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U. S. invasion of Canada fails; Fear spreads of British and Indian advance on Southwestern Ohio

Detroit is surrendered 200 years ago

U. S. invasion of Canada fails; Fear spreads of British and Indian advance on Southwestern Ohio

(This is a bicentennial year, according to legislation passed in Ohio and by other governments. The 200th anniversary won’t receive much attention. It is a victim of the economy and stingy budgets. An Ohio act encourages the study and activities that "honor Americans who served in Ohio in the War of 1812," and "educating and raising awareness of residents of Ohio and of the nation about Ohio’s role in the War of 1812." This is the fourth article in a series exploring some aspects of the War of 1812.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

Despite his age, nearly 60, William Hull had the military credentials to lead the U. S. western offensive in the War of 1812. The Yale graduate had served honorably in the Continental Army. He was a lieutenant colonel at the end of the American Revolution and his impressive battle experience included White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Saratoga, Fort Stanwix and Stony Point.

President Thomas Jefferson appointed Hull governor of the Michigan Territory in March 1805. His charge included acquiring land from Indians to encourage settlement on the northern frontier. He negotiated successfully with the Ottawa, Wyandot, Chippewa and Potawatomi.

In 1812, with President James Madison ready to ask Congress for a declaration of war on Britain, Hull accepted command of the Army of the Northwest. Previously, Hull had urged a strong defense of Michigan Territory, taking control of Lake Erie and using Detroit as a base to conquer Upper Canada (southern part of Ontario including Lake Huron and Lake Superior).

The president and Secretary of War William Eustis planned a three-part offensive against the British and their Canadian and Indian allies, crossing the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River borders into Canada. Hull was to direct the westernmost attack from Ohio through Detroit into Ontario.

As part of the plan, April 6, 1812, Gov. Return J. Meigs authorized calling 1,200 Ohio militiamen into service. They were to combine with about 800 men from the Fourth U. S. Infantry Regiment (then at Vincennes, Ind,) and Michigan militia to form the western army.

About seven weeks before the formal war declaration, a Butler County rifle company became part of the rapidly-formed army led by Brigadier-Gen. Hull. The 61-man local contingent, led by Captain John Robinson, marched to Dayton April 28.

The mostly inexperienced force, lacking military discipline, began moving north from Dayton May 21, facing rain and mud in unfamiliar territory. The men seldom advanced as much as 10 miles a day because they had to cut a road through sparsely-settled western Ohio. In the army’s path was a formidable obstacle, the Black Swamp, in the northwestern corner of Ohio.

"From the beginning," noted historian Malcolm Muir Jr., "Hull’s army was plagued by tensions between the regulars and the militia, by squabbles among the ranking colonels over precedence, and by distrust of the capabilities of their leader."

July 5, 1812, the troops had marched about 185 miles and reached the outskirts of Detroit. June 18, while they were on the march, Congress had declared war on Britain. Despite some brief skirmishes with the Indians and British, inactivity and boredom prevailed for the Butler County soldiers. Several daily entries in Captain Robinson's diary report "nothing particular was done."

A week after arrival, July 12, with a 2-1 manpower advantage, part of Hull’s army crossed the Detroit River to invade Canada, advancing to within four miles of Fort Malden, a key British position. After a two-week halt -- with dwindling supplies -- Hull took questionable actions that resulted in his army being pushed back into Michigan Territory.

Despite his apparent superiority, Hull never engaged the enemy. After his retreat -- and without consulting his officers -- he surrendered Detroit and an army of possibly 2,000 to 2,500 men Aug. 16, 1812. Some witnesses believed Hull’s reluctance to fight was because he broke down physically and mentally.

Inside the fort, the British confiscated 5,000 pounds of gunpowder, 33 cannon and 2,500 muskets, plus "rations adequate for almost a month’s resistance," according to historian Malcolm Muir Jr.

The British were commanded by Gen. Isaac Crock, the Indians by Tecumseh, the influential Shawnee warrior.

Because of his mysteriously actions, Hull was later court-martialed on a treason charge. A military court found him guilty on two charges, punishable by death, but recommended mercy because of his age and service during the American Revolution. He also was stripped of rank and military honors. Hull retired to Newton, Mass., where he died in 1825.

Meanwhile, Captain Robinson and his Butler County company were captives, but weren't held long. The 1,600 militia volunteers were sent on British ships across Lake Erie to Cleveland where they were released Sept. 2, 1812. The 582 army regulars were imprisoned in Quebec.

Robinson and his men suffered hardships during their brief detention, but their fate was better than the soldiers who had served at Fort Dearborn (later Chicago, Ill.), about 230 miles northwest of Hamilton.

The 66-man U. S. garrison at Fort Dearborn fell Aug. 15, 1812, a day earlier than Hull's surrender at Detroit. The captives were massacred by Indians.

Farther north in Michigan Territory, U. S. forces had suffered another defeat in mid July. About 30 U. S. soldiers were surprised and overwhelmed July 17 by about 300 British and Indians at Fort Michilimackinac on the Straits of Mackinac.

But not all the bad new came from Michigan Territory. Events in Indiana Territory also would add to the anxiety on the Ohio frontier.

Sept. 3, 1812, at Pigeon Roost in Indiana Territory at least 20 residents, many of them children, were killed in an Indian raid. The tragedy quickly became known as the Pigeon Roost Massacre. The small settlement in present Clark County, near Scottsburg, was about 90 miles west of Hamilton.

Sept. 4, 1812, about 600 Indians assaulted and attempted to burn Fort Harrison, commanded by Captain Zachary Taylor, a future U. S. president. Fifteen soldiers, assisted by some civilians, repelled the invaders. The fort had been built in 1811 to protect Vincennes, Indiana Territory’s capitol. It was about 165 miles west of Hamilton.

Sept. 5, 1812, is regarded as the start of the siege of Fort Wayne, which ended a week later, Sept. 12. The outpost was surrounded by Indians, whose two wooden cannons convinced about 70 soldiers hey were in danger. While the enemies negotiated, there was a report that about 400 Indians, led by Tecumseh, and 140 British regulars were headed toward Fort Wayne. At the same time, William Henry Harrison was advancing with more than 800 men to relieve the fort. After small attacks, Sept. 12 the Indians moved away from the fort, which was about 123 mile northwest of Hamilton.

As news of the disasters at Detroit, Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Dearborn and Pigeon Roost and threats to Fort Harrison and Fort Wayne reached Butler County, fears heightened.  It was possible that a combined British and Indian army could soon invade Dayton, Hamilton and Cincinnati.

Standing between the expected enemy advance and Butler County were scattered groups of untrained men enlisted during the previous five months. The defenders included a company of Butler County volunteers. They had the good fortune of being left behind by Hull's ill-fated army.

Early Events on Northwest Frontier

Nov. 7, 1811 -- Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory.

April 6, 1812 -- Ohio Gov. Return J. Meigs called 1,200 men into service.

May 21 -- Ohio militia began march from Dayton to Detroit.

June 18 -- U. S. declared war against the British.

July 5 -- Gen. William Hull’s army arrived at Fort Detroit.

July 12 -- Gen. William Hull’s army entered Canada.

July 17 -- Fort Michilimackinac surrendered to the British.

Aug. 15 -- Fort Dearborn (Chicago) massacre.

Aug. 16 -- Gen. William Hull surrendered Detroit to Gen. Isaac Brock.                     

Sept. 3 -- Pigeon Roost Massacre in Indiana Territory.

Sept. 4 -- Fort Harrison at Vincennes assaulted by Indians.                      

Sept. 5-12 -- Fort Wayne under siege by Indians.              

November -- President James Madison elected to second term.