Saturday, October 13, 2012

Today in History: Battle of Queenston Heights Bicentennial

Post by Brian Dunnigan, Associate Director and Curator of Maps

October 13 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights. This significant action of the War of 1812, fought some six miles downstream from Niagara Falls, was precipitated by an invasion of Upper Canada (Ontario) U.S. regulars and New York militia under the overall command of Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer. Queenston was the first major land battle of the War of 1812 and the second invasion to be turned back by the British regulars, militia, and Native American warriors defending Canada.

A watercolor view of Queenston and the heights (right), believed to have been painted about 1807 by George Heriot (1766-1844). Lewiston, N.Y. is across the river at left. Graphics Division.
The village of Queenston stood at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment (locally called Queenston Heights) across the Niagara River from Lewiston, N.Y. A natural landing place occurred at both places. Sailing vessels and boats from Lake Ontario were unloaded at Queenston, and their cargoes were carted over a portage road to Lake Erie thus bypassing the obstacle of Niagara Falls. Queenston was also a heavily used border crossing between New York state and Upper Canada.

Early in the morning of October 13 the first wave of U.S. troops began to cross the river from Lewiston intent on taking the British position in the village of Queenston. This effort was unsuccessful, but some of the Americans were able to scale the heights and capture a British battery. A counterattack led personally by General Isaac Brock, British commander and lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, resulted only in Brock’ s death. The Americans on the heights were isolated, however, and confusion, a shortage of boats, and the unwillingness of some militia units to cross the river to reinforce them effectively doomed those who had captured a foothold above Queenston.

Queenston and Lewiston as shown in a detail from John H. Eddy, Map of the Straights of Niagara . . . (New York, 1813). Map Division, maps 4-N-29.
The British, now led by General Roger Sheaffe and reinforced by regular troops and Indian allies, counterattacked again and drove the Americans back to the edge of the river, where they found no boats to carry them to Lewiston. Colonel Winfield Scott, their commander, was forced to surrender. Nine hundred U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner and another 60 had been killed. British losses amounted to 105 killed and wounded. The invasion had been repulsed, but the loss of General Brock, victor of Detroit, was a blow to British morale.

The fighting at Queenston, as with most events of the War of 1812, is well documented in print, manuscripts, and imagery in the Clements collection.

1 comment:

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

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