Please, pleeeeaaaaaase – we’re begging you! No more forts or battlefields – no more old places! This whining from the backseat of our station wagon became all too familiar to my parents as our pleading fell on deaf ears. I only wish I had appreciated our American history back then like I do now. Heck – I could have been a famous historian with all of the knowledge I was offered at a young age. Oh well. Better late than never.
Today’s lesson, class, is about a battlefield. Now before you quickly “x” out of my blog, hear me out. I promise, I will not bore you with copy and pasted information from Wikipedia. My goal is to bring you interesting and different information about the locations I visit. Something that you will remember and possibly throw out casually at a dinner party or standing in line at the grocery store. Let’s set the stage…
My visit to the River Raisin National Battlefield Park (U.S. National Park Service) was part of a field trip that I took with the Stoney Creek Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I’ve been a member of the DAR since 2005 (Illinois, Texas and now Michigan) and would like to give props to my Revolutionary War ancestor, Captain Jehiel Munger from Massachusets (b1737-d1817). The Stoney Creek Chapter is a great group of women who not only love what the DAR stands for but also like to have fun. This was my first trip with the ladies and an easy way of celebrating the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service. I’m telling you folks – make it a point to find a National Park and go enjoy! If anything, you can purchase one of the National Park passports and get it stamped every time you visit one. So cool.
The battlefield is located in Monoe, Michigan which is 35 miles southwest of Detroit, almost in Ohio. Now Monroe wasn’t always called Monroe. The area was first occupied by Native Americans (no shock there), including the historic Potawatomi. The area was then settled along the banks of the River Raisin somewhere around 1784 by French Canadians, and Frenchtown was born. What’s with the name of the river – River Raisin? Grapes, grapes and more grapes – wild grapes growing along the banks.
Now here is where I could really bog you down with all kinds of dates, names, and number of casualties. As I promised, I do not want to do that. But I do want to relay to you the sadness in the voice of the park ranger as she presented the information about the battle.
Here’s what it comes down to: From January 18 to January 23, 1813, the north bank of the River Raisin became a fierce battleground where the forces of the US and Great Britain fought each other for the control of all of Michigan and the Lower Great Lakes. The Battle of Frenchtown (aka Battle of the River Raisin) was the largest battle fought on Michigan soil mainly due to the supply line from Frenchtown to Detroit being cut off by the British and the Indians. The stakes were huge.
The British and Indian victory at the River Raisin destroyed an entire American army and upset their campaign to recapture Detroit from the British. It also raised Native American’s hopes that their alliance with the British would result in the preservation of their lands, which as we know, it did not. While not a turning point of the war of 1812, the Battle of the River Raisin had a significant effect on the campaign for the Great Lakes. It would take a full 9 months for US forces to regain their momentum. In the meantime, Frenchtown was left a disaster and the Ohio frontier was exposed to invasion and raids by the British and Indians.
There, I tried to summarize the best I could – that wasn’t so bad. But imagine for a moment this tiny area in southeast Michigan was host to the largest, bloodiest defeats in America during the war of 1812. Yet, it was the largest victory in Native American Indian history. Hundred of families of the Kentucky militia grieved for their sons lost in battle and its aftermath. This same militia who left Kentucky in August of 1812, spent months marching to the site, arriving in tattered clothes, no shoes and terrible conditions in January of 1813, just to do battle and lose terribly.
This war was ugly all the way around. You may have noticed that I used the word “aftermath” in the previous paragraph. It’s understood that the Indians would seek revenge for the Indian lives lost during the previous day’s fighting. All courtesies are thrown out the window during these times. It is written that the day after the battle, the Indians invaded buildings that housed the wounded and began stripping them of their belongings, taking some captive and murdering the more seriously wounded. They set buildings on fire that housed the wounded and killed those that were able to escape. Later that day, the Indians and captured Kentuckians left the Frenchtown settlement. Those who were able to keep up (according to one survivor) were butchered along the way. “The road was for miles strewed with the mangled bodies”. Estimates of the number of wounded who were actually murdered by the Indians on January 23 range from half a dozen to 30 or 40. The massacre of wounded soldiers the day after the battle shocked and enraged Americans throughout the Old Northwest Territory. The rallying cry “Remember the Raisin” was born.
I understand now why the park ranger wasn’t exactly smiling and animated during her presentation. This is a very sad story in American history. And you may be thinking – why is Margaret bumming me out with this? Just trying to relay the importance of sacrifices people, sacrifices.
I took off for the battleground area after the presentation and tried to imagine what these men went through as I walked around the peaceful grounds. All of them – American, British, Native American. Several of the landmark signs set the tone about what happened during the battle. These green metal signs with gold letters can be so stark and sad. I was walking the same ground as those soldiers in 1813. Just imagine how different our country might be if one battle outcome went the other way.
Time to snap out of my historical daydreaming and realize that a cute squirrel had been starring at me for awhile.
For years, the battlefield grounds were really just an afterthought; hardly treated as sacred ground where soldiers had lost their lives. A paper mill occupied the area until the 1990’s. Paper mill employees would find war artifacts scattered throughout the area and put them in their offices. Finally, the historical society stepped in, said enough is enough and bought the property for preservation sake. They petitioned the National Park Service and officially began operation as a national park unit in 2010. Out of four National Battlefield Parks in the country, it is the only one marking a site of the War of 1812.
A sonar was brought onto the grounds where original fence post locations were found as well as remnants of basements. Human remains were found as part of a cemetery as well as scattered throughout the area. This is hallowed grounds; thank you to those who made sure that this battlefield and those fighting on it will be remembered.
Very productive, eye opening and informative adventure today. Learned some American history, broke bread with some fun ladies and enjoyed a beautiful day and a national park. Oh, and got a cool stamp in my park’s passport book.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you found some interesting tidbits that you can dazzle your friends and co-workers with. Don’t forget to click the “Follow Blog Via Email” link so that you can watch for updates. Later! And – Remember the Raisin!