Explosion 1812 (2012) - full transcript

On April 27, 1813, American forces defeated the British at York (present-day Toronto) and captured the capital of Upper Canada - but not before suffering their own losses. History Television's Explosion 1812 looks at the Battle of York and unearths new evidence around this lesser-known event from the War of 1812

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It's June, 1812.

36 years after the
Declaration of Independence,

the United States declares war on Britain,

and invades her colony in upper Canada.

Britain is already locked
in a life and death struggle

with Napoleon in Europe.

Upper Canada is poorly defended,
and vulnerable to attack.

A majority of its
population is American-born.

U.S. politicians are
convinced they'll be welcomed

with open arms, and former
President Thomas Jefferson

declares "victory will be
a mere matter of marching".

The odds are stacked in
favor of the United States,

as the fate of North America
hangs in the balance.

Today, the War of 1812
is largely forgotten,

but unfairly so.

Rarely in history has there
been so much at stake.

If the U.S. had managed to conquer Canada,

today the United States
would extend unbroken

from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico,

to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Circle.

And the world today would
be a very different place.

But this isn't what happens.

One year into the war,

the United States attacks York.

The British defenders of Fort York

detonate their Grand Magazine,

an armory packed to the rafters
with much of the province's

ammunition supply, nearly
30,000 pounds of gunpowder.

Together with 10,000 cannonballs,
and 30,000 cartridges.

At the time it's one of
the biggest explosions

ever witnessed in North America,

and more than 250 American
soldiers are either killed

or maimed by the blast.

In the days that follow,

the U.S. Army will wreck a bitter revenge

on the civilian population,
who will come to see them,

not as liberators, but as aggressors.

A series of events is set
in motion that will not only

change the outcome of the war,
but the destiny of a nation.

21st Century Toronto stands
as a modern metropolis

upon the northern shores of Lake Ontario,

and today is home to
five million Canadians.

Little now remains of the
muddy settlement it once was,

a frontier town called York,

that was the backwoods capital

of the British province of Upper Canada.

But buried in the heart
of the city is Fort York,

an archaeological treasure trove,

and one of the best
preserved 19th Century forts

in the whole of North America.

It was also the site of the explosion.

So for me, this is like one of those places

that should give any Canadian goosebumps.

Symbolically, this is Ground
Zero in the War of 1812.

Today, Dr. Ron
Williamson is leading a team

of archaeologists in search of
the remains of the magazine,

and the crater left by the explosion.

Material evidence from the
crater could shed light

on a little known and poorly
understood episode of the War.

Why were so many U.S.
soldiers killed by the blast?

Were they, as the Americans
would later claim,

victims of a giant
improvised explosive device,

deliberately detonated by the British,

or were they the unintentional
collateral damage of war?

It's a turning point in the conflict,

and yet it has never been

scientifically investigated until now.

As long as I've been associated

with Fort York, people
have talked about this.

They've talked about this crater.

And that kind of conversation
has never led to,

"well, let's go see if we can find it".

So this is a unique effort here.

To see if we can lay in a
trench to locate where it is.

It's a little bit of a needle
in a haystack, quite frankly.

Although the configuration
of the Fort has changed,

there is still a clue as to the whereabouts

of the original Magazine,

which was dug into the
embankment on the shoreline

facing the lake.

A military survey of the Fort from 1816,

clearly shows the outline
of a massive crater

buried into the side
of the Fort's ramparts.

The gun emplacement
provides a rough coordinate.

And so a trench is laid up the
side of the modern rampart,

in the hope of intersecting it.

Andy Robertshaw, a military historian,

and Director of the Royal
Logistic Corp Museum in England,

has been recruited to help interpret

what the archaeologists uncover.

This is the bit I love,

because it's just like unpeeling an onion.

You've got this nice green turf;

what's underneath it isn't clear.

You only know what it is when you find it.

And right now they're finding things,

what it is, I don't know.

We've got a real problem here.

With the dig for the Magazine barely begun,

lead archaeologist Dave
Robertson has hit, not a crater,

but an obstacle.

The problem is that in going down,

you hit basic groundwater.

And what's that's doing, is
it's actually dissolving,

as it were, the sand layer below that,

which means that the walls
are being undermined,

and it gets very dangerous.

No one can go down there.

After two centuries of landfill,

the shoreline has shifted,

leaving the modern fort high and dry.

But originally, it stood
at the water's edge.

A defensive bastion at the
mouth of a natural harbor,

protecting the town to the east.

Known as Muddy York, the
capital of Upper Canada

was a remote outpost of British rule,

clinging to the edge of the
North American wilderness.

There were less than 800 inhabitants,

many of whom were American-born.

At the end of the American
Revolutionary War,

a border was drawn between the new

United States of America
and the remaining colonies

of British North America.

