Fort Detroit - Michigan Historic Site

Where is Fort Detroit?

The Fort no longer exists, but was located south of Jefferson St. between Griswold St. and Shelby St. in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

Did you know: that the U.S. military was largely supported by state militia units in the War of 1812.


When President James Madison signed the paperwork on June 18, 1812 formally declaring war on Great Britain the United States was woefully unprepared to wage a second fight against our major adversary- which also happened to be our #1 trading partner. With a poorly planned strategy to invade Canada and capture portions of Indian territory, the early land battles turned out to be disasters. The Battle of Detroit was one of them.

On July 17, 1813 a mixed force of British regulars, Canadian fur traders and Native Americans captured the important trading post of Mackinac Island on Lake Huron from its small American garrison who were not even aware that war had broken out. British Major General Brock was in York, the provincial capital, dealing with the unwilling Assembly and mobilizing the province's militia. Although he had only a single regiment of regulars and small detachments of veterans to support the militia, he was aware that there was no immediate threat from the disorganized American forces on the Niagara River or from the American commander in chief, Major General Henry Dearborn based in upper New York state. At the time, only American General Hull's army was threatening Canadian territory. Late in July, Brock learned of the capture of Mackinac. General Brock started to plan an immediate attack on Detroit.
On 15 August, gunners of the Provincial Marine set up a battery of cannon and mortars on the Canadian shore of the Detroit River and began bombarding Fort Detroit. These were joined by two armed floating vessels. In the early hours of the morning of 16 August, Tecumseh's warriors crossed the river about five miles south of Detroit. They were followed after daybreak by Brock's force, divided into three small brigades. As the British bombardment began to cause casualties, Hull despaired of holding out against a force which seemingly consisted of thousands of British regulars. Hearing unending Indian war cries, Hull began to fear a slaughter- as women and children, including his own family resided within the fort.
General Brock teamed up with Indians led by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and used deception to intimidate General Hull into thinking he was surrounded by a much larger force- when in fact, the British had fewer troops. Against the advice of his subordinates, Hull hoisted a white flag of surrender. He sent messengers to Brock asking for three days to agree on terms of surrender. Brock replied he would allow him three hours. Hull surrendered his entire force. There were rumors that General Hull had been drinking heavily prior to the surrender.

Among the military stores surrendered were 30 cannon, 300 rifles and 2,500 muskets. The only armed American vessel on the Upper Lakes- the brig Adams was captured and taken into British service. The news of the surrender of Hull's army was startling on both sides of the border. General Hull was tried by court martial and was sentenced to death for his conduct at Detroit, but the sentence was commuted by President Madison to dismissal from the Army, in recognition of his honorable service in the American Revolution. American attempts to regain Detroit were continually thwarted by poor communications and the difficulties of maintaining militia contingents in the field. The defeat at Detroit was a major blow to American morale and it caused many citizens to wonder why the U.S. was involved in this atrocious war.

Today Fort Detroit no longer exists. It was originally located south of Jefferson St. between Griswold St. and Shelby St. in downtown Detroit, Michigan.