Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 15: May 2011

Articles

The Final General Order Issued by Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost, Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of British North America, 1811-1815

By John R. Grodzinski, PhD

Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost led the British war effort in North America during the War of 1812. His appointment came at a time where Britain hoped to discourage the Americans from declaring war and Prevost, an experienced general officer and colonial governor, was selected as the political and military leader of British North America. Prevost had been advised of this possibility as early as 1808, when he became lieutenant-governor and commander in chief of the forces in the Province of Nova Scotia. In the intervening three years, he learned much about preparing a colony for war with limited resources and, through agents he sent into America, about the United States.

Prevost’s wartime leadership has been poorly studied and modern interpretations of his conduct are based upon statements made by his contemporary critics. Furthermore, the four charges that had been laid against Prevost by the Royal Navy in 1815 were left unanswered due to the general’s premature death in early 1816, leaving a popular image of a man who was a poor military leader.

The navy’s charges against Prevost also had an effect on British political leadership, seeking an end to a prolonged period of war. In late 1814, the government decided to recall him, but only once it had agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Ghent, thus ending the war.

Prevost received first notification of his recall on 2 March 1815, the day after he learned the Treaty of Ghent had been ratified by the British and American governments.

Before he left Lower Canada for the last time on 3 April 1815, Prevost issued his final general order in March. This document provided a summary of the major events of the war and the success achieved by British arms. Copies of this order appeared in newspapers throughout British North America and were also printed in several American newspapers. The order appeared in the Columbian Centinel on April 19, 1815 (not March 19th as is often reported) and the April 26, 1815edition of the Hallowell Gazette published in Hallowell, ME. 

Whatever one might conclude of Prevost’s leadership during the war, he was successful in executing the orders he received from the Prince Regent: to defend the British North American colonies from American aggression.

The complete text of Prevost’s final General Order appears for the first time since 1815 below.  Please note spelling and usage is as it appears in the original order:

It has fallen to the lot of this army to struggle through an arduous and unequal contest, remote from succour and deprived of many advantages experienced in the more cultivated countries of Europe; yet His Excellency has witnessed with pride and admiration, the firmness, intrepidity and patient endurance of fatigue and privations, which have marked the character of the army of Canada. Under all these circumstances valor and discipline have prevailed, and although local circumstances and limited means have circumscribed the war, principally to a defensive system, it has, notwithstanding, been enobled by numerous brilliant exploits, which will adorn the pages of future history.– At Detroit, and at the River Raisin two entire armies with their commanding Generals were captured; and greatly superior armies were repulsed. The several battles of Queenstown, Stoney Creek, Chateauguay, Chrystler’s, La Colle, Lundy’s Lane, near the falls of Niagara, and the subsequent operations on that frontier, will ever immortalize the Heroes who were on those occasions afforded the opportunity of distinguishing themselves.– The capture of Michilimackinac, Ogdensburg, Oswego and Niagara by assault are trophies of the prowess of British Arms. The names of the respective officers who led his Majesty’s Troops to these several achievements already known to the world, and will be transmitted by the faithful historian with glory to a grateful posterity.

Reviewing past events, it is with exultation His Excellency reflects on the complete success which has crowned the valour, exertions and perseverance of this gallant army, by terminating each successive campaign in the defeat and discomfiture of all the enemy's plans, in which the utmost energies of the government of the U. States have been exhausted in vain efforts to accomplish his avowed object, the conquest of these provinces.



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