War of 1812

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War of 1812
War of 1812 Montage.jpg
Clockwise from top: damage to the U.S. Capitol after the Burning of Washington; the mortally wounded Isaac Brock spurs on the York Volunteers at the battle of Queenston Heights; USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere; The death of Tecumseh in 1813 ends the Indian armed struggle in the American Midwest; Andrew Jackson defeats the British assault on New Orleans.
Date June 18, 1812 – February 18, 1815
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Location Eastern and Central North America, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

Treaty of Ghent


 United States

 British Empire

Tecumseh's Confederacy[1]

Bourbon Spain

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses

2,200 killed in action

1,160 killed in action[4]

  • 3,679 wounded
  • 3,321 died from disease

The War of 1812 was a military conflict that lasted from June 1812 to February 1815, fought between the United States of America and the United Kingdom, its North American colonies, and its Native American allies. Historians in the United States and Canada see it as a war in its own right, but the British often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars. By the war's end in early 1815, the key issues had been resolved and peace returned with no boundary changes.

The United States declared war for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of as many as 10,000 American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy,[5] British support for Native American tribes fighting European American settlers on the frontier, outrage over insults to national honor during the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair, and interest in the United States in expanding its borders west.[6] The British government, which felt it had done everything in its power to try to avert the war, were dismayed by the American declaration, and believed it to have been an opportunistic ploy by President James Madison to annex Canada while Britain was fighting a ruinous war with France.[7][8] The view was shared in much of New England and for that reason the war was widely referred to there as Mr. Madison’s War. As a result, the primary British war goal was to defend their North American colonies.

The war was fought in three theatres. First, at sea, warships and privateers of each side attacked the other's merchant ships, while the British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the United States and mounted large raids in the later stages of the war. Second, land and naval battles were fought on the U.S.–Canadian frontier. Third, large-scale battles were fought in the Southern United States and Gulf Coast.[9] At the end of the war, both sides signed and ratified the Treaty of Ghent and, in accordance with the treaty, returned occupied land, prisoners of war and captured ships (with the exception of warships due to frequent re-commissioning upon capture) to their pre-war owners and resumed friendly trade relations without restriction.

With the majority of its land and naval forces tied down in Europe fighting the Napoleonic Wars, the British used a defensive strategy until 1814. Early victories over poorly-led U.S. armies demonstrated that the conquest of the Canadas would prove more difficult than anticipated. Despite this, the U.S. was able to inflict serious defeats on Britain's Native American allies, ending the prospect of an independent Indian confederacy in the Midwest under British sponsorship. U.S. forces took control of Lake Erie in 1813, and seized western parts of Upper Canada, but further American offensives aimed at Montreal failed, and the war also degenerated into a stalemate in Upper Canada by 1814. In April 1814, with the defeat of Napoleon, Britain now had large numbers of spare troops and adopted a more aggressive strategy, launching invasions of the United States; however, an invasion of New York was defeated at Plattsburgh, and a second force, although successfully capturing Washington, was ultimately repulsed during an attack on Baltimore. Both governments were eager for a return to normality and peace negotiations began in Ghent in August 1814. These repulses led Britain to drop demands for a native buffer state and some territorial claims, and peace was finally signed in December 1814, although news failed to arrive before the British suffered a major defeat at New Orleans in January 1815.[10]

In the United States, late victories over invading British armies at the battles of Plattsburgh, Baltimore (inspiring the United States national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner") and New Orleans produced a sense of euphoria over a "second war of independence" against Britain.[11][12] This brought an "Era of Good Feelings" in which partisan animosity nearly vanished in the face of strengthened American nationalism. The war was also a major turning point in the development of the U.S. military, with militia being increasingly replaced by a more professional force. The U.S. also acquired permanent ownership of Spain's Mobile District, although Spain was not a belligerent.

In Upper and Lower Canada, British and local Canadian militia victories over invading U.S. armies became iconic and promoted the development of a distinct Canadian identity, which included strong loyalty to Britain. Today, particularly in Ontario, memory of the war retains significance, because the defeat of the invasions ensured that the Canadas would remain part of the British Empire, rather than be annexed by the United States. The government of Canada declared a three-year commemoration of the War of 1812 in 2012,[13] intended to offer historical lessons and celebrate 200 years of peace across the border.[14] At the conclusion of the bicentennial commemorations in 2014, a new national War of 1812 Monument was unveiled in Ottawa.

File:War of 1812 Re-enactment, Battle of Stoney Creek (ontario); June 2016.jpg
Re-enactors (in UK uniforms) fire muskets toward the "Americans" in this annual commemoration of the June 6, 1813 Battle of Stoney Creek

The conflict has not been commemorated on nearly the same level in the modern-day United States, though it is still taught as an important part of early American history,[15] and Dolley Madison and Andrew Jackson's respective roles in the war are especially emphasized.[16][17] The war is remembered in Britain primarily as a footnote in the much larger Napoleonic Wars occurring in Europe, which effectively ended in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo.[18]


Historians have long debated the relative weight of the multiple reasons underlying the origins of the War of 1812. This section summarizes several contributing factors which resulted in the declaration of war by the United States.[19][20]

Honour and the second war of independence

As Risjord (1961) notes, a powerful motivation for the Americans was the desire to uphold national honour in the face of what they considered to be British insults such as the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair.[21] Brands says, "The other war hawks spoke of the struggle with Britain as a second war of independence; [Andrew] Jackson, who still bore scars from the first war of independence held that view with special conviction. The approaching conflict was about violations of American rights, but it was also about vindication of American identity".[22] Americans at the time and historians since often called it the United States' "Second War of Independence".[23]

Trade with France

In 1807, Britain introduced a series of trade restrictions via a series of Orders in Council to impede neutral trade with France, with which Britain was at war. The United States contested these restrictions as illegal under international law.[24] Also, historian Reginald Horsman states, "a large section of influential British opinion, both in the government and in the country, thought that America presented a threat to British maritime supremacy".[25]

The American merchant marine had come close to doubling between 1802 and 1810, making it by far the largest neutral fleet. Britain was the largest trading partner, receiving 80% of U.S. cotton and 50% of other U.S. exports. The British public and press were resentful of the growing mercantile and commercial competition.[26] The United States' view was that Britain's restrictions violated its right to trade with others.

Impressment and Naval actions

Press gang: oil painting by Luke Clennell

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy expanded to 176 ships of the line and 600 ships overall, requiring 140,000 sailors to man.[27] While the Royal Navy could man its ships with volunteers in peacetime, it competed in wartime with merchant shipping and privateers for a small pool of experienced sailors and turned to impressment from ashore and foreign or domestic shipping when it could not operate its ships with volunteers alone.

The United States believed that British deserters had a right to become U.S. citizens. Britain did not recognize a right whereby a British subject could relinquish his status as a British subject, emigrate and transfer his national allegiance as a naturalized citizen to any other country. This meant that in addition to recovering naval deserters, it considered any United States citizens who were born British liable for impressment. Aggravating the situation was the reluctance of the United States to issue formal naturalization papers and the widespread use of unofficial or forged identity or protection papers by sailors.[28] This made it difficult for the Royal Navy to distinguish Americans from non-Americans and led it to impress some Americans who had never been British. (Some gained freedom on appeal).[29]Thus while the United States recognized British-born sailors on American ships as Americans, Britain did not. It was estimated by the Admiralty that there were 11,000 naturalized sailors on United States ships in 1805. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin stated that 9,000 U.S. sailors were born in Britain.[30] Moreover, a great number of these British born sailors were Irish. For instance an investigation by Captain Isaac Chauncey in 1808 found that 58% of sailors based in New York City were either naturalized citizens or recent immigrants, the majority of these foreign born sailors (134 of 150) being from Britain. Moreover, 80 of the 134 British sailors were Irish.

American anger at impressment grew when British frigates were stationed just outside U.S. harbours in view of U.S. shores and searched ships for contraband and impressed men while within U.S. territorial waters.[31] Well publicized impressment actions such as the Leander Affair and the ChesapeakeLeopard Affair outraged the American public.[32] [33]

The British public in turn were outraged by the Little Belt Affair, in which a larger American ship clashed with a small British sloop, resulting in the deaths of 11 British sailors. Both sides claimed the other fired first, but the British public in particular blamed the U.S. for attacking a smaller vessel, with calls for revenge by some newspapers,[34][35] while the U.S. was encouraged by the fact they had won a victory over the Royal Navy.[36] The U.S. Navy also forcibly recruited British sailors but the British government saw impressment as commonly accepted practice and preferred to rescue British sailors from American impressment on a case-by-case basis.[37]

British support for Native American raids

Origins of
the War of 1812
ChesapeakeLeopard Affair
Orders in Council (1807)
Embargo Act of 1807
Non-Intercourse Act (1809)
Macon's Bill Number 2
Tecumseh's War
Henry letters
War Hawks
Rule of 1756
Monroe–Pinkney Treaty
Little Belt Affair

The Northwest Territory, which consisted of the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, was the battleground for conflict between the Native American Nations and the United States.[38] The British Empire had ceded the area to the United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, both sides ignoring the fact that the land was already inhabited by various Native American nations. These included the Miami, Winnebago, Shawnee, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Delaware and Wyandot. Some warriors, who had left their nations of origin, followed Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet and the brother of Tecumseh. Tenskwatawa had a vision of purifying his society by expelling the "children of the Evil Spirit": the American settlers.[39] The Indians wanted to create their own state in the Northwest, which would end the American threat forever as it became clear that the Americans wanted all of the land in the Old Northwest for themselves.[40] Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh formed a confederation of numerous tribes to block American expansion. The British saw the Native American nations as valuable allies and a buffer to its Canadian colonies and provided arms. Attacks on American settlers in the Northwest further aggravated tensions between Britain and the United States.[41] Raiding grew more common in 1810 and 1811; Westerners in Congress found the raids intolerable and wanted them permanently ended.[42] British policy towards the Indians of the Northwest was torn between on one point the desire to keep the Americans fighting in the Northwest and to preserve a region that provided rich profits for Canadian fur traders vs. the fear of too much support for the Indians would cause a war with the United States.[40] Through Tecumseh's plans for an Indian state in the Northwest would benefit British North America by making it more defensible, at the same time, the defeats suffered by Tecumseh's confederation had the British leery to going too far to support what was probably a losing cause and in the months running to the war, British diplomats attempted to defuse tensions on the frontier.[40]

The confederation's raids and existence hindered American expansion into rich farmlands in the Northwest Territory.[43] Pratt writes:

There is ample proof that the British authorities did all in their power to hold or win the allegiance of the Indians of the Northwest with the expectation of using them as allies in the event of war. Indian allegiance could be held only by gifts, and to an Indian no gift was as acceptable as a lethal weapon. Guns and ammunition, tomahawks and scalping knives were dealt out with some liberality by British agents.[44]

However, according to the U.S Army Center of Military History, the "land-hungry frontiersmen", with "no doubt that their troubles with the Native Americans were the result of British intrigue", exacerbated the problem by "[circulating stories] after every Native American raid of British Army muskets and equipment being found on the field". Thus, "the westerners were convinced that their problems could best be solved by forcing the British out of Canada".[45]

The British had the long-standing goal of creating a large "neutral" Native American state that would cover much of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. They made the demand as late as the fall of 1814 at the peace conference, but lost control of western Ontario in 1813 at key battles on and around Lake Erie. These battles destroyed the Indian confederacy which had been the main ally of the British in that region, weakening its negotiating position. Although the area remained under British or British-allied Native Americans' control until the end of the war, the British, at American insistence and with higher priorities, dropped the demands.[46]

American expansionism

American expansion into the Northwest Territory was being obstructed by indigenous leaders such as Tecumseh, who were supplied and encouraged by the British. Americans on the western frontier demanded that interference be stopped.[47] There is dispute, however, over whether or not the American desire to annex Canada brought on the war. Several historians believe that the capture of Canada was intended only as a means to secure a bargaining chip, which would then be used to force Britain to back down on the maritime issues. It would also cut off food supplies for Britain's West Indian colonies, and temporarily prevent the British from continuing to arm the Indians.[48][49] However, many historians believe that a desire to annex Canada was a cause of the war. This view was more prevalent before 1940, but remains widely held today.[50][51][52][53] Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson told Congress that the constant Indian atrocities along the Wabash River in Indiana were enabled by supplies from Canada and were proof that "the war has already commenced. ... I shall never die contented until I see England's expulsion from North America and her territories incorporated into the United States."[54]

Madison believed that British economic policies designed to foster imperial preference were harming the American economy and that as British North America existed, here was a conduit for American strugglers who were undercutting his trade policies, which thus required that the United States annex British North America.[55] Furthermore, Madison believed that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade route might become the main trade route for the export of North American goods to Europe at the expense of the U.S. economy, and if the United States controlled the resources of British North America like timber which the British needed for their navy, then Britain would be forced to change its maritime policies which had so offended American public opinion.[55] Many Americans believed it was only natural that their country should swallow up North America with one Congressman, John Harper saying in a speech that "the Author of Nature Himself had marked our limits in the south, by the Gulf of Mexico and on the north, by the regions of eternal frost".[55] Upper Canada (modern southern Ontario) had been settled mostly by Revolution-era exiles from the United States (United Empire Loyalists) or postwar American immigrants. The Loyalists were hostile to union with the United States, while the immigrant settlers were generally uninterested in politics and remained neutral or supported the British during the war. The Canadian colonies were thinly populated and only lightly defended by the British Army. Americans then believed that many men in Upper Canada would rise up and greet an American invading army as liberators. That did not happen. One reason American forces retreated after one successful battle inside Canada was that they could not obtain supplies from the locals.[56] But the Americans thought that the possibility of local support suggested an easy conquest, as former President Thomas Jefferson believed: "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent".[57]

Annexation was supported by American border businessmen who wanted to gain control of Great Lakes trade.[58]

James Madison, U.S. President, (1809–1817)
Lord Liverpool, British Prime Minister, (1812–1827)

Carl Benn noted that the War Hawks' desire to annex the Canadas was similar to the enthusiasm for the annexation of Spanish Florida by inhabitants of the American South; both expected war to facilitate expansion into long-desired lands and end support for hostile Indian tribes (Tecumseh's Confederacy in the North and the Creek in the South).[59]

Stagg has examined the fate of the expansionist cause proposed by Hacker and Pratt in the 1920s:

this 'expansionist' interpretation of the war can still be found in textbooks currently in use in the nation's high schools. It has also compounded popular confusion about the war by perpetuating an arid dispute over what should be deemed to be its 'real' or most important causes. Were these causes international or domestic in origin? That debate became both interminable and insoluble. Consequently, a new generation of historians by the 1960s ... repudiated the views of Hacker and Pratt.[60]

Southern Congressman Felix Grundy considered it essential to acquire Canada to preserve domestic political balance, arguing that annexing Canada would maintain the free state-slave state balance, which might otherwise be thrown off by the acquisition of Florida and the settlement of the southern areas of the new Louisiana Purchase.[61] However historian Richard Maass argued in 2015 that the expansionist theme is a myth that goes against the "relative consensus among experts that the primary U.S. objective was the repeal of British maritime restrictions". He argues that consensus among scholars is that the United States went to war "because six years of economic sanctions had failed to bring Britain to the negotiating table, and threatening the Royal Navy's Canadian supply base was their last hope." Maass agrees that theoretically expansionism might have tempted Americans, but finds that "leaders feared the domestic political consequences of doing so. Notably, what limited expansionism there was focused on sparsely populated western lands rather than the more populous eastern settlements [of Canada]."[62]

Horsman argued expansionism played a role as a secondary cause after maritime issues, noting that many historians have mistakenly rejected expansionism as a cause for the war. He notes that it was considered key to maintaining sectional balance between free and slave states thrown off by American settlement of the Louisiana Territory, and widely supported by dozens of War Hawk congressmen such as John A. Harper, Felix Grundy, Henry Clay, and Richard M. Johnson, who voted for war with expansion as a key aim.

