August 16, 1812: Surrender of Detroit



One of the more humiliating defeats in US military history, the surrender of Detroit on August 16, 1812 got the War of 1812 off to a disastrous start for the United States.  After his abortive attempt to invade Canada, read about it here,  With the British seizure of Mackinac Island on Lake Huron on July 17, Hull, fearing that his supply lines would be cut by the Indian allies of the British, fell back to Fort Detroit.

Major General Isaac Brock, commander of the British forces in Canada, took the initiative and launched an attack on Fort Detroit with his miniscule force of 400 regulars, 300 militia and 600 Indians.  He was aided in his attack on Fort Detroit by the sloop Queen Charlotte and the brig General Hunter.

The “siege” of Detroit opened on August 15, with both a land and sea artillery bombardment of the Fort.  Brock sent a demand for surrender to Hull which had the implicit threat of a massacre if surrender did not occur:  The force at my disposal authorizes me to require of you the immediate surrender of Fort Detroit. It is far from my intention 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 control the moment the contest commences…

Hull’s militia had been in a state of near mutiny even prior to the start of the “siege”,  the militiamen eager to return to their homes in Ohio, the Michigan militia having already deserted.  Hull had apparently been drinking heavily since the start of the “siege”.  On August 16 he surrendered his 1600 militia and 582 regulars.  The militia was paroled by the British and sent back to their homes, their cherished desire readily agreed to by Brock.  The American regulars were sent to Quebec as prisoners of war.  It would be over a year before the Americans would retake Detroit.  Hull was ultimately released as a result of a prisoner exchange.  He was immediately tried for treason, cowardice and neglect of duty.  He was acquitted of the treason charge, but found guilty of cowardice and neglect of duty.  Sentenced to be shot, he was granted a reprieve by President Madison due to his advanced age and his service in the Revolution.  Hull is the only American general ever sentenced to death.

Published in: on August 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 16, 1812: Surrender of Detroit  
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