Battle of Queenston Heights
1812 - 2012
by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Benn Fisher
The Battle of Queenston Heights was one of the most defining moments in the War of 1812. It was the first time blood was shed since the declaration of war (signed in June 1812), and another victory for the undefeated, most powerful people in the world: The British Empire. This battle was fought on October 13, 1812 and I was there to recreate it.
The Battle of Queenston Heights was fought between the American and British army on October 13, 2012, in what is now known as Queenston, Ontario. Queenston is in the Niagara Region not far from Niagara Falls. Major General Isaac Brock was the most powerful man in the British army in North America. He knew how to fight and when to fight. He captured 2 forts in the first 2 months of the war leading the British army 2 to nothing against the enemy. On October 13, 1812 he was stationed at Fort George planning his next attack. He had thousands of men trained and ready to kill. He had gotten word that the 41st regiment of foot was fighting a whole American line at Queenston heights. Brock made an immediate decision to march 12.5km to Queenston from the Fort. He gathered his all regiments including the militia (farmers who had decided to fight) and marched 12.5 km throughout the bush. The men had their 15-30 pound packs , 10-14 pound muskets, a few layers of thick wool and pure strength and then set out for the heights. Upon their arrival major general Isaac brock was shot in the heart during a skirmish (surprise battle) in the bush. The men scrambled to reform and lost all sense of control and retreated away from the Americans. The battle consisted of 4 skirmishes that in total lasted 12 hours. Later Major General Sheaffe arrived with re enforcements and took over command of the army. While this was happening native warriors were fighting trying to hold back the Americans as Sheaffe prepared the men to go back and fight. The natives lead by John Norton successfully held back the Americans to conclude the 3rd skirmish. Sheaffe lead the British into the field to start the last skirmish. Sheaffe then lead the British to another victory. The monument was put in place to commemorate a fallen hero: Major General Isaac Brock.
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012: Driving
The excitement of the event was overwhelming. I could not believe that I was about to be at the exact place where the first battle of the war of 1812 was fought and where the Major General had died. I would be marching the 12.5 km and then the 3 battles that the militia was in, for the first battle was solely fought by the 41st. I was really excited for the battle. My regiment (Royal Newfoundland Regiment A.K.A. RNR ) did not fight in this battle so we went as members of the militia. I was especially excited to die. For people who don’t know re-enactors love to fake die on the battle field. A lot of people ask “how do you know when to die” and I respond when you think someone should have died you drop to the ground screaming and groaning. Then you roll around a bit and then you lay there. It’s nice when someone “dies” near you so you can whisper to them and kind of have a conversation about how good and believable their death was. We arrived at our rental cottage at 7:00pm and then went to Queenston to check in on our arrangements for the following day, with our regiment’s commander Mr. Dave Brunelle. I found out that I will be assisting the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada (IMUC) at the monument (Queenston Heights). I had worked with IMUC before so I knew what I was doing. The following day was an education day for schools. After that my mom, sister and one of my mom’s co-workers then left Queenston heights (Brock’s monument) where Dave was camping and went for dinner on Clifton hill in down town Niagara Falls. While driving back from Clifton hill I saw fort George at sundown. The way the light hit it gave me a moment of “wow!”.
Friday, Oct. 12, 2012: Education days with IMUC
Friday was an interesting day. I learned more about the different types of uniforms, the regiments that fought in the battle and what I was doing the next day. While with IMUC I could not use my regular RNR red coat tunic. IMUC tunics had green on their arm cuffs, epaulets, and collar, (green facings) my RNR tunic had blue facings so I couldn’t use that. One of the IMUC sergeants (Mr. Paul Kelly) and I were talking about the presentation of the colours (flag presentation) the next day, after the march and battles. We had decided that Aiden (a younger officer in the regiment) and I would present the IMUC colours. The day ended shortly after that. Once the public all had left I left the encampment to go to a dinner pre planned by members of RNR at a cottage they rented (Note: most of the re-enactors camped, but some did not want to sleep in the freezing cold so they had rented cottages for the weekend). The men that were at the dinner were talking about the 12.5 km march the next day. After dinner my family left and went to the hotel for the remainder of the night.