In disagreeing with those interpretations that have simply stressed expansionism and minimized maritime causation, historians have ignored deep-seated American fears for national security, dreams of a continent completely controlled by the republican United States, and the evidence that many Americans believed that the War of 1812 would be the occasion for the United States to achieve the long-desired annexation of Canada ... Thomas Jefferson well-summarized American majority opinion about the war ... to say "that the cession of Canada ... must be a sine qua non [i.e. indispensable condition] at a treaty of peace".[63]

However, Horsman states that in his view "the desire for Canada did not cause the War of 1812" and that "The United States did not declare war because it wanted to obtain Canada, but the acquisition of Canada was viewed as a major collateral benefit of the conflict."[63]

Alan Taylor argues that many Republican congressmen, such as Richard M. Johnson, John A. Harper and Peter B. Porter, "longed to oust the British from the continent and to annex Canada". Southern Republicans largely opposed this, fearing an imbalance of free and slave states if Canada was annexed, while anti-Catholicism also caused many to oppose annexing mainly Catholic Lower Canada, believing its French-speaking inhabitants "unfit ... for republican citizenship". Even major figures such as Henry Clay and James Monroe expected to keep at least Upper Canada in the event of an easy conquest. Notable American generals, like William Hull were led by this sentiment to issue proclamations to Canadians during the war promising republican liberation through incorporation into the United States; a proclamation the government never officially disavowed. General Alexander Smyth similarly declared to his troops that when they invaded Canada "You will enter a country that is to become one of the United States. You will arrive among a people who are to become your fellow-citizens." A lack of clarity about American intentions undercut these appeals, however.[64]

David and Jeanne Heidler argue that "Most historians agree that the War of 1812 was not caused by expansionism but instead reflected a real concern of American patriots to defend United States' neutral rights from the overbearing tyranny of the British Navy. That is not to say that expansionist aims would not potentially result from the war."[65]

However, they also argue otherwise, saying that "acquiring Canada would satisfy America's expansionist desires", also describing it as a key goal of western expansionists, who, they argue, believed that "eliminating the British presence in Canada would best accomplish" their goal of halting British support for Indian raids. They argue that the "enduring debate" is over the relative importance of expansionism as a factor, and whether "expansionism played a greater role in causing the War of 1812 than American concern about protecting neutral maritime rights."[66]

U.S. political conflict

While the British government was largely oblivious to the deteriorating North American situation because of its involvement in a continent-wide European War, the U.S. was in a period of significant political conflict between the Federalist Party (based mainly in the Northeast), which favoured a strong central government and closer ties to Britain, and the Democratic-Republican Party (with its greatest power base in the South and West), which favoured a weak central government, preservation of states' rights (including slavery), expansion into Indian land, and a stronger break with Britain. By 1812, the Federalist Party had weakened considerably, and the Republicans, with James Madison completing his first term of office and control of Congress, were in a strong position to pursue their more aggressive agenda against Britain.[67] Throughout the war, support for the U.S. cause was weak (or sometimes non-existent) in Federalist areas of the Northeast. Few men volunteered to serve; the banks avoided financing the war. The negativism of the Federalists, especially as exemplified by the Hartford Convention of 1814–15 ruined its reputation and the Party survived only in scattered areas. By 1815 there was broad support for the war from all parts of the country. This allowed the triumphant Republicans to adopt some Federalist policies, such as a national bank, which Madison reestablished in 1816.[68][69]



The United States Navy (USN) had 7,250 sailors and Marines in 1812.[70] The American Navy was well trained and a professional force that fought well against the Barbary pirates and France in the Quasi-War.[70] The USN had 13 ocean-going warships, three of them "super-frigates" and its principal problem was a lack of funding as many in Congress did not see the need for a strong navy.[70] The American warships were all well-built ships that were equal, if not superior to British ships of a similar class (British shipbuilding emphasized quantity over quality). However, the biggest ships in the USN were frigates and the Americans had no ships-of-the-line capable of engaging in a fleet action with the Royal Navy at sea. On the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, the Americans constructed lake fleets which, both in 1813 and 1814, won pivotal battles on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain which forced British withdrawals from American territory.[71]

On the high seas, the Americans could only pursue a strategy of guerre de course of taking British merchantmen via their frigates and privateers.[72] Before the war, the USN was largely concentrated on the Atlantic coast and at the war's outbreak had only two gunboats on Lake Champlain, one brig on Lake Ontario and another brig in Lake Erie.[73]

The United States Army was much larger than the British Army in North America, but leadership in the American officer corps was inconsistent with some officers proving themselves to be outstanding but many others inept, owing their positions to political favors.[73] American soldiers were well trained and brave, but in the early battles were often led by officers of questionable ability.[73] Congress was hostile to a standing army, and during the war, the U.S. government called out 450,000 men from the state militas, a number that was slightly smaller than the entire population of British North America.[73] However, the state militias were poorly trained, armed and led. After the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 in which the Maryland and Virginia militias were soundly defeated by the British Army, President Madison commented: "I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force, if I not witnessed the scenes of this day".[70]


The British Royal Navy was a well-led, professional force, described by the Canadian historian Carl Benn as the world's most powerful navy. However, as long as the war with France continued, North America was a secondary concern.[73] In 1813, France had 80 ships-of-the-line while building another 35. Therefore, containing the French fleet had to be the main British naval concern.[73] In Upper Canada, the British had the Provincial Marine was essential for keeping the army supplied since the roads in Upper Canada were abysmal.[73] On Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, the Royal Navy had two schooners while the Provincial Marine maintained four small warships on Lake Erie.[73] The British Army in North America was a very professional and well trained force, but suffered from being outnumbered.[73]

The militias of Upper Canada and Lower Canada had a much more lower level of military effectiveness.[73] Nevertheless, Canadian militia (and locally recruited regular units known as "Fencibles") were often more reliable than American militia, particularly when defending their own territory. As such they played pivotal roles in various engagements, including at the Battle of Chateauguay where Canadian and Indian forces alone stopped a much larger American force despite not having assistance from regular British units.


Because of their lower population compared to whites, and lacking artillery, Indian allies of the British avoided pitched battles and instead relied on irregular warfare, including raids and ambushes.[74] Given their low population, it was crucial to avoid heavy losses and, in general, Indian chiefs would seek to only fight under favorable conditions; any battle that promised heavy losses was avoided if possible.[74] The main Indian weapons were a mixture of tomahawks, knives, swords, rifles, clubs, arrows and muskets.[74] Indian warriors were brave, but the need to avoid heavy losses meant that they would only fight under the most favorable conditions and their tactics favored a defensive as opposed to offensive style.[74]

In the words of Benn, those Indians fighting with the Americans provided the U.S with their "most effective light troops" while the British desperately needed the Indian tribes to compensate for their numerical inferiority.[74] The Indians, regardless of which side they fought for, saw themselves as allies, not subordinates and Indian chiefs did what they viewed as best for their tribes, much to the annoyance of both American and British generals, who often complained about the "unreliability" of the Indians.[74]

Declaration of war

U.S. Declaration of War
Proclamation by Isaac Brock in response to the U.S. declaration of war

On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain, though not specifically calling for a declaration of war. After Madison's message, the House of Representatives deliberated for four days behind closed doors before voting 79 to 49 (61%) in favor of the first declaration of war. The Senate concurred in the declaration by a 19 to 13 (59%) vote in favour. The conflict began formally on June 18, 1812, when Madison signed the measure into law and proclaimed it the next day.[75] This was the first time that the United States had declared war on another nation, and the Congressional vote would prove to be the closest vote to formally declare war in American history. (The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 1991, while not a formal declaration of war, was a closer vote.) None of the 39 Federalists in Congress voted in favour of the war; critics of war subsequently referred to it as "Mr. Madison's War".[76]

Earlier in London on May 11, an assassin had killed Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, which resulted in Lord Liverpool coming to power. Liverpool wanted a more practical relationship with the United States. On June 23, he issued a repeal of the Orders in Council, but the United States was unaware of this, as it took three weeks for the news to cross the Atlantic.[77] On June 28, 1812, HMS Colibri was despatched from Halifax under a flag of truce to New York. On July 9, she anchored off Sandy Hook, and three days later sailed on her return with a copy of the declaration of war, in addition to transporting the British ambassador to the United States, Mr. Foster and consul, Colonel Barclay. She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia eight days later. The news of the declaration took even longer to reach London.

However, the British commander in Upper Canada received news of the American declaration of war much faster. In response to the U.S. declaration of war, Isaac Brock issued a proclamation alerting the citizenry in Upper Canada of the state of war and urging all military personnel "to be vigilant in the discharge of their duty" to prevent communication with the enemy and to arrest anyone suspected of helping the Americans.[78][79] He also issued orders to the commander of the British post at Fort St. Joseph to initiate offensive operations against U.S. forces in northern Michigan, who it turned out, were not yet aware of their own government's declaration of war. The resulting siege of Fort Mackinac was the first major land engagement of the war.

Course of the war


Although the outbreak of the war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, neither side was ready for war when it came. Britain was heavily engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, most of the British Army was deployed in the Peninsular War (in Portugal and Spain), and the Royal Navy was compelled to blockade most of the coast of Europe.[9] The number of British regular troops present in Canada in July 1812 was officially stated to be 6,034, supported by Canadian militia.[80] Throughout the war, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies was the Earl of Bathurst. For the first two years of the war, he could spare few troops to reinforce North America and urged the commander-in-chief in North America (Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost) to maintain a defensive strategy. The naturally cautious Prévost followed these instructions, concentrating on defending Lower Canada at the expense of Upper Canada (which was more vulnerable to American attacks) and allowing few offensive actions.

The Battle of Queenston Heights depicts the unsuccessful American landing on 13 October 1812

The United States was not prepared to prosecute a war, for Madison had assumed that the state militias would easily seize Canada and that negotiations would follow. In 1812, the regular army consisted of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular; it offered poor pay, and there were few trained and experienced officers, at least initially.[81] The militia objected to serving outside their home states, were not open to discipline, and performed poorly against British forces when outside their home states.[9] American prosecution of the war suffered from its unpopularity, especially in New England, where anti-war speakers were vocal. "Two of the Massachusetts members [of Congress], Seaver and Widgery, were publicly insulted and hissed on Change in Boston; while another, Charles Turner, member for the Plymouth district, and Chief-Justice of the Court of Sessions for that county, was seized by a crowd on the evening of August 3, [1812] and kicked through the town".[82] The United States had great difficulty financing its war. It had disbanded its national bank, and private bankers in the Northeast were opposed to the war. The United States was able to obtain financing from London-based Barings Bank to cover overseas bond obligations.[83] The failure of New England to provide militia units or financial support was a serious blow.[84] Threats of secession by New England states were loud, as evidenced by the Hartford Convention. Britain exploited these divisions, blockading only southern ports for much of the war and encouraging smuggling.[85]

Upper Canada

On July 12, 1812, General William Hull led an invading American force of about 1,000 untrained, poorly equipped militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich (now a neighborhood of Windsor, Ontario).[86] Hull was not an aggressive leader and dithered, knowing that only one of his regiments were regular United States army troops while the other three were composed of ill-trained militiamen who Hull feared would not stand up to the test of combat.[87] The British Provincial Marine seized an American ship on Lake Erie carrying Hull's supplies, which led Hull to cross the slower overland route to bring up his supplies, which additionally had to face the prospect of being ambushed by Indians loyal to Tecumseh.[87] On 17 July, the British captured Mackinac island, which led Hull to assume that all of the Indians in the Old Northwest would rise up against the Americans.[88] On 8 August, Hull and his troops (numbering 2,500 with the addition of 500 Canadians) retreated to Detroit, where they surrendered to a significantly smaller force of British regulars, Canadian militia and Native Americans, led by British Major General Isaac Brock and Shawnee leader Tecumseh.[89] The surrender not only cost the United States the village of Detroit, but control over most of the Michigan Territory. By capturing Detroit, Brock had secured his western flank for the moment, gave his forces much needed equipment, as the Upper Canada militia was short of arms, and persuaded the waving population of Upper Canada that the British could hold out.[90] The Iroquois living on the Grand River, who until had ignoring Brock's orders to report to his command, now sent 450 warriors out to join the British.[90] Several months later, the U.S. launched a second invasion of Canada, this time at the Niagara peninsula. On October 13, United States forces were again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights, where General Brock was killed.[91]

