Henry Procter, army officer (b c 1763 at Kilkenny, Ireland; d at Bath, Eng 31 Oct 1822). Henry Procter was the son of a British army surgeon. He was considered by some as among the worst officers of the British forces in the War of 1812. Procter began his military career on 5 April 1781, and became a lieutenant late that year. He was stationed in the New York area as the American Revolution came to an end. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1792, and major in May 1795. By the fall of 1800 when he transferred into the 41st Foot, Procter was a lieutenant-colonel. His record as a commanding officer was praiseworthy; in fact, his superior, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, noted that the excellent condition of the 41st was due to Procter’s tireless efforts. His peacetime accolades, however, would soon be tarnished by his wartime record.
Procter was serving in Canada with the 41st Regiment when war with the US broke out in 1812, and Brock gave him command of Amherstburg in Upper Canada, the region threatened by American forces from Detroit. In August, Procter initiated a campaign of harassment of American forces by cutting communications between Detroit and Ohio settlements. His skirmishes at Brownstown and Maguaga helped to isolate the Detroit garrison, and acted as a critical support to Brock’s successful attack on Detroit. He remained commander of the Detroit frontier after Brock had left, sending out an expedition under Captain Adam Charles Muir against Fort Wayne, Indiana. At the start of 1813, when US forces under the command of Major-General William Henry Harrison were en route to recapture Detroit, Procter sent another expedition against the American advance guard at Frenchtown, forcing its surrender. He was made a brigadier-general for his actions, and soon attained the rank of major-general.
While praised by the local Canadian government for his actions, Procter was pilloried by the Americans for failing to control the actions of his Aboriginal warriors, who murdered American prisoners after the battle. Harrison retreated to Fort Meigs upon hearing the news of the advance guard’s defeat. Procter pursued two aggressive assaults on the fort, hoping to force the Americans to capitulate before reinforcements could arrive. Both were costly affairs that failed to achieve the desired results. Procter’s failure largely resulted from the vulnerability of the routes supplying Detroit, and from competing operations.
After the Americans assumed supremacy on Lake Erie in the summer of 1813, things became desperate for Procter’s forces. A retreat was necessary, but risky. Not only was travel difficult, retreat in the face of the enemy would threaten the relationship with Procter’s Aboriginal allies and their leader Tecumseh. They were still eager for battle, but with command of the lake strictly in American hands, any victory would be limited and ultimately futile, though it was hard for Procter to persuade his eager allies of this reality. Eventually, he persuaded Tecumseh of the need for retreat, so long as they would take one last stand. Sadly, Tecumseh got his wish at the Battle of the Thames. Procter’s conduct of the retreat and the ensuing battle were poor, and while he escaped with his life and a handful of his substantial forces, Tecumseh was killed, and the coalition of Aboriginal warriors was in tatters.
Exaggerated reports of Procter’s poor conduct all but had him convicted for incompetence before he had reached Ancaster. While the soldiers under his command conducted themselves poorly, there is little doubt that Procter’s leadership was wanting. Sir George Prevost, Governor in Chief of British North America, refused to give Procter any serious commands or duties until war’s end, when a court martial was convened against him for his conduct at Moraviantown. Procter faced five charges, of which he was found guilty of four: he allowed the retreat to be slowed by taking too much baggage, some of it his own; he failed to prevent supplies and ammunition from falling into enemy hands; he neglected to fortify adequately positions along the Thames; he made poor dispositions to meet the enemy at Moraviantown; and he failed to rally and encourage his troops and Aboriginal allies during and after the battle.
Procter was publicly reprimanded and suspended without rank or pay for 6 months, and even though some of the charges were later dropped, his military career, once filled with praise and success, was ruined. He returned to England in the fall of 1815, where he lived in semi-retirement until his death. While his name is synonymous with failure, historians continue to debate Procter’s successes and failures and whether or not the charges against him were warranted, even if his leadership had been weak.
Author: Jason Ridler
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Late July 1813 - Second siege of Fort Meigs
General Henry Procter returns to Fort Meigs and is again unsuccessful.