Posts tagged ‘Fort Detroit’

SHAKO: War of 1812, U.S. Successes on Land and Sea

HMS Boxer Captured

Enterprise Vs. Boxer (via Wikipedia)

Enterprise Vs. Boxer (via Wikipedia)

After a sharp fight between two brigs, the British vessel, HMS Boxer, was captured  by the 16-gun USS Enterprise on Sept. 5, 1813.

The 14-gun Boxer, which had only been launched in July 1812, had its mast blown away by a broadside from the Enterprise during the 30-minute battle off the coast of Maine near Portland.

Both the Boxer’s commander, Captain Samuel Blyth, and the skipper of the Enterprise, Lieutenant William Burrows, were both killed in the 30-minute battle and were buried side-by-side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

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Recapture of Detroit

Plan of Fort Detroit in 1812 (Archives of Ontario)

Plan of Fort Detroit in 1812
(Archives of Ontario)

A little over a year after Detroit was surrendered to a smaller force of British, Canadian and Native American (First Nations) forces Fort Detroit and the nearby village were back in U.S. hands.

The naval victory of Oliver Hazard Perry a month earlier on Lake Erie ensured American control of the lake and cut off British and Canadian forces from their supply base in eastern Canada. They evacuated Detroit, which was retaken by U.S. troops under Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison on Sept. 29, 1813. British-led forces also abandon Fort Amherstburg across the river in Ontario.

Harrison’s forces pursued the retreating British and Canadians and their Indian allies — led by Tecumseh — into Ontario.

488px-Shako-p1000580SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.


September 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (Aug. 12 – Aug. 18)

Success at Sea

USS Essex takes HMS Alert (From Wikipedia)

While things continue to go wrong for the Army in the West (see below) the Navy scores another small triumph at sea.

On Aug. 13, the American frigate, USS Essex, attacks and captures the British sloop, HMS Alert in the south Atlantic. The 36-gun Essex was built in Salem, Massachusetts and paid for by the citizens of Salem and Essex County, who presented her to the U.S. Navy just before Christmas 1799. By 1812, the 864-ton Essex was already a veteran of engagements with the French in the Quasi Naval War between the United States and Revolutionary France in 1800, and against the Barbary pirates of North Africa in 1805. The youngest crewman aboard was 11-year-old midshipman David Glasgow Farragut, who would rise to become the Navy’s first full admiral, as well as the Union commander at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the U.S. Civil War (“Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!”).

Disaster in the West

Concerned about the Fall of Fort Mackinac in northern Michigan on July 17 and the threat to his own position at Fort Detroit, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William Hull orders the commander at Fort Dearborn — in what is now downtown Chicago — to abandon the fort and evacuate his tiny garrison eastward to Fort Wayne in the Indiana Territory.

Before closing up shop, Capt. Nathan Heald tells the mostly Potawatomi Indians who are menacing the fort that they can have it and its supply stores if they guarantee safe passage for the approximately 60 U.S. regulars, 12 Illinois militiamen, nine women and 18 children. But following Hull’s written order, Heald destroys all the guns, ammunition and liquor in the fort before leaving — angering the younger Indian warriors.

Not far from Fort Dearborn on Aug. 15, 400 to 500 Indians attack the evacuation column. In the 15-minute battle, 26 regulars and all of the militia men are killed. The Indians also attack the wagons carrying civilians, killing two women and nearly all the children. After a brief stand-off, the rest of the U.S. party surrenders and are taken prisoner.

The attack, called a massacre at the time, inflames the United States, especially along the frontier. Today Native American historians dispute the unverified contemporary reports that the Indians tortured and scalped their victims. This account of the battle/massacre and the quest for historical evidence in Chicago magazine has some very helpful maps. The Chicago History Museum has a model of what the fort looked like here.

Downfall of Detroit

Brock accepts surrender of Detroit (Wikipedia)

On the same day of the attack outside Fort Dearborn, General Hull finds that his opposite number, Major Gen. Sir Isaac Brock, has crossed the Detroit River from Canada with about 300 regulars, 400 Canadian militia and some 600 Native American warriors headed by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Hull has about 1,200 troops at his disposal, both regulars and Ohio and Michigan militia. Hull has previously sent more than 300 troops south to link up with a supply train near the Raisin River, the same supply train that led to two earlier ambushes of Hull’s troops.

Brock and Tecumseh succeed in making Hull believe their forces are much greater in size than his. Tecumseh marches his warriors through an opening in the woods several times to make it look like his contingent numbers over 1,000. They whoop and yell through the night. The idea he is surrounded by savages who might massacre the women and the children in the fort — including his own daughter and grandchild — rattles Hull.

Both sides open fire on each other with canons without doing much damage. On Aug. 16, however, the British gunners start to hit the mark, killing several inside the fort, including the commander who surrendered Fort Mackinac and is awaiting a court martial.

Hull then decides to surrender the fort without firing another shot. The easy victory stuns Brock — who is hailed as a hero in Canada — and emboldens Tecumseh and his Confederacy to become more belligerent toward the Americans. After being paroled, Hull is charged with treason for surrendering so many men and guns. He is convicted of neglect of duty and cowardice and sentenced to be shot. President Madison approves the sentence but waives its execution. Hull is sent home to Massachusetts in disgrace, a sad end for a hero of the American Revolution.

August 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm 3 comments

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 July 22-July 28

Paralysis on the Northwest Frontier

Since invading what is now southern Ontario, Canada on July 12, Brigadier Gen. William Hull has made little progress against the much smaller force of British regulars, Canadian militia and Native Americans (called First Nations in Canada today) arrayed against him.

