The Shawnee scouting for the Americans moved up the Maumee River ahead of General Winchester. They discovered that Roundhead and Muir had left the area and were headed back to Canada. However, the area was infested with pro-British warriors. On October 8th Captain Lewis, Logan and a few other scouts were attacked by Main Poc and a large party of Potawatomi. They escaped without injury beating a hasty retreat back to the American lines.
For the next two months Captain Lewis, Logan, Captain Johnny, Bright Horn, The Wolf and a few other Ohio Shawnee ranged across the region of northwestern Ohio sending intelligence back to the Big Knives. It was doubly dangerous work. They not only had to contend with roving enemy war parties but also roaming detachments of Big Knives who were carrying out Harrison’s orders to clear the area of First Nations people. The Big Knives were randomly destroying all First Nations’ towns they came across, burning them to the ground and destroying their winter supplies of corn. The Americans, especially the Militia, did not distinguish between enemy or friendly “Indians” but operated on the axiom “any dead Indian is a good Indian.”
In the third week of November Shawnee scouts were gathering intelligence on the rapids of the Maumee when they were attacked by an enemy war party. They all managed to escape but Captain Johnny, Logan and Bright Horn became separated from the others and spent the night eluding the enemy by hiding out in the thick Ohioan forest. The three made their way back to the main American camp but their late arrival cast suspicions on them. They were accused of being captured by the enemy and had secured their safe release by providing intelligence on American troop numbers and movements.
The three left the Big Knives camp on November 22nd moving up the Maumee on foot. They intended to prove their loyalty by bringing back either a prisoner or scalps. Some distance up the river on the north bank they encountered s a war party of Potawatomi and Ottawa travelling on horseback. It was led by Winamek and Alexander Elliott who was the son of the old British Indian Agent Matthew Elliott.
The American scouts tried a rouse. They pretended to be pro-British Shawnee trying to get back to Tecumseh’s forces on the Wabash. Winamek and Elliott were suspicious, especially Winamek because one of the three looked strangely familiar. However, they offered to escort them to the British camp. During the trip they kept them under close guard but did not take their guns.
Along the way it dawned on Winamek who the familiar looking Shawnee was. It was Logan so he suggested to Elliott in private that they be disarmed and bound. But he was overheard and the threesome suddenly opened fire killing Winamek,Elliott and one of the Ottawa warriors and wounding another. They seized the dead men’s horses and raced back down the Maumee to the Big Knives camp but they did not escape unharmed. Logan was shot in the abdomen and Bright Horn was wounded in the arm. Bright Horn would recover but on November 24th Logan succumbed to his injury.
By this time winter had set in. Winchester was inching his way down the Maumee to his ordered rendezvous point at the rapids. It was bitter cold and they were ill equipped. Many were suffering from various degrees of frost bite. Most of his Kentucky volunteers had arrived in the early fall with only summer clothing. The regulars were short of winter supplies as well. He had to deal with much complaining from the troops about the slow progress and lack of action as well as a high desertion rate. Even the threat of having to “ride the wooden horse”, a most barbaric punishment, failed to discourage defectors. Deserters who were caught were made to straddle a two-by-four or small log while two soldiers shook it violently up and down causing the prisoner extreme pain. This was not exactly what the men had signed up for!
Finally on January 10, 1813 they arrived at the rapids. Harrison had suggested to Winchester that he wait and not move forward but he did not order it. On June the 13th desperate appeals arrived for help from “marauding Indians” from Frenchtown a small village on the River Raisin some forty miles up the trail towards Detroit. The British had a small garrison of men there along with one hundred or so warriors.
Winchester held a council with his officers and all agreed to act on the calls for assistance. After all, the British only had a small force there which could easily be overwhelmed and any victory over the British after the disasters of Michilimackinac, Detroit and Queenston would instantly make national heroes out of those who claimed it. Besides, their supply line back to Amherstburg or Detroit was choked with deep snow. Frenchtown was the only community south of Detroit and would make the perfect site for launching an all out offensive across the frozen Detroit River to take Fort Malden. Winchester “seized the moment”.
