Kuron: Remember the RaisinWritten by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Usually, I try to begin these columns with some clever anecdote from my life, which hopefully relates somewhat humorously to the 1812 subject at hand. But on today’s topic, with recent news still fresh in mind, I find little to make light of. Like you, I’m still reeling from the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementray and other similar mass murders. Irrational episodes like these are labeled a “massacre” in our society and unfortunately they have occurred throughout history. In 1813, the country was rattled by one that took place in nearby Monroe, Mich.
On Jan. 22, 1813, the Americans battled the British/Indian alliance along the River Raisin. Today, less is remembered about the battle than of the events afterward. This is evident by the fact that historically the event is referred to more often as the River Raisin Massacre, rather than the River Raisin Battle.
Along this river, where grapes grew in abundance, a small French community had developed. In January 1813 a British contingent appeared and made camp near the town. Unnerved by this presence, the civilians solicited help from the American troops approaching from the south. Gen. James Winchester, second in command of the Northwest army, sent troops and secured the Frenchtown area.
At Fort Malden, just 30 miles away across the frozen Detroit River, word of the conflict reached the British commander, Gen. Henry Procter. Immediately, additional troops were sent to the Raisin. After their victory, the Americans should have retreated to the Maumee rapids where Gen. Harry Harrison was amassing more troops for an assault on Fort Detroit, but Winchester decided to stay. Four days later, a superior British and Indian force attacked. Though they made a fight of it, a reluctant American surrender was agreed to on Winchester’s order — issued while he was a captured prisoner.
The British did not have enough sleds to transport the many severely wounded American POWs and so Winchester’s surrender came with one critical condition — that Procter provide British guards over the POWs left on-site until additional sleds arrived. Fresh in Winchester’s mind was news of a massacre at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) just a few months earlier. There, Indians had ambushed Americans, brutally killing defenseless women and children. He would not tolerate anything like that potentially happening here, where ruthless Indians were known to conspire. Procter promised the protection, and then he reneged.
Prisoners able to walk were herded off to Malden while the seriously wounded were left alone nervously awaiting those promised sleds. They never came. The helpless POWs survived the night without incident, but suddenly, about mid-morning, insanity arrived in the form of several inebriated warriors. They looted any goods they could find and abducted any men still healthy enough to be worth something in trade. The rest of the men, deemed worthless, became sport for these possessed ghouls.
From one house rose the stench of burning flesh, the home having been torched while full of wounded men who had no ability to move and hence no recourse. A few were seen inching desperately to a doorway only to finally succumb to the flames.
Other injured men were dragged out of houses screaming in agony. They were repeatedly kicked and thrown about the grounds for amusement before finally being scalped, tomahawked and left for the roaming wild hogs to feast upon their bodies.
One survivor recalled a startling moment during this affair that occurred while talking to a fellow prisoner seated directly across from him. With no warning or apparent cause, a Native American casually walked up to the man and planted an ax in his skull.
Wounded prisoners who faltered on the march to Malden were not tolerated. Dozens were left where they fell and slowly died in the snow. Stretched over several miles, their bleached bones were found by American troops months later.
Most of these mutilated men were actually boys — only a few of them older than 18 and most were from Kentucky. It’s nearly impossible to find good coming from massacres like this, but the horror witnessed here stirred the country, and the Kentuckians in particular, to contribute fiercely to the war effort. Their resolve to be victorious reached new heights and henceforth their battle cry and sentiment was “Remember the Raisin.”
- The River Raisin National Battlefield Park will commemorate the Bicentennial of the Battle of the River Raisin on Jan. 19-20. Several ceremonies and presentations are scheduled throughout the weekend. Visit their website for more information at www.nps.gov/rira/index.htm
- Fort Meigs will host the next presentation in a monthly Bentley Lecture Series on Jan. 17. Martin Land, a Fort Meigs volunteer, will speak on “The March to Fort Meigs”. The presentation is free and meets in the Fort Meigs Visitor Center, 29100 W. River Road in Perrysburg at 7:30 p.m.
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.