The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812 113801771X, 9781138017719

The War of 1812 ranged over a remarkably large territory, as the fledgling United States battled Great Britain at sea an

427 94 10MB

English Pages 336 [337] Year 2015

Report DMCA / Copyright


Table of contents :
1 Introduction
2 The International Context of the War of 1812
3 American “Independence Is Not Threatened”: British Priorities in the War of 1812
4 The War on the High Seas
5 Privateering, Prizes, and Profits: The Private War of 1812
6 The War on the Lakes
7 The War in the Chesapeake
8 War on the Gulf Coast: American Ascendancy and the New Order
9 Mars in the Wilderness: Weapons and Tactics of the War of 1812
10 Aboriginal Peoples and Their Multiple Wars of 1812
11 The American Home Front, 1812–1815
12 Heavy Lies the Crown: The Canadian Social Context of the War of 1812
13 The British Home Front
14 American Blacks in the War of 1812
15 War Stories and Love Stories: Conflict and Culture in the War of 1812
16 The Treaty of Ghent
17 A Lasting Legacy: How a Little War Shaped the Transatlantic World
18 War of 1812 Memorials and Commemorations
19 Remembering the Forgotten Conflict: Two Hundred Years of Literature on the War of 1812
20 War of 1812 Chronology
Notes on Contributors
Recommend Papers

The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812
 113801771X, 9781138017719

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview


The War of 1812 ranged over a remarkably large territory, as the fledgling United States battled Great Britain at sea and on land across what is now the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada. Native people and the Spanish were also involved in the war’s interrelated conflicts. Often overlooked, the War of 1812 has been the subject of an explosion of new research over the past 25 years. The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812 brings together the insights of this research through an array of fresh essays by leading scholars in the field, offering an overview of current understandings of the war that will be a vital reference for students and researchers alike. The essays in this volume examine a wide range of military, political, social, and cultural dimensions of the war. With full consideration given to American, Canadian, British, and native viewpoints, the international group of contributors place the war in national and international context, chart the course of events in its different theaters, consider the war’s legacy and commemoration, and examine the roles of women, African Americans, and natives. Capturing the state of the field in a single volume, this handbook is a must-have resource for anyone with an interest in early America. Donald R. Hickey is Professor of History at Wayne State College, in Wayne, Nebraska. Connie D. Clark is an author and editor.

This page intentionally left blank


Edited by Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark

First published 2016 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 And by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2016 Taylor & Francis The right of the editors to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The Routledge handbook of the War of 1812 / edited by Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. I. Hickey, Donald R., 1944- II. Clark, Connie D., 1957E354.R69 2015 973.5′2—dc23 2015017832 ISBN: 978-1-138-01771-9 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-78026-9 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC

For all our friends in the 1812 community “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton, 1675

This page intentionally left blank


1 Introduction Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark


2 The International Context of the War of 1812 Jeremy Black


3 American “Independence Is Not Threatened”: British Priorities in the War of 1812 John R. Grodzinski


4 The War on the High Seas Andrew Lambert


5 Privateering, Prizes, and Profits: The Private War of 1812 Faye M. Kert


6 The War on the Lakes David Curtis Skaggs


7 The War in the Chesapeake Christopher T. George


8 War on the Gulf Coast: American Ascendancy and the New Order Gene Allen Smith


9 Mars in the Wilderness: Weapons and Tactics of the War of 1812 Douglas W. DeCroix


10 Aboriginal Peoples and Their Multiple Wars of 1812 Carl Benn vii



11 The American Home Front, 1812–1815 J.C.A. Stagg


12 Heavy Lies the Crown: The Canadian Social Context of the War of 1812 James Tyler Robertson


13 The British Home Front Walter L. Arnstein


14 American Blacks in the War of 1812 Alan Taylor


15 War Stories and Love Stories: Conflict and Culture in the War of 1812 Nicole Eustace


16 The Treaty of Ghent Robert McColley


17 A Lasting Legacy: How a Little War Shaped the Transatlantic World Donald R. Hickey


18 War of 1812 Memorials and Commemorations Ronald J. Dale


19 Remembering the Forgotten Conflict: Two Hundred Years of Literature on the War of 1812 Donald R. Hickey


20 War of 1812 Chronology Ralph E. Eshelman


Notes on Contributors Index

311 315


1 INTRODUCTION Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark

The output of books on the War of 1812 over the past 25 years has been little short of astounding. A surge that began about 1990 gained even more momentum around 2009 in anticipation of the Bicentennial commemoration. Now that the commemoration is over, we are likely to see a fall-off in production. Still, we are left with a much fuller and richer understanding of the “forgotten conflict” because so many scholars—American, Canadian, and British—academic and independent alike— have made it their business to examine or reexamine either the war as a whole or some aspect of it. Not all dimensions of the conflict have received equal attention. Scholars have shown little interest in revisiting the causes of the war. Although Alan Taylor has recently suggested that a contest between rival visions for North America—loyalist versus republican—played a significant role in generating the conflict, most scholars have accepted the interpretation embraced by contemporaries that was endorsed by Henry Adams in 1890 and then confirmed again in the mid-twentieth century by the scholarship of A. L. Burt, Reginald Horsman, and Bradford Perkins.1 According to this view, the war was fought over neutral rights. More specifically, the United States went to war mainly to force the British to give up the Orders-in-Council (a series of executive orders that restricted American trade with Europe) and impressment (the Royal Navy’s practice of conscripting seamen from American merchant vessels). In the language of American contemporaries, the war was waged for “free trade and sailors’ rights.” True enough, the United States invaded Canada, but this was simply the means to an end. With only 17 warships (compared to 515 for the British), the young republic could hardly challenge Great Britain on the high seas. This left Americans with little choice but to try to bring pressure to bear on the mighty Mistress of the Seas by targeting her sparsely settled and most accessible North American provinces, namely Upper and Lower Canada. The war’s military history, by contrast, has generated considerable interest over the past 50 years. No doubt this is partly because of the inherent excitement of revisiting battles and campaigns. It is probably also due to the remarkable geographical extent of the war. The fighting stretched from Mackinac to Mobile in the west, from Detroit to Montreal in the north, from Eastport (in Maine) to Cumberland Island (in Georgia) along the Atlantic Coast, and from Pensacola (in Spanish Florida) to New Orleans on the Gulf Coast. In all, there were nine major theaters of operations on land and a tenth on the high seas that included not only the Atlantic Ocean but the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well. Nor was this simply an Anglo-American conflict. The War of 1812 also included two Indian wars, one in the Old Northwest and another in the Old Southwest, and there was even a desultory and yet destructive war, known as the Patriot War, waged against Spain in East Florida. Given the


Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark

extraordinary range of campaigning that took place in just 32 months of warfare, it is hardly surprising that so many scholars have been drawn to the war’s military history. Given the remarkable scholarly output, it seems fitting that we assess what we now know about the war. That is the purpose of this handbook. We have lined up leading students of the conflict and asked each to write an original essay that brings us up to date on the state of our knowledge and also identifies the leading works that have informed our understanding. Our contributors are almost all senior scholars, with an average age of around 60 and some 40 years of experience as historians. We start with an essay on the big picture contributed by the prolific British historian, Jeremy Black of the University of Exeter. Black explains the international context of the war, showing in particular how events in Europe not only led to the War of 1812 but also shaped its course and conclusion. Next, a scholar with broad interests, Canadian John Grodzinski of the Royal Military College, examines British strategy for waging the war. He is followed by Britain’s most accomplished naval historian, Andrew Lambert of King’s College London, who traces the extraordinary impact that British naval power had on the course of the war. We then hear from another Canadian historian, retired civil servant and independent scholar Faye Kert, who explores the mechanics and impact of privateering in the war. After that our first American historian, David Curtis Skaggs, who enjoys emeritus status at Bowling Green State University, weighs in with an essay on the central role that the war on the northern lakes played in shaping the course of the conflict. Next in our lineup are two historians who examine important theaters of operation. Christopher George, a transplanted Englishman who has long lived in America, examines the British campaigns in the Chesapeake (including the occupation of Washington and the defense of Baltimore), and American Gene Smith of Texas Christian University follows up with an analysis of British operations on the Gulf Coast that culminated in Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Yet another American, independent scholar and editor Douglas DeCroix, follows with an essay on the weapons and tactics employed in the war, and we then hear from Canadian Carl Benn of Ryerson University, who presents a comprehensive treatment of the role of indigenous people. Next up is the work of several scholars who explore the domestic history of the war. John Stagg, a native of New Zealand who has long been at the University of Virginia, looks at the war’s domestic history in the United States. Canadian James Tyler Robertson, who teaches at Tyndale Seminary, examines the domestic history of Canada. American Walter Arnstein, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, offers a portrait of Great Britain during the war. American Alan Taylor, who holds the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Chair at the University of Virginia and has the rare distinction of having won the Pulitzer Prize in history twice, offers up a compelling treatment of the role of American blacks in the war. Another American, Nicole Eustace of New York University, closes out our domestic history by giving us an essay on U.S. culture during the war. We next hear from Robert McColley, another Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, who offers a fresh look at the diplomatic history of the war. American Don Hickey of Wayne State College in Nebraska discusses the war’s unappreciated but lasting legacy. And Canadian Ron Dale, who recently completed a career with Parks Canada, shows how the war has been commemorated over the years. Don Hickey then weighs in again, this time tracing the historiography of the war, and fellow American, independent scholar Ralph Eshelman, closes out our handbook with a detailed chronology of the war. We believe that these essays, written by a veritable who’s who in the 1812 community or in allied communities, offer a wealth of information likely to satisfy any palate. We invite readers to sample the essays or to feast on the entire collection. We don’t think anyone will be disappointed. We are confident that this handbook will prove to be a valuable resource that will be recognized as an important benchmark in the historiography of the war. *** 2


In preparing this volume we have incurred numerous debts. We would like to thank Kim Guinta and the rest of the staff at Routledge for giving us the freedom to develop this handbook as we thought would best serve the needs of the project. We also want to thank all the scholars who took time from their busy schedules to contribute an essay. We were pleasantly surprised that almost everyone we asked agreed to contribute. We are indebted to Charissa Loftis at the U.S. Conn Library at Wayne State College for ferreting out information that we requested, and to Terri Headley at the Interlibrary Loan Desk who showed her usual facility to find and borrow just about any book or article that we wanted to look at. Finally, we want to thank our copy editor, Kathryn Roberts Morrow.

Note 1. For more on these works, see the chapter below on the literature of the war, “Remembering the Forgotten Conflict.”



On November 8, 1814, the Prince Regent opened the parliamentary session with a speech that left no doubt about the context of the War of 1812. “[T]his war originated in the most unprovoked aggression on the part of the government of the US, and was calculated to promote the designs of the common enemy of Europe [Napoleon], against the rights and independence of all other nations.” Was he correct? All wars sit within multiple contexts, with the international context always being one of the most significant. This is particularly the case for the War of 1812 because Britain, one of the two major combatants, was also involved for most of its course in a more major struggle, and one that it saw as more important. This was the arduous war with Napoleon’s France, one that, with one short gap in 1802–03, had been going since 1793. To a degree, the War of 1812 was a part of the Napoleonic Wars, just as other small conflicts have been subsumed within umbrella wars, notably the two World Wars and the Cold War. That was certainly the perception of the people and government in Great Britain. To them, the War of 1812 was nothing more than an inconvenient sideshow of the Napoleonic Wars. To present the War of 1812 as a part of the Napoleonic Wars risks not only moving the focus of Anglo-American conflict away from North America, as is indeed appropriate, but also diminishing the U.S. role in the war as well as the place of the war in American public history. That would be a misleading response to the vigor with which many American politicians argued the case for war with Britain, a vigor that bore fruit in a declaration of war on Britain that the British government did not want. However, the argument of these politicians in part related to this wider context. Moreover, there were instructive parallels between Napoleonic attitudes and those of the Democratic-Republicans. Whereas the French revolutionaries had seen their revolution as ideological and for export throughout the Western world and beyond, this was not the attitude of their American counterparts, nor of Napoleon. Nevertheless, in each case, their wish to defeat Britain also drew on ideological currents.

America and France The sense of American distance across the Atlantic helped ease America’s relations with Western powers, notably France, but this distance also fostered a degree of unreality in responding to the real or supposed policies of these powers. This unreality was taken further by Jefferson’s animus against Britain, an animus he denied.1 As a result, he and his followers judged British actions toward America without considering the pressures created for Britain by its conflict with France. Far from focusing on America, Britain was primarily concerned with preventing the neutral Americans from trading with France and thus circumventing the British blockade. This blockade was designed to weaken the French economy, a mirror to the French attempt to block and harass trade with Britain. 4

Europe in 1812.

(Map by Alexander Altenhof, KaterBegemot. Wikimedia Commons)

Figure 2.1

Jeremy Black

As with Britain against Germany in 1940–41, this blockade was seen by Britain as the key way to strike at the power that dominated the European continent. However, to the American government in the 1800s (unlike in 1914–17 or 1939–41), this control over trade, including grain supplies, was unacceptable, as was the impressment of sailors of British origin. The 1809 Non-Intercourse Act, which banned trade with Britain and France, was replaced in May 1810 by an Act, sponsored by Nathaniel Macon, which established restrictions on Britain or France if the other agreed to respect America’s rights. This legislation, however, was cleverly manipulated by Napoleon in order to turn America against Britain. Another nonimportation Act, passed in February 1811, prohibited British goods and ships, while permitting continued exports. The British government correctly argued that the French repeal of measures against American trade was fraudulent, and that Britain was being treated unfairly. Far from altering the terms of the Atlantic economy, America was becoming a player, if not a tool, in the struggle between Britain and France. That was also an aspect of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, a measure aptly seen by Napoleon as likely to shift America further to his side. As a result of the purchase, America now had a far longer frontier with Canada, which increased the potential American challenge to the British position there as well as American concern about British links to native Americans. Moreover, Jefferson and others overestimated American power after the Louisiana Purchase, which can therefore be seen as partly responsible for the deterioration in relations with Britain. Jefferson understood the potential of the American West and was correct in his long-term appraisal that America would become a world power. But he mistook America’s marginal leverage, in the threatening bipolar dynamic between Britain and France2, for a situation in which all three were major powers. The last was not in fact to be the case until the 1860s settled the North American question, the issue of dominance in North America.3 Madison, who had been Jefferson’s Secretary of State and longtime friend and ally, followed his reasoning reflexively when he became President in 1809. This attitude ensured that American policymakers saw little reason to compromise with Britain over the regulation of trade. Manipulated by Napoleon, Madison foolishly thought he had won concessions from France that justified his focusing American anger and the defense of national honor on Britain, whereas, in practice, French seizures of American shipping continued. This degree of manipulation does not form part of American public history about the background to the war. In 1812, Madison appeared to have the choice of backing down in his dispute with Britain in order to assuage domestic pressures or of forcing Britain to back down, in part by extending commercial warfare in the shape of a conquest of Canada. Such a conquest would have a variety of consequences, including depriving the British of a key source of the naval supplies necessary for maritime activity. Madison underestimated the risks of trying to force Britain to yield, but this failure was greatly accentuated because the American government did not anticipate Napoleon’s journey, in 1812–14, from imperial conqueror to exile. John Threlkeld of Georgetown was to attribute the “wicked war” first “to the leaning of our government to that of France.”4 The American press carried extensive news of France’s naval buildup, which underlined Britain’s vulnerability.5 In an ahistorical but prescient moment, Richard Glover, a Canadian historian writing in 1964, compared the United States in 1812 to Mussolini’s Italy which in 1940 joined Hitler’s Germany against Britain when the latter was as weak and vulnerable as it had been in the face of Napoleonic power in 1812. He might as well have referred to the Japanese attack on the British and Dutch empires in the Far East in December 1941. The American misjudgment of Napoleon included an assumption that war between France and Britain would be bound to continue and would thus place Britain under pressure in any conflict with the United States. In fact, on April 17, 1812, Napoleon offered Britain peace, essentially on the basis of the status quo. Suspecting an attempt to divide Britain from her allies, the British ministries on April 23 sought clarification on the future of Spain, as they were unwilling to accept its continued rule by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. Napoleon did not reply, and that ended the approach. Neither side probably was sincere in suggesting talks, but the possibility, however distant, of a negotiated 6

Figure 2.2 Napoleon Bonaparte was the preeminent military figure in Europe. He rose to power in France in the late 1790s and dominated Europe until forced to abdicate a second time after his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. (Napoleon in his study, by Jacques Louis David. Oil on canvas, 1812, Wikipedia Commons)

Jeremy Black

end to the war in Europe was one that would have put a bellicose United States in a very difficult position and should have concerned its policymakers. Irrespective of French moves, Madison had departed from Jefferson’s principles in foreign policy. Crucial to these was an attempt to maintain neutrality in great-power confrontation, which Jefferson presented as the way to avoid dangerous entanglements.

America and Russia On June 18, 1812, Madison signed the war bill into law, while on June 24–25, Napoleon’s forces crossed the River Niemen, launching his invasion of Russia. Over 600,000 French and allied troops were available for the invasion. The two steps were linked. On December 4, Henry Clay, the Speaker, declared in the House of Representatives that there had been hope of Napoleon’s success, but by then Napoleon had failed. As a result, his ability to put pressure on Britain, notably on the British forces in Spain and Portugal, had diminished. The seriousness of this was increased because, in December 1812, Alexander I had decided not to seek a new settlement after the conflict, as in 1807, but to press on against France, which put Prussia, an unwilling ally of Napoleon, in the front line. This forced Prussia to a demarche, while also providing an opportunity to negotiate. In January 1813, Napoleon harshly rejected Prussian terms for continued support, and in March, Prussia declared war on Napoleon, beginning what was to be termed the German War of Liberation. The British alliance system was thus becoming greatly stronger while that of France markedly deteriorated. Moreover, America was aligned with the power limiting liberty in Europe at the same time that its invading forces sought to destroy a political system that suited most Canadians. American commentators generally fail to acknowledge this point. For Russia, the end to war between Britain and the United States would also be a major gain, as Britain would thereby be able to focus on the common enemy, France. There was a long-standing hostility on the part of Britain’s Continental allies to her pursuit of transoceanic interests and gains. This was also a cause of tension between British policymakers, notably during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) and in the 1790s. Conversely, Britain’s neutrality in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–79) had ensured that this issue had not caused tension during the War of American Independence. The War of 1812 could be fitted into the more normal pattern. This is a reminder of the continuity of geopolitical patterns and of the extent to which America fitted into existing patterns. That remark, however, underrates the processes involved. In September 1812, Alexander I offered mediation, again a step that should be linked to developments in Europe. The news reached Washington on February 24, 1813, and on March 11 the American government responded positively, the Senate approving the step on May 25.6 Earlier, U.S. officials had been unenthusiastic about negotiations as they had not yet been informed of Napoleon’s failure in Russia. Their new stance reflected not the fate of campaigning in North America but, instead, this failure.

Britain’s Peace Initiative In contrast, the British government, suspicious of Russia and not wishing to be dependent on Russian mediation, rejected the idea of mediation. Moreover, a direct approach for an armistice by Andrei Dashkov, the Russian envoy, an approach made to the British naval commanders, was also unsuccessful, with the commanders being instructed from London that they had no authority to discuss the matter. Instead, on November 4, 1813, the British government, which saw scant benefit coming from a war it had never sought, offered direct negotiations with the United States. The letter from Robert, Viscount Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, reached Annapolis on December 30. On January 5, 1814, James Monroe, the Secretary of State, accepted the proposal. 8

International Context of the War of 1812

This American acceptance of the British peace initiative can be linked to the fate of the campaigning. The principal development the previous fall was the failure of a double-barreled U.S. offensive against Montreal. On October 26, Major General Wade Hampton’s advance north into Canada from Plattsburgh was halted by a well-conduced British (actually French Canadian) defense at Châteauguay, while two weeks later, on November 11, Major General James Wilkinson’s offensive from Sackets Harbor down the St. Lawrence River ended when he was defeated at Crysler’s Farm. The most powerful American attempt to conquer Canada had thereby failed. Moreover, on the Niagara Front, the British occupied the abandoned Fort George on December 18 and captured Fort Niagara in a surprise night attack on December 19. This gave them control over a key anchorage on Lake Ontario. These setbacks affected the American government, although it could be hoped that there would be more success in 1814. That year the Americans renewed their advance toward Montréal, as well as crossing the Niagara River as part of a plan to challenge the British position in Upper Canada.

Impact of Europe The developing situation in Europe was also of great significance to the American acceptance of Castlereagh’s proposal. Any real hope that the United States would, or could, benefit from some sort of rough balance in Europe had collapsed. This was due not so much to French defeats at the hands of Britain and her allies, although they were eventually extremely important, but rather to Napoleon’s failure to play his hand to his diplomatic advantage. Napoleon’s inability to negotiate a compromise peace owed much to his refusal to accept that his position had deteriorated. The military situation, although far more challenging for Napoleon in early 1813 than had been the case the previous summer, did not deteriorate as rapidly as seems to be the case if the narrative is smoothed out. He fought back hard in Germany, aided by concerns about Russian and Prussian intentions among the German rulers on whose support he counted, which included those of Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg. Napoleon rebuilt his army to a force of over 400,000. His new levies, both French and German, helped Napoleon drive his opponents out of Saxony in May 1813, winning victories at Lützen (May 2) and Bautzen (May 20–21). Saxony rallied to him that month, followed by Denmark in July. More significantly, Austria, which (like Prussia) had supported Napoleon in his invasion of Russia in 1812, refused to join his enemies in early 1813. Indeed, Austria sought to mediate peace and proposed that Napoleon be left in control of the left (west) bank of the Rhine. This would have left him with the major dockyards at Antwerp, a threat to British naval power and the target of an unsuccessful British expedition in 1809. The real and symbolic importance of Antwerp was underlined by Viscount Castlereagh when he claimed in November 1813 that “to leave it in the hands of France is little short of imposing upon Great Britain the charge of a perpetual war establishment.”7 In fact, Britain was willing to return colonial conquests to France in order to get its way over Antwerp. Austria also offered Napoleon noninterference over Spain, as well as diplomatic support over colonial concessions from Britain. These terms would have been a very helpful outcome from the French perspective, as Napoleon would have been able to concentrate on war with Britain in Iberia and overseas. Although that would not have made much of a difference at sea, where Britain already overawed the French navy and was the prime target of the latter, the British might have had to send more troops to Iberia to prevent the situation from deteriorating there. The course of the war in Iberia had shown that when, as in 1810, Napoleon had no opponents elsewhere, the French could redeploy forces there so as to put serious pressure on Wellington’s forces. Such pressure would have affected Britain in its war with America and would certainly have prevented the dispatch of British troops to North America, notably the large force sent in 1814. Napoleon, however, was able to snatch defeat from a potentially promising situation and to provoke the formation of a powerful coalition. He rejected the Austrian suggestion, declared all France’s 9

Jeremy Black

annexations inalienable, and began military preparations against Austria. Defeat had not curbed his instinctive bellicosity, although, on the other hand, it is unclear how far the other powers were acting in good faith. Napoleon’s refusal to negotiate peace or to understand that it entailed compromise was delivered in person by the angry Emperor to Count Wenzel Lothar Metternich, the influential Austrian Foreign Minister, in Dresden on June 26. This response led Austria to finally join the anti-French camp, declaring war on August 11. Sweden under Jean Bernadotte, a French marshal before he was elected heir to the throne of Sweden in 1810 (he succeeded, as Charles XIV, in 1818) also joined in on the Allied side. This decision increased the forces deployed against Napoleon in Germany. Bernadotte also put pressure on Napoleon’s ally Denmark, part of the process by which the French alliance system was collapsing. To a degree, America’s difficulties and failures in practice were part of this collapse. The French were now heavily outnumbered and by opponents far better prepared for offensive operations than the Americans attacking Canada. Underlining the different scale of war on the two sides of the Atlantic, Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish forces in Germany in late 1813 exceeded 600,000 troops, while Napoleon deployed 370,000 men against them in the field. The French were defeated at Grossbeeren (August 23), on the Katzbach River (August 26), at Kulm (August 30), and at Dennewitz (September 6). By devoting too many units to try to capture Berlin and by failing to concentrate his forces during the campaign, Napoleon had allowed their attenuation, and this had preserved neither the territory under French control nor the strategic advantage.8 There are instructive parallels in North America. A concentration of American forces might have permitted a greater impact on Canada, but it would have faced serious logistical problems, and there was also the issue of covering America from attack.

The Battle of the Nations October 1813 proved the key month. Bavaria allied with Austria but, far more seriously, on October 16–19 the heavily outnumbered Napoleon was seriously defeated at Leipzig in the massive Battle of the Nations. Saxony was then occupied by Russian and Prussian forces. Meanwhile, within France, Napoleon was affected by falling tax revenues, widespread draft avoidance, a serious shortage of arms and equipment, and a marked decline in the morale and efficiency of officials. The French economy was in a perilous state, as it was hit by the British blockade and by the loss of Continental markets. This situation deteriorated as the campaigning moved against the French. Again, there are instructive comparisons and contrasts with the situation in North America. The American economy and public finances were also under great pressure, while the domestic political situation was dire with New England’s opposition to the war readily apparent. These elements made both war news and the “spin” put on this news of great significance and, in turn, ensured that obtaining such news was important. In 1813, the Upper Canada campaign provided a sense of victory for the Americans. Had it not done so, the situation might well have been dire. In practice, the campaign was operationally significant but not strategically decisive. The chance of a disastrous outcome for the Americans was increased by developments in Europe. Both in late 1813 and in early 1814, Napoleon failed to offer terms that would divide his assailants. This failure came despite the fact that Austria distrusted Russia and Britain and would have liked to retain a strong France, which influenced the proposals made by Austria to Napoleon in November 1813. Moreover, Russia sought a strong France in order to balance Britain, with which it had disagreed repeatedly since 1791 when the two powers had come close to war in the Ochakov Crisis. An agreement with Napoleon would have helped the Americans, but that was not the consideration for Europe’s rulers, who appear to have devoted scant attention to the conflict in North America. This, again, is an instructive point for American public history. In 1814, the key issue in Europe was the fate of Napoleon and not whether the British would capture Washington. 10

International Context of the War of 1812

Figure 2.3 After his disastrous invasion of Russia, Napoleon suffered a severe defeat in the Battle of Leipzig (also called the Battle of the Nations) in October 1813. Thereafter, the Allies pursued him relentlessly until he was finally forced to accept defeat and abdicate his throne in the spring of 1814. (Battle of Leipzig by A. I. Zauerweid. Wikipedia Commons)

Napoleon, moreover, was instinctively unwilling to accept limits or half measures. As a result, the prospect of his settling his differences with Austria and Russia and instead fighting Britain was not followed up. Earlier, in contrast, the victorious Napoleon had negotiated peace with Austria in 1805 and with Prussia and Russia in 1807 while continuing to fight Britain. These earlier agreements had offered the possibility of France maintaining a stable order in Europe, successfully incorporating Iberia into Napoleon’s system, and then fighting Britain or forcing her to terms that left France with the potential of a major role outside Europe, as after the Peace of Amiens in 1802. Either of these scenarios would have given America more negotiating space with Britain or a relative advantage had she fought her then. In fact, as a result of Napoleon’s peace treaties in 1805–07, with Austria, Prussia, and Russia successively, Britain had been placed under severe pressure by France. This was especially so after 1809 when Austria was defeated anew and accepted Napoleon’s harsh terms. In contrast, there was no Austrian treaty with France in 1813 or 1814. Napoleon neither responded to the possibilities for peace nor shaped the peace negotiations. If his ability to do the latter was very limited, Charles Maurice Talleyrand, the able Foreign Minister, was subsequently to do better for France at the Congress of Vienna, despite holding a much weaker hand, until Napoleon’s return from Elba in 1815 totally (and characteristically) wrecked the French position in the Vienna negotiations.

The Fall of France In early 1814, the Allies invaded France, with Austrian and Prussian forces playing the key role in eastern France. British forces, both in southwest France and in the Low Countries, were only ancillary to their operations. Initially the Allies were successful, resulting in Napoleon’s willingness to 11

Jeremy Black

negotiate, abandoning his earlier demands for a Rhine frontier and for the French retention of much of Italy. However, the Allies were checked in mid-February as Napoleon maneuvered with skill in order to destroy the most exposed of the opposing units. The Prussians were defeated at Brienne on January 29 and a Russian force at Champaubert on February 10. Instead of taking the opportunity to negotiate peace, Napoleon then returned to his unrealistic demands of the start of the year. These, however, were unacceptable, not only to Britain, Prussia, and Russia, but also to Austria, the power most willing to negotiate and to leave Napoleon in power. The Allies’ sincerity is unclear, but it was Napoleon’s attitude to diplomacy that ruined the chance to use the negotiations at Châtillon in February to bring peace. After this, the Allies on March 1 agreed at Chaumont not to conclude any separate agreement with Napoleon and, instead, to both continue the war and then to join in maintaining the peace. The agreement was announced on March 9. Six days later, Napoleon’s counterproposal to the Châtillon offer was presented. This counterproposal would have left France with her colonies, the left bank of the Rhine, and much of Italy. These terms were unacceptable to Britain but also unrealistic as far as the other powers were concerned, and this ensured a determination to remove Napoleon. Austria therefore rallied to its allies. After defeating a French force at La-Fère-Champenoise on March 25, the Austrians and Prussians marched on Paris, ignoring Napoleon’s position on their flank. As the Allies advanced, the control of the outnumbered Napoleon over both regime and army crumbled. The force defending Paris was driven back in the suburbs on March 30, and negotiations began the next day. A provisional French government deposed Napoleon, and with his marshals unwilling to fight on, Napoleon abdicated on April 11, 1814.9 This worried Jefferson, who readily understood its implications for the Americans. An armistice was signed on April 23, and Louis XVIII, the Bourbon claimant to the French throne, who had for many years taken shelter in Britain, returned to France the following day, entering Paris on May 3. Americans were hopeful that what they saw as the traditional antipathy between France and Britain would reemerge, but they appreciated that this would take a while, not least as Louis XVIII had been influenced by his years in Britain.10 Despite British anger that American privateers were still able to take shelter in French ports, there was no sign that France under Louis XVIII would help the Americans. Instead, Britain and France were to cooperate at the Congress of Vienna over the contentious Saxony issue. Indeed, the two powers were able to cooperate or coexist for many years before there was another confrontation between them. This was an important background to the next period of American history. Napoleon’s fall ended the logic of the war in terms of Britain’s trading position, as it was no longer necessary for Britain to stop neutral trade with France, nor to press American sailors in order to man British warships—which were no longer required to blockade French ports. Yet, although both logic and need for the war with America were less, it was now possible to focus British military efforts there. About 6,000 British troops had been sent to North America in 1813, but more had been dispatched to Spain. In 1814, without the need to send troops to Spain, more could be shipped to North America. They included some of the veterans of Wellington’s army, units of which embarked directly for the Chesapeake from the Gironde estuary in southwest France. Forty-nine thousand troops were deployed in North America in 1814. Thus, the permissive character of the international context for British campaigning was apparent. Moreover, British confidence was riding high after the defeat and overthrow of Napoleon. The United States lacked allies, a key problem. The defeat of Napoleon had also transformed Britain’s commercial position, while economic pressure on the United States became more intense in 1814. The downfall of the Napoleonic Empire progressively opened Europe to British trade. British exporters and the British economy also benefited. This opening also ensured that there was less need for American goods in Continental Europe or Britain. Crucially, Baltic grain could replace American supplies, and that at a time when American exports were also hit by the strengthening of the British blockade and by British operations in the


International Context of the War of 1812

Chesapeake. Whereas American grain exports had been 972,000 barrels in 1813, they fell to a little over 41,000 in 1814.11

Peace The British government, however, wanted peace, and talks had begun at Ghent in Belgium on August 8, 1814. The setting suited Britain, as the city had a British garrison and was closer to London than the American suggestion, Gothenburg in Sweden. The compromise the British sought in the negotiations was in line with a general policy of restraint at that juncture. At the Congress of Vienna, the British retained some strategic wartime gains, notably Cape Town, Malta, and Mauritius, which underlined Britain’s naval system and therefore not only its military proficiency but also its significance for other powers. There was also a willingness to return even more territory, including Curacao, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Pondicherry, Réunion, Surinam, and the Dutch East Indies. A sense of imperial sufficiency was important in this, as was a view that only so much was necessary in order to ensure colonial and maritime security and imperial predominance. This point needs to be borne in mind when considering Britain’s flexibility in the peace negotiations with America. As another aspect of the international context, the British had to face the possibility of renewed tension in Europe, if not a resumption of conflict. Alexander I of Russia was peremptory about territorial arrangements12, and his stance challenged British views, not least due to the role of the British Crown as Electors of Hanover and, from the Congress, Kings of Hanover. Britain, Austria, and France opposed Russo-Prussian pressure for the Prussian annexation of Saxony. On January 3, 1815, they concluded a Triple Alliance agreeing to oppose, if necessary by force, Prussian ambitions in Saxony and those of Russia in Poland. Such a confrontation, and still more conflict, made a British war with America an even more unwelcome diversion. It is scarcely surprising that in November 1814 Wellington urged the signing of peace with the United States.13 The key development in 1815 was to be the Waterloo campaign, with Wellington eventually supported by a Prussian army, totally victorious on June 18, not the defeat of Wellington’s brother-in-law earlier in the year at New Orleans. It is necessary to understand this contrast in order to appreciate why Britain was the dominant power in succeeding decades and the War of 1812 thus marginal. This dominance affected America’s options and ensured that the decision not to resume attacks on Canada was wise. As a result, American commentators further underplayed the extent of British dominance. This affected the way in which the War of 1812 was to be examined. It was not only that the campaigning of the war was less favorable for America than had been the case, but also that the strategic dimension was less favorable. This dimension was not to be reformulated until the 1840s and, even more conclusively, the 1860s. The war throughout can be placed in an international context that illuminates its course and, more particularly, the exigencies and options confronting Britain as its government struggled to reconcile a range of commitments and possibilities. Appreciating this dimension makes it easier to understand the broader strategic dimension and also the place of the War of 1812 in the years 1812–15, which were, indeed, a key moment of global power politics.

Notes 1. Edward Thornton to Lord Grenville, March 7, 1801, in Foreign Office Papers, National Archives, London, 5/32, fols. 73, 76. 2. Thornton to Lord Hawkesbury, May 5, 1803, ibid., 5/38 fol. 170. As 2nd Earl of Liverpool, Hawkesbury was Prime Minister during the War of 1812. 3. Jeremy Black, Fighting for America: The Struggle for Mastery in North America, 1519–1871 (Bloomington, IN, 2012).


Jeremy Black 4. Threlkeld to John Fisher, March 1, 1817, in Acland Papers, Devon Record Office, Exeter, UK, 1148M/19/9. 5. Richard Glover, “The French Fleet, 1807–1814: Britain’s Problem and Madison’s Opportunity,” Journal of Modern History 39 (September 1967), 249–51. 6. F. A. Golder, “The Russian Offer of Mediation in the War of 1812,” Political Science Quarterly 31 (September 1916), 360–91. 7. Castlereagh to Lord Aberdeen, November 13, 1813 (?), in Charles K. Webster, ed., British Diplomacy 1813– 1815: Select Documents Dealing with the Reconstruction of Europe (London, 1921), 112. 8. Michael V. Leggiere, “From Berlin to Leipzig: Napoleon’s Gamble in North Germany, 1813,” Journal of Military History 67 (January 2003), 39–84. 9. Michael V. Leggiere, The Fall of Napoleon: The Allied Invasion of France, 1813–1814 (New York, 2007). 10. Richard Rush to John Quincy Adams, June 17, 1814, in Rush Papers, Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia. 11. W. F. Galpin, “The American Grain Trade to the Spanish Peninsula, 1810–1814,” American Historical Review 28 (October 1922), 24–28; G. E. Watson, “The United States and the Peninsular War, 1808–12,” Historical Journal 19 (December 1976), 871. 12. Castlereagh to Wellington, November 21, 1814, and Castlereagh to Liverpool, November 25, 1814, in Additional Manuscripts, British Library, London, fols. 194, 220–21. 13. Wellington to Liverpool, November 9, 1814, in Duke of Wellington, ed., Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington, 15 vols. (London, 1858–72), 9:426.

Annotated Bibliography Black, Jeremy. The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. Norman, OK, 2009. Places the Anglo-American war in its transatlantic context. Cusick, James G. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. Gainesville, FL, 2003. Excellent account of America’s short-term and unofficial war with the Spanish in Florida. Leggiere, Michael V. The Fall of Napoleon: The Allied Invasion of France, 1813–1814. New York, 2007. Detailed account of the subject. Muir, Rory. Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769–1814. New Haven, CT, 2013. Masterly account of the first phase of the Iron Duke’s life. Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon: A Life. New York, 2014. The latest and one of the best biographies of the man whose vision and war making shaped Europe. Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848. New York, 1994. Sweeping, learned, and authoritative study of the broader period. Smith, Digby G. 1813, Leipzig: Napoleon and the Battle of the Nations. Mechanicsburg, PA, 2001. Superb account of the decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Stagg, J. C. A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York, 2012. Puts the war in its larger transatlantic context. Thompson, Neville. Earl Bathurst and the British Empire, 1762–1834. Barnsley, UK, 1999. Excellent biography of the man at the center of British policy making during the War of 1812. Webster, Charles K. The Congress of Vienna, 1814–1815. London, 1919. Still the best treatment of the big peace conference that shaped the course of the little conference at Ghent. ———, ed. British Diplomacy, 1813–1815. London, 1921. Documentary collection that is a companion to Webster’s study above.


3 AMERICAN “INDEPENDENCE IS NOT THREATENED” British Priorities in the War of 18121 John R. Grodzinski

Peace with America, then, was the natural policy of this country; and indeed the sole object of the war on our part was simply to resist aggression, and support our maritime rights. America had avowed as her objects in going to war, the conquest of Canada, the enforcement of the principle, that free ships make free goods, and the right of naturalizing our seamen,—principles which could not be surrendered, and on the maintenance of which depended our existence as a great nation. Accordingly they had not been surrendered; Canada had been gloriously defended even by a small body of troops, and peace had been made in the spirit of peace. Hart Davis, Member for Colchester, House of Commons, April 11, 1815 2

The American declaration of war against Great Britain in June 1812 came as British naval, military, diplomatic, fiscal and manufacturing capabilities were concentrating against Napoleonic France. Now facing a new conflict in a distant theater, Britain had to balance its European goals and commitments with the security of its North American colonies. As impressive in these years were as the harnessing of British financial might, the mobilization of its industry, and the employment of its population in military service to a level that would not be surpassed until the Great War of a century later, British resources were finite, requiring their leaders, in light of higher priorities, to restrict their strategy in North America to little more than maintaining the security of its colonial possessions. Once freed from the European war, the land and naval reinforcements it dispatched, largely to the Canadas, were to enhance the security of Upper and Lower Canada and achieve modest territorial gains that were to bolster the position of the British diplomats, who were about to commence peace negotiations with the Americans. Despite its efforts to keep the Anglo-American war separate from the talks on the future of Europe in Vienna, the British government found that they converged, causing it to subordinate its colonial interests to its goals in Europe. This strategy proved so successful that by 1815, Britain had preserved its North American colonies and achieved a height of global military and political prestige reached neither before nor since. Between the American declaration of war in June 1812 and Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815—which occurred while the Congress of Vienna sat—the King’s ministers remained firmly fixed on European affairs. The only significant departures they allowed to the restrictions that had been imposed on the commander-in-chief in British North America, Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost, to refrain from demands for additional armaments, manpower, and money, came in the spring of 1813, when specie, reinforcements, additional equipment, and most significantly, a Royal Navy


Figure 3.1 The War in the Northern Borderlands. (Map by Tracy Smith. Courtesy of Don Hickey.)

John R. Grodzinski

contingent, were sent to the Canadas; in the summer of 1814, the defensive strategy Prevost had followed since 1812 was redefined by expanding the naval establishment on the Great Lakes and the troop levels in the Canadas and offshore of the United States, in order to remove the military threat to the Canadas and give clout to a British commission that was about to commence peace negotiations with the Americans. Eventually, any aspirations the government had in securing territorial and other concessions from the Americans were trumped by concerns over the state of the talks at Vienna and the stability of Europe. Recent publications have heralded a revived interest in British strategy and its strategic capabilities, including public and private finance, industry, shipbuilding, and the mobilization of its population, during the Napoleonic Wars that is not equaled in the historiography of the War of 1812. Historians of the North American conflict have generally given passing interest in the structure and operation of the British government, its ministries, and departments, as demonstrated recently by one author who casually characterized the entire strategic mechanism of Great Britain as “their Imperial Lords” without any explanation of its function. Some historians stress that the war in Europe forced British officials to give the North American war minor attention, while others claim the “lack of money”—whatever that may mean—forced the British government in 1814 to seek a prompt conclusion to the Anglo-American conflict. It is evident that despite the inefficiencies and corruption in all governments of this period, Britain possessed experienced ministries and departments capable of planning and executing military, naval, fiscal, and diplomatic operations on a global scale. The results, as the War of 1812 demonstrated, were not always as desired or expected (as the need for social and electoral reform would reveal). Still, even the American commissioners acknowledged that the terms of the Treaty of Ghent were “not such as our Country expected at the commencement of the war.” However, by focusing on Europe, Britain overthrew a previously all-conquering opponent, achieved unprecedented dominance of trade and on the high seas, acquired a new colonial empire, and yet still managed to retain its North American colonies. Furthermore, the British financial system was robust and capable of funding its war effort and servicing the largest of any government debt to that point. Within the context of strategic priorities and the diplomatic and economic challenges of the closing years of the Napoleonic Wars, one can appreciate why events in North America, although important to Americans, Canadians, and to the native population, drew less interest in London.3 Contemporary experience in the “Global War on Terror” and other asymmetric threats had demonstrated that might is not always matched by favorable results. Objectives can be grandiose, resources inadequate, and orders vague; the interests of many parties, the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals concerned, and the complications produced by “friction,” the unforeseen effects that impede the effective use of military forces, as military theorist Carl von Clausewitz suggested in his writings, are alive today as they were two centuries ago.

A Tale of Three Henrys: Bathurst, Goulburn, and Bunbury A house at the western end of Downing Street, where the steps now lead down to St. James’s Park, served as the offices for the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, whose staff directed Britain’s war effort during the Napoleonic Wars. Better known as the Colonial Office, the position of its Secretary of State originated in 1794, following the rearrangement of the duties originally held by the Home and Foreign Secretaries. Before continuing, we need to look at the British system of government. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a constitutional monarchy that relied on the separation of powers between the monarchy and legislature to safeguard the democratic House of Commons and to protect the army from being an instrument of an autocratic monarch. In contrast to the autocracies of the continent, British society was more liberal, respectful of the rule of law, and enjoyed a pluralist political system. The monarch, the Prime Minister and cabinet, the two houses of parliament, the judiciary and 18

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

courts all had distinct roles and powers. The political system was not democratic in the modern sense; however, public issues were debated openly in parliament and commented on in the press. The greatest influence the state had over its citizens was in the military draft, the naval press gang, and taxation. The lengthy war against France challenged the existing system and brought the tightening of public demonstrations and freedom of the press and increased taxation. The monarch was the head of state whose powers had been much reduced since 1713, but who enjoyed enough residual power and political influence to insist on consultation on all government matters and the ability to dismiss any minister. Beginning in 1811 and until his death in 1820, the mental state of George III made him incapable of ruling, and in his place, parliament appointed a regent. At first, indications that the king might recover led parliament to avoid unnecessary upheaval by imposing restrictions on the notorious fickleness of the Prince of Wales for one year following his swearing in as Prince Regent on February 6, 1811. When in early 1812 he finally assumed the full powers of the monarch, the regent avoided interfering with the government of Spencer Perceval, and following the assassination of the prime minister in May 1812, Lord Liverpool, then Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, exploited the factionalism within the two major political groups, the Tories and the Whigs, allowing him in June to form a broadly based ministry that had the freedom to implement its program without interference from the regent. The officers of state included the prime minister, several secretaries of state and other officials, including—to name a few—the First Lord of the Treasury (a post normally the prime minister held), Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Council and the Master of the Mint, all of whom held rank as “His Majesty’s confidential servants” in the cabinet, the central decision-making body of the government. In 1814, the cabinet comprised 13 ministers, while 13 other officials held posts, including the Attorney General and Solicitor General, that were “not of the cabinet.” By the early 1800s, the prime minister had become the dominant figure in the cabinet, supplanting the departmental government of the eighteenth century with a unified set of ministers who reported to the monarch only through the prime minister. Unlike today, the existence of a government was independent of parliament elections, and the prime minister formed a government by bringing varied political interests into a compact. The survival of the government was dependent upon sustaining a viable coalition, ensuring the pleasure of the monarch, and in guaranteeing sufficient votes for the passage of bills in the House of Commons, which wielded considerable power. The House of Commons held authority over financial matters, including the civil list, comprising the royal household and the civil government offices, and the navy and the army. Bills were introduced by the motion of a minister, and the government then had to reckon with the 658 members of the house. The House of Commons could, through its select committees, commissions, examination of public accounts and debate, bring sufficient pressure on to the government to cause it to collapse. The Secretary of State for War and the Colonies administered reports and all military matters from every colonial governor and overseas commanders-in-chief. He coordinated with other offices, such as the Board of Ordnance, the government department responsible for the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers; and the Transport Board, which provided transport for troops and supplies; he also communicated with the Horse Guards, the headquarters of the British Army; and the Treasury, which held several military responsibilities. Finally, he transmitted the orders and instructions of the government to the colonies and overseas commanders. In June 1812, this post was held by Henry Bathurst, the 3rd Earl Bathurst, a sensible and experienced minister. Earl Bathurst, Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, and Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh formed the inner group of ministers responsible for the day-to-day administration of Britain’s global strategy. While this system was responsible for some confusion and inefficiency, it was noteworthy that it rested on the authority the Crown granted to the prime minister and the cabinet to make decisions and execute policy. Despite his considerable responsibilities, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies employed a small staff. Assisting the Secretary were two Undersecretaries, one for colonial matters and, beginning 19

John R. Grodzinski

Figure 3.2 The Secretary of State for War and the Colonies occupied the center building of this block at the western end of Downing Street, Westminster. From here Earl Bathurst and his staff directed British military and colonial strategy during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. By 1876 the buildings had been razed and replaced by the steps down to St. James’s Park. (Watercolor by J.C. Buckler, 1827, No. 1880.1113.2744, © Trustees of the British Museum)

in 1806, another for war. Between August 1812 and December 1821, Henry Goulburn, a man much maligned for his role in the peace negotiations at Ghent, held the senior post of Undersecretary (Colonies); while between 1809 and 1816, another Henry, Colonel Henry Bunbury, an administratively skilled and experienced officer who had seen limited action, served as Undersecretary (War). The remainder of the staff included a private secretary, chief clerk, librarian, a translator, précis writer, a dozen clerks and several domestic servants. Aside from overseeing his department and tending to his parliamentary duties—Bathurst was a member of the House of Lords and Goulburn a member of parliament—Bathurst handled a voluminous daily correspondence. Wellington, advancing during this time from earl to marquess and finally duke, the commander of the British and Portuguese forces in the Iberian Peninsula, was his main correspondent. In the 22 months between July 1812, when the first of Wellington’s letters to reach Bathurst arrived, and Napoleon’s abdication in April 1814, the men shared 500 letters; in contrast, the 20

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

31-month correspondence shared between Bathurst and Sir George Prevost from September 1811 to April 1815 amounted to less than half that number. Over time, Bathurst found himself completely immersed in the war in Europe, leaving the management of the North American conflict to his subordinates. During the summer of 1813, as the fighting in North America intensified, Britain entered a new coalition with its European allies. The importance Britain gave to the alliance, which it hoped would achieve a decisive blow against Napoleon, led it to consummate the deal by agreeing to contribute a fleet to the Baltic and the dispatch of a 3,000-man contingent to Stralsund in northern Germany. It also sent arms and considerable financial assistance to Russia, Sweden, and Prussia. The scale of the assistance it provided was staggering, and over a 10-month period, the financial aid amounted to £11 million, nearly equivalent to all the subsidies between 1793 and 1801, while another £2 million was provided for arms, including 101,000 muskets. The members of the new coalition, which would be joined by Austria, Denmark, Holland, and Hanover by the end of the year, assembled their forces but found that their goal in defeating Napoleon proved elusive. In May 1813, the defeat of their armies at Lützen and Bautzen discouraged Russia and Prussia, paving the way for an armistice with France, known as the Treaty of Pleiswitz. The exclusion of the British representatives at the allied headquarters from the discussions leading to the treaty and from additional talks that included Austria created concerns in London that Britain would be left to continue the war on its own. Fortunately for Britain, Napoleon’s refusal to enter into serious negotiations, combined with a lack of faith in the Emperor’s intentions on the part of the allies, ended the armistice, and in August 1813 the war resumed. In October, the allies imposed a convincing defeat on Napoleon at Leipzig, and following the retreat of his army across the Rhine into France in December, Napoleon accepted a proposal to commence peace negotiations. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Lord Castlereagh was appointed to give a single voice to the three emissaries currently representing British interests with the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians. By January, allied troops were on French soil, and the lengthy war appeared to be nearing an end. The realization of just how little influence Britain wielded with its allies, Austria, Prussia, and Russia was tempered by the weight of British financial aid, its contribution of 100,000 men in Iberia, and its naval power. The general acceptance by the European powers that Napoleon had to be removed was an important victory. For now, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies was consumed with that goal and with the additional duties for foreign affairs, leaving responsibility for the war in America largely in the hands of Undersecretary Henry Goulburn. Henry Bunbury’s poor health favored this arrangement. Following his appointment to the Colonial Office in 1807, Bunbury, whom Goulburn described as a “conscientious” man with a “talent for business,” took to his duties with a zeal that eventually threatened his health and nearly resulted in his resignation in 1812.4 Bunbury’s continued health problems and frequent absences on the continent necessitated Goulburn’s deeper involvement in military matters than his duties would normally have required. Thus it was Goulburn and not Bunbury, who, in the middle of one night in October 1812, was awoken by a special messenger carrying an account of the British victory at Detroit. Later that year, Goulburn ensured that the request Sir George Prevost made for the assignment of the Royal Navy to the Great Lakes was satisfied. In 1813, the Undersecretary supported a more aggressive campaign on the Atlantic coast, and it was Goulburn who detailed the objectives in the June 1814 “Secret Orders” sent under Bathurst’s signature to Prevost that now placed Britain on the offensive. Finally, Goulburn was nominated to complete the three-member British commission destined to negotiate the treaty that concluded the war. Goulburn, who received responsibility for the final arrangements of frontiers, fisheries, and maritime rights, owed his appointment to the rejection of the government’s first choice, George Hammond, who had aroused much hostility while he was British minister to Washington. The course of war in the Canadas frustrated Goulburn. The British naval defeat on Lake Erie dumbfounded him, given the dispatch of nearly 1,000 experienced seamen to North America. He 21

John R. Grodzinski

Figure 3.3 While better known as a member of the British commission that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, Undersecretary (Colonies) Henry Goulburn played a prominent part in military matters in the War of 1812. Not only did he gain the commitment of the Royal Navy to play a role in the Great Lakes, but he also drafted the “Secret Orders” of June 1814 that placed Britain on the offensive in North America. (Engraving by R. A. Artlett after George Richmond, 1851, No. 22988, © Victoria and Albert Museum)

found Prevost’s claim of the inadequacy of the resources provided to him and his call for additional reinforcements unexpected and smacking of the governor’s excessive caution. Little did Goulburn realize that less than half of the sailors sent to Halifax made it to Kingston and that even fewer reached Lake Erie, while the four regiments sent to Prevost in 1813 were insufficient given the scale of American offensive operations. Prevost related as much to Bathurst, when he wrote in 1813 that improvements in the leadership and training of the American army and the unprecedented expansion of their inland naval force offered Prevost “difficulties of a new and imposing character,” which were exacerbated by his not being “honoured with a single instruction from His Majesty’s Government upon the mode of conducting the campaign since it opened to this late period.”5 22

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

For his part, Goulburn’s lack of military expertise and experience—he had once been a captain of volunteers and, as Undersecretary of State at the Home Department, had held responsibility for the administration of the militia and volunteers—left him inadequately equipped to manage a war being fought in a vast geographic expanse over 3,000 miles away. Nonetheless, from the outset of hostilities, Goulburn accepted that the “detail fell to the Colonial Department,” and his attention was given to “scratch around for additional supplies for the heavily outnumbered forces in North America.”6 To increase the manpower available for military service, he encouraged colonial volunteerism by authorizing Prevost to offer 100 acres to each man who enlisted. Then, in August 1814, following the completion of the “Secret Orders,” Goulburn left the Colonial Office for the peace talks on the continent, leaving Bathurst with a single, sickly and sometimes absent Undersecretary of War as his sole assistant. During late 1812 and early 1813, Undersecretary of State for War Colonel Henry Bunbury was abroad to convey instructions to the Swedish government, and at the beginning of 1814, he was in France to discuss with Wellington logistical and financial details for the upcoming campaign. The only appreciable influence Bunbury exerted on the Anglo-American War was in his opposition to the proposed expedition to New Orleans. He argued, unsuccessfully, that it be delayed until the spring of 1815, once the progress of the peace negotiations in Ghent was clear. Postponing the operation would also release troops to quell potential disturbances in Ireland and England and to defend the Netherlands until peace with France was assured. Meanwhile, Bathurst attended to establishing the peace and the security of Europe. During 1814, while dealing with the pressing requirements of the Peninsular Army in France, the establishment of a British garrison in the recently liberated Kingdom of the Netherlands, and arranging a proposed dynastic union between the Houses of Hanover and Orange, Bathurst assumed responsibility for the foreign office. In February 1814, with his Undersecretary of War absent, his Colonial Undersecretary unfamiliar with military affairs, the Foreign Secretary on the continent, and the allied armies within reach of Paris, Bathurst chose to consult with Britain’s pre-eminent field commander on how to settle matters in North America. In response to Bathurst’s proposal to send 20,000 men to North America, Wellington opined that the defence of Canada “depends upon the navigation of the lakes,” and that “any offensive operation founded upon Canada must be preceded by the establishment of naval superiority on the lakes.” Wellington doubted Britain could not “do more than secure the points on those lakes at which the Americans would have access.” Consequently, military operations by large forces “are impracticable, unless the party carrying them on has the uninterrupted use of a navigable river, or very extensive means of land transport, which such a country can rarely have.”7 Wellington had succinctly summarized the conditions that would achieve nothing more than the retention of Britain’s North American colonies. Although Britain could have sent the necessary military and naval personnel, foodstuffs, fodder, and specie for military operations that would attempt to achieve more in North America than Wellington had proposed, British officials were unwilling to do so because of deteriorating conditions in Europe.

Security for British North America The orders to Sir George Prevost that Bathurst signed on June 3, 1814 signaled a fundamental shift in British strategy in North America. Offensives to be mounted from the Canadas were to achieve control of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, reestablish the alliance severed with the Western Confederacy in 1813, and impede American attacks against the Canadas. Other operations in the Chesapeake would consist of diversionary raids to assist in the defense of Lower and Upper Canada, while the only territorial ambition expressed in this new strategy was the occupation of the Territory of Massachusetts (Maine) to improve communication between New Brunswick and Lower Canada. Once these objectives were secure, the security of British North America would then be confirmed 23

John R. Grodzinski

diplomatically at the forthcoming peace talks. Operations against the Gulf Coast were not part of this plan and will be considered later. The narrow objectives and the forces allocated to these offensives reveal they were not intended to replicate the invasions envisioned in 1777 to end the rebellion in America by carving up the Province of New York or pursued in the southern American colonies from 1779. Prevost was to remain close to the frontier and avoid “such forward movements into the Interior of American Territory as might commit the safety of the force placed under your command,” while in the Chesapeake, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Major General Robert Ross were not to “advance” their force “so far into the Country as to risk its power of retreating to its embarkation.”8 In the event, the late arrival of Bathurst’s orders at Quebec and incomplete naval preparations on the Great Lakes caused the postponement of most of the offensives until the following year, leaving Prevost with the prospect of mounting two operations designed to secure the frontier of Lower Canada: the destruction of the enemy naval establishment on Lake Champlain and the occupation of an advanced position on the frontier at Plattsburgh, New York. This offensive, the primary British effort in the north for that year, ended with the defeat of the British naval squadron on Lake Champlain and the withdrawal of the still intact division back to Lower Canada, from whence it continued to guard the frontier. The raids in the Chesapeake culminated with the occupation and burning of Washington; Cochrane, elated with the results, then proposed to attack Baltimore. Although the discomfort Ross expressed toward Cochrane’s zeal in destroying American urban centers was shared by others, it must also be remembered that Baltimore was simply another objective in strategy directed toward raiding the enemy. The city was too large and the terrain too difficult for such a small force to succeed, and the repulse of the attackers should not be remembered solely for its inspiring the American national anthem, for the attack on Baltimore also coincided with the government’s decision to shift offensive operations to the Gulf Coast. In response to the receipt of letters from the Admiralty on September 17, 1814 that outlined plans for Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory, Cochrane abandoned his plans for an attack on the northern coast of the United States. Leaving Rear Admiral Pulteney Malcolm temporarily in command in the Chesapeake with orders to resume the blockade, Cochrane departed for Halifax to make preparations for the new campaign. Malcolm, who was later joined by Captain Robert Barrie, RN, continued with patrols and raids and also occupied islands in Maryland. A considerable portion of the fleet was also withdrawn for Cochrane’s use. While these events unfolded, the British occupation of Maine was well under way. In June 1814, Lieutenant General Sir John Sherbrooke, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and commander of the forces in the Maritime Provinces, acted upon instructions to “occupy so much of the District of Maine, as shall ensure an uninterrupted [overland] communication between Halifax & Quebec,” by sending a regiment of foot and a detachment of artillery and warships to take several islands off Eastport, Maine.9 The rapid surrender of the American garrison prompted Sherbrooke to use recently arrived reinforcements to extend the occupation to include that portion of Maine that impeded communication between New Brunswick and Lower Canada. By September, with much of the territory under British control, Sherbrooke was recommending to the government that a new boundary between New Brunswick and Maine be fixed at Penobscot. While the United States made no challenge to the occupation, nothing came of it, and it was not until March 1815, following ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, that British forces finally withdrew from Maine.

The Gulf Coast Expedition The decision to mount an expedition against New Orleans came as the British cabinet was confronted with an unstable situation in France, where the restored and feeble monarchy induced a 24

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

Napoleonic revival, while in North America, the successful occupation of Maine was tempered by the setback at Plattsburgh and the death of Ross at Baltimore. Facing criticism from its European allies, the government made a renewed effort toward an agreeable conclusion to the American war. Thus, a recommendation by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane to mount a major expedition against New Orleans received a favorable response in London, where the cabinet saw another opportunity of acquiring territory that could provide it with leverage at the peace talks. In September 1814, Cochrane learned that the objectives of the campaign were to “obtain command of the embouchure of the Mississippi, so as to deprive the back settlements of America of their communication with the sea” and to “occupy some important and valuable possession, by the restoration of which the conditions of peace might be improved, or which we might be entitled to exact the cession of, as the price of peace.”10 Difficulties in raising troops limited the expedition to 8,000 men. Rather than appointing a senior lieutenant-general to command it, the appointment fell initially to Major General John Ross. Following his death, command of the Forces in the Southern and Western parts of America went to Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, then in Britain. As the government questioned the legality of the Louisiana Purchase, Pakenham was to determine “if the inhabitants of New Orleans and part adjacent should be disposed to take an open part against the Government of the United States, either with a view of establishing their own Independence, or of again placing themselves under the Spanish Government.”11 Before he sailed for the South Atlantic in November 1814, Pakenham requested Henry Bunbury to arrange a meeting with Rear Admiral William Johnstone Hope at the Admiralty, where they both agreed that the force destined for the expedition would be concentrated at Bermuda before sailing for the Gulf. While he awaited the arrival of Pakenham from his base at Jamaica, Cochrane continued to probe the enemy’s defenses in the Gulf. In September, Cochrane was repulsed at Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Then, in late November, the independently minded Cochrane left Jamaica for New Orleans, followed by 5,498 officers and men in transports. Two weeks later, Pakenham arrived off Jamaica, identified in his orders as the designated rendezvous for the expedition. After conferring with his two brigade commanders, he hurried for Louisiana where, on Christmas Day, when the army lay eight miles outside of New Orleans, he finally took command. The campaign ended in January 1815 with Pakenham’s death and the defeat of his army. The army rejoined the fleet, and in February, following the capture of Fort Bowyer, the entire force departed for the West Indies, having received confirmation the war was over.

Ghent and Vienna The signing of the Treaty of Ghent came as the allied congress in Vienna entered its fourth month. The first attempt to end the Anglo-American war came in 1812, when in response to mixed messages from the Madison administration, Britain repealed the Orders-in-Council that had restricted American trade with Europe. The American President was both astonished by this act and unmoved by it, as it did not include a fundamental change in the British position on impressment, and the war continued. In 1813, Russian interest in reestablishing access to American grain and its desire to terminate the diversion of British troops to Canada from Spain, where they were tying down French forces who might otherwise fight against the Russian army now in central Europe, led Czar Nicholas to offer mediation to end the Anglo-American war. A similar proposition had been made in September 1812 but was not pressed until the following spring, when the Russian minister in Washington made a formal proposal. This offer came at an opportune moment as Madison was facing military reverses and domestic troubles. Believing Russia shared views similar to America on maritime rights, he welcomed the Czar’s initiative. Furthermore, as Napoleon’s retreat from Russia presented a possible conclusion 25

John R. Grodzinski

to the war in Europe, releasing thousands of British soldiers for service in America, Madison hoped a negotiated settlement might avoid a disaster and agreed to talks before confirming the British position. The question of maritime rights “which forms the principal object in the dispute between the two states” was so important to Britain that Lord Cathcart, the British representative at the Czar’s headquarters, dismissed the possibility of an ally interfering with such a critical subject.12 Castlereagh agreed that Great Britain and the United States alone should settle their differences, and Britain must avoid “mixing a question purely domestic between Great Britain and America with the settlement of Europe.”13 The British foreign minister then proposed direct negotiations for the restoration of peace, with the United States in London or Gothenburg. Eventually both parties agreed that Ghent, in the United Provinces of Holland, which also incorporated Belgium, afforded better communication and made it the preferred location. Britain and the United States had shared interests in the Netherlands. Commercial competition and military threats emanating from the Low Countries had influenced British policy toward the Low Countries for over a century. In February 1793, Britain joined the war against Revolutionary France arising from the French threat to Flanders. In 1809, French domination of the Low Countries and fears of a growing naval threat from Antwerp prompted the ill-fated Walcheren Expedition. In response, France annexed the country. Following the evacuation of the French from Amsterdam in November 1813, Holland rose in revolt and a provisional government was formed. The Prince of Orange, who had been residing in England, was quickly loaded on a transport and accompanied by Lord Clancarty, the newly appointed British ambassador to The Hague, sailed to the Netherlands. They were followed by the lead elements of a 5,500-man force sent to protect British interests. The United States also had diplomatic and economic relations with the Netherlands. Between 1782 and 1810, a treaty had regulated trade between the United States and the Dutch Republic. Following the restoration in 1813, both Clancarty and Castlereagh supported the establishment of a new Dutch-American treaty recommended by Sylvanus Bourne, the former Consul General of the United States in Amsterdam. This convinced Dutch officials that Britain wanted to make peace with the United States, with the Netherlands acting as intermediary. Clancarty denied this notion, and instead of seeking Dutch mediation, Castlereagh proposed direct talks with the United States. The course of the negotiations between the American and British commissions that opened at the Lion d’Or on August 8, 1814, is well known and will not be examined here; instead, attention will be given to the British management of outcomes in American and Europe and the relationship between the negotiations in Ghent and Vienna. In September 1814, the American commission’s rejection of the most recent British proposals and its refusal to forward them to their government revealed that the talks had effectively broken down. At issue was the refusal “to include the Indians in the treaty of peace” and grant them an independent buffer state. Instead, the Americans proposed to combine “their case with that of disaffected citizens, or subjects, who may have taken arms against their respective governments.”14 The second obstacle was British dominion over the Great Lakes. Securing a resolution to both points was complicated by the isolation of the American delegation, which had to wait up to five weeks to receive instructions from Washington, whereas the government in London or Castlereagh in Paris could formulate a response and communicate with its commission within days. Given the stalemate in the talks and the lack of instructions from Washington, the Prime Minister believed there was not much hope of the negotiations proceeding at present. With the talks stalled, the growing unpopularity of the Anglo-American war in Britain and the potential alienation of its European allies due to the ongoing naval blockade of the United States, both Castlereagh and Bathurst decided to act. On September 4, and before receiving the results of the offensives in North America, Bathurst outlined to the British commissioners that “we are certainly anxious to make Peace before this next campaign [a reference to the Gulf Coast Expedition],” and “our first object is to make a good Peace now.”15 Armed with new instructions, the British 26

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

plenipotentiaries eased their position and declared that the “Indian Nations . . . must be included” in the terms “and restored to all rights, privileges and territories which they enjoyed in the year 1811.”16 They also expressed their willingness to discuss the naval command of the lakes from Lake Ontario to Lake Superior, as a sine qua non for continuing the negotiations. In their reply, the American commissioners wrote that the natives could not be included in a treaty; however, they were satisfied enough to “meet any proposition from the British Plenipotentiaries . . . to contribute to the restoration of peace.”17 Much had been surrendered and thus the talks were kept alive. Nonetheless, by November, the many differences between the American and British negotiators— including boundaries, concession of territory, navigation on the Mississippi, and fishing rights— continued to plague the talks, while in Vienna, progress was stalled over the questions of Polish independence and the fate of Saxony. Unless Russia relaxed its insistence on controlling a Polish puppet state, Liverpool feared a new war would erupt. Lines were drawn with Britain and Austria on one side, and Russia and Prussia—the latter being lured to support Russia by the offer of a portion of Saxony—on the other. France, meanwhile, used the division between the allies to enhance its role in the negotiations, while Britain came to realize the necessity of restoring France as an influential power in central Europe. Britain now faced the dilemma of a renewed war in Europe, while talks to conclude the war in North America dragged on. Prime Minister Liverpool concluded that “our war with America will probably now be of some duration” and that Britain should “not make enemies in other quarters if we can avoid it, for I cannot but feel apprehensive that some of our European Allies will not be indisposed to favour the Americans.”18 The Prime Minister was worrisome of the “prodigious expense” of its interests in Europe and the American war: “if we had been at peace with all the world, and the arrangements made at Vienna were likely to contain anything very gratifying to the feelings of this country,” Britain could, “in addition to all the burthens which the American war will bring on,” meet its other obligations.19 Liverpool estimated that if it were allowed to continue, “the American war will not cost us more than 10,000,000 £ in addition to our peace establishments, and other expenses.”20 To meet its commitments, above the compensation to be paid to Britain’s continental allies for ending the slave trade, Liverpool estimated the need for a loan of £28 million. He was also concerned that the expiration of the Bank Restriction Bill in March 1815—which suspended specie payments to preserve its dwindling bullion reserve—and the property tax in April would weaken the government’s credit and place it at a disadvantage in the House, especially if it did not provide sufficient time to debate its continuance before the Christmas recess. Liverpool anticipated the opposition would exploit the unpopularity of the American war to emphasize that the renewal of the tax would be for the purpose of securing a better frontier for the Canadas while avoiding any mention of its being needed to support the attainment of Britain’s goals in Europe. As the government wrestled with these challenges, additional problems arose that further complicated its position. In Paris, plots against the restored monarchy necessitated safeguards to protect the royal family, while threats against Wellington, who was British ambassador, led the cabinet to momentarily consider sending him to Canada to replace Prevost; however, Castlereagh’s inability to wrest Poland from Alexander’s grip and the possible collapse of the alliance ensured that Britain’s greatest commander could not be spared, despite the advantages the announcement of his appointment to North America might have had on the negotiations at Ghent. Liverpool delayed the decision, for if the negotiations at Ghent ended “satisfactorily, the command [in North America] will, of course, cease.” Alternatively, if “the course of events [on the continent] should render your [Wellington] continuance in Europe at that time necessary,” and the talks at Ghent dragged on, “we should have sufficient grounds for making some new arrangement as to the command in America.” To Liverpool, “in the present war,” American “independence is not threatened,” and the “contest” at Ghent “is a contest only for terms of peace.”21 Once more, the Anglo-American war gave way to the European diplomatic, political, and military imperative. 27

John R. Grodzinski

Pressure on the government also came from the press. In America, the publication of official correspondence from the negotiations at Ghent, including the emasculated proposals offered to the Americans in October and the republication of American accounts of the talks in London papers, placed the government’s actions under public and parliamentary scrutiny. This assault on the government emanated from the Whigs, who, as Liverpool predicted, claimed the American war was being prolonged unnecessarily for the alteration of the boundary at the cost of British lives. In November, Bathurst outlined the implications of these events to Goulburn, including details of petitions made against the income tax and of the protests by manufacturers in Birmingham. Bathurst explained, “we are as anxious as ever to bring the Treaty to a conclusion,” and by the end of the month, nearly coincident with the arrival of similar instructions for the American delegation from Washington, the British commission had instructions to abandon all territorial claims. With peace in their grasp, a draft protocol was completed and a treaty signed on December 24, 1814. News of this event reached Castlereagh six days later. When Castlereagh discussed the implications of Britain being freed from the war in America with French diplomat Prince de Talleyrand and Austrian statesman Prince Metternich, the former underscored the “great effect” that news of the peace had at Vienna, by calling the Treaty of Ghent “la paix sterling.”22 At a dinner that evening Castlereagh responded to congratulations offered by the Russian Czar on the signing of the treaty, with the words, “Il commence L’Âge d’Or,” a veiled threat that now freed of the American war, Britain could, if needed, commit a sizeable army to the continent and offer subsidies to her continental allies in a coalition against Russia. Castlereagh then achieved “a feat of diplomatic ingenuity” that had been initiated beforehand, and on January 3, 1815, he concluded a secret Treaty of Defensive Alliance with France and Austria, a pact of mutual support, should one of them be attacked.23 Castlereagh’s goal was to wrest Prussia from Russia’s grasp; the alliance also, as Talleyrand announced, ended France’s isolation from Europe. Castlereagh confidently reported to Liverpool that he had every reason to believe the alarm of war was over. Despite receiving the Prince Regent’s approval for the “firm and decided manner” in which Castlereagh had “expressed the sentiments of H.R.H. Government,” and the support of Liverpool, who also agreed the Treaty of Defensive Alliance was “advantageous,” as it “will secure the Low Countries and give more éclat to Castlereagh’s presence in Vienna,” the Foreign Secretary had, as Lord Harrowby, the Lord President of the Council complained, committed the government to preparing for war without reference to the cabinet or parliament.24 Clearly, the government was in a difficult position, and in January, fearing the ground the government had lost in the House of Commons, Liverpool threw aside concerns over the failure to reach an agreement in Vienna and instructed Castlereagh to return to London for the parliamentary debates on the negotiations that were expected to commence in March. In early February, Wellington replaced Castlereagh in Vienna, and the Foreign Secretary departed for London, landing at Dover on March 3, 1815. Almost two weeks later, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs presented a defense of his actions to the House. On March 20, 1815, ten days after the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached London, Castlereagh responded to a lengthy criticism of his actions in Vienna from Samuel Whitbread, a radical Whig and Bonapartist known for the vehemence of his speeches and anxious for demilitarization and retrenchment at home. Castlereagh’s four-hour long account of the negotiations at Vienna dismissed the criticisms leveled against the government. Not all Whigs were consumed by the same admiration for Napoleon as Whitbread, and several members of the opposition rallied behind the government. Despite the pressure the opposition maintained on the Liverpool ministry during April and May, the government survived three divisions with a comfortable majority. Tough questions were also asked about the Treaty of Ghent. On April 11, 1815, at a well-attended session, John William Ponsonby, second cousin of the cavalry commander later slain at Waterloo, accused the government of having caused an “unnecessary delay in the conclusion of peace” that resulted in the “unnecessary and unprofitable waste of treasure” at 28

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

New Orleans and of the loss of “so many distinguished and heroic officers, and of such numbers of brave, loyal, and experienced troops.” Goulburn found he “could not remain silent after the animadversions” from the opposition and came to the defence of the British commission by explaining the “delay in the negotiation” did not arise “from the pretensions of the British commissioners”; rather, the slowness of the negotiations resulted from their being “bound to proceed with caution and circumspection in their view of the interests of the country.”25 Castlereagh lent his support to Goulburn, and despite the rancor in the House, the government comfortably survived a vote condemning its actions. It was not until June 9, 1815, nearly a week before Napoleon crossed into Belgium, that the Acts of the Congress of Vienna were signed. Lord Clancarty, the ambassador to the Netherlands, was pleased and considered that the terms reached in Vienna achieved British objectives as first outlined by Prime Minister William Pitt in 1805, which had since formed the basis of British policy in Europe. The goals Pitt identified included the liberation of those countries absorbed into the French Empire and the return of France’s boundaries to those existing in 1793; securing the territories liberated from France from future threats; the creation of a system for mutual security and the reestablishment of public law in Europe. Britain achieved these results through its Eurocentric policy, which was applied consistently after 1812 and that had been established in Paris in 1782–83, when the primacy of its European objectives had outweighed imperial considerations; the generous concessions granted to the Americans allowed Britain to secure a prompt conclusion of the American War of Independence and focus on its negotiations with France. As Metternich so aptly surmised upon learning of the Treaty of Ghent, financial might had helped Britain in achieving its diplomatic goals.