On January 17th Winchester sent Colonel Will Lewis forward with 350 troops hastily followed by Colonel John Allen with 110 more. They reached the Raisin on January 18th and quickly dispatched the 200 British Militia and their 400 warrior allies but at a cost of thirteen killed and fifty-four wounded. They set up camp in the midst of the village, some twenty houses set out in rows on the north bank of the frozen river. Behind the row houses were garden plots protected on three sides by a row of pickets made of split logs sharpened on the top ends. The east side of the area was open leaving a large part of the American line vulnerable. They settled in to wait for Winchester to arrive with the rest of the western branch of Harrison’s army.
Winchester arrived on the 20th of January with another 350 soldiers raising the total to over 800 Kentucky Militia and 175 regulars. Winchester settled himself in at a house on the south side of the river about a quarter mile from the main bivouac and no one gave a second thought to a possible British response!
General Proctor received word that the Americans had taken Frenchtown and were amassing troops there. He had to make a decision and make it on his own. Communication lines were down because of the winter conditions. Proctor was a slow, plodding man not quick to make any hasty decisions. But this time he acted out of character. Perhaps he was inspired by his former commanding officer Isaac Brock. He called to muster every available man and crossed the frozen Detroit leaving the invitation for all First Nations warriors to join them. Roundhead sent war belts to the scattered encampments around Amherstburg. Many of the warriors that had been gathering there were Potawatomi who had been displaced by Winchester’s Kentucky marauders and Miami who had suffered the depredations at Mississinewa.
Trudging through the deep snow on the 21st of January Proctor’s force of 597 men and three six pounders were passed by Roundhead and Splitlog’s 700 warriors on snowshoes gliding over the deep snow drifts covering Hull’s road between Detroit and Frenchtown. Winchester got word of the advancing horde but chose to ignore it not believing they would attempt such a difficult trek.
The town was laid out on the east side of the road. The warriors arrived first in the early hours of January 22nd intent on retribution for the atrocities committed in the fall against their villages. Splitlog and Walk-In-The-Water left the roadway on the west side swinging around to attack from the west. Roundhead did the opposite. After positioning themselves they crouched waiting for Proctor to arrive which he did just before dawn.
The Essex Militia led by John Baptiste Askin joined Splitlog on the west side of the town. The old Shawnee war chief Bluejacket now in his sixties was with them. Proctor setup his battle line of regulars between Roundhead and Splitlog’s warriors and placed his six cannons in the front. The Big Knives were now surrounded on three sides with only the frozen Raisin to their backs. The attack began at the morning’s first light.
The sound of gunfire and the flash of muskets filled the air. The roar of Proctor’s cannons only added to the din. Winchester arrived disheveled his uniform had been quickly pulled over his nightshirt. The American right line had crumpled under Roundhead’s relentless fire. Winchester along with Allen and Lewis tried vainly to rally the troops and form a new line but they were forced back across the river’s slick ice.
Suddenly panic set in. The right line had devolved in a chaotic rush for the road to the west and escape. Many cast their arms aside as they bound through the deep snow pursued by Roundhead’s screeching warriors. Many of the Big Knives were caught and shot or tomahawked on the spot. Allen did not survive. Wounded in the leg he had limped off for a couple of miles but could go no further. A Potawatomi chief, probably Blackbird, also known as Le Tourneau, noticed his officer’s uniform and signaled to another warrior he wanted to take Allen prisoner but the other warrior moved in for the kill. Allen lunged at the wild eyed warrior with his sword running him through. The chief then shot Allen dead and took his scalp.
Winchester and Lewis fared better. They were captured and brought to Roundhead. The warriors demanding their payback wanted him to execute Winchester at once but Roundhead saw the value in keeping the American General alive and took both officers to Proctor.
