Saturday, April 11, 2015

Setting the Stage for the Battle of Brownstown, 1812

I've been focusing some research lately into the battles of Brownstown and Maguaga.  The first was a skirmish, which I've covered in the past in this post. The second battle was a pitched fight between more evenly matched, if very different forces. Before I get into the eyewitness accounts of the August 8 Battle of Maguaga or Maguagon, I'll set the stage for the battles.

A period map from the collection of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

By mid July 1812, Brigadier General William Hull had crossed the Detroit River and captured the Canadian settlement of Sandwich (modern Windsor, Ontario). However, after weeks of inactivity and a few weak probes towards the main British outpost at Fort Malden, he had made little progress towards capturing the fort or securing his own supply lines. The British, with their squadron headed by HMS Queen Charlotte, controlled the river and made both communications with Hull's rear and an advance towards Malden with heavy artillery very difficult. He was in a bad situation, as his letter to the Secretary of War indicates.
Sandwich, U.C. August 4th 1812.
…Despatches have been sent to Malden and the messengers have returned with orders. With respect to the delay at Niagara, the following consequences have followed: a Major Chambers of the British army with 55 regulars and 4 pieces of brass artillery, has been detached from Niagara, and by the last accounts had penetrated as far as Delaware, about 120 miles from this place; every effort was making by this detachment to obtain reinforcements from the militia and Indians; considerable numbers had joined; and it was expected that this force is to operate against this army.

…Two days ago all the Indians were sent from Malden with a small body of British troops to Brownstown and Maguaga and made prisoners of the Wyandots at those places. There are strong reasons to believe that it was by their own consent, notwithstanding the professions they had made. Under all these circumstances you will perceive that the situation of this army is critical.

…I am preparing floating batteries to drive the Queen Charlotte from the mouth of the River Canards, and land them below that river; and it is my intention to march down with the army, and as soon as a breach can be made, attempt the place by storm. Circumstances, however, may render it necessary to re-cross the river with the main body of the army, to preserve the communication for the purpose of obtaining supplies from Ohio. I am constantly obliged to make a strong detachment to convoy the provisions between the foot of the Rapids [lower ford of the Maumee River: eventual site of Fort Meigs] and Detroit. If nothing should be done at Niagara, and the force should come from the north and the east, as is almost certain, you must be sensible of the difficulties which will attend my situation…
Indeed, General Hull had to assign a force of 300 riflemen from the Ohio regiments to escort the mail back as far as Frenchtown, and to get contact with a pack horse train moving up from Ohio.
Detroit, August 4, 1812.
If Major Van Horne should deem a larger force necessary to guard the provisions from River Raisin to Detroit, than the detachment under his command, he is authorized to order Captain Lacroix and fifty of his company to join him, and march on the whole or part of the way to Detroit. If must, however, be so arranged that his march back will be safe, if the company does not proceed the whole distance.
Wm. Hull
Brig. Gen. Commanding.
As it fell out, the 300 man escort was routed in the wilderness near Brownstown, a small settlement a few miles south of Detroit. The cost was very heavy among company officers, who were shot down as they tried to rally their men.

River Raisin, August 4, 1812.
Hon’d Sir,
According to your order of the 10th July, I have this day called into actual service all the 2nd regiment, except Captain D. Hull’s company, at the Miami. It appears that we are invaded on all sides; a number of our citizens has been taken prisoners or killed between the river Huron and Swamp Creek (Swan Creek?), and they have been at Sandy Creek up the settlement, and skulking about. I now wish to know if I will call Captain Hull’s company into service, and how I will organize the regiment, and whether I will take the command as my present rank—if Captain Lacroix will be under my command or not. I am fearful this settlement will be all cut off, since the Wyandots have gone over; but I am determined to give them a brushing if they come here. I send Mr. Wm. Knaggs express to wait your answer; I refer you to him for further news. Wishing to hear what news the mail would give us, I thought proper to detain Mr. Knaggs until its arrival; but finding it did not arrive by nine o’clock this night (the 5th) I have closed my letter.
I am doubtful if the mail is not taken, but I hope not; I do all in my power to keep up the spirits of the inhabitants, which is all but exhausted. There is 40 men on guard and patrol at this place, and ten at the Otter Creek and will continue the same until further orders. We are short of ammunition if attacked, please to keep a little for us as possible. I wish to know how many men will entitle a captain to command. I understand, by good authority, that numbers of Indians is passing on the heads of this river [Raisin] and river Huron, on their way to Malden; and, I think, that if some plan is not taken soon, that they will be in thousands at that place before long; but we must not despair in the goodness of providence. I wish you to send Mr. Knaggs out as soon as possible to let us know the news, &c.
P.S. In behalf of the inhabitants, I request you will not order away any of the people from this place, for we are too few for its defence; if it was possible, to be succored would be best.
[Lieutenant Colonel John Anderson, 2nd Regiment of Michigan Militia, Frenchtown to BG William Hull.]

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