Repositioning History’s Demarcations

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2014-2015, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2014 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, a projectile from a cannon that may or may not have been fired by Edmund Ruffin flew toward Fort Sumter and became the first shot of the Civil War. The Fort Sumter garrison, which consisted of fewer than 100 men, was commanded by Major Robert Anderson and included among its officers Abner Doubleday, the mythical inventor of baseball. After the garrison endured a bombardment of over 30 hours, Anderson agreed to surrender the fort. On April 14 the Fort Sumter garrison evacuated the fort, but not until after the troops fired a salute. During this salute, a cannon misfired and killed Daniel Hough, which gave him the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to die in the Civil War.

For the most part, this very brief account of the battle of Fort Sumter is factual. There is some dispute about whether or not Edmund Ruffin fired the first shot of the Civil War, but there is no dispute that the first shot occurred on April 12, 1861, and there is no dispute that the first person to die in the Civil War was Daniel Hough. Or is there? There are some who claim that the first shot of the Civil War was fired more than three months before shots were fired on Fort Sumter, that this first shot was fired by George Edward Haynsworth, and that the first person to die in the war was Robert L. Holmes.

The alternative account regarding the first shot and the first death of the Civil War begins in late December of 1860 when plans were being made by the U.S. to reinforce and resupply the Fort Sumter garrison. The original plan was for the warship USS Brooklyn to sail to Charleston with troops and supplies. (On a side note, at the battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, it was the Brooklyn that slowed down and caused David Farragut to utter his famous “Damn the torpedoes” quote.) President James Buchanan and his advisors decided that sending a military ship would be provocative, and the War Department instead chartered the side-wheel merchant steamer Star of the West to transport about 200 troops and also small arms, ammunition, and provisions. It was thought that a merchant ship would arouse less suspicion, and the troops on board were to remain below deck once the vessel entered Charleston harbor. Moreover, the Star of the West regularly transported passengers and mail from New York City to points south, including New Orleans and Havana, and it was thought that this would further aid in concealing the true intent of the voyage.

The Star of the West
George Haynsworth

On January 5, 1861, the Star of the West left New York City on its presumed covert mission. However, word of the mission had been conveyed to South Carolina officials by members of Congress who were from southern states, such as fire-eater Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas. By the time the Star of the West reached Charleston on January 9, South Carolina forces were on alert. These forces included cadets from The Citadel military college, who manned guns on Morris Island and in Fort Moultrie. Early on the morning of January 9, Citadel cadet William Simkins, who was on duty as a sentinel on Morris Island, saw the Star of the West enter Charleston harbor. He alerted his comrades, who quickly went to their guns. As the Federal vessel continued to steam toward Fort Sumter, the commander of the cadets, Citadel superintendent Major P.F. Stevens, ordered a shot to be fired across the bow of the oncoming ship. This shot was fired by Citadel cadet George Edward Haynsworth.

The Star of the West continued toward Fort Sumter. More shots were fired from Morris Island, and still more from Fort Moultrie. These shots flew close by the Star of the West, and a few even struck the ship. Although the damage to the merchant ship was slight, she was unarmed and, hence, unable to defend herself. When Captain John McGowan of the Star of the West saw ships approaching from Charleston, he gave the order for his ship to reverse course, and the vessel steamed out of Charleston harbor as the batteries on shore continued to fire until the ship moved out of range. The cannon fire that drove off the Star of the West began with the shot fired by George Haynsworth, which was the first hostile shot fired between a seceded state and the United States, and which preceded the shots on Fort Sumter by more than three months. Haynsworth went on to graduate from The Citadel and serve throughout the entire Civil War. After the war he became a lawyer and then a magistrate. While Haynsworth was serving as a magistrate, two feuding groups of men were brought before him by a sheriff who neglected to disarm the men. At one point these men began shooting at each other in Haynsworth’s office, and Haynsworth was mortally wounded, which brought to a premature end the life of the man who fired the first hostile shot in the armed conflict between secessionists and Unionists.

