December 05, 2005
The Lore of the Corps
Effort to re-take fort in War of 1812 failed
By Don Burzynski
Special to the Times

Twenty-nine days after the war of 1812 was declared on July 17, 1812, the British captured Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. The United States was determined to take it back because of its important location and role in the American fur industry.

After pressure from fur mogul and naval sponsor John Jacob Astor, the secretary of the Navy ordered the re-taking of Mackinac and St. Joseph islands. Following American victories at the Battles of Lake Erie and the Thames, Capt. Oliver Perry’s squadron of ships set sail for Mackinac on June 20, 1814. Army Lt. Col. George Croghan commanded the 2nd Regiment of Riflemen, and the flotilla and its fleet Marines were commanded by Navy Capt. Arthur Sinclair.

The new British Fort Mackinac was situated on a 250-foot limestone cliff. Because of this height, Sinclair knew his ship’s cannons were useless against the fort. The Americans decided to attack from the northwest side of the island, the same landing place the British had used two years earlier. They would have to fight their way through two miles of heavy woods thick with Indians.

The Americans attacked on the morning of Aug. 4. Five American vessels anchored 300 yards offshore on the northwest side of the island and opened a tremendous, sweeping fire onto the landing place. U.S. forces hit the beach. Col. William Cotgreave led 250 Ohio Volunteer Militia members and a detachment of the Corps of Artillery, which brought several 6-pounder cannons. A detachment of Marines brought up the rear as a reserve force.

After the bombardment, the American force of 850 men set out on a narrow track through the woods toward Dousman’s farm. As the British did previously, the Americans picked the farm to fortify since it was the only clearing in the heavy woods and underbrush. The clearing was about 500 yards square.

British commander Lt. Col. Robert McDouall fortified the southern end of the clearing with fallen trees. His plan was to fire a volley, then have his men charge the American line with bayonets drawn. Indians on both flanks were positioned so the Americans couldn’t outflank the redcoats.

As soon as Croghan’s men reached the north end of the field, they came under fire from the two British cannons. The Americans continued their advance. Since advancing on the open field under rapid canister shot would be suicidal, the American force starting encircling both flanks with the main thrust on the left.

Suddenly, a band of Menominee Indians opened fire on the American column. The fire killed and wounded many of the U.S. troops. The Americans panicked, thinking they were surrounded in the heavy woods. They retreated to their main position, moved forward again but ultimately retreated to the ships while the Marines acted as rear guard.

The Mackinac post would be held by the British until July 1815, when, under the Treaty of Ghent, it was returned, along with northern Michigan and Wisconsin to the United States.

The writer is a War of 1812 re-enactor. He can be reached at