Day 65, Tuesday, September 18, 2018
River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe, Michigan
Remember the Raisin!
Seriously though, who remembers the raisin? I’m quite confident that I never knew about it in the first place, making it impossible to remember the raisin. If this is a thing, and they assured me at River Raisin National Battlefield Park that it is indeed a thing, its reach has been limited, at least in the last 200 years.
The War of 1812 was the impetus for the Battle of Frenchtown. It had been occupied by the British, as a part of their larger occupation of the area around Detroit, Michigan; of course that was before Michigan was a state. So the British occupied the area and the Americans, under the command of Brigadier General James Winchester, decided to try to drive the British out of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813. Of course, Winchester was defying orders; he was supposed to be remaining within supporting distance of Major General William Henry Harrison’s (yes! the later President) column about 30 miles south. Oops.
So Winchester went rogue and allowed Lieutenant Colonel William Lewis to attack Frenchtown with 666 troops, most of them inexperienced regulars and volunteers from Kentucky. They crossed the frozen Maumee and Raisin rivers and after a brief battle, they did manage to take Frenchtown. Harrison didn’t like that Winchester and Lewis defied his orders,but he was pleased that Frenchtown was back in American hands. The British were less than pleased.
The British, as you can guess, set about sending troops from Fort Malden and got to Frenchtown on January 22. The locals tried to warn Winchester that a large column of British was coming, but he ignored the warning, thinking that the British would need more time to prepare an attack. Big oops.
The British and allied Potawatomi tribe attacked and basically annihilated the Americans. In less than an hour, over 300 were killed and about 500 were taken prisoner. Anyone who could walk was force-marched to Fort Malden; those who fell behind were killed. But those left behind at Frenchtown didn’t suffer a better fate. The Native Americans set fire to the homes that housed the injured soldiers; those that could escape were shot as they exited the buildings. The others were burned alive.
Winchester screwed up in not heeding the warning of the impending arrival of the British. If he had moved his troops away from Frenchtown, it is likely that the reinforcements from Harrison’s Army would have arrived and changed the outcome of the battle. As it was though, news of the massacre traveled far and wide and incited feelings of horror among Americans. In fact, Kentucky, having lost many prominent citizens in the battle and massacre, encouraged many new enlistments for the war.
The National Battlefield Park is relatively new and there isn’t much there. It officially opened in 2011. The Visitor’s Center had some interesting exhibits and a movie on the battle, and you can walk an open field with some historical markers. They have plans to reconstruct some of the buildings and acquire surrounding lands to protect more of the battlefield. They are making progress, as they opened a new Visitor’s Center since I was there – it’s huge! It will be interesting to visit again in another 10 or 20 years to see how it has changed!