Sunday, April 11, 2021

"Remember the Raisin!" Visiting the River Raisin Battlefield in Michigan

I've traveled to Pennsylvania to see the battlefields of Gettysburg.  And I've traveled to Maryland to see the Antietam battlefields. 
But little did I know that here in Michigan we also have battlefields.
We sure do!
Right here in Michigan!
And it seems I'm not the only one who has been unaware of this bit of Michigan history.
You see,  the battles happened during the War of 1812.
1812!  You know,  the Second American War of Independence. wonder why it is also referred to as  "The Forgotten War."
To be honest with you,  the War of 1812 was barely mentioned when I was in school.  Even today,  it is pretty much glossed-over in most public schools.
But it certainly was  a war,  and part of it was actually fought right here on Michigan soil,  just about an hour from my house,  in fact. 
And until fairly recently,  I didn't know it.
And until very  recently,  I never visited it.
But this past March  (2021),  members of my family and I,  with camera in hand,  made the hour trek to the city of Monroe,  known then as Frenchtown  (26 miles south of Detroit),  to take a tour of this local history. 
It was pretty darn awesome.
So I would like to share some of our local history that played a role on a national stage.  
Pretty much everything you are about to read in this posting came directly from a River Raisin/1812 Driving Tour booklet I purchased as well as from the placards along the battlefields.
Of course,  this is the abridged version:

