Battle of Frenchtown
Battle of Frenchtown Part of the War of 1812
The River Raisin National Battlefield Park in July 2010
Date January 18–23, 1813 Location Frenchtown, Michigan Territory
Result Decisive British / Native American victory Belligerents United Kingdom
United States Commanders and leaders Henry Procter
Strength 800 Native Americans
Approximately 1,000 Casualties and losses British
3 killed in battle on the 18th, unknown losses on the 23rd
547 captured (30-100 of whom were killed in ensuing massacre)Detroit frontier
The Battle of Frenchtown, also known as the Battle of the River Raisin or the River Raisin Massacre, was a series of conflicts that took place from January 18–23, 1813 during the War of 1812. It was fought between the United States and a British and Native American alliance near the River Raisin in Frenchtown, Michigan Territory (present-day Monroe, Michigan).
On January 18, 1813 the Americans forced the retreat of the British and Native Americans in a minor skirmish, as part of a larger plan to advance north and retake the city of Detroit following the loss of the city in the Siege of Detroit in the previous summer. Despite the initial American success, the British and Native Americans launched a surprise counterattack four days later on January 22. Three hundred and ninety-seven Americans were killed in this second conflict, while hundreds were taken prisoner and dozens more of these were killed in a subsequent massacre by celebratory Native Americans the following day. It was the deadliest conflict ever on Michigan soil, and the casualties included the highest number of Americans killed in a single battle during the War of 1812.
Parts of the original battlefield have recently been designated as the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, which is still awaiting inclusion as a national battlefield park on the National Park Service.
The Battle of Frenchtown is so named because it took place within Frenchtown, in the Michigan Territory, although much of the land on which it took place is now incorporated within the city of Monroe. The name is sometimes used to refer solely to the conflict that took place on January 22, 1813, while the conflict that took place on January 18 is sometimes referred to as the First Battle of the River Raisin or as merely a prelude to the larger conflict on January 22. The plural term Battles of Frenchtown is also used to refer to the overall conflict between January 18–22. While the battle began on January 18, the heaviest of fighting started on January 22 and may have continued for several days.
The encounter is often called the Battle of the River Raisin, because of its proximity to the River Raisin. This name was once common but has somewhat fallen into disuse. The engagement may be divided into the First Battle of the River Raisin (January 18) and the Second Battle of the River Raisin (January 22). The name River Raisin Massacre is used for January 23, one day after the official surrender, when pro-British Native Americans murdered dozens of wounded Kentucky volunteers who were too injured to march as prisoners. The entire affair, including the massacre, is most widely known simply as the Battle of Frenchtown.
On August 17, 1812, Brigadier General William Hull, commanding the American Army of the Northwest, surrendered his troops and Fort Detroit to the British following the Siege of Detroit. The British success convinced many Native Americans to side with them. General Hull was later tried by a military court and sentenced to death for his disgraceful conduct at Detroit. However, President James Madison commuted the sentence to dismissal from the army in recognition of Hull’s honorable service during American Revolution.
At the time, Fort Erie was an important outpost that could allow the Americans to invade British Upper Canada. Its capture instead allowed British forces to increase their numbers in the Michigan Territory. After the British seized Detroit, the militia surrounding Frenchtown also surrendered and were disarmed. Being only 25 miles (40 km) south of Fort Detroit, the native residents of Frenchtown feared threats from the British and Native Americans, who were now settled in the area. The residents of Frenchtown urged their army to regroup to push the opposing forces back into Upper Canada.
After Hull's dismissal, Brigadier General James Winchester was given command of the Army of the Northwest. However, rather than pushing north to attempt to retake Detroit, Winchester had a lesser agenda, and his unpopularity led to the command of the army being given to Major General William Henry Harrison. Winchester was bumped to second-in-command. Harrison's first plan of action upon receiving command was to move the army north to retake Detroit. To achieve this, he split the army and personally led one column, while the second column was under the command of Winchester. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Henry Procter, commanding the division of the British Army around Detroit, assembled all the British troops in the area, along around with around 500 allied Native Americans under the command of Shawnee leader Tecumseh. While Tecumseh had a presence in Frenchtown, he would not participate in any fighting around Frenchtown.
