After the American victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, British forces in southwestern Upper Canada under Major-General Henry Proctor, faced a dire situation.
A much larger army under William Henry Harrison was on its way and with the lake fleet destroyed, Proctor had no chance of resupply or reinforcements.
He felt his only option was to retreat to Burlington Heights and regroup with the British forces there but Britain’s Indigenous allies, led by the legendary Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, would not leave the area so easily.
Their homeland was to the west and retreating east would leave their families and homes vulnerable to American attack. Tecumseh and the other warriors felt betrayed.
Tecumseh railed at Proctor comparing him to a fat animal with his tail between his legs. The First Nations warriors wanted to make their stand here at Fort Amherstburg, but Proctor finally managed to convince Tecumseh and about 500 warriors that retreat was the best option.
The British and their First Nations allies rushed along the Thames River until the water became too shallow for their large bateau near a Christian Lenape village called Moraviantown.
On October 5th, 1813, Proctor and Tecumseh decided to make a stand along the Thames River near the present-day village of Thamesville, Ontario.
Proctor lined his men along the road using the river to protect his left flank while Tecumseh and his warriors would attack from the woods and swampy area to the right. It was a desperate gamble.
The American general William Henry Harrison ordered about 1,000 mounted Kentucky volunteers to charge straight at the 800 British redcoats who were standing in plain sight.
The British fired a shot but the line broke under the charge. Proctor and 250 of his men immediately ran leaving the rest of the army to be captured.
Meanwhile Tecumseh and his warriors drew the American horsemen into the swamp and put up heavy resistance; it was at this point that Tecumseh was killed.
There are many conflicting stories of how Tecumseh died, but American Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson took credit for the deed and later went on to become vice president of the United States.
It is believed that Tecumseh was killed somewhere near the spot but no one knows for sure. His body was never recovered. Some witnesses claim that he was skinned by American militiamen; others claimed that he was whisked away by his fellow warriors and buried in a secret grave.
The death of Tecumseh remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the War of 1812.
The Battle of the Thames was a decisive American victory that brought Michigan and the Old Northwest back under American control. Though fighting would go on there were no more major battles along the Detroit frontier and the American forces in the region turned their attention to attacking the First Peoples.
Though they would continue to resist, the dream of a confederacy of the First Peoples was over.
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