No sooner was war declared than preparations were made to take Canada.
Dr. William Eustis (1753-1825), Harvard '72,the gormless Secretary of War, assigned the equally gormless General Henry Dearborn
(1751-1829) to create a cunning plan. Eustis's military experience was as a surgeon in the Continental Army, and as Secretary
had helped to reorganize the army after his appointment in 1809. He established the Superintendent of Ordnance, the Quartermaster
General and the Commissary General departments, but their jurisdictions overlapped and feuding was the result. Dearborn decided
there were to be three roughly simultaneous, slashing attacks, the first upon Montreal, marching up by Lake Champlain, the
second across Niagara, and the third a bold thrust via Detroit into Upper Canada.
To lead the western thrust, Governor William Hull of Michigan Territory
was named Major-General. With Kentucky and Ohio militia, and a few regulars, all hot for victory, he marched from Dayton,
arriving at Fort Detroit on 5 July 1812. Across the Detroit river lay the capable General Isaac Brock and his small force
of militia and Indians in Fort Malden. Later in the month, after issuing proclamations to the inhabitants of Upper Canada
about how he would govern them, Hull crossed the river. The Ohio militia refused to cross, saying they could serve only within
the United States. Hull crossed anyway, and proceeded to threaten Malden. Then the shocking news reached him that forces dispatched
by General Brock had taken Mackinaw (17 July 1812). Almost swallowing the huge quid he was known for, he scurried back to
Fort Detroit. The force that took Mackinaw included Indians, and if there was anything that terrified Hull, it was Indians.
Lewis Cass and Duncan McArthur tried to break out southward into Ohio, but Indians menaced them back. As General Hull shivered
and chewed and dribbled on his union suit in his wooden fortress, General Brock laid siege, with regulars, militia and mainly
Indians, about 1600 in all.
Mackinaw, or Michilimackinac (the final "c" is silent), is at the
straits connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, on the chief route from Illinois to the east, via Buffalo and the Mohawk.
Hull managed to get a messenger overland to Fort Dearborn (founded 1803, later Chicago) ordering the garrison to abandon the
fort and evacuate. On 15 August they did so, helped by a friendly band of Potawatomies who claimed to be there for the purpose.
The Potawatomies, still peeved by Tippecanoe, killed most of them.
Meanwhile, General Brock suggested to Hull that if a breach was
made in Fort Detroit, he might have a hard time restraining his Indians when they got in. Hull, having visions of bloody tomahawks
and scalp dances, promptly surrendered everything--himself, officers, soldiers, stores, cannon, ammunition, camp followers
and hogs--on 16 August, without putting up any fight. One of the cannons had been seized at Saratoga in 1777, and was now
restored to His Majesty, along with nine American 24-pounders that would come in handy later. The 4th Regiment, U.S. Infantry,
which had been at Tippecanoe, was surrendered with everything else. British command of Lake Erie made this outcome almost
certain in any case.
General Hull was court-martialed on his return to American jurisdiction
when exchanged, and sentenced to death for his poltroonery. The sentence was commuted by the President, however, and he returned
The Niagara prong was assigned to General Stephen van Rensselaer
(1764-1839), of good name but little capability. He had 6000 men to take Queenston Heights from 2000 British and Indians across
the river. As the boats were being collected for the crossing, the one boat that contained all the oars got away and was swept
over the falls. Eventually more oars were found, and the force, commanded by Lt. Col. Winfield Scott (1786-1866), got over
and captured the heights. The New York militia, meanwhile, refused to cross into British territory, so Scott was not reinforced.
A British counterattack retook the heights, capturing Scott and 950 men with him. This victory was costly, because the very
able General Brock was killed in the assault. Rensselaer was relieved of duty and replaced by the insufferable General Alexander
Smythe, called "Van Bladder" by the men. Smythe attacked Fort Erie and then abandoned the attack and retreated. The Pennsylvania
militia had refused to cross here. Smythe disappeared quietly from the army.
