Prior to the War of 1812, Pike was a well-traveled explorer of the American West as an army captain commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the southern portions of the Louisiana territory. Pike climbed in rank steadily until being promoted to brigadier general after fighting at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 during Tecumseh’s War. Then, with the War of 1812 underway, Pike was assigned to lead a campaign north from Sackets Harbor, New York north into Canada. The goal of the expedition was to capture the British capital city of York on Lake Ontario in Upper Canada. Though slowed by the frigid Canadian winter, Pike led the easy capture of York after landing his 1,600 regulars across the Lake Ontario against a much smaller combined British force. Though the garrison was easily captured, retreating British soldiers set fire to its buildings, resulting in a terrific explosion as the flames reached the powder magazine. The explosion wounded 222 soldiers, and killed an additional 38, with Pike among one of the dead.
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