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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Exploring History: Battle of Queenston Heights, Oct. 13, 1812
An 1880 engraving depicting the Battle of Queenston Heights October 1812. SUPPLIED

This engraving by T. Sutherland, circa 1880, shows American troops (blue uniforms) crossing the Niagara River at Queenston to fight the British (red uniforms) in October 1812.

The Battle of Queenston Heights was the first major engagement in Niagara. American Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer assembled an army at Lewiston and Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock knew an invasion was imminent.  In the predawn hours of Oct. 13, the U.S. launched an attack at Queenston with about 613 American regulars and 740 New York militia. The Americans climbed the heights and captured the Redan Battery, situated partway up the escarpment. When Brock arrived, he tried to retake the Redan but an American soldier shot and killed him. While leading a second charge, Brock’s aide-de-camp, Lt.-Col. John Macdonell was also shot: he died afterward, on Oct. 14.

As dawn broke, the U.S. had taken control of the heights and British and Canadian troops had retreated just north of Queenston. Now in command, Maj.-Gen. Roger Hale Sheaffe arrived from Fort George with reinforcements, including 100 First Nations warriors led by John Norton and John Brant.

Norton’s warriors applied guerrilla warfare tactics and attacked the U.S. forces from behind. The Americans, with little room to retreat, were forced down the steep heights. Making matters worse, the New York militia declared their constitutional right to fight only in the U.S. and refused to cross the river. More British forces were coming and the fierce cries of the native warriors struck them with fear.

Finally, the Americans surrendered. At least 230 Americans had been either killed or wounded and 925 men had been taken prisoner. The British, Canadian and First Nations allies suffered fewer than 100 casualties, 19 of whom were killed in action, including their leader, Isaac Brock.

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