A drawing from the January 26, 1861 Harper’s Weekly depicting Citadel cadets firing on the Star of the West

The action in Charleston harbor was not to be the last that the Star of the West experienced. For the next few months she was chartered by the War Department as a troop transport. On April 18, 1861, the Star of the West was anchored off the coast of Texas to evacuate Federal troops from that state, but the ship was captured by Texas troops commanded by Earl Van Dorn. The vessel was taken to New Orleans for use as a hospital ship, and after David Farragut captured New Orleans, the Star of the West was moved to Vicksburg. When Union ironclads attempted to come at Vicksburg from the rear via the Tallahatchie River, the Star of the West was sunk broadside in the river to block transit. (As an aside, the Tallahatchie is the river that is mentioned in the song “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry.) After the war, the owners of the Star of the West were paid $175,000 by the U.S. government for their loss. Although the ship was sunk, the Star of the West still exists today. Each year The Citadel presents an award to the winner of its competition for best drilled cadet, and that award is named the Star of the West Medal. The medal was made by Confederate veteran Benjamin Teague and contains a piece of wood from the ship.

There were no casualties as a result of the firing on the Star of the West on January 9, 1861, but there was a casualty that resulted from the Star of the West’s voyage to Charleston. Prior to the ship’s arrival, tensions were very high among the troops who were awaiting the ship that they had been told was on the way to resupply Fort Sumter. On the night of January 7, 1861, two days before the arrival of the Star of the West, a nervous sentinel in Castle Pinckney, a military fortification in Charleston harbor, heard an unidentified man approaching. He raised his musket and called out to the man, but the musket fired accidentally, according to one account because the sentinel dropped the musket. The approaching man was shot in the chest and died in less than half an hour. He was identified as Robert L. Holmes of the Carolina Light Infantry. Holmes had five brothers, and four of them followed him in death during the Civil War. No one disputes that these four brothers died in the Civil War, and there are some who say that the same is true for Robert Holmes, whose death from a shooting accident preceded Daniel Hough’s death from a shooting accident by more than three months.

Sometimes demarcations in history that seem beyond dispute are more murky than they appear. Depending on where these historical demarcations are drawn, something is or is not included in a particular historical event. Maybe the first shot of the Civil War occurred on April 12, 1861, or maybe it happened on January 9, 1861. Maybe this first shot was fired by Edmund Ruffin, or maybe George Haynsworth fired the first shot of the war. Maybe the first person to die in the Civil War was Daniel Hough, or maybe it was Robert Holmes. Where demarcations are drawn in history does not change the historical facts. What changes is how the facts are categorized.

Marching Home to the Beat of a Purloined Melody

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the March 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

On August 31, 1976 a district court in New York City ruled that former Beatle George Harrison was guilty of copyright infringement. Harrison was ordered by the court to pay nearly $1.6 million to the publisher of the song that Harrison had plagiarized, although that amount was subsequently amended to $587,000. The lawsuit involved Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord,” which rose to number one in the U.S. and in so doing made Harrison the first of the former Beatles to have a number one song as a solo artist. The song that Harrison plagiarized is “He’s So Fine,” which was released by the singing group The Chiffons in December 1962 and became a number one song in 1963. Although the presiding judge in the trial, Richard Owen, acknowledged that he believed that Harrison had not deliberately plagiarized “He’s So Fine,” the judge nevertheless asserted that what Harrison did was “under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.” U.S. copyright laws were certainly different at the time of George Harrison’s trial compared to the mid-19th century, but a judicial fate like that of George Harrison’s could have befallen the person who composed one of the most popular and uplifting songs of the Civil War.