Military and civilian leadership remained a critical American weakness until 1814. The early disasters brought about chiefly by American unpreparedness and lack of leadership drove United States Secretary of War William Eustis from office. His successor, John Armstrong, Jr., attempted a coordinated strategy late in 1813 (with 10,000 men) aimed at the capture of Montreal, but he was thwarted by logistical difficulties, uncooperative and quarrelsome commanders and ill-trained troops. After losing several battles to inferior forces, the Americans retreated in disarray in October and November 1813.[92] Further complicating the American efforts throughout the Upper Canadian theatre of war were the logistical challenges associated with supplying forces on the Canadian frontier. American supplies had to be brought over a poor road through the Black Marsh area in winter. British forces, on the other hand, could rely upon supply ships except for the winter months. Contractors were relied upon to supply American forces and often delivered rotting meat. If unable to bring the supplies American contractors were liable to declare bankruptcy leaving troops to starve.[93] Despite requests that a quartermaster system be set up, no action was forthcoming. The local farms on both sides of the borders were mostly isolated farmsteads barely above the subsistence level. Both sides would relentlessly press farmers for more supplies than they were prepared to surrender while requisitioning horses and wagons. This further crippled farming in the area.[93]

Great Lakes and the US West

American Infantry attacks at Lundy's Lane
File:War of 1812 Re-enactment, Old Fort Erie, Ontario.jpg
War of 1812 Re-enactment, Old Fort Erie, Ontario

A decisive use of naval power came on the Great Lakes and depended on the outcome of a contest of naval construction on both sides. The U.S. rapidly expanded its program of building warships at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, where 3,000 men were recruited, many from New York City, to build 11 warships early in the war. In 1813, the Americans won control of Lake Erie in the Battle of Lake Erie and cut off British and Native American forces in the west from their supply base. The British and Native American forces were subsequently decisively defeated by General William Henry Harrison's forces on their retreat towards Niagara at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813.[94] Tecumseh, the leader of the tribal confederation, was killed and his Indian coalition disintegrated.[95] While some natives continued to fight alongside British troops, they subsequently did so only as individual tribes or groups of warriors, and while they were directly supplied and armed by British agents, the scattered tribes never again posed an organized threat to the United States. The Americans controlled western Ontario, and permanently ended the threat of Indian raids supplied by the British in Canada into the American Midwest, thus achieving a basic war goal.[96] Raids would continue from the unsubdued Indian tribes in the Old Northwest, which remained under British/Indian control, until the end of the war. Control of Lake Ontario changed hands several times, with both sides acting cautiously, unable and unwilling to risk their temporary superiority.


At sea, the powerful Royal Navy blockaded much of the American coastline, though it was allowing substantial exports from New England, which traded with Canada in defiance of American laws. The blockade devastated American agricultural exports, but as a side effect it helped stimulate local manufacturers which slowly replaced goods previously imported. The American strategy of using small gunboats to defend their ports was a fiasco, as the larger ocean going British ships raided the coast at will. The most famous episode was a series of British raids on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, including an attack on Washington that resulted in the British burning of the White House, the Capitol, the Navy Yard, and other public buildings, in the "Burning of Washington". The British power at sea was enough to allow the Royal Navy to levy "contributions" on bay-side towns in return for not burning them to the ground. The Americans were more successful early in the war in ship-to-ship actions. Lacking numbers in the formal USN they also sent out several hundred privateers to attack British merchant ships; in the first four months of war they captured 219 British merchant ships.[97] British commercial interests were damaged, especially in the West Indies.[98] The Royal Navy also captured American merchant shipping and by the end of the war both sides claimed in excess of 1400 captures, although with recaptures the totals may be less. This was a blow to the British, but a crippling of American seaborne trade.

US South

The Battle of New Orleans in 1815

After Napoleon abdicated on April 6, 1814, the British could send veteran armies to the United States, but by then the Americans had learned how to mobilize and fight.[99] British General Prévost launched a major invasion of Upstate New York with these veteran soldiers, but the American fleet under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough gained control of Lake Champlain and the British lost the Battle of Plattsburgh in September 1814. Prévost, blamed for the defeat, sought a court-martial to clear his name, but he died in London awaiting it.[100] The British then launched a successful attack on Chesapeake Bay, capturing, and burning Washington, looting Alexandria, and unsuccessfully attacking Baltimore. The embarrassing Burning of Washington led to Armstrong's dismissal as U.S. Secretary of War. A British invasion of Louisiana (unknowingly launched after the Treaty of Ghent was negotiated to end the war) was defeated with heavy British losses by General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. The victory made Jackson a national hero, restored the American sense of honour in the face of previous mediocre military successes,[101] and ruined the Federalist party's efforts to condemn the war as a failure.[102] With the ratification of the peace treaty in February 1815, the war ended before the U.S. new Secretary of War James Monroe could put his new offensive strategy into effect, and before the British could launch renewed attacks.

End of the War

Once Britain and The Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, France and Britain became close allies. Britain ended the trade restrictions and the impressment of American sailors, thus removing two more causes of the war. After two years of warfare, the major causes of the war had disappeared. Neither side had a reason to continue or a chance of gaining a decisive success that would compel their opponents to cede territory or advantageous peace terms.[103] As a result of this stalemate, the two countries signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. News of the peace treaty took two months to reach North America, during which fighting continued. The war fostered a spirit of national unity and an "Era of Good Feelings" in the United States,[104] as well as in Canada.[105] It opened a long era of peaceful relations between the United States and the British.[106]

Theatres of war

The war was conducted in three theatres:

  1. At sea, principally the Atlantic Ocean and the east coast of North America
  2. The Great Lakes and the Canadian frontier
  3. The Southern states and southwestern territories

Atlantic theatre

Opening strategies

Map of Chesapeake's first cruise during the War of 1812. Modern boundaries are shown.

In 1812, Britain's Royal Navy was the world's largest, with over 600 cruisers in commission and some smaller vessels. Although most of these were involved in blockading the French navy and protecting British trade against (usually French) privateers, the Royal Navy still had 85 vessels in American waters, counting all British Navy vessels in North American and the Caribbean waters.[107] However, the Royal Navy's North American squadron based in Halifax, Nova Scotia (which bore the brunt of the war), numbered one small ship of the line, seven frigates, nine smaller sloops and brigs along with five schooners.[108] By contrast, the United States Navy comprised 8 frigates, 14 smaller sloops and brigs, and no ships of the line. The U.S. had embarked on a major shipbuilding program before the war at Sackets Harbor, New York and continued to produce new ships. Three of the existing American frigates were exceptionally large and powerful for their class, larger than any British frigate in North America. Whereas the standard British frigate of the time was rated as a 38 gun ship, usually carrying up to 50 guns, with its main battery consisting of 18-pounder guns; USS Constitution, President, and United States, in comparison, were rated as 44-gun ships, carrying 56–60 guns with a main battery of 24-pounders.[109]

USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere, a significant event during the war.

The British strategy was to protect their own merchant shipping to and from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the West Indies, and to enforce a blockade of major American ports to restrict American trade. Because of their numerical inferiority, the American strategy was to cause disruption through hit-and-run tactics, such as the capture of prizes and engaging Royal Navy vessels only under favourable circumstances. Days after the formal declaration of war, however, it put out two small squadrons, including the frigate President and the sloop Hornet under Commodore John Rodgers, and the frigates United States and Congress, with the brig Argus under Captain Stephen Decatur. These were initially concentrated as one unit under Rodgers, who intended to force the Royal Navy to concentrate its own ships to prevent isolated units being captured by his powerful force.

Large numbers of American merchant ships were returning to the United States with the outbreak of war, and if the Royal Navy was concentrated, it could not watch all the ports on the American seaboard. Rodgers' strategy worked, in that the Royal Navy concentrated most of its frigates off New York Harbor under Captain Philip Broke, allowing many American ships to reach home. But, Rodgers' own cruise captured only five small merchant ships, and the Americans never subsequently concentrated more than two or three ships together as a unit.[110][citation needed]

Single-ship actions

HMS Shannon leading the captured American frigate Chesapeake into Halifax, Nova Scotia (1813)

Meanwhile, Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, sailed from Chesapeake Bay on July 12. On July 17, Broke's British squadron gave chase off New York, but Constitution evaded her pursuers after two days. After briefly calling at Boston to replenish water, on August 19, Constitution engaged the British frigate HMS Guerriere. After a 35-minute battle, Guerriere had been dis-masted and captured and was later burned. Constitution earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" following this battle as many of the British cannonballs were seen to bounce off her hull. Hull returned to Boston with news of this significant victory. On October 25, United States, commanded by Captain Decatur, captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian, which he then carried back to port.[111] At the close of the month, the Constitution sailed south, now under the command of Captain William Bainbridge. On December 29, off Bahia, Brazil, she met the British frigate HMS Java.[112] After a battle lasting three hours, Java struck her colors and was burned after being judged unsalvageable. Constitution, however, was relatively undamaged in the battle.[citation needed]

The successes gained by the three big American frigates forced Britain to construct five 40-gun, 24-pounder heavy frigates[113] and two "spar-decked" frigates (the 60-gun HMS Leander and HMS Newcastle[114]) and to razee three old 74-gun ships of the line to convert them to heavy frigates.[115] The Royal Navy acknowledged that there were factors other than greater size and heavier guns. The United States Navy's sloops and brigs had also won several victories over Royal Navy vessels of approximately equal strength. While the American ships had experienced and well-drilled volunteer crews, the enormous size of the overstretched Royal Navy meant that many ships were shorthanded and the average quality of crews suffered. The constant sea duties of those serving in North America interfered with their training and exercises.[116]

The capture of the three British frigates stimulated the British to greater exertions. More vessels were deployed on the American seaboard and the blockade tightened. On June 1, 1813, off Boston Harbor, the frigate Chesapeake, commanded by Captain James Lawrence, was captured by the British frigate HMS Shannon under Captain Philip Broke. Lawrence was mortally wounded and famously cried out, "Don't give up the ship! Hold on, men!"[116] The two frigates were of near-identical size. Chesapeake's crew was larger but most had not served or trained together. British citizens reacted with celebration and relief that the run of American victories had ended.[117] Notably, this action was by ratio one of the bloodiest contests recorded during this age of sail, with more dead and wounded than HMS Victory suffered in four hours of combat at Trafalgar. Captain Lawrence was killed and Captain Broke was so badly wounded that he never again held a sea command.[118]

Marines aboard USS Wasp engage HMS Reindeer June 1814

In January 1813, the American frigate Essex, under the command of Captain David Porter, sailed into the Pacific to harass British shipping. Many British whaling ships carried letters of marque allowing them to prey on American whalers, and they nearly destroyed the industry. Essex challenged this practice. She inflicted considerable damage on British interests before she and her tender, USS Essex Junior (armed with twenty guns) were captured off Valparaíso, Chile, by the British frigate HMS Phoebe and the sloop HMS Cherub on March 28, 1814.[119] In the summer of 1813, the brig USS Argus raided the waters off the British isles, taking 19 British merchant ships until she was captured after a battle with the HMS Pelican on 14 August 1813.[120]

The British Cruizer-class brig-sloops did not fare well against the American ship-rigged sloops of war. Hornet and Wasp constructed before the war were notably powerful vessels, and the Frolic class built during the war even more so (although Frolic was trapped and captured by a British frigate and a schooner). The British brig-rigged sloops tended to suffer fire to their rigging more frequently than the American ship-rigged sloops. In addition, the ship-rigged sloops could back their sails in action, giving them another advantage in manoeuvring.[121]

Following their earlier losses, the British Admiralty instituted a new policy that the three American heavy frigates should not be engaged except by a ship of the line or smaller vessels in squadron strength. An example of this was the capture of President by a squadron of four British frigates in January 1815. But, a month later, Constitution engaged and captured two smaller British warships, HMS Cyane and HMS Levant, sailing in company.[122]

Success in single ship battles raised American morale after the repeated failed invasion attempts in Upper and Lower Canada. However these single ship victories had no military effect on the war at sea as they did not alter the balance of naval power, impede British supplies and reinforcements, or even raise insurance rates for British trade.[123] During the war, the United States Navy captured 165 British merchantmen while the Royal Navy captured 1,400 American merchantmen.[124]


The operations of American privateers proved a more significant threat to British trade than the U.S. Navy. They operated throughout the Atlantic and continued until the close of the war, most notably from ports such as Baltimore. American privateers reported taking 1300 British merchant vessels, compared to 254 taken by the U.S. Navy.[125][126][127] although the insurer Lloyd's of London reported that only 1,175 British ships were taken, 373 of which were recaptured, for a total loss of 802.[128] The Canadian historian Carl Benn wrote that American privateers took 1, 344 British ships, of which 750 were retaken by the British.[124] However the British were able to limit privateering losses by the strict enforcement of convoy by the Royal Navy and by capturing 278 American privateers. Due to the massive size of the British merchant fleet, American captures only affected 7.5% of the fleet, resulting in no supply shortages or lack of reinforcements for British forces in North America.[129] Of 526 American privateers, 148 were captured by the Royal Navy and only 207 ever took a prize.[124]

Due to the large size of their navy, the British did not rely as much on privateering. The majority of the 1,407 captured American merchant ships were taken by the Royal Navy. The war was the last time the British allowed privateering, since the practice was coming to be seen as politically inexpedient and of diminishing value in maintaining its naval supremacy. However privateering remained popular in British colonies. It was the last hurrah for privateers in Bermuda who vigorously returned to the practice after experience in previous wars.[130] The nimble Bermuda sloops captured 298 American ships. Privateer schooners based in British North America, especially from Nova Scotia took 250 American ships and proved especially effective in crippling American coastal trade and capturing American ships closer to shore than the Royal Navy cruisers.[131]


