War of 1812 bicentennial: Battle of Frenchtown
February 8, 2013
As the year 1813 began, the War of 1812 was still in its early stage. Britain was occupied with European matters and could not send any sizable land or naval forces to the conflict in North America. The United States had the strategic initiative and planned to recapture Detroit and invade Canada over Lake Ontario.
In January 1813, a 1000-man American force advanced to Frenchtown (today, Monroe, Michigan), a Canadian outpost on the Raisin River, 26 miles south of Detroit. The US commander, Revolutionary War veteran Brig. Gen. James Winchester, pushed out the Canadians and set up a camp. However, the Americans were not prepared for any follow-on action: they ignored intelligence from the local populace, they did not place sentries and pickets, the camp was spread out and the position was not improved.
Four days later, on Jan. 22, Col. Henry Proctor, commander of the British forces in the Detroit River area, led approximately 525 regulars (41st Regiment of Foot) and Canadian militia reinforced by approximately 800 Indian allies on a surprise counterattack.
The 250 untrained troops from the U.S. 17th Infantry Regiment were quickly routed along with 200 local militia and volunteers from Kentucky.
Approximately 500 other Kentucky riflemen volunteers fought well, but were soon low on ammunition. These were ordered by Gen. Winchester, who was already captured, to cease fighting.
About 400 Americans were killed and 500 captured. The prisoners, who could walk,
were hastily marched to Fort Malden in Canada. Sixty wounded remained in settler buildings in Frenchtown. Only about 30 soldiers managed to escape from the action.
After the British departed with the prisoners, the wounded were left to the mercies of the Native Americans. Some were killed outright; others were trapped in buildings that were set afire, others were taken for ransom.
The Battle of Frenchtown, also called the Battle of the River Raisin, was one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812. The rallying cry, "Remember the River Raisin" inspired the Americans to victory at the nearby Battle of the Thames in October 1813.