Patrick Gilmore

The person in question is Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, and at his peak Gilmore was as renowned and accomplished as George Harrison. Patrick Gilmore was born in County Galway, Ireland on Christmas day of 1829. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1849 and settled in Boston. Prior to his arrival in the U.S., Gilmore learned to play the cornet under the tutelage of a retired bandleader named Patrick Keating. At the time that Gilmore took up residence in his new country, he was already a very talented cornetist, and in 1852 he rose to become the leader of the Charlestown, Massachusetts Town Band. Within a year he became, first, the director of the Suffolk Brass Band and then the Boston Brigade Band. Soon thereafter Gilmore left the Boston Brigade Band to become director of the Salem Brigade Band, and it was under Gilmore’s leadership that this band played for the inauguration of James Buchanan. However, the members of the Boston Brigade Band had developed strong feelings of animosity toward Gilmore and his new band after Gilmore deserted his previous band to take his new position. As a result, the members of the Boston Brigade Band concocted a plan for an attack on the Salem Brigade Band at the train station when it returned from Buchanan’s inauguration. The planned attack involved destroying the instruments of the Salem band members and also injuring their lips to prevent them from playing. But the Salem band, which had no knowledge of the planned attack, took an earlier train to Boston than they had been scheduled to take and thereby avoided the harm that the Boston Brigade Band had prepared to inflict on them.

Although the Boston band’s vindictive attack never took place, the Salem Brigade Band somehow learned of the planned attack by their Boston rivals. Because of this, the Salem band was fearful of a repeat attempt by the Boston band. On the Salem band’s next trip, Gilmore arranged to have a sizable number of Salem ruffians accompany the band for protection. When the Salem band exited the train, ruffians who had been enlisted by the Boston band set upon them at the train station. But the Salem goons did what they had been brought along to do, and the Boston ruffians were on the receiving end of the iniquity that they had intended to deliver to the members of the Salem band.

During the year after the performance at Buchanan’s inauguration, Patrick Gilmore married Ellen O’Neill. The following year, 1859, Gilmore was lured back to be the leader of the Boston Brigade Band. In spite of the animosity that the band had previously felt toward Gilmore, the band recognized that Gilmore was an exceptional director who could elevate both the band’s prowess and its reputation. In addition to monetary inducement, Gilmore was lured back by a change in the band’s name to Patrick Gilmore’s Band. At this time in his life, Gilmore was highly regarded as a director of concert bands, and over the next 30 years Gilmore rose to even greater prominence.

At the start of the Civil War, volunteer regiments were permitted to have bands attached to them. In the fall of 1861 Gilmore had his entire band enlisted. The band was attached to the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and the band accompanied this regiment on its military campaigns. The band went to North Carolina with the expedition that was sent there under the command of Ambrose Burnside. In mid-1862, when it became clear that the war would not be the short conflict that many had forecast, the U.S. government decided to eliminate regimental bands as a cost-cutting measure. In August 1862 Gilmore’s band mustered out, but Massachusetts Governor John Andrew, the man who was instrumental in the creation of the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment, approached Gilmore to organize bands for Massachusetts regiments. Gilmore did so, and in 1863 he accompanied one of those bands as its director when the band returned to duty. Gilmore’s band was present at the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Gilmore’s band was stationed in New Orleans when the first Union governor of Louisiana was inaugurated on March 4, 1864. Gilmore was tasked with organizing the musical performance for the inauguration celebration, and he assembled a band consisting of 500 instrumentalists and a chorus of 5,000. This experience with a very large band and chorus inspired Gilmore to organize two prodigious musical events after the Civil War.

The World’s Peace Jubilee
John Philip Sousa

The two gigantic musical extravaganzas that Gilmore organized after the war made him the most prominent bandleader of his time. The first was the National Peace Jubilee in Boston in June 1869 to celebrate the return of the country to peace after the horrible conflict that had claimed so many lives and torn the country apart. The National Peace Jubilee was a five-day musical event that was held in a specially constructed hall with seating for 30,000. Gilmore assembled over 1,000 instrumentalists and over 10,000 vocalists as performers. One of the highlights of the concert was a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” which included church bells, cannon fired in synchronization with the music, a bass drum eight feet in diameter, and 100 Boston firemen striking anvils. As if this spectacular event were not enough, Gilmore organized another enormous concert, the World’s Peace Jubilee, which was held in Boston in June 1872. This was an even larger and longer event, 18 days in duration with 2,000 instrumentalists and 20,000 vocalists as well as famous bands and performers from Europe, including Johann Strauss, who made his only appearance in the U.S. Also performing were some famous American bands, including the United States Marine Band, which around that time had as one of its members a young man 17 years of age named John Philip Sousa. However, the World’s Peace Jubilee took place during the six-month period between Sousa’s first and second enlistments with the band, so Sousa likely did not perform at the World’s Peace Jubilee. Nevertheless, Sousa was greatly influenced by Gilmore, and in fact, when Sousa left the Marines for good, it was to become the director of a civilian concert band, which is the same kind of position that Gilmore had held for many years.

