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Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada


Retreat from Fort Amherstburg and the Battle of the Thames

Following Brigadier-General Hull's surrender of Detroit to the British in August of 1812, General William Henry Harrison had formed a new Northwestern Army. But his plans for an assault on the British stronghold at Amherstburg received a serious setback when his subordinate, General Winchester, rashly advanced to the River Raisin in January 1813 and met disaster there. However, the efforts of the Native Warriors and the British under Major-General Henry Procter failed to dislodge the Americans from the Forts Stephenson and Meigs in northern Ohio. When Perry completed building his ships at Erie (Presqu'ile), Pennsylvania, they emerged to destroy the British fleet near Put-In-Bay, Ohio on September 10, the way was opened for the invasion of Canada.

The American army landed below Amherstburg on September 27th, 1813. At that moment Procter was moving out of Sandwich on his way to the Thames, leaving the public buildings at Amherstburg, Sandwich and Detroit in smoking ruins. His position had become untenable, and he had resolved to take the only avenue of retreat that lay open to him, towards the junction with the British forces at the head of Lake Ontario. However, to appease Tecumseh and his warriors, who feared that they were being abandoned, he agreed to make a stand at the Moravian village of Fairfield, on the Thames River.

Laden with heavy baggage, and with the roads made almost impassable by recent rains, it was not until October 1 that the British arrived at Matthew Dolsen's farm on the Thames, a few miles below the site of Chatham. Procter was confident that his foe would travel slowly in pursuit that he departed for Moraviantown, leaving his army encamped at Dolsen's.

The Americans, however, were determined to avenge the massacre of their compatriots at the River Raisin, and were already hot on the trail. Finding the bridges over the creeks still intact, and the roads hardened by a sudden frost, they were able to reach a point nearly half way up the river to chatham late on October 3rd. On the way the Americans captured Lieutenant Holms and eleven Provincial Dragoons who had been sent back to destroy a bridge over Jeanette's creek. That night, Harrison's army camped at Drake's Farm 5.5 kilometres below Dolsen's , now abandoned by the British.

The next day, Procter's second-n-command hastily moved the regulars farther up the river while Tecumseh's warriors remained to dispute the American crossing of McGregor's Creek at Chatham. After a sharp skirmish, with some losses on both sides, the Natives withdrew in the wake of the retreating British, closely followed by the American cavalry.

Just above Chatham, shallows impeded the progress of the gunboats the British had brought with them to carry heavy stores and ammunition. The larger craft, the General Myers, grounded and was abandoned with its cargo set on fire. Six kilometres farther up stream at Bowle's Farm, tow other boats similarly laded and partially burned, were found by the pursuers, as well as a partially burned arsenal in a distillery. Two 24-pound cannons were captured. Two more gunboats and several batteaux were captured the next morning. Leaving Procter's forces with very little ammunition.

Procter rejoined his men on the 4th, and when word was received the next morning at Sherman's that the enemy had crossed the river at Arnold's Mills, he ordered his men on th emarch with waiting for breakfast. They had gone little more than three kilometres when they were halted. At the last moment their commander had decided to make his stand there, in order to spare the women and children and the sick who had been sent to the Moravian village about two kilometres beyond.

Procter formed his regulars in two lines across the road and among the trees, with the Thames River on his left and a large swamp on his right. Tecumseh's warriors positioned themselves in the swamp. Harrison, contravening the rules of frontier warfare, pulled back his left flank from meeting the Indians in the swamp, but sent his Kentucky mounted riflemen in a charge on the British lines. The regulars, disheartened by the retreat, chilled by the poor weather and missing their morning rations fired a couple of volleys before the Kentucky troops were upon them. Then while the redcoats were surrendering, the Americans concentrated on the warriors in the swamp. During the fight that ensued, Tecumseh and many other natives were killed.

Harrison and his men occupied the Moravian village of Fairfield the night of the 5th. The village was burned the next day before the Americans set out for Detroit.

Procter and about 250 of his men managed to escape and make their way to the Niagara frontier, but more than 600 were killed or captured. The Battle of the Thames ended British control of Southwestern Ontario for the duration of the War of 1812, except for the occasional raid.

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