Major General Isaac Brock, 1769-1812

Issac Brock was a British army officer who entered the army in 1785, joining the 8th foot. In 1791 he joined the 49th foot as a captain, remaining with that unit until his death at Queenston Heights in 1812. From 1791 until 1793 he served with the regiment in the West Indies, before being forced to return to Britain by sickness. He rejoined the regiment in 1796 when it returned to Britain, by which time he had purchased a majority. In 1797 he purchased the junior lieutenant-colonelcy, and on 22 March 1798 he became the senior lieutenant-colonel, commanding the regiment,

Brock took part in the duke of York’s expedition to the Netherlands, fighting at the battle of Egmont-op-Zee (1799), the high point of the campaign, which ended with a British retreat. The 49th foot was part of the military force that accompanies Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s expedition to Denmark, most famous for Nelson’s victory at Copenhagen (2 April 1802). Brock was second in command of the army contingent, taking part in the battle itself on HMS Ganges.

After the expedition to Denmark Brock and the 49th Foot were posted to Canada. From 1803 until 1805 he was based at York (modern Toronto). During a brief period of leave in 1805-1806 he was promoted to colonel, before returning to Canada in 1806 when a threat of war with the United States developed. In 1810 he was appointed to command all troops in Upper Canada, the area seen as most vulnerable to American attack. On 4 June 1811 he was promoted to major-general. By the start of the War of 1812 he was also the lieutenant-governor of the province. Brock made his main contribution to the British war effort before the outbreak of the fighting, gaining the confidence of Tecumseh and thus ensuring that the British would fight with Indian allies. He also played a part in retaining the 41st and 49th regiments in Canada.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812 Upper Canada came under attack from Detroit and across the Niagara River. The invasion from Detroit, under General Hull, was badly handled. The Americans crossed the Detroit River on 12 July and briefly threatened the British position, before retreating back across the river on 8 August. Brock reached Amherstburg, on the Canadian side of the river, on 13 August, and soon decided to launch a counterattack. On 16 August the British and Canadians prepared for an assault on the American fort at Detroit, but before the fighting really began Hull surrendered, giving up Detroit and his entire army. 582 American regular soldiers were captured at Detroit, and one threat to Upper Canada removed.

Brock did not survive long to enjoy his victory, or even to learn of his rewards. On 10 October 1812 he was appointed KB, but before the news could reach Canada, he had been killed. A second American army, under Major-General Stephan van Rensselaer, was threatening on the Niagara front. Brock returned to Fort George, at the northern end of the Niagara River, in time to take command when the Americans finally moved.

On the night of 12-13 October van Rensselaer crossed the river at Queenston, with the aim of capturing the Heights above the village. Brock rushed to the scene of the fighting. Once there he climbed up the heights to a British redan, in an attempt to get a better view of the fighting, and was nearly captured by the American force that was climbing the heights. Brock escaped back to Queenston, where he organised a counterattack. At the head of a force of 100 regulars and 100 Lincoln militia he led an attack straight up the escarpment towards the American position. As he advanced he was hit by two American rifle shots. The second shot was fatal. His last words, “Push on the York Volunteers”, became part of Canadian folklore. The battle itself ended in a British victory, although Brock’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell, met the same fate as his commander, mortally wounded while launching an attack up the heights. Brock and MacDonell are now both buried on Queenston Heights. A public monument to Brock was also erected in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Incredible War of 1812, J. Mackay Hitsman. This is a revised edition of a classic work on the War of 1812, one of the more neglected corners of military history. The author writes from a Canadian perspective, but without distorting his material, and the American side of the war is well represented. This is a good clear account of what can be a somewhat confusing conflict. [see more]
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Books on the War of 1812 | Subject Index: War of 1812

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 January 2008), Major General Isaac Brock, 1769-1812 ,

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