Sailors in combat on the deck of a ship
Captain Broke leads the boarding party to USS Chesapeake

The naval blockade of the United States began informally in 1812 and expanded to cut off more ports as the war progressed.[124] Twenty ships were on station in 1812 and 135 were in place by the end of the conflict.[124] In March 1813, the Royal Navy punished the Southern states, who most vocal about annexing British North America by blockading Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah and New York city was well.[124] However, as additional ships were sent to North America in 1813, the Royal Navy was able to tighten the blockade and extend it, first to the coast south of Narragansett by November 1813 and to the entire American coast on May 31, 1814.[124] In May 1814, following the abdication of Napoleon, and the end of the supply problems with Wellington’s army, New England was blockaded.[132]

The British government, having need of American foodstuffs for its army in Spain, benefited from the willingness of the New Englanders to trade with them, so no blockade of New England was at first attempted.[124] The Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay were declared in a state of blockade on December 26, 1812. Illicit trade was carried on by collusive captures arranged between American traders and British officers. American ships were fraudulently transferred to neutral flags. Eventually, the U.S. government was driven to issue orders to stop illicit trading; this put only a further strain on the commerce of the country. The overpowering strength of the British fleet enabled it to occupy the Chesapeake and to attack and destroy numerous docks and harbours.[133]

The blockade of American ports later tightened to the extent that most American merchant ships and naval vessels were confined to port. The American frigates USS United States and Macedonian ended the war blockaded and hulked in New London, Connecticut.[134] The USS United States and USS Macedonian attempted to set sail to raid British shipping in the Caribbean, but were forced to turn back when confronted with a British squadron, and by the end of the war, the United States had six frigates and four ships-of-the-line sitting in port.[135] Some merchant ships were based in Europe or Asia and continued operations. Others, mainly from New England, were issued licences to trade by Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, commander in chief on the American station in 1813. This allowed Wellington's army in Spain to receive American goods and to maintain the New Englanders' opposition to the war. The blockade nevertheless resulted in American exports decreasing from $130 million in 1807 to $7 million in 1814. Most of these were food exports that ironically went to supply their enemies in Britain or British colonies.[136] The blockade had a devastating effect on the American economy with the value of American exports and imports falling from $114 million in 1811 down to $20 million by 1814 while the US Customs took in $13 million in 1811 and $6 million in 1814, despite the fact that Congress had voted to double the rates.[137] The British blockade further damaged the American economy by forcing merchants to abandon the cheap and fast coastal trade to the slow and more expensive inland roads.[138] In 1814, only 1 out of 14 American merchantmen risked leaving port as a high probability that any ship leaving port would be seized.[138]

As the Royal Navy base that supervised the blockade, Halifax profited greatly during the war. From that base British privateers seized many French and American ships and sold their prizes in Halifax.

Freeing and recruiting slaves

The British Royal Navy's blockades and raids allowed about 4,000 African Americans to escape slavery by fleeing American plantations to find freedom aboard British ships, migrants known, as regards those who settled in Canada, as the Black Refugees. The blockading British fleet in Chesapeake Bay received increasing numbers of enslaved black Americans during 1813. By British government order they were treated as free persons when reaching British hands.[139][140] Alexander Cochrane's proclamation of April 2, 1814, invited Americans who wished to emigrate to join the British, and though not explicitly mentioning slaves was taken by all as addressed to them. About 2,400 of the escaped slaves and their families who were carried on ships of the Royal Navy following their escape settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during and after the war. From May 1814, younger men among the volunteers were recruited into a new Corps of Colonial Marines. They fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the Battle of Bladensburg and the attacks on Washington, D.C. and Battle of Baltimore, later settling in Trinidad after rejecting British government orders for transfer to the West India Regiments, forming the community of the Merikins. The slaves who escaped to the British represented the largest emancipation of African Americans before the American Civil War.[141]

Occupation of Maine

Maine, then part of Massachusetts, was a base for smuggling and illegal trade between the U.S. and the British. Until 1813 the region was generally quiet except for privateer actions near the coast. In September 1813, there was a notable naval action when the U.S. Navy's brig Enterprise fought and captured the Royal Navy brig Boxer off Pemaquid Point.[142] The first British assault came in July 1814, when Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy took Moose Island (Eastport, Maine) without a shot, with the entire American garrison of Fort Sullivan—which became the British Fort Sherbrooke—surrendering.[143] Next, from his base in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in September 1814, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke led 3,000 British troops in the "Penobscot Expedition". In 26 days, he raided and looted Hampden, Bangor, and Machias, destroying or capturing 17 American ships. He won the Battle of Hampden (losing two killed while the Americans lost one killed). Retreating American forces were forced to destroy the frigate Adams. The British occupied the town of Castine and most of eastern Maine for the rest of the war, re-establishing the colony of New Ireland. The Treaty of Ghent returned this territory to the United States, though Machias Seal Island has remained in dispute. The British left in April 1815, at which time they took ₤10,750 obtained from tariff duties at Castine. This money, called the "Castine Fund", was used to establish Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.[144]

Chesapeake campaign and "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Following their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington D.C.

The strategic location of the Chesapeake Bay near America's new national capital, Washington, D.C. on the major tributary of the Potomac River, made it a prime target for the British and their Royal Navy and the King's Army. Starting in March 1813, a squadron under Rear Admiral George Cockburn started a blockade of the mouth of the Bay at Hampton Roads harbour and raided towns along the Bay from Norfolk, Virginia, to Havre de Grace, Maryland.

On July 4, 1813, Commodore Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, convinced the U.S. Navy Department to build the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a squadron of twenty barges powered by small sails or oars (sweeps) to defend the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in April 1814, the squadron was quickly cornered in the Patuxent River, and while successful in harassing the Royal Navy, they were powerless to stop the British campaign that ultimately led to the "Burning of Washington". This expedition, led by Cockburn and General Robert Ross, was carried out between August 19 and 29, 1814, as the result of the hardened British policy of 1814 (although British and American commissioners had convened peace negotiations at Ghent in June of that year). As part of this, Admiral Warren had been replaced as commander in chief by Admiral Alexander Cochrane, with reinforcements and orders to coerce the Americans into a favourable peace.

Burning of Washington, August 1814

A force of 2,500 soldiers under General Ross had just arrived in Bermuda aboard HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops and ten other vessels. Released from the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal by British victory, the British intended to use them for diversionary raids along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. In response to Prévost's request, they decided to employ this force, together with the naval and military units already on the station, to strike at the "Federal City" of Washington, D.C.

On August 24, U.S. Secretary of War, John Armstrong insisted that the British would attack Baltimore rather than Washington, even when units of the British Army, accompanied by major ships of the Royal Navy, were obviously on their way to the capital. The inexperienced American militia, which had congregated nearby at Bladensburg, Maryland, to protect the capital, were defeated in the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the route to Washington. While First Lady Dolley Madison saved valuables from the then named "President's House" (or "President's Palace" [executive mansion] – now the "White House"), Fourth President James Madison and the government with members of the Presidential Cabinet, fled to Virginia.[145] Seeing that the Battle of Bladensburg, northeast of the town in rural Prince George's County was not going well, Secretary of the Navy William Jones ordered Captain Thomas Tingey, commandant of the Washington Naval Yard on the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River (now the Anacostia River), to set the facility ablaze to prevent the capture of American naval ships, buildings, shops and supplies.[145] Tingey had overseen the Naval Yard's planning and development since the national capital had been moved from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800, and waited until the very last possible minute, nearly four hours after the order was given to execute it. The destruction included most of the facility as well as the nearly-completed frigate "Columbia" and the sloop "Argus".[146]

The British commanders ate the supper that had been prepared for the President and his departmental secretaries after returning from hopeful glorious U.S. victory, before they burned the Executive Mansion; American morale was reduced to an all-time low. The British viewed their actions as retaliation for the destructive American invasions and raids into Canada, most notably the Americans' burning of York earlier in 1813. Later that same evening, a furious storm (some later weather experts called it a thunderstorm, almost a hurricane) swept into Washington, D.C., sending one or more tornadoes into the rough, unfinished town that caused more damage but finally extinguished the fires with torrential rains, leaving fire-blackened walls and partial ruins of the President's House, The Capitol and Treasury Department that were set alight the first night.[147] In addition, the combustibles used to finish off the Navy Yard destruction that the Americans had started, exploded, killing or maiming a large number of "Red-Coats." Subsequently, the British left Washington, D.C. the following day after the storm subsided.

Having destroyed Washington's public buildings, including the President's Mansion and the Treasury, the British army and navy next moved several weeks later to capture Baltimore, forty miles northeast, a busy port and a key base for American privateers. However, by not immediately going overland to the port city they sneeringly called a "nest of pirates", but returning to their ships anchored in the Patuxent River and proceeding later up to the Upper Bay, they gave the Baltimoreans plenty of time to reinforce their fortifications and gather regular U.S. Army and state militia troops from surrounding counties and states. The subsequent "Battle for Baltimore" began with the British landing on Sunday, September 12, 1814, at North Point, where the Baltimore harbour's Patapsco River met the Chesapeake Bay, where they were met by American militia further up the "Patapsco Neck" peninsula. An exchange of fire began, with casualties on both sides. Major Gen. Robert Ross was killed by American snipers as he attempted to rally his troops in the first skirmish. The snipers were killed moments later, and the British paused, then continued to march northwestward to the stationed Maryland and Baltimore City militia units deployed further up Long Log Lane on the peninsula at "Godly Wood" where the later Battle of North Point was fought for several afternoon hours in a musketry and artillery duel under command of British Col. Arthur Brooke and American commander for the Maryland state militia and its Third Brigade (or "Baltimore City Brigade"), Brig. Gen. John Stricker. The British also planned to simultaneously attack Baltimore by water on the following day, September 13, to support their military now arrayed facing the massed, heavily dug-in and fortified American units of approximately 15,000 with about a hundred cannon gathered along the eastern heights of the city named "Loudenschlager's Hill" (later "Hampstead Hill" - now part of Patterson Park). These overall Baltimore defences had been planned in advance and foreseen by the state militia commander, Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith, who had been set in charge of the Baltimore defences instead of the discredited U.S. Army commander for the Mid-Atlantic's 10th Military District (following the debacle the previous month at Bladensburg), William H. Winder. Smith had been earlier a Revolutionary War officer and commander, then wealthy city merchant and U.S. Representative, Senator and later Mayor of Baltimore. The "Red Coats" were unable to immediately reduce Fort McHenry, at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor to allow their ships to provide heavier naval gunfire to support their troops to the northeast.

An artist's rendering of the bombardment at Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key placed off-shore in a U.S. truce ship was inspired to write the four-stanza poem he originally titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry", which later when set to music became named the "The Star-Spangled Banner", adopted as the national anthem in 1931.

At the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the British naval guns, mortars and revolutionary new "Congreve rockets" had a longer range than the American cannon onshore, and the ships mostly stood off out of the Americans' range, bombarding the fort, which returned very little fire and was not too heavily damaged during the onslaught except for a burst over a rear brickwall knocking out some fieldpieces and resulting in a few casualties. Despite however the heavy bombardment, casualties in the fort were slight and the British ships eventually realized that they could not force the passage to attack Baltimore in coordination with the land force. After a last ditch night feint and barge attack during the heavy rain storm at the time led by Capt. Charles Napier around the fort up the Middle Branch of the river to the west which was split and misdirected partly in the storm, then turned back with heavy casualties by alert gunners at supporting western batteries Fort Covington and Battery Babcock, so the British called off the attack and sailed downriver to pick up their army which had retreated from the east side of Baltimore. All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, illuminating the flag that was still flying over the fort. The defence of the fort inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem that was set to music as "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Great Lakes and Western Territories

Invasions of Upper and Lower Canada, 1812

Map showing the northern theatre of the War of 1812

American leaders assumed that Canada could be easily overrun. Former President Jefferson optimistically referred to the conquest of Canada as "a matter of marching".[148] Many Loyalist Americans had migrated to Upper Canada after the Revolutionary War. There was also significant non-Loyalist American immigration to the area due to the offer of land grants to immigrants, and the U.S. assumed the latter would favour the American cause, but they did not. In prewar Upper Canada, General Prévost was in the unusual position of having to purchase many provisions for his troops from the American side. This peculiar trade persisted throughout the war in spite of an abortive attempt by the U.S. government to curtail it. In Lower Canada, which was much more populous, support for Britain came from the English elite with strong loyalty to the Empire, and from the Canadian elite, who feared American conquest would destroy the old order by introducing Protestantism, Anglicization, republican democracy, and commercial capitalism; and weakening the Catholic Church. The Canadian inhabitants feared the loss of a shrinking area of good lands to potential American immigrants.[149]

In 1812–13, British military experience prevailed over inexperienced American commanders. Geography dictated that operations would take place in the west: principally around Lake Erie, near the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and near the Saint Lawrence River area and Lake Champlain. This was the focus of the three-pronged attacks by the Americans in 1812. Although cutting the St. Lawrence River through the capture of Montreal and Quebec would have made Britain's hold in North America unsustainable, the United States began operations first in the western frontier because of the general popularity there of a war with the British, who had sold arms to the Native Americans opposing the settlers.

The British scored an important early success when their detachment at St. Joseph Island, on Lake Huron, learned of the declaration of war before the nearby American garrison at the important trading post at Mackinac Island in Michigan. A scratch force landed on the island on July 17, 1812, and mounted a gun overlooking Fort Mackinac. After the British fired one shot from their gun, the Americans, taken by surprise, surrendered. This early victory encouraged the natives, and large numbers moved to help the British at Amherstburg. The island totally controlled access to the Old Northwest, giving the British nominal control of this area, and, more vitally, a monopoly on the fur trade.

