Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Siege of Detroit

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Siege of Detroit. On this date in 1812, William Hull, "Brigadier General and Commander of the North-Western Army of the United States," surrendered the core of his forces in and around Detroit -- about 2,500 troops (a mix of regulars and militia) -- to Major General Isaac Brock, "commanding his Britannic Majesty's forces" menacing Detroit at the time with about half as many men (a mix of First Nation contingents under Tecumseh, Canadian militia and about 300 British regulars). After his release, Hull was courtmartialed by the US Army, found guilty of cowardice and sentenced to be shot.  However, he lived until 1825. Later in 1812 and 1813 respectively, Brock and Tecumseh (Tekoomsē) were both killed in combat fighting against US forces.  Detroit was abandoned by the British in 1813, leaving its public buildings burned to the ground.  

As of 2012, part of the international Canada-USA border still runs along the Detroit River.

The War of 1812 was a nasty little conflict with big stakes. In the US, Americans like to think of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 -- keeping that city from falling into British hands -- or the National Anthem inspired by the defense of Fort McHenry in Maryland. In Canada, the War of 1812 is remembered more as a brave, victorious defense againt US invasion. First Nations sought to contain US expansion into their lands, more a delaying action than anything else. Two hundred years later, there's a little something for everybody to remember -- or forget.

Today's Rune: Journey. Map image adapted from Benson J. Lossing, "Map of Detroit River and Vicinity," The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812 (1869). See Archives of Ontaro:



Adorably Dead said...

Sometimes I forget how history sounds from the other side.

the walking man said...

Trust me it isn't even remembered here. That was our last best chance to be a part of Canada.

*shrug* Detroit is the forgotten city. I think mainly because it was the first place where the dream of Euro-centric Manifest Destiny thinking died. The first place where the great white chiefs figured out they couldn't control a people of color. It frightens them now, very much, which I think is the only explanation for the war of 2012.

This one though is fought with bald face lies, racially tuned dog whistles, promulgation of fear through the shrinking Caucasian world of America.

I have paid attention to politics for 50 years now, 40 of them as a very consistent voter and never have I felt this loathing and concern for the future of my nation,much less my city.

WAS said...

Thanks for calling this to our attention, Erik. Permit me while I fill in some additional pieces (in three parts, complied from various sources on the internet):

Part 1.
In 1803 President Jefferson granted young Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison the authority to negotiate and conclude treaties to obtain title to Indian lands. Jefferson saw in Harrison an ambitious dupe who could fulfill his desire to take control of Western lands for the white races. Before Jefferson left office, Harrison supervised 13 treaties, appropriating 60,000,000 acres of land in what is now Southern Indiana, Western Illinois and Eastern Missouri from the Sauk, the Meskwaki, and other tribes by a mixture of bribes and death threats to leaders who did not comply. These all created animosity among other tribes, most notably the Black Hawk, who did not believe these tribes had the right nor will to deed these lands. Most controversial was the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne, where Harrison “purchased” more than 2,500,000 acres of land inhabited by Shawnee, Kickapoo, Wea and Piankeshaw peoples from the Miami tribe. Harrison rushed the process to have the treaty in place before President Jefferson left office, thus further infuriating other tribes. Enter Tecumseh and his Shawnee brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet). Tenskwatawa convinced the native tribes that they would be protected by the Great Spirit if they would rise up against the white settlers. He encouraged resistance by telling the tribes to pay white traders only half of what they owed and to give up all the white man's ways, including their clothing, muskets, and especially whiskey, which was becoming known as evil for American Indians.

In August 1810, Tecumseh led 400 armed warriors down the Wabash River to meet with Harrison in Vincennes. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne Treaty was illegitimate, arguing that no one tribe could sell land without the approval of the other tribes. He asked Harrison to nullify it and warned Americans against attempting to settle the lands. Tecumseh informed Harrison that he had threatened to kill the chiefs who signed the treaty if they carried out its terms, and that his confederation of tribes was growing rapidly. Harrison said the Miami were the owners of the land and could sell it if they so chose. He rejected Tecumseh's claim that all the Indians formed one nation. He said each tribe could have separate relations with the United States if they chose to. Harrison argued that the Great Spirit would have made all the tribes speak one language if they were to be one nation.

