War of 1812: The River Raisin Massacre, January 23, 1813

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After General Winchester surrendered to end the Battle of Frenchtown (Raisin River), wounded American soldiers were slaughtered by frenzied tribal warriors.

When Brigadier General James Winchester ended the Battle of Frenchtown (Battle of Raisin River) on January 22, 1813, by surrendering to the British, nearly 700 Kentucky soldiers initially refused to surrender. They had suffered very few casualties and held a strong defensive position behind a picket fence. Every British attempt to assault their position had been repulsed. Perhaps remembering the fate of the soldiers in Chicago whose surrender led to the Fort Dearborn Massacre the previous August, the Kentuckians only agreed to lay down their arms after Colonel Henry Procter, leading the British forces, guaranteed them protection from the rampaging native warriors.

The British Make a Hasty Retreat

Fearing that the rest of William Henry Harrison’s army would attack, the battered British forces withdrew eighteen miles to Brownstown on their way to Fort Amherstburg in Malden. They took all of the American prisoners with them, except for 60-100 badly wounded soldiers. Sleds were required to move immobilized patients through the snow, and the British claimed to have only enough for their own wounded. Colonel Procter promised to return with more sleds the next day.

Two doctors and a few volunteer attendants remained behind to tend the wounded. British Captain William Elliot and three interpreters served as a weak guard to protect the wounded from the tribesmen, who were pillaging Frenchtown. Warriors looted the American camp and plundered the wounded soldiers. After stripping the commissary’s house of all its valuables, they set it on fire; however, the British officers and American attendants quickly extinguished it.

A sleepless night ensued while individual warriors continued to search the town for more loot and attempted to enter the homes with the wounded. Towards dawn, when the town was peaceful and the last of the tribal warriors had left, the British guard quietly slipped away and followed their army towards Malden.

American Soldiers are Massacred at Raisin River

When the sun rose over Frenchtown on January 23, 1813, the Americans left behind by the retreating British forces were hopeful. They expected to see British troops returning with the promised sleds, or perhaps even the arrival of General William Henry Harrison and his army. Instead, towards 10 o’clock that morning a war party with painted faces strode into town. They entered the houses where the wounded were being treated, stripped the men of their blankets and clothes, and then ordered them outside.

As the naked, wounded soldiers attempted to hobble or crawl outside, the warriors set fire to the houses. Some of the wounded died horribly in the flames. Many who escaped the fires were subsequently shot or tomahawked and then scalped, tortured, and mutilated.

The warriors plundered the settlers’ homes and then burned many of them. Gathering together the few soldiers left alive, the natives marched them towards Malden. Along the way, any American soldier who fell behind the march was butchered. Few survived.

Results of the Battle of Frenchtown (Battle of Raisin River)

General Winchester advanced half of his army, approximately 1,000 soldiers, to defend Frenchtown. After the action was over and the British withdrew to Fort Amherstburg, only 33 men rejoined the Army of the Northwest. Atrocities committed during the rout of the American right wing and the massacre on the following day resulted in 397 soldiers killed. Only 27 of the wounded survived. The remaining 547 soldiers were taken prisoner, including General Winchester and Colonel Lewis. Abandoning his attempt to recapture Fort Detroit after the loss of nearly half his army, General William Henry Harrison withdrew to Ohio and built Fort Meigs.

During the winter of 1813, the United States began developing a new strategy to win the war. “Remember the Raisin!” became their rallying cry.