An American Perspective on the War of 1812
by Donald Hickey
The War of 1812 is probably our most obscure conflict. Although a great deal has been written about the war, the average American is only vaguely aware of why we fought or who the enemy was. Even those who know something about the contest are likely to remember only a few dramatic moments, such as the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the burning of the nation’s capital, or the Battle of New Orleans.
A British Perspective
by Andrew Lambert
The War of 1812 has been referred to as a victorious “Second War for Independence,” and used to define Canadian identity, but the British only remember 1812 as the year Napoleon marched to Moscow. This is not surprising. In British eyes, the conflict with America was an annoying sideshow. The Americans had stabbed them in the back while they, the British, were busy fighting a total war against the French Empire, directed by their most inveterate enemy. For a nation fighting Napoleon Bonaparte, James Madison was an annoying irrelevance. Consequently the American war would be fought with whatever money, manpower and naval force that could be spared, no more than seven percent of the total British military effort.
A Canadian Perspective on the War of 1812
by Victor Suthren
When the American declaration of war fell upon the disparate colonies of British North America, it produced reactions as different as the character of each colony. But the people of the Canadian colonies were united in the belief that this was an unwanted war, governed more by the distant preoccupations of London or Washington than the needs and wishes of the King’s subjects in North America.
A Native Nations Perspective on the War of 1812
by Donald Fixico
The War of 1812 was an important conflict with broad and lasting consequences, particularly for the native inhabitants of North America. During the pivotal years before the war, the United States wanted to expand its territories, a desire that fueled the invasion of native homelands throughout the interior of the continent. [Miller, p.47] Tribal nations of the lower Great Lakes, including the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and others saw their lands at risk. The same was true for the Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw in the south.
Black Sailors and Soldiers in the War of 1812
In 1813 Charles Ball, an escaped slave and self-declared “free man of color,” had a choice. He could row out to the British fleet, moored in the Chesapeake Bay, and offer his services to the King -- or he could volunteer for the fledgling American navy and defend his country. Ball, whose dramatic bid for freedom is chronicled in The Life of Charles Ball, A Black Man, chose the latter and he was not alone.
Military Medicine in the War of 1812
There is hardly on the face of the earth a less enviable situation than that of an Army Surgeon after a battle – worn out and fatigued in body and mind, surrounded by suffering, pain, and misery, much of which he knows it is not in his power to heal…. I never underwent such fatigue as I did the first week at Butler's Barracks. The weather was intensely hot, the flies in myriads, and lighting on the wounds, deposited their eggs, so that maggots were bred in a few hours.
Tiger Dunlop, British surgeon to the 89th (The Pricess Victoria’s) Regiment of Foot, War of 1812.
Naval Battleships in the War of 1812
When the United States declared war on Great Britain in June 1812, the U.S. Navy was an eighteen-year-old institution with barely a dozen ships to its name. The British Royal Navy, by contrast, had been operating for centuries, and could boast over five hundred active warships. Eighty-five of these ships were sailing American waters at the time war broke out.
Prisoners of War in 1812
Military captives in the War of 1812 posed a particular problem for both sides. Neither the British nor the Americans could maintain large prisons – they lacked the military facilities and the manpower to hold soldiers for long periods of time. And, in a war that stretched along half of North America, prisoners posed a logistical nightmare – prisoners taken in battle were often hundreds of miles away from the nearest military garrison.
The British often paroled captured militiamen and army officers, releasing them after they’d made a pledge to stay out of the war for the duration.
Personal Journals from the War of 1812
For some of the participants in the War of 1812 the conflict was the defining moment of their lives, and they were well aware of it. A number of young soldiers penned brief diaries and journals that show how the war began for them as an adventure, but ended in many cases with injury, imprisonment and grief. For women, too, the war was a trial, a test of their fortitude and resourcefulness, but it was also a window onto a wider world. Their journals in turn have become our window onto a war that took place two centuries ago.
The Treaty of Ghent
James Madison had an opportunity to end the War of 1812 almost as soon as it began. The British had repealed the Orders in Council – rules that curbed American trade with Europe – and thus one of Madison’s major reasons for war was now moot. If the British had foregone the right to impress American sailors, Madison could well have gone back to Congress with the suggestion that hostilities cease immediately. However, the British considered impressment their right by custom, and believed it essential to their naval might. And so James Madison took his country to war.
