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Fort George National Historic Site of Canada

The Onset of War - The 1812 Campaign.

Biographies

Major General Sir Isaac Brock

Portrait image of Major General Sir Isaac Brock
Portrait image of Major General Sir Isaac Brock.
©Public Domain / FGE.HIP.002

Major General Sir Isaac Brock was born October 6th, 1769 on the on the Channel Island of Guernsey to a leading local family. He joined the British army in 1785 as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot. In 1790 he became a captain in the 49th Regiment of Foot and found himself in Barbados and Jamaica until 1793. In 1796 he was promoted to senior lieutenant-colonel of the 49th although his experience in the field was limited. Brock saw his first action on the Dutch coast at Egmont op Zee against French and Dutch defenders. The 49th was then transferred to Canada in 1802 and Brock was assigned senior commanding officer for Upper Canada. He established himself as a civilian and military leader for Upper Canada and dealt with regular peace time concerns including a near mutiny at Fort George in 1803. Brock commanded a total of less than 1000 regular troops, some Indians and 11,000 militia in Upper Canada. He briefly returned to England and was then re-assigned to Lower Canada in 1806. By 1810 he was in command of all forces in Upper Canada and Senior Member of the Executive Council. His early attempts to prepare the province 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 war began. With the arrival of war in1812, Brock initiated an aggressive campaign even though he was advised by Prevost to remain on the defensive. Brock's most daring exploit occurred August 16th,1812 when he led a force of regulars and Indians in the successful capture of Detroit. 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 13th, 1812. After losing his initial advantage in which the important Redan Battery cannon was captured, he rallied what troops 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. Today Brock's Monument stands 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.

Major General Henry Dearborn

US Army General Henry Dearborn
US Army General Henry Dearborn.
©Public Domain / FGE.HIP.0007

Major General Henry Dearborn was a veteran of the American Revolution and had been with Benedict Arnold's invasion force in 1775. He was named First Major General of the United States Army and charged with land operations against Canada and defence of the New England coast at the beginning of the war. His strategy was to follow the traditional invasion route used by Amherst in 1758 and Richard Montgomery in 1775 from Albany, New York with Montreal as the main objective with a strong defence at Sackets Harbour. Other attacks would come from Detroit, Niagara and Sackets Harbour forcing the British to abandon western Upper Canada thus deterring Western Tribes from participating in the war. An attack from Fort Niagara or Sackets Harbour would occupy General Brock's army or force him to retire or be cut off by the capture of Montreal. When war actually broke out, Dearborn agreed to an armistice with Prevost on the Niagara frontier allowing Brock time to move troops and capture Detroit during the summer of 1812. In 1813 he commanded U.S. forces that captured York and Niagara although he did not personally lead the forces in either action due to his illness with rheumatism.

Sir George Prevost

Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost
Sir George Prevost Governor-General of the Canadas.
© Library and Archives Canada

Sir George Prevost was Governor General of the Canadas and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesties Forces from 1812-15. French-speaking and Swiss born, Prevost held the rank of Lieutenant General in the British Army. His most important contribution to the war was gaining the confidence and support of the French Canadians to the British cause and raising militia for service in Lower Canada. Prevost took a defensive stance with approximately 10,000 men under his command as ordered by Lord Bathurst. In 1814, he led a combined force into New York and eventually retreated from the Battle of Plattsburg, September 11th 1814. After the retreat back to Quebec City, Prevost was brought up on charges of ineptitude by Sir James Yeo then commanding the Royal Navy on the Great Lakes. Prevost was recalled to England in 1815 to face his court martial but died before he was able to stand trial. Years later his name was cleared by his family but his infamous defeat continued to plague his reputation until into the 20th century.

Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe

Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe was senior officer of the 49st Regiment and commanded Fort George in 1812. He had served in North America for nineteen years. Sheaffe was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1763 and had difficulty gaining social acceptance amongst other British officers because of his colonial background. To help him rise to command, he was sponsored by a family patron Earl Percy, the Duke of Northhumberland. Sheaffe purchased his ensigncy on May 1st, 1778 in the 5th regiment. In 1779 he purchased a lieutenancy in the same regiment and served in Ireland from 1781-7. He was not a popular officer but was a successful commander, winning the day at the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13th 1812. On April 27th 1813 the town of York (Toronto) was attacked by a superior American forces which compelled Sheaffe and his force of regulars to retreat to Kingston. Sheaffe was consequently criticized for abandoning the town of York. His chief critic was the Reverend John Strachan, his fellow officers and other leading citizens who convinced Sir George Prevost to recall Sheaffe to Lower Canada. Sheaffe was knighted for his services during the War of 1812.

Tecumseh

Shawnee Chief Tecumseh
Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.
©Lossing, Field-Book 1869

Tecumseh was born in 1768 and was a Shawnee warrior chief who with his brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa), attempted to stop the advance of white settlement into the Old Northwest. Tecumseh believed that Indians must return to traditional ways, that they must forget intertribal rivalries and confederate, and that individual tribes must not sell land that all Indians held in common. In 1809 tribes in the Indiana Territory ceded much of their land to the United States. Tecumseh protested in vain to Governor William Henry Harrison. In the fall of 1811 he determined to carry his message to the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek, He went south, leaving his brother in charge at Prophet's Town, near Tippecanoe Creek, a utopian village where the Indians were to practice Tecumseh's principles. Before going, Tecumseh warned his brother not to attack Harrison's nearby forces. The Prophet ignored the warning and attacked. The Battle of Tippecanoe was not a clear cut American victory, but Prophet's Town was destroyed and Indian resistance broken. After Tecumseh's return, he joined the British against the Americans in the War of 1812. His support for Isaac Brock at the capture of Detroit was decisive. Before the British approach, Tecumseh's warriors showed themselves in a never-ending line to the Americans. The warriors at the head of the line doubled back to join the end of the line and it appeared to General Hull that he was besieged by a massive force of Indians. This manoeuvre convinced Hull to surrender to avoid a massacre. As a brigadier general, Tecumseh led over 2,000 warriors. He fought at the sieges of Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson, and his last battle was the Battle of the Thames at Chatham Ontario, where, clothed in traditional Indian deerskin garments, he was killed leading his warriors in a final stand against the invading Americans.