Patrick Gilmore and his New York band

The year after the World’s Peace Jubilee, Gilmore left Boston to become the leader of a concert band in New York City. He made this move in part because New York City had become the principal location of top concert bands. The band that Gilmore directed was the 22nd New York Regiment Band, and shortly after his move to New York City, Gilmore leased a venue for his band’s concerts. That venue was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, but it had been leased to P.T. Barnum, under whom the venue was called the Great Roman Hippodrome or, more grandly, Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome. After Gilmore leased the venue, he renamed it Gilmore’s Garden. A few years later, the Vanderbilt family took control of the facility and gave it a new name, although they retained part of the name that Gilmore had given to the structure. The Vanderbilt family renamed the facility Madison Square Garden, and this was the first iteration of that famous New York City venue, of which there have now been four different structures to bear that name, each one built to replace the previous one.

A sketch of P.T. Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome

Patrick Gilmore remained the leader of the 22nd New York Regiment Band for the next 19 years until his death. Under Gilmore’s leadership, the band became the best and most celebrated concert band in the U.S. Gilmore’s band toured throughout the U.S. and also in Europe, and the band was renowned not only for the extremely high quality of its performances, but also the very high number of performances that it gave. In the fall of 1892 the band was in St. Louis as part of a tour. On September 23 Gilmore conducted the band, and on the following night, while the band was being conducted by the assistant conductor, a message was delivered during the program that Patrick Gilmore had died. Gilmore’s body was transported to New York City, where he was buried. Two days after Gilmore’s death, John Philip Sousa conducted the first concert of the civilian band for which he had left the Marines in order to become director. One of Patrick Gilmore’s most important legacies is his innovation of instrumentation for concert bands that consists of a blending of brass and woodwinds rather than the predominately or exclusively brass instrumentation of the earlier 19th century. Gilmore’s blended brass and woodwind instrumentation is still the prevailing format for concert bands today.

Sheet music for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”

Patrick Gilmore’s novel instrumentation for concert bands is one of his greatest legacies, but it is not his best-known legacy. Gilmore’s best-known legacy is the Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” But while Gilmore composed the lyrics (under the pseudonym Louis Lambert), the jaunty melody is another matter. Even though sheet music that was published in 1863 by Gilmore’s publisher credits Gilmore’s pseudonym, Louis Lambert, for both the words and the music, there is reason to believe that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was, to put it kindly, borrowed from a soldiers’ drinking song named “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” Various lyrics exist for “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl,” but one set of lyrics for the first stanza is as follows. “A soldier I’m just from the war, hurrah, hurrah / A soldier I’m just from the war, hurrah, hurrah / A soldier I’m just from the war, where thundering guns and cannons roar / And we’ll all drink stone blind / Johnny, fill up the bowl.” This song’s melody is essentially the same as that of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and there is compelling evidence that Patrick Gilmore did not compose the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” but appropriated the melody from “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” For example, a copy of Gilmore’s lyrics that was published by Gilmore’s publisher contains the instruction that the song should be sung to the tune of “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” In addition, Gilmore admitted in an 1883 article that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” “was a musical waif which I happened to hear somebody humming in the early days of the rebellion, and taking a fancy to it, wrote it down, dressed it up, gave it a name, and rhymed it into usefulness for a special purpose suited to the times.” This comment from Gilmore, himself, is strong evidence that he did not compose the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Instead, that melody appears to have come from “Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.” In other words, Patrick Gilmore seems to have done just what George Harrison did with “My Sweet Lord” and “He’s So Fine.” (Some sources assert that the melody for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was taken from the Irish anti-war song “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye.” But there is evidence that this is not so, in particular the fact that the latter song was not published until after the Civil War.)

