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Published: Wednesday, 10/14/2009

Monroe archaeological dig to begin south of River Raisin


MONROE - A former industrial site near East Elm Avenue and North Dixie Highway has produced hard evidence about fighting that occurred in 1813 at the Battle of the River Raisin.

Musket balls, metal buttons from military uniforms, and other artifacts have been unearthed in archaeological digs on the War of 1812 battlefield, which has been identified for development into a national park.

Not much research has been done south of the Raisin River in Monroe, where U.S. troops fled after intense fighting with British soldiers and their Native American allies.

That could change as archaeologists and historians are set to begin a survey of the unexplored area where retreating militia and Indians fought after the battle on the north side of the river.

A four-day archaeological investigation under the direction of Heidelberg University Professor G. Michael Pratt will begin Oct. 16 in selected areas south of the river in the city.

Mr. Pratt, associate vice president of anthropology and director for the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology at Heidelberg University, has been involved in studies of the River Raisin battle since the late 1990s.

He said archaeological remains documented at the East Elm and Dixie location, which for many years served as a paper mill, give hope that artifacts could exist underground in the areas to be studied.

"We have a good idea about what was going on here historically," Mr. Pratt said. "The question, is can we find archaeological remains that still exist through 200 years of development that have occurred on the ground?"

The archaeological survey and study is being funded with a federal National Park Service grant.

Heidelberg University received a $28,674 American Battlefield Protection grant in 2008 for investigating peripheral areas of the battlefield. It is the second grant from the American Battlefield Protection program that Heidelberg University has secured for the battlefield study.

Mr. Pratt said the goals of the four-day study are to determine whether there are areas that have potential to have archaeological remains and getting enough historical documentation to conduct further studies.

Researchers will both use metal detection equipment to comb for evidence of the battle and dig in small test pits. Dirt will be filtered through screens in search of artifacts.

"This is a very limited survey. We will only have four days of activity," he said. "We are looking at a very limited sample of an area of interest to determine whether or not they have the potential to produce archaeological information that will contribute to the understanding of historical events of the River Raisin battle."

The bloody conflict fought in January, 1813, is considered a turning point in the war. More than 900 soldiers from Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky fought the British and their Indian allies.

The following day, about 60 wounded and unarmed Americans were killed by Indians after British soldiers withdrew in what was called the Massacre of the River Raisin.

"Remember the River Raisin" became a rallying cry for the rest of the war.

Mr. Pratt has directed similar research at Civil War and American Revolutionary battle sites, as well as the Battle of Fallen Timbers in Maumee.

The investigation team for this weekend's exploration includes Ted Ligibel, director of the Historic Preservation Program at Eastern Michigan University; Jeff Green, Monroe city planner; and William Rutter of the Office of the Michigan Archaeologist.

"Since 1998, we have teamed up on a number of projects. All of us have individual interest on the site," Mr. Pratt said.

Ralph Naveaux, a local historian and author of "Invaded on All Sides," an in-depth account of the battle, said the documentation he obtained for his book shows that the route of fleeing U.S. soldiers took them into the area near Plum Creek Park.

Mr. Naveaux said the attack by Indians on retreating soldiers could have resulted in musket balls, metal parts from clothing, and weapons being dropped on the ground.

"People have found some amazing things around Monroe County, but not on the retreat route. I suspect that your would find more of that stuff," said Mr. Naveaux, retired director of the Monroe County Historical Museum.

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