The Battle Of Queenston Heights

October 13, 2016

The war of 1812 had been declared on June 18, 1812, partially because the British were stopping American ships and forcing British citizens found on board into military service to feed their war against Napoleon in Europe.  On August 15th General Brock had captured Detroit.  This followed the capture of the American Fort Mackinac in July.  With two early losses the Americans were looking for a victory and taking the town of Queenston would give them a bridgehead into the Niagara Peninsula.  The following map is marked to show the key locations as identified throughout the text.

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American forces had been gathering at Lewiston and by 3:00 am on October 13th there were 600 men ready to board boats and cross the river to invade Queenston.  300 British forces waited in the graupel and drizzle and successfully pinned the few Americans who landed on the beach.  This picture shows the landing area, however, there are a great deal more trees on the hillside than there were on that morning.  The town of Queenston lays to the left along the river. (1. on the map)

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Captain John Ellis Wool knew of a small fishing path that led up the steep cliff face of the Niagara Gorge.  The British had believed the gorge, cut as Niagara Falls was beginning its slow path toward Lake Erie, to be unassailable.  The picture below was taken from the approximate place where the invaders reached the top of the cliff.  Climbing up this side would have been similar to climbing up the American side that can be seen across the river. (2. on the map)

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The British had a small number of soldiers manning an 18-pound cannon that was firing on the invading troops, trapping them on the beach and preventing reinforcements from crossing the river.  The cannon stood behind a redan, an earthen mound shaped like a half moon. Captain Wool led his men in a bayonet charge that quickly overtook the position. The curve of the redan can still be seen and an 18-pound cannon stands, looking down on the Queenston Harbour. (3. on the map)

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General Isaac Brock gathered 200 troops in the town and prepared to launch a counter-attack to reclaim the redan.  As they began the rush up the hill from town General Brock was leading the charge and was shot in the chest and killed.  His aide-de-camp, John Macdonell, led another charge to try to regain the hill top.  He took Brock’s horse, Alfred, but both horse and rider were killed in the charge.  The site of Brock’s death is marked in the town of Queenston with the memorial cairn pictured below. (4. on the map)

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Defence of the Niagara Peninsula, and Upper Canada, now fell into the hands of Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe.  He was positioned at Fort George (Niagara-On-The-Lake) with his troops of the 41st Regiment, Royal Artillery and Militia.  Sheaffe had already left Fort George by this time and was marching his troops to Queenston.  Meanwhile, the Americans were prevented from expanding their position on top of Queenston Heights by the efforts of John Norton.  Along with a band of 100 Iroquois, Norton was able to harass the American troops and keep them pinned near the redan.  To honour the part that native peoples played in this battle, and throughout the war, a memorial has been created. (5. on the map)

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The American troops did not receive any of the support they expected from the militia. Many of the militia saw the bodies floating in the river and quickly decided that they were not required to fight on foreign soil and so refused to cross the river.

Major-General Sheaffe decided not to confront the American troops head on and so he took his troops toward St. Davids.  This allowed him to come up behind the Americans who were defending the redan.  It was around 3:00 pm when Sheaffe’s troops reached the top of the escarpment and rested briefly in a field while another 150 men joined them from Fort Chippewa.  By 4:00 pm they were ready to advance on the Americans and after firing an opening volley of musket balls they led a bayonet charge.  The Americans had their backs to the cliff and were faced with the choice of jumping to their deaths or surrendering.  (6. on the map) The turkey vultures in the picture below are looking out across the river to the two remaining towers from the Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge. (7. on the map)

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In the final analysis, the battle was another disaster for the American troops.  They failed to take and hold the town of Queenston and in the battle they had over 300 men killed or wounded.  The British took 925 captives following the surrender of the redan.  For the British, the toll was much lighter.  They had only 14 dead, including Brock and Macdonell, and 77 injured.  More importantly, the civilians saw that there was a solid hope of defending Canada against an American invasion.  Many of the citizens had families living in the USA and had not committed to one side or the other but were waiting to see which side to support.  General Brock’s death became the rallying point that united the population to protect their country.

Brock and Macdonell were taken to Fort George where their remains were interred.  In 1823 a 135-foot monument was started that would have a viewing platform at the top.  When it was completed in 1824 it was inaugurated on October 13th, the anniversary of Brock’s death and his and Macdonell’s remains were moved to the monument.  It was first opened to the public on October 13, 1827.  On April 17, 1840, the monument was severely damaged by a bomb in an attack that may have been linked to the Rebellion of 1837.  The damaged monument had to be torn down and Brock and his aid were taken to Queenston for their third burial.  The archive photo below shows the damage to the monument with almost all of the outdoor platform destroyed.

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A second monument was designed and construction began on the 185-foot tall structure. Brock and Macdonell were moved here.  On October 13th, 1853, they were interred for the fourth time, now in the base of the new monument.  The monument would be completed and opened to the public on October 13th, 1859. (8. on the map)

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A set of winding stairs leads you to the top of the monument.  There are 235 of them and it took me almost exactly twice as long going up as it did coming back down.

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When you reach the top of the stairs there is a small viewing platform that lets you look out from the round windows just below the statue of Major-General Brock.  The statue of Brock on top of the monument is nearly 16 feet tall.  He is positioned in a classic military pose of leadership.

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In the spring of 1814, the British built a small redoubt with a blockhouse in the middle to defend the main road.  They named it Fort Drummond and the earthworks remain, not far from Brock’s monument. (9. on the map)

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In Queenston Heights park there is a cairn to mark the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail.  Having visited the northern terminus on Monday, a mere 890-kilometer hike away, I was interested in visiting this cairn while I was in the park. (10. on the map)

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There is a hiking trail that links all the points of interest from the battle but it is poorly marked and may take less than the intended 45 minutes because you will miss some things.

Google Maps link: Brock’s Monument

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One thought on “The Battle Of Queenston Heights

  1. Pingback: Downey’s Farm | Hiking the GTA

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