A small group of around 6000 refugees,

known as Empire Loyalists
moved from the U.S. to make

a new life in Upper
Canada, on the north side

of St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.

But they were joined in the
years after the war by 40,000

American-born immigrants attracted

by the promise of free land.

On the eve of the War of 1812,

two-thirds of the
population of Upper Canada

had been born in the United States.

And the side that could
win the hearts and minds

of these recently-arrived immigrants

would have a massive advantage.

So you've got these English-speaking people

who are a majority in Upper
Canada, but they didn't

call themselves Canadians
before the War of 1812.

They usually called themselves Americans.

There was a great deal of
anxiety among British officials

that the people settled in
Upper Canada couldn't be trusted

in the event of a war
against the United States.

And that these people might
be closet supporters of

a republican regime of
introducing the American system

into Canada, and perhaps uniting Canada

as part of the United States.

In June, 1812, the
United States declares war

against Britain and invades Canada.

For the U.S, the British
Empire and her native allies

represent the biggest obstacle
to it's expansion west

and north across the continent.

And more than 30 years
after the Revolution,

U.S. President James Madison
and the republican war horse

believe they still have
unfinished business with their

erstwhile Colonial rulers.

The leaders of the
United States believed that

it was a continuation of the Revolution.

They believed that the British
Empire had never accepted

American independence.

Government House
at Fort York was the command

center of the province and the headquarters

of British power in Upper Canada.

The man in charge was Issac
Brock, a charismatic leader

and inspirational general who had mobilized

the British war effort
against the American invasion.

Today no visible trace
of the building remains,

and for the first time in
200 years, Dr. Ron Williamson

is trying to trace the
ghost of it's footprint

using the latest in
ground-penetrating radar.

As the GPR penetrates
deeper, it detects anomalies,

tell-tale variations in the subsoil,

which to the trained eye are indicative

of a building's foundations.

If his hunch is right, Ron may have located

Brock's lost headquarters.

As the seat of Executive Power
and the official residence

of the King's Representative,
this was the equivalent

in Upper Canada of the White House.

I'm standing in what was

probably Government House.

Now that, is a real cool moment.

We're talking about Sir Issac Brock

having been in this building.

We're talking about
possibly finding materials

this guy held in his hand.

So am I excited?

You bet.

But he'll only know for sure by digging.

Within months of the outbreak of war,

British hopes will be dealt a terrible blow

when Brock is killed on the battlefield.

But even though the British lose

their inspirational General
in the first year of the war,

American attempts to conquer Upper Canada

will fail miserably.

By year two, the U.S.
government is desperate

for a quick and easy victory,

and decides to attack the
poorly defended capital

of Upper Canada.

And it's a decision that
will have repercussions

well beyond the woods of Muddy York.

Ten-year-old Patrick Finan is the son

of the Quartermaster of the
Royal Newfoundland Fencibles,

a home-grown North American
regiment which is part

of a small British garrison at Fort York,

a lonely and isolated
outpost of the Empire.

The garrison at York,
numbering about 400 regulars,

is commanded after Brock's
death by General Sheaffe.

There'a a smaller number of militia,

the citizen army of York,

under the command of Aeneas Shaw,

who in this time of crisis
had been pressed into service

to defend the Empire.

As an adult, Patrick Finan
will write his memoirs,

including his recollection
of those dramatic days

of his boyhood.

"Having been born and brought up

"in the British army, my ideas ran early

"upon military exploits, scenes of war,

"and conquered enemies.

"My youthful heart was big
with war-like achievements.

"Upon this occasion, however,
I was to witness the reality.

"The storm of war was brooding at hand."

27th of April, 1813.

From the ramparts of Fort York,

ten-year-old Patrick Finan spies

the American fleet bearing down.

14 ships, 1800 American soldiers.

Their sights set on
York, the British capital

of Upper Canada.

General Sheaffe, commander
of the British garrison,

gives the order to intercept
the Americans as they land.

From his position,

what the General can see,
is that the Americans

are going to land down the lake shore.

The people he sends are
actually the grenadiers

of the 8th Regiment of
Foot, under Captain McNeale.

And he sends them along,
as quickly as they can,

to make their way to the landing place

to give him time to organize his forces and

to cut off the American
column as it comes toward him.

The first wave of
American soldiers comes ashore

two kilometers west of the Fort.

And it's here, in the woods,
that the British mean to

cut them off as they land.

Outnumbered by more than
four-to-one, they know that

this is where the battle for
York will be won or lost.

On the flank, the grenadiers are supported

by a small band of Mississaugas
and Ojibwa warriors.

Like many native tribes in this war,

they have rallied to the British cause,

believing the British Empire
to be their best defense

against aggressive
American expansion westward

through their lands.

