Notes on "The Surrender of Detroit": Annals of the War
Notes on "The Surrender of Detroit"
1. "The pickets on the wall." At the time of the War of 1812, Detroit was but a small community of about one thousand people, French and English. The place was surrounded by a picket fence provided with openings here and there for musketry defence against Indian incursions. The fort proper, erected on a height of land overlooking the town, was rectangular in form, and provided with bastions and barracks—all enclosed within a double row of pickets. When General Hull arrived, there was a garrison guarding the place of about a hundred men.
2. "The Britisher has brought his lines in sight." General Brock landed his men at Spring Wells, which lies at the base of rising ground immediately opposite Sandwich, and about three miles from Detroit. It is said that Brock had clothed the militia with red tunics; and, when he had brought his whole line to within five hundred yards of the American line drawn up outside the fort to meet a first attack, Hull suddenly, and to the surprise of his officers, issued an order for retreat within the fortifications, no doubt thinking that the British array in red consisted entirely of regulars.
3. "When he let Fort Malden 'scape." Fort Malden held a commanding position at the entrance to the River Detroit, a little to the north of Amherstburg and overlooking the narrow channel between Bois Island and the mainland. When Hull arrived on the scene, it is said that he knew little or nothing of the strength or weakness of the place. Indeed, it was on account of its weakness as a stronghold that Proctor subsequently did not wait until Harrison had invested it. The place comprised four bastions, flanked by a succession of dry ditches surrounded by a single picket fence. All of the buildings were of wood roofed with shingles. Before the arrival of Proctor, Colonel St. George had orders not to attempt its defence should it be attacked, but rather to risk an engagement on the outside should any armed force approach it for the purpose of besieging it. When Harrison arrived at the fort, crossing from the Miami region, he found it destroyed by fire. Proctor had ordered its destruction on the day he made his retreat towards the River Thames.
4. "With Maguaga's battle won and lost." The battle of Maguaga was the most important of the hand-to-hand engagements in the skirmishing undertaken by Hull's officers preliminary to the final surrender of Detroit. The site of the battle lies fourteen miles from Detroit and four miles from Brownstown, a village on the Huron River and nearly opposite Amherstburg. The collision occurred in connection with the last attempt on the part of Hull to send an escort to the relief party on its way on the southern side of the River Raisin. The American troops were placed in charge of Colonel Miller. Major Muir had charge of the British troops, strongly supported by Tecumseh and his tribesmen. In the first onset, Muir was driven back; and, even after a daring rallying against Miller's line, with the Indians on his right and left, he failed to drive the Americans from their vantage-ground. Thereupon, during a pause. Miller sent to Detroit, claiming a victory, and asked Hull for more men and an additional supply of provisions to help him out in following up his advantage. But before these arrived, Muir had again faced the American lines, and withstood them so stubbornly that Miller, on the advice of Hull, withdrew his whole force to Detroit. The preliminary repulse would have been a complete victory, at least so it was said by Hull's officers in command with Miller, had additional support been sent out more expeditiously from Detroit, But for their general's timidity, they afterwards claimed, the battle would have been a victory for them from start to finish, and the surrender of Detroit obviated.
5. "The olive branch he brought." The proclamation which General Hull issued to the people of Canada, immediately on his arrival at Detroit, had about it more of a blatant philanthropy than the astuteness of the experienced commander, who knows that there are difficulties in his way that have to be overcome before he can think of asking favours from the enemies he would subdue. As it was, he offered to Canadians emancipation from tyranny and oppression and a restoration to "the dignified station of free men," without thinking how much of that kind of thing had to be done in his own country. "After thirty years of peace and prosperity the United States have been driven to arms." Who drove them to arms, if it was not the virulence of their own "war-party" over-ruling the wise counsels of their "peace-party"?) "I come prepared for any contingency. I have a force which will frown down all opposition, and that force is but the vanguard of a much greater." (See his own confession about his lack of resources from the very first, and then deny, if one may, that such a document was utterly unworthy approval at the hands of the authorities at Washington, who could not but be privy to the bombast about the whole thing.)
