Surrender of Fort Detroit
In the early days of the War of 1812, British general Isaac Brock marched on Fort Detroit with a force of 1330 men, comprised of 330 Redcoats, 400 Canadian militia, and 600 Native Americans, supported by 3 lights guns, 5 heavy guns, 2 mortars, and 2 warships. Brock’s target was garrisoned by a force nearly twice the size of his own, comprised of 600 US Army regulars and nearly 2000 militia, sheltered within the protective walls of a fortress bristling with over 36 cannons, commanded by an American Revolutionary War veteran and hero, general William Hull.
Brock learned from captured despatches that American morale was low, that the garrison was short of supplies, and that his enemies were in mortal fear of his Native American allies. Emboldened by that information, Brock decided to immediately attack Detroit, and playing upon American fear of Indians, arranged for a misleading letter to fall into American hands, that greatly exaggerated the number of his native allies from an actual 600 to a fanciful 5000.
Brock also tricked the Americans into believing that he had more regulars under his command than was the case, by dressing up his Canadian militia in castoff British regimental uniforms. Outside Detroit, he had the same troops march in a loop over the same stretch within eyesight of the garrison, then ducking out of sight, then returning to march anew as if they were fresh reinforcements. Brock also ordered his soldiers to light 5 times as many fires at night than was the norm, in order to further convey an illusion of greater strength. General Hull’s already low confidence collapsed at the prospect of facing a strong British army accompanied by 5000 Natives.
Brock sent a message demanding surrender, informing Hull that he did not want to massacre the defenders, but that he would have little control over his Indian allies once fighting commenced. Hull decided it was futile to resist. Unwilling to sacrifice his men against hopeless odds, and fearing for the women in children inside the Fort, including his own daughter and grandchild, he raised a white flag and asked Brock for three days to negotiate the terms of surrender. Brock gave him only three hours before he would attack. Hull caved in, and surrendered his entire command of nearly 2500 men, three dozen cannons, 300 rifles, 2500 muskets, and the only American warship in the Upper Lakes. The British cost was 2 men wounded.
The surrender of Fort Detroit was a military disaster for the US, derailing as it did plans to invade and seize Canada early in the war, before the British had time to rush in reinforcements. It reinvigorated the Canadians, who had been pessimistic about the prospects of defending Canada from forcible annexation by the US, and fired up Native Americans in the Northwest Territory to war against US outposts and settlers.
An American invasion of Canada was attempted later on, but by then the British and loyal Canadians were better prepared and more confident, and forced the invaders back across the border. As to general Hull, after his release from British captivity, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be shot. However, his life was spared out of consideration for his heroism decades earlier during the American War of Independence.