The warriors were in a most foul mood exacting a take-no-prisoner policy. Unarmed prisoners were being shot or tomahawked then scalped one after the other in front of Winchester and Lewis. This prompted Winchester to sign a note ordering Major George Madison who was commanding the Kentucky Militia on the American left to surrender even though they were holding well and returning fire from behind the pickets. Madison would not comply unless Proctor personally agreed to protect them from the warrior’s fury. He did but later broke that promise.
The fighting ended and the tallies were done. Proctor suffered heavy casualties considering the advantage he held for the whole battle. He lost twenty-four killed and 158 wounded. The high rate was mostly attributable to his placement of his cannons. By placing them in front of his line he opened it up to Americans firing at the big guns and the gunners were left vulnerable to their own regulars who were behind them. For this he was censured but still promoted to Brigadier-General.
American casualties were worse at 300 killed and twenty-seven wounded. The balance of Winchester’s army except for thirty-three who escaped were taken prisoner including Winchester himself. One of the escapees, a Private John J. Brice, did so by discarding his shoes so that his tracks in the snow looked like a warrior’s wearing moccasins. He was the first to make it back to the Maumee and deliver the distressing news. Harrison was despondent. His entire left wing had been annihilated and his invasion plan stopped dead in its tracks.
Proctor feared an imagined approach of Harrison leading an overwhelming army. He bivouacked the American wounded in several of the town’s houses under a very light guard. When he began loading Canadian casualties on sleighs for the haul back to Amherstburg the American surgeon inquired as to why the American sick and wounded were being left behind. Proctor responded that there were not enough sleighs and he must take care of his own first. So the surgeon complained about the light guard given the number of warriors there and their mood. Proctor is said to have replied “the Indians make excellent doctors”.
The U.S. Army surgeon was right. Proctor should have left a reasonable guard for the Kentucky wounded. Part of the booty from the victory at Frenchtown was the town’s supply of liquor and a few of the young warriors drank more than their fair share. Angry and inebriated they began to go from house to house taking out their anger on the sick and wounded prisoners. Their chiefs tried to intervene but were unable to control the enraged young men.
Sometime during the night the light guard, a Major Reynolds plus three interpreters slipped away. A warrior appeared in the room of one of the wounded soldiers speaking fluent English. This could very well have been Wawanosh, a young Ojibwa from Aamjiwnaang, who was known to have an excellent command of the English language. He was asking for intelligence on Harrison’s movements and strength. When he left he made the off handed remark that he was sorry but some of the more mischievous young men would be doing some bad deeds that night. It was a prelude of things to come.
By the morning the warriors were ransacking the homes for loot. They were looking especially for more whiskey. They begin to strip the sick and wounded of their clothing and in their excitement, fueled by liquor and their hatred for the Big Knives, began to shoot or tomahawk then scalp the helpless Kentuckians.
Captain Nathaniel Hart wounded, half dressed and barefoot was dragged from the home where he was being cared for. While awaiting his fate he recognized one of the warriors surrounding him as the English speaking one from the night before. He knew that he would recognize the name of William Elliott, Matthew Elliott’s son. William was a captain in the Essex Militia so Hart exclaimed that William had promised to send his personal sleigh remove him to his home at Amherstburg. The bilingual warrior replied that Elliott had lied and there would be no rescue. Hart made him an offer. Take him to Amherstburg and he would give him a horse and one hundred dollars. The warrior replied that he could not because he was too badly wounded. Then what were their intentions inquired Hart. The reply was chilling. You are all to be killed!
The massacre lasted most of the morning as the drunken, infuriated warriors moved from house to house looting and killing. When the macabre news reached the Americans it was another in a long line of interracial incidents that helped solidify their hatred of First Nations people. This particular incident gave rise to the battle call of the Kentucky Militia, “Remember the Raisin!”
NEXT WEEK: Queenston Heights