6. "Through the forest's friendless lanes." The route which Hull's army had to take from Dayton lay through an all but unbroken wilderness of forest lands, including the morasses and swamps of Northern Ohio. A first pathway had in many places to be cut out of the thickets. Streams had to be bridged, and malaria and flies of all kinds had to be contended with. No wonder the inexperienced Hull became disheartened as he passed through a territory beset with terrors real and imaginary. For was it not the land of the wild Indian who had not yet forgotten the bloody battle of Tippecanoe, and whose most prominent chiefs—the astute Tecumseh and his brother "The Prophet" among them—were even now contemplating an alliance with the English, the moment open war was proclaimed between the two great "white" nations?
7. "My army counts only a thousand or two." In the army mobilized at Dayton, there was said to have been two thousand five hundred men. When Hull capitulated, there were nearly two thousand taken prisoners. General Brock is said to have had thirteen hundred men with him when he appeared before the fortifications of Detroit, these including the Indians under Tecumseh. In reporting the surrender of the place to the American Secretary of War, General Hull, among other things, said: "The surrender of Detroit was dictated by a sense of duty and a full conviction of its expediency. The bands of savages which had joined the British force were numerous beyond any former example. Their numbers have since increased; and the history of the barbarians of the north of Europe does not furnish examples of more greedy violence than these savages have exhibited. A large portion of the brave and gallant officers I commanded would cheerfully have contested until the last cartridge had been expended and the bayonets worn to the sockets. I could not consent to the useless sacrifice of such brave men, when I knew it was impossible for me to sustain my situation. It was impossible in the nature of things, that an army could have been supplied with the necessary supplies of provisions, military stores, clothing, and comforts for the sick, on packhorses, through the wilderness of two hundred miles, filled with hostile savages. It was impossible that this little army, worn down by fatigue, by sickness, by wounds, and by deaths, should have supported itself against the collected force of the northern nations of Indians, and against the united strength of Upper Canada, whose population consisted of more than twenty times the number contained in the Territory of Michigan, aided by the principal part of the regular forces of the province and the wealth of the north-west and other trading establishments among the Indians which have in their employment more than two thousand men."
8. "Disaster tears loose in its rage." The incident is thus given in detail by Lossing. " A ball came bounding over the wall of the fort, dealing death in its passage. A group standing at the door of one of the officers' quarters were almost annihilated. Captain Hanks of Mackinaw, Lieutenant Sibley and Dr. Reynolds, who accompanied Hull's invalids from the Miami, were instantly killed, with Dr. Blood severely wounded. Two other soldiers almost immediately were killed by another ball, and still two others on the outside of the fort were slain. Many women and children were in the house where the officers were slain. Among them were General Hull's daughter and her children. Some of the women were petrified with fright, and were carried senseless to the bomb-proof vault for safety. Several of them were bespattered with blood; and the general who saw the effects of the ball from the distance knew not whether his own child was slain or not. These casualties, the precursor of future calamities, almost unmanned him, and he paced the parade backward and forward in the most anxious frame of mind."
9. "Of the Bloody Bridge exploit." The American army, before it embarked from the western side of the Detroit to invade Canada, had to cross the so-called "Bloody Bridge" which spanned a streamlet to the north of the town then known as the " Bloody Run." The names originated as far back as the days of Pontiac, when that chief and his warriors drove an English troop back to Fort Detroit, Hull's army landed in Canada at a spot a little distance from the site of the present town of Windsor.