The seeds of this war were sown in many places.  Since war between Britain and France had broken out in 1793,  both countries tried to restrict international trade.  The United States was put in an awkward position,  unable to trade with either world power without incurring the wrath of the other.  In response,  Congress passed a series of non-importation acts and embargos,  each time trying to force the European powers to feel the sting of losing access to American markets.  Europe was largely unmoved,  and the United States fell into an economic depression.
During this time,  the British were also doing several other things that Americans considered to be insulting.  They rejected America's claim to neutrality in the global war,  effectively dismissing the former colony's national legitimacy.  They stopped American ships at sea and  "impressed"  American sailors—forcibly recruiting them into the Royal Navy on the spot.  They also armed Native American tribes that preyed on frontier settlers. 
When James Madison was elected to the presidency in 1808,  he instructed Congress to prepare for war with Britain.  On June 18,  1812,  buoyed by the arrival of  "war hawk"  representatives,  the United States formally declared war for the first time in the nation's history.  Many citizens in the Northeast opposed the idea,  but many others were enthusiastic about the nation's  "Second War of Independence"  from British oppression.
After the Michigan Territory was surrendered to the British during the onset of the War,  Native Nations and their British allies occupied a collection of French homes.  Tensions were high between the Natives and the French habitants,  who for years had been friends.  However,  the French habitants primarily sided with the United States and the Native Nations sided with the British.  The French here unfortunately suffered the consequences of abandoning their longtime friends and pleaded with the U.S.  Army for help.
Here is a depiction of the Farmstead of Jean  (John)  Baptiste Couture
Friends and family arrived at the farmstead of Jean Baptiste Couture and his wife Catherine on the cold New Year's Eve of 1812.  Guests brought baskets of food and jugs of spirits to celebrate Saints Feast Day,  ushering in the beginning of 1813.  As the children played outside,  the fiddlers turned the focus away from the topic of war to dancing and fellowship.  Card players shared stories of the past year's adventures,  but soon the conversation returned to the latest news regarding the Native and British occupation along the River Raisin.
Approximate location of where the Couture house once stood in conjunction
with the battlefield directly behind it.
In response to the French inhabitants pleas,  General James Winchester ordered Colonel William Lewis to liberate Frenchtown with 550 soldiers from the 1st and 5th Kentucky Volunteer Regiment camped at the north end of the Maumee Bay near present-day Toledo,  Ohio.  
So hopes for a peaceful new year were shattered on January 18,  1813,  when the combined U.S.  forces attacked the Native Confederation and British along the River Raisin.  
The River Raisin - only yards from the houses
The Kentuckians were joined by as many as 100 habitants,  many of them whom served in the Michigan Militia the previous summer,  and the entire force came together just south of the frozen River Raisin around three o'clock in the afternoon.  After successfully liberating the French habitants,  Kentucky regiment officers established their headquarters in the Couture home,  and Mr.  Couture resumed his responsibility as Captain of the 2nd Michigan.
Upon word that his forces had successfully liberated Frenchtown,  four additional companies were assembled and proceeded to the River Raisin on January 20,  1813.  In the meantime,  British Colonel Proctor assembled his forces at Fort Malden and proceeded to Brownstowne  (known then as Big Rock) to join around 800 native warriors,  including those from the Wyandot,  Shawnee,  Potawatomie,  Odawa,  Ojibwa,  Miami,  Creek,  Kickapoo,  and other Native Nation's tribes.
Together,  the Native Confederation and their British allies moved south to the River Raisin settlement.
Arriving before dawn on January 22 and unnoticed by the Americans,  they gathered into the battle positions about 300 yards to the north of Frenchtown.  Positioned in an arc along the wooded stretch of Mason Run,  three large British forces were organized and ready,  with the Regulars and artillery in the center.  The Natives were positioned about 200 yards to the right of the British,  along with Canadian militia.  
In the dim pre-dawn light,  just as reveille was sounding,  an American sentry spotted the Red-Coats and fired a shot into the forward line that killed the lead grenadier,  sending the just-awakened U.S.  forces into their battle positions.  Almost immediately,  the British opened up with their artillery and the infantry pushed forward from their center position.  They fired a powerful volley at what,  in the still dark distance,  had seemed to be a line of soldiers on the opposite end of the field of battle.  Assuming they had the advantage,  the British then made a fierce charge toward Frenchtown,  but their target they thought were U.S.  soldiers was actually the puncheon fence behind which the protected Kentuckians could fire at will.  With the British artillery overshooting their mark,  and the fence providing ample protection,  the Kentuckians were unscathed and unrelenting.  
In this photo we are at the British line looking toward the Americans. 
The River Raisin is just beyond the tree line.
This would have been snow-covered during the time of battle.
After twenty minutes the British were forced to retreat,  leaving a number of fallen comrades behind who were shot by Kentucky marksmen as they tried to crawl away.  
However,  matters were quite different on the American's right flank to the east.  The Canadian militia quickly adjusted the aim of their artillery,  and soon wreaked havoc on the exposed position of the U.S.  17th infantry.
The 17th Infantry were encamped in this area when the British and the Natives launched their surprise attack at dawn on the 22nd.  
As cannon fire tore through the encampment and shattered breastworks,  the exposed 17th also had to contend with militiamen and Wyandot fighters that had taken possession of some nearby buildings from which they could fire at will into their encampment.  The U.S.  struggled to hold their ground,  but eventually faltered when mounted warriors came around their right flank.  An attempt was made to send a few companies of Kentucky militiamen to the aid of the 17th infantry,  but the effort ultimately proved to be disastrous.  General Winchester ordered the infantrymen to fall back to the north bank of the river where they could meet up with the Kentuckians.  Together,  they made a brief stand,  but were soon overwhelmed by the pursuing Canadians,  Wyandot,  and Shawnee fighters.  After a frantic retreat to the south side of the river,  the American position disintegrated entirely.  All were swept up in the ensuing chaos,  fleeing pell mell toward the south.  Many were run down and killed.  Though some were able to escape,  most did not.  Of the approximately 400 U.S.  forces,  about 220 were killed and another 147 were captured.  Only 33 were able to escape.  
In this vicinity and parallel to the driveway here,  a line of scattered human remains were detected in 2000,  which may mark the main skirmish line of the 17th.  The bodies of those killed lay exposed to the elements for some time after the battle.

