Brave General Brock [Laws A22]
DESCRIPTION: Brock leads his men on a forced march against the Americans. The surprised U.S. commander surrenders soon after the fighting begins.
EARLIEST DATE: 1959
KEYWORDS: war Canada
1812 - The Michigan campaign of Hull and Brock
FOUND IN: Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Laws A22, "Brave General Brock"
Doerflinger pp. 272-274, "Come All You Bold Canadians" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke/Mills/Blume, pp. 62-65, "Come All You Bold Canadians" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT 697, GENBROCK
cf. "The Battle of Queenston Heights" (for the death of Isaac Brock)
NOTES [1127 words]: One of the major American aims in the War of 1812 was to conquer Canada. The primary responsibility for the defense of Canada fell on the shoulders of Brigadier General Isaac Brock, Governor of Upper Canada, who faced several threats.
According to Mahon, pp. 17-18, Brock had had a rather spectacular career, joining the army when very young and commanding a regiment by the time he was 28. He had combat experience in Europe, and had also spent years in Canada, so he was close to the ideal commander in Upper Canada (what we now call Ontario).
The overall British commander in North America, Sir George Prevost, thought him a little too impetuous, but there were only three active-duty infantry general officers in Canada (Prevost, Brock, and Major General Francis Rottenberg; Mahon, p. 34), so Prevost had little choice but to employ Brock. Very short of soldiers, and wanting to enforce the strategic defensive, Prevost limited Brock to 1600 regular troops to keep him from getting too lively (Mahon, p. 19). It was to prove a fateful decision for Brock, who would perform brilliantly but eventually die at Queenstown in part because of lack of troops.
There were supposed to be three American attack on Canada: One in the Detroit area (or, at least, in the region between Lakes Huron and Erie), one in the Niagara region between Lakes Erie and Ontario, and one up from Lake Champlain. The goal was to coordinate these attacks. The goal failed (which would allow Brock to personally deal with two of them).
The first attack came from the west (Mahon, pp. 38-39). The governor of Michican Territory was William Hull (1753-1825), a veteran of the Revolutionary War -- but he was by training a lawyer, and the highest rank he had held in the Revolution was lieutenant colonel (Mahon, p. 43). He was still relatively young at 58, but looked older; he had lost much of his energy (Berton, p. 92, calls him "a flabby old soldier, tired of war, hesitant of command, suspicious of the militia who he knows are untrained and suspects are untrustworthy. He has asked for three thousand men; Washington finally allows him two thousand. He does not really want to be a general, but he is determined to save his people from the Indians.... There is a soft streak in Hull, no asset in a frontier command. As a young man he studied for the ministry, only to give it up for the law, but something of the divinity student remains").
Similarly Catton, p. 62, "Hull was a stout old smooth-bore, with a good record in the Revolutionary War, but he was in decay now and the fire was gone out of him."
Gathering a motley and ill-equipped force of militia, with only a few regulars (and their commander outranked by the untrained militia officers; Mahon, p. 44), Hull crossed from Michigan into Ontario on July 12 (Hickey, p. 81; Mahon, p. 45), only to find that the local inhabitants didn't care and didn't want to be liberated (Borneman, p. 62). Especially by a blowhard giving speeches about how they lived under tyranny and demanding that they *like* being invaded and then saying that the Indians -- allies of the British -- would scalp them if they didn't become Americans (McNaught, p. 72, who prints part of the speech. It makes it quite clear that Hull had absolutely no idea what was going on).
Meanwhile, Brock was maneuvering behind Hull's rear, taking Fort Mackinac in northern Michigan. According to Caton, p. 63, "The American garrison consisted of fifty-odd men under Lieutenant Porter Hanks, and since it took a long time for news to reach the Straits from the Atlantic seaboard, these people, on July 17, did bot yet know there was a war on; signs of impending trouble had been visible, but no one in the American government had thought to do what British General Brock did, who got speedy woods runners to gake the news to the British post on St. Joseph Island, at the mouth of the St. Mary's River." The local officer quickly assembled a force, occupied ground above Fort Mackinac, and forced the fort to surrender. This also had the effect of putting the local Indians firmly on the British side (McNaught, p. 72).
Facing what seemed to be a threat to his rear (although the British force was too weak to go much farther), Hull fell back on Detroit (Borneman, p .67; Mahon, p. 48).
Brock brought up a few British forces to Detroit, made them look like more, and threatened to turn the Indians loose on Hull (Hickey, pp. 82-83). The American commander seemed utterly unable to comprehend what was going on as Brock maneuvered forces all around him (Mahon, p. 50). Although he could in fact have defeated Brock in detail, and very possibly could have prevailed in an open battle because of superior numbers, Hull -- to the shock of his subordinates (Catton, p. 62) -- surrendered Detroit on August 16, 1812 (Borneman, pp. 68-69).
Brock reportedly had 2500 prisoners; he listed his own forces as 750 whites and 600 Indians (Mahon, p. 50). Hull eventually would be court-martialed for cowardice (McNaught, p. 73) and sentenced to death, though his life would be spared (Borneman, p. 69; Hickey, p. 84; Mahon, p. 51). The only good thing that came out of the debacle, for the American side, was that it forced them to start working on a fleet on Lake Erie, because they would need control of the lake to securely retake Detroit.
For the later career of Brock, see "The Battle of Queenston Heights."
Incidentally, as well as a good soldier, Brock seems to have had more liberal feelings than most people of his time. In an era when most people sneered at the Native Americans, Brock wrote of the "wrongs they continually suffer" (Berton, p. 66). Of course, he was trying to enlist them as allies in any possible war with the United States, so maybe he had an ulterior motive.
Berton, pp. 81-82, says that Brock was utterly frustrated in Canada, and repeatedly requested transfer -- but, when finally granted the right to take a post in Britain, the War of 1812 was at hand, and he decided to stay at his post out of a sense of duty.
Berton, pp. 82-83, describes him as follows: "He is a remarkably handsome man with a fair complexion, a broad forehead, clear eyes of grey blue (one with a slight cast), and sparkling white teeth. His portraits tend to make him look a little feminine -- the almond eyes, the sensitive nostrils, the girlish lips -- but his bearing belies it; he is a massive figure, big-boned and powerful, almost six feet three in height. He has now, at forty-two, a slight tendency to portliness... but he is, in his own words, 'hard as nails.'
"He is popular with almost everybody, especially the soldiers who serve him -- a courteous, affable officer who makes friends easily and can charm with a smile. But there is also an aloofness about him. -RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Berton: Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada [Volume I], 1812-1813, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1980
- Borneman; Walter R. Borneman, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, Harper Collins, 2006
- Catton: Bruce Catton, Michigan, A History, 1972, 1976 (I use the 1984 Norton edition)
- Hickey: Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, University of Illinois Press, 1989, 1995
- Mahon: John K. Mahon, The War of 1812, Da Capo, 1972
- McNaught: Kenneth McNaught, The Pelican History of Canada, Pelican, 1969, 1982
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