H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

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cumstances forbade, proceed to Detroit. The government was
compelled, in consequence of the taking of that place, to trans-
port artillery and public stores at an enormous expense across
the mountains, and down the Ohio; and afterwards to the dif-
ferent forts. This necessarily consumed much time, and de-
layed the operations of the army.

In the meanwhile, general Winchester continued at Fort De-
fiance, w^ith about eight hundred men; many of the volunteers
having returned home on the expiration of their term of service.
Those who remained were chiefly from Kentucky, and the
greater part ranked amongst its most respectable citizens.
Early in the month of January, General Winchester received
intimations from the inhabitants of the village of Frenchtown,
which is situated on the river Raisin, between the Rapids and
Detroit, that a large body of British and Indians were about to
concentrate at this point, for the purpose of preventing the fur-
ther progress of the Americans. 'Fhe inhabitants, becoming
alarmed at their situation, besought the Americans to march to
their protection, as they would probably i)e exposed to the
horrors of Indian massacre, in the midst of ferocious savages,
whom the British were obliged to indulge, that they might be
kept in good humour. Threats against them had, besides,
been thrown out by one of the Indian chiefs. The sensibility
of the young American vohintcers, officers and privates, was
strongly excited ; and they earnestly besouglu the general to
lead them to the defence of the distressed inhabitants. With
some reluctance, he yielded to tiieir wislies, and, contrary to
the general plan of the commaiider-inciiief, resolved to send a
force to their relief. Accordingly, on the 17th of January,
he detached a body of men under colonels Lewis and Allen,
with orders lo wait at Presque Isle, until joined by the main

On their arrival, information was received that an advance
party of British and Indians had already taken possession of
Frenchtown. It was determined to march instantly and attack
them. As they drew near, the enemy became apprised of their
approach, and prepared for their reception. Colonel Allen com-
manded the right wing, major Graves the left, and major Madison
the centre. On coming to the river, which was bridged with
ice, they displayed, and moved forward under a lire from a
howitzer and musketry. Majors Graves and Madison, with
their battalions, were ordered to dislodge the enemy from the
houses and picketing, whicli they in a moment effected, under
a shower of bullets, and drove the British and Indians lo the
woods. Colonel Allen made a simultaneous movement upon


Defeat of the British and Indians Winchester arrives with Reinforcements.

their left, and after several spirited charges compelled these to
take to tiie wood also. Here, availing themselves of the fences
and fallen timber, they attempted to make a stand; but were
attacked a second time, and after a conflict more obstinate than
the first, again fled. They now attempted to draw their pur-
suers into a wood; and partly succeeding, they charged in turn
furiously, but were unable to break the American line. A
severe conflict now ensued, but the enemy were finally beaten,
pursued with a continual charge for several miles, and entirely
dispersed. The American loss was twelve killed, and fifty-five
wounded: that of the enemy could not well be ascertained, but
fifteen of the Indians were left on the field. The volunteers,
having thus gallantly effected their object, encamped on the
spot, where they remained until the 20th, when they were
joined by General Winchester. With this addition, their whole
force exceeded seven hundred and fifty men.

Six hundred men were placed within a line of pickets, and the
remainder, to the number of one hundred and fifty, encamped
in the open field. On the morning of the 22d, a combined force
of about fifteen hundred men, under Proctor and the Indian chiefs
Round-Head and Split-Log, suddenly attacked our little army.
They were in an instant read}^ for the reception of the enemy,
who planted six pieces of artillery, and opened a heavy fire,
accompanied with musketry, against the slight breast-work of
pickets. The body of men belonging to the encampment, and
composing the right wing, was soon overpowered by numbers,
and endeavoured to retreat across the river. Two companies
of fifty men each, seeing the situation of tlieir comrades, sallied
out of the breast-work to their relief, but were obliged to retreat
with them. Nearly all these unfortunate men were either cut
off, or surrendered themselves prisoners to the British, under pro-
mise of protection. The left wing within the pickets, still con-
tinued a cool and steady resistance. Three successive assaults
were made by the British Forty-first, but they were driven
back, with the loss of thirty killed and one hundred v/ounded.
When the right wing broke at the commencement of the action,
great efforts had been made by general Winchester and colonel
Lewis, to rally and bring them within the picjcets ; but in the
attempt these officers were taken prisoners. Notwithstanding
these misfortunes, and the overwhelming force which assailed
them on every side, they still continued, with firmness and de-
termination seldom surpassed, to repulse every assault of the
enemy, until eleven o'clock in the day ; making prodigious
slaughter in his ranks.

