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Relive the War of 1812 in Wisconsin

British-Canadian riflemen fire on American positions holed up inside a partially built fort during the War of 1812 in Wisconsin event at Villa Louis

You can relive the only battle of the War of 1812 fought on Wisconsin soil when re-enactors fight the short-lived but historic battle again on Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10, on the very ground where it took place. The annual War of 1812 in Wisconsin event at Villa Louis will pit re-enactors portraying British-Canadian and American forces against each other in a narrated battle featuring musket and cannon fire and pyrotechnics each day — at 7 pm Saturday and at 2:30 pm Sunday. Encampments of the two rival forces will dot the mansion's sloping lawn, the actual site of the 1814 battle. Visitors can explore the encampments while talking to re-enactors about the fur trade, the British-American rivalry, weaponry of the period, and the battle that took place there from July 17-19, 1814. Throughout the weekend, visitors can also tour the magnificently restored rooms of the Victorian mansion.

The Battle of Prairie du Chien in Historical Context

In mid-July 1814 an undersized and poorly supported garrison of American soldiers fought a losing battle against a much larger British-Canadian force dispatched to seize control of a strategic fort being built by the Americans in Prairie du Chien. It was to be the only battle of the War of 1812 fought in Wisconsin — the Battle of Prairie du Chien.

Word of the new American fort springing up on the banks of the Mississippi River just above its confluence with the Wisconsin River — a critical locale for control of the lucrative fur trade — reached the British outpost at Fort Mackinac on June 22, 1814. Mackinac's commandant, Col. Robert McDouall, immediately ordered the assemblage of an expeditionary force of volunteers, voyageurs, some Sioux, Ho-Chunk and Menominee warriors, and British troops to be sent to Prairie du Chien to challenge the American presence there. On July 17 the force reached the Wisconsin River, about 650 strong compared to the meager force of 60 American defenders under the command of Lt. Joseph Perkins. Under a flag of truce, the British force demanded the Americans surrender, a demand the Americans refused.

A Brief Battle with an Anti-Climactic Outcome

The battle that followed was more noisy than deadly. Two small cannons and several howitzers, reinforced by a gunboat armed with two cannons, provided the unfinished fort's only heavy armanents. The gunboat also contained much of the garrison's ammunition and supplies. With that in mind, the British concentrated the firepower of their single artillery piece on the gunboat, which after two hours of shelling cut its cable and headed downstream, leaking badly from several direct hits. That event signaled the beginning of the end of the battle. Though sporadic firing continued over the next two days, the American force capitulated on July 19, leaving the British with a new American-built fort.

The British-Candian victory, though, was a hollow one. After suffering through a long winter of isolation deprived of most provisions, word came the following April that the war was over. A month later the British evacuated and destroyed the fort.

If You Go

For complete details on hours, admission fees, locations and directions, and other details, see the Villa Louis visitor information pages.

:: Posted July 5, 2011

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