Kensett's engraving of Upper & Lower Canada 1812

An American army under the command of William Hull invaded Canada on July 12, with his forces chiefly composed of untrained and ill-disciplined militiamen.[150] Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender, or "the horrors, and calamities of war will stalk before you".[151] This led many of the British forces to defect. John Bennett, printer and publisher of the York Gazette & Oracle, was a prominent defector. Andrew Mercer, who had the publication's production moved to his house, lost the press and type destroyed during American occupation, an example of what happened to resisters.[152] He also threatened to kill any British prisoner caught fighting alongside a native. The proclamation helped stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Hull's army was too weak in artillery and badly supplied to achieve its objectives, and had to fight just to maintain its own lines of communication.[citation needed]

The senior British officer in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, felt that he should take bold measures to calm the settler population in Canada, and to convince the aboriginals who were needed to defend the region that Britain was strong.[150] He moved rapidly to Amherstburg near the western end of Lake Erie with reinforcements and immediately decided to attack Detroit. Hull, fearing that the British possessed superior numbers and that the Indians attached to Brock's force would commit massacres if fighting began, surrendered Detroit without a fight on August 16. Knowing of British-instigated indigenous attacks on other locations, Hull ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Fort Wayne. After initially being granted safe passage, the inhabitants (soldiers and civilians) were attacked by Potowatomis on August 15 after travelling only 2 miles (3.2 km) in what is known as the Battle of Fort Dearborn.[153] The fort was subsequently burned.

Brock promptly transferred himself to the eastern end of Lake Erie, where American General Stephen Van Rensselaer was attempting a second invasion.[112] An armistice (arranged by Prévost in the hope the British renunciation of the Orders in Council to which the United States objected might lead to peace) prevented Brock from invading American territory. When the armistice ended, the Americans attempted an attack across the Niagara River on October 13, but suffered a crushing defeat at Queenston Heights. Brock was killed during the battle. While the professionalism of the American forces would improve by the war's end, British leadership suffered after Brock's death. A final attempt in 1812 by American General Henry Dearborn to advance north from Lake Champlain failed when his militia refused to advance beyond American territory.

In contrast to the American militia, the Canadian militia performed well. French Canadians, who found the anti-Catholic stance of most of the United States troublesome, and United Empire Loyalists, who had fought for the Crown during the American Revolutionary War, strongly opposed the American invasion. Many in Upper Canada were recent settlers from the United States who had no obvious loyalties to the Crown; nevertheless, while there were some who sympathized with the invaders, the American forces found strong opposition from men loyal to the Empire.[154]

American Northwest, 1813

Oliver Hazard Perry's message to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie began with what would become one of the most famous sentences in American military history: "We have met the enemy and they are ours".[citation needed] This 1865 painting by William H. Powell shows Perry transferring to a different ship during the battle.

After Hull's surrender of Detroit, General William Henry Harrison was given command of the U.S. Army of the Northwest. He set out to retake the city, which was now defended by Colonel Henry Procter in conjunction with Tecumseh. A detachment of Harrison's army was defeated at Frenchtown along the River Raisin on January 22, 1813. Procter left the prisoners with an inadequate guard, who could not prevent some of his North American aboriginal allies from attacking and killing perhaps as many as sixty Americans, many of whom were Kentucky militiamen.[155] The incident became known as the River Raisin Massacre. The defeat ended Harrison's campaign against Detroit, and the phrase "Remember the River Raisin!" became a rallying cry for the Americans.

In May 1813, Procter and Tecumseh set siege to Fort Meigs in northwestern Ohio. American reinforcements arriving during the siege were defeated by the natives, but the fort held out. The Indians eventually began to disperse, forcing Procter and Tecumseh to return north to Canada. A second offensive against Fort Meigs also failed in July. In an attempt to improve Indian morale, Procter and Tecumseh attempted to storm Fort Stephenson, a small American post on the Sandusky River, only to be repulsed with serious losses, marking the end of the Ohio campaign.

On Lake Erie, American commander Captain Oliver Hazard Perry fought the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. His decisive victory at "Put-In-Bay" ensured American military control of the lake, improved American morale after a series of defeats, and compelled the British to fall back from Detroit. This paved the way for General Harrison to launch another invasion of Upper Canada, which culminated in the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, in which Tecumseh was killed.

Niagara frontier, 1813

File:Niagara River 1812.jpg
Historical map of the Niagara River area during the War of 1812

Because of the difficulties of land communications, control of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River corridor was crucial. When the war began, the British already had a small squadron of warships on Lake Ontario and had the initial advantage. To redress the situation, the Americans established a Navy yard at Sackett's Harbor in northwestern New York. Commodore Isaac Chauncey took charge of the large number of sailors and shipwrights sent there from New York; they completed the second warship built there in a mere 45 days. Ultimately, almost 3,000 men worked at the naval shipyard, building eleven warships and many smaller boats and transports. Having regained the advantage by their rapid building program, Chauncey and Dearborn attacked York, on the northern shore of the lake, the capital of Upper Canada, on April 27, 1813. The Battle of York was a "pyrrhic" American victory, marred by looting and the burning of the small Provincial Parliament buildings and a library (resulting in a spirit of revenge by the British/Canadians led by Gov. George Prévost, who later demanded satisfaction encouraging the British Admiralty to issue orders to their officers later operating in the Chesapeake Bay region to exact similar devastation on the American Federal capital village of Washington the following year). However, Kingston was strategically much more valuable to British supply and communications routes along the St. Lawrence corridor. Without control of Kingston, the U.S. Navy could not effectively control Lake Ontario or sever the British supply line from Lower Canada.

On 25 May 1813 the guns of the American Lake Ontario squadron joined by Fort Niagara began bombarding Fort George.[156] On May 27, 1813, an American amphibious force from Lake Ontario assaulted Fort George on the northern end of the Niagara River and captured it without serious losses.[157] The British also abandoned Fort Erie and headed towards the Burlington Heights.[157] With the British position in Upper Canada on the verge of collapse, the Iroquois Indians living along the banks of the Grand River considered changing side and ignored a British appeal to come to their aid.[157] The retreating British forces were not pursued, however, until they had largely escaped and organized a counteroffensive against the advancing Americans at the Battle of Stoney Creek on June 5. With Upper Canada on the line, the British a surprise attack at Stoney Creek at 2:00 am, leading to much confused fighting.[157] Through tactically a draw, the battle was a strategic British victory as the Americans pulled back to Forty Mile Creek rather than continuing their advance into Upper Canada.[157] At this point, the Six Nations living on the Grand River began to come out to fight for the British as an American victory no longer seemed inevitable.[157] The Iroquis ambushed an American patrol at Forty Mile Creek while the Royal Navy squadron based in Kingston came to bombard the American camp, leading to General Dearborn to retreat back to Fort George as he now mistakenly believed he was outnumbered and outgunned.[158] The British commander, General John Vincent was heartened by the fact that more and more First Nations warriors were now arriving to assist him, providing about 800 additional men.[158] On June 24, with the help of advance warning by Laura Secord, another American force was forced to surrender by a much smaller British and native force at the Battle of Beaver Dams, marking the end of the American offensive into Upper Canada.[158] The British commander General Francis de Rottenberg did not have the strength to retake Fort George, so he build a blockade, hoping to starve the Americans into surrender.[159] Meanwhile, Commodore James Lucas Yeo had taken charge of the British ships on the lake and mounted a counterattack, which was nevertheless repulsed at the Battle of Sackett's Harbor. Thereafter, Chauncey and Yeo's squadrons fought two indecisive actions, neither commander seeking a fight to the finish.

Late in 1813, the Americans abandoned the Canadian territory they occupied around Fort George. They set fire to the village of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) on December 10, 1813, incensing the Canadians and politicians in control. Many of the inhabitants were left without shelter, freezing to death in the snow. This led to British retaliation following the Capture of Fort Niagara on December 18, 1813. Early the next morning on December 19, the British and their native allies stormed the neighbouring town of Lewiston, New York, torching homes and buildings and killing about a dozen civilians. As the British were chasing the surviving residents out of town, a small force of Tuscarora natives intervened and stopped the pursuit, buying enough time for the locals to escape to safer ground. It is notable in that the Tuscaroras defended the Americans against their own Iroquois brothers, the Mohawks, who sided with the British.[160][161] Later, the British attacked and burned Buffalo on December 30, 1813.

In 1814, the contest for Lake Ontario turned into a building race. Naval superiority shifted between the opposing fleets as each built new, bigger ships. However, neither was able to bring the other to battle when in a position of superiority, leaving the Engagements on Lake Ontario a draw. At war's end, the British held the advantage with the 112-gun HMS St Lawrence, but the Americans had laid down two even larger ships. The majority of these ships never saw action and were decommissioned after the war.

St. Lawrence and Lower Canada, 1813

Attack on Fort Oswego (May 1814), War of 1812
Sakawarton (John Smoke Johnson), John Tutela, and Young Warner, three Six Nations veterans of the War of 1812. Photographed in 1882.

The British were potentially most vulnerable over the stretch of the St. Lawrence where it formed the frontier between Upper Canada and the United States. During the early days of the war, there was illicit commerce across the river. Over the winter of 1812 and 1813, the Americans launched a series of raids from Ogdensburg on the American side of the river, which hampered British supply traffic up the river. On February 21, Sir George Prévost passed through Prescott on the opposite bank of the river with reinforcements for Upper Canada. When he left the next day, the reinforcements and local militia attacked. At the Battle of Ogdensburg, the Americans were forced to retire.

For the rest of the year, Ogdensburg had no American garrison, and many residents of Ogdensburg resumed visits and trade with Prescott. This British victory removed the last American regular troops from the Upper St. Lawrence frontier and helped secure British communications with Montreal. Late in 1813, after much argument, the Americans made two thrusts against Montreal.[162] Taking Montreal would cut off the British forces in Upper Canada and thus potentially change the war. The plan eventually agreed upon was for Major General Wade Hampton to march north from Lake Champlain and join a force under General James Wilkinson that would embark in boats and sail from Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario and descend the St. Lawrence. Hampton was delayed by bad roads and supply problems and also had an intense dislike of Wilkinson, which limited his desire to support his plan. On October 25, his 4,000-strong force was defeated at the Chateauguay River by Charles de Salaberry's smaller force of Canadian Voltigeurs and Mohawks. Salaberry's force of Lower Canada militia and Indians numbered only 339, but had a strong defensive position.[162] Wilkinson's force of 8,000 set out on October 17, but was also delayed by bad weather. After learning that Hampton had been checked, Wilkinson heard that a British force under Captain William Mulcaster and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison was pursuing him, and by November 10, he was forced to land near Morrisburg, about 150 kilometres (90 mi.) from Montreal. On November 11, Wilkinson's rear guard, numbering 2,500, attacked Morrison's force of 800 at Crysler's Farm and was repulsed with heavy losses.[162] After learning that Hampton could not renew his advance, Wilkinson retreated to the U.S. and settled into winter quarters. He resigned his command after a failed attack on a British outpost at Lacolle Mills. Had the Americans taken Montreal as planned, Upper Canada would been certainly been lost and the failure of the campaign ended the greatest the British in the Canadas during the war.[163]

Niagara and Plattsburgh Campaigns, 1814

Rather trying to take Montreal or Kingston, the Americans chose again to invade the Niagara frontier to take Upper Canada, largely because the Americans had occupied southwestern Upper Canada after their victory in Moraviantown, and it was believed in Washington that if the Americans could take the rest of Upper Canada, then they would force the British to cede that province to them when it came time to negotiate the peace.[164] The end of the war in Europe in April 1814 meant that the British could now redeploy their Army to North America, so the Americans were anxious to have Upper Canada to negotiate from a position of strength.[164] The plan for 1814 to invade Upper Canada via the Niagara frontier while sending another force to recapture Mackinac.[164] The British were sending supplies to the Indians in the Old Northwest from Montreal via Mackinac, so is why the island was considered important.[165] By the middle of 1814, American generals, including Major Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, had drastically improved the fighting abilities and discipline of the army.[166] The Americans' renewed attack on the Niagara peninsula quickly captured Fort Erie on 3 July 1814 with the 170 garrison quickly surrendering to the 5, 000 Americans.[166] General Phineas Riall rushed towards the frontier and unaware of Fort Erie's fall or the size of the American force chose to engage in battle.[167] Winfield Scott then gained a victory over an inferior British force at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5. The Americans brought out overwhelming firepower against the attacking British who lost about 600 dead to the 350 dead on the American side.[168] An attempt to advance further ended with a hard-fought but inconclusive battle at Lundy's Lane on July 25. Both sides stood their ground, but after the Battle of Lundy's Lane Brown, General Jacob Brown pulled back to Fort George while the British did not pursue them.[168]

The outnumbered Americans withdrew but withstood a prolonged Siege of Fort Erie. The British tried to storm Fort Erie on 14 August 1814, but suffered heavy losses losing 950 killed, wounded and captured compared to only 84 dead and wounded on the American side.[169] The British suffered heavy casualties in a failed assault and were weakened by exposure and shortage of supplies in their siege lines. Eventually the British raised the siege, but American Major General George Izard took over command on the Niagara front and followed up only halfheartedly. An American raid along the Grand River destroyed many farms that weakened British logistics.[169] In October 1814 the American advanced into Upper Canada, engaged in skirmishes at Cook's Mill, but pulled back when they heard that the new British warship, the HMS St. Lawrence armed with 104 guns, which had been launched in Kingston that September was on its way.[169] The Americans lacked provisions, and eventually destroyed the Fort Erie and retreated across the Niagara.[169]

Meanwhile, following the abdication of Napoleon, 15,000 British troops were sent to North America under four of Wellington's ablest brigade commanders. Fewer than half were veterans of the Peninsula and the rest came from garrisons. Prévost was ordered to neutralize American power on the lakes by burning Sackets Harbor, gain naval control of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Upper Lakes, and defend Lower Canada from attack. He did defend Lower Canada but otherwise failed to achieve his objectives.[170] Given the late season he decided to invade New York State. His army outnumbered the American defenders of Plattsburgh, but he was worried about his flanks so he decided he needed naval control of Lake Champlain. On the lake, the British squadron under Captain George Downie and the Americans under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough were more evenly matched.

