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A contemporary sketch of Hull. (Courtesy of Galafilm Multimedia)
Gen. William Hull

Canada Campaign Of 1812 Brought Disaster And Disgrace To Revolutionary Hero

"My God, what shall I do with all these women and children?!" cried Gen. William Hull. At Fort Detroit, where Hull and his retreating Army had arrived on Aug. 7, 1812, many people stood to lose members in an enemy attack -- including the general himself, whose daughter and grandchildren were among those sequestered against the British.

A Yale graduate and a hero of the American Revolution, Hull was named governor of the Michigan Territory by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805. In that position, he secured many land concessions from the First Nations of the Northwest, angering many of those tribes. When war with Great Britain threatened, Hull correctly feared retaliatory actions from the First Nations. He asked for reinforcements and accepted the title of brigadier general of the Army of the Northwest as long as he could retain his governorship.

In his dual role, Hull was aging and unable to bring the same courage and leadership to an invasion of Canada that he had brought to Revolutionary War battles in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. After landing unopposed at Sandwich in Canada, Hull waffled so long that the British arrived with their own reinforcements. Instead of attacking Fort Malden, Hull withdrew.

After a few short days at Fort Detroit, Hull learned that Tecumseh and his warriors had arrived in the town of Detroit and were heading for the fort. An artillery battle at Sandwich left troop morale at rock bottom, and Hull feared for his men and his people. On Aug. 16, he ordered a white tablecloth hung outside the fort; a temporary truce soon dissolved into a full surrender in which the Americans lost 2,200 men, the fort, all of their equipment, and the Michigan Territory.

Court-martialed on charges of neglect of duty, cowardice and treason in the winter of 1814-15, Hull was convicted on the first two charges and sentenced to be shot. But in light of his heroism during the revolution and his age -- and at the recommendation of the court -- President James Madison spared Hull's life. The only American flag officer ever sentenced to death, Hull spent the remaining decade of his life with his family in Massachusetts.

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