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August 23 1812: Brock Rubs it In


On August 23, 1812, Major General Isaac Brock begins a parade on the west bank of the Niagara River. An armistice is in effect so Brock is limited as to what he can do. Brock, a master of psychological warfare,  parades his troops marching the American prisoners of war he captured in Detroit. On the American side of the river, American troops observe the spectacle with feelings of anger but also, as Alan Taylor writes, "awe at British  prowess." Taylor describes the scene in his excellent Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies ( Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010):
BEGINNING ON AUGUST 23, 1812, General Brock staged a four-day parade along the west bank of the Niagara River. His troops slowly marched north from Fort Erie to Newark, driving four hundred prisoners recently captured at Detroit. Brock displayed the prisoners to American troops watching from Lewiston, on the river’s east bank, where Major John Lovett reported: I saw my Countrymen, Free born Americans, robbed of the inheritance which their dying Fathers bequeathed [to] them, stripped of the arms which achieved our Independence and marching into a strange land by hundreds as black cattle for the market!! Before and behind on the right and on the left their proud victors gleaming in arms, and their heads erect with the pride of victory. Lovett reacted exactly as Brock had hoped: disgraced as an American and awed by British prowess.
A Federalist from Albany, Lovett regarded the parade as further proof that the Republicans were reckless fools for declaring the war and for waging it so badly. Writing to a fellow Federalist, Lovett urged: “Now use all these things as battering rams, and the walls of Democrat Jericho must fall.” Lovett even hoped that the Republican strongholds would suffer frontier raids and slave uprisings as their just deserts for declaring war: “Between Negroes and Indians, extirpation may be the price of their folly & rashness.” Although an officer in the army, Lovett felt greater animus toward American Republicans than toward the British enemy. Watching the same parade from Black Rock, Peter B. Porter focused his rage on the British, who prodded the prisoners “with all the parade and pomp of British insolence.” Porter and his fellow Republican, Colonel Philetus Swift, longed to attack the British on the other side of the river. But their commander, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, had mandated an armistice along the Niagara front. Defying that order, Swift and Porter looked the other way as their volunteers fired a cannon at the British guards landing the prisoners at Fort Erie. When Van Rensselaer demanded an accounting for the shot, Swift replied that, try as he might, he could not identify the culprits, although “most of the Regiment” had watched the firing. Lovett blamed “our war-hawks, boiling over with wrath, mortification, and despair.

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