On reaching Plattsburgh, Prévost delayed the assault until the arrival of Downie in the hastily completed 36-gun frigate HMS Confiance. Prévost forced Downie into a premature attack, but then unaccountably failed to provide the promised military backing. Downie was killed and his naval force defeated at the naval Battle of Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The Americans now had control of Lake Champlain; Theodore Roosevelt later termed it "the greatest naval battle of the war".[171] The successful land defence was led by Alexander Macomb. To the astonishment of his senior officers, Prévost then turned back, saying it would be too hazardous to remain on enemy territory after the loss of naval supremacy. Prévost was recalled and in London, a naval court-martial decided that defeat had been caused principally by Prévost's urging the squadron into premature action and then failing to afford the promised support from the land forces. Prévost died suddenly, just before his own court-martial was to convene. Prévost's reputation sank to a new low, as Canadians claimed that their militia under Brock did the job and he failed. Recently, however, historians have been more kindly, measuring him not against Wellington but against his American foes. They judge Prévost's preparations for defending the Canadas with limited means to be energetic, well-conceived, and comprehensive; and against the odds, he had achieved the primary objective of preventing an American conquest.[149]

To the east, the northern part of Massachusetts, soon to be Maine, was invaded. Fort Sullivan at Eastport was taken by Sir Thomas Hardy on July 11. Castine, Hampden, Bangor, and Machias were taken, and Castine became the main British base till April 15, 1815, when the British left, taking £10,750 in tariff duties, the "Castine Fund" which was used to found Dalhousie University.[172] Eastport was not returned to the United States till 1818.

American West, 1813–14

The Upper Mississippi River during the War of 1812. 1: Fort Bellefontaine U.S. headquarters; 2: Fort Osage, abandoned 1813; 3: Fort Madison, defeated 1813; 4: Fort Shelby, defeated 1814; 5: Battle of Rock Island Rapids, July 1814 and the Battle of Credit Island, Sept. 1814; 6: Fort Johnson, abandoned 1814; 7: Fort Cap au Gris and the Battle of the Sink Hole, May 1815.
Plans of the original Fort Madison in 1810, captured by British-supported Indians in 1813.

The Mississippi River valley was the western frontier of the United States in 1812. The territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 contained almost no U.S. settlements west of the Mississippi except around Saint Louis and a few forts and trading posts. Fort Bellefontaine, an old trading post converted to a U.S. Army post in 1804, served as regional headquarters. Fort Osage, built in 1808 along the Missouri was the western-most U.S. outpost, it was abandoned at the start of the war.[173] Fort Madison, built along the Mississippi in what is now Iowa, was also built in 1808, and had been repeatedly attacked by British-allied Sauk since its construction. In September 1813 Fort Madison was abandoned after it was attacked and besieged by natives, who had support from the British. This was one of the few battles fought west of the Mississippi. Black Hawk played a leadership role.[174]

Little of note took place on Lake Huron in 1813, but the American victory on Lake Erie and the recapture of Detroit isolated the British there. During the ensuing winter, a Canadian party under Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall established a new supply line from York to Nottawasaga Bay on Georgian Bay. When he arrived at Fort Mackinac with supplies and reinforcements, he sent an expedition to recapture the trading post of Prairie du Chien in the far west. The Siege of Prairie du Chien ended in a British victory on July 20, 1814.

Earlier in July, the Americans sent a force of five vessels from Detroit to recapture Mackinac. A mixed force of regulars and volunteers from the militia landed on the island on August 4. They did not attempt to achieve surprise, and at the brief Battle of Mackinac Island, they were ambushed by natives and forced to re-embark. The Americans discovered the new base at Nottawasaga Bay, and on August 13, they destroyed its fortifications and the schooner Nancy that they found there. They then returned to Detroit, leaving two gunboats to blockade Mackinac. On September 4, these gunboats were taken unawares and captured by British boarding parties from canoes and small boats. These Engagements on Lake Huron left Mackinac under British control.

The British garrison at Prairie du Chien also fought off another attack by Major Zachary Taylor. In this distant theatre, the British retained the upper hand until the end of the war, through the allegiance of several indigenous tribes that received British gifts and arms, enabling them to take control of parts of what is now Michigan and Illinois, as well as the whole of modern Wisconsin.[175] In 1814 U.S. troops retreating from the Battle of Credit Island on the upper Mississippi attempted to make a stand at Fort Johnson, but the fort was soon abandoned, along with most of the upper Mississippi valley.[176]

After the U.S. was pushed out of the Upper Mississippi region, they held on to eastern Missouri and the St. Louis area. Two notable battles fought against the Sauk were the Battle of Cote Sans Dessein, in April 1815, at the mouth of the Osage River in the Missouri Territory, and the Battle of the Sink Hole, in May 1815, near Fort Cap au Gris.[177]

At the conclusion of peace, Mackinac and other captured territory was returned to the United States. At the end of the war, some British officers and Canadians objected to handing back Prairie du Chien and especially Mackinac under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent. However, the Americans retained the captured post at Fort Malden, near Amherstburg, until the British complied with the treaty.[178]

Fighting between Americans, the Sauk, and other indigenous tribes continued through 1817, well after the war ended in the east.[179]

Southern theatre

Creek War

The Battle of Burnt Corn between Red Stick Creeks and U.S. troops, occurred in the southern parts of Alabama on July 27, 1813 prompted the state of Georgia as well as the Mississippi territory militia to immediately take major action against Creek offensives. The Red Sticks chiefs gained power in the east along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers – Upper Creek territory. The Lower Creek lived along the Chattahoochee River. Many Creeks tried to remain friendly to the United States, and some were organized by federal Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins to aid the 6th Military District under General Thomas Pinckney and the state militias. The United States combined forces were large. At its peak the Red Stick faction had 4,000 warriors, only a quarter of whom had muskets.[180]

Before 1813, the Creek War had been largely an internal affair sparked by the ideas of Tecumseh farther north in the Mississippi Valley, but the United States was drawn into a war with the Creek Nation by the War of 1812. The Creek Nation was a trading partner of the United States actively involved with Spanish and British trade as well. The Red Sticks, as well as many southern Muscogeean people like the Seminole, had a long history of alliance with the Spanish and British Empires.[181] This alliance helped the North American and European powers protect each other's claims to territory in the south.[182] On August 18, 1813, Red Stick chiefs planned an attack on Fort Mimms, north of Mobile, the only American-held port in the territory of West Florida. The attack on Fort Mimms resulted in the death of 400 settlers and became an ideological rallying point for the Americans.[183]

The Fort Mims massacre in 1813. The Creek warriors attacked the fort, and killed a total of 400 to 500 people.

The Indian frontier of western Georgia was the most vulnerable but was partially fortified already. From November 1813 to January 1814, Georgia's militia and auxiliary Federal troops - from the Creek and Cherokee Indian nations and the states of North Carolina and South Carolina – organized the fortification of defences along the Chattahoochee River and expeditions into Upper Creek territory in present-day Alabama. The army, led by General John Floyd, went to the heart of the "Creek Holy Grounds" and won a major offensive against one of the largest Creek towns at Battle of Autosee, killing an estimated two hundred people. In November, the militia of Mississippi with a combined 1200 troops attacked the "Econachca" encampment ("Battle of Holy Ground") on the Alabama River.[184] Tennessee raised a militia of 5,000 under Major Generals Andrew Jackson and Coke and won the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega in November 1813.[185]

The Georgia militia withdrew to the Chattahoochee, and Jackson's force in Tennessee mostly disbanded for the winter. In January Floyd's force of 1,300 state militia and 400 Creek Indians moved to join the U.S forces in Tennessee, but were attacked in camp on the Calibee Creek by Tuckaubatchee Indians on the 27th.

Despite enlistment problems in the winter, the U.S. Army forces and a second draft of Tennessee state militia and Cherokee and Creek allies swelled his army to around 5,000. In March 1814 they moved south to attack the Creek.[186] On March 26, Jackson and General John Coffee decisively defeated the Creek Indian force at Horseshoe Bend, killing 800 of 1,000 Creeks at a cost of 49 killed and 154 wounded out of approximately 2,000 American and Cherokee forces.[187] The American army moved to Fort Jackson on the Alabama River. On August 9, 1814, the Upper Creek chiefs and Jackson's army signed the "Treaty of Fort Jackson". The most of western Georgia and part of Alabama was taken from the Creeks to pay for expenses borne by the United States. The Treaty also "demanded" that the "Red Stick" insurgents cease communicating with the Spanish or British, and only trade with U.S.-approved agents.[188]

British aid to the Red Sticks arrived after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in April 1814 and after Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane assumed command from Admiral Warren in March. The Creek promised to join any body of 'troops that should aid them in regaining their lands, and suggesting an attack on the tower off Mobile.' In April 1814 the British established an outpost on the Apalachicola River at Prospect Bluff (Fort Gadsden). Cochrane sent a company of Royal Marines, the vessels HMS Hermes and HMS Carron, commanded by Edward Nicolls, with further supplies to meet the Indians.[189] In addition to training the Indians, Nicolls was tasked to raise a force from escaped slaves, as part of the Corps of Colonial Marines.[190]

In July 1814, General Andrew Jackson complained to the Governor of Pensacola, Mateo Gonzalez Manrique, that combatants from the Creek War were being harboured in Spanish territory, and made reference to the British presence on Spanish soil. Although he gave an angry reply to Jackson, Manrique was alarmed at the weak position he found himself in. He appealed to the British for help, with Woodbine arriving on July 28, and Nicolls arriving at Pensacola on August 24.[191][192]

The first engagement of the British and their Creek allies against the Americans on the Gulf Coast was the attack on Fort Bowyer September 14, 1814. Captain William Percy tried to take the U.S. fort, hoping that would enable the British to move on Mobile and block U.S. trade and encroachment on the Mississippi. After the Americans repulsed Percy's forces, the British established a military presence of up to 200 Marines at Pensacola. In November, Jackson's force of 4,000 men took the town in November.[193] This underlined the superiority of numbers of Jackson's force in the region.[194] The U.S force moved to New Orleans in late 1814. Jackson's army of 1,000 regulars and 3,000 to 4,000 militia, pirates and other fighters, as well as civilians and slaves built fortifications south of the city.[195]

Gulf Coast

American forces under General James Wilkinson, who was himself getting $4,000 per year as a Spanish secret agent, took the Mobile area—formerly part of West Florida—from the Spanish in March 1813; this would be the only territory permanently gained by the U.S. during the war.[196] The Americans built Fort Bowyer, a log and earthenwork fort with 14 guns, on Mobile Point.[197]

At the end of 1814, the British launched a double offensive in the South weeks before the Treaty of Ghent was signed. On the Atlantic coast, Admiral George Cockburn was to close the Intracoastal Waterway trade and land Royal Marine battalions to advance through Georgia to the western territories. On the Gulf coast, Admiral Alexander Cochrane would move on the new state of Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory. Admiral Cochrane's ships reached the Louisiana coast December 9, and Cockburn arrived in Georgia December 14.[198]

The Battle of New Orleans, January 1815

On January 8, 1815, a British force of 8,000 under General Edward Pakenham attacked Jackson's defences in New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans was an American victory, as the British failed to take the fortifications on the East Bank. The British suffered high casualties: 291 dead, 1262 wounded, and 484 captured or missing[199] whereas American casualties were 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. It was hailed as a great victory across the U.S., making Jackson a national hero and eventually propelling him to the presidency.[200][201] The American garrison at Fort St. Philip endured ten days of bombardment from Royal Navy guns, which was a final attempt to invade Louisiana; British ships sailed away from the Mississippi River on January 18. However, it was not until January 27, 1815, that the army had completely rejoined the fleet, allowing for their departure.[202]

After New Orleans, the British tried to take Mobile a second time; General John Lambert laid siege for five days and took the fort, winning the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer on February 12, 1815. HMS Brazen brought news of the Treaty of Ghent the next day, and the British abandoned the Gulf coast.[203]

In January 1815, Admiral Cockburn succeeded in blockading the southeastern coast by occupying Camden County, Georgia. The British quickly took Cumberland Island, Fort Point Peter, and Fort St. Tammany in a decisive victory. Under the orders of his commanding officers, Cockburn's forces relocated many refugee slaves, capturing St. Simons Island as well, to do so. During the invasion of the Georgia coast, an estimated 1,485 people chose to relocate in British territories or join the military. In mid-March, several days after being informed of the Treaty of Ghent, British ships finally left the area.[204]

Postwar fighting

In May 1815, a band of British-allied Sauk, unaware that the war had ended months before, attacked a small band of U.S. soldiers northwest of St. Louis.[205] Intermittent fighting, primarily with the Sauk, continued in the Missouri Territory well into 1817, although it is unknown if the Sauk were acting on their own or on behalf of British agents.[179] Several uncontacted isolated warships continued fighting well into 1815 and were the last American forces to take offensive action against the British.

Treaty of Ghent

Factors leading to the peace negotiations

By 1814, both sides had either achieved their main war goals or were weary of a costly war that offered little but stalemate. They both sent delegations to a neutral site in Ghent, Flanders (now part of Belgium). The negotiations began in early August and concluded on December 24, when a final agreement was signed; both sides had to ratify it before it could take effect. Meanwhile, both sides planned new invasions.

