Remember the Raisin

Most of us recall ‘Remember the Alamo’ as a famous American battle cry dating from the 1830’s  Texas War of Independence from Mexico. Unremembered now, was the earlier military slogan, ‘Remember the Raisin,’ from the War of 1812.

Was the War of 1812 about the United States trying to add Canada to the Union? Early in the war, the United States forces invaded Canada three separate times, each failed. One of the U.S. invasions foundered when American militia refused to advance stating they were only authorized to defend the country, not invade another one. An American attack in 1813 succeeded in taking the City of York (now Toronto). American troops engaged in looting and arson but did not advance further.

Perhaps the War of 1812 was a second American Revolutionary War, preventing the British from re-conquering their former colonies. British forces invaded America several times. In 1812 they captured Detroit when the Americans, under General Hull, surrendered without a fight. General Hull was later court-martialed and sentenced to death for cowardice, although President Madison commuted the penalty.

Several other British invasion attempts in Ohio and Upstate New York failed. After Napoleon’s 1814 abdication, the British concentrated their forces against the United States. They took Washington DC and burned it, perhaps in revenge for the American sack of York. The British next attacked Baltimore. Their Navy was unable to destroy Fort McHenry through cannon fire leaving Baltimore in American hands. The final British invasion occurred in early 1815 when their attack on New Orleans was devastated by American forces under General Andrew Jackson.

The Native Americans generally allied with the British during the War of 1812. American settlers were moving west from the original colonies into the ‘Northwest Territories,’ the modern-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Native Americans resisted these settlers, aided in part, by British arms and supplies. They participated in several battles against the United States.

South of Detroit was a town on the River Raisin named ‘Frenchtown,’ farmed by Americans of French Canadian descent. Two battles occurred here, several days apart. In January 1813, the United States mounted an expedition from Ohio to retake Detroit. American forces included a large contingent of Kentucky volunteers. In the first battle, the Americans took the town from a small British and Native American army. Several days later, in the second battle, a bigger force of Native Americans and British soldiers counterattacked. The Americans were unprepared and poorly led by General James Winchester. They surrendered after suffering significant casualties. It was the greatest American defeat in the War of 1812 with virtually their entire force killed, wounded, or captured. Over 10% of all American combat deaths in the War of 1812 occurred in this battle. Many of the casualties were from Kentucky, which named several counties after officers killed in this battle.

Kentucky Memorial to Remember the Raisin

Kentucky Memorial to Remember the Raisin

The prisoners were taken into captivity, but soldiers too wounded to move were left in Frenchtown overnight awaiting British sleds for transportation. However, the British abandoned the American wounded, and then Native Americans robbed and killed them, burning some alive in houses where they lay. Estimates range from 50 to 100 were slaughtered. News of the massacre spread, perhaps exaggerated by war-time propaganda. The British maintained possession of Frenchtown and Detroit from January 1813 until September 1813 when the U.S. defeated the British Navy on Lake Erie. The British supply lines were now blockaded, and they retreated into Ontario, Canada. American forces, stirred by the rallying cry, ‘Remember the Raisin,’ pursued and defeated the combined British /Native America forces in battle killing the inspirational Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.

The War of 1812 officially was a draw between the Americans and British as the treaty ending the War of 1812 restored the ‘Status Quo Ante,’ i.e., no boundaries changed as a result of the war. However, the Native Americans east of the Mississippi were no longer able to resist American expansion with the loss of their former British Allies. They signed treaties ceding most of their land and were eventually forcibly relocated west of the Mississippi. For them, ‘Remember the Raisin’ and the War of 1812 was a loss.

Howard TanzmanComment