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Monroe: Historian will speak on area's role in War of 1812

MONROE - Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Monroe's iconic character, may be a veteran of the Civil War and the Indian Wars that followed, but a renowned historian speaking locally next week says that the War of 1812 that raged both here and across the East Coast ultimately may be more important to American History.

Anthony Pitch, author of The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 and other works on the War of 1812, will speak at 8 p.m. March 2 in Monroe County Community College's La-Z-Boy Center.

Mr. Pitch's specialty isn't the River Raisin massacre, but he will speak on three specific weeks more than a year later when the fledgling nation experienced both the low and high points of the divisive war.

"These are probably the most humiliating and glorious events of the entire war," Mr. Pitch said. "The British capture Washington in 1814 and burn the White House. Then three weeks later you get one of the more glorious moments in American history, when the British fail to capture Fort McHenry."

The fort, which guarded the naval approach to Baltimore, was pummeled by between 1,500 and 1,800 shells fired from the British fleet, with each shell weighing about 200 pounds, Mr. Pitch said.

The siege was witnessed by an American held hostage aboard one of the British ships, Francis Scott Key, whose poem describing the joy of seeing the Stars and Stripes flying over the fort during and after the bombardment became the national anthem.

"The Americans held out, they would not surrender, they would not run, and the British were forced to withdraw. The mightiest army and navy in the world had been repulsed," Mr. Pitch said. "It was a defining moment in American history. It gave Americans a sense of shared identity and pride, and it completely erased the shame and humiliation of what had happened in Washington."

Monroe, or, rather, the former Frenchtown Settlement, played a key role in the bloody war. The settlement on the north shore of the River Raisin was the site of one of the bloodiest land battles of the War of 1812. More than 300 died on or near the site on Jan. 18 and 22, 1813. The day after the final battle in Monroe, Shawnee and Potawatomi warriors returned and killed those who remained on the field, including 52 British soldiers. Of 623 American soldiers, 33 made it back to Fort Meigs in what is now Perrysburg.

Mr. Pitch admits the war may not capture the modern imagination as the Civil War does, but he said lessons learned by the nation as a result of the battle shouldn't be forgotten.2pt

"It wasn't a popular war. The country was split as in the Vietnam War," he said. "The southern states wanted war, the northern states didn't because the north stood to lose trade."

The event is sponsored by the War of 1812 Bicentennial Symposium Committee, which is r plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the River Raisin massacre.

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