Public Finance British fiscal policy, government borrowing, taxation, and specie are lightly explored in the historiography of the War of 1812. Historians have generally painted the British financial situation during 1814 as grim, with a shortage of specie and massive public debt combined with growing social unrest forcing the government to seek a prompt conclusion to the American war. This perspective is evidenced by the correspondence of Prime Minister Liverpool, who in November 1814 cited all three factors as having a bearing on British policy towards the Anglo-American war. The near exhaustion faced by the British financial system predates the War of 1812, and by early 1815, its recovery allowed Britain to finance the renewed war against Napoleon by offering £30 million in bonds, floating a £95 million loan in Europe, and increasing its army on the continent—requiring an immense quantity of specie—while continuing the payment of subsidies to Russia, Prussia, Austria, and others, amounting to £1 million a month. It is impossible to separate British financial operations in the Great Global War of 1793 to 1814— and its brief renewal in 1815—from the American War of 1812 to 1815. By 1816, the accumulated national debt amounted to £816 million, more than 250 percent of national income and significantly greater than the national debt of £243 million accrued from all of Britain’s wars between 1701 and 1783. During the Napoleonic Wars, the navy and army were the government’s largest expenditures, and their requirements reached a peak in 1813, when campaigning in Europe was at its heaviest. Considerable financial support, in the form of subsidies, was given to several European states allied with Britain. Expenses grew dramatically from the government’s commitment of troops to the Iberian Peninsula, which required cash remittances to support Wellington’s army in the field. This situation changed dramatically soon after Napoleon’s abdication, when following the redistribution of army units and naval vessels to North America, the government cashed in on the peace and commenced reductions to both services. The large-scale expenditures between 1803 and 1814 presented the government with profound challenges that forced it to accumulate far larger deficits over a longer period of time than in any previous conflict. The military expenditures; the funds allotted to 29

John R. Grodzinski

the army, militia, commissariat, and ordnance services; war expenses in East India; and funding for the navy, in each fiscal year, which ended on January 5, during the final three years of the Napoleonic Wars and Anglo-American war, reveal the growing scale of this expenditure (figures in parentheses are for total government expenditure): Year ending January 5, 1813: £58,834,551 (£94,804,061) Year ending January 5, 1814: £74,180,385 (£111,143,446) Year ending January 5, 1815: £72,473,100 (£112,917,641) In contrast, funding for military activities ending on January 5, 1808, some months before Britain commenced its intervention in Iberia, amounted to £41,021,747, with a total government expenditure of £73,268,871. Britain faced its worst economic crisis of the Napoleonic Wars beginning in 1810, following a time when Britain was in search of a strategy to defeat France, having heretofore attempted to achieve victory indirectly through colonial conquest, and the autumn of 1812, by which time it was firmly preoccupied in Europe. During this crisis, imports and exports declined, speculation ruined many merchant houses, and government stocks declined in value. Bankruptcies doubled and low yields from the harvests in 1811 and 1812 created food shortages. At the same time, war expenditures exceeded income, while the cost of food imports increased. Rising unemployment was accompanied by violence in the Midlands, and industrial areas faced unrest from the Luddites, who protested the introduction of the power loom. A dramatic reversal to this trend came in 1812—coincident with the opening campaigns of the Anglo-American War—following the unraveling of the Continental System and the opening up of markets, resulting from weakened French domination of the continent in the wake of the disaster in Russia. The financing of wartime expenditures followed a policy introduced in 1688 and known as tax smoothing, which entailed borrowing on the London capital market to meet immediate requirements, leaving budgetary surpluses to service the debt in peacetime, and allowing the government to borrow in even greater amounts in succeeding wars. This model operated satisfactorily until 1798, when the massive scale of expenditures had doubled the national debt, forcing the suspension of specie payments, momentarily forcing Britain off the gold standard and giving greater flexibility in the supply of paper money and credit. The introduction of an income tax in 1799 was enacted to sustain the country’s credibility as a debtor. Tax revenue came from several sources, including inland (excise) and border (customs) revenue, and by direct, stamp and property taxes. The successful widening of the tax base was not the result, as might be expected, of the impressive economic growth experienced in Britain between 1793 and 1815, but rather was due to the political and administrative management that allowed the indirect expropriation of funds. Revenues rose faster than national income, and rising taxes were matched by a compliant body of taxpayers—with the loudest opposition coming from the press and the government’s critics in parliament—who did not promote large scale social upheaval, other than the evasion, fraud, and corruption one might expect. Between 1793 and 1815, taxation raised £542 million. The income tax, which levied two shillings to the pound on those with incomes over £200 and less than two shillings per pound on incomes between £60 and £200, raised £155.6 million, or 28 percent of the total from all taxes. Borrowing made up a significant portion of the government’s revenue and relied on the close relationship between the government and the financial markets in London that included a large number of continental merchants that had escaped the Napoleonic blockade. Bankers monitored the government’s credit to ensure that paper money, first issued after 1797, would maintain its value and to confirm that tax revenue would cover the sums payable for interest on the loans. In early 1813, these same bankers tapped into an increasing supply of European capital 30

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

as Napoleon’s weakening control of Europe witnessed several countries shake off the yoke of French control. The financial pressure Napoleon hoped to impose on Britain did not come to pass, and even during the height of French dominance of the continent, the government continued to borrow at interest rates below 5 percent. The supply of specie, or coin, was another matter. Precious metals, including gold and silver, were the preferred means of payment on the continent, whether as subsidies paid to allies or to finance naval and military operations, including the payment of soldiers and the purchase of foodstuffs, forage, and fuel. British loans did not require the transfer of specie and were arranged using drafts guaranteed by the government. By 1809, the shortage of specie was so severe that William Huskisson, the Junior (Financial) Secretary at the Treasury, who was responsible for securing its supply, advised Prime Minister Perceval that the existing funds would be exhausted within three months. Eventually, Huskisson was able to obtain £9 million in specie from Mexico. Despite these efforts, securing sufficient quantities of specie to support its forces in Iberia, British North America, and in other theaters and to also pay the subsidies to allied governments proved elusive. Subsidies were paid by specie sent from Britain or purchased locally using negotiable treasury bills. In the case of Spain, payment was made in treasury bills. Specie met the needs of the army on campaign, which were prodigious, and between 1808 and 1814, £54 million was applied to expenses, mainly for supply and transport in Portugal and Spain alone. Shortages of specie could affect the conduct of military campaigns, such as in 1809, when delaying remittances in coin forced Wellington to delay marching on Talavera for five weeks. One reason for the deficiency in coin was the limited supply of specie in England, which forced the army to rely increasingly on credit and caused the government to purchase coin on expensive overseas markets in greater amounts. One should not conclude that the government was without cash, as paper money was used to pay for warlike stores produced in Britain; instead, it was short of precious metals, the global supply of which had been drained by the war in Iberia, the revolt of the Spanish colonies, the Anglo-American War, the maritime economic war with France, and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The government did all it could to meet the demands for specie. Bathurst overcame the shortfall in part by exploiting the successes Wellington enjoyed over the summer of 1812, through a simple order-in-council that required the Bank of England to surrender all of the foreign gold which it held. Bathurst also commandeered silver dollars from captured American ships and used a legal loophole to override a 1797 Act that outlawed the export of guineas to supply the troops abroad. Bathurst authorized Wellington to use the money sent to him in whatever way would be useful to his army, a bold decision which the Earl of Harrowby, a fellow minister in the cabinet, considered a “vigour beyond the law to enable Lord W[ellington] to pursue his successes,” and for which Bathurst would “not lose his head for your dealings with the bank.”26 In British North America, other solutions were found to combat the shortage of specie. The Anglo-American war ended the supply of coin Upper and Lower Canada normally obtained from New York and Boston. The importation of coins from Halifax and through the sale of bills of exchange in the West Indies failed to meet the growing wartime demand for coinage. The absence of a colonial financial institution and currency caused the provincial governments in 1812 to issue a form of paper money. In July 1812, the passage of the Army Bill Act by the Executive Council of Lower Canada allowed the issue of £250,000 in paper money. Small bills of $4 were redeemable for cash, whereas bills of $25 denomination and higher were redeemable in cash or in bills of exchange on London. The act, which made it illegal to export coin and gold from British North America, provided immediate relief, and as it surpassed Sir George Prevost’s sanguine expectations, the issue amount was doubled in 1813 and in 1814 increased to £1.5 million. In 1813, the army bills were made legal tender in Upper Canada. The new paper currency was generally well accepted, although its value fluctuated with military fortunes. In 1813, the American raid on York and the occupation of the Niagara Peninsula depreciated 31

John R. Grodzinski

the value of the paper money, forcing the commissariat to use specie instead and compelling Prevost to demand coinage from London. This state of affairs in the Niagara persisted in 1814, as farmers preferred payment in coin over paper for their produce. Quaker farmers in Upper Canada, who refused payment by paper money, citing the moral claim that the army bills were the result of war, readily accepted gold. In June 1815 £1.2 million in army bills remained in circulation, and that amount steadily declined until August 1817, when colonial guarantees on the bills expired. Nonetheless the army bills provided great advantages and it had made £1.8 million available for the use of the Commissariat, allowing it to use specie to pay for smuggled produce from the United States. Following the war, the success of army bills inspired the creation of the first chartered and private Canadian banks.

Conclusion During its lengthy war with France and the shorter Anglo-American war, Britain concentrated its military, naval, and fiscal efforts in Europe. When the United States declared war on Britain in 1812, Great Britain had been at war for nearly 19 years. Nearly 100,000 of its soldiers and almost 300 of its warships were employed in the European and Mediterranean theaters, while fewer than 10,000 troops and 18 warships were based in North America. While some historians have postulated that a successful outcome of its invasion of Russia might have renewed France’s position in Europe and have aided American arms by forcing Britain to redirect additional resources to the continent at the cost of reinforcing the Canadas, the disaster in Russia served to rejuvenate the allied cause, and Britain expanded its role in Europe, while it sent additional resources to North America at the same time. The War of 1812 added to the complexity of Britain’s war effort by further stressing its supply of manpower and money. Fortunately, the pre-war assumption that Upper Canada would quickly fall was not realized, and the defensive strategy Britain followed between June 1812 and the summer of 1814, necessitating the provision of modest reinforcements, was successful. Afterward, when it chose to strike offensively against the United States, it did so with reinforced but not overwhelming naval and land forces; the setbacks at Baltimore and Plattsburgh and the subsequent misfortune at New Orleans did not end the British presence on the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts of North America. British forces had occupied part of Massachusetts, continued raiding the Atlantic coast, and maintained the naval blockade of the United States, while 37,000 British regular troops guarded the frontiers of British North America, and the most powerful naval squadron ever to appear on the Great Lakes dominated strategically important Lake Ontario. Britain secured a favorable outcome from its wars with France and America due to its tested war cabinet, the mobilization of its industrial and human resources, and a flexible fiscal strategy. This did not come easily and Britain endured its darkest moments before 1812, while thereafter, it exploited the reopened markets on the continent to direct a coalition that led to Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, repeating this performance in 1815. Although Britain attempted to keep the wars in North America and Europe separate, the two overlapped in several ways. The final push against Napoleon following the Russian debacle dictated that a defensive strategy be employed in the Canadas, and once the war ended in Europe, the sizeable contingent of troops and sailors dispatched to North America proved insufficient in number to achieve all British objectives in the time remaining that year. Concurrently, garrisons were maintained in Europe, the East and West Indies, Africa, and elsewhere in the Empire, while in England, reductions to the army and navy were under way. As several of its European allies began to sympathize with the Americans, and the unpopularity of the North American war grew at home, the government concluded that the best means of achieving its diplomatic goals in Vienna was in its being freed from the American conflict, and it abandoned most of the demands it had made at Ghent. By setting its strategic priorities, Britain achieved a dominant position in Europe and preserved its British North American colonies. 32

American “Independence . . . Not Threatened”

British fiscal strategy was equally impressive. The increased tax burden did not bring widespread social unrest, while the government pushed aside parliamentary criticism and retained power. Whereas five ministries had held office between 1803 and 1812, the Liverpool government lasted nine years. It was the military commitment to Iberia during the Napoleonic Wars and not the war in North America that had stressed the British fiscal system and its supply of specie; fortunately the secretaries of states, treasury and bank officials, and colonial governments were able to ease deficiencies in the supply of specie through Orders-in-Council and legislation. They were also assisted by the breakdown of Napoleon’s Continental System, which opened new financial markets. Economic and fiscal troubles persisted, but the worst was over by 1812. Once peace had returned, Britain commenced paying down the largest debt accumulated by a government to that point. By 1815, Britain had painfully secured its position as the premiere global power. The value of its trade had expanded sixfold from 1793; it possessed the largest fleet of naval and merchant ships, a workforce of skilled seamen, and the greatest shipbuilding capacity in the world. An island country with a littoral empire of coastal territories and islands—the exception being the inland provinces of British North America—had defeated Europe’s greatest power, retained its interests in North America, and gained for itself the pinnacle of international prestige and power.

Notes NAUK = National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew. 1. The quote in the chapter title is taken from Lord Liverpool to Henry Goulburn, October 21, 1814, in Charles D. Young, The Life and Administration of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool, K.G., 3 vols. (London, 1868), 2:71. 2. Hart Davis, Address on the Treaty of Peace with America, House of Commons, April 11, 1815, in http://, 30:cc501. 3. Henry Clay, quoted in Brian Jenkins. Henry Goulburn, 1784–1856: A Political Biography (Kingston, ON, 1996), 88. 4. Jenkins, Henry Goulburn, 69. 5. Prevost to Bathurst, September 15, 1813, in Colonial Office Papers, Special Collections, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, 42/150:168; Jenkins. Henry Goulburn, 79–81. 6. Jackson, Henry Goulburn, 77. 7. Wellington to Earl Bathurst, February 22, 1814, in John Gurwood, ed., The Dispatches of . . . the Duke of Wellington, 12 vols. (London, 1837–39), 11:525–26. 8. Bathurst to Prevost, in Colonial Office Papers, NAUK, 43/23, 156. Croker to Cochrane, April 4, 1814, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. (Washington, DC, 1985–), 3:71. 9. Bathurst to Barnes, May 20, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:72; Bathurst to Ross, [ca. May 1814], in War Office Papers, NAUK, 6/2, 1. 10. Admiralty to Cochrane, August 10, 1814, in War Office Papers, NAUK, 1/141, 8. 11. Bunbury to Bathurst, October 22, 1814, in Francis Bickley, ed., Report on the Manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, Preserved at Cirencester Park (London, 1923), 300. 12. Lord Cathcart to Count De Nesselrode, September 1, 1813, and Castlereagh to Secretary of State, November 4, 1813, in U.S. Congress, American State Papers: Foreign Relations, 6 vols. (Washington, DC, 1833–59), 3:621–22; J. Q. Adams to John Adams, September 3, 1813, quoted in Patrick C.T. White. A Nation on Trial: America and the War of 1812 (New York, 1965), 144. 13. Lord Cathcart to Count De Nesselrode, September 1, 1813, and Castlereagh to Secretary of State, November 4, 1813, in U.S. Congress, American State Papers: Foreign Relations, 3: 622. 14. Liverpool to Bathurst, September 30, 1814, in Binkley, Report of the Manuscripts on the Earl Bathurst, 294. 15. Liverpool to Commissioners, September 4, 1814, quoted in Robin Reilly, The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812, rev. ed. (Toronto, 2002), 169. 16. Gambier, et al. to the United States Ministers, September 19, 1814, in William R. Manning, ed., Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Canadian Relations, 1784–1860, 3 vols. (Washington, DC, 1940–45), 1:662.


John R. Grodzinski 17. Adams et al. to the British Commissioners, September 25, 1814, in Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, 1:669. 18. Liverpool to Castlereagh, October 28, 1814, in Charles K. Webster, ed., British Diplomacy, 1813–1815: Select Documents Dealing with the Reconstruction of Europe (London, 1921), 220. 19. Liverpool to Castlereagh, November 2, 1814, in Webster, British Diplomacy, 222. 20. Liverpool to Castlereagh, October 28, 1814, in Young, Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2:47. This section of the letter was omitted in the transcript in Webster, British Diplomacy, 220. 21. Liverpool to Goulburn, October 21, 1814, in Young, Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2:71. 22. Apsley to Bathurst, January 5, 1815, in Binkley, Report on the Manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, 320. 23. John Bew, Castlereagh: A Life (Oxford, 2012), 385. 24. Bathurst to Castlereagh, November 27, 1814, in Webster, British Diplomacy, 247; Liverpool to Bathurst, January 18, 1815, in Binkley, Report on the Manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, 326. 25. Address on the Treaty of Peace with America, House of Commons Debates, April 11, 1815, in http://, 30:cc517. 26. Harrowby to Bathurst, September 17, 1812, in Binkley, Report on the Manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, 214. Harrowby was the Lord President of the Council, an officer of the state who was responsible for no department but often presented government business to the monarch for approval.

Select Annotated Bibliography Arthur, Brian. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy Blockades of the United States, 1812 –1815. Woodbridge, UK, 2011. A scholarly overview, supported by considerable data, of the impact of the British blockade on the United States. Bew, John. Castlereagh: A Life. Oxford, UK, 2012. A scholarly biography of Lord Castlereagh, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between 1812 and 1822. Binkley, Francis, ed. Report on the Manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, Preserved at Cirencester Park. London, 1933. Graham, Gerald S. Sea Power and British North America, 1783–1820. London, 1941. A serviceable account of an important topic. Grodzinski, John R. Defender of Canada: Sir George Prevost and the War of 1812. Norman, OK, 2013. The sole biography of the Governor-General of Canada and his management of the British-Canadian war effort during the War of 1812. Hall, Christopher D. British Strategy in the Napoleonic Wars, 1803–1815. Manchester, UK, 1999. Shows how successive British governments managed the components of their strategic infrastructure during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Hamilton, C. I. The Making of the Admiralty: British Naval Policy Making, 1805–1927. Cambridge, UK, 2011. This work explains the structure and policy process of the British Admiralty. Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812. Updated by Donald E. Graves. Toronto, 1999. Perhaps the finest volume to examine the War of 1812 from the British perspective. Jenkins, Brian. Henry Goulburn, 1784 –1856: A Political Biography. Kingston, 1996. The sole biography of a British politician who served as Undersecretary of State for War and the Colonies and as a member of British commission that helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. Knight, Roger. Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory. London, 2013. A detailed guide to the structure and operation of the British state in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Morriss, Roger. The Foundations of British Maritime Ascendency: Resources, Logistics and the State, 1755–1815. Cambridge, UK, 2011. An examination of the development of British state structure between 1755 and 1815 that allowed the projection of its power around the globe. Muir, Rory. Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon, 1807–1815. New Haven, CT, 1996. A comprehensive study of how the crown, politicians, soldiers, sailors, and commanders together defeated France, with some material on the effect that War of 1812 had on British strategy. Reilly, Robin. The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812. Rev. ed. Toronto, 2002. An overview of the British offensives undertaken during 1814, with a focus on the planning and conduct of the Gulf Coast campaign. Robinson, Howard. Carrying British Mails Overseas. Liverpool, 1964. An interesting study of the operation of the British global communications network during the nineteenth century. Sainty, J. C. Office Holders in Modern Britain I: Treasury Officials, 1660–1870. London, 1972. Examines the evolution, organization and staffing of the British treasury department. ———. Office Holders in Modern Britain VI: Colonial Office Officials, 1794–1870. London, 1976. Examines the evolution, organization and staffing of the British Colonial Office. Other pertinent volumes in this series deal


American “Independence . . . Not Threatened” with Secretaries of State, 1660–1782; Admiralty Officials, 1660–1870; the Navy Board, 1660–1832; and the Foreign (1782–1870) and Home (1782–1870) Offices. Sherwig, John M. Guineas & Gunpowder: British Foreign Aid in the Wars with France, 1793–1815. Cambridge, MA, 1969. An overview of the financial subsidies and military aid that Britain provided to its allies during the Napoleonic Wars. Webster, C. K. British Diplomacy, 1813–1815: Select Documents Dealing with the Reconstruction of Europe. London, 1921. An important collection of official correspondence related to European and North American affairs between 1813 and 1815.



While the Naval War of 1812 is a familiar subject, it has suffered from a fractured historiography. The basic American treatment, created by wartime and early postwar Democratic-Republican politicians and publicists, claimed the United States won the war, with the Navy playing a significant part in that victory. This literature focused on surface detail: combat, heroism, and ocean voyages. It addressed the pressing need of the governing party to win the upcoming presidential election, rather than the outcome of the conflict. Yet it was so successful that within two decades President Andrew Jackson brandished his “victorious” navy as a weapon in diplomatic relations with Britain and France, whose navies could have demolished the American fleet and imposed a crippling economic blockade. A very different assessment of the naval war was produced by British lawyer-historian William James. Having collated and analyzed the evidence, James concluded the American victories in singleship actions, the core of the boasted naval “victory,” were, in all cases, the product of a substantial American superiority in size, manpower, and firepower. More importantly, as Alfred Thayer Mahan argued more than a century ago, it mattered very little who won the occasional frigate battle, so long as British floating commerce continued to move without serious hindrance across the world ocean, enabling the British to fund their war effort. America simply lacked the power to stop British trade. Mahan recognized the overriding importance of economic warfare, the offensive weapon of British sea power against American land power. Blockading ports, seizing commercial shipping at sea, and destroying commercial assets onshore dovetailed perfectly with the defense of British floating trade against American warships and privateers. American cruisers were blockaded or destroyed in port, while the convoy system and cruiser patrols at key landfalls obliged any predators that did get to sea to fight for their prizes. Having waged total economic war against republican and imperial France for almost 20 years, the British simply applied the same strategy to America, extending blockades, convoys, and other countermeasures to address the new threat. The British victory was absolute; by November 1814 the United States was bankrupt: literally unable to pay sailors, shipyard workers, and bondholders. British limited war strategy prevailed.

Maritime Causes Anglo-American tension between 1803 and 1812 was a consequence of the Napoleonic conflict, in which the United States, the last significant neutral trading nation, profited greatly from breaking the British blockade of Napoleon’s European empire, which, it should be noted, was the 36

The War on the High Seas

primary British strategy for winning the war. The British, fighting for survival against overwhelming odds, were not prepared to tolerate this. By 1806 Napoleon and his satellites controlled every port in mainland Europe except those of Portugal. The Battle of Trafalgar had crushed his dreams of defeating the British at sea, so Napoleon created a “Continental System” to exclude British trade and goods from Europe. His aim was the total destruction of the British state, and he made a direct comparison between the current conflict and the Punic Wars.1 His attack was directed at the economic vitals of British power, the last barrier to a universal French Empire. The British responded with the Orders-in-Council that cut Europe off from the rest of the world. The United States quickly discovered that neutral rights were of no consequence in a total war: both belligerents prevented the Americans from trading with their enemy. The escalation of the European war led to severe losses for American shipowners, and the tensions caused by the British practice of impressment (the removal of seamen from American merchantmen) exploded in the Leopard-Chesapeake incident of June 22, 1807. In the aftermath President Thomas Jefferson, desperate to avoid becoming entangled in the European conflict, persuaded Congress to embargo American trade with Europe. The economic and political consequences proved so damaging that his successor, James Madison, relaxed the measure; but American losses continued. So did the impressment of sailors from American ships, although at least half of them were actually British. While economic losses and impressments angered some in the United States, they tended to be land-hungry westerners. The British practices did not concern the maritime states of New England, which preferred trade and consequent losses to Jefferson’s Embargo and poverty. To the British, these issues were nonnegotiable: the right to impress and the hard-line definition of belligerent rights at sea that legalized the capture of American merchant ships were the basis of British power. Without them Britain would be a small, second-rate state on the margins of Europe, and Napoleon would be emperor of the world. One abiding legacy of the trade war was the humiliation felt by officers of the United States Navy who, as officers and gentlemen, considered the Leopard-Chesapeake incident a stain on their collective reputation. They were anxious to prove their worth to fellow professionals, and more especially to the domestic audience. This led to the attack on diminutive ship sloop HMS Little Belt by Commodore John Rodgers in the large frigate, USS President, on the night of May 16, 1811. Rodgers, ranking senior seagoing officer in the service, was clearly looking for revenge. While both Rodgers and Arthur Bingham of the British vessel claimed that they had not fired the first shot, Bingham, unlike Rodgers, was not expecting trouble and had no reason to fire. He faced a much larger ship, close to the American coast. The balance of probability suggests that someone on Rodgers’s ship, guns loaded and crews tensed at their stations, fired without orders. In the clear light of day Rodgers, realizing his tiny opponent had been badly damaged, offered assistance. He knew the engagement had been unworthy of his service, but the Democratic-Republican press, linking his action to 1807, made him a national hero. Such plaudits did not reflect the underlying agenda of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. They had cut naval expenditure and changed the strategic focus of the service from oceangoing cruisers to coast defense gunboats. No large seagoing warships had been ordered since 1800, and none were ordered in 1812, even after the outbreak of war. Fundamentally the American decision for war was not affected by naval issues, nor was the naval balance between the two sides significant. American strategy relied on Napoleon defeating Russia and on the conquest of Canada by armies largely composed of militia and newly raised soldiers. The Democratic-Republicans considered the ocean the domain of a predominantly Federalist naval officer corps and Federalist merchants and placed more faith in the ideologically sound privateers. At least President Madison allowed the navy to go to sea, and Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton accepted Rodgers’s argument that it should sail in a single formation, seeking a British convoy expected to pass the American coast on the Gulf Stream, homebound from the West Indies. 37

Andrew Lambert

Fleets While the American Navy, seven frigates and a few sloops, most of which were at least 15 years old, has been contrasted with the contemporary Royal Navy, which boasted 100 battleships and even more frigates, such comparisons are meaningless. In 1812 the Royal Navy, which was stretched across the globe waging war against Imperial France and her satellites, did not have a spare ship to meet an

Figure 4.1 This map illustrates the oceanic spread of naval operations and the inability of the diminutive United States Navy to intercept British oceanic convoys or protect America’s own coastal waters. (Alfred T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812)


The War on the High Seas

American attack. It struggled to fulfill purely defensive tasks in the Atlantic until after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia. In reality the Americans faced the British North America Squadron, a handful of worn-out ships and third-rate officers maintaining the appearance of power in a peaceful backwater. A small ancient battleship and a few frigates, while nominally equal to the United States Navy, were outgunned and out-manned. Only the fifth-rate frigates HMS Shannon and HMS Spartan, sent in response to the President-Little Belt incident, were first-class units. The key American advantage lay in their officers and men: while William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, James Lawrence, David Porter, and Charles Stewart would become national heroes, they led excellent petty officers and quality seamen. In addition the Americans had two classes of warships with a clear superiority over standard British types. The fourth-rate 44-gun frigates Constitution, President, and United States were approximately one third larger and more powerfully armed and manned than British fifth-rate 38-gun ships. They were suitably mighty ships to bear the proudest names of the American Republic. The key differences were the 24-pounder main battery (British ships carried 18-pounders), significantly heavier hull and mast scantlings, and much larger crew. Single ship engagements between 44s and 38s were profoundly unequal. Similarly, American sloops were three masted, and larger than the two-master British brigs they would encounter. In actions normally settled by the loss of mobility the extra mast was a massive advantage, as was the significantly larger American crew. The problem for the United States was that Madison went to war with John Adams’s navy. Jefferson’s coast defense gunboats were useless at sea and easily overwhelmed by British boat attacks closer inshore. British warships, having ample experience with Danish gunboats, took care not to be becalmed within range of their heavy guns. The Democratic-Republicans built gunboats to impose their continental agenda on the nation: they were more effective dealing with internal concerns than external. While the gunboats were a waste of resources, the real problem was the failure to build new frigates, sloops, and battleships. Belated orders for such ships early in 1813 demonstrated the gunboat policy had been a triumph of ideology over common sense. The delay meant not a single new battleship or frigate put to sea before the war ended. Some of the new sloops cruised to considerable effect, emphasizing lost opportunities.2

Opening Shots Commodore Rodgers’s squadron—three frigates, a sloop, and brig—missed its target. The British West India convoy had long passed, and Rodgers instead attacked the fifth-rate frigate HMS Belvidera on June 23. Only Rodgers’s flagship managed to close with the British ship, and his attack was thwarted when a heavy gun exploded, damaging the ship, killing some of the crew, and wounding the commodore. American heavy artillery remained problematic throughout the conflict: domestic gunfounding was inferior in quality and quantity to British output. American ships frequently employed guns of different origin and length. While Mahan lauded Rodgers’s squadron cruise as an example of the impact a fleet could exert, notably in shielding homebound American merchant shipping, this was little more than special pleading. Warned by the Belvidera, Britain’s North America squadron, obliged to concentrate by its own weakness, sought the American squadron. It encountered the USS Constitution, which escaped due to the exemplary seamanship of Captain Isaac Hull, a newly cleaned hull, and light stowage. News of war found the British government without the resources to meet the American attack and understandably anxious for an early peace. For most of the war resource limitations restricted British strategy to the defensive. Securing Canada (properly British North America) obliged the British to reinforce and resupply the army, a mission that depended on naval control of the Atlantic and the approaches to the St. Lawrence River. Having just repealed the contentious Orders-in-Council, the British government hoped Washington would negotiate an end to the war. 39

Andrew Lambert

On July 30 Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, offered Vice Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren command of the combined North American and West Indies squadrons. Warren, an experienced and enterprising frigate and squadron commander and an effective diplomat, had been sent to the North American Station between 1808 and 1810 to reduce tension after the Leopard-Chesapeake incident. His new mission was little different. Few historians have recognized the immense difficulties he faced, running a war that stretched from Newfoundland to Mexico with inadequate means, poor communications, and little support from London. The British government was slow to take the conflict seriously, and even slower to find the resources needed to meet the naval threat. Furthermore, a powerful political lobby of West India merchants and planters compromised Warren’s strategy, prioritizing Caribbean concerns over Canadian. While both government and Admiralty underestimated the American challenge, Warren knew better. He quickly built up a rich haul of intelligence, records, charts, drawings, statistics, and other data to develop his strategy. Throughout the conflict he collected and processed human, cartographic, and technical intelligence, and his files bulged with American coastal charts, captured orders, and signal logs. In the absence of a dedicated study, the precise role of intelligence in the conflict remains uncertain. While experienced naval officers, including Warren, Philip Broke, and John Rodgers, assiduously gathered and processed intelligence by reading newspapers, interrogating passing ships’ masters, opening captured mail, and mastering local winds, tides, and charts, clandestine operations remain shrouded in mystery. The British had conducted naval intelligence operations against France for two decades: their Agent for Prisoner Exchanges in New York, longtime resident Colonel Thomas Barclay, was the focus for this work. Port towns were strikingly insecure places, information leaked out through chandleries, taverns, and newspapers. Consequently the Royal Navy had excellent insight into American plans: the interception of Decatur’s squadron on June 1, 1813, and the capture of the USS President on January 14, 1815, were intelligence-led operations. However, Warren’s primary role in the summer of 1812 was to restore peace. His inability to achieve this left his relationship with Lord Melville distinctly cool. The American war was an awkward problem for the government, and Warren would be judged on how quickly he could bring it to an end. While reinforcing Warren’s command with a few ships, Melville prayed for peace and waited for the returning Baltic fleet to provide ships and men. He hoped two 74-gun battleships and “nine of our heaviest frigates” would prevent the American navy from “making any very formidable efforts by sea.” But he added that if the war continued, “we must expect considerable annoyance from their Privateers, as soon as they are able to fit out vessels of that description to any extent.”3 The Admiralty also selected some outstanding officers to join Warren’s flag, notably Rear-Admiral George Cockburn and Captain Robert Dudley Oliver, released from a critical role when the French lifted the siege of Cadiz on August 25. Cockburn, an expert in amphibious warfare, was detailed to “accelerate the return of peace” by attacking the American coast. However, the opening moves of the British naval war would be dominated by diplomacy and trade defense. Urgent reinforcements were delayed by the need to escort outbound convoys, while Warren waited for a diplomatic response from the American government. Only in mid-November did he learn that the diplomatic mission had failed. While American warships had taken very few British merchant ships, American privateers had been highly successful because the convoy system was not fully developed. At least 150 British ships had been taken, and more privateers were fitting out. The Admiralty claimed Warren only faced a handful of warships, had a clear superiority in all classes, and so should “quickly and completely” dispose of the enemy.4 Such nonsense reflected growing demands from well-connected Liverpool merchants. Without more ships and men, Warren could not satisfy such unrealistic expectations. He knew the key to success was to prevent hostile ships from putting to sea, by imposing an effective naval blockade on the 2,000-mile-long American Atlantic coast. This, Warren stressed, “would require twice my numbers.”5


The War on the High Seas

Frigate Battles Contrary to expectation, the American naval campaign of 1812 proved highly successful at one level. On August 19 the USS Constitution encountered HMS Guerrière on passage to Halifax. Both ships were willing to fight, but Isaac Hull carefully exploited the Constitution’s superior firepower to disable and then capture his opponent. The claim that it had been a fair and equal combat had more to do

Figure 4.2 The USS Constitution defeated the overmatched HMS Guerrière in the first major naval battle in the war and earned her nickname, “Old Ironsides.” (Engraving by Alonzo Chappel. Library of Congress)


Andrew Lambert

with American prize law, which gave U.S. officers and men the full value of any enemy warship of equal or superior size. Those who captured smaller ships were awarded only a fraction of the prize money. Hull’s claim was not contested: he had burnt his prize. With the nation reeling from the loss of an army at Detroit, commanded by Hull’s uncle, the victory was a welcome and wholly unexpected propaganda coup for the Madison administration. However, the victory came at a cost. Hull headed home, his ship damaged, and stuffed with prisoners. As the British got their men back by exchange within a few weeks and had a large, constantly refreshed, supply of ex-French frigates, the damage was more psychological than serious. Furthermore Hull’s example gave other American officers something to emulate. The officer corps of both navies, obsessed with honor and glory, fought duels, both ship-to-ship and man-to-man, to uphold their character. After Rodgers’s grand squadron cruise Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton split the navy into three squadrons, each comprising a 44-gun frigate and a smaller frigate and a sloop, commanded by Rodgers, William Bainbridge, who had replaced Hull in the Constitution, and Stephen Decatur. Despite orders to target British trade and avoid combat with enemy warships, all three officers sought battle; two of them found glory in single ship combat. The squadron concept did not work. Either the ships failed to meet, lost contact, or were deliberately separated. On October 25 Captain John Carden of HMS Macedonian not only accepted battle with the far heavier and significantly slower USS United States, but he sacrificed his advantages of speed and maneuverability by engaging at long range, thinking his opponent was the smaller USS Essex. Stephen Decatur exploited Carden’s stupidity, smashing the masts and rigging of his ship before battering it into submission. Although publicly pardoned for his defeat by a superior force, Carden would never be employed again. Decatur brought his prize home in triumph, only to be refused the award for defeating a ship of equal strength. Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin laughed at the request: he had seen the two ships. In comparison to the Macedonian, the loss of another 38-gun frigate, HMS Java, to Constitution on November 29 reflected great honor on Captain Henry Lambert and his crew. Java was destroyed, enabling Bainbridge to claim full value from the full prize fund for a ship similar to Macedonian. In all three frigate actions the British exchanged the seamen within weeks, while the American ships all headed home to replace their masts, leaving the seas open for British commerce. Decatur and Bainbridge sacrificed their commerce raiding mission for glory. Yet these victories, however unexpected and strategically irrelevant, provided potent if undeserved propaganda for the anti-navalist Democratic-Republican government. In all three actions victory went to the bigger ship: any other result would have been astonishing. The result suggested the American navy was the equal of the Royal Navy, man for man and ship for ship, but the Americans had not won an action between ships of the same force. The American ships were one third larger as well as more heavily armed and manned. The folly of fighting British warships had been demonstrated when the sloop USS Wasp took the brig HMS Frolic on October 18. Not only had Frolic defended her convoy, which scattered, but the 74-gun battleship HMS Poictiers took both captor and captive later the same day. Master Commandant Jacob Jones’s gold medal and promotion cost the United States government a scarce warship, which was swiftly added to the Royal Navy. While old-fashioned nationalist accounts of the war trumpeted the naval victories of 1812 as proof of the correctness of the American cause and the superiority of American seafaring and fighting skill, the six single ship actions of 1812 wrecked the naval attack on British commerce and did nothing to suggest the Americans were superior. The only national warships to achieve any success as commerce raiders were those, like Rodgers’s USS President, that failed to find and fight British warships. President’s cruise was ultimately curtailed by scurvy, a problem British medical advances had banished a decade earlier. Reading bombastic American newspaper reports of these actions, the British were initially surprised and then alarmed by the run of American victories. Both the triumphalism and the disquiet were seriously overdone; they proved to be strikingly short-lived. 42

The War on the High Seas

Throughout the first six months of war Warren focused on trade defense, anxiously waiting for reinforcements, and developed Halifax dockyard to meet wartime demands. He knew an economic blockade would “produce a great change in the people of the Country,” but before this could be done he needed enough battleships and frigates to blockade the main American naval stations.6 Ultimately everything depended on the European war. Learning that Napoleon was retreating from Moscow in late autumn 1812, the British government could send more ships. President Madison opened the New Year by signing a naval construction law that included two lines of battle ships and six 44-gun frigates. This reflected both the collapse of his original continental strategy and a tacit admission that his party had been wrong to starve the navy for more than a decade. New Navy Secretary William Jones, who replaced inefficient, possibly alcoholic, Paul Hamilton, altered the strategic focus. He wanted to preserve the navy as the “germ of our national glory,” avoiding combat and distracting the British from the American coast through commerce destruction. This was the strategy of weakness, and with a blockade in place, convoys set, and cruiser patrols at the key landfalls and choke points, it was never going to work. American warships that located British merchant ships would also encounter British warships.

Blockade Throughout the first six months of the war the Royal Navy sustained the strategic link between Britain and Canada, protecting troopships and oceanic commerce. The strategic offensive, the blockade, was greatly delayed by politics and the shortage of ships. The British government finally ordered general reprisals against America on October 13, 1812. This news reached Warren on November 16, just as he learned the Americans had rejected an armistice. Finally on November 21 the Admiralty ordered an economic blockade of Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River. This targeted Democratic-Republican voters and politicians. The British did not blockade Federalist New England, enabling them to exploit local resources, weaken the American war effort, and promote sectional conflict. Licensed ships from New England took grain to Wellington’s army in Spain, along with shipbuilding stores and food to the West Indies and Canada. American owners kept on trading, widening the divisions between maritime and inland states. They even forged licenses to obtain access to British markets. Blockading the American Atlantic coast protected British Caribbean and Canadian commerce and crippled the American economy, preventing both international and interstate trade. However, imposing the blockade remained a major challenge: it proved impossible to achieve absolute control, despite a major expansion of the squadron. The Atlantic tested the fabric of Warren’s ships and the mettle of his men, leaving around one fifth of his force in harbor under repair at any one time. With an effective blockade in place and duly notified, Warren could stop neutral ships from entering American harbors. This was critical, because the customs dues levied on international trade provided the bulk of the United States federal revenue. The development and impact of the blockade was both at the core of Mahan’s book and the primary lesson he wished his countrymen to learn. Effective economic warfare denied the United States revenue and credit. Warren’s naval blockade began to take effect in the spring of 1813. Additional ships and better weather enabled him to confine the American fleet to Boston and New York, reducing the threat to convoys, which in turn released more warships to conduct the economic blockade. Strategic changes in Europe, especially opening the Baltic for large-scale trade in grain and timber in the summer of 1812, ended British dependence on American supplies and facilitated more stringent measures. As Henry Adams noted “the pressure of the blockades was immediately felt.”7 New York, the largest American port, producing approximately one quarter of national revenue from customs dues, was effectively closed for business by May 1813. Despite doubling the rate of customs, American revenues fell to catastrophic levels, making it impossible to fund the war. American government stock failed to 43

Andrew Lambert

sell at sustainable rates, while the economic impact of war made it increasingly unpopular with many sections of society. The American administration reinforced the British blockade by stopping imports of British goods on American vessels, further reducing customs revenue. There were additional British ships to impose the blockade because Napoleon’s defeat meant the Baltic fleet could be greatly reduced, while the French fleet, stripped of men and guns, showed no signs of leaving port. Skillfully shifting ships and officers, the Admiralty placed fast 74s, big frigates, and many of the best captains on the American station. While this was a testament to the initial impact of the Americans, it was also the shipwreck of their hopes. While the Americans had a handful of excellent captains, the British had a legion, and British officers had far more experience of war and high command. Philip Broke, James Hillyar, and Henry Hope won their battles by superior skill, while rear-admirals Henry Hotham, Philip Durham, and George Cockburn operated at a higher level than any American sea officer.

The Turning Point The war at sea turned decisively in Britain’s favor on June 1, 1813, when three American frigates were effectively lost. First the USS United States, Macedonian, and Hornet were driven into New London by the battleship HMS Valiant, Captain Robert Dudley Oliver, and the frigate HMS Acasta. The two American frigates would not emerge until after the war. This bloodless action, often ignored in older accounts, was a “decisive victory.” Then the USS Chesapeake was taken by HMS Shannon in an action of unparalleled speed, skill, and savagery. Rather than admit defeat, in the only truly fair and equal fight of the war, American commentators invented a host of excuses. These ranged from a “bad luck” ship, to a nonexistent Portuguese bosun. The black bugler was flogged for not blowing harder, and acting Lieutenant William S. Cox dismissed from the service in disgrace. In truth there was no disgrace in Chesapeake’s defeat. Captain James Lawrence and his crew fought with courage and skill, but they faced the finest fighting frigate of all time and the brilliant Captain Philip Broke. The actions of June 1 broke the American naval threat, allowing the Royal Navy to concentrate on crippling the privateer threat with escorted convoys and the incarceration of increasing numbers of American sailors. By 1815, 6,500 American privateersmen had been imprisoned in England. Although the Shannon-Chesapeake drama briefly shifted British attention westward, both government and nation were focused on the crisis and collapse of Napoleon’s German empire. British officials poured money and munitions into Europe to help her allies defeat Napoleon. They did not do the same for Canada. The government effectively ignored the American war, leaving a profoundly unenthusiastic Lord Melville to oversee a sideshow. The critical turning point for British strategy against America was the collapse of Napoleonic Spain at the battle of Vittoria on June 21, 1813. This enhanced British diplomatic leverage with other European powers and ended the need for American grain and flour, allowing the economic blockade to be extended to New England. After June 1 William Jones shifted his naval strategy to commerce destroying, not capture, by single ships in distant regions. He also placed great hopes on the newly refitted Constitution. He was clutching at straws. No single ship, or ships, could do enough damage to well-protected and wellinsured British maritime trade to distract the forces on the American seaboard, the Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware River. George Cockburn’s operations soon bore fruit, as devastated tidewater regions demanded protection. Although Jones had little to offer, he had to defend the political loyalties of key Democratic-Republican voters. Slowly but surely the American naval effort faltered; ships were taken and blockades tightened. The loss of the USS Argus on August 14, 1813 was typical. After a brilliant raiding cruise off the British coast Captain William Henry Allen ignored Jones’s orders to avoid enemy warships, seeking glory in single combat. The Argus was taken, and Allen died of his wounds. To make matters worse Jones was desperately short of manpower. Unlike the Royal Navy, he could not resort to impressment, and he could not compete with high wages offered for merchant 44

The War on the High Seas

Figure 4.3 In the only frigate engagement of the war fought by equals, HMS Shannon dispatched USS Chesapeake in 15 minutes. This dramatic print shows the British from the Shannon boarding the Chesapeake. (Lithograph by M. Dubourg, ca. 1813. Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC)

and privateer voyages, in part because money was increasingly hard to come by as the blockade bit into government finances. In March-April 1814 the British economic blockade became total, just as Napoleon abdicated. Within six months the United States was bankrupt.8 British naval power had achieved everything that had been asked of it, cutting the sinews of American war power. By contrast the American naval effort had failed to achieve any economic impact. The reason why can be understood in microcosm. The USS Peacock took HMS Epervier on April 19, 1814, in a one-sided action, but the British brig had done her duty; her convoy had scattered and suffered no loss. By the autumn of 1814 American naval effort was shifting to Lake Ontario. Men and guns from Decatur’s frigates at New London reinforced the growing lake squadron, while other personnel were deployed in coast defenses along the Potomac and at Baltimore. With the Atlantic under British control, Jones, desperate for another offensive option, planned a squadron cruise to China, using the USS President and two new sloops.

Distant Waters and Infernal Devices This was not the first American operation in unexpected regions. Commodore Rodgers took the President to Norway and the Arctic Circle in 1813, seeking British ships trading with the Russian port 45

Andrew Lambert

of Archangel. He found few prizes and ended up running away from two very small British warships. By contrast Captain David Porter’s Pacific cruise in the frigate USS Essex, which included capturing a dozen British whaling vessels and annexing the Marquesas Islands to the United States, ended in disaster at Valparaiso, the main port of Chile, on February 28, 1814. Porter, like Allen, gave in to the lure of glory, picking a fight with the slightly bigger British frigate HMS Phoebe, commanded by a seasoned professional. Captain James Hillyar outthought and then outfought Porter, who prolonged a lost battle, at heavy cost to his crew, to ensure that no one doubted his courage. To make matters worse most of Porter’s much vaunted whale ship prizes were recaptured, while his intervention in Chilean and Marquesan politics proved strikingly short-lived. American operations in distant seas had no impact on British naval deployments. The Royal Navy had ample force already spread across the globe to deal with the odd hostile visitor. In the aftermath of June 1, 1813, the United States found itself desperately exposed to British power projection, close blockade, bombardments, and coastal raids. The threat to major cities and seaport towns focused the attention of the administration and of innovative technologists, including steamboat and torpedo pioneer Robert Fulton, on novel coast defense systems. In March 1813 Congress passed the “Torpedo Act,” which offered half the prize value of any British warship blown up by a “torpedo” (the contemporary term for a submarine mine). There were several attempts, but the only effective attack was conducted using a schooner fitted up as bomb. This detonated alongside Sir Thomas Hardy’s flagship, the 74-gun battleship HMS Ramillies anchored off New London, Connecticut, on June 26, 1813, killing an officer and ten sailors. Horrified by this breach of the accepted norms of conflict, Hardy seized a key suspect and later burnt down Stonington to demonstrate his disgust. British cartoonists had a field day mocking the random, futile, murderousness of the torpedo. After the failure of most torpedo attacks, Fulton shifted his attention to the catamaran hulled steamboat Demologos, designed to defend New York Harbor and Long Island Sound against the Royal Navy. The project was quickly uncovered by British intelligence, and countermeasures prepared, but the new ship was not ready for sea when the war ended. The costly postwar American construction of coastal fortifications demonstrated just how effective British offensives had been.

Winning the War With the blockade tightening the British deployed into the Chesapeake Bay. After the failure of Admiral Warren’s attempt in 1813 to destroy the USS Constellation at Norfolk, Virginia, George Cockburn was left to run the campaign. Cockburn set up a base on Tangier Island, which also housed large numbers of former slaves, whose local knowledge and armed involvement greatly enhanced the impact of British tidewater operations. Having mastered the local topography, Cockburn used an amphibious force of Royal Marines and former slaves, who were embodied in a corps of Colonial Marines, to devastating effect. Towns and plantations that resisted were torched, while those that surrendered peaceably were not molested. The naval cannon foundry at Havre de Grace was destroyed, and Cockburn drew up plans for a more ambitious operation if a small army arrived. American defenses in the Bay consisted of ill-prepared local militias and the irregular gunboat flotilla of Revolutionary War and privateer hero Joshua Barney. Barney’s force delayed the British attack on Baltimore but could not contest open water.

Burning the White House and Taking the President In April 1814 the British had a battle-winning veteran army of 35,000 ready to ship out at Bordeaux, but they sent a mere 4,000, a raiding force, and another 3,000 from their Mediterranean garrisons to Canada. The Bordeaux troops, commanded by Major General Sir Robert Ross, rendezvoused with


The War on the High Seas

new theater commander Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane at Bermuda, and then headed directly into the Chesapeake. Here Cockburn persuaded Ross and Cochrane to carry out his ambitious raid on Washington. The troops were rowed up the Patuxent River, pressing hard on the heels of Barney’s retreating flotilla, which was cornered and burnt by the American crews at Pig Point on August 22. After two months cooped up onboard transports the troops landed and marched in summer heat to Bladensburg, scattering a hastily assembled American army on August 24. That evening the British occupied Washington, then Cockburn burnt most of the public buildings, including the White House, and demolished the private houses of those who fired on his troops. Captain Thomas Tingey, USN, burned the Washington Navy Yard, along with a brand new sloop of war and a 44-gun frigate. The British burnt anything he had missed. The following morning the British retraced their steps, wholly unmolested. On August 28 a small British squadron, two frigates, three bomb vessels and a rocket-firing ship, ascended the Potomac River, holding Alexandria, Virginia, to ransom. More than 20 scuttled merchant ships were refloated, filled with flour, tobacco, and other local produce, and escorted back down to the Bay, despite the best efforts of John Rodgers, David Porter, and Oliver Hazard Perry. These amphibious raids, masterpieces of British operational art, emphasized the vast gulf of experience that separated the two navies. American officers could handle ships and fight battles, but they had no answer to combined arms warfare organized by one of Nelson’s greatest protégés. The destruction of Washington prompted a run on the banks, completing the work of the economic blockade. The United States government was unable to raise cash or credit; it had no means of paying for the war or servicing existing debts. In October James Madison unilaterally altered the stated war aims to mere survival. His fellow Americans accepted the change; they were desperate for peace. The British raid on Baltimore, the staunchly Republican home of the privateer industry and three new American warships, was abandoned when the scale of the American forces in the city became clear. Without enough troops to assault the land defenses and unable to break into the harbor, which Commodore Rodgers had blocked with scuttled ships, protected by the guns of Fort McHenry, the British wisely retired. Earlier in September a British amphibious force, from Nova Scotia, seized the eastern section of Maine, and burned the corvette Adams at Hampden. The sloop USS Wasp disappeared at sea after taking and sinking two British brigs, the Reindeer and Avon. Once again a commerce destroying mission had been compromised by engaging British warships. As the year came to a close the British shifted their attention to the Gulf Coast, backed by a substantial diversionary attack on Georgia, directed by the ebullient, aggressive Cockburn. American operations were restricted by the need to shift manpower and resources to Lake Ontario and the inability of warships blockaded at New York and Baltimore to put to sea. Constitution escaped from Boston on December 17, 1814, captured the British ship sloops Cyane and Levant on February 20, and then escaped from a superior British frigate squadron following an error of judgment. However, the impact on British economic activity was minimal.

Peace Terms After the abdication of Napoleon it seemed that Britain was ideally placed to defeat America and impose a harsh peace. In reality the diplomatic process at Vienna dominated British policy for the next 18 months, long outlasting the American war. The big issues for Britain were domestic stability, economic prosperity, and above all preserving the full range of economic warfare methods, including the right to impress British seafarers. The last two issues were the bedrock of British power, and British ministers bluntly refused to discuss them at Vienna or in their negotiations with the Americans at Ghent. Having fought most of the world for 22 years to uphold these rights, they were not going to abandon them in the hour of victory.


Andrew Lambert

However, while Britain insisted on removing Napoleon and his regime, she had no desire to overthrow the American political system. The War of 1812 would remain a limited war because Madison and his Democratic-Republican Party accepted British maritime rights, the ostensible cause of the conflict. This limited defeat has caused considerable confusion. After 1812 the American approach to war was redefined in four total conflicts: 1861–65, 1917–18, 1941–45, and the Cold War. All four resulted in the overthrow of the hostile state and the complete annihilation of the hostile regime. By those standards a war that ended without the annihilation of the defeated state or, at the very least, fundamental regime change appeared to be a failure. This has led some to read the British decision for limited, largely negative, terms an indication of defeat or at best a drawn conflict. In reality Britain had waged a limited war throughout, seeking a negotiated settlement, essentially the status quo ante terms agreed at Ghent. With the Great Powers of Europe assembling at Vienna to reconstruct the world, the British were anxious to end the awkward sideshow in the New World. They ensured that maritime belligerent rights, the basis of their power, were not mentioned at Vienna or in the Anglo-American negotiations. They also ensured the two peace processes were entirely distinct—to prevent Russia, France, and America from collaborating to undermine British maritime rights. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, 1814, was a compromise that recognized British victory, saved the United States from bankruptcy, and enabled the British to focus on European issues.

The Last Battles News of the peace took two months to reach the United States, and in the interval two major battles were fought. The New Orleans campaign, a British attempt to seize control of the Mississippi and with it the trade of the inland states, failed. A blundering British army was soundly defeated on January 8, 1815, despite the best efforts of the Royal Navy. The boats of the Fleet had captured the American gunboats on Lake Borgne on December 14, carried troops and supplies for the Army, and seized the American position on the west bank of the river during the battle. The Navy took the beaten troops back to the fleet, and set off to capture Mobile, an operation ended by news of peace. Cockburn’s diversionary effort in Georgia was more successful, and remains an underresearched campaign. A week after New Orleans the USS President attempted to break out of New York with the sloops Hornet and Peacock and a store ship. The mission, to attack British shipping in the China seas, reflected the lack of accessible targets nearer home. Betrayed by poor operational security the American frigate was intercepted by four British frigates off Long Island on the morning of January 14. After a daylong pursuit at speeds of 12 or 13 knots, the President was brought to action by HMS Endymion, under Captain Henry Hope. Although a significantly smaller ship, the Endymion was armed with 24-pounder cannon. Hope’s exemplary gunnery reduced President to a sinking condition, forcing Commodore Decatur to surrender. Decatur’s claim, repeated to this day, that he had been beaten by four British ships was wholly unfounded. The President had only been fired on, and that without effect, by another British ship after her surrender to Endymion, when Decatur tried to slip away in the night. British prize law rewarded all four British ships because they were in sight of the enemy ship when it was captured. A more significant indication of British opinion was the fact that Hope was awarded the Naval Gold Medal. Philip Broke was the only other officer to receive this award for a frigate battle. The President action disrupted the British blockade, enabling the USS Hornet and Peacock to escape. Both captured British warships: HMS Penguin, and the East India Company brig Nautilus. The latter occurred six months after the end of the war, despite Master Commandant Lewis Warrington being advised of the peace. In a curious echo of the President-Little Belt incident of 1811 the desire to secure glory overwhelmed common sense.


The War on the High Seas

The Historiographical War While the British treated the War of 1812 as a sideshow to the Napoleonic conflict, for Americans and Canadians it was the defining event of an era, generating deeply partisan accounts, primarily to sustain domestic agendas long after the origins, aims, and outcomes of the conflict had been forgotten. Above all Americans, from the President to hack journalists, created the illusion of victory in a “Second War of Independence” to sustain the Democratic-Republican party. This interpretation would influence the development of sectional and national culture and shape historical writing. An American “victory” was only possible because Madison had abandoned his stated aims, both “Free Trade & Sailors’ Rights” and the land hunger that led to the invasion of British territory. In October 1814 he changed American war aims to survival, and desperate for peace the country was happy to collude in the deception. American “victory” played a critical role in postwar domestic politics, contested ground which Democratic-Republican partisans secured by transforming defeat into victory. A common language ensured American texts influenced English perceptions. The American claim exploited the seeming ambiguity of the Treaty of Ghent, a status quo ante compromise that did not reflect the depth of America’s defeat. The arrival of the treaty in Washington soon after reports of Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the fact that it did not require any territorial sacrifice by the United States enabled Madison to link the battle and diplomacy in his message to Congress of February 18, 1815. Once the Senate had ratified peace, Democratic-Republican journalist Hezekiah Niles, editor of the Baltimore Weekly Register, claimed the war ended in “a blaze of glory . . . without a blot or blemish.”9 This conveniently ignored the fiery destruction of Washington, the loss of the national flagship President, the Hartford Convention, and, above all, national insolvency. America had been beaten, but the administration needed a victory to retain the White House. Hence, as one scholar has put it, the war “passed from a sorrowful stalemate to a glorious myth—a triumphant contest, faintly remembered in the main for a handful of storied naval duels and for the one truly telling blow dealt to the enemy on land. Never mind that six months before, the republic had been on the ropes. With the country celebrating Jackson’s feat and then rejoicing over the war’s end, the Republican Party’s earlier mistakes would soon fade from memory.”10 When the frigate USS Constitution returned to New York the Democratic-Republican National Intelligencer claimed: “She has, literally become a Nation’s ship, and should be preserved . . . as a glorious Monument of her own, and our other naval Victories.” In truth American naval victories “had no direct effect on the course of the war,” although they “made Americans proud to be Americans.”11 Why three frigate victories over markedly inferior opponents should be a source of such pride is hard to understand. British visitors to the United States in the decade after 1815 were struck by an endless chorus of American triumphalism. It seemed that every citizen knew the name of each captured British ship and the successful battle on the lakes and delighted in retelling these success stories, peppered with a “frothy, senseless bombast” of victory.12 While Democratic-Republican propaganda elevated the Constitution to immortality, the loss of her sister ship, the USS President, was conveniently forgotten. The United States Navy has never used the name again. HMS President has been the proud possession of the Royal Navy for two centuries, the last great trophy name. While most American writing on the war proved ephemeral, Washington Irving’s elegant essays gave American literature a strong naval character. Irving knew many leading naval officers, including old friend and drinking companion Captain David Porter. After returning to New York, Porter, with Irving’s assistance, created the outstanding firsthand account of the naval war. The Journal of a Cruise to the Pacific Ocean by Captain David Porter in the United States Frigate Essex appeared in 1815, with a second edition, responding to British criticism with more fervor than facts, in 1822. Porter’s energetic, ambitious, and occasionally unreliable account found a ready audience and remains the outstanding firsthand narrative of the war. Porter, the hero of his own tale, became a national celebrity. Contemporary British readers were unimpressed. The Quarterly Review, house journal of Lord Liverpool’s


Andrew Lambert

Tory ministry, published a scathing denunciation, comparing Porter to a pirate. The unsigned review, written by John Barrow, Second Secretary at the Admiralty, dismissed the central plank of Porter’s romantic exoticism, sexual encounters and cannibalism on the Marquesas Islands, as fantasy. British historian William James reckoned it was “filth and falsehood.”13 In reality most of Porter’s exotic stories were true, providing Pacific literature with its defining metaphors and islands, its sensual abandon, and the cannibal and his feast. Irving’s wartime eulogy of Chesapeake’s ill-fated Captain, James Lawrence, one of six key essays, was reprinted six times in as many years, exerting a powerful influence over subsequent studies and exposing a fatal flaw in the construction of American victory. However, Irving’s romantic tract contained significant factual errors that have misled unwary authors for two centuries. These included describing Chesapeake as an “unlucky ship” with a newly raised crew, led astray by a nonexistent “scoundrel Portuguese . . . boatswain’s mate.” Attempting to excuse his hero for losing to a ship of precisely equal force and significantly smaller crew in only 13 minutes, Irving sent Lawrence into battle under “disastrous and disheartening circumstances,” effectively damning him as a brave idiot. Later Irving confessed his errors, but his version already dominated the field.14 Little wonder the reality of Lawrence’s defeat remains troublesome. The American naval “victory” Irving and Porter helped to create played a critical role in postwar domestic politics, as the postwar decade witnessed first the high-water mark of American navalism and then the ultimate triumph of continental concerns. The new reality manifested itself in high tariff barriers and coastal fortresses to keep out the British in peace and war. In Britain 1812 was quickly forgotten. Having overthrown the greatest warrior of the modern age, Britons had no reason to recall victory over James Madison. Instead they retained just enough wooden trophies and wise words to undermine the American version. The demolition of the American “victory” was conducted by lawyer/historian William James. Detained, along with his wife, as enemy aliens in Philadelphia when war broke out, disgusted by their treatment, and incensed by the sheer audacity of American propaganda, James began collecting evidence about the naval actions. Despite his alien status he boarded American warships and interviewed the crew. Escaping to Halifax in 1813, James continued collecting firsthand accounts. In the Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences (1817), James went far beyond mere fact-checking; he stressed the fundamental importance of a mature historical understanding to the intellectual well-being of a nation. As James put it, “He who shall succeed in teaching American writers to venerate truth, as much as their readers idolize vain-glory, will have achieved, for the republic of America, ten-fold greater service than the whole pantheon of demi-gods, whose romantic feats, instead of being allowed to shine forth, bedezined . . . as any other tale of ‘fiction’ or mock-heroic, are presented to the world under the specious garb of ‘FAITHFUL HISTORY.’”15 James focused on American accounts of the war that reached the United Kingdom, including Irving’s essays, which could mislead the British public. He countered this insidious literature with a distinctively legal method, relying on forensic cross-examination and robust criticism to free the war from “American dross.” He discussed naval battles with the officers and men who fought them and used a precise analysis of guns, tons, and manpower to confound American claims that the three frigate actions of 1812 had been fair and equal. He concluded: “no American ship of war has, after all, captured a British ship of the same force; but the reverse has occurred, and might have occurred, again and again, had the Americans been as willing to fight as they still are to boast.”16 As Sir Philip Broke observed: “Your work will remain in my opinion, the best naval history that has ever been written, and you will always be feeling an increased satisfaction in having been the author of such a standard national work . . . a useful national instruction on that naval power which is so important to our country.”17 There could be no more explicit acknowledgement that he had succeeded in his purpose. In 1826 James sent his work to Prime Minister George Canning to rebut American diplomatic bluster along 50

The War on the High Seas

with a digest of American strategic geography and political prospects as a guide for future conflict. Creating an accurate record to assist planning and preparation was the highest function of contemporary history. The following year the post-1815 America’s navalist impulse expired. James’s demolition of the American victory and his excoriating assessment of the standards and integrity of individual American authors reflected the contempt of a legal practitioner, one who understood that the difference between assertion and evidence was determined in a court of law. He used official records, technical statistics, and ringing phrases to remind his countrymen of the real outcome of the conflict, and his words were equally effective in subverting American domestic agendas. James’s books posed a serious threat to the fragile cohesion of a nation that chose to build an identity on a mythic “Second War of Independence.” Unable to challenge his findings, American authors subjected him to a sustained campaign of personal vilification long after his death. Among those who ducked the historical challenge was former midshipman James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper had served under James Lawrence, although he resigned from the navy in 1811. The heroics of the next 12 months only highlighted the disasters that followed. Stunned by the dramatic reversal of fortune that saw his hero cut down and the Chesapeake lost, Cooper took up the challenge of creating an American literature and identity. Marrying Sir Walter’s Scott’s romantic nationalism and several of his plot lines with American history, Cooper set his stories in real American landscapes. When an older, less confident Cooper produced his long-matured naval history in 1839, the glories of 1812 had faded, and he had no answer to William James’ precise, number crunching critique. He ignored the loss of the USS President and the many political meanings that could be drawn from that disaster. Rather than attack Britain he urged his countrymen to see the navy as “our chief defense against wrongs.” Past glories would encourage future achievement; hence the stress laid on Lawrence’s motto, “Don’t give up the ship!” Yet a quarter of a century had not healed the psychological injuries inflicted by Philip Broke’s brilliant gunnery. “Perhaps the capture of no single ship ever produced so much exultation on the side of the victors, or so much depression on that of the beaten party as that of the Chesapeake. The American people had fallen into the error of their enemy and had begun to imagine themselves invincible on the ocean, and this without any better reason than having been successful in a few detached combats. America’s mortification was in proportion to the magnitude of its delusion; while England hailed the success of the Shannon as proof that its ancient renown was about to be regained.”18 Cooper had shared this delusion, and he was as shocked as anyone by the defeat and death of Lawrence. This was the American journey.

Modern Treatments In 1882 the precocious 23-year-old Theodore Roosevelt began his literary career with The Naval War of 1812, largely a critique of William James. The book was a great success, combining passion, a scientific approach, and literary merit. It was adopted by the United States Naval Academy and later at the Naval War College, where he lectured. In addition the Secretary of the Navy ordered a copy for the library of every American warship. Although educated at Harvard in the new German historical methodology, Roosevelt focused almost entirely on the American official record, which he treated as inherently more reliable than James’s sources, which were contemporary British and American official publications and interviews with participants. He developed James’s method of comparing force in terms of ships, men and guns, and understood the cumulative effect of firepower superiority, known as the “Lanchester effect,” which he used to develop his ratio of force as a comparative standard for all actions. While his judgments appear balanced, showing less overt bias than those of James, they were subtly disingenuous. Furthermore, Roosevelt chose to echo Irving’s nonsense. Although contemporary American author Rossiter Johnson dismissed such unworthy excuses, Roosevelt embellished the thick veneer 51

Andrew Lambert

of nationalist and racist hyperbole that overlay the evidence. He blamed Irving’s fictitious Portuguese bosun’s mate for deserting his post, an example followed by the “mercenary” crew, without asking why an American warship needed a “mercenary” crew. In addition he missed the key point: there was no need for excuses to explain Broke’s victory nor any dishonor in Lawrence’s defeat. The mercenary crew and “evil” reputation, invented after the battle, were a crude attempt to preserve the propaganda value of earlier victories. While well written and based on extensive research, Roosevelt’s history did not replace James’s. He was no more objective; indeed the future President was not above adding his own “embellishments,” which weaken his claim to academic integrity. Despite the veneer of German historical methodology, Roosevelt deliberately restricted his range of evidence and, above all, ignored James’s main studies of the War of 1812, the books published in 1817 and 1818. Instead, as the basis for their analysis, he and subsequent American authors have used James’s more accessible 1826 Naval History of Great Britain, and the 1837 edition, which reduce and simplify key parts of the 1812 argument. In a development that would have horrified William James, Roosevelt was commissioned to compile the standard British account of 1812, published in William Laird Clowes’s massive seven-volume, The Royal Navy, A History. Bizarrely, Roosevelt retained the American perspective of his original book. Little wonder that the War of 1812 was almost forgotten in Britain. Once again Roosevelt ignored British sources, leaving the task of writing a balanced history to his friend Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN. Mahan’s two-volume work of 1905, the capstone of his Influence of Sea Power trilogy, proved a hard book to research and write because the message was not an uplifting one for his service or his wider American audience. Mahan endorsed battlefleet sea power, emphasized America’s defeat on the oceans, and contrasted it with the strategic impact of successful fleet actions on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain. He stressed the irrelevance of the American frigate victories and focused on economic issues. Where Roosevelt had pushed the common heritage agenda, Mahan looked ahead to the anglophone strategic partnership of the twentieth century. The book remains a key strategic analysis of the naval war and benefits from the fact that the author had conned the USS Constitution at sea. However, it did not sell well. Reading Mahan’s ponderous and didactic style was hard work after Roosevelt’s ripping yarn. Elsewhere studies of the naval war were few and mostly derivative. Biographies of American naval officers evolved slowly, Irving’s hagiographies giving way to academic texts like Linda Maloney’s study of Isaac Hull and Christopher McKee’s examination of the naval officer corps. Lower deck voices from both sides, few and far between, were identified and located in John C. Fredricksen’s bibliography.19 The single most important publication on the subject is the United States Naval Historical Center series, The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, which will run to four very large volumes. They contain British, Canadian, and American archival resources, public and private, along with outstanding editorial work. The latest American studies include Kevin McCranie’s Utmost Gallantry, an impressively detailed, balanced account of oceanic operations. Apart from Peter Padfield’s excellent biography of Philip Broke, 1812 has remained a backwater in Britain despite Nelson’s navy and the Napoleonic conflict being major research areas. At the bicentenary Brian Arthur’s study of economic warfare shifted the focus from blockades and captures to the demolition of the financial structures of the American state, providing the key to understanding the nature and mechanisms of British victory. My own The Challenge emphasized the British perspective on the naval war, as a sideshow in the broader Napoleonic context. The bicentenary commemorations generated international conferences, collegial scholarship, and opportunities to re-energise the subject. In 1812 America lost the naval war but secured cultural independence, transforming itself into a continental state. It remained desperately vulnerable to maritime economic warfare for the rest of the century and backed down when the British were serious. The British used the Royal Navy to demonstrate their power, including such relics of naval glory as HMS Shannon and HMS President, to 52

The War on the High Seas

remind Americans that Britannia ruled the waves. When Anglo-American relations reached a particularly low point in 1833 the Admiralty dispatched HMS President, carrying the flag of Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who had set fire to the White House in 1814.20 These totems of power, backed by the compelling evidence assembled by William James, sustained British strategic hegemony over the Atlantic into the late nineteenth century without the need for war.

Notes 1. David Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare (London, 2007), 80, 233–34. By 1813 the British were happy to be the modern Carthaginians—because they were winning. 2. Alfred Thayer Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. (Boston, 1905), 1:5. 3. Melville to Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (Commander in Chief Mediterranean), August 10, 1812, in Melville Manuscripts, Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 4. Admiralty to Warren, January 9, 1813, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. (Annapolis, 1985), 2:14–15. 5. Warren to Melville, December 30, 1812, in Sir John Warren Letter Book, National Maritime Museum, London. 6. Warren to Melville, November 9 and 18, 1812, ibid. 7. Henry Adams, History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, 9 vols. (New York, 1889–91), 7:262–64. 8. Brian Arthur, How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812–1815 (Woodbridge, UK, 2011), 161–203. 9. Paul A. Gilje, Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights in the War of 1812 (Cambridge, MA, 2013), 277–79. 10. Pietro S. Nivola, “The ‘Party War’ of 1812: Yesterday’s Lessons for Today’s Partisan Politics,” in Pietro S. Nivola and Peter J. Kastor, eds., What So Proudly We Hailed: Essays on the Contemporary Meaning of the War of 1812 (Washington, DC, 2012), 22. 11. Tyrone Martin, A Most Fortunate Ship: A Narrative History of Old Ironsides (Annapolis, 1996), 206–7. 12. Henry Fearon, Sketches of America: A Narrative of a Journey of Five Thousand Miles through the Eastern and Western States of America (London, 1818), 373–76. 13. William James, A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America (London, 1817), 73. 14. “Biography of Captain James Lawrence,” in Wayne R. Kime, ed., Washington Irving: Miscellaneous Writings, 1803–1859, 2 vols. (Boston, 1981), 1:64–77. 15. William James, A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America, 2 vols. (London, 1818), 1:xxxii. 16. James, Naval Occurrences, 528. 17. William James to Sir Robert Peel, September 19, 1826, in Additional Manuscripts, British Library, London, MSS 40, 389ff, 73–75. 18. James Fenimore Cooper, The History of the Navy of the United States of America, 2 vols. (New York, 1839), 2:253–54. 19. John Fredricksen, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights: A Bibliography of the War of 1812 (Westport, CT, 1985), 208–57. 20. Roger Morriss, Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772–1853 (Exeter, UK, 1997), 210, 222. HMS President has been the London Headquarters of the Royal Navy since the late nineteenth century.