First Battle of the River Raisin
First Battle of the River Raisin Part of the War of 1812 Date January 18, 1813 Location Frenchtown, Michigan Territory
Result Strategic American victory Belligerents United Kingdom
United States Commanders and leaders Ebenezer Reynolds William Lewis Strength 200 Potawatomies
63 Canadian Militia
600 Kentucky militiamen
Casualties and losses 1 Militiaman and 3 Indians killed 13 killed 54 wounded
James Winchester, the second-in-command of the Army of the Northwest, commanded a column consisting of approximately 1,000 untrained regulars and volunteers, most of whom came from Kentucky. He had been ordered by Major General William Henry Harrison to remain within supporting distance of Harrison's own column near the Maumee River (in present-day Perrysburg, Ohio) about 30 miles (48 km) south of Frenchtown. Instead, Winchester sent a small relief detachment north to Frenchtown along the River Raisin at the request of the Frenchtown citizens, contrary to Harrison's orders.
Lieutenant Colonel William Lewis led this detachment across the frozen Maumee River and up the coast of Lake Erie to the River Raisin. This detachment consisted of 667 Kentuckians and nearly 100 Frenchmen. On January 18, 1813, Lewis and his detachment charged across the frozen River Raisin toward the British and Native American camp, which contained 63 soldiers of the Essex Militia, including a 3-pounder cannon, and 200 Potawatomies. A brief conflict ensued, where reportedly the Canadians attempted to break the American lines several times withouth losing their gun before the Americans forced the British and Native Americans to retreat. Fighting continued for several hours, during which Lewis cleared the area of Frenchtown of opposition. This minor skirmish would later be known as the First Battle of the River Raisin.
During their retreat from Frenchtown, the angered Native Americans ransacked the small northerly settlement of Sandy Creek about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the River Raisin, which had first been settled in 1780. All 16 houses in the small settlement were burned to the ground, and at least two residents were killed. The settlement was never rebuilt.
Second Battle of the River Raisin
Second Battle of the River Raisin Part of the War of 1812 Date January 22, 1813 Location Frenchtown, Michigan Territory
Result Decisive British / Native American victory Belligerents United Kingdom
United States Commanders and leaders Henry Procter
Strength 800 Native Americans
Approximately 1,000 Casualties and losses British
Following the recapture of Frenchtown from the British and Native Americans, Brigadier General James Winchester and his remaining troops from the south met with Colonel Lewis two days later on January 20, 1813. Although Winchester had acted without orders from Major General William Henry Harrison, Harrison was pleased with Lewis’ success at Frenchtown. Harrison was also worried that the British might regroup and overpower Winchester’s small force and ordered additional troops, including part of the 17th U.S. Infantry, to move to Frenchtown rather than ordering Winchester to retreat. He sent a message to Winchester telling him to hold his ground and prepare for further combat.
Winchester's soldiers were largely unprepared and inexperienced, as the First Battle of the River Raisin was the first conflict many of them had fought. In addition, Winchester's planning was suspect. Sufficient ammunition and other supplies had not been brought forward from the Maumee River. The palisade surrounding the town had not been strengthened, and the regulars of the 17th U.S. Infantry were encamped outside it. A few days after the first battle, local residents reported that a large British force was heading toward Frenchtown. Winchester dismissed those reports, saying that it would be "some days" before the British "would be ready to do anything." His troops were scattered throughout Frenchtown. Without ensuring that sentries and pickets had been set, Winchester retired to the headquarters at the Navarre House some distance south of the town for the night.
On hearing of the American recapture of Frenchtown, Brigadier General Henry Procter, commanding the British troops around Detroit, gathered his troops from Fort Malden and crossed the Detroit River from Upper Canada. His forces consisted of 597 regulars from the 41st Regiment of Foot and Royal Newfoundland Fencibles, and 800 Native Americans. While Shawnee leader Tecumseh was in the area and was the pre-eminent personality in the alliance of Native American tribes fighting alongside the British, he was not present at the Battle of Frenchtown. He left command of the Native American forces to Wyandot chiefs Roundhead and Walk-in-the-Water. The Native American forces consisted of a mix of Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Chippewa, Delaware, Miami, Winnebago, Creek, Sauk, and Fox tribes. Procter's force also included six light 3-pounder guns drawn on sledges. Procter's troops and the Native Americans halted about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of the River Raisin to organise on January 21.