Finding at length that it would be vain to contend openly


Surrender at the River Raisin.

wiih such men, resolved to defend themselves to the last, and
that even if they had now been successful, their victory would
have been dearly bought, tlie enemy attempted to prevail on
them to surrender. The general was told by colonel l^roctor,
that unless his men surrendered, they would be delivered over
to the fury of the savages, or what amounts to tlie same thing,
no responsibility would be taken for their conduct, and that
the houses of the Tillage would be burnt. The general sent a
flag communicating tliese particulars, and staling that in order
to preserve the remainder of Ins brave troops, he liad agreed
to surrender them as prisoners of war, on condition of their
being protected from the savages, of their being allowed to
retain their private property, and of liaving their side arms
returned them. The flag passed three times ; the Americans be-
ing unwilling to surrender with arms in tlieir hands, until they
received a positive engagement from a British colonel that they
should not be murilered, and that they should have the privilege
of burying their dead. Thirty-five officers, and four hundred
and fifty non-comsnissioned officers and men, still remained,
after fighting six hours against artillery, surrounded by the
yells of a thousand savages, waiting like wolves for their prey.
At this time the killed, wounded and missing, of the little army,
including those that had been outside the pickets, amounted to
more than three hundred. The loss of the British could not
have been less. The little bund, thus solicited by their general,
and giving way to that ray of hope which the bravest in despe-
rate situations will seize, at last consented to a surrender.

The office of the historian sometimes imposes a melancholy
duty. The mind may be allowed to indulge a generous satis-
faction, in recording those actions wiiere a high, but mistaken
ambition calls forth our energies at the expense of humanity.
Who can read without admiring, the retreat of the ten thousand
Greeks, and what heart can be insensilile to the recital of the
fate of Leonidas and his immortal band ! The virtues of such
men, their fortitude, their love of country, their unconquerable
minds, give a sanctity to their fate ; and while we grieve for
them, we rejoice that we also are men. Far otherwise, when
we trace, in characters of blood, the cold, deliberate, fiendlike
depravity, which assimilates men to the most odious and fero-
cious of the brute creation.

The task I must now fulfil is painful; I must speak of such
things as 1 almost shudder to name ; neitlier can it be done
without tearing open the yet bleeding wounds of my country.
But faithful history forbids that they should be passed over in
silence ; they must stand forth in all the awfulness of truth :


Cruelty of the British and Indians at the River Raisin.

and that impartial judgment must be passed upon them, which
will doom them to the detestation of ail posterity. The ven-
geance of heaven does not sleep. There is a measure of retri-
butive justice even in this world, which soon or late overtakes
the swiftest guilt. Not the most infuriated passions of the worst
times, ever caused the perpetration of more shocking cruel-
ties than were now practised towards this band of brave men.
Impelled by feelings of humanity, they had marched to protect
the feeble and the helpless from savage violence : and assailed by
overwhelming numbers, they might have contended to the last
man ; but yielding to the solicitations of their captured general,
and to the threats of the conflagration of the village and the murder
of its inhabitants, they surrendered in an evil hour to a faithless
and treacherous foe, that they might be consigned to cruel suf-
fering, to butchery, to murder, to unrelenting torture, to every
species of savage death. Well might those disposed to wage
such a war, wish to destroy the pen of history. Would, for the
honour of Britain ; would, for the sake of liumanity ; would, for
the sake of our common relationship to a nation which pos-
sesses so many virtues, that the odious tale of the river Raisin
and Frenchtown, might be consigned to eternal oblivion ! But
it cannot be. The sacred call of truth must be obeyed. The
savage and wanton massacre of our heroic countrymen, in the
presence of a British officer, has not been denied, or palliated.
Other atrocities the perpetrators have attempted to cover, by
some flimsy veil of unsubstantial excuse ; but this charge has
always been met with silence. They have not dared directly
to deny ; and, gracious Heaven, wiiere could they find an ex-
cuse !