But it's an alliance that is abhorrent

to politicians in the States.

Americans regarded
the British as essentially

race traitors because here
they are, they're white people,

but they're making alliances
with Indian peoples to stop

American expansion, and
in the American view,

to promote these Indian attacks
on American farm families.

So there's a great deal of
anger in the United States,

particularly among Republicans,
towards the British

for this Indian alliance.

And no one in Upper
Canada would feel the brunt

of this anger more than men
such as Major James Givins,

the Indian Superintendent.

For the likes of him, the American invaders

have sworn no mercy,
promising that any white man

caught fighting alongside Native warriors

will face execution.

At 7:20 A.M. the vanguard
of the British grenadiers

engages with the first wave
of the American landing force.

This battle wasn't decided
on the open battlefield,

it was decided in the woods.

They don't just come up
against the normal fighters

they might have expected,
blue-coated Americans

with regular muskets and smooth-bore.

Instead, it's Major Forsyth,
and his green-coated riflemen.

Major Forsyth's men have
a very bad reputation

in the American army.

They have no interest in discipline.

They're very good at
killing their opponents.

His men are absolutely
masters of their arts,

and their art is not fully firing.

It's not standing up, shoulder-to-shoulder,

firing in the standard way.

It's actually using cover.

A Major Forsyth-man are wearing
green uniforms, camouflage,

and they're in woodland,
and very importantly,

they're armed, not with
smooth-bore muskets,

but with rifle weapons.

They're crack shots.

What Forsyth's men are doing
is deliberately looking

for targets, the person pointing,

the person that everybody's looking at,

is clearly a senior man.

Kill him, and you cut off
the head of the snake.

Captain McNeale was well-liked by his men.

He led by example, he led from the front,

so when they set off, he actually
would have directed them,

not saying "go there lads, go there lads,"

but "follow me", getting in close.

Unfortunately, as they do
get close to the enemy,

the way that he's behaving
attracts the attention

of Forsyth's riflemen

and a bullet through his brain
ends his military career.

Outgunned and
outnumbered, the British regulars

are now in desperate need of reinforcements

from the militia, under the
command of local landowner

Aeneas Shaw.

The British lose their officers.

Lose cohesion, and as for where Aeneas Shaw

is in the militia, is he
going to fall on the flank

of the advancing Americans
and cause them a problem?

Is he going to cut them off from the rear?

Nobody knows.

He just doesn't appear on the battlefield.

200 years later,
what Shaw did or did not do

remains one of the great
unanswered questions

of the Battle for York.

Doctor Ron Williamson traces
what may have been his route

through the woods, now
modern-day Queen Street.

As the British grenadiers
and their Native allies

stare defeat in the face,

Aeneas Shaw, local
landowner and Major-General

of the militia now makes his
own cool and calculated choice.

With orders to act
according to circumstances,

he leads his men through the woods

along what is now Queen Street.

By coincidence, or design,
this also happens to be

where his house is.

Next stop, Shaw Street.

So the battle is waging
south of Queen Street.

Here we are, about a half
a block up, and this is

Givens-Shaw School, and
somewhere on this property

is actually, was actually,
Shaw's house, his estate.

The suspicion is that maybe
Shaw brought the militia

to this property to protect his own house.

And that's something that
might be completely consistent

with how the citizenry at that time,

and certainly the militia,

would have seen their responsibility.

Neither Shaw, nor his militia,

will make an appearance on the battlefield.

Even though, on the neighboring property,

at James Givins' house,
casualties from the woods

are beginning to stream in.

And on the kitchen table, Givins' wife,

a seamstress, must stitch their wounds.

By midday, the battle in the woods is lost.

The main body of the American
army now advances on Fort York

under the command of General Zebulon Pike,

famous explorer of the American west,

and posterboy of the U.S. Army.

Around midday, they reach an open field

which 200 years later has
become the Fort's parking lot.

Here, Ron's team have
opened a third trench.

This is the commons in front of the Fort,

but this is also battleground.

Because the Americans came
ashore a couple of miles

further west, they worked their
way through the exhibition

grounds, there's fighting,
there's skirmishing,

they make their way and
there's actually battle

in this area as well,
and into the Fort proper

on the other side.

The American column
is standing approximately

half a kilometer to the west of the Fort.

Unknown to General Pike, the
fort has now been largely

abandoned by the British,

and in the woods to the
north, the townsfolk of York

are fleeing in panic.

So here we are at the
intersection of Queen and Bathurst.

We're right downtown
Toronto, but 200 years ago,

this was the north edge of the city.

And in April of 1813, when
the Americans invaded,

what they had to do was
evacuate the women and children

from down near the lake,
down near the Fort,

bring them north of the city,

and bring them up to north,
probably north of Queen Street.

