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A Tactical Analysis of the Battle of the Thames

Map of the Battle of the Thames(From Wikipedia)

Back Ground

In the early  parts of the War of 1812, the United States lost Detroit to Tecumseh and Major General Isaac Brock. Tecumseh convinced Brock to attack Detroit, and he listened even when his own officers advised against it. Brigadier General William Hull surrendered Detroit after watching 1,800 braves of Tecumseh’s army march in front of the fort. In reality Tecumseh just had his 600 braves walk in front of the fort 3 times to convince Hull he was outnumbered.

After the loss of Detroit and the many other fronts, The Department of War under President James Madison decided to invade Canada and retake Detroit. To accomplish this task, governor William Henry Harrison was assigned, to lead the Northern army in charge of retaking Detroit.

Harrison served in the Army as an aide to General Anthony Wayne during the battle of “Fallen Timbers” in 1794. Coincidentally Tecumseh also fought in this battle, making this their first encounter but not the last. Soon after this battle Harrison went in to politics and left the army, only to return in 1811, where he ended up killing Tecumseh’s brother at the battle of Tippecanoe Creek on November 7.

Within a year Harrison was a major general and in command of the Northwest army. In his service was Brigadier General James Winchester who lost the battle of Frenchtown, near Monroe Michigan on January 22, 1813. 550 Troops surrendered and were promised protection by the British commander Colonel Henry Proctor. Instead, the wounded were butchered and burned alive by the Indian allies of the British. Proctor became known as the “Butcher”.  Harrison built Fort Meigs near the massacre in order to defend the location’s.strategic position. On May 1, 1813 the fort came under siege by Major General Henry Proctor and Tecumseh. After much battling Proctor broke the siege off and retreated. Tecumseh stayed and tried to lure the American defenders out but ultimately failed in doing so.

Fort Meigs (From Wikipedia)

On September 10, 1913 Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry  defeated the British ships on Lake Erie in one of the Bloodiest naval battles of the entire war. This left an opening up for Harrison to invade Canada and the ability to recapture Detroit. Harrison took 4,500 men and moved to take Detroit soon after the battle of Lake Erie.

The British left Detroit on September 18, 1813 and retreated north along the Thames River. They did not try to cover there retreat in any way, much to the disapproval of their Indian allies. On multiple occasions Tecumseh pleaded with Major General Henry Proctor to make a stand but Proctor refused to hear any of it and continued his retreat. This demoralized both the Confederacy and British troops, which contributed to the loss on October 5.

Harrison retook Detroit and left 1,000 men to defend it and carried on in pursuit of Major General Henry Proctor with the remaining 3,500 men.

Battle of the Thames River

The Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812, was a United States victory. The United States fought two adversaries, Tecumseh’s Confederacy and the United Kingdom, October 5, 1813. The battle took place next to the Thames river near Chatham, Ontario.

The British set up half of their army next to the river to cover their left flank, with the only cannon on the field right next to the river. The other half of the army was positioned right next to the first half but a small swamp was between the two sides. Tecumseh’s forces set up to cover the British’s right flank by positioning the bulk of their force along a large swamp just north of the British lines. They had the perfect flanking position to attack any direct attacks on the British line

Battle of the Thames River(From Wikipedia)

The United States Army under General William Henry Harrison, outnumbered the British and Confederacy, by around 3 to 1.  The US cavalry split into two, one attacking the British line and the other attacking the Confederacy line. The British line quickly gave way, after only two volleys of fire and surrendering/retreating. Leaving the only cannon on the field in US hands.

The second cavalry unit, engaged in heated melee with the Indians. This happened due to most of them running out of ammunition, so the resorted to hatchet and knife combat, or using muskets as clubs. The Indians upon seeing the British retreat, grew furious and fought harder in order to make up for the disgrace that was brought upon them.  This did not last, long for as soon as the Native Americans  found out that their leader had been slain– it is not know how he died but many myths and stories point to the commander of the US cavalry–they routed. This happened just as the US infantry came up to reinforce the cavalry.

Proctor claimed he attempted to rally his troops but he ended up fleeing the field himself, leaving the surrendering to Colonel Augustus Warburton. Proctor made it back to British controlled lands soon after.

Harrison did not continue his campaign north due to the enlistments of most of his men ending soon and the supply lines being too extended. Had he gone north he may have ended up winning the War of 1812. There was nothing in his path now, it was completely open all the way to the Niagara Peninsula.

The battle had few killed or wounded; most were captured. Something that was typical of the time. Many people upon seeing the first few dead surrendered, since most were not regulars but instead militiamen.

Major General Henry Proctor was court martialed for losing this battle when he got back home. He was found guilty of  “deficiency in energy and judgement”. For his crimes he was suspended from rank and pay for six months, a rather light sentence considering how many troops ended up in foreign prisons, due to his negligence.


  2. War of 1812: Battle of the Thames
  3. Battle of the Thames
  4. The Battle of Thame’s River … October 5th 1813
  5. The United States Army in the War of 1812
  6. War of 1812

Further Reading