Scarcely had the Americans surrendered, under the stipu-
lation of protection from the British officer, than our brave
citizens discovered, too late, that they were reserved to be
butchered in cold blood. Of the right wing, but a small num-
ber had escaped; the work of scalping and stripping the dead,
and murdering those who could no longer resist, was suffered
to go on without restraint. The infernal work was now to
begin with those who had so bravely defended themselves.
The infamous Proctor and the British officers turned a deaf ear
to the just remonstrances of these unhappy men. Contrary to
express stipulation, the swords were taken from the sides of the
officers; and many of them stripped almost naked, and robbed.
The brave dead were stripped and scalped, and their bodies
shockingly mutilated. The tomahawk put an end at once to
the sufl'erings of many of the wounded, who could not rise ; in
allusion to which, some days afterwards, a British officer ob-


Cruelty of the British and Indians at the River Raisin.

served, " The Indians are excellent doctors." The prisoners,
who now remained, with but a few exceptions, instead of being
guarded by British soldiers, were delivered to the charge of the
Indians, to be marched in the rear of the army to Maiden.
This was, in other words, a full permission to indulge their
savage thirst for blood ; and in this they were not disappointed ;
for the greater part of these ill fated men were murdered on the
way, through mere wantonness. All such as became too weak
for want of nourishment, from excessive fatigue, from their
wounds, in this most inclement season of the year, were at
once despatched. But small was the remnant of this little army,
that ever reached the British garrison ; the greater part of the
prisoners had been carried off by the Indians, that they might
satiate their fiendlike hatred by roasting them at the stake; or
if reserved, it was to gratify their cupidity, by rendering them
the objects of traffic. Alas! what heart does not shrink with
horror, from llie recapitulation !

About sixty of the wounded, many of them officers of dis-
tinction, or individuals of much respectability, had been suflered
to take slielter in the houses of tlie inhabitants, and two of their
own surgeons permitted by Proctor to attend them, from whom
they also obtained a promise that a guard sliould be placed to
protect them, and that they should be carried to INIalden the
next morning in sleds. But this affected humanity, was but
an aggravation of his cruelty, by awakening a hope which he
intended to disappoint. No guard of soldiers was left, and on
the next day, instead of sleds to convey them to a place of
safety, a party of Indians returned to the field of battle, fell upon
these poor wounded men, plundered them of their clothing, and
every article of any value which remained, tomahawked the
greater part of them, and, to finish the scene, fired the houses,
and consumed the dying and the dead!

The terrible tale is not yet told. Those rites, which in
every civilized country are held sacred, which are not withheld
from the vilest malefactor, which are paid alike to enemies and
to friends, and for which there existed an express stipulation
with the monster who commanded (a stipulation unnecessary
amongst civilized men) — tiie riles of sepulture, were not
only denied, but the humane inhabitants of the village dared
not perform them under pain of death. And why was this re-
fused ? Because, said Proctor, his majesty's allies would not
permit! Was there any attempt made to bury them? None.
Notwithstanding this, some of the inhabitants, although it
" was as much as their lives were worth," did venture to per-
form this last and pious office to captain Hart, to captain


Cruelty of the British and Indians at the River Raisin.

Woolfolk, and a few others ; but the remainder, nearly two
hundred in number, never had this office performed for them,
until their friends and relatives triumphed in turn, the autumn
following, and then gathered up their bleaching bones and laid
them in one common grave. 'Hieir mangled bodies had been
suffered to lie on the ground exposed to the ferocious beasts of
prey, or to the more horrible pollution of domestic animals.