Little Patrick Finan
wanted to see what happened

to his father, his father's
involved in the battle,

and you can imagine the chaos as all these

women and children move north.

He slips away unnoticed
and he begins to head down

towards the Fort, along this way.

As Patrick Finan heads into danger,

the commander of the British
army makes a fateful decision.

The Grand Magazine at Fort
York is a weapons dump,

crammed with explosives.

Up to 300 barrels of black
powder, together with cannon

and musket balls.

To prevent it from
falling into enemy hands,

General Sheaffe gives the
order to detonate the lot.

"I heard the report,

"and felt a tremendous motion in the earth,

"resembling an earthquake."

Closer to the blast, Pike sees the flash

of the explosion.

Traveling at more than 500 meters a second,

it hurls the Americans back 20 meters.

And as the shock wave slices
through soft human tissue,

eardrums burst, lungs
hemorrhage, guts rupture,

brains are traumatized.

The shock wave is a unique
signature of the explosion.

Death will follow in
its wake, and it defines

the scope and extent of the killing zone,

deciding who will die and who won't.

In order to understand what
happened to the American

column when the Magazine blew,

Andy decides to recreate the shock wave.

And to do so, he's recruited
the help of explosives expert

Professor Bibhu Mohanty.

We've come a long way from civilization.

We've come out, actually, onto the rock

of the Canadian shield,
where we've actually got

explosives set up over there.

We've then got sensors, and
over here high-speed cameras.

The only way we're going to detect it,

is not by looking at it,

it's actually getting those
camera to be able to slow

down sufficiently to see
whether it's possible,

with the experiment to spot that shock wave

as it comes through.

Five kilograms of high explosive

are laid directly onto the bedrock,

minimizing the amount
of debris that will be

thrown into the air, and
maximizing the chances

of capturing the shock wave on camera.

Site is clear.

When viewed at a quarter speed,

the shock wave is just visible,

but gone in the blink of an eye.

That felt, it was like lightning

into the stomach basically.

You felt it through here, really high up,

so it must just be compressing
the air in your lungs.

Well I was down on the ground
and you felt it through

the ground as well.

It's a phantom of explosive energy,

barely detectable.

When slowed down nearly 30 times

the shape of the shock
wave begins to materialize.

And when seen slowed
down more than 200 times,

it's full nature is revealed.

An airborne tsunami of destructive power,

radiating outwards from the
epicenter of the explosion.

And it's the energy of this
shock wave that will propel

lethal amounts of debris
up and out of the Magazine.

We have at least 18 different
eyewitness for this event,

and they paint a vivid picture.

They talk about a huge cloud of debris,

rocks as big as two fists,

timbers, rafters, clay,
and even men blasted

far into the sky.

One eyewitness says it
took at least 30 seconds

before what he calls "this infernal shower"

to come crashing back down to earth.

General Pike says to one of the bystanders

that his back's been stoved
in, along with his ribs.

He's probably been hit by falling debris

as he lay on the floor.

He doesn't die at once,

but he dies as he's taken
away for treatments.

And around him are men
with very similar injuries.

About 25 American soldiers
are killed immediately,

but 200 are wounded, the whole area

is a scene of devastation,
debris, and bodies.

200 years after the
explosion of the Grand Magazine

evidence is unearthed in the
parking lot of Fort York.

A copper barrel hoop,
which fell to the ground

near to the spot where Pike

and the American army were standing.

That's, that's just twisted to pieces.

So that came to rest where on the site?

Right here.

Oh, that's incredible.

What I've got in my hand is, apparently,

random treated copper.

You'd think it was a bit
of scrap from a scrap yard,

but it's not.

What it is, is a section
of a small piece of one of

the barrel bands that held together

the gunpowder barrels.

And this thing has gone
from where it started off,

and fallen through the sky to end up here.

Which is way outside the Fort,

and it's exactly the kind
of thing I hoped I might

see, but not like this.

When the Magazine blows, death rains down

in all directions, but not equally so.

The American column is up
to half a kilometer west

of the Magazine.

But standing just paces
from the epicenter of

the explosion, at the
Government House battery,

are George Dugan and more than a dozen

other York volunteers, all but one of whom

will survive the blast
comparatively unscathed.

What appears to be the
asymmetry of the killing zone,

the disproportionate
number of U.S. causalities,

and the directionality of
the blast, will all lead the

Americans to accuse the
British of springing

a gigantic booby trap.

For 200 years, it's an
accusation that has been untested

and unproven, until now.

In an unconfined explosion,
the shock wave radiates

destructive energy
equally in all directions.

But this isn't what happened at York.

So Andy rigs up a second experiment.