As this occurred,  the British and the Kentuckians were still fighting.  The Kentuckian's positions was too strong so the British regrouped and made more frontal attacks.  The final attack proved to be costly and brought total British casualties to 182,  a number far greater than the Kentuckians.
When General Winchester,  who had been captured,  was told that his men would be burned out of their position and attacked by a much larger force of native warriors,  he agreed to send a message encouraging the Kentuckians to surrender.  When they received the message,  they balked.  Feeling themselves on the verge of victory,  they believed the battle could be won.  As Private Elias Darnell later recalled,  "Some pleaded with the officers not to surrender,  saying they would rather die on the field!"  Major George Madison of the Kentucky 1st Regiment was committed to holding out long enough to influence the terms of surrender.  After some back and forth with the British,  Madison formerly surrendered.  In short,  Madison had two choices:  to surrender to the British,  or,  as he put it,  "be massacred in cold blood."
Though the battle was costly for the British Regulars and the Canadian militia,  whose combined losses accounted for nearly a third of their forces at Frenchtown,  the losses for the U.S.  forces was a disaster.  Of the 934 who heard the morning's reveille,  all but the 33 who managed to escape to the Maumee were either dead,  wounded,  or prisoners of war.  
Farmstead of Jean  (John)  Baptiste Jerome - right next door to the Coutures'.
This was where much of the fighting took place.
Left without sufficient ammunition,  more than 300 Americans were killed Jan. 22,  1813 during the Battle of Frenchtown.
A placard which now stands in the area of where the Jean  (John)  Baptiste Jerome home stood.
It was on January 22  that Captain Couture,  who,  just three weeks earlier enjoyed the New Year's celebration at his home,  was killed during the second Battle of the River Raisin while reinforcing the right wing of the U.S.  Army.  His son Medard hid his father's body near their home to prevent mutilation.  Catherine and their young children found refuge across the river at the home of Colonel Francois Navarre and were deeply shocked when a Native warrior entered the home on the morning of January 23 wearing the bloodied coat of their beloved husband and father,  confirming their worst fears.
Approximate location between Couture house and Jerome house.
The bloody fighting that went on here... 
After a sleepless night,  during the early morning hours of January 23,  "...the able-bodied prisoners began readying their wounded comrades for the trip to  (British)  Fort Amherstburg.  By this time,  however,  the Canadians and Indian guards already knew that no such journey would take place;  a pre-dawn council of Natives had determined to complete the victory by the U.S.  surrender to the British.  The Canadian guards departed Frenchtown upon hearing of the Native decision,  since they had no real authority over their Indian allies' actions.  The news of the Natives intentions was conveyed to U.S.  Captain Nathaniel Hart,  who was one of the wounded,  and was told,  "They intend to kill you."  When asked if intervention for the prevention might occur,  the interpreter stated that doing so would effectively make him an ally to the U.S.  and thus  "they will as soon kill  (me)  as you."  
The event that became known as the  "River Raisin Massacre"  was not a sudden burst of collective violence.  It began with a deliberate taking of valuables and able-bodies captives,  then soon turned into the killing of the most severely wounded survivors of the previous day's battles.  According to witness accounts from habitants and prisoners,  in the first hour or so after daybreak the number of Native Warriors that had some in to Frenchtown was fairly small---with the few who spoke English engaging with some of the men who were taking care of the wounded.  As Dr.  Bower described,  "They did not molest any person or thing upon their first approach,  but kept sauntering about until there were a large number collected,  at which time they commenced plundering the houses of the inhabitants and the massacre of the wounded prisoners."  Even then,  the killing followed a method that,  however brutal,  might be described in a way that the wounded who could not travel were the primary victims,  and they were killed with a suddenness that betrayed little or no emotion.  The same could be said of the looting,  the taking of able-bodied prisoners,  and the burning of buildings and structures---behaviors that were described as a kind of  "orderly conduct."  A sense of deliberate order did not diminish,  and perhaps intensified,  the sense of horror that many survivors would later describe;  the most vivid recollections related to the systematic nature of the killings and resulting treatment of the remains.  Men were killed with just one or two blows,  their bodies quickly stripped of clothing and often scalped,  and the bloody corpse left where it had fallen.  Elias Darnell recalled that in places the ground was  "strewed with the mangled bodies,  and all of them were left like those slain in battle,  on the 22nd,  for birds and beasts to tear in pieces and devour."
Farmstead of  George McDougal- right next door to the Jeromes'
While Captain Couture's son Medard tended U.S.  wounded in the nearby Jerome house,  a Native warrior captured him.  Ottawa Chief Waugon recognized Medard,  threw a blanket over him and declared,  "His father lies dead in the yard,  he is now my son."  Chief Waugon saved Medard's life,  but the Couture family buildings were looted and burned.
All of the structures and buildings that had survived the previous days' battles were destroyed,  leaving the core area of Frenchtown in ruins. 
Painting courtesy of the American Battlefield Trust
Approximate location of the McDougal house with the battlefield

Partially built farmstead of  Hubert Lacroix - right next door to the McDougals

Approximate location of the Lacroix house

The homes in the previous photos would have been along this field.
The resulting massacre of American prisoners at the hands of Native Americans on January 23,  1813 inspired Kentucky soldiers to enlist,  heeding the new rally cry  "Remember the River Raisin!" 
This picture was taken directly across the filed from where the previous photos were taken - this was where the British were lined up.
Over the next several days,  most of the surviving prisoners were either turned over to the British at Amherstburg or ransomed in the streets of Detroit.  Several were taken to their captors' villages,  some being as near as River Rouge and others as far as the Straits of Mackinac.  These men could expect two fates:  kind treatment and adoption by the kin of one of their own who had died previously at the hands of a U.S.  soldier,  thus filling a place of the deceased,  or killed as atonement.  In either case the decision about their fate was generally left to the nearest female kin of the deceased.