Patrick Gilmore has an illustrious musical legacy, but very few people know about that legacy. This is in contrast to John Philip Sousa, who gained his fame in a similar musical genre and whose legacy is well known. The reason for this difference is that Sousa composed many pieces, while Gilmore’s body of work does not contain many compositions of his own making. However, Gilmore does have one musical composition that is very well known, particularly to Civil War enthusiasts. The song that Gilmore composed, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” was one of the most popular songs during the Civil War because of its rousing melody and uplifting lyrics about loved ones returning from the war. But Gilmore almost certainly pirated the melody for this song, although he was not unique in this Civil War musical transgression. Two of the most iconic songs of the Civil War, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” likewise came into existence when someone set new lyrics to the melodies of pre-existing songs. This makes Patrick Gilmore no worse than the composers of those songs, Julia Ward Howe and Harry McCarthy, or, for that matter, no worse than a former member of the most influential and most innovative rock-and-roll band in history.

What I did on my Summer Vacation

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.

The stereotypical first assignment for students who are returning to school after the summer is to write a report about what they did on their summer vacation. Since the September meeting is routinely the first meeting after the Roundtable’s summer break, this history brief is about something that I did on my summer vacation. The Roundtable’s president for 2018-2019, Dan Ursu, chose Southern invasions and raids of the North as the theme for this session. With that in mind, this history brief focuses on an invasion of the North, in fact, an invasion of that state up north, which all Ohioans know is the correct pronunciation for the state whose name is spelled M-i-c-h-i-g-a-n. The invasion that is the subject of this history brief was not a Southern invasion, but a British invasion. And not the British invasion of the 1960s that was led by the Beatles, but a British invasion that occurred during the War of 1812. However, there is a Civil War connection, which will become clear below. The subject of this history brief is the battle of the River Raisin, which took place in southeastern Michigan from January 18 to 22, 1813. Like a number of Civil War battles, the battle of the River Raisin goes by a couple of names, one for the body of water near its location and one for the town near its location. Hence, this battle is known as the battle of the River Raisin and the battle of Frenchtown.

I learned about this battle several years ago when my wife, Karen, and I were driving to visit our daughter and her family in Holland, Michigan. Our usual driving route takes us north on U.S. route 23. Just before exit 15, there is a brown sign indicating the presence of a National Park at that exit. This sign states that the park at exit 15 is the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, which is one of only four National Battlefield Parks in the U.S. Most people who are reading this are now probably thinking that that number cannot be correct, because there are certainly more than four battlefields in the National Park System. The explanation is that there are a few different designations for battlefield sites in the National Park System, including National Military Park, National Battlefield, National Battlefield Site, and National Battlefield Park. In the National Park System, there are four National Battlefield Parks: River Raisin, Manassas, Richmond (Virginia, not Kentucky), and Kennesaw Mountain. This makes River Raisin the only one of the four National Battlefield Parks that is a non-Civil War site, and it is the closest of the four to Cleveland. This past summer, after driving by that brown sign numerous times, I finally was able to visit the River Raisin battlefield.

James Winchester

The battle of the River Raisin was one of most terrible defeats in U.S. military history, in particular because of what happened in the aftermath of the battle. In August 1812, the British captured Fort Detroit, which gave them a base for invasion of the U.S. Frenchtown, which lay on the northern bank of the River Raisin, was less than 40 miles south of Fort Detroit and in the path of a British invasion into Ohio. As a prelude to an invasion, a small British force and their American Indian allies occupied Frenchtown. The U.S. army that was in that area was under the command of Major General William Henry Harrison and was at that time in northwest Ohio. Harrison’s objective was to retake Fort Detroit, and he split his army into two columns, one under his direct command and the other under his second in command, Brigadier General James Winchester. Harrison began to make preparations for a winter campaign, and he ordered Winchester to keep his column in contact with Harrison’s column. But when Winchester received a report that the British and Indians had occupied Frenchtown, Winchester sent a detachment of about 700 men under the command of Colonel William Lewis. This force, which consisted of largely untrained troops, most of whom were from Kentucky, was able to drive the smaller British and Indian force out of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813. Winchester and 300 more men arrived following this engagement, and Winchester decided to occupy Frenchtown, even though he was 30 miles from the army’s other column. The action on January 18 is usually referred to as the first battle of the River Raisin.