The tragedy was diversified by the most afflicting scenes of
individual suflering. The fate of the brave and accomplished
captain Hart, a near relative of two of our most distinguished
statesmen (Henry Clay and James Brown), a young gentle-
man of finished education and polished manners, cannot be
related without a tear. He had in a parlicuhir manner distin-
guished himself during the engagement, and had received a
severe wound in the knee. On being surrendered with the
other prisoners, he was recognized by colonel Elliot, a native
of the United States, with whom he Iiad been a classmate at
Princeton, but who had become a British officer and an ally to
the savages. Base indeed must be that man, whose soul, under
such circumstances, would not be touched! Elliot voluntarily
offered his services to the friend of his youth, his countryman,
and promised to take him under his special protection and to
transport him to Maiden ; but whether he changed his mind,
or was forbidden by Proctor, certain it is, that he gave liimself
no further concern on the subject. The next day a party of
Indians came into the room where he lay, and tore him from
his bed ; he was then carried to another apartment by one of
his brother officers, where he soon experienced the same treat-
ment. He then, by the offer of a large sum of money, induced
some Indians to take him to Maiden ; tliey had proceeded but
a short distance, when they dragged him from his horse, shot
him and scalped him. The same species of suffering was un-
dergone by colonel Allen, by captains Hickman, Woolfolk,
and M'CJracken. This ill-fated band was composed of the
flower of Kentucky ; we may name Mr Simpson, a member
of congress, captains Bledsoe, Matson, Hamilton, Williams
and Kelly, and majors Madison and Ballard. With the excep-
tion of three companies of United States infantry under captains
Hightower, Collier and Sebree, they were, all, the volunteers of
that patriotic state. On the evening succeeding the engagement,
rum was distributed to the Indians, for a frolic in which they
were disposed to indulge, and we may easily suppose what
was the nature of their infernal orgies.

Proctor now beginning to fear the infamy attached to his
conduct, offered a price for those whom the Indians still pre-


Humane Conduct of the People of Detroit.

served — those prisoners who had surrendered on the faith of a
capitulation with him, and wliom he ought never to have aban-
doned. The humane inhabitants of Detroit had already exhi-
bited a degree of tenderness and solicitude for their unfortunate
countrymen which will ever entitle them to our gratitude and
esteem. Many of them parted with every thing they possessed
of value, for the purchase of the prisoners ; for, to the disgrace
of the British arms must it be recorded, persons of the Hrst
respectability, who composed tiiis Spartan band, were suffered,
under the eyes of colonel Proctor, to be hawked about the streets
from door to door, and offered for sale like beasts ! The only
restraint on the cruelty of the savage wretches, arose from
permitting them to consult their avarice. Even such prison-
ers as were more fortunate, no matter what their rank or
cliaracter, were treated with every species of contumely and

The conduct of the people of Detroit was such as might have
been expected from humane Americans. 'I'he female sex, ever
the foremost in acts of benevolence to tbe distressed, were parti-
cularly distinguished; they gladly gave their shawls, and even the
blankets from their beds, wJien nothing else remained for them
to give. Mr Woodward, the former judge of the supreme court,
and appointed by the President of tiie United States, a man of
enlightened mind, now openly and boldly remonstrated with
Proctor, and in the manly lone of his injured country depicted
the infamy of the British conduct. " Tiie truth," said he,
*' must undoubtedly eventually ap])ear, and that unfortunate day
must meet the stead}' and impartial eye of history." Those
facts have been established by a cloud of witnesses, and the
appeal of judge Woodward will reach posterity. Let the reader
of this history now remember, that this was but tlie commence-
ment of a series of barbarities, both upon the Atlantic bord and
upon the frontier, which was afterwards systematically pur-
sued : that so far from this having been covered by the base
excuse of retaliation, it is a charge which has never otherwise
been met than with the silence of conscious guilt.

Never did any calamity so deeply affect the sensibilities of a
people. All Kentucky was literally in mourning ; for the
soldiers thus massacred, tortured, burnt, or denied the common
rites of sepulture, were of the most respectable families of the
state ; many of them young men of fortune and distinction,
with numerous friends and relatives.

