw a number of Americans in boats attempting to land upon our shore, amidst a tremendous shower of shot of all descriptions, which was skilfully and incessantly levelled at them. No orders had been given to Capt. Cameron, who commanded our detachment of York Militia, what conduct to pursue in case of an attack at Queenston, and as it had been suggested to him that in the event of a landing being attempted there the enemy would probably endeavour by various attacks to distract our force, he hesitated at first as to the propriety of withdrawing his men from the station assigned them to defend. He soon saw, however, that every exertion was required in aid of the troops engaged above us and without further delay marched us to the scene of action. On our road General Brock passed us. He had galloped from Niagara unaccompanied by his aide-de-camp or a single attendant. He waved his hand to us, desired us to follow with expedition and proceeded with all speed to the mountain. Lieut -Col. McDonell and Capt. Glegg passed immediately after.
At the time the enemy began to cross there were but two companies of the 49th Regiment, the Grenadiers and Light Company and, I believe, three small companies of militia to oppose them. Their reception was such as did honor to the courage and management of our troops. The grape shot and musquet balls poured upon them at close quarters as they approached the shore made incredible havoc. A single discharge of grape from a brass sixpounder, directed by Captain Dennis of the 49th Grenadiers, destroyed 15 in one boat. Three of the batteaux landed at the hollow below Mr. Hamilton's garden at 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.
Thus far things had proceeded successfully, and the General on his approach to the mountain was greeted with the intelligence that all our villainous aggressors were killed or taken. 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. Another brigade of four boats was just then crossing and the 49th light company, who had been stationed on the mountain, were ordered down to assist in preventing their landing. No sooner had they descended than the enemy appeared in force above them. They had probably landed before the rest, while it was yet dark, and had remained concealed by the rough crags of the mountain. They possessed themselves of our battery on the height. General Brock rushed up the mountain on foot with some troops to dislodge them, but they were so advantageously posted and kept up so tremendous a fire that the small number ascending were driven back. The General then rallied and was proceeding up the right of the mountain to attack them in flank when he received a ball in his breast. Several of the 49th assembled round him—one poor fellow was severed in the middle by a ball and fell across the General. They succeeded, however, in conveying his body to Queenston. Just at this instant we came up. We were halted a 13 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 musquetry from the sides of the mountain. One of our men had his leg shot off in the ranks by a cannon ball, which carried away the calf of another poor fellow's leg. In a few minutes we were ordered to advance to the mountain. The nature of the ground and the galling fire prevented any kind of order in ascending.
We soon scrambled to the top at the right of the battery which the Americans had gained and were in some measure covered by the woods. There we stood, and gathering the men as they advanced formed them into line. The fire was too hot to admit of delay. Scarcely more that 50 were collected, about 30 of whom were of our company headed by Capt. Cameron, and the remainder of the 49th light company commanded by Capt. Williams. Lieut.-Colonel McDonell was there, mounted, and animating the men to charge, seconded with great spirit and valor by Capt. Williams, who exclaimed, "Feel firmly to the right, my lads; advance steadily; charge them home and they cannot stand you." But the attempt was unsuccessful, and must have been dictated rather by a fond hope of regaining what had been lost by a desperate effort, than by any conviction of its practicability. The enemy were just in front, covered by bushes and logs, were in no kind of order and were three or four hundred in number. They perceived us forming and at about 30 yards distance fired. Lieut.-Colonel McDonell, who was on the left of our party most heroically calling upon us to advance, received a shot in his body and fell—his horse was at the same instant killed. I cannot recall my feelings at the moment. Capt. 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 retired down the mountain.
Lieutenant McLean was wounded in the thigh, and Capt. Cameron in his attempt to save Col. McDonell exposed himself to a shower of musquetry, which he most miraculously escaped. He succeeded in bearing off his friend, and Capt. 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 o'clock.
Our forces rallied about a mile below. General Sheaffe, with the 41st from Fort George, nearly 300 in number, came up soon after with the field-pieces of the Car Brigade. All the force that could be collected was now mustered and we marched through the fields back of Queenston, ascended the mountain on the right and remained in the woods in rear of the enemy till intelligence was gained of their position. During this time the Americans were landing fresh troops unmolested and carrying back their dead and wounded in their return boats. About 8 o'clock p. m., General Sheaffe advanced through the woods towards the battery on the mountain with the main body (composed of the 48th and the Niagara Militia Flank Companies, with the field pieces,) on the right. The Mohawk Indians and a Niagara company of Blacks proceeded along the brow of the mountain on the left, and the light company of the 49th with our company of militia broke through the centre. In this manner we rushed through the woods to the encamping ground on the mountain, which the enemy then occupied, and which had been the scene of their morning's success.