While the Americans were on guard that night for a suspected counterattack, the British and Native Americans sneaked down from the north and surprised the American before sunrise on January 22. Canadian volunteer John Richardson, serving with the 41st Regiment of Foot, later said of this surprise attack, "On the 22nd, before daybreak, came within sight of the enemy... such was their security and negligence that... our line was actually half formed within musket shot of their defenses before they were even aware of our presence." General Winchester was awakened by the sound of artillery fire and rushed to the battlefield. He was quickly captured by Native Americans. Chief Roundhead stripped him of his clothing before handing him to the British, which led to the legend that he was captured in his nightshirt. The American forces were largely scattered and out of position. The 17 U.S. Infantry, caught in the open, eventually broke and fled. Their Colonel, William Allen was killed and scalped. Dozens of American soldiers tried to surrender and laid down their weapons, only to be shot or tomahawked by the Native Americans. Other unprepared Americans tried to retreat but were chased down and killed. Some Americans removed their shoes and ran through the snow in their stockings to leave deceptive footprints and managed to escape. The British commanders were occupying a large barn in the vicinity, but the barn was set on fire by William Orlando Butler, who narrowly escaped death and forced them from their holdout.
The Kentucky Rifle Regiment held out in the town. They had shot down many British artillerymen and infantry, but they were running short of ammunition. Winchester was urged by Procter to order his remaining forces to surrender, or they would eventually all be killed and Frenchtown burned to the ground. Procter originally demanded an unconditional surrender and refused Winchester's counter-proposals of terms since Winchester was already a captive. However, American Major George Madison, still active on the battlefield, convinced Procter to allow a surrender on the condition that all surviving Americans would be protected as prisoners of war. When they saw the British waving a white flag, the Kentucky riflemen were confused and thought that the flag represented a call for a truce. Unfortunately for them, the British carried a message from the captured General Winchester, who was surrendering their army. The Kentuckians originally refused this call for surrender and were prepared to fight to the death, but George Madison issued a formal declaration of surrender after about three hours of fighting.
Following the American surrender, the British made several attempts to persuade the Native Americans to destroy the settlement of Frenchtown, but the Potawatomi refused to allow this since they originally gave the land to the settlers and did not wish to inflict more harm upon them.
River Raisin Massacre
Immediately following the American surrender, some of the Kentuckians argued with their officers that "they would rather die on the field" than surrender, fearing that their surrender would lead to their eventual deaths anyway at the hands of their captors. However, the fighting ceased immediately following their surrender. At least 300 Americans were initially estimated as killed, and over 500 were taken as prisoners. Procter, unsure of what do with so many prisoners, wanted to make a hasty retreat in case that William Henry Harrison would send more troops to the area once word of Winchester's defeat reached him. The uninjured prisoners were marched north and then across the frozen Detroit River to Fort Malden, but the wounded prisoners unable to walk were left behind at Frenchtown. Procter had to wait another day for sleds to arrive to transport the wounded American prisoners, but he feared that more Americans were on the way from the south.
However, on the morning of January 23, the Native Americans began robbing and pillaging the injured Americans. Any American able to walk was marched away toward Fort Malden, while many of the more severely injured were left behind and simply murdered. The buildings that housed the wounded were set on fire. Those that could escape the burning buildings were murdered as they tried to flee, and those unable to move died in the fires. While the prisoners were marched north toward Detroit, those unable to keep up with the march were inhumanely murdered as well. An account from a survivor read, "The road was for miles strewed with the mangled bodies." Estimates of the numbers of wounded killed by Native Americans range from 30 to as high as 100.
The needless slaughter of the American wounded became known as the River Raisin Massacre, and the precise number of those killed after their surrender at the Battle of Frenchtown is unknown. The Americans were so upset by this that the massacre itself overshadowed the actual battle, and word of the River Raisin Massacre spread throughout the country. The massacre was particularly devastating for the state of Kentucky, which supplied many soldiers that fell during the Battle of Frenchtown and subsequent massacre. The rallying cry "Remember the River Raisin" prompted many Kentuckians to enlist immediately for service in the war.
