The Detroit Bluff
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Isaac Brock
The Detroit Bluff
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The Detroit Bluff
The Detroit Bluff
Brigadier-General Isaac Brock had 300 British regulars and 400 Canadian militia.
Six hundred native warriors joined Brock's army at Detroit to fight the Americans in August 1812. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Six hundred native warriors joined Brock's army at Detroit to fight the Americans in August 1812. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
His army was augmented by six hundred Indians under the leadership of Tecumseh, a stately, charismatic Shawnee chief who was heading a united resistance against American encroachment of Indian land. Tecumseh's father and a brother had been killed in skirmishes with American settlers. Now he saw an opportunity to fight back.

"Where today are the powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man as snow before the summer sun. Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without making an effort worthy of our race? Shall we without a struggle give up on our homes, our lands, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will say with me, never.
Fort Detroit was pounded with artillery fire for two hours after General Isaac Brock issued his demand that the fort surrender (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Fort Detroit was pounded with artillery fire for two hours after General Isaac Brock issued his demand that the fort surrender (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Never!"

Tecumseh and his 600 warriors from the Shawnee, Delaware, Kickapoo and Potawatomi met Brock's army and militia at Detroit.

"It was an extraordinary spectacle to see all these aborigines assembled together at one time," wrote Thomas de Boucherville, a fur trader and volunteer in the militia, "some covered with vermillion, others with blue clay, and still others tattoos... from head to foot... A European witnessing this strange spectacle for the first time would have thought... he was standing at the entrance to hell, with the gates thrown open to let the damned out for an hour's recreation on earth!"

Tecumseh paraded his colourful warriors in front of Fort Detroit, re-presenting them three times to give the illusion of a larger force.
General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit without a fight. He was later court-martialled for cowardice. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit without a fight. He was later court-martialled for cowardice. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Brock had dressed his Canadian militia in discarded British uniforms to create the look of a professional army.

Their attack relied heavily on bluff, something Brock had some experience with. As a young soldier, he had been provoked by a celebrated duellist, seeking to fight. Brock insisted that instead of the standard duelling distance, shots would be exchanged over a handkerchief. The duellist backed down and eventually left the regiment.

After assembling this theatrical force in view of Fort Detroit, Brock wrote a letter to the American commander, General William Hull. "Sir; it is far from my inclination to join a war of extermination, but you must be aware that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences."

Montcalm had used the same scare tactic at Fort William Henry in 1757.
American army at Detroit
American army at Detroit
General Hull had civilians in the fort, among them his daughter and grandson. The spectre of an Indian massacre was entrenched in frontier mythology, it had an insistent power that conjured scenes of torture and hell. While Hull was pondering this vivid image, Brock pounded the fort with cannon fire.

Lydia Bacon had just arrived in Detroit to join her husband, an American officer. "Never shall I forget my sensation as... the cannon began to roar with tenfold fury.
I felt as if my nerves would burst and my eyes raised upward to catch a glimpse of the bomb shells that were flying in all directions."

For more than two hours Brock waited as the fort was pounded by cannon-fire. Standing in the British lines, Private Shadrach Byfield waited for the order to attack that never came.

"After a while an officer came from the fort with a flag of truce. I was on the advance with General Brock at the time. And from what I could hear, the officer wanted three days cessation; to which our General replied if they did not yield in three hours he would blow up every one of them."

Hull surrendered without a fight. An American observer wrote to President Madison that the whole fiasco was "the most weak, cowardly and imbecile" course of proceedings he had ever seen.
Even Lydia Bacon felt disgraced:

"The American colours were taken from the staff and ... replaced by English colours and a royal salute fired from the very cannon taken from them in the Revolutionary war."

Lydia and her husband were allowed to return home on the condition he not fight again.

Hull was court-martialled for cowardice and sentenced to death. "I have done what my conscience directed," he said. "I have saved Detroit and the Territory from the horrors of an Indian massacre." He was pardoned but died in disgrace.

Without risking a life, Brock had more than 2,200 prisoners, an armoury of muskets and cannon, and money to pay his men.
Best of all, Brock's astounding victory raised hopes in Upper Canada and changed the attitude among the Canadians as their fragile patriotism was buoyed.

"The militia have been inspired by the recent success with confidence," Brock wrote his brothers, "the disaffected are silenced." But Brock knew that Detroit was a stolen victory and that a far greater contest was looming.

The Brigadier-General wrote: "You will hear of some decisive action in the course of a fortnight or in all probability we shall return to a state of tranquility. I say decisive because... should I be victorious I do not imagine the gentry from the other side will be anxious to return to the charge...
and if I should be beaten the province is inevitably gone."

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