Map of the area around Frenchtown, which was located on the northern bank of the River Raisin
Henry Procter

Although Winchester had disobeyed his order to stay in contact with the other column of the army, Harrison was pleased when he learned that Winchester had driven the British out of Frenchtown. Accordingly, Harrison dispatched some reinforcements to Frenchtown, and also sent a messenger, Captain Nathaniel Hart, with orders to hold Frenchtown. When Hart arrived at Frenchtown, he was horrified to find that Winchester had made no preparations for a likely British counterattack. The Kentucky militia who were part of Winchester’s force were housed in various buildings in Frenchtown, and the regular army troops were camped in the open east of the town on the right flank of the American force. There were no fortifications facing north, the likely direction of a British attack, other than a picket fence that happened to be on the northern side of Frenchtown. Moreover, Winchester stayed in a house south of the River Raisin and had the army’s supply of ammunition and gunpowder kept at that house. These poor dispositions were made in spite of reports from civilians that a large British and Indian force was on the move toward Frenchtown. Winchester believed that it would be some time before the British could mount a counterattack, but at that time, a force of 600 British troops and 800 Indians, under the command of Colonel Henry Procter, was advancing toward Frenchtown.

U.S. troop reenactors at River Raisin battlefield

The British and Indian force arrived within striking distance of Frenchtown on the night of January 21, 1813 and took up positions for a dawn attack the following day. The American perimeter was so poorly guarded that reputedly the enemy force was able to move within musket range before it was detected. When the British attack was launched, the Americans were caught completely off guard. The troops on the right, who were camped in the open, were overwhelmed in 20 minutes. Although these troops returned fire, many were quickly killed or wounded, and their position soon became untenable, with artillery and musket fire from the British to their front and attack by the Indians on their right flank. The surviving troops were routed and ran across the frozen River Raisin in their rear. However, they were pursued by the Indians, and of the approximately 400 American troops on the right who fled, over 200 were killed or mortally wounded, and the remainder were captured. Among those captured was James Winchester, who had been awakened by the sounds of battle and rushed to the front.

The troops on the left, who took position behind the fence, held out longer and maintained strong musket fire and a stiff defense, and even repulsed some British attacks on their position. However, when Winchester was brought to the British commander, Henry Procter, Procter warned Winchester that if the Americans did not surrender immediately, then Procter would not guarantee their safety from the Indians once they did surrender. In light of this warning, Winchester signed a letter of surrender, which was sent under a flag of truce to the U.S. troops who were holding out on the left. After seeing the letter, these troops wanted to continue to fight rather than risk a fate at the hands of the Indians. But with their ammunition dwindling and a pledge of safe treatment from their British captors, the Americans decided to surrender. One person who was instrumental in negotiating the guarantee of safe treatment of the U.S. prisoners was an American officer who was one the troops behind the fence, a man named George Madison, who was a cousin of President James Madison. After the battle, George Madison, who was born in Virginia but moved to Kentucky sometime prior to 1784, was held as a prisoner of war in Quebec for a year until a prisoner exchange.

