War of 1812Events and Locationsfrench

The Battle of Queenston Heights

With my present force it would be rash to attempt an offensive operation.
American Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer

A QuickTime panorama of the Battle

Further Reading

British Background to the Battle of Queenston Heights

American Background to the Battle of Queenston Heights

The British at Queenston Heights

Brock at Queenston Heights

The Americans at Queenston Heights

The Iroquois at Queenston Heights


An Overview of the Battle of Queenston Heights

By the fall of 1812, the Americans are desperate for a major victory. Hull's surrender at Detroit is proof that the invasion of Canada will not be a simple "matter of marching" as some American politicians have boasted. The United States has not followed its original plan of striking at Canada simultaneously on three fronts, and this will cost them control of the Western frontier.

The short Dearborn-Prevost armistice give the U.S. some time to recover from the shock of its early losses. All eyes have now turned toward the Army of the Center gathering along the Niagara River.

U.S. Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer has command of a sizable army near Lewiston, but is far from inspired by the quality of his troops. To make matters worse, Van Rensellaer is a major general of the militia and receives little respect from the officers of the regular army. But he is under pressure from the President and must act.

Early in the morning of October 13, 1812, Van Rensselaer attacks across the Niagara River. Despite heavy British fire and the treacherous river currents, most of the first wave of the American force reach the Canadian shore. But their objective is Queenston Heights - 80 meters straight above them. They manage to find a fisherman's path and half the force heads up the embankment.

Meanwhile, the small British force at Queenston Heights is heartened by arrival of General Brock from Fort George and news that there are more reinforcements on the way.

Part of the American force reaches the top of the promontory and circles behind the British artillery position. The redcoats are forced from the Heights with only enough time to spike their biggest cannon. The headstrong General Brock decides to counter-attack immediately. Charging ahead of his troops, Isaac Brock is shot and killed.

The battle for control of the Heights continues for hours. The American troops waiting to cross the Niagara refuse to budge. The militiamen can hear the battle-cries of the Mohawks from across the river and suddenly remember their constitutional rights: they cannot be forced to fight on foreign soil. Without reinforcements, it is only a matter of time before the initial American attackers are outnumbered, and trapped, on the Canadian side of the river.

As the British retake the town of Queenston, the US troops on the Heights cannot consolidate their position. Men scramble down the embankment and, crazed with fear, leap from the cliffs. Others hide in the forest or attempt to swim back to the American side. The remaining US troops quickly surrender.

Although this is a decisive victory for the British, it has been won at great cost. Brock has been killed. He was an intelligent and well-liked commander and also a crucial link with Tecumseh's confederacy.

The battle at Queenston convinces many people that a defense of Canada is possible. Brock's death becomes a unifying factor for many Upper Canadians; they now have a hero to mourn and a common debt to repay.