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General Brock
Chapter XVIII - Brownstown and Maguaga


THE garrison at Amherstburg consisted of a subaltern detachment of the Royal Artillery, three hundred men of the 41st, and about the same number of militia. Captain Chambers, with fifty men of the 41st, had been sent to the Moravian town on the river Thames for the purpose of collecting the militia and Indians there, and advancing on the left flank of the enemy. Forty more had been sent to Long Point to collect the militia in that neighbourhood. Sixty of the 41st had just arrived with Colonel Procter at Amherstburg. General Hull, after issuing his futile proclamation, seems to have remained closely in his quarters at Sandwich, evidently afraid to venture too far from Fort Detroit. He had not met with the encouragement he expected from the settlers of Essex and Kent. Although some malcontents had joined his standard, the majority of the inhabitants had remained firm in their allegiance to Great Britain. An advance upon Fort Maiden (Amherstburg) had been expected, but three detachments of Americans on three successive days had been foiled in their attempt to cross the river Canard, scarcely four miles from that place. On July 22nd General Hull wrote to Washington: ^If Maiden were in our possession, I could march the army to Niagara or York in a very short time." Sir George Prevost on the 27th of the same month had written to Brock: "The possession of Maiden, which I consider means Amherstburg, appears a favourable object with the government of the United States. I sincerely hope you will disappoint them."

The fort of Amherstburg could not, from the description given of it, have sustained a siege. "Quadrangle in form, four bastions alone flanked a dry ditch, offering little obstacle to a determined enemy. This passed, there was but a single line of picketing, perforated with loopholes for musketry, and supported by a slight breastwork. All the buildings within were of wood, covered with pine shingles of extreme thinness." Colonel St. George, who was in command there, well knew the disadvantage of awaiting the enemy in this position, and sallied out with his small garrison to guard the approaches to the river Canard. In one of the slight skirmishes that occurred between his troops and an advance body of American cavalry and infantry, the first blood was shed in the war of 1812. It was that of a private of the 41st, named Hancock, who was killed when defending a bridge, while his companion Dean was carried off a prisoner to Detroit.

Their determined resistance gave time for a reinforcement of Indians led by Tecumseh to arrive, whose appearance and wild shouts carried such a panic among the Americans that they retired in disorder. This was Tecumseh's first exploit as an ally. As soon as Colonel Procter arrived he sent the chief with a band of Indians and a detachment of the 41st under Major Muir across the river to Brownstown, a place about twenty-five miles south of Detroit, and nearly opposite Amherstburg. The object of the expedition was to intercept a body of the enemy, which was marching from Detroit as an escort for the mail, and also to meet and convoy a supply of provisions from the river Raisin. The American troops consisted of about two hundred Ohio volunteers, under Major Van Home. Tecumseh with about twenty-five Indians, learning from their scouts the route the Americans had taken, formed an ambuscade three miles from Brownstown and lined the thick woods on either side of the road. When Van Home with the mounted riflemen enemy under Brigadier-General Hull have been repulsed in three attacks made on the 18th, 19th and 20th of last month upon part of the garrison of Amherstburg, on the river Canard, in which attacks His Majesty's 41st Regiment have particularly distinguished themselves. In justice to that corps, Hi Excellency wishes particularly to call the attention of the troops to the heroism and self-devotion displayed by two privates, who being left as sentinels when the party to which they belonged had retired, contrived to maintain their station against the whole of the enemy's force, until they both fell, when one of them, whose arm had been broken, again raising himself, opposed with his bayonet those advancing against him until overwhelmed by numbers. The Indians opened a deadly fire, killing twenty of the number, including five officers, and wounding as many more. The Americans sought safety in flight, and the despatches and correspondence from Detroit fell into the hands of Tecumseh, who lost only one man in the encounter. The provision train, with cattle and other supplies for Detroit, in charge of Captain Brush, was also intercepted by the Indians. This was most discouraging for General Hull, who received all his provisions and supplies from Ohio by the rivers Raisin and Miami. News of the reverse followed quickly on the news of the loss of Michilimackinac, which Hull said let loose the northern hive of Indians on his frontier. So discouraged was he that on August 7th and 8th he abandoned Sandwich in order to concentrate his forces at Detroit.

He then sent a detachment of six hundred men with some artillery to dislodge the British from Brownstown. These met at Maguaga, fourteen miles below Detroit, a company of the 41st under Major Muir, with about sixty militia and two hundred Indians. A sharp engagement ensued, in which the Americans were successful, and the British had to retire to their boats. Major Richardson, who was present as a subaltern on this occasion, has given a detailed account of this skirmish, to which the Americans seem to attach undue importance. He says:—

