The War of 1812: Battle At The River Raisin

Jan 23, 2013

MSU historian Roger Rosentreter returns today to help us remember an important battle in the War of 1812: the Battle at the River Raisin, 200 years ago this week.

It was the bloodiest battle ever on Michigan soil. Roger Rosentreter

The war had begun the summer before with much American optimism, but instead, there was failure on nearly every front. In August came the surrender of Detroit, followed by a push to re-capture the city.

Rosentreter says the Battle at the River Raisin near present-day Monroe, known at the time as Frenchtown, was an even bigger disaster.

American Commander James Winchester was a 61-year-old Revolutionary War veteran. Against the direct orders of General William Henry Harrison, Winchester decided to take a force of about 1,500 men to Monroe. He had heard there were supplies there, and that there was a British force persecuting Americans there.

He succeeded in kicking the British out, but then things turned bad.

Rosentreter says Winchester should have either left the area, or positioned his troops in case the British came back. The British returned with a force about the same size as Winchester's, and Winchester was captured.

British Commander Henry Proctor told Winchester that he needed to surrender his entire force, adding that the 800 Indians at his command would become beyond his control. Winchester ordered everyone to lay down their arms.

Fearing that more Americans were coming, Proctor took everyone who could walk to the Detroit River, crossed the ice, and went to Fort Malden, leaving behind 80 wounded American soldiers. The plan was to send sleighs back to get the wounded, but instead, Indians returned and dozens of the wounded were murdered. It became known as the River Raisin Massacre.

The cry of "Remember the River Raisin" spurred American forces to what would become the revenge of the Battle of the Thames near present-day Chatham later in 1813.