Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of the York Rangers
Chapter IV

Push on the York Volunteers

THIS is not the attempt to re-tell the battle of Queenston Heights, which has often been written with enthusiasm, yea and even with eloquence and occasionally with accuracy. It is merely to tell why as his last order Brock saw fit to push on the York Volunteers.

Well on the morning of October 13th, 1812, a miniature British army was defending a frontier of some thirty-six miles from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake, its commander, General Isaac Brock, being obliged by his instructions from Sir George Prevost to adopt purely defensive measures. In a letter of September 18th, Brock had written his brother Savory: “You will hear of some decided action in the course of a fortnight or in all probability we shall return to a state of tranquility. I say decisive because if 1 should be beaten the province is inevitably gone; and should I be victorious, I do not imagine the gentry from the other side will care to return to the charge.”

He lay in some, force at Fort George, which he had equipped to silence the American Fort Niagara, expecting that the movement of invasion would be around his left flank, while Fort Niagara would effect a diversion with its guns.

The seven miles of river from Fort George to Queenston he had picketed with what history has dignified as batteries. Thus at the Heights about half-way down the hill was the Redan Battery (armed with an eighteen pounder) with Capt. Williams' flank company of the Green Tigers (the 49th Regiment). In the village of Queenston was the other flank company under Major Dennis, along with Chisholm and Hatt's Militia Companies and a brass six pounder and two three pounders handled by a small detachment of artillery. Of the Yorks, Howard's Company, under Lieut. Robinson and Cameron’s Company were stationed at Brown’s Point two miles below Queenston. At night Robinson acted as an extra guard to the Battery at Vroonian’s Point nearer Queenston and returned in the morning to the command of his senior, Capt. Cameron, at Brown’s Point.

General Van Rensselaer did not attack Fort George, probably for the reason that he felt he w«m expected there. But, merely demonstrating in that quarter, he secretly concentrated at Fort Gray opposite Queenston and proceeded to drive a wedge through the centre of the thinly held line of British. Ilis boats were received on the Canadian shore with a vigour that surprised them; some being sunk and those who landed getting it hot and dry from musket and bayonet; the survivors being sent under escort to Fort George. The guns in Fort Gray and the Redan on Queenston kept up a furious cannonade that sent the news down the River to Cameron and Brock.

Capt. Cameron was not a professional soldier and was not instructed for this emergency. But with a correct instinct he decided to march to the sound of the guns and put his two companies of York Volunteers upon the road towards Queenston. On their way a single horseman overtook and passed them at a gallop, waving his hand to them and urging them as Robinson writes: “to follow with expedition.” This was Isaac Brock on his way to his last battle. Soon after, that darling of Canadian soldiery, Col. Macdonell galloped by, also to meet his fate; and with him rode Capt. Glegg, Brock’s other aide-de-camp.

It is a matter of history, fittingly commemorated by the tall monument that towers above the heights he strove to regain,1 that Brock met his end as he had won his victories by attempting the desperate to ward off the seemingly inevitable. Nor was the attempt in vain; for the fury of the contest and the boat loads of wounded returning to the American shore had that moral effect on the adversary, Which decided the victory of the afternoon.

Twice Brock strove to gain the heights with every soldier he could spare from Queenston and twice he failed. But the words, “Push on the York Volunteers,” whether spoken by him just before or after he was struck were not heroics nor melodrama but a plain military order to throw into the issue his one available reserve, namely, the two companies under Capt. Cameron which following the trail of their general were panting up the road to Queenston.

Col. Macdonell rode to his death on the left flank of the York Volunteers and when he fell mortally wounded Capt. Cameron carried him off amid a shower of musketry. The shattered remains of these much tried pickets were rallied about a mile below the heights and marching through the fields back of Queenston joined themselves to the centre of Sheaffe’s advancing column. Nor did the gruelling punishment of the morning prevent their earning their place in that famous dispatch of General Sheaffe, in which he says:

“Lieut-Cols. Butler and Clark of the militia; and Capts. Hatt, Durand, Howe, Applegarth, James Crooks, Cooper, Robert Hamilton, McEwen, Duncan Cameron, and Lieuts. Richardsons and Thomas Butler, commanding flank companies of the Lincoln and York militia led their men into action with great spirit.''

The great spirit with which that day they led on their men and General Sheaffe led his, was that of Isaac Brock. e shall see that this spirit evaporated from some of the generals if not from their juniors, and that soldiers who under Brock’s influence were intrepid, like Sheaffe and Proctor, became soon afterwards vacillating, disheartened and timorous.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.