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Battle for Prairie du Chien comes alive at Villa Louis

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Cal Peters’ depiction of the Battle for Prairie du Chien is on display at the Prairie du Chien City Hall. There are number murals by Peters displayed throughout Prairie du Chien. (Contributed photo)

By Melissa R. Collum

This coming July 15 and 16 the Villa Louis grounds will come alive with a historic recreated military encampment depicting the events around the Battle of Prairie du Chien.
The two day event will host numerous exciting activities throughout the grounds and station tours will take place in the Villa Louis.
The War of 1812 is very important to the history of the United States and the Battle  for Prairie du Chien, according to Mary Antoine held specific significance to economy of the United States. “In the East, at this time there is farming, and out here it is the fur trade, which is a very important income for the people involved.”
A quick recap of the War of 1812 and Battle for Prairie du Chien.
In the Jay Treaty, signed in 1794 to end the American Revolution, one of the conditions was that the United States would take control of the Northwest Territory. The territory included all the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River below the Great Lakes, and what later became known as the Boundary Waters. The region had been ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. It was agreed that the British would evacuate all the forts they still held in the Northwest Territory by June 1796. The Mississippi River was declared freely open to both countries.
Great Britain was in a war against France, these series of wars are known as the Napoleonic Wars and lasted from 1803-1815. The United States, who had just gained their freedom from Great Britain, was pulled into the conflict owing to the fact that Great Britain was infringing on the young republics maritime rights and ability to trade with France.
President James Madison declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. There were two major fronts to the conflict; The Eastern Seaboard and the Northwest Territories.
“To clearly understand the War of 1812, you need to take away the political identity of today,” notes Antoine. “At the time of the Battle, the community of PdC was made up of about 300 people. Most of them are French speaking. There is a mix of French Canadians and British Canadians living here. Some of them have married Native American women, because that is who they are trading with.
The majority of the Native American tribes joined with the British forces. According to Antoine the native Americans had the point of view that “The French wanted us as customers, the British wanted us as allies, and the Americans just wanted our land.”
The Battle of Prairie du Chien, which was fought on the Villa Louis grounds, is the only battle fought in what is now Wisconsin.
On July 17 the British forces, consisting of roughly 150 British troops with 500 Native American allies laid siege to the 60 American soldiers at Fort Shelby
The battle that followed was more noisy than deadly. The unfinished fort had two small cannons, reinforced by a gunboat armed with two cannons and several howitzers. The gunboat also contained much of the garrison’s ammunition and supplies. The British concentrated their firepower on the gunboat. After two hours of shelling, the gunboat cut its cable and headed downstream. The boat was leaking badly from several direct hits. That event signaled the beginning of the end of the battle.
Sporadic firing continued over the next two days. By the third day, the Americans were running out of food and ammunition and the inside of Fort Shelby had collapsed. When the British commander, Colonel McKay ordered his men to heat the cannonballs to fire upon Fort Shelby with the intent to burn it down, the Americans surrendered on July 19, 1814. The British took over the fort, expanded it, and renamed it Fort McKay.
The events being held at the Villa Louis will encompass not only the historic aspects of the Battle of Prairie du Chien but also will be incorporating Hands-on Archeology and the Frenchtown Jig  Show and WorkshopPerformers from Dance Revels Moving History are Jane Peck-storyteller, historian and dancer, Danielle Enblom-fiddler and dancer, Brian Miller-song, guitar, and  flute. The Sunday workshop will include songs, playing spoons, and social dance from French, British, Metis, and Americans of 1812.
More information about the events and ticket information can be found on the Villa Louis website: https://villalouis.wisconsinhistory.org/
Saturday July 15 schedule
10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tours of the Villa Louis Mansion (offered continuously)
10 a.m. - Grand Parade & Morning Colors
10:30 a.m. - Infantry and Artillery drill and inspection
10:30 a.m. - Battlefield Walking Tour - meet at Brisbois Fur Warehouse, Q and A and book signing with Mary Antoine to follow
11 a.m. - 2 p.m. - Hands-on Archeology (offered continuously)
11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Period Lawn Games (offered continuously)
11:30 a.m. - Battlefield Walking Tour - meet at Brisbois Fur Warehouse,
2:30 p.m. - Battle Scenario - Battle of Prairie du Chien, with Mary Antoine narrating
​4 p.m. - Evening Colors
Sunday, July 16 schedule
10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tours of the Villa Louis Mansion available
10 a.m. - Grand Parade and Morning Colors
10:30 a.m. - Battlefield Walking Tour - meet at Brisbois Fur Warehouse, Q and A and book signing with Mary Antoine to follow
11 a.m. - 2 p.m. - Hands-on Archeology (offered continuously)
11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Period Lawn Games (offered continuously)
11:30 a.m. - Musket Reliability Contest
12:30 p.m. - French Canadian music performance and workshop with Jane Peck
2:30 p.m. - Battle Scenario - Battle of Prairie du Chien, with Mary Antoine narrating
​3:30 p.m. - Evening Colors

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