This letter under a pseudonym was published by the United Service Magazine for March 1846.
The narrative offers many clues as to the identity of the writer. The history described follows closely that written in “Richardson’s War of 1812” by Major John Richardson, including a description of Richardson as a youthful sentry at the captured Fort Detroit. Richardson was born in Canada and joined the 41st Regiment of Foot as a very young “gentleman volunteer” hoping to earn his commission in the British Army. His service did earn him an ensigncy with the 8th Regiment of Foot which he began upon his return from captivity with the officers of the 41st Regiment from Frankfort, Kentucky. Richardson is also widely known as Canada’s first novelist. His works include “The Canadian Brothers” which is cited in the following letter.
This letter is being offered with the kind permission of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Whitehall, London.
Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, and the 41st Regiment
Mr. Editor, -- From the deep interest you profess to take in the discussion of military matters, and the facilities always afforded for the correction, through your valuable and impartial columns, of mis-statements which go forth to the world, affecting either individuals or corps, in their military character, I have no hesitation in asking you to give insertion, in the earliest possible ensuing number of the Journal to the following remarks.
The publication entitled “Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B.” by a relative of his own, has now been some weeks in this country, (Canada,) but it is only within the last ten days that I have been enabled to procure a copy of it. From the perusal of this I have just risen, and I regret that the otherwise deep gratification with which I have traced, throughout the correspondence, the workings of a mind impatient of professional inactivity and generally chivalrous and generous in its tone of feeling, should have been qualified by a sentiment of disapproval of the unjust allusion made to the incapacity of the officers of the gallant corps, who principally contributed to win for him the great object of his aspirations – the Knighthood of the Bath – I mean the 41st Regt. who are alluded to in a manner far from flattering to the pride of men claiming to be soldiers.
At page 269, General Brock is made, by the compiler of the volume, who in his eagerness to treat of the veni, vidi, vici, of his relative, and of those alone, adverts very indistinctly to the other incidents of the war, to use the following words; --“The 41st are an uncommonly fine regiment, but, with few exceptions, badly officered.”
Again, in a second private communication to the same party, and at page 301, the General, as asserted, has written, “I have no officers in whom I can confide. When the war commenced, I was really obliged to look for assistance among the Militia. The 41st is an uncommonly fine regiment, but wretchedly officered.” And, be it observed, both the strictures on the officers of the 41st are imputed to General Brock subsequently to the capture of Detroit, for which, as I have before observed, the writer obtained the Knighthood of the Bath.
That no soldier, who has ever had the honour of serving under him, could entertain a higher opinion of General Brock than I did, and do, will be made sufficiently apparent to the compiler of the “Life and Correspondence,” if he will but take the trouble to refer to page 424 of his own book; but I cannot, even notwithstanding the disinclination I feel to point out one blot on the otherwise unstained escutcheon of the gallant and ill-fated General – ill-fated because he had fallen almost at the outset of the race of glory he had so long and so ardently prefigured to himself –even, I repeat, notwithstanding my extreme reluctance to obtrude one commentary which can, however faintly, dim the lustre of the fame of him, whose deeds stand so deservedly high on the record of military worth, I should suffer a grievous injustice to the noble corps in question, were I to fail to raise my protest against this censure, which is not more extraordinary than unfounded. Deeply is it to be regretted, that the compiler of the “Life and Correspondence” had not had the good taste and sound judgment to suppress the publication of a commentary, which savoured so strongly (if true) of ingratitude, on the part of his hero, towards those who had acted, as he himself acknowledged they did at Detroit; and to whom, moreover, he was principally indebted for the victory of Queenstown Heights – a victory which, after all, was won by General Sheaffe, and not by General Brock, who was slain some hours before the main action commenced.
