Native Ground, Middle Ground, Battle Ground: The River Raisin, the War of 1812, and the Course of North American History
Mark David Spence, Ph.D. 2019
Centered around lands on the south and north shores of the River Raisin in the City of Monroe, Michigan, and including non-contiguous parcels within Monroe and Wayne counties, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park encompasses sites directly associated with the battles of Frenchtown that occurred on and between January 18 and 23, 1813. These include the First (January 18) and Second (January 22) battles of Frenchtown, and the subsequent killing of wounded American prisoners (January 23). The latter actions also accompanied the destruction of Frenchtown, one of the only French ribbon farm settlements to be established within the territory of the United States after the Revolutionary War. The battles and their aftermath represent a key point in the War of 1812, when the British-Confederacy alliance successfully defended their hold on Michigan Territory and stymied a planned U.S. invasion of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). As such, these events are a high-water mark for the Native Confederacy that had come together—in alliance with British forces—to foster the creation of a distinct American Indian territory to the west and southwest of lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior.
The strategic importance of the events along the River Raisin were further magnified by their disastrous consequences for U.S. forces. In terms of the scale and number of combatants, the battles of Frenchtown are often referred to as the largest conflict to ever occur within the present boundaries of Michigan. Yet the Second Battle of Frenchtown is better known as the deadliest engagement for U.S. forces during the War of 1812. Out of a combined force of approximately 1,000 U.S. Infantry and Kentucky militia, more than 400 died in battle and approximately thirty badly wounded prisoners were killed in the aftermath. Except for thirty-three men who managed to escape on January 22, all the rest were taken prisoner. The number of U.S. dead from the battles of Frenchtown and their aftermath amounts to roughly one-fifth of all U.S. soldiers killed in battle during the War of 1812. Viewed in the United States as a profound tragedy, with the fallen as martyrs in a war against the twin “villainy and tyranny” of American Indians and Great Britain, this loss inspired the spirited cry of “Remember the Raisin!” for U.S. forces in subsequent battles. Among these was the decisive U.S. victory at the Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813) in Upper Canada, where British forces surrendered and the celebrated Shawnee leader Tecumseh was killed.