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General William Hull Court-Martial: 1814

An Army Of State Militiamen And Inexperienced Officers, Hull Ordered To Invade Canada, Hull Viewed As A Coward

Defendant: William Hull
Crimes Charged: Treason, cowardice, neglect of duty, unofficer-like conduct
Chief Defense Lawyers: William Hull. (representing himself) assisted by Robert Tillotson, Cadwallader D. Colden
Chief Prosecutors: Martin Van Buren, Philip S. Parker
Judges: Henry Dearborn, Joseph Bloomfield, Peter Little, William N. Irvine, James House, William Scott, William Stewart, J. R. Fenwick, Robert Bogardus, Richard Dennis, Samuel S. Conner, S. B. Davis, John W. Livingston, James G. Forbes (Forbes was a Supernumerary Member of the Court and, as such, did not participate in the court's reaching its verdict)
Place: Albany, New York

Date of Trial: January 3-March 28, 1814
Verdict: Court had no jurisdiction to hear the treason charge; guilty of all other charges

Sentence: Death (President James Madison later remitted the sentence); also, Hull was dishonorably discharged and his name was stricken from the rolls of the army

SIGNIFICANCE: Although his sentence was later remitted, General William Hull is the only U.S. general to be sentenced to death by an American court-martial.

When the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 19, 1812, largely arrogant and politically ambitious men who had little or no military experience commanded its small and unequipped army. In addition, there was no carefully prepared strategy or plan for prosecuting the war. Disaster was waiting to strike and it did on August 16, 1812, when General William Hull surrendered Detroit to the British without a fight. When news of the capitulation reached the rest of the country, Hull's superiors, as well as the public, did not take time to consider the many factors that were beyond the general's control. Instead, he was immediately branded as a coward and a traitor. A year and a half later, Hull became the only American general in history to be sentenced to death by a court-martial of the U.S. Army.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832