Artist Tim Kurtz'  peaceful rendering of the homes as they looked before being destroyed.
The Battle ended in what was described as a  "national calamity"  by then General  (and later President of the United States)  William Henry Harrison.  Frenchtown was a desolate settlement for eight months following the battle.  American dead were left unburied due to Indian threats;  and more homes were burned and plundered.  The River Raisin was liberated on September 27,  1813,  when Colonel Richard M. Johnson's Kentucky cavalry,  guided by men from the Raisin,  rode into the settlement.  The Americans continued their march north,  liberating Detroit and destroying the British-Canadian-Indian coalition in the west at the battle of the Thames,  or as Canadians call it,  the battle of Moraviantown  (near present-day Chatham,  Ontario),  on October 5,  1813.  The battle cry,  "Remember the Raisin!"  with graphics depicting the horrors that occurred in January was so powerful that revenge was sought,  and inspired a massive U.S.  victory at the Battle of the Thames,  which sealed the War of 1812 in the western theater for the U.S.,  claiming the life of the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh,  and resulted in the end the American Indian Confederation.  The Aftermath of the Battles resulted in the implementation of Indian removal from the Northwest Territory at the conclusion of the War of 1812,  an aftermath that continues to influence the United States today.
The Battle of Frenchtown,  also called the Battle of the River Raisin,  was one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812.

It is unfortunate that we learn so little about the French & Indian War and the War of 1812 when they were actually so important in our Nation's history.
Here is your chance to rectify one of those situations:
We support Greenfield Village & the Henry Ford MuseumCrossroads Village,  The Detroit Historical Museum,  Detroit's Historic Fort Wayne...and we should support River Raisin Battlefield through visitation and donations.  I only wish I had known of this history before.  You can bet the kids in my classroom will know about it.

If you enjoyed this,  please consider visiting the River Raisin Battlefield.  Also,  please consider donating to help support the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  They are working to bring the battlefields back to the way they looked during the time of the great battle.
The River Raisin National Battlefield Park Education Center lobby will be open effective May 8.  There will be a large art installation celebrating Michigan wildlife and fauna.  
Open House,  with Lacroix Company,  will be May 15.

Also,  HERE is the link to the American Battlefield Trust - preserving battlefields across America.

In March 2021,  my three oldest sons,  one of my daughter-in-laws,  and my three grandkids all ventured to the River Raisin Battlefield and were given a wonderful tour.  This was the first time for each of us to come here and we were all pretty excited to see Michigan history in such a way that can't be seen anywhere else.
My family and I at the River Raisin Battlefield in March 2021.
This was pretty cool.
I thank the powers-that-be for all they did to make this such a wonderfully historical trip.

Some of the information came from HERE
Click HERE for more sourced information
Of course,  our tour guides,  Marty & Rusty,  were pretty darned awesome!

And after your battlefield tour,  please make sure you visit the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post just about five miles up the road.  Built in 1789,  it is the oldest native-to-Michigan structure in the lower peninsula:
Visit the 18th century! 
No cost!

And just for my own curiosity's sake,  I learned that since 1775,  the United States has been involved in about a dozen wars:  
Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
The Great War  (World War I)
World War II
Korean War
Viet Nam War
The Gulf War
War In Afghanistan
Iraq War

Until next time,  see you in time.

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

Olde Dame Holly said...

I vaguely remember learning a few facts and dates in U.S. History class in high school about the War of 1812. How I wish that re-enacters and living historians had been a part of my education! I do recall a presentation by a gentleman who had a manual rope-making machine at a fair; out of the whole semester, that is most vivid to my mind, and I still retain a working knowledge of how to create a 3-stranded sisal rope. Especially with the interruption of COVID into our times, our students (and populace at large!) could really use the boost of seeing living historians presenting material that is difficult to retain.