This time confining the
explosion within a scaled down

model of the Grand Magazine,

to see if he can replicate what happened on

April the 27th, 1813.

This is experimental archaeology.

This is about what we can
prove by trying it out.

Nobody has done this before.

What happens when you blow up a Magazine,

with a doorway like this?

Will we find it comes right up,

drops down again, or does
it go in a direction?

And if so, what is that
direction going to be?

The experiment is designed

by Professor Bibhu Mohanty,
one of North America's

leading experts on the
science of explosives.

In order to document the explosion,

and to map the debris field,

four remotely controlled
cameras have been set up

around the replica Magazine.

Two high-speed cameras are a hundred meters

in front of the Magazine
at a 30-degree angle.

A third is 50 meters closer, at 45 degrees,

and a normal-speed camera
is positioned just 5 meters

behind the Magazine itself.

10 kilograms of high
explosive have been laid.

The cameras are set.

B speed, four minute warning!

All right, Caroline, hit the siren.

That was just incredible.

Let's go have a look, see what we've got.

The moment of the
explosion has been documented

from three different angles.

And what each of the cameras captures,

is evidence of what happened 200 years ago.

I can see timber up on top.


So that's been, wow!


There's tiny bits of stone here.


An almost perfectly symmetrical

and circular crater has formed
where the Magazine once stood

it's walls dismantled and thrown outwards.

But the direction of the blast

has been anything but symmetrical.

The camera positioned
just behind the Magazine

demonstrates how remarkably little debris

is thrown backwards, demonstrating how York

volunteer George Dugan managed to survive.

We've got a few bits
of debris, but actually,

up there, not in protection,

not behind Plexiglass, was this.

It was in 5 meters of
the explosion and it's

completely undamaged.

Had it been in front,

there would have been nothing left at all.

The side angle demonstrates how most

of the debris, up to 90 percent of it,

has been thrown forwards,

funneled upwards and outwards in the

direction of the doorway,

the weakest part of the entire structure.

- Come with me.
- Yeah, okay.

So we have whole line of debris on a line

along the front entrance of the Magazine.

So this matches almost the same width

- as the Magazine entrance?
- Yeah, yeah.

It goes a long distance, into the lake.

You're kidding!

It's always been assumed
that the Magazine was built

facing the lake.

If we do that, and then we blow it up,

what's going to happen is,
based on the experiments,

is all the materials, most of
it, will be ejected towards

the American fleet.

Now some of that material
does hit the fleet,

but also on the American soldiers.

For that to happen, you have to turn

the Magazine through 90 degrees.

You can dig it in, the enemy
can't shoot into the doorway,

which is a really bad idea,

more importantly, it's totally camouflaged,

they can't see it at all,
don't know where it is,

result of that is that when
you then blow the Magazine,

materials ejected based on the experiment

about 30 degrees, some of it drops on

the American fleet over there,

but the majority drops
on the Americans who are

waiting to advance.

If Andy's theory is correct,

the asymmetry of the killing
zone isn't deliberate.

It's simply a function of
how the Magazine was built,

and the direction in which it faced.

This is an accident, it's
not a deliberate war crime.

One P.M. 27th of April, 1813.

In a field west of Muddy York,

38 American soldiers lie dead.

222 injured and maimed.

A moment in time when the
future of North America

hangs in the balance.

As the debris settles and the dust clears,

the inexorable wheels of
history grind into gear

and the onward march of war continues.

Fort York has been abandoned
by the British military.

And the road lies open for the
main column of the U.S. Army

to advance once more.

Ten-year-old Patrick Finan
is witness to the moment

the British capital of Upper
Canada falls into enemy hands.

Then he gets probably to
somewhere along this spot,

and he's looking back into the Fort,

and then he can see the
flagpole of the Fort.

And what he sees is the Union
Jack lowered on the flagpole.

And he knows, even at the
age of ten, what that means.

The Americans have the Fort.

Victory belongs to the Americans.

With the Fort in their
possession, the American army

advances on the town, and
as they march into York,

the townsfolk must now
meet their new rulers.

The reality of the situation
was that the town had

been abandoned by the British
military, and all the citizens

were left to their own devices,
to deal with the Americans.

I can actually feel the
fear when you think about it

with your military, your defenses gone,

and this force coming through.

The King's Writ no
longer runs in these streets.

British authority has vanished
as quickly as the Redcoats.

The inhabitants of the town of York,

many of whom are American-born citizens,

now have a simple choice to make.

How best to protect their property.

The decision arrived at
by the inhabitants of York

in April 1813, can still be seen at

Canada's National Archive in Ottawa.

In negotiating their surrender
to the occupying power,

the townsfolk agreed to sign
a capitulation agreement,

according to the terms of
which, their private property

will be protected in return for the militia

laying down their arms.

