January 16, 2013

Scarcely left us power to breathe

Winter months in Canada have many hardships, from shovelling snow to bundling up on cold winter nights. Although, these hardships are nothing compared to what soldiers faced during winter in the War of 1812.

Soldiers prepared for the winter months in advance. Everything from cutting firewood to storing food was prepared well in advance of the first snowfall. Soldiers were placed in winter quarters where their primary enemy became Old Man Winter. Some winter days got quite cold as Lieutenant John Le Couteur described, “the cold had greatly augmented and the thermometer once more fell to 27 degrees below zero [Fahrenheit], together with a gale, a north-wester in our teeth, which scarcely left us power to breathe.” Some officer took the opportunity to go home during the winter to spend time with their family and friends, a luxury not afforded to regular soldiers.

Winter battles were rare during the War of 1812 but at times small raids were conducted by both the British and Americans to harass enemy positions. In the Niagara, both sides took advantage of the frozen Great Lakes to launch attacks across the water. Although large winter attacks were rare, there was one large winter campaign in January 1813.
Monument commemorating the Battle of Frenchtown

On January 18, 1813, the Americans launched an attack in and near Frenchtown in Michigan. The Americans attempted to retake Detroit with a large winter offensive. Unfortunately for the Americans, the plan quickly failed when British and native allies regrouped and launched a counterattack that saw over 350 Americans killed and hundreds taken prisoner. This battle is known by a few different names, including the Battle of Frenchtown, Battle of the River Raisin and the River Raisin Massacre. The last name comes from an incident that saw a number of American prisoners killed by native forces.
If you want to learn more about life during the winter months in the War of 1812, you can head to Fort Niagara on Saturday, January 19 for their Snowshoe Patrol event. There will be demonstrations of winter skills and games taking place, as well as an expedition into the woods at 2 p.m. Click here for more details.

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