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The Winter of 1812 - 1813

After the Battle of Queenston Heights Laura Secord spent long hours nursing her husband, who drifted in and out of fever and delirium from wounds he had received. The Army surgeon had removed the ball from his shoulder but was worried that if he removed the ball from his knee he could be crippled permantly from the operation. Laura's only choice was to try and keep the wound clean so gangrene did not set in. It would be quite sometime before her husband would be able to do any work at all.

After defeating the Americans at Queenston the men in the militia wanted to get the last of their crops off. The British officers were swamped with requests for leave so the men could return to their farms. As the spirit of the enemy had been temporarily broken, the requests were granted, with the warning to be prepared for recall at a moments notice.

Meanwhile, the Americans were feeling the embarrassment of the loss at Queenston Heights. General Van Rensselaer resigned his command, which was taken over by Brigadier General Alexander Smyth, a regular officer. Smyth was determined to erase the stigma of both Detroit and Queenston before the end of the year. On November 9th he was bragging that he would invade Upper Canada before the end of the month. This boasting put the British in the peninsula on their guard. To stop any attempt of the American invasion the British began a bombardment of Smyth's headquarters on the 17th of November destroying and burning some barracks.

The commander of the New York Militia, General P.B. Porter had a cannon ball crash through the roof of his home while he had dinner, the ball narrowly missed him.

November 21st the British bombarded Fort Niagara with red-hot shot. The Americans replied with the same and buildings on both sides of the river were burned. The British fired two thousand rounds in this engagement.

On November 28th at 3 o'clock in the morning, the Americans quietly crossed the river from Black Rock (modern day Buffalo N.Y.) in a light snowfall. They were in two groups 400 men in all and came in advance of a main invasion force. One group was to destroy the bridge over Fisherman's Creek to delay any reinforcements from Chippawa. The other group was to capture and spike the guns in the battery between Fort Erie and the creek.

The British were waiting, but, despite heavy fire and the loss of several boats, the first group managed to capture and spike the guns. The second group, however, reached the bridge only to find only to find that they had forgotten their axes in the boats. The British soon counterattacked driving them back to the river.

As dawn broke, gray and overcast, Captain Samuel Hatt of the 5th Lincoln Militia stood and watched in amazement as the main American invasion force began to embark in full view of the British defenders. Captain Hatt had led his flank company at Detroit and Queenston and helped drive away the American advance party that was attempting to destroy the bridge at Fisherman's Creek. Despite warnings and threats from their officers more and more men lined the shore to watch the enemy as if it were some entertainment.

It was late afternoon before the troops were fully embarked, some had sat in their boats for hours with snow falling and ice rushing past in the fast current of the Niagara River. A boat with a flag of truce crossed the river demanding that the British surrender. The American officer was taken to see Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Bisshopp, the local commander, who refused to accommodate General Smyth. To the amazement of all watching, shortly after the American boat returned to the other side of the river, the American troops began to disembark and head back to their camp.

The next morning more activity was seen on the American side, but the troops quickly dispersed. The following day embarkation began again, and again the Americans disembarked, the sound of musket shots were heard in the British positions coming from the American side. Deserters later told a hair-raising story of officers breaking their swords, soldiers smashing their muskets in humilation and frustration at the behavior of their General. Some even fired into his tent and he was forced to move around in fear for his life. The American regulars went into winter quarters and the militia were sent home.

The British breathed a sigh of relief and the locals began to prepare for the spring planting. All hoped that peace would last long enough to accomplish all the chores required to get the crop in.

While the farmers worried about the prospects of planting and harvesting the following season, the authorities worked hard to ready themselves for the summer campaign of 1813. They had a number of difficulties to overcome if they were to be successful in defending the province. The lack of sufficient British regular troops was compounded by the total lack of enthusiasm by many of the residents of the peninsula for militia service.

The British ask prominent people in the community to help convince their neighbours to come forward. One such person was Joseph Willcocks, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, who worked tirelessly to recruit troops for the new Incorporated Militia Regiment that was being raised in the province.

Although he had been a bitter enemy of the government, once war was declared he had thrown himself into the British causes. He had persuaded the Six Nations to come into the war on the British side and even fought as a voulunteer in John Norton's contingent of warriors at Queenston.

Joseph Willcocks came to Upper Canada from Ireland about 1800 at the age of twenty-seven. He worked for his distant cousin, the Receiver-General, Peter Russel and then for the Chief Justice, Henry Allcock. Through Allcock's patronage he was named Sheriff of the Home District in 1804. His political views lost him this appointment in 1807 and he settled down in Niagara. He was elected to the legislature in 1807 and represented his riding until 1813. Joseph Willcocks was to become the Benedict Arnold of Canadian History.