On 25 March 1814, after a two-month-long court-martial, U.S. brigadier general William Hull was sentenced to death for his role in the surrender of Detroit to the British during the War of 1812.
Hull was territorial governor of Michigan at the time, and believing his troops to be heavily outnumbered, he ordered the surrender on 16 August 1812. The government and nation at large were outraged by what they saw as Hull’s cowardice, and on 3 January 1814 he was court-martialed.
At his court-martial, Hull was found guilty of four counts of cowardice and seven counts of neglect of duty and unofficer-like conduct. The other charges against him, three counts of treason, were dropped because they were out of the court’s jurisdiction. He was stripped of his rank, removed from the army rolls, and finally, sentenced to be shot, making him the only general in American history to be sentenced to death in a court-martial. Fortunately for Hull, on the court’s recommendation of mercy based on his age (60) and Revolutionary War service, President Madison remitted Hull’s sentence.
Hull spent much of his later life trying to clear his name, largely through the two books he wrote. Public opinion finally began to shift in his favor in 1825, the year before his death. Today, many historians agree that the circumstances that led to Hull’s surrender were largely outside of his control and that he was unfairly used as a scapegoat for the loss.
Read more about the circumstances surrounding Hull’s surrender and court-martial, or view some of the correspondence pertaining to Hull’s court-martial in Fold3’s collection of Letters Received by the Adjutant General, 1805–1821.