American operations against Upper Canada in the Niagara region were entrusted to General Stephen VAN RENSSELAER, a militiaman who was one of the wealthiest men in the country. His slow effort marshalling his forces on the long trek from Albany was ameliorated by the temporary halt in hostilities. Brock, now situated at FORT GEORGE, watched the frontier as the ceasefire ended. With 1500 soldiers and 250 Aboriginal allies, he spread his forces, unsure of where the next American invasion attempt would occur. Under pressure from Washington and the American public to reverse the failure and stigma of losing against inferior forces at Detroit, and desperate to make something of himself as a field commander, Van Rensselaer chose to cross the Niagara River at the city of QUEENSTON, in Upper Canada.
Americans Launch the Invasion Against Queenston Heights
On the night of 12 October 1812, the New York militia launched its invasion across the treacherous Niagara currents. 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 allowed Van Rensselaer 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 a redan from which a gun had been hampering the flow of reinforcements across the river and gain control of the battle.
The Arrival of Reinforcements at Queenston Heights
After Brock's aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel John MACDONELL, was mortally wounded in a similar vain assault, Major General Roger Hale SHEAFFE, arriving from Fort George with reinforcements, ascended the heights out of sight of the Americans. These included 300 soldiers and 250 militia. Included were Captain Robert Runchey's Company of Coloured Men, a regiment of free men and indentured servants who were organized as an engineering unit.
Most of the American army had taken position here, and were pinned down by a small group of Mohawk and Delaware warriors. American reinforcements did not arrive as many of the militiamen assembled at Lewiston refused to cross into Upper Canada. Critical at this stage of the battle were the actions of John NORTON and his Six Nations and other First Nation forces. Norton made the brilliant tactical decision to ascend the escarpment at a considerable distance along the road west of Queenston, an easier climb than the one attempted by Brock closer to the Niagara River. The woods on the right flank of the American force moving westward along the heights provided perfect cover for Norton and his warriors as they pinned down the enemy's advance until Major-General Sheaffe and his troops arrived.
Attacking from the rear, Sheaffe trapped the enemy between his army and the cliff. Van Rensselaer's reserves, all from the New York militias and waiting to travel across the river, were called into battle. But upon hearing the roar of the guns they 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, Van Rensselaer's forces crumbled to a mere 350 regulars and 250 militia, who were running low on ammunition and the will to continue.
Author JASON RIDLER
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Sir Isaac Brock
A biography of Sir Isaac Brock, a colonial administrator and British officer who was lauded as a hero of the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
This Heritage Minute recounts Richard Pierpoint's pivotal decission to create an all-black military unit to fight the Americans in the War of 1812. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe
A biography of Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe, British army officer in the War of 1812 and colonial administrator. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
This site documents the historical, architectural, and environmental values associated with Brock’s Monument, located at the Queenston Heights National Historic Site of Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. A crypt beneath the monument contains the bodies of General Brock and Colonel Macdonnell. From the Canada's Historic Places website.
Battle of Queenston Heights
See an ink print showing a panoramic view of the Battle of Queenston Heights, which occurred on October 13th, 1812. Click on the image for a magnified view. From the website 1812 History.com.
Queenston Heights National Historic Site of Canada
Parks Canada visitor's information guide for Queenston Heights National Historic Site of Canada.
A biography of John Norton, schoolmaster, Indian Department interpreter, Mohawk chief, army officer, and author. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
John (Greenfield) Macdonell
A biography of John Macdonell, lawyer, office holder, militia officer, and politician. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Major-General Sir Isaac Brock
See page 129 for an extensive biography of War of 1812 British military hero Sir Isaac Brock. From the 1880 book "The Canadian portrait gallery" at canadiana.org.
Robert Walcot: The Man Who Could not Possibly have Shot General Brock
A controversial account by one American soldier of his role in the shooting of Sir General Brock in the Battle of Queenston Heights. Also provides details of this landmark conflict. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Battle of Queenston Heights and the death of Isaac Brock
See a digitized copy of an 24 October 1812 newspaper report on the Battle of Queenston Heights and the death of Isaac Brock. Click on the articles for a magnified view. From the Brock University Digital Repository.
Niagara Parks: Commemorative Plaques & Markers
See the text of individual plaques and markers commemorating the War of 1812 found throughout the grounds of Niagara Parks in Ontario. Also, check this site for more information about specific park locations and events.
The War of 1812 and the Tourist Encounter in Upper Canada
See a series of 1840 watercolour paintings depicting scenes of various sites related to the War of 1812 created by British military artist Lieutenant Philip John Bainbrigge. Includes an illustration of the original Brock's Monument and other structures that no longer exist. Also provides an account of Bainbrigge's travels through the region. Click on each image for a larger view. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Unturned Stones in War of 1812 Studies
This article identifies a number of significant, but underreported, events in the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
The Forgotten Man Who Saved Canada at Queenston Heights
An illustrated biography of British military commander Roger Hale Sheaffe from the "Canadian Military Journal."
The Battle of Queenston
An 1814 print depicting "The Battle of Queenston, Oct. 13th, 1812." Click on the image to enlarge the view. From the McCord Museum.