On June 18, 1812, the US declared war on Britain fearing that British troops would invade Atlantic ports while British forces in Canada would effectively unite with Indians to invade the country from the West. At this time, American control of the upper Midwest was not firm, but there was a string of forts running from Ohio in the east to Wisconsin in the West. Detroit was a key location since it appeared to be the ideal place for a British invasion from Canada. General William Hull commanded the small American force in Detroit and realized that Indians from the South and West might attack him. Early in July, he invaded Canada and proposed attacking the British at Fort Malden, but was persuaded not to do so since British General Brock was marching toward the Americans with a force of several hundred. The early months of the war were disastrous for the Americans in the Midwest since Indian allies effectively attacked many of the US forts in the area. US forces were poorly coordinated and much in fear of the devastation that Indians could produce. Early in August 1812, a small group of Indians, led by Tecumseh, killed and injured a substantial fraction of Detroit's American forces in a skirmish near Brownstown. Thinking that a major British force was about to attack Detroit along with their Indian allies, and unaware of the nearby presence of two American forces, General Hull surrendered Detroit to the British without any fighting. Thus, the British and their Indian allies took over the small village. General Hull was later court-marshaled for cowardness, neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer and treason. He was found guilty of all charges except treason, but President Madison stayed his execution.
During the summer of 1813, British and American forces fought naval battles on Lake Erie while, on land, Americans fought the British-Indian forces throughout the upper Midwest. Some American successes on Lake Erie led the British to pull their troops from Detroit on September 29, 1813. Americans promptly entered Detroit and renamed the military facilities Fort Shelby after Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky who had raised a force of 3,500 to fight the British and Indians in the Midwest. During the fall of 1813, living conditions for the American forces in Detroit began to deteriorate. Food, medicine and supplies ran out and other American forces were unsuccessful in their efforts to resupply Fort Shelby. On December 1,1813, an epidemic broke out, perhaps cholera. Soldiers died so rapidly that many were buried in a common grave at the site of this informational marker. At the beginning of fall 1813, as many as 1,300 troops were stationed in Detroit. Perhaps 700 of them died in the following winter.
In September 1814, American forces guided by Thomas McDonough defeated a British force invading the United States in a battle near Lake Champaign. Without being wiped out, the British tired of this war, recognized their prospects for ending American independence were dim, and so the war was ended with the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. There was an unresolved issues about control of islands in the Detroit and St. Mary's Rivers but this was resolved peacefully with the 1842 Webster-Ashburton treaty.
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25277, Listed November
Michigan Historical Marker: Erected September 12, 1963. This marker is clearly visible at the address listed above.
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