While it is not known how many soldiers died during the First Battle of the River Raisin on January 18, 1813, official counts list 397 Americans killed and 27 wounded during the January 22 conflict. Also, figures of those that were killed during the subsequent River Raisin Massacre are also unknown but estimates are as high as 100 killed. Two weeks after the battle, Brigadier General James Winchester reported that 547 of his men were taken as prisoners and only 33 completely escaped the battlefield. Many of those that were held as prisoners were detained at Fort Malden until the end of the war over two years later. Winchester himself was imprisoned for over a year before being released and reassigned to service.
James Winchester largely bore the responsibility for the devastating loss at Frenchtown. His ill-prepared defensive planning following the successful First Battle of the River Raisin led to the defeat of his army and the high number of deaths his column suffered. Had Winchester retreated to the Maumee River to rejoin with William Henry Harrison's column, they could have strengthened their numbers and marched back to Frenchtown with the necessary troops and preparedness to fight the British and Native Americans. Instead, Winchester remained in Frenchtown with his small force despite advanced knowledge of a British and Native American counterattack. He was also unaware that Harrison's troops were on their way and would arrive shortly. During the Second Battle of the River Raisin, Winchester was captured rather early into the battle and surrendered his army at the urging of Henry Procter. While his army suffered heavy losses at the start of the surprise attack, the Kentuckians regrouped and had fought off three waves of British lines to protect their camp, although they were very low on ammunition when the order of surrender came from Winchester. Had the Americans prolonged the battle long enough for Harrison's column to arrive at Frenchtown, the outcome of the battle could have changed.
The British reported that only 24 were killed and 161 wounded, but the Native American casualties were not documented. Immediately following the battle, Procter, fearing that William Henry Harrison would send more Americans to Frenchtown, made a hasty retreat slightly north to Brownstown. Harrison was forced to call off his winter campaign to retake Detroit, which remained in British hands until an American victory at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813 allowed for the recapture of Detroit. As for Frenchtown, it remained a stronghold for the British until Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson from Kentucky led his cavalry to liberate Frenchtown on September 27, 1813. The retreating British were pushed back into Upper Canada and were defeated at the Battle of the Thames on October 5.
- Allen County (after Lieutenant Colonel John Allen)
- Ballard County (after Major Bland Ballard)
- Edmonson County (after Captain John Edmonson)
- Graves County (after Major Benjamin F. Graves)
- Hart County (after Captain Nathaniel G. S. Hart)
- Hickman County (after Captain Paschal Hickman)
- McCracken County (after Captain Virgil McCracken)
- Meade County (after Captain James M. Meade)
- Simpson County (after Captain John Simpson)
Several streets in Monroe near the battle site have been named in honor of those that fought in the Battle of Frenchtown, including Kentucky Avenue and Winchester Street. To further honor the heroism of those from Kentucky that fought in the Battle of Frenchtown, the state of Michigan erected a monument in downtown Monroe in 1904. The monument is located on the west side of South Monroe Street (M-125) at the corner of 7th Street. Also, on this site lay the unidentified remains of some of the victims who died in the battle and the subsequent massacre. The core area where the battle took place was listed as a Michigan Historic Site on February 18, 1956. The location of the site is bounded by North Dixie Highway, the River Raisin, Detroit Avenue, and Mason Run Creek.
The site was recognized nationally when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 10, 1982. The River Raisin National Battlefield Park was signed into law on March 30, 2009 with the passing of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. Once the park receives the funding necessary for completion, it will be included on the National Park Service as one of only four National Battlefield Parks in the United States.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Floral City Images (2010). "Battle of Frenchtown, also known as the Battle of the River Raisin". http://www.riverraisinbattlefield.org/the_battles.htm. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- ^ Eaton, John (2000). Returns of Killed and Wounded in Battles or Engagements with Indians and British and Mexican Troops, 1790–1848, Compiled by Lt. Col J. H. Eaton. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. p. 7.
- ^ a b c d e William Dunbar and George May (1995). Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 130–131. ISBN 0-8028-7055-4.