Annotated Bibliography Arthur, Brian. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812–1815. Woodbridge, UK, 2011. Impressive study of the impact of the British blockade on the American economy and military capabilities. Browning, R. S. Two If By Sea: The Development of American Coast Defence Policy. Westport, CT, 1983. Examines the impact of the war on dramatic increase in American coast defense spending. Dudley, William, and Crawford, Michael, eds. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 3 vols. of 4 projected. Washington 1985–. An outstanding documentary collection, generally well-balanced as between the combatants. Gardiner, Robert, ed. The Naval War of 1812. London, 1998. Outstanding illustrated history of the war at sea.


Andrew Lambert Gilje, Paul A. Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights in the War of 1812. Cambridge, MA, 2013. Examines the pre-war Anglo-American disputes about naval and maritime issues, and the subsequent triumphalist American rhetoric. James, William. A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America. London, 1817. The first major history of the naval conflict, prompted by bombastic propaganda serving the interests of the Democratic-Republican party, marked by strongly anti-American sentiments, but reliable as to facts. James’s Military Operations of 1818 is equally significant. Lambert, Andrew D. The Challenge: Britain versus America in the Naval War of 1812. London, 2012. A strategic analysis of the Atlantic and oceanic aspects of the war from the British perspective. Mahan, Alfred T. Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812. 2 vols. Boston, 1905. A striking critique of American diplomacy, naval policy, and strategy from the pioneer American advocate of sea power. It is also, by a considerable margin, his best work as a historian. Maloney, Linda M. The Captain from Connecticut: The Life and Naval Times of Isaac Hull. Boston, 1986. The best biography of this American naval hero of 1812. McCranie, Kevin. D. Utmost Gallantry: The U.S. and Royal Navies at Sea in the War of 1812. Annapolis, 2011. Complements Lambert above, from the American perspective. McKee, Christopher. A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794–1815. Annapolis, 1991. An excellent collective biography, essential for any informed assessment of the naval war. Padfield, Peter. Broke and the Shannon. London, 1968. The British hero of war, expertly and elegantly assessed. Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812. New York, 1882. A well-written and compelling, but flawed, attempt to rebut William James. Roosevelt deliberately ignored James’s 1817 text. Symonds, Craig L. Navalists and Antinavalists: The Naval Policy Debate in the United States, 1785–1827. Newark, 1979. Examines the naval policy debate in the political context. Critical to any understanding of why the USN entered the war with so few ships.


5 PRIVATEERING, PRIZES, AND PROFITS The Private War of 1812 Faye M. Kert

Why, after six centuries, hundreds of vessels, thousands of men and millions of dollars in profits, has private armed warfare in the War of 1812 received so little attention? At least 600 vessels from 13 American states and 45 vessels from two British provinces sailed under one or more letters of marque and reprisal between July 1, 1812, and March 1, 1815. The nearly 2,000 prizes they captured pumped millions of dollars into their respective economies and filled the pages of local newspapers with tales of wealth, adventure, terror, and triumph. How can the history of the War of 1812 overlook privateers?

Privateering Defined Legal, licensed, and often extremely lucrative, privateering was essentially commerce raiding, weakening the enemy economically rather than militarily. Some ships preyed on coastal traders while others prowled the shipping lanes from Newfoundland to the West Indies, Norway to West Africa, the South Pacific, and even China. Britain’s “thousand-ship navy” was preoccupied defending Britain and its Caribbean colonies from French incursions, leaving relatively few warships to protect British North American merchants from their new American foes. Meanwhile, the United States Navy had roughly 15 frigates and smaller warships in service, supported by 174 gunboats of limited effectiveness to protect their trade. The solution was the traditional response of a lesser maritime power with a weak or nonexistent navy—private armed warfare, or privateering. Privateers were privately owned vessels, fitted out at the owners’ expense. They were legally commissioned by a letter of marque and reprisal granted by the government or monarch to “subdue, seize, and take” enemy vessels and property, including allied or neutral vessels trading illicitly with the enemy. Known as corsairs, commerce raiders, freebooters, or privateers, the men who crewed these ships usually worked for shares instead of wages. Dating back to the late thirteenth century, if not earlier, privateering was a strictly regulated form of maritime warfare which, although often condemned as no better than piracy, was actually governed by international law and adjudicated through admiralty courts especially created for the purpose. Pirates and privateers may have taken equal advantage of prizemaking opportunities offered by changing alliances and frequent wars, but a valid letter of marque meant the difference between life and death. If captured, privateers were treated as prisoners of war and spared. Pirates were summarily judged and usually hanged. The obvious advantage of commissioning private vessels to attack enemy shipping at no cost to the government proved irresistible. From Elizabeth I through the numerous wars of the seventeenth 55

Faye M. Kert

and eighteenth centuries, privateering was steadily refined and controlled. Lessons learned during the American Revolution meant that by 1812, both Britain and the United States understood and appreciated the value of private armed warfare. As a weapon, privateering played both a defensive and offensive role, protecting a nation’s commerce from enemy attack while depriving the enemy of access to foreign trade. Each step in the process—from capturing a prize to adjudicating it in court—was prescribed by international law. If a prize had been properly taken and its papers in order, it was condemned, and the vessel and cargo sold. After paying court costs and other related expenses, the proceeds would then be divided, half among the owners and investors who had outfitted the ship and half to the officers and crew who seized the prize. Unlike either piracy or the navy, privateering was not a career choice. It could only be activated by a declaration of war and continued as long as either profitability or the war lasted. Some men deserted before leaving port and some after a single cruise. Others served on three or four ships, honing their skills and investing their prize money to work their way up from crewmen to prizemasters, to captains, and even to shareholders or shipowners in their own right. Occasionally resentful, if not hostile, the Royal Navy disliked competing with privateers for men, supplies, ships, and prizes. Although supposedly exempt from impressment, colonial privateers were occasionally relieved of men by shorthanded Royal Navy naval vessels.

Privateering Defended Never intended to serve as an instrument of American naval strategy, privateering afforded merchants, investors, and seafarers an outlet for their money, ships, and skills. Of course, it was self-serving and profit-motivated, but it was also a way of striking back at a powerful enemy. As former President Thomas Jefferson predicted: “Privateers will find their own men and money. Let nothing be spared to encourage them. They are the dagger which strikes at the heart of the enemy. . . . They will cheat us enormously. No matter; they will make the merchants feel, and squeal, and cry out for peace.”1 Unfortunately for historians, there is no central repository for privateer records. Not only was privateering by nature private, it was a short-term alternative to one’s regular business, and the records discarded. Romantic and anecdotal stories abound, but in the last 50 years, only a handful of books have given privateering its historical due, almost all of them regional or local studies. Among all the books published to commemorate the War of 1812 bicentennial, only Michael Rutstein’s examination of Salem privateers, The Privateering Stroke (2012), and my own book on American and provincial privateering in the War of 1812 (2015) have probed the specific contributions of privateers. A few privateers were individually owned, but most were shared by a multi-investor consortium of up to 20 individuals who spread their capital over several ships to reduce the risk. Owners decided whether their ship would trade or cruise. A letter-of-marque trader carried a regular cargo, some extra guns, and a few more crew to work for wages. Their primary interest was commerce, but if a prizemaking opportunity arose, they were prepared for it. Alternatively, privateers were outfitted solely for commerce raiding. This might require reinforcing the ship to carry additional guns, emptying the hold to accommodate an extra-large crew working for shares, securing the powder magazine, and victualing the vessel for several months. Letter-of-marque ships sailed from port to port, but privateers stayed at sea for two to three months, demanding a greater investment of time and money. One successful cruise usually led to another, but failure often ended a privateer’s career. Letters of marque identified the vessel, home port, owners, officers, number of men, and length of cruise. If one or more of these terms changed, a new commission was required. As a rule, privateers tended to police themselves, aware that robbery, violence, insulting language, mistreatment of women, or any illegal or even ungentlemanly behavior was immediately followed by public censure. When the questionable behavior of small, rowboat privateers, known as “shaving mills,” began to cast doubts on 56

Figure 5.1 Active throughout the war, the America of Salem, Massachusetts, held several commissions and captured 45 prizes, sending in 18. This letter of marque was issued for America’s second cruise when John Kehew took command in March 1813. Each privateer carried several copies of its letter of marque so that prizemasters aboard captured ships could prove that they were legally commissioned and entitled to seize enemy vessels. Like two-thirds of America’s prizes, the British brig Paragon, which was captured on May 9, 1813, was retaken by the Nova Scotia privateer, Sir John Sherbrooke, ten days later. (Library and Archives Canada, RG8, IV, Vol. 133, Paragon)

Faye M. Kert

the reputation of private armed warfare, Secretary of State James Monroe first revoked the licences of the worst offenders and finally forbade Customs Collectors to issue commissions to vessels manned by fewer than 20 men.2 Privateering was an important adjunct to if not, at times, the only maritime force defending Atlantic Canada and the United States during the war. Of 45 Nova Scotia and New Brunswick privateers, only 25 brought nearly 200 prizes into the Vice-Admiralty Court in Halifax. Of America’s 600 privateers, 233 captured nearly 2,000 prizes versus roughly 250 vessels captured by the U.S. Navy. According to some sources, as many as two thirds of all prizes were subsequently recaptured, ransomed, or destroyed. Privateering was always a gamble. Failure to capture a prize discouraged both investors and crews, as did being captured oneself or having a hard-won prize recaptured. Nonetheless, it was the double-barreled British strategy of close blockade and compulsory convoy rather than bad luck that eventually convinced privateers to give up cruising.

Privateering Described On June 26, a week after President Madison’s declaration of war, Congress passed An Act concerning Letters of Marque, Prizes and Prize Goods, which authorized the President to issue letters of marque and reprisal. Numbered in batches by port, commissions were signed by the President and Secretary of State, James Monroe, and distributed via local Collectors of Customs. The Act required privateers to apply for their commission in writing and post a bond of $5,000 for 150 men and $10,000 for a larger crew. Recaptured American or neutral vessels were restored on payment of salvage, cargo could not be damaged on pain of forfeiture (known as breaking bulk), and all prisoners found on board were to be sent in. Every enemy on board a prize at the start of a battle was worth a $20 bounty known as “head money.” The captain was obliged to keep a true and regular journal and hand it to the collector of customs at the end of the cruise. Failure to do so could result in revocation of the letter of marque and a $1,000 fine. According to international law, privateers had to operate at least one league or three miles off shore (usually the distance of a cannon shot). Captains had to respect the rights of neutral vessels and their crews and behave with “justice and humanity” to all, while keeping an eye out for smugglers and importers of illegal goods. Punishment for offences committed aboard privateers followed naval regulations, including confinement on board and court martial in port.

The Court Process Over time, the Admiralty Court became the legal focus for the administration of prize law. Unique in English law, the action was “in rem,” against the ship rather than the owners, since they were unlikely to be present at the capture. The single judge was a civilian trained in civil rather than criminal procedure, and there was no jury owing to the complicated nature of international maritime law. Facts concerning the ownership and legitimacy of the cargo were derived from the ship’s papers, which necessarily had to be true and accurate. Sworn evidence by one or more members of the captured crew confirmed or refuted the documents found on board and helped the judge make his decision. Speed was essential for both parties since delays meant spoilage or damage to cargoes and the costly interruption of the voyage due to capture. The entire prize process from arrival in port to judgment could take as little as three to four weeks. More complicated cases could drag on for years. An appeal process was available, to the High Court of Admiralty in Britain, or the Supreme Court in the United States, but the only plaintiffs who seem to have taken advantage of it were the owners of neutral Spanish, Portuguese, and Swedish vessels whose goods were supposed to be exempt from capture. Collusive captures, prearranged to evade legal restrictions on importing enemy goods or


Privateering, Prizes, and Profits

payment of duties, were often suspected but difficult to prove, since few perpetrators were careless enough to document their schemes. Given their shared heritage of British law, it is no wonder that American and British prize cases followed a very similar process. After ensuring that a vessel was secured and bulk had not been broken, the court issued a monition advising anyone interested in the prize that they had 20 days to present their claim. Meanwhile, the prizemaster of the captured ship submitted all the ship’s papers to the court with a sworn statement that they were as found. Next, the captor filed a libel stating his claim to the prize and published it in one or more newspapers for ten days, making the capture “true, public and notorious.” If the ship or cargo were in a dangerous or perishable condition, it could be sold with the proceeds held until the case was resolved. If the value was in doubt, the claimant could have the cargo appraised, post bail worth double the value, and sell it, pending the court’s final decision. Each stage in the process had set time limits to ensure a steady progress toward adjudication. To substantiate the ship’s papers, one or more members of the captured crew were questioned under oath according to the Standing Interrogatories. By means of a series of questions, each deponent testified to his own and the ship’s nationality, ownership of the ship and cargo, port of departure and arrival, for whose benefit the cargo would be sold, the origin of the cargo, and whether the ship was insured, carried a commission, resisted arrest, had ever entered a blockaded port, had been captured before, or carried arms or warlike stores. Translators were available for those who did not speak English. If the prize was carried into a foreign port, the claim would be served through an agent connected with the capture. If the owner claimed damages against the captor and the court agreed, he could ask that three independent commissioners be appointed to appraise the cargo, assess the damage, and report to the court with the captor given an opportunity to respond.

The Cost The high cost of adjudication was a constant irritant. Every step from filing papers with the court to copying documents, taking statements and affidavits, posting the monition, storing the cargo, and guarding the ship to appraising and selling it had a set fee. At the start of the war, captors also had to pay duty on the prize goods they brought in, but there were so many protests that this was eventually withdrawn. Court fees for the clerks, attorneys, marshal, registrar, and judge ate further into the captors’ profits. If the cost of adjudication seemed likely to exceed the profits, many captors simply relieved a prize of anything of value and released it. The cost of outfitting a privateer depended on the intent of the voyage and the size of the ship. Jerome Garitee’s study of Baltimore privateers suggests that a first-class armed and fully equipped letter-of-marque schooner could get to sea in four to six weeks for roughly $25,000.3 On the other hand, the 270-ton General Armstrong cost her New York owners $42,000 but redeemed their investment with 18 prizes, although all but two or three were burnt, recaptured or released as cartels. Neither privateers nor letters of marque were guaranteed success at sea or at law. Although the court process was efficient, effective, and generally sympathetic to the captor, it was expensive and part of an owner’s cost-benefit calculation. Since privateering was primarily a business based on a calculated assessment of risk versus revenue, privateers would put out to sea only as long as there were profits to be made.

Taking the Prize Once at sea, privateers operated on their own. Since the navy did not share signals with them, privateers gathered shipping information from chance encounters at sea or in port, making their contribution to naval intelligence either incidental or accidental. That does not mean they did not support 59

Figure 5.2 The Saucy Jack, of Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the most successful American privateers, taking 44 vessels in seven cruises and sending 17 into port. Under Captain John P. Chazal, she carried her own set of signal flags, an unusual practice for privateers, which may have contributed to her success. (U.S. National Archives, U.S. District Court, Georgia, Savannah Mixed Case Files, AS 14 18 09, Box 15)

Privateering, Prizes, and Profits

the war effort. In fact, the inability of the small U.S. Navy to protect American trade left privateers virtually in charge of the American offensive against British shipping throughout the war. “President Madison’s war” was not initially popular, especially among Federalist New Englanders who stood to lose the most from the inevitable wartime downturn of trade. Once the Prize Act was passed, however, entrepreneurs from Portland, Maine, to New Orleans took one look at their ships, crews, and capital sitting idle and began clamoring for commissions. By providing a wartime outlet for employment, investment, seaport services, and prize sales, privateering offered a win-win combination of profit and patriotism. As shipowners raced to transform trading vessels into private armed warships, seasoned mariners dreamed of sudden wealth and young men of adventure. Prizes supplied local markets with both necessities and luxury goods that were otherwise unobtainable, at least legally. Privateers tended to work alone, choosing their opponents carefully and only attacking ships that they felt they could capture with cargoes they considered worthwhile. Being able to replenish their supplies of food, arms, ammunition, and men from among their own prizes allowed them to remain at sea for as long as they wished without any additional cost to their owners or the government. Roughly 250 American privateers were commissioned between July and December 1812, before the British blockade could take hold, and provincial privateers began operating in earnest. By the end of December, 28 vessels had taken one prize apiece and 138 did not capture anything, meaning almost two thirds of vessels commissioned during 1812 failed to repay their initial cost. During the same period, 60 American privateers were captured, destroyed, lost at sea, or decided to turn in their commissions, either before or after their first cruise. The fact that privateering continued into 1813, even after the British blockade began to throttle American maritime trade, suggests that shipowners, investors, and crews still felt that as long as their gains outweighed their losses, privateering remained viable. Meanwhile, would-be privateers from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were left in limbo by Britain’s failure to declare war immediately. With no war there could be no letters of marque, yet American privateers were blatantly preying on traffic in and out of provincial ports. Frustrated provincial merchants besieged Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, with demands for commissions to strike back. In August, Sherbrooke finally agreed to issue provisional letters of marque to the General Smyth of New Brunswick and in September, to the Liverpool Packet of Nova Scotia. Instead of obtaining immediate title to their prizes, they were to keep them “at His Majesty’s pleasure” until either war or peace was confirmed. The Liverpool Packet, a former slave tender and mail boat, eventually became the most successful privateer in the War of 1812. It took nearly two years, however, before she collected £27,075 (after expenses) from 17 prizes captured before Britain’s official declaration of war. American privateers took full advantage of their early dominance at sea. News of their exploits boosted morale at a time when the land war was returning dismal news on every front. Along with America’s dramatic early naval victories, the privateers’ success encouraged others to follow suit. The 251 new commissions issued in 1812 represent roughly 40 percent of the entire wartime allotment. Thereafter, the annual numbers of first-time letters of marque declined, although privateers still continued to renew their commissions and send in prizes, the last one being the Ludlow of Kennebunkport, Maine, whose commission was dated February 1, 1815.

The Prize Sequence Among the easiest ways to take a prize was to get close enough to the ship to intimidate it into lowering its flag and surrendering without an exchange of fire. If not, a single shot across the bow persuaded most victims. A boarding party from the privateer would visit the ship, examine her papers, and decide whether the prize was worth taking. Usually, a low-value vessel and cargo would be released as 61

Faye M. Kert

not worth the bother. Or, as Holkar’s captain decided after stopping HMS Emu, which was conveying female convicts to Botany Bay, the ship would be kept and the occupants left behind. A fine vessel with coppered hull, good rigging, salable guns and/or a valuable cargo was fair game. If all went well, the entire capture from sighting to seizure would be over in half an hour. By then, all but a couple of the original crew would be removed and replaced with a prizemaster and small crew from the privateer who were ordered to sail the prize home. If they were in foreign waters or in difficulty, they would make for the closest allied or American port. Alternate locations became especially important once the British blockade began to seal off access to ports like New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The prizemaster, usually a former captain or experienced sailor, was responsible for sailing the prize home and testifying under oath to the capture and the ship’s papers. There could be four or more prizemasters on a privateer, each entitled to extra shares, which they earned by sailing home with a skeleton crew in a vessel that was sometimes damaged during capture and often with a hold full of desperate prisoners scheming to retake their ship. The unsuspecting prizemaster of Fly of Nova Scotia, for example, was murdered at sea by the one-legged captain of his prize, who thoughtfully ensured that his former captor “was decently interred” once he reached home.4 Ransom was another alternative to fighting. It avoided the need for prize crews or court fees, but it eliminated any potential profit from the sale of the ship. It also reduced the number of prisoners of war available as bargaining chips and was not popular with either government. Recaptures were generally easier but the least profitable form of capture. Retaken prizes were treated as salvage, and although court costs were waived, privateers received only one sixth of the appraised value of the prize. Naval vessels earned only one eighth the value but viewed all prizes as a source of “recruits.” Profit-driven privateers were less interested. Some prizes changed hands several times during the war, others during a single cruise, indicating how unpredictable prizemaking actually was. Joint captures, where two or more privateers cooperated in a capture and shared the prize money, were less profitable and therefore less popular, except when convoys were involved. In that case, one privateer would sail in among the ships to draw off one of the convoy defenders, known as “bulldogs.” With the remaining vessels unprotected, a second privateer could dash in and take one or two prizes before reinforcements arrived or the bulldog returned.

Combat If a would-be prize turned and ran, the privateer would have to weigh the option of pursuit against the risk of losing her in the dark, running into a storm or, worse, an enemy vessel. A chase could last hours or even days and results were mixed. Some prizes put up a token resistance, but others, like British mail packets, were willing to fight to the death. Privateers tried to avoid combat, not from lack of courage but for fear of damaging either their own ship or the prize. A battered ship meant costly repairs, lost time at sea, and dead or wounded sailors, which discouraged recruitment. Damage to the prize reduced its value at auction and the net profits to owners and crew. Gunnery skills could decide a battle quickly. A lucky shot might topple a main mast and cripple an enemy immediately or damage the rigging enough to prevent maneuvering. A shot to the hull along the waterline, “between wind and water” could draw the crew from the guns to the bilge pumps and end a battle. When privateer met privateer, anything could happen. The Shadow of Philadelphia fought the London letter of marque, May, in an all-night battle that left Captain Taylor and six Shadows dead and their schooner so shattered they had to withdraw. On the other hand, the Crown privateer of New Brunswick was taken in April 1813 after a furious fight with the privateer Increase of Bristol, Maine, without one man wounded or killed. Crown’s Captain, Solomon Jennings, described the uneven battle between his 22-ton schooner and the 100-ton American sloop carrying twice the men and three times the guns. Tricked into getting too close to the Increase before realizing that the 62

Privateering, Prizes, and Profits

Figure 5.3 Lithograph of the engagement between the American privateer Chasseur and HMS St. Lawrence. The Chasseur (Thomas Boyle) captured HMS St. Lawrence (Lieutentant Henry Gordon), February 19, 1815, after a severe 15-minute action. The St. Lawrence was carrying soldiers and naval officers to Halifax for the British attack on New Orleans. Boyle released her and sent her to Halifax as a cartel ship. (Wikimedia Commons)

crew was hiding below decks, Jennings and his men could not withstand the hail of 300 balls that cut up their rigging, hull and spars, riddled their hats and clothes with holes, and yet miraculously spared both crews.5 As the war continued, privateers had to hunt farther afield. Larger privateers, like the brig Rattlesnake of Philadelphia (298 tons) and the schooner Scourge of New York (248 tons), sought their prey in the waters off northern England, sending their prizes into Norway, a friendly neutral, for adjudication. Because they were cruising off the French coast, prizes belonging to the Prince of Neufchatel and Lawrence were sent into France for condemnation. In 1814, three Boston letter-of-marque traders set out for China. When the Jacob Jones, Rambler, and Tamahamaha arrived home in 1815, the war was over. Not only did they sell their cargos of tea, alum, spices, opium, china, silk, and ribbons at high, postwar prices, both Rambler and Jacob Jones added prize cargoes to their profits. Rambler took the 333-ton transport Morely, the brig Madeira with casks of wine, and the 16-gun Arabella of Calcutta, carrying five chests of opium, 16 bales of Madras goods, 25 boxes of medicines, and other items. The latter was insured for 60,000 rubles when it was illegally confiscated in a Portuguese port, but Rambler’s demand for compensation was ignored. Jacob Jones relieved the Canton-bound Bourwan and Adele of gold dust and opium worth roughly $90,000. By the end of 1813, the British blockade had closed every major American port while convoys shielded merchant shipping from all but the most determined privateers. Prices and insurance rates rose so high that even those merchants who could afford it thought twice about paying 30 percent 63

Faye M. Kert

more just to sail from Boston to New Orleans, virtually within sight of land the whole way. In 1813, only five American and 39 neutral vessels cleared from Boston to foreign ports the entire year.

Deceiving the Enemy When the war began, most private armed vessels were converted fishing, coasting, or merchant vessels that could easily be mistaken for the harmless versions of themselves. By concealing their extra guns or men, they could sneak up on an intended prize or escape from an enemy patrol without attracting any notice. As privateers began paying dividends, more ships were built expressly for privateering. Designed for speed and maneuverability rather than cargo capacity, these vessels epitomized the fast, rakish lines of the later Baltimore clippers. Because of their sailing qualities, many American privateers captured by the British had their lines copied, were taken into the navy or Customs service, or were reflagged as provincial privateers. In fact, 18 of 45 provincial privateers were former American letters of marque. Likewise, after the Liverpool Packet was taken, she sailed twice as an American privateer under two different names before being recaptured, sent into Halifax, condemned and repurchased by her original owner, Enos Collins, and sent back out to pick up where she had left off. Privateers used stealth, speed, and duplicity to keep their prizes and themselves out of enemy hands. Like naval vessels, they could halt a vessel at sea and ask to see its papers. If all was in order, the vessel was immediately released. If, however, the boarding officer suspected something was wrong, his men could search for evidence. On several occasions, a quick-thinking American prizemaster was saved by presenting the ship’s original papers and claiming to have been separated from his convoy or blown off course. Pretending to be British (and vice versa) was not that difficult since their ships, clothing, and accents were often very similar. When a Cape Ann man mistook Holten Breed’s Grand Turk for a British cruiser, he told him which American vessels were due to arrive, then gladly accepted Breed’s offer of a glass of grog. To “correct” his treason, Breed secretly spiked his drink with a strong tartar emetic. A successful privateer tended to use his wits and hold his fire until the last minute. In order to approach close enough to determine whether a vessel was friend, foe, or noncombatant neutral, both sides resorted to trickery. The primary technique involved false flags. Under international law, a captain could sail under any nation’s flag but had to raise his own flag before going into battle. A privateer or naval vessel might try to lure a potential prize closer with a foreign flag, but for example, when HMS Frolic tried to draw USS Wasp within range, the Americans knew “No one but an American or an Englishman would carry sail in that fashion or bring his ship up to an enemy like that . . .”6 British privateers were forbidden to fly the Admiralty flag or pennant. From 1739 on, they could only fly merchant shipping flags along with “a red jack with the Union Jack described in the canton at the upper corner thereof near the staff.”7 Such a distinctive flag was generally only flown in port or in combat. Since everyone flew false flags as a matter of course, it was not unusual for privateers like the Saratoga and Mary to shoot first and check later, only to discover that not only were they both on the same side, they were both from New York! George Burbank, acting master of the privateer Anaconda, thought he was firing on the Liverpool Packet only to discover that he had wounded two sailors and Lieutenant Henry S. Newcomb of the slightly larger U.S. Navy schooner Commodore Hull. He was arrested and faced a naval court martial for insulting the flag but was finally pardoned. Although the officers of the New Brunswick privateer Dart once disguised themselves in navy uniforms to lure an American prize within reach, privateers wore no particular dress, leaving the men looking as much alike as their vessels. One described his fellows “. . . as whimsical as our schooner—Such a hatless, shoeless, shirtless, graceless, unwashed, but not unwhipped set of ragamuffins. . . .”8 There were many complaints about privateers stealing shirts, coats, and even pantaloons from their hapless victims, perhaps in an attempt to improve their appearance. A few privateer officers, such as Samuel C. Reid of the General Armstrong or George Coggeshall, captain of David and 64

Privateering, Prizes, and Profits

Leo, aspired to both naval-style discipline and dress. Both are depicted as wearing a dark blue coat with gold buttons and a black stock but without epaulets or gold braid. A portrait of Reid also reveals a white waistcoat and blue trousers, while Coggeshall is described as wearing a black cocked hat with a gold eagle in the middle. Like their crews, private armed vessels came in all types and sizes. Only a handful displaced more than 400 tons and fewer than 40 ranged between 300 and 399 tons. Yet between them, America of Salem (331 tons), Chasseur (356 tons), Surprise (302 tons) of Baltimore, and New York’s Prince of Neufchatel (320 tons) sent in more than 150 prizes. Although the data is incomplete, the most successful American privateers were 100- to 199-ton schooners, representing just over 100 or one sixth of all commissioned vessels and responsible for about 450 prizes. Schooners were popular because they could sail closest to the wind and required smaller crews, but ships, brigs, sloops, rowboats, and even a lugger and two xebecs held commissions. Because Atlantic privateers tended to be smaller and less wide-ranging, 25 percent (11 schooners) fell within the 50- to 100-ton range. At the end of the scale, the smallest Atlantic privateer was the 22-ton Crown, but there were more than a dozen tiny American privateer boats of two and three tons. Many of these were open rowboats which either worked with local smugglers or against them. A privateer’s armament ranged from muskets and swords for a whaleboat privateer to eight or ten 12-pounder guns on a large privateer that would provide all the firepower needed against anything but a frigate or a heavily armed merchantman. Guns were added or subtracted depending on whether a vessel intended to cruise or trade. Since long guns were usually the first things overboard when a privateer had to lighten its load to escape, privateers were constantly replacing their armament. Crew size also varied with the size and intent of the vessel. As a privateer, the 206-ton Rossie carried 100 men and 11 guns, but as a letter of marque on her second voyage, she required only 35 men and 5 guns. Letters of marque expected fewer prizes and so needed less manpower or firepower. Every so often a privateer fell victim to its own success when, after sending in too many prizes, there weren’t enough men left on board to defend it.

Character Like the war itself, not everyone approved of privateers. To some, they were “a dashing, brave set of disinterested men, and an honor to their country”9; to others, “unruly, drunk, and insubordinate” and no better than pirates.10 Nevertheless, at a time when trade was at a standstill and maritime employment unavailable, it was privateers who put their lives on the line, risking death, capture, and injury, keenly aware that no prey meant no pay. Instances of good behavior and public compliments were recorded in the local press as were complaints about impropriety, theft of personal belongings, rudeness, and brutality. In July 1812, a passenger aboard the American coaster Enterprise objected to the “ferocious conduct” of ruffians from the Germantown of Marblehead that had needlessly frightened a fellow passenger and her child. Not only did he publish his objections, he named all the privateer’s owners, accusing them of behaving worse than the enemy.11 Murder was rare among privateers, especially on land, since international law forbade privateers from attacking enemy property ashore. Flagrantly disregarding this rule, the Wiley Reynard of Boston landed a party of men at Sheep Island, New Brunswick, in October 1812. After robbing and murdering the elderly Francis Clements, they terrorized his wife and family and escaped with his boat. Even though provincial forces caught the murderer, Lieutenant Thomas Swaine, and sent him to Dartmoor as a prisoner of war, Swaine was exchanged quickly and somehow managed to escape punishment. Despite sharing the same dangers and desire for prize money, privateer crews were not necessarily cohesive. The few existing ships’ logs reveal plenty of examples of drunken, insolent, and even mutinous behavior. Fueled by the men’s daily grog ration of at least a gill (four ounces) of rum, swearing, 65

Faye M. Kert

fighting, and insubordination were common. Lack of prizes, a weak captain, and a disgruntled crew were a recipe for disaster. The log of the Harpy reveals a crew of nearly 100 men who were totally undisciplined, habitually drunk, and woefully incompetent. As opposed to the well-run, prize-taking America of Salem, the log of the America of Baltimore highlights Captain Joseph Richardson’s struggle with a drunken and unruly crew. Richardson not only had to court martial gunner James Walsh for inebriation and insulting language, he also had a prizemaster who was chronically drunk. Captain Henry Levely got rid of a first lieutenant who refused to do his duty and drew his sword by making him prizemaster of Nonsuch’s first prize and sending him to Charleston.

Dangers Danger was an ever-present feature of life at sea. While investors managed their financial risk by owning shares in several privateers, individual officers and crew were at the mercy of whatever nature or the enemy threw at them. Winter sailing was especially hazardous and avoided, if possible. The Dead Ship of Harpswell, a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, is supposed to refer to the Dash of Portland that disappeared in a blizzard in January 1815 with a total loss of life. The privateer Rolla from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, also vanished with all hands in early 1815 in a similar, if not the same, storm. Lloyd’s List, published by the London insurer, tracked not only captures but the hundreds of ships damaged or destroyed by weather, navigation hazards, and other natural disasters. Nevertheless, privateers persisted throughout the war, a testament to their optimism and resilience. If, despite their best efforts, privateers had to fight for their prize, they were ready. Larger privateers most likely to engage the enemy often recruited surgeons, like Dr. Vine Utley of the Mars, but others might wait days or weeks before they received medical attention. Close to 50 privateer captains were killed in combat and hundreds of men. In return for privateers risking their lives, the government agreed to set aside two percent of the net amount of prize money (after payment of charges and expenses) for the Seaman’s Hospital Fund, primarily to provide for widows and orphans of slain privateersmen or to support those wounded or disabled in an engagement with the enemy. Pension provisions were later expanded to cover all death and injury while serving in a privateer and allotted according to a sliding scale of rank and extent of injuries. In 1814, widows and children of men wounded in the line of duty who later died of their wounds also became eligible for pensions. The program gradually expired along with the privateers and their families. For many privateers, imprisonment was nearly as terrible as loss of life or limb. Given their status as naval auxiliaries, U.S. privateers were supposed to be treated like naval crews for the purpose of imprisonment, parole, and exchange. Instead, they sat at the bottom of the exchange list behind naval officers or government officials and those taken on merchantmen. Early attempts to work out a formal prisoner exchange agreement between America and Britain were thwarted until the Washington Cartel of May 1813, although privateers frequently passed back and forth after promising not to take up arms against their enemies. It was not uncommon for officers of private armed vessels to give their parole not to escape and move freely about the community until they were exchanged. Both sides, however, established prisoner of war depots, ranging from jails and prison hulks to barracks like Melville Island off Halifax, Nova Scotia, or facilities at Annapolis, Salem, Providence (Rhode Island), and Greenbush (New York). A privateer captain was equivalent to a naval Warrant Officer, the master of a merchant vessel, or a sub-lieutenant or ensign in the army and exchangeable for three men. The lieutenant or mate equaled a naval petty officer or an army NCO, who was worth two men. Even though the final cartel agreement completely disregarded privateer exchanges, the process continued throughout the war. In general, parolees were treated fairly, but breach of parole was taken extremely seriously, more for its lack of honor than for being a threat to the war effort. 66

Privateering, Prizes, and Profits

As the war went on and the balance of prisoners tipped toward Britain, Melville Island became seriously overcrowded. Fortunately, Napoleon’s defeat emptied Dartmoor Prison of French prisoners, making room for the first 250 American prisoners who arrived in April 1813. Eventually, 6,553 Americans spent time in Dartmoor’s desolate confines where the only way out was exchange, discharge, escape, or death. Of the 271 Americans who died at Dartmoor, 60 percent of them were privateers. Prisoner-of-war memoirs by Joseph Valpey, Josiah Cobb, and Dr. Amos Babcock, a privateer’s surgeon (edited by Benjamin Waterhouse), reveal the appalling conditions endured by many privateers, some as young as ten or 11, who languished in Dartmoor and several other prisons, often for years.

Turning a Profit For every privateer who paid the ultimate price for a letter of marque, there were others who continued to seek their fortunes in spite of danger or diminishing returns. For a captain who might earn $50–60 per month on a merchant voyage or a seaman making $5–10 a month, the idea of $425 per share earned by the Young Eagle of New York on her first cruise or the $300 per share from the Ann Dorothy, prize to David Porter in 1814, was a powerful incentive. Even a modest prize brought in by the Dash of Portland, Maine, in 1814 earned $22,000 after costs which, when shared between owners and crew, paid $165.40 per share. Joseph Butter, the ship’s boy, received a half-share worth $82.50, more than a year’s wages.12 Along with prize money from the sale of captured ships and cargo, privateers were also entitled to “head money.” British rates remained at £5 per head throughout the war for both privateer and naval captures, but American bounties rose from $20 in 1812 to $25 in 1813 and $100 apiece in 1814. Prize money not only filled the pockets of the court and the privateers, it also pumped millions of dollars into local economies. In his study of privateers from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Richard Winslow estimates that the sale of 34 prizes generated $2.2 million dollars in sales, no doubt much of it reinvested in the Portsmouth economy. Prize ships and cargoes kept morale high, provided vessels to convert into new privateers, and brought much-needed goods to market. A recent estimate puts the proceeds from wartime sales of prize ships and cargoes in the United States at more than $10 million. In 1820, the Secretary of the Navy reported $213,535.87 in prize money received by the Seaman’s Hospital Fund. Since this represented two percent of the receipts from all prize sales, the gross amount would be $10,676,793.50.

The Cost of War The fight for “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” was not cheap. No matter where it was registered, every captured ship or cargo represented an economic loss for one or more owners and investors, crews denied their liberty, consumers deprived of necessities, and insurers forced to recoup their losses from future voyages. By any standard economic indicator, such as import and export trade figures, currency stability, food prices, wages, rents, insurance rates, transportation costs, or customs fees, the war drained the economies of both nations. Evidence that even Britain’s mighty merchant fleet was feeling the privateers’ pinch was a December 1814 report by Lloyd’s of London which advised the House of Commons that 1175 British vessels had been captured by the Americans since the start of the war, with only 373 being recaptured or released. No wonder the cost of insurance rose to prohibitive heights in some seas. Although Royal Navy vessels and colonial privateers cost the American merchant marine dearly, most maritime historians consider the British blockade to be the deciding factor in the War of 1812 since it “caused material losses to the American people a hundred times greater than the war.”13 The blockade throttled American trade, and with no prizes there was no profit, and privateering lost its appeal. 67

Faye M. Kert

Technological developments in shipbuilding, weaponry, and naval strategy after 1815 meant that the relatively easy conversion of a merchant vessel to a private commerce raider became increasingly expensive. On April 16, 1856, the Declaration of Paris, signed after the Crimean War, announced: “Privateering is and remains abolished.” Thousands of American privateers kept the war at sea alive while hundreds of colonial privateers did the same for Atlantic Canada. They faced dangers, fought battles, and created prosperity for their communities as well as themselves. They inspired their compatriots and infuriated their enemies, providing employment, excitement, and pride in the face of economic hardship and military defeat. Legitimate, patriotic, and sometimes extremely profitable, privateering remains one of the most memorable features of the War of 1812.

Notes 1. Richard E. Winslow III, “Wealth and Honour”: Portsmouth during the Golden Age of Privateering, 1775–1815 (Portsmouth, NH, 1988), 240. 2. James Monroe to Customs Collector at Marblehead, January 21, 1814, in U.S. Department of the Navy, Record Group 45, National Archives, Washington, DC. 3. Jerome R. Garitee, The Republic’s Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practiced by Baltimore during the War of 1812 (Middletown, CT, 1977), 111. 4. Woodsworth & Co. Journal, July 13, 1813, in Ganong Scrapbook, #5, 201, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, NB. 5. Extract of a letter from Capt. Jennings, late of the private armed schooner Crown, to his owners in this town, dated Wiscasset, April 30th, 1813,” in Saint John New Brunswick Royal Gazette, June 14, 1813. 6. James Barnes, Naval Actions in the War of 1812 (New York, 1896), 45. 7. Instructions to Privateers against Spain, July 20, 1739, in R. G. Marsden, ed., Documents Relating to Laws and Customs of the Sea, 2 vols. (London, 1915), 2: 426. 8. Benjamin F. Browne, The Yarn of a Yankee Privateer, ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York, 1926), 21. 9. George Coggeshall, History of The American Privateers and Letters of Marque, During Our War with England in the Years 1812, ’13 and ’14 (New York, 1856), xlviii. 10. George A. Nelson, “The First Cruise of the Privateer Harpy,” American Neptune 1 (April 1941), 116–22. 11. Boston Columbian Centinel, July 15, 1812. 12. Entry on Prize Rum etc. for Ann Dorothy and Dash, in U.S. Marshals Service Manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 13. Winslow, “Wealth and Honour,” 173.

Annotated Bibliography There is an abundance of primary source material on privateering, some published and some not, in public and private depositories on both sides of the Atlantic. For guidance in using this material, see the sources cited in my work below, Prize and Prejudice, as well as in my forthcoming volume, The Prize Makers: Privateering in the War of 1812, which will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2015. Anderson, Gary M., and Gifford, Adam, Jr. “Privateering and the Private Production of Naval Power.” Cato Journal 11 (Spring/Summer 1991), 99–122. A useful, modern analysis of privateering versus piracy. Browne, Benjamin F. The Yarn of a Yankee Privateer. ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York, 1926. This memoir was written many years after the war and edited by well-known author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although readable, it may not be as accurate as narratives published immediately after the war. Chapelle, Howard I. The Search for Speed Under Sail, 1700–1855. New York, 1967. The best resource for ship design, sail handling, and gunnery for privateers in the War of 1812. Coggeshall, George. History of the American Privateers and Letters of Marque, During Our War with England in the Years 1812, ’13 and ’14. New York, 1856. Part memoir, part paean to privateering, but still an authority and now available on line. Dudley, William S, and Crawford, Michael, eds. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 4 vols. (1985–). An invaluable collection of War of 1812 documents from American and British sources.


Privateering, Prizes, and Profits Garitee, Jerome R. The Republic’s Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practiced by Baltimore during the War of 1812. Middletown, CT, 1977. Still the most comprehensive local study of War of 1812 privateering as a business and a standard for other research into the contribution of privateering to a local economy. Hodgson, Godfrey. Lloyd’s of London: A Reputation at Risk. London, 1989. A history of Lloyd’s insurance company. Kent, H. S. K. “The Historical Origins of the Three-Mile Limit.” The American Journal of International Law 48 (October 1954), 537–553. An explanation of how the concept of the three-mile territorial limit was established. Kert, Faye M. Prize and Prejudice: Privateering and Naval Prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812. St. John’s, NL, 1997. Offers a comprehensive survey of the Canadian privateers, their prizes, and their relationship with the British navy. Leiner, Frederick C. “Privateers and Profit in the War of 1812.” Journal of Military History 77 (October 2013), 1225–50. Thoroughly researched, reveals the profit-driven side of privateering and the net income from it. Marsden, R. G., ed. Documents relating to Laws and Customs of the Sea. 2 vols. London, 1915. One of the most extensive scholarly collections of British maritime legal documents, especially for the early period of development of maritime law. McFee, William. The Law of the Sea. Philadelphia, 1950. An older but still reliable treatment of maritime law. Mouson, Harold. Privateers of Charleston in the War of 1812. Charleston, SC, 1954. An older but comprehensive regional study and one of the few sources for southern privateers. Nelson, George A. “The First Cruise of the Privateer Harpy.” American Neptune 1 (April 1941), 116–22. Good account of this privateer’s first cruise. Peters, Richard, ed. United States Statutes at Large. 2 vols. Boston, 1854. Available online at the Library of Congress site, this is the source for U.S. legislation arranged by date and session. Upton, Francis H. The Law of Nations Affecting Commerce During War: With a Review of the Jurisdiction, Practice and Proceedings of Prize Courts. New York, 1863. An excellent period summary of international law as applied in prize courts. Wahll, Andrew J., ed. Sea Raptors: Logs of the Private Armed Vessels Comet and Chasseur Commanded by Tom Boyle. Westminster, MD, 2008. A recent study based on privateer logs from two successful Baltimore privateers commanded by one of the most famous privateer captains. Winslow, Richard E. III. “Wealth and Honour”: Portsmouth during the Golden Age of Privateering, 1775–1815. Portsmouth, NH, 1988. One of the best regional studies of privateering and the only one to focus on New Hampshire.


6 THE WAR ON THE LAKES David Curtis Skaggs

In a world without paved roads and railroads, the war along the Canadian-American border was shaped by the necessity for waterborne transport of supplies, workmen, and troops in a frontier region stretching from Lake Champlain to Lake Michigan. The combatant controlling the lakes could decisively influence the ground war on the littoral by dominating the logistical tail upon which military forces are dependent. Concurrently, in a world without interservice operations doctrine, the degree in which the naval commanders cooperated with the army affected the outcome of the war effort on all these lakes. These two themes, naval superiority and joint operations, constitute leitmotifs in the warfare on the North American lakes.

Geographic and Ecological Constraints Geography imposed various limits to waterborne transportation into the North American interior. On the St. Lawrence River were the Lachine Rapids at Montreal and the Long Sault above the mouth of the Ottawa River. Once these were bypassed, there were few impediments for the British to transport arms, equipment, foodstuffs, and men until one reached the Niagara Escarpment. From Rochester, New York, to Burlington, Ontario, this high ridge impeded transportation from Lake Ontario into the upper Great Lakes. Three fortifications along the Niagara River constituted vital obstacles to the transport of commodities and manpower westward—Forts George (Ontario) and Niagara (New York) at the river’s mouth and Erie on the Canadian side opposite Buffalo. If the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes route contained natural impediments for British and Canadian logistics, the ones facing the Americans were even greater. For the United States, the Mohawk Valley between the Hudson Valley and Lake Ontario was the only natural water route into the interior. Cohoes Falls at the mouth of the Mohawk made water navigation impossible. The 16-mile “King’s Highway” from Albany to Schenectady allowed access to the Mohawk River. The completion in the 1790s of Little Falls Canal and the Rome Canal between Rome and Wood Creek allowed bateaux to navigate from Schenectady via Lake Oneida and the Oswego River to Lake Ontario. Numerous oxbows on Wood Creek were circumvented by 13 short canals cut across the necks. This route became the most efficient way to forward men and materiel to the Great Lakes interior during the War of 1812. However, its operational usefulness depended on U.S. naval dominance of Lake Ontario and control of the Niagara portage. Another American route west involved an overland road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and thence down the Ohio River. Built across Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War, Forbes 70

The War on the Lakes

Road brought to Pittsburgh soldiers, shipwrights, munitions, and supplies. From there they were transported by water to Wheeling, Marietta, Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis for distribution to military units. Pittsburgh also constituted the starting point for a route northward toward Erie, Pennsylvania, where the Americans constructed a naval base. By the early nineteenth century, Pittsburgh was already the largest manufacturing community west of the Appalachians. It provided cannon balls, iron hardware, cordage, clothing, and other equipment—all of which did not have to be transported over the mountains. In this context it had no rival in the North American interior. For both nations logistical support of naval operations on Lake Champlain proved difficult. The Richelieu River drains the lake to the St. Lawrence and has several rapids north of Saint-Jean-surRichelieu which resulted in Île aux Noix becoming the locus of shipbuilding for the British seeking to gain control of the lake. The Americans faced a portage from the upper Hudson River to Whitehall, New York. Another route went from the Hudson to Lake George and into Lake Champlain at Ticonderoga. The Americans built their ships at Vergennes, Vermont, upstream on Otter Creek from the lake. By tradition, the Lake Champlain route was the invasion route used by warring nations seeking control of the Hudson and St. Lawrence Valleys. In this war it would be neglected until 1814. Collectively these geographic obstacles required that sailing vessels be constructed on the lakes themselves because cargoes and personnel could not be transported via saltwater sailing ships. The nation that could overcome the logistical limitations to ship construction would have a decided advantage in a long war. Naval dominance would provide that nation with both the logistics and mobility unavailable to the opposing side. Another factor limiting the effectiveness and duration of naval operations was the cold weather. This ecological limitation required that by each November all lake vessels had to be pulled from the water before freezing set in, and after their sails, spars, and running rigging had been stored, they were covered with canvas during the inclement weather. This required both facilities and manpower and placed another logistical constraint on naval activity. A final regional peculiarity involved ship maintenance in fresh water. Frequent careening and repairs were necessary, and this was often underperformed by the limited crews available. This meant that vessels lasted no more than seven or eight years before they had to be replaced. While BritishCanadian forces generally faced easier geographic and ecological obstacles than the Americans, the United States possessed manufacturing resources closer to the lakes and more numerous shipbuilding artisans and a larger population base than their opponents.

Introduction of Euroamerican Naval Warfare to the Lakes The lakes and the rivers that drained into them had long been utilized by native Americans as avenues for military operations. Their long birch bark canoes plied the rivers and lakes on trips sometimes involving hundreds of miles from Wisconsin to the St. Lawrence Valley. Native warriors and their canoes constituted an amphibious army that contributed significantly to the War of 1812 on Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie. To contain the native corps and their Euroamerican rivals, for nearly two centuries Frenchmen, Britons, and Americans erected military posts at portage sites and the mouths of many of the region’s rivers. Among such critical choke points were Forts Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Oswego, Kingston, York (Toronto), George, Erie, Niagara, Malden, Detroit, Wayne, Michilimackinac, St. Joseph (St. Marys River, Ontario), St. Joseph (Niles, Michigan), La Baye (Green Bay, Wisconsin), and Dearborn (Chicago). Collectively they represented both military and commercial outposts of empire. Their geographic importance continued into the second decade of the nineteenth century, and they would play critical roles in the War of 1812. Countering these capabilities the British and subsequently the Americans adopted several military options of their own. One of the most conspicuous was the introduction of European-style sailing 71

David Curtis Skaggs

vessels to the various lakes. Initially these were commercial vessels that exchanged trade goods for furs and skins from the vast interior. Although some ships were lightly armed to prevent robbery, they engaged in trade not combat. Many would become wartime naval vessels. With war clouds on the horizon after the Chesapeake-Leopard incident of 1807, both governments sought to augment their naval efforts on Lakes Ontario and Erie. The British built one new vessel on the upper lake—the 20-gun ship Queen Charlotte launched in 1810. Due to deficiencies in the number of shipwrights and the availability of materiel at Amherstburg, Ontario, it took master builder William Bell two years to build her. By the outbreak of the War of 1812 the five-year-old General Hunter was falling into decay, but she was still serviceable. The Americans made no significant effort to counter the British on the Upper Lakes. In 1801 at River Rouge, Michigan Territory, the U.S. Army constructed the two-masted armed transport Adams. As a warship, this vessel represented no threat to the General Hunter and Queen Charlotte. Obviously, the British had a decided advantage in vessels in governmental service, and their control of the upper lakes allowed them to convert ships from commercial to naval duty at the war’s outset. What was true above the Niagara Falls was also the case on Lake Ontario. Of the several previously built warships for the Canadian Provincial Marine only the 14-gun Earl of Moira and 6-gun Duke of Gloucester were serviceable at the war’s start. In early 1808 Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith ordered Lieutenant Melancthon Woolsey, USN, to supervise the construction of the 18-gun brig Oneida at Oswego, New York, under the direction of Henry Eckford. She was the first U.S. Navy vessel on that lake. The British countered by building the 20-gun ship Royal George at Kingston. The Oneida and Royal George were the first true warships on the Great Lakes. Although no one recognized it at the time, the great shipbuilding race on Lake Ontario had begun. On Lake Champlain the two sides were even less prepared. Even though the lake was the traditional invasion route between the Hudson and St. Lawrence valleys, neither side gave significant effort to naval preparations prior to the war. The Royal Edward at Île aux Noix was a hulk that never sailed again. The Americans had two derelict gunboats built in 1809 laid up near Vergennes. In effect, neither side had any naval vessels on the lake which might become the main campaign avenue for either combatant. Neither country devoted significant personnel assets to lake forces. Lieutenant Melancthon Woolsey, USN, had no combat or command experience when he received orders to Lake Ontario. After the construction of the Oneida he moved the vessel to Sackets Harbor, New York, which was the only natural deepwater harbor on the American side of the lake other than the mouth of the Niagara River, which lay under the guns of Fort George, Upper Canada (modern Ontario). Oswego’s harbor was too shallow for large vessels. Sackets Harbor became the U.S. naval headquarters for Lake Ontario for the remainder of the war even though it lay 35 miles from the British base at Kingston. Another deficiency was that it lacked a water connection to the Mohawk Valley, and therefore logistical support came through Oswego. Needless to say, on the eve of conflict the United States had neither the officers, nor the men, nor the vessels necessary to gain control of the lakes. But the other side had equal deficiencies. The Provincial Marine contained two aging captains (one was 77 years old), a few lieutenants, and crews untrained in naval warfare. Neither the officers nor their men were veterans of the Royal Navy. Dull years of serving as a transportation service for the British Army’s quartermaster general ill prepared them for combat. There was an insignificant Provincial Marine establishment at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and none at Île aux Noix.

1812: The Year of Preparation On the eve of war two critical Canadian personnel changes occurred that impacted the conflict’s conduct on land and lakes. Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost moved to Quebec where he became Governor-General of British North America. He was officially the “Captain General 72

The War on the Lakes

and Governor-in-Chief in and over the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the islands of Prince Edward and Cape Breton.” He was fluent in French, and His Majesty’s government expected him to conciliate the French Canadiens, whose loyalty was suspect. But his rapprochement with the Francophone population (mostly in Lower Canada, modern Quebec) incurred opposition among the Anglo-Canadians, who suspected the old French population for its Roman Catholicism and Bonaparte sympathies. Prevost’s new subordinate in Upper Canada (modern Ontario) was Major General Isaac Brock who served as commander-in-chief of the provincial military and as president of the provincial government’s executive council in the absence of LieutenantGovernor Francis Gore who had returned to England for health reasons. Both Prevost and Brock quickly recognized the criticality of the lakes to the defense of the Canadas. Prevost pensioned off the Provincial Marine captains and promoted some of the lieutenants. To overcome the obstacles imposed by the cataracts of the St. Lawrence he called on the North West Company to form a corps of voyageurs to assist in the transport from Montreal and Kingston. This service would be sorely pressed as the military and naval demands for Lake Ontario and beyond escalated in the following years. Prevost expanded his government’s relations with the North West Company along with the South West (or Michilimackinac) Company to engage the bateaux and sailing vessels of their traders and voyageurs in commerce and diplomacy with the natives in the upper Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley. General Brock took this effort a step further by engaging John Askin, Jr., of St. Joseph Island and Robert Dickson of Green Bay to secure Indian support to counter a possible attack on Mackinac Island. It was a central trading depot for the upper lakes, and American control of the island from Fort Michilimackinac was a thorn in the side of Canadian traders seeking to avoid the import duties imposed there. His other primary target was Detroit, whose location threatened to choke commercial and military movement from Lake Erie. Brock also recognized the criticality of naval dominance on the Great Lakes: since no overland transportation network existed to support ground operations, naval superiority was essential to the protection of the Canadian shore from American invasion. Lake Erie was particularly vulnerable. He insisted that provincial marine forces and the North West Company and its lightly armed vessels were necessary to combat the Americans’ ground mobility and numerical superiority. But the provincial marine and fur traders constituted a slender reed on which to base a naval strategy. By maintaining naval superiority on the lakes and aggressively attacking the weak upper Great Lakes frontier before the Americans were ready to focus on the decisive strategic targets, Brock envisioned an economy-of-force measure designed to use Native Americans, fur traders and their employees, and small contingents of British regulars and Canadian militiamen to divert the Americans from concentrating on the strategic lifeline of Upper Canada—the St. Lawrence Valley. Few generals have done so much with so few while at the same time placing at risk so many who stood to lose all should the Americans retain the line-of-lakes boundary negotiated in 1783. The Americans, on the other hand, believed in Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase that the conquest of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” It was a land campaign, not a joint service effort, that would force the British to stop the impressment of American sailors and revoke the Orders-inCouncil that limited international commerce. Naval officers sought service on the high seas where “glory” might be found in single ship duels. When Governor William Hull of Michigan Territory urged a naval buildup on Lake Erie in conjunction with his hoped-for ground campaign out of Detroit he was rebuffed. Despite this, the governor accepted a brigadier generalship and marched an army of a few regulars and Ohio militiamen to Michigan where he surrendered the territory to General Brock and a force he brought by ship from the Niagara peninsula on August 16, 1812. Brock’s surprising triumph and the surrender of Fort Michilimackinac to a few British troops and a few hundred natives who arrived on the island via canoes from Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula dramatically illustrated the importance of sea power (or maybe what should be called “lake 73

David Curtis Skaggs

power”) along the international border. The British and their native allies quickly consolidated their gains on the upper lakes. The captured U.S. Army brig Adams became HMS Detroit, and the British armed the commercial sloop Friends Good Will and renamed her Little Belt. The North West Company’s Caledonia and Nancy joined the British squadron which also included the recently completed schooner Lady Prevost. Several other merchant vessels became British property, providing Brock with the ability to transport supplies and men on Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan. The Detroit debacle turned American lethargy and unpreparedness into action. President James Madison convened his cabinet, which decided to make naval control of the lakes a priority. Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton selected Captain Isaac Chauncey, USN, as commodore of the nonexistent Great Lakes fleet. The Secretary’s orders included the authority to “purchase, hire or build” ships on Lakes Ontario and Erie and to employ all the officers, sailors, and shipbuilders, armaments, provisions, and materiel at the New York Navy Yard he needed in pursuit of gaining control of these two lakes. Almost simultaneously the Secretary ordered Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, USN, to command the virtually nonexistent squadron on Lake Champlain. Although Secretary Hamilton directed that approximately a third of Chauncey’s manpower be sent to the upper lake, the new commodore focused on Lake Ontario. He did send Lieutenant Jesse Duncan Elliott to the Niagara River in search of a port capable of supporting ship construction for Lake Erie. The only natural harbor was at Black Rock, a small community downstream from the river’s headwaters. But, the lieutenant reported, the location was within range of British artillery across the river. Ascertaining that Buffalo had no natural harbor, Elliott made no attempt to seek out a possible shipbuilding site elsewhere along the lake’s shore. Concurrently, but unknown to either Chauncey or Elliott, Great Lakes commercial ship captain Daniel Dobbins headed directly to Washington following the capture of his ship at Mackinac Island and convinced the Secretary of the Navy that his home port of Erie, Pennsylvania, was an ideal location for shipbuilding. He secured orders to build four gunboats there despite the opposition of Elliott who mistakenly argued that they could not cross the bar at the mouth of Presque Isle Bay. Meanwhile, Elliott led a nighttime cutting out expedition that seized the brigs Detroit (formerly the U.S. Army’s Adams) and Caledonia from an anchorage near Fort Erie in which the Detroit ran aground and was subsequently destroyed while the Caledonia safely sailed into Black Rock. In one blow, the British lost two vessels and the United States gained one. The balance of power on Lake Erie made a slight shift toward the American side. “The enemy,” wrote General Brock, “is making every exertion to gain a naval superiority on both Lakes which if they accomplish I do not see how we can retain the Country.”1 It was not just Lake Erie that worried the Upper Canada commander; Commodore Chauncey changed the balance of naval power on Lake Ontario that autumn. With New York master shipwright Henry Eckford and 140 artificers plus several hundred sailors and marines at Sackets Harbor, the Oneida was supplemented with four purchased and converted schooners that became makeshift gunboats (Conquest, Hamilton, Julia, Growler). In a November cruise this U.S. squadron burned one merchant vessel, captured two others, and chased the Royal George into Kingston. Before these ships were laid up for the winter, Chauncey secured naval superiority on Lake Ontario. By then General Brock died of wounds received in battle and Upper Canada lost its most daring and prescient commander. Both sides began reorganizing and expanding their navies on the lakes in preparation for the 1813 season.

U.S. Attacks on Lake Ontario Shore Over the winter Eckford and his men began and completed the corvette Madison plus 12 schooners that had been acquired and outfitted. The squadron cooperated with U.S. Army troops in a raid on York (now Toronto) and in taking the British Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River, 74

The War on the Lakes

May 27, 1813. Well-directed supporting fires from the vessels allowed the army troops to take the fort with few casualties. This loss forced the British to withdraw from Fort Erie at the river’s headwaters, thus giving the United States complete control of the Niagara River portage to Lake Erie during the critical construction period of 1813. The York raid resulted in the destruction of a 30-gun warship being built there. These tactical successes neglected the obvious strategic target that might have been taken in the spring of 1813—Kingston, the Royal Navy’s shipyard and base. Its capture would change the whole campaign for Upper Canada. While Secretary of War John Armstrong understood the critical importance of Kingston, he sent vaguely worded, conflicting instructions to his subordinates that allowed them to choose the other operational targets. Even before these successful American joint operations modified the operational situation on Lake Ontario, the British made several moves designed to redeem their dominance of the lake that had been lost the previous autumn. Their highest priority was to capture the American shipbuilding base at Sackets Harbor. The achievement of this task required the Royal Navy to control maritime operations on the lakes and close coordination of the naval and military forces in Upper Canada. The Royal Navy sent Captain Sir James Lucas Yeo to command its Great Lakes squadron. A distinguished frigate commander and the recipient of a knighthood from the Portuguese and British governments for his conduct in the 1809 raid at Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, Yeo brought experienced sailors, naval professionalism, and zeal to the tepid Provincial Marine that had previously controlled the lake squadrons. At Kingston shipwrights added the 22-gun ship Wolfe to his squadron in April. With Chauncey’s squadron concentrated at the western end of Lake Erie, Governor-General Prevost and Commodore Yeo decided on a joint attack at the Americans’ Sackets Harbor base on May 29. By a narrow margin the American defense forces saved the base. Prevost’s failure to press home the ground attack soured relations between the Governor-General and Yeo that continued until the end of the war. Chauncey returned from Fort Erie and stayed there for two months while Eckert built the 26-gun corvette General Pike and the 16-gun Sylph. Meanwhile, at Kingston the British launched the 14-gun Lord Melville in July. Fearful of the security of his only deepwater port on the lake, Chauncey remained in port, thereby letting Yeo dominate Lake Ontario until August. Never again would the American commodore coordinate naval affairs with army operations as he had done the previous spring at York and Fort George.

Lake Erie, 1813 The new U.S. Secretary of the Navy, William Jones, determined to push for control of the Upper Lakes in 1813. He authorized Chauncey to add two 360-ton brigs to the gunboats under construction at Erie, Pennsylvania. To build these vessels Chauncey secured the services of shipwright Noah Brown of New York City who brought with him over 200 craftsmen. Meanwhile, Master Commandant (a rank the equivalent of a modern commander) Oliver Hazard Perry at Newport, Rhode Island, volunteered to serve under Chauncey and received command of the Lake Erie forces. Perry allowed Brown great leeway in the design and construction of the vessels, which the shipwright built with exceptional speed and without close attention to wood types utilized during peacetime to enhance durability. By July Brown had completed the two brigs—Niagara and Lawrence—the nimble schooner Ariel, the schooner Scorpion, and the sloop Porcupine. To these Perry added three converted merchantmen, Caledonia, Trippe, and Somers which he skillfully brought to Erie from Black Rock by eluding the British blockade. Commodore Yeo countered by sending Commander Robert H. Barclay to Lake Erie and supported the construction of HMS Detroit at Amherstburg by the notable shipwright William Bell. More than his American counterparts, Bell was a traditionalist in construction methodology and the solidly built Detroit reflected this, in contrast to the hastily built Lawrence and Niagara. When finished, 75

David Curtis Skaggs

the Detroit would be the largest naval vessel on the Upper Lakes, but Bell’s exacting craftsmanship and labor troubles delayed her launching until August. Both Lake Erie commanders found that their Great Lakes commodores hoarded crewmen and officers for their ever-enlarging squadrons on Lake Ontario. Consequently both Perry and Barclay utilized soldiers to fill empty billets. While Perry’s squadron was building in early 1813, Barclay took full advantage of British naval superiority to support the British Army and native American attack on Fort Meigs in May. Not only did Royal Navy vessels transport troops and supplies from the Detroit River to the Maumee, but they also brought heavy artillery in the larger ships. But the British siege failed. When General Henry Procter tried for a second time to besiege the American outpost, Barclay’s squadron was in eastern Lake Erie blockading Perry’s ships at Erie, Pennsylvania, and unable to bring the heavy artillery forward. While shipwrights labored in Erie and Amherstburg, Secretary of War John Armstrong ordered Major Thomas Jessup to Cleveland where he was to supervise the construction of approximately 80 landing craft (known as Schenectady bateaux) on which he planned to transport troops across the lake for an invasion of Canada. Meanwhile Perry finally received a few sailors from Lake Ontario and Master Commandant Jesse Duncan Elliot to command the Niagara, and augmented his remaining billets with soldiers. He sailed out of Presque Isle Bay on August 6. The United States now controlled the lake while Barclay and his flotilla withdrew to Amherstburg until the Detroit would be ready. That would not occur until early September. Meanwhile Perry’s squadron frustrated British efforts to supply or reinforce the Amherstburg navy yard. With their native allies growing restless and supplies dwindling, Barclay sailed with the recently launched Detroit and his outgunned squadron into Lake Erie. On September 10 Perry’s inexperienced American squadron did not close with their opponents, and the Lawrence fought almost alone against three British vessels until Perry transferred his flag to the

Figure 6.1 This painting, by maritime artist Dean Mosher, shows the culminating moment of the Battle of Lake Erie. Oliver H. Perry, having taken command of the USS Niagara, sails his as yet untouched brig into the heart of the British squadron and delivers withering broadsides to the two main British vessels. (Courtesy of Dean Mosher Studio)


The War on the Lakes

Niagara (which Elliott kept out of the fight) and forced the surrender of the entire Royal Navy flotilla. This electrifying victory made Perry a national hero, his battle flag proclaiming—“Don’t Give Up the Ship”—a Navy icon to this day, and his message to Harrison—“We have met the enemy and they are ours”—a memorable slogan. Perry’s subsequent cooperation with General Harrison in transporting the North West Army on the Cleveland-built bateaux to the Canadian shore led to the Battle of the Thames on October 5, in which Tecumseh was killed, his confederacy shattered, and the British troops either captured or in retreat. The Harrison-Perry teamwork constitutes the most successful U.S. joint operation of the war.

Lake Ontario, Summer 1813 While Chauncey cautiously remained at Sackets Harbor in June and July, Yeo had the lake to himself. He took the opportunity to move men and supplies to beleaguered British forces on the Niagara Peninsula. Chauncey’s caution reflected a risk-avoidance strategy that would never typify such contemporaries as Oliver Hazard Perry, Stephen Decatur, or Horatio Nelson. Yeo’s naval forces assisted the British Army at Stoney Creek that resulted in a withdrawal of American forces to Fort George in early June. Yeo then attacked Oswego on June 17 where he was repulsed by Americans led by Lieutenant Woolsey. Two days later the British raided the village of Sodus, New York, carted off some supplies, and burned private buildings according to a recently adopted policy that if there was American resistance to such landings private property would not be respected. A subsequent attempt at a cutting out expedition against the Madison at Sackets Harbor failed when a deserter warned the Americans. Secretary of the Navy William Jones grew exasperated at Chauncey’s caution and urged him to take the newly commissioned Pike and reassert American dominance on the lake. Both commodores found their personnel numbers insufficient for the number of billets created by their growing flotillas and turned to local army troops to fill their rosters. Finally, Chauncey left and by July 26 assembled 13 vessels off Burlington Bay. Its shallow waters forbade his supporting a military landing, so the soldiers withdrew and Chauncey sailed to York. While many in his party desired to burn the town in revenge for the attack on Sodus, there was little damage to private property except for the confiscation of pork, bread, and personal baggage of British military personnel. Both sides desired a decisive naval engagement to determine naval dominance on Lake Ontario. The two squadrons initially met on August 7 off the mouth of the Niagara River but avoided a potentially decisive battle. The rationale for this was that the American ships were predominately armed with long guns while those of the British were armed with short-range carronades, and neither commander thought he had the necessary weather gage advantage to favor his armament. That evening a squall struck the schooners Scourge and Hamilton and sent them to the bottom. On the evening of August 10 a series of maneuvers resulted in Chauncey losing the schooners Julia and Growler, whose commanders ignored the American commodore’s instructions. A few days later the two squadrons returned to their home ports of Sackets Harbor and Kingston, where Chauncey added the newly completed schooner Sylph to his squadron. Meanwhile Yeo returned to the western end of Lake Ontario, where the two squadrons met on September 7 off the mouth of the Genesee River and began a five-day running engagement that failed to inflict significant damage on either side. Several times the Americans had the tactical advantage but their inexperience at squadron maneuvering kept them from acting decisively. Yeo returned to Kingston and received orders to escort British Army supply ships to the head of the lake. Before leaving he exchanged some carronades for newly arrived long guns, but he still was inferior to Chauncey in this capacity. The Americans, who had gone to Sackets Harbor, followed him westward. Shortly after sunrise on September 28 the two adversaries sighted one another southwest of York. At about 1300 hours the battle began, and the General Pike’s guns nearly dismasted Yeo’s flagship, the 77

David Curtis Skaggs

Wolfe. Before the Americans could close in for the kill, Captain William Mulcaster boldly brought the Royal George’s carronades against the Pike and allowed his commodore and the other Royal Navy vessels to escape in a pell-mell action known as the Burlington Races. Most commentators felt the American failure was the consequence of squadron tactical inexperience; however, no American vessel had a pilot with detailed knowledge of the bay’s deadly shoals. Never again would the two flotillas engage in combat; for the next 14 months the two sides engaged in a shipbuilder’s war and let the other dominate the lake when at a tactical disadvantage. Chauncey’s opportunity to replicate Perry’s Lake Erie immortality disappeared off the coast of Burlington Bay. But he did capture a convoy of supply vessels off the False Ducks (between Kingston and Sackets Harbor) that greatly increased his and his crews’ prize money as well as embarrassing Yeo. In a bit of irony, two of the four captured vessels were the Julia and Growler lost earlier.

The Upper St. Lawrence For the British and Canadians on the Great Lakes the upper St. Lawrence was the all-important and highly vulnerable logistical lifeline on which American commanders began to concentrate. These efforts began in mid-July when two New York militia officers took the gunboats Neptune and Essex into the river and captured the Spitfire and a flotilla of 15 bateaux bringing supplies to Kingston. They subsequently beat off a counterattack at Cranberry Creek and sailed their prizes into Sackets Harbor. This loss warned the British about the vulnerability of their lifeline and they subsequently devoted considerable resources to protecting their river convoys. But Secretary of War John Armstrong had bigger plans for the United States military in the St. Lawrence Valley. Instead of focusing on Kingston, the effort eventually concentrated on Montreal and employed most of Chauncey’s smaller vessels to transport, protect, and supply a 6,000-soldier expedition down the river. Commanded by Major General James Wilkinson, the campaign began on October 30 in the midst of seasonally bad weather. Yeo sent Captain Mulcaster with a squadron of the schooners Lord Beresford and Sir Sydney Smith, two sloops, seven gunboats, and bateaux to attack the U.S. Army troops and vessels at French Creek (modern Clayton, New York), but the Americans repulsed them with effective artillery fire. Meanwhile, fearing that the British would bottle his squadron in the river by fortifying Wolfe Island at the river’s headwaters and afraid of having it caught in the ice in the Thousand Islands, Chauncey withdrew General Pike and Sylph leaving only gunboats and bateaux to accompany the U.S. Army. Unimpeded by any U.S. Navy firepower, Mulcaster’s vessels’ fire support assisted the British Army in its victory at Crysler’s Farm on November 11. Even so, the Americans ran the Long Sault Rapids and were now only 70 miles from Montreal. However, Wilkinson became discouraged and his exhausted soldiers withdrew to French Mills, New York. The St. Lawrence campaign came to its inglorious termination.

Lake Champlain, 1813 As both sides focused on the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie fronts, the traditional invasion route via Lake Champlain remained relatively neglected throughout the war’s second year. Macdonough took his inadequate five-vessel squadron (two gunboats and three former merchantmen) to Whitehall, New York, for the winter of 1812–13 where they were repaired, redecked, and rearmed. In the spring he sailed down the lake with the sloops President (12 guns), Growler and Eagle (11 guns each) plus three gunboats. This flotilla provided him naval superiority against the British who only had three gunboats (2 guns each) on the upper Richelieu River. An insubordinate Lieutenant Sidney Smith altered the situation in early June when he disobeyed Macdonough’s standing instructions and sailed down the Richelieu, where he lost the Growler and Eagle to gunboats and ground troops in the narrow channel. 78

The War on the Lakes

Renaming the captured vessels Shannon and Broke and joining with them the gunboats and 47 bateaux carrying about 1,000 British troops, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Murray, the British mounted a raid along the New York shoreline as far south as Plattsburgh. Macdonough withdrew to Burlington, Vermont, where under the protection of American ground forces he saved his remaining vessels. So long as there was no resistance, the British mostly destroyed government property and captured a few merchant sloops. Murray’s raid initiated a shipbuilding race by both sides at which Americans were more capable. When Macdonough learned the British at Île aux Noix were building a 16-gun brig—the Linnet—he secured permission to construct a 26-gun ship, the Saratoga, and a 17-gun schooner, the Ticonderoga. The British made no serious effort to match this ratcheting up of squadron size and relinquished naval superiority to the United States in the last few weeks of summer and the fall season.

