Invasion of Canada - History

Invasion of Canada - History

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The 1838 Invasion of Canada

It was a cold November morning on the Saint Lawrence River in 1838. British Royal Navy Lieutenant William Fowell stood on the deck of Her Majesty’s Steam Vessel watchful eye on the American shore. In Experiment, keeping a the earliest hours of the morning, invaders had failed in an attempt to land at Prescott, Ontario. But Fowell knew that the invasion had only been delayed, not deterred.

The War of 1812 was decades past, but all was not quiet along the American-Canadian border. The threat to Canada came not from the United States government, but from a clandestine organization called the Patriot Hunters. The situation along the Saint Lawrence was an uneasy one. Nathaniel S. Benton, district attorney for northern New York, informed U.S. President Martin Van Buren that the situation was becoming explosive: “The whole frontier is filled with people … who appear to be ready at a moment’s warning for any movement upon or acts of violence” directed against Canada. President Van Buren agreed that the growing tensions were cause for concern, referring to “the mutually disturbing and irritating occurrences growing out of the Canadian Rebellion and the unauthorized participation of [American] citizens in its prosecution.”

Britain had no desire for another conflict with the United States, but there appeared to be no way to protect Canada short of war. British officials informed U.S. leaders that they would regret having to pursue the “Rebels or Pirates” into American territory, but that “some little overstepping of the boundary” might be required. The risk was that any “overstepping of the boundary” would lead to the very war that both countries fervently hoped to avoid. But alternatives seemed limited.

The Hunters were convinced that Canadians longed to throw off the yoke of British tyranny. They believed the presence of a well-organized, well-armed force would provide the spark to foment a full-scale uprising. The moment the Hunters’ banner was planted on Canadian soil, the downtrodden masses would flock to the cause and rally to overthrow their oppressors. The Hunters would soon learn just how badly they had miscalculated.

The invasion did not start auspiciously. The insurgents planned to use two schooners, Charlotte of Oswego and Charlotte of Toronto, to land a force at Prescott early morning on November 12. The pilots quickly realized they couldn’t land at their primary destination – the wharf was torn up for repairs – so they moved their boats to the next landing. But an attempt to tie up there failed when the rope broke. By the time a third landing was attempted, Lieutenant Colonel Plomer Young had arrived at the waterfront with troops, threatening to open fire unless the boats identified themselves. Realizing a landing was now impossible, the two vessels turned, disappeared into the mist, and sailed back for the American side.

Daybreak revealed no improvement in the Hunters’ luck after the aborted landing. In the mist and darkness, Charlotte of Oswego and Charlotte of Toronto had run aground on a mudbank off Ogdensburg, N.Y., and were tangled in each other’s lines. The Hunters’ only consolation: The schooners were in American waters.

William “Bill the Pirate” Johnston procured a scow in Ogdensburg and directed artillery and arms from Charlotte of Toronto unloaded onto the smaller boat. That lightened the schooner enough to free it from the mudbank and it soon moved downriver, careful to remain in American waters. Its sister ship, however, was not as lucky. No amount of effort could free Charlotte of Oswego. It needed a tow. John Ward Birge led a force to Ogdensburg and commandeered the passenger steamer United States, whose new captain, Oliver B. Pierce, was described as a “drunken phrenologist.”

While Charlotte of Toronto and the scow carrying the munitions moved downriver to the agreed landing site, United States went to rescue Charlotte of Oswego. Because of the mudbank, however, the steamer could not get close enough to the stranded schooner and thus returned to Ogdensburg for a longer towrope. When United States arrived for a second rescue attempt, it gave the mudbank a wide berth lest it also become grounded. In the process, the steamer came up on Charlotte’s northern side. This was a mistake – United States was now in Canadian waters.

Aboard Experiment, Fowell was well aware that venturing into American waters was forbidden. While the U.S. government did not support the Hunters, American General Winfield Scott made it clear he would not tolerate any British vessels entering his country’s waters. With War of 1812 memories still fresh, anything resembling a British invasion would not be allowed. General Scott advised the British that he intended to “protect our own soil or waters from violation” and would be “obliged to consider a discharge of shot or shell from or into our waters, from the armed schooners of her Majesty, an act seriously compromising the neutrality of our two nations.”

With the error made by United States’ captain, however, Fowell was free to attack. His vessel was an unlikely British warship. A former civilian vessel powered by a 30-horsepower engine, it mounted two 3-pounder guns and an 18-pounder carronade. Unlikely though it might be, Experiment was then all that stood between Canada and an invasion. Fowell was determined to stand his ground. He had been lying in wait on the chance that one of the Hunters’ vessels would make an error, and his gun crews were prepared for action against any that ended up in Canadian waters.

As United States approached Experiment, Hunters on deck opened rifle fire. Fowell returned fire with the carronade and 3-pounders. Shots hit the hull of United States but did no damage. Charlotte of Toronto had already reached its landing point with the scow. Men and munitions were being unloaded and the invasion was under way. After the brief scuffle with Experiment, United States moved downriver to support the assault.

Fowell, afraid that Prescott was still the real target and that the Hunters intended to lure him away, turned back Experiment. As he did, he saw that the steamer Paul Pry had come to rescue Charlotte of Oswego, freeing it from the mudbank. In doing so, both vessels ventured into Canadian waters. Fowell now had a new target.

Experiment opened fire at close range. Paul Pry cut loose the towrope and headed fast for Ogdensburg. At that time, the men aboard Charlotte called that they wanted to surrender. But by the time Experiment came about, Charlotte had reached the safety of American waters. Those on board quickly recanted their surrender plea. Fowell had to let the schooner go. For Experiment, how ever, the battle was not over. United States was bearing down on it at top speed.

Experiment displaced 100 tons, while United States displaced 450 tons. Thus from the Americans’ point of view, the aggressive move must have seemed like a good idea at the time. If United States could not sink the smaller vessel by ramming, it appeared likely it could inflict enough damage to keep Experiment out of any further action.

Hunters on board United States jeered at the little British ship that seemed so vulnerable. Fowell opened fire, but once again the shots had no effect. The smaller craft had no difficulty avoiding an attempted ramming, and it fired again as United States passed. This time, one shot took out the starboard engine and another splintered the wheelhouse, decapitating the pilot. The Hunters’ jeers quickly died away while one of the crewmen managed to guide the damaged vessel back to Ogdensburg.

Charlotte of Toronto, which had been following United States upriver, saw what happened and veered into American waters. With all U.S. ships safely on the American side, Fowell returned to Prescott and reported the action.

The Hunters’ incursion, however, was not yet ended. The Battle of the Windmill the following day east of Prescott was the last gasp. British regulars and local Canadian militia won decisively. Far from flocking to the Hunters’ banner, Canadians took up arms to resist the invasion.

