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Hull, William 1753-1825

Military officer; born in Derby, Conn., June 24, 1753; graduated at Yale College in 1772; studied divinity a year; then became a student at the Litchfield Law School; and was admitted to the bar in 1775. He soon afterwards became captain in Webb's regiment, and joined the Continental army at Cambridge. He behaved bravely at Dorchester Heights, White Plains, Trenton, and Princeton, and after the battle at the latter place he was promoted to major. Through all the most conspicuous battles in the North, Hull was active and courageous, and a participant in the capture of Cornwallis. He served as inspector under Baron von Steuben; was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1779; and soon afterwards to colonel.

Isaac Hull's monument.

[458] Hull practised law with reputation at Newton after the war, was a leading member of the Massachusetts legislature in both houses, and was a noted man in wealth and reputation in that State when he became major-general of militia. He commanded a portion of the troops which suppressed Shays's rebellion (see Shays, Daniel). In 1793 he was a commissioner to Canada to treat with the Indians; and on his return from Europe, in 1798, he was made a judge of the court of common pleas. From 1805 to 1812 he was governor of Michigan Territory, where, after

Wm. Hull.

a fruitless and brief campaign for the invasion of Canada, as commander of the Army of the Northwest, he was compelled to surrender Detroit and the Territory into the possession of the British. For this act he was tried by court-martial, sentenced to death, pardoned by the President, and afterwards published such a thorough vindication of his conduct that his name and fame now appear in history untarnished. He died in Newton, Mass., Nov. 29, 1825.

When General Hull arrived near Detroit with his army, July 6, 1812, he encamped at Spring Wells, opposite Sandwich, where the British were casting up intrenchments. His troops were anxious to cross the Detroit River immediately and invade Canada, but Hull had orders to await advices from Washington. The troops became almost mutinous. The general was perplexed, but was relieved by receiving a despatch from the Secretary of War telling him to “commence operations immediately.” He could not procure boats enough to carry over a sufficient force to land in the face of the enemy at Sandwich, so he resorted to strategy. Towards the evening of July 11 all the boats were sent down to Spring Wells in full view of the British, and Colonel McArthur, with his regiment, marched to the same place. After dark troops and boats moved up the river unobserved to Bloody Run, above Detroit. The British, finding all silent at Spring Wells, believed the Americans had gone down to attack Malden, 18 miles below, so they left Sandwich and hurried to its defence. At dawn there were no troops to oppose the passage of the Americans, and Hull's troops passed the river unmolested. Colonel Cass hoisted the American flag at Sandwich, and the American troops encamped near. On the same day Hull issued a stirring proclamation, in which he set forth the reasons for the invasion, and assured the inhabitants that all who remained at home should be secure in person and property. He did not ask them to join him, but to remain quiet. This proclamation, and the presence of a considerable army, caused many Canadian militia to desert their standard. To the Americans the conquest of Canada appeared like an easy task.

Hull's army then lay almost inactive between Sandwich and Fort Malden. The young officers became exceedingly impatient, and almost mutinous, because Hull continually restrained them, and was unwilling to send out detachments on offensive expeditions. He had given Van Horne so few men wherewith to escort Captain Brush, with his cattle and provisions, that when the army heard of the disaster to the troops there was plain and [459]

Map of the scene of some of Hull's operations.

loud talk at headquarters that startled the general. “Send 500 men at once,” said McArthur and Cass, “to escort Brush to headquarters.” “I cannot spare more than 100,” replied Hull. The mutinous spirit was then so threatening that Hull called a council of officers, when it was agreed to march immediately upon Fort Malden. The troops were delighted. Preparations went on vigorously, and an order to march for Amherstburg was momentarily expected, when, near the close of the day, an order was promulgated for the army to recross the river to Detroit!—an order to abandon Canada. This order was in consequence of intelligence just received that a large force of British regulars, Canadian militia, and Indians were approaching from the east, under Gov. Sir Isaac Brock. Sullenly the humiliated army obeyed their cautious commander, and on the night of Aug. 7 and the morning of the 8th they crossed the Detroit River, and encamped upon the rolling plain in the rear of Fort Detroit. Major Denny [460] was left on the Canada side with 130 convalescents and a corps of artillerists, to occupy Sandwich and afford “all possible protection to the well-disposed inhabitants.”