In 1814 the British began blockading the United States, and brought the American economy to near bankruptcy,[206][207][208][209] forcing it to rely on loans for the rest of the war. American foreign trade was reduced to a trickle. The parlous American economy was thrown into chaos with prices soaring and unexpected shortages causing hardship in New England which was considering secession.[210][211] The Hartford Convention led to widespread fears that the New England states might attempt to leave the Union, which through exaggerated as most New Englanders did not wish to leave the Union and merely wanted an end to a war which was bringing much economic hardship, suggested that the continuation of the war might threaten the union.[212] But also to a lesser extent British interests were hurt in the West Indies and Canada that had depended on that trade. Although American privateers found chances of success much reduced, with most British merchantmen now sailing in convoy, privateering continued to prove troublesome to the British, as shown by high insurance rates.[213] British landowners grew weary of high taxes, and colonial interests and merchants called on the government to reopen trade with the U.S. by ending the war.[214]

Negotiations and peace

At last in August 1814, peace discussions began in the neutral city of Ghent. Both sides began negotiations warily[215] The British diplomats stated their case first, demanding the creation of an Indian barrier state in the American Northwest Territory (the area from Ohio to Wisconsin). It was understood the British would sponsor this Indian state. The British strategy for decades had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion. Britain demanded naval control of the Great Lakes and access to the Mississippi River. The Americans refused to consider a buffer state and the proposal was dropped.[216] Although article IX of the treaty included provisions to restore to Natives "all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811", the provisions were unenforceable.[217] The Americans (at a later stage) demanded damages for the burning of Washington and for the seizure of ships before the war began.[218]

American public opinion was outraged when Madison published the demands; even the Federalists were now willing to fight on. The British had planned three invasions. One force burned Washington but failed to capture Baltimore, and sailed away when its commander was killed. In northern New York State, 10,000 British veterans were marching south until a decisive defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh forced them back to Canada.[lower-alpha 2] Nothing was known of the fate of the third large invasion force aimed at capturing New Orleans and southwest. The Prime Minister wanted the Duke of Wellington to command in Canada and take control of the Great Lakes. Wellington said that he would go to America but he believed he was needed in Europe.[219] Wellington emphasized that the war was a draw and the peace negotiations should not make territorial demands:

I think you have no right, from the state of war, to demand any concession of territory from America ... You have not been able to carry it into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your military success and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack. You cannot on any principle of equality in negotiation claim a cessation of territory except in exchange for other advantages which you have in your power ... Then if this reasoning be true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory: indeed, the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any.[220]

The Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, aware of growing opposition to wartime taxation and the demands of Liverpool and Bristol merchants to reopen trade with America, realized Britain also had little to gain and much to lose from prolonged warfare especially after the growing concern about the situation in Europe.[221] After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats and losses, the parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. The main focus on British foreign policy was the Congress of Vienna, during which British diplomats had clashed with Russian and Prussian diplomats over the terms of the peace with France, and there were fears at the Britain might have go to war with Russia and Prussia. Now each side was tired of the war. Export trade was all but paralyzed and after Napoleon fell in 1814 France was no longer an enemy of Britain, so the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France, and it no longer needed to impress more seamen. It had ended the practices that so angered the Americans in 1812. The British were preoccupied in rebuilding Europe after the apparent final defeat of Napoleon[citation needed].

British negotiators were urged by Lord Liverpool to offer a status quo and dropped their demands for the creation of an Indian barrier state, which was in any case hopeless after the collapse of Tecumseh's alliance. This allowed negotiations to resume at the end of October. British diplomats soon offered the status quo to the U.S. negotiators, who accepted them. Prisoners would be exchanged, and captured slaves returned to the United States or be paid for by Britain.

On December 24, 1814 the diplomats had finished and signed the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty was ratified by the British three days later on December 27[222] and arrived in Washington on February 17 where it was quickly ratified and went into effect, thus finally ending the war. The terms called for all occupied territory to be returned, the prewar boundary between Canada and the United States to be restored, and the Americans were to gain fishing rights in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The Treaty of Ghent failed to secure official British acknowledgement of American maritime rights or ending impressment. However, in the century of peace until World War I these rights were not seriously violated. The defeat of Napoleon made irrelevant all of the naval issues over which the United States had fought. The Americans had achieved their goal of ending the Indian threat; furthermore the American armies had scored enough victories (especially at New Orleans) to satisfy honour and the sense of becoming fully independent from Britain.[223]

Losses and compensation

British losses in the war were about 1,160 killed in action and 3,679 wounded;[4] 3,321 British died from disease. American losses were 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded. While the number of Americans who died from disease is not known, it is estimated that about 15,000 died from all causes directly related to the war.[224] These figures do not include deaths among Canadian militia forces or losses among native tribes.

There have been no estimates of the cost of the American war to Britain, but it did add some £25 million to the national debt.[225] In the U.S., the cost was $105 million, about the same as the cost to Britain. The national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815, although by selling bonds and treasury notes at deep discounts—and often for irredeemable paper money due to the suspension of specie payment in 1814—the government received only $34 million worth of specie.[226] Stephen Girard, the richest man in America at the time, personally funded the United States government involvement in the war.[citation needed]

In addition, at least 3,000 American slaves escaped to the British lines. Many other slaves simply escaped in the chaos of war and achieved their freedom on their own. The British settled some of the newly freed slaves in Nova Scotia.[227] Four hundred freedmen were settled in New Brunswick.[228] The Americans protested that Britain's failure to return the slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. After arbitration by the Tsar of Russia the British paid $1,204,960 in damages to Washington,[229] which reimbursed the slaveowners.[230]

Memory and historiography

Popular views

During the 19th century the popular image of the war in the United States was of an American victory, and in Canada, of a Canadian victory. Each young country saw its self-perceived victory as an important foundation of its growing nationhood. The British, on the other hand, who had been preoccupied by Napoleon's challenge in Europe, paid little attention to what was to them a peripheral and secondary dispute, a distraction from the principal task at hand.


Canadian Voltigeurs in action at the Battle of the Chateauguay

In British North America (which would become the Dominion of Canada in 1867), the War of 1812 was seen by Loyalists as a victory, as they had claimed they had successfully defended their country from an American takeover. The outcome gave the Canadians confidence and, together with the postwar "militia myth" that the civilian militia had been primarily responsible rather than the British regulars, was used to stimulate a new sense of Canadian nationalism.[231] John Strachan, the first Anglican bishop of Toronto, created the myth, telling his flock that Upper Canada had been saved from the American invaders by the heroism of the local citizenry.[232][233]

A long-term implication of the militia myth that remained widely held in Canada at least until the First World War—was that Canada did not need a regular professional army.[234] While Canadian militia units had played instrumental roles in several engagements, such as at the Battle of the Chateauguay, it was the regular units of the British Army, including its "Fencible" regiments which were recruited within North America, which ensured that Canada was successfully defended.

Main article on Canadian Fencible and Militia Units: Canadian Units of the War of 1812

The U.S. Army had done poorly, on the whole, in several attempts to invade Canada, and the Canadians had shown that they would fight bravely to defend their territory. But the British did not doubt that the thinly populated territory would be vulnerable in a third war. "We cannot keep Canada if the Americans declare war against us again", Admiral Sir David Milne wrote to a correspondent in 1817,[235] although the Rideau Canal was built for just such a scenario.

By the 21st century it was a forgotten war in Britain,[236] although still remembered in Canada, especially Ontario. In a 2009 poll, 37% of Canadians said the war was a Canadian victory, 9% said the U.S. won, 15% called it a draw, and 39%—mainly younger Canadians—said they knew too little to comment.[237]

A February 2012 poll found that in a list of items that could be used to define Canadians' identity, the belief that Canada successfully repelled an American invasion in the War of 1812 places second (25%), only behind the fact that Canada has universal health care (53%).[238] The survey states that 77% of Canadians believe that War of 1812 Bicentennial is an important commemoration.[239]


Today, American popular memory includes the British capture and the burning of Washington in August 1814,[240] which necessitated its extensive renovation. The fact that before the war, many Americans wanted to annex British North America was swiftly forgotten, and instead American popular memory focused on the victories at Baltimore, Plattsburg and New Orleans to present the war as a successful effort to assert American national honour, the "second war of independence" that saw the mighty British empire humbled and humiliated.[241] In a speech before Congress on 18 February 1815, President Madison proclaimed the war a complete American victory.[242] This interpretation of the war was and remains the dominant American view of the war[242] The American newspaper the Niles Register in an editorial on 14 September 1816 announced that the Americans had crushed the British, declaring "...we did virtually dictate the treaty of Ghent to the British".[242] A minority of Americans, mostly associated with the Federalists saw the war as a defeat and an act of folly on Madison's part, caustically asking if the Americans were "dictating" the terms of the treaty of Ghent, why the British Crown did not cede British North America to the United States?[242] However, the Federalist view of the war is not the mainstream American memory of the war.[242] The view of Congressman George Troup who stated in a speech in 1815 that the Treaty of Ghent was "the glorious termination of the most glorious war ever waged by any people" is the way that most Americans remembered the war.[242] Another memory is the successful American defence of Fort McHenry in September 1814, which inspired the lyrics of the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".[243] The successful Captains of the U.S. Navy became popular heroes with plates with the likeness of Decatur, Steward, Hull, and others, becoming popular items. Ironically, many were made in England. The Navy became a cherished institution, lauded for the victories that it won against all odds.[244] After engagements during the final actions of the war, U.S. Marines had acquired a well-deserved reputation as excellent marksmen, especially in ship-to-ship actions.[245]

Historians' views

Historians have differing and complex interpretations of the war.[246] They agree that ending the war with neither side gaining or losing territory allowed for the peaceful settlement of boundary disputes and for the opening of a permanent era of good will and friendly relations between the U.S. and Canada. The war established distinct national identities for Canada and the United States, with a "newly significant border".[247]

In recent decades the view of the majority of historians has been that the war ended in stalemate, with the Treaty of Ghent closing a war that had become militarily inconclusive. Neither side wanted to continue fighting since the main causes had disappeared and since there were no large lost territories for one side or the other to reclaim by force. Insofar as they see the war's resolution as allowing two centuries of peaceful and mutually beneficial intercourse between the U.S., Britain and Canada, these historians often conclude that all three nations were the "real winners" of the War of 1812. These writers often add that the war could have been avoided in the first place by better diplomacy. It is seen as a mistake for everyone concerned because it was badly planned and marked by multiple fiascoes and failures on both sides, as shown especially by the repeated American failures to seize parts of Canada, and the failed British attack on New Orleans and upstate New York.[248][249]

However, other scholars hold that the war constituted a British victory and an American defeat. They argue that the British achieved their military objectives in 1812 (by stopping the repeated American invasions of Canada) and retaining their Canadian colonies. By contrast, they say, the Americans suffered a defeat when their armies failed to achieve their war goal of seizing part or all of Canada. Additionally, they argue the U.S. lost as it failed to stop impressment, which the British refused to repeal until the end of the Napoleonic Wars, arguing that the U.S. actions had no effect on the Orders in Council, which were rescinded before the war started.[250] The Canadian historian Carl Benn wrote:

"An assessment of objectives set in 1812 and realized in 1814 points to a British victory, although perhaps one that is not clear in the modern mind, partly because the war occurred in an age when diplomatic negotiations, the preservation of dignity and compromise marked treaties, rather than the images of unconditional surrender that have came to dominate our consciousness. Furthermore, a successful defensive war has less impact on the popular imagination than a conflict that changes national boundaries. On maritime issues, the British understood that their prewar policies risked conflict with the United States, but they believed that they could not abandon these policies because of the imperative to defeat Napoleon. Yet, as the possibility of hostilities loomed larger, they rescinded the Orders-in-Council to avoid a confrontation before the U.S. declaration, and so the revocation of the Orders had nothing to do with the war itself.

Britain would not, however, negotiate a compromise on impressment or other martime policies, such as excluding American ships from trade routes it wanted to keep for exclusive British use, and thus the peace treaty was silent on these points and did not challenge British policies or practices. That impressment evaporated as a problem between the two powers was due entirely to Britain's triumph over France and had nothing to do with American actions, and the United Kingdom came out of the war fully prepared to implement any restrictions it wished if future tensions required them".[242]

A second minority view is that both the U.S. and Britain won the war—that is, both achieved their main objectives, while the Indians were the losing party.[251] The British won by losing no territories and achieving their great war goal, the total defeat of Napoleon. U.S. won by (1) securing her honor and successfully resisting a powerful empire once again,[lower-alpha 3] thus winning a "second war of independence";[252] and (2) ending the threat of Indian raids and the British plan for a semi-independent Indian sanctuary—thereby opening an unimpeded path for the United States' westward expansion.[253]

Indians as losers

Historians generally agree that the real losers of the War of 1812 were the Indians (called First Nations in Canada). Hickey says:

The big losers in the war were the Indians. As a proportion of their population, they had suffered the heaviest casualties. Worse, they were left without any reliable European allies in North America ... The crushing defeats at the Thames and Horseshoe Bend left them at the mercy of the Americans, hastening their confinement to reservations and the decline of their traditional way of life.[254][255]

The First Nations of the Old Northwest (the modern Midwest) had hoped to create an Indian state that would be a British protectorate.[256] American settlers into the Middle West had been repeatedly blocked and threatened by Indian raids before 1812, and that now came to an end. Throughout the war the British had played on terror of the tomahawks and scalping knives of their Indian allies; it worked especially at Hull's surrender at Detroit. By 1813 Americans had killed Tecumseh and broken his coalition of tribes. Jackson then defeated the Creek in the Southwest. Historian John Sugden notes that in both theatres, the Indians' strength had been broken prior to the arrival of the major British forces in 1814.[257] The one campaign that the Americans had decisively won was the campaign in the Old Northwest, which put the British in a weak hand to insist upon an Indian state in the Old Northwest.[256]

Notwithstanding the sympathy and support from commanders (such as Brock,[258] Cochrane and Nicolls), the policymakers in London reneged in assisting the Indians, as making peace was a higher priority for the politicians. At the peace conference the British demanded an independent Indian state in the Midwest, but, although the British and their Indian allies maintained control over the territories in question (i.e. most of the Upper Midwest), British diplomats did not press the demand after an American refusal, effectively abandoning their Indian allies. The withdrawal of British protection gave the Americans a free hand, which resulted in the removal of most of the tribes to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).[259] In that sense according to historian Alan Taylor, the final victory at New Orleans had "enduring and massive consequences".[260] It gave the Americans "continental predominance" while it left the Indians dispossessed, powerless, and vulnerable.[261]

The Treaty of Ghent technically required the United States to cease hostilities and "forthwith to restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811"; the United States ignored this article of the treaty and proceeded to expand into this territory regardless; Britain was unwilling to provoke further war to enforce it. A shocked Henry Goulburn, one of the British negotiators at Ghent, remarked:

Till I came here, I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory.[262]

The Creek War came to an end, with the Treaty of Fort Jackson being imposed upon the Indians. About half of the Creek territory was ceded to the United States, with no payment made to the Creeks. This was, in theory, invalidated by Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent. [263] The British failed to press the issue, and did not take up the Indian cause as an infringement of an international treaty. Without this support, the Indians' lack of power was apparent and the stage was set for further incursions of territory by the United States in subsequent decades. [264]

Long-term consequences

Neither side lost territory in the war,[lower-alpha 4] nor did the treaty that ended it address the original points of contention—and yet it changed much between the United States of America and Britain.