The Patriot Hunters’ invasion of Canada was a dismal failure. Those insurgents not killed were captured. Some were pardoned or shipped off to exile in Tasmania. Eleven were executed.

After fighting one of the British Royal Navy’s oddest engagements, gallant little Experiment could retire with dignity, having upheld the pride of that illustrious service.

Invasion of Canada - History

By Earl Echelberry

Fresh from his capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Colonel Benedict Arnold in the summer of 1775 lobbied hard to the Continental Congress for authorization to lead an expedition to the lower St. Lawrence River and attack the English citadel at Quebec. He was prepared, said Arnold, “to carry the plan into execution and, with the smiles of Heaven, to answer for the success of it.” However, after careful consideration, Congress gave the command to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler, a prominent New York landholder, with Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery, an ex-British captain, serving as his second in command.

Enraged, Arnold hastened to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and requested an immediate interview with General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the American forces. Washington was so impressed with Arnold’s bearing and fire that he authorized him to lead a second, complementary invasion of Canada. According to the best information available to Washington, the British had only one company at Quebec but could draw on an additional 1,100 troops from Montreal and other forts. Washington was afraid that even the weak force under General Sir Guy Carleton’s leadership might prevail against a Schuyler-Montgomery attack. To improve the invasion’s chance of success, Washington modified his original plan of attack to include Arnold’s diversionary force. He reasoned that if Carleton followed Arnold’s force, it would leave the way open for Schuyler, or if he blocked the Schuyler-Montgomery expedition, this would allow Quebec to fall into Arnold’s hands.

Washington’s Invasion of Canada

The logistical difficulties behind Washington’s plan were formidable. First, a force of about 1,100 men, the equivalent of a battalion including three rifle companies, would be required for the diversionary expedition. They were to land in Maine, where they would ascend the Kennebec River in flat-bottomed boats (bateaux), then negotiate a hard portage to the Dead River. From there they would pole on to Height of Land and finally move up the Chaudiere River to its mouth, opposite Quebec. This trek looked feasible on a map. However, plans, maps, and surveys all failed to take into account the heavy waterfalls, boiling rapids, killing portages over steep ridges, and normal run of accidents that men might encounter traveling by bateaux. Most of all, the plan failed to take into account the unforgiving climate the men would have to face.

Following the advice of Washington to “use all possible execution, as the winter season is now advancing,” Arnold threw himself headlong into the task of recruiting volunteers from the troops stationed around Cambridge. As a result of his zeal and promise of action, Arnold was able to assemble 10 companies of men from the New England colonies. To these numbers Washington added three additional rifle companies, two from Pennsylvania and the other one from Virginia, drawn by lot. The men were dressed like typical backwoodsmen, in buckskins, hunting shirts, and moccasins. Across the fronts of their broad-brimmed hats they had stitched the words: LIBERTY OR DEATH.

Arnold’s command was now ready to march. Speed was the primary requisite—the march must begin before summer slipped away. Washington had chosen wisely in selecting Arnold to lead the expedition. He was a man of stamina, enterprise, ambition, and daring, a natural-born leader but not a driver, a man with complete confidence in his native ability.

Organizing the Army

Benedict Arnold in Colonel dress blues.

Arnold placed Captains William Hendricks and Matthew Smith in charge of the two Pennsylvania rifle companies and Captain Daniel Morgan was in charge of the Virginians. The first battalion was headed by Lt. Col. Roger Enos, with Major Jonathan Meigs serving as his assistant. The first battalion comprised four companies headed by Captains Thomas Williams, Henry Dearborn, Oliver Hanchet, and William Goodrich. The second battalion was led by Lt. Col. Christopher Greene and Major Timothy Bigelow. The second battalion’s company commanders were Captains Samuel Ward, Jr., Simeon Thayer, John Topham, Jonas Hubbard, and Samuel McCobb. A detachment of 50 artificers led by Captain Reuben Colburn joined the expedition prior to its ascent of the Kennebec River. The expedition also had a surgeon, Dr. Issac Senter, along with a surgeon’s mate, two assistants, two adjutants, two quartermasters, and a chaplain, Samuel Spring. There were also five “unattached volunteers,” including 19-year-old Aaron Burr (who was accompanied by a teenage Abenaki Indian princess nicknamed “Golden Thighs”), Matthias Ogden, Eleazer Oswald, Charles Porterfield, and John McGuire.

Since Carleton had stripped off troops to reinforce General Thomas Gage in Boston, prospects of success seemed excellent as Washington addressed Arnold’s men and enjoined them to respect the rights of property and freedom of conscience. He also composed an address to the Canadians: “The cause of America and of liberty is the cause of every American whatever may be his religion or his descent. Come, then, ye generous citizens, range yourselves under the standard of General Liberty, against which all the force and artifice of tyranny will never be able to prevail.” To Arnold, Washington advised, “Upon the success of this enterprise, under God the safety and welfare of the whole continent may depend.”

A Challenging Upriver Trek

On the dangerously late date of September 19, Arnold sailed from Newburyport with approximately 1,100 men. They landed three days later at Gardinerstown, where Arnold arranged for a little fleet of coasters and fishing boats to carry his men to the mouth of the Kennebec River. The next day the fleet of boats made its way up the twisting and troublesome river for 49 miles to Reuben Colburn’s shipyard. As the landsmen disembarked, overjoyed to have solid ground underneath them again, they saw the bateaux that were to be their transportation up the Kennebec River. Above the bay at Fort Western, Arnold’s men and supplies were transferred to the bateaux. Arnold spent the next several days organizing his army for its 385-mile plunge through the wilderness. On the 25th, two advance reconnaissance patrols were sent upriver to clear a path. A day later the second battalion, led by Greene and Bigelow, followed with three companies of musketeers. Meigs followed with part of the first battalion, while Enos and the remainder of the men made up the rear guard. Each company carried 45 days’ worth of provisions.

From the very first, the going was hard. It took the main body two days to cover the first 18 miles upriver to Fort Halifax. At Taconic Falls the men faced their first challenge, a portage of half a mile around the falls. On aching and raw shoulders the men hauled over 65 tons of supplies, before hoisting each bateaux (weighing 400 pounds apiece) and carrying them to the other side of the falls. The boiling rapids of Five Miles Falls came next, followed by the dangerous half-mile approach to Skowhegan Falls.

In wet and frozen clothes, they continued. Traveling through the heavy rain, they reached Skowhegan Falls on October 1. Getting the boats up the falls seemed impossible, for the crevice that split the face of the rock was steep and treacherous. Still the men trudged onward, dragging their awkward bateaux. At the top, the boats were patched and reloaded, and the army prepared to move forward. On October 4 they passed the last vestiges of civilization. Taking leave of the settlements and houses at Norridgewock, they spent the next three days navigating Norridgewock Falls.