General Dearborn himself led the spearhead up to Montreal. It is
about 370 miles from New York City to the St. Lawrence, via the Hudson River, Lake George, Lake Champlain and the Richelieu
River, the obvious invasion route for an army that otherwise would have to travel overland in forested wilderness. In November,
he marched with 6000 to 8000 men from Albany to Plattsburgh. The militia refused to cross the border. United States troops
that did invade Canada fired on each other in the night, and scared themselves back to Plattsburgh. Dearborn said oh well,
it's pretty late in the year anyway, and retired to the comforts of New York.
Hull's surrender, and the loss of forts Dearborn and Detroit shocked
the west and emboldened the Indians. The next point of danger was obviously Fort Wayne, on the Maumee (Miami of the Lake)
River at the portage to the Wabash, which had been built by General Wayne in 1794 on the site of the Miami town of Kekionaga.
There was no civil settlement here, or anywhere else in the area, until 1815. On 22 August 1812, William Henry Harrison, governor
of Indiana Territory, who had been General Wayne's aide-de-camp in 1792-4 was appointed Brigadier General in command of all
forces in Indiana and Illinois territories, to go to the relief of General Hull in Detroit. Brigadier General James Winchester,
an ambitious Tenneseean, was also ordered (and was eager) to aid General Hull. His commission was older, so he ranked Harrison.
On 25 August, Harrison was made Major-General of the Kentucky Militia, though he was not a citizen of that state. This would
normally have caused difficulties with the soldiers, but they knew Harrison and accepted him willingly. Now Harrison ranked
Winchester, and they started out amicably for the relief of Fort Wayne, since Hull's surrender had become known by then. An
order from the War Department on 19 September now put Winchester in charge of the relief of Fort Wayne, so Harrison turned
over to him all troops assigned to this operation, but kept those intended for the relief of Detroit. A further order then
came, dated the 17th (the tardy mail was responsible for the delay) making Harrison the overall commander. Winchester agreed
to a subordinate position when he found out about this on the 25th, but he still commanded the forces for the relief of Fort
Wayne, which was already beseiged by Indians. All this confusion is the result of Secretary Eustis' bungling and the slow
mails. Expresses cost money, after all.
James Winchester (1752-1826) was born in Carroll County, Maryland
and became a surveyor like his father. He rose from private to captain in the Continental Army. In 1785 he emigrated to Tennessee,
where he became a planter. His brother George was killed by Chickasaws, but he survived and built a fine home, "Cragfont."
He saved 15-year-old Susan Black from the foggy, foggy dew and she bore him 14 children, the first in 1793. Later, they got
married. Upon Tennessee statehood, he was named Brigadier General. He agitated constantly for the acquisition of Canada, so
when the war broke out, he eagerly volunteered himself and the militia he had enlisted in Tennesse and Kentucky. As we have
noted, he commanded Harrison's left wing on the march to Detroit.
Captain Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), later to be called Old Rough
and Ready and Mr President, successfully defended Fort Harrison on the Wabash (built during the Tippecanoe campaign in 1811)
from an Indian attack on 4-5 September 1812. He was promoted to Major as a reward for his vigorous defense. This action is
called by an historian "the first American victory on land." It was a rather small "victory," as the successful defense of
a fort was known, involving a few men in a limitless expanse of shady forest. Taylor lost 3 killed, and 3 or 4 wounded. Taylor
and Scott were later to earn laurels in Mexico, and Taylor was to be president, but that is many years in the future.
The army struggled its muddy way north from Cincinnati, having been
equipped by the armory at Newport, Kentucky just across the Ohio. Supplies and enlistments were a continual agony for Harrison.
The weather was turning wet, and the wagons were mired to the hubs. Harrison spent most of his time raising troops, and arguing
with the chiseling contractors. The column was delayed at Piqua for lack of flints for the rifle locks. The existing maps
were useless, but Harrison relied on his intimate knowledge of the country. When the left wing with General Winchester reached
Fort Wayne, the Indian besiegers melted into the woods after a brief argument. James Logan, the Shawnee chief who was loyal
to the United States, and whose family was murdered by white ruffians, was killed here while carrying out a mission to prove
his loyalty. He acquired his name from the Kentucky general of the same name who captured him in 1786, and was a nephew of
Tecumseh's. His village was Wapakoneta, on the Auglaize near St. Mary's. General Harrison, meanwhile, moved the right wing
to a point near the mouth of the Maumee, where he built Fort Meigs, and other small forts near Sandusky River (there was no
settlement here at the time). He gave orders to Winchester to fortify the area he had occupied at the rapids of the Maumee,
and wait for further orders. This was the region of the great Black Swamp bounded by the Maumee, the Auglaize and the Portage
rivers, a formidable barrier blocking the way to Michigan.
