War of 1812people

Henry Dearborn


The War of 1812 proved to be one war too many for Henry Dearborn. The aging commander was well past his prime. His heydays came and went with the American Revolution where he earned a reputation as an exemplary officer. After that war, Dearborn became a respected businessman, a major general of the Maine militia and a member of state congress. It was through these political connections that he came to know Thomas Jefferson who offered him the post of Secretary of War.

Dearborn proved capable in his new position, refitting the army with new supplies and a healthy dose of Republican-minded officers. But these capabilities vanished in the 1812 conflict when Dearborn accepted the role of senior major general of the army. He was simply not fit, psychologically or physically for the command. His troops took to calling him "Granny".

Dearborn failed to spur the New England states to action regarding the defense of the seaboard or the need to call out the state militia. To complicate matters, he did not seem to grasp the extent of his own command. This meeting of indifference with incompetence would prove to be disastrous for the U.S. in the early stages of the war. That Dearborn was reluctant to participate in the war was demonstrated by his eager signing of an armistice with George Prevost before informing the President of the deal. Dearborn also neglected to inform General Hull of this sudden cessation of hostilities, information that no doubt would have proved valuable to the nervous commander who gave up Detroit.

As 1812 drew to a close, the U.S. army had been beaten at Detroit and Queenston, and had failed to establish a foothold anywhere in Canada. Dearborn made repeated requests that President Madison accept his resignation so that he could "retire to the shades of private life, and remain a mere interested spectator." Madison denied his request, hoping that replacing William Eustis with John Armstrong as Secretary of War would turn affairs around. But Armstrong and Dearborn disagreed about concentrating efforts on Kingston. Dearborn convinced Armstrong to attack York and Fort George, but these campaigns were fraught with indecision and ineptitude. It was not until the Americans deserted the Niagara Peninsula that President Madison took Dearborn up on his earlier offer.

Dearborn was honourably discharged from the army in 1815, and in 1822 he became the minister to Portugal under President James Monroe's administration. Henry Dearborn died in Roxbury, Massachusetts in June of 1829.