"On the morning of Sunday, the 9th, the wild and distant cry of our Indian scouts gave us to understand that the enemy were advancing. In the course of ten minutes the Indians appeared issuing from the wood, bounding like wild deer chased by the huntsman, and uttering that peculiar shout which is known among themselves as the 'news cry.' From them we ascertained that a strong column of the enemy, cavalry and infantry, were on their march to attack us, but that the difficulty of transporting their guns rendered it improbable that they could reach our position before night, although then only at a distance of eight miles. It being instantly decided on to meet them, the detachment was speedily under arms and on its march for Maguaga, a small Indian village distant about a league. Having taken up a position about a quarter of a mile beyond Maguaga, our dispositions of defence were speedily made, the rustling of the leaves alone breaking on the silence which reigned throughout our line. Following the example of the Indians, we lay reclined on the ground, in order to avoid being perceived until within a few yards of the enemy. While awaiting in this manner the approach of the column, our little force was increased by the arrival of Lieutenant Bullock of the 41st Grenadiers, who, with a small detachment of twenty men of his own company, twenty Light Infantry, and twenty Battalion men, had been urged forward by General Brock from the headquarters of the regiment then stationed at Fort George, for the purpose of reinforcing the little garrison of Amherstburg, and who, having reached their destination the preceding day, had been despatched by Colonel Procter to strengthen us. Shortly the report of a single shot echoed through the wood, and the instant afterwards the loud and terrific yells of the Indians, followed by a heavy and desultory fire, apprised us that they were engaged. The action then became general along our line, and continued for half an hour without producing any material advantage, when, unluckily, a body of Indians that had been detached to a small wood about five hundred yards distant from our right, were taken by the troops for a corps of the enemy endeavouring to turn their flank. In vain we called out to them that they were our Indians. The fire which should have been reserved for their foes was turned upon their friends, who, falling into the same error, returned it with equal spirit. The fact was, they had been compelled to retire before a superior force, and the movement made by them had given rise to the error. Closely pressed in front by an almost invisible foe, and on the point of being taken in the rear as was falsely imagined, the troops were at length compelled to yield to circumstance and number.

"Although our retreat in consequence of this unfortunate misapprehension, commenced in some disorder, this was soon restored, when Major Muir, who had been wounded early in the engagement, succeeded in rallying his men and forming them on 240 the brow of a hill which commanded a short and narrow bridge intersecting the high road and crossing a morass, over which the enemy's guns must necessarily pass. This was about a quarter of a mile in the rear of the position we had previously occupied. Here we remained at least fifteen minutes, when, finding that the Americans did not make their appearance as expected, Major Muir, whose communication with Tecumseh had been cut off, and who heard some smart firing in the woods beyond his left, naturally inferred that the enemy were pushing the Indians in that quarter with a view of turning his flank, gaining the high road in our rear, and thus cutting off our retreat. The order was then given to retire, which we certainly did at the double quick, without being followed by the enemy, who suffered us to gain our boats without further molestation. . . .

"In this skirmish we had first an opportunity of perceiving the extreme disadvantage of opposing regular troops to the enemy in the woods. Accustomed to the use of the rifle from his infancy, dwelling in a measure amid forests with the intricacies of which he is wholly acquainted, and possessing the advantage of a dress which renders him almost undistinguishable to the eye of a European, the American marksman enters with comparative security into a contest with the English soldier, whose glaring habiliment and accoutrements are objects too conspicuous to be missed, while his utter ignorance of a mode of warfare in which courage and discipline are of no avail, renders the struggle for mastery even more unequal.' The principal armies to which the Right Division was opposed during the war consisted not of regular and well disciplined troops, but levies of men taken from the forests of Ohio and Kentucky, scarcely inferior as riflemen to the Indians. Dressed in woollen frocks of a gray colour, and trained to cover their bodies behind the trees from which they fired, without exposing more of their persons than was absolutely necessary for their aim, they afforded us on more than one occasion the most convincing proofs that without the assistance of the Indian warriors the defence of so great a portion of western Canada as was entrusted to the charge of the numerically feeble Right Division would have proved a duty of great difficulty and doubt."

In this engagement at Maguaga, the American forces consisted, according to their own report, of the 4th United States Infantry, except one company left at Sandwich, a small detachment of the 1st Infantry, and some artillerymen, in all about three hundred regulars, and sixty men of the Michigan Militia, forty Dragoons, and three hundred riflemen of the Ohio Volunteers. The British force was about a hundred men of the 41st Regiment, the reinforcement of sixty men of the Grenadier Company under Lieutenant Bullock, and a few militia—Richardson says forty or fifty. The number of Indians is variously stated. It was probably about two hundred, although in the American account they give the number as four hundred and fifty.1 As an offset to the reverse of Maguaga, Lieutenant Rolette, on August 10th, with boats from the Queen Charlotte and Hunter, had attacked and captured a convoy of eleven bateaux on their way from Maguaga to Detroit, having on board fifty wounded men from Brownstown, some prisoners, and a quantity of provisions and baggage.

The news of the capture of Michilimackinac was the means of largely augmenting Tecumseh's forces, for as soon as he heard of its downfall he despatched runners to all his associate tribes, bidding them assemble at Fort Maiden immediately, and telling them that the Americans, by not marching on Maiden and by the easy discomfiture of several detachments, had shown they would not fight; that the braves should come forward with all speed so as to participate in the capture of the army and share in the plunder, which would be great. His appeal was promptly responded to, and by August 15th seven hundred warriors had joined him.


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