It is no disparagement to the gallantry of the 49th Regt. to say, that they were beaten at Queenstown, but it is nevertheless true that, unable to keep their ground, they were driven down the mountain and did not resume the offensive until, when the enemy were in full possession of the heights, the 41st (400 strong) made their appearance from Fort George, under Capt. Derenzy, and the Grenadier Company, mustering nearly 100 bayonets, under Captain Bullock, from Chippewa. Then, in fact, commenced the battle of Queenstown, properly so called, the first affair being a mere skirmish – and the results of the steady charge of the 41st on that day, aided as they were by the militia and Indians, and supported by the feeble remains of the detachment of the 49th, are too well known to need repetition here. Was this battle, then so gained – with such fearful loss to the Americans – an evidence of the “wretched officering” of the 41st? If it was, then the principle must be admitted that soldiers do not require the presence of officers to lead them into action. But, again, on the other hand, to what was to be attributed the original defeat of the 49th, and the consequent fall of their leader? What particular good officering either of that regiment or the staff, did it manifest to report the fisherman’s path by which Captain Wooll advanced and carried their position, as impracticable? Every intelligent and cautious officer ought to have known that a path, passable to fishermen, would not be the less so to a resolute and enterprising enemy, and, even if the probabilities were against the ascent, that strict vigilance which, in the field, ought to be the characteristic of every officer, and particularly of those attached to the Quartermaster-General’s Department – the head of which was upon the spot – should have guarded against any contingency of the kind. At least it will be admitted that the “wretched officering” of the 41st Regt. could find no illustration here, for none of that corps had, as has been seen, yet appeared on the ground.
That an opinion, such as that which is expressed in the two letters to which I have alluded, should have been entertained by General Brock, it is difficult to understand. But, even were it so, could the gallant soldier ever have anticipated the period when the indirect censure on the officers of the 41st Regt., as shown in the letters which were written in understood confidence, and as the expression of a mere private opinion, would have been published as a matter of history to the world, by an indiscreet relative of his own, he assuredly would have been less prone to indulge in that military communication with his family, which is so prevalent throughout the “Life and Correspondence.” And, yet, it is not a little extraordinary that General Brock should ever have made the remark, even under the sacred seal of confidence, for at page 38, and at an earlier part of the book, before he had tested the officers of the 41st in the field, we find in an official letter to the Adjutant-General (Baynes) the following paragraph, very dissimilar in tone and spirit from those ascribed to him in the private letters:
“The very great distance the quarters of the 41st Regt. now occupy, has prevented my making personally the periodical inspection of that regiment required by my instructions. But its dispersed state, and the many evils (qu. what evils?) by which it is surrounded, however great the zeal and intelligence of Lieut.-Colonel Proctor, and the other officers, so far affect the discipline and morals of the men as to justify my saying that both the one and the other must, without the probability of a remedy, progressively suffer in proportion as the regiment remains stationed in the Upper Province. The 41st Regt., having a considerable number of old soldiers, is better calculated for that service than either the 49th or 100th Regts., and no change is therefore meditated.”
Although the commencement and concluding part of this paragraph do not, I confess, appear to me to harmonize, it is still quite clear, that the whole embraces a palpable contradiction of the sentiments attributed to General Brock, in the private letters said to have emanated from his pen. In the latter, it is stated that “the 41st is an uncommonly fine regiment, but wretchedly officered” – this, be it remembered, once repeated – and yet, in the official dispatch to the Adjutant-General, every credit is given to the zeal and intelligence of Lieut.-Colonel Proctor and the other officers, while this “uncommonly fine regiment,” that is to say, the men alluded to in the private letters, are in the same dispatch commented on as “certain to suffer in discipline and morals if continued in the Upper Province.” These are assuredly inconsistencies difficult to reconcile, yet, which the compiler of the “Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock,” will do well, if he be desirous to preserve the suum cuique tribuito principle, to explain, in his second edition of a work which has now, in a degree, become a portion of the history of the British Army.
But the affairs of Detroit and Queenstown – honourable reminiscences of which are emblazoned on the colours and appointments of the regiment – are the best evidences by which to test the character of the officering of the corps, at the epoch alluded to.
