|General William Hull|
However, quite oblivious to these facts, General William Hull, a veteran of the American Revolution, set out from Detroit, Michigan and invaded Upper Canada (Ontario). His force of about 2,000 men, while seemingly small, was greater than anything that would oppose him. Yet, his invasion got off to a very inauspicious start. Hull crossed into Canada on July 12 and only five days later, British troops from St Joseph Island in Lake Huron surprised and captured the American post on Mackinac Island, part of the Michigan territory. Ideas of a welcome for US troops could not have been more incorrect. The Canadians and the native Indians were fiercely determined to resist the invasion and after battles at Brownstown and Monguagon Hull retreated back to Detroit to protect his vulnerable supply lines. Little did he know that what was probably the most humiliating defeat for the United States in the War of 1812 was well under way.
|General Isaac Brock|
This was a humiliating blow to the United States. Even though the odds had been overwhelmingly in their favor, not only had the first prong of the invasion of Canada failed, but they had been beaten by a smaller army through sheer bluff and had lost control of virtually all of Michigan to the British forces. General Hull was ridiculed as an incompetent coward and was court-martialed and sentenced to death. In light of his service in the Revolution however, this sentence was commuted and he was dismissed from the army and replaced by General William Henry Harrison. The entire western frontier of the US was thrown into chaos by this victory and in early September Indian forces allied with Britain attacked Pigeon Roost Creek, Fort Harrison, Fort Madison and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
|Battle of Queenston Heights|
Once again, both commanders were also total opposites. General Van Rensselaer was a political soldier looking toward a career in government while Brock was a professional officer who believed that the best defense is a good offense. He meant to attack the Americans before they could attack him and gain upper New York with the same audacity with which he had won control of Michigan. However, his superior in Quebec, General Sir George Prevost, ordered him not to be so aggressive as he was even then trying to negotiate an armistice with the US forces. The battle opened at three o'clock in the morning as Van Rensselaer attacked across the Niagara River toward Queenston Heights. At the start of the engagement there were only 300 troops of the Crown Forces to oppose 6,000 Americans. Fortunately for the British and Canadians, the American attack was not well planned and troops could only be ferried across the river a few at a time and it was impossible to transport any artillery.
|Colonel John E. Wool|
The third prong of the invasion was a pitiful anticlimax. The third US army under General Henry Dearborn was supposed to lead the attack up Lake Champlain, but the attack never materialized. With Hull and Van Rensselaer soundly defeated Dearborn was cowed and the army was demoralized and again, once they reached the Canadian border the bulk of US soldiers simply refused to cross. They marched sullenly back to Plattsburgh, New York where they had started, bringing to a close the opening act of the War of 1812. The situation could not have seemed worse. Full of so much boasting and dreams of easy conquest, the American invasion of Canada had ended in ignominious failure. The entire campaign was shamefully conducted on the American side, a long list of incompetent generals, armies beaten by an enemy they had vastly outnumbered, soldiers who refused to fight and to make matters worse aside from failing to gain southern Canada the US had lost control of Michigan. On the British side, things were different. The Canadians in particular were justly proud of themselves for defeating a much stronger enemy, the country was safe for the time being and the British generals could plan counter-attacks. The only sad note was the loss of the gallant general, Sir Isaac Brock, who had truly earned his title of the "Savior of Upper Canada".
Continued next week with Part III, 1813-The Second Year