Wednesday, October 10, 2012

1812 Bicentennial: The Battle of Queenston Heights

This year is the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, but there have been relatively few big reenacting events to commemorate it so far. That's because the war itself got off to a very slow start. Two big 1812 reenacting events are taking place this weekend to commemorate some important opening campaigns of the war. I'll be attending the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights, with events taking place on the Heights themselves as well as across the river, in Lewiston New York.

You can check out the American side schedule here: http://historiclewiston.org/battleofqueenstonheights/

and the Canadian schedule here: http://www.friendsoffortgeorge.ca/event.htm .

I'll be trying to use my Twitter account to live blog the event, so check it out if you like: https://twitter.com/dwilkens .

In the spring of 1812, President James Madison and his Secretary of War, William Eustis, planned a three-pronged attack on the British in Canada. The Northwest Army led by Brigadier General William Hull, consisting of three Ohio regiments and one regular infantry regiment crossed the Detroit River in July. Not only did General Hull fail to capture the main British base of Fort Amherstburg (also called Malden), but he retreated and surrendered his army on August 16 after a very brief siege.



The two other American invasion forces were poised to enter Canada further east. The British Governor-General of Canada, Sir George Prevost, had arranged a cease-fire between his forces and those of the Americans along the Niagara, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River. When the cease-fire ended in October, New York militia Major General Simon Van Rensselaer led a force of US regulars and New York state militia across the Niagara River from Lewiston, downstream of the Horseshoe Falls. It didn't go well. The Americans only had 14 boats to move their forces across the river. The American regular army commander in the area, Brigadier General  Alexander Smyth, refused to obey Van Rensselaer and stayed with most of his troops in Buffalo, while many of the New York militia refused to cross the river on the basis that they were only required to defend United States territory, not invade foreign soil.

The Americans managed to capture  and hold the high ground at Queenston on October 13--killing the British General Isaac Brock when he led a counter-attack that failed. However, they were unsupported and eventually forced to surrender to larger British forces now led by Major General Richard Sheaffe.

This year's reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights will be the biggest War of 1812 event this year. For many Canadians, the battle represents an important watershed in their journey from a crown colony of Great Britain to an independent nation.