October 02, 2013

Our men gave way – Battle of The Thames

By September 1813 on the Western frontier the British were dealt a devastating defeat on Lake Erie. The American victory at the Battle of Put-in-Bay on September 10, 1813 meant that Lake Erie was under American control and that British forces along Lake Erie were vulnerable to attack.

Major-General Henry Proctor decided to withdraw all British forces toward Burlington Heights up the Thames River to escape superior American forces. Tecumseh, the leader of the native Western Confederacy, was opposed to a retreat and wrote “We must compare our Father's [Proctor’s] conduct to [that of] a fat animal that carries its tail upon its back; but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off.” Despite Tecumseh’s objections, Proctor began the withdrawal with Tecumseh and his warriors reluctantly agreeing to follow.    
Map of the Battle of The Thames
As the British and native allies moved toward Burlington Heights, Proctor, with Tecumseh’s encouragement, decided to stop at Moraviantown to meet the approaching Americans. Tecumseh’s forces were primarily positioned in the woods with the British forces, mainly comprised of men from the 41st Regiment of Foot, were positioned on the open field between a small swamp and thick woods.

Shadrach Byfield was among them and succinctly describes the battle, “The attack commenced on the right, with the Indians, and very soon became general through the line. After exchanging a few shots, our men gave way.” Byfield retreated to the woods were he was met by a number of native warriors who informed him that Tecumseh had been killed. Byfield goes on to describe his short adventure with the natives before being reunited with his regiment.

The aftermath of the Battle of The Thames/Battle of Moraviantown proved to be a devastating defeat for the British. The British had over 500 men taken prisoner, almost half of their forces present at the battle. The defeat meant that the Western portion of Upper Canada was now open to American influence, and with Tecumseh’s death many Western natives decided to make peace with the Americans, effectively ending Tecumseh’s dream of a native Western Confederacy.

This weekend you can experience the 200th anniversary of the Battle of The Thames taking place in Thamesville, south of London. There will be a number of events happening on Friday and Saturday with a battle re-enactment at 3 p.m. on both days. Click here to find out more.

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