The Upper Lakes: 1814 If 1813 saw a decisive victory for the United States on Lake Erie, 1814 witnessed a failed American offensive on Lake Huron and a limited British counterattack on both lakes. By the end of the year, the situation remained much the same as it had been at the beginning. Central to all the naval effort was the fur-trading schooner Nancy, her captain, and her crew. In 1812 she became His Majesty’s Schooner Nancy, and, armed with several light cannons, she participated in the capture of Detroit. She did not serve in the Battle of Lake Erie and narrowly escaped capture before entering Lake Huron and spending the winter at Sault Ste. Marie. Although she was the only warship on the lake, her primary purpose was the transportation of troops and supplies between southern Georgian Bay and Fort Michilimackinac. That post was a rallying point for native Americans loyal to the British and a conduit through which supplies went as far west as Prairie du Chien at the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Needless to say, the recapture of Fort Michilimackinac became the primary strategic objective of the United States in the upper Great Lakes. For this campaign the Navy Department sent Captain Arthur Sinclair, USN, with a separate command from that of Commodore Isaac Chauncey on Lake Ontario. Although a much more experienced officer than Oliver Hazard Perry, the arrogant Sinclair lacked tact when dealing with subordinates and a cooperative attitude when dealing with Army commanders. His military counterpart, 23-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Croghan, was an inexperienced commander of offensive forces with many misgivings about the success of the campaign. Sinclair took a squadron of Lake Erie veteran vessels including the Niagara and Lawrence, which became his flagship. They finally reached Lake Huron on July 12. The want of pilots kept Sinclair from a detailed reconnaissance of Georgian Bay. Then he sailed north to St. Joseph Island at the mouth of the St. Marys River where he left the abandoned fort and storehouses in ruins. An expedition up the river destroyed North West Company property at Sault Ste. Marie and thereby disrupted commerce into Lake Superior. Sinclair and Croghan then turned their attention to Mackinac Island. British Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall had about 140 regulars plus area militia and native allies amounting to approximately 650 officers and men. The Indians had just arrived in an armada of canoes. Sinclair landed approximately 800 U.S. soldiers at the northern end of the island where they were defeated in a bloody repulse on August 4–5. Sinclair refocused his attention on the Nancy. He found her up the Nottawasaga River in southern Georgian Bay and was about to capture her when her captain, Lieutenant Miller Worsley, RN, set her afire and escaped with his crew. Commodore Sinclair sailed most of the squadron into Lake Erie where he assisted in the Niagara campaign. On Lake Huron he left the Scorpion and Tigress to thwart resupply of Mackinac Island. This proved a difficult task for two less than competent commanders who faced the wiles and determination of voyageurs and native allies plus Lieutenant Worsley and his crew. The latter, with two bateaux and one canoe, sailed up Georgian Bay, through the North 79

David Curtis Skaggs

Channel, and rendezvoused with Colonel McDouall on Mackinac. From there the bold Worsley conducted a cutting out expedition that resulted in the capture of both the Tigress and Scorpion. Thus by early September the British had the only warships on Lake Huron and controlled an unimpeded supply route from Georgian Bay to Mackinac Island and Prairie du Chien. Sinclair had left the schooners Porcupine, Somers, and Ohio on Lake Erie. The first two of these assisted in a successful July 3 amphibious attack on the unfinished Fort Erie on the Canadian shore at the headwaters of the Niagara River. These vessels were supporting the American defense of the fort when on August 12 a British cutting out expedition captured the Somers and Ohio, which were moved down the river to the mouth of Chippawa Creek. Sinclair’s return to Lake Erie did not assist in either the fort’s defense or the American sortie from there in September. He subsequently withdrew to winter quarters at Erie, Pennsylvania, where he found the Caledonia severely damaged by a storm and subsequent fire. Combined with the losses on Lake Huron, Sinclair’s squadron lost five ships in a very unproductive season. Even so, the U.S. Navy dominated Lake Erie at the end of the year.

Shipbuilders’ War on Lake Ontario The Lake Ontario front witnessed a year of frenetic shipbuilding, little naval combat, and army-navy disputations that ended in a strategic stalemate. Here in the most decisive sector of the lake theater it was the axe, the adze, the plumb line, and the artificers’ skill that affected the outcome of naval operations more than commanders’ decisions and sailors’ actions. Neither Yeo nor Chauncey wanted to risk their squadrons where defeat meant that chances to regain superiority were negligible. The consequences of losing were enormous and affected not only naval superiority on Lake Ontario but also military operations and diplomatic negotiations. Neither commodore wanted to sail into battle without superiority in ships and firepower plus the weather gage. The demands for the construction of ever-larger vessels with heavier ordnance strained the logistical system of both nations and consequently limited military operations on the lake’s littoral. Outraged at Governor-General Prevost’s decision to withdraw from the attack on Sackets Harbor, Yeo pressed the Admiralty for an independent command. The Admiralty heeded Yeo’s request in January 1814. This divided command arrangement duplicated that of the United States and complicated coordination between His Majesty’s ground and naval forces in Canada. On both sides the lack of unified command required a unity of effort between service commanders that seldom reached the level exhibited by Harrison and Perry in 1813. The ship construction race began in the fall when hammers rang through the Kingston shipyard with the construction of the 58-gun frigate Prince Regent and the 40-gun Princess Charlotte. William Bell, newly arrived from Amherstburg after building the Detroit, supervised the first and John Goudie from Quebec built the second with workmen from Lower Canada. When Yeo learned that Chauncey raised the ante with matching vessels plus one, he immediately began agitating for a 102-gun lineof-battle ship to be built at Kingston. This great leviathan’s construction clogged up the logistical line from Montreal to Kingston with ordnance, rigging, anchors, and iron work that limited ground operations in the region. Designed by Bell and named St. Lawrence, she would not be completed until the sailing season was over and therefore had no naval impact on the 1814 campaign. During the period from 4 May, when its squadron sailed out of Kingston, until August 1 when Chauncey left Sackets Harbor, the Royal Navy dominated Lake Ontario. The principal British naval actions of the three-month naval superiority were blockading Sackets Harbor, attacking the American logistical weak link at Oswego, and attempting to capture supplies being sent to Chauncey’s home port. Until Eckford completed the Superior the blockade worked, but it reduced the support to the British Army that naval vessels could provide the Niagara theater. Considerable conflict arose between Prevost, the senior military commander, and Yeo, now Commander-in-Chief of His


The War on the Lakes

Majesty’s Ships and Vessels on the Lakes of Canada, as to what should be the combined objective. Prevost sought to avoid another repulse at Sackets Harbor; Yeo thought it the principal target on the lake. Prevost wanted the Royal Navy to support operations on the Niagara Peninsula; Yeo feared leaving Chauncey’s base and Kingston behind while on the western end of the lake. Above all, Yeo wanted a naval engagement with his opponent’s squadron while the British Army commanders stressed winning the ground battle. The compromise was an assault by infantrymen and Royal Marines at Oswego, May 5–6. The British seized significant U.S. Army supplies, but the naval ones were withdrawn 12 miles upstream and escaped capture. Stiff resistance by U.S. artillerymen and sailors inflicted 90 casualties on the British attackers. Shortly thereafter Americans resumed their shipments of ordnance and materiel along the lake coast from Oswego to Sackets Harbor. When the Royal Navy threatened their capture, Master Commandant Woolsey took his 18 bateaux up Sandy Creek and sought military protection from Sackets Harbor. On May 30, U.S. dragoons and marines along with Oneida warriors marched to his support and surrounded, killed, wounded, or captured over 200 Britons. It was a surprising and shocking setback for His Majesty’s troops. The first month of Yeo’s operations on the lake accomplished very little and left him embarrassed. Instead of renewing the blockade of Chauncey’s port, he began transporting and escorting reinforcements for the Niagara frontier, which took most of June. At Sackets Harbor Henry Eckford built the brigs Jefferson and Jones, with 20 guns apiece, and the frigates Mohawk and Superior with 42 and 58 guns respectively. Demonstrating his shipbuilding skills, the Mohawk slid into the basin at Sackets Harbor just 34 days after Eckford laid its keel. Utilizing the ordnance and materiel brought by Woolsey and sailors sent from the Atlantic coast, Chauncey sought to reassert American dominance of the lake. He saw his mission to engage Yeo’s squadron, not to assist the army at the head of the lake. Thus began a dispute between the two theater service commanders that replicated that of their opponents. In a sharply worded communiqué to Major General Jacob Brown he wrote: “the Secretary of the Navy has honored us with a higher destiny—we are intended to Seek and fight the Enemy’s fleet—this is the great purpose of the Government in creating this fleet and I shall not be diverted in my efforts to effectuate it by any Sinister attempts to render us subordinate to or an appendage of the Army.”2 Thus while Chauncey vainly sought to engage Yeo, the army fought on the Niagara Peninsula without the logistical and naval support the navy might have provided. In the British camp similar accusations of Royal Navy nonsupport of the ground forces flew back and forth among service heads while Yeo remained at Kingston in anticipation of the St. Lawrence’s completion. To assist in her construction he stripped men-of-war at Montreal of everything from cannons to clew garnets and had them transported up the St. Lawrence rapids to Kingston, thereby plugging up logistical support for the British Army in Upper Canada. But her completion came too late to impact the war on the Upper Canada-United States border. Over the winter Eckford began constructing two first rate ships to counter and exceed the firepower of the St. Lawrence. Finally, on July 31 Chauncey raised his flag on the Superior, with 58 guns, and sailed onto the lake with the Mohawk, Pike, Madison, Jefferson, Jones, Sylph, and the Oneida trailing. He drove the former merchant schooner Magnet on shore where her captain blew her up. Chauncey allowed the Jefferson, Sylph, and Oneida to remain off the Niagara’s mouth where they kept three British supply ships bottled up, which adversely affected British Army troops in the area. Meanwhile, Chauncey sailed eastward with most of his manpower and firepower. He tried to tempt Yeo into battle, but the Royal Navy commander awaited the St. Lawrence’s completion before engaging. American attempts to intercept British supply bateaux among the islands west of Kingston met with limited success. Criticism from Washington finally goaded Chauncey into transporting troops to the Niagara region before the St. Lawrence sailed. But they arrived too late to be decisive and by the end of the year


David Curtis Skaggs

the United States had made no inroads into Canada on any part of the Lake Ontario littoral. While stalemate was not what the British wanted or expected from their commanders, the result was that no territorial concessions had to be made at the war’s end.

Lake Champlain Theater Like the war on Lake Ontario, that on Lake Champlain became a war of dockyards as much as a war of warriors. Governor-General Prevost sought to shift the center of military operations to this traditional avenue of advance between the St. Lawrence and Hudson Valleys. A primary reason for this was the relative ease of logistical transportation from the St. Lawrence River to the lake that contrasted with the difficult and clogged route from Montreal to Lake Ontario. Additionally, Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst and His Majesty’s Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, wrote Prevost in early June that with new troops being sent from Europe he was “to commence offensive operations on the Enemy’s Frontier before the close of this Campaign.”3 One of those frontier objectives was a readjustment of the U.S.-Canadian border so that the St. Lawrence Valley could be better protected. Prevost determined that control of Plattsburgh, New York, would achieve this objective and therefore focused his operations in that direction. But he concluded that naval superiority on the lake was a prerequisite for the security of the logistical supply line necessary to support the ground troops. This placed him again in disagreement with Commodore Yeo, whose emphasis on Lake Ontario conflicted with Prevost’s new focus on Champlain. British renewed interest in Lake Champlain began when Governor-General Prevost authorized the construction of a 16-gun brig, the Linnet, at Île aux Noix. To counter this Macdonough received permission to construct a 26-gun ship, the Saratoga, and a 17-gun schooner, the Ticonderoga. The American shipyard at Vergennes, Vermont, was far more capable, and the leadership of shipwrights Noah and Adam Brown combined with their workmen accomplished far more than anything the Royal Navy achieved at the hastily built navy yard at Île aux Noix. Commander Daniel Pring, RN, conducted a brief sortie up the lake in early May, but the rapid completion of the new vessels allowed the United States to regain the advantage. The increased emphasis on this lake by Lord Bathurst and Prevost resulted in the British upping the ante by authorizing shipwright William Simmons to construct the 37-gun ship Confiance. Macdonough pleaded with the Navy Department for permission to counter with the construction of a brig which would provide him with near parity to the British. Pressed to authorize construction and provide manpower for Lake Ontario and the Atlantic, Secretary Jones only reluctantly agreed to build an 18-gun brig at Vergennes that would be named the Eagle. Under the experienced direction of Adam Brown, artificers frantically labored to counter the work at Île aux Noix begun two months earlier. In 19 days the hastily built vessel slid down the ways into Otter Creek. Again, American workmen had won the shipbuilding battle. For both sides there arose issues of raising officers and sailors to man the new vessels on Lake Champlain while both navies emphasized the Lake Ontario theater. Yeo’s losses at Oswego and Sandy Creek plus the demand for an exceptionally large crew for the St. Lawrence meant he delayed authorizing sufficient manpower from vessels at Quebec and Montreal for the Confiance. The addition of three new vessels to Macdonough’s squadron stretched the availability of trained seamen for his ships while demands elsewhere rose. Although he received a few sailors from New York and New England recruiters, Macdonough employed soldiers to augment his crews. Many of these had to be released from confinement to meet his manpower requirements. Finding competent officers willing to go to what most considered a secondary theater raised another issue. Commander Pring was obviously too inexperienced and too low ranking to command the increased size of the British squadron, and in June Captain Peter Fisher, RN, assumed command of the station with Pring commanding the Linnet. For reasons still unexplained, Yeo dismissed Fisher 82

The War on the Lakes

and sent Captain George Downie, RN, to replace him. Downie arrived on September 1 with the Confiance still unfinished and Prevost’s army crossing the international border. Yeo’s relief of Fisher had placed the responsibility for Lake Champlain’s naval command on an officer who was unfamiliar with Prevost and knew little of the tactical situation, the logistical complexities, the lake’s geography, and the officers and men of the squadron. On September 7 Prevost’s forces reached Plattsburgh and found themselves facing the Americans’ fortified positions south of the Saranac River. For the next three days they stalled as Prevost awaited Downie’s victory, which would eliminate his increasingly difficult and exposed overland supply route and make the American ground troops logistically vulnerable. Downie, on the other hand, found his flagship still unfinished, his crews drawn from the dregs of sailors from the St. Lawrence Valley vessels, and Prevost hounding him for action. Nonetheless, there was hubris from Sir George to Sir James, from Downie to the lowest seaman, and the widely held assumption that the Royal Navy could not lose. On the American side Macdonough faced similar but less pressing manpower issues. To command the Eagle he received Master Commander Robert Henley, USN, a controversial officer who had been passed over as Secretary Jones emphasized performance over seniority. Macdonough felt obliged to support the Army garrison in south Plattsburgh rather than run up the lake for safer anchorage. His biggest advantages were that he was able to train his gun crews before they went into combat and his knowledge of local geography for the emplacement of his squadron in Plattsburgh Bay. Consequently Macdonough decided to fight at anchor rather than engage in combat on the lake. This was not an unknown tactic for the age of fighting sail, but it was unusual and rarely successful. The American commander placed his vessels far enough eastward of Plattsburgh that no field artillery could reach his position. He stationed the Eagle closest to Cumberland Head with the Saratoga (his flagship), the Ticonderoga, and the Preble to the south. Macdonough also had ten gunboats, each mounted with light long guns. Each of the four largest vessels had their main anchor and kedge anchors tied to hawsers so that they might cant port or starboard as desired or wind the ship from starboard to port should the situation require. The American commander located his heavier vessels to the windward which gave them the weather gage and the better ability to maneuver should it be required. The wind on the bay side of Cumberland Head came out of the northwest thereby prohibiting Linnet from turning the American line from the north. Linnet and Eagle began an artillery duel at the northern end of the American line while Downie brought the Confiance into range. However, the loss of three anchors due to fire from the American vessels placed the British flagship at a disadvantage that would prove fatal later on. Two broadsides from the Confiance bloodied the Saratoga’s deck, killing her first lieutenant and several of the crew, but leaving Macdonough unscathed. As the Royal Navy commander stood behind one of his guns, an American shell hit the artillery piece throwing it off its carriage and crushing Downie. Less than 15 minutes into the battle, the British lost their commander and his first lieutenant couldn’t find the signal book, so Pring wasn’t notified that he now was the flotilla’s senior officer. The duel continued with such intensity that one Royal Marine veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar later said that Lord Nelson’s great victory was not as fiercely fought as this. To the south, the Ticonderoga fought off the dozen British gunboats, which withdrew from the action, and the Finch (formerly USS Eagle), which ran aground on a reef north of Crab Island and eventually surrendered. Few of the American and British gunboats became seriously engaged. Unexpectedly Henley withdrew the Eagle from her encounter with the Linnet and dropped anchor abaft of Saratoga. Saratoga now fought Confiance and Linnet with some assistance from the Ticonderoga. Macdonough found that his starboard guns were too damaged to fight, so in the most memorable action of the battle, he wound his vessel to present a fresh battery to the British and forced the Confiance and the Linnet to surrender. Unsupported by critical naval superiority on the lake, Prevost 83

David Curtis Skaggs

Figure 6.2 This sketch depicts the decisive moment in the Battle of Lake Champlain. Having wound around to bring fresh guns into play, USS Saratoga (in the center here) unleashes a powerful broadside against the British flagship, HMS Confiance (a little to the right), whose guns are in no position to respond. (Sketch by Dean Mosher. Courtesy of Dean Mosher Studio)

withdrew his army to Canada. The victory at Plattsburgh Bay was the most dramatic and decisive naval engagement of the War of 1812 on the lakes. When news of the American triumph reached London, the Duke of Wellington urged the British government to conclude a peace under status quo ante bellum terms which were accepted by American negotiators in the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814. With the British controlling Lake Huron, the Americans in command of Lakes Erie and Champlain, and Lake Ontario a naval stalemate, the war ended with the United States having credibility as a naval power on the North American lakes that matched that of the Mistress of the Seas. In hindsight it became apparent that American manpower, logistics, and construction capabilities could exceed those of its opponent. The British soon recognized this and both sides eventually agreed to naval disarmament on the lakes that helped bring two centuries of peace as these freshwater seas became part of the longest unfortified border in the world.

Research Opportunities Most of the combat research is well done, but numerous opportunities exist, especially regarding the failure of joint operations in the Lake Ontario theater. Both James Lucas Yeo’s and Isaac Chauncey’s careers need exploration with particular emphasis on their relations with military and political associates. Little serious research on logistics has been done. The logistical support systems and the geographic impediments to their success merit considerable research and analysis.


The War on the Lakes

Notes 1. Brock to Prevost, October 11, 1812, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. (Washington, DC, 1985–), 1:332. 2. Chauncey to Brown, August 10, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:585. 3. Bathurst to Prevost, June 3 1814, in J. Mackay Hitsman, The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (1965; updated, Toronto, 1999), 289–90.

Annotated Bibliography Allen, Robert S. His Majesty’s Indian Allies: British Indian Policy and the Defence of Canada, 1774 –1815. Toronto, 1992. Presents a highly sympathetic study from natives’ viewpoint of British-Indian relations in United States and Canada and the British failure to support native interests in Ghent treaty. Antal, Sandy. A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812. [Ottawa, Ont.], 1997. Provides a detailed review and defense of General Henry Procter’s conduct of the war in the Detroit region. Brodine, Charles E., Jr., Crawford, Michael J., and Hughes, Christine F. Against All Odds: U.S. Sailors in the War of 1812. Washington, DC, 2004. Crawford’s study of the tactics at Plattsburgh Bay is excellent. Crisman, Kevin J., ed. Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812. College Station, TX, 2014. Underwater archeological examination of the remains of 16 ships on the Great Lakes provides a reevaluation of construction techniques and freshwater warfare. Douglas, W. A. B., “The Anatomy of Naval Incompetence: The Provincial Marine in the Defense of Upper Canada before 1813.” Ontario History 71 (March 1979), 3–26. Shows why the British were ill-advised to rely on the Provincial Marine for naval security on the lakes. Dunnigan, Brian L. The British Army at Mackinac, 1812–1815. Reports in Mackinac History and Archaeology, No. 7. [Mackinac Island, MI], 1980. An authoritative summary of the British occupation of this critical outpost at the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Eckert, Edward K. The Navy Department in the War of 1812. Gainesville, FL, 1973. An authoritative study of the U.S. Navy Department’s role in the war. Gilpin, Alec. R. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. East Lansing, MI, 1958. An important study of the war in the region. Gough, Barry. Fighting Sail on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay: The War of 1812 and Its Aftermath. Annapolis, MD, 2002. A detailed account of the war on the upper lakes. Graves, Donald E. And All Their Glory Past: Fort Erie, Plattsburgh, and the Final Battles in the North, 1814. Montreal, 2013. Canada’s leading historian of the war provides numerous insights into the interaction of military and naval forces during the critical 1814 campaigns. Grodzinski, John R. Defender of Canada: Sir George Prevost and the War of 1812. Norman, OK, 2013. Presents a persuasive revisionist defense of Canadian Governor-General’s conduct in the war. Malconson, Robert. Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario. Toronto, 1998. The most thorough account of the naval struggle for the most strategically important of the Great Lakes. ———. Warships of the Lakes, 1754–1834. Annapolis, MD, 2001. A detailed list and description of the military vessels on the Great Lakes. ———. Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813. Montreal, 2008. This deeply researched and wellwritten account shows the mistakes made by both sides in the attack on Upper Canada’s capital. Riley, Jonathon. A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock. Montreal, 2011. Provides a thorough analysis of Upper Canada’s most audacious commander during the first year of the war. Skaggs, David Curtis and Altoff, Gerard T. A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812–1813. Annapolis, MD, 1997. A study of the Battle of Lake Erie. ——— and Nelson, Larry L., eds. The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754 –1814. East Lansing, MI, 2001. Argues that the struggle for control of the Great Lakes was nearly continuous from the French and Indian War through the War of 1812. ———. Thomas Macdonough: Master of Command in the Early U.S. Navy. Annapolis, MD, 2003. Provides a scholarly study of Macdonough’s career that argues that his victory at Plattsburgh Bay was the most important naval victory of the War of 1812. ———. Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage, and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy. Annapolis, MD, 2006. A revisionist inquiry into Perry’s whole career with a detailed analysis of the controversy with Jesse Duncan Elliott. ———. ed. The Battle of Lake Erie and Its Aftermath: A Reassessment. Kent, OH, 2013. Twelve authors examine the battle and its consequences for Native Americans and whites in the Old Northwest.


David Curtis Skaggs Skeen, C. Edward. John Armstrong, Jr., 1758–1843. Syracuse, NY, 1981. A detailed study of the controversial Secretary of War, 1813–14, that shows the impact of his decisions upon naval policy on the lakes. Willig, Timothy D. Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1815. Lincoln, NE, 2008. The most analytical of the studies of British policy towards native Americans in the Upper Great Lakes region. Zaslow, Morris, ed. The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812. Toronto, 1964. An illuminating collection of articles on the war’s role in the lakes region.


7 THE WAR IN THE CHESAPEAKE Christopher T. George

The Chesapeake Bay proved to be a significant arena of the war, particularly in 1814, the last full year of the conflict. The British conducted raids around the bay starting in the spring of 1813. Part of the reason for the raids, along with hurting the local economy was to try to force the Americans to move U.S. forces from the U.S.-Canadian border for the protection of the Federal capital. The Canadian provinces remained Britain’s major possession in North America. However, Secretary of War John Armstrong consistently refused to move troops to protect Washington during his entire tenure in office. He continued to deploy the better trained and more experienced American regulars up north even up to the British capture of Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Indeed, the capture of the nation’s capital by a foreign power remains an object lesson in military preparedness. The defense of Maryland and Virginia was left to the state militias except for U.S. Army regulars in forts around the bay, such as Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore harbor, Forts Severn and Madison on the Severn River at Annapolis, Fort Warburton (aka Fort Washington) on the Potomac River south of Alexandria, and Fort Norfolk guarding the city of Norfolk and access to the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Other U.S. Army regulars available for defense of the region were comprised of a few hundred new recruits, i.e., detachments of the 12th, 36th, and 38th Regiments. U.S. Marines and blockaded U.S. Navy sailors were also available to add steel to skittish state militiamen. But those regulars could not be everywhere, and in many locations around the bay, the local militia was the only force able to defend against repeated incursions by the enemy. Some areas, particularly in the southern bay, were hit time and again by the British, to the extent that the incursions helped encourage migration westward. When President Madison was told that the citizens of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, were unhappy at repeated British raids, the chief executive allegedly replied testily, “It cannot be expected that I can defend every man’s turnip patch.” Meanwhile, British Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, RN, a man whose name came to be treated with scorn by Americans due to his haughty nature and his repeated raids of looting and wonton vandalism, would write to his superiors about how his sailors and marines would chase the militia “into the woods.”1

An Unpopular War The opposition Federalist party vocally protested “Mr. Madison’s War” and said correctly that in the summer of 1812 the United States was not in a position to fight a war with an army of only 12,000 U.S. Army regulars and a navy comprising 16 warships, against the 584 vessels the Royal Navy 87

Figure 7.1 The Chesapeake Bay Theater. (William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

The War in the Chesapeake

could muster in the same year. Following the declaration of war, unrest occurred in such east coast cities as Norrisville, Pennsylvania, and Savannah, Georgia, where pro-war mobs attacked Federalist editors, forcing the newspapers to close. The worst rioting took place in Baltimore. On June 22, just four days after the declaration of war, a pro-war mob destroyed the offices of the Federal Republican on Gay Street. At the end of July, editor Alexander Contee Hanson, having printed the newspaper in Georgetown, attempted to distribute it from a house on South Charles Street aided by armed supporters. During the night, the pro-war mob gathered outside the house and threatened to blast the building with an artillery piece. Shots rang out from the house wounding several of the mob and killing a Frenchman, Dr. Thaddeus Gale. Mayor Edward Johnson and Brigadier General John Stricker persuaded the Federalists to surrender and be escorted to the city jail for their protection. During the night, the militia disappeared and the mob broke into the jail, brutalizing the Federalists, including Hanson and General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, hero of the Revolution and father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Hanson and Lee and others never fully recovered from their injuries. Another Revolutionary War hero, General James M. Lingan, was killed. Marylanders’ disgust at the riot would lead to the election in November 1812 of a Federalist governor, Levin Winder of Somerset County.2 Other Americans enthusiastically flocked to the colors. The Baltimore Volunteers, funded by a subscription among citizens, marched north to fight the British on the Canadian frontier. The Volunteers received ample recruits from the city and areas north of Baltimore. Commanded by Colonel William H. Winder, nephew of future Governor Winder, they would serve with distinction on the northern frontier in 1812–13, earning the nickname “The Baltimore Bloodhounds.”3 The Madison government issued “Letters of Marque” to captains of merchant ships to permit armed privateers to prey on British merchant shipping. In this way, the Americans developed a “private navy” to supplement the small U.S. Navy. Baltimore-based privateers were especially successful in the opening months of the war, and the city gained a reputation among the British of being a “nest of pirates.” Their losses to American privateers incensed British merchants and the insurance underwriters Lloyds, who complained about the losses to Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. Baltimoreborn Captain Joshua Barney, a veteran of the Continental Navy, having failed to get a commission in the U.S. Navy as the war started, was one of the more successful privateersmen. In the fall of 1812, as skipper of the privateer schooner Rossie (15 guns), Barney took a total of 18 prize ships, reportedly worth $1.5 million.4 To try to bottle up the American privateers and U.S. Navy vessels, the British government declared a blockade of the U.S. East Coast at the end of 1812. Beginning February 1813, the Chesapeake was sealed off by patrolling British warships operating out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, under the orders of Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, chief of the British North American naval station. While the results of the blockade were mixed, it was more successful with the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays than elsewhere by stopping American vessels escaping to sea except in bad weather. Among the vessels blockaded in the Chesapeake was the frigate USS Constellation (36 guns), which spent the war in the Elizabeth River, having failed to get to sea after being refitted. A number of Baltimore-owned privateers continued to operate out of ports such as Charleston where the blockade proved less effective.5

British Raids, Spring 1813 Royal warships began operations in the bay in February 1813 when they captured the privateer Lottery in Lynnhaven Bay and raided the Cape Henry lighthouse keeper’s smokehouse. The British used captured bay vessels such as sloops and schooners as “tenders” to operate in the shallow rivers of the bay. The British ships of brig size and upward needed deeper water to operate, and the invaders used these tenders and row barges to reach shore to forage or attack communities around the bay. 89

Christopher T. George

Admiral Cockburn, in command of HMS Maidstone (74 guns), arrived in the Chesapeake in March 1813 to superintend British operations. On April 29, British barges manned by sailors and marines attacked Frenchtown on the Elk River, an important transshipment point between Baltimore and Philadelphia. The militia fled although some wagon drivers tried to hold off the invaders before they also retreated, with few if any casualties. While anchored off Specutie Island, the British saw American colors raised above a gun battery at Havre de Grace at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and a gun fired in defiance. Cockburn ordered a dawn attack on May 3. The militia fled as the British barges bombarded the battery. Two thirds of the town of 60 houses was burned. One overage volunteer, Irishman Third Lieutenant John O’Neill, was captured along with five other militiamen, but they were subsequently paroled after a committee of the town’s magistrates accompanied by O’Neill’s daughter pleaded for their release. In his account of the action at Havre de Grace, the brave Irishman told how he stayed alone in the battery serving a cannon as the other volunteers fled. He continued to load and fire the gun even after he was injured when the wheel of the artillery piece ran over his thigh. In the brief battle for the town, except for an American civilian named Webster who was killed by a Congreve rocket, injuries were minor on both sides.6 One eyewitness, the Reverend James Jones Wilmer, noted that the British even vandalized St. John’s Episcopal Church as well as robbed citizens. He estimated property losses in the town at $50,000. The British abuses at Havre de Grace would be the talk of the American press for weeks afterward and provided propaganda for pro-Madison administration journals such as Baltimore’s Niles Weekly Register. The British fiery destruction at Havre de Grace and likewise the subsequent May 5 conflagration at the twin towns of Georgetown and Fredericktown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were less important militarily than they were in frightening the population and applying psychological pressure on the federal government. But Cockburn did hit one important military target after Havre de Grace: he and his men destroyed a cannon factory at Principio Furnace, Cecil County. Samuel Hughes’s foundry had supplied guns to the U.S. Navy in the opening months of the war.7

The Norfolk Campaign In early June 1813, for land operations in the Chesapeake, Admirals Warren and Cockburn received 2,000 troops. The troops comprised the 102nd Regiment of Foot under Colonel Sir Sidney Beckwith, two battalions of Royal Marines, and several companies of soldiers termed “Independent Companies of Foreigners.” These latter men, which Beckwith dubbed misleadingly “Canadian Chasseurs,” were French prisoners of war who had been promised land in Canada if they fought for the British. The initial targets for the bulked-up British force would be Norfolk, the Navy Yard at Portsmouth, and USS Constellation, all in the Elizabeth River. Cockburn had tried unsuccessfully to capture or destroy Constellation in March. Now, with the land troops, the Admirals’ plans looked to be attainable. Opposing the British would be Virginia militia commanded by Brigadier General Robert B. Taylor, a Federalist lawyer who headed up the Norfolk military district; the crew of USS Constellation under the temporary command of Master Commandant Joseph Tarbell; and a number of gunboats deployed in the river. Taylor’s militia and Tarbell’s sailors manned a battery of artillery on the north side of Craney Island at the mouth of the river to try to stop the British from achieving their objective. At daylight on June 22, the 102nd Regiment under Beckwith and Napier landed several miles to the west of Craney Island and marched toward the island. However, they found that the tide was in so they could not wade across the Thoroughfare, a stretch of water that lay between the island and the mainland. Moreover, the Redcoats came under withering fire from the American artillery. A British barge attack similarly failed when the barges grounded on mudbanks and came under destructive fire from the Americans’ battery. The French troops claimed that some of their number aboard a British barge were massacred by the Americans when they tried to surrender. The Americans reported no casualties while the British lost at least 16 men killed and 62 missing. Muster rolls for the companies 90

The War in the Chesapeake

of Frenchmen reported 42 missing, possibly mostly deserters. In writing to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, Captain John Cassin especially commended Constellation’s crew for their skill in firing their naval 18-pounder. He said the sailors “fired their [gun] more like riflemen than Artillerists, I never seen such shooting and seriously believe they saved the Island yesterday.”8 Three days later, the British attacked Hampton across the James River. A joint force of Royal Marines under Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams and soldiers of the 102nd Foot under Beckwith landed two miles west of the town. The troops advanced toward Hampton while barges commanded by Cockburn attacked a militia camp at the Little England plantation. Major Stapleton Crutchfield of the Virginia militia later reported to Governor James Barbour that Captain B. W. Pryor initially repelled the British advance “in a manner worthy of veteran troops.” Confused fighting took place in the woods. The fighting did not last long, and the militia were soon in full flight through Hampton and north toward Yorktown. The British captured Pryor’s battery but not before the artillerymen spiked their guns. The British reported five men killed, 33 wounded, and 10 men missing in action. Militia losses were seven men killed, 12 wounded, and 11 missing.9 The citizens of Hampton mostly fled during the battle. The French troops went on a rampage in revenge for the alleged massacre of their comrades off Craney Island. The Frenchmen and possibly some members of the 102nd Foot looted and burned much of the town and raped some women. They also killed a bedridden man named Kirby and shot his wife in the hip while trying to kill a dog. Although Beckwith initially praised the actions of the French troops, the British commander was forced in later correspondence with General Taylor to admit that all the alleged outrages had indeed taken place. The incident added grist to the mill of the propaganda campaign of the pro-war American press and not incidentally helped give steel to the resolve of patriotic Americans to resist the rapacious British.10 On July 4, privateer captain Joshua Barney, angered at the enemy raids that were occurring with seeming impunity, suggested to Secretary of the Navy William Jones a flotilla of small vessels to combat the British. His aim was to use up to a score of row barges and vessels with lateen sails, each armed with a “Long Tom” artillery piece in the bow, along with gunboats to fight and harass the British raiders. The Secretary accepted the veteran sailor’s proposal and bestowed on Barney the rank of commodore in the U.S. Navy in command of the “Chesapeake Bay Flotilla.” Barney’s proposal was unique in that it was the only offensive American plan to be suggested for defense of the Chesapeake in the first two years of the war. It would take the fall and winter of 1813–14, and much of spring to obtain existing vessels and construct new vessels in the shipyards of Fells Point, Baltimore, and St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Another problem was to try to recruit the necessary crews for the vessels—Barney’s recruiters were competing for men with the U.S. navy and army and the state militia.11 In mid-July, the British conducted operations on the coast of North Carolina to try to interdict or damage overland commerce between the coast and Norfolk. During this activity, they captured the Philadelphia schooner Atlas, which they renamed HMS St. Lawrence. On August 9, after ordering a brief naval probe up the Potomac River toward Washington, Warren established a temporary base on Kent Island, midway up the bay, close to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The base meant that the British could threaten both Baltimore and the state capital, Annapolis, which lay directly across from the island. However, the British commander had another, more practical aim. Scurvy had broken out among the troops, and the base would allow the British to forage for fresh provisions from nearby farms and towns. As elsewhere, the local people would be given worthless “scrip” for their goods. To guard the base, the invaders erected a battery at the Narrows to defend against American attack.12 The British planned a raid on the shipbuilding port of St. Michaels some ten miles to the south of the island. Embarking 300 troops in cutters and barges, they planned a predawn attack to catch the local Maryland militia under Brigadier General Perry Benson off guard. The primary defense for the town was a four-gun battery on Parrott Point under Lieutenant William Dodson. On the town 91

Christopher T. George

wharves stood a two-gun battery, while on Mill Point the Easton Artillery also maintained a two-gun battery. In the predawn darkness of August 10, the British barges approached Parrott Point. The invaders got within 30 yards of the battery before being detected. Dodson managed to fire at least one of his guns. However, the attackers quickly overran the battery and the militiamen fled toward the town. The British turned their fire on the Easton Artillery emplacement on Mill Point. They then destroyed the main battery. Whether the British were aware that vessels for Barney’s flotilla were being built in the town is not clear. On seeing no boats in the harbor to capture or burn, the raiding party decided to return to Kent Island without causing any further harm to the town. This would appear to have been a clear intelligence failure, to not burn the shipyards of St. Michaels when they had the chance. The Maryland militia claimed it inflicted 29 casualties on the British, but Commander Henry L. Baker of the British sloop HMS Conflict reported to Warren only two seamen wounded. The Americans reported no losses.13 A popular modern tale told about St. Michaels is that it is “the town that fooled the British.” The story goes that the Americans hung lanterns in the trees to make the British shoot high. However, modern research shows that the story dates no further back than the 1870s and was unknown at the time of the war. Indeed, perhaps proof that the story is a case of later myth-making is that militia commander Benson noted that some St. Michaels houses were struck by cannonballs, which puts paid to the notion that the British fired high.14 In the early morning hours of August 13, Colonel Beckwith and the 102nd Foot and Royal Marines under Lieutenant Colonel Williams tried to attack an encampment of Queen Anne County 38th Regiment of militia near Queenstown, not far from Kent Island. The regiment comprised 244 men under Major William H. Nicholson. Nicholson was aroused by a cavalry scout and told that a large body of enemy troops had crossed the Narrows and was headed toward the town. On encountering an American picket guard, the British advance guard fired at the Americans. Nicholson immediately ordered his men to prepare to resist the enemy. The militia commander had earlier placed two companies of infantry on the neck of land that separated his camp from the Narrows but became concerned about his advanced guard under Captain James Massey. Around 4:00 a.m., another scout informed Nicholson that British barges had entered Queen Anne’s Creek and were coming ashore at Bowlingly plantation on the outskirts of the town. Fortunately for the Americans, the barges had earlier mistakenly landed at the wrong plantation across the creek. The delay in the amphibious attack enabled Nicholson to order the majority of his militia to withdraw to Centreville. Meanwhile, on the road from the Narrows to Queenstown, in the Battle of Slippery Hill, Captain Massey’s pickets shot and killed two British soldiers along with Colonel Beckwith’s horse. After looting homes in Queenstown, the British withdrew to Kent Island. The British would completely withdraw from the island by the last week of August with hurricane season approaching. British operations were over for the year except for another brief foray against St. Michaels on August 26. Warren and Cockburn withdrew from the bay except for the vessels needed to maintain the blockade.15

Barney’s Flotilla In late 1813 and early 1814, stories appeared in the U.S. press about a massive British army of 10,000 to 20,000 troops that would be sent to the Chesapeake to drub the annoying Americans into submission. The American newspapers were copying similar stories that appeared in British newspapers. It was widely believed in London that the British high command would turn its attention on North America now that the Duke of Wellington had the French on the run. Napoleon’s troops had been forced out of the Iberian peninsula, and by early 1814 battles were being fought in southern France. Shortly thereafter, with the deposed French emperor in allied hands and sent to his first exile on Elba, 92

The War in the Chesapeake

it was widely expected in the United States that the feared large army was about to be sent to North America, possibly under Lieutenant General Sir Rowland Hill. Reportedly, the army would have a number of divisions commanded by junior generals and under Hill’s overall command. In the spring of 1814, the British would also appoint a more aggressive commander as head of the North American naval station when Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane replaced Warren. The aristocratic Scotsman had an inveterate hatred of the Americans, perhaps because his elder brother had been killed at Yorktown in 1781. On April 2, Cochrane issued a proclamation offering land in British territories to any African-American slaves who sought their freedom with the British. This followed a pattern that had developed since the spring of the previous year as escaped slaves fled to the invaders. The proclamation made official the so far unspoken British policy of ensuring freedom from slavery for such refugees. Cochrane’s proclamation was printed in American newspapers. On Tangier Island, Virginia, in the southern bay, the British trained around 200 male former slaves as “Colonial Marines.” The unit would fight with distinction in engagements from May onward. In total an estimated 3,400 former Chesapeake Bay slaves—men, women, and children—were transported out of the bay by the British during the course of, or after the war. The British policy of aiding escaped slaves was not for humanitarian purposes but rather to hurt the economy of the region which was dependent on slave labor, particularly in rural areas around the bay. The thought that the British were actively training and arming slaves, transporting thousands out, and refusing to return the former slaves angered the Americans. The issue of the slaves taken from the United States would remain unsettled during the war and for years afterward. (It was not until 1826 that the Treaty of St. Petersburg finally settled issues not addressed by the Treaty of Ghent, including making sure that American slave owners received restitution at fair market value for each slave taken by the invaders.) Neither could the British claim the moral high ground given that slavery was still tolerated in the West Indies. The Americans also accused Cochrane of selling some of the former American slaves back into slavery in the Caribbean, an accusation he strongly denied.16 Against this backdrop, Barney’s flotilla was at last ready to give battle to the British and to try to interdict their infernal raiding around the bay. At the end of May, the flotilla of 18 small warships left Baltimore and began to sail toward the southern bay. Sailing along with the flotilla were a number of merchant vessels whose captains thought the flotilla might give them cover to try to get past the British blockade. The first target for Barney appears to have been the British fort on Tangier Island. By June 1, the flotilla made it as far south as just north of the mouth of the Potomac where it anchored. An American lookout spotted the schooner HMS St. Lawrence (13 guns) and a tender from HMS Dragon (74 guns). The two vessels and some British barges were reconnoitering St. Jerome’s Creek. Sensing blood, Barney ordered the flotilla to immediately attack the enemy vessels. Wary of the American force, St. Lawrence and the other vessels fled southward. Barney continued the chase but then his lookout raised the alarm that the big ship of the line, the Dragon, commanded by Captain Robert Barrie, RN, was coming up the bay. As the warship approached, Barney knew his mosquito fleet was no match. It was thus the Americans’ time to turn tail and seek refuge. Entering the Patuxent River and subject to contrary winds, the flotilla was forced into St. Leonard’s Creek, a shallow tributary of the river. Barney would fight two battles with the British in the creek on June 10 and 26. On the evening of June 9, the British tried to attack the flotilla with 20 barges supported by a rocket boat and two schooners. Barrie’s plan was to lure the flotilla within gun range of their bigger warships. Barney refused to be tempted; he kept the flotilla in the creek, which was too shallow for the British ships to enter. In support of the flotilla were local militia, Colonel Henry Carberry’s U.S. Army 36th Regiment, and a detachment of 110 U.S. Marines under the command of Captain Samuel Miller. On June 10, at around 2:00 p.m., in the first Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek, Barney counterattacked. The American flotilla initially drove the British barges back toward the entrance of the creek. St. Lawrence got stuck on a shoal and became the target of the American fire, which left the vessel heavily 93

Figure 7.2 The Potomac and Patuxent Rivers. (William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command)

The War in the Chesapeake

damaged. Yet once Barrie landed Royal Marines on the east bank of the creek, Barney withdrew to the safety of the headwaters of the creek near St. Leonard’s Town. The first battle of St. Leonard’s Creek was a draw, and Barney had not lost a man. Secretary of War Armstrong reinforced Carberry’s 36th U.S. Infantry Regiment with a battalion from the 38th U.S. Infantry. Colonel Decius Wadsworth, the U.S. Army’s Commissary General of Ordnance, proposed establishment of land batteries on the western bluff overlooking the creek.17 To distract American attention, Barrie conducted raids up and down the Patuxent while keeping the flotilla penned in the creek. Cockburn sent Barrie the frigate HMS Narcissus (32 guns). On June 24, Barney held a council of war with Wadsworth and Miller. Wadsworth would place two 18-pounders in an earthwork fort overlooking the entrance to the creek. Plans were also made for a furnace to heat shot. Meanwhile, 260 more regulars of the 38th U.S. Infantry under the command of Major George Keyser arrived. The new troops were placed under Colonel Carberry and deployed behind Wadsworth’s battery. Twenty flotilla sailors under Sailing Master John Geoghegan would help work Colonel Wadsworth’s guns. Miller’s marines would man three 12-pounder fieldpieces. Once preparations were complete, Wadsworth, coordinating with Barney, was to open fire on the British blockade force while the flotilla would simultaneously attack the British by water.18 By 3:00 a.m. on June 26, plans seemed to be coming together for the second Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek; however, Wadsworth informed Barney that the artillery was not ready. Frustrated, Barney and the flotilla remained some distance from the mouth of the creek and awaited further word. Just before dawn, Barney was startled to hear the American artillery open fire on the British vessels. The flotilla was nowhere near where it was supposed to be to attack the enemy. Moreover, his sailors would have an exhausting 45-minute row to close with the British. The good news was that the enemy had been caught by surprise. Due to the absence of Captain Barrie, Captain Thomas Brown of the Loire was in command. The cannonballs fired by Wadsworth and Miller’s batteries rained down toward the British ships, although the American fire from the bluff was mostly ineffectual in hitting the enemy vessels. Although Brown poured fire at the American batteries he failed to dislodge them. He sent barges with Royal Marines along with a rocket boat up the Patuxent to try to outflank the U.S. positions. Geoghegan’s second-in-command, Lieutenant William Carter, lost an arm while loading a heated shot that caused his gun to prematurely fire.19 The flotilla finally reached the mouth of the creek and opened fire on Brown’s ships at close range. Because Barney was late and the British ships were not concerned about the land batteries, Brown was able to direct his guns on Barney’s flotilla. The flotillamen kept up a heavy fire, hitting Loire at least 15 times and also heavily damaging Narcissus. Grapeshot and canister flew back and forth between the foes. The British ships dropped downriver to fire broadsides at the American barges. The stout oak bulwarks of the British vessels provided better protection than Barney’s light vessels, which sustained considerable damage. Barney needed to assess the damage to his barges and temporarily retired three quarters of a mile up the creek. At about the same time, Brown retired south of the creek to carry out repairs to his own vessels. As the British did so, Barney’s men noticed a number of the British sailors working their vessels’ pumps to keep afloat. By good fortune, as Brown reached his new position, the wind died and the way was clear for the flotilla to escape from the creek. Later, in a letter to his brother in Baltimore, Barney stated “thanks to hot & cold shot the blockade has been raised.” Barney had indeed escaped St. Leonard’s Creek, but he was still blockaded in the Patuxent, caught like a rat in a trap.20 And worse would come for the Americans. Although the huge army under Lord Hill would not be coming, 4,000 troops under Major General Robert Ross would shortly arrive in the Patuxent in mid-August. Ross and his troops had been traversing the ocean since leaving the Garonne in southern France at the end of May. The Irish-born Ross had proved himself to be a capable and fearless brigade commander under Wellington. Although only recently recovered from a neck wound incurred at the Battle of Orthes on February 27, 1814, he was the best commander that could be found for 95

Christopher T. George

this smaller than expected expeditionary force after more senior commanders, tired after fighting the French for decades, turned the job down. Ross felt it to be an honor and a duty he could not turn down. He would have at his disposal four British regiments: the 4th, 21st, 44th, and 85th Regiments of Foot, the latter a light infantry regiment that would lead the advance.

Attack on Washington, D.C. Cockburn, commanding a squadron of light vessels, pursued Barney’s flotilla up the Patuxent toward the headwaters of the river northeast of Upper Marlboro, while the British army under Ross landed at Benedict on August 19. Ross was supposed to stay close to the Patuxent and not venture too far inland. The first objective was to support Cockburn in the effort to capture or destroy Barney’s flotilla. Vice Admiral Cochrane, braggardly when he thought he was going to get a huge body of troops to give the Americans the drubbing they deserved, had grown cautious with the small 4,000-man army that had arrived with Ross. He issued no orders to attack the American capital and was probably as surprised as anybody days later to learn that Ross’s army had routed an American army and burned the public buildings of the American capital. On August 22, as the Redcoats neared Upper Marlboro, they heard heavy explosions in the distance. The flotilla crews, on the orders of Secretary of the Navy Jones, were blowing up the flotilla to prevent its capture. Ross took as his headquarters in Upper Marlboro the home of elderly Dr. William Beanes on Academy Hill. Beanes was party to an agreement between the town elders and the invaders under which the British promised no harm to the town if the people of Upper Marlboro acted with neutrality. On a personal basis, Ross and his officers gained the impression that Beanes seemed to be sympathetic to their cause and was in fact a pro-British Federalist. It was thus a shock to the general when, after the sack of Washington, Beanes arrested some British stragglers. This hostile act was seen as an act of treachery by the British commander, the breaking of a gentlemen’s agreement, and Ross ordered the elderly physician’s arrest. Beanes’s act would ultimately lead to the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. The Georgetown lawyer and U.S. Agent for Prisoner Exchange John S. Skinner sailed out to the British fleet near Tangier Island and were made to stay with the fleet during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, so as not to warn the Americans of the attack. At Long Old Fields, west of Upper Marlboro, General William H. Winder, the new commander of the 10th Military District, which was established for the defense of the capital, attempted to rally what troops he could to defend against the invaders. Weeks earlier, Secretary Armstrong had issued a general call-up for 93,000 militiamen. Of this number, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were expected to provide 12,000, 6,000, and 14,000 men, respectively. Yet it would take weeks to mobilize such numbers of troops even if Winder had access to them. It was too late to raise that many troops. Moreover, Pennsylvania was in the process of reorganizing its militia so no troops were available from that state. In the end, Winder had available around 6,200 troops, mostly Maryland, Georgetown, and District of Columbia militiamen and about 500 newly recruited U.S. Army regulars. The general, a successful Baltimore lawyer in peacetime, was confused about whether the British intended to strike at Annapolis, Baltimore, or Washington. For his part, Secretary Armstrong remained adamant that the capital could not be a target.21 What the Americans did not know was that British plans also were uncertain. On August 23, the invaders quit Upper Marlboro and marched several miles west toward Washington, stopping to dine on the Melwood estate, before making camp at Centreville. Ross was joined by Cockburn who urged that having come this far, the army had to go on and attack the American capital. Cockburn’s lobbying was reinforced by Ross’s own deputy quartermaster general, Lieutenant George de Lacy Evans, who similarly argued for going on. The general agreed to do so, although, as he later wrote to his wife, he was acutely aware “of the consequences of failure.” Still, the army had experienced no opposition 96

The War in the Chesapeake

even though it had pushed considerably inland. They lacked cavalry to scout the situation up ahead, but since the American militia seemed to retreat as they came forward, there seemed to be no concerns. The 85th Light Infantry under Colonel William Thornton continued to lead the advance. Ross and his troops reached Bladensburg, northeast of the American capital around midday on August 24, a boiling hot summer day. The British knew the Anacostia River was fordable at that point and that the lower bridges on the river had been burned. For some reason, no one among the Americans thought to chop down or burn the narrow bridge at Bladensburg. The American cabinet was on the field, and prior to the British push over the bridge, President Madison almost rode over the bridge, not realizing the British were in the town. Ross surveyed the American lines across the river. He ordered an immediate attack. The British advance across the bridge pushed back the American riflemen and 5th Regiment of Maryland militia from Baltimore. Although the British incurred significant casualties at the bridge, they ran over their own dead and dying to reach the western bank and push toward the capital. Secretary of State James Monroe moved the 5th Maryland behind an orchard, unknown to Winder, which obstructed their view of the onrushing British. As the British began to win the day, supported by Congreve rockets and small artillery pieces, Winder made the mistake of telling the first American line to retreat along the Georgetown Road instead of falling back to join a second main American line around a mile further back by the Washington, D.C., line. There a gun battery manned by Commander Barney’s intrepid flotilla men along with artillery manned by Captain Miller’s detachment of U.S. Marines fought a last-ditch battle to stop the British capture of the American capital, causing significant casualties to the invaders, as Washington, D.C., militia and several hundred newly recruited regulars retreated. Barney was severely wounded in the thigh but was immediately paroled by the British who sent him to recuperate in Bladensburg. They honored the old sea dog for the “best fighting” they had that day. In all the British had 249 casualties, including 56 dead, while the Americans had 50 killed and wounded. The battle would later get the nickname “The Bladensburg Races” from an 1816 poem satirizing how the militia were fleet of foot in running from the advancing British.22 That evening the British entered Washington. It is often said that the public buildings of Washington were burned in retaliation for the April 1813 American burning of York, present-day Toronto, then the capital of Upper Canada. However, there is nothing in the British correspondence to say that was their aim. In a long testimonial that Cochrane sent to the American government a week after the capture of Washington, he listed a number of other places the Americans burned, such as Newark, today’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. The fact is that the American government had made no plans to surrender the city, and Mayor Blake and the city government had left as well as Madison and his cabinet. When shots rang out and Ross’s horse was shot out from under him, and several soldiers of the 4th Regiment of Foot were killed, this was seen by the British as a hostile act. The incident would lead directly to the burning of the Sewall mansion, from which it was thought the shots had come, and afterward the U.S. Capitol in case shots had come from there. That night, the White House would suffer the same fate, and next day the War and State departments and the Treasury department. The Americans themselves burned the Navy Yard and the long bridge over the Potomac. Captain James Alexander Gordon’s Royal Navy squadron on the Potomac was meant as a diversion to mask the movement of Ross’s troops and also to serve as a possible way for the Redcoats to be evacuated if necessary. Aiding the British probe up the river, a panicked Captain Samuel Dyson, U.S. Army, blew up Fort Washington, opposite Mount Vernon, as Gordon’s ships got near. Ross and his men stayed in Washington slightly more than a day and were already gone when Gordon forced the surrender of Alexandria and laid the city under contribution. Gordon’s squadron took away prize vessels, tobacco, flour, and sugar, emptying the warehouses of the city. The British squadron was then able to shrug off American attacks as it attempted to rejoin the main British fleet in the bay near Tangier Island in the first week of September. Waiting for Gordon’s squadron to return both delayed the British attack on Baltimore and enabled the Americans to better 97

Christopher T. George

prepare for the upcoming assault. They needed to wait for Gordon because he had four of the five bomb ships that would be needed to bombard Fort McHenry.23

Caulk’s Field and Baltimore Less successful than Gordon would be Captain Sir Peter Parker who was sent into the northern Chesapeake in another diversion to stop local militia from coming to the aid of Baltimore. Parker heard about a militia camp near Bel Air (present-day Fairlee) in Kent County and arranged a nighttime raid on the camp with about 200 sailors and marines in the early hours of August 30. The British may have been led by a former African-American slave who was a double agent. In any case, the British walked into a trap. Lieutenant Colonel Philip Reed, a Revolutionary War veteran, was waiting for the invaders at Caulk’s Field. In a brisk firefight, 13 British would die, including Parker, who was mortally wounded. The young baronet, a cousin of Lord Byron—who would write an elegy for the naval commander—bled to death from a deep thigh wound that severed his femoral artery. Reed’s militiamen, who were forced to leave the battlefield when they ran low on ammunition, only reported some minor wounds.24 Parker’s death depressed the spirits of the British before the Baltimore campaign got under way. On Sunday, September 11, the British fleet appeared off the mouth of the Patapsco River, and a signal cannon on Federal Hill followed by the city’s church bells sounded the alarm. The militia were called out. Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland militia had been confirmed as commander-in-chief in Baltimore by Governor Winder in preference to his nephew, Brigadier General William H. Winder of the U.S. Army who technically outranked Smith but was scorned for the debacle at Bladensburg. Smith had been preparing for such a British attack for over a year and correctly forecast that the British would land in Old Roads Bay on the east side of the Patapsco, where they found deep water anchorage for their troop ships. Starting at 3:00 a.m. on September 12, the British landed some 4,500 troops including a naval brigade of 500 sailors under Captain Edward Crofton, RN. Meanwhile, Ross and Cockburn pushed on ahead up the North Point Road leaving Colonel Arthur Brooke to superintend the disembarkation of the remaining troops. Again the lack of cavalry would be a liability, but the British expected the same easy march they had experienced to Bladensburg and no serious opposition until they neared the city of Baltimore. Ross and Cockburn questioned three captured militia dragoons who told the general that Baltimore was defended by around 20,000 militia. Ross reputedly declared that he “didn’t care if it rained militia” and that he would “sup dinner in Baltimore or in hell.” What the dragoons failed to reveal was that Brigadier General John Stricker had led a force of 3,200 militia down the peninsula the day before and was waiting at Bear Creek barely five miles up the road. In leading their advance from the Gorsuch farm, the British lacked key officers of the 85th Light Infantry who had been part of their advance into Bladensburg. These officers, including Colonel William Thornton, Major William Wood, and Major George Brown, had been severely wounded at Bladensburg and left there to recuperate. Ross was therefore in among the British advance as firing broke out between the British and a company of 5th Maryland militia and Aisquith Sharpshooters. He was suddenly struck by a lead ball that pierced both lungs. Local legend credits Ross’s mortal wounding to two teenage riflemen, Privates Henry Gough McComas, 18, and Daniel Wells, 19, but in truth it is not known who fired the fatal shot. Certain it was that the teenagers were killed near where Ross was wounded. Col. Arthur Brooke took over from the mortally wounded Ross, who would expire on a farm wagon as he was being transported back to the ships. Stricker arranged his militiamen at a choke point in the Patapsco Neck Peninsula in a line across North Point Road at the intersection with Trappe Road, with the 27th Regiment of Maryland Militia on the right of North Point Road and the 5th Regiment on the left. Colonel Brooke sent the 4th Regiment of Foot under


Figure 7.3

Map of Battle of North Point (Courtesy of the author)

Christopher T. George

Major Alured Faunce to attack the American left, and Stricker moved his less well-trained regiments, the 39th and 51st Regiments, to form a defensive angle to meet the oncoming Redcoats. Some of the 51st panicked as the British grew close and began a retreat, leading to some of the 39th doing likewise, much to Stricker’s distress. The 27th and 5th Regiments remained to trade fire with the British for about an hour before making an orderly retreat and taking a position at Worthington’s Mill close to the entrenchments on the eastern side of Baltimore City where about 16,000 militiamen and some Navy regulars awaited the nearer approach of the enemy. Stricker’s losses in the Battle of North Point were listed as 24 killed, 139 wounded, and 50 men captured. The British listed Major General Ross and 38 others killed, 251 wounded, and another 50 men missing. The Royal Navy unleashed a blistering 25-hour bombardment of star-shaped Fort McHenry on Whetstone Point at the entrance to Baltimore harbor, starting on the morning of September 13. Because both September 13 and 14 were stormy, a number of the British mortar shells either went long or short, or failed to explode because of wet fuses. In all, some 1,500 mortar shells were hurled at the star fort, and the commander, Major George Armistead, alone knew that the powder magazine was not bombproof. The magazine received one direct shot, but luckily it proved to be a dud. Because of this direct hit, Armistead ordered his men to roll the powder barrels out from the magazine and place them under the walls of the fort. Four men were killed during the bombardment, three alone when a direct hit slammed into the southwest bastion. Because the Royal Navy was unable to take Fort McHenry, Cochrane sent a note to Brooke implying that there were other objectives, meaning New Orleans or Rhode Island, and it was up to Brooke to decide whether to attack the city. The army commander was not prepared to try to attempt an attack without naval help. The defenses bristled with some 40 guns in a string of batteries. He wrote in his diary, “If I took the place, I should have been the greatest man in England. If I lost, my military character was gone for ever.” He decided to withdraw, and the Battle of Baltimore was essentially over. Although a naval barge attack on the night of September 13–14 would be carried out in favor of the army and possibly to land behind the fort if possible, Brooke by that point had already begun to withdraw, leaving the campfires burning as at Washington to mislead the Americans. The American defensive victory at Baltimore plus the almost simultaneous U.S. triumphs at Plattsburgh and on Lake Champlain made the British start to take peace negotiations in Ghent seriously. The two sides would agree to peace terms on Christmas Eve, 1814.25

Notes 1. Christopher T. George, Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay (Shippensburg, PA, 2000), 1–3. 2. Donald R. Hickey, 187 Things You Should Know about the War of 1812 (Baltimore, 2012), 12–13, 18; George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 14–20. 3. Scott S. Sheads, “Onward to Canada! Captain Stephen H. Moore and the First Baltimore Volunteers, 1812–1813,” War of 1812 Magazine 9 (May 2008), available online at Warof1812/2008/Issue9/c_BaltimoreVolunteers.html. Accessed July 4, 2014. 4. Hickey, 187 Things, 41. 5. Ibid., 68–71. 6. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 24–37. 7. Ibid. 8. Capt. John Cassin to Secretary of the Navy Jones, June 23, 1813, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1985–), 2:360; Letter from Com. Cassin to the Secretary of the Navy, 23 June 1813, in Baltimore Patriot, June 30, 1813. 9. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 50; Letter of Lt. Col. William Walker, 68th Regt., Virginia militia, in Baltimore Patriot, June 28, 1813. 10. Donald E. Graves, “‘Every horror was committed with impunity . . . and not a man was punished!’: Reflections on British Military Law and the Atrocities at Hampton in 1813,” War of 1812 Magazine 11 (June 2009). Available at Accessed August 22, 2014.


The War in the Chesapeake 11. Com. Joshua Barney to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, July 4, 1813, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 2:373–74. 12. Ibid., 2:381. 13. Lt. James Polkinghorne, RN, to Comdr. Henry L. Baker, RN, August 10, 1813, ibid., 2:381. 14. Ralph E. Eshelman, Scott S. Sheads, and Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland,Virginia, and the District of Columbia (Baltimore, 2012), 195. 15. Adm. Sir John B. Warren, RN, to John W. Croker, First Secretary of the Admiralty, August 23, 1813, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 2:382–83. 16. Christopher T. George, “Mirage of Freedom: African Americans in the War of 1812,” Maryland Historical Magazine 91 (1996). 427–50 (hereafter cited as MdHM); reprinted in MdHM 91 (2012), 37–55. Matthew Mason, “The Battle of the Slaveholding Liberators: Great Britain, the United States, and Slavery in the Early Nineteenth Century,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser. 59 (July 2002), 671–76. 17 Com. Joshua Barney to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, June 16, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:101–2. 18. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 76. 19. Ibid., 77. 20. Donald G. Shomette, Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812 (Baltimore, 2009), 154–55; Joshua Barney to Louis Barney, June 27, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:123–24. 21. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 91–92. 22. Ibid., 96–102. 23. See Patrick O’Neill, To Annoy or Destroy the Enemy: The Battle of the White House after the Burning of Washington (Burke, VA, 2014). 24. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, 115–22. 25. Ibid., 135–62.

Annotated Bibliography [Chamier, Frederick, R.N.] The Life of a Sailor by a Captain in the Navy. 2 vols. New York, 1833. The writer, a midshipman on HMS Menelaus in 1814, provides insightful observations of British Rear Admiral George Cockburn and the Battle of Caulk’s Field, August 30, 1814. Dudley, Wade G. Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 1812–1815. Annapolis, 2003. Good examination of the issues at stake in the British blockade of the Chesapeake from the spring of 1813 to early 1815. Dudley, William S., and Crawford, Michael J., eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. 4 vols. Washington, DC, 1985–. Provides invaluable transcriptions of British and American documents related to the War of 1812. Eshelman, Ralph E., and Kummerow, Burton K. In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake. Baltimore, 2012. A comprehensive rundown of War of 1812-associated actions and geographic locations around the Chesapeake Bay complete with fine illustrations by noted artists. Eshelman, Ralph E., Sheads, Scott S., and Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Baltimore, 2012. A detailed, informative catalogue of locations around the Chesapeake Bay that were touched upon in some way by the War of 1812. George, Christopher T. Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay. Shippensburg, PA, 2000. Rundown of the military actions in the bay during the War of 1812. [Gleig, G. R.]. A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army at Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Philadelphia, 1821. George R. Gleig, a second lieutenant of the British 85th Regiment of Foot, remains a significant British observer of the British attacks on Washington and Baltimore of 1814. Graves, Donald E. “‘Every horror was committed with impunity . . . and not a man was punished!’: Reflections on British Military Law and the Atrocities at Hampton in 1813.” The War of 1812 Magazine 11 (June 2009). Available at Accessed August 22, 2014. Useful reflections by a leading Canadian military historian on British atrocities at Hampton, Virginia. Hickey, Donald R. 187 Things You Should Know about the War of 1812. Baltimore, 2012. Good rundown of the essential facts about the War of 1812. Lord, Walter. The Dawn’s Early Light. New York, 1972. A well-written “You are there” approach to the Washington–Baltimore campaign of 1814. Lossing, Benson J. Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812. New York, 1868. An old text which contains some errors but also some valuable information about locations in the Chesapeake affected by the War of 1812.


Christopher T. George Marine, William M. The British Invasion of Maryland 1812–1813. Baltimore, 1913. Contains period accounts, letters, and reminiscences about the war as well as a valuable genealogical index of War of 1812 combatants from Maryland. O’Neill, Patrick. To Annoy or Destroy the Enemy, The Battle of the White House after the Burning of Washington. Burke, VA, 2014. The author has produced a valuable, detailed examination of a less well-known aspect of the 1814 campaign in the Chesapeake. Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington. Annapolis, 2000. Well-written account of events leading up to the 1814 defense of Washington, D.C., the British victory at Bladensburg, the burning of the capital’s public buildings, and the American defensive victory at Baltimore three weeks later. Sheads, Scott S. The Rockets’ Red Glare: The Maritime Defense of Baltimore in 1814. Centreville, MD, 1986. Provides a detailed description of the defense of the city from a maritime perspective. ———. The Chesapeake Campaigns 1813–15: Middle Ground of the War of 1812. London, 2012. Worthwhile summary of military actions in the Chesapeake during the war with excellent illustrations by a British military artist. Shomette, Donald G. Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812. Baltimore, 2009. A history of Commander Joshua Barney’s Chesapeake Bay Flotilla and the key role it played in opposing the British Royal Navy in the summer 1814. Snow, Peter. When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington. London, 2013. Well-written account by a British veteran broadcaster and military historian. Vogel, Steve. Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation. New York, 2013. A “You are there” approach to the events of 1814 at Washington and Baltimore to create an entertaining narrative and bring the events to life for the modern reader. Whitehorne, Joseph A. The Battle for Baltimore 1814. Baltimore, 1997. Decent account of the 1814 defenses of Washington and Baltimore which also covers occurrences in 1812–1813 and 1815.


8 WAR ON THE GULF COAST American Ascendancy and the New Order Gene Allen Smith

The War of 1812 does not have a clear winner, and as a result historians have debated the conflict’s outcome for nearly two centuries. Canadian historian Wesley Turner suggested that both the United States and Britain won the war, while Henry Adams came close to suggesting that both sides lost. Most historians, however, have taken a middle position, arguing that the war actually ended in a draw. Yet the fighting along the Gulf Coast ended in a clear U.S. victory with the young republic in the ascendency. By the time the fighting had concluded, American forces had defeated the Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend, Spanish forces in Pensacola, Florida, the British Navy at Fort Bowyer, and Britishtrained Peninsula veterans at New Orleans. As Sylvia L. Hilton and I showed in Nexus of Empire: Negotiating Loyalty and Identity in the Revolutionary Borderlands, 1760s–1820s, the United States also had solidified its hold over Louisiana by incorporating the French and Spanish inhabitants into American society; broken Native American power in the Southeast and forced the Indians to agree to a treaty that relinquished millions of acres of territory; exposed Spanish weaknesses that resulted by 1821 in the American acquisition of the Florida peninsula; and reinforced the institution of slavery by suppressing insurrections, demanding the British return of black refugees, and destroying the British-built, British-provisioned Negro Fort on the Apalachicola River. By the time the fighting ended, the United States had asserted unquestioned federal control over all lands between Mobile Bay and the Sabine River, and within six years would secure the entire Florida Peninsula. So while War of 1812 historian Donald R. Hickey has maintained in Don’t Give Up the Ship! that the United States lost the War of 1812, this was surely not the case along the Gulf Coast. The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain had been going on for almost two years before it came with intensity to the Gulf of Mexico. During the second half of 1812 three American invasions of Canada failed. The following year the war along the Canadian border had degenerated into a stalemate. Meanwhile, the British Navy tightened its blockade of the U.S. Atlantic coastline and began predatory raids along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay. From the spring of 1813 until the fall of 1814, British Redcoats—bolstered by “Colonial Marines” or runaway American slaves—pillaged farms and plantations in Virginia and Maryland, liberated American slaves, and confiscated tobacco, livestock, and other valuables as prizes of war. Redcoats often mistreated the American population and burned whatever they could not take. British Major Sir Harry Smith remarked that the war in the Chesapeake had devolved into a “species of milito-nautico-guerilla-plundering warfare” aimed at breaking the Americans’ will to fight.


Gene Allen Smith

Although not at first a major theater of operations, the war along the Gulf assumed a new and more important character in 1813. In April of that year General James Wilkinson led a combined army-navy attack against Spanish Fort Charlotte in Mobile, even though the United States and Spain were at peace. The Spanish surrendered the city without firing a shot, retreated to Pensacola, and the American occupation deprived the British of a potential base of operations for their Gulf campaign. An increased British naval force in the Gulf of Mexico—that included the 34-gun frigate Herald, the 18-gun brig Anaconda, and the 12-gun schooner Shelburne—appeared off the Mississippi River watershed, harassing shipping to and from New Orleans. Finally, as Gregory A. Waselkov and Frank L. Owsley, Jr., have shown in their respective works, the Anglo-American war along the Gulf merged with a Native American civil war between pro-American National Creek Indians and pro-British Red Stick Creeks when the latter in August 1813 overran the isolated American outpost of Fort Mims, killing more than 250 Americans and their Indian allies. By the end of 1813, the conflict along the Gulf had matched the intensity of other theaters of operations.

British Plans for the Gulf Coast Long before assuming command of the British North American naval squadron in the spring of 1814, Vice Admiral Alexander F. I. Cochrane had drafted a strategic plan for a campaign against the Gulf Coast. He suggested that New Orleans was one of the most vulnerable places in America and could easily be taken. New Orleans and the Mississippi River watershed served as the outlet for western American commerce, and Cochrane thought that seizing the port and river would greatly weaken the United States and effectively divide the Atlantic from the Trans-Appalachian states. The resulting internal pressure would bring down the American government. Cochrane hoped to combine a Gulf Coast campaign with one against Virginia, where he planned to target the state’s few cities and the black slave population. Both Wade G. Dudley’s Splintering the Wooden Wall and Roger Morriss’s Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition detail how Cochrane had predicted and Cockburn had proven during 1813 that most Virginia cities could be assaulted easily with small mobile forces because of the abundance of navigable rivers. As Admiral Cochrane’s plans for a southern campaign matured during the spring and summer of 1814, he received information of the war between the United States and the Red Stick Creeks. Yet Cochrane could not secure complete, accurate, and timely information about the conflict and thus did not know that the Creek Indians had also been fighting a civil war and that the pro-British faction had suffered a devastating defeat against General Andrew Jackson on March 27, 1814, in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Unaware of this battle, Cochrane issued a proclamation to assist the southern Indians in their war against the United States. Nor did Cochrane understand that the other major southern tribes—the Cherokees and Choctaws—had sided with the Americans in the Creek War. As Frank Owsley, Claudio Saunt, and Greg O’Brien have shown, the outcome of this war sealed the fate of the Creek nation. With limited and dated information of the Creek War, Cochrane in the spring of 1814 sent naval Captain Hugh Pigot of the Orpheus to the Gulf with arms and supplies for Britain’s black and Indian allies. Pigot anchored at the mouth of the Apalachicola River in May 1814. Brevet Captain George Woodbine went ashore with a small complement of men to establish a British presence on the river, some two miles south of the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. Nathaniel Millett has detailed Pigot’s stay among the Indians during the summer and fall of 1814 in The Maroons of Prospect Bluff. Pigot trained and fed the Indians and recruited runaway slaves for the coming campaign. Cochrane also sent Marine Major Edward Nicolls to the Gulf to encourage Indians and slaves to join the British war effort. From his proxies along the Gulf, Cochrane throughout the summer and early fall of 1814 received positive reports about the growing number of Indians and former slaves who represented potentially powerful allies that reportedly could be counted on during a campaign against Louisiana. 104

(Arsène Lacarrière Latour, Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15)

Figure 8.1 “A General Map of the seat of War in Louisiana and West Florida showing all the fortified points and encampments of both the American and British armies, also the march of General Jackson’s army on his expedition against Pensacola.”

