August 9 1812: Dearborn's Armistice

On August 9, 1812, Major General Dearborn writes to the Secretary of War and to General Hull to advise of them of the  armistice that he has concluded with Colonel Baynes, who was sent by Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Lower Canada. The armistice provides that neither side is to take any offensive measures and act only in self-defense. Dearborn welcomed the armistice since he was in no position to take any active offensive measures against the British. He also believed that he could not order General Hull to comply with the armistice but agreed to write to him to recommend that he too agree. Baynes was to write to the British officers in Upper Canada advising them of the armistice. Hull would not receive the letter sent on August 9, 1812 by Dearborn. More importantly, Major General Brock, on his way to Fort Malden, would be unaware of the armistice when he decided later in the month to attack Fort Detroit. President Madison will later reject the armistice but had Brock been aware of the armistice it could have changed the course of the war by preventing him from taking Detroit. The War of 1812 started, in part, because of the delay in the news reaching America that the Orders in Council had been repealed. The course of the war continued to be shaped by what participants did not know as a result of the great distances separating them. General Dearborn's letters are reproduced below.

Headquarters, Greenhush, Aug. 9th, 1812.

Sir, — Colonel Baynes, Adjutant General of the British army in Canada, has this day arrived at this place, in the character of a Flag of Truce, with despatches from the British government, through Mr. Foster, which I have enclosed to the Secretary. Colonel Baynes was likewise the bearer of despatches from Sir George Prevost which is herewith enclosed. Although I do not consider myself authorized to agree to a cessation of arms, I concluded that I might with perfect safety, agree that our troops should act merely on the defensive, until I could receive directions from my government; but as I could not include General Hull in such an arrangement, he having received his orders directly from the department of war, I agreed to write to him, and state the proposition made to me, and have proposed, his confining himself to defensive measures, if his orders, and the circumstances of affairs with him, would justify it. Colonel Baynes has written similar orders to the British officers in Upper Canada, and I have forwarded them to our commanders of posts, to be by them transmitted to the British commanders.

I consider the agreement as favourable at this period, for we would not act offensively, except at Detroit, for some time, and there' it will not probably have any effect on General Hull or his movements, and we shall not be prepared to act offensively in this quarter, before you will have time to give me orders for continuing on the defensive or act otherwise.

We shall lose no time, or advantage, by the agreement, but -rather gain time without any risk. It is mutually understood, that all preparatory measures may proceed, and that no obstructions are to be attempted, on either side, to the passage of stores, to the frontier posts; but if General Hull should not think it advisable to confine himself to mere defensive
operations, the passage of military stores to Detroit, will not be considered as embraced in the agreement last noticed.

Col. Baynes informs me, that a party of British troops and Indians, had taken possession of Michilimackinac, and that our garrison were prisoners. I made no particular enquiry as to the circumstances, as I entertained some doubts as to the fact. I have no expectation that the government will consent to a cessation of hostilities, on the strength of the communication forwarded by Mr. Foster; but all circumstances considered, it may be well to avail ourselves of the occasion, until we are better prepared for acting with effect; at all events, we can lose nothing by the arrangement, I have consented to, it being explicitly understood, that my government will not be under any obligations to agree to it, unless that despatches from the British government should be such, as to induce the President to propose an armistice, as preparatory for negotiations for peace. I informed Colonel Baynes, that our government would readily meet any such overture from Great Britain, as clearly indicated a disposition for making peace on satisfactory terms; but after what had occurred, in relation to the adjustment with Mr. Erskine it could not be expected that any other than the most explicit and authentic directions to their agent in this country, would produce any change in our measures. It is evident that a war with the United States is very unpopular in Canada. — Colonel Baynes arrived at our frontier post, at Plattsburg, and was conducted to this place by Major Clark, an officer in the detached militia of this state^ he returned this day with the same officer.

Headquarters, Greenbush, Aug. 9th 1812

Sir, — Having received from Sir George Prevost, Governour General, and commander of the Britisli forces in Upper and Lower Canada, despatches from the British government said to be of a conciliatory nature, which I have forwarded to Washington, and a letter from Sir George Prevost to me, be his Adjutant General, Colonel Baynes, proposing a cessation of hostilities on the frontiers; I have so far agreed to his proposals as to consent that no offensive operations shall be attempted on our part, until I have received further instructions from our government; but as you received your orders directly from the department of war, I could not agree to extend the principle to your command, but I agreed to write to you, and state the general facts; and propose to you a concurrence in the measures, if your orders and situation would admit of it; of course you will act in conformity with what has been agreed upon, in respect to the other posts on the frontiers, if not incompatible with your orders, or the arrangements made under them, or the circumstances under which this letter reaches you. Any preparations for offensive operations may be continued, and when it is agreed to suspend any offensive operations no obstacles are to be opposed to the transportation of military stores. In all cases where offensive operations cease, by virtue of the aforementioned agreement, four entire days are to be allowed, after either party shall revoke their orders, before any offensive operations shall commence. A letter from Colonel Baynes, to the Commanding officer at Amherstburg, has been forwarded by me to the commanding officer at Niagara, to be by him transmitted to Detroit. The removal of any troops from Niagara to Detroit, while the present agreement continues, would be improper, and incompatible with the true interest of the agreement. I have made no arrangement that should have any effect upon your command contrary to your own judgment.

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