Saturday, October 13, 2012: 200th Anniversary- Battle of Queenston Heights
On Saturday morning I awoke full of excitement. I was about to re-create and relive the same march and battle that Major General Isaac Brock did exactly 200 years before that. I had to be at the fort at 8:30 am to form up and do a safety inspection with the other 650 military re-enactors marching that day, 100 of which were militia men. I was dressed as a militia man. I wore a top hat, vest, wool coat, heavy cotton pants, gaiters (tall black spats) and black boots. I also had my cross belts on. These are belts that hold accoutrements for a soldiers kit (clothing and accessories). Regularly 4 belts these hold musket rounds (gun powder) water, a bayonet (a 3 sided knife-like thing that attaches to the end of a musket) and a bag to hold extra things. These are called a cartridge box, water canteen, bayonet belt, and haversack. Militia was not always issued bayonet belts or bayonets. That being said the militia that was with (RNR) did not carry their bayonets (Note: RNR was posing as the First Lincoln Militia. Also Note they were a British militia). When every regiment was on the field the first officer announced the regimental officers were entering Dave was our regimental second in command so he was with us from beginning through end but another regiment was falling in with us : the Glengarry Light Infantry also as the Lincoln militia. Their officer Dave McMeekin was our first in command. The officers of the whole line (all 650 men) marched on the field. They did a gun safety inspection and we then started the march. We were led by the red coat regiments and they were led by a fife and drum band. About .5 km into it we stopped at McFarland house. It was a historical spot along the way. Some of the other regiments were the Canadian Fencibles, the Mounted Dragoons, 49th regiment of foot, and the York Militia. While at McFarland house I saw my Mom’s cousins and they stopped to say hello to me. Shortly after that I formed up again with the militia and set off again. About an hour and a half later I gave my wool coat to a female re enactor who came to take her older husband to the finish of the march. I then could move faster and led my group. At about the 11.5 km mark we started to leave the bike path we were marching on and went through the bush to the exact spot where Brock died. There was stairs through the bush and before the second set of stairs there a little 1 foot by 1 foot stone that had a BO written on it. The BO stood for British Ordinates. That is when it hit me. It gave me chills. He died here exactly 200 years ago at this time in this spot. We finished walking the stairs and finished the march at Brock’s Monument. We were dismissed and sent for lunch. The battle started at 3:00 and we had to be ready at 2:30. The march started at 9:30 am and ended at 1:15 pm so we had a little over an hour to eat lunch. Sure enough at 2:30 I was ready to go off and fight for the king. While marching to the battle field we were informed that there will be 4 battle scenarios one of which was fought by the native re-enactors. We saw pyrotechnics set up to imitate the falling cannon balls. We did not partake in the first battle because the militia was not there. The first battle ended and we set out for our first battle of the day. We all decided that no one shall die in the first one, but when Brock is shot we will all scream in terror, take one last shot and scatter out of the area. So we started marching out on to the field (which was probably the size of 2 football fields we saw the first cannon fire a huge ball of smoke explode near the American soldiers. We then fired and marched with Brock out near the Americans. They shot and Brock had fallen to the ground sword in hand. We all yelled, shot once more and scattered out to the edge of the field where the other 8 or so regiments waited until they entered the field. Once everyone was back we planned who was going to be a “D.D” (Designated Dead). Thankfully I was not chosen to be dragged off the field when it was over. We entered the field again and shot about 3 times and left the field (like we were scared) a few dragged out the dead guys. We then decided (once we were all off) that I will die in the next battle along with 3 other guys. So we all went in for the last time. We went and lined up in front of the artillery. But before we did they fired 3 shots and a giant ball of smoke rose in the distance along with 2 small fireworks resembling rockets. Once we were lined up we fired twice, the Americans returned fire. We fired again and I said “if they fire I am dying right now”. Sure enough they fired in our direction and I went down groaning and yelling. Some of the guys yelled “good one, Benn!” However one re enactor known as “Rooster” yelled “YOU KILLED MY SON YOU BLOODY YANKEES!!!” He then fired a shot with the group and yelled “TAKE THAT!” Meanwhile I was on the ground still groaning and finally stopped moving “DEAD”. The Americans had returned fire and another guy died. My group fired back and 2 Americans died. I could see this because I was lying on my side. My group took a few steps forward so that they were standing in front of me. The Americans shot again and 2 guys fell from my group. So they move forward more. Out of corner of my eye I saw the American flag bearer “die” and 3 of the Glengarry guys ran up and took their flag. Then a militia officer ran up with his sword out and helped them back without getting shot. I hear cheering from the crowds of approximately 10,000- 15,000 people. Then I see officers coming towards me and the other guy with their canes out poking us to see if we are “alive” Colin (the guy dead beside me) says “Sir I’m alive help me” so the officers pick him up and bring him off the field. I stay there “dead”. Up ahead I see another wounded guy get up leaning on his musket, Stand up and leave the field. Before anything else happened everyone paused for a moment of silence while the fife and drum band plays a lament in honour of the fallen heroes. So then I hear “the dead shall rise” meaning that anyone who died should get up and join their units. I got up slowly got up and grabbed my top hat and went ahead about 50 meters to join my group. Not long after that did we all leave the battle field. On the march back to the encampment I saw my Mom. She was so amazed. This is a once in a life time opportunity and I am proud to say did it. We marched to the monument where the lieutenant governor of Ontario was waiting for our return. We stood in formation and listened to all the speeches. I remembered that this was when I had to present the flags so I went to find Paul and found out that he had cancelled our part because it had started to rain and we did not want to get the flags wet. Well I learned new training that I did not know before so the next time I have to do the flags I will know what to do! That concluded the day for me. We went to get dinner that was provided by the event staff. Finally we watched the fireworks and myself along with another man, Paul Commission, sung part of the American National anthem (and the rockets’ red glare, it was bursting with air” the fireworks were around the approximately 250 foot monument. Then we left for the cottage.
I Survived the Battle of Queenston Heights!!!
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the event. They made it epic. I would like to especially thank Dave Brunelle, Dave McMeekin, “Rooster”, Paul Kelly, Paul Commission, and everyone in the RNR, IMUC, and the Glengarry Light Infantry.
IN Memory of…
Major General Isaac Brock
and all who fought for the British and American army during the
War of 1812