Has the compiler of the ‘Life and Correspondence of Major-General Brock,’ ever obtained an adequate knowledge of what the 41st did in the course of the American War, to disprove the ungenerous, perhaps rather thoughtless, charge which has been made against these officers? If so, where, I would inquire of him, was the evidence of the regiment being ‘wretchedly officered,’ when at the affair of Maguaga, seven days before the capture of Detroit, the gallant leader of a detachment of the 41st, Brevet-Major Muir, was wounded while shooting down the man who had disabled his subaltern – the first victim among the officers in that war – Lieutenant Sutherland?
Where, moreover, was the evidence of the regiment being ‘wretchedly officered,’ when the same Captain Muir, not one month subsequently to the capture of Detroit, marched a detachment, with battering guns and the necessary materials for a siege, for the reduction of Fort Wayne, some hundred miles into the interior of the enemy’s country, and situated near the Wabash, an expedition, which was only abandoned, unaccomplished in object, in consequence of an army of nearly three thousand men suddenly appearing at a distance of a few miles in his front? Was this retreat of the 41st, on this occasion, a peaceable one? No. Captain Muir slowly retrograded before this overwhelming force – once or twice even drawing up his men, and waiting in vain, for hours, in anticipation of the enemy coming up and engaging him. And all this was done without the loss of a man or gun, or even one of the many boats by which the expedition was accompanied up the Miami River.
Where again was the evidence of the ‘wretched officering’ of the corps, when at the battle of the River Raisin, on the 22nd of January, in the following year, 1813, Captain Tallon and Lieutenant Clemow were severely wounded, and the 41st Regt., after a long and desparate conflict with the enemy, who, entrenched behind a long line of breast-work, shot them down with their rifles without difficulty, on the broad sheet of unsullied snow on which the dark great-coated forms were delineated, as so many targets, finally succeeded in bearing off 450 prisoners with their General and his staff?
And wherein. I would ask, was exemplified the ‘wretched officering’ of the corps, when at the battle of Miami, on the 5th of May of the same year, the fearless and dashing Major Chambers – aye, fearless and dashing as General Brock himself – entered the first and strongest of a chain of batteries, sword in hand, and carried it forthwith, supported only by a half dozen immediate followers, two of whom (Lieuts. Bullock and Clements) were officers of the regiment, thus giving to the men that confidence which enabled them to win to themselves an honourable claim to that ‘Miami,’ which, as well as ‘Detroit’ and ‘Queenstown,’ is emblazoned on the shield of the regiment.
And where, peradventure, the ‘wretched officering’ of the most hardly worked corps in Canada, during the war, when at the attempt to storm Fort Sandusky, an attempt that failed solely for a cause similar to that assigned by Colonel Despard in his dispatch from New Zealand, with the difference, however, that the men of the 41st did not throw away their axes but endeavoured fruitlessly to cut down a stockade with instruments provided by the Quartermaster-General’s Department, which were in the most disgraceful and most inefficient state, --where then, I repeat, was the evidence of the ‘wretched officering’ of the regiment, when the gallant Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Shortt, followed closely by his equally undaunted Subaltern, Lieut. Gordon, dashed in advance of their men, leaped into the ditch, and set the noblest example of courage to their division, while endeavouring to effect with their swords what the axemen sought in vain to accomplish? Let the Americans answer this question, for they had remarked the gallant bearing of these noble and self-sacrificing officers, who were slain nearly side by side, shouting encouragement to their men; and when the unavailing contest was over, they paid, to their chivalrous enemies, those honours of internment which the brave ever accord to the brave.
Where again, was the ‘bad officering’ of the regiment exemplified, when on the occasion of the capture of the British Flotilla on Lake Erie, in the autumn of the same year, the gallant Captain, Captain Arthur O’Keefe fought his little detachment, acting as marines, with a spirit that won for him the praises of his friends and the respect of his enemies?
