Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820

Author: William Hull  | Date: August 16, 1812

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The Surrender of Detroit

The disfavor in which Hull was held by his fellow officers is shown by the report to the War Department made a few weeks later by Lewis Cass (see the following document) who became Governor of the territory in 1813 and later Secretary of War and Minister to France.

ENCLOSED are the articles of capitulation, by which the Fort of Detroit has been surrendered to major general Brock, commanding his Britannic majesty’s forces in Upper Canada, and by which the troops have become prisoners of war. My situation at present forbids me from detailing the particular causes which have led to this unfortunate event. I will, however, generally observe, that after the surrender of Michilimakinac, almost every tribe and nation of Indians, excepting a part of the Miamies and Delawares, north from beyond Lake Superior, west from beyond the Mississippi, south from the Ohio and Wabash, and east from every part of Upper Canada, and from all the intermediate country, joined in open hostility, under the British standard, against the army I commanded, contrary to the most solemn assurances of a large portion of them to remain neutral: even the Ottawa chiefs from Arbecrotch, who formed the delegation to Washington the last summer, in whose friendship I know you had great confidence, are among the hostile tribes, and several of them distinguished leaders. Among the vast number of chiefs who led the hostile bands, Tecumseh, Marpot, Logan, Walk-in-the-Water, Split Log, &c., are considered the principals. This numerous assemblage of savages, under the entire influence and direction of the British commander, enabled him totally to obstruct the only communication which I had with my country. This communication had been opened from the settlements in the state of Ohio, two hundred miles through a wilderness, by the fatigues of the army, which I marched to the frontier on the river Detroit. The body of the lake being commanded by the British armed ships, and the shores and rivers by gun boats, the army was totally deprived of all communication by water. On this extensive road it depended for transportation of provisions, military stores, medicine, clothing, and every other supply, on pack horses—all its operations were successful until its arrival at Detroit, and in a few days it passed into the enemy’s country, and all opposition seemed to drop before it. One month it remained in possession of this country, and was fed from its resources. In different directions, detachments penetrated sixty miles in the settled part of the province, and the inhabitants seemed satisfied with the change of situation, which appeared to be taking place; the militia from Amherstburg were daily deserting, and the whole country, then under the control of the army, was asking for protection. The Indians, generally, in the first instance, appeared to be neutralized, and determined to take no part in the contest. The fort of Amherstburg was eighteen miles below my encampment. Not a single cannon or mortar was on wheels suitable to carry before this place. I consulted my officers, whether it was expedient to make an attempt on it with the bayonet alone, without cannon, to make a break in the first instance. The council I called was of the opinion it was not. The greatest industry was exerted in making preparation, and it was not until the 7th of August, that two 24 pounders, and three howitzers were prepared. It was then my intention to have proceeded on the enterprise. While the operations of the army were delayed by these preparations, the clouds of adversity had been for some time and seemed still thickly to be gathering around me. The surrender of Michilimackinac opened the northern hive of Indians, and they were swarming down in every direction. Reinforcements from Niagara had arrived at Amherstburg under the command of Colonel Proctor. The desertion of the militia ceased. Besides the reinforcements that came by water, I received information of a very considerable force under the command of Major Chambers, on the river Le French, with four field pieces, and collecting the militia on his route, evidently destined for Amherstburg; and in addition to this combination, and increase of force, contrary to all my expectations, the Wyandots, Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawatamies, Munsees, Delawares, &c., with whom I had the most friendly intercourse, at once passed over to Amherstburg, and accepted the tomahawk and scalping knife. There being now a vast number of Indians at the British post, they were sent to the river Huron, Brownstown, and Maguago to intercept my communication. To open this communication, I detached Major Van Horn of the Ohio volunteers, with two hundred men, to proceed as far as the river Raisin, under an expectation he would meet Captain Brush with one hundred and fifty men, volunteers from the state of Ohio, and a quantity of provision for the army. An ambuscade was formed at Brownstown, and Major Van Horn’s detachment defeated and returned to camp without effecting the object of the expedition.

