Battle of the Thames

Battle of Moraviantown

Ontario  |  Oct 5, 1813

Master Commandant Oliver Perry secured naval supremacy for American forces after the Battle of Lake Erie. The British, faced with the lack of any naval support, abandoned Fort Detroit and retreated into Canada. This withdrawal allowed for William Henry Harrison, the future ninth President of the United States, to recapture Fort Detroit and pursue the fleeing British. By September 18th of 1813, the British had already evacuated Detroit and began their march back across Burlington Heights and into Ontario.

But, this retreat was not organized to Tecumseh’s approval. The British army, led by Henry Proctor, hastily gathered his forces and intended to leave their Native American allies to their own devices against the approaching American forces. Tecumseh saw this withdrawal as an act of cowardice and betrayal, as his Native American confederacy was not strong enough to fight against the incoming Americans. Furthermore, Fort Detroit was considered the last line of defense to Tecumseh, as the fort was the only protection offered on the border of his confederation. As such, Tecumseh pleaded with British General Proctor to stay, but to no avail. The British withdrawal from Michigan brought the remaining Native Americans loyal to Tecumseh out from America and into Canada as they followed their supposed British allies.

However, the British army under the command of Proctor did not fare better. As the retreat was poorly organized and much equipment was simply left behind for the Americans to capture. Furthermore, the British soldiers were given only half of their food rations which decreased the overall morale of the British soldier. This loss of morale only angered Tecumseh and his Native American allies as they began to distrust their allies who did not wish to stand and fight. Eventually, the cycle of poor morale and anger was halted by the presence of an American raiding party that captured the last supply boat of ammunition and food rations. The next day, on October 5th, the Americans finally met the British and their Native American allies along the Thames River.

Fighting began in the morning while the British soldiers were making breakfast. The harried British soldiers created a hasty line of artillery that was meant to ambush General Harrison and his men. However, these positions were not entrenched or protected from small arms fire and cavalry. Thus, when the first shot rang out, General Harrison ordered his mounted rifles to charge the cannons, which was accomplished to devastating effect. The British cannons were only able to fire one shot before the American mounted rifles overran the starved British artillerymen. Upon witnessing the destruction of their artillery, the rest of the demoralized British soldiers began to flee the field of battle. This rout inspired other tired and weak units to simply flee or surrender. British General Proctor and approximately 250 of his men fled the battlefield while the rest of his men simply surrendered.

Nevertheless, the battle continued, as the British withdrawal left Tecumseh and his warriors alone to face the Americans. Tecumseh, upon witnessing the routing British, joined his warriors in a swamp on the flank of the American forces to make a final stand against General Harrison’s army. Initially, the American cavalry charged Tecumseh’s position to contain the Native American threat while the rest of the army dealt with the surrendering British and elements of the British army that were still engaged in fighting. But the cavalry charge was halted by an initial volley of musket fire along with the muddy swamp that bogged down the horses. However, elements of the main American force began to enter the swamp as Tecumseh’s warriors were reloading after the initial cavalry charge. The fighting inside the swamp area was immensely claustrophobic and bloody as increasing numbers of American reinforcements began to enter the swamp and converge on the enemy. Eventually, Tecumseh was killed in the fighting and the Native American fighters began to flee once word spread of Tecumseh’s death. When the fighting was over, Tecumseh and another rebellious Native American war chief were killed.

Now Tecumseh’s Confederacy, built up of numerous Native American tribes, lacked leadership and began to fall apart. Eventually, the leaderless confederacy simply dissolved and broke apart without the guidance of Tecumseh. When news arrived of the British betrayal of Tecumseh to other Native American tribes, many began to revoke their treaties and disassociate from British allegiance, thereby ending British influence over these tribes and removing the possibility of future Native American attacks on American positions.

Thus, as the American military stood victorious over both the British and Native Americans, General Harrison brought his army back to Detroit. General Harrison could not have pursued the exhausted routing British, as his soldiers’ enlistments were soon to expire. As such, Harrison withdrew from Ontario to Detroit in order to garrison the fort as time ran out on the soldier’s enlistments.

Related Battles

Ontario | October 5, 1813
Result: United States Victory
Forces Engaged
United States
United Kingdom
Estimated Casualties
United States
United Kingdom