Hull’s forces land at Sandwich (now Windsor, Ontario) across the Detroit River from Fort Detroit in Michigan Territory. Numbering about 300 U.S. Army regulars and 1,600 Ohio and Michigan militiamen, they see little action except for some raids northeast along the Thames River. Those raids by mounted troops discourage Canadian militia from opposing the Americans.

Map courtesy of U.S. Army Office of Chief of Military History

On July 16 some of Hull’s troops drive off a much smaller British-Canadian force at River Canard near the fort guarding Amherstburg, about 20 miles father down the peninsula that divides Lake Erie from Lake Huron. One British soldier is killed. Another is wounded and captured. They are the first British casualties in the war. After the war, the fort was rebuilt and re-named Fort Malden.

But Hull, a revolutionary war hero now almost 60, is reluctant to take on the fortified position without artillery. His cannon have unsound gun carriages that need repair and can’t be brought up from the landing place at Sandwich. Hull is also concerned about reports that Indians allied with the Canadians are gathering in greater numbers against him on both sides of the Detroit River.

Despite his urgings – even before the Michigan-Canada campaign began – the U.S. Military command has not built or dispatched sufficient warships to protect Hull’s supply lines from Ohio along the western Lake Erie and Detroit River shorelines. Hull believes this will leave several outposts with tiny garrisons like Fort Dearborn (present day Chicago) and Fort Mackinac (at the northern tip of lower Michigan) vulnerable to attack.

His worries grow after receiving word in August that the Army post at Mackinac far to the north has fallen to British-Canadian-Indian forces on July 17 – without a shot. Hull decides to pull back toward his beach head at Sandwich.

Several of Hull’s officers disagree with this timidity and discuss removing him from command. The Ohio militia colonels are especially hostile to Hull. The bickering will continue at Hull’s frequent council of war meetings well into August.

Next Week: Rioting in Baltimore

July 23, 2012 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (July 15-July 21)

War on the Great Lakes and at Sea

Surprise at Mackinac

Map courtesy of the Michigan Society, Sons of the American Revolution

In another instance of slow traveling war news, U.S. Army Lt. Porter Hanks and about 60 troops under his command at Fort Mackinac in northern Michigan Territory are unaware that the United States has declared war against Great Britain. Pronounced Mack-in-aw, the fort sits on an island commanding the Straits of Mackinac, a strategically important link between two of the Great Lakes: Huron and Michigan.

On the morning of July 17, 1812 a combined force numbering about two hundred British and Canadian troops, plus 100 or more Native Americans (Indians), landed on the island and stole up on the fort. The British fire their two canon on the fort, and Lt. Hanks – realizing his men were outnumbered and fearing a massacre by the Indians allied with the British — agrees to surrender the fort.

Shortly after that, two American schooners, the Chippewa and the Friends Good Will – also unaware that war had broken out and that the fort had been captured – sail up to Mackinac’s dock and are promptly captured by the British.

News of Mackinac’s fall unnerves Gen. William Hull who has crossed the Detroit River from Fort Detroit in Michigan to invade Canada. After failing to capture what is now called Fort Malden near Amherstburg, Hull will retreat back to Detroit in August.

Chasing U.S.S. Constitution

USS Constitution today. (U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician 2nd Class Thomas Rooney)

One of the U.S. Navy’s few large warships, the 44-gun frigate U.S.S. Constitution, sails out of Chesapeake Bay in early July with orders to join an American squadron already in the Atlantic. Late in the day on July 16, the Constitution spies four ships in the distance Capt. Isaac Hull thought they might be ships from the American squadron. But the lead ship fails to respond to Hull’s signals through the night and he begins to suspect it was a British warship.

At daybreak on July 17, the Constitution’s crew sees the other ship, now within gunshot range, is a British frigate with four or five more ships a mile or two behind it. Capt. Hull – who is  a nephew of Gen. Hull at Fort Detroit – determines that discretion is the better part of valor, especially when outnumbered, and flees south. But the wind dies and the British ships are gaining on Constitution. Hull dispatches his vessel’s crew into longboats with tow lines to row and tow the the 1,500-ton ship out of harm’s way – much the way Capt. Jack Aubrey’s ship evaded a French warship in the 2003 Russell Crowe film “Master and Commander.: The Far Side of the World.”

But the British also begin towing their ships and start drawing dangerously close to Constitution. That’s when one of the Constitution’s officers suggests the strategy of kedging: rowing out in front of the ship with two of its smaller anchors, dumping the anchors into the water and winding the ship’s capstan to pull the Constitution to where the anchors rest and then starting the process over again. In effect, the Constitution is dragging itself across the water – and away from the British – like a man crawling with two broken legs. Hull keeps Constitution’s sails rigged to catch whatever breeze might come. After a tortuous 60-hour slow motion race, the wind picks up again and Constitution escapes to fight another day and eventually earn the nickname “Old Ironsides.”

British Attack Repulsed

On July 19, the American brig U.S.S. Oneida and a shore battery repulse an attack on the U.S. Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor, New York on Lake Ontario. The British attacking force consists of two sloops, two schooners and a brig. The 24-gun British sloop-of-war, HMS Royal George, is struck by canon fire that kills eight crewmen, and damages the ship’s top mast and rigging.

The British force withdraws. But because Sacket’s Harbor is a key Army supply base and the largest U.S. shipyard on the Great Lakes, the British will try again to take Sacket’s Harbor the following year.

First Battle of Sacket’s Harbor (Image courtesy of the Flower Memorial Library)

July 16, 2012 at 1:11 am 3 comments


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