Tecumseh launched an "impassioned rebuttal," but Harrison was unable to understand his language. A Shawnee friendly to Harrison cocked his pistol from the sidelines to alert Harrison that Tecumseh's speech was leading to trouble. Some witnesses reported that Tecumseh was encouraging the warriors to kill Harrison. Many of the warriors began to pull their weapons and Harrison pulled his sword. Since the entire town's population was only 1,000, Tecumseh's warriors could have defeated the entire town. Once the few officers pulled their guns to defend Harrison, the warriors backed down. Chief Winnema, who was friendly to Harrison, countered Tecumseh's arguments and told the warriors that since they had come in peace, they should return home in peace. Before leaving, Tecumseh informed Harrison that unless the treaty was nullified, he would seek an alliance with the British.
In 1811, while Tecumseh was traveling, Harrison led an army of more than 1,000 men north to try to intimidate the Shawnee into making peace. Instead, the tribes launched a surprise attack on Harrison's army early on the morning of November 6, in what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison’s troops greatly outnumbered the attackers, and defeated the tribal forces at Prophetstown despite many casualties. Harrison was hailed as a national hero by an outraged public for being valiant against such an outlandish Indian attack.

WAS said...

Part 2:
Harrison was kept in command of the army in Indiana after the outbreak of the War of 1812, and became commander of the Army of the Northwest after the loss of Detroit. His deputy was the controversial Brig. Gen. James Winchester, who was defeated by the British and their Indian allies at the Battle of Frenchtown, near Monroe, Mich., a battle known as the 'River Raisin Massacre' by the Americans because, despite a promise of protection from the British commander, Colonel Proctor, wounded American prisoners were butchered by the Indians, some being burned to death in huts.
Proctor–known to the bitter Americans thereafter as 'the Butcher'–and the River Raisin Massacre were to remain vivid in the memories of the Americans who survived and either escaped or were paroled. Many of them were Kentuckians who would confront Proctor and his Indian allies again at Moraviantown.

Arriving at the scene of the massacre about a week later, Harrison built a new stronghold, Fort Meigs, along the Maumee River. On May 1, 1813, the new fort came under siege by Proctor and Tecumseh, killing or capturing about 600 of the Americans. At that point, the Indians began attacking the prisoners, taking 20 scalps before Tecumseh arrived and stopped the slaughter of the helpless prisoners, shaming the warriors by shouting, 'Are there no men here?' Finding Proctor nearby, Tecumseh asked why he had not stopped them earlier. 'Your Indians cannot be controlled, cannot be commanded,' replied the British general.

'You are not fit to command,' said Tecumseh contemptuously. 'Go put on your petticoats!'

By July, Proctor retired to Fort Malden, virtually handing the initiative to Harrison. Tecumseh responded to Proctor's timidity with a pointed speech, comparing Proctor's conduct to 'a fat animal that carries its tall, bushy tail upon its back; but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off.' Still, even after 800 of his braves had deserted him, Tecumseh told one of his 1,200 remaining warriors, 'We are now going to follow the British, and I feel certain that we shall never return.'

On September 10, 1813, U.S. Navy Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a squadron of British ships on Lake Erie in the bloodiest naval battle of the war. This was the first time in the history of the Royal Navy that an entire squadron was forced to surrender. After defeating British Captain Robert Barclay–a veteran of Lord Horatio Nelson's famous victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805–the young American hero sent a message to Harrison: 'We have met the enemy and they are ours–two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.'

The way was open at last for Harrison to invade Upper Canada and to recapture Detroit. Shortly after Perry's victory had secured Lake Erie, Harrison moved out with some 4,500 men–a handful of regulars, the rest mostly volunteers from Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the British abandoned Detroit on September 18 and nearby Fort Malden on the 24th and withdrew north along the Thames–much to the unconcealed disgust of their Shawnee ally, Tecumseh.