Gene Allen Smith

The Campaign Begins Arsène Lacarrière Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana is the first history of the Gulf campaign and in many respects it has held up well during the last two centuries. Latour describes the British Pensacola operation in detail; Nicolls traveled west to Pensacola, where he found more than 2,000 Red Stick Creeks and Seminole Indians, waiting for clothing, food, and weapons to continue their struggle against the United States. The Spanish government lacked supplies in Pensacola to provision their own troops, much less outfit the growing Indian and slave army congregating around the city. Moreover, hostile American raiding parties operated ever closer to Spanish Pensacola, looting outlying settlements, killing cattle, destroying crops, and further reducing food stocks that Nicolls or the Spanish might otherwise exploit. West Florida Governor Mateo González Manrique, fearing that Andrew Jackson’s army would soon descend on Pensacola, requested British assistance. By mid-August 1814, a British fleet had arrived and Nicolls had hoisted over Pensacola the Union Jack alongside the Spanish flag. Nicolls also declared himself the military commander of the city. Requesting supplies from the Admiralty to feed the growing number of Indians and blacks, Nicolls believed that his combined force of British soldiers, Marines, Colonial Marines, Indians, Spanish troops, and local townspeople could protect Pensacola from continued American threats. His slave-Indian force would also place the Americans at a severe disadvantage because it revealed how inadequately defended the Gulf region remained. Just as Cochrane’s Chesapeake diversions drained energy and resources from the American war effort, Nicolls believed his force would also do so along the Gulf. Yet, Nicolls did not gain cooperation from the Spanish as he anticipated. In fact, Spanish officials and citizens refused to assist with his preparations to defend the town. They had become more alarmed by the actions of Nicolls’s army, which looted and terrorized the town. Thereafter Nicolls could use only part of his army for offensive operations; he had to dedicate more of his soldiers to the protection of the city. The Spanish attitude also prompted Nicolls to deal harshly with the merchants, citizens, and town officials in order to maintain control. Already unhappy with the Spanish, Nicolls became furious when he learned that a group of Spanish officers and townspeople had concocted a plan to surrender Pensacola to Andrew Jackson. Nicolls responded to the betrayal by threatening to destroy the town rather than let it fall into Jackson’s hands. Naval Captain Sir William H. Percy believed that the British attack and conquest of Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point represented the next operational step in the British grand strategy against the Gulf Coast. Eliminating the nearby American presence would also provide greater protection for Pensacola, and permit the British “to stop the trade of Louisiana and to starve Mobile.”1 Hesitant, Nicolls nonetheless agreed to participate in an attack, because he believed that a victory over this American fort would bolster the morale of his native and black warriors and perhaps encourage even more to flock to the British standard. In mid-September 1814, the Percy and Nicolls-led British expedition— consisting of four British ships carrying 78 cannon and 600 men, and a land force of 72 Marines and 180 Indians—engaged 158 entrenched Americans at Fort Bowyer. The two-day attack accomplished virtually nothing for the British and was marred by the devastating loss of the frigate Hermes, the strongest British ship on the station. The frigate suffered damage, ran aground, and then suffered more American cannon fire before Percy ordered her set afire. The British learned a costly lesson: A successful attack against Fort Bowyer would need more and better trained land troops as well as additional shallow-draft ships. Although Jackson did not have orders from the War Department to attack Spanish Florida, he departed Mobile in late October, rendezvousing on the Alabama River with General John Coffee, who brought cavalry south from Tennessee. Pensacola lay only 60 miles east of Mobile, and Jackson’s 4,000-man force arrived on the outskirts of the Spanish city on the afternoon of November 6. Owsley’s and Latour’s accounts describe how the British quickly took refuge in Fort Carlos de Barrancas,


War on the Gulf Coast

a masonry bastion which commanded the west side of Pensacola Bay. But while departing, Nicolls threatened to destroy the city if the Spanish surrendered; he also took Spanish slaves to the fort, and this greatly angered and alienated the people of Pensacola. Nicolls’s threat and the presence of some British soldiers who fired on Jackson’s flag of truce prevented Spanish Governor Manrique from finding common ground with the American general. Then suddenly before sunrise on November 7, 1814, Jackson’s troops quickly swept into the city, encountering little opposition. Manrique sheepishly had to appear before an angry Jackson to formally surrender the city. Frustrated because the British still controlled Fort Barrancas, Jackson began developing plans for an attack against the well-defended post. During the night, however, “tremendous explosions” destroyed Barrancas.2 Having blown up the fort, the British then boarded ships under cover of darkness before sailing off to Apalachicola.

New Orleans Targeted Jackson had secured control over Pensacola once the British evacuated. He then worked to make sure that the Spanish citizens were treated fairly, which both surprised and pleased them, especially considering how they had been treated by the British. News of the American and the British occupations of Pensacola, and of the treatment of Spanish citizens, not surprisingly, made its way across the Gulf to New Orleans and helped create enmity toward and suspicion of the British, ultimately driving Louisianans firmly into the American fold and depriving Cochrane of an important source of support. As I have shown in The Slaves’ Gamble, the possibility of British-sponsored racial uprisings along the Gulf coast had troubled Jackson for months. During mid-August the Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins had reported to Secretary of War John Armstrong that the British had clothed, armed, and trained black forces at Prospect Bluff and at Pensacola. Suspecting that “spies and traitors” swarmed the country, Jackson warned Louisiana governor W.C.C. Claiborne of British intentions to move against Mobile and New Orleans.3 Though acknowledging that the “people of Louisiana are disaffected,” Claiborne reassured Jackson that the free black Louisiana militia were loyal. They had good character, social and political connections, and property to defend; they represented men of status and class and should the republic not embrace them, Claiborne warned that the British would win their support. Jean Lafitte and his Baratarian associates represented another potential source of manpower Cochrane wanted to employ during the Louisiana campaign. William C. Davis’s The Pirates Laffite and Jane Lucas De Grummond’s The Baratarians and the Battle of New Orleans remain the best works on the role of Jean Lafitte and his associates. Based south and west of New Orleans, on the Island of Barataria, these maritime entrepreneurs supplied slaves and other contraband goods to the settlers of Louisiana. The Baratarians blatantly plundered foreign merchant ships, disregarded international neutrality laws, and even violated American revenue laws, and yet the U.S. government could do little to suppress these lawless activities. Cochrane believed that the Baratarians could provide assistance by either joining the British expedition or by remaining neutral, and in early September 1814 he sent Captain Nicholas Lockyer to meet with Jean Lafitte. For two days the two men discussed the prospects of an alliance in which the Baratarians would provide their assistance and knowledge. In return, the British offered aid and protection to Lafitte and his men. Lafitte ultimately refused the British offer and instead chose to join the Americans, depriving Cochrane of not only an important source of manpower and munitions but also of vital information on the geography of the region. Unsuccessful in recruiting the Baratarians, Cochrane turned to the disaffected populations of Louisiana and Spanish Florida, who he mistakenly thought were anxious to get rid of American rule. He had been led to believe that the disposition of the region’s inhabitants toward Great Britain was as varied as the population itself. He had been informed that the Spaniards supported their native country and the French theirs, and that both groups would work against the Americans. This belief 107

Gene Allen Smith

convinced Cochrane that his expeditionary force might find the people of Louisiana ready to withdraw their support from the United States and aid the invaders. Ultimately Cochrane failed to gain the support he expected from the Indians, slaves, Baratarians, and the French and Spanish population. Without this support, as Wilburt S. Brown has demonstrated in The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, Cochrane had to modify his operational plans. Initially, he had wanted to land troops at Pensacola or Mobile and march overland against New Orleans. But the failed September 1814 attack against Fort Bowyer and loss of the frigate Hermes, combined with the evacuation of Pensacola in November, left Cochrane with reduced options. British activities along the Gulf—especially Nicolls’s recruiting of slaves and Indians and the fortification of Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River—had also frightened Americans in the region into action. Cochrane’s inability to secure necessary small boats for the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico created additional problems. He had known for some time that he could not attack New Orleans without shallow-draft vessels. Throughout the summer he had instructed his officers to collect all the small craft that they could; the Admiralty had also ordered 20 shallow-draft vessels for the Louisiana expedition. As late as December 1814, Cochrane admitted that he still needed shallow-draft vessels to navigate the shoal waters. Despite these setbacks, British agents along the Gulf continued to offer rosy forecasts for the campaign. Cochrane had a personal interest in the southern campaign, but he had to focus on the larger strategic picture. The conquest of New Orleans would relieve American pressure on Canada and also foment division within the United States. He had also outlined his plans to the Admiralty for the early months of 1815. Confident that New Orleans and the Gulf region would be subdued before the end of the year or shortly thereafter, Cochrane during the fall of 1814 sent Admiral Cockburn and 6,000 troops to the coast of Georgia and South Carolina to seize islands, harass coastal towns, and recruit slaves and Indians into his ranks. Cockburn’s aggressive strike-and-retreat warfare—really nothing more than a diversionary attack along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina—was designed not only to support Cochrane’s operations in the Gulf but also to satisfy his larger strategic objective of expanding the swath of destruction that would bring the Americans to their knees.

Preliminary Battles Some historical accounts of the British New Orleans campaign hint that the operation represented an end in itself rather than the means to an end. Such was not the case and Arsène Lacarrière Latour, Frank L. Owsley, and Robin Reilly provide the best foundation for understanding the larger picture. Throughout the fall of 1814 Cochrane had continued operations along the Atlantic, intensified the blockade of New England, and expanded the war to Georgia and South Carolina. The New Orleans campaign, which would relieve the pressure on Canada, represented but one more operation within his broader strategy of harassing the Americans until they sued for peace. New Orleans also offered an opportunity to secure prize money and to hold territory that might improve Britain’s bargaining position in the peace negotiations. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby Jones had spent six years on the New Orleans naval station, a station that Christopher McKee has described as an “inactive, forlorn station.”4 Until the outbreak of war in 1812, Jones had confronted pirates, smugglers, privateers, and slave traders as well as an inhospitable climate and strange culture. While the war raged for two and a half years in other areas, Jones only fought lawlessness. Then, on December 14, 1814, Jones and his 175 men aboard five gunboats on Lake Borgne confronted 40 barges and more than 1,000 British troops sent by Admiral Cochrane. For more than two hours Jones and his flotilla, unable to retreat because of unfavorable tide and winds, fought in a desperate contest before each of the vessels succumbed to British numerical and firepower superiority. Although a defeat that highlighted the weaknesses of the Jeffersonian 108

War on the Gulf Coast

gunboat program, Jones’s defense on Lake Borgne bought Andrew Jackson’s army some time and provided vital information concerning the likely British invasion route. By mid-December 1814, Jackson desperately needed men to defend New Orleans. He had learned of the British victory over the American gunboats on Lake Borgne. With control of that estuary, the British could choose their route of attack. This information was substantiated by news of the arrival of more than 80 British warships along the coast of Louisiana. All the intelligence seemed to indicate that a British attack was imminent, and yet Jackson needed more time and additional troops as he had only some 700 men at his disposal, many of whom were unfit for immediate service. On December 16 Jackson declared martial law, and two days later in the square at the cathedral, he reviewed troops. Jackson later even embraced Jean Lafitte’s “hellish banditti” (pirates/privateers), along with their important cache of flints, their knowledge of the local geography, and their understanding of artillery, all of which were to prove vital in the defense of New Orleans.5 Jackson had initially refused to seek help from the black troops or Lafitte’s pirates, but given the critical state of affairs he could not refuse their assistance any longer. During the British campaign against New Orleans—a series of engagements lasting from December 23, 1814 until January 8, 1815—Jackson cobbled together a multiracial, heterogeneous army that embodied an extraordinarily diverse American fighting force. It consisted of U.S. regulars, Spanish and French Louisiana creoles, Tennessee and Kentucky frontiersmen, Baratarian pirates, free men of color, slaves, and Choctaw Indians. Short of men, weapons, and supplies and facing a potentially disloyal

Figure 8.2 “Map showing the landing of the British army, its several encampments and fortifications on the Mississippi, and the Works they erected on their Retreat, also the different posts, Encampments and Fortifications made by the several Corps of the American army during the whole Campaign.” (Arsène Lacarrière Latour, Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15)


Gene Allen Smith

citizenry, Jackson managed to mobilize virtually the entire polyglot and cosmopolitan Louisiana population. Frenchman Arsène Lacarrière Latour, who had trained in Paris, served in the French army in Haiti, and worked as a displaced architect and engineer in Louisiana since 1804, offered Jackson his services as a military engineer. Jackson immediately appointed him as the principal engineer for the Seventh Military District and relied on him to prepare the city’s defenses. Having mapped the region previously, Latour knew that there were seven possible water routes for a British attack against New Orleans, including Bayou Lafourche, Barataria Bay, River Aux Chenes and Bayou Terre aux Boeufs, the Mississippi River, and three routes via Lake Borgne. Latour also predicted—correctly—that Lake Borgne offered the most likely approach; ultimately the British advanced through Lake Borgne, using the Bayou Bienvenu, which drained the area east of New Orleans and stretched from Lake Borgne to within a mile of the Mississippi River. Soon thereafter Latour designed defenses on the lower Mississippi River and in the Sauvage-Chef Menteur sector. On December 23 he brought Jackson firsthand news that the British had occupied General Jacques Villeré’s plantation south of the city with a sizeable force. General John Keane commanding the vanguard of 1800 British troops had arrived on the banks of the Mississippi River on the morning of December 23. Yet instead of marching the nine miles directly to the city, Keane had chosen to make camp and await reinforcements. This delay provided Jackson with the opportunity to strike. That night Jackson descended on the British camp with Major Jean Plauché’s French Creole soldiers, the Seventh U.S. Infantry, and a battalion of free men of color. Plauché ordered his men in French “En Main! En Main!” [Charge! Charge!] and the commands undoubtedly shocked British soldiers fresh from European battlefields.6 Those familiar words suggested that the French population had chosen to support the Americans rather than remain neutral. Despite the smoke from the guns and cannons as well as the fog and encroaching darkness, the two sides moved within a few feet of one another. The three-pronged American attack became a general melee in the darkness, and most of the soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. After more than two hours of fighting, Jackson withdrew his troops four miles upriver to a defensive position at the Laronde plantation. His force had suffered some 10 percent casualties, and the Seventh U.S. regiment suffered the worst. Historian Henry Adams charged that the general “allowed a large British army, heralded long in advance, to arrive within seven miles unseen and unsuspected. . . . The disaster was unprecedented.”7 Robert Quimby and others, however, have challenged this characterization, claiming that it is unfounded because Jackson had little opportunity to react until he was certain of British intentions. Once he knew of the British location, Jackson attacked and the surprise forced the British to delay their operations and to exercise caution for the next two weeks. This battle was arguably the turning point in the New Orleans campaign. On December 24, 1814, the same day that British and American ministers signed the Treaty of Ghent concluding the war, Jackson moved his army north along the Mississippi River to Chalmette. He ordered engineers to cut the river levee and flood the ground in front and behind the British position. Within a few days the temporary swell of the river had subsided, but the water saturated the ground, creating a sticky morass. Meanwhile Jackson’s defensive preparations had continued at Chalmette, as slaves dug a deeper canal ditch, using the earth to strengthen the Chalmette parapet wall. Soldiers also poured in, giving Jackson more than 4,700 defenders. On Christmas day generals Edward Michael Pakenham and Samuel Gibbs with the 93rd Highlanders and other Peninsula veterans arrived. After assessing the situation, Pakenham ordered a reconnaissance-in-force against the American defensive lines at Chalmette on December 28. The result was a seven-hour assault calculated to determine the strength of the American position. British artillery fired on Jackson’s defenses, and then infantry units probed the American line for weaknesses. Throughout, Jackson’s defenses held firm, supported by the sloop Louisiana in the river, whose cannon enfiladed British flanks, breaking the attacking columns and then silencing British artillery. 110

War on the Gulf Coast

Failing in his operation, Pakenham consulted with Admiral Cochrane and expressed his displeasure with the situation the army faced. He wanted to attack the city via the Chef Menteur Road, but Cochrane assured him that all of the small boats were completely occupied. Cochrane insisted that Pakenham would have to proceed with the operation from his current position. Jackson’s forces meanwhile strengthened their line at Chalmette, constructing eight artillery batteries to protect the earthworks. These emplacements included one 32-pound gun, three 24-pounders, one 18-pounder, three 12-pounders, three 6-pounders, and a 6-inch (150 mm) howitzer. Manned by U.S. regulars, U.S. Navy seamen, and Jean Lafitte’s Baratarian associates, the heavy artillery proved critical to Jackson’s defenses, which stretched some 500 yards from the Mississippi River in the west to an impenetrable cypress swamp in the east. Jackson also detached troops to the west bank to man two 24-pounders and two 12-pounders. On January 1, 1815, the remainder of the 8,000 British troops arrived on the banks of the Mississippi and immediately attacked the American earthworks with their artillery. That same morning Jackson had scheduled a full-dress parade in an attempt to bolster his troops’ sagging morale. When the morning fog finally broke shortly after 10:00 a.m., British artillery suddenly belched at Jackson’s headquarters—the McCarty house. American troops immediately scurried for cover and began returning fire. For the next three hours the two sides exchanged artillery volleys. British cannon ultimately disabled the American 32-pounder, a 24-pounder, and a 12-pounder, and also damaged the American earthworks. Finally, the attack stopped when British guns ran out of ammunition. What Pakenham did not know was that the weak left side of Jackson’s line near the swamp had broken and run when the artillery barrage began.

The Main Battle The climactic battle of the New Orleans campaign followed on January 8, 1815, and resulted in America’s greatest military accomplishment since George Washington’s victory at Yorktown. It represented the first great American victory because Jackson’s cosmopolitan polyglot army fought together for the United States. Pakenham—who had distinguished himself during the British Peninsula campaign while serving with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Wellington—planned for Colonel William Thornton to cross the Mississippi River with some 780 soldiers and assault the American defenses commanded by Commodore Daniel Patterson on the west bank. Once Thornton’s attack had succeeded, the colonel would turn the guns to the east and enfilade Jackson’s entrenched position at Chalmette as two columns of British soldiers advanced. Unfortunately, Thornton’s army was delayed by the collapse of a dam that would have deepened a canal and made it easier to move men and material to the river for a crossing. Then the British found the Mississippi’s current much faster than anticipated, resulting in Thornton’s force landing more than a mile and a half south of the expected landing spot on the west bank. By the time Thornton’s force attacked and captured the American position on the west bank, the battle at Chalmette on the other side of the river was effectively over. Pakenham’s plans needed much better coordination than it got. While Thornton’s forces attacked on the west bank, General Keane was to lead a column of British troops along the river against the American right and General Gibbs would lead a column against the American left near the cypress swamp. Yet nothing went right. Thornton was delayed. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Mullens of the 44th Irish Regiment had not brought forward the fascines and ladders that Gibbs needed to get over Jackson’s wall. Despite the delays, Pakenham still felt confident; he anticipated the Americans would run at the sight of a disciplined British bayonet assault. A cold morning fog would also obscure British movements until the attackers were on top of Jackson’s line. The element of surprise was lost when Pakenham ordered a single rocket fired into the air. This was the signal for the attack to begin, yet a sign that Americans saw as well. 111

Gene Allen Smith

Colonel Robert Rennie’s detachment of light companies quickly overran the American outpost along the river. As they did, American troops retreated toward a redoubt directly in front of Jackson’s line, adjacent to the river. Rennie’s Redcoats followed closely behind, pouring into the redoubt and engaging in a hand-to-hand fight. Once the Americans crossed behind the Chalmette line, artillery from the Louisiana and from Jackson’s line filled the redoubt, immediately stopping the British advance. The rising sun illuminated the Plains of Chalmette, and as it did American defenders saw a sea of Redcoats and glistening bayonets. Veteran British troops were making a frontal assault, line-abreast, directly into the teeth of Jackson’s defensive entrenchments. American cannon shot seemed to be absorbed into the British ranks for as one soldier or a group of soldiers fell, others immediately closed the gap. Dead and wounded British soldiers fell atop one another, like a stack of wood. At times Keane’s advancing column stopped, reformed, and then lurched forward again. On the American left Gibb’s soldiers made their way to Jackson’s line yet they did not have the necessary fascines and ladders, and Mullens could not be found. Trying to inspire his troops, Pakenham took command of the 44th Irish and pushed them toward the rampart, where he found that Gibb had lost control over his fleeing soldiers. At this moment General Keane committed the 93rd Scottish Highlanders, who had been kept in reserve; they moved diagonally at quick pace across

Figure 8.3 This print of Dennis Malone Carter’s, Battle of New Orleans, 1856, shows Jackson riding the defensive line as British troops approached the American rampart. (Courtesy of Gene Allen Smith)


War on the Gulf Coast

the open battlefield from the American right toward the American left. The sight of Keane and 900 brave tartan-clad Highlanders coming across the field bolstered the confidence of Gibb’s soldiers who reformed and prepared for a second attack against Jackson’s rampart. Then without explanation, the Highlanders suddenly stopped about 100 yards from the rampart, which permitted American musket and cannon fire to sweep their ranks, killing some 600 soldiers and wounding Keane. While trying to rally the Highlanders, Pakenham was shot in the thigh and then mortally wounded in the spine. Pakenham’s close ranks had run into a withering flurry of American artillery and rifle fire, which produced devastating British casualties. Within 30 minutes some 291 Redcoats, including Pakenham and Gibbs, had been killed, 1,267 men, including Keane, had been wounded, and 484 were captured or missing. The entirety of British senior command on the field had fallen within a matter of minutes. Leaderless, British survivors scurried rather than continue facing such murderous fire. Ultimately, Major General John Lambert, seeing the situation as hopeless, chose to pull back rather than commit the reserves. American casualties were negligible: 71 casualties, including 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. Jackson’s makeshift defensive line and heterogeneous force had easily withstood the arrogance of a British frontal attack. Ironically, a few months earlier similar tactics had given the British an overwhelming victory at Bladensburg and also allowed them to march uncontested into the American capital of Washington, D.C. At New Orleans the scenario played out far differently. The British campaign against New Orleans did not fail for lack of hard work. British forces had traversed almost 70 miles to arrive at the Plains of Chalmette. Sailors had laboriously rowed boats the 62 miles to land soldiers at the Bienvenu Canal. Then engineers and some unarmed pioneers hacked their way through the cane fields and began clearing paths for the army. Once slaves had dug the canals, sailors then dragged barges and launches to the shore of the Mississippi River. When Jackson’s forces cut the river levee on December 26, pioneers had immediately stepped into the river’s cold waters to fill up the gap. They then helped build and rebuild batteries. These laborers were rarely accorded much time to rest, as they constantly received instructions to move guns and supplies, dig entrenchments, and repair the damage incurred during the various engagements. Then there always seemed to be stray cannon shot or a burst of gunfire that disrupted a momentary sense of calm. By early January the intensity of the campaign increased, and the pioneers began enlarging the Villeré canal for the British operations destined for the west side of the Mississippi River. And then for days after the British defeat on January 8, American artillery continued to harass the British position as the laborers began the reverse trip to ships at anchor off the Louisiana Coast.

Fort St. Philip and Ft. Bowyer Although the Battle of New Orleans was over, Admiral Cochrane soon tested American Fort St. Philip downriver. On January 9, 1815, British ships began a ten-day bombardment of the fort. After firing more than 1,000 shots, resulting in the death of only two American soldiers, on January 18, 1815, British ships broke off the attack. During the ten days of the bombardment, British troops had trickled out of their Mississippi River–encampment. Within hours virtually the entire British army had disappeared, leaving behind spiked cannon, shot, as well as wounded soldiers and two surgeons. By the end of January, the British fleet had anchored off Mobile Bay, ready for the next phase of the operational plan. On the morning of February 8, 1815, some 1,400 British troops disembarked three miles east of Fort Bowyer and during the next three days they slowly moved their guns into position for an attack against the American position. Major William L. Lawrence’s forces continually harassed the British with American fire, but overwhelmed by British numbers and firepower, they could do little to prevent defeat. Before the final assault, Lambert offered Lawrence generous terms for surrender. Since Fort Bowyer did not have casemates to protect the wounded or the powder magazine, and since it lacked 113

Gene Allen Smith

landward ramparts, Lawrence knew it could not be held without a great loss of life. Facing these circumstances, Lawrence reluctantly accepted British terms and surrendered on February 11, 1815— only two days before news of the Treaty of Ghent reached the Gulf Coast. The British had taken Fort Bowyer, but the peace agreement spared the city of Mobile an attack. During the following weeks, British troops encamped on Dauphin Island while Cochrane and Lambert sorted out the provisions of the treaty. The return of prisoners obviously dominated early discussions. Cochrane offered to transport American prisoners to the mouth of the Mississippi River where they could be exchanged for British soldiers. Then Jackson questioned whether the British would restore seized property, including slaves. Cochrane initially ignored Jackson, refusing to order any runaway slaves to return to their masters against their will. During a public thanksgiving at New Orleans St. Louis Cathedral on January 21, 1815, Jackson praised the service of his soldiers at Chalmette, but he did not immediately demobilize them. After the celebration he ordered the troops to return to the city, to remain alert, and to drill daily. Martial law remained in effect until Jackson knew conclusively that the war was over. Yet by mid-February, Jackson saw that many of the soldiers refused to return to their units or had simply deserted their posts. The war appeared to be over, and the possibility of contracting disease in camp was enough to keep many soldiers away. The black soldiers’ general dissatisfaction intensified during mid-February 1815 when Jackson assigned them to travel to the Chef Menteur to perform military labor. Not wanting to be treated as slaves, Major D’Aquin reported that the black soldiers would willingly die in combat for their country but they would not perform manual labor. Such discord within his ranks troubled Jackson, especially with the British enemy still in the neighborhood.

An American Victory The war along the Gulf Coast resulted in an unquestioned American victory. American forces had broken the Creek Confederation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, captured Pensacola, Florida, from the Spanish, sunk a British frigate off Fort Bowyer, beaten off the siege of Fort St. Philip, and decimated British-trained Peninsula veterans at New Orleans. After January 8, 1815, there was no further doubt about the loyalty of the population of Louisiana. Moreover, by defeating the southern Indians and undermining Spanish power along the Gulf, the United States had opened new lands that ultimately became the foundation for southern plantation slavery agriculture and the creation of a thriving slave economy in the region. The war ultimately reinforced the institution of slavery, as Americans suppressed insurrections and demanded the British return of black refugees. Then in late July 1816 a joint U.S. Army-Navy expedition destroyed the British-built and -provisioned Negro Fort on the Apalachicola River. The Battle of New Orleans was unquestionably the crowning achievement in an otherwise disappointing conflict. Americans had initially expected easy victories against an enemy preoccupied with war in Europe against France. Instead, during the fall of 1812 the United States military suffered setbacks. Although the country began to reverse its fortunes with important victories in 1813 on Lake Erie and on the Thames River in Canada, during the fall of 1814 the United States suffered its greatest indignity when British forces captured and burned the public buildings in Washington, D.C. This episode represented the nadir of the American war effort, and only subsequent victories at Lake Champlain, Baltimore, and New Orleans dispelled the stigma of complete humiliation. Thereafter the selective American memory viewed the isolated defeats as necessary setbacks, ultimately culminating in what one public journal claimed a “war that was . . . glorious to the nation.”8 Jackson, the general who had saved New Orleans and the country by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, had made the war glorious, and he unquestionably benefited most from the conflict. The battle enhanced his reputation and quickly propelled him into national prominence, ultimately catapulting him to the presidency. Dubbed “The Hero,” a name which aptly fit the first man of 114

War on the Gulf Coast

a forthcoming new American age, Jackson reveled in the adulation. His cosmopolitan American army had beaten back Britain’s best, and that assemblage of homespun soldiers represented the common man that the Jacksonian era would celebrate. Finally, the victory on January 8, 1815, became a touchstone for a generation of Americans who thereafter looked to their icon—Andy Jackson—and built their identity around the great victory over the world’s most powerful nation. Americans became convinced that their country was an equal to any simply because Andy Jackson had willed it to be.

Notes 1. Sir William H. Percy to Alexander F. I. Cochrane, September 9, 1814, in Admiralty Papers, 1/505, Public Records Office, National Archives, London. 2. Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson, 3 vols. (Baltimore and New York, 1977–84), 1:242; Andrew Jackson to Willie Blount, November 14, 1814, in Sam B. Smith et al., eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 9 vols. to date (1980–), 3:184–86. 3. Andrew Jackson to W. C. C. Claiborne, August 30, 1814, in Smith, Papers of Andrew Jackson, 3:125–26. 4. Christopher McKee, A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794– 1815 (Annapolis, 1991), 306; Gene A. Smith, Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny (Annapolis, 2000), 13–32. 5. Remini, Andrew Jackson, 1:252. 6. Gene Allen Smith, The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 (New York, 2013), 166; Marcus Christian, Negro Soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans (New Orleans, 1965), 33–34. 7. Henry Adams, History of the United States during the Administration of Jefferson and Madison, edited by Earl N. Harbert, 2 vols. (New York, 1986), 2:1147; Arsène Lacarrière Latour, Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15, edited and expanded by Gene Allen Smith (Gainesville, FL, 1999), xxiv. 8. The North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal 3 (July 1816), 233; Latour, Historical Memoir, ix–x.

Annotated Bibliography Adams, Henry. History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison. Ed. Earl N. Harbert, 2 vols. New York, 1986. This is the authoritative modern edition of a classic but now dated account of the War of 1812. Bartlett, C. J., and Smith, Gene A., “A ‘Species of Milito-Nautico-Guerilla-Plundering Warfare’: Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s Naval Campaign Against the United States, 1814–15,” in Julie Flavell and Stephen Conway, eds. Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754–1815. Gainesville, FL, 2004. This chapter highlights how the barbarous war in the Chesapeake spread to the Gulf in the late fall of 1814. Brown, Wilburt S. The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814–1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans. Tuscaloosa, AL, 1969. Still the best discussion of strategy and operational tactics, although it is a bit dated. Cusick, James G. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. Gainesville, FL, 2003. Links the Patriot War in Florida to the larger North American war and the operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Davis, William C. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Orlando, FL, 2006. Reveals the multinational character of privateers/pirates in the Gulf world. De Grummond, Jane Lucas. The Baratarians and the Battle of New Orleans. Baton Rouge, 1968. The first book to celebrate the contributions of Jean Lafitte and his band of associates to Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Dudley, Wade G. Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 1812–1815. Annapolis, 2002. Argues that the British blockade was generally ineffective along the Gulf. Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana, IL, 1989. Remains the best single-volume study of the war. ———. Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812. Toronto and Urbana, IL, 2006. Focuses on myths and misconceptions of the war, including several related to the Battle of New Orleans. McConnell, Roland C. Negro Troops of Antebellum Louisiana: History of the Battalion of Free Men of Color. Baton Rouge, 1968. Although brief and now dated, this was the first book to examine the role of black soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans. Millett, Nathaniel. The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World. Gainesville, FL, 2013. A recent study about the role of Negro Fort at Prospect Bluff and how it figured into British operational strategy and in Britain’s vision for the postwar Gulf.


Gene Allen Smith Morriss, Roger. Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn 1752–1853. Columbia, SC, 1998. The best study of the British admiral who torched Washington, D.C. O’Brien, Greg. Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750–1830. Lincoln, NE, 2006. Highlights the Choctaw efforts to preserve their integrity and reestablish their influence and power in an increasingly complicated, multicultural world. Owsley, Frank Lawrence, Jr. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans. Gainesville, FL, 1981. The first book-length study to connect the Creek Indian war to British operations against the Gulf; remains useful and relevant. ———, and Smith, Gene A. Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800–1821. Tuscaloosa, AL, 1997. The first study to link the Jeffersonian Presidents and the War of 1812 along the Gulf to American territorial expansion and Manifest Destiny. Quimby, Robert. The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study. East Lansing, MI, 1998. Although dense, stilted, and difficult to read, it remains useful to studying the U.S. Army’s operational record during the War of 1812. Reilly, Robin. The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812. Rev. ed. Toronto, 2010. Originally published to great acclaim in 1974, this work is still the best secondary account of the Battle of New Orleans. Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson. 3 vols. Baltimore and New York, 1977–84. The first of a three-volume awardwinning biography of Jackson details Old Hickory’s role during the New Orleans campaign. ———. The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory. New York, 2001. Less useful than Remini’s biography of Jackson, this volume concentrates on the Battle of New Orleans. Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. Cambridge, UK, 1999. Vividly depicts the dramatic eighteenth century transformation that greatly weakened the Creek Indians and gave birth to the Deep South. Smith, Gene A. “‘Our Flag was display’d within their Works’: The Treaty of Ghent and the Conquest of Mobile.” Alabama Review 52 (January 1999), 3–21. The first modern account of the American 1813 conquest of Spanish Mobile. ———. ed., Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15: With an Atlas. By Arsène Lacarrière Latour. Edited and expanded by Gene Allen Smith. Gainesville, FL, 1999. The first history of the battle, initially published in 1816, is loaded with documents. ———. Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny. Annapolis, 2000. Describes the role of the U.S. Navy in the New Orleans campaign. ———. ed., A British Eyewitness at the Battle of New Orleans: The Memoir of Royal Navy Admiral Robert Aitchison, 1808–1827, New Orleans, 2004. This edited account provides the only perspective of a British naval officer at the Battle of New Orleans. ———. “Giving Jackson Victory: Thomas ap Catesby Jones, the Battle of Lake Borgne, and British Frustration Along the Gulf.” In Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., ed. A Fierce and Fractious Frontier: The Curious Development of the Louisiana Florida Parishes, 1699–2000. Baton Rouge, 2004. Highlights the setbacks that British operations encountered during the New Orleans campaign, and why Cochrane made the choices he did. ———. The Slave’s Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. New York, 2013. Details the role of slaves and free blacks during the war, including the New Orleans campaign. ———. “Defeat at Fort Bowyer: The Failed British Campaign for the Gulf Coast During the War of 1812.” Alabama Heritage 113 (Summer 2014), 8–17. Focuses on the failed September 1814 British attempt against Fort Bowyer, which greatly altered Admiral Cochrane’s plans for the New Orleans campaign. Smith, Gene A. and Hilton, Sylvia L., eds. Nexus of Empire: Negotiating Loyalty and Identity in the Revolutionary Borderlands, 1760s–1820s. Gainesville, FL, 2010. Uses biographical case studies to reveal how individuals dealt with regime change along the Gulf Coast. Warshauer, Matthew. Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties, and Partisanship. Knoxville, TN, 2007. Traces in detail Jackson’s use of martial law at New Orleans and how the controversy followed him throughout his life. Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814. Tuscaloosa, AL, 2009. Award-winning study tells the story of this August 30, 1813, massacre at Fort Mims, which initiated the Creek War in the South. Wright, J. Leitch. Britain and the American Frontier, 1783–1815. Athens, GA, 1975. Argues that Great Britain had an interest in regaining control of the Gulf region well before launching its Gulf Coast campaign.


9 MARS IN THE WILDERNESS Weapons and Tactics of the War of 1812 Douglas W. DeCroix

No treatment of the wars of the early nineteenth century would be complete without at least a cursory examination of the weapons technology of the time, along with the ways in which it was utilized on the battlefield. Such a treatment is particularly important in an age of warfare two centuries removed from the struggles of 1812–15. Understanding the array of weapons available to the antagonists, along with how each side attempted to wield them to greatest advantage, gives greater perspective to any study of the campaigns, strategies, and leadership of this important period. A close reexamination of the tactics described in the many primary sources available to the modern student also helps to clear away the clouds of myth and misinterpretation perpetuated by some of the Napoleonic era’s most prolific scholars of a century ago—interpretations that, in some cases, have managed to survive to the present. Therefore, to better place the events of North America during this period of conflict into perspective, a general introduction to the weapons and tactics of the War of 1812 is in order.

Lock, Stock & Barrel The standard infantry weapon, in one form or other, of every army in the western world in 1812 was the flintlock musket, a smoothbore, muzzle-loading weapon, as it had been for over 100 years. The British weapon in widest use during the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of 1812 was the India Pattern musket. First adopted in 1797, it measured 55 inches in overall length, with a 39inch barrel. The large bore of the musket was .75 caliber and the standard ammunition was a round lead ball of .71 caliber. Aside from its length and a few minor details, this musket was remarkably similar to the British weapons that had preceded it. The vast majority of U.S. soldiers in the War of 1812 were armed with the Model 1795 Springfield musket, though some were issued a similar weapon manufactured by one of several private contractors. Produced in the federal arsenals at Springfield, Massachusetts, and Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the American weapon was based on the French musket of 1768 and measured slightly longer than its British cousin at 59.5 inches in length, with a 44.5-inch barrel. This .69 caliber musket fired a .65 caliber round ball. Though they differed slightly in size and appearance, for all intents and purposes these weapons were evenly matched on the battlefield. When the trigger was pulled, the musket fired by means of a fairly complicated chain reaction. The trigger itself released the “cock,” which held in its screw-tightened jaws a piece of shaped flint. When the cock came forward, this piece of flint struck the hammer, or “frizzen,” a vertical slab of hardened steel, creating a shower of sparks while throwing the hammer back to expose the priming pan of the 117

Douglas W. DeCroix

weapon. The sparks generated by this flint against steel action fell into a small portion of loose gunpowder in the pan, igniting it and sending a jet of flame through the small “touchhole” drilled in the barrel opposite the pan. This flame in turn ignited the weapon’s main powder charge inside the barrel and sent the projectile on its way, creating a cloud of acrid white smoke in the process. As can be imagined, a host of factors could cause failure at some point along the chain of events, preventing the weapon from firing. Certainly rain or humidity greatly increased the number of weapons that failed to fire. A contemporary military theorist estimated the rate of misfires at 15 percent in dry weather, but some modern historians have suggested that a rate as high as 20 percent may have been the rule.1 Even when the musket did fire properly, it remained highly inaccurate. The inside of its smooth barrel lacked any grooves, or “rifling,” that would impart a spin to the projectile and increase its accuracy. Plus, as indicated by the figures above, the lead ball fired from these weapons was of considerably smaller caliber, leaving roughly .05 inches of space, or “windage,” between the ball and the barrel. Firing a large, loose-fitting lead ball down an unrifled barrel produced an erratic flight pattern and limited muzzle velocity. Though such a large projectile possessed enormous stopping power at close range, the musket ball lost energy very quickly and was considered highly inaccurate at ranges exceeding 100 yards under combat conditions.2 An oft-quoted contemporary assessment of the musket’s range, recorded in 1814 by a retired British officer, Colonel George Hanger, gives a reasonable summary of the weapon’s efficacy: A soldier’s musket, if not exceedingly ill bored and very crooked, as many are, will strike the figure of a man at 80 yards; it may even at a hundred; but a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards, PROVIDED HIS ANTAGONIST AIMS AT HIM; and, as to firing at a man at 200 yards with a common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes of hitting your object. I do maintain, and I will prove, whenever called on, that NO MAN WAS EVER KILLED, AT TWO HUNDRED YARDS, by a common soldier’s musket, by THE PERSON WHO AIMED AT HIM.3 What it lacked in accuracy, the musket made up for in speed. Though its rate of fire paled in comparison to any modern small arm, a trained soldier could fire four or five shots per minute for brief periods under ideal training conditions. Considering the numerous evolutions involved in loading the weapon, such a rate of fire was fairly impressive. Speed of loading, and thus rate of fire, had been increased through the use of a paper cartridge, which became widespread in the seventeenth century. This cartridge was essentially a tube of heavy paper containing both a pre-measured gunpowder charge and the musket ball. To load the weapon, the soldier bit off the end of the paper opposite the ball, poured a small amount of powder into the priming pan, then cast the musket about and poured

Figure 9.1 The smoothbore flintlock musket was the standard infantry weapon of the early nineteenth century. This British musket is .75 caliber and is accompanied by its socket bayonet. (Joshua Bodie Collection, Douglas W. DeCroix photograph, 2014)


Mars in the Wilderness

the remaining powder down the barrel, followed by the ball and the paper, which acted as wadding. This was all seated at the bottom of the barrel with the musket’s steel ramrod. Depending on whose tactical doctrine was being followed, there could be anywhere from a dozen to 15 steps involved in this loading process, though in combat the commands were usually limited and soldiers performed these evolutions in their own time. Finally, muskets could be fitted with a socket bayonet measuring between 14 and 17 inches in length, giving the soldier a long, spear-like weapon for close quarter combat. Though the War of 1812 saw notable examples to the contrary, it was a rare event indeed when two opposing forces actually came into contact with fixed bayonets. Major General B. P. Hughes’s modern technological analysis of the major weapons of the period emphasizes the psychological impact of the weapon, while endorsing the observation of numerous period treatises and journals that the bayonet was “mainly used to confirm a result that had already been very largely completed by firepower.”4 Although the vast majority of soldiers on both sides of the War of 1812 were armed with muskets, there was a notable minority armed with rifled weapons. The major distinguishing characteristic of a rifle during the early nineteenth century was the series of spiraled grooves cut into the bore, called “rifling.” These imparted a spin to the round lead ball fired from the weapon, with this spiraling flight path offering superior ballistic qualities. Both British and American forces utilized rifles purpose-built for the military, as well as weapons of private ownership. Like their smoothbored counterparts, rifles were muzzle-loading small arms fired by a flintlock mechanism. As might be expected, the military rifles of both nations were of a standard design. The British version had been developed by London gunsmith Ezekiel Baker and was first introduced in 1801. The Baker rifle was a sturdy weapon of .65 caliber, though notably shorter than the muskets of either nation at 46 inches in length with a 30-inch barrel. Its American counterpart was the Harpers Ferry Model 1803. Slightly longer than Baker’s weapon, it measured 49 inches in length with a 33-inch barrel, while the bore was smaller at .54 caliber. The militia of both sides also utilized rifled weapons of private purchase, but on a more limited basis than is typically believed. The American rifle, in particular, has been the subject of exaggeration and myth for two centuries. Often referred to as the “Kentucky” rifle, most such weapons were actually manufactured in Pennsylvania. Each was a one-of-a-kind example of craftsmanship, their dimensions typically similar to that of the American musket but with a smaller bore—usually about .45 caliber. The British rifle, like the musket, was usually loaded by means of a paper cartridge, while the American weapons often utilized loose gunpowder measured for each shot, with wadding and ball seated separately. American military theorist William Duane suggested in his Hand Book for Riflemen that the ideal material for rifle wadding was a “small piece of greased shammey, or buck skin,” though he conceded that other materials, such as cotton or woolen cloth, leather, or even hat felt were sometimes used.5 The additional care required to load and fire a rifle resulted in a rate of fire approximately one third that of the musket. This fact was more than offset by accuracy, which was typically estimated under field conditions at two to three times that of the musket or more. Though undeniably more accurate than the common soldier’s musket, rifles were not without their drawbacks. To achieve their high level of accuracy it was necessary for the ball to fit tightly inside the barrel, so that the internal rifling could grip the ball and its wadding, thus imparting the necessary spin. This made seating the ball a strenuous activity, even in a clean weapon. The black powder used in all weapons of the period was a crudely burning substance that left a thick, sooty residue inside the barrel of the weapon and on any surface exposed to its ignition. Repeated firings under combat conditions would thus result in a significant buildup of this residue, rendering the weapon even more difficult, if not impossible to load. Independent of loading issues, American rifles had no provision for the attachment of a bayonet, giving its user a distinct disadvantage should he be forced to defend himself at close quarters. The British Baker rifle, by contrast, was issued with a lengthy sword bayonet, but affixing it destroyed the 119

Douglas W. DeCroix

weapon’s accuracy and so its use was rare. With a slow and finicky loading process and, in most cases, lacking a close combat capacity, rifles fall outside the mainstream discussion of tactics for the period but were used on occasion by both sides to great effect. Both the British and American armies boasted regular regiments of rifle troops, though the sole North American employment of regular British rifles (the 3rd Battalion of the 95th Foot) occurred during the New Orleans campaign.

Ultima Ratio Regum Muskets were the most numerous weapons to dictate tactics during the War of 1812. Often referred to in the centuries preceding the War of 1812 using the Latin phrase, ultima ratio regum, “the final argument of kings,” artillery was by far the most destructive battlefield weapon of the flintlock era, though it represented a minority of the soldiers in each army. Generally speaking, artillery in the War of 1812 came in three basic forms, each with its unique qualities and purposes. The most common form of artillery employed on early nineteenth century battlefields was the gun, often mislabeled as a cannon. The gun’s long bronze or iron barrel was mounted on a carriage that varied in design based on its purpose and/or location. Field carriages with large, spoked wheels and a wooden trail were used for open field engagements, while “garrison” or naval carriages featured compact bodies and small wheels that made them ideal for the confined spaces in fortification batteries or aboard naval vessels. Whatever their carriage, the primary projectile for guns during the period was round shot: a solid iron ball of varying size, fired on a fairly flat trajectory. Contrary to Hollywood and popular belief, round shot did not explode but could be made to skip along the ground, a practice that maximized the damage done to an infantry or cavalry target. Because round shot was solid, and thus of fairly consistent weight, guns were designated by the weight of the ball they fired. Thus a “12-pounder” gun fired a ball weighing 12 pounds, and so on. Though typically fired cold, when faced with a flammable target like a naval vessel or wooden fortification, round shot could be heated in purpose-built furnaces. This “hot shot” embedded itself in the target, creating a conflagration that was difficult to extinguish. American forces in the Niagara region utilized hot shot to great success on several occasions in 1812 and 1813. In addition to round shot, guns could fire a variety of anti-shipping and antipersonnel projectiles, the most common of which were grapeshot and case shot, or canister. The former consisted of a series of smaller solid balls and took its name from its resemblance to a bunch of grapes when assembled. Though frequently misidentified in period combat accounts, grapeshot was rarely, if ever, used on land, being reserved for use on and against naval vessels. Canister, or case shot, was an effective antipersonnel projectile and consisted of a metal cylinder filled with lead balls of musket caliber. When the weapon was fired, the cylinder would disintegrate, creating the effect of a giant shotgun. When firing round shot, most guns employed a powder charge roughly one third the weight of the projectile being fired, though there were exceptions. In the field, this charge was usually premeasured and contained in a cloth bag. In the case of some light guns, the projectile was affixed to the charge, with a wooden wadding, or sabot, between the charge and the round. The crew for the average fieldpiece varied by nation, but usually consisted of about five men to actually load and fire the piece, with another five to ten assigned to the crew to assist with aiming and maneuvering, as well as to replace any of the crew who became casualties.6 A trained gun crew could, in theory, fire eight or more shots in a minute, but this was rarely if ever the case in combat. As a weapon primarily used to batter solid targets or soldiers, the gun was designed to impart the highest practical muzzle velocity to its projectile. Thus guns tended to be long-barreled weapons, with their barrels averaging between 14 and 24 times the caliber in length. The larger the bore, the longer the range and the more destructive the projectile as larger round shot maintained much higher levels of kinetic energy at longer ranges. Guns were weighty weapons, however, and so the 120

Mars in the Wilderness

practical considerations of transport and maneuvering limited their size on the battlefield. Typically 18-pounders and larger were considered siege guns on land and were usually used only in fixed positions, though the British field artillery at the battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane included a pair of 24-pounders. These larger guns were also common aboard naval vessels. The most common field gun utilized by both sides during the War of 1812 was the light 6-pounder. In addition to traditional long guns, some naval vessels also employed carronades. These were short-barreled guns that fired heavy shot (usually weighing 32 pounds or more). They were smaller and lighter than long guns and could sometimes be served with a smaller crew, so they could be very useful in the cramped conditions aboard ship. The shorter barrel meant a reduction in range, but these weapons could be devastating at closer distances, as was demonstrated by Oliver Hazard Perry during the latter stages of the Battle of Lake Erie. Mortars and howitzers rounded out the typical roster of artillery for both U.S. and British forces in North America in 1812. Unlike guns, which fired solid shot, mortars and howitzers fired a round, exploding projectile. Mortars were mounted on a wooden bed rather than a carriage, with their angle of fire fixed at a high trajectory, roughly 45 degrees, and their range adjusted through a varying powder charge rather than a change in elevation. These weapons were designed to lob their projectiles in a high arc so as to come down on top of their target. Very useful for firing at the fixed targets encountered during siege operations, their use in the field was extremely limited. Howitzers, on the other hand, were more versatile and thus saw frequent field use by both sides. Mounted on a specialized field carriage rather than a wooden bed, howitzers could fire at a variety of elevations. They were particularly useful for firing on targets that were out of the direct line of sight, such as a body of soldiers behind a ridge or wall. Battering targets was not the function of either of these weapons, so muzzle velocity was of secondary importance. Thus both mortar and howitzer barrels were much shorter than that of a gun, and their bores tended to be larger, so as to put the largest, heaviest round possible on target. Since the projectiles fired by these artillery pieces could vary in weight, due to their design, mortars and howitzers tended to be designated by the diameter of their bore, in inches, rather than by the weight of the projectile. Thus a typical field artillery battery might consist of 6-pounder guns but 5½ -inch howitzers. To suitably confine the relatively small powder charge used to fire both mortars and howitzers, they were “double chambered,” with a smaller rear chamber designed to hold the powder. Mortars and howitzers typically fired exploding projectiles, called common shells or “bombs.” These were round, hollow iron balls that had been filled with gunpowder and that featured a circular opening for the insertion of a wooden fuse. The firing of the weapon was typically sufficient to light the fuse, which ignited the powder inside the bomb, sending large chunks of the iron sphere in various directions. Fairly unimpressive by modern pyrotechnical standards, these large chunks could do serious damage to anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path. American drummer Jarvis Hanks described the effect on “a very large and tall soldier” during the siege of Fort Erie in 1814, when “. . . a 10½ inch shell exploded fifty or sixty feet above our heads. A large piece of it fell upon the center of his body, and cut him in two, as effectually and as instantaneously, as ever the axe of the guillotine severed the head [of] one of its victims.”7 The wooden fuse that ignited a bomb contained a combustible mixture that burned at a predictable rate. The length to which a fuse should be cut was determined by the distance to the target, followed by a calculation of the time the bomb would likely take to reach it. According to British artillerist Ralph Adye, fuses for 8-, 5½ - and 4½ -inch bombs burned approximately one quarter inch per second and were marked with black lines at one second and half-second increments.8 Obviously, determining the proper fuse length was critical to the effective use of these weapons. Bombs with their fuses cut too long could embed themselves in the mud or have their fuses plucked out by a daring enemy, rendering them harmless. During the first siege of Fort Meigs, militiaman Alfred Lorrain recalled a bomb landing on the roof of the powder magazine. When it failed to explode, one of his 121

Douglas W. DeCroix

Figure 9.2 Howitzers were specialized artillery pieces, designed to fire a hollow, exploding projectile on a high trajectory, and so were ideal for indirect fire. Unlike mortars, their elevation could be varied and so they could also fire solid shot like a gun, albeit less effectively. This 5½ -inch howitzer is mounted on a reproduction field carriage typical of the robust version used for these weapons. (Douglas W. DeCroix photograph, 2012)

comrades “sprang to his feet, seized a boat-hook, and pulling the hissing missile to the ground . . . [ jerked] the smoking match from its socket. . . .” Jarvis Hanks described a bomb embedding itself in the ground before exploding, “throwing its fragments with earth, gently and feebly around, without damage.” When the ground managed to extinguish the fuse—or when it had been yanked out as in the case at Fort Meigs—Hanks explained another option. “In such cases,” he recalled, “we used to put in a new fuse, and fire them back again . . .”9 Round shot, being solid, was likewise “recyclable,” provided the ball fit the barrel of one’s gun. Conversely, when the fuses for these projectiles were cut too short, it could result in “the bombs bursting in air” of “Star Spangled Banner” fame. The artillery of both sides employed these common shells, but the British possessed an additional exploding projectile, the manufacture of which was a carefully guarded secret throughout the period. Similar to the common shell, it was filled with a number of small, musket-caliber balls in addition to the gunpowder, combining the effect of both bomb and canister round. It was known as “spherical case shot” or, more colloquially, “shrapnel shot,” after its creator, Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel. First developed in 1784, it was not accepted for use until 1803 and first used in combat the following year.10 While commonly fired from howitzers in the field, the War of 1812 also provides several examples of shrapnel shot being fired from guns. One final category of artillery used during the War of 1812 deserves a brief mention: rockets. Like shrapnel shot, these were used solely by British forces during the conflict. Consisting of a spherical projectile, a cylindrical tube containing the propellant, and a long stick that was supposed to act 122

Mars in the Wilderness

as a stabilizer in flight, rockets came in a variety of sizes. Though they made a terrifying spectacle when fired, and thus were of some psychological value, they were unpredictable weapons with highly erratic flight paths. Lieutenant David Douglass of the U.S. Engineers described the flight of these erratic weapons during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane: “None ever followed the course of the first; most of them, on arriving about the middle of the ascent, took a vertical direction.”11 On the other side of the line, Lieutenant John Le Couteur commented on their danger to friend as well as foe: “another Rocket, . . . on being fired, went off hissingly and whizzingly, but just as it should have cleared the wood, its tail touched a bough and it came flying back towards us, putting us all to the rout.”12 In addition to Lundy’s Lane, rockets were used on several other occasions by British artillerists, perhaps most famously during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, enabling Francis Scott Key to observe “the rockets’ red glare.”

Tactical Doctrine . . . by the Book Like any time period, the tactical doctrine of the War of 1812 and the larger Napoleonic Wars in Europe attempted to capitalize on the strengths of these available weapons while minimizing their weaknesses. Though advances had been made, both the technology and basic system of military tactics had been established for some time. In fact, when possible, both antagonists strove to employ what were largely similar tactical applications of their nearly identical weapons systems. The conventional wisdom of the period called for artillery to be deployed in batteries, which in both U.S. and British armies usually consisted of about four guns (6- or 12-pounders) and one or two 5½ -inch howitzers. The ideal position for such weapons was slightly elevated, with a clear view of the potential path of the enemy. This allowed the projectiles to do maximum damage, while allowing the gunners to fire over their own men, should the necessity arise. Though occasionally engaging in counter battery fire, compact formations of infantry or cavalry were usually considered the artillery’s primary target. Though the larger weapons could certainly throw their projectiles farther, the maximum effective range for most artillery in the period was about 1,200 yards. If for no other reason, this was considered the maximum range at which one could make out a target with the naked eye. Fire from the guns and howitzers was ideally cool and composed. Though some were capable of firing eight rounds per minute, maintaining this rate for any length of time would have soon exhausted both ammunition and gunners while running the risk of a premature explosion at the same time, so such rates were rarely if ever used on the battlefield. Most accounts suggest that a rate of one or two shots per minute—and sometimes less—was more the norm. Artillery presented a potentially terrifying weapon to closed formations of infantry or cavalry occupying an exposed position, as the guns could reap their harvest at ranges far beyond that where the targets could fight back. During the opening phase of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, the well-served British artillery all but destroyed Winfield Scott’s First Brigade when the men were left exposed at ideal range for an extended period. Return fire from Scott’s men was ineffective and ultimately resulted in their running low on ammunition when it was needed most. Added to range was the fact that casualties inflicted by round shot, even at extended ranges, could be spectacular indeed, which could not help but have an effect on the morale of those nearby. At ranges of 350 yards or less, British doctrine called for a switch to canister, while U.S. practice extended that range to 500–600 yards. The shower of musket balls from such a round could inflict damage similar to that of an infantry volley, but at over three times the range. But despite its ability to devastate enemy formations under the right conditions, the role of the artillery was as much psychological as physical. As Brent Nosworthy has observed in his study of Napoleonic tactics, With Musket, Cannon, and Sword, “Any good artillery officer recognized that the true effect of artillery was in its ability to demoralize the enemy at a critical moment, rather than physically to eliminate the opposing 123

Douglas W. DeCroix

force.”13 Properly positioned and served, however, it was capable of doing both, provided the enemy obliged by offering up the right target. While artillery was widely and capably used by both British and U.S. forces during the War of 1812, the use of cavalry was severely limited, relative to the war in Europe. The wooded terrain made for poor cavalry country, and so the epic charges associated with the Napoleonic Wars were few and far between. Small bodies of light horsemen (no heavy cavalry were used during the war) were still quite useful, however, and were employed by both sides for reconnaissance, communications, and to screen the movements of larger bodies of troops. Often posted to the rear or on the flanks during pitched engagements, the cavalry also stood ready to exploit the success of the other arms or to cover their retreat if necessary. The fashionable flair of the cavalry and the destructive power of the artillery to the contrary notwithstanding, however, the War of 1812 was, like the conflict in Europe, primarily an infantry struggle, and so the tactics associated with these troops typically determined the ebb and flow of battles. Inaccurate, but fairly quick to load, individually aimed fire counted for little with a musket, though there were exceptions to every rule. Therefore, the tactics of the period typically called for firing large numbers of the weapon in relatively unaimed “volleys”—a practice that yielded the rather cumbersome equivalent of a modern machine gun. The need to fire large numbers of muskets at a time dictated that the infantry units of both sides adopt a linear formation on the battlefield, so that the maximum number of weapons could be brought to bear at any given time. The basic infantry unit in the U.S. Army was the regiment, which in theory was made up of ten companies and numbered about 1,000 men, though American regiments were rarely recruited up to full strength. The British equivalent was the battalion, two or more of which made up the administrative unit known as a regiment, though they rarely served together. In theory, the second battalion of each regiment was to remain in Britain and serve as the recruiting and training organization for the first battalion, though the manpower needs of the Napoleonic Wars generated numerous exceptions. Like the U.S. infantry regiment, each British battalion was made up of 10 companies and at full strength approached 1,000 men. To reach the battlefield, most U.S. regiments used a column formation of company width or less, deploying into line only when they had reached their destination. Most British battalions were sufficiently trained to approach in line but frequently resorted to a column as well, particularly in broken or wooded country. For firing and maneuvering on the battlefield, period treatises called for both U.S. and British companies to be subdivided into more manageable bodies, often called “platoons” in a meaning different from that of this century. While these manuals stressed the use of three ranks for their linear formations, in actual practice both nations tended to use only two. Individual soldiers within each of these lines stood very close to each other. The British infantry manual stipulated “the files lightly touching, but without crowding,” and allocated about 22 inches of space per man, though in some situations the space between files was larger.14 The limited effective range of the musket dictated that opposing lines of infantry often faced each other at ranges of less than 100 yards. Suicidal from a modern perspective, this combat doctrine was actually quite practical, given the technology. Linear formations took advantage of the musket’s high rate of fire, while facing an enemy no farther away than the length of a football field minimized the weapon’s accuracy issues. The best topography for employing these linear formations was an area of relatively open ground, without significant undulations or impediments, such as fences, streams, or ravines. Though common enough in Europe, such ground was sometimes difficult to find in heavily wooded North America.

Rhetoric Meets Reality The degree of success enjoyed by the armies in executing their theoretical tactics was usually determined, not by the weaponry or tactical systems themselves, which were all but identical, but by the 124

Mars in the Wilderness

all-important factors of leadership and training, mixed with the chaotic realities that accompanied battle in the flintlock age. Standing one’s ground on an open field within shouting distance of the enemy ran counter to human nature and self-preservation, and so convincing men to do so while the mayhem and horrors of battle raged around them was no simple task. Thus executing the linear tactics of the day required a significant amount of training. A recruit needed first to master the manual of arms required to move his individual person, plus load and fire his weapon. Once proficient in these evolutions, he needed to be able to maneuver with others in the columns and lines required to reach the battlefield and then to move about on it. Finally, he needed to be instilled with the proper discipline to do all of this in the midst of the confusion and carnage of combat. The British Army estimated that it took two to three years to properly turn a raw recruit into a capable infantryman. Training the artillery and cavalry was also a long and involved process requiring both discipline and skill. A detailed evaluation of the training of officers and men in both armies lies outside the scope of this brief survey, but a number of excellent works on the subject exist and are recommended for those interested in seeking such an analysis.15 By way of summary, suffice it to say that, on the whole, the British Army in North America benefited from a long-standing system of training that had recently been significantly improved upon through some much-needed reform. Infantry recruits were trained according to a single manual issued and approved by the War Office, and following the reforms of the previous decades the vast majority of the officer corps was made up of competent professionals. In addition to theoretical training, the long war with Napoleon had provided many of the officers and men serving in British North America with valuable combat experience. By contrast, the U.S. Army had no universal system of training in place in 1812. There were numerous drill manuals in use, and thus different units often experienced difficulty maneuvering together as a larger group. The pre-war Army was quite small; prior to 1812 it numbered only seven regiments of infantry, two of artillery (including the so-called Regiment of Light Artillery that had no horses), a single regiment of rifles, and a single regiment of (dismounted) dragoons. Full units rarely served together prior to the declaration of war, as the infantry and artillery regiments were scattered across the seaboard and frontier posts in company-sized garrisons. Thus not only were the soldiers themselves bereft of any experience maneuvering as a larger formation, their officers (up to and including the generals) also lacked any opportunity to work with larger units in a meaningful way. The Army’s size was increased on paper in January 1812 in anticipation of the coming conflict, and additional paper augmentations would be made during the war, though often-poor recruiting resulted in units rarely reaching their paper strength. These realities combined to ensure that the vast majority of U.S. soldiers entered the war with limited training and little or no practical combat experience. In most cases, the officers were as green as their men. Further exacerbating the situation was the fact that much of the American army was made up of the states’ militia, whose part-time attention to military drill and popularly elected leaders could hardly be expected to match the skill and training of their regular adversaries. The British, too, numbered militia troops among their forces in North America, but on the whole, their organization and training were superior to that of their American counterparts, though not in every case. When these green troops were led by either aging or politically appointed generals, who lacked the confidence of their men and often possessed questionable military skills, the results were predictable. However, not all was bleak. The military academy at West Point had been turning out young, professional officers for nearly a decade. These men would prove themselves great assets to the American cause, particularly in the skilled sciences of artillery and military engineering. Still other relatively young men of talent would rise through the officer ranks as the war went on, giving the United States a far more competent army by the final year of the conflict. Even with adequate training and/or practical combat experience, however, the tactical performance of men and weapons under combat conditions could be expected to vary dramatically from 125

Douglas W. DeCroix

Figure 9.3 This plate from the fifth edition of Paraclete Potter’s The Infantry Exercise of the United States Army shows a portion of the soldier’s manual of arms. Though published in 1824, these diagrams are identical to those included in Alexander Smyth’s manual of 1812, which was used by most of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. (Author’s collection)

the results recorded in the manuals and treatises of the period. While in practice, a trained soldier was capable of firing four to five shots per minute from his musket, this rate fell to two to three rounds per minute in combat. In an experiment conducted by William Duane prior to the war, it was also found that after about eight minutes of firing at this rate, the barrel of the musket became too hot to hold, and soldiers were forced to hold the weapon by its sling.16 This placed obvious limitations on the length of time one could utilize such a weapon in combat at one stretch. Even with the reduced rate of fire and limited single engagement time, it might be expected that significant casualties would accrue in such a close-range action. Such was usually not the case, however, as the ratio of shots fired to casualties inflicted was still quite low. One modern study has concluded that at 100 yards only an estimated 15 percent of rounds fired were effective.17 This low casualty rate was due to a number of factors over and above the inherent inaccuracy of the musket. As mentioned above, a significant percentage of muskets could be expected to misfire when the order was given. In addition, the ballistics of the musket ball caused a tendency to fire high, and many shots missed their mark due to the lack of understanding, or application, of proper leveling techniques based on the range to target. Brent Nosworthy has demonstrated that, on the whole, the 126

Mars in the Wilderness

British placed more emphasis on leveling in the years leading up to 1812, though certainly the concept was known to Americans as well. It has often been suggested that additional rounds dedicated to target practice in peacetime might have helped remedy the problem, but the ideal conditions experienced in practice varied so much from combat realities that this is unlikely.18 The fact of the matter was that, in most cases involving an extended firefight, the controlled volley fire soon turned to firing at will, at which point the effectiveness of the fire all but disappeared. Lest these men and their officers be judged too harshly for sliding into such an undisciplined practice, consideration should be given to the description of linear battle conditions provided by John Mitchell, an officer in the Royal Artillery. Though Mitchell penned his thoughts in the decades following the war, they still provide an accurate picture of the confusion and mayhem associated with linear combat in the age of flintlocks and black powder: What precision of aim or direction can be expected from soldiers when firing in line? One man is priming; another coming to the present; a third taking, what is called, aim; a fourth ramming down his cartridge. After the few first shots, the whole body are closely enveloped in smoke, and the enemy is totally invisible; some of the soldiers step out a pace or two, in order to get a better shot; others kneel down; and some have no objection to retire a step or so. The doomed begin to fall, dreadfully mutilated perhaps, and even bold men shrink from the sight; others are wounded, and assisted to the rear by their comrades; so that the whole soon becomes a line of utter confusion, in which the mass only think of getting their shot fired, they hardly care how or in what direction.19 In case Mitchell should be suspected of overstating his case, there is the North American example of George Ferguson, a soldier in the British 100th Regiment of Foot. Writing after the war, Ferguson observed he had fired his musket only once during the course of the not-insignificant fighting his battalion saw on the Niagara Frontier. Even then, he was sure he had failed to kill anyone. The British attempted to compensate for such realities by entreating their men to hold their fire until the enemy reached such a range where the initial volley could not help but be the most devastating. Numerous accounts from both Europe and North America note the calm, quiet demeanor of a British battle line, with nothing but the calming cautions of the officers breaking the stoic silence. This behavior often provided a stark contrast to that of their opponents, as observed by Lieutenant George Gleig as his battalion moved on an American force near Bladensburg, Maryland, in the fall of 1814. “The Americans, from the instant our advanced guard came into view, continued to rend the air with shouts,” Gleig recalled. “Our men marched on, silent as the grave, and orderly as people at a funeral. Not a word was spoken, scarcely a whisper passed from man to man, but each held his breath, and mustered up his best courage for the shock.”20 The combination of holding their fire and the attention to leveling—when executed successfully—resulted in a single close-range volley that was in itself more devastating than the sum of a prolonged, chaotic firefight at longer range. It took training and discipline to carry off such a tactic, but it had devastating results, especially when followed up by a bayonet charge, as the British infantry had demonstrated time and again against the French on the battlefields of Spain. The inexperienced and poorly trained U.S. infantry at the beginning of the War of 1812 could not hope to match such discipline and so suffered accordingly at the hands of the more experienced enemy. Numerous are the examples of these benighted soldiers wasting their fire in ragged nonvolleys at extreme range. Presented with such a situation, it was often difficult for officers to organize their men, cease the useless fire, and restore order, as the officers of Swartout’s Fourth Brigade discovered during the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. Nonetheless, by the Niagara campaign of 1814, the American soldier demonstrated that, properly trained and led, and with some combat experience, he could give as good as he got when he met his red-coated foe. The carnage of that campaign clearly demonstrated the result of like tactical doctrines applied by equally competent antagonists. 127

Douglas W. DeCroix

Irregular Tactics To cast the wars of the early nineteenth century solely as examples of opposing lines doing battle in close proximity to each other, while interspersed with the occasional gun or horseman, would be to greatly distort reality—particularly in the wilds of North America. In addition to the closed linear ranks of infantry, there were additional troops—armed with both muskets and rifles—who fought in more irregular formations, taking advantage of cover and usually taking greater care to individually aim their shots. Dubbed light infantry and/or skirmishers, these specialized troops usually fought in pairs and could be used to reconnoiter, screen an advancing body of infantry, or to harass the enemy’s formations prior to the main assault by friendly troops. Light infantry was also used to cover the retreat of these larger formations when necessary. During linear actions, they were often deployed to protect a commander’s flanks. Each British battalion had one of its companies designated as a light infantry company, though it was not unheard of for the grenadier company of a battalion to also serve in such a capacity in North America. In addition, a number of full battalions of light infantry had been formed by the British over the course of the Napoleonic Wars, and several of these saw action in North America toward the later stages of the War of 1812. Though American regiments also had one or more companies that were sometimes designated as light infantry, there was no official policy for their training and use. The rifle regiments of both nations were also considered light infantry and functioned as effective skirmishers. Obviously such independent and irregular tactics as practiced by the light infantry required specialized training by elite bodies of soldiery. “The requisite qualities of this class of soldiers,” opined one British treatise of the period, “besides good wind and long endurance of quick movements on irregular grounds . . . are a correct and ready knowledge of the aspects of ground and position, a mind of enterprise, [and] a bold and daring courage—ardent in pursuit of glory.”21 Clearly not everyone was up to the challenge required for such work. In action, a company of skirmishers typically deployed a portion of its strength in advance of the rest of the unit, with its pairs widely extended from each other so as to cover a large expanse of ground while providing a minimal target for opposing infantry or artillery. While line infantry usually stood, light troops were encouraged to kneel, squat, or even lie down, so as to take advantage of any cover offered by their position. Once deployed, these men worked in their pairs, firing alternately when called upon to do so, but usually in a very slow and deliberate fashion, conserving ammunition while making every shot count. The remainder of the unit was staged at varying distances to the rear, to react to any enemy maneuver and to serve as a tactical reserve and rallying point for the extended pairs. On a larger scale, these light infantry units adhered to a tactical doctrine similar to that used by U.S. infantry squads of much more recent conflicts. Light infantry not only provided a valuable and flexible addition to the close order linear formations of infantry, such elite soldiers were extremely valuable in the broken tracts of North America, through which much of the War of 1812 was fought. Even further removed from the mainstream linear tactics that dominated the period was a class of combatant unique to the struggle in North America—the native warriors who augmented both armies throughout the conflict. Largely utilizing western weapons, but culturally disinclined to stand and suffer the casualties endured by their western allies, these warriors were masters of irregular warfare. They often proved a valuable adjunct to a more regular force, despite being “ticklish friends” who could be difficult to control and direct.22 Typically posting themselves on the fringes of a battle, their sporadic firing effectively harassed their enemy. Likewise, their whoops and other noises struck terror into many a white soldier. During the Battle of Queenston Heights, the warriors with John Norton prompted the following statement from New York militiaman Jared Wilson: “I thought that hell had broken loose and let her dogs of war upon us. . . . I expected every moment to be made a ‘cold yankee’ . . .” The terror was not one-sided, however, as native warriors also fought alongside the U.S. forces, a fact that was not lost on young John Le Couteur. On marching to join the Battle


Mars in the Wilderness

of Lundy’s Lane, the lieutenant of the 104th Foot acknowledged his willingness to die for his country, but added his hope that “no worse than a wound might befall me—nor a fall into the hands of the Savages—death we thought preferable.”23 Native allies also provided both armies with an unmatched reconnaissance capacity, as Le Couteur likewise noted, using a quaint nickname for his indigenous colleagues: “most invaluable allies they were—no surprises with Nitchie on the lookout.”24 By and large, the War of 1812 utilized identical military technology to the larger conflict in Europe, while the armies in North America also attempted to apply tactical doctrines that were similar to those used in the wars of Napoleon. Though largely similar, the realities of war in North America, along with the existence of forces almost unknown across the Atlantic, played upon these tactical doctrines to forge a conflict that was, in many ways, unique from the struggle that spawned it. A proper understanding of the weapons technology of the period and how it was applied to these realities is essential for an enlightened interpretation of the seminal events of 1812–15.

