The Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812 proved to be an important American victory in what was known, at the time, as Upper Canada, for it allowed the Americans to combine its control of the Northwest territory.
General William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory and later President of the United States, led an army of 3500 American troops and militia men against a British force of one-hald their size at Moraviantown, along the Thames River in what is now Ontario, Canada. The British forces were joined by an “Indian Confederation” led by the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh. Major General Henry Procter, who had made several mistakes leading up to the battle that greatly influenced the British forces ability to win directed the British response. This fact plays out repeatedly in my new novel, Captain Stanwick’s Bride. The mention of a real person in the book is rare on my part, and I do not mean the tale as a condemnation of Procter’s choices. However, the mistakes made do assist in enriching the tale and are part of the history of The Battle of the Thames. Procter is regarded by many as an inept leader who relied heavily on textbook procedure. His “going by the book” is attributed to his lack of any combat experience before coming to Canada.
According to sources, “Procter was born in Ireland. His father, Richard Procter, was a surgeon in the British Army. Henry Procter began his military career at the age of 18 as an ensign in the 43rd Regiment of Foot in April 1781. He served as a lieutenant in New York in the final months of the American War of Independence. His promotion was slow, probably indicating a lack of means, since commissions were usually obtained by purchase [rather than ability]. Procter became a captain in November 1792. He was promoted to major three years later in May 1795, and on 9 October 1800 became a lieutenant colonel in command of the 1st battalion of the 41st Regiment of Foot. Procter joined his new regiment in Lower Canada in 1802. He served in Canada for the next ten years. Inspecting officers, including Major-General Isaac Brock, noted that Procter’s regiment was ‘very sharp’, indicating a good standard of drill and discipline, and that this was due to Procter’s ‘indefatigable industry.'” [Hyatt, A. M. J. (1987). “Procter, Henry”. In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. VI (1821–1835) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.]
At the time of the battle the British army was retreating from Fort Malden, Ontario, after Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813. The British, faced with the lack of any naval support, abandoned Fort Detroit and retreated back across Burlington Heights in Upper Canada.
The British Army, meaning Procter thought to leave their Native American allies behind. Tecumseh considered Procter’s actions and the army’s hasty retreat as an act of cowardice and of betrayal. Although he had one thousand warriors, the Indian Confederation was not as well supplied as were the American forces. Procter’s orders to abandon Fort Detroit very much announced the campaign’s doom. The retreat was poorly organized, with the British leaving their breakfasts on the fire in order to meet Harrison’s forces. Much of their equipment was left behind in their rush inward from Fort Detroit, and, supposedly, they had but one cannon when Harrison arrived to face them. Moreover, the area into which they retreated had a sparse population and not enough food supplies to fee an army of 1800. The British were put on half rations, and morale was low. Tecumseh attempted to rally both his men and the British officers, but to no avail, for an American raiding party managed to capture the last supply boat of ammunition and food rations spelling the British forces’ doom along the Thames River.
ARRIVING FEBRUARY 19, 2021
CAPTAIN STANWICK’S BRIDE: TRAGIC CHARACTERS IN CLASSIC LIT SERIES NOVEL
“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin
Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage?
Loosely based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and set against the final battles of the War of 1812, this tale shows the length a man will go to in order to claim a remarkable woman as his.
How does this battle play out in Captain Stanwick’s Bride? First, a reader should know this book is one in the Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series and is inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s narrative poem, “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” In Longfellow’s tale, Captain Miles Standish of Mayflower fame asks his friend, John Alden, to court Miss Priscilla Mullins for him. Standish was the Plymouth Colony’s military leader, and he had lost his wife during the first hard winter at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Priscilla prefers Alden to Standish, meaning the “good captain” does not achieve his Happily Ever After.
The purpose of the series is to take such “tragic characters” and move them into Regency England and provide them a happier ending.
Here is the opening scene that takes place at the Battle of the Thames. Captain Stanwick (purposeful change in the spelling of the name) is serving under Procter.
5 October 1813
Upper Canada, near Chatham
“Hold your ground!” Captain Whittaker Myles Stanwick ordered his men. The British forces of which he was a part had been pursued by some thirty-five hundred American militia and regular army across the Ontario peninsula. This action was certainly not what Stanwick had thought he would be doing when he had joined the British Army some fifteen years prior. He most assuredly had not expected to be serving shoulder-to-shoulder with allies from a confederation of Indian tribes, lead by a Shawnee war chief by the name of Tecumseh and a Wyandott war chief called Roundhead.
Stankwick instinctively knew when the British had “drawn cuts” regarding the upcoming battle, the British had chosen the shorter straw. Therefore, he had decided, if push came to shove, he would order his men to surrender rather than to view another massacre.
