Date of Award

5-2013

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Scott W. See

Second Committee Member

Stephen Miller

Third Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Abstract

Broader memory of the War of 1812 has greatly influenced the interpretation of the Battle of Detroit in August of 1812. In Canada Isaac Brock remains an exulted figure because he predicted his opponent’s cowardice and his forceful personality caused an unprecedented victory. In the U.S. General William Hull’s actions in the land war has become an inglorious sideshow in a narrative that highlighted naval victories and battles against the British invasion in the final year of the conflict. Canadian militiamen crafted a nationalist myth around the ideal of the citizen-soldier, and Hull’s papers strengthened their narrative. Those documents would subsequently be used as evidence to convict Hull of cowardice. These historiographical impulses have overshadowed the letters of British officers and the memoirs of frustrated soldiers who served under William Hull. A focus on the conflict among Hull’s forces and on Brock’s pragmatic analysis in his official correspondence illustrates the difficult and complicated nature of this campaign.

A careful reassessment of these sources demonstrates how much chance influenced the outcome of the Battle of Detroit. The frontier significantly stressed the forces of the United States and the British Empire, thereby creating a very challenging campaign. Brock’s victory at Detroit was shaped by fortunate circumstances rather than by his prediction of the battle’s outcome. Recognizing the Battle of Detroit as a unique success reconciles Hull’s conviction at his court-martial with the difficulties that Henry Procter, Brock’s successor, experienced on the frontier following the British victory at Detroit. The writings of William Hull’s subordinates demonstrate the extraordinary nature of Hull’s surrender. Isaac Brock’s correspondence was more pragmatic than the accounts of his subordinates, and serves as a counterweight to the cult of personality that has formed around him in historical memory.

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