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 Previous Brook Continued..

 Brock assembled a modest force of the light company of the 49th Foot and Lincoln militia, leading them in a suicidal charge up the slopes to retake the height. Shortly after the attack commenced, Brock was shot in the wrist; within moments of this first wound he was targeted by an American rifleman and shot through the heart. Later accounts depict Brock encouraging his men to push on with his last breaths, although it has generally been accepted that he would have been too incapacitated and near death to do so. Shortly after, a second assault was  attempted by Lieutenant Colonel John Macdonell (who was then mortally wounded),  which fell short; the heights remained in American hands until General Roger Hale Sheaffe  arrived and retook the position after a meticulous and well thought out manoeuvre which took the under supplied occupying Americans from the rear, effectively forcing them to surrender.

            It is difficult to justify the death of a popular and talented senior officer when considering the result of the attack. Had the counter attack successfully re-taken Queenston Heights then reconciling this major loss would be significantly easier. Simply stated, Sir Isaac Brock made a rash, foolhardy and genuinely suicidal assault with a minor assembly of British and colonial troops against an enemy of undetermined strength who were defending from a position of overwhelming advantage. Furthermore, leading from the front and wearing the uniform of a high ranking British officer, Brock was an obvious target for the numerous American sharpshooters trained to mark senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Not only did this reckless assault result in numerous casualties, but also denied the British a leader who had used his exceptional tactical acumen to win glorious victories against the Americans, such as the infamous assault of Detroit earlier in 1812. His offensive capabilities as a leader would be sorely missed.

            That being said, there is a genuine bravery to recognise when such a suicidal act is undertaken, and the intrinsic value of his death should not be overlooked. When considering Brock’s earlier tactical choices and his disposition which favored audacious offensive action, his choice to attack an unknown number of hostiles in a frontal assault is not out of character. He recognised that once the Americans were able to lock down the heights then surely the battle would end in British catastrophe. While this does not suggest that the attack was the best course of action, it was most likely the easiest decision to make. Overall, however greatest value derived from the general’s death was the iconic and heroic figure which resulted from his suicidal charge. By setting this selfless example Brock inspired fellow soldiers to avenge him, and imprinted in Canadian memory the fact that even the highest members of the military family were willing to put themselves in danger to defend Canada from annexation. The value of the hero cannot and should not be underestimated.

            As the heroes of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad were idealized to motivate and inspire warriors and citizens of later Hellenic generations, the deeds and heroic acts of Brock serve to illustrate the loss and gravity of the War of 1812. The value of heroes in defining a people, community or culture is paramount. Collective memory serves to unite scattered groups and create new entities. The deaths of leaders such as Sir Isaac Brock which took place decades before Confederation undoubtedly had a lasting impact on the people of Canada and acted as a catalyst for the eventual push for semi-independence from England.

            Today Brock’s Monument stands tall at Queenston Heights, reminding us that two hundred years ago a daring and courageous general led a hopeless charge up that steep summit. This charge, although rash and costly, brings to mind today that as a nation we as Canadians have a heavy torch to carry. On the eve of Canada Day we must remember to appreciate heroes like Sir Isaac Brock.


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