Winter was coming on, and it was high time for the troops to go
into winter quarters. By January, the frosts had made the swamps in northwestern Ohio more or less passable, but February
was unseasonably warm and they thawed again. Some settlers from Frenchtown (now Monroe) on the River Raisin came to Winchester
at Fort Defiance, the fort built at the rapids of the Maumee, and begged him for help against the British and the Indians.
Colonel Proctor (some sources spell Procter, but Proctor is probably correct), who had replaced General Brock at Detroit,
was foraging through the countryside, and oppressing those who favored the Americans. General Winchester saw glory and renown
staring him in the face, and decided to go teach Proctor a lesson. He sent Colonel Allen ahead, then followed himself with
all the troops that could be spared after a successful preliminary action by scouting parties on the 18th was reported. In
this advance, over some 75 miles of difficult ground, he far outran any possibility of support. On the 20th, the column arrived
at Frenchtown. Winchester had the men camp along the frosty river any old how, while he went to the warm house of his friend
Colonel Navarre 3/4 of a mile away for a toddy and a warm bed. There was plenty of time to fortify, but it was not done. Proctor
and the Indians descended quietly at dawn on the 22nd, when the militia were snoring loudly. Slaughter and confusion reigned,
with fires and explosions all around. Winchester, horrified and confused, could only run to Proctor coatless and surrender,
leaving his men uncertain whether to defend themselves or give up. The details are more complex, but this gives the general
idea. 290 were killed or missing, and Proctor took 592 prisoners. 33 got away, and did not stop running until they ran babbling
into the relief column from Fort Meigs, scaring the troops and creating much business for the laundry. The Indians, including
some of Tecumseh's Red Sticks, who were not happy with the Americans, entertained themselves fearfully with the wounded lying
on the field. Proctor was made Major-General for his feat.
As soon as Harrison knew that Winchester had moved, he had sent
a relief column, but the going was very hard in the unseasonable thaw, and the news had been received too late. The relief
column encountered successive waves of fleeing soldiers from the disaster, and decided that nothing could be done. Winchester
was exchanged in 1814, and returned to a hero's welcome in Nashville. He then joined Jackson for the remainder of the Southwestern
campaign. After the war, he went on to found the city of Memphis.
That winter of 1812-1813 saw several vigorous mounted penetrations
of Indian territory, planned and executed in the usual ignorance of Indian habits. General Hopkins took an army wandering
towards the Kickapoos at Peoria, giving up in confusion 60 miles from his objective. Governor Edwards of Illinois and Colonel
Russell rode for 400 miles through Indian country, from the White River to the Wabash, to Lake Michigan and river St. Joseph's
of the Lake, and back to Ohio, hardly ever seeing an Indian. One village was surprised near Peoria, however. The Americans
probably killed women and children, as they accused the Indians of doing, but did not brag about it in their reports. All
the villages were empty, the warriors hunting or with Tecumseh, and the squaws making sugar. All they could do was kick apart
some bark lean-to's.
To this extent was Canada seized by the Americans in the 1812 campaign.
The indecisive and fumbling William Eustis resigned as Secretary of War in December, temporarily replaced by James Monroe,
who always displayed his proud ignorance of warfare. Madison named General John Armstrong of New York as permanent Secretary.
