Tuesday, January 22, 2013

River Raisin 200

Wars are like tree rings -- sometimes they're big, sometimes they're small. Either way, they leave telling evidence of past times just below the surface. To name just a small handful, it's the 200th anniversary of the Napoleonic Wars and the so-called War of 1812 (1812-1815), the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and the 250th anniversary of the Seven Years War (known as the "French and Indian" War in North America). It's the 100th aniversary of the Mexican Revolution and the 200th anniversary of the Mexican War of Independence. And next year, it'll be the 100th anniversary of the Great War of 1914-1918 (World War I) and the 50th anniversary of the US-Vietnam War. They all live on, their effects and reverberations. Support our troops and raise the flag: but which ones?

Last time we checked into the War of 1812, Detroit had been surrendered to a British and First Nation force. In the US, the American commander had been sentenced to be shot for cowardice -- but spared out of pity.

During this entire period, many of the small First Nations were in a fix, with US settlers streaming right into their living rooms. They could try to make deals, play off opposing forces, take sides, move west or south with endlessly more settlers coming right behind them, or fight, fight, fight.

Well before January 1813, Tecumseh had rallied contingents of various First Nations to side with the Anglo-Canadians in and around Michigan.

To Canadians ever since, the War of 1812 meant preventing Canada from being absorbed into the United States.

Americans have tended to make up their own stories about what it all meant.

Besides securing Canada for Canadians, the War of 1812 "opened up" more areas to settlement in the "back country" for Americans. 

For the most part, First Nations eventually had to settle on small reservations (or Reserves, in Canada). However, in their resilient choices while fighting for survival, they gained enough leverage to survive, collectively. This is an often neglected aspect of the "Indian Wars" -- that First Nations and tribes were active players, not passive chess pieces to be moved at will. 

The Battle of Frenchtown or River Raisin took place in late January, 1813. The American commander, Brigadier General James Winchester, occupied Frenchtown (present-day Monroe, Michigan) with about 1,000 mostly untrained men. The British, still holding onto Detroit, came down with a small force of Anglo-Canadians and a larger force of First Nations ( Bodéwadmi / Potawatomi - "keepers of the fire"), took the Americans by partial surprise and routed the main force after a sharp battle on January 22, 1813. As many as half of the approximately 1,000-man US brigade were killed and most of the rest marched off as POWs.

Winchester survived and later retired to a nice house near Gallatin, Tennessee, called Cragfont, that still exists. 

The British departed from Detroit later in 1813, but still held Canada at war's end. 

Tecumseh died in combat on October 5, 1813.

In Michigan, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park opened in 2010. When I last checked it out years ago, it was a modest state park.

Frenchtown was renamed Monroe shortly after the War of 1812. One of the great asses of modern human history, George Armstrong Custer, attended school in Monroe when he was a boy (though mercifully he was an Ohioan, not a Michigander). By now pretty much everyone in North America knows what would later happen to him, thanks to his foolhardy acts after the American Civil War.

Remember the Raisin!

Today's Rune: Warrior.  


1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't often think of how wars leave their marks on our landscapes but they absolutely do. Whoever said that wars never accomplish anything was wrong. They do accomplish stuff, although often not desirable kinds of stuff.