Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sir Isaac Brock, British Commander in Upper Canada During War of 1812

by Regina Jeffers

Isaac Brock was born in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, on 6 October 1769. He was the eighth son of John Brock (1729-1777), a midshipman in the Royal Navy, and Elizabeth de Lisle, the daughter of the Lieutenant-Bailiff of Guernsey. The Brock family had settled in Guernsey in the 16th Century and were a well-respected lot. His formal education was a brief one, and Brock was known to spend much of his leisure time “boning up” on the classics and upon military tomes.

On 8 March 1785, at age 15, he purchased a commission as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot, where he knew the responsibility of the regimental colors. One of his brothers (John) was also a member of the Regiment. Isaac proved himself a resourceful soldier, and he was promoted to lieutenant on 16 January 1790. By the following year, he raised his own company of soldiers and was rewarded with the rank of captain. His company was then transferred to the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot. (Military History)

While stationed in the Caribbean, Brock was said to have faced down a reported expert duelist by demanding that they fight at “handkerchief distance.” The duelist supposedly withdrew from the match, which solidified Brock’s reception among his men. Also during this time, Brock took ill with a high fever and nearly died.

In 1793, he returned to England to desk duty: His assignment one of recruitment on Jersey. Brock spent some four years in this post before purchasing a commission as a major and rejoining the 49th in October 1797. Luck found Brock when his commanding officer (Frederick Keppel) was forced to resign his position, and Brock was able to purchase the lieutenant colonelcy at a reduced price. (Military History)

Brock took part in many early operations: He saw action as part of the Helder Expedition against the Batvian Republic (now known as the Netherlands). He distinguished himself at the Battle of Egmont-op-Zee, where he has been struck in the throat by a musket ball(a neckcloth prevented a possible fatal injury), but had continued to rally his men to battle. This was remarkable as the 49th had been in poor shape when Brock had assumed the command. They sustained only thirty-three fatalities in the Battle of Alkmaar. He was also part of the Battle of Copenhagen, where he observed the brilliance of Lord Nelson first hand. Transferred to Canada in 1802, Brock learned much about the “disgruntled soldier.” Mutiny and dissection was common on the Canadian front. The mutinous event at Fort George had Brock scrambling to stop the mutiny before it began. The mutineers claimed Lt-Colonel Roger Hale Sheaffe had driven them to the event, but Brock showed little mercy to the culprits.

On 29 October 1805, Brock was promoted to colonel, and after a short stay in England, he returned to Canada as the temporary commander of the British army there. The strain in the relations between the British and the American forces led to the War of 1812. Grievances developed upon both sides. Among them were the idea the British had violated American sovereignty, the restriction of American trade by Britain, the American desire to annex the British North American colonies, the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy, the blockade of French ports, and the charge that the British were inciting the Native American tribes to attack U. S. settlements.

Brock moved quickly to bolster the Canadian border by strengthening the fortifications of Quebec. He also rearranged and strengthened the Provincial Marine, which led to the development of a naval force capable of holding the Great Lakes. These moves proved pivotal during the war. Unfortunately, he riled the civilian population by appropriating much of the available land and by forcing the civilians to work for the military.

He was made brigadier general and commander of all forces in Upper Canada in 1810. Despite his success upon the Canadian front, Brock tried for years to return to England. Permission to leave for the European front came in early 1812, but by then, Brock was too entrenched in the Canadian war threats to withdraw.

As the administrator for Upper Canada, Brock instituted a series of changes designed to protect the British interests in Canada. He amended the militia act to take advantage of available volunteers and ordered enhanced training for these raw recruits. He also sought out the assistance of First Nations leaders upon the British behalf.

On 18 June 1812, the United States declared war. The Provincial Marine’s dominance upon the lakes permitted Brock to transfer his reserves to the threatened points of combat. He assisted the outpost of St. Joseph Island on Lake Huron to attack the American outpost of Fort Mackinac. On 17 July, the British claimed a victory against the Americans. The success also convinced other First Nations leaders to join with the British against the U.S.