Notes 1. B. P. Hughes, Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630–1850 (New York, 1997), 59. 2. Picard, in his history of the campaign of 1800, suggested that the mean error for the French musket at 150 meters was 75cm in height and 60cm laterally. Quoted in Hughes, Firepower, 27. 3. George Hanger and John Joseph Stockdale, Colonel George Hanger, To All Sportsmen, and Particularly to Farmers, and Gamekeepers (London, 1814), 205 4. Hughes, Firepower, 12 5. William Duane, A Hand Book for Riflemen Containing the First Principles of Military Discipline, Founded on Rational Method: Intended to Explain in a Familiar and Practical Manner, the Discipline and Duties of Rifle Corps: Conformable to the System Established for the United States’ Military Force, and the Latest Improvements in the Modern Art of War. 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, 1813), 97. 6. Detailed delineations of the prescribed size of artillery crews and their duties may be found in Ralph Willett Adye, The Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner (Boston, 1804), 100–115. For a similar American discussion, see the relevant sections of Amos Stoddard, Exercise for Garrison and Field Ordnance: Together with Manoeuvres of Horse Artillery, as Altered from the Manual of General Kosciusko and Applied to the Service of the United States (New York, 1812). 7. Donald E. Graves, ed. Soldiers of 1814: American Enlisted Men’s Memoirs of the Niagara Campaign (Youngstown, NY, 1995), 42. 8. Adye, The Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner, 144. 9. Alfred M. Lorrain, The Helm, the Sword, and the Cross: a Life Narrative (Cincinnati, 1862), 131; Graves, ed., Soldiers of 1814, 40. 10. Hughes, Firepower, 34. 11. David B. Douglass, “An Original Narrative of the Niagara Campaign of 1814,” edited by John F. Horton, Niagara Frontier 11 (Spring 1964), 13. 12. Donald E. Graves, ed., Merry Hearts Make Light Days: The War of 1812 Journal of Lieutenant John Le Couteur, 104th Foot (Ottawa, 1994), 172. 13. Brent Nosworthy, With Musket, Cannon, and Sword: Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies (New York, 1996), 387. For another modern discussion of the psychological effect of artillery, see Rory Muir, Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon (New Haven, CT, 1998), 47. 14. War Office, Great Britain, Rules and Regulations for the Manual and Platoon Exercises, Formations, Field-Exercise, and Movements of His Majesty’s Forces: For the Use of Non-Commissioned Officers of the British Army (London, 1807), 50. 15. J. A. Houlding presents a detailed analysis of British Army training in the late eighteenth century in Fit for Service (Oxford, 1981), while Richard Glover provides insight into the post-1795 reforms of the British military in Peninsular Preparation (Cambridge, 1963). Similar examinations of the U.S. Army are not as common, but a good understanding of the training of General Jacob Brown’s Left Division prior to the 1814 campaign on the Niagara Frontier—as well as how it compared to previous efforts—can be had by reading Donald Graves’s “I have a handsome little army” in War Along the Niagara: Essays on the War of 1812 and Its Legacy, edited by R. Arthur Bowler (Youngstown, NY, 1991). 16. William Duane, The American Military Library; or, Compendium of the Modern Tactics (Philadelphia, 1809), 182. 17. Hughes, Firepower, 64.


Douglas W. DeCroix 18. Nosworthy, With Musket, Cannon, and Sword, 230–34. American William Duane observed the value of leveling in American Military Library, 176. For a discussion of target practice, see Nosworthy, With Musket, Cannon, and Sword, 207. 19. John Mitchell, Thoughts on Tactics and Military Organization: Together with an Enquiry into the Power and Position of Russia (London, 1838), 160. 20. George Robert Gleig, A Subaltern in America; Comprising His Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, &c. &c. During the Late War (Philadelphia, 1833), 68. 21. Quoted in Thomas H. Cooper, A Practical Guide for the Light Infantry Officer (London, 1806), xvii. 22. Graves, Merry Hearts, 127. 23. Jared Willson, “A Rifleman of Queenston,” Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society 9 (1906): 374; Graves, Merry Hearts, 174. 24. Graves, Merry Hearts, 127.

Annotated Bibliography Adye, Ralph Willett. The Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner. Boston, 1804. Published a decade before the war, this encyclopedically arranged volume provides considerable useful information relative to the details and service of British artillery during the period. Campbell, Neil. Instructions for Light Infantry and Riflemen: Founded Upon the Regulations for the Exercise of Infantry in Close Order, and the Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry. London, 1813. Campbell’s light infantry treatise is particularly insightful, as the methodology described therein was the result of actual combat experience in Spain and Portugal. This important fact separates it from the many peacetime and/or “armchair” treatises published on the subject and makes it a much more accurate reflection of the tactics actually employed versus theoretically prescribed. Cooper, Thomas H. A Practical Guide for the Light Infantry Officer. London, 1806. Written for the uninitiated, Cooper’s treatise provides important insight into many of the more mundane details of tactics often overlooked in such period works, as so many of the works assume familiarity with such details. Douglass, David B. “An Original Narrative of the Niagara Campaign of 1814.” edited by John F. Horton, Niagara Frontier 11 (Spring 1964), 1–36. Written by a Yale graduate who joined the U.S. Engineers upon graduation, Douglass’s account provides useful information on many of the technical aspects of the Niagara campaign from the point of view of a professional. Duane, William. The American Military Library; or, Compendium of the Modern Tactics. Philadelphia, 1809. Unlike his handbooks for infantry and rifles (see next entry), this publication provides insight into a number of important topics, relative to weapons and tactics of the period, again based largely on French sources and the author’s observations of practical experiments. Particularly useful is his summary of experiments relative to rates of fire. ———. A Hand Book for Riflemen Containing the First Principles of Military Discipline, Founded on Rational Method: Intended to Explain in a Familiar and Practical Manner, the Discipline and Duties of Rifle Corps: Conformable to the System Established for the United States’ Military Force, and the Latest Improvements in the Modern Art of War. Philadelphia, 1813. Written by a prolific pre-war author of military works in the United States, Duane’s treatises provide a useful look at the state of American tactical and military knowledge during the period. Despite not being widely used in an official capacity, Duane’s works were largely based on French manuals as well as his own experimentations. [Gleig, George Robert]. A Subaltern in America; Comprising His Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, &c. &c. During the Late War. Philadelphia, 1833. An officer of the 85th Light Infantry, Gleig served in both the Peninsular War and in the Chesapeake and New Orleans campaigns. The author of two period narratives, he provides useful information on a variety of topics, from daily life and officer’s effects to tactics and the British assessment of their enemies. Glover, Richard. Peninsular Preparation: the Reform of the British Army, 1795–1809. Cambridge, 1963. Glover’s volume is required reading for anyone wishing to understand this important period of reform in the British Army. From administration and training to technology, the author demonstrates how Britain overcame its peacetime military malaise to become one of the world’s foremost military powers. Graves, Donald E. “‘I have a handsome little army . . . ’: A Re-examination of Winfield Scott’s Camp at Buffalo in 1814.” In War Along the Niagara: Essays on the War of 1812 and its Legacy. Edited by R. Arthur Bowler, Youngstown, NY, 1991, 43–52. This brief essay represents an important revisionist look at the training of the U.S. Left Division in Buffalo during the spring of 1814, correcting a number of pervasive myths and misconceptions surrounding the novelty of Scott’s methods and ideas. ———, ed. Merry Hearts Make Light Days: The War of 1812 Journal of Lieutenant John Le Couteur, 104th Foot. Ottawa, 1994. Le Couteur’s journal recounts a portion of the fighting in the Niagara region in 1814. His


Mars in the Wilderness battle accounts provide valuable information on tactics and weapons when consulted with other primary and secondary treatises on the subject. ———, ed. Soldiers of 1814: American Enlisted Men’s Memoirs of the Niagara Campaign. Youngstown, NY, 1995. This useful collection brings together in one volume a trio of important contemporary U.S. accounts of the fighting on the northern frontier. Jarvis Hanks’s memoir, in particular, contains numerous references to the effectiveness of the weapons used during the conflict. Great Britain, War Office. Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry, and Instructions for Their Conduct in the Field. London, 1798. Penned by veteran light infantryman Baron de Rottenburg, this manual conveys the “official” British tactical doctrine on the subject and provides an important prerequisite to understanding both Campbell’s “veteran” treatise and contemporary tactical accounts of the action in both Europe and North America. ———. Rules and Regulations for the Manual and Platoon Exercises, Formations, Field-Exercise, and Movements of His Majesty’s Forces: For the Use of Non-Commissioned Officers of the British Army. London, 1807. This officially sanctioned manual provided the basis for training British infantry during the period and is an essential source to understanding how the British Army functioned on the battlefield and why. Hanger, George, and Stockdale, John Joseph. Colonel George Hanger, To All Sportsmen, and Particularly to Farmers, and Gamekeepers. London, 1814. A colorful contemporary pontification on a variety of military and non-military subjects, with a lengthy treatise on the efficacy of the small arms and tactics of the period. Houlding, J. A. Fit for Service: the Training of the British Army, 1715–1795. Oxford, 1981. Houlding’s study provides a definitive discussion of the training doctrine and procedures of the British Army during the heyday of the flintlock musket. Hughes, B. P. Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630–1850. New York, 1997. This evaluation of the weapons employed during the flintlock era is a useful synthesis of period observations and modern interpretation, making it a required reading for understanding the efficacy and limitations of the period’s tools of war. Lorrain, Alfred M. The Helm, the Sword, and the Cross: a Life Narrative. Cincinnati, 1862. A portion of Lorrain’s narrative provides one of the more literate and evocative accounts of the experience of Harrison’s Northwestern Army during the campaign of 1813, including useful details on the use of British artillery during the siege of Fort Meigs. Lynn, John A. The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791–94. Urbana, 1984. Though pre-dating the War of 1812 in focus, Lynn’s work provides an instructive framework for evaluating the tactical efficacy of any period through his attention to both the rhetorical material used for training and the psychological aspects of soldiering in the flintlock era. Mitchell, John. Thoughts on Tactics and Military Organization: Together with an Enquiry into the Power and Position of Russia. London, 1838. Though written in the decade following the War of 1812, Mitchell’s treatise nonetheless addresses many of the shortcomings and realities associated with the tactical doctrines of the period, providing a useful companion to the many “official” manuals adopted by the British and U.S. armies. Muir, Rory. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon. New Haven, CT, 1998. Though primarily focused on the war in Europe, Muir’s modern interpretation represents one of a handful of modern studies to examine the realities of battle in the Napoleonic Wars. Nosworthy, Brent. With Musket, Cannon, and Sword: Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies. New York, 1996. Another outstanding modern evaluation of the tactical doctrine of the European conflict, Nosworthy’s study also contains a useful discussion of the weapons of the period, their efficacy, and limitations. Park, S. J., and Nafziger, George F. The British Military: Its System and Organization, 1803–1815. Cambridge, ON, 1983. The British military organization of the early nineteenth century was a complex and often confusing one, making this overview a useful guide in understanding this seminal period of military history. [Smyth, Alexander]. Regulations for the Field Exercise, Manoeuvres, and Conduct of the Infantry of the United States, Drawn Up and Adapted to the Organization of the Militia and Regular Troops. Philadelphia, 1812. Largely plagiarized from a variety of French sources, Smyth’s work provided the basis for much of the U.S. Army’s training during the war and thus is an essential source for understanding its tactical doctrine. Stoddard, Amos. Exercise for Garrison and Field Ordnance: Together with Manoeuvres of Horse Artillery, as Altered from the Manual of General Kosciusko and Applied to the Service of the United States. New York, 1812. As the title suggests, this U.S. artillery treatise was largely lifted from the revolutionary officer, but provides the modern student with a clear understanding of American doctrine, relative to the use of artillery during the period. Willson, Jared. “A Rifleman of Queenston.” Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, 9 (1906): 373–76. Willson’s brief period narrative paints a vivid picture of war as experienced by one of America’s “citizen soldiers” during the opening campaigns of 1812 and includes a number of references to the tactics and psychological efficacy of the native warriors during the conflict.



The indigenous population affected by the War of 1812 lived across enormous expanses of territory, ranging from the west side of the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast in the United States, and from the northerly reaches of the Great Lakes watershed in Upper and Lower Canada to the Spanish colonies of East and West Florida. The aboriginal peoples involved in the conflict belonged largely to four linguistic families, each of which encompassed a number of distinct tongues and nations. One language group was the Iroquoian. Most famously it included the Six Nations Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee): Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras living in New York and in the two Canadas. Other Iroquoians comprised people such as the Wyandots in the Ohio country and Cherokees in Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory. A second language group was the Algonquian, which embraced such tribes as the Foxes (or Mesquakies) and Sauks of the upper Mississippi; the Shawnees, Miamis, and Potawatomis of the Old Northwest (centered around Lake Michigan); the Ojibwas and Mississaugas who occupied both sides of the Great Lakes border regions; and natives who pursued their lives in New England and beyond, such as the Abenakis and Mohegans. A third language group was the Siouan, which saw people such as the Dakota Sioux from the western part of the upper Mississippi River and Tutelos in Upper Canada take up arms in the war. The fourth group was the Muskogean language family, which most famously incorporated the Creeks of Georgia and the Mississippi Territory, but included nations such as the Chickasaws and Choctaws.1 On geographic, linguistic, and tribal considerations alone, it is only natural that the First Nations story in the War of 1812 would be many-sided. Further complexities arose because the ethnic composition of indigenous communities tended to be diverse due to intermarriage, in-migration, and other factors that incorporated people of various aboriginal, white, and black ancestries into the families, clans, and lineages of their villages and nations. In addition, religion was both important and multifaceted: there was a considerable range of indigenous faiths, and a good portion of the population had accepted Christianity in either its Roman Catholic or varied Protestant forms, and then many converts comfortably retained their native beliefs as well (contrary to the wishes of the missionaries and clergy who served them). Other complications included the amount of independence exercised by particular communities, as represented by the restricted reservation existence of most aboriginal peoples in New England and New York compared to the freedoms enjoyed along the upper Mississippi by natives who utilized vast ranges of territory to pursue traditional lifeways (although no group stood unaffected by 150 or more years of contact with Euro-Americans by 1812). For most of those within the United States who occupied small tracts or reservation or other restricted lands surrounded by the newcomer population, attempts to maintain independence through military means lay mainly 132

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

in the past by the outbreak of the Anglo-American war, while many others, with larger territories on the margins of the expanding settler society, still aspired to withstand the menace to their well-being posed by the American republic. Other aboriginal groups profoundly affected by the conflict had their homes within the British provinces to the north, with those living in Upper and Lower Canada being most engaged in the war. For them, there was less pressure to alienate land, while the colonial economy integrated natives better than did that of the United States. Furthermore, the First Nations and British crown had a stronger history of preserving some sort of modus vivendi than was the case south of the Euro-American border. Nevertheless, natives in these colonies lived in tension with the dominant society, and serious problems existed, such as over newcomers’ settlement practices, with a representative example being the damming of rivers for mills that destroyed indigenous fisheries.

Multiple Wars In recognizing the multiplicities in the native world and then integrating them into an understanding of the Anglo-American confrontation, it is useful to conceptualize the events of the period for First Nations as comprising multiple wars of 1812, divided fundamentally along geographical lines. The easterly portions of the Old Northwest and neighboring parts of Upper Canada encompassed one area. A second region comprised the westerly regions of the Old Northwest and the upper Mississippi River. The rest of the Canadas, from the source of the Thames River eastward, along with New York (and, to some extent, the contiguous states) formed a third. The South—centered in the Mississippi Territory—was a fourth. While these categorizations are legitimate, given how hostilities unfolded differently in these distinct areas, they should not be seen as impermeable. Indigenous people regularly crossed boundaries and some fought far from their villages within differing contexts from those of concern to their home communities. They did this either as individuals or as members of (often dissident) war parties, with, for instance, people from the upper Mississippi seeing action on the Detroit and Niagara fronts. As well, some villages divided over questions of peace or war and over issues of alliance. Moreover, native societies accepted considerable personal freedom, with the result that there were substantial fluidities as to how the residents of various communities responded to changing events and conditions, especially when evolving situations had particular effects in their homelands. Additionally, there were intricacies beyond regional concerns, such as those generated when some people took up arms for personal or cultural reasons that were not particularly connected to their community’s geopolitical interests (such as views on warfare’s role in affirming masculinity). All these factors extend the notion of multiple wars of 1812.

Population Although the story of aboriginal involvement in the war is both complex and important, the number of indigenous people compared to the Euro-American populations was modest. For instance, across the parts of the Great Lakes region most affected by the conflict, there were about 60,000 natives in 1812 within some 30 nations and scores of villages. In contrast, the newcomer population of Ohio alone was at least four times greater, while Upper Canada had approximately 75,000 settlers. Collectively, there were roughly 12,000 men of military age within the First Nations of the Great Lakes, but of course not all were able or willing to fight, and people changed their minds over issues of belligerency, alliance, and neutrality as circumstances changed. During the conflict, the Americans might expect the support of up to 1,800 of these men, while the majority of the rest aligned with the British. Naturally, not all the warriors could be gathered at once, and rarely could war parties assemble for an extended period because their members had economic and other responsibilities to fulfill for their families. 133

Carl Benn

Easterly Portions of the Old Northwest: The Background to 1812 Most scholarly and popular attention devoted to indigenous issues in the War of 1812 focuses on the easterly portion of America’s Old Northwest (the Indiana and Michigan territories and much of Ohio) along with the adjoining southwestern and northern regions of the British colony of Upper Canada. Within the American portion of this area, the famous Shawnee military and diplomatic leader, Tecumseh, and his prophet half brother, Tenskwatawa, began to form a broad aboriginal confederacy in 1805, and in 1808 established Prophetstown at the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers as a political and spiritual center for their movement, with dreams of expanding their alliance beyond the “Western Tribes” to embrace a large proportion of the First Nations of eastern North America. Building upon a tradition of pan-tribal desires for unity to protect natives from colonizing powers, these two Shawnees wished to stop the alienation of indigenous lands to the United States. They sought to preserve enough territorial integrity for their societies to maintain their ways of life and for their communities to evolve on their own terms, while avoiding the degradations that afflicted so many of their people as a result of the exploitation and impoverishment that occurred when settlers—hostile to aboriginal concerns—transformed the physical, economic, and cultural environment around them and imposed their wills on the numerically smaller native people. Much of their conceptualization of their desires came within an aboriginal prophetic religious tradition that often has eluded observers. In part, it promoted a belief that First Nations could recover from the crises they faced through reestablishing a proper relationship with the spiritual powers of the universe, thus ascribing many of their problems to a perspective that their communities had lost their way through the corrupting influences of the Euro-American world. Such a prophetic view, which placed much of the responsibility for the native plight upon themselves, correspondingly gave them the power to solve their distress, unlike an apocalyptic religious response that only could see redemption coming through direct divine intervention. Yet, a large part of Tenskwatawa’s message racialized the difference between whites and natives, which indicated how the structures of Euro-American prejudice had been absorbed into the indigenous realm, albeit through inversion, as such constructs had not been part of traditional aboriginal assumptions about humanity. Many people attracted to the confederacy embraced these spiritual values while others understood the struggle within more temporal frameworks (further underscoring the diversities of the indigenous world even within particular regions). Some natives shared similar thoughts and advocated comparable solutions independently of Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh, and thus their movement enjoyed broad appeal (which warns scholars against attributing the inspiration for the resistance to American expansion simply to these two men despite their obvious importance). The movement founded by the Shawnee siblings fitted a continuum dating back to at least the time of the Seven Years War in the 1750s, two decades before the United States achieved independence from Great Britain, when the indigenous peoples of the lower Great Lakes had fought in hopes of achieving similar objectives against Euro-American powers that wished to dominate them. (Some historians, in shifting their focus from white to native history, refer to the period from 1754 to 1814 as the Sixty Years War because of the continuities in aboriginal resistance throughout the several conflicts that afflicted the region between those dates.) One of the crises that tortured the minds of Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, and others was the war for the Ohio country of the latter 1780s and early 1790s in which indigenous people had fought settlers who threatened their lives and well-being. The tribes lost the struggle and reluctantly accepted the conditions of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 in which they surrendered enormous tracts of land. The treaty, however, held out the prospect of creating a clear border between natives and newcomers, which generated some sense of optimism, but any such feelings that the tribespeople may have embraced evaporated quickly as Americans vigorously continued to alienate indigenous territory beyond the treaty line soon after the boundary had been drawn.


Figure 10.1 First Nations of the Old Northwest and Adjoining Regions, 1812–15. (Map from Carl Benn, Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess)

Carl Benn

While substantial numbers of people from the easterly parts of the Old Northwest joined the confederacy inspired by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, the half brothers enjoyed limited support beyond. Even within their own region, some natives chose neutrality, or even aligned with the United States, (including a sizeable number of Shawnees). Those who allied with the republic generally opposed the loss of land, but were motivated by various, often conflicting, issues. These included antagonism towards Tecumseh’s challenge to traditional leadership and social structures, rejection of Tenskwatawa’s prophecies, as well as political and other divisions within native communities, desires to change aboriginal economies with American help to resemble that of the settlers, and hopes of acquiring the republic’s support for indigenous concerns in return for maintaining friendly relations with it. American authorities regarded the developing confederacy with alarm, and in 1811 sent troops to destroy it in response to its growing threat to their interests and increasing levels of violence between natives and settlers. William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory and a primary figure in acquiring indigenous lands, marched on Prophetstown. The two sides fought the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7 a short distance from the village, where the Americans lost more men but held the field against a smaller force of Shawnees, Piankashaws, Winnebagos, Potawatomis, and others. Harrison then burned Prophetstown (although the confederates rebuilt it soon afterwards). Tecumseh was away at the time, but Tenskwatawa suffered some diminution of his standing in light of the defeat because he had prophesized success. The battle occurred before the Shawnee leaders thought they would be ready to confront the Americans because they had hoped to enlarge their movement so that they either could promote their interests through negotiation or fight from a position of greater strength than they had achieved by that point. Yet, while Harrison won a tactical victory, the battle hardened rather than weakened First Nations militancy and solidarity, and thus was a strategic failure. The Battle of Tippecanoe occurred seven months prior to the outbreak of Anglo-American hostilities in June 1812. Before the United States declared war on Great Britain, crown officials had watched events in the Old Northwest with concern. Should they have to fight a war in the Great Lakes region, they knew they would need the support of a large portion of the native population in both their own and American territory if they hoped to defend the colonies. The odds against them otherwise would be too long given the limited numbers of British soldiers who could be deployed in the provinces because of the great struggle in Europe against Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet, they also realized that if peace between the republic and its indigenous peoples could be preserved, then tensions that might contribute to a decision by the administration in Washington to invade the Canadas might be defused. The government of the United Kingdom did not want a military conflict with America. Therefore, before the United States declared war, King George III’s agents had walked a fine line: they encouraged the First Nations to maintain peace but they did so in a way that would not cripple subsequent attempts to recruit indigenous help should an invasion occur. To many Americans, who did not understand or who consciously chose to overlook the delicate dance of British-First Nations diplomacy, the presence of crown officials and the ongoing economic, familial, and other connections between British subjects and natives pointed to an assault on American sovereignty and ultimately became a stated cause of the war. The reality, however, was that there was no need for the United States to fight Great Britain in order to conquer and dispossess the First Nations in the republic’s Old Northwest. Proof lies in the course of American expansion before and after the 1812–15 conflict, with one especially telling example being the earlier Ohio country war. In the 1790s, the administration of George Washington did not engage in a serious clash with Britain, despite threats to do so, even though the king’s soldiers and officials had taken a far more aggressive attitude toward supporting the natives south of their border than they ever dreamt of doing in the years leading up to 1812. For the Western Tribes, an alliance with Great Britain offered the possibility of fulfilling their desires because they would be able to obtain weapons and supplies, and possibly see soldiers deployed 136

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

alongside their warriors. As well, it would serve as an encouragement to the indigenous population in the Canadas to join the fight. Nevertheless, there were good reasons to approach a relationship with the United Kingdom with caution. First, they knew the British were militarily weak in the Great Lakes region and understood that the amount of help they might secure might be inadequate in making a meaningful difference in achieving their objectives. Second, they remembered how the king’s diplomats had failed to protect aboriginal interests at the end of the American Revolution, when crown officials accepted an unnecessarily generous border with the new republic through the Great Lakes rather than farther south (such as along the Ohio River), and thus placed many of the region’s tribes within a hostile and expanding United States. Third, they resented the weakness of British aid in the war for the Ohio country, interpreting it as a betrayal of promises made to them. Accordingly, natives worried that their interests would not be supported adequately by their white ally in a new conflict. Nevertheless, it only made sense to align with Britain to harness whatever help they could acquire once the United States expanded the confrontation on its frontiers by declaring war on the United Kingdom.

Easterly Portions of the Old Northwest: The Fighting Early in the Anglo-American struggle, on July 17, 1812, British forces captured the strategic American post of Mackinac at the head of Lake Michigan. To some degree, this released pent-up indigenous resentment toward the United States, which had been building in First Nations’ minds beyond the Western Tribal Confederacy as people reflected upon the injustices they had experienced from the republic and its citizens over previous decades. It also indicated that the British in fact were willing to fight and, for the traditionally minded, that they seem to have garnered impressive spiritual powers to help them succeed. Furthermore, the victory was achieved at almost no cost. This was important to native societies with their small populations and with their perspectives that each member of their communities possessed value in both spiritual and temporal terms, which therefore led them to interpret costly military successes as fundamentally equivalent to defeats. In the aftermath of Mackinac, warriors from the northern parts of Upper Canada and the Old Northwest traveled south to the Detroit region to join a concentration of British troops and Western Tribesmen to oppose the American army that had invaded Upper Canada at today’s Windsor, Ontario, on July 12 (although before the surrender of Mackinac most of those who had accompanied the British force there had watched rather than participated in the capture of that post). During the next few weeks, the British and First Nations cooperated against their common enemy effectively, with the campaign concluding on August 16 when the American army capitulated at Detroit and surrendered the Michigan Territory (while a Potawatomi force destroyed the garrison at Fort Dearborn in today’s Chicago on August 15). These events seemed to suggest that the dream of creating an independent native homeland in the Old Northwest might be fulfilled. Nevertheless, in other parts of the region, the Americans successfully defended Fort Wayne and destroyed a number of aboriginal villages, so the balance of power had not swung as decisively against the United States on that front in 1812 as commonly has been asserted. Beyond these factors, the massive population imbalance in favor of the republic suggested that holding the gains of 1812 would be difficult once the Americans organized countermeasures. Early in 1813, the British-Western Tribal alliance continued to enjoy success when it won the important Second Battle of Frenchtown (in today’s Monroe, Michigan) on January 22. Nevertheless, the consequences of the American defeats proved to be only temporary. First, the republic’s forces established Fort Meigs in northwestern Ohio (in today’s Perrysburg) as part of a plan to regain control of the Old Northwest. Then, in the spring and summer of that year, the natives and British failed to capture either that post or Fort Stephenson 30 miles farther east. Meanwhile, the United States Navy collected and built ten vessels to challenge the Royal Navy’s six on Lake Erie and, on September 10 137

Carl Benn

seized control of the lake in a narrow but decisive victory. As the strategic balance swung to the United States, some members of the Western Tribes sought peace with the Americans while the republic’s army prepared to retake Detroit and invade southwestern Upper Canada. With the loss of Lake Erie, the British situation, especially in terms of supply, became desperate, which led the local commander to withdraw his forces east along the Thames River in Upper Canada. Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, and their remaining followers reluctantly—even bitterly—participated in the move away from the lands they had hoped to protect. The Americans pursued, caught them near today’s Chatham, Ontario, and won the Battle of Moraviantown on October 5. Among those killed was Tecumseh. Much of the dream of creating an independent homeland perished with Tecumseh’s demise and its surrounding events. Following the disaster, some natives, including Tenskwatawa, retreated to the Niagara Peninsula with the remnants of the British force and continued to fight to the end of the war, far from their homelands. A much larger percentage of the members of the Western Tribes, however, negotiated peace with the Americans. Thus, the war for the eastern portions of the Old Northwest between the United States and the Western Tribal Confederacy, which had begun in 1811, fundamentally came to an end late in 1813. With native people elsewhere continuing to participate in the conflict, the conclusion of general hostilities in this region underscores the nature of the multiple wars of 1812 for indigenous peoples. It also warns scholars about the historiographical limitations of paying so much attention to this theater of operations in native history at the expense of others, and of using it to homogenize the larger indigenous story (to say nothing of the failure to define even this area’s complexities with precision).

Westerly Portions of the Old Northwest and the Upper Mississippi Although the British lost control of Lake Erie and southwestern Upper Canada late in 1813, they maintained communications with the upper Mississippi River from Mackinac, which they continued to supply from more easterly points. They did so along ancient canoe routes that ran northwest from Montreal or north along the Toronto Passage from Lake Ontario and which, like the Montreal route, connected to the upper lakes at Georgian Bay. In 1814 the Americans failed to retake Mackinac or win ascendancy on the northern waterways in a series of land and naval encounters. The preservation of these lines assisted the indigenous peoples of the westerly portions of the Old Northwest and the upper Mississippi in their struggles against the Americans within a distinct military context that lasted from 1811 to 1815 (or even into 1817, given the signing of the last peace treaties following the conclusion of the Anglo-American war). Had there been no conflict between Britain and the United States, it seems probable that there still would have been military confrontations between the tribes and newcomers in this region, which again speaks to the concept of multiple wars of 1812. Much of the resistance to the United States in this westerly region paralleled that of the situation in the easterly portions of the Old Northwest, with aboriginal people wishing to protect their territories and cultures against settler expansion and aspiring to establish independence from looming Euro-American domination of their homelands. As also occurred farther east, a large percentage of the population fought against the United States, but many individuals chose neutrality or aligned with the Americans (although those allied to the republic in this area did little more than agree not to participate in any campaigning). Likewise, opinion was divided and fluid, the relationship with the British was tense, and people fought beyond their own region elsewhere in the Old Northwest and in Upper Canada. Aside from these similarities, there were major differences that make separating the western and eastern portions of the Old Northwest into two distinct realms historiographically appropriate, with three being particularly noteworthy. First, most of the tribes of the upper Mississippi River in the Missouri and Illinois territories had not been a party to the land losses and treaties that had afflicted the natives to their east as a result of the Ohio country war and the expansion that had occurred 138

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

immediately afterward. Rather, they suffered the alienation of territory and other undesirable intrusions into their lives primarily from people moving north from St. Louis and other such centers (although the extent of white settlement was much more modest than it was where the Western Tribes confronted newcomers). The 1804 Treaty of St. Louis, for instance, represented a grave threat to the future of the tribes of the upper Mississippi. That document, negotiated by William Henry Harrison in fulfillment of President Thomas Jefferson’s aggressive desire to acquire indigenous territory, fundamentally was fraudulent. Five unauthorized Sauks and Foxes signed away—probably unknowingly—a vast region incorporating land across today’s Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin (including areas the two tribes did not claim as their own) for a minute amount of compensation (and even the value of the payment probably had been inflated in the official record). A second difference between the westerly and easterly portions of the Old Northwest lay in the fact that the aboriginal peoples to the west generally stayed out of the Western Tribal Confederacy, fighting their war with the Americans independently of those who rallied alongside Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa. Third, the struggle on the upper Mississippi was a longer one, as the peoples there continued to engage American forces energetically after the Battle of Moraviantown, although, like their more easterly neighbors, serious hostilities for them began in 1811 before the outbreak of the Anglo-American war following a period of lower-grade violence that dated back to at least 1808. In 1809, for instance, warriors threatened Fort Bellevue (subsequently Fort Madison in today’s Iowa) due to their opposition to American attempts to push the republic’s authority north on the Mississippi and into their region. The outbreak of the Anglo-American war intensified tensions on the upper Mississippi as frightened people from the divergent white and aboriginal communities moved away from each other in quest of safety, Euro-Americans built forts to defend their settlements, and men from both sides patrolled, skirmished, and raided across the region. The first significant clash occurred at Fort Madison between September 5 and 8, 1812, when warriors besieged the post but failed to capture it. In the war’s second year, fighting tended to be confined to smaller confrontations between the indigenous and settler populations, although the Americans made progress in extending their presence in the region. For instance, they persuaded a large part of the Sauks and Foxes who generally favored neutrality, in opposition to those members of their tribes who promoted belligerency, to move south from their concentrated areas of settlement (broadly around today’s Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa) to the Missouri River, which potentially weakened the two First Nations in the event that the militant members were to convert the others to their views. The Americans also burned much of the francophone settlement of Peoria because they believed its residents had aided the Kickapoos, Potawatomis, and Piankashaws against them. That act was part of a larger campaign directed against native villages in the Illinois Territory between August and October 1813 and saw the United States build Fort Clark at Peoria to project its power into the area and restrict southbound war parties from threatening its settlements. Yet, farther west, continued harassment made Fort Madison untenable, and the Americans abandoned it late in the year. The famous Sauk war leader, Black Hawk, saw the burned ruins of the post and noted that “we were pleased to see that the white people had retired from our country”—an outwardly simple statement, but one that was full of meaning, and which is part of one of the few extensive printed autobiographical texts produced by native veterans of the war.2 In response mainly to British desires, hundreds of warriors from the upper Mississippi fought on the Detroit front in 1813, bolstering the strength of the forces that the British and Western Tribal Confederacy had mustered. Many of them, however, had to be coerced to participate in that campaign, such as the Sauks and Foxes, who were willing to fight the Americans, but who wanted to deploy their warriors to defend their homelands by making war against settlers on the upper Mississippi that posed a direct threat to their interests. Crown officials, however, told them they had to produce men for the Detroit theater or face attack on their communities by tribes who had allied more enthusiastically with Great Britain. The move east reduced the pressure natives could exert against the white population of the upper Mississippi while also weakening aboriginal capacity to guard their own territories. 139

Carl Benn

Figure 10.2 This naïve image of natives from the upper Mississippi who visited the British governor-in-chief at Quebec in 1814 is interesting for several reasons, including the information it provides on clothing. Note, for instance, the presentation “chief ’s coat” worn by the man on the right, as well as the chiefs’ medals given by white officials to their native allies. The black man serves as a reminder that indigenous society was diverse in the early nineteenth century. The presence of women so far from their homes (combined with textual records) is an indication that female members of First Nations societies participated in public discourse, although Euro-American observers regularly did not recognize that fact, often because native protocols saw male speakers communicated women’s opinions in meetings with outsiders. (Watercolor by Rudolph von Steiger, 1814, Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, 1989.264.1.)

Most of the people who fought on the Detroit front returned home late in 1813 and early in 1814, although some remained with the British army following the Battle of Moraviantown, fighting in the Niagara area until the end of the war. Hostilities in the west continued into 1814 and included raiding and skirmishing between the two sides across the affected territories and saw atrocities committed against both native and newcomer noncombatants from the opposing sides while some Americans also murdered natives who were friendly toward them, as occurred elsewhere in the war. The most important clashes, however, occurred along the Mississippi River when the United States tried to subdue the tribes in a campaign in which it sent forces north from St. Louis on gunboats and other watercraft against its enemies. After intimidating natives along the upper Mississippi for a brief period, American troops captured the fur trade village of Prairie du Chien on June 2, meeting little resistance from the small British 140

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

and aboriginal force on the scene. Their adversaries, however, recaptured the village and took the newly constructed American fort there during a siege from July 17 to 21. Immediately afterward, an American gunboat flotilla came under attack south of Prairie du Chien at Campbell’s Island (near today’s Rock Island, Illinois) and was driven downriver toward St. Louis. The last major action on the waterway occurred on September 5, when another flotilla fought a large multitribal force at Credit Island (in today’s Davenport, Iowa). The warriors also won this battle, and the Americans sailed and rowed south. Thus, 1814 closed with the First Nations and the British asserting control of the northerly reaches of the Mississippi River and the upper Great Lakes, although the Americans had pushed their authority as far north as Peoria on the Illinois River farther east in this region. Communications to this isolated part of the continent were slow and confused. Some fighting continued into 1815, with the most famous being a skirmish on May 24 outside Fort Howard (near today’s Old Monroe, Missouri) grandly known as the Battle of the Sinkhole. The end of the war saw the British withdraw to Canada as part of the requirement that the opposing powers return captured territory. Nevertheless, they continued to supply goods and advice to the First Nations who visited them in the years that followed while fighting between settlers and natives died down and the various parties signed treaties between 1815 and 1817. (Ongoing tensions, however, led to the last major native-newcomer military confrontation in the Old Northwest, the Black Hawk War of 1832, fought in today’s Illinois and Wisconsin.)

The Canadas, New York, and Contiguous Areas Another distinct region of significant indigenous involvement in the War of 1812 encompassed Upper Canada east of the source of the Thames River, the southerly portions of Lower Canada, and New York, but with eastern Ohio, northern Pennsylvania, and New England having relevance due to geographical proximity and the similar challenges weighing on native peoples who resided in these areas. Within that region, the Niagara Peninsula was the location of the heaviest fighting in the war overall, but significant conflict also occurred elsewhere, such as along the St. Lawrence River and south of Montreal, while the navies of the two white powers vied for control of Lake Ontario until the British secured command of the waterway late in 1814. Modest numbers of aboriginal people from this region traveled to the Old Northwest to participate in the fighting there, and the majority of natives in the Canadas, New York, and adjoining areas seem to have been sympathetic to the cause of the Western Tribes and the other communities that opposed American expansion onto their lands. Native conditions, and hence their decisions, nevertheless were different. Most indigenous people in this region lived on reservations, tracts, or missions surrounded by large—even overwhelming— numbers of Euro-Americans, and thus no longer had vast independent homelands to defend (aside from the Algonquian population in the northerly parts of the British provinces). If they decided to resist the dominant power in either British or American territory, their geographical situation rendered them particularly vulnerable to the more populous settler societies and their governments. Furthermore, the majority, mainly Iroquois in New York and the Canadas, but also including Stockbridges, Mississaugas, and others, could interpret the issues surrounding the Euro-American struggle as being something that did not concern them deeply, while they also recalled two centuries of history in which they had fought alongside white powers and had experienced the futility of doing so because their allies—French, British, American—regularly had ignored native interests upon the return of peace. For others, such as those who followed the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake in western New York, the clearest course lay beyond neutrality in pacifism within the religious reformation that he promoted following a series of visions he had experienced starting in 1799, and which included a sense that fighting in Euro-American conflicts only had been destructive to aboriginal peoples. Some Christian natives, such as Delawares who embraced Moravianism, also accepted nonviolence for reasons of faith. Threats to the remaining territories of the region’s tribes, however, also were smaller on 141

Carl Benn

the eve of the war than they were elsewhere, especially north of the Anglo-American border. Thus, the advocates of neutrality enjoyed considerable support during the years when rumors of war were widespread and in the early weeks of conflict following the outbreak of hostilities in June 1812. In the Canadas, a number of aboriginal people before the fighting began who supported the British and who did not want the United States to conquer the colonies nevertheless thought that an active alliance with the crown would be futile because the demographic balance overwhelmingly favored the Americans, to say nothing of their realization that Britain’s army had to be deployed mainly against the French across the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, the Americans were a hated enemy, and it seemed strange—even dishonorable—not to take up arms once war broke out, despite the chances of defeat, while the behavior of the Americans in the opening weeks of the conflict reaffirmed how antagonistic the republic’s government and citizens were to indigenous interests, thus generating demands for a military response. For others, cultural and personal concerns beyond larger issues acted as an incentive to take up arms, as they did elsewhere, while many also recognized that the British could punish the First Nations within their colonies if native people did not respond positively to attempts to recruit warriors. Across the border, American officials generally thought that the indigenous population would be unwilling to support the United States and even might yield to British and aboriginal pressure to join their opponents. (As it was, some warriors slipped away to fight in the west or in Canada, but at the same time, a handful of pro-American people from the British provinces moved to New York.) Therefore, the republic’s officials entered the war advocating neutrality for the most part, believing that this was the best that they could achieve, and which they considered to be unproblematic during the optimism that marked their expectations of a swift conquest of the Canadas. With the early defeats, however, American officials changed their minds and recruited warriors in New York, Ohio, and elsewhere. These men provided an important augmentation to the light infantry and irregular warfare capabilities of the republic’s army, which, contrary to the views of the popular imagination, were deficient in comparison to those of the king’s forces during the War of 1812. The British and native victories at Mackinac, Detroit, and elsewhere in the west during the first summer of fighting had a significant impact on shifting the views of a large portion of the Canadianresident aboriginal population from neutrality to an active alliance with King George. For instance, only a few dozen warriors from the Six Nations Iroquois tract on the Grand River to the north of Lake Erie participated in the Detroit campaign of 1812, but in its aftermath, several hundred warriors—the majority of the available men in the community—proceeded to the Niagara Peninsula, and a good portion of them played a critical role in defeating the American army at Queenston Heights on October 13 of that year. Significant numbers of Grand River warriors also were present in 1813 at such battles as Fort George, Beaver Dams, and the blockade of Fort George, while other First Nations people saw service at those confrontations and beyond at Sackets Harbor, Crysler’s Farm, Châteauguay, and numerous lesser encounters. In 1814 warriors continued to fight along the lower Great Lakes border between the American states and the British provinces. The Battle of Chippawa on July 5 of that year was particularly noteworthy because large numbers of Iroquois and other warriors from New York and Upper Canada fought as allies with both armies and inflicted significant casualties on each other. Despite their sacrifices, neither American nor British officers gave them credit for their contributions at Chippawa and even criticized their performance unfairly. The Iroquois from New York and Upper Canada met in council in the battle’s aftermath, filled with horror at what they had done to their friends and relatives, and most consequently decided to return home and no longer fight. The only important mustering of Haudenosaunee warriors afterward occurred at Grand River when an American force raiding along the north shore of Lake Erie threatened Six Nations communities directly on November 5–6 (but withdrew in the face of the opposition presented by the warriors, who had been reinforced substantially by British troops dispatched to their aid from the Niagara Peninsula). Beyond combat, military events in the lower Great Lakes forced many natives to flee their homes and live with uncertainty and poverty as refugees on both sides of the international border. 142

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

Figure 10.3 The Mohawk village was one of the Six Nations Iroquois/Haudenosaunee communities on the Grand River in Upper Canada, settled after the American Revolution by people who decided to leave New York to remain in British territory. The housing reflects changes in indigenous material culture brought on by EuroAmerican contact. The Anglican chapel in the image, dating to the 1780s, still stands. (Watercolor (detail) attributed to Sempronius Stretton, c. 1805, Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, 1990.113.1.)

The natives in New England—overwhelmingly Algonquians—generally lived beyond the areas contested by Britain and America and pursued their lives on reservations or within Euro-American communities. They normally did not participate in the war within separate native forces, and little is recorded about their involvement, but there can be no doubt that the number who participated was small. One person whose service is known in detail is William Apess (or Apes), a Pequot from Connecticut, who published his autobiography, A Son of the Forest, in 1829. He joined an American artillery regiment in 1813 when down on his luck and isolated in New York City, as did so many other people who enlisted regardless of their ethnicity. Subsequently, he experienced the harsh realities of a soldier’s life in garrison duty and on campaign, where he saw action on the border with Lower Canada. As an aboriginal person, his enlistment was illegal—and at 15, he was underaged too—but the military, desperate for recruits, overlooked these barriers. His service paralleled that of other New England natives who had fought in Euro-American formations during the Seven Years and American Revolutionary wars. That tradition is another reminder of how diverse the indigenous experience was in comparison to the kind of participation seen by most natives, who still normally fought within their own culturally distinct war parties. A large number of native people in New England sought employment at sea in the decades surrounding the war. Therefore, it is likely that some served in the United States Navy or on privateers, while others presumably found themselves facing unemployment due to the Royal Navy’s blockades, or were captured or otherwise suffered through actions by the British Empire’s navy and privateers. These factors represent the broader reality that the war could impose far-reaching consequences on First Nations’ populations and indicate that some of the opportunities and challenges many natives encountered were similar to those experienced by the larger population of eastern North America. Furthermore, a very large percentage of aboriginal people in New England were mixed with the white and black populations through marriage, descent, or other means, while a great many had friendships in the broader society. These realities meant that their minds often were concerned with 143

Carl Benn

people who mattered to them but who were not considered to be indigenous. While these conditions were common in New England, they also existed to varying degrees throughout the parts of North America affected by the War of 1812.

The South The story of native peoples in the South during the war centers primarily on the Creek (or Red Stick) War of 1813–14 within Georgia and the Mississippi Territory, although there was other aboriginal involvement elsewhere of a modest nature. For instance, small numbers of Creeks, Cherokees, and others moved north to join the pan-tribal movement at Prophetstown; the British had a meager presence in the Spanish Floridas in 1814 in an attempt to recruit native people and others to help them against the Americans (whose filibustering and other hostile acts against Spain’s possessions already had generated anger in the provinces among their diverse populations). Some Creeks participated alongside the British in the New Orleans campaign at the end of the conflict; and after the return of peace between the United States and Great Britain, native-newcomer, black-white, and SpanishAmerican violence in the South continued for several years. These later events, however, unfolded independently of the Anglo-American War of 1812 due to regional tensions related to the republic’s expansionary endeavors. During these conflicts the United States not only fought aboriginal peoples but drew upon the support of indigenous warriors willing to ally with it from within Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw communities. The Creek War began principally as an internal struggle within the Creek (or Muskogee) Confederacy, an alliance of a large number of tribes who spoke a range of Muskogean languages. Some Creeks found inspiration and encouragement for their opposition toward the influences being exerted by Euro-American society in the ideas advanced by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, although the fame of these two Shawnees has led scholars to exaggerate their importance in shaping Creek thought and behavior. Rather, the issues faced by the Creeks included a litany of troubles similar to those experienced by natives elsewhere on the frontiers of American expansion: violence, robbery, land alienation, unwanted external pressures, mounting poverty, and social degradation, while their reactions to these challenges, as elsewhere, incorporated religious responses to restore their spiritual and temporal wellbeing. At the same time, some confederates had adapted to the settlers’ agrarian economy and other ways of living, including both slave ownership and new governance structures centered in the Creek National Council, although they also hoped to preserve indigenous cultural characteristics of importance to them as distinct peoples. Creeks opposed to acculturation and white threats to their society, known as the Red Sticks, took up arms against accommodationists in 1813, but the violence spread to settler society. American soldiers entered the struggle on July 27, 1813 at the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek (probably in today’s Escambia County, Alabama) when trying to prevent the distribution of food, supplies, and munitions acquired by the Red Sticks from Spanish sources, but suffered defeat at the hands of the natives. The crisis escalated when the Red Sticks successfully stormed Fort Mims (in Tensaw, Alabama) on August 30, killing the majority of the people within its walls—white, black, native, mixed, civilian, and combatant—but kept slaves, whom they took as plunder, along with other prisoners. That event spread panic across the region, and in combination with settler lust for native land, generated a strong American military response. The Creek War saw several battles and the destruction of most indigenous villages. It culminated at Horseshoe Bend (or Tohopeka) on the Tallapoosa River (near today’s Dadeville, Alabama) on March 27, 1814, where white and native forces defeated the Red Sticks decisively, although limited resistance continued for a time subsequently. The Creeks, who had lost one sixth of their population in the conflict, signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson (near today’s Wetumpka, Alabama) in August. Among other conditions, the Creeks surrendered 21 million acres of land to the United States—about half their territory—including lands 144

Figure 10.4 The Old Southwest. (Map by Tracy Smith. Courtesy of Don Hickey.)

Carl Benn

owned by people allied to the Americans. The acquisition of this vast region by the republic contributed significantly to the creation of the State of Alabama in 1819. Many Creeks sought shelter as refugees in Spanish territory and integrated among the Seminoles, an ethnically diverse but largely Creek nation that had formed over the previous century. Although this conflict in 1813–14 had been influenced partly by the ideas promoted by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, and while a small number of Red Sticks had fought on the Great Lakes front or had aligned with the British in the Gulf Coast, the Creek War fundamentally was a separate event from the War of 1812–15 without the close native connections to the Anglo-American struggle that existed elsewhere, although it fitted the overall pattern of the republic’s expansion into indigenous territory, and thus reverberated with broader aboriginal issues.

The End of the War The War of 1812 ended in February 1815 when the United States ratified the December 1814 Treaty of Ghent. The underlying principle of the treaty was a return to the pre-war status quo, including the return of captured territory and avoiding any agreement that would inhibit Great Britain’s pre-1812 policies and practices in dominating affairs on the high seas, while also providing for discussions to resolve lesser issues, such as the exact boundary of the Canadian-American border, which had not been defined as precisely as desired at the end of the American Revolution in 1783. (The only major change from the principle of returning affairs to the conditions of 1811 was an agreement by the United States to join Great Britain in suppressing the Atlantic slave trade.) Article IX of the document included the First Nations who had not signed peace treaties already on a regional level. Within the reestablishment of the status quo, it required the Euro-American powers to cease hostilities with the natives and restore the possessions, rights, and privileges that the First Nations had enjoyed in 1811—a provision that had far more meaning in the United States where most aboriginal participants had fought against that nation whereas those in Canada overwhelmingly had aligned with the crown. Article IX provided less than most natives in the Old Northwest and the upper Mississippi River wanted because they had hoped to carve out an independent homeland in parts of the frontier regions between white and indigenous settlement or at least establish a territory where indigenous communities would be protected from the dominant society. At one point during negotiations, the government of the United Kingdom thought of continuing the war into 1815 to achieve these goals for its American-resident native allies. It decided, however, that deteriorating European affairs following Napoleon’s 1814 abdication (which ultimately would lead to his escape from prison and the Waterloo campaign of 1815), war-weariness in the realm after two decades of conflict, and the uncertainties for Canada associated with ongoing fighting, made such a decision impractical, especially as Great Britain had achieved its primary war aims by late 1814. Thus, it was not in the interests of the United Kingdom or its Canadian colonies to continue fighting to create a distinct homeland in the American Old Northwest for the benefit of the native people who lived there. All the British diplomats obtained, which they achieved with difficulty, was American agreement to make peace with the tribes and restore the pre-war status quo within the larger treaty philosophy of status quo ante bellum. The British were hampered by the twin facts that the only successful American campaign of any size launched against Canadian territory (of seven) was the one in 1813 on the Detroit front, which gave the republic dominance over that region and saw many of the tribes of the Old Northwest already negotiate peace with the United States with the collapse of the Western Tribal Confederacy. (Those earlier treaties, of course, highlight the independent character of aboriginal diplomacy while again underlining the regional distinctions of the war for the First Nations.) British diplomats were surprised at how inflexible the American negotiators were when they took up native issues. Henry Goulburn, for instance, received a letter from the American negotiator John Quincy Adams telling him that it


Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

was inconceivable to leave vast tracts of land “to perpetual barrenness and solitude” so that “a few hundred savages might find wild beasts to hunt upon it.” That letter and associated conversations led Goulburn to remark that before coming to Ghent he “had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory.”3

After 1815 Once peace returned, Washington worked to prevent further aboriginal resistance in the Old Northwest and upper Mississippi through asserting its sovereignty over the tribes, regulating trade in its interests, reestablishing and building forts, and alienating land (and these processes were made easier as the balance of populations between natives and newcomers swung massively in favor of the latter in the decades that followed.) For instance, some of the United States-First Nations treaty negotiations on the Mississippi River were conducted with the Americans using troops to intimidate indigenous diplomats and telling blatant lies about the nature of the Treaty of Ghent. Thus, while Britain had achieved its primary war aims in relation to the United States, the conflict only slowed American expansion onto aboriginal territory within the borders of the republic. Furthermore, natives lost land whether or not they had fought against or with the Americans. In the years that followed 1815, those who had allied with the republic and who had hoped that their efforts would purchase American protection would be grievously disappointed because expansionary interests, overlaid with white society’s supreme self-confidence and racism, saw the erstwhile aboriginal allies treated as badly as those who had taken up arms against the United States. They too saw the exploitation of their people, the theft of their land, forced territorial sales, and, for many, removal to the west side of the Mississippi, often with terrible consequences. For instance, one large Iroquois group in New York who moved west in comparatively late terms, went to Kansas in 1846, but half of them died within a year and many of the other distressed people returned east. Postwar realities must have been enormously galling when natives who had fought alongside American forces reflected on the loss of friends and loved ones, the ongoing afflictions of the wounded, and the other traumas they had endured without a sense of satisfaction for the sacrifices they had made that, in contrast, must have provided at least some consolation to those who had opposed the republic whether they had achieved or failed to fulfill their military ambitions. As in the northern part of the United States, the indigenous population in the South—whether allied, enemy, or neutral during the war—suffered greatly when the expanding white society coveted their lands. The Creeks, Cherokees, and other people found themselves oppressed and forced to remove to the west side of the Mississippi in a series of grotesque events in the 1830s that history labels the Trail of Tears, following the passing of the Indian Removal Act, that in many ways represented a culmination of deep-seated American desires to push aboriginal peoples off land that the white population wanted regardless of the costs and misery inflicted upon the disposed natives. For First Nations who lived north of the international border and who had fought against the United States, the war ended agreeably in the successful defense of British North America against the attempts by the United States to conquer it, although they too, like all communities affected by the war, grieved their personal losses. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that there was widespread unhappiness that a separate homeland had not been established on the American side of the western Great Lakes for their brethren who lived there (and which, had it been created, likely would have seen some natives from the Canadas move to the region). Additionally, the indigenous people in the British provinces also faced increased intrusions into their lives from white bureaucracies along with settler exploitation and pressures to give up land as the colonies welcomed great numbers of immigrants from the British Isles after 1815. The extent of the abuse—although tragic—was more modest than south of the border for various reasons, including the smaller populations of natives and newcomers compared to the situation in the United States, along with different environmental and


Carl Benn

economic circumstances that limited agricultural settlement and that fostered endeavors less hostile to indigenous concerns. The important roles played by the First Nations in turning back the invaders from the south remained prominent in Canadian history, while the assistance the United States received from its indigenous allies largely was forgotten or consciously ignored by Americans. Yet, as many natives in Canada recalled the experience of the war and examined the conditions they encountered in a rapidly changing world, where modernization’s influences tended to hurt more than help or at least benefit them less than whites, the pacifist and neutralist arguments they had heard before and during the Euro-American conflict must have resonated for at least some individuals. In June 1812, for instance, an Iroquois delegation from New York had visited their relatives in Upper Canada, and one of the speakers, Little Billy, had advocated neutrality, based on his assessment of Euro-American neglect for indigenous people, concluding his argument with, “Why then should we endanger the comfort, even the existence of our families to enjoy their smiles only for the day in which they need us?”4 Nevertheless, when rebellion broke out in the Canadas in 1837, indigenous people came out in support of the colonial authorities to suppress the rising, and in later years men from the First Nations world in Canada, who no longer fought within the context of indigenous war parties, regularly served in the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth, from the Sudan War in the 1880s, through to the two great conflicts of the twentieth century, and beyond. Likewise, in the United States, aboriginal peoples—albeit in more complex, ambiguous, and ambivalent contexts—also put on the uniforms of the dominant society and went to war on its behalf, sometimes with a sense of integration, sometimes holding the view (as did many in Canada) that they served as allies, not subjects or citizens of the dominant society.

Current Studies The study of First Nations history over the past few decades has grown in scale and sophistication. Many of these efforts have seen scholars reject older, often prejudicial, ways of interpreting native affairs, preferring to approach their studies with increased sensitivity in order to understand indigenous affairs with more precision. Although the study of the War of 1812 is dominated by historians, others have been making important contributions too, and there has been a sharing of methodologies across disciplines, including anthropology and literature studies. Some contributions, of course, have come from First Nations scholars, who have strengthened appreciation of the conflict both through their research and the distinct perspectives they bring to the questions being asked of the past that all North Americans share. Historians and others also have widened the range of sources used, integrating material culture and oral traditions, for instance, more effectively than earlier generations did. At the same time, the general public, documentary and other media producers, as well as academic and public historians who do not specialize in aboriginal scholarship often have not incorporated these advances into their own thinking as much as might have been wished. Thus, general assessments of the war still regularly present native involvement in old-fashioned, clumsy, and culturally insensitive ways in print, in other media, and at museums and heritage sites. Another common error in much 1812-era historiography—especially in the United States— centers on publications or other presentations in which modern authors or narrators quote (typically exaggerated and hateful) 1812-era Euro-Americans assertions of barbarous behavior committed by natives without contextualizing these records, without noting the exaggeration, or without acknowledging similar acts by white combatants. When modern people do this, they effectively are agreeing with the racialized comments of the historical individuals they quote (even though they may claim not to do so). Thus, they are affirming some of the more lamentable elements upon which Americans build patriotic sentiment. One would hope that these practices will stop and that those who engage in them will be called out in reviews and other forums. 148

Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars

Future Explorations Looking to the future, it seems unlikely that voluminous caches of textual material in the form of letters and other documents will be found to add to the existing assemblages. Yet, oral tradition, material culture, archaeology, and other sources presumably will become more important for researchers. Historians also might find revealing but forgotten data in older local histories and other such sources if they utilize them with discernment. The embrace of anthropological and other methodologies ought to continue to see positive advances, as will new ways of exploring historical sources. While large amounts of primary data likely will not emerge, each generation asks different or new questions of the past, and the outcomes of that natural tendency should bear interesting results in the years ahead. In addition, new technologies allow scholars to explore vast quantities of primary documents to a degree that was unimaginable until recently, and the range of material and the sophistication of the tools available only will expand. These opportunities allow people to conduct research that hitherto would have been too time consuming to undertake in relation to the outcome, and thus the future promises to refine and expand appreciation of 1812-era native history (and of almost any history). Yet, scholars still need to engage the great quantities of primary material that are not available except in their original form within archival institutions, specialized libraries, or on microfilm if they hope to produce meaningful studies. There are a number of areas that seem to require more research and analysis than they have received to date. For instance, further efforts should be undertaken to uncover native seafaring history based from New England and New York in the conflict. As well, the aggressiveness with which the United States treated natives after 1815 has raised doubts in some historians’ minds as to whether the republic accepted Article IX of the Treaty of Ghent in good faith. This question demands detailed investigation both on its own and within larger studies of the duplicities of the treaty process, “civilization” programs directed at reducing native land title, and other expansionary endeavors, while parallel studies also could be undertaken in the Canadian context. It also would be desirable to have more detailed investigations of the complexities, motivations, and internal politics of aboriginal decision-making than currently exist for the most part, and such studies ought to attempt to incorporate a wide range of leaders, given the great array of different kinds of influence individuals typically exercised within most native communities of the period. Such efforts will be challenging because indigenous people produced only limited quantities of written texts at the time and because Euro-American observers often did not recognize the diversity of opinions within a community or failed to note all of the people, including women, who helped form them when they recorded their impressions of the events they witnessed. While the documentary record is modest, it will be possible to overcome at least part of the difficulty through closer examination of council minutes and other records than has been customary, despite their limitations, and by factoring in ethnohistorical, oral, modern First Nations sources, and other ways of knowing more fully. Another realm in which good work of importance could be done is in the area of community studies applied to native groups, whether the choices for examination are particular reservations, tracts, or missions, or larger tribal and other groupings. Such studies would benefit through a close examination of the relationships and influences that existed between native communities and both Euro-American and other indigenous populations in their immediate vicinity. Naturally, detailed explorations of native-newcomer diplomacy to enrich the studies that currently exist would strengthen the historiography of the war. Beyond these newer areas, almost anything that has been done in First Nations history could be studied afresh with a view of refining interpretation. Naturally, increasing the involvement of First Nations scholars will be important, and fostering their development ought to be an imperative, along with listening carefully to the wisdom of indigenous people outside of the academic realm whose insights into the past often come from sources of knowledge that are distinct from those scholars typically use.


Carl Benn

Further Reading Literature on First Nations in general and their role in the War of 1812 is vast, as can be seen by recourse to major library catalogs or to online, article-focused, databases such as JSTOR, America History and Life, and Academic Search Premier. Primary data also is extensive, with increasing quantities becoming accessible online through the archival institutions entrusted with these materials as well as via the presentation of published primary data, such as available generally through sites such as America’s Historical Newspapers, or specifically through organizations like the Champlain Society. Nevertheless, advanced work in indigenous history requires traditional archival work with unpublished documents and microfilmed texts, along with thorough literature reviews in order to be comprehensive, to say nothing of utilizing indigenous sources when possible along with archaeological and other data when appropriate. Online reference materials, such as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, provide valuable data, but readers ought to use generic Internet materials with caution, as they ought to do with popular works incorporating native affairs during the conflict. General histories, campaign studies, and biographies of Euro-Americans who figured prominently in indigenous issues regularly are useful, but they typically need to be read with care because they commonly are insensitive to aboriginal history. The following texts are recommended as accessible modern studies focused on indigenous affairs and represent some of the diversities in First Nations history of relevance. Naturally, the bibliographies in these books provide additional guidance.

Notes 1. There is some debate and variation over terminology related to native peoples. Due to the nature of this handbook, this article generally uses the most common terms in current American English (which differ somewhat from Canadian English) for national groups, but includes references to alternatives where other words have begun to enjoy widespread currency rather than being confined to more specialized discourse. Nevertheless, the Canadian term “First Nations” is used as a collective name. The American words “Indians” and “Native Americans,” both are inadequate, the former because of how it has been used pejoratively for centuries, while “Native American” sounds “tinny” in Canadian ears, and its structure subtlety implies that the First Nations do not have a special place in the history of North America distinct from newcomers, like English Canadians or Chinese Americans. The terms “native,” “aboriginal,” and “indigenous” are presented in lower case (like the equally problematic but useful words “white” and “black”) to symbolize how they do not capture the complexities of North American societies of the period and also because of our growing rejection of race as a legitimate classification of peoples. The word “tribe” is used as a synonym for “nation” and should be read as simply descriptive and not possessing an assumed value, reflecting the less hierarchical, freer, and smaller nature of indigenous nations compared to two other national forms, the American republic and the British constitutional monarchy. As well, the term “British” and related words regularly should be read to include the colonial population of British North America and elsewhere, whose militiamen and other combatants, officials, and general population played critical roles in the war. 2. Black Hawk, Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, trans. Antoine LeClair, ed. J. B. Patterson (1833), in Carl Benn, Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess (Baltimore, 2014), 58. 3. John Adams to Henry Goulburn, September 1, 1814, and Goulburn to Lord Bathurst, November 26, 1814, in Carl Benn, Iroquois in the War of 1812 (Toronto, 1998), 175. 4. Little Billy speech, June 1812, quoted in John Norton, The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816, ed. by Carl F. Klinck and James J. Talman, with a new introduction by Carl Benn (Toronto, 2011), 280.

Annotated Bibliography Allen, Robert S. His Majesty’s Indian Allies: British Indian Policy and the Defence of Canada, 1774–1815. Toronto, 1993. Concise and useful Canadian overview of native-crown relations. Benn, Carl. The Iroquois in the War of 1812. Toronto, 1998. Detailed study of the Haudenosaunee during the conflict; includes a chapter on the characteristics of indigenous and Euro-American warfare of broader concern. ———. Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess. Baltimore, 2014. With extensive annotations, this version complements other editions of these aboriginal autobiographies.


Aboriginal Peoples, Their Multiple Wars ———. Memoirs of a Mohawk War Chief: John Norton/Teyoninhokarawen, 1812–14. Forthcoming. Norton was a war and alliance chief among the Six Nations Iroquois/Haudenosaunee of the Grand River in Upper Canada, and his memoirs are among the best written by any veteran of the war; they also are available with fewer annotations in Champlain Society editions. Braund, Kathryn E. Holland, ed. Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812. Tuscaloosa, 2012. Multidisciplinary essays challenge common assumptions, offer new insights on the Creek War’s complexities, and resonate with larger indigenous history. Calloway, Colin G. Crown and Calumet: British-Indian Relations, 1783–1815. Norman, 1987. Overview of native and newcomer affairs across several decades to the background and course of the War of 1812. Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore, 1992. Important text on the spiritual underpinnings and continuities of indigenous resistance to settler expansion before and during the War of 1812. Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln, 1983. Biography of Tenskwatawa, whose importance often is overshadowed by the focus on Tecumseh in history and popular culture. Hill, Richard W. Sr., ed. War Clubs and Wampum Belts: Hodinöhsö:ni Experiences of the War of 1812. Brantford, 2012. Bicentennial essays articulating Six Nations understanding of the Iroquois in the conflict. Horsman, Reginald. Expansion and American Indian Policy, 1783–1812. East Lansing, 1967. One of several important studies by a prominent historian of an earlier generation. Hoxie, Frederick E., Hoffman, Ronald, and Albert, Peter J., eds. Native Americans and the Early Republic. Charlottesville, 1999. Culturally focused essays by leading scholars. Jortner, Adam. The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier. New York, 2012. Joint biography of Tenskwatawa and William Henry Harrison. King, Cecil. Balancing Two Worlds: Jean-Baptiste Assiginack and the Odawa Nation, 1768–1866. Saskatoon, 2013. The subject (and native author) came from the upper Great Lakes; the study covers a wide chronology and presents the war through the lens of indigenous scholarship, memory, and terminology. Skaggs, David Curtis, and Nelson, Larry L., eds. The Sixty Years War for the Great Lakes, 1754–1814. East Lansing, 2001. Essays associated with the concept of the Sixty Years War that interprets conflict of 1812–15 within a continuum. Sturtevant, William, et al., eds. Handbook of North American Indians. 17 vols. Washington, 1978–. Encyclopedic work of enormous value for understanding indigenous history, with several volumes relevant to the story of natives involved in the war. Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York, 1998. The strongest of many biographies on the most famous aboriginal person—or perhaps any individual—in the conflict. Sword, Wiley. President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795. Norman, 1985. Military history of the conflict in the Ohio country that played a prominent role in native thinking before the War of 1812. Tanner, Helen Hornbeck, ed. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman, 1987. Excellent geographical and visual reference for wider indigenous history through the centuries. Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. New York, 1969. Classic and important communitylevel investigation concentrating on reservation life in the early republic, and one of a number of significant works of scholarship by this author. ———. Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans. Cambridge, MA, 1999. Strong analysis of First Nations-United States relations over several decades. Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814. Tuscaloosa, 2006. Detailed cultural and military study of Fort Mims within the Creek War, set within both macro and micro historiographical contexts. White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. New York, 1991. Long-view history of importance in shifting debate on First Nations history at the time of its release, with ongoing influence. Willig, Timothy D. Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783–1815. Like others concerned with the subject, this book takes, of necessity, a wider perspective than just the War of 1812.


11 THE AMERICAN HOME FRONT, 1812–1815 J.C.A. Stagg

What do historians speak of when they describe the “home front” during a war? There are several ways in which this question might be approached and they are not always compatible. Many scholars separate accounts of civilian life during wartime from the narratives of military campaigns; they assume that the former did not necessarily impact the latter. From this vantage point, studies of the home front can embrace a wide variety of phenomena that cannot be categorized clearly as the history of combat. Other writers, drawing on recent developments in the fields of military and social history, have dissolved this distinction by stressing the permeability of the military and civilian spheres; they maintain that the two constantly interact and cannot be meaningfully separated. Pushed to its logical conclusion, this approach has given rise to the notion of “transformational” war, conflicts in which the demands of mobilization and battle can be so great that they inexorably reshape pre-war patterns of culture, economic activity, politics, and social structure in ways that produce significant and long-lasting change. How might the War of 1812 be understood from these perspectives? At first sight, it could be surmised that because the war was of relatively short duration (32 months) and because mobilization seemed neither extensive nor effective—contemporary counts found little more than 34,000 men in the U.S. Army by 1815 from a population of just over 8 million—that the lives of the vast majority of the citizenry were unaffected. Most people experienced the war vicariously, either by reading newspapers and pamphlets or by hearing word-of-mouth accounts of its events; otherwise they pursued their daily routines on farms, in workshops, and on the waterfronts with only occasional disruptions. Such a conclusion, however, risks ignoring what we have learned from the “new military history,” most notably the awareness that mobilization and campaigning should not be considered apart from the social, cultural, and political characteristics of the people who were called upon to shoulder the burdens of war. Was the War of 1812 a “transformational” war? The picture is mixed. A good deal of purplish prose has been written about how America emerged from its “second war for independence” with a heightened sense of national unity and a greater commitment to nation-building, including westward expansion and the spread of democracy. Undeniably, the War of 1812 brought about the demise of the Federalist party as a national political force, but arguments to the effect that it also restructured the nation’s economy and social hierarchies seem strained—at least in comparison with the changes wrought by later conflicts such as the Civil War and World War II. It is true that there was some growth in manufacturing as a result of the policies of commercial restriction and war pursued between 1807 and 1815, but much of it did not survive the return of peace and the Panic of 1819. 152

The American Home Front, 1812–1815

Many postwar developments, moreover, can be regarded as continuations of trends that had already been set in motion during the more turbulent era of the American Revolution.1 That might suggest that an intermediate position between interpretive extremes is in order—one that can accommodate the reality that mobilization and campaigning did not occur in a vacuum while not making unduly extravagant claims for the War of 1812 as a transformative event. Such an intermediate position might be defined as follows: a study of the American home front between 1812 and 1815 reveals that the military and political requirements of waging the second war against Great Britain could not be easily harmonized with the day-to-day activities of the people who resided in the areas of the United States most closely engaged in the conflict. Historians of the war have, at times, noted this tension between the dictates of a national grand strategy in collision with the messier realities of American federalism and localism, but they have seldom tried to interpret it in ways that connect home front contexts with the larger course of the war. It is important, therefore, that scholarship on the War of 1812 be more firmly reoriented in this direction, not only to broaden a literature that often remains narrowly and stubbornly military in its focus but also to enrich the social historiography of the early republic more generally. The resulting synthesis between the history of war and the history of society should expand our understanding of why the War of 1812 was so difficult and frustrating an experience for Americans during its course, even though they were to celebrate it as a great success after 1815.

Strategy, Manpower, and Politics After June 1812, the United States attempted to seize various points in Upper and Lower Canada in order to compel Great Britain to sign a treaty guaranteeing American maritime rights against future violations by the Royal Navy. This policy required American forces, on land and on water, to wage war along a frontier of more than 1,000 miles in length, stretching potentially from the Canadian Maritimes in the east to Detroit and places to its north in the west. Settlement patterns along this borderland shared by Americans and Canadians varied greatly in their population density, requiring men and supplies to be raised both in towns nearest to the military frontier and in regions well to their rear. Moreover, as the war progressed and the American invasions of Canada faltered, the British were able to take the offensive against larger and older areas of American settlement, on the northern frontier as well as along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. For civilians who then came into direct contact with the British or their Indian allies, the experience was invariably a harsh and unpleasant one. But regardless of whether Americans ever encountered the enemy directly, the demands of mobilization and campaigning placed significant strains on many home front communities. A constant problem was locating the manpower to fight the war. Before 1812, the U.S. Army, whose size had been set at 10,000 in 1808, was barely at two thirds of its full strength. Many of these troops—consisting mostly of artisans and laborers, including many recent immigrants—were drawn from urban areas in the Mid-Atlantic and southern states. Men from farming backgrounds and from New England were relatively underrepresented. By 1813 Congress had increased the regular force to 55,000 officers and men, a goal that required recruiting efforts to be shifted to the northern and northwestern frontiers as well as extended into the rural regions of the nation. These targets were met to a somewhat greater extent than most historians have realized. Although the army never reached full strength, by the end of the war more than 62,000 men had passed through its ranks and its total size was certainly in excess of 40,000 and may have been as high as 48,000. Statistical studies of these men reveal that the numbers of New Englanders and men from farming backgrounds—the latter group being much younger than the pre-war recruits—had significantly increased. The numbers of artisans of various sorts remained more or less constant, but the percentages of recent immigrants and laborers in the ranks had declined.2 153

J.C.A. Stagg

How did such mobilization impact home front communities? Army recruiters continued to seek enlistments in urban areas—because these provided the easiest access to men most likely to enlist—but they met with diminishing returns as the war progressed. Expanded recruiting drives created local labor shortages which had the effect of driving up wages, as was also the case when the army took in more men from rural areas. Throughout New England and the Northwest, for example, wage rates for laboring men ranged from $11.00 to $16.00 per month, considerably higher than the monthly sum of $8.00 that was paid to regular soldiers after January 1813.3 The resulting competition for men’s services also contributed to inflation, which was further exacerbated by the interruptions to normal trading patterns that were occasioned by both the Madison administration’s enforcement of policies of commercial restriction and the increasing rigor with which the Royal Navy implemented blockades along the Atlantic coast in 1813 and 1814. The cumulative effect of these cost increases added greatly to the difficulties encountered by the federal government in financing the war. By December 1814 the United States, in fact, could scarcely fund the war at all and the Treasury was defaulting on interest payments owed on debts already incurred.4 In both rural and urban areas, landowners and master craftsmen often came to resent the army when they found that minors who were in their hire as laborers or apprentices attempted to escape from their contracts by enlisting. Recruiters and employers thus came into conflict in local courts when the latter sought to enforce their rights against the former. This problem became so serious that Congress, in January 1813, legislated to require recruiters to obtain the written consent of parents, guardians, and masters before enlisting men under the age of 21.5 But it was not merely the activities of the army that led to such outcomes. They could also occur when governments, federal and state, called out militia detachments for local defense for multiple terms of service that usually lasted from three to six months. Significant numbers of men—more than 500,000 in all by the end of the war—were thus withdrawn from their normal work routines for periods of up to six months (for militiamen) and to five years (for regular soldiers).6 Communities and families had to absorb the costs, especially when farms were neglected and women and children lost their principal means of support.7 Such circumstances prompt questions about the popularity of the war. Conventional wisdom holds that the War of 1812 enjoyed little public support; it is often said to have been “the most unpopular war” ever waged by the United States. Anecdotal evidence abounds to support this contention. After Congress had decided for war on June 17, 1812, the Federalist minority in the House of Representatives—none of whom had voted for it—issued an address to their constituents deploring the injustice and folly of the policy.8 Most studies of the war allude to public meetings and fast days in protest, antiwar sermons from pulpits, harsh critiques in the newspapers and in pamphlets, and even descriptions of pro-war Congressmen being hanged in effigy and assaulted in person. Residents and merchants in Atlantic coastal communities traded with the enemy; farmers along the northern and southern frontiers smuggled across the borders; and bankers and businessmen from Boston to Baltimore withheld subscriptions to government loans. Executives and legislatures in states controlled by the Federalist party rejected calls from the War Department to employ their militias in national service—on the grounds that they lacked justification—and the governor of Massachusetts sent an emissary to his counterpart in Nova Scotia to enquire about an armistice or a separate peace. In December 1814 opposition to the war in New England culminated in the Hartford Convention, which proposed major changes to the Federal Constitution as well as threats to nullify legislation that might impose conscription. Seldom did these developments lead to outright public disorder—with the notable exception of the pro-war Baltimore riots in July 1812—but between 1812 and 1815 Americans experienced a very uncivil war at home.9 The absence of federal laws to criminalize dissent as sedition greatly amplified this discord in the public sphere. But how much weight should be given to these stories? Anecdotal evidence about antiwar activities notwithstanding, is it possible that a larger majority supported the war? This is a difficult matter to assess. Data derived from army enlistments do not demonstrate that the declaration of war provoked 154

The American Home Front, 1812–1815

Figure 11.1 of 1812.