Or, was it exhibited at the attempt to storm Fort Erie, when the 41st Regt., in the thickest and most disastrous part of the fight, were blown into the air by a mine sprung by the defenders, and Lieut. Gardner came to the ground, his uniform and person a blackened mass, and affording ample evidence that he had not lingered far from the post of danger?
Or, was it made obvious at the storming of Fort Niagara, or at the destruction of Buffalo, or on the retreat from Black Rock across the river, when pressed by superior numbers, which gathered from every quarter to oppose the invaders, Captain Saunders, with his detachment of the 41st spiritedly covered the re-embarkation of the party, and lost his life in the performance of this dangerous but successful duty?
Of these several instances of personal intrepidity of the officers of the 41st, and they are not less than twelve in number, I speak with the exception of the occurrences on the Niagara frontier, from personal knowledge, for, again with the single exclusion of the affair on Lake Erie, I had the good fortune to be present at every action in which the 41st were engaged during the war; nor is it to be understood that I have any interest in defending the thoughtlessly calumniated officers of that corps, for I was not one of those who could have been alluded to. I was never an officer in the regiment, but a volunteer, fighting for my commission, which I subsequently obtained in another regiment equally celebrated for its gallantry during the American contest. But – with the knowledge I possess, the recollection I entertain of the trials and hardships to which they were exposed, the immense extent of frontier, they, with the Indians, were left to guard, and which they maintained for a whole year against army after army of the enemy, whom they severally defeated, until at length borne down by irresistible numbers, the remnant of the corps were sacrificed through the incapacity of their Colonel (Proctor), of whom Gen. Brock, at the outset of the war writes so favourably, to injudicious arrangements, and not in a favourable position, as the compiler of the Life and Correspondence incorrectly asserts – knowing, I repeat, all these things – aware, as I am, that the fact alone of their being 12 months prisoners with the enemy, prevented them from sharing in the several actions which took place with the centre division during the year 1814, I should be wanting, both in duty to the regiment and in the commonest principles of justice and truth, were I, possessed of the power to do so, to fail to establish that the charge against the 41st Regiment of being ‘wretchedly officered’ is an incorrect one, and that on the contrary, no men in Canada, at that period, suffered more from privations of every kind, or more gallantly performed their duty.
But it will naturally be supposed that General Brock must have had some foundations for his strictures, even although these could never been intended by him to have been published, or he would not have hazarded the remark he did. This, I think, admits of a ready explanation. During the period, immediately antecedent to the declaration of hostilities by the Americans, there were several very young officers stationed with the regiment at Fort George. These thoughtless youths (chiefly newly appointed Ensigns), indulged one evening to a late hour at the mess-table, and got into some squabble amongst themselves, which was of course reported to General Brock. The offence was visited by the expulsion of one or two, and a severe reprimand to the remainder. This is assuredly what General Brock – a somewhat rigid disciplinarian – meant to allude to when, in his private correspondence, he denounced the 41st Regiment as being ‘wretchedly officered’. But such a view is not likely to be taken by those who are ignorant of the fact I have just related, of a remark made at a moment when the regiment was in the presence of the enemy. When the 41st is spoken of, or rather written of, as an ‘uncommonly fine regiment, but wretchedly officered’, the inference that would suggest itself to every reasonable mind is, that the commentary applies to the relative efficiency in the field.
It cannot be supposed for one moment that the officers of the present 41st do not feel keenly, if they have read the publication in question, a censure which they have no means of disproving, because there is not now in the corps an officer – nay, perhaps not a man – who served with it in this country; and their annoyance must be the greater from the absence of the means of contradiction. In all probability, none of those now in the regiment have ever heard of the youthful indiscretions which happened at Fort George, and which are thus alluded to at page 154 in a semi-official communication from the Adjutant-General to General Brock: --
‘The arrangements you propose respecting the unfortunate delinquents of the 41st Regiment will perfectly meet the approbation of Sir George, who approved of you not forwarding the resignation of the younger members, or indeed of any, if they are worthy of consideration.’
