5 June 2016

On the anniversary of a great battle

Tomorrow is the anniversary of a great battle, a battle where British, Canadian and American troops saw desperate combat and helped decide the fate od a continent. I am speaking, of course, of the Battle of Stoney Creek.

The first year of the war of 1812 ended with the Americans being frustrated in their hopes of easy victory, but it also ended with the death of Sir Isaac Brock, the best general the British forces in Canada. In the beginning of 1813, American attacks drove the British from Fort George and Fort Henry, and the British were forced to retreat to Burlington Heights on the West end of Hamilton. (Their earthworks may still be seen around Dundurn Castle and in the cemetery across the road from it) With the fall of Fort York in may, and the retreat of that garrison to Kingston, hey were the only British forces within hundreds of miles, and they knew the Americans were coming.

According to local legend, on the evening of June fifth a young local man by the name of Billy Green staggered into the British camp to tell the men terrible news: the Americans had camped outside of Stoney Creek, a small village to the south and east of the British camp. The Americans numbered between three and four thousand men, whereas the British could only muster perhaps eight hundred. But he also had some good news: he was in possession of the American countersign.

The British decided to risk everything on a night attack. They marched out and made their way through the great forest towards Stoney Creek. With the password they made their way through the outer sentries, and took the Americans by surprise.

The battle which followed was chaotic and terrifying, The British captured both American generals, the American cannons and drove the Americans out and back with heavy losses. To this day, bones from the dead still rise to the surface in the field of battle. The Americans returned to Forts George and Erie. It was the farthest into Canada they would progress during the war.

The battle is not much remembered now, although the town of Stoney creek celebrates it every year. The War of 1812-14 may as well be a contemporary with the wars of Rome and Carthage: remembered solely that one side won, and the other lost. But it was not without its influence. Had the American won, they would have controlled Upper Canada from the Great Lakes to Kingston, and the out come of the war, and the subsequent history of North America, and, if I may be so bold, the world, would have been very, very different. We owe much to the courage of those outnumbered British and Canadians and their daring gamble. Unless you're American.  Then you probably hate those guys, assuming you know they exist.

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