Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820

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Author: Lewis Cass  | Date: 1812

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Cass Describes Hull’s Ignominy

HAVING been ordered on to this place by Colonel McArthur, for the purpose of communicating to the government such particulars respecting the expedition lately commanded by Brigadier General Hull and its disastrous result, as might enable them correctly to appreciate the conduct of the officers and men, and to develop the causes which produced so foul a stain upon the national character, I have the honor to submit to your consideration the following statement:

When the forces landed in Canada, they landed with an ardent zeal, and stimulated with the hope of conquest. No enemy appeared within view of us, and had an immediate and vigorous attack been made upon Malden, it would doubtless have fallen an easy victory. I knew General Hull afterwards declared he regretted this attack had not been made, and he had every reason to believe success would have crowned his efforts. The reasons given for delaying our operations was to mount our heavy cannon, and to afford to the Canadian militia time and opportunity to quit an obnoxious service. In the course of two weeks the number of their militia who were embodied, had decreased by desertion, from six hundred to one hundred men; and, in the course of three weeks, the cannon were mounted, the ammunition fixed, and every preparation made for an immediate investment of the fort. At a council, at which were present all the field officers, and which was held two days before our preparations were completed, it was unanimously agreed to make an immediate attempt to accomplish the object of the expedition. If by waiting two days we could have the service of our heavy artillery, it was agreed to wait; if not, it was determined to go without it and attempt the place by storm. This opinion appeared to correspond with the views of the general, and the day was appointed for commencing our march. He declared to me that he considered himself pledged to lead the army to Malden. The ammunition was placed in the wagons; the cannon were embarked on board the floating batteries, and every requisite article was prepared. The spirit and zeal, the ardor and animation displayed by the officers and men on learning the near accomplishment of their wishes, were a sure and sacred pledge, that in the hour of trial they would not be found wanting in duty to their country and themselves. But a change of measures, in opposition to the wishes and opinions of all the officers, was adopted by the general. The plan of attacking Maiden was abandoned, and instead of acting offensively, we broke up our camp, evacuated Canada, and recrossed the river in the night, without even the shadow Of an enemy to injure us. We left to the tender mercy of the enemy, the miserable Canadians who had joined us, and the protection we afforded them was but a passport of vengeance. This fatal and unaccountable step dispirited the troops, and destroyed the little confidence which a series of timid, irresolute and indecisive measures had left in the commanding officer.

About the 10th of August, the enemy received a reinforcement of four hundred men. On the 12th, the commanding officers of three of the regiments (the fourth was absent) were informed through a medium which admitted of no doubt, that the general had stated, that a capitulation would be necessary. They on the same day addressed to Governor Meigs, of Ohio, a letter, of which the following is an extract:

"Believe all the bearer will tell you. Believe it, however it may astonish you, as much as if told by one of us. Even a c—— is talked of by the—— The bearer will fill the vacancy."

The doubtful fate of this letter rendered it necessary to use circumspection in its details, and therefore the blanks were left. The word "capitulation" will fill the first, and "commanding general" the other. As no enemy was near us, and as the superiority of our force was manifest, we could see no necessity for capitulating, nor any propriety in alluding to it. We therefore determined in the last resort to incur the responsibility of divesting the general of his command. This plan was eventually prevented by two of the commanding officers of regiments being ordered upon detachments.

On the 13th, the British took a position opposite to Detroit, and began to throw up works. During that and the two following days, they pursued their object without interruption, and established a battery for two 18 pounders and an 8 inch howitzer. About sunset on the evening of the 14th, a detachment of 350 men, from the regiments commanded by Colonel McArthur and myself, was ordered to march to the river Raisin, to escort the provisions, which had some time remained there protected by a party under the command of Captain Brush.

On Saturday, the 15th, about 1 o’clock, a flag of truce arrived from Sandwich, bearing a summons from General Brock, for the surrender of the town and Fort of Detroit, stating he could no longer restrain the fury of the savages. To this an immediate and spirited refusal was returned. About 4 o’clock their batteries began to play upon the town. The fire was returned and continued without interruption and with little effect till dark—their shells were thrown till 11 o’clock.

At daylight the firing on both sides recommenced; about the same time the enemy began to land troops at the Spring Wells, three miles below Detroit, protected by two of their armed vessels. Between 6 and 7 o’clock they had effected their landing, and immediately took up their line of march; they moved in a close column of platoons, twelve in front, upon the bank of the river.

The 4th regiment was stationed in the fort; the Ohio volunteers and a part of the Michigan militia, behind some pickets, in a situation in which the whole flank of the enemy would have been exposed. The residue of the Michigan militia were in the upper part of the town to resist the incursions of the savages Two 24 pounders loaded with grape shot were posted on a commanding eminence, ready to sweep the advancing column. In this situation, the superiority of our position was apparent, and our troops, in the eager expectation of victory, awaited the approach of the enemy. Not a sigh of discontent broke upon the ear; not a look of cowardice met the eye. Every man expected a proud day for his country, and each was anxious that his individual exertion should contribute to the general result.