It would be unjust, in this common anathema, to include all
the British officers : the names of some deserve to be rescued


March of General Harrison.

from this indelible reproach ; major Muir, captains Aikins,
Curtis, Dr Bowen, and the reverend Mr Parrow. Elliot was
also spoken of in favourable terms by the American officers, as
having on some occasions interested himself for the sufT'erers.
Enough has certainly been said on this distressing subject; one
part, however, canfiot be omitted. Proctor, perceiving the
eagerness of the people of Detroit in purchasing the unhappy
captives, actually issued an order prohibiting any further pur-
chases, on the ground that they gave more than the govern-
ment. This officer was afterwards promoted to tlie rank of a
brigadier, in consequence of his good conduct, particularly in
saving the prisoners from the f((rij of the Indians, If any
thing can move indignation, it is this climax of insult. Tlie facts
were afterwards proved to the satisfaction of every one ; but
the British government was silent, instead of making a signal
example of the man who had brought such disgrace upon her

A few days after the affyir, a Dr M'Keehan was despatched
by general Ilarrison for the purpose of attending the sii-k, and
provided with gold to purchase such things as they might want.
The doctor, notwithstanding his flag, his sacred errand, and
an open letter directed to any British officer, stating the object
of his mission, was actually wounded and robbed, then dragged
to Maiden, whence he was taken to Quebec. After the suf-
ferings of several months, having been dragged from place to
place, from dungeon to dungeon, he at length reached home,
with a constitution totally impaired. Such are the distressing
occurrences which it becomes the painful duty of the historian
to record.

The news of this melancholy affair soon after reached general
Harrison, who was on his march with reinforcements to general
Winchester. He had heard with chagrin the movements of
that officer, and apprehensive of the consequence, had ordered
a detachment of three hundred men, under major Cotgreves,
from general Perkins's brigade of Ohio militia, to march to his
relief. Hearing of the disaster, they fell back upon the Rapids,
where general Harrison was then stationed, who retreated to
Carrying river, for the purpose of forming a junction with the
troops in the rear, and favouring the convoy of artillery and
stores then coming from TJj)per Sandusky. He first, however,
despatched a chosen body of one hundred and seventy men for
the purpose of picking up such of the unfortunate fugitives as
might have escaped. The number of these was very small, on
account of the depth of the snow, which rendered it almost im-


Siege of Fort Meigs.

possible for them to make their way. Governor Meigs having
promptly despatched two regiments to the assistance of Hani-
son, the latter again advanced to the Rapids, and immediately
set about constructing a fort, which, in honour of the governor
of Ohio, he named Fort Meigs. Fortifications were at the
same time constructed at Upper Sandusky by general Crooks,
who commanded the Pennsylvania militia. Excepting some
partizan excursions, nothing additional transpired during the
severe winter months. The movement of general Winchester
had entirely deranged the plans of Harrison ; and it was nccrs-
sary to organize a new system. He returned to Ohio, for the
purpose of obtaining an additional force from that stale, and
Kentucky. Towards the beginning of April, he received in-
formation which hastened his return to P'ort Meigs.

The enemy for some time past had been collef'ting in con-
siderable numbers, for the j)urpose of laying siege to this place ;
and as the new levies had not yet arrived, the Pennsylvania
brigade, although its term of service had expired, generously
volunteered for the defence of the fort. Immediately on his
arrival, general Harrison set about making preparations for the
approaching siege, 'i'he fort was situated upon a rising ground,
at the distance of a few hundred yards from the river, the
country on each side of which is chiefly natural meadows. 'I'he
garrison was well supplied with the means of defence, and
Harrison, with unremitted exertions, laboured, night and day,
to improve its capacity for resisting the siege. The assistance
of captains Wood and Gratiot, his princi})al engineers, enabled
him to put in practice whatever was necessary to improve his
fortifications. The troops in the fort, to the number of twelve
hundred, the greater part volunteers, were in high spirits, and
determined to defend themselves to the utmost. On the 28th,
one of the parties constantly kept out for the purpose of noting
tlie advance of the enemy, reported that he was in great force
about three miles below. A few British and Indians showed
themselves on the opposite side ; but a few shot from an eight-
een pounder, compelled them to retire. A despatch was now
sent to hasten the march of general Clay, who was approach-
ing with twelve hundred militia from Kentucky. These brave
people, so much sufferers during the war. were ever the fore-
most to meet danger, and the first to fly to the relief of their

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 10 of 32)