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Opinion: Echoes of the Canadian War of 1812 at play in the invasion of Ukraine

The Americans invaded Canada two centuries ago in an attempt to annex the territory, but were defeated by a much smaller force.

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US President James Madison launched the War of 1812 on June 19 in circumstances eerily similar to those in Ukraine today. The annexation of Canada to the United States was his goal.

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The time had come. British forces are occupied with the war with Napoleon, leaving only 1,800 Redcoats to defend Upper Canada’s vast frontier and its 80,000 people. Americans outnumbered Canadians by more than 20 to one.

The Americans invaded on three fronts: the Detroit River in the west, the St. Lawrence River in the east, and the Niagara River in the middle. The first force to invade was led by General William Hull.

“Inhabitants of Canada! he proclaimed, “The army under my command has invaded your country…You will be emancipated from tyranny and oppression.

As his forces advanced along the Thames, they “liberated” homes and farms by looting and burning them. It must have been common practice.

Entire towns were burnt down over the next few months, including the provincial capital, York, in the spring of 1813, and later that year the town of Niagara during a blizzard in December, leaving residents to perish in the cold. .

Fortunately, a resistance hero had arisen. Men between the ages of 16 and 60 were to serve in the militia, and Major General Isaac Brock organized and trained them as infantry, artillery, Calvary, and even a Great Lakes naval unit.

Full-time, professionally trained colonial regiments, including the Glengarry Light Infantry, Canadian Fencibles, Voltigeurs du Bas-Canada and 104e Régiment du Nouveau-Brunswick, as well as contingents of First Nations warriors were under his command. He pressed the American invaders on all three fronts.

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Brock’s strategies and leadership inspired a very solid defense. Despite the odds, and with the help of First Nations warriors led by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, he drove Hull’s army from the province, then defeated them at Fort Detroit. Alas, he later died of musket fire at Queenston Heights in October 1812.

The British finally chose his successor more than a year later, but only after the Americans had occupied parts of Upper Canada. Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond enjoyed instant success, leading his troops to victories on American soil at Fort Niagara and Buffalo. But his greatest test was yet to come.

On July 3, 1814, a highly trained force of 5,000 Americans rowed across the Niagara River in an attempt to conquer Canada. Their first target was Fort Erie, just across the river from Buffalo and guarding the entrance to Lake Erie.

The 137 Canadian troops garrisoned there quickly surrendered and the Americans began their march north, encountering fierce resistance along the way. On July 25, the bloody battle of Lundy’s Lane took place, where four of the five generals present were killed.

The Americans withdrew to Fort Erie and proceeded to transform the small stone fort into a strategic stronghold housing 3,000 troops. They were waiting for reinforcements.

General Drummond is injured in the neck, but continues to lead. His job now was to contain the Americans at Fort Erie and prevent them from achieving their objective of flying the Stars and Stripes over Upper Canada.

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In his excellent 2017 book, A History of Canada in Ten Maps, Adam Shoalts describes the siege of Fort Erie and the bloody and unsuccessful attempt to storm it on August 15, 1814. The Canadians lost far more men than their adversaries and were at risk of failing in their goal of stopping the invaders.

Things could have turned out much differently had the British not defeated Napoleon, freeing up troops to defend the North American colonies. The Redcoats captured Washington and burned down the White House on August 25.

By November 5, all invading forces had retreated across the border. Seven weeks later, the Americans sued for peace, renouncing all claims to Canada.

Territorial greed, savagery, false claims – sound familiar?

Fred Clipsham is a Regina-based commentator.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.