When the head of their column arrived within about five hundred yards of our line, orders were received from General Hull for the whole to retreat to the fort, and for the twenty-four pounders not to open upon the enemy. One universal burst of indignation was apparent upon the receipt of this order. Those, whose conviction was the deliberate result of a dispassionate examination of passing events, saw the folly and impropriety of crowding 1100 men into a little work, which 300 could fully man, and into which the shot and shells of the enemy were continually falling. The fort was in this manner filled; the men were directed to stack their arms, and scarcely was an opportunity afforded of moving. Shortly after a white flag was hung out upon the walls. A British officer rode up to enquire the cause. A communication passed between the commanding generals, which ended in the capitulation submitted to you. In entering into this capitulation, the general took counsel from his own feelings only. Not an officer was consulted. Not one anticipated a surrender till he saw the white flag displayed. Even the women were indignant at so shameful a degradation of the American character, and all felt as they should have felt, but he who held in his hands the reins of authority.

Our morning report of that morning made our effective men present fit for duty 1060, without including the detachment before alluded to, and without including 300 of the Michigan militia on duty. About dark on Sunday evening the detachment sent to escort the provisions received orders from General Hull to return with as much expedition as possible. About ten o’clock the next day they arrived within sight of Detroit. Had a firing been heard, or any resistance visible, they would have immediately advanced and attacked the rear of the enemy. The situation in which this detachment was placed, although the result of accident, was the best for annoying the enemy and cutting off his retreat that could have been selected. With his raw troops enclosed between two fires and no hopes of succor, it is hazarding little to say, that very few would have escaped.

I have been informed by Colonel Findley, who saw the return of the quarter master general the day after the surrender, that their whole force of every description, white, red and black, was 1030. They had twenty-nine platoons, twelve in a platoon, of men dressed in uniform. Many of these were evidently Canadian militia. The rest of their militia increased their white force to about seven hundred men.

The number of their Indians could not be ascertained with any degree of precision; not many were visible. And in the event of an attack upon the town and fort, it was a species of force which could have afforded no material advantage to the enemy.

In endeavoring to appreciate the motives and to investigate the causes which led to an event so unexpected and dishonorable, it is impossible to find any solution in the relative strength of the contending parties, or in the measures of resistance in our power. That we were far superior to the enemy; that upon any ordinary principles of calculation, we could have defeated them, the wounded and indignant feelings of every man there will testify.

A few days before the surrender, I was informed by General Hull, we had 400 rounds of 24 pound shot fixed, and about 100,000 cartridges made. We surrendered with the fort 40 barrels of powder and 2500 stand of arms.

The state of our provisions has not been generally understood. On the day of the surrender we had fifteen days of provisions of every kind on hand. Of meat there was plenty in the country, and arrangements had been made for purchasing and grinding the flour. It was calculated we could readily procure three months’ provisions, independent of 150 barrels of flour, and 1300 head of cattle which had been forwarded from the state of Ohio, which remained at the river Raisin under Captain Brush, within reach of the army.

But had we been totally destitute of provisions, our duty and our interest undoubtedly was to fight. The enemy invited us to meet him in the field.

By defeating him the whole country would have been open to us, and the object of our expedition gloriously and successfully obtained. If we had been defeated we had nothing to do but to retreat to the fort, and make the best defense which circumstances and our situation rendered practicable. But basely to surrender without firing a gun—tamely to submit without raising a bayonet—disgracefully to pass in review before an enemy as inferior in the quality as in the number of his forces, were circumstances, which excited feelings of indignation more easily felt than described. To see the whole of our men flushed with the hope of victory, eagerly awaiting the approaching contest; to see them afterwards dispirited, hopeless and desponding, at least 500 shedding tears, because they were not allowed to meet their country’s foe, and to fight their country’s battles, excited sensations, which no American has ever before had cause to feel, and which, I trust in God, will never again be felt, while one man remains to defend the standard of the union.

I am expressly authorized to state, that Colonel McArthur and Colonel Findley, and Lieutenant Colonel Miller, view this transaction in the light which I do. They know and feel, that no circumstance in our situation, none in that of the enemy, can excuse a capitulation so dishonorable and unjustifiable. This too is the universal sentiment among the troops; and I shall be surprised to learn, that there is one man, who thinks it was necessary to sheath his sword, or lay down his musket.

I was informed by general Hull the morning after the capitulation, that the British forces consisted of 1800 regulars, and that he surrendered to prevent the effusion of human blood. That he magnified their regular force nearly five fold, there can be no doubt. Whether the philanthropic reason assigned by him is a sufficient justification for surrendering a fortified town, an army and a territory, is for the government to determine. Confident I am, that had the courage and conduct of the general been equal to the spirit and zeal of the troops, the event would have been as brilliant and successful as it now is disastrous and dishonorable.

I have the honor to be yours, &c.,

LEWIS CASS.

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Chicago: Lewis Cass, "Cass Describes Hull’s Ignominy," Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820 in America, Vol.5, Pp.145-153 Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FKE5VPRDUEPDLIY.

MLA: Cass, Lewis. "Cass Describes Hull’s Ignominy." Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820, in America, Vol.5, Pp.145-153, Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FKE5VPRDUEPDLIY.

Harvard: Cass, L, 'Cass Describes Hull’s Ignominy' in Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820. cited in , America, Vol.5, Pp.145-153. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FKE5VPRDUEPDLIY.