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July 28 1812: Dearborn's Confusion

"Who is to have command of the operations in Upper Canada?" General Dearborn the Senior major general in the United States Army in command of the northeast sector asks the Secretary of War Eustis in a letter on July 28 1812.  He then remarkably answers his own question,"I take it for granted that my command does not extent to that distant quarter." This is extraordinary. Henry Adams describes the failure in his inimitable style:

July 26, one week after Hull had written that all his success depended on the movements at Niagara, Dearborn reached Albany and found there some twelve hundred men not yet organized or equipped. He found also a letter, dated July 20, from the Secretary of War, showing that the Government had begun to feel the danger of its position.1 "I have been in daily expectation of hearing from General Hull, who probably arrived in Detroit on the 8th inst." In fact Hull arrived in Detroit July 5, and crossed into Canada July 12; but when the secretary wrote, July 20, he had not yet heard of either event. "You will make such arrangements with Governor Tompkins," continued Eustis, "as will place the militia detached by him for Niagara and other posts on the lakes under your control; and there should be a communication, and if practicable a co-operation, throughout the whole frontier." The secretary as early as June 24 authorized Hull to invade Canada West, and his delay in waiting till July 20 before sending similar orders to the general commanding the force at Niagara was surprising; but if Eustis's letter seemed singular, Dearborn's answer passed belief. For the first time General Dearborn then asked a question in regard to his own campaign,—a question so extraordinary that every critic found it an enigma: "Who is to have command of the operations in Upper Canada? I take it for granted that my commad does not extent to that distant quarter."
July 26, when Hull had been already a fortnight on British soil, a week after he wrote that his success depended on co-operation from Niagara, the only force at Niagara consisted of a few New York militia, not co-operating with Hull or under the control of any United States officer, while the majorgeneral of the Department took it for granted that Niagara was not included in his command. The Government therefore expected General Hull, with a force which it knew did not at the outset exceed two thousand effectives, to march two hundred miles, constructing a road as he went; to garrison Detroit; to guard at least sixty miles of road under the enemy's guns; to face a force in the field equal to his own, and another savage force of unknown numbers in his rear; to sweep the Canadian peninsula of British troops; to capture the fortress at Malden and the British fleet on Lake Erie, — and to do all this without the aid of a man or a boat between Sandusky and Quebec.

Notes
1. Henry Adams,  History of the United States 1809-17 (New York, Library of America, 1986), pages 508-509. 




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