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Sir Isaac Brock: Vol II ~ Impossible?!!! : Articles & Resources

James Fitzgibbon recalls days with Isaac Brock!


The air shattered with the explosion of cannon fire! The rank odor of gun powder stung in my noise as men screamed in fright and pain. Through the haze I saw Brock, on the top of the sand hill, directing and encouraging the men. At every advance, from one hillock to the other, I saw him moving here and there, always visible to the men and the enemy. I watched in trepidation as great numbers of French soldiers fired at him, believing that at any moment I would see him fall. After about two hours in my view he remained untouched. Napoleon’s troops rained heavy fire on us, but I determined from then on to be the first to advance ahead of those around me. I noticed then, that of those who followed me promptly, fewer fell by the enemy’s fire than those who came up in the rear. Thus I learned from Brock to bold and assertive; offensive not defensive.

When our beloved commander, Colonel Brock and the 49th Division was sent to Quebec in 1802, we saw many companies stationed in Canada in poor health, poor clothing and dreadful housing. Desertions were frequent. In the three years under Brock’s command, we only lost one man. While strict in enforcing duty, Brock was always kind to his men and was repaid by their devotion to him. I, myself, protested vehemently against the use of the whip for trifling offences. The sense of shame brought by such punishment, robbed a man of the courage necessary to face the enemy, as well as of the love for his officers which would carry him to the cannon’s mouth with unflinching devotion.


While in Quebec, Colonel Brock gave me an order which I found I could not complete. When he questioned me I replied that it had been impossible.

“By the Lord Harry, sir, do not tell me it is impossible,” he bellowed at me. “Nothing should be impossible for a soldier. The word impossible should not be found in the soldier’s dictionary.”

Two years later, the Colonel had heard that the Americans were about to invade the Quebec at Montreal. I was ordered to take a party to the bateau guard and bring round to the lower town twenty bateaux (barges) in which to embark troops suddenly for Montreal. We reached the bateaux and discovered in dismay, that the tide had left and the heavy, flat-bottomed boats sat in deep mud two hundred yards from the water.

Seeing we could not accomplish the task, I gave the word “To the right face.” Then it occurred to me, “what will I say to the colonel?”

“Men!” I cried. “I think it impossible for us to put these bateaux afloat, but you know it will not to tell the colonel so, unless we try it. Let us try – there are the boats. I am sure if it is possible for men to put them afloat, you will do it; go at them.” In half an hour the boats were in the water. We were able to depart for Montreal a day sooner than if we failed in the task. No invasion came at that time, perhaps because the presence of troops discouraged it.

It was no surprise to Colonel Brock when the United States declared war on Great Britain and her colonies in June, 1812. He had been reporting to England that there was much dissension and war was imminent. Our beloved General was killed in action at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October of the same year. It was imperative for us to carry on his legacy but to o many officers in this territory were willing to spell “retreat” and “defeat” with ease. All my efforts in the following years of the war were filled with the memory of Isaac Brock.  

Queenston Heights

Battle of Queenston Heights, 1813. 
Painted by John David Kelly, 1896, Public Domain








The next spring, on April 6, 1813,  just as the ice was breaking up on the Niagara River where we were stationed, I saw a party of the enemy on an island in the river at sunset. Knowing they were there, we could watch for their shrouded campfires and estimate their location. In the dark, twelve of the company and I set out in a bateau, landing undetected at the lee side. Coming upon the Americans in surprise, we took them prisoner and brought them back in their own boat. Had we not acted zealously and promptly regarding this threat, who knows what ill would come from allowing the enemy so close to our troops without detection. In my mind I committed that victory to the fond memory of my friend and commander, General Brock, whose hearty approval would have been expressed had he still been with us.

This story is true. It is taken from A Veteran of 1812 by Mary Agnes FitzGibbon, 1894.


Read: Jeremy’s War by John Ibbitson and The Bully Boys by Eric Walters

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© 2007 Donna Ward