In my letter of the 7th instant you have the particulars of that transaction, with a return of the killed and wounded. Under this sudden and unexpected change of things, and having received an express from General Hall, commanding opposite the British shore on the Niagara river, by which it appeared that there was no prospect of a cooperation from that quarter, and the two senior officers of the artillery having stated to me an opinion that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pass the Turkey river and river Aux Cannard, with the 24 pounders, and that they could not be transported by water, as the Queen Charlotte, which carried eighteen 24 pounders, lay in the river Detroit above the mouth of the river Aux Cannard; and as it appeared indispensably necessary to open the communication to the river Raisin and the Miami, I found myself compelled to suspend the operation against Amherstburg, and concentrate the main force of the army at Detroit. Fully intending at that time, after the communication was opened, to re-cross the river, and pursue the object at Amherstburg, and strongly desirous of continuing protection to a very large number of the inhabitants of Upper Canada, who had voluntarily accepted it under my proclamation, I established a fortress on the banks of the river, a little below Detroit, calculated for a garrison of 360 men. On the evening of the 7th, and morning of the 8th instant, the army, excepting the garrison of 250 infantry, and a corps of artillerists, all under the command of Major Denny of the Ohio volunteers, re-crossed the river, and encamped at Detroit. In pursuance of the object of opening the communication, on which I considered the existence of the army depending, a detachment of 600 men, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Miller, was immediately ordered. For a particular account of the proceedings of this detachment, and the memorable battle which was fought at Maguago, which reflects the highest honor on the American arms, I refer you to my letter of the 13th of August instant, a duplicate of which is enclosed, marked G. Nothing however but honor was acquired by this victory; and it is a painful consideration, that the blood of seventy-five gallant men could only open the communication, as far as the points of their bayonets extended. The necessary care of the sick and wounded, and a very severe storm of rain, rendered their return to camp indispensably necessary for their own comfort. Captain Brush, with his small detachment, and the provisions being still at the river Raisin, and in a situation to be destroyed by the savages, on the 13th instant in the evening, I permitted Colonels McArthur and Cass to select from their regiment four hundred of their most effective men, and proceed an upper route through the woods, which I had sent an express to Captain Brush to take, and had directed the militia of the river Raisin to accompany him as a reinforcement. The force of the enemy continually increasing, and the necessity of opening the communication, and acting on the defensive, becoming more apparent, I had, previous to detaching Colonels McArthur and Cass on the 11th instant, evacuated and destroyed the fort on the opposite bank. On the 13th, in the evening, General Brock arrived at Amherstburg about the hour that Colonels McArthur and Cass marched, of which at that time I had received no information. On the 15th I received a summons from him to surrender Fort Detroit, of which the paper marked A is a copy. My answer is marked B. At this time I had received no information from Colonels McArthur and Cass. An express was immediately sent, strongly escorted, with orders for them to return. On the 15th, as soon as General Brock received my letter, his batteries opened on the town and fort, and continued until evening. In the evening all the British ships of war came nearly as far up the river as Sandwich, three miles below Detroit. At daylight on the 16th (at which time I had received no information from Colonels McArthur and Cass, my expresses, sent the evening before, and in the night having been prevented from passing by numerous bodies of Indians) the cannonade re-commenced, and in a short time I received information, that the British army and Indians, were landing below the Spring Wells, under the cover of their ships of war. At this time the whole effective force at my disposal at Detroit did not exceed eight hundred men. Being new troops, and unaccustomed to a camp life; having performed a laborious march; having been engaged in a number of battles and skirmishes, in which many had fallen, and more had received wounds, in addition to which a large number being sick, and unprovided with medicine, and the comforts necessary for their situation; are the general causes by which the strength of the army was thus reduced. The fort at this time was filled with women, children, and the old and decrepit people of the town and country; they were unsafe in the town, as it was entirely open and exposed to the enemy’s batteries. Back of the fort, above or below it, there was no safety for them on account of the Indians. In the first instance the enemy’s fire was principally directed against our batteries; towards the close, it was directed against the fort alone, and almost every shot and shell had their effect.

It now became necessary either to fight the enemy in the field; collect the whole force in the fort; or propose terms of capitulation. I could not have carried into the field more than six hundred men, and left any adequate force in the fort. There were landed at that time of the enemy a regular force of much more than that number, and twice the number of Indians. Considering this great inequality of force I did not think it expedient to adopt the first measure. The second must have been attended with a great sacrifice of blood, and no possible advantage, because the contest could not have been sustained more than a day for the want of powder, and but a very few days for the want of provisions. In addition to this, Colonels McArthur and Cass would have been in a most hazardous situation. I feared nothing but the last alternative. I have dared to adopt it. I well know the high responsibility of the measure, and take the whole of it on myself. It was dictated by a sense of duty, and a full conviction of its expediency. The bands of savages which had then 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 and men 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 furnished with the necessary supplies of provision, military stores, clothing and comforts for the sick, or pack horses, through a wilderness of two hundred miles, filled with hostile savages. It was impossible, sir, that this little army, worn down by fatigue, by sickness, by wounds, and deaths, could have supported itself not only against the collected force of all the northern nations of Indians; but against the united strength of Upper Canada, whose population consists 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 and influence of the north-west and other trading establishments among the Indians, which have in their employment, and under their entire control, more than two thousand white men. Before I close this despatch, it is a duty I owe to my respectable associates in command, Colonels McArthur, Findlay, Cass, and Lieutenant Colonel Miller, to express my obligations to them for the prompt and judicious manner they have performed their respective duties. If aught has taken place during the campaign, which is honorable to the army, these officers are entitled to a large share of it. If the last act should be disapproved, no part of the censure belongs to them. I have likewise to express my obligation to General Taylor, who has performed the duty of quarter master general, for his great exertions in procuring everything in his department which it was possible to furnish for the convenience of the army; likewise to Brigade Major Jessup for the correct and punctual manner in which he has discharged his duty; and to the army generally for their exertions, and the zeal they have manifested for the public interest. The death of Dr. Foster soon after he arrived at Detroit, was a severe misfortune to the army; it was increased by the capture of the Chachago packet, by which the medicine and hospital stores were lost. He was commencing the best arrangements in the department of which he was the principal, with the very small means he possessed. I was likewise deprived of the necessary services of Captain Partridge by sickness, the only officer of the corps of engineers attached to the army. All the officers and men have gone to their respective homes, excepting the 4th United States’ regiment, and a small part of the 1st, and Captain Dyson’s company of artillery. Captain Dyson’s company was left at Amherstburg, and the others are with me prisoners—they amount to about three hundred and forty. I have only to solicit an investigation of my conduct, as early as my situation and the state of things will admit; and to add the further request, that the government will not be unmindful of my associates in captivity, and of the families of those brave men who have fallen in the contest.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

Your most obedient servant,



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Chicago: William Hull, "The Surrender of Detroit," Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820 in America, Vol.5, Pp.135-145 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=MWVBTGY915CJVSN.

MLA: Hull, William. "The Surrender of Detroit." Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820, in America, Vol.5, Pp.135-145, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=MWVBTGY915CJVSN.

Harvard: Hull, W, 'The Surrender of Detroit' in Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820. cited in , America, Vol.5, Pp.135-145. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=MWVBTGY915CJVSN.