Brock was hampered by Governor General George Prevost, who kept the bulk of the British forces in Lower Canada to protect Quebec. Prevost opposed any attack into American territories. When William Hull attempted to invade Canada at Sandwich (later known as Windsor), Brock used the excuse to oppose Prevost’s orders. Brock moved his men to reinforce the garrison at Amherstburg, at the western end of Lake Erie, and facing Hull’s position at Detroit. Despite odds of 2 to 1, Brock laid siege to Fort Detroit. Strategically, he dressed his volunteers in the discarded uniforms of his regulars to make it appear his force was a well trained army. To frighten Hull, he had the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh lead a party of American Indians across the lake three times (doubling back each time) to make it appear the First Nations were in support of the British.

Fearing the civilian population of Fort Detroit would know the brutality of the “savages,” Hull surrendered with little effort on Brock’s part. The capture of Detroit permitted Brock the luxury of resupplying his men, as well as wounding the American morale. Brock meant to invade the U.S., but an armistice between Prevost and the American Major General Henry Dearborn waylaid his plans. The armistice provided the Americans time to regroup. It also prevented Brock from knowing from where the next attack would come.

In the early morning hours of 13 October 1812, American general Stephen Van Rensselaer led a force across the Niagara River. The Battle of Queenston Heights saw the British artillery routed by the inexperience American force. Arriving from Fort George, Brock ordered an immediate attack upon the Americans’ position. Twice during the battle, Brock had to rally the troops to press on. A large man and dressed in full officer regalia, Brock became an easy target. An American stepped from a thicket to deliver a musket ball to Brock’s chest. Supposedly, Brock uttered the Latin phrase “Surgite!” - meaning to “rise” or “push on.” The phrase is the motto of Brock University, a public research university located in St. Catharines, Ontario. The British attempted to attack again in Brock’s name. They were driven back by the Americans until Sheaffe arrived with reinforcements, turning the tide to the British’s favor.

A funeral procession for Brock from Government House to Fort George was lined with British soldiers, the colonial militia, and First Nations warriors. Over 5000 people attended the funeral. In 1824, Brock’s remains were moved to Brock’s Monument, which overlooked Queenston Heights. In 1840, the monument was bombed, reportedly by Irish-Canadian terrorist Benjamin Lett (although this was never proved). A new monument replaced the damaged one. Brock was laid to rest a third time on 13 October 1853. An inscription reads: “Upper Canada has dedicated this monument to the memory of the late Major-General Isaac Brock, K.B. provisional lieutenant-governor and commander of the forces in the province whose remains are deposited in the vault beneath. Opposing the invading enemy he fell in action near these heights on 13 October 1812, in the forty-third year of his age. Revered and lamented by the people whom he governed and deplored by the sovereign to whose services his life had been devoted.” (Commemorative Plaques and Markers: Niagara Parks)

Although not a native Canadian, Brock is regarded as one of their greatest military heroes. In September 2012, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a .99999 pure gold coin with a face value of 350 dollars to honor the bicentenary of Brock’s death. The reverse design came from a half-penny token issued in 1816 as a recognition for Brock.

In Britain, Brock is remembered with a memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was paid for by the House of Commons (£1575), which also granted £200 pensions to each of his four brothers. Brock posthumously received a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath (KB) on 10 October 1812. Unfortunately, he died at Queenston Heights before receiving news of his knighthood. The Prince Regent permitted the heraldic supporters of Brock’s knighthood to be incorporated into the arms of the Brock family descendants and on monuments raised to Brock’s memory.


Meet the Author: Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of nine Austen-inspirted novels, as well as another ten Regency era romances, including Darcy's Passions, Darcy's Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy, A Touch of Grace, A Touch of Honor, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, as well as the upcoming releases of Angel Comes to the Devil's Keep and The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy's Cousin. Visit her website to learn more of Regina's books and public appearances.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.