The preceding year, Armstrong had been named Brigadier General and assigned the defense of New York Harbor for services against
DeWitt Clinton in the election. Most government positions were handed out for similar party reasons, regardless of suitability
or aptitude. Armstrong devoted himself to a pet project, the Rules and Regulations of the Army of the United States, which
appeared on 1 May 1813. Armstrong knew more than Eustis did about military matters, having served in the Pennanite war which
Pennsylvania waged against Connecticut in 1784, but most of this additional information seems to have been wrong. He was politically
correct, and an intriguer like General Wilkinson, though probably not as much of a scoundrel. He was actually a pretty good
writer, and should have confined himself to that. General James Wilkinson (1757-1825), who appears here
and there during the war, was a native of Maryland, and a captain in the Continental Army before he was 21. He was at the
defeat of Québec, and the victory of Saratoga, contributing little to each. At 21, he was brigadier general but had to resign
the rank because of his agitation in favor of General Gates to replace General Washington, in the Conway Cabal. He then became
clothier-general of the army, 1779-1781, which was no doubt lucrative, since he had to leave the army hastily before the auditors
showed up. He founded Frankfort, Kentucky in 1786, and intrigued with the Spanish over turning over the area to them, in return
for trade privileges and possibly a generalship in the Spanish Army. He fought in the Ohio War with the Miamis and Shawnees
in 1791, with Kentucky militia, and accompanied General Wayne in 1794 as an aide-de-camp. He was a commissioner for the receipt
of Louisiana from the French, and was Governor 1805-1806. While there, he became interested in Burr's filibustering expedition
into Spanish territory, which Jefferson turned into treason to eliminate this rival. Later, Tennesseeans created Texas in
a similar episode. Wilkinson gave evidence against Burr in return for political favor, but both stood trial. Both he and Burr
were acquitted. His later efforts in seizing West Florida and Mobile, his departure for New York in 1813, and his bungling
there, are told below. He retired to Mexico and wrote his memoirs.
General Proctor came up the Maumee in boats to attack Fort Meigs
in the spring, hoping to beat it into submission by artillery, the heaviest of which had been supplied by General Hull the
previous summer. Tecumseh, prodding him onward, made him promise to give him Harrison when the fort was captured. Later, Harrison
jokingly told his Indian allies that he would give them General Proctor, if they would dress him in petticoats. Colonel Dudley
of the Kentucky Militia assaulted a British position on the other side of the river and carried it. While jumping up and down
with joy and making merry and congratulating one another, the Kentuckians failed to observe a counterattack on the way that
annihilated them before they had a chance to uncork their jugs. Proctor raised the siege when his ammunition ran low and no
progress was evident. Harrison had protected the fort with a large bank of earth that stopped the cannonballs. The bank had
been built behind the cover of the fort's tents, which Proctor was expecting to devastate with his artillery. When the bank
was complete, the tents were suddenly moved behind it, and now the artillery could see nothing but earth.
Proctor then attempted some lesser game, and attacked Fort Stephenson
on the Sandusky. Harrison ordered the commander, Major Croghan, to abandon the small fort, but by the time the message was
received, this was inadvisable, and Croghan decided to hold out. There was some confusion over whether Croghan had disobeyed
orders or not, but when the facts were laid out Harrison exonerated him completely. The fort did hold out, Croghan became
a hero, and Proctor again retired to Fort Malden, General Tecumseh giving him no rest. The young Croghan, a nephew of George
Rogers Clark, received a nice sword from the ladies of Chillicothe, and promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.
While the summer was occupied by these excursions, Commodore (then
Captain) Oliver Hazard Perry had been assigned to Lake Erie and was building ships at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania). His
opposite number, Captain Barclay RN, was also building at Fort Erie, at the mouth of the Niagara River. On 10 September 1813,
the two fleets finally came out of port, and the ensuing Battle of Lake Erie was won by Commodore Perry. It had been very
difficult to find sailors, and General Harrison had given him some of his troops as sailors. There was actually some coordination
between the Army and the Navy here, which was very unusual. Later, Commodore Chauncey sailed away just when his fleet could
been of some use on Lake Ontario, the usual scenario. Perry's victory made General Proctor's situation so far west without
control of the lake untenable, so he had no option but to withdraw eastward. Command of Lake Erie should have been the first
order of business in the spring of 1812, but the politicians and lawyers were too dim to realize this.
