War of 1812: How General Hull Lost Detroit and Basically the War

It was 205 years ago, on July 12, General William Hull crossed the river between Detroit and Sandwich (now Windsor), Canada. His (as he saw it) benevolent act, freeing of the oppressed Canadians should have been an easy sweep of the British occupation.

Instead, it ended in a retreat so embarrassing by Hull, that the British forces in Canada took over Detroit until 1813.

The War of 1812 was to be a cinch. The United States outnumbered the Canadians 15 times over, 7.5-million to their 500,000. The British were not a strong presence either, distracted by a war with Napoleon.

On three fronts the U.S. intended to free Canadians from the Brits, in what Congress believed would be a welcome liberation. What the U.S. failed to consider was the sloppy organization of the U.S. Army in the wake of the Revolution.

Also, nobody considered the might of the British forces with militias of pissed of Native Americans fighting on their side.

Hull’s Letter to Canada

General William Hull | thoughtco.com

Before General Hull, a relic of the U.S. Revolution tried to cross the Detroit River, he sent word to Canada about his plans. They already knew he was coming anyway so he thought he’d clear up the mission. In short, his letter said, Hey, Canada, we’re coming to save you, and since we’re just like you, don’t fight back.

The actual words were:

“In the name of my Country and by the authority of my Government, I promise you protection to your persons, property and rights. Remain at your homes. Pursue your peaceful and customary avocations. Raise not you hands against your brethren.”

Hull, like most of the war hawks in Congress, believed that the Canadians would exhale a collective sigh of relief. They hoped, even, that despite telling them to stay out of it, that the Canadians would rise up against their occupiers.

Native Americans

Hull knew that the British had rallied the Native people to fight with them. He even alluded to it in his letter in a threat to the Canadians.

“No white man found fighting by the side of an Indian, will be taken prisoner. Instant destruction will be his lot.”

Who the Brits had on their side was the Shawnee warrior and chief, Tecumseh.

Born in Ohio during the Revolutionary War, Tecumseh grew up surrounded with violence. He spent his life trying to keep the frontier people from settling the western United States. Given the chance to fight them on anyone’s behalf fit perfectly into his narrative.


Of Hull’s confidence, he carried his successes with the Massachusetts’ troops during the Revolution, though it had been over three decades. Also, Hull’s Army wasn’t made up of the same troops from the 18th century.

To make matters worse, Hull made some early mistakes in the War of 1812. He sent a schooner carrying his gear and correspondence ahead of the attack, up the Maumee River. The British, who still controlled the Great Lakes, intercepted his pack-mule-schooner, learning of his plans.

Hull himself said of Lake Erie that an attack while the Brits still controlled the lake was unwise. Still, he took his 2,000 men to Detroit where they would attack. Of those men, 10 percent refused to cross out of U.S. territory so he left 2oo behind.

Hull and the remaining men attacked Fort Malden near Sandwich on July 12. Tecumseh’s forces fought and beat back Hull’s troops, pushing them back across the river. Then the British Commander, Isaac Brock, chased Hull’s men with cannon fire.

In the end, Hull not only surrendered the battle, he and his men left the city of Detroit open for the taking.

There was more to the war, two more strategic attacks, but Hull’s attack set the tone for the preparedness of the United States against the British.

The most the U.S. could do was take back Detroit, which happened in 1813, but the subsequent battles also failed to scare the Brits back to their island. By 1814, the War of 1812 ended in a peace treaty, with all the captured land returned to the original country.

Sources: historycentral.comhistory.com1812now.blogspot.com