Rowing, dragging, and sometimes carrying their craft, they moved past rapids and cataracts and across morasses and craggy highlands. With each portage, more and more supplies were ruined. Checking his position, Arnold found that he had spent twice the time allotted for the trip, and he was still on the Kennebec River. Realizing that half the provisions already had been spent, Arnold cut daily rations to half an inch of raw pork and half a biscuit. It was not long before Dr. Senter began to note rampant dysentery and diarrhea among the men.

On October 9 the column pushed forward toward the Curritunk Falls, the next major portage. Having reached the Great Carrying Place, an advance party of seven men was sent out to mark the shortest portage from the Kennebec to the Dead River. After eight miles of portage through forests of pine, balsam fir, cedar, cypress, hemlock, and yellow birch and four miles of rowing across three ponds, they reached the brown waters of the Dead River on the 11th. The rest of the men followed, carrying their boats, baggage, stores, and ammunition, and the next day the expedition reached the Dead River.

Cutting Down the Invasion Force

Arnold had determined that the distance from the mouth of the Kennebec to Quebec was only 180 miles, requiring 20 days of travel. Although he had provided food for 45 days, his army had been on the journey seven days longer than he had calculated for the whole march and had come less than halfway. Provisions were running low, and his men were now reduced to boiling rawhide and candles into a gelatinous soup. An unfortunate dog that someone had brought along as a mascot was killed and “instantly devoured” by the hungry trekkers.

On December 2, Montgomery linked up with Arnold, bringing fresh clothes, artillery, ammunition, and provisions of various kinds captured at Montreal.

By October 24, realizing that something needed to be done, Arnold ordered Greene and Enos, commanding the two rear divisions, to send back as “many of the poorest men of their detachment as would leave fifteen days provision for the remainder.” Greene and Enos called their officers together to determine whether they should turn back. “Here sat a council of grimacers,” said Senter, “melancholy aspects who had been preaching to their men the doctrine of impenetrability and non-perseverance.” While Greene’s men voted to march on, Enos started to the rear with about 300 men, his own division plus stragglers and the sick from other divisions. The retreat was accomplished in 11 days of relatively easy travel.

Reaching Quebec

After 17 portages, the main body arrived at Height of Land, gateway to the Chaudiere River. The gaunt, starving, half-dead men, under the load of the few remaining bateaux, fought their way through a chain of ponds and up the granite walls of the snow-covered Height of Land. The mountains had been clad in snow since September. Now with the winter wind howling around them, the weary men dropped to the ground some died within minutes. Many of his companions, wrote one soldier in his diary, “were so weak that they could hardly stand on their legs. I passed by many sitting wholly drowned in sorrow. Such self-pitying countenances I never before beheld. My heart was ready to burst.”

The army was reduced to fewer than 700 men in near danger of starvation. Undaunted, Arnold pressed on, hoping to obtain food for his weakened and famished men. On October 27, at the Chaudiere, Arnold received heartening news. Two Indians brought him a letter saying that the people of Quebec rejoiced at his approach and would join the Americans in subduing the British forces. Provisions were pooled, and each man was issued five pints of flour and about two ounces of pork to sustain him for the last 100 miles before the army reached the Canadian settlements.

In the men’s eagerness to descend the rocky channel of the Chaudiere, three boats laden with ammunition and precious stores overturned. With starvation still ahead of them, the army pressed toward the St. Lawrence River. As they proceeded down the Chaudiere, they came upon a French-Canadian settlement, where they were charitably received and given a heaven-sent meal of fresh vegetables and beef. “We sat down,” Senter noted, “ate our rations, and blessed our stars.”

Washington had told Arnold to send an express messenger back to Cambridge if problems arose during the march. From Arnold’s optimistic report stating that his provisions would last another 25 days and that he expected to reach the waters of the Chaudiere in 10 days, putting him within striking distance of Quebec, Washington assumed that Arnold would be in Quebec by November 5. When that day came, Arnold was facing new problems. He had only 650 men left, many of them shivering in their shirts from the winter winds.

On November 8, in an epic struggle against hunger, weather, and terrain, Arnold’s men pushed down the last stretches of the harrowing Chaudiere River. Finally, on November 9, the ragged band of men emerged from snow-covered forests onto the south bank of the St. Lawrence. Their feet shod in raw skins and dressed in tattered clothes, the men marched upriver to Point Levi on the Isle of Orleans. They had taken 45 days, not the estimated 20, to cover 350 miles. But they had arrived, and even though they were too weak to make an effective attack on the Quebec citadel, they were going to attack nonetheless.

Crossing the St. Lawrence River

In peasant disguise, Carleton had successfully evaded Montgomery in Montreal. Traversing the countryside, he arrived in Quebec on November 19 and at once took command of the British forces stationed there. During the French and Indian War, Carleton had served under Brig. Gen. James Wolfe and had witnessed the rashness of French General Louis Joseph de Montcalm de Saint-Veran in risking battle outside the walls of Quebec. Carleton had his men burn all the boats on the St. Lawrence River to prevent Arnold from ferrying troops across the river.

Faced with yet another stumbling block, Arnold set his men to the task of obtaining canoes, dugouts, and scaling ladders. After allowing the men time to recover their strength, Arnold finally was prepared to cross the mile-wide St. Lawrence. His plan was to make a night crossing and land at Wolf’s Cove. Using the same rugged path that Wolfe had used during the French and Indian War, Arnold intended to climb to the Plains of Abraham. From there the Americans would boldly challenge the garrison. Just as Montcalm had been drawn into battle outside the garrison’s perimeter, Arnold expected Carleton to make the same mistake.

By November 13 Arnold had enough boats to transport his army, except for about 150 men whom he left at Point Levi. At 9 pm, Arnold began the river crossing with 30 vessels. Moving fewer than 200 men at a time, Arnold managed to slip past two armed British vessels three times before daybreak on the 14th. Landing at Wolfe’s Cove without cannon and short of ammunition, Arnold led his 500 half-armed musketeers up the steep path to the expanse of land known as the Plains of Abraham, a mile and a half from the city. Marching to the walls of Quebec, Arnold ordered his band to give a cheer. The noise seemed to provoke curiosity inside the town, but nothing more. Inside, Carleton, having served as a subaltern with Wolfe, wasn’t going to be tricked by the same stratagem the British had used at Quebec a few years earlier.

Montgomery Links up with Arnold

Doubting the sympathies of the inhabitants, Carleton kept his men inside the fortress. That evening Arnold sent a messenger under a flag of truce to demand the fort’s surrender. Arnold knew his bluff had been called when the British fired upon his emissary. Standing before the towering walls of the great fortress, Arnold realized that his force was far too weak to attempt a move against the great natural citadel. His only hope was that the inhabitants within the walls would rise, but there were no signs of this. Lacking the firepower to mount an attack—his men had only five rounds apiece—and realizing that it was useless to attempt to besiege the town without cannons, Arnold exercised his only remaining option and called for an orderly retreat to Pointe aux Trembles to await the arrival of Montgomery.