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As the new nation grew and it's foreign policy of avoiding permanent alliance became defined it sought out trade relationships. America was determined to grow and become prosperous. It was inevitable that there would be affairs with England and France as they were the two strongest powers of the time. Eventually that contact, as Washington feared, brought America to the brink of war.
I. The United States Enters the War of 1812
A. How did the United States first get involved in a conflict with European nations?
1. In 1803 the expected war between France and Great Britain broke out, and it continued for 12 years. Before it ended, the US was �drawn into the conflict.�
2. As has been detailed earlier President Adams had worked to avoid becoming involved in the conflict between France and England. Jefferson attempted to follow that policy at great political cost.
3. Jefferson was criticized heavily for being too weak in regard to the British and French policy of seizing or "impressing" American sailors. When Madison, pushed by the "War Hawks" in Congress was pressured to take stronger action.
B. What factors led to a declaration of war?
1. For centuries, the British had manned their fleet by kidnapping British men and forcing them into a naval service. This was known as impressment. The British justified their actions by denying the fact that America was an independent nation. They considered felt that we were all British subjects.
2. The Chesapeake Incident�In June 1807, the U.S.S. Chesapeake was cruising in international waters just outside the three mile limit off of Virginia. The British Warship Leopard approached and ordered the Chesapeake�s captain to permit a search of British deserters. When the captain refused, the Leopard opened fire. Three Americans were killed and 18 wounded. The British allegedly took four deserters.
C. What conflict arose with the Indians prior to the War of 1812?
1. In the Ohio river valley many displaced Indian tribes led by the Chief Tecumseh formed a large confederation.
2. Tecumseh's goal was to fight for the Indians common homeland. In 1811 Tecumseh went on an eight month journey to rally support. While he was away his brother, disregarding his instructions, attacked troops led by Governor William Henry Harrison.
3. Harrison's troops crushed the Indian Confederation at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison became a national hero. British guns seized at the battle became yet another rallying cry for the War Hawks in their quest for war against England.
D. What happened during the War of 1812?
1. The Canadian Front
a) Madison called for 50,000 volunteers for a year�s service in the regular army. 5,000 signed up. Because of this situation, the first attempts to invade Canada were disastrous.
b) The American fleet on Lake Eric defeated a British fleet. The Americans regained Detroit, and two American armies invaded Canada, winning the battles at the Thames River, York (Toronto), and Fort George.
2. The British Burn Washington D.C.
3. By 1814 British landing parties were burning towns all along the coast. That summer they sent a sizable force up to Chesapeake Bay.
4. In revenge for the American raid on York, the capital of Canada, the British burned the Capitol, the White House, and other public buildings.
5. From Washington, the British moved to Baltimore.
E. How did Andrew Jackson become an American hero during the war?
1. Jackson invaded Spanish territory in western Florida to head off any British attempt to take the port of Pensacola
2. In 1815 he turned westward to help defend New Orleans. He had collected 5400 frontiersmen, sailors, regular troops, and pirates.
3. The Americans were ready, waiting for the redcoats. The British commander ordered a frontal assault. Before he was killed, he watched his soldiers fall down in rows. Jackson instantly became know as the Hero of New Orleans.
4. The Battle of New Orleans provided the Americans with their only really decisive land victory of the entire war. Ironically, the war was already over. On Christmas eve of 1814, the American and British peace negotiations had reached an agreement. The news just had not arrived in time.
F. What were the results of the war?
1. Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent. In this treaty the British formally recognized the existence of the United States and gave up all claims to most land south of Canada.
1. Most Americans assumed that Spanish Florida would eventually become part of the US, and American settlers began to move in on their own. Unfortunately there were outbreaks of disputes between settlers and the Indians.
2. Jackson was given command of the US troops, with vague instructions to bring peace and order to the borderland region.
3. When Jackson reached Pensacola, he threw out the Spanish governor, set up his own garrisons, claimed the territory for the United States.
4. In the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded (gave) the territory of Florida to the United States