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War of 1812 in Ohio

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Word spread quickly In Ohio that war with England was imminent. Fear that the British would invade Ohio from the north causes many citizens to leave their farms along the coast and head for Cleveland where there was safety in numbers. Deeper in Ohio citizens build a number of blockhouses to be used as safe houses where local citizens could flee to for protection in the case of a British or Indian attack. Often these block houses were defended by local militia organized for defense of the community. Canadian citizens were also invading Ohio, but for a different reason.

After the Revolution and before the War of 1812, a number of Americans were induced by special offers to move to Canada to help settle the Canada's western frontier. These inducements succeeded in transplanting many New England farmers to Canada. These folks were mostly Revolutionary War veterans or descentants of veterans, and when hostilities erupted, they could not take up arms against the country they had fought to establish. This saw a flood of refugees coming down from Canada and settling in Central Ohio where it was considered safer.

The 60 year old Brigadier General Hull arrives in Cincinnati in early May 1812 to take command of the new Army of the Northwest. War has not yet been declared, but he knows it's only a matter of time. He organizes his army and moves north to Dayton where they begin organizing the militia which is divided into 3 regiments. From here they march on to Urbana a 4th regiment is added.

Despite its size, the Army of the Northwest was poorly equipped and had lax discipline. The aging Hull was not a good military leader which would soon prove disastrous to the fight on the western front lines of northwest Ohio.

The declaration of war was signed on June 18, 1812. A letter outlining the declaration of war was sent by the Secretary of War to Hull but he would not receive this letter until July 2 while he was encamped along the banks of the Maumee River not far from where Toledo is today. In fact, Hull had been there for a number of days before the letter arrived.

In preparing to depart for Fort Detroit, Hull had already sent the schooner Cuyahoga Packet ahead with supplies and official documents of their plans. This would not have been much of a problem during peace time, but since a declaration of war had already been in force for 2 weeks, it became a serious problem when the schooner passed by the British Fort Amherstburg, at the mouth of the Detroit River. Unlike the American commander, the British commander had already received news that war had been declared. The British captured the schooner along with her supplies and Hull's plans for his entire campaign.

Hull's Orders

Secretary of War William Eustis and President James Madison thought that recent immigrants from the United States into western Canada might support American forces. Plans were made to secure Fort Detroit where Hull could then base an invasion of Canada to secure the land around Lake Erie.

However, instead of following General Anthony Wayne's route to the Maumee along western edge of Ohio, Secretary of War Eustis told Hull to take the more direct route from Urbana, northwest across the Black Swamp. This proved to be a daunting task that consumed both time and supplies. Sensing that the war was about to erupt (which in fact, it already had) Hull wanted to get supplies to Fort Detroit as soon as possible. That is why he sent the schooner ahead with the sick, supplies and plans.

When Hull's army finally reached Detroit on July 5, they were exhausted and desperately short of supplies, Eustis ordered Hull to immediately attack Fort Amherstburg. With little enthusiasm for this task, Hull crossed into Canada on July 12.

After several skirmishes with British outposts, Hull finally decided he could not attack the fort without artillery and he fell back to Fort Detroit. The following weeks saw increasing confusion among the American forces. Supplies were being intercepted. More of Hull's dispatches to the Secretary of War were intercepted. Moral was low at the fort and the British knew it.

On August 15, 1812, the British fired upon Fort Detroit with artillery from the Canadian side of the river. Tecumseh created a diversion towards the rear of the fort when he had a number of warriors run in a circle where only a portion was exposed to the fort at anyone time. This ruse created the impression in the fort that there appeared to be 1000s of warriors just outside the fort's walls.

Hull, fearing that his family might be soon massacred inside the fort, Hull raised a white flag and surrendered Fort Detroit. Hull asked for 3 days to come to terms of the surrender. The British commander gave him 3 hours. With just a few cannon shots that had killed 2 Americans inside the fort, and a few hundred warriors, Brigadier General Hull surrendered Fort Detroit, 1600 Ohio militia, 582 American regulars, 2500 muskets, 300 rifles, 30 cannon. Hull was later tried by court martial and sentenced to death for his actions at Fort Detroit, but President Madison commuted his sentence.

Just over a year later, the tides would turn when Major General William Henry Harrison would retake Fort Detroit and follow the retreating British and Native Americans, ultimately defeating them at the Battle of the Thames (Battle of Moraviantown) on October 5, 1813.


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