“Keep your eyes trained on the road,” he instructed.
From his vantage point, Whit studied where Chief Tecumseh made his way along the line of British soldiers, shaking hands with each British officer. Even so, Stanwick wondered how loyal their Indian colleagues would be once this war of American aggression was over. The Shawnee warrior chief had worked miracles in organizing an Indian confederacy, but, essentially, the Indians had only agreed to join forces with the British so they could stop white settlements in what was called the “Northwest Territory.” Whit wondered what would happen if the British interests prevailed in this matter. Would the tribes expect the British to walk away from such vast resources? They would be sorely disappointed if that were the case.
He sighed heavily, a habit of which he came been made aware of late. He was not certain he could break the gesture as long as he was asked to follow the orders of an incompetent, as he was just now.
His country had not sent him to the Canadian front to be a diplomat: Rather he was a soldier, the only occupation he had known for more than a decade. “I am the fighter of battles, a lover and wooer of dangers,” he thought. He owned a farm, had inherited it from his father, but he had been a soldier since he was nineteen years of age. He swallowed another deep breath as he took in the scene forming before his eyes. Whit supposed it was important for Tecumseh to boost morale, but even with one thousand Indian warriors and six hundred British troops, their alliance was outnumbered more than two to one.
He reflected on his first impressions of the Indian tribes when he had arrived in Canada. The Indian encampment, which was pitched on the edge of a meadow, between the lake and the forest, set close to one of the villages in this part of Upper Canada. Women worked by the tents, and the warriors, some of them quite frightening to behold, sat beside a fire and smoked and talked together. Odd as it would sound to some of his fellow Englishman, Whit thought the scene, though primitive in its own right, could have been found in the history of England. He knew something of the Carvetii, the Brigantes, and the Novantae who ruled parts of Celtic Britain, and these so-called “savages” reminded him of those. Braves of the tribes were those who marched with the British Army. Some were quite spectacular specimens: gigantic in stature. Whit’s father would have called them “huge as Goliath of Gath, or the terrible Og, king of Bashan.” One he recognized on sight was called Pecksout, who worked his knives in scabbards of wampum suspended about his neck. Two-edged trenchant knives, with points as sharp as a needle.
“Might have had a chance,” he murmured, “if Procter had held Detroit.” In truth, Whit possessed little respect for Major General Henry Procter. “Untenable position,” he grumbled. If he could prevent it, he would not see his men shot down to protect Procter’s reputation.
Whit was well aware, despite what his superiors declared, the British loss of Detroit had pronounced their doom. William Henry Harrison’s forces and the American navy had, most assuredly, outmaneuvered Procter. The British position had depended upon maintaining command of Lake Erie, for the area, which they now occupied was sparsely populated, with insufficient crops and livestock to feed Procter’s troops, the British sailors on the lake, and the Indians and their families gathered at Amherstburg under Tecumseh. Supplies could only reach them by ship, and with the Americans in control of the lake and its tributaries, Stanwick and his men were quite literally starving.
“Of all the idiocy,” Whit continued to grumble. “One small oversight after another. Now we are ducks lined up for the easy shot.”
Previously, British Commander Robert Barclay had failed to maintain the defense of Preque Isle while British forces received supplies. Therefore, the Americans had had a relatively easy means to capture control of the lake, leading to their current situation.
“One demme mistake after another,” he had told the junior officers serving under him. “Could not believe Procter meant to defend Fort Amhertsburg without guns.” When they had reached the fortification, thinking they had achieved a strong defense against their enemy, they had learned the fort’s guns had been removed and mounted on Robert Heriot Barclay’s ships. “Guns the British commander of the lake had failed to use against the Americans.” The irony of their situation drove Whit a bit crazy with disgust.
“You do not believe we will know success?” Lieutenant Persile had asked in a shaky voice.
On this particular morning, shortly after daybreak, Procter had ordered Stanwick and the other troops to abandon their half-cooked meals and retreat another two miles to form a line of defense with only a single six-pounder cannon available to them. Procter planned to trap Harrison on the banks of the Thames to drive the Americans off the road with cannon fire, but the fool had made no attempt to fortify their position by creating an abatis with fallen trees or throwing up earthworks. Even a halfwit, and Stanwick was no dolt, would realize the area they were to defend would prove no obstacle to the Americans. Major General Harrison, an artful strategist, had brought together a group of men who had proven themselves excellent horsemen and willful fighters.
“I suppose anything is possible,” Whit told Persile. “Stranger things have happened. All we can do is our best. God will decide the rest.”