|Isaac Brock - the 'hero of Upper Canada' in the War of 1812 - considered the country he died defending a backwater. In his mind, the 'real British army' was in Europe, fighting Napoleon Bonaparte. (illustration by Keith Milne and colourist Gord Coulthart, special to QMI Agency)
Isaac Brock – the “hero of Upper Canada” in the War of 1812 - didn’t even want to be in Canada.
Brock considered the country he died defending a backwater. In his mind, the “real British army” was in Europe, fighting Napoleon Bonaparte.
He bought his first army commission at age 15 and served in Europe. He was posted to Canada in 1806 and from the time he arrived until the eve of war, he petitioned to be returned to the war in Europe.
But in February 1812 when he was finally offered the opportunity to leave, he stayed, sensing war was near.
Brock had doubts about the people he was leading and he lamented the state of morale of the Canadians in Upper Canada at the outbreak of war. However, at more than 6 feet in height, he tried to inspire the people and the soldiers with his size and confidence.
“I ...speak loud and look big,” he wrote to Gov. Gen. Sir George Prevost’s adjutant. When he met Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader said “This is a man!” Brock was equally impressed, calling Tecumseh “the Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington) of the Indians, a more sagacious or a more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist”.
Despite Brock’s misgivings about Canadians, at times the Canadian military instilled him with confidence. Brock was able to capture Detroit in large part because French Canadian Frederick Rolette had captured the papers of a U.S. general – William Hull – who had been ordered to defend Detroit. Those papers included Hull’s plans for defending the fort. They also showed Hull’s fear of Indian warriors and suggested Hull’s soldiers had lost confidence in him.
All Brock used to capture Detroit on August 16, 1812, was a pen and a few cannonballs fired at the walls of the fort – plus some brilliant strategy.
Brock gave discarded regular British army uniforms to the Canadian militia so they would look like regulars, dramatically increasing the appearance of the British presence. He also used some tricky marching in and out of the cover surrounding Detroit to suggest he had a larger Indian warrior component than there actually was. While the British were outnumbered two to one, the Americans thought the odds were against them.
Then Brock put pen to paper. He wrote Hull a note, keeping in mind Hull’s fear of Indian warriors and the demoralized state of the Americans in the fort.
“It is far from my inclination to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences,” he wrote.
Brock wanted to continue attacking the Americans while he had the initiative, but Prevost was concerned more with defending Canada than with attacking the United States.
Brock died Oct. 13, 1812, during the Americans’ second attempt to invade Canada. Leading his men in an uphill charge to retake the British artillery captured by American forces as they crossed the Niagara River at Queenston, he was shot first in the hand, then in the heart.
Troops rallied after Brock’s death and the Americans were repulsed. He’d captured the imagination of Canadians. More than 5,000 residents turned out for his funeral, where a 21-gun salute fired at Fort George was echoed by a respectful salute, also of 21 guns, from the American side.