The fighting on January 22, 1813 is usually called the second battle of the River Raisin. The grim U.S. toll for this battle was over 300 killed, about 90 wounded, and about 500 captured. British commander Henry Procter was concerned about a U.S. counterattack and departed Frenchtown with most of his British troops and with those prisoners who could make the trek through the cold and snow. Left at Frenchtown were the Indians and some British troops. The small number of British troops were ostensibly left to protect the American wounded who, because they were too weak for the journey, remained at Frenchtown. Before Procter left, he promised to send sleighs to transport the wounded Americans. But on January 23, 1813, the day following the battle, the remaining British troops departed, and the wounded U.S. troops were left with the Indians, who were already filled with a desire for vengeance because of U.S. expansion into their lands and the losses that they had suffered in the battle. What followed was a massacre of wounded U.S. prisoners, who were helpless to defend themselves. According to accounts of survivors, the Indians tomahawked wounded men and also set fire to buildings in which wounded Americans were housed and then tomahawked men as they fled from the burning buildings. Some of the wounded men died in the flames.

Painting depicting the massacre of U.S. troops at River Raisin

The Indians were under the overall command of Tecumseh, but Tecumseh was not present at the battle or the massacre. Rather, other Indian chiefs were in command of the Indians at the battle and its aftermath, and it has been surmised that had a strong commander like Tecumseh been present, he may have been able to prevent the massacre, had he been of a mind to do so. Those Americans who were not massacred at Frenchtown were led northward by the Indians to Fort Detroit. Along the way, those who were too weak to keep up were killed, and their bodies were left where they were murdered. This brutal march of wounded men, a number of whom were killed for being unable to keep up, was a War of 1812 equivalent of the Bataan Death March more than a century before the World War II atrocity. Exact numbers of American deaths in what became known as the River Raisin Massacre are not known, but estimates range from 30 to 60, which brought the total number of U.S. deaths at the battle of the River Raisin to as many as 400. Of the approximately 1,000 Americans who fought at the battle of the River Raisin, only 33 were able to avoid death or capture. The bodies at Frenchtown and along the route to Fort Detroit remained unburied for months until Frenchtown again came under U.S. control. The battle of the River Raisin was the worst U.S. defeat in the War of 1812 and had the highest number of American deaths of any battle in the war. In fact, 15% of the American combat deaths in the War of 1812 occurred at the battle of the River Raisin. The massacre that occurred after the battle led to the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin.”

Many years after the battle of the River Raisin, one survivor of the massacre and the march, a man named Thomas Dudley, wrote an account of his experiences. According to Dudley’s account, which is dated May 26, 1870, on the morning of the massacre Dudley, who had been badly wounded in the shoulder by a musket ball, was being housed in a room with three other wounded officers, who are identified in Dudley’s account as Major Graves, Captain Hart, and Captain Hickman. Hart, a Kentuckian whose sister, Lucretia, married Henry Clay in 1799, was the man who was sent by William Henry Harrison to tell James Winchester to hold Frenchtown after the engagement on January 18. The building in which these four wounded men were housed was used by the townspeople as a tavern, and Dudley wrote that the Indians entered the building, removed barrels from the cellar, broke open the barrels, and drank the contents of the barrels. Then some Indians came into the room which held the four wounded men, and Graves and Hart quickly left the room. The Indians removed Dudley’s coat, hat, and shoes, and as they were leaving the room, they tomahawked Hickman. Dudley managed to leave the building onto a porch, and from inside the building he heard Hart negotiating with an Indian for passage to a British prison in return for $600. The Indian agreed and placed Hart on a horse, but after they went only a short distance, Hart was shot off of the horse and died, although it is not clear if Hart was shot by the Indian with whom Hart had negotiated passage to the British prison or by another Indian. Hickman, the man who had been tomahawked, was then brought out of the building and thrown into the snow, where, according to Dudley’s account, “he breathed once or twice and expired.” Dudley stood in the snow for some time while Indians passed by him, which caused Dudley to wonder what fate awaited him. Then a young Indian approached Dudley, who showed the Indian his shoulder wound. The Indian put a coat around Dudley’s shoulders and led him off for the trek to Fort Detroit. When the Indian saw that Dudley lacked shoes, he gave his prisoner a spare pair of moccasins. Along the march, the Indian gave Dudley some food and also gave him a blanket at night. Dudley also wrote about seeing the Indians displaying the scalps they had taken. The following day, the Indians and their prisoners reached Detroit, where the British took charge of the prisoners. Dudley credited the young Indian who cared for him with saving his life and wrote, “Let me here say my Indian captor exhibited more the principle of the man and the soldier than all the British I had been brought in contact with.” Eventually Dudley was paroled and allowed to return to the U.S., where, as he wrote near the end of his account, “I lived to be fully avenged upon the enemies of my country in the battle of the 8th of January below New Orleans.” Dudley, of course, was referring to Andrew Jackson’s victory at the battle of New Orleans.