This is the document, the order,

the terms of capitulation
from the War of 1812.

Thank you.

Just going to set it out here for you.


And see that you've got your gloves on.

What's really interesting
about this document,

is this page is nice, lots of information,

but this page here, on the very back,

it actually has what's
called an explanatory remark

on the list of prisoners.

Explantory mark on the list of prisoners.

A great number of officers were not on duty

in the garrison of York.

Many of them arrived from
their places on a boat

at a distance, at various distances,

but in time to be included
in the capitulation.

In other words, men who
weren't present at the time

of the fighting, turned up
afterwards, after the surrender,

to say "Oh, yeah, I didn't
fight, I wish I had actually,

"but I didn't, but while
I'm here, can I just sign

"that I promise I won't do anything else?

"Not that I did to start with."

So I would suggest the
someone putting this in here

as actually looked at the
terms and conditions and is

actually having a bit of a
go at the militia by saying,

"Yes, you've all signed this,
but you weren't really there,

"present in the battle.

"You've sort of piggybacked
on the whole thing."

The fact is, the people
here, giving their names,

really would like just to be
able to draw a line under it,

get on with their lives,
and for the war to go away.

Just agree, get on with it, it's all over.

But it's far from over.

Whether deliberately or otherwise,

the American officers delay
signing the capitulation,

and as the rank and file of
their army enters the town,

the explosion of the Grand
Magazine rankles still.

The soldiers feel that this was treacherous

on the part of the British,
and therefore, they feel

fully within their rights
to plunder any house

that seems not to be occupied,
and they proceed to do that.

The prime movers of
the looting are the riflemen of

Major Forsyth, "a man-killing idiot,"

according to one American
officer, "whose men are more like

"outlaws than soldiers".

But there's method in Forsyth's madness,

and the revenge he wrecks
is anything but random.

He seeks out the house
of Major James Givins,

the Indian Superintendent
who fought against him

in the woods.

Knowing what his fate will
be if he's taken by Forsyth,

Givins has fled the town of York,

but his wife Angelique remains.

Her house is entirely stripped
of its carpets, curtains,

bedsheets, and clothing.

Even after her life is
threatened at gunpoint,

Forsyth's superiors refuse to intervene.

In the first year of the war,

both sides were guilty
of larceny and looting,

but nothing on the scale of York.

And before they leave the smoldering ruins,

in a final symbolic
act, the Americans torch

the symbols of British power,
including the first Parliament

buildings, and Government
House, Upper Canada's equivalent

of the White House.

Where the ground penetrating
radar detected abnomalies

beneath the soil, Doctor
Ron Williamson's team

have now uncovered what they believe

to be the remains of a structure.

And beside it, an early
19th Century garbage dump.

As the layers are
stripped away, the vestage

of a burned post hole is laid bare.

And yet more proof of the rape of York.

In the burn layer, a shattered brick.

It's hand-made.

You can sort of see how rough it is.

It's another piece of
evidence of that burning event.

This is very important.

At the site of the Grand Magazine,

the trench now extends from
the original lake level

up the modern embankment.

Oh! What's that?

And the archaeologists have made

an intriguing discovery.

One which matches the finds
from Government House.

Under the ramparts of the
modern fort, where there was

once a crater, there is now
a jumble of buried rubble.

There's a lot of brick here, isn't there?

But it's not been laid in mortar,

it's just been jumbled, hasn't it?

Fairly rubbley.

Including deposits of burned brick.

Similar kinds of bricks,
from a similar date,

as the ones found in the
ruins of Government House.

That's what we're looking for.

We just, there are stories
about the crater being

used to dump rubbish in.

What a hole represents is a convenient

place to place garbage.

So I would expect that we
would find early to mid-19th

Century garbage used to fill it in,

debris, rubble, maybe rubble
from the Government House.

I would expect to see
some signature of a hole

filled with garbage.

Burned brick, rubble, and debris.

What is left of the
capital of Upper Canada,

dumped in a hole and
rediscovered 200 years later.

After an orgy of violence,
having outstayed their welcome,

the Americans sail away, weighted
down by the booty of war,

and the ill will of the
townsfolk they've plundered.

No longer a war of liberation,
the American invasion

of Upper Canada has become
a campaign of conquest.

And by the summer of 1813,
it's a campaign which

the Americans think they can win.

After the sack of York, the
Americans sail across the lake

to Niagara, where they capture Fort George.

They then drive back the
last remaining serious

force of Redcoats in the
colony to Stoney Creek.

The scene is set for a
battle that will decide

the fate of Upper Canada.

Stoney Creek lies just
50 kilometers from York.

On the evening of the 5th of June, 1813,

3000 American soldiers,
now under the command

of General Chandler, reached
this point along modern-day

King Street, called Smith's Knoll.

