Horton Journal of Canadian History [H.J.C.H.]
The War of 1812:
An Alliance Between Brock and Tecumseh
The War of 1812 was a defining event for Canada as a future country. "The fate of Upper Canada was decided at the battles at Detroit and Queenston Brock's victories put heart into a people previously convinced that defeat was inevitable, and the chance of an easy American victory slipped away...and led the cautious Upper Canadians to abandon neutrality and commit themselves to the defence of the province. Although the later years of the war tested them severely, most remained loyal to that commitment." (Bowler, page 18) This war helped to create Canada as a nation, and Canadians as a people. General Isaac Brock and Indian Chief Tecumseh were two leaders in the War who helped to make it all happen.
Brock, born in Guernsey on October 6, 1769, was a British soldier from a long family line of military men. For ten years prior to the war he had been part of the Canadian-British army and "in 1811 he became the acting lieutenant-governor and commander of the forces in Upper Canada." (Wood, page 52) On August 5, 1812, he would be released from his duties in parliament to take charge of Canada's forces in the war against the United States. (Wood, page 51-63; "War of 1812")
Tecumseh was a Shawnee Indian born in Ohio in 1768. His father was Chief and his brother died a hero. Tecumseh's lifelong dream was to regain the lands the Americans had stolen, to return to a time when there were no Long Knives (Americans), a time he had only heard about from his elders. When he reached manhood he began a quest to unite the vast amount of Indian tribes, knowing that this was the only way he could ever hope to defeat the Americans. "Tecumseh was the last great leader of the Indian race and perhaps the finest embodiment of all its better qualities he tried to unite the Indians against exterminating American advance." (Wood, page 65) This would be the cause for the future alliance between Brock and Tecumseh.
Soon after Brock was given command of the army he arrived in Amherstburg where he held a meeting with the principal officers and Indian chiefs involved with the War. There he met Tecumseh for the first time. They were in awe of each other instantly. Both could recognize the greatness that stood before them. Brock knew the importance of having the help of Tecumseh and his Indians against the Americans. In exchange for their help, he promised Tecumseh that he would do anything in his power to grant the Indians their own independent nation. Then everyone got down to the main order of business, which was to inform Brock of the current events and to discuss whether or not an attack on Detroit, where part of the American army was located, should take place. General Hull, who was in command in Detroit, had previously sent a message:
"Inhabitants of Canadas! The army under my command has invaded your country To the peaceable, unoffending inhabitants, it brings neither danger nor difficulty I come to protect, not injure you In the name of my country, and by the authority of my government, I promise protection to your persons, property, and rights. Remain at your homes raise not your hands against your brethren The United States offer you peace, liberty, and security. Your choice lies between these and war, slavery and destruction." (Turner, page 44)
Even without the help of Hull's proclamation Brock was already having difficulty. His army was made up largely of the militia, consisting mainly of farmers. These men wanted to be home, working their farms. They could not easily afford to be away in order to fight in a war they were not even concerned about. Brock would change this apparent indifference. Both Brock and Tecumseh were in agreement that a victory in Detroit was possible, and so Brock spoke to his men:
"By unanimity and despatch in our councils and by vigour in our operations we may teach the enemy this lesson: That a country defended by free men, enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their King, and Constitution, can never be conquered." (Wood, page 54)(Herstein, page 131)
Brock wrote to Hull. He quite politely informed the American General what he could do with his suggestion of immediate surrender and that he, Brock, and all his men were quite willing to fight for what was theirs. Also, knowing of the Americans fear of Indians, he slipped in that they would be fighting alongside them, and that Brock himself might be incapable of controlling their actions towards the Americans. Hull became frightened. Pierre Berton describes what he could have been thinking. "A procession of ghastly possibilities crowds his mind the ultimate horror-the Indians released by Brock and Tecumseh, bent on revenge He sees his daughter scalped, his grandchild mutilated, his friends and neighbours butchered." (Berton, page 178)
On August 16 the time came for the attack on the Americans to occur. An American scout spotted Brock riding towards the Fort, leading his army. Tecumseh described it best when he spoke to Brock. "We observed you from a distance standing the whole time in an erect position, and when the boats reached the shore, you were the first man on the land; your bold and sudden movements frightened the enemy, and so compelled them to surrender to half their number.""(Herstein, page 132) The Canadians cheered. They had just beaten an army twice their size without firing a shot. Hull would later be charged with cowardice in the United States and sentenced to be hung. (Bowler, page 53)
When the Fort was being turned over to Britain, Tecumseh and Brock stood side by side as the flags were changed. "Then Brock, in view of all his soldiers, presented his sash and pistols to Tecumseh. Tecumseh, in turn, gave his many-coloured Indian sash to Brock, who wore it till the day he died." (Wood, page 73) The American surrender at Detroit would be cause for Canadian nationality to rise, and for Isaac Brock to become a Canadian hero.