In consequence of negotiations for a suspension of hostilities between the American and British armies then proposed (1812), General Dearborn agreed with Sir George Prevost, governor-general of Canada, for a provisional armistice, confined to the American troops on the northern frontier and the armies of the British along the opposite and corresponding line. To effect this armistice Sir George's adjutant-general, Edward Baynes, repaired to Dearborn's headquarters at Greenbush, opposite Albany, and there the armistice was signed, Aug. 9, 1812. This armistice was rejected by the government of the United States, and Dearborn was directed to put an end to it immediately. But he continued it until Aug. 29, for the purpose, as he alleged, of forwarding stores to Sackett's Harbor. It released the British troops on the Niagara frontier, and Sir Isaac Brock, governor of Upper Canada, was enabled to hasten to the Detroit River and effect the capture of the army of General Hull. Dearborn gave that commander no intimation of the armistice; and it was during its unwarranted continuance for twenty days that the forced surrender of Hull to overwhelming numbers, Aug. 16, took place. Dearborn's excuse for his silence was that he did not consider Hull within the limits of his command.

General Hull, on his release at Montreal, on parole, returned to his farm at Newton, Mass., from which he was summoned to appear before a court-martial at Philadelphia on Feb. 25, 1813, of which Gen. Wade Hampton was appointed president. The members of the court were three brigadier-generals, nine colonels, and three lieutenant-colonels. A. J. Dallas, of Pennsylvania, was judge-advocate. This court was suddenly dissolved by the President, without giving any reason for the act; and, almost a year afterwards, Hull was summoned before another, convened at Albany, N. Y., Jan. 3, 1814, composed of three brigadier-generals, four colonels, and five lieutenant-colonels, with Dallas as judge-advocate. General Dearborn was appointed president of the court. His neglect of duty to inform Hull of an armistice he had entered into with the British (and so allowed Brock to go unopposed to Fort Malden with troops) was charged by the accused and his friends as the chief cause of the disaster at Detroit. The defendant might justly have objected to that officer as his chief judge, for the acquittal of Hull would have been a condemnation of Dearborn. But Hull was anxious for trial, and he waived all feeling. He was charged with treason, cowardice, neglect of duty, and unofficerlike conduct from April 9 until Aug. 16, 1812. He was tried on the last two charges only. Colonel Cass was his chief accuser. The specifications under the charge of “cowardice” were: “1. Not attacking Malden, and retreating to Detroit. 2. Appearance of alarm during the cannonade. 3. Appearance of alarm on the day of the surrender. 4. Surrendering of Detroit.” The specifications under the last charge were similar to those under the first. After a session of eighty days, the court decided, March 26, 1814, that he was not guilty of treason, but found him guilty of cowardice and neglect of duty, and sentenced him to be shot, and his name stricken from the rolls of the army. The court strongly recommended him to the mercy of the President on account of his age and his Revolutionary services. On April 25, 1814, the President approved the sentence of the court-martial, and on the same day the following order, bearing the signature of Adjutant-General Walbach, was issued: “The rolls of the army are to be no longer disgraced by having upon them the name of Brig.-Gen. William Hull. The general courtmartial, of which General Dearborn is president, is hereby dissolved.” For about twelve years Hull lived under a cloud. His applications to the War Department at Washington for copies of papers which would vindicate him were denied, until John C. Calhoun became Secretary of War, when he promptly furnished them. With these General Hull set about writing his vindication, which was contained in a pamphlet of a little more than 300 pages, entitled Memoirs of the campaign of the Northwestern army of the United States. [461] It wrought a great change in the public mind. It was seen that he had been misjudged by his impetuous young officers; that his motives in making the surrender were humane and just, and that his assuming the whole responsibility of the act was heroic in the extreme. To Mr. Wallace, one of his aides, he said, when they parted at Detroit: “God bless you, my young friend! You return to your family without a stain; as for myself, I have sacrificed a reputation dearer to me than life; but I have saved the inhabitants of Detroit, and my heart approves the act.” To-day the character of Gen. William Hull, purified of unwarranted stains, appears in history, without a blemish in the eye of just appreciation.

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