Essentially what we've got is a bank

that runs across here.

It's about 20-foot high,
dropping down towards

any potential British Advance.

He's got a strong defensive
position, which he feels

confident he can hold out
against any British attack,

if they dare have a go.

The British have retreated two kilometers

to the west of Chandler's position.

As night falls, the U.S.
General bivouacs his men

in the fields, with his
cannon on the higher ground.

Outnumbered by four-to-one,
the British know that

if they wait until morning, they will lose.

So they gamble against all the odds,

and throw the dice of war.

The British have only
one way they can attack,

but doing it in such a
way that they can get in,

without firing.

If a single American sentry fires a shot,

the whole plan's betrayed,
so what they're going to do

is approach absolutely silently
in a very, very dark night.

It's a desperate measure,
in a desperate situation.

Nothing else will work.

Anything regular,
conventional, they face defeat.

Undetected, the British
approach the American camp,

and then...

Somebody shouts, it's a scream which all

the British soldiers take up.

For a while it looks as if the
whole plan's been betrayed.

Many of the British soldiers have been

serving out here for years, they've heard

aboriginal war cries, so what
they do is they mimic them.

It's not a deliberate tactic,
we think, but what it does

it terrifies the Americans
in this position.

They are convinced that, lots
and lots of them say this,

that every Indian as they called them,

in Canada is coming towards them.

There's the classic image
that Americans were all

frontiersmen who were all hardened by their

experiences and were prepared
to fight Indian peoples

on their own terms.

There were some Americans like that.

In fact there were lots
of Americans like that,

in a place like Kentucky.

But the Americans who
lived in upstate New York,

or in New England weren't like that.

And a lot of soldiers were
being thrust into combat.

Their experience with Indian
peoples consist of stories

read to them by their
mothers about brutal savages.

Or a newspaper report that they've read

about brutal savages.

So you take these people with
very little military training

and you put a uniform on them
and a gun in their hands,

and you send them into the Canadian woods,

and they hear Indians
screaming in the background,

these people spook.

In their panic,
the Americans now open fire.

But they're shooting blindly
into the pitch black night.

As the British advance on
them with bayonets fixed.

One of the things that the
British do, is they practice

an awful lot with the bayonets.

They're very, very familiar
with getting in with

17 inches of cold steel and using it

against their opponents.

It's closing in, using
the bayonet, going for the

soft squishy parts of the body.

You try and avoid the ribs if you can,

because the bayonet would get stuck.

If you withdraw it and it's left behind,

you're utterly defenseless.

So therefore, you're going to get in,

stab, put the man down, dispatch him,

even using the butt of the
weapon to smash his head in,

and move on.

Cause you don't want survivors
standing up behind you

and shooting you.

You need to make sure
that once they're down,

they're no threat to you, and you just keep

moving forward in the dark.

Over the course of the last 200 years,

the bones of those who fought and died here

have from time to time been unearthed.

Not neatly buried bodies,

but pieces of unarticulated
remains that have

been jumbled by the
plowshare and the backhoe.

Today, these fragments of
traumatized humanity are

shedding new light on this,
the darkest hour of the war.

Pieces of bone recovered
by Hamilton City Council

from just a few square meters
on top of Smith's Knoll

are now being subjected
to forensic analysis.

We stopped at 1400 fragments that

we could identify and catalog,

and I expect to get to over 2000.

Identifiable bone fragments.

Each of which tells
a tale of terror in the night.

This is a phalanx from the hand,

it's one of the bones that
makes up your fingers.

On it we can see these scratches or lines.

And these are possibly what
is referred to forensic

cases as defensive wounds.

Bladed weapon's coming at
your head or your chest,

some think they'll grab it.

This is part of a fibula.

That's the smaller bone in your lower leg,

so this bone sort of sits in here,

and if you angle it around
slightly, you can see that there

is in fact a bladed weapon injury here.

In just one night, up
to 300 Americans are killed,

injured, or captured, including
General Chandler himself.

Stoney Creek is as close as
the Americans will ever come

to conquering Canada.

There will be more battles
fought, more farms plundered,

and towns burned, but the following year

the tide of war will shift decisively

against the United States,
and it's now that the specter

of York will come back to haunt them.

By 1814, Britain and
her allies have defeated

the Emperor Napoleon, and
brought France to her knees.

This allows Britain to
send vast numbers of ships

and men across the Atlantic.

Attacks commence right up
and down the U.S. seaboard.

Eastern Maine, New York,
even Chesapeake Bay,

striking at the very heart of the Republic.

For the Americans, what
has begun as a battle

on the northern frontier, is now a struggle

for national survival.

All of a sudden, you've
got thousands of veteran

British soldiers that can be redeployed,

and the British decide, "Okay now it's time

"for some payback.

