Recovering from “a rash and, probably, a fatal error” – Michigan State Quarter Coin

Today, the Michigan State Quarter Coin takes a look back to March 4, 1814 and the Battle of Longwood near Detroit between the Americans and the British with their Indian allies.

In the Battles of the United States, published in 1858, Henry Barton Dawson included a description of the David and Goliath battle in which David made a mistake but recovered and won.


During the winter of 1813-14, no movement of importance was organized in the Northwest; and each of the great contending parties contented itself with an occasional minor operation against some outpost of its opponent.

One of these was planned in February, 1814, by Lieutenant-colonel Butler, who commanded at Detroit, in the absence of General Lewis Cass; and he entrusted its execution to Captain Holmes of the Twenty-fourth regiment.

Its object was to attack Fort Talbot, a British outpost about one hundred miles down Lake Erie; and for this purpose a small party of artillerists, with two six-pounders, small detachments from the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth regiments of infantry, a company of Rangers under Captain McCormick, and a troop of militia dragoons, in all about one hundred and sixty men, were detached, and left Detroit on the twenty-first of February.

Unexpected difficulties on his line of march preventing the passage of his field-pieces, Captain Holmes determined to change his course, for the purpose of breaking up a British outpost which had been erected at Delaware on the River Thames; and, on the 3d of March, while still approaching that place, he learned that its garrison was ascending the river and would, probably, meet him within an hour.

His force being much smaller than that which his opponent was reported to have under his command, Captain Holmes resolved to leave Captain Gill, with twenty Rangers, to cover his rear, and, with his main body, to fall back to Twenty-mile Creek, five miles in his rear, on the western bank of which was a good position for defense.

Accordingly he retrograded; and, as the enemy pursued him, the night of the third was spent, by both parties, on the banks of that stream—the Americans on the western and the British on its eastern margin.

At this place the Twenty-mile Creek runs a southerly course, through a deep and wide ravine; and, of course, it became necessary, before the enemy could attack the position which Captain Holmes occupied, that he should descend into the ravine and then ascend the western bank—an operation which would involve much danger in the experiment.

After passing the night without any interruption, at sunrise on the fourth, Captain Holmes discovered a very small party of the enemy, on the opposite bank; and, soon afterwards, after firing several times, it disappeared.

After waiting some time for its reappearance, Lieutenant Knox, of the Rangers, was sent to reconnoiter; and, on his return, reported that the enemy had retreated, apparently, with the utmost precipitation; that his baggage, &c., were scattered along his route, where it had been thrown in his haste to escape; and that, from his fires and his trail, he did not appear to have had more than seventy men.

Mortified with the reflection that he had retreated before so weak an enemy, and without even thinking that this might be a stratagem, by means of which he could be drawn from his position, and be placed on ground which was more assailable, Captain Holmes “instantly commenced the pursuit, with the design of attacking Delaware before the opening of another day.”

He had not proceeded more than five miles, however, before Captain Lee, who commanded his advance, discovered the enemy arranging himself for battle; and the secret, at once, flashed across his mind, that he had committed a rash and, probably, a fatal error.

As rapidly as possible, however, the Captain retrograded, and assumed his former position on the western bank of the creek; strengthening it, as much as possible, with a breastwork of logs, faced with brush.

Taking into consideration the character of his troops, and desiring to “prevent the necessity of evolutions which he knew all his men were incompetent to perform in action,” Captain Holmes adopted the order of the hollow square—the detachments from the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth occupying the brow of the heights, fronting the east; that from the garrison of Detroit (Captain Gill’s command), on the north front; the Rangers, on the west; the militia, on the south; and the horses and baggage, in the centre.

When the enemy perceived that his pursuers had returned to the position from which they had just been drawn, he, in his turn, became the pursuer, and prepared to cross the creek and attack the Americans within their lines.

For this purpose he threw his militia and Indians across the creek, above the encampment; and with them he invested its northern, western, and southern fronts; while, at the same time, his regular troops pushed over the bridge, and charged up the heights in front of the American lines, in the face of a terribly destructive fire.

Notwithstanding the American regulars—who occupied the eastern front, and opposed those of the enemy—were entirely uncovered, through the good management of their commander (in ordering them to kneel for the purpose of concealing the greater part of their bodies) they suffered but little loss from the enemy; while their fire was exceedingly severe, cutting down the whole of his front section, and greatly thinning those which followed.

At length, dispirited with his loss, and scarcely hoping for success, the enemy’s regular troops abandoned their position on the eastern front of the American lines; and, in open order, they took cover in the adjacent woods, and continued a desultory fire with considerable spirit until late in the afternoon.

In the meantime, sheltered behind their log breastworks, the Americans on the northern, western, and southern fronts sustained the fire of their assail ants without confusion, and returned it with spirit and effect.

Their muskets and rifles, aimed at leisure, generally sent the balls with unerring aim; and on these fronts, as on the eastern, victory perched on the banners of the Americans, notwithstanding the activity which characterized the assailants on those fronts.

At length, about sunset, after an engagement of over an hour, the several bodies of the enemy, apparently “in concert, and favored by the shades of twilight, commenced a general retreat,” in which, from proper considerations, he received no interruption.

The effective force of the Americans in this severe engagement was one hundred and fifty, of whom seventy were militia, that of the enemy embraced the two flank companies of the Royal Scots, the light-company of the Eighty-ninth regiment, and detachments from the Rangers and the Kent militia, with a large body of Indians, being, in the aggregate, not less than three hundred men, of whom from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty were regulars.

The loss of the Americans, killed and wounded, was a sergeant and six privates; that of the enemy, including his killed, wounded, and prisoners, was about seventy, exclusive of that of his Indian allies.


The Michigan State Quarter Coin shows beside an artist’s image of a battle scene from the War of 1812.

Michigan State Quarter Coin