The Indians were the first in advance. As soon as they perceived the enemy they uttered their terrible war-whoop, and rushing rapidly upon them commenced a most destructive fire. Our troops instantly sprung forward from all quarters, joining in the shout. The Americans gave a volley, then retreated tumultuously and fled by hundreds down the mountain. At that moment Capt. Bullock, with 150 of the 41st and two flank companies of militia, appeared advancing on the road from Chippawa. The consternation of the enemy was complete. Though double in number they stopped not to withstand their pursuers, but fled with the utmost precipitation. Never were men more miserably situated—they had no place to retreat to, and were driven by a furious and avenging enemy, from whom they had little mercy to expect, to the brink of the mountain which overhangs the river. They fell in numbers—the river presented a horrid spectacle, filled with poor wretches who plunged into its stream from the impulse of fear, with scarcely the hope or probability of being saved. Many leaped down the side of the mountain to avoid the horrors which pressed upon them and were dashed in pieces by the fall. The fire from the American batteries ceased. Two officers were now observed coming up the hill with a white flag, and with some difficulty the slaughter was suspended. They were conducted up the mountain to Gen. Sheaffe. A cessation of hostilities for three days was asked for and assented to—Gen. Sheaffe very properly and considerately insisted upon the immediate destruction of their boats, which they permitted.
Thus about 4 o'clock p. m. ended the business of this day, so important and so interesting in its occurrences to the inhabitants of this Province. The invasion of our peaceful shores by its unprincipled and insidious neighbors has terminated in the entire loss of their army with everything brought over, not excepting their standard with the very modest device of the 'Eagle Perched upon the Globe.' The exact number of Americans landed cannot be easily ascertained by us, but we know that we have taken more 16 than 900 prisoners with 60 of their officers, probably their bravest and their best, and that, except the poor wounded men who were carried over in boats while they retained possession of the mountain, scarce a man has straggled back to relate to his country the disastrous event of an expedition planned by their unrighteous government to destroy our unoffending, and as they hoped defenceless Province. Never was an infernal and unprovoked and unjust attempt at plunder and oppression more completely frustrated, and the view of dead bodies which strewed the ground, and the mangled carcasses of poor wounded suffering mortals who filled every room in the village, while it rent the heart and provoked the execration of their measures and those men that led the deluded wretches to their ruin, afforded a proud, a just and an honest exultation that the hallowed cause of our country had so gloriously prevailed.
Still, we have much to sorrow for. Our country has a loss to deplore which the most brilliant success cannot fully atone for, and private feelings will have received wounds which even time tho' it may soothe can never heal. The General, who had led our little army to victory, whose soul was wrapped up in our prosperity, and whose every energy was directed to our defence, is now shrouded in the grave. Brave to admiration and entertaining no idea but of conquering in so sacred a cause, he met the fate which he disdained to shun and ended a life which was an honor to his profession by a death which must ever be its glory. Who will not sympathize in another misfortune nearly related to the former, though of a nature more deeply interesting because it affects our nearer and more kindly feelings? I mean the death of Lieut.-Col. McDonell. This heroic young man, the constant attendant of the General, after his fall strove to support to the last a cause which should never be despaired of, because it involved in its event the very salvation of his country. But he was not reserved to witness its triumph. I have mentioned the manner of his death. His career was short but honorable, his end was premature but full of glory. He will be buried at the same time with the General. The tears of every lover of his country will honor their fate, and never can their memory be too much venerated.
Our company of volunteers suffered considerably. One man was killed and eleven wounded, some of them very badly. But all these, tho' melancholy circumstances, are the inevitable consequences of war, and grateful should this Province be to Heaven if by a sacrifice of some of its gallant defenders it can save itself from unjust aggression and preserve to our Mother Country a possession which has been ever the object of her affection and will soon contribute eminently to her prosperity. The cause of our enemies has received a deadly shock. They have lost a great number of their regular troops. Their militia were unwilling to partake in the enterprise, and it cannot be supposed that they will hereafter be more forward in a cause which was ever repugnant to their feelings, and which they now find to be as big with danger as it is hostile to every principle of humanity and right. They have besides lost some of their leading officers. Col. Van Rensselaer, who commanded the expedition, was wounded in the boats and obliged to return. General Wadsworth, who succeeded him, is taken by us with several others of their field officers. All the arms they brought over have fallen into our hands. We, on the contrary, except in the calamitous instances I have mentioned, are not at all impaired in the means of defence against a similar invasion. The loss on our part was providentially small. Only twenty men have fallen in a contest in which four hundred of the enemy unquestionably perished. Our troops will have received fresh courage from their victory, and the cool tho' determined and vigorous conduct of General Sheatfe and the gallant behaviour and spirited exertions of the officers under his command on that occasion claim from us every confidence in the anticipation of the future.
(From a copy in possession of Lt.-Col. Q. Villiers Turner, Reading, England.)
1 The Documentary History &c., in several volumes, was collated and edited by Lieut.-Col. E. Cruikshank, and published in 1902. The complete text of these letters, which are just a selection from the many in the collection concerning or written by Brock, can be accessed at the Internet Archive, which holds all the volumes covering the years 1812-1814, and includes descriptions of the Battle of Queenston heights and differing 'eyewitness' versions of Brock's death. These original documents provide part of the source for the many new studies of the War of 1812 and the Battle of Queenston Heights that are available from the Priaulx Library, and which re-evaluate Brock and his achievements.