Even before Montgomery prepared to leave Montreal, he had reluctantly reached the conclusion that the only way to conquer Quebec was by assault, regardless of the loss in lives that such an attack would entail. He reasoned that a siege would be a long and drawn-out affair, ending when the ice thawed in the spring and allowed British reinforcements to navigate down the St. Lawrence River.

Montgomery’s command consisted of little more than 800 men, which he needed to both garrison his conquests and attack Quebec. As the cold winds of November blew, Montgomery sent word to Arnold that he would soon join him at Point aux Trembles. On November 26, Montgomery set out with 300 men to join Arnold before the gates of Quebec, leaving St. John’s under the command of Captain Marinus Willett and entrusting Montreal to Brig. Gen. David Wooster.

On December 2, Montgomery linked up with Arnold, bringing fresh clothes, artillery, ammunition, and provisions of various kinds captured at Montreal. Assuming command of Arnold’s famished veterans, Montgomery’s combined force consisted of about 1,000 American troops and a volunteer regiment of about 200 Canadians. On December 5, Montgomery’s force advanced toward Quebec through a fresh snowfall. Montgomery set up his headquarters on the Plains of Abraham between St. Roche and Cape Diamond and posted Arnold’s men in the half-burned suburb of St. Roche.

A Confident Carleton

As the American sharpshooters picked off sentries in exposed positions, Montgomery attempted to throw up earthworks and to raise a battery of six 9-pounders and a howitzer.

Intercepting messages between the American commanders, Carleton was well-aware of the strength and disposal of the colonial forces. After Arnold’s futile challenge, Carleton had strengthened his force by having Lt. Col. Allan MacLean force-march 400 recruits from Sorel. With these additional men, Carleton now had 1,200 men at his disposal. He confidently awaited Montgomery’s advance.

As the fierce Canadian winter set in, snow began to pile up and a raw, blistering wind howled on the shelterless heights around Quebec. Realizing that his ammunition and supplies would not last long enough to starve Quebec into submission, Montgomery sent a peasant woman into the fort with an ultimatum demanding the citadel’s surrender. To emphasize his demand, he advanced riflemen near the walls of Quebec. But Carleton again refused to capitulate, saying that he would not parley with rebels. To emphasize his point, he had a drummer boy take the letter from the woman’s hands with a set of tongs and toss it, unread, into the fireplace. As the American sharpshooters picked off sentries in exposed positions, Montgomery attempted to throw up earthworks and to raise a battery of six 9-pounders and a howitzer.

The small shells that were thrown by the battery did no essential injury to the garrison. Under a second flag of truce, Montgomery tried again to coerce Carleton to surrender. Again he was rebuffed. It was plain to Montgomery that his bluster and guns had failed to make any visible impression on Carleton. With no heavy guns to batter the walls of Quebec, food running short, and enlistments about to expire, Montgomery prepared for an all-out assault. Montgomery and Arnold decided to wait until the next snowstorm to conceal their movements from the town, then attack the cliff city. Ordering a general review on Christmas night, Montgomery told his men bluntly, “To the storming we must come at last.”

The Plan of Assault

Carleton was a capable commander who knew what had to be done for Quebec to hold out. Sensing that Montgomery’s attack would be directed against the lower town, he set his defenses accordingly. Montgomery was also a man of capacity, but he lacked Carleton’s principal advantage—the great triangular stone citadel. Instead, Montgomery conceived a bold plan for a predawn attack. Following the road that ran along the base of the towering cliffs, Montgomery would lead one division from the west, while Arnold would lead a second attack from the north. Joining forces in the lower town, they would then drive up the slope into the upper town. At the same time, feinting movements were to be launched against the western walls facing the Plains of Abraham.

Preparations were rushed. Men hammered together scaling ladders and armed themselves with hatchets and spears, expecting hand-to-hand combat. Montgomery issued a proclamation designed to inspire his troops: “The [Americans] flushed with continual Success, confident of the Justice of their cause, and relying on that Providence which has protected them, will advance with alacrity to attack the works incapable of being defended by the wretched Garrison behind them.” Carleton, expecting an attack, kept flares burning all night along the fortress walls.

The Attack on Quebec

On the afternoon of Saturday, December 30, snow clouds gathered and high winds moved in from the northeast. Final orders were issued and the men prepared to launch the attack, which would begin at 2 am. By early morning on the 31st, with a blizzard howling around Quebec, the two false attacks were launched ahead of schedule. Colonel James Livingston’s small Canadian force approached the St. John’s Gate but quickly broke and ran, while Captain Jacob Brown’s Massachusetts men delivered a sustained fire against the Cape Diamond bastion without any significant effect. The British garrison, now alerted, began beating drums and ringing church bells. Officers ran though the streets of Quebec turning out their troops. Quickly the barricades in the lower town were manned.

In the early morning hours British Sergeant Hugh McQuarters was alerted by the lights of lanterns descending from the Plains of Abraham, as well as signal rockets. Looking along the track that led east from Wolf’s Cove, he soon detected movement. Within the swirling snow the movement became clearer, finally resolving itself into a body of men in formation cautiously pushing forward. In a blinding snowstorm, Montgomery’s men descended from the Plains of Abraham and passed safely around Point Diamond. Upon reaching the first barrier and finding it undefended, Montgomery sent messengers urging his men to hurry along. Moving forward through a narrow defile, he spotted a log house containing loopholes for musketry and two 3-pounders loaded with grapeshot. Inside the blockhouse, McQuarters awaited the enemy’s approach with lighted fuses.

Montgomery waited until about 60 men joined him. Then, urging his men forward, he rapidly advanced on the battery. McQuarters, in charge of the loaded cannon, held his fire. The Americans closed to within about 50 yards and halted in the blinding snow. Trying to make out the nature of the obstacle ahead, Montgomery slowly moved forward, followed by two or three others. McQuarters dropped his match to the breech of the cannon. A sheet of flame spewed forth, and a devastating blast of grapeshot tore through the advancing Americans. Montgomery was instantly cut down, along with most of his advance party, leaving the cluster of bodies lying dead in the snow. The balance of the men fell back in panic. Morale shattered, Colonel Donald Campbell assumed command and, leaving the bodies of the slain Montgomery and his men where they fell, ordered an immediate retreat.

The long and arduous march that took its toll on Arnold’s men.

Arnold, meanwhile, led his troops in single file on a path along the St. Charles. They passed the Palace Gate unchallenged. No sooner had the main body passed the Palace Gate, however, than the city bells began to ring and the drums beat a general alarm. From the ramparts above came a tremendous fire. Pelted by musketballs, Arnold and his men ran the gauntlet for a third of a mile. Driving forward into the narrow street, they came upon a barricade mounted with two guns. A musket ball struck Arnold in his left leg, pitching him forward into the snow. Trying to continue the charge in spite of a broken leg, he was finally led to a military surgeon a mile from the battle.

