Saturday, August 10, 2013

The War of 1812 . . . Year Two, Part 4 . . . Toronto, Hamilton, etc.

Once again we are skipping a day, and we will come back to it after we have finished with the War of 1812 tour.  That later entry will include our visit to Casa Loma and ROM (Royal Ontario Museum).

Fort York, Toronto . . . we had read somewhere that this is Canada's largest collection of War of 1812 structures.  During the construction of a nearby expressway, the fort was almost lost.  I find it amazing this place has survived amidst the sprawl of the fourth largest city of North America

Rising like a phoenix, modern Toronto surrounds old Fort York.  I say like a phoenix, because US troops burned and looted York . . . which was, at the time, the capitol of Upper Canada.  It was this action that helped to escalate a more destructive type of war.  And it was the Burning of York that British and Canadians cite as the impetus for the retaliatory destruction of Buffalo and Washington, DC.  

Some 1700 US troops under the command of Chauncey, Pike and Dearborn took the fort with little resistance, but at a high cost.  When the fort's magazine exploded, several dozen soldiers were killed, including Pike, and many more wounded.

Apart from pissing off the British and the escalation of a more destructive war, the loss of valuable naval stores at York did have a negative effect for British designs on Lake Erie.  As to the looting, I stumbled on this interesting tidbit, according to the webpage for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, a mace (originally used used to represent the authority of the Crown, but in Canada symbolizing the speaker officiating over the House) "was captured by the Americans during the War of 1812, not to return home until 1934, under special good-will orders of President F.D. Roosevelt and the United States Congress."

Dudeboy posing with an interpreter representing a Canadian Sharpshooter of the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles.

"Monument to the War of 1812" by artist Douglas Coupland . . . apparently the statue is somewhat controversial.  I suppose the reasoning has to do with the US toy soldier being tipped over (dead).  I guess some Canadians don't want to associate themselves with the more American stance of aggression.  Of course, they would have to go a long way to emulate us.

We then hightailed it out of Toronto, for we still had much to cover this day in nearby Hamilton and elsewhere.  As you might have noticed, we love restful and relaxing vacations!

The Battle of Stoney Creek near Hamilton, Ontario.  Above, the impressive 100 foot tall Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument (you can only access the lower level, but even the views from that are exceptional).       

I must relate a couple of remarks about this monument.  In choosing land for a monument to commemorate the battle, men from the Wentworth Historical Society opted for the cheaper parcel of land at Smith's Knoll (see below).

However, not satisfied with this endeavor, the Women's Wentworth Historical Society (and most notably Sara Calder) raised funds to build this most impressive monument. June 6, 1913, on the centennial of the battle, Queen Mary pushed a button in London connected to a wire, by way of the transatlantic cable, burned a fuse which parted the folds of the drapery over the monument!  I think the good ladies of Women's Wentworth Historical Society have bragging rights on this one.

Much of the short, chaotic night battle (flints were removed from the British muskets to prevent premature firing, but their bayonets were fixed) took place in this area in front of the Gage House.  A substantial part of this house dates to 1798.  It was used as the headquarters by US forces during the battle.

And, of course, it was the Women's Wentworth Historical Society who restored the Gage House and opened it as a museum.

 Winder and Chandler, two American generals, were captured in the vicinity of the house.

Stone Lion Monument on Smith's Knoll which marked the burial place for soldiers who died at the battle.  It was also the location of American cannon during the battle.  The British captured two guns and spiked two others.

I should add, this is another in a long line of embarrassments for the US forces during the War of 1812. It was a night attack upon an unsuspecting larger force (the numbers engaged were about 700 for the British, compared to over 1300 for the US, and the US had more troops available) that had far-reaching ramifications.  With the capture of the two generals, US forces were in a disarray and forced back to the Niagara region, halting anymore advancements into the Niagara Peninsula.  As our tour guide noted, "I would be an American now if not for this battle."

Battle at Forty Mile Creek, near the town of Grimsby. The plaque reads, "Here at the Forty Mile Creek, on 8th June, 1813, American forces, retreating after the battle of Stoney Creek, were bombarded by a British flotilla under Sir James Lucas Yeo. Indians and groups of the 4th and 5th Regiments Lincoln Militia joined in the attack and created such confusion in the enemy ranks that they abandoned this position and retreated to Fort George."

The Decew House . . . the remains of the headquarters for James Fitzgibbon prior to the Battle of Beaver Dams.  It was here that Laura Secord made her way from Queenston to warn the British of the impending American attack.  And, of course, the rest is history. Fitzgibbon is an interesting figure, for he was one of the few examples of a person raising through the ranks without the aid of social standing. Apparently, Brock took a shine to him and helped with the officer's commissions.  His guerrilla style tactics coupled with victories over the US forces have gained him a following in Canada.
The monument for the Battle of Beaver Dams . . . which is not located at the actual battle-site! Years ago, when the town of Thorold was building a municipal park, they decided we need to cash in on the huge tourist possibilities of the Battle of Beaver Dams.  So, they had the monument, which had been built in 1923 on the actual site of the battle, moved to the Battle of Beaver Dams Park in 1976. It is interesting to note that years ago there was a push to make the Battle of Beaver Dams a national park. Had it gone through when it was purposed, it would have been the first national battlefield park in Canada or the United States.  So, all the more pathetic that this monument was moved.  
Thankfully, a new monument has been placed at the original location in time for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.  Just think of what this place would be like if it had become a national battlefield park. It is odd to me how some things so important in the past are now largely forgotten.

The text from the new plaque: 
On the morning of June 24. 1813, an invading American force of some 685 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Boerstler, marched along Mountain Road (parts of which are no longer visible today) that ran through this intersection. They intended to capture the British outpost commanded by Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon, located two miles to the west at the Decew House.  As the Americans approached the nearby beechwoods, they were ambushed by about 400 native warriors and soundly defeated in a battle that raged for nearly three hours.
Virtually all the fighting on the British side was led by native warriors, while Fitzgibbon and his superior, Major Peter De Haren, arrived only in time to accept the surrender and claim the victory.  The terms of the surrender were signed at the Miller House, located south of this site near Beaverdams Creek. Laura Secord's timely information of an impending American attack, delivered to Fitzgibbon two days earlier, contributed to the victory.
With the addendum . . . "Native warriors suffered casualties in the Battle of Beaverdams, and they assured British victories in other battles of the War of 1812-1814.  They are here recognized with lasting gratitude."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mohawk leader John Norton said of Beaver Dams "The Cognawaga Indians fought the battle, the Mohawks got . . . the plunder, and Fitzgibbon got the credit." The quote I mentioned whilst talking to you is this:Congressman Charles J. Ingersoll deescribed the 1812 campaign in the Lake Champlain region as a "miscarriage, without even [the] heroism of a disaster." William