On 27 September, Harrison loaded his army onto boats at Middle Sister,
in the islands at the western part of Lake Erie off Sandusky. The army included 260 Indians, Wyandots and Shawnees, that he
had enlisted for the American cause. The landing across the lake was unopposed, and Amherstburg was quickly occupied. Fort
Malden had been abandoned and burnt. Proctor paused briefly at Sandwich to observe the landing, then marched eastward by the
back route along the river Thames. Colonel Richard M. Johnson's Kentucky mounted infantry, a type of unit greatly favored
by General Harrison for good reason, rode by land up to Detroit, crossing to Sandwich on 1 October, completing the invasion
force. The pursuit of Proctor was the next order of business. There were two routes, one by land along the river Thames, and
the other by lake to the harbor at Port Talbot, and then inland. Perry advised against the water route, because the weather
was bad, so the army marched up the south bank of the Thames.
The Kentucky troops had no "Constitutional scruples" about crossing
the border, as did many militia soldiers. There was a story of a pet sow that had followed a regiment on its march through
Ohio, and even as far as Middle Sister Island, but would not then step on the boat. She was said to have "scruples" and was
permitted to remain in Ohio. Harrison and Perry had seen eagles circling before critical events, and regarded them as good
Tecumseh had urged Proctor to stand and fight like a man, not a
squaw, but Proctor was in a hurry to get away, since he did not relish capture by the vengeful Kentuckians. Tecumseh organized
resistance at Chatham, where Harrison crossed the river, but Harrison swept his Indians aside. On 5 October, Proctor was overtaken
at the Moravian Towns, and he turned for battle. His Indians were on the right flank, the few regulars with him on the left,
towards the river. There were too few regulars to properly occupy the space between the woods, where the Indians were, and
the river. Harrison noticed the wide spacing, and sent in Johnson's mounted infantry there. They broke through easily, and
the battle was quickly won. Proctor had about 800 Indians and 500 regulars, Harrison about 3000, largely Kentucky militia.
Tecumseh was killed in the battle, the Indians putting up the last resistance. Johnson claimed to have killed him, but Johnson
probably could not have told Tecumseh from Sitting Bull. The victorious troops, as was their custom, took little souvenirs
from the fallen warriors, that were later claimed to be parts of Tecumseh. The Indians never told what they had done with
Tecumseh's body. Proctor made his getaway with a few guards on fast horses. It was so precipitate that he was reprimanded,
but the Prince Regent prevented his being suspended from duty. Some reports on casualties say that only 15 men died on the
American side, 12 on the British, in this battle, which cannot have included the Indians. Casualty reports are very difficult
to verify. Also, one should keep in mind that war is not a board game, and the results of a battle are not measured by the
casualties. Casualties of the attacker are almost always higher than those of the defender, twice as high being not at all
The death of Tecumseh was the sunset of Indian power in the northwest.
The next year, at the Miami town of Greenville, Ohio, the site of the 1794 treaty that began their decline, they were compelled
to sign a treaty on 22 July 1814 making peace with the United States, and declaring war on Britain. Tecumseh's family and
the Prophet (Tensquatawa or Olliwachica) were pensioned in Ontario, near Windsor, but the Prophet appears to have gone to
the Shawnee reservation in Kansas later. The western campaign presents three clear examples of the blundering
incompetence of the War Department, among many others. First was the lack of effort to gain command of Lake Erie. It was finally
gained by the enterprise and individual initiative of Commodore Perry. Second was the order of Secretary Armstrong to disband
the militia in the west (too expensive) and rely on regulars. This was overcome by the enterprise and individual intiative
of General Harrison, whose success was hard for Washington to oppose. Third was Armstrong's imbecilic order to move Colonel
Johnson's mounted infantry 400 miles from the Maumee to Kaskaskia to protect against an imagined threat, inspired by political
expediency (Governor Edwards's direct appeal to Washington) and ignorance. This winter march would have decimated the regiment,
killing the horses and sickening the men, so that they would have arrived in tatters. The regiment was sent via Kentucky to
recuperate, on the initiative of Colonel Johnson, and the resulting delay was sufficient for the War Department to come to
its senses and rescind the order. Harrison always obeyed an order, but often used his discretion in the absence of orders.
War Department incompetence is displayed in all its glory in the next section.
Part 3 - The Defence of the Capital, War in the Southwest