Little, however, did General Brock anticipate the period when the remark, submitted by him to his relative, would be published to the world, in a manner to reflect indirectly on the character of those who were destined to win for him the battle of Queenston Heights, and had already conferred upon him that fame, at Detroit, which has ever since continued to be associated with his memory. On the latter occasion I was selected as one of the guard of honour, who took possession of the fortress, and when the American flag was replaced by that of England, proudly paced, as a youthful sentinel, and with a musket quite as tall as myself, the immediate rampart over which it floated. It was no slight triumph to me.
It is impossible not to notice here, the very invidious manner in which the compiler of the ‘Life and Correspondence of Major-General Brock,’ seeks to institute a comparison, unfavourable to the former, between the 41st and 49th Regiments. Independently of the absence of good taste in giving publicity to remarks so calculated to wound the esprit de corps of men naturally not less tenacious of the military deeds of their predecessors, than a well born gentleman is of the character of his ancestors, there is a desire to show that the 49th Regiment did everything at Queenstown – the 41st little or nothing. We read of the ‘Green Tigers’, and the dread of the enemy to cross the river and face them. Now, it is entirely new to me that the 49th Regiment were governed by any tiger-like ferocity on that, or any other occasion during the war. They fought like men and brave soldiers, but they were not strong enough in numbers to contend successfully against the enemy, and were, as the most daring of soldiers sometimes will be under similar circumstances, completely beaten. As regards their share in the results of the battle of Queenston Heights, therefore, it may be asserted, without the slightest disparagement to the weak force of the 49th engaged, that they were completely worsted and placed hors de Combat; the great battle being fought, and the victory having been won, by the 500 men of the 41st, under Captain Derenzy, with whom were associated 300 Militia and a small body of Indians.
It is remarkable that no allusion, beyond a mere general (and unfortunately historical) notice is made to the gallantry of the 41st on this eventful day. Whether this desire to contrast the 49th (in which two of his relatives served) with the 41st, in a manner to convey that the former gained the battle of Queenston, and not the latter, is conceived in the same spirit which evidently led the compiler of the Life and Correspondence to give the whole history of the Tupper family, in a work professing to treat of one subject, I leave it to others to determine; sufficient is it for me to correct by these remarks, which defy contradiction, and which I trust the regiment will feel inclined to preserve as forming an historical record, any misapprehension which may have been entertained in regard to the officering of the corps while in Canada, and to satisfy the present members of the regiment, from the Colonel down to the tiniest drum-boy, that no officers employed in Canada during the period alluded to, more honourably, faithfully, or indefatigably discharged their duties in the field than those of the 41st.
General Brock was never more correct than when he described the men as an ‘uncommonly fine regiment’, I have since served in various other corps, but in no one of these –nay, not in any regiment of the British Army I have ever seen – has it been my lot to behold a more splendid grenadier or light company than those of the 41st at that time. The battalion men were fine fellows also, but the flank companies were really superb. Tall, well-built, fearless, careless, full of life, and activity, and union – eager ever to come in contact with the enemy – they were the impersonations of the excellence of the British soldier; and many a handsome cheek and manly form meets my eye in imagination, and with a startling fidelity, at this remote period of time, and many a joyous laugh rings in recollection upon my ear, as I pass in mental review those gallant fellows, most of whose bones lie rotting, not in Canada, but on the American soil. Peace be to the ashes of the noble fellows, to whose memory I am not ashamed to confess I even now, while penning this paragraph, drop an involuntary tear.