Richard Mentor Johnson

After the battle of the River Raisin, William Henry Harrison canceled his winter campaign against Fort Detroit and instead constructed Fort Meigs in present-day Perrysburg, Ohio to protect against invasions by the British and also to use as a base of operations for another advance into Michigan. After the battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, a U.S. force captured Frenchtown. The British army under Henry Procter retreated from Michigan into present-day Ontario, where they were defeated at the battle of the Thames by an army under William Henry Harrison. It was in the battle of the Thames that Tecumseh was killed, perhaps by Richard Mentor Johnson. Johnson never claimed to have killed Tecumseh, but the legend that he was the man who killed the famous Indian chief came to life after the battle. This legend became a campaign slogan in 1836 when Johnson was the Democratic candidate for vice president, and his slogan was “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” Although Johnson did not receive enough electoral votes to win the vice presidency, he became the only vice president ever elected by the Senate under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment.

William Howard Taft and Libbie Custer at the dedication of the statue of George Armstrong Custer

Another casualty of the battle of the River Raisin was the settlement of Frenchtown. Before the Indians left Frenchtown, they set fire to all of the buildings, and the entire town was destroyed. When Frenchtown was rebuilt after the war, it was renamed Monroe after President James Monroe. Monroe, Michigan has a connection to the Civil War in that it is the place in which George Armstrong Custer spent much of his childhood. In fact, travelers who use exit 15 off of U.S. 23 to drive to Monroe go part of the way on South Custer Road. Monroe, Michigan also has the distinction of having hosted four presidential visits. The first was by Andrew Johnson on September 4, 1866 as part of a midterm campaign tour to support Congressional candidates. Johnson was accompanied on the trip by Secretary of State William Seward, Ulysses Grant, and George Armstrong Custer. Monroe was a stop for Johnson between Toledo and Detroit, but the crowd that gathered in Monroe reportedly was disappointed, because the people did not see Grant, who left the train in Cleveland. The second of Monroe’s presidential visits was on June 4, 1910 by William Howard Taft, who attended a dedication ceremony of an equestrian statue honoring George Armstrong Custer. The statue, which still stands, was unveiled by Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, and is only about a mile from the River Raisin National Battlefield Park. The third presidential visit was by Bill Clinton on August 15, 2000. This visit included both the president and the vice president. The visit was part of a campaign tour for Al Gore, and both Clinton and Gore were present. Moreover, they were accompanied by their wives, Hillary and Tipper, which made this visit particularly distinctive, and the Clintons were also accompanied by their daughter, Chelsea. The fourth presidential visit to Monroe was by the man who defeated Al Gore, George W. Bush, who visited Monroe on September 15, 2003, three years and one month after the Clinton-Gore visit. The purpose of Bush’s visit was to tour the Monroe Power Plant as a way of highlighting his policies for energy generation and energy security.

Statue of George Armstrong Custer in Monroe, Michigan

The U.S. presidents who visited Monroe, Michigan did not tour the River Raisin battlefield, but that battlefield is nevertheless worth visiting because of the historic and tragic events that took place there. Although there is a connection between the city of Monroe and the Civil War, the battle that was fought on the land which Monroe occupies was part of the War of 1812, not the Civil War, and the National Park which preserves that battlefield is quite small compared to Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam. Nevertheless, the River Raisin battlefield is worth a visit by Civil War enthusiasts. After all, touring battlefields is what Civil War enthusiasts do, and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park is only about a two-hour drive from Cleveland. But if Civil War enthusiasts insist on seeing something related to the Civil War when they visit a battlefield, then they can go for a look at the statue of George Armstrong Custer in downtown Monroe.