The Fall and Recapture of Detroit in the War of 1812
In Defense of William Hull
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Because I am a native Detroiter and a historian, it was inevitable that at some point I would become interested in one of the more dramatic episodes of the city’s past—the surrender of Detroit by Brigadier General William Hull during the War of 1812. As I delved into the subject, I was struck by the invariably negative characterizations of Hull, made not only by his peers but by many historians over the past two centuries. In one account...
Brigadier General William Hull waited patiently as the members of the court assembled. It was 10:00 Saturday morning, March 26, 1814. On trial since the previous January, Hull was accused of treason, cowardice, neglect of duty, and unofficerlike conduct stemming from his surrender of Detroit to the British during the...
Chronology of Hull’s Detroit Campaign
U.S. Senate approves appointment of William Hull as brigadier general of the North Western Army.
Hull arrives at Dayton, Ohio.
Governor Meigs of Ohio transfers command of three Ohio volunteer regiments to Hull....
1. Detroit at the Outbreak of the War of 1812
Detroit in 1812 was a small town of 800 people living on the very edge of the frontier. It was over 200 miles from the nearest large American community, Urbana, Ohio, separated by wilderness and Indian tribes that vacillated between friendship and hostility. During peacetime, Detroit’s distance from large American towns posed no real problem,...
2. Preamble to an Unnecessary War
The War of 1812 is one that never should have been fought. For France and England, involved in their great struggle in continental Europe, it was merely a sideshow. It came about simply because these two great nations, in their stubbornness, each attempted to shut down the other’s trade with neutral countries. In doing so they ignored the maritime rights of the United States. Great Britain especially was...
3. Through the Wilderness to Detroit, May 23–July 9
On April 8, 1812, Congress approved the appointment of Governor William Hull as a brigadier general in what would become the North Western Army of the United States. The formation of the army already was under way. A call had gone out from the president to Governor Return Jonathan Meigs of Ohio two days previously to recruit 1,200 volunteers from his state for duty in Detroit. Simultaneously...
4. The Invasion of Canada, July 12–August 2
The number of troops that General Hull had available at the outset of the invasion has been disputed for generations. No official list exists. The numbers offered by officers involved in the campaign, including Hull, all differ. Historian Alec Gilpin, after comparing the various accounts as well as other evidence, has come to what is probably the most reasonable conclusion. “[I]t seems likely...
5. Tragedy on the Trail to Frenchtown, August 3–August 14
Word reached Hull on August 3 that a shipment of provisions for the army had reached the Rapids of the Maumee, only 30 miles from Frenchtown and the Raisin River. It was the most welcome news Hull had received in some time. Since July 9, the army had existed on the supplies that it had brought on the journey from Urbana, supplemented later by the food that McArthur had foraged during his journey to the Thames River. In the...
6. From Crisis to Surrender, August 15–16
Saturday morning, August 15, ushered in the weekend that would bring a sad closure to military events in Detroit as well as in Fort Dearborn on the opposite, or western, portion of the Territory of Michigan. Before it was over, the entire territory would be in the hands of the British. For lonely Fort Dearborn, now the site of Chicago, the day would prove disastrous. Over two weeks before, on July 29, General Hull had written an urgent express to Captain...
7. The Trial of Brigadier General William Hull
After he was paroled by the British in September 1812, Hull went to his home in Newton, Massachusetts, and waited to be exchanged for British prisoners of war so that he could return to active duty. Despite General Dearborn’s repeated overtures to Governor-General Prevost regarding Hull’s exchange, the British were in no hurry to act. Dearborn argued that since an exchange was in the process, Hull...
8. Was Hull’s Surrender Justified?
Given the circumstances that Hull faced in conducting the Detroit campaign, his surrender should have been foreseen. William Henry Harrison had made that very prediction to the secretary of war, but the administration was too enamored with the conviction that Canada could be captured easily. Initially it seemed that would be the case—Hull’s march to Detroit in very difficult...
9. Detroit under British Rule, 1812–14
While Hull may have saved Detroit from a massacre of its civilians, the situation after the surrender remained grim. On the very next day following the surrender, August 17, General Brock left Detroit on board the schooner Chippewa bound for Niagara. He was anxious to return to the eastern theater of the war in case the truce negotiated with...
10. The Recapture of Detroit
The military events of 1813 leading up to the recapture of Detroit suggest what Hull also might have accomplished had he been afforded the same resources as Brigadier General William Henry Harrison and had the Americans been in control of the waterways of Lake Erie and the Detroit River. With these advantages Hull probably would have approached his Detroit campaign differently, and its outcome could have been completely different. In March 1813, two months after...
Hull’s reputation as a Revolutionary War hero and governor suffered irreparable damage as result of his surrender and subsequent court-martial. In a twist of irony, those who helped bring about the surrender by their intentional as well as unintentional lack of cooperation with Hull during the Detroit campaign went on to achieve surprising political success. Only history can judge whether these careers were justified by merit or were the result of political patronage. Below...
Madison’s War Message to Congress, June 1, 1812
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:br> I communicate to Congress certain documents, being a continuation of those heretofore laid before them on the subject of our affairs with Great Britain. Without going back beyond the renewal in 1803 of the war in Which Great Britain is engaged, and omitting unrepaired wrongs of inferior magnitude, the conduct of her Government presents a series of acts hostile to the United States as an independent and neutral nation....
Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011
Volume Title: N/a
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