But, if the soldiers of the 41st were splendid men, the officers were not less remarkable, for the manliness and elegance of their appearance. They who, like me, remember the iron-framed and soldier-like Muir, the handsome O’Keefe, the elegant Bernard (at one period Aide-de-Camp to Colonel Bishop), the tall and martial Shortt, Bullock, and Gordon, the fiery and impulsive Chambers, the almost effeminate Clemow, who had, from his personal delicacy, obtained the soubriquet of Jemmy Jessamy, and yet was covered by honourable wounds in the course of the war, the good-looking Wails, one of the Fort George outposts, and subsequently in command of the 28th Regiment; the insouciant and graceful Clements, the punning Watson, (the ‘Middlemore’ of a work published in this country under the title of the Canadian Brothers), Townsend, Gale, McCoy, Hill, Cochran, Jones, and some half dozen others, whose names it is not necessary to enumerate – they, I repeat, who, like me, can call up the images of those men as they then were, will not feel disposed to admit that the officering of the 41st was so ‘wretched’ as the ‘Life and Correspondence’ would lead a stranger to infer. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to assert that a finer body of officers never were united in the same corps.
If I am thus minute – nay, even zealous – in my defence of the 41st, it is because the task is not less in unison with my feelings, than with strict impartial justice. I knew the regiment as a child; I entered and fought with it as a boy. In every expedition, and there were many, which it undertook into the enemy’s country, I was present. It has always been my favourite regiment, because in it my young mind was tutored to whatever love of the profession of a soldier it has since attained. Even as a first love, it has ever been present to my recollection. I have identified myself with it in whatever part of the globe it has been quartered, and no one derived more sincere gratification than I did, from its successes in Afghanistan. Yet, my prejudices in favour of the regiment could not induce me to commit myself into anything bordering on the assertio falsi. Facts only have I stated, and facts which have the sanction and support of history. This being the case, it is to be hoped that the compiler of the ‘Life and Correspondence of Major-General Brock’, who has had the equivocal taste to attempt to support the case of his relative by attacks upon others*, where support of any kind was a matter of supererogation, will, as I have suggested attach to the second edition of his work an explanation, which is not the less necessary to the character for discrimination and justice of General Brock, than to the regiment he is made so wantonly and ungratefully to asperse.
In concluding these observations I cannot but add two facts, which are not incurious, as regards the 41st. The man who now fulminates so strongly in the American Senate against the British Government, and breathes hot war from his lips and nostrils on the subject of Oregon, while his more direct attention is bent upon the conquest of Canada – General Cass – was one of the first prisoners taken by the regiment during the war of 1812. He was captured at Detroit, where he very quietly signed the capitulation of that fortress, though subsequently he thought proper to inveigh very loudly and bitterly against General Hull, for doing that in which he himself was a participator.
But not this alone. Not only was General Cass the prisoner of the 41st, but Mr. Polk, also. The regiment are no doubt ignorant of this circumstance; but it is nevertheless true, that the great man who now presides over the American people, and holds, as he fondly fancies, the destinies of Oregon, California, Texas, and Cuba was captured on the ice, with one or two others, by Captain Bullock the younger of the Grenadiers. Mr. President Polk was then a subaltern in some regiment of the line, and had been ‘reconnoitering’ Canada; a study which he has seemingly pursued from that period until now. Be this as it may, Captain Bullock treated his prisoner with every mark of attention, and gave him his own bed to sleep on, while he himself ‘roughed it’ on the floor. The President in embryo was subsequently introduced to the other officers of the regiment, dined frequently at the mess, and was made as comfortable as a prisoner of war could reasonably expect.
‘Gwell Augau Neu Chwilydd’
Niagara, Canada, January 15, 1846
* The following at page 463, Appendix D, speaks for itself – ‘He (one of the Tuppers, and a candidate for military honours) was accompanied as far as the Horse Guards by the late Lieut. - Col. Eleat, who there, or in the neighbourhood, introduced him to Sir Roger Sheaffe, whom they met accidentally; but the General took little notice of the nephew of one to whom he was under much obligation, and whose fall had been his rise. And is it not painful to think that a nephew of Sir Roger Sheaffe, obtained, that, without purchase, which was withheld from the nephew of Sir Isaac Brock, even with purchase?’