10. "Of Aux Canards and its battle drawn." On the road between Sandwich and Amherstburg, there are the estuaries of one or two streams which run into the Detroit River, the principal of which are Turkey Creek and Aux Canards. Across the latter, about four miles from Amherstburg, a bridge had been erected; and, when Hull sent out his first reconnoitring party, he learned that a detachment from Fort Malden had established itself on the south side of the bridge. The American captain in charge of the reconnoitring party, on finding the road to Fort Malden impeded, made a detour of three or four miles up the stream to a ford, whence he returned on the other side, and forced the English soldiers guarding the bridge to retreat towards Fort Malden. A few days after, a report was carried to the American camp near Sandwich that the bridge had been partially dismantled and that the road and mouth of the stream were strongly guarded by a British gunboat. The Americans made another attempt to fight their way to Fort Malden, but were again worsted and finally forced to retreat to their camp.
11. "Of the raiding of the Thames." From Sandwich to the mouth of the Thames is a distance of a little over forty miles by the shore line of Lake St. Clair. Chatham is about fifteen miles up the river. The battlefield where General Proctor met defeat when overtaken by General Harrison, is about fifteen miles beyond Chatham, not very far from the Indian settlement of Moraviantown. When General Hull called a halt to his attempts on Fort Malden by way of the Sandwich Road, he sent one of his colonels up the Thames on a foraging tour, the raiders bringing back with them a large stock of provisions and other military supplies.
12. "Of Denny turned from Turkey Creek." Turkey Creek was twelve miles from Hull's encampment on the east side of the Detroit. Major Denny was sent out one day by Hull to drive the Indians from the district between the estuaries of Turkey Creek and Aux Canards, and thus open up the way for a dash on Fort Malden. The Indians were, however, not to be driven back. On the other hand, the tribesmen drove the Americans back to their camp, where Denny was court-martialled for his lack of success. It is needless to say that the Major was exonerated. At least we know that when Hull decided to take his army back to the Detroit side of the river, he left Major Denny with a troop and sundry convalescing soldiers at Fort Gowris, or what had been the residence of a gentleman-farmer whose name was Gowris. On Brock's arrival, Major Denny received immediate order from Hull to betake himself with his mixed charge across to Detroit.
13. "And what was it Tecumseh told?" Tecumseh was one of the most sagacious and influential of all the chiefs of the Shawnee tribe. In 1805, he joined with his brother, Elakwatawa, otherwise called "The Prophet," to organize an Indian confederacy against the new republic. The issue of the confederacy was the battle of Tippecanoe, which was fought during the absence of Tecumseh from his compatriots. Afterwards, in the Detroit campaign, Tecumseh and his followers were of the greatest service to the defenders of Canada. He shared in the victory of Maguaga, as well as in the subsequent siege of Fort Meigs by Colonel Proctor. He was killed in the battle of the Thames or Moraviantown. His name will ever be a household word in Canada, for bravery and persistency on the battlefield. He was wise in the counsel he gave, and is especially to be remembered for the restraint he had upon his warriors in their cruel practices of outraging the dead and dying on the battlefield. When Proctor set out on his military exploitations in the Miami region, Tecumseh is said to have taken fifteen hundred of his tribesmen to take part in the campaign. With a second force rallied from all parts, after the defection at Presque Isle after Proctor's enforced withdrawal from before Fort Meigs, he joined in the retreat up the Thames. It is said that, having a premonition of defeat in the battle of the Thames, he laid aside his war accoutrements and then rushed into the hottest of the fight, his dead body being found on the battlefield clad in the ordinary habiliments of an Indian returning from a hunting expedition. He was born near Springfield, Ohio, in 1768; and met his death in 1813.
14. "In the Brownston fight against Van Horne." Major Van Horne was the officer who had charge of the first of the proposed escorts sent out by Hull to bring to Detroit the Meigs relief party, which could get no farther than the River Raisin, the English and Indian reserves at Brownston, shrewdly sent over from Amherstburg, interrupting the way.
15. "Till the big knives were subdued." When General Brock had his first conference with Tecumseh at Amherstburg, the latter had under his command nearly a thousand warriors. And when the Indian chief was asked whether he could restrain his men from drinking whiskey when out on service, he informed the English commander that every man of them had taken a vow to shun the fire-water until the "Big Knives," that is, the white men of the United States, had been subdued by the British and themselves fighting in company under the Union Jack.