Morgan assumed command, and his men rushed to the portholes in the first battery and fired into them while others mounted ladders and quickly carried the battery. Greene, Bigelow, and Meigs soon joined Morgan at the head of his Virginians and a few Pennsylvanians, swelling their meager force to 200 Americans. They quickly pressed down a narrow lane toward the second barricade at the extremity of Sault au Matelot. Upon reaching the barricade, Greene made a heroic effort to carry it, but upon scaling its walls he was met with a wall of bayonets. The Americans were exposed to heavy fire from both sides of the narrow street. Unable to push forward or retreat, the attackers were quickly overpowered and forced to surrender. A few individuals managed to make their way back to their own lines, but Morgan and 425 other colonials were taken prisoner. Another 60 were killed outright.

The Campaign into Canada Crumbles

The fight for Quebec was over. Arnold and Montgomery’s attempt to seize Canada died during the howling snowstorm on December 31. Everything had conspired against its success. Arnold’s long trek through the wilderness and Montgomery’s delay at St. John’s placed their armies before Quebec ill-equipped to either breach the citadel’s walls or mount a siege. Their ensuing attack resulted in Montgomery’s death and Arnold’s wounding. Recuperating quickly, Arnold assumed command of the remnant army outside Quebec. Stubbornly attempting to maintain the siege, he began pulling his forces together, checking the flight of deserters, and imploring the lethargic Wooster, Montreal’s commander, to send as many men and equipment as he could spare. Wooster replied that he could send little help. This, along with the refusal of the New York regiment to reenlist, caused Arnold’s chances for a renewal of the conflict to disappear.

Meanwhile, Carleton bided his time safe inside the walls of Quebec, allowing the winter cold and sickness to further reduce the American force. General John Thomas replaced Wooster and assumed command of the Canadian expedition. Shortly after his arrival in May 1776, British ships sailed up the St. Lawrence, their decks crowded with the scarlet and white of the British Army and the blue and white of 2,000 German mercenaries. This eliminated any hope the Americans had of capturing Quebec. Thomas issued orders for a retreat toward Montreal. The colonial army began a slow withdrawal toward Richelieu, St. John’s, Ile aux Nois, Crown Point, and Ticonderoga.

At St. John’s, Brig. Gen. John Sullivan replaced Thomas, who had died of smallpox during the retreat. Sullivan briefly considered making a stand at Montreal, but decided against it. Arnold wrote to Schuyler, “The junction of the Canadians with the Colonies—an object which brought us into this country—is at an end. Let us quit then and secure our own country before it is too late. There will be more honor in making a safe retreat than hazarding a battle against such superiority which will doubtless be attended with the loss of our men and artillery. These arguments are not urged by fear for my personal safety. I am content to be the last man who quits the country.”

Arnold assumed charge of the rear guard and waited until the British army came into view before firing off one last pistol shot and joining the retreating soldiers in boats ferried south to Isle aux Noix. From there, the remnants of Montgomery’s and Arnold’s commands fell back to Crown Point. Strangely, Carleton broke off his pursuit and withdrew, leaving the shaky garrison at Ticonderoga in American hands. The ambitious Canadian campaign had ended in defeat, but once again the American forces had lived to fight another day.

The White House wasn’t opposed to the plan.

Far from some whiskey-fueled daydream, the Irish-American plan to invade Canada was carefully crafted for months by veteran Civil War officers, including the one-armed general Thomas William Sweeny. Although an attack on a foreign country with which the United States maintained peaceful relations ran afoul of American neutrality laws, the plan also had the tacit approval of the White House.

Indeed, President Andrew Johnson proved more than willing to let the Fenian Brotherhood twist the tail of the British lion as he sought to pressure Great Britain to pay reparations for the damage caused by Confederate warships, such as the CSS Alabama, that had been built in British ports. In addition, many Americans hoped Canada would become the next territory to be absorbed by the United States as it fulfilled its expansionist Manifest Destiny. The U.S. govern­ment sold surplus weapons to the Irish militants, and Johnson met personally with their leaders, reportedly giving them his implicit backing. The Irishmen were free to establish their own state in exile𠅌omplete with their own president, constitution, currency and capital in the heart of New York City.

War of 1812, Invasion of Canada.

The US States in the North did not support the Invasion, many of the active troops that participated in the campaign were from southern states. Several revolutionary war veterans from the Kings mountain campaign were active in the campaign such as Isaac Shelby.

Many of the war hawks in congress that pushed for war were slave owning politicians who feared Canada’s declaration of emancipation and their plans to create an Indian State was seen as a potential safe haven for run away slaves.

The drill of the US officers, soldiers was very poor prior to the war the politicians didn’t field their best generals. The best generals were those who had previous field experience, they chose men who were mostly administrators (the equivalent of placing Horatio Gates in charge of the Southern Army by Congress in 1780).

The campaign itself was flawed from the start and the objectives were not clear was Canada to be Annexed? Or was it to be considered liberated by British rule? The US annexation of Canada doesn’t seem likely because they simply didn’t have the troops to occupy the entire nation nor the navy to defend its ports. The US Military was also in poor supply of regular troops and artillery for sieges of fortified areas. Most offensive operations were conducted with Militia who were unreliable and often left the field.

You're laying down an awful lot of your own suppositions for someone who is looking for answers.

They're not suspicions just lots of observations from small reads, video's.

You should read Pierre Berton's books on the War of 1812. There is no evidence to suggest annexation was the aim - The U.S. didn't even have a standing army when the war was declared.

Those books are fantastic but put the sword to a lot of misconceptions on both sides.

Thanks, I'll def jump on that. I always hear that Annexation was an aim of the Americans, I could see that potentially being so in 1776 however in 1812 I don't thing it was realizable.

How do you think this relates to the failed Invasion of Québec in 1775?

Its worth noting in regard to item #3 that here on the Canadian side, we only had a small garrison of professional English troops, most of the numbers were made of militia (not to minimize the participation of native irregulars) who were likely of comparable quality to the US troops.

and to note the Canadians were able to out maneuver the Americans with very reliable Indian scouts. The Americans really did mimic the mistakes of the Quebec invasion of 1776. Over extended marches, shortness of supplies, theft of enemy merchandise and private property, failure to synch the navy with the movements of the army etc. The only really successful military campaign in Canada was in the French and Indian War when the armies of Wolf and Amherst converged on Montreal, York, and Quebec with the combined navy, land forces and militia. The French were completely overwhelmed.

It seems the Militia combined with a regular force is best suited for defensive positions. As far as offensive maneuvers militia are best used in guerrilla war tactics, such as how the Americans conducted themselves at concord and Lexington and in the South during the revolutionary war.

Almost more than half the American troops were milititia, very bad decision by Henry Dearborn and Hull.

