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Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada


Battle of Frenchtown

Battles of Frenchtown (River Raisin), by David Curtis Skaggs. Taken from: Encyclopedia of the War of 1812,D.S. Heidler & J.T. Heidler, eds. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-Clio, Inc, 1997.

Following the surrender of Detroit in the summer of 1812, President James Madison organized the Northwestern Army commanded by Major General William Henry Harrison. He thought he could win back the critical outpost by a winter campaign and sent Brigadier General James Winchester and an advance party of untrained regulars and volunteers, mostly from Kentucky, to establish a base camp at the Maumee River Rapids (modern Perrysburg, Ohio). Against Harrison's orders, but at the request of local citizens whose village had been pillaged and occupied by the British and Indians, Winchester advanced to the hamlet of Frenchtown (modern Monroe, Michigan). There he dispersed a small British detachment on 18 January 1813.

Learning of this dangerous threat to his security, Colonel Henry Procter, commander of the British forces in the Detroit River region, quickly organized a counterattack. He gathered troops from Fort Malden, most from the 41st Foot and local militiamen, and a body of Indians led by the Wyandot Chief Roundhead. Procter crossed the Detroit River to Brownstown, bringing his artillery with him over the ice. His total force was approximately 1,300 compared to Winchester's 934. Winchester failed to provide adequate security and dispersed his troops throughout the village situated on the River Raisin.

On 22 January, a combination of artillery fire and Indian attack surprised and crushed the hastily formed U.S. right. Winchester was captured as he tried to join his forces from his comfortable farmhouse quarters some distance from the battlefield. Even though his left wing was giving a good account of itself, Winchester surrendered the whole force to avoid a massacre of his troops. Of the Americans engaged only 23 escaped death or capture. When Procter withdrew 25 miles to Brownstown (modern Trenton, Mi.), he left wounded prisoners in Frenchtown under Indian guard. The Indians executed between 30 to 60 (depending upon the source) of these men. The U.S. press called it the River Raisin Massacre.

The brief engagement (sometimes called the Battle of the River Raisin) had important consequences. It forced Harrison to cancel his winter offensive. Instead, he began construction of Fort Meigs at the Maumee Rapids and awaited the outcome of Oliver Hazard Perry's efforts to eliminate British control of Lake Erie. "Remember the River Raisin" became a western rallying cry and aided recruiting efforts for Harrison's 1813 campaign that ended with the Battle of the Thames.

General Winchester's conduct infuriated frontiersmen and increased anti-regular sentiment in the West. Procter received a brigadier generalship, but his inability to control the Indians brought severe censure upon him by many of his own officers as well as his opponents.

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