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Niagara Frontier 1812

Hieroglyphics of John Bull's overthrow, or : A view of the Northern expedition in miniature.
Hieroglyphics of John Bull's overthrow, or : A view of the Northern expedition in miniature. (1812)

Battle of Queenston Heights

On October 13, 1812 United States forces invaded Canada, planning to take possession of Queenston Heights, the bluffs above the Niagara River, south of Lake Ontario. The action was something of a diversion designed to draw attention away from a planned invasion of the upper St. Lawrence River, but it became the first major battle of the War of 1812.

Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott led a force of regulars and militia across the Niagara River into Upper Canada and fought and secured the high bluffs. There they waited for militia reinforcements that never came. Accounts differ, but the militia either refused to serve on foreign soil, or were overcome with fear of facing their first real battle. In either case, British forces regrouped and Scott’s troops broke and ran. The British took Winfield and hundreds of others as prisoners, and humiliated the American army. Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer, head of the army in the Niagara frontier, resigned his leadership post days later.

This first major land battle of the War of 1812, also produced its first British hero. General Isaac Brock who just months ago had captured Detroit was killed in the Battle of Queenston. He cut an heroic figure even before his death, but his defense of Upper Canada was almost instantly memorialized and romanticized by citizens of British North America.