CBC Ideas recently did a great show about the war of 1812. It seems like the US feels they won, Canada feels they beat the US, Britain feels it's hardly important but they won.

I love this College Originals skit on the War of 1812. I think it basically sums up what people in general know about it:

Americas objective at the onset of the war was the expulsion of Britain from North America as well as the capture of Canada and the cessation of British impressment of US sailors. A large majority of upper Canada consisted of American loyalists who moved up prior to and after the revolution. This lead the American brass to assume they could march on places like York(Toronto) and be hailed as liberators. Instead they razed the city and united a nation. Canada is still a country, Britain never left and the only reason they stopped impressment was Napoleons defeat and exile.

All in all I don't know how anyone could view it as a US victory. It was by and large a blunder of war on both sides and the only clear cut winners are the people of Canada who exist because Britain was able to defend against and repel superior forces.

See I'm from the US and it always seemed like we got the shit kicked out of us till the very end.

Canada did defeat the US the only claim the US has to victory in Canada were the few victories they had on America Soil at Thames, the second battle of Detroit and Plattsburgh.

The closest the US came to any sort of victory in Canada was in the Nigra offensive campaign, but once gain a lack of good leadership made the difference for America.

The way I've always seen it presented in America is that we won the sea war and got our asses kicked in the ground war up until the very end in New Orleans and that the war overall was basically a draw leaning towards a US victory.

The US States in the North did not support the Invasion, many of the active troops that participated in the campaign were from southern states. Several revolutionary war veterans from the Kings mountain campaign were active in the campaign such as Isaac Shelby.

This is not really true - rather than being based on regional or sectional lines, votes for the war tended to be along party lines - federalists opposed the war, democratic-republicans did not. Pennsylvania was one of the biggest supporters of the war, for example. New England federalists opposed the war, New England democratic-republicans were for it. While some D-R's opposed the war, all federalists did.

Many of the war hawks in congress that pushed for war were slave owning politicians who feared Canada’s declaration of emancipation and their plans to create an Indian State was seen as a potential safe haven for run away slaves.

What's your source for this statement? While I've heard support for Native Americans and a potential Native American state being among the reasons the US went to war, I've never heard that potential emancipation and a safe haven for runaway slaves factored into the war.

The campaign itself was flawed from the start and the objectives were not clear was Canada to be Annexed? Or was it to be considered liberated by British rule?

I don't think this is true - modern scholarship has settled quite firmly that Canada was a means to an end - a way to get Britain to the negotiation table where economic sanctions had backfired horribly, by cutting off a large supply of its food and timber.

World War II

On September 9, 1939, eight days after Germany’s invasion of Poland, Canada’s Parliament voted to declare war on Germany, which the country did the next day. (Its separate declaration of war was a measure of the independence granted it in the 1931 Statute of Westminster in 1914 there had been no such independence and no separate declaration of war.) The vote was nearly unanimous, a result that rested on the assumption that there was to be a “limited liability” war effort that would consist primarily of supplying raw materials, foodstuffs, and munitions and the training of Commonwealth air crews, mainly for the Royal Air Force. Canadian men were to be actively discouraged from serving in the infantry, which was expected to take high casualties, and it was anticipated that few infantry units would be formed. If this plan were followed, King and other government leaders reasoned, conscription would be unnecessary. King and the leader of the Conservative opposition had both pledged themselves to a “no conscription” policy even before the war began.

The expulsion of the British from the Continent and the fall of France in the spring of 1940 totally changed the circumstances. Canada’s overseas allies had fallen or were in danger of doing so, and the country immediately concluded an agreement at Ogdensburg, New York, with the United States for the defense of North America. Moreover, Canada now stood in the forefront of the war. After Britain, it was (prior to the U.S. entry into the war in December 1941) the second most powerful of Germany’s adversaries. The emphasis on supply gave way to a focus on combat forces. King’s “no conscription” policy had been modified in 1940 when the government introduced conscription for home defense, but at the same time King renewed his pledge not to send conscripts overseas for “active” duty. In 1942 the King government called a national plebiscite asking Canadian voters to release it from that pledge nearly two-thirds of Canadian voters supported conscription, though in Quebec three-fourths opposed it. Thereafter the government enforced compulsory service for home defense, but King, fearing an Anglo-French cleavage, did not send conscripts overseas during the early years of the war, preferring to avoid such a move unless absolutely necessary.

Still, Canadians were deeply enmeshed in the war. Under increased pressure from military leaders to move Canadian troops into battle, two battalions were sent to help defend Hong Kong (then a British colony), but the results were disastrous, as the Japanese imperial forces swept to victory. An ill-planned and poorly executed raid on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe was attempted, largely by Canadian troops, in August 1942, with significant casualties. Lessons learned from the disaster, however, later proved useful during the planning for the Normandy (France) Invasion in 1944. What became known as the Battle of the Atlantic marked one of Canada’s largest commitments. Canadian escorts helped protect the convoys that traversed the Atlantic bringing supplies to Britain. Again Canada suffered many casualties, both in the naval service and in the merchant marine. Under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canadians flew in both Royal Canadian Air Force and combined Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons from the Battle of Britain through the bombing campaigns over Germany to eventual victory. Aircrew losses were particularly heavy in the RAF Bomber Command.

At Normandy in June 1944, Canada was assigned one of the five invasion beaches. Casualties began to mount quickly as the offensive in France dragged on, and the Canadian army became strapped for infantry reinforcements. The Canadian army, which had been fighting in Sicily and Italy since July 1943, was crippled by particularly high infantry casualties in late summer and early fall 1944. King’s minister of national defense, J.L. Ralston, supported sending conscripts overseas and was forced to resign as a result. Ralston’s resignation precipitated a cabinet crisis, which was resolved in November 1944 when King relented and agreed to send conscripts to the front to reinforce the army’s infantry units.

Not only was Canada’s war effort in World War II far more extensive than that in World War I, but it also had a much more lasting impact on Canadian society. By the end of the war, more than 1,000,000 Canadians (about 50,000 of whom were women) had served in the three services. Although total casualties were lower than in the previous war, still some 42,000 were killed or died in service, and 54,400 were wounded. The domestic war effort was no less significant. Canada hosted, and paid much of the cost of, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which trained more than 100,000 Commonwealth airmen. Canadian factories turned out everything from rifles to Lancaster heavy bombers, and Canadian scientists, technicians, and engineers worked on advanced weapons technology, including the atomic bomb (for which Canada supplied the uranium ore). Canadian foods, direct cash contributions to Britain, and munitions for the Allies, including the Soviet Union, contributed to the overall war effort.

