I never really intended to do biographical pieces of major players in the War of 1812, but after editing a photo of General Brock that I took in Toronto drove me to do a piece of the Savior of Upper Canada.
Born on the British Channel Island of Guernsey in 1769, Isaac Brock was the eighth son in a wealthy family. Even at a young age he was pegged as extraordinary, tall, robust, and athletic, he also had a kind and gentle temperament. Something that at initial reaction would not serve him well in his choice of career, for Brock joined the British Army. At 15 he joined the 8th (The King’s) Regiment of Foot as an ensign. Gaining valuable combat experience, he found himself at 28 the Lieutenant Colonel of the 49th Regiment of Foot. He proceeded to reorganize the unit into a top notch fighting force. He gained more experience in combat, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Egmont-op-Zee in 1799, and ended up with a wound while fighting alongside Sir John Moore. Two years later, Brock was given second-in-command of the land forces during Nelson’s attack on Copenhagen.
But by 1802 the fighting in Europe had come to a lull, and Brock and his 49th Regiment of Foot were sent to defend Canada. Initially being stationed at Quebec City, they continued to be moved through Montreal, York, and finally to Fort George. Brock used the time to strengthen the defenses of the forts, cities, and towns. Raising local citizens and training them as militia units. This was of course in preparation in the case that the fledgling United States of America decided to invade Canada, the largest British colony. But was did not come, and by 1811 Brock was lamenting a very boring retirement.
A retirement that did not come, for in 1812 the United States did declare war on the British Empire and began an invasion of Canada. For the defense of Upper Canada, which Brock was Lieutenant Governor of; he had 1,200 British Regulars and 11,000 militiamen. Brock marched for Amherstburg where American General William Hull had crossed, while sending another force to capture the American held Fort Michilimackinac. Hull retreated back to Detroit after hearing that Michilimackinac had fallen, without a fight to the British. Governor General George Prevost ordered Brock to hold, and focus on defense, rather than invade America. But at Amherstburg Brock had met with Native Warrior and Chief Tecumseh, both men saw eye-to-eye, cunning and aggressive warriors and held the respect of the men they commanded. Brock disobeyed Prevost’s orders and laid siege to Fort Detroit. Brock continually demanded Hull’s surrender, which Hull continued to refuse. Brock ordered his small battery of artillery to continue to fire upon the fort, and making the suggestion that he may not be able to hold back the Native allies with him. Hull, even though his forces outnumbered Brock’s two to one, surrendered, much to the surprise of his sub-ordinates.
With Detroit secure, Brock hurried back to the Niagara frontier to meet with a new invasion force. Prevost again ordered a defensive stance, and Brock complied, scattering his troops between Fort Erie and Fort George, with a majority stationed at Erie and Chippawa. But on the night of October 13th a 3000 strong invasion force crossed at Lewiston to the small village of Queenston on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. The 300 British regulars stationed there were forced back, allowing the Americans to take control of the batteries stationed at the Heights. Brock, who had his headquarters at Fort George upon hearing the shots awoke, mustered a handful of troops, including the York Volunteer Militia rode for the heights. Once there he organized the regulars there along with the militia and launched an all out assault to take back the Heights. His first attack was quickly repulsed, but getting down off his horse he organized a second charge, leading it himself. This was to be his last action, an American Rifleman and sharpshooter, took the shot, and killed the General. Legend states that his last words were to push on. More contemporary accounts state that Brock died instantly.
After his death, the Heights were indeed retaken, General Sheaffe with more reinforcements from Fort George were able to drive off the Americans, taking several prisoner. Brock was interned at Fort George, a marker remains there in “Brock’s Bastion” but the Savior of Upper Canada today rests beneath a massive 182 foot tall column, a statue of himself looking out over the Niagara peninsula on the Heights above Queenston. Brock’s coat, complete with bullet hole can be seen at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Written with files from:
Brock’s Statue – Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 35mm 1:3.5 – Kodak Ektachrome E100G
Fort George – Nikon F3 – AI-S Nikkor 105mm 1:2.5 – Efke KB50
49th Soldier – Nikon F3 – AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 – Kodak Kodachrome 64 (KR)
Brock’s Monument – Nikon FM2 – AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 – Efke KB50