U.S. Suffers Demoralizing Defeat; Surrenders Detroit to British
When the War of 1812 began, the young United States had hopes that the inhabitants of Canada would declare their independence from Great Britain and join the American cause. These hopes were quickly dashed, however, with the humiliating loss at the Battle of Fort Detroit on Aug. 16, 1812, when the American general in charge, Michigan Territory Governor William Hull, panicked and surrendered the fort, his entire army, and many guns and supplies to a smaller British force led by General Isaac Brock. For his cowardice Hull was later court-martialed and ordered to be shot, but was spared when President James Madison remitted the sentence in honor of Hull’s military service during the American Revolution.
Hull had 30 cannons and nearly 2,500 men defending Fort Detroit, a combination of regular army troops and state militia. By contrast, Brock only had 330 regular army troops, 400 militia and 10 cannons. However, Brock outfoxed Hull by ordering his more than 600 Native American allies, led by the revered Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, to make a lot of noise and convince the fort’s defenders that there were thousands of Indians massed against them. Brock sent Hull a message that menacingly implied he would turn the Indians loose to massacre the Americans, stating in part: “It is far from my inclination to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware that the numerous body of Indians, who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences.”
Hull, whose daughter and grandchild were in the fort, ignored the protests of his subordinates and surrendered. In addition to the fort, the cannons and the army, the Americans turned over 300 rifles and 2,500 muskets which the British used to arm the local militia supporting them, greatly strengthening their effectiveness. British control of Fort Detroit also enabled Tecumseh to launch bolder raids on the Americans in the area. It would be more than a year before the Americans could recover from Hull’s surrender, recapturing Fort Detroit in September 1813.
The following three newspaper articles are about the surrender of Fort Detroit. The first article is an account of the surrender, the second is a reprint of the terms of capitulation, and the third is an editorial excoriating Hull for first promising the residents of Canada that he would protect them if they joined the American cause, only to abandon them by his swift surrender.
This article was published by the Supporter (Chillicothe, Ohio) on Aug. 29, 1812:
Capt. William Keys, who left Detroit on Monday the seventeenth and arrived here on 26th inst., informs: that on Saturday the fifteenth of August the British demanded the surrender of Detroit, and gave Gen. Hull three hours to consider the matter. After the expiration of three hours, which was then about 5 o’clock in the evening, the enemy commenced a heavy fire which was returned from our guns, on the bank of the river, with spirit, till some time in the night, when a cessation took place till the next morning (Sunday) a little after daylight; the firing again commenced and continued until about ten o’clock, when Hull ordered the [white] flag to be hoisted in the fort, shortly after which the firing ceased on both sides of the river, at which time the British and Indians, to the number of 1500 or 1600, were crossing the river about three miles below the fort, and no means taken to prevent them. A short time afterwards, two British officers were seen riding up towards the fort who were immediately met by the Gen. and conducted to his markee [tent], about 100 yards from the fort, which had been prepared for better than two days before their arrival, (in style) with pen, ink and paper, where the disgraceful articles of Capitulation were drawn up. The gates were thrown open and our brave fellows were compelled to lay down their arms to a force much inferior to their own. Cols. Cass and McArthur had been sent out with a detachment of 4 or 500 men to meet Captain Brush at the river Raisin—a flag of truce was sent after them, and after some hesitation they surrendered. Col. Findlay and Lieut. Col. Miller were in the fort at the time of capitulation. Hull’s force was much greater than that of the enemy. During the engagement with the British and Indians we had about 6 men killed and wounded. Among the killed are Doct. Reynolds, surgeon’s mate of Col. Cass’ regiment, and Lieuts. Shanks and Seberil. We heard of none killed on the part of the enemy. All the troops belonging to the army, with the exception of the regulars which were sent to Quebec, will be sent home, with seven days’ provisions. Col. McArthur’s regiment, which was sent by way of Cleveland, will be here in a short time.
When the enemy were preparing their battery on the Canada side, and throwing down a large frame house, opposite to Detroit, some of our officers expressed great desire to play upon them with our cannon, but Hull would not suffer a single gun to be fired, and exclaimed: “Those who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones!”
This article was published by the Reporter (Brattleboro, Vermont) on Aug. 29, 1812:
Camp at Detroit, August 16, 1812.
Capitulation for the surrender of Fort Detroit, entered into between Major General Brock, commanding his Britannic Majesty’s forces on the one part, and Brigadier General Hull, commanding the northwestern army of the United States, on the other part:
1. Fort Detroit, with all the troops, regulars as well as militia, will be immediately surrendered to the British forces under the command of Major General Brock, and be considered as prisoners of war, with the exception of such of the militia of the Michigan Territory who have not joined the army.
2. All public stores, arms, and public documents, including everything else of a public nature, will immediately be given up.
3. Private persons and property of every description will be respected.
4. His Excellency Brigadier General Hull, having expressed a desire that a detachment from the state of Ohio, on its way to join the army, as well as one sent from Fort Detroit under the command of Col. McArthur, shall be included in the above capitulation; it is accordingly agreed to. It is however to be understood that such part of the Ohio militia, as have not joined the army, will be permitted to return to their homes, on condition that they will not serve during the war. Their arms, however, will be delivered up if belonging to the public.
5. The governor will march out at 12 o’clock this day, and the British forces will take immediate possession of the fort.
J. McDonnel, lieut. col. militia P.A.D.C.
J. B. Glegg, major A.D.C.
James Miller, lieut. col. 5th U.S.I.
E. Brush, col. 1st reg’s. Michigan mil.
William Hull, brigadier general commanding northwestern army
Isaac Brock, major general
This editorial was published by the Northern Whig (Hudson, New York) on Aug. 31, 1812:
Surrender of Hull’s Army
Letters from Albany state, that on Saturday morning last an express arrived in that city from the headquarters of Major Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, at Niagara, which brought letters from Gen. Van Rensselaer, containing the humiliating intelligence of the surrender, without bloodshed, of the whole of Gov. Hull’s army, amounting to 2200 men, to the British General Brock, Governor of Upper Canada, whose force is stated to have consisted of 1500 regulars and militia, and about 6 or 700 Indians.
…Until the particulars of this disgraceful surrender shall be more particularly ascertained, it might be thought invidious to indulge in much remark upon the subject; but we feel ourselves justified in saying, that if the result of this expedition is indeed thus disastrous and humiliating, there is no American but that must feel the reproach which is thus cast upon his country by such unprecedented cowardice; and will hold the administration responsible for the consequences of an expedition, as ill-concerted as it has been badly executed—the failure of which must inspire the Canadians with the fullest conviction, not only of the disposition, but of the ability of the British government to defend and protect them. Where is the protection which Gov. Hull, in his gasconading proclamation, promised to the inhabitants of Canada? Is this the army which he invited them to fly to, and with which he engaged to “look down all opposition”? We were afraid, from the beginning, that nothing more would come of such vapouring.
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