Sir Isaac Brock: Vol I ~ A Man's Man! : Articles & Resources
The great Shawnee chief Tecumseh stated emphatically, “This is a man!” He had just sealed an alliance and friendship with General Isaac Brock, the great British officer assigned to Canada. No other hero of the War of 1812 displayed as much boldness, imagination and inspiration as Brock during the first year of the war. In a time when officers lived an elite life while the soldiers languished, Brock gained immense loyalty by guarding the integrity and physical needs of his troops. He understood the times, and he acted quickly with great ingenuity and boldness.
He was “a man’s man!”
What gave Brock the opportunity to show his strengths? The French general, Napoleon, was at war with the British in Europe. The Americans, France’s allies, were providing supplies for the French and as such were being harassed on the high seas by the British. The Americans were fed up. They chose to strike back where they could, at the British in North America. After all, the French of Lower Canada were likely to rejoice at throwing off the British yoke. There were the Loyalists who would stay true to the British king, but their numbers were far smaller than the many American settlers in Upper Canada who had come for free land.
Thomas Jefferson, the former American president, expected settlers in Canada to welcome the Americans with open arms. He said “It will be a mere matter of marching.”
Of course, there were not many good British officers in Canada. They were all serving in the European war. There were few soldiers and little money to protect British and Loyalists’ interests in Canada. Therefore, Jefferson’s assumption was not outrageous; the population was likely to welcome the Americans.
General Isaac Brock, one of the few who understood the desperate position of the British in North America, penned these words to a friend:
My situation is most critical. Not from anything the enemy can do but from the disposition of the people - the population, believe me, is essentially bad – a full belief possesses them all that this province must inevitably succumb. Most of the people have lost all confidence. I, however, speak loud and look big!
And speak loud he did!
Voyageurs, natives, and militiamen raced to strategic Fort Michilimackinac (present day Sault Ste. Marie), taking it from the American’s without a shot, before the American captain even knew war had been declared.The natives felt cheated out of a fight and when the forces took Fort Dearborn (Chicago) the short battle turned into an American massacre, which sent a chilling message to Americans elsewhere.
Hearing of this, American General Hull and his 2000 troops took refuge at Fort Detroit. Brock had only 300 regulars, a number of hastily trained militia and Chief Tecumseh’s native allies. Greatly disadvantaged, Brock turned the battle into a game of wits. Tecumseh’s natives were ordered to parade around Fort Detroit three times, providing the illusion of a larger force.
Then Brock sent this alarming note to Hull:
“Sir; it is far from my inclination to join 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.”
It was likely a surprise even to General Brock, when Hull surrendered Fort Detroit without a fight, to the shame and dismay of his American troops. So thin were the forces, Brock had to hurry back to the undefended borders of the Niagara River and, as you all know, was killed in an early morning attack at the Battle of Queenston Heights. It looked like the Canadians would loose the day, but at the cry “Avenge the General” the Americans were beaten back and no ground was lost in that battle.
Though he died early in the war, Brock brought hope, purpose and unity to the motley group who lived in Upper and Lower Canada. The people were able to defend their lands and unite in a way never before experienced. Brock’s bold, ingenious, timely and forceful actions during the year 1812 set the foundation for our tenuous and emerging Canadian identity.
Oh that we should have more men like Brock to “speak loud and look big” and accomplish growth in the history of this nation.
Read Jeremy’s War by John Ibbitson (out of print)
Watch Canada: A People’s History (CBC) Series 1, Volume 2, “Battle for a Continent”
Check your library or purchase from this site.
©2007 Donna Ward