The Rush–Bagot Treaty was a treaty between the United States and Britain enacted in 1817 that provided for the demilitarization of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, where many British naval arrangements and forts still remained. The treaty laid the basis for a demilitarized boundary and was indicative of improving relations between the United States and Great Britain in the period following the War of 1812. It remains in effect to this day.

The Treaty of Ghent established the status quo ante bellum; that is, there were no territorial losses by either side. The issue of impressment was made moot when the Royal Navy, no longer needing sailors, stopped impressment after the defeat of Napoleon. Except for occasional border disputes and the circumstances of the American Civil War, relations between the U.S. and Britain remained generally peaceful for the rest of the 19th century, and the two countries became close allies in the 20th century.

Border adjustments between the U.S. and British North America were made in the Treaty of 1818. Eastport, Massachusetts, was returned to the U.S. in 1818; it would become part of the new State of Maine in 1820. A border dispute along the Maine–New Brunswick border was settled by the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty after the bloodless Aroostook War, and the border in the Oregon Country was settled by splitting the disputed area in half by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. A further dispute about the line of the border through the island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca resulted in another almost bloodless standoff in the Pig War of 1859. The line of the border was finally settled by an international arbitration commission in 1872.

United States

File:1812-north-moore 00.jpg
The 1812 N Moore office tower, completed in 2013 near Washington D.C., was named after the war.

The U.S. suppressed the Native American resistance on its western and southern borders. The nation also gained a psychological sense of complete independence as people celebrated their "second war of independence".[265] Nationalism soared after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The opposition Federalist Party collapsed, and the Era of Good Feelings ensued.[266]

No longer questioning the need for a strong Navy, the U.S. built three new 74-gun ships of the line and two new 44-gun frigates shortly after the end of the war.[267] (Another frigate had been destroyed to prevent it being captured on the stocks.)[268] In 1816, the U.S. Congress passed into law an "Act for the gradual increase of the Navy" at a cost of $1,000,000 a year for eight years, authorizing 9 ships of the line and 12 heavy frigates.[269] The Captains and Commodores of the U.S. Navy became the heroes of their generation in the U.S. Decorated plates and pitchers of Decatur, Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Perry, and Macdonough were made in Staffordshire, England, and found a ready market in the United States. Three of the war heroes used their celebrity to win national office: Andrew Jackson (elected President in 1828 and 1832), Richard Mentor Johnson (elected Vice President in 1836), and William Henry Harrison (elected President in 1840).

During the war, New England states became increasingly frustrated over how the war was being conducted and how the conflict was affecting them. They complained that the U.S. government was not investing enough in the states' defences militarily and financially, and that the states should have more control over their militias. The increased taxes, the British blockade, and the occupation of some of New England by enemy forces also agitated public opinion in the states.[270] As a result, at the Hartford Convention (December 1814 – January 1815) Federalist delegates deprecated the war effort and sought more autonomy for the New England states. They did not call for secession but word of the angry anti-war resolutions appeared at the same time that peace was announced and the victory at New Orleans was known. The upshot was that the Federalists were permanently discredited and quickly disappeared as a major political force.[271]

This war enabled thousands of slaves to escape to British lines or ships for freedom, despite the difficulties. The planters' complacency about slave contentment was shocked by their seeing slaves who would risk so much to be free.[227]

In 1815, with the British gone, most of the Indian tribes of the Midwest made peace with the United States. In the next 15 years they signed a series of treaties selling approximately half of Michigan, half of Indiana, and two thirds of Illinois to the U.S. government, which set up a process for selling the land to white farmers. Pratt concludes, "the war had given the Northwest what it most desired."[272] After the decisive defeat of the Creek Indians at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, some warriors escaped to join the Seminoles in Florida. The remaining Creek chiefs signed away about half their lands, comprising 23,000,000 acres, covering much of southern Georgia and two thirds of modern Alabama. The Creeks were now separated from any future help from the Spanish in Florida, or from the Choctaw and Chickasaw to the west. During the war the United States seized Mobile, Alabama, which was a strategic location providing oceanic outlet to the cotton lands to the north. Jackson invaded Florida in 1818, demonstrating to Spain that it could no longer control that territory with a small force. Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819 in the Adams-Onís Treaty following the First Seminole War. Pratt concludes:

Thus indirectly the War of 1812 brought about the acquisition of Florida.... To both the Northwest and the South, therefore, the War of 1812 brought substantial benefits. It broke the power of the Creek Confederacy and opened to settlement a great province of the future Cotton Kingdom.[273]

British North America (Canada)

Douglas Coupland's 'Monument to the War of 1812' (2008) in Toronto; depicts a larger-than-life Canadian soldier triumphing over an American; both are depicted as metallic toy soldiers of the sort small children play with.

Pro-British leaders demonstrated a strong hostility to American influences in western Canada (Ontario) after the war and shaped its policies, including a hostility to American-style republicanism.[274] Immigration from the U.S. was discouraged, and favour was shown to the Anglican church as opposed to the more Americanized Methodist church.[275]

The Battle of York showed the vulnerability of Upper and Lower Canada. In the 1820s, work began on La Citadelle at Quebec City as a defence against the United States. Additionally, work began on the Halifax citadel to defend the port against foreign navies. From 1826 to 1832, the Rideau Canal was built to provide a secure waterway not at risk from American cannon fire. To defend the western end of the canal, the British Army also built Fort Henry at Kingston.[276]

Indigenous nations

The Native Americans allied to the British lost their cause. The British proposal to create a "neutral" Indian zone in the American West was rejected at the Ghent peace conference and never resurfaced. After 1814 the natives, who lost most of their fur-gathering territory, became an undesirable burden to British policymakers who now looked to the United States for markets and raw materials. British agents in the field continued to meet regularly with their former American Indian partners, but they did not supply arms or encouragement and there were no American Indian campaigns to stop U.S. expansionism in the Midwest. Abandoned by their powerful sponsor, American Great Lakes-area Indians ultimately migrated or reached accommodations with the American authorities and settlers.[277]

In the Southeast, Indian resistance had been crushed by General Andrew Jackson during the Creek War; as President (1829–37), Jackson systematically expelled the major tribes to reservations west of the Mississippi,[278] part of which was the forced expulsion of American-allied Cherokee in the Trail of Tears.


Bermuda had been largely left to the defences of its own militia and privateers before U.S. independence, but the Royal Navy had begun buying up land and operating from there in 1795, as its location was a useful substitute for the lost U.S. ports. It originally was intended to be the winter headquarters of the North American Squadron, but the war saw it rise to a new prominence. As construction work progressed through the first half of the 19th century, Bermuda became the permanent naval headquarters in Western waters, housing the Admiralty and serving as a base and dockyard. The military garrison was built up to protect the naval establishment, heavily fortifying the archipelago that came to be described as the "Gibraltar of the West". Defence infrastructure would remain the central leg of Bermuda's economy until after World War II.


The war is seldom remembered in Great Britain. The massive ongoing conflict in Europe against the French Empire under Napoleon ensured that the War of 1812 against America was never seen as more than a sideshow to the main event by the British.[279] Britain's blockade of French trade had been entirely successful and the Royal Navy was the world's dominant nautical power (and would remain so for another century). While the land campaigns had contributed to saving Canada, the Royal Navy had shut down American commerce, bottled up the U.S. Navy in port and heavily suppressed privateering. British businesses, some affected by rising insurance costs, were demanding peace so that trade could resume with the U.S.[280] The peace was generally welcomed by the British, though there was disquiet at the rapid growth of the U.S. However, the two nations quickly resumed trade after the end of the war and, over time, a growing friendship.[281]

Hickey argues that for Britain:

the most important lesson of all [was] that the best way to defend Canada was to accommodate the United States. This was the principal rationale for Britain's long-term policy of rapprochement with the United States in the nineteenth century and explains why they were so often willing to sacrifice other imperial interests to keep the republic happy.[282]

See also


  1. All U.S. figures are from Donald Hickey (Hickey 2006, p. 297)
  2. The British were unsure whether the attack on Baltimore was a failure, but Plattsburg was a humiliation that called for court martial (Latimer 2007, pp. 331, 359, 365).
  3. As Winston Churchill concluded, "The lessons of the war were taken to heart. Anti-American feeling in Great Britain ran high for several years, but the United States were never again refused proper treatment as an independent power". From A History of the English-speaking Peoples: The age of revolution, Volume 3 of A History of the English-speaking Peoples, p. 366.
  4. Spain, a British ally, lost control of the Mobile, Alabama, area to the Americans.


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  3. Allen 1996, p. 121.
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  6. Stagg 1983, p. 4.
  7. Hansard, ADDRESS RESPECTING THE WAR WITH AMERICA. HC Deb 18 February 1813 vol 24 cc593-649 593 Lord Castlereagh,
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  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2011). The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 1097. ISBN 9781851096039 https://books.google.com/books?id=lyNakUZmQ9IC&pg=PA1097. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Turner, Wesley B. (2000). The War of 1812: The War That Both Sides Won. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 9781550023367.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Turner, Wesley B. (July 4, 2011). The Astonishing General: The Life and Legacy of Sir Isaac Brock. Dundurn Press. p. 311.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Updyke, Frank Arthur (1915). The diplomacy of the war of 1812. Johns Hopkins U.P.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, full text online
  • Upton, David (November 22, 2003). "Soldiers of the Mississippi Territory in the War of 1812". Internet Archive. Archived from the original on September 6, 2007. Retrieved September 23, 2010.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Watts, Steven (1987). The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 316. ISBN 0-8018-3420-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • White, Richard (2010). The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge U.P. p. 416. ISBN 9781107005624.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Williams, William Appleman (1961). The Contours of American History. W.W. Norton. p. 196. ISBN 0-393-30561-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Willig, Timothy D (2008). Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1815. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-4817-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wilson, Major L. (1974). Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815–1861. p. 4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Woodsworth, Samuel (July 4, 1812). "By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation". The War.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zuehlke, Mark (2007). For Honour's Sake: The War of 1812 and the Brokering of an Uneasy Peace. Random House. ISBN 978-0-676-97706-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Center for Military History. U.S. Army Campaigns of the War of 1812: Online free
    • Barbuto, Richard V. The Canadian Theater 1813. (2013) ISBN 9780160920844
    • Barbuto, Richard V. The Canadian Theater 1814. (2014) ISBN 9780160923845
    • Blackmon, Richard D. The Creek War 1813-1814; 43pp ISBN 9780160925429
    • Maass, John R. Defending A New Nation 1783-1811 (2013) 59pp
    • Neimeyer, Charles P. The Chesapeake Campaign, 1813–1814 (2014) ISBN 9780160925351
    • Rauch, Steven J. The Campaign of 1812 (2013); 58pp ISBN 9780160920929
    • Stoltz III, Joseph F. The Gulf Theater, 1813-1815
  • Cleves, Rachel Hope; Eustace, Nicole; Gilje, Paul (September 2012). "Interchange: The War of 1812". Journal of American History. 99 (2): 520–555. doi:10.1093/jahist/jas236.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> historiography
  • Collins, Gilbert (2006). Guidebook to the historic sites of the War of 1812. Dundurn. ISBN 1-55002-626-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Daughan, George C. (2011). 1812: The Navy's War,
Basic Books, New York, pp. 491, ISBN 9780465020461 Url
  • Heidler, David Stephen; Jeanne T. Heidler (2004). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-362-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hickey, Donald R. and Connie D. Clark, eds. The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812 (2015) 336 pages
  • James, William, (1847/1859), The naval history of Great Britain...Volume 5,
    Richard Bentley, London, pp. 458, Url
  • James, William (1837) The naval history of Great Britain...Volume 6,
    Richard Bentley, London, pp. 468, Ebook (full view)
  • Jensen, Richard. "Military history on the electronic frontier: Wikipedia fights the War of 1812." Journal of Military History 76.4 (2012): 523-556; Examines this Wikipedia article Online
  • Malcomson, Robert. Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812. Landham, Md.: Scarecrow.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Misiak, Zig. War of 1812: Highlighting Native Nations. ISBN 978-0-9811880-2-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Perkins, Bradford (1961). Prologue to war: England and the United States, 1805–1812.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sapio, Victor. Pennsylvania and the War of 1812 (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).
  • Smith, Gene Allen. The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Stagg, J.C.A. (2012). The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. Cambridge Essential Histories. ISBN 0-521-72686-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Suthren, Victor (1999). The War of 1812. ISBN 0-7710-8317-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Stacey, CP (1964). "The War of 1812 in Canadian History". In Zaslow; Morris; Turner, Wesley B (eds.). The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812. Toronto.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Smith, Joshua M. (June 2011). "The Yankee Soldier's Might: The District of Maine and the Reputation of the Massachusetts Militia, 1800–1812". New England Quarterly. LXXXIV (2): 234–264. doi:10.1162/tneq_a_00088.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Primary sources

  • Hickey, Donald R., ed. The War of 1812: Writings from America's Second War of Independence (New York: Library of America, 2013). xxx, 892 pp.

External links

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