The government intervened in almost all aspects of Canadian life to regulate the war effort, ensure a smooth flow of troops and supplies, and curtail inflation. Agencies such as the Wartime Prices and Trade Board and the National War Labour Board represented a massive growth in the federal government, bringing a surge of government spending and a vast increase in the civil service. Toward the end of the war, the King government launched even further social welfare policies, introducing a major veterans’ benefits program, family allowances, farm price supports, compulsory collective bargaining, and a national housing program. It would undoubtedly have gone even further than it did in 1945 and 1946—a national health insurance plan was under consideration—but for the opposition of provincial governments, particularly Ontario and Quebec. Despite that opposition, however, the war produced a significant shift of power toward Ottawa. World War II had been a watershed in Canadian history, as the role of the federal government in engineering national economic growth had been considerably strengthened.


United States President Election in 2012

The 59th quadrennial presidential election of the United States is held in November 3, 2020. Frank Joseph Roberts defeated Barack Obama and other candidates and became the President of the United States. He pursued more land for the United States.

Alaska Crisis

Soon after Frank Joseph Roberts became the POTUS, Alaska is filled with soldiers of the US Army, and multiple warships nearby. This caused suspicion of a possible invasion of Canada by the United States. In December 2012, Canada moved its troops to the Alaska border.

Outbreak of War

On February 2, 2013, the United States forces in garrisoned Alaska broke the border and attacked the Yukon territories. Soon after the attack, the Commonwealth including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the Bahamas joined the Canadians and declared war on the United States. Russian territories near Alaska set up defenses and resupplied the Commonwealth forces. The Canadians took massive casualties and retreated to British Columbia and Northwest territories.

The Irish Invasions of Canada: Yes, the Irish really did Invade Canada – They Won Some Battles Too

The Irish have had a rough time in the era of modern history. They suffered from the awful potato famine and faced intense hostility when they came in droves to America. The British occupation of Ireland was also a tense subject, greatly exacerbated by the thought that British lack of aid during the potato famine was almost as bad as a full genocide against the Irish.

Many American Irish simply put their heads down and worked hard to find their place in America, but some were simply angry and wanted to do something. The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish Republican group, largely based in New York City and Ireland, that bordered on a terrorist organization, though it did contain a large international faction aimed at simply giving humanitarian aid to Ireland.

One of their main goals was to free Ireland from British rule. Though technically not under orders from Ireland, the Fenians were a large contingent of Irish fighting on behalf of Ireland.

For the thousands of Fenian supporters in America, freeing their home island from British rule was a tough ask, seeing as it was across the Atlantic. But a massive British possession loomed just to the north. The idea was formed that the Fenian Brotherhood would form an armed invasion force to seize as large of a chunk of Canadian territory as they could. They could then use this as a bargaining chip, trading Irish independence for giving back their occupied territories of Canada.

The Irish Famine caused a lot of emigration as well as resentment towards the British whom the Irish thought could have helped more.

Before the large, planned attack, a group of about 700 Fenians invaded New Brunswick, but scattered very quickly at fast approaching British warships. A discouraging result for the Irish, but apparently not too much, for the other main attack would commence just two months later.

The plan was to cross the Niagara River between the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario. The area was possibly defensible after it was secured and was able to be taken by surprise. Additionally, the US patrolling gunboat USS Michigan was sabotaged by crew loyal to the Fenian Brotherhood the morning of the invasion on June 1 st , allowing most of the Fenian invaders to get across in multiple barges.

A map of the raids in the heart of the Great Lakes region.

For such a bold attack it could be assumed that the Fenian Brotherhood had about 10,000 soldiers or more, considering their aspirations of invading Canada. Well, they probably had about 900, with a possible maximum of 1,500 men.

So, manpower was lacking, but firepower, command structure and experience were not. Many of the Fenian Brotherhood volunteers were veterans of the American Civil War. The war being very recent, they were skilled down to the individual level, being expert riflemen. They also had the ability to perform tactical maneuvers on command. The Irish also had plenty of weapons and apparently so much ammunition that they had to dump some in the river to lighten their load.

Once the USS Michigan was repaired, it was able to cut off the remaining Fenians and their supplies. Despite their position the Fenians across the river kept on marching, setting up an ambush for the soon to respond Canadian militia. The Fenian commander, John O’Neill, had extensive military experience and set up a trap to lure the Canadians to a ridge where the bulk of the Fenians were entrenched.

The Battle of Ridgeway.

The battle of Ridgeway started with the larger Canadian force pushing back the forward units of Fenian troops. This progressed according to the Fenian plan to lure the Canadians to their fortifications on the ridge. As the Canadians were pressing onward, however, their discipline absolutely fell apart. It seems that one unit formed a square formation fearing an ultimately nonexistent cavalry charge. When the order was reversed the unit fell apart and the line of advance wavered.

The Fenians noticed the wavering of the lines and decided to rally their forces and launched a bayonet charge that broke the Canadians and prompted a full withdrawal. The Canadians suffered about 22 dead and 37 wounded to the Fenian’s five dead and 16 wounded.

The Fenians knew that they couldn’t hold the town of Ridgeway and decided to take the lightly defended Fort Erie. Here, 79 Canadians made a brave stand against the hundreds of Fenian attackers. After some fierce fighting, the Fenians captured the better-defended town.

Things didn’t change too much, however, as several thousand men of the Canadian militia and British regulars were advancing towards the Fenians. Despite their successes, the Fenians were losing hope in their cause with a massive sense of impending doom. About half of O’Neil’s forces deserted, many making makeshift rafts to cross the river back to America.

In the face of sure defeat, the Fenians marched back to American soil, being apprehended by American troops just on the other side of the river. The Fenians banked on some US support or at least US recognition of the Irish holding lands in Canada, but they were mistaken. The Americans did indeed make little effort to stop the rallying of the Fenians and have been accused of giving some support. It seems that the US saw the earlier failed “invasion” and figured that the second one would have a similar outcome, so it wasn’t worth the expense to root out and apprehend the invaders.

Irish freedom was not just an idea limited to the Fenian movement, though they had some of the most aggressive and deadly tactics.

Despite the victories, the Irish invasion of Canada was a total failure, as no possessions could be held long enough to negotiate on behalf of Ireland. Despite these failures, many Fenians still held on to the idea of attacking Canada. The Fenian efforts redoubled after news that a Fenian made bomb was set off in London in an effort to break out a fellow Fenian. 120 people were injured and 12 killed by the blast. Aims for the radical Fenians seemed to shift from securing territory to simply causing enough problems to force negotiations.

This political cartoon paints a very unflattering image of the Fenians and their violent acts.

Several more raids were launched over the next several years all were utter failures. US treatment of the raiders was usually quite lenient and they often simply ferried them away from the Canadian border. Despite their best efforts, Fenian raids and bombing fostered British resentment against the Irish and greatly undermined peaceful Irish independence movements. The raids also unified the Canadian territories as the citizens and militia had to rely on themselves to defend against these attacks that could happen at any time. This sense of unity would lead to the formation of an independent Canada.