Contemporary cartoon illustrates the dilemmas faced by the Federalist party in opposing the War

(Cartoon by William Charles. Library of Congress)

an outpouring of widespread popular support after June 1812, comparable to the rage militaire that rallied men to the flag in the early days of the American Revolution.10 Over the summer of 1812 enlistments rose only moderately over the levels that had been attained in the previous months before they declined over the following fall and winter months. Similar patterns reoccurred in 1813 and 1814, suggesting that the times when men were willing to enlist were not strongly influenced by the military and political events of the war. And the fact that many more men enlisted in 1814 than in 1812 and 1813 was probably a response to the substantially more generous bounties for military service that were available in the final year of the conflict.11 Wartime elections often produce an increase in popular support for governments. Was this the case between 1812 and 1814? A perusal of local newspapers suggests that debates about the war were central to most political campaigns and elections, especially the wisdom of a war against a powerful British enemy fought in an informal alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte who, it was generally agreed, had destroyed liberty throughout continental Europe. The presidential election of 1812 was, furthermore, the first such contest to be held during a formal state of war. Turnout was generally up over the levels of 1808, but James Madison won reelection by a narrower margin, certainly in the Electoral College and probably in the popular vote as well, than had been the case in his election four years earlier.12 The Federalists, almost all of whom were opposed to the war, made significant gains in Congress.13 Elections held in the months immediately after the declaration of war also greatly exacerbated the sectional divide in national politics. The Democratic-Republicans, not all of whom endorsed the war, lost votes in the states to the north of Pennsylvania. Further south, however, supporters of the Madison administration retained their customary majorities. 155

Figure 11.2 President James Madison presided over a deeply divided nation during the War of 1812. (Lithograph of portrait by Gilbert Stuart. Pendleton’s Lithography. Library of Congress)

The American Home Front, 1812–1815

Local contests during the war complicated the national picture. Generalizations are elusive, given the variations that existed in the requirements for elections in the states. Nevertheless, Federalists in New England continued to gain ground in 1813 and 1814. A partial exception was the District of Maine where the Democratic-Republicans regained some of the support they had lost in 1812.14 In New York, where the Federalists had carried the state in 1812, the Democratic-Republicans rallied and increased their strength in 1813 and 1814.15 In Pennsylvania, the Democratic-Republicans remained in the majority, albeit with slightly reduced margins of victory.16 In most southern states, Federalist opposition to the administration all but disappeared at the polls, with the exception of some long-standing pockets of local strength in the Carolinas and in Virginia west of the Piedmont. Measuring public support for the war by election returns thus produces a confusing picture. The war never became an anti-British crusade that united different groups across all regions and sections, but it may have been more popular (or tolerated) throughout the nation than Federalist activities might suggest. Nevertheless, public acceptance of a state of war did not always translate into support for the particular policies required for its prosecution. Indeed, studies of the home front point to the conclusion that national policies could seldom succeed without a significant degree of local support. After June 1812, support from the home front was neither strong enough nor sufficiently consistent to propel the United States to a clear-cut victory.

The Northwest In July 1812 American forces led by Brigadier General William Hull invaded Upper Canada from Detroit. The result was a fiasco from which the war effort never quite recovered. The general could not decide whether his assignment was to invade Canada or merely to defend the American Northwest against the British and their Indian allies. When he did enter enemy territory, his nerve failed and he surrendered, almost without resistance, to an inferior force in August 1812. Hull offered several pleas in extenuation for his actions. Some reflected conflicts of opinion about how to conduct the war while others exposed serious defects in the structures for regional governance and defense. Hull blamed his army for his failure. Only one fifth of his men (about 400) were regular troops; the remainder (about 1,600) consisted of Ohio militia volunteers. The latter were wholly untrained and some of them had mutinied over the details of a clothing allowance before they left Ohio. Worse, their senior officers, who held the rank of colonel in the militia, were supposed to yield precedence to their regular counterparts while in federal service. They refused to do so, leading Hull to conclude that he could not trust his troops to accept the discipline necessary for hard combat.17 These squabbles spoke volumes about the difficulties of waging war on a sparsely settled frontier. The ratio of untrained to trained troops in Hull’s force reflected not only the limitations of the U.S. Army but also the problems of assembling and training any sizeable number of men from a widely scattered population where time for campaigning had to be allocated according to the requirements of planting and harvesting crops—without at the same time jeopardizing the prosperity and security of family farms. Under the influence of the Shawnee Prophet and his brother Tecumseh, the Northwestern Indians had become increasingly hostile to American expansion, which they sought to curb with assistance from the British. The American Northwest, however, was woefully lacking in roads or other infrastructures over which men, horses, and supply wagons might be moved in accordance with any strategy. A major obstacle to Hull’s progress was the Black Swamp, a vast forested wetland to the west of the settled areas in Ohio that had to be crossed in order for the Americans to reach the shores of Lake Erie and from there begin to encounter the British. The financial resources of state and territorial governments were insufficient to overcome these constraints. The tax base was limited as were the networks of banking and credit through which money might be borrowed. All groups in the Northwest therefore looked to the federal government to surmount these difficulties. 157

J.C.A. Stagg

The administration was reluctant to help localities. National resources were limited and the War Department did not want to dissipate them on Indians. Military priorities dictated that Indians should be neutral, but this policy never commanded much support on vulnerable frontiers where state and territorial leaders, ever sensitive to the need to maintain their local standing, constantly sought to undermine it. Hull’s surrender gave them the leverage to bend the war effort toward their requirements. It became very difficult for Americans in the Northwest to invade Canada without first providing for more local defense. Both of Hull’s successors, Brigadier General James Winchester and Major General William Henry Harrison, wrestled with this problem—the former by trying to defend the imperiled community of Frenchtown in Michigan Territory in January 1813 and the latter by seeking larger forces and more supplies to protect the frontier at a cost the War Department could ill afford. Winchester failed to protect Frenchtown and his defeat by British and Indian forces led to the infamous River Raisin “massacre” that provoked widespread outrage throughout the Northwest. Harrison managed to secure the frontier—by repelling the enemy at Fort Meigs in northwestern Ohio in May and July of 1813—but he could not invade Upper Canada until the United States obtained naval control on Lake Erie. And even after Harrison’s victory at the River Thames in October 1813, a sense of profound insecurity still pervaded the American Northwest—to such an extent that the administration continued to devote resources in men and vessels to the Lake Erie/western Upper Canada region throughout 1814.

The Northeast Pressures from the home front operated in roughly comparable ways as the United States shifted its offensives to the Niagara Peninsula and the Champlain Valley. Despite their geographical separation, these regions shared much in common and had similar needs. Both were frontier societies in the sense that American settlement, much of it originating in New England, was of relatively recent origin. More important was the fact that the basis for their expansion and prosperity rested on the ability of their farmers and merchants to move crops (wheat), forest products (timber and potash), and livestock onto Lake Ontario and up the Richelieu River in order to transport them down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal for shipment to other parts of the British Empire. It did not require the outbreak of war in 1812 to expose the uncomfortable contradictions created by the undue dependence of American farmers and merchants on access to British marketplaces in Lower Canada. The difficulties of enforcing the Embargo in these regions between 1807 and 1809 had already revealed that large numbers of Americans preferred to trade with Canada, even by smuggling, rather than endure the privations that would result from closing the border. A war against Canada could only reenact those difficulties in a more acute form.18 This state of affairs led the most prominent Democratic-Republican political leader in western New York, Peter B. Porter, to press for the buildup of American forces along the Niagara River as the prelude to a rapid conquest of Upper Canada. That policy could serve national goals but it would also protect local communities and their commercial interests from incursions by the British and any Indian allies they might recruit from the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy whose peoples resided on both sides of the Niagara River. And Porter and his fellow western New Yorkers also worried that British troops in their positions at Fort Erie and Fort George might be better prepared for war than their American counterparts in Fort Niagara.19 As for the Champlain Valley, past history and future strategy dictated that the United States concentrate forces at Plattsburgh, New York, at Burlington, Vermont, and at the head of Lake Champlain (at Chazy, New York, and in Swanton, Vermont). The lake and its valley formed a vital commercial corridor which also furnished the most direct American access to Montreal. Occupation of that city was essential to secure control over Upper Canada and to facilitate subsequent advances on Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes.


The American Home Front, 1812–1815

The administration placed troops on the Niagara Peninsula and in the Lake Champlain region, but their operations were undercut by local currents of indifference or hostility. In the spring of 1812 export merchants in New York City and Albany were speculating on marketing over 3 million bushels of wheat. Neither they nor the farmers of upstate New York, who were to produce this crop, wished to see trade disrupted by mobilization on Lake Ontario and on the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers, least of all when the British were better positioned to control these waterways than the Americans. Those sentiments extended along the New York bank of the St. Lawrence River to Ogdensburg where the largest landlord in the region, David Parish, made it plain to his tenants and other residents that he had no enthusiasm for war. Most leaders of the New York Democratic-Republican party, including Vice President George Clinton and his nephew DeWitt Clinton, both of whom opposed Madison’s reelection, were of a similar mind. Hull’s surrender at Detroit reinforced these antipathies, especially after the British paraded their American prisoners of war along the Canadian banks of the Niagara River. That spectacle contributed to the refusal of New York’s militiamen in the fall of 1812 to participate in an unsuccessful attack on Queenston Heights and in an ill-conceived plan to take Fort Erie. Matters were no better in the Champlain Valley where the preparations for a serious invasion of Lower Canada were utterly inadequate. After an unsuccessful attempt to take a small British fort at Lacolle Mill in November 1812, American forces went into winter quarters, from where many of the sicknesses and diseases incident to army life spread across the northern frontier and into the local population.20 These events translated into electoral defeats for supporters of the war in New York in 1812 and in Vermont in 1813. In the former state, the situation stabilized somewhat in favor of the war after the spring of 1813, in part because of successful American campaigns against Fort George and York in April and May, and in part because the buildup of troops, as well as the construction of an American naval base at Sackets Harbor, created a steady demand for food and other local products to offset the price disruptions experienced in 1812. Daniel D. Tompkins was also reelected as a DemocraticRepublican governor in May, thereby ensuring continuity in the support for the war from the state capital in Albany. In time, the Ninth Military District, also created in 1813 to embrace most of northern and western New York, became the largest single concentration of American forces anywhere during the war. Even so, local enthusiasm for an invasion of Canada, as opposed to strengthening defense at home, remained limited, especially after British forces, in December 1813, carried out destructive raids against American communities along the Niagara River in retaliation for the decision of New York militiamen to burn the town of Newark in Upper Canada.21 In Vermont, which had hitherto been the most reliably Democratic-Republican state in New England, support for the war waned. Towns around the shores of Lake Champlain were overwhelmed by rapid influxes of troops whose presence often created friction between the army and civilians, particularly given the tendency of the soldiers to supplement their rations by stealing food and firewood from farmers and storekeepers. In Burlington, for example, the population more than tripled; the state university had to be closed; and the students and faculty were sent home to provide temporary barracks for the troops. Such disruptions to the rhythms of local life translated into narrow victories for the Federalists in the gubernatorial and legislative elections of 1813. Worse too for the popularity of the war was the failure of two major American advances on Montreal, one down the St. Lawrence River from Sackets Harbor (led by Major General James Wilkinson) and the other directed by Major General Wade Hampton from the Chateaugay/Four Corners region of Vermont. Even after the American victory in the Battle of Lake Champlain in September 1814, the Federalists retained control of the state government.22 But the lack of local support for a campaign could not merely undermine its prosecution; it could prevent military operations from taking place at all. In April 1812, the ranking general in the American army, Henry Dearborn, planned an invasion of New Brunswick from the District of Maine. A


J.C.A. Stagg

prominent Maine political leader himself, Dearborn believed that 3,000 militiamen under the command of the customs collector at Passamaquoddy, Lemuel Trescott (a veteran of the Revolutionary War), could occupy the British province within three months, “with little expence, or risk.”23 This campaign never materialized because neither Trescott nor the militia would step forward. Underlying their reluctance was the reality that the residents of Maine had always conducted an extensive trade, both legal and illegal, with the Canadian Maritimes, which they were determined to continue regardless of the state of war. This reality was reasserted in the summer of 1814, after British forces had occupied much of Maine east of the Penobscot River. The British occupiers administered loyalty oaths for the purposes of ensuring domestic tranquility and to confer privileges to trade within the British Empire. Their Republican political tendencies notwithstanding, most of the local residents took the oaths without resistance and adhered to them until the end of the British occupation.

The Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf Coast After the American failure to take Canadian territory in 1812, British forces began attacking the American home front. They targeted the Chesapeake region, partly because the river systems of the Chesapeake Bay favored rapid operations by mobile naval and land forces, and partly because the District of Columbia (and Virginia) was the nerve center of the American war effort. Tidewater regions were also regarded as vulnerable because of the presence of large numbers of slaves who were presumed to be indifferent, if not hostile, to the interests of their masters. Starting in the spring of 1813, the Royal Navy blockaded the Atlantic coast south of New England and commenced a “ruffian” system of warfare—raids to destroy supplies, to damage property, and to alarm and harass the residents. These raids could be brutal, as was the case in Hampton, Virginia, in July 1813 when poorly disciplined British troops not only burned property but also committed rapes and killed an elderly invalid in his bed. Political leaders around the Chesapeake clamored for the War Department to strengthen the local defenses—by placing more troops in forts, by reimbursing expenses incurred by states for mobilizing their militias, and even by allowing the state governments to raise their own armies. These pressures intensified in the spring of 1814 as the British received more reinforcements from Europe. Chesapeake planters had always been sensitive to slave unrest, but they were incensed when British admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane issued a proclamation in April inviting slaves to “emigrate,” either to serve in the British army or to relocate (as free people) in a British colony. It was in vain that masters declared that the British would sell them into a harsher servitude in the West Indies. More than 4,000 slaves took up Cochrane’s offer, most of them from counties in close proximity to British forces and often consisting of the more valuable skilled workers on the plantations. After seizing Tangier Island, the British also created a force of black Colonial Marines to assist their operations, including those that culminated in the burning of Washington and the attack on Baltimore in August and September. Enraged and humiliated, state and local leaders again demanded more protection. The War Department, suspecting that the planters feared their slaves more than they did the British, balked. The inadequacy of that response drove Virginia to call out ever larger numbers of militia from the Piedmont to serve in overcrowded and unhealthy forts on the tidewater. The ensuing incidence of sickness and mortality—from dysentery, malaria, and typhus—was so great that in December 1814 the incoming governor, Wilson Cary Nicholas, warned President Madison that it was inciting the people “almost to disobedience” and alienating them from the nation.24 In Maryland, distrust of the federal government took a slightly different turn when the governor assigned responsibility for the defense of Baltimore to a prominent city resident (U.S. Senator Samuel Smith) in preference to the regular force commander, Brigadier General William Henry Winder, even though Winder held a federal commission and was the governor’s nephew. Farther south and along the Gulf Coast, support for the war was generally greater and reflected some unique circumstances. Of critical importance was the fact that the United States shared a 160

The American Home Front, 1812–1815

disputed border with the Spanish possessions of East and West Florida. Spain was a declining colonial power and feared only to the extent that it might transfer its Gulf Coast colonies to Great Britain in return for its assistance in Spain’s struggle against Napoleon. War with Great Britain was therefore popular because it would lead to a war with Spain, which would terminate in the American seizure of East Florida and the Gulf Coast. It was also assumed that war with Spain would entail the conquest of the Creek Indian townships in the southwestern hinterland in order to preempt their opposition to future American expansion toward the Gulf Coast. Nowhere were these attitudes more widely held than in Tennessee and especially by its most prominent military figure, Andrew Jackson. Tennesseans accordingly flocked to the flag in the summer of 1813 when both the federal and state governments sought troops to suppress hostile factions of Creek Indians who had attacked an American settlement at Fort Mims in the Mississippi Territory. Jackson’s subsequent campaigns against the Creeks were not completely trouble-free; he encountered difficulties in disciplining militia volunteers on short enlistments similar to those that had been experienced on the northern frontiers, but in the spring of 1814 the Tennesseans defeated most of the Creek forces at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. In August 1814, Jackson imposed a punitive peace treaty on the Creeks and other southwestern Indian peoples, one that placed more than 23 million acres of their land—the heart of the future Cotton Kingdom— under American control.25 Late in 1814 the War Department sent Jackson to New Orleans, to organize the defense against a British offensive over the coming winter. This was a difficult undertaking, not merely because New Orleans was critical for control of the Mississippi River but because the population of the city was fractured and contentious, reflecting the diverse origins of its African, American, French, and Spanish inhabitants. Their collective loyalty in the face of a British attack was uncertain. In response, Jackson took bolder and riskier steps than any other American commander during the war. He formed alliances with marginal groups, most notably the free black population of New Orleans and the pirates of Barataria. He drafted the local militia for his plans to block the approaches British forces might take to New Orleans, and he imposed martial law to suppress dissent and subversion—the first exercise of such authority over an American civilian population. These steps contributed to the most striking American victory in the war, the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. However, as the British withdrew after their failure to take the city, its residents expected Jackson to relax his control over their daily lives. Not knowing that a peace treaty had been concluded at Ghent in December 1814, Jackson refused, only to be met with petitions from French-speaking militiamen seeking their discharge—on the grounds that they were French, and not American, nationals. Among them was state senator Pierre Louaillier, who obtained a writ of habeas corpus from a local judge, who subsequently fined Jackson $1,000 for contempt of court when the general refused to honor it. The episode aptly illuminated the limits to how far federal power could influence developments on the home front during the War of 1812.

Notes 1. This is the implicit argument in Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1991), which makes almost no reference to the War of 1812 as an agent of change. 2. J. C. A. Stagg, “Enlisted Men in the U.S. Army, 1812–1815: A Preliminary Survey,” William and Mary Quarterly 43 (October 1986), 615–45, and Stagg, “Soldiers in Peace and War: Comparative Perspectives on the Recruitment of the United States Army, 1802–1815,” William and Mary Quarterly 57 (January 2000), 79–120. 3. See the data compiled by Carroll D. Wright, History of Wages and Prices in Massachusetts, 1752–1883 (Boston, 1885), 74–83. Wage rates in the Northwest are described in Duncan McArthur to Thomas Worthington, June 9, 1813, in Thomas Worthington Papers, Ohio State University Library, Columbus, OH. 4. An approximate sense of the upward movement of prices, can be found in Arthur H. Cole, Wholesale Commodity Prices in the United States 1700–1861 (Cambridge, MA, 1938), 21–22, 43–44, 59–61, 100, and 109. The most convenient discussion of the difficulties of funding the war is in Brian Arthur, How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades of the United States, 1812–1815 (Woodbridge, UK, 2011), 131–203.


J.C.A. Stagg 5. See section 5 of “An Act supplementary for the more perfect organization of the Army of the United States,” in U.S. Congress, The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, 8 vols. (Boston, 1845–67), 2:792. 6. Militia service during the war ranged from the merely tedious to the dangerously unhealthy. See Michael A. Bellesiles, “Experiencing the War of 1812,” in Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754–1815, ed. Julie Flavell and Stephen Conway (Tallahassee, FL, 2004), 205–40. 7. For one example that occurred on the eve of the war, see the petition of the selectmen of Dedham, Massachusetts, to the War Department for the discharge of Robert Cain, who had enlisted under the influence of drink and abandoned his wife and child to public support. Calvin Whiting to William Eustis, June 10, 1812, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, DC. 8. An Address by Members of the House of Representatives, of the Congress of the United States, to their Constituents on the Subject of the War with Great Britain (Baltimore, 1812). This address was printed at least 20 times in pamphlet form as well as in many newspapers. 9. On the Baltimore riots, see Donald R. Hickey, “The Darker Side of Democracy: The Baltimore Riots of 1812,” The Maryland Historian 7 (Fall 1976), 1–19. 10. For the early popularity of the Revolutionary War, see Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1979), 25–53. 11. See Stagg, “Enlisted Men in the U.S. Army,” 621–23. 12. In 1808 Madison obtained 69 percent of the Electoral College vote; in 1812 he received only 59 percent. For the fragmentary evidence suggesting a decline in popular support for Madison, see Norman K. Risjord, “The Election of 1812,” in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., et al., eds., History of American Presidential Elections 1789–1968, 4 vols. (New York, 1971), 1:261–72. 13. In 1811, before the elections of 1812 and reapportionment according to the 1810 census, the Federalists held only one quarter (25.3%) of the seats in the House of Representatives. By 1813, they had increased their strength to more than one third (37.7%). In the Senate, Federalist numbers rose from one sixth to one third of that body. 14. For election totals in Maine, see Ronald F. Banks, Maine Becomes a State: The Movement to Separate Maine from Massachusetts, 1785–1820 (Middletown, CT, 1970), 45. 15. For New York politics, see Ray W. Irwin, Daniel D. Tompkins: Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States (New York, 1968), 169–70, 178–79. 16. Electoral fluctuations in Pennsylvania resulted from small increases in Federalist strength and larger defections by Democratic-Republican factions. See Victor A. Sapio, Pennsylvania & the War of 1812 (Lexington, KY, 1970), 167–93. 17. A recent history of the war in the Northwest is Anthony J. Yanik, The Fall and Recapture of Detroit in the War of 1812: In Defense of William Hull (Detroit, 2011). 18. The most detailed study is Henry M. Muller III, “The History of the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Route, 1760–1815,” PhD diss. (University of Rochester, 1969), 206–321. 19. J. C. A. Stagg, “Between Black Rock and A Hard Place: Peter B. Porter’s Plan for an American Invasion of Canada in 1812,” Journal of the Early Republic 19 (Autumn 1999), 385–422. 20. The spread of diseases across the northern military frontier, especially during the winter of 1812–13, is noted by James Mann, Medical Sketches of the Campaigns of 1812, 13, 14 (Dedham, MA, 1816), vii, ix, 19–21, 38–39. 21. The raids are described in Louis L. Babcock, The War of 1812 on the Niagara Frontier (Buffalo, NY, 1927), 115–38. 22. A useful local study is Karen Stites Campbell, “Propaganda, Pestilence, and Prosperity: Burlington’s Camptown Days during the War of 1812,” Vermont History 64 (Summer 1996), 133–58. 23. See Henry Dearborn to James Madison, April 6, 1812, The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series, ed. Robert A. Rutland et al., 7 vols. (Charlottesville, VA, 1984–2012), 4:300. 24. See Wilson Cary Nicholas to Madison, December 18, 1814, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. 25. The most recent interpretation of these events is Tom Kanon, Tennesseans at War, 1812–1815 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 2014).

Annotated Bibliography Bergman, William H. The American National State and the Early West. New York, 2012. A pioneering study of the War of 1812 in the Northwest from the theoretical perspective of American political development. Broussard, James H. The Southern Federalists 1800–1816. Baton Rouge, LA, 1978. The best available study of the Federalist opposition to the war in a region outside of New England.


The American Home Front, 1812–1815 Buel, Richard. America on the Brink: How the Political Struggle over the War of 1812 Almost Destroyed the Young Republic. New York, 2005. The most recent study of Federalist opposition to the war, albeit one that is markedly unsympathetic to its subject matter. Butler, Stuart L. Defending the Old Dominion: Virginia and its Militia in the War of 1812. Lanham, MD, 2013. The most detailed study available of the problems faced by a state government in mobilizing its militia for war. Cusick, James. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. Gainesville, FL, 2003. The best local study that illuminates the Spanish dimensions of the War of 1812 on the southern frontier. Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington, KY, 1999. The best general study of the difficulties of employing state militias as an instrument of national policy. Smith, Joshua. Borderland Smuggling: Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783–1820. Gainesville, FL, 2006. A useful local study that explains why the War of 1812 in northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes took a different course from that found in regions further to the west. Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies. New York, 2010. The best available study of the conditions along the military frontier of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. ———. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832. New York, 2013. An invaluable monograph synthesizing our understanding of British policy along the Atlantic coast and the reaction of slaves and masters in the Chesapeake region. Watts, Stephen. The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820. Baltimore, 1987. A bold and sweeping argument on behalf of the case that the War of 1812 truly transformed the development of antebellum America.


12 HEAVY LIES THE CROWN The Canadian Social Context of the War of 1812 James Tyler Robertson

Remaining a British colony proved to be a great struggle for the people of Upper and Lower Canada from the summer of 1812 until the winter of 1814 as the American government tried to wrest the Canadas from Britain in the name of emancipation, maritime rights, and national honor. While some colonists did fight to remain connected to England, the vast majority experienced the War of 1812 mostly as a threat to their homes, livelihoods, families, and any hopes for future success and prosperity. Annexation by the United States would not have been a tragedy, and people were more concerned to protect their lives and property. This inspired many people to take creative steps to avoid involvement. Others who did fight were concerned more for their homes and property than for their king and country.

The People of Upper Canada The population of Upper Canada was diverse enough that there was good reason for leaders to worry about potential disloyalty to England during the war. Gerald Craig’s valuable collection of primary sources titled Early Travellers in the Canadas: Extracts from the Writings of Thirty Visitors to British North America 1791–1867 includes two chapters that have direct bearing on this. Baptist minister Michael Smith’s detailed account, “Upper Canada During the War of 1812,” and John Howison’s reflections, “Pioneer Society of Upper Canada after the War of 1812,” both offer valuable insights.1 Smith wrote: One out of twelve of the inhabitants . . . took part with the King in the revolutionary war, who, with their children born in Canada, make about one sixth part of the inhabitants at present;—the rest, with their children, are Americans. Or, in other words, if all the people were divided into ten equal parts, eight parts would be natives of the United States, with their children born in Canada, and two parts of these eight would be what are now called loyalists. . . .The other six parts would be natives of the United States.2 When war broke out, the colonial leaders were naturally concerned about such an overwhelming number of Americans who might sympathize with the enemy. Most likely due to his own American origins, Smith understood the majority of Upper Canada’s inhabitants who desired “to remain neutral, a role made difficult by both British and American authorities.”3 So strong was their desire to avoid conflict that, when Smith spoke with some militia soldiers on the way to Fort George after Hull’s landing, he “found that nearly all of them . . . [if ] they were ordered to march against [Hull] . . . would not obey.”4 The account we sometimes hear today of common Canadians rising to defend their 164

Heavy Lies the Crown

Figure 12.1 America and the Empire were often depicted as sparring partners. This cartoon was drawn by American William Charles in 1813. (Library of Congress)

land from American hordes is accurately called the “militia myth,” because this reluctance to fight continued throughout the war. Howison commented on such insubordination because he saw it as one of the problems of colonial life that the lower classes were forgetting their place and were encroaching “upon that of the higher orders.”5 Howison believed that the people of Upper Canada would “soon begin to attain some conception of equality” and their penchant for using “the same kind of manners towards all men” indicated a rejection of a British hierarchical social structure in favor of a more democratic view.6 Such behavior caused Howison to question their allegiance to the empire because it showed that Upper Canadians “follow the habits and customs of the peasantry of the United States,” which made the people “offensively dirty, gross, and indolent, in all their domestic arrangements.”7 Such adherence to American-style attitudes and practices in the colony not only indicated important differences between life in Upper Canada and the imperial center of Britain, but also offered the American government a chance to try to build on these differences to separate the empire from the last of its North American holdings. However, Smith believed that Upper Canadians appreciated the benefits of the monarchy in their lives. He argued that they did not live under “British tyranny,” and they could “at any time have crossed the line to the United States” if they felt victimized by the crown.8 While some of Upper Canada’s governing elite considered the border inadequate to keep American ideologies out of the province, its weakness at least removed any feeling that freedom was limited in the colony, and showed that those who chose to live there did so of their own free will.9 This ultimately strengthened the British war effort. 165

James Tyler Robertson

An Amalgam of America and England Since Upper Canada had so many people of both British and American origins, it is difficult to prove that there was any homogenous stance toward the war. Challenging the myths about the origins of Canada as a Loyalist land filled with brave people carving out a British society in an uncharted wilderness, Jane Errington’s book The Lion, the Eagle, and Upper Canada: A Developing Colonial Ideology argues that British North American identity at the time of the war wavered among being British, American, or an “amalgam of both.”10 This is an important work because it tracks the development of ideas that, while often contradictory and always in a state of flux, were beginning to forge a colonial identity in the wilderness of this British-American land. Chapters 3 through 5 prove especially useful in that they explore American influence on the land, the ways in which the war impacted the people, and how the ideologies of Upper Canada survived and changed in the postwar years. Arguably the most important effect of the war on the social context was that it provided the raison d’être for increased inner-provincial communication that did much to combat the regional and insular mindset that had dominated the rural world of Upper Canada since the late eighteenth century. With newspapers, official dispatches, and agencies like the Loyal and Patriotic Society printing reports about the impact of the war, the colonists were able to keep in touch with events throughout the province. Although there are many who celebrate the war as the birth of Canada as a nation, that idea seems unrealistic and comes more from later nationalistic fervor. Errington is closer to the mark with her belief that the war was the colony’s rite of passage into young adulthood. Errington argues that while Upper Canadians had remained part of the British Empire, separation from America remained as undesirable as it was impractical. While that makes sense for the largely American-born population who retained family and business connections south of the border and cared little about the reasons behind the war, the surprising fact is that many of the most ardently anti-American and pro-British elites in the province also refused to cut ties with American friends. They knew that there were many in America who disagreed with the war. Certain members of the Upper Canadian elite recognized that they had much in common with the American Federalists, who were also opposed to Madison and his war. Because the Federalists tended to be from the higher levels of American society, they shared many of the same ideas as the colonial leaders, and the latter looked to the former for guidance on how to develop the colony. Such beliefs allowed British leaders to borrow ideas from the republican experiment without negating their condemnations of America by arguing that they were defending the friendly Americans who had been persecuted by Madison and his ilk. Such beliefs about the usefulness of American connections insured, on both the popular and elite levels of Upper Canada, that a rampant postwar anti-Americanism did not find fertile soil in Canada. While the war did solidify Upper and Lower Canada’s place within the empire, the tremendous distance from the center of that empire, coupled with the large number of American-born inhabitants, insured that the colony’s development was destined to remain firmly and inseparably tied to the developments of the American republic to the south.

Inspiring—and Defining—Loyalty Most of the leaders of colonial society remained concerned that democratic ideas were not to be trusted in the hands of the masses, especially during a dangerous military contest. An excellent treatment of this topic is R. Arthur Bowler’s “Propaganda in Upper Canada in the War of 1812.”11 For Bowler, the propaganda campaigns during the war demonstrate the conservatism of the Upper Canadian elite and their fundamental distrust of democratic and republican ideas. They feared these ideas would undermine the structured society, which they believed was at the root of social order and rational liberty.


Figure 12.2 Habitants in Summer Dress (by John Lambert 1810). This is an example of the fashions worn at that time by the people. (Library and Archives of Canada)

James Tyler Robertson

As is frequently the case, those who are on top of a society threatened with upheaval have a much more vested interest in ensuring that the older, more conservative way of doing things is defended to the death. Consequently, these elites worked hard at stirring up patriotism and the will to fight among the rank and file of the citizens. Given the rugged landscape and the lack of printing materials and resources, avenues for spreading their message were few. Despite such limitations, speeches and even sermons that developed patriotic ideas were featured in newspapers and sometimes printed up as handbills to inculcate so-called loyalist beliefs. When mixed with political savvy and the administrative patience of governors like Brock and Prevost, these efforts proved surprisingly effective. Bowler cites the example of Isaac Wilson’s letter to his brother, which shows that several of the key points the leaders were attempting to make were affecting some people’s perceptions of the war. Wilson penned the following lines: The war is likely to prove a very disastrous one to the States. It was a foolish measure for their government. It is wholly attributed to the intrigues of the French. Many people feel they will lose their independence but how it will end no one can tell. The people in this country are very much divided in the political principles. Many of them are friendly to the States and wish the country to fall into their hands and where the American conquer they have no mercy on the property of the other party.12 While the outcome was still very much debated, ideas of the foolishness of the American cause and the connection to the violent French nation helped to construct an American “other” that was plausible and definable and that could potentially inspire the people to defend their empire in a just cause.

Religious Views of the War Of those who published pro-British writings throughout the war, there were few more prolific than York’s Anglican Rector, the Reverend Dr. John Strachan.13 Although he was only one man, later history would prove his acumen within the political and cultural spheres of Upper Canada. Since most people attended church when it was available (though this was difficult for the largely rural population) and because churches often provided a cultural “hub” of information and community, religious interpretations and opinions of the war should be taken seriously. In addition to that, the numerical superiority of the American-based Episcopal Methodists, who served the various rural areas prior to the war, had already inspired many Anglican and Presbyterian ministers to view the Methodists as their spiritual rivals for the souls of British North Americans. Clergymen were important agents of cultural identity within colonial society. They were responsible for the construction and leadership of churches in the towns, and saw part of their role as supporters of the British way of life because of the peace, sobriety, and industry that such society brought. Since Strachan was the Rector of the Anglicans in the provincial capital, it is worth noting some of the more central beliefs he held regarding the war. Many of the ideas put forward by Strachan were echoed in Isaac Wilson’s letter quoted above. Strachan was incensed at America’s betrayal of the English nation and wrote that he was “astonished at the measures taken by the United States to embarass [sic] and destroy the illustrious nation of which we form a part,—that nation which alone prevents universal despotism.”14 The fact that America attacked during the Napoleonic Wars was equated with joining the French side, and, for that, Strachan considered America a traitor to global peace. His call to arms was designed to both shame America and instill in the Upper Canadians a sense of pride in their connection to England when he preached: “[America has] threatened with unblushing arrogance to subdue this fine colony. . . . They mocked our attachment to the best of kings; and tho’


Heavy Lies the Crown

born to the most exalted freedom and independence, they reproached us with being slaves.”15 The Americans were threatening the nation that set people free and dared to call themselves liberators; to Strachan, nothing could be more contradictory. By celebrating so-called British traits of freedom, justice, and peace and lambasting so-called American traits of violence, arrogance, and avarice, Strachan and others were using the war to define certain republican ideas as the instigators of violence and death, and the time-honored traditions of Britain as the bringers of peace and prosperity. In so doing, these leaders offered Upper Canadians good reasons to fight, identified laudable cultural traits as English and worthy of emulation, and began to construct a unique Upper Canadian culture with discernible and definable rules that separated it from the republic. All of this was designed to instruct the inhabitants of British North America to celebrate the “British” and limit the “American” in their colony.

Disaster One of the popular organizations that used the terms “loyal” and “patriotic” was inspired by a York woman (identified by Carl Benn as Elizabeth Selby) to help alleviate the suffering of those who had lost property or family members as a direct result of the war. Certain leaders got on board, and the people throughout Upper Canada were called to donate to the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada, which then published the donors, the amounts, and various stories of woe experienced by average citizens throughout the war. In his book Plunder, Profit, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada, George Sheppard describes the Society as desiring to relieve families “in distress because of the war,” but also believes there were other, less altruistic, motivations behind the Society.16 Sheppard argues that the Society allowed members of the colonial establishment to claim that they had taken an active part in the war even though most of them never left the comfort of their homes. This shows the disparity between the classes, as those who were calling for loyalty to Britain were rarely expected to shoulder the weight of a musket to defend imperial interests on the battlefields of British North America. Sheppard’s book is again of use to us as he counters those scholars who tend to see the war as a benefit to the colony in the realms of economy and an increased desire for Britishness. His compelling argument is that many inhabitants employed an amazing array of excuses and tricks to evade military service. Sheppard sees the common experience somewhat split between those who tried to benefit from the war through smuggling and playing the system, and those just trying to survive a war that made little sense to them. In contrast to those who believe the war ushered in a new and unified sense of “Canadian” identity, Sheppard posits another understanding that love of private property and a desire for self-preservation were the only things that all members of Upper Canada’s fragmented population shared. For most colonists, the reasons behind the war failed to inspire action, as the love of empire frequently took a back seat to the simpler but much more compelling desires to provide for one’s family and to just avoid being killed. It is not possible to paint all Upper Canadians with the same brush because they were too diverse and, due to this, a more nuanced understanding of the Upper Canadians’ roles in the war needs to be developed. First and foremost, the war was frightening, and because few Upper Canadians had any vested interest in its outcome in the early parts of 1812, the vast majority seemed to want no part in the conflict. The real nature of the province’s people must continue to be considered when looking at the social context of the war, because the people were not a unified group capable of standing as one against a shared foe. Sheppard’s book shows the reality that British North America was a vast land with scattered, isolated, and thinly populated regions that enjoyed very little contact with each other. In that world, the actions of various individuals that might later be deemed as opportunistic become much more understandable when compared to the need to find sustenance and provide for a family in a time of war. These people were neither traitors nor cowards; they were survivors. 169

James Tyler Robertson

Disinterest In her article, “Reluctant Warriors: British North Americans and the War of 1812,” Jane Errington senses anger among the masses at being thrust into a war for reasons of maritime rights and national honor that held little practical meaning for them and only served to foster a resentment of both governments.17 Like Sheppard, Errington sees the idea that this war united the people against a common foe as a tale of later generations addressing issues that were not present during the actual contest. After the war, the ongoing divided nature of the land made leaders look for unifying themes, and ascribing certain motivations to the War of 1812 provided dramatic nationalist myths. For her, it was only as the memory of the actual war faded that reluctant warriors could become bold Canadian heroes. As compelling as Sheppard’s and Errington’s arguments are, Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812 provides the most in-depth commentary on the complex relationships between the two national combatants.18 Even framing the contest as a civil war offers an evocative, though defensible, description. This book offers a look at the tangled origins of both lands and helps to explain both the indifference and passions that seized people periodically throughout the war and made the contest a logistical and political nightmare for the men in command. Chief among the difficulties faced by the elite as they attempted to inspire enrollment was that in North America, brother fought against brother in a borderland of mixed peoples. Hence, and to support Bowler’s propaganda argument, those who were in support of the war were in the unenviable position of having to win the hearts and minds of the people both at home and on the front. For Taylor, the crux of the war was that it was about competing visions of America, with one being loyal to the British Empire while the other was defined by revolution and independence. Where Taylor somewhat diverges from Sheppard and Errington is in his understanding of the war as a building block of a burgeoning Canadian national mentality and his belief that American actions, more than anything, destroyed sympathy for the republican cause. By 1813, the Americans were no longer viewed as liberators or victors, but as unwanted invaders. This caused a growing number of people to support the British as the best hope to end the war rapidly. After 1815, the border had new significance, the destruction of Upper Canadian farms had created a distaste for certain American policies, and increased immigration from the British Isles meant that the demography of Upper Canada was changing as well. In order to defend his belief that the war was more of a civil contest than an international one, Taylor argues that such cultural shifts necessitated making Americans a “foil” to the new Upper Canadian world that was beginning to form. Therefore, historians replaced the scandal of the civil contest with the much more politically palatable ideology that the war was fought by “us” against “them.”

Disaffection Even more dangerous than the lack of interest shown by the average citizen in the war was the outright disaffection of others. Nowhere is this more clearly shown and explained than in essays in Morris Zaslow’s book Defended Border.19 Of special importance are the following essays: “The War of 1812: Civil Authority and Martial Law in Upper Canada” by William M. Weekes; “A Study in Disaffection in Upper Canada in 1812–15” and “The County of Norfolk in the War of 1812,” both by Ernest A. Cruikshank; “The Ancaster ‘Bloody Assize’ of 1814” by William Renwick Riddell; and “The Capture of York” by Charles Humphries. Each of these authors is an expert in the field and this book remains an enduring source of pertinent scholarship on the war despite its relative age. Wanting to avoid service, some of the inhabitants of Upper Canada went as far as seeking out and purchasing paroles—which made them look like they had been captured and released under the promise that they would not fight any longer—from the enemy so that they could avoid fighting when summoned for militia duty. Some even withheld their services when required for the


Heavy Lies the Crown

construction of public works for the defense of the country. These are just two examples of the creative ways in which some went to impressive lengths to avoid the contest entirely. Refusal to appear for militia drills and desertion went beyond merely being unreliable and ventured over into the realm of outright treason. However, the vast majority of people who did this were not necessarily disloyal, but more likely fearful and confused about the war and more concerned about their personal safety and their ability to care for their families. A different view about loyalties comes from Arthur R. M. Lower’s monograph Canadians in the Making. This book examines, as the title suggests, the events that created the people known as Canadians.20 Chapter 13 deals with the War of 1812, a war Lower calls a constructive conflict. Obviously, this would be one of the books that Sheppard and Errington would take issue with. In Lower’s view, disaffection did not play a significant role in people’s response to the war, and he believes that since the weight of the raiding fell on the Loyalist settlements, the residual anger within Loyalist communities was rekindled. He cites the lack of large-scale acts of treason in Upper Canada to prove that American origin was not a danger and that the people, recognizing theirs as the morally superior cause, willingly gave themselves to the fight. This book depicts the average citizens of Upper Canada not simply rejecting an American incursion, but actively and willingly asserting their British identity in ways that would form them into the community that would give birth to the nation of Canada. Scholarship remains somewhat divided on the opinions of the average inhabitant in Upper Canada during the war. The fact remains that militias did take part in most battles, so there were those who decided to fight against the American incursion. Therefore, a balanced approach needs to take into consideration that some fought, and fought well, despite a lack of national identity and questionable national allegiances. What can be noted is that such a thing as a homogenous mindset was not possible for that collection of people. No doubt, most would have been frightened by the war, concerned for their safety, and fostering resentment towards both governments, but how such feelings manifested themselves proved to be as different as the people themselves.

Lower Canada One of the more compelling and interesting aspects of the War of 1812 is that French Catholics fought to retain their place within an English Protestant realm. Fernand Ouellet’s Lower Canada 1791–1840: Social Change and Nationalism handles the War of 1812 in one chapter, specifically as part of the larger discussion on the very complex story of French national identity in Lower Canada.21 One of the more interesting and compelling points made by Ouellet is that, somewhat ironically, it was the British policy of splitting Quebec and creating a predominantly Protestant Upper Canada that actually inspired French Catholic support during the war. Knowing that their social power rested on numbers, the French needed a population majority in their province to maintain their influence on the government, traditions, culture, and religion. Were America to win, the land could be overrun with new settlers who would “water down” the French Catholic population, whereas the likelihood of that happening under the British regime was smaller. It was the proven British policies that they respected, but I agree with the other writers we are exploring that this was not a simple case of nationalism. Ouellet maintains that French Canadian concern was more for the preservation of monarchical institutions and the social hierarchy that respected their own system of values than for the defense of the Canadian nation. While the war was not a blessing to Lower Canada per se, it did allow for greater weight to be given to certain members of society in the ongoing class struggles. In their effort to demonstrate their social usefulness, the aristocracy, the clergy, and the French-Canadian middle classes attempted to show their indisputable loyalty. Other blessings provided by the war included improved commerce and relationship between the Canadas, increased talks about building canals to improve the safety of the St. Lawrence, paving the way psychologically for the beginning of banks (due to the use of war bonds 171

James Tyler Robertson

that got the people ready for paper money), and the Catholic Church’s ability to win out over the Anglicans—in an effort to placate the potentially disloyal French, the colonial authorities permitted Catholic chaplains and Catholic leadership, much to the chagrin of Anglican Bishop Jacob Mountain, who was attempting to achieve ecclesiastical supremacy in Lower Canada. Ouellet believes that the war inspired a French-Canadian nationalism and argues that de Salaberry became a hero despite his well-known antinationalist convictions. On this point there might be some disagreement, as de Salaberry occupies that unenviable place in French-Canadian memory of being a military hero, but a hero for the British crown. As French Canadian nationalism remains surrounded by an elusive set of ideologies, there is less celebration for the events of the War of 1812 within the social memory of many Quebec residents to this day than there is in English Canada. While the importance of de Salaberry’s victory is well attested, the shifting relational sands that have come to define Quebec’s struggle to fit in with the rest of Canada perpetuate the idea that a nineteenthcentury hero for the British war effort might make him a Canadian legend, but that does not necessarily mean he will be viewed as such by French Canadians. Through examining the militia culture of Lower Canada, Michelle Guitard’s The Militia of the Battle of Châteauguay: A Social History constructs what he believes to be a better understanding of the larger culture and society of Lower Canada during the time of the war.22 Enrollment was largely dependent upon the unavailability of employment, and in a land that saw little of the actual fighting, the voluntary enlistment of men for the Select Embodied Militia and Voltigeurs was more about the pervasive economic difficulties in certain rural regions and smaller towns. Craftsmen and laborers who could not find work tended to make up a large percentage of the militia. Again, the realities of colonial life suggest a clearer understanding of what people would later call patriotism by arguing that many fought because it was a financially preferable option. Despite having an opportunity to finally rid themselves of their Protestant rulers, the Catholic leaders opted for the devil they knew rather than the one they did not. Agreeing with their Protestant rivals, these clergy saw in the American attack shades of Napoleon and argued that the Americans were friends with the atheistic French revolutionaries. Through such arguments, the clergy and other elites were able to promote their own loyalty and, upon successful conclusion of the contest, were able to convert those actions into an increased social prominence and respectability. They gambled on England and their gamble ultimately paid off. Examining the interesting social dynamics of Lower Canada, J. I. Little’s Loyalties in Conflict: A Canadian Borderland in War and Rebellion shows how the loyalty of the American-born and Englishspeaking residents of Lower Canada was tested because they did not identify with either the British Empire or the French-speaking Catholic majority.23 This book provides another dynamic in the myriad of complex social relationships within both Canadas during the war. While the Catholic clergy and predominantly French Catholics traditionally associated with Lower Canada could maintain loyalty based on Britain’s record of benevolence, the American-born inhabitants of the border region felt the same pressure as their Upper Canadian citizens of similar origins, but with the added pressure of being an English-speaking minority with far fewer social networks or reasons to adhere to England. While no major battles were fought in that region for the duration of the war, Colonel Isaac Clark’s attack in October 1813 made a traumatic impact on the Missisquoi Bay settlements, ending what had effectively been a “phony” war as far as the borderland region was concerned. Little’s work agrees with the work of Taylor and others in that he sees the actions of the American military and the perceived wrongful imprisoning of local farmers reinforcing the idea that the United States was the enemy and inspiring the Eastern Townships to become more active in the war effort. However, such increased activity was not a result of deference to the British Empire but more from local concerns expressed as a desire to serve in defense of local communities under the authority of local officers. The


Heavy Lies the Crown

loyalty of these people was to their communities and families, not to the greater cause championed by the government or their own cultural elites. As such, the careful reader needs to see in the Townships’ rejection of American incursions a nuanced loyalty that had more to do with the neighborhood than the empire. While there are some noticeable differences between Upper and Lower Canada, the ideas of localized loyalty, somewhat indifferent masses, and elite support for the war to advance political and cultural agendas was as present Lower Canada as in the more English-speaking province. Once again, we see that social context has less to do with transatlantic connections and more to do with regionalism and a desire to find the quickest and safest way to end the war with the least amount of damage done.

Women’s Lives Donald Hickey, in his foreword to Dianne Graves’s pioneering work, In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812, notes that the book brings insight into this often overlooked segment of the population during the war.24 A look at the woman’s world in 1812 yields the unsurprising realization that women’s daily routine revolved around marriage, home, and children. However, with many of their husbands and sons either away during the war or occupied with other duties brought about by the war, many women had little recourse but to manage their homes and families with selfreliance, practicality, and common sense. Much of that common sense also manifested itself in medical attention given to the fighting men on both sides, depending on which nation was in control of the region. Given that field surgeons were in high demand and not readily available all the time, women frequently became de facto nurses and medical practitioners. It was argued that women’s maternal instincts made nursing a natural activity for them in 1812. The violence and horror these women must have seen would have been truly remarkable and terrifying for even the most battle-hardened veteran. Graves contends that such medical work was likely the most distressing employment undertaken by women during the war but that, despite the danger and traumatic sights these untrained medical personnel were exposed to, it was work that desperately needed to be done. Building on that insight is one of the most interesting chapters of Graves’s book, which offers detail about certain women who acted as spies and gave information, at great personal risk, to the British about American troop movements or plans. Laura Secord was the most famous for her role in thwarting an American advance by running through the woods to inform James FitzGibbon.25 However, Graves provides many more tales as well as interpretations of the deeper cultural significance behind these heroic women who risked a tremendous amount to aid the British war effort. To all of these women, Graves rightly ascribes a very cool head and a lot of nerve that granted them a unique place among their peers. Closing her book with a fitting quotation, Graves states the importance of this social aspect of the war because “Young or old, all the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters who lived through the war would surely have echoed the belief of one British army wife that, ‘as long as ambition is the idol of men, so long will the sword continue to be the scourge of the world, and drive peace and contentment from the valleys of the earth.’”26 Perhaps more than any other aspect of the social context, the lives of women during the war provide one of the more unexplored but interesting aspects of how the combat impacted the lives of average citizens. Graves’s book reminds us that as long as there have been wars, the loss of men to the war effort by death and injury has provided opportunities for the women to prove their mettle by filling the gaps left by the men. While the study of war has tended to lend itself to a more male-centric focus, this book reminds us that the study of women often yields valuable and inspiring research as well.


James Tyler Robertson

Figure 12.3 A Soldier’s Wife at Fort Niagara (by John Lambert, date unknown). An example of the hard work women were called to do, in part, because of the War of 1812. (Library and Archives of Canada)

Pierre Berton and the Legacy of 1812 The final word on this subject will be left to Pierre Berton’s two-volume examination of the war: The Invasion of Canada and Flames Across the Border.27 These tales of the war, written by one of Canada’s best-known public commentators and historians, jump back and forth among the military, political, and social spheres in an attempt to capture the full story of the years of combat. While citations are rare and critiques of the work are relevant, Berton’s writings remain the most popular of publications about 1812. His ability to “spin a yarn” makes them immensely enjoyable to read and a great introduction to the topic. Berton’s attention to the native side of the war is also to be celebrated. He shows how, after the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the ambiguous ending not only brought about disputes as to who the real winner was, but also included the haunting, heartbreaking, and accurate assessment that the real losers were the Indians. Berton would go on to state that: For the Indians, the conflict was waged for real goals, not empty phrases. . . . Honour stood for personal bravery, not a carefully ambiguous document announcing peace. Liberty meant freedom to roam the plains and forests, not the right to be independent of Great Britain . . . few fought for an ideal. But the Indians did.28 174

Heavy Lies the Crown

The native side needs to be told and it needs to be told well and by those who can accurately capture the events from a perspective yet to be revealed in a full treatment. The First Nations in this contest deserve a voice because, as Berton correctly stated, their reasons for fighting seem to be the closest to honorable motivations that this war can produce. Whatever insights this study has revealed about the social context for the people of the Canadas, the treatment of the natives must always be recognized as a sad part of the enduring legacy of the War of 1812.

Conclusion The world in which these people lived and the land upon which they attempted to build a life for themselves and their kin was rugged, harsh, and daunting, and the added curse of war made survival and prosperity even more difficult. Abstract terms like loyalty and patriotism mattered very little to most of the people during the war. Such laudable attitudes have been attributed to them by later leaders, usually attempting to advance an ideology or policy that had little to do with the actual contest. It has been shown time and again that average men and women throughout both Canadas were ambivalent about this war, both as to its motivations and its conclusion. For most, the war was a nuisance to be avoided at all costs because loyalty rarely extended beyond one’s own family or community and seemed to rarely incorporate something as distant and remote as the British Empire. While some of the elite of colonial society preached loyalty and attempted to show (or fabricate) how loyal the masses were, the overwhelming truth is that the ordinary people greeted the contest with disinterest and fear, and their main wish was for the whole unfortunate event to just go away. There is much more work that can, and should be, done as it pertains to the various social contexts extant during the war. The social context of the war tends to make up a chapter or two as part of a larger work on another topic. More books need to be published on Native perspectives on the war; there is little focus on the war’s impact on the fur trade and more could always be provided on how the war shaped the economy. More could be done on the various pacifist groups in British North America or on the mill owners and farmers who lost their property to battles or trespassing armies. Interesting work could be done on the political figures who used the war to further their own careers or the political leanings of the various newspapers, editors, and journalists, a rich field of study as shown by Taylor’s work on the political machinations behind many of the American reports. All of these areas could yield even more insights into how the war was viewed by those who experienced it. The reality was that the people gathered together when they felt that their personal land, not their empire, was being threatened, and this seemed to be the universal truth that bound people from Upper and Lower Canada together. Although there were two governments in North America, the actual inhabitants were more like kin than enemies, and this caused much confusion and resentment when former neighbors were transformed into enemies for dubious and questionable reasons. Loyalty to England is better understood as most peoples’ belief that the time-tested benevolence of the British Empire was the most likely to bring about a quicker conclusion to the war and let them get back to their lives. However, it seems safe to say that if America had won, most would have been fairly comfortable with that arrangement as well. Although people in later years would talk about the average Canadian standing up to defend his place in the empire, perhaps another understanding is that it was the homestead and not the crown that motivated some to take up arms while others attempted to avoid the whole nasty business altogether.

Notes 1. Michael Smith, “Upper Canada During the War of 1812,” in Early Travellers in the Canadas: Extracts from the Writings of Thirty Visitors to British North America 1791–1867, edited by Gerald Craig (Toronto, 1955), 37–46. John Howison, “Pioneer Society of Upper Canada after the War of 1812,” ibid., 47–58. 2. Smith, “Upper Canada,” 38.


James Tyler Robertson 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

14. 15. 16. 17.

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28.

Smith, “Upper Canada,” 37. Smith, “Upper Canada,” 40. Howison, “Pioneer Society,” 60. Howison, “Pioneer Society,” 61–62. Howison, “Pioneer Society,” 60–61. Smith, “Upper Canada,” 45. Smith, “Upper Canada,” 46. E. Jane Errington, The Lion, the Eagle, and Upper Canada: A Developing Colonial Ideology (Montreal, 1987), 6. R. Arthur Bowler, “Propaganda in Upper Canada in the War of 1812,” in War Along the Niagara: Essays on the War of 1812 and Its Legacy, edited by R. Arthur Bowler (Youngstown, NY, 1991), 77–92. Bowler, “Propaganda in Upper Canada,” 88–89. See James Tyler Robertson, “The ‘Children of Nature,’ and ‘Our Province’: Rev. John Strachan’s Views of the Indigenous People and the Motives Behind the American Invasion of Upper Canada, 1812–1814,” Ontario History 104 (Spring 2012), 50–68. John Strachan, Letter of August 2, 1812, in Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan, edited by A. N. Bethune (Toronto, 1870), 41. John Strachan, A Sermon Preached at York, Upper Canada, On the Third of June, Being the Day Appointed for a General Thanksgiving (Montreal, 1814), 37. George Sheppard, Plunder, Profit, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada (Montreal, 1994), 66. E. Jane Errington. “Reluctant Warriors: British North Americans and the War of 1812,” in The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754–1814, edited by David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson (East Lansing, MI, 2001), 325–36. Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (New York, 2010). Morris Zaslow, ed., The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 (Toronto, 1964). Arthur R. M. Lower, Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada (Toronto, 1958). Fernand Ouellet, Lower Canada 1791–1840: Social Change and Nationalism (Toronto, 1980). Michelle Guitard, The Militia of the Battle of Châteauguay: A Social History (Montreal, 1983). J. I. Little, Loyalties in Conflict: A Canadian Borderland in War and Rebellion 1812–1840 (Toronto, 2008). Dianne Graves. In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812 (Toronto, 2007). While Secord remains shrouded in myth and mystery and the importance of her mission is still subject to debate, in Laura Secord: The Legend and the Lady (Toronto, 1971), Ruth McKenzie sifts through the evidence to reveal the woman and concludes that her bravery was central to the British victory at Beaver Dams. See also Colin M. Coates and Cecilia Morgan, Heroines and History: Representations of Madeleine de Vercheres and Laura Secord (Toronto, 2002). Graves, In the Midst of Alarms, 413. Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813 (Toronto, 1980), and Flames Across the Border, 1813–1814 (Toronto, 1981). Berton, Flames Across the Border, 425.

Annotated Bibliography Antal, Sandy. A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812. Ottawa, 1998. Antal’s work looks at the tensions between Procter’s local and imperial goals as well as his alliance with the natives that, although ultimately doomed, could have altered the course of history and the geographical boundaries of all the nations involved. Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada, 1812–1813. Toronto, 1980. Provides arguably the best narrative of the first year of the war and serves as a fine introduction to the war for beginners. ———. Flames Across the Border, 1813–1814. Toronto, 1981. Carries the narrative started in the volume above through the remainder of the war. Bowler, R. Arthur. “Propaganda in Upper Canada in the War of 1812.” In War Along the Niagara: Essays on the War of 1812 and Its Legacy. Edited by R. Arthur Bowler. Youngstown, NY, 1991. Using primary sources from the more elite of society as well as journals from farmers, Bowler shows how the former persuaded the latter to fight. Coates, Colin M., and Morgan, Cecilia. Heroines and History: Representations of Madeleine de Vercheres and Laura Secord. Toronto, 2002. Elucidates the role of women in the war. Craig, Gerald M. Upper Canada: The Formative Years 1784–1841. Toronto 1963. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the war.


Heavy Lies the Crown Dunham, Aileen. Political Unrest in Upper Canada 1815–1836. Ottawa, 1963. Chapter 3 shows how the events of the War of 1812 were interpreted later on and how such interpretations affected the political landscape of British North America up to the 1837 rebellions. Errington, E. Jane. The Lion, the Eagle, and Upper Canada: A Developing Colonial Ideology. Montreal, 1987. Chapters 3–5 explore American influence on Canada and seek to explain the survival and evolution of local ideologies in Upper and Lower Canada in the war and postwar years. ———. Wives and Mothers, Schoolmistresses and Scullery Maids: Working Women in Upper Canada, 1790–1840. Montreal, 1995. An imaginative exploration of the social constructs that were in place in this era and how women shaped—and were shaped by—the colonial world they inhabited. ———. “Reluctant Warriors: British North Americans and the War of 1812.” In The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754–1814. Edited by David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson. East Lansing, MI, 2001. Argues that those who reluctantly joined in the contest, usually more out a desire to protect crops from invading armies or out of fear of arrest, could hardly be called bold Canadians. Graves, Dianne. In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812. Toronto, 2007. This pioneering work significantly expands our understanding of the role and lives of women in the war. Guitard, Michelle. The Militia of the Battle of Châteauguay: A Social History. Montreal, 1983. Examines the social milieu of Lower Canada during the war and concludes that militia service offered one of the few opportunities for money and advancement for men at the lower end of the social spectrum. Hamil, Fred Coyne. The Valley of the Lower Thames, 1640 to 1850. Toronto, 1951. Chapter 7 shows the toll that war took on people living in this strategically important region. Laxer, James. Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812. Toronto, 2012. Uses these two charismatic leaders, both of whom perished in the war, to explain the course of the war in Upper Canada. Littler, J. I. Loyalties in Conflict: A Canadian Borderland in War and Rebellion 1812–1840. Toronto, 2008. An important contribution to the social history of the war that explores the often-overlooked English-speaking minority of Lower Canada. Lower, Arthur R. M. Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada, Toronto, 1958. Chapter 13 argues that the War of 1812 fostered some economic development as well as a sense of nationalism. McKenzie, Ruth. Laura Secord: The Legend and the Lady. Toronto, 1971. Seeks to get at the woman behind the myth and to assess her role in the war. Quellet, Fernand. Lower Canada 1791–1840: Social Change and Nationalism. Toronto, 1980. A nuanced examination of the influence that the War of 1812 had on the French identity in Lower Canada. Riley, Jonathon. A Matter of Honour: The Life, Campaigns, and Generalship of Isaac Brock. London, 2011. Explores the notions of loyalty and duty that guided Brock in both military and civilian affairs Sheppard, George. Plunder, Profit, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada. Toronto, 1994. Argues that many people in Upper Canada resented the war and sought only to avoid getting embroiled in it. Stagg, J.C.A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York, 2012. Examines social elements to show how the war shaped early Canadian nationalism. Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies. New York, 2010. Frames the contest as a civil war and offers the most comprehensive view of the complex relationships that existed between the people on both sides of the border. Zaslow, Morris, ed. The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812. Toronto, 1964. An illuminating volume of essays that sheds considerable light on the war in Upper Canada.


13 THE BRITISH HOME FRONT Walter L. Arnstein

The conflict known in the United States as the War of 1812 involved not only soldiers and sailors but also a “Home Front” of civilian advocates and critics. An analogous “Home Front” in Great Britain had begun two decades earlier. It was in 1793 that the French were first pitted militarily against the British (as well as their intermittent allies). By 1812 most Britons had experienced an unprecedented degree of “national mobilization.” The years of 1812 to 1815 therefore meant only a chapter of the book that encompassed the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. During the next century (1815–1914) Britons were to remain at peace with the major European Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and France); the sole exception was the Crimean War of 1854–56 against Russia. Britons were to look back on the era of 1793–1815 as the greatest “world war” ever. The poet William Wordsworth had found the epoch interminable: Another year!—another deadly blow! Another mighty Empire overthrown! And We are left, or shall be left, alone, The last that dare to struggle with the Foe ’Tis well! from this day forward we shall know That in ourselves our safety must be sought, That by our right hands it must be wrought, That we must stand unpropped, or be laid low O dastard whom such foretaste doth not cheer!1 Early in 1812 Britons were as uncertain as ever when that “national mobilization” would finally draw to a close. The Anglo-American Peace Treaty of Ghent contributed to the process in late 1814, but it ended in a far more dramatic fashion with the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, and soon thereafter Napoleon’s departure to the Island of St. Helena. In some respects, however, the years 1812–15 marked neither an end nor a beginning but a time in the middle of a “population explosion,” a “transportation transition,” and an “industrial revolution.” Let us deal seriatim with those three phenomena. If for the moment we exclude Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, we find that the estimated population of England grew slowly from 1600 to 1700, about 23 percent. That meant that in the course of an entire century, the population grew from a little more than 4 million people to 5 million people. Between 1700 and 1750 England’s population grew from 5 million to 5.8 million, a growth of 16 percent in half a century. By 1801, the year of the first official 178

The British Home Front

census, the population had grown far more quickly—to 8.67 million, a growth of 50 percent in half a century. By 1831, the population was to rise to 13.3 million—a growth of more than 50 percent during only three decades. Never before or ever again would the population of England grow at so rapid a rate as it did between 1801 and 1831.2 Estimates of the population of Scotland and Ireland before the 1801 census are more difficult to establish than that of England, but demographers approximate that the population of Scotland increased between 1761 and 1811 from 1.2 million to 1.8 million people. The population of Ireland increased between 1761 and 1811 from fewer than 3 million people to about 6 million people. The total population of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland) in 1811 was therefore 18,102,000. At a time when transportation by water remained far more economical than by land, Great Britain had an invaluable advantage in being an island. In the late eighteenth century the economist Adam Smith had estimated that eight men sailing a ship on the North Sea between Edinburgh and London could transport as large a load as 50 wagons, pulled by 400 horses and driven by 100 men, could carry overland. Not only was the English coast accessible but, by the onset of the nineteenth century, so also were 1,000 miles of rivers made navigable to supplement the coastal seas. By then, too, 3,000 miles of canals had been constructed to link coal mines to factories and factories to customers. Boats could carry heavy weights, but canals could not cross hilly terrains. During those same years, however, local turnpike trusts had been granted the authority to collect a toll from each driver and with those funds had constructed or improved hundreds of roads. As of 1812, thousands of stagecoaches therefore crisscrossed Great Britain, connecting its major cities. It was only in the 1840s that Britain was described as caught up in an “industrial revolution,” and yet by 1812 most Britons had become aware that the textile industry had changed dramatically since the middle of the eighteenth century. Curiously enough, the most significant change involved not wool (derived from British sheep) but cotton, a product that increasingly came not from India or Egypt but from the American South. Raw cotton poured into Britain in ever-increasing quantities: fewer than 8 million pounds a year in the 1770s; 37 million in the 1790s; 100 million in 1815. The War of 1812 did little to interrupt the process. By then a series of mechanical changes had enabled both spinners and weavers to produce cotton cloth that was far cheaper than before. Whereas woolen cloth was warm but difficult to clean, even relatively poor people could for the first time launder their own clothing. The transformation of the cotton trade had intimate links with other industrial changes, of which the most dramatic was the harnessing of power. Until the accession of King George III, the available sources of power had long remained limited: animal or human muscles; the wind operating on sail or windmill; and running water. Waterpower had been used to run grain mills, but such factories had to be located by riverbanks, and even the most reliable waterpower varied with the seasons and in a drought disappeared altogether. By 1700 an “atmospheric engine” could be used to pump water in coal mines, but it was only in 1781 that James Watt successfully harnessed steam engines to make pistons turn wheels and thereby transform an inefficient pump of limited use into a steam engine of innumerable uses. It liberated industry from dependence on running water. It made possible far deeper mines. Increasing supplies of coal made possible blast furnaces with steam-powered bellows to turn out more iron for the new machinery. Since 1775, Britain’s coal output grew from 9 million tons a year to 22 million tons a year by 1815, and the output of 48,000 tons of pig iron in 1775 increased to 400,000 tons four decades later. By 1815 more than a thousand steam engines were in use in the British Isles, and Britain retained a virtual monopoly on steam engine production for a decade more. Steam power did not merely spin cotton and roll iron, but it also multiplied ten times over the amount of paper that a single worker could produce in a day. Printing presses run by steam rather than by hand could produce 1,000 pages in an hour rather than 30. In the meantime, the ready availability of coal inspired William Murdoch to develop the first new form of nighttime illumination to be discovered in a millennium and a half. 179

Figure 13.1 The Canal Age. (William B. Willcox and Walter L. Arnstein, The Age of Aristocracy, 1688–1830)

The British Home Front

Thus well-to-do Londoners of 1812 utilized not only oil lamps or flickering candles but gas lighting in their houses and on their streets as well.3

Population and Social Structure Patrick Colquhoun (1745–1820), a Scottish merchant, statistician, and magistrate found it possible in 1814 to estimate a detailed structure of society. Basing himself on the annual censuses of 1801 and 1811, he categorized—with remarkable confidence and precision—some eight classes of families who lived in England, Wales, and Scotland. He called his work: Treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire. In this essay Patrick Colquhoun demonstrated that the population of Great Britain had been growing rapidly. He was also deeply conscious that the country had been living in the midst of a world war; otherwise he would hardly have cited “the Army and the Navy” as a distinct “social class.” Yet he appeared less aware of all the implications of rapid industrialization and urbanization. He knew, however, that even merchants such as Colquhoun himself, like lawyers and bankers, could serve as important members of society. At the same time he readily conceded that, as had been 100 years before, the most eminent members of society were the monarch and the royal family and hereditary peers, i.e., members of the House of Lords and their families (i.e., dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons). The second most eminent personages were country gentlemen who owned large tracts of agricultural land, and yet statistically they and their families involved a tiny proportion of society. Table 13.1 Britain’s Social Structure, ca. 1812. CLASSES



Highest Orders 1st. Their Royal Family, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, The Great Officers of State, and All above the degree of a Baronet, with their families











Second Class 2d. Baronets, Knights, Country Gentlemen, and others having large incomes, with their families Third Class 3d. Dignified Clergy, Persons holding considerable employments in the State, elevated situations in the Law, eminent Practitioners in Physic, considerable Merchants, Manufacturers upon a large scale, and Bankers of the first order, with their families Fourth Class 4th. Persons holding inferior situations in Church and State, respectable Clergymen of different persuasions, Practitioners in Law and Physics, Teachers of Youth of the superior order, Respectable Freeholders, Ship Owners, Merchants and Manufacturers of the second class, Ware-housemen and respectable Shopkeepers, Artists, respectable Builders, Mechanics, and Persons living on moderate incomes with their families Fifth Class 5th. Lesser Freeholders, Shopkeepers of the second order, Inn-Keepers, Publicans, and Persons engaged in miscellaneous occupations living on moderate incomes, with their families



Walter L. Arnstein Table 13.1 (Continued) CLASSES



Sixth Class 6th. Working Mechanics, Artisans, Handicrafts, Agricultural Labourers, and others who Subsist by labour in various employments, with their families


Menial Servants



Seventh, or Lowest Class 7th. Paupers and their families, Vagrants, Gipsies Rogues, Vagabonds, and idle and disorderly Persons, supported by criminal delinquency











8th The Army and Navy Officers of the Army, Navy, and Marines, including all Officers on half-pay and superannuated, with their families Noncommissioned Officers in the Army Navy, and Marines, Soldiers, Seamen, And Marines, including Pensioners of The Army, Navy, &c., and their families

Even if one added Colquhoun’s “Third Class,” we are dealing at most with 2 percent of society. If one then also included Colquhoun’s “Fourth” and “Fifth Classes” defined as a Middle Class, upper and lower, that includes some 23 percent of Britain’s society. Seventy-five percent presumably may therefore be defined in a lower class of laborers and domestic servants, including the 11 percent made up of paupers, vagrants, and other “disorderly Persons supported by criminal delinquency.”