After considerable haggling over the precise place along the Thames to stand and fight the invading Yankees, on October 4, Proctor chose a spot not far from Moraviantown, a settlement of Delaware Indians who had been converted to the Christian faith.
That night, Tecumseh told those Indian leaders who had gathered: 'Brother warriors, we are about to enter into an engagement from which I shall never return. My body will remain on the field of battle.' He then gave a sword the British had given him to another Indian and said, 'When my son becomes a noted warrior, give him this.' When the great warrior went into battle the next day, he wore buckskin, ostrich feathers on his head and a medal around his neck.

WAS said...

Part Three:
Under the command of Tecumseh and his deputy, Oshawahnah, chief of the Chippewa were braves from the Shawnee, Ottawa, Delaware and Wyandot, as well as the Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, Winnebag, Potawatomi and Creek tribes–some 500 in all. The total forces under Proctor's command numbered between 950 and 1,000; the American forces facing him outnumbered his men 3-to-1. Facing them, Harrison had about 120 regulars, 260 Indians, and a corps of Kentucky volunteers, most of them like Harrison having been trained by the illustrious Indian-killer Colonel Mad Anthony Wayne.

Harrison went straight at the British on his right after learning that the Redcoats were tired, distrusted their commander, had received no provisions for two days, and were desperately short of ammunition. The battle was over in fact in less than 10 minutes. Redcoats got only two volleys off before they were overrun by the Kentuckians, riding hard at the full gallop shouting the battle cry, 'Remember the Raisin!'

The action on the American left, against the Indians, was more hazardous. Colonel Richard Johnson's men rode into battle with each man carrying a rifle, a hatchet and a knife. As the fighting grew fiercer and fire from the braves in the bush began to fell the Americans, Johnson ordered his troopers to dismount and fight on foot, hand to hand, knife to knife. The colonel himself remained in the saddle, an easy target for Indian marksmen. Johnson suffered five wounds and fell but he would live for many more years and become vice president of the United States.

To this day, details of Tecumseh's death remain unknown. Legend has it that Richard Johnson killed Tecumseh, and he was to get credit for a deed he himself never claimed credit for. Johnson shot and killed an Indian who came at him with a tomahawk, but no one could say for certain that the Indian was the great Shawnee chief. Nevertheless, the following jingle became part of Johnson's later political campaigns: 'Rumpsey dumpsey, rumpsey dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.'

Some of Tecumseh's braves later told a different story. His face stained with blood from a head wound, Tecumseh shouted encouragement to his warriors until he was mortally wounded by a bullet in his left breast. A few followers then carried him from the field and secretly buried him. His body was never recovered, at least not by white men.

As bitter as the Battle of the Thames was, only 15 Americans were killed and 30 others wounded. 18 British soldiers were killed and 22 wounded. The Indians lost the most:33 braves.

The massacre at the River Raisin had been avenged. The American victory broke the British hold on the Northwestern frontier, leaving Fort Michilimackinac the only British-held stronghold in Michigan Territory, making The Battle of the Thames one of the great American victories in the war, second only to the Battle of New Orleans.

The Battle of the Thames neutralized the Anglo-Indian threat from the frontier for the duration of the war. But its most decisive consequence would be felt by the Indian nations long afterward. Respected by friend and foe alike, Tecumseh proved to be an irreplaceable loss. No comparable leader would emerge to oppose the ultimate white settlement of the lands east of the Mississippi River.

But this of course, is only the beginning of the story. For William Henry Harrison parlayed his military successes into a successful run for President under the famous slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” He death within a month of inauguration, wholly unanticipated by the founders, led to a constitutional crisis of which the primary casualty was the ill-fated Whig party. This allowed the fractured Democrats to elect the first “dark horse” President, James K. Polk, who ran on an unrepentant “Manifest Destiny” program that would forever change, in four short years, the future of Native peoples in America.

Tecumseh’s Revenge or Harrison’s Revenge? Such a karmic pair. The world may never know.

Erik Donald France said...

Hey, thanks for the comments, y'all ~! Much appreciated ~

I will do a post on Richard M. Johnson at some point -- a real character as well as VP of the USA.