Invasion of Canada - History

On July 12, 1812, US forces under General Hull invaded Canada. The invasion was met with fierce opposition and American forces are forced to withdraw. By August 16, Hull surrendered Detroit to the British.

One of the main American goals of the war was to attack and capture Canada. The plan was to attack Canada in three places. That attack should have taken place simultaneously, but the American forces were not ready, so the western leg of that attack began first. General William Hull who had led Massachusetts's troops during the Revolutionary War led it. He was the governor of Michigan territory and as such the head of Michiganâ's territorial militia. Hull believed it was dangerous to enter Canada as long as the British controlled Lake Erie. Despite his concerns Hull went forward with his plan to march on Detroit and on to Canada.

Hull made his first mistake by sending the schooner Cuyahoga ahead on the Maumee River with some sick men and more importantly his correspondence. When the British captured it they became aware of Hulls plans.
On July 5th Hull and his soldiers arrived at Detroit. A week later Hull and his troops, (less two hundred Ohio militia member who refused to cross the border) enter Canada unopposed.

Hull headed south along the Detroit River. He attempted to lay siege to Fort Malden, but failed to capture it. At this point he began to fear that his supplies lines were too long. He sent a force of 150 to meet a supply train coming from Ohio. They were beaten back by Indian forces led by Tecumseh. Hull then sent a second larger force of 600 they to were attacked and forced back.

Meanwhile a worse setback was occurring on Mackinac Island. Lieutenant Porter Hanks commanded the Fort. His opponent was Captain Charles Robert who was the commander of the British fort of St Joseph. On July 16th he set off with 46 British regulars, 180 Canadian militia and 400 Indians to capture Fort Mackinac. Hanks had not known that a state of war existed between the United States and Great Britain. Faced with a much larger force then his own Hanks quickly surrendered to the superior British force.
As a result of the fall of Fort of Mackinac ordered the evacuation of Fort Dearborn. Captain Herald who marched out with 54 regulars, twelve militia nine women and 18 children commanded Fort Dearborn. A mile from the fort the column was attacked and surrendered. The Indians slaughtered two woman, 12 children and many of the soldiers.
Hull withdrew from Canadian territory and pleaded for reinforcements. That reinforcement coming from Ohio were unfortunately tied down on the Raisin River. The British brought to bear cannons on Fort Detroit and began an intermittent bombardment. After a British demand to surrender Hull agreed. The Northwest frontier was now unprotected. Thus ended the first American assault on Canada.

Community Reviews

When I was a college intern in Washington, D.C., I got into an argument with a student from Canada over who won the War of 1812. I, as a good and patriotic American, was perfectly aware that we had won the War of 1812. She, as a good and patriotic Canadian, was equally adamant that that they had won. It wasn&apost until later that I learned we had both been right. The U.S. claimed victory over Britain in the War of 1812, but Canada claimed victory over the U.S. because it successfully repulsed multi When I was a college intern in Washington, D.C., I got into an argument with a student from Canada over who won the War of 1812. I, as a good and patriotic American, was perfectly aware that we had won the War of 1812. She, as a good and patriotic Canadian, was equally adamant that that they had won. It wasn't until later that I learned we had both been right. The U.S. claimed victory over Britain in the War of 1812, but Canada claimed victory over the U.S. because it successfully repulsed multiple American attempts to invade and annex it.

The Invasion of Canada by Pierre Berton is a masterful narrative history of why that effort failed – and why Americans have all but forgotten it. He documents thoroughly the utter bumbling incompetence exhibited by both sides in the war, but especially by an American military force that was skeptical of non-democratic concepts such as chain of command and following orders and relied heavily for leadership on aging Revolutionary War heroes unwilling to take the risks necessary to successfully invade another nation.

As a result, the battles of 1812-13 along the Canadian border ranged from the farcical, as in Canada's bloodless capture of Mackinac Island and Detroit, to the needlessly horrific, as in the abominable atrocities committed by Americans against Native tribes followed by the natives' in-kind response in the Battle of Frenchtown. And all of it caused by a handful of "War Hawks" in the American Congress who blithely assumed war against Canada could be won in mere weeks and worked their will despite widespread opposition among the people and soldiers asked to fight it.

In many ways, Berton's account is an indictment of war in general. The War of 1812, as he shows, is a particularly egregious example of those things that make war so evil – the Americans declared war after Britain had capitulated to their demands (but hadn't heard the news yet, a situation that would reverse itself when the Battle of New Orleans was needlessly fought after the war's official end) rushed into battle without enough troops, supplies or popular support and managed to permanently alienate both native tribes and the previously friendly Canadian provinces through their arrogance and brutality. Breton in fact argues that if not for the American invasion, Canada would likely have drifted closer to the United States and eventually allowed itself to be annexed willingly. Instead, American hostility not only repelled Canada but actually hastened the creation of a founding national myth and sense of common purpose so important to nationhood.

Berton's account only covers the first year of fighting the American-Canadian frontier was a focus of the war until its end, but the tone was set by its first year, when even minimally competent American military leadership could have indeed conquered Canada with a minimum of blood shed. That did not happen, and Breton is unsparing in recounting the tragedy that was a needless front in a needless war.

[EDIT to add: This is indeed a work of narrative history Berton does his duty in describing troop movements and the strategy (or lack of it) conceived by the Great Men of the War, but he also delves deep into diaries and newspaper accounts to provide common touches of individual soldiers thrust into a conflict they barely understood.]

As a Canadian himself, Berton clearly brings a perspective to his writing, as we all do, but I never got the sense that he was interested in anything other than laying out the causes and effects of the battles over the border as clearly and fairly as possible. He succeeded with flying colors. This is an excellent book! . more

I think that without question this is the finest history book I&aposve ever read.

The narrative thrill of McCullough or Shelby Foote, the insight of Ellis or Remini, Pierre Berton manages to tell you everything you need to know in half a page, dripping with excitement and insight, yet somehow leaving nothing out.

So what is this book about? The book covers the first amazing and turbulent year of the War of 1812, focusing on the engagements in the "Northwest", really meaning today&aposs I think that without question this is the finest history book I've ever read.

The narrative thrill of McCullough or Shelby Foote, the insight of Ellis or Remini, Pierre Berton manages to tell you everything you need to know in half a page, dripping with excitement and insight, yet somehow leaving nothing out.

So what is this book about? The book covers the first amazing and turbulent year of the War of 1812, focusing on the engagements in the "Northwest", really meaning today's upper-Midwest: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New York, and adjacent portions of Southern Canada, called Upper Canada at the time. Readers will meet an amazing pantheon of figures, such as Tecumseh, Issac Brock, Winfield Scott, William Henry Harrison, and many others.

Honestly the book is wonderful enough that I'm unable to tell you much more than that if you consider yourself a fan of history at ALL, then you should consider this a book that you need to read as soon as possible. I mean it when I say I think this is the best history book I've ever read, and this comes from a very serious amateur historian. Outstanding! . more