- ^ Janiskee, B. (2009). "The New River Raisin National Battlefield Park Highlights One of the Bloodiest Conflicts of a Seldom Mentioned War". http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2009/12/new-river-raisin-national-battlefield-park-highlights-one-bloodiest-conflicts-seldom-mentioned-war5060. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
- ^ a b Monroe Evening News staff (March 31, 2009). "Battlefield bill signing celebrated". Monroe Evening News (Monroe, Michigan). http://www.monroenews.com/article/20090331/NEWS01/703319972/-1/NEWS. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
- ^ a b Historical Marker Database (2010). "First Battle of the River Raisin historic marker". http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=27660. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- ^ a b c d City of Monroe (2009). "Battles of the River Raisin". http://www.co.monroe.mi.us/government/departments_offices/museum/the_battles_of_the_river_raisin.html. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
- ^ a b c City of Monroe (2010). "River Raisin Battlefield". http://www.co.monroe.mi.us/government/departments_offices/museum/docs/River_Raisin_Battlefield_Brochure.pdf. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
- ^ Elting, John (1995). Amateurs to Arms. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-306-80653-3.
- ^ a b Floral City Images (2010). "Setting the Stage". http://www.riverraisinbattlefield.org/warof1812.htm. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- ^ Naveaux, Ralph. "Biography of Lt. Cornel William Lewis". http://www.riverraisinbattlefield.org/biographies/lewis_bio.htm. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- ^ a b c d Hutchinson, Craig and Kimberly (2004). Monroe: The Early Years. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 19–30. ISBN 0-306-80653-3.
- ^ Historical Marker Database (2010). "Sandy Creek". http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?MarkerID=27245&Print=1. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- ^ a b Elting, p.61
- ^ Monroe Co. Library System (2009). "Sawyer House". http://monroe.lib.mi.us/community_info_organizations_sawyer_homestead.htm. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
- ^ a b Antal, Sandy (1997). A Wampum Denied: Procter's War of 1812. Carleton University Press. p. 174. ISBN 0-87013-443-4.
- ^ River Raisin National Battlefield Park historic marker Roundhead
- ^ River Raisin National Battlefield Park historic marker Battles of the River Raisin
- ^ Coles, Harry L. (1966). The War of 1812. University of Chicago Press. p. 116. ISBN 0226113507. http://books.google.com/books?id=_TcEUZRa9a4C. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
- ^ Young, Bennett Henderson (1903). Battle of the Thames: in which Kentuckians defeated the British, French, and Indians, October 5, 1813, with a list of the officers and privates who won the victory. J.P. Morton. p. 23. http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=kyetexts;cc=kyetexts;rgn=full%20text;view=toc;idno=b92-56-27063367. Retrieved January 25, 2009.
- ^ a b c Monroe Co. Historical Commission historic marker The American Surrender
- ^ River Raisin National Battlefield Park historic marker After the Battle
- ^ Monroe Art League (2010). "The River Raisin Massacre". http://www.monroeartleague.com/river_raisin_massacre.htm. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
- ^ ThinkQuest Team (1998). "Battle of Frenchtown". http://library.thinkquest.org/22916/french.html. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
- ^ Kleber, John (1992). The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813117720.
- ^ River Raisin National Battlefield Park historic marker Skirmish Line
- ^ State of Michigan (2009). "River Raisin Battlefield Site". http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/hso/sites/10358.htm. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
- ^ Google Maps (2010). "The River Raisin Battlefield Site". http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.913611,-83.378333&spn=0.01,0.01&t=m&q=41.913611,-83.378333%28User:Notorious4life/Pending%20article%29. Retrieved July 15, 2010.
- ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-07-11. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html.
- ^ Congressional Research Service (March 30, 2009). "Summary of H. R. 146 as of becoming Public Law No. 111-11". http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:HR00146:@@@D&summ2=m&. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
- ^ John Dingell (Jan 15, 2009). "Senate Vote Moves River Raisin Battlefield National Park Closer to Reality". http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/mi15_dingell/090115raisin.shtml. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
Kentucky in the War of 1812
- Official battlefield site
- Description of the battle at the city of Monroe website
- River Raisin Battlefield brochure
People Places Miscellaneous
- Battle of Frenchtown
- The Hunters of Kentucky
- Spur's Defeat
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