"The Americans attacked us,
when we were at our weakest

"in 1812, now they will feel
the consequences of that."

And making a point to the
Americans that it is not wise

to attack the British lion.

August, 1814.

4000 British soldiers
advance on Washington, D.C.

One year after the Americans
attacked the Imperial

city of York, it's now
the Republic's capital

that's in the crosshairs.

At the Battle of Bladensburg,

within earshot of Washington
D.C, the President himself

leads his army in a last-ditch
defense of his capital.

His wife Dolly makes
preparations at the White House

to celebrate what she assumes will be

a famous American victory.

Already, the sounds of battle
are echoing on Capitol Hill.

And as the British get closer and closer,

panic grips the city.

And that's why,
when people were here in D.C,

when they heard 18-pounder
cannons, you know, booming,

it echoed all the way to here, so they knew

the British were close.

When the last line of American defense

collapses, the road to
Washington D.C. lies open.

President Madison, the man who
declared war on the British,

has already fled the city.

A refugee in his own country.

His wife and servants he leaves
to salvage what they can.

According to legend, it's Dolly who saves

a precious portrait of George Washington.

According to her slave Paul Jennings,

her priority is the silverware.

As the British march
down Pennsylvania Avenue,

the last remaining
elements of the U.S. Army

are left leaderless.

Thinking back 200 years
ago, soldiers come up here,

they want to find out if
anyone's home at the White House.

They go up to the front door, they knock,

no one's there.

You can just imagine the
power in the sound of silence

in that moment.

Nearly 40 years after the Revolution,

the British are back, and the
capital of the United States

is at their mercy.

Just as the Americans had put
the torch to Government House,

now the British will do the
same to the White House.

This is the first and
only time in U.S. history

that the capital will be
occupied by a foreign power.

And it would not come
under direct attack again

until the events of 9/11.

Behind the facade,
underneath the whitewash,

the scars of August 1814 can still be seen.

Scorch marks burned into the
masonry of the White House.

Towards the end of 1814,
it's becoming apparent

to both sides that neither
of them is actually

capable of winning this war.

And on Christmas Eve, they
sign the peace treaty of Ghent,

bringing hostilities to a formal close.

As for the U.S.-Canada
border, this is the border

before the war and this is
the border after the war.

There was no change, no gains
and no losses for either side.

Over two years fighting and of
20,000 battlefield casualties

the border remained exactly the same.

The victory for the U.S. will come

during the following decades
as it resumes its aggressive

expansion westwards.

And the British Empire, unwilling
to risk yet another war,

will end up betraying her native allies.

And north of the border,
there is also a change.

But this time in the
mindset of the late-Loyalist

majority population of Upper Canada.

A mindset that's been molded
by the events at York.

Before the war there's not
much to identify the people

of Canada as Canadians.

Now, after the War of
1812, you start to see,

for the first time,
English-speaking people in Canada,

calling themselves Canadians,

and taking pride in their
success at repelling

the American invasion.

After the war, and for much of the rest

of the century, the dread of
American invasion will persist.

And 200 years later, this
fear has left it's mark

on the modern landscape.

At the site of the Grand
Magazine, halfway down the trench,

the archaeologists have
discovered what happened

after the Americans left in 1813,

how the fort at York was rebuilt,

and it's ramparts reconstructed.

What we've got is a layer of timber which

goes right the way through here,

all the way through here
to this vertical timber

that seems to be driven through it.

And it's actually this
mass which sort of holds

the structure together.

In the decades that follow the war of 1812,

the fort and its defenses
will be repaired and revamped,

ready to repel American aggression.

But by the end of the 19th Century,

the Redcoats will have left.

The fort will fall into disuse,

and the secret of its
ramparts will be forgotten.

Until today.

For me, finding this
evidence of the 1814 rampart

with the landscaping above
it, it doesn't get any cooler.

This is big news, this is
something that we're going to

want to publish about, absolutely.

What we've got here is definite
evidence of the aftermath

as the people of York and
the British Army remodel

their fortress ready for another occasion,

should they come back,
they'll be a great deal more

ready the next time than they were in 1813.

200 years ago on
this site, one of the biggest

explosions anyone in North
America had ever witnessed

gouged a hole in the side of Fort York.

After the dust had settled,
and the armies of Britain

and the United States had
moved on to battlefields new,

the people of York filled in
the hole and repaired the fort.

The American-born majority
population of Upper Canada

were prepared to defend both
themselves and what they

now called home.

You know, there's that
moment in life where the place

you were born is no longer your home.

The place you've chosen to live as an adult

becomes your home.

That is my home.

And it was that little Muddy
York, and the events of 1813

that helped to solidify
the identity of Canada.