The next battle in which Tecumseh would witness Brock's courage would be at Queenston Heights in mid-October. The Heights lay on the left of the Niagara River whereas the Americans where encamped on the right side. The Americans needed to capture the Heights, because by having control of the Heights as well as the Niagara they would split Upper Canada in half, however it would not be easy to conquer. The Americans had to climb 345 feet above their landing site just to get to the British army. The odds, though, were still in favour of the Americans. According to one historian their army consisted of 4000 men as opposed to the British army of 1000. When describing the shortcomings of the British army, Hitsman comes up with another number. "General Brock's force was not more than 1200 men upon the Niagara River, one-half of whom were militia. The Americans had 6300." (Hitsman, page 80) Either way the British were severely outnumbered. (Wood, page 79-82)
The Battle at Queenston Heights would be another time when the help of the Indians was extremely beneficial in winning. Before they had been responsible for preventing American advancement by stealing supplies or by death. This time they struck a paralysing fear in the Enemy. A soldier on the American side was quoted to have said: "The name Indian, or the sight of the wounded, or the Devil, or something else, petrified them. Not a regiment, not a company, scarcely a man, would go." (Wood, page 92) Once the American soldiers had fled to their side of the Niagara River, they refused to return to the battlesite.
The British won that war, with the Americans losing 100 to death, 200 to wounds, and 1000 as prisoners of war. Altogether the British lost only 150 men, however one death was more tragic than any other. Brock was killed early in that battle. A historian, William Wood, describes why his death was such a lost. " genius is a thing apart from mere addition and subtraction. It is the incarnate spirit of great leaders, whose influence raises to its utmost height the worth of every follower." (Wood, page 95) Very few had the leadership ability or charisma that Brock possessed to command an army. His ability to successfully rally troops was sorely missed throughout the rest of the War.
Tecumseh, although deeply upset by the loss of such a great warrior, had other reasons to consider Brock's death a tragedy. He and his people were being denied the only British Officer they trusted as well as their representative to the British Crown for an independent province. They had lost their ray of hope. The Indians would continue to fight for the British, and Tecumseh would die in battle against the Americans shortly after. "Tecumseh was no more; but his memory was cherished by the race for whose freedom he had so valiantly fought. In the light of the camp-fire his courageous deeds were long extolled by warriors and handed down by the sachems of his people." (Raymond, page 151)
Although the union between Brock and Tecumseh did not last long due to premature death, it lasted long enough to be beneficial in the winning of the War of 1812. If it had not been for the Indians involvement at the beginning of the War the battles of Detroit and Queenston Heights may have been lost, and the expected easy victory of the Americans would have occurred. Together they joined two nations against one purpose and achieve what was thought to be the impossible.
Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada. Don Mills: Pierre Berton Enterprises Ltd., 1980
Bowler, Arthur. The War of 1812. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Ltd.,
Herstein, H.H., et. al. Challenge & Survival: The History of Canada. Scarborough:
Prentice Hall of Canada Ltd., 1970.
Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
"War of 1812". http://www.galafilm.com/1812/e/intro/index.html
Raymond, Ethel T. Tecumseh. Toronto: Press of the Hunter-Rose Co., Ltd., 1920
Turner, Wesley. The War of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won. Toronto: Dundurn
Wood, William. The War With The United States. Toronto: Press of the Hunter-Rose .,
Co. Ltd., 1920.
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