Saturday, July 09, 2011

William Hull: History's Worst General?

At 10:00 A.M. on August 16, 1812, a white flag appeared over Fort Detroit. Despite the vehement protests of his officers and men, Brigadier General William Hull surrendered his command without a fight. The British captured an American army of 2,500, some thirty-three cannon, four hundred rounds of 24-pound shot, one hundred thousand cartridges, 2,500 rifles and bayonets, and a newly built 16-gun brig Adams.

Hull was subsequently exchanged for a high ranking British prisoner of war, only to face court-martial charges of treason, cowardice, neglect of duty and un-officer like conduct. During his court martial, Hull tried to shift blame for the debacle at Detroit to his officers and men, accusing the officers of conspiring against him and the men of cowardice. Hull argued that he could not engage in battle with such men who were obviously not up to the contest. Hull continued to assert, “I have done what my conscience directed. I have saved Detroit and the Territory from the horrors of an Indian massacre."

Ultimately, William Hull was found innocent of treason but guilty of the other charges and sentenced to be shot. The court recommended that the sentence be commuted because of his previous honorable service. President Madison commuted the death sentence. William Hull is the only American general to have ever been sentenced to death by a court-martial.

Hull was drummed out of the Army, the court-martial concluding, “The rolls of the army are to be no longer disgraced by having upon them the name of Brigadier General William Hull.” Hull spent the rest of his life blaming others for his own mistakes.

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