Book Review: The Thames by John F. Winkler.


Paperback: 96 pages

Publisher: Osprey Publishing (17 Nov. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472814339

Frontier warfare in the 19th century was a pitiless, callous affair.
Winkler an expert in the field is quite at home with the subject. And gives an authoritative outline of the events of the campaign making good use of contemporary accounts, which makes it entertaining and anecdotal. It would be hard not to given the story is full of Cooper esque names, each of whom is some kind of household name in the epic of the frontier.
Beginning with the confused back and forth struggle that followed the fall of Detroit, the book winds up at the battle of the Thames A recurring theme of this campaign was the use of indians, and to both sides the operative word was use, although the British hoped to create an Indian super state as a buffer between USA and Canada, they depended implicitly on the strength, fear and fighting prowess of their native allies, without whom nothing would have been achieved. The loyalty and trust put in them by Chiefs like Tecumseh, who repeatedly urged their people to continue supporting the British is remarkable, and instructive as to how bitter the divide had grown between the indigenous tribes and the new Americans since 1783.
Typically The cruelty of some of the indians was to be a hallmark of the fighting and prisoners and civilians suffered terribly, with the British senior officers unwilling or powerless to stop atrocities. It is clear no one in the British camp had any real influence over the tribes as they had during the Revolution and 7 years war.
The legend that is Tecumseh, being one of the Chiefs who displayed a humane bearing. For it is noted than many had given up the practice of torture, nevertheless there is a cold indifference to human suffering displayed by Kentuckian militiaman and Indian warrior alike.
The campaign was the faltering attempt to carry on the impetuous of Brock’s successes. However General Proctor proved unable to keep the initiative and after the vicissitudes of a typically muddled frontier campaign, found himself pursued by General Harrison’s much better adapted army, mostly composed of Kentucky militia.
Though the Americans had at first faltered in the wilderness of the northwest, they had come of age and learned how best to deploy their militias. By comparison Proctor had a very indifferent army to carry through a wilderness fight, and he was a worse judge of ground and his enemy. Tecumseh emerges as the only voice of confidence, and it is notable that British Indian allies at this time could field as many as 3,000 warriors. At the Thames the Indian contingent far outnumbered the single battalion of redcoats and supporting Canadians.

Artwork is colourfully provided, in rich autumnal tones and energetic scenes by Peter Dennis. I cannot help but look at the scene of the charge of Kentucky militia against the 41st Foot and think of the painting by Don Troiani a few years ago. And in doing so one instantly notices a discrepancy. The author is certain that the British infantry were wearing stovepipe shakos, but indeed there is contention as to what type of headgear any British soldier wore post 1812. Troiani, however has a international reputation for forensic accuracy in his paintings. He put the 1812 “Belgic” shako on his 41st foot, having consulted the archeological record and experts Jim Kochan and Rene Chartrande he is confident the regiment wore the Belgic. This of course puts him at odds with Winkler.

The three double page spreads are imaginatively composed, especially that of the dismounted militia withdrawing through the swamp. Some of the musket brass and belt parts seem a touch unfinished, and in the scene of Tecumseh’s Attack, the woods become slightly muddy, however they evoke a strong sense of atmosphere and place.

In terms of tactics and ferocity, The Battle of the Thames was a small affair and quite unspectacular except for a few points. It saw a successful charge of irregular, militia cavalry through forest. The death of Tecumseh and the loss of Upper Canada to the British. It ended up being the pivotal frontier battle of the war of 1812. For though the British and indians would win other battles before the peace of Ghent, all hopes were dashed at Plattsburg in 1814. More than that it was something of a last hurrah for the tribes, who without strong charismatic leaders saw their influence and independence dramatically reduce on both sides of the border.

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