The Landed Classes The vast majority of the leaders of that society were landed gentlemen who owned agricultural property. Their wealth was based only to a small degree on the wheat or barley or other grains or cattle directly produced by peasants for the landlords or his stewards. Such stewards might also provide kitchen gardens and dairy products and breweries and icehouses, but primarily the landlords were rent collectors of the tenant farmers who leased tracts of land. Such magnates used their incomes to preserve and sometimes to expand their manor houses and their accompanying parkland with lakes and groves of trees. They provided hospitality in the neighborhood, and some also served as patrons of painters and musicians. They supervised their families and a bevy of household and estate servants and tenant farmers and also indirectly the village parson, the local tradesmen, and the neighborhood artisans. Should he be appointed justice of the peace, then the landlord and his fellow justices met four times a year in “quarter sessions” and possessed the legal authority to superintend members of the lower classes. In time of distress those people in turn expected his assistance. Such aristocrats were also expected to live a sporting life as foxhunters and gamblers at major horse races. It was in 1780 that “The Derby” (named after the 12th Earl of Derby) was founded where the most prestigious of horse races took place each spring. (The race tradition was interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars.) Carriages with springs had made it possible for aristocrats and country squires and their wives to travel to London in relative comfort and also to take the waters at Bath or at one of the other fashionable spas. The great lords often owned permanent town houses in London (in which they might live for six months each year), but most retained their country roots. If only because their 182

The British Home Front

architectural and social ambitions exceeded their income, many of them were perpetually in debt, but few had lost their estates altogether. As of 1812, a significant number of aristocrats gained wealth not with land alone but also with coal mines accessible on their landed estates; and if those lands were located in greater London, they had markedly increased in value. Unlike most Continental landlords, British aristocrats held estates that had been formally “entailed.” The owner had only a life interest in it in that he was pledged to keep it intact so that at his death it would be inherited by his eldest son. Such an aristocrat, when he received his title, automatically became a member of the House of Lords,4 and a son or another close relation might well have been elected a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.5 If there were younger sons, they were expected to find positions of their own in the church or in the army or as a captain in the Royal Navy. Such sons might also apprentice themselves to the family attorney or a head of a commercial concern, and their families would therefore “descend” from the world of the gentry. Daughters would be granted dowries once (ideally) they had found well-to-do husbands. In the same way younger sons of noblemen tended to move downward in the social scale even as successful merchants or at least their daughters and occasionally their sons moved upward—provided that they first bought an estate in the country. Thus we encounter the irony that the custom of primogeniture, the acme of arbitrary discrimination, helped create a situation in which the British aristocracy was far less a caste than was that of eighteenth-century France and more of a class. A social revolution in France (1789–1815) did not take place in Britain. A society in which able and ambitious individuals could raise their status proved less likely to succumb to revolution. The formal role of the aristocracy and the gentry had changed little in the course of the previous century. Yet 1812–15, the very years of all-out war, coincided with a greater degree of civility in that world. This is not to suggest that all blood sports had been outlawed or that the occasional duel was not still fought or that no aristocrat ever got drunk. Yet coarse behavior in the upper classes had increasingly given way in the early nineteenth century to conduct in which public burping, spitting, nose-picking and kindred habits had become the exception. Out of doors they carried umbrellas more often than swords. As Sydney Smith, the Anglican cleric, observed in 1808, “A century ago, who would have believed that country gentlemen could be brought to read and spell with ease and accuracy which we now so frequently remark.”6 Tea and coffee had been first introduced to England from Asia and hot chocolate and sugar from the Americas in the course of the seventeenth century, and all remained luxuries. In 1813, however, the English East India Company ceased to monopolize the importation of tea to Great Britain. The “cup that cheers but does not inebriate” for both aristocratic and middle-class women had become central to a domestic ceremony in the form of pouring and passing the cups and the sugar—an element in that process of civilizing society. Although daughters were expected to stay home, by age eight or nine English boys were expected to obtain a formal education at a public school such as Eton or Winchester—“public” in being state chartered in contrast to a private tutor; they were not “public” in the sense of being state supported. For such boys life meant not luxury, but frugality and relative simplicity and “the rude familiarity of his equals, the insolent tyranny of his seniors, and the rod, perhaps, of a cruel and capricious pedagogue.”7 An enterprising lad learned not only the Latin and Greek languages but also a practical experience of the world and in due course to become a “gentleman.” The conflict of the French Revolution motivated a larger number of aristocrats to become more conscious of their position. That spurred an increase in churchgoing and a greater concern with respectability; it constituted (in the words of Maurice Quinlan) a genuine Victorian Prelude (1941). Only a fraction of the boys went off from such “public schools” to Oxford and Cambridge, still the sole universities in England; as of 1812 many such university graduates became clergymen in the Church of England. The Scottish academic diet was more varied, and many aspiring English aristocrats acquired degrees at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. Ideally a young 183

Walter L. Arnstein

aristocrat completed his formal education by taking a two-year Grand Tour of Europe, meaning primarily France and Italy. Both the manners and the language of polite society in France were supposed to rub off, and one learned of the arts and sculpture in Italy, but obviously Napoleon’s armies interfered with many a Grand Tour. Those Napoleonic Wars had altered many other aspects of British life by 1812. They made it more difficult to import food from the European continent at a time that Britain’s population was growing rapidly. That meant higher food prices and rising rent rolls and still permitted country house building.

The Elusive Middle Classes Ought Britain’s society of 1812 to be viewed as a two-class model, one that pitted the patricians against the plebeians—the landowners and the propertyless? Critics have viewed that two-class model alternatively as either brutal and exploitative or as reflecting a widespread acceptance involving both deference and paternalism in which many members of the lower ranks of society acknowledged aristocratic values and aristocratic leadership. Yet others have suggested that a three-class model was more appropriate. By 1815 there included a newly definable sizeable group of those “polite and commercial people” who did not fit either among the landed gentry or among tenant farmers and village craftsmen and innkeepers. One could find them not only in metropolitan London but also in a rapidly growing number of port cities (such as Liverpool and Bristol), in fashionable spa towns and seaside resorts (such as Bath and Brighton), and in new industrial centers (such as Manchester and Birmingham and Wolverhampton). Such middle and upper middle-class people had secured at least an annual income of £260. That meant a comfortable house and a bank account and even a personal library but not a stake in a landed estate. Yet they and their families had become accustomed to improved grammar schools and Sunday Schools and market halls as well as dispensaries, hospitals, and asylums. The men (and often to a greater degree, their wives) had incomes similar to those of the gentry. In such towns the leading inhabitants had become used to charitable giving as well as frequenting assembly rooms, musical recitals, and bookshops. Many also read London newspapers, and they had begun to acquire collections of china and porcelain. Therefore they conveyed an atmosphere of bourgeois civility and gentility. Such middle-class families were made up of a growing number of manufacturers, wholesalers, publishers, lawyers, and bankers discussed in detail in Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall’s Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle-Class, 1780–1850 (1987). In years such as 1812–15, they were placing increased emphasis on the importance of the home as the center of family life and “the nursery of virtue.” Such people were most affected by the evangelical revival in religion, and it was the ladies of the house who played the leading role in elevating the home—its decoration, its furnishing, its music, and its role as both educator and civilizer. What had become increasingly less fashionable was for such women to have a career of their own outside the home. There had existed such careers earlier in the eighteenth century: there had been independent women business proprietors as innkeepers, tavern keepers, landladies, and as helpers in the family shop. As of 1812–15 the push was in the opposite direction, however. Middle-class women were to be idealized as custodians of the domestic hearth. Paradoxically all such families shared the distinction of having at least one full-time servant living in that home. Unlike aristocratic and well-to-do gentry families, such middle-class families traveled relatively little. Individual members might do so—in business or in the army or the navy—and some families made their way all the way across the Atlantic Ocean or yet further to the Cape of Good Hope or to India or Australia. Yet during the French Wars, large-scale emigration declined for two decades. The improvement of turnpike roads and canals notwithstanding, long distance traveling within the British Isles remained the exception rather than the rule.


The British Home Front

The Laboring Classes According to Patrick Colquhoun’s estimates, another 60 percent of the population involved agricultural laborers, handicraft workers, artisans, and “working mechanics,” soldiers and sailors, and their families. Another 6 percent constituted “menial servants”; another 11 percent constituted “vagrants” and “vagabonds” and the like. Whatever the limitations of Colquhoun’s calculations, modern historians have not truly challenged his conclusions. On the one hand, it would be foolish to lump together some three quarters of the population of Great Britain in an undifferentiated mass as if the daily world of a farm cottager, an upstairs maid, a coal miner, and a London dockworker were identical. On the other hand, laborers were often described as “the poor.” As of 1812–15, aristocrats and squires or lairds continued to take for granted that a majority of people in their society (and indeed any other society) would continue as “the poor.” By then, however, observers such as Colquhoun readily distinguished between the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor.” Members of the lower ranks of early nineteenth-century British society had a simple diet, one made up largely of bread, cheese, and beer, and (in parts of the land) potatoes. Their housing was often limited to a one-room cottage or tenement. The death rate was still high, but death from starvation was almost unknown, and indeed visitors from the continent considered the English to be better fed and clothed than their counterparts across the Channel. Children of the poor received little formal education, but by 1815 a sufficient number of charity schools, English Sunday Schools, and Scottish Presbyterian parish schools were in operation to justify an estimate of bare literacy for a majority of men though not perhaps for a majority of women. This ability was not always welcomed. As the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1801 had noted, “The young scholars instead of confining their reading (as their patrons and patronesses intended) to religious works, eagerly learn the obscene songs hawked by ballad singers.” If they became domestic servants, they subscribed “to the abominable circulation libraries that are now established in every petty town, from whence they obtain books that corrupt both their morals and political principles.”8 The widespread feeling among upper and middle-class families was that it was desirable for the poor to work long hours for relatively low wages. This fostered national prosperity while keeping the poor out of trouble. Idleness was understandably frowned upon, but such idleness was not always voluntary. Long before 1812, many trades had been seasonal, agriculture most obviously; but during the Napoleonic Wars, the vicissitudes of peace and war boosted some jobs involving armaments while others were being undermined. Factories run by steam engines often meant the loss of jobs, and the income of old style handloom weavers gradually declined. By 1811 Napoleon had also succeeded in undermining British commerce on the Continent. Raw materials were in short supply, and prices soared accordingly; the market value of silk almost quadrupled, with wood, timber, and hemp not far behind. An exceptionally poor harvest in 1812 drove grain prices upward as much as a third in a single year, and unemployment became commonplace. A smoldering resentment grew as workers blamed machines for undermining jobs and destroying jobs, altogether. During the winter of 1811–12 organized bands of men, masked and working at night, began to destroy knitting frames and other textile machinery in the English Midlands. Local opinion supported the rioters, and their activities spread. Their leader was supposedly a mysterious “General Ned Ludd,” from whom they took the name of Luddites. At first they abstained from bloodshed, but before long, some rioters were shot by the local militia, and the Luddites retaliated with murder. The British Home Office sent 12,000 soldiers into the disordered counties, and in a mass trial at the city of York in 1813, 17 leaders were sentenced to hang and six others were transported to Australia.9 When such a state of affairs was at its worst, members of the English lower classes possessed an advantage that neither the Scots nor the Irish nor their continental counterparts could automatically claim. They had the Poor Law that since the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1601) had provided the poverty-stricken with some provision in old age, sickness, and unemployment. There were


Walter L. Arnstein

10,000 parishes in England and Wales, and every parish had its overseer of the poor monitored by local Justices of the Peace, and the better-off residents of each parish had annually to pay a property tax known as the “poor rates.” As of 1812, the administration of the Poor Law involved a significant limitation, in that assistance was provided only by the parish in which that person had been born. But within that parish the poor did possess the right to receive help. That meant paid labor for those who were capable of working, and a pauper was apprenticed by a nearby employer. Assistance was granted to those who were unable to work, and the Poor Law did help the sick and the elderly and assure their survival. At the same time, sturdy beggars who refused to work and vagrants who lived outside their own parishes were confined to “houses of correction” and sometimes whipped. During the French Wars (1793–1815), the so-called “Speenhamland System” (1795) in England had begun to institute an additional custom as well. It provided that those laborers whose weekly income was not sufficiently high to constitute what local magistrates thought a living wage would be given a supplement with the poor rates in order to bring their income up to that minimum. That plan appeared, on the one hand, a tribute to a sense of social justice—especially in time of war. On the other hand, it tended to serve as an incentive to keep wages down while causing the poor rates to go upward steadily, as in 1812–15 they did. As noted above, during the French Wars there were numerous years of distress, and riots took place from time to time in particular villages and towns. The law was strict, but as late as 1815 there existed only a parish constable to patrol the neighborhood; only in the middle of the next century was a police force to be installed. At a time of dearth, the poor did not suffer in silence. They rioted, and local Justices of the Peace did their best to relieve their distress. Only one “free-born Englishman” in five could then vote at an early nineteenth century general parliamentary election, but they could proclaim their right to speak out, to assemble, and to petition, and often they lacked neither courage nor initiative.10

Crown, Cabinet, and Parliament Unlike most Europeans (who were familiar with kings and emperors) and unlike the United States (which was a republic), most educated Britons in 1812 defined themselves as members of a constitutional government or as part of a “mixed government” that involved a combination of (1) a hereditary monarch who possessed executive power, (2) a legislature that involved a monarch, an “aristocratic” House of Lords, and a “democratic” House of Commons, and also (3) an independent judiciary. In the course of the 1780s, there was much talk of a reform of the constitution of the House of Commons, but only minor legislative changes took place. Then during the 1790s the flame of revolution in France quenched additional political reform in Britain. If good government was defined as one in which the greater a man’s stake in his country then the greater should be his voice in running it, then economic influence was yet closely correlated with political power. In the meantime, the rules of the game had not been truly altered since the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688–89. As George Canning observed in 1810: “The temper and practice of the British constitution is to redress practical grievances, but not to run after theoretical perfection. It loves to set the subjects of the realm at ease in point of conscience, and it abhors practical oppression; but it cares little whether the theory of every part of its system squares exactly with that of every other part.”11 The chief executive of the government in 1812 de jure was King George III, whose reign had begun in the year 1760. He had had a checkered career. He began with high ambitions but with no intention of behaving in an unconstitutional manner. He conceded the right of Parliament to pass laws and to levy taxes, and he accepted the tradition that he choose his chief ministers from members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Like an American President of later years he expected to 186

The British Home Front

serve as the head of his administration, especially during the 1770s and the early 1780s. The American War of Independence undermined his position for a time as the Crown’s ability to dispense patronage decreased. During the later 1780s and the 1790s the king increasingly relied upon his Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to direct the day-to-day administration of the government. By 1800 the king had become, first of all, a national hero, as the symbol of his country’s stout and unflagging resistance to the ambitions of Napoleon; secondly he went insane, first temporarily but, from 1810 on, permanently. It was only then, in the words of Eli Halévy, “that he won the unbounded veneration of his people.”12 Medical historians have persuaded most scholars that it was not the monarch’s neurotic temperament that led to his insanity but a physical disease, porphyria; the practical consequences were the same. The man who took the king’s place was the Prince of Wales, who in 1811 became the Prince Regent and finally in 1820, upon his father’s death, King George IV. This man never did win the unbounded veneration of either his people or his ministers. King George III had been thrifty, hardworking, and a faithful husband. He had ended up with 15 legitimate children, an all-time record for an English monarch—and not a single illegitimate one. His politics had been criticized as well as his lack of fashionableness, but proponents of the turn-of-the-nineteenth century evangelical revival extolled King George III and Queen Charlotte as models of parsimony, piety, and domesticity. In contrast their eldest son differed in almost every respect. He became a man of fashion and a dandy in dress. He took pleasure in the high life of society. He enjoyed horse racing and gambling and witty repartee and pretty women. Analogously, when King George III came to view Charles James Fox as his most disagreeable political critic, then the Prince of Wales chose Fox as his closest friend. Once the prince had been granted a separate household, then his parliamentary funds never sufficed. From time to time Parliament voted extra funds, but by the time he became Prince Regent he had accumulated a personal debt of £500,000, that is around $50 million today.

Figure 13.2

Cartoon by George Cruikshank in 1820.

(Graphic Works of George Cruikshank)


Walter L. Arnstein

The same lack of self-restraint that George showed in spending money he demonstrated with women whose affection he craved. Maria Fitzherbert was an admirable woman, and in 1785 George and she were privately wed. The problem was that Mrs. Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic. The Pope proclaimed their marriage valid, but in the process George had violated the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 and the Act of Settlement of 1701 that forbade any British monarch from either becoming a Roman Catholic or marrying one. Yet George had no desire to forfeit his future throne. For a time he and Maria lived together in a semi-secret liaison, but in 1795 he chose to contract a legal marriage and also produce a legitimate heir, whereupon Parliament increased his income by 40 percent. The wife chosen for George was his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who was both a German princess and a Protestant. Yet whereas George was stylish and witty, Caroline proved to be vulgar and unattractive; apparently she seldom washed or changed her underwear. His first recorded comments on meeting her were: “I think I feel ill!” The marriage was duly consummated on the wedding night, and that resulted nine months later in the birth of an heir, a daughter, Charlotte (named after her grandmother). George and Caroline apparently never shared the same bed again. In the course of the next 20 years both continued to live in England but were seldom in the same building, and they often quarreled violently. As George confided to his mother, Caroline was “the vilest wretch this world was ever cursed with . . .”13 Tabloid-type newspapers and cartoonists delighted in reminding the public that the Prince Regent and Princess Caroline were neither model spouses nor model parents. In 1811, when the Prince Regent had indeed become the de facto monarch, he planned a lavish party. Some 2,000 guests were invited from the highest ranks in British society, the men to be in court dress or in military uniform and the ladies in the height of contemporary fashion. The Prince appeared “in his splendid new Field Marshal’s uniform in scarlet and gold, designed by himself to accompany his newly self-conferred rank.”14 The assembly enjoyed the most sumptuous decorations, the most elegant meals served on gilt plate, elaborate floral arrangements, a stream filled with golden fish, and a band concealed in the royal garden that was lit by hundreds of lights. Yet as courtiers celebrated the magnificence of the artistic imagination of the Prince, most Londoners condemned his extravagance in the midst of all-out war. The political influence of the Prince Regent in 1812 had become less significant than his father had wielded back in 1780, but his role was no cipher. Thus when Prime Minister Spencer Perceval died in May 1812, the Prince Regent had the opportunity to find a successor. He pondered the possibility of creating a coalition government that included disciples of his long-time friend Charles James Fox (who had died in 1806), but when those Foxite Whigs proved overly ambitious, the Prince Regent decided to keep most of the Perceval cabinet members and to name the Second Earl of Liverpool as Prime Minister. (The First Earl of Liverpool had been a lesser member of the English gentry who had become a hard-working administrator and a special favorite of King George III. He married the youthful daughter of a wealthy English East India Company official who in turn had married a half-Indian woman. That daughter had died in childbirth in 1770, but the ambitious father promoted an appropriate education for his son at Charterhouse and at Oxford University.) The new Prime Minister and his fellow cabinet members constituted both (1) an executive board of administrators who served as ministers of the Crown, and (2) also legislators who were responsible to Parliament as either elected or hereditary members. When Liverpool became Prime Minister in 1812 at the age of 42, he had been an elected Member of Parliament for two decades and he had also served as Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, and Secretary of State for War and Colonies. Although a highly competent public speaker, he was neither handsome nor charismatic, but, surrounded by often envious colleagues, he remained surprisingly good natured and collegial. His own marriage to a daughter of the Earl of Bristol was a love match. They proved unable to have children of their own, but they provided generous financial assistance to numerous cousins, and Liverpool’s “unquestioned devotion to Louisa certainly shielded him from the gossip about marital vagaries which provided so much conversation for modish society and did so much to fortify middle-class distrust of the aristocracy.”15 188

Figure 13.3 Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Lord Liverpool. (Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, ca. 1828. Wikimedia Commons)

Walter L. Arnstein

The Foxite Whigs denounced members of the current government as “Tories,” but most M.P.s preferred not to use that phrase. They did describe themselves as faithful monarchists and as firm supporters of the continuing war against Napoleon until he was truly defeated. In keeping with the insistence of King George III, many (unlike the Whigs) opposed the admission to Parliament of Roman Catholics. Often they described themselves as “Pittites” (supporters of William Pitt, the Younger, Prime Minister in 1783–1801 and 1804–1806). During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most successful Prime Ministers served as leader of the House of Commons, but Liverpool managed to conduct his ministry (until his resignation because of ill health in 1827) while leader of the House of Lords. He therefore required a counterpart in the House of Commons in the person of the Irish-born Viscount Castlereagh. While his father was a peer, Castlereagh, as the holder of a courtesy title, remained an elected Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. For the next ten years, therefore, he was able to be both Britain’s Foreign Secretary (often in Paris and later in Vienna) and leader of the House of Commons. Until 1815, the Liverpool government remained concerned with foreign affairs rather than with changes in domestic policy, except for a number of measures that promoted the free-market ideas of Adam Smith: to end the Elizabethan apprenticeship laws, to fix wages, to fix bread prices, and to eliminate a number of import taxes. In general, the Liverpool government continued faithfully to abide by Pitt’s financial policies. During the years of the French Wars (1793–1815), Pitt had suspended, in 1797, the right of the Bank of England to exchange paper currency into gold; that meant a far higher rate of inflation and, for an investor, twice as high a rate of interest. At the same time, he persuaded Parliament to raise revenues by imposing innumerable excise taxes on servants, gamekeepers, gentlemen’s hats, ladies’ ribbons, silk gloves, hackney carriages, racehorses, newspapers, licenses, cards, dice, spirits, wig powder, legacies, and the number of windows in houses. Then in 1799 he began a brand new tax, the income tax, a graduated levy on all income over £60 per year. Year after year such numerous sources of revenue paid about 80 percent of annual war expenses (including subsidies to continental allies), but Pitt felt compelled to borrow the additional 20 percent each year, thereby rapidly increasing the national debt. Critics feared the specter of national bankruptcy. It did not materialize, but by 1815 the national debt had quadrupled, and by the time that Napoleon left for the island of St. Helena, more than half of the annual expenses of the national government involved paying the accumulated interest on the national debt. The widespread acceptance in Great Britain of such national mobilization in order to win the war against France also meant, in evangelical garb, “the possibility of salvation through austerity.”16 The American declaration of the War of 1812 against Britain coincided with Emperor Napoleon’s foolhardy invasion of Russia. Two years later the Duke of Wellington’s Peninsular War on behalf of Portugal and Spain had successfully been concluded and Napoleon was off to the tiny island of Elba. Late that spring, the victorious monarchs, King Louis XVIII of France, King Frederick William III of Prussia, and Tsar Alexander I of Russia happily toured London, the capital of the only land that had fought Napoleonic France in the longest and most steadfast manner. To the Prince Regent’s dismay, Londoners cheered such visiting royals more enthusiastically than they did their own monarch. In August 1814, the Prince did organize, however, a giant festival in London’s three royal parks to mark both the celebration of the Continental peace and the centenary of the accession in Great Britain of the House of Hanover. There were booths and tents involving hordes of peddlers, strolling players, puppet shows, musicians, and acrobats as well as a dazzling display of fireworks. In Green Park a giant canvas fortress was magically transformed from “Discord” to “Concord.” In Hyde Park’s lake there were mock naval battles representing Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar (back in 1805) including the staged destruction of the entire French fleet.17 In the months that followed, the leaders of the victorious powers began to quarrel with one another, and in 1815 during late winter Napoleon escaped from Elba and raced back to Paris to reclaim his emperorship. The Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo came on June 18, 1815, and during that same month the leaders of the five great powers agreed to sign the international Treaty of 190

The British Home Front

Vienna. Only then did Britain’s government and people truly terminate that complex wartime chapter that was intertwined with the United States and Napoleonic France. Only then did they embark upon a brand new book, a remarkable new century.

Notes 1. Wordsworth, William. The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, 10 vols. (New York, 1919), 5:49. The poem appeared in 1807. 2. See Edward A. Wrigley and Roger Schofield, The Population History of England: A Reconstruction (Cambridge, MA, 1981); B. R. Mitchell, European Historical Statistics 1750–1970, abridged ed., (New York 1978), 5, 8. 3. William B. Willcox and Walter L. Arnstein, The Age of Aristocracy 1688–1830, 8th ed. (Boston, 2001), 192, 196–202. 4. Composition of the House of Lords as of 1830: 326 English Peers; 26 Anglican Archbishops and Bishops; 28 Irish Representative Peers; 4 Irish Prelates; 16 Scottish Peers (for a total of 399). 5. Composition of the House of Commons as of 1812–15: England 489; Wales 24; Scotland 45; Ireland 100; (for a total of 658). 6. Cited in W. H. Auden ed., The Selected Writings of Sydney Smith (New York, 1956), 273. 7. Edward Gibbon, Autobiography (London, 1932), 58. 8. Cited in John D. Marshall, The Old Poor Law, 1795–1834, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke, UK, 1985), 181. 9. Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England,1783–1846 (New York, 2006), 586–87. 10. As of 1812, the number of voters involving Parliament in England and Wales was small (c. 435,000), but the number in Scotland (4,000) and Ireland (39,000) was much smaller. See Anthony Wood, Nineteenth Century Britain, 1860–1914 (London, 1960), 453. 11. Cited in Sir Charles Petrie, George Canning (London, 1930), 161–62. 12. Eli Halévy, England in 1815, trans. E. I Watkin and D. A. Barker, 3rd ed. (New York, 1961), 5. 13. Cited in Thea Holme, Caroline: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick (London, 1979), 48. 14. E. A. Smith, George IV (New Haven, 1999), 133. 15. Norman Gash, Lord Liverpool: The Life and Political Career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool, 1770–1828 (Cambridge, MA, 1984), 105. 16. Hilton, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People, 119. See also pp. 113–19, 190–92, and passim. 17. Smith, George IV, 151–52.

Annotated Bibliography Bew, John. Castlereagh: A Life. New York, 2012. A monumental reassessment of the Anglo-Irish statesman who not only served as the influential Foreign Secretary (1807–09, 1812–22) but also as the controversial leader of the House of Commons. Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837. New Haven, CT, 1992. One chapter emphasizes the manner in which British women from different social backgrounds participated in the Napoleonic Wars and in the War of 1812 as well as in the antislavery movement. Colquhoun, Patrick. Treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire. London, 1814. A remarkably detailed contemporary assessment of the British social structure at the time of the War of 1812. Crafts, N. F. R. British Economic Growth during the Industrial Revolution. New York, 1985. By eighteenth century standards, the process of industrialization appeared remarkably rapid, but during more recent decades that process seemed slow. Daunton, Martin. Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700–1850. New York, 1995. A helpful combination of topical chapters and more than 100 graphs and statistical tables. ———. Trusting Leviathan: The Politics of Taxation in Britain, 1799–1914. New York, 2001. The often novel development of domestic taxation during the Napoleonic Wars and thereafter helped legitimate the Victorian state and after. Gash, Norman. Lord Liverpool: The Life and Political Career of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool, 1770–1828. Cambridge, MA, 1984. He has been rescued from the modesty that had been his proverbial lot, and the author also explains why Liverpool remained Prime Minister for 15 years (1812–27), a nineteenthand twentieth-century record. Halévy, Eli. England in 1815. Trans. E. I. Watkin and D. A. Baker, 3rd ed. New York, 1961. Hilton, Boyd. A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783–1846. New York, 2008. A lengthy volume of the New Oxford History of England includes not only predominantly political chapters but also analytical


Walter L. Arnstein chapters on “The Evangelical Revival,” “The Paradoxes of Political Economy,” and “The Evolutionary Moment.” Hunt, Tamara L. Defining John Bull: Political Caricature and National Identity in Late Georgian England. Burlington, VT, 2003. Even during years of war, the caricatures of James Gillray and George Cruikshank and other cartoonists helped preserve a remarkably free press. Lacqueur, Thomas Walter. Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850. New Haven, CT, 1976. The rapidly growing Sunday School movement exemplified what has been called the “Victorian Prelude.” Marshall, John D. The Old Poor Law, 1795–1834. 2nd ed. Basingstoke, UK, 1985. An illuminating treatment of the poor during an era of all-out war. O’Gorman, Frank. Voters, Patrons, and Parties: The Unreformed Electorate of the Hanoverian England, 1734–1832. New York, 1989. A helpful reminder that, although most Englishmen were not voters, a good many people participated indirectly in politics. Royle, Edward. Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections on the threat of Revolution in Britain, 1789–1848. Manchester, UK, 2000. Those threats often appeared real, and therefore British governments felt constrained to pay more than lip service to constitutionalism and the rule of law. Smith, E. A. George IV. New Haven, CT, 1999. A reassessment of the Prince Regent and King George IV—often politically caricatured and even despised and yet a successful patron of Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen and of numerous painters and architects. Thomas, Malcolm I. The Luddites: Machine Breaking in Regency England. London, 1972. A brief study of economic ups and downs during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York, 1963. The comprehensive impressionistic classic assessment of all that went wrong in English society during the later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.



During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key watched the American victory in repelling the British bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. The vivid nighttime victory inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which later became the American national anthem. Today Americans sing only the first verse, neglecting the rest which includes (in the third verse) Key’s dig at the British for liberating American slaves to augment their fighting force: No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave. And the star-spangled banner—O! Long may it wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Key regarded the land of the free and the home of the brave as properly a white man’s republic. In this sentiment, he merely expressed the consensus of his contemporaries.1 American historians usually depict the early republic as more committed to freedom, and therefore more progressive, than the British Empire. In fact, the British and American leaders of 1812 offered competing stories of freedom each tinctured by a different formula for class and race. The British boasted of their global struggle against Napoleon Bonaparte’s despotic empire and the international slave trade. One Royal Naval officer castigated the Americans for “declaring war against us at a most critical period, when we were not only making a desperate struggle for our existence as a nation, but also to liberate other powers from the iron grasp of Bonaparte; and fighting in the cause of liberty itself.” In the United States, the governing Republicans countered that they defended American liberty against the encroaching might of a tyrannical British Empire led by a haughty king and arrogant aristocrats. By defending white sailors from virtual enslavement and corporal punishment, the Republicans claimed to uphold the republican form of government which gave dignity to common white men.2 During the War of 1812, the Republicans waged a racial crusade against the British. In addition to denouncing the impressment and flogging of white men, the Republicans damned the enemy for allying with scalping Indians and rebelling slaves. Republicans regarded the British alliance with Indians and use of black troops as cynical ploys to destroy the white man’s republic in America. The Richmond Enquirer shuddered, “They employ the Indians! They burn down our villages and houses! They train the infatuated blacks to arms!” Republicans insisted that the British inverted the natural


Alan Taylor

racial hierarchy by elevating brutish Indians and blacks at the expense of white Americans, who alone deserved free government.3 During the decade after 1800, the British had become the global champions for suppressing the slave trade and ameliorating slavery. On February 23, 1807, Parliament abolished the overseas slave trade effective January 1, 1808. While banning the slave trade, however, Parliament did not liberate the 600,000 slaves already in the British West Indies. Indeed, to protect the British planters from foreign competitors, the imperial government pressed other nations to bar the slave trade to their colonies. By leading a global push to ban the slave trade, British diplomacy both protected the British West Indies and claimed a high moral ground. Although the United States abolished the overseas slave trade at the same time, it refused to cooperate with the British in enforcing that ban.4 Imperial officials also raised eight regiments of black troops to defend the islands beginning in 1795. Stretched thin fighting the French in Europe, the British could ill afford to send more white troops to die of tropical diseases in the West Indies. Turning to slave soldiers, the British promised equal treatment, uniforms, and pay with white troops, and in 1807 offered freedom to those who performed honorably through their full term of service. But the equality remained incomplete, for only white men could become officers in the West Indian regiments.5 The black troops quickly proved their worth to the empire. In addition to suffering far fewer losses to disease, they rarely deserted, for few wanted to return to a slave society. Moreover, the discipline and courage of the black troops impressed their officers. Initially skeptical of the slave soldiers, commanders soon clamored for more black, and fewer white, troops to defend the West Indies. By 1803 the approximately 8,000 black troops comprised most of the “British” force in the West Indies. By establishing black soldiers as the equals to white soldiers, the imperial government implicitly weakened the racial justification for slavery.6 British imperialists posed as the protectors and benefactors of darker peoples deemed capable of becoming free and Christian under the tutelage of their British superiors. The new breed of imperialists cast local planter elites as selfish exploiters of slaves and as obstacles to their Christian uplift and to the central power of the empire. However sincerely held, the new principles served the imperial drive to dominate distant colonies.7 Americans denounced the British as power-hungry hypocrites, who built their global empire on hollow pieties. American masters regarded their West Indian counterparts as the victims of an imperialism rendered more insidious by its new moralism. Americans in the South feared the arrival of that imperialism on their own shores as warships bearing black troops in the British service showed up off the coast. In turn, however, their alarmed talk alerted listening slaves that they might become free by escaping to those ships.8

Invasion In 1812, when the United States declared war, Southerners feared that British invaders would provoke a slave revolt. In fact, the imperial government wanted no part of a slave revolt that might provoke atrocities and raise embarrassing questions in Parliament. Loath to play with the fire of a slave revolt, they hoped that hints alone would intimidate the Southerners, hampering their war effort. In 1813 the imperial government strictly instructed its commanders to recruit only a handful of black men, who could be useful as guides and pilots, and by no means to welcome large numbers of women and children, who would be expensive to support. But the imperial rulers did not anticipate that hundreds of runaways would flee to their warships. Nor did they know that the mass flight eventually would persuade them to escalate the war by liberating thousands of American slaves.9 In February 1813, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren (assisted by Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn), British warships pushed into Chesapeake Bay in overwhelming force. The British sought to punish the states of Virginia and Maryland and to menace the nation’s capital. 194

American Blacks in the War of 1812

The few American warships in the bay retreated into fortified harbors, while the British ranged up and down the Chesapeake, seizing or burning merchant ships and raiding the unprotected shores of Maryland and Virginia. Rowing ashore in barges, armed British sailors and marines looted exposed farms and plantations.10 But the British commanders suffered from a desertion problem that weakened their already shorthanded crews. The American shore enticed many British sailors, particularly those born in Ireland, as a land of higher wages, easier work, and cheaper alcohol. Although most naval sailors remained loyal, the desertions impaired the efficiency of the warships, and the remaining men bore a heavier workload, which increased their temptations to escape. A potential, partial solution lay in the hundreds of runaways who fled in stolen boats and canoes to seek refuge on the warships during 1813. Unlike the British sailor and marine, who anticipated a better life in the republic, the former slave would almost never desert. In June 1814, Cockburn sought to replace many of his white marines with black recruits: “They are stronger Men and more trust worthy for we are sure they will not desert whereas I am sorry to say we have Many Instances of our [white] Marines walking over to the Enemy.” Promoting slave escapes also seemed the perfect turnabout to punish the American zeal and success in enticing Britons to desert from their service. British desertion helped to persuade their naval officers to embrace blacks as essential allies in the Chesapeake war.11 In early 1813, the Royal Navy officers did not intend to emancipate more than a few slaves, but scores of Tidewater slaves acted as if the British were liberators, escaping to them in stolen canoes and boats. By the end of 1813, at least 600 Chesapeake slaves had escaped to the British, who sent many on to the naval base at Bermuda. Put on the spot, the naval officers took in the runaways, reluctantly at first but with growing zeal over time. The officers slowly warmed to their new role as liberators, which appealed to them as a chance to highlight American hypocrisy about liberty. By protecting the runaways, the officers could vaunt their moral superiority over the enslaving Americans. By the end of 1813, the naval commanders also realized that the blacks could provide invaluable services to the British campaign. The runaways had made themselves essential to the officers’ self-image and to their drive to humble the Americans along the shores of the Chesapeake. But the British officers only slowly and incompletely shed their own prejudices. At Bermuda, they kept the black refugees on one of the islands of Bermuda, Ireland Island, which served as a fortified naval dockyard. Each man received a bounty, rations, and two shillings in daily pay, but he had to sign an indenture to serve for at least one year. Some of them balked at the hard work of the dockyard, which struck them as differing too little from slavery. The refugee women and children also demanded pay, and not merely rations and clothing, for their work. Initially the naval officers resented the protests but eventually they compromised, for by April 1814, the women and children of the dockyard were paid as well as fed for their work. The Royal Navy officers had to learn gradually, through trial and error, how to work with the runaways who flocked to them as liberators and expected true freedom.12

Transformation Other black refugees remained in the Chesapeake, assisting the British as scouts, spies, and pilots. By late 1813, their assistance dramatically improved the daring and performance of shore raids, easing the British dread of probing deeper into the countryside. Experienced at dodging slave patrols, the slaves had developed an intimate, local knowledge of the intricate Tidewater landscape of swamps, forests, and waterways. Black guides also led the raiders to hidden herds of livestock or storehouses filled with provisions and munitions. Masters struggled to keep secrets when runaways flocked to join the invaders. Formerly the British foe, the heavily forested Chesapeake landscape became their ally after they recruited runaways as guides.13 Black initiative transformed the British conduct of the war in the Chesapeake. By their courage, persistence, and numbers, the runaways enabled the British to adopt a new, far more aggressive strategy 195

Alan Taylor

for 1814. The urgent reports from Admiral Warren and other naval officers gradually persuaded the imperial rulers to shift their policy toward welcoming runaways and recruiting the men for military service. In September 1813, the imperial government authorized the Royal Navy to enlist black runaways “into H[is] M[ajesty]s’s land or sea service.” Implementation of the new policy fell to Warren’s successor, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, who took command of the North American squadron on April 1, 1814.14 Cochrane sought to escalate the war by aggressively recruiting runaways for military service. To obtain black recruits, Cochrane had to commit to their future as free men and had to welcome women and children as well as men to his ships. On April 2 he addressed a cleverly worded proclamation to “all those who may be disposed to emigrate from the United States . . . with their Families.” He promised to welcome them on board his warships and to honor “their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Sea or Land forces, or of being sent as FREE Settlers to the British Possessions in North America or the West Indies, where they will meet with all due encouragement.” To deny the charge that he promoted a slave revolt, his wording avoided explicitly addressing slaves while emphasizing the word FREE as their future state as British friends. In a private report, Cochrane explained that he primarily sought to harass the masters “and bring the consequences of the War home to their own Doors.”15 From his headquarters at Bermuda, Cochrane sent 1,000 printed copies of the proclamation to Cockburn for distribution along the shores of the Chesapeake. Incredibly, many American newspapers, including the Madison administration’s own National Intelligencer, spread the word by reprinting the proclamation, albeit with hostile commentary. The National Intelligencer insisted that the proclamation was a scam to lure credulous slaves away for British sale “to a bondage more galling than the light servitude they now endure.” Whatever masters read, they talked about, which slaves overheard and interpreted in their own way.16 In 1814 Royal Navy officers became far more aggressive in going ashore to seek out blacks for evacuation and recruitment. As a primary goal, Cochrane ordered Cockburn to seek out and liberate slaves of both genders and all ages: “Let the Landings you may make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. . . . The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Maddison will be hurled from his Throne.” For that service, the admiral devoted some smaller vessels to plying the shallower waters closer to shore.17 During the war about 3,400 slaves escaped from the shores of the Chesapeake to join the British. Almost all of the runaways came from the immediate vicinity of a navigable river or bay, where the slaves could see or hear a warship or where British raiders came ashore. Virtually no slaves escaped to the British from the Piedmont counties, owing to the dangerous distance to the coast by roads patrolled by armed militia. Most of the runaways came from modest farms rather than great plantations, for the latter were few and far between in the Tidewater. Among the masters who received postwar compensation, the average owner lost just 3.2 slaves, for slave ownership was highly dispersed in the Tidewater counties by 1813.18 There were two types of escapes: first, by a few hardy young men, and second, by larger groups that included women and children as well as men. The powerful bonds of marriage and kinship shaped the decisions by slaves to stay or to go. Few would bolt without a good prospect of retrieving their closest kin, particularly wives and children. Despite a longing for freedom, most Virginia slaves stayed put through the war rather than leave behind spouses, parents, children, and grandparents. Where escapes as groups became possible, however, runaways could reunite families sundered or threatened by the rental or sale of relatives.19 In April 1814, to accommodate the growing numbers of refugees, Admiral Cockburn occupied and fortified Tangier Island, within Chesapeake Bay and a dozen miles from Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Cockburn recommended the island as “surrounded by the districts from which the negroes always 196

American Blacks in the War of 1812

come.” On the southern end of the island, where sea breezes kept the mosquitoes at bay, the British built Fort Albion, bristling with cannon and featuring a hospital, church, and barracks for the troops and cabins for the refugees.20 Adult male refugees had the choice of enlisting in the Colonial Marines, entering the Royal Navy, or joining the “work party” which built the barracks and fortifications on Tangier. Relatively few refugees became sailors and usually at the lowest-paid, least-skilled rank of “Landsmen,” neophytes who literally had to learn the ropes. The British categorized as “supernumeraries” those refugees who could not, or would not, provide military service. Women, children, the sick, and a few elderly comprised the majority of these, but some able-bodied men also balked at combat. They received rations and “slop clothing” (but no wages) in return for some labor on the ships or in a shore camp. Women worked as laundresses, nurses, and cooks.21 Pay, uniforms, food, and alcohol enticed runaways to enlist as Colonial Marines. The British offered an eight dollar bounty, plus regular monthly pay of six dollars from which was deducted the cost of the uniform. For men who had been kept in rags, a snappy uniform added to the appeal of enlisting. Cochrane noted that, when deployed on shore raids, the smartly dressed Colonial Marines acted “as an inducement to others to come off.” The daily military ration of meat and wheat bread also improved on the slave diet which relied on corn meal. In addition, the recruits received a daily ration of rum, in contrast to slaves who usually got alcohol only during a few days of harvest and the Christmas holiday. Although barred from serving as commissioned officers, blacks did serve as corporals and sergeants. Given the paucity of white officers for the Colonial Marines, the black corporals and sergeants exercised more authority than did their white counterparts in other battalions.22 Possessing his own racial prejudices, Cockburn initially doubted that former slaves would amount to much as marines: “Blacky hereabouts is naturally neither very valorous nor very active.” In May, however, Cockburn noticed how well the new recruits responded to their training on Tangier. They were “getting on astonishingly and are really very fine Fellows. . . . They have induced me to alter the bad opinion I had of the whole of their Race & I now really believe these we are training, will neither shew want of Zeal or Courage when employed by us in attacking their old Masters.” With glee, he noted that the black troops excited “the most general & undisguised alarm” among the Virginians: “they expect Blacky will have no mercy on them and they know that he understands bush fighting and the locality of the Woods as well as themselves, and can perhaps play at hide & seek in them even better.”23 During the spring and summer, the Colonial Marines proved themselves in combat, deployed on frequent raids against militia batteries and gunboats along the Virginia and Maryland shores. The black marines served as light infantry skirmishers who led the advance and guarded the flanks of British operations venturing ashore and into the woods. Cockburn praised “how uncommonly and unexpectedly well the Blacks have behaved in the several Engagements.”24 Pleased by their performance, the British admirals sought more Colonial Marines, expanding their structure to three companies on July 22. By late September, the unit had grown to 300 men, which led to a further reorganization. In combination with 200 white marines, they formed the Third Battalion of Royal and Colonial Marines. Crediting “their hatred to the citizens of the United States,” Cochrane considered the blacks the most effective and intimidating troops that he could deploy against Americans.25 No mere byproduct of the British operations in the Chesapeake, the runaways transformed that offensive by becoming essential to its success. With critical assistance from the Colonial Marines, the British raids pacified southern Maryland during the summer, opening the way for Cockburn’s cherished plan to attack the American capital, Washington, D.C. With militia resistance neutralized, the British army and naval force could ascend the Patuxent River without resistance and then march overland to the outskirts of the federal city. On August 24, the 4,500 British troops routed a belated and chaotic American effort to block their advance at Bladensburg. Pushing into the capital, the 197

Alan Taylor

victors plundered and burned the public buildings, including the White House and Capitol—a great humiliation for the Madison Administration. Two days later, the British withdrew back to the Patuxent, where they reembarked on their waiting ships.26 In mid-September, the Colonial Marines participated in the British attack on the seaport of Baltimore. The city’s defenders were better led and better prepared than those at Washington. After the failure of their naval bombardment of Fort McHenry at the harbor’s mouth, the British sailed away in defeat. The spectacle inspired an American witness, Francis Scott Key, to pen the song that would later become the national anthem. Despite the victory at Baltimore, the nation teetered on the verge of financial collapse and disunion in late 1814.27

American Service Because so many merchant marine sailors were free blacks, the American government accepted them into the navy although never as officers. At Norfolk, men of color dominated the naval gunboat crews, and the best American force in the Chesapeake, Joshua Barney’s flotilla-men, included many free blacks and some hired slaves. Not all commanders, however, welcomed them. In 1813 Isaac Chauncey, who commanded the American squadron on Lake Ontario, sent many black sailors to reinforce the Lake Erie squadron, but the commander there, Oliver Hazard Perry, complained. An irritated Chauncey replied, “I have yet to learn that the Colour of the skin, or cut and trimmings of the coat, can effect a man’s qualifications or usefulness. I have nearly 50 Black on board [my] ships, and many of them are amongst my best men.” Perry belatedly learned that lesson when the black sailors helped him crush the British warships on Lake Erie in September 1813.28 While enslaved blacks had to look to the British for liberation, many free black Americans sought to prove their worth to the nation by enlisting in the navy or in the private, profit-seeking warships— privateers—which preyed on British merchant ships. In 1814, free blacks accounted for 15 percent of the prisoners-of-war held by the British at their principal prison, Dartmoor. Segregated in one barracks, Block Four, the black sailors relied on the rule of Richard Crafus, known as King Dick. Born in Maryland, King Dick had served on a privateer until captured by the British in March 1814. A tall, powerful man, he towered over other sailors. His charisma, intelligence, and strength won the allegiance of the black prisoners and the grudging respect of the whites. A powerful and skilled boxer, he taught that sweet science to others, white and black, for a fee. His barracks won a reputation as the most orderly and harmonious in the prison.29 While accepting black sailors, the republic initially barred them from serving in the army. Despite the brave black sailors, masters argued that blacks were too cowardly to fight as soldiers, although they also dreaded their slaves as a formidable internal enemy; living with slavery required such contradictions of belief. A newspaper essayist frankly explained, “We are conscious of treating them with injustice, and we dread the consequences of letting them acquire any knowledge or power whereby they might be enabled to retaliate for the wrongs with which we oppress them.”30 That fear of armed blacks hampered an American army that desperately needed more troops. During the War of 1812, the American invasions of Canada repeatedly collapsed in embarrassing defeats for want of sufficient soldiers. In 1810 the republic had about 240,000 enslaved and 36,000 free black men of military age, but the Madison administration barred them all from serving in the army. Some desperate recruiting officers overlooked the restriction to enlist a few mixed-race men. One of them, William Williams, suffered a mortal wound defending Fort McHenry, and his officers then belatedly discovered that he was, in fact, a runaway slave.31 Irish-American leaders in Philadelphia and New York challenged the restriction on black troops. These leaders sought reinforcements to ease the burden borne by the many Irish immigrants serving in the beleaguered American army. The Secretary of War, John Armstrong, also denounced the restriction on black troops as foolish: “We must get over this nonsense . . . if we mean to be what we 198

This sketch of Dartmoor was made by a contemporary shortly after the war, when local militia fired on the unruly inmates.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne, Yankee Privateer)

Figure 14.1

Alan Taylor

ought to be.” Armstrong, however, faced formidable opposition from southern Republicans, including Madison, who blanched at the idea of arming free blacks, considering it the slippery slope to slave revolts. And, in September 1814, Madison sacked Armstrong in favor of his great rival in the cabinet, James Monroe of Virginia.32 In late 1814, the nation’s grim prospects induced some desperate leaders to rethink their ban on black enlistment in the regular army. Monroe reconsidered the ban on black troops after Congress rejected his proposal to conscript white men. Without enough troops to carry on the war, Monroe accepted New York’s plan to raise two regiments of blacks for service within that state. In November the administration’s newspaper, the National Intelligencer, published two essays to promote the enlistment at least of free blacks, and perhaps even the enslaved with the promise of freedom for honorable service and survival to the war’s end. “It is a fact, well ascertained, that no men make better sailors than the blacks, and that they would make equally good soldiers, can hardly be doubted,” the anonymous author declared.33 The largest American enlistment of blacks came at New Orleans at the end of the war. The local commander, General Andrew Jackson, faced a massive British invasion in December 1814 and January 1815. Acting on his own authority, rather than on orders from Washington, Jackson recruited about 700 free black volunteers for armed service, appealing to them as “brave fellow citizens,” to the dismay of local slaveholders. Jackson allowed some of the black companies to choose their own black officers. He even recruited several hundred enslaved men with the promise of freedom if the Americans repelled the British assault. Although a Tennessee slaveholder, Jackson temporarily set aside his prejudices because of a desperate need for reinforcements. In defeating the British (who included two black West Indian regiments), the American slave troops fought hard and well, but Jackson reneged on his promises after the battle, declaring that he could not “take another man’s property and set it free.” Once the danger had passed, Jackson closed ranks with the local slaveholders, reaffirming the slave system in Louisiana.34

War’s End In late 1814, Admiral Cochrane shifted most of the British naval force southward, relieving the pressure on the Chesapeake shores but increasing the threat to the coasts of Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana. To support the main thrust against New Orleans, Cochrane sent Cockburn to create a diversion in the Sea Islands of Georgia. For this operation, Cockburn had two battalions of marines, including 365 Colonial Marines, and two companies from the Second West India Regiment, a black corps based in the Bahamas. In a great nightmare for the Georgia planters, black troops comprised most of Cockburn’s land force.35 In January 1815, the British seized Cumberland Island, the southernmost of the Sea Islands near the border with Spanish East Florida. Cockburn then deployed the black troops to dislodge the American garrison on the St. Mary’s River and plunder the nearby town of St. Mary’s. During the rest of the month and early February, the British force raided the other Sea Islands to loot plantations and liberate their slaves. The conspicuous appearance of the Colonial Marines in their uniforms with arms in their hands attested to the trust and good treatment afforded by the British.36 By mid-March, Cockburn had drawn 1,700 refugees to Cumberland Island. Recruiting the young men as marines, he added two companies of Colonial Marines, raising their overall strength to 450 men. One terrified planter recalled “the magical transformation of his own negroes, whom he left in the field but a few hours before, into regular soldiers, of good discipline and appearance.” He saw a mortal threat to the South in the growing numbers of black troops trained by the British.37 Upon learning of the peace treaty ending the war in early February 1815, Cockburn suspended his plundering raids but continued to welcome runaways from the coasts of Florida and Georgia. He also delayed evacuating his force from Cumberland Island until officially notified that the United States 200

Figure 14.2 Gabriel Hall, featured here in a photograph taken when he was 92 years old, was a Maryland slave who escaped as a boy to the British during the War of 1812. He settled as a free man in Nova Scotia and survived until 1895. (Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, NS)

Alan Taylor

had ratified the treaty. That notification did not reach the admiral until early March, allowing three more weeks for exporting plunder and liberating slaves.38 Cockburn brushed aside protests from leading Georgians, who insisted that the first article of the peace treaty obligated the British to return the runaways to their owners. The admiral offered a much narrower reading of the article and a far broader mandate for the liberating power of the British flag. Meanwhile, he sent transports, heavily laden with refugees, away to Bermuda. On March 13, Cockburn completed his evacuation of the island, but several warships remained in the harbor for another five days, before the admiral sailed away on the last one. Until their departure, the British captains continued to take on board runaways, further infuriating the Georgians.39 In the Chesapeake and along the Gulf Coast, the Royal Navy officers also rebuffed American officials who demanded the return of any runaways still on American shores or aboard warships within American waters. Growing into their initially reluctant role as liberators, many British officers had developed an empathy for the runaways and a conviction that naval honor required a strict adherence to the protection offered by the British flag. Along the Gulf Coast, the British army commander, General John Lambert, rebuffed Jackson’s request for the forcible return of runaway slaves in the British camps and on their ships. In the Chesapeake in late March, Captain John Clavell completed the evacuation of Tangier Island, burning the British fort and barracks and removing the remaining refugees.40

Refugees Posted in West Florida, Major Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines stood out as an especially zealous abolitionist. During 1814 and early 1815, Nicolls had welcomed runaways from the southern frontier and trained 300 young men as marines, while providing a haven for their women and children. On a bluff beside the Apalachicola River, Nicolls’s marines erected a strong rectangular fort bristling with eight cannon and one howitzer. In the spring of 1815, Nicolls ignored his orders to surrender the fort to the Spanish authorities in Florida. Instead, he entrusted the fort and its munitions to his demobilized black marines.41 Southern Americans denounced the “Negro Fort” as a great menace, which continued to attract runaways. On August 27, 1816, 18 months after the ratification of peace, American gunboats ascended the river and opened fire. A lucky shot penetrated the main powder magazine, which erupted in a massive explosion, destroying the fort and killing most of the defenders. Some survivors escaped deeper into Florida, joining the Seminole Indians, who continued to resist American expansion. Two years later, many of the maroons crossed Florida to the east coast, built large dugout canoes, and sailed to the Bahamas, a British colony where they founded a distinctive and enduring settlement.42 At the end of the war, the British had evacuated most of the black refugees from Georgia and the Chesapeake to Bermuda. They included the Colonial Marines, who remained in British service for another year. Anticipating renewed war with the United States, sooner rather than later, Admiral Cochrane considered the Colonial Marines the best force for fighting the United States: “They were infinitely more dreaded by the Americans than the British Troops.”43 During the spring and summer of 1815, the Royal Navy moved most of the other refugees on to Halifax, their naval base in Nova Scotia. During the war, the Royal Navy’s admirals had promised freedom and land to black refugees only to deliver them to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where the colonial governors had to make good on those promises. Unfortunately, the governors shared the racial prejudices held by local legislators who balked at spending tax money on black newcomers or rewarding them with substantial land grants. Instead, the Maritime Provinces awarded each black family only ten especially rocky and swampy acres where the blacks could barely support themselves between stints working for wages in the seaports during the warm months. Although life was hard for the poor refugees in the Maritimes, it beat slavery.44 202

American Blacks in the War of 1812

In early 1816, the imperial government decided to demobilize the Colonial Marines at Bermuda and send them with their families as free settlers to Trinidad, an underdeveloped island in the Caribbean. The governor settled about 700 in the heavily forested Naparima region about 40 miles south of Port of Spain, the colony’s capital. To maintain order and cohesion, each of the Colonial Marine companies received a distinct village, where the former sergeants and corporals governed as constables. Proud of their distinctive origins in America, the black settlers called themselves, “the Merikens,” an identity that persists to the present. In contrast to the Nova Scotia refugees, the Merikens flourished, for they obtained larger grants of fertile lands and did not have to deal with a prejudiced white majority.45 In 1815, the British withdrew from American shores but not from American nightmares as a dread of Britons, blacks, and Indians merged in postwar nationalism. Americans remembered the war in racial terms: as a nefarious cabal by the British with Indians and blacks to destroy the white man’s republic. In subsequent war scares during the 1830s and 1840s, the British threatened again to raid the American coast and rally the enslaved with a promise of freedom. Taking these threats seriously, the United States expended great sums and ingenuity constructing massive new coastal forts to defend southern ports. One of those powerful new bastions, Fort Sumter, guarded the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, and served as the flash point for the Civil War that would belatedly culminate in liberation for America’s slaves.46

Notes LC = Library of Congress, Washington, DC LAC = Library of Archives of Canada, Ottawa NAUK = National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew 1. Anthony S. Pitch, The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 (Annapolis, 1998), 191–93; Ralph E. Eshelman, Scott S. Sheads, and Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (Baltimore, 2010), 12. For the lyrics, see “Defence of Fort McHenry,” Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, October 14, 1814. 2. Spencer C. Tucker and Frank T. Reuter, Injured Honor: The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, June 22, 1807 (Annapolis, 1996), 49; J. C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (Princeton, 1983), 18–19; John Borlase Warren, “Proclamation,” October 5, 1812, in Admiralty Papers, MG 12, LAC, reel B-1448; William Stanhope Lovell, Personal Narrative of Events from 1799 to 1815, 2nd ed. (London, 1879), 10 (“declaring war”). 3. Philadelphia Aurora, May 17, 1813; [Baptist Irvine], “Extract of a Letter,” Baltimore Whig, June 10, 1813; Richmond Enquirer, June 25, 1814 (“They employ”). 4. Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (New York, 2009), 223–28, 233–35; David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (Ithaca, NY, 1975), 366–68; Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (New York, 1988), 310–15; Ronald Kent Richardson, Moral Imperium: Afro-Caribbeans and the Transformation of British Rule, 1776–1838 (New York, 1987), 154–64. 5. Drescher, Abolition, 117–18; Davis, Problem of Slavery, 117–19, 381–82; Richardson, Moral Imperium, 97–98, 164–66; Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 307–8; Roger Norman Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West India Regiments, 1795–1815 (New Haven, 1979), 2–24, 41, 65, 78–84. 6. Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats, 79–109. 7. Richardson, Moral Imperium, 99–100, and 103–26. 8. John Lewis to Stapleton Crutchfield, May 23, 1813, in Henry Bathurst Papers, MG 24, LAC, reel A-2076. 9. George Cranfield Berkeley, “Thoughts Upon a War Between America and Great Britain,” September, 1807, in Bathurst Papers, MG 24, LAC, reel H-2961; Alexander Cochrane, “Thoughts on American War,” April 27, 1812, in Viscount Melville Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: America, Britain, and the War of 1812 (London, 2012), 25. 10. William Sharp to James Barbour, February 4 and 6, 1813, and Andrew J. McConnico to Philip Barbour, March 6, 1813, in H. W. Flournoy, ed., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts from January 1, 1808 to December 1, 1835, 12 vols. (Richmond, 1892), 10:137, 184–86, 195; Richmond Enquirer, February 9, 1813; Charles Stewart to William Jones, March 17, 1813, in William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford,


Alan Taylor





15. 16.



19. 20.



eds., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. (Washington, DC, 1985–), 2:315–16; “Defence of the Sea-Board,” Richmond Enquirer, October 13, 1814. Henry Hotham, “Statement of the Number of Men Short of Complement,” September 2, 1813, in Sir George Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 9; C. J. Bartlett and Gene A. Smith, “ ‘A Species of Milito-NauticoGuerilla Warfare’: Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s Naval Campaign against the United States, 1814–1815,” in Julie Flavell and Stephen Conway, eds., Britain and America go to War: the Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754–1815 (Gainesville, FL, 2004), 179; Donald G. Shomette, Flotilla: Battle for the Patuxent (Baltimore, 2009), 14; George Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, June 25, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:116 (“stronger men”). Lovell, Personal Narrative, 152; John McNish Weiss, The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad 1815–16 (London, 2002), 5; Andrew Fitzherbert Evans to George Cockburn, October 1, 1813, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 9; Evans to the Lords of the Admiralty, October 12, 1813, in Admiralty Papers, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, 359:34A; Cockburn to Evans, October 2, 1813, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 6; Alexander Cochrane to Cockburn, April 28, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:51–52. For the compromise, see Cochrane to Francis Forbes, May 8, 1814, Sir Alexander Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 8. James Scott, Recollections of a Naval Life, 3 vols. (London, 1834), 3:77; “Invaders Retired,” Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, September 1, 1813; “The Enemy in York River!” Washington National Intelligencer, November 29, 1813; Anne Petrides and Jonathan Downs, eds., Sea Soldier: An Officer of Marines with Duncan, Nelson, Collingwood, and Cockburn, The Letters and Journals of Major T. Marmaduke Wybourn, RM, 1797–1813 (Tunbridge Wells, UK, 2000), 185. Alexander Cochrane to George Prevost, March 11, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:40; Bartlett and Smith, “‘Species of Milito-Nautico-Guerilla Warfare,’ ” 188–89; Harvey Amani Whitfield, Blacks on the Border: The Black Refugees in British North America, 1815–1860 (Hanover, NH, 2006), 32–36; Roger Morriss, Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772–1853 (Columbia, SC, 1997), 98; Lambert, Challenge, 268. Alexander Cochrane, proclamation, April 2, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:60; Cochrane to Lord Melville, March 25, 1814, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 7 (“the consequences”). Alexander Cochrane to George Cockburn, April 8, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:61; Frank A. Cassell, “Slaves of the Chesapeake Bay Area and the War of 1812,” Journal of Negro History 57 (April 1972), 150; “Cochrane’s Proclamation,” Washington National Intelligencer, May 19, 1814 (“to a bondage”); Shomette, Flotilla, 72. Alexander Cochrane to George Cockburn, May 27, 1814, and July 1, 1814 (“Let the Landings”), in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:130; Cockburn to Lt. Boyd, May 5, 1814, and Cockburn to Joseph Nourse, July 15, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 10. James Monroe to Anthony St. John Baker, April 1, 1815, in Foreign Office Papers, MG 16, LCA, reel B-2005; “List of Depositions related to Slaves and other Property Plundered by the Enemy during the late war, 1812,” in Auditor of Public Accounts, 1822, RG 48, Library of Virginia, Richmond, B 1054672. A fuller federal list compiled after the war to compensate masters who lost runways concluded that 762 Maryland and Virginia masters lost 2,435 runaways, an average of 3.2 slaves per owner. See U.S. Congress, American State Papers: Foreign Relations, 6 vols. (Washington, DC, 1833–59), 5:801–18. This list probably undercounts the Chesapeake refugees by about 1,000. For a fuller discussion of those numbers, see Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 (New York, 2013), 441–42. For an elaboration of this argument, see Taylor, The Internal Enemy. George Cockburn to Alexander Cockburn, April 2, 1814 (“surrounded”), and April 13, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:43 and 47; Cockburn to Cochrane, May 9, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 6; Shomette, Flotilla, 73–74. Lovell, Personal Narrative, 153; Alexander Cochrane to Cockburn, April 28, 1814, and Cockburn to Cochrane, May 9, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:51–52, 62. For women as cooks and laundresses, see Isaac Smith, deposition, January 31, 1828, (William C. Dawkins), in Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations, RG 76, U.S. National Archives, College Park, Maryland, entry 190, box 7, case 607; William Miles, deposition, June 7, 1828 (William Williams), ibid. entry 190, box 9, case 898; Mr. Rennolds, deposition, April 15, 1828 (William Sudler), ibid., entry 190, box 8, case 775. For women as recruiters, see Augustine Neal, memorandum, March 31, 1828 (Kenner W. Cralle), ibid., entry 190, box 5, case 417. Bartlett and Smith, “‘Species of Milito-Nautico-Guerilla Warfare,’” 188; George Cockburn, order, April 17, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 10; Alexander Cochrane to Cockburn, May 26, 1814 (“inducement”), in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:67. For bounties, pay, rations, and alcohol, see also Cochrane to Cockburn, April 28, and May 26, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:51–52, 67.


American Blacks in the War of 1812 23. George Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, April 2, 1814 (“Blacky”), Cockburn to John Borlase Warren, April 13, 1814 (“They pretend”), and Cockburn to Cochrane, May 10, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:43–44, 47, 65–66. 24. Scott, Recollections, 3:199–204, 269; Thomas M. Bayly to James Barbour, May 31, 1814, James Barbour Executive Papers, Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA, reel 5221; Robert Barrie to Cockburn, June 19, 1814, and Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, June 25 and July 17, 1814, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:111–14, 116, and 154; [Robert J. Barrett], “Naval Recollections of the Late American War,” United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine Part 1(April 1841), 455–67, and Part 2 (May 1841), 13–23. 25. George Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, June 23, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 6; Cockburn to Captain Watts, July 22, 1814, ibid., reel 7; Cochrane to John Wilson Croker, September 2, 1814, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 8; Admiralty to Cochrane, September 30, 1814, Admiralty Papers, MG 12, LCA, reel B-3435; Cochrane to Croker, September 28, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 8; Cochrane to Earl Bathurst, July 14, 1814 (“their hatred”), quoted in Cassel, “Slaves of the Chesapeake Bay Area,” 151–52. 26. Scott, Recollections, 3:239; Morriss, Cockburn, 103–4; Shomette, Flotilla, 237–38; Eshelman, Sheads, and Hickey, War of 1812 in the Chesapeake, 83–85; Charles Ball, Fifty Years in Chains, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York, 1970), 468; Christopher T. George, ed., “The Family Papers of Major General Robert Ross, the Diary of Col. Arthur Brooke, and the British Attacks on Washington and Baltimore of 1814,” Maryland Historical Magazine 88 (Fall 1993), 303; G. R. Gleig, A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans (London, 1861), 67–68. 27. Eshelman, Sheads, and Hickey, War of 1812 in the Chesapeake, 11–12; Gleig, Narrative of the Campaigns, 95; George, “Family Papers,” 310–11; Morriss, Cockburn, 110–11; John McNish Weiss, “The Corps of Colonial Marines, 1814–16: A Summary,” Immigrants and Minorities 15 (March 1996), 83. 28. Oliver Hazard Perry to Isaac Chauncey, July 27, 1813, and Chauncey to Perry, July 30, 1813, in Dudley and Crawford. Naval War of 1812, 2:530; W. Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, MA, 1997), 68–101; Gene A. Smith, The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 (New York, 2013), 47–52. 29. Robin F. A. Fabel, “Self-Help in Dartmoor: Black and White Prisoners in the War of 1812,” Journal of the Early Republic 9 (Summer 1989), 165–71; Bolster, Black Jacks, 102–12; Smith, Slaves’ Gamble, 52–54, 183–87. 30. [George Tucker], Letters from Virginia, Translated from the French (Baltimore, 1816), 82; Washington National Intelligencer, November 26, 1814 (“We are conscious”); Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA, 1998), 369–75. 31. Jack D. Foner, Blacks and the Military in American History: A New Perspective (New York, 1974), 3–22; Smith, Slaves’ Gamble, 39. In 1810, census figures indicate 1.2 million slaves and 180,000 free blacks in total; calculating military age men as a fifth of those totals yields 240,000 enslaved and 36,000 free black men. For William Williams, see George, “Mirage of Freedom,” 442–43. 32. William Duane to John Armstrong, July 12, 1814, and July 29, 1814, in Duane, “Memoir on the Formation of Military Corps of Coloured Men,” August 25, 1814 (unpublished MS), and Nicholas Gray to James Monroe, October 1, 1814, both in U.S. Department of War, RG 107, M 221, reel 61; Armstrong to Duane, July 15, 1814 (“We must”), in William Duane, “Selections from the Duane Papers,” Historical Magazine 4 (August 1868), 63. For Armstrong’s downfall, see E. Edward Skeen, John Armstrong, Jr., 1758–1843: A Biography (Syracuse, 1981), 137–43, 161, and 198–204. 33. Daniel D. Tompkins to James Monroe, December 12, 1814, in U.S. Department of War, RG 107, M221, reel 66; “Black Troops Proposed,” in Washington National Intelligencer, November 11, 1814; “S.C.,” ibid., November 26, 1814 (“It is a fact”). 34. Smith, Slaves’ Gamble, 160–69, Andrew Jackson quoted on 160 (“brave fellow citizens”) and 164 (“take another man’s property”). 35. Alexander Cochrane to John Wilson Croker, October 3, 1814, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 8; Samuel Jackson to Cochrane, October 26, 1814, ibid., reel 1; Morriss, Cockburn, 114–16; Mary R. Bullard, Black Liberation on Cumberland Island in 1815 (Deleon Springs, FL, 1983), 9–11. 36. George Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, January 27, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 7; Cockburn to Cochrane, February 11, 1815, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 7; Cockburn to Cochrane, February 17, 1815, and Robert Ramsay to Cockburn, February 16, 1815, in Admiralty Papers, MG 12, LCA, reel B-1453; Malcolm Bell, Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family (Athens, GA, 1987), 175–76, 182; Bullard, Black Liberation, 13–14, 27–33, 47–60, 63, 74; Morriss, Cockburn, 116–17; [Barrett], “Naval Recollections of the Late American War,” 21–22; Stephen F. Miller, ed., Memoir of General David Blackshear (Philadelphia, 1858), 448, 453, 455–57, 462, 465; Scott, Recollections, 3:360–61. 37. George Cockburn, order, February 4, 1815, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 10; Zephaniah Kingsley, A Treatise on the Patriarchal, or Co-Operative System of Society, as it Exists in Some Governments, and Colonies in America,


Alan Taylor










and in the United States, under the Name of Slavery, with its Necessity and Advantages (n.p, 1829), 11 (“magical transformation”); Roswell King to Pierce Butler, January 20, 1815, in Bell, Major Butler’s Legacy, 176; Morriss, Cockburn, 117; Weiss, “Corps of Colonial Marines,” 84. George Cockburn to Andrew Fitzherbert Evans, February 10, 1815, Cockburn to Alexander Cochrane, February 11, 1815, Cockburn to Lt. Col. Scott, February 19, 1815, and Cockburn to Thomas Pinckney, March 2, 1815, all in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 7; Cockburn, order, March 1, 1815, ibid., reel 10. In waiting for official notification, Cockburn acted within the letter of the treaty. See Henry Goulburn to Earl Bathurst, December 30, 1814, Bathurst Papers, MG 24, LAC, reel H-2961. Thomas M. Newell and Thomas Spalding to John Floyd, March, 1815, in U.S. Congress, American State Papers: Foreign Relations, 4:109–11; Alexander Cochrane to John Wilson Croker, March 13, 1815, and April 6, 1815, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 8; Morriss, Cockburn, 119–20; Mary R. Bullard, Robert Stafford of Cumberland Island: Growth of a Planter (Athens, GA, 1995), 47–48; Bell, Major Butler’s Legacy, 179; Bullard, Black Liberation, 58, 83–84, 91, and 99. William Hamilton to George Cockburn, February 27, 1815, in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 3; John Clavell to George Cockburn, February 23, 1815, and Cockburn to Clavell, March 10, 1815, in Dudley and Crawford, Naval War of 1812, 3:349 and 350; Thomas M. Bayly to James Monroe, March 22, 1815, and Bayly to John Clavell, April 13, 1815, in RG 76, entry 185, box 3, folder 8; Bayly, deposition, March 25, 1828, in RG 76, entry 185, box 4, folder 15; Smith, Slaves’ Gamble, 170. Alexander Cochrane to Edward Nicolls, July, 1814, in Admiralty Papers, MG 12, LCA, reel B-1451; Frank Lawrence Owsley, Jr., The Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812– 1815 (Gainesville, FL, 1981), 103–7, 120–21, 182; Nathaniel Millett, “Britain’s 1814 Occupation of Pensacola and America’s Response: An Episode of the War of 1812 in the Southeastern Borderlands,” Florida Historical Quarterly 84 (Fall 2005), 237–40; Weiss, Merikens, 11. Owsley, Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands, 183–85; Frank Lawrence Owsley, Jr., and Gene A. Smith, Filibusterers and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800–1821 (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1997), 106–13; Kenneth W. Porter, “Negroes and the Seminole War, 1817–1818,” Journal of Negro History 36 (July 1951), 260–65, 278; Smith, Slaves’ Gamble, 178–83; Weiss, Merikens, 57–58; Rosalyn Howard, Black Seminoles in the Bahamas (Gainesville, FL, 2002), 30–32. Alexander Cochrane to Lord Melville, April 2, 1815, in Admiralty Papers, MG 12, LCA, reel B-1453; Cochrane to John Wilson Croker, April 6, 1815 in Cochrane Papers, LC, reel 8 (“infinitely”); James Cockburn to Henry Torrent, August 23, 1815, in Colonial Office Papers (Bermuda), NAUK, 73:52, 56, and 58; Weiss, Merikens, 12. George Cockburn to Andrew Fitzherbert Evans, December 12, 1814, in Cockburn Papers, LC, reel 6; W. A. Spray, “The Settlement of the Black Refugees in New Brunswick, 1815–1836,” Acadiensis 6 (Spring 1977), 64–66; John N. Grant, “Black Immigrants into Nova Scotia, 1776–1815,” Journal of Negro History 58 (July 1973): 253–70; John N. Grant, “Chesapeake Blacks who Immigrated to New Brunswick, 1815,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 60 (September 1972), 194–98; Whitfield, Blacks on the Border, 35, 47–48, 50–51. Ralph Woodford to Lewis Johnston, October 23, 1816, and Woodford to Earl Bathurst, November 10, 1816, Colonial Office Papers (Trinidad), NAUK, 40:169 181; K. O. Laurence, “The Settlement of Free Negroes in Trinidad before Emancipation,” Caribbean Quarterly 9 (March 1963), 27–30; Weiss, Merikens, 18; Weiss, “Corps of Colonial Marines,” 81, 85. Morriss, Cockburn, 6; [Barrett], “Naval Recollections,” 467; Bartlett and Smith, “‘Species of Milito-NauticoGuerilla Warfare,’” 198. For the postwar investment in southern coastal fortifications, see “The Naval Depot, No. IV,” Washington National Intelligencer, September 14, 1816; James Madison to Wilson Cary Nicholas, May 29, 1816, in Wilson Cary Nicholas Executive Papers, Library of Virginia; and C. J. Bartlett, “Gentlemen versus Democrats: Cultural Prejudice and Military Strategy in Britain in the War of 1812,” War in History 1 (1994), 141.

Annotated Bibliography Buckley, Roger Norman. Slaves in Red Coats: The British West India Regiments, 1795–1815. New Haven, 1979. The classic account of black regiments in the British service which provided precedents for the Colonial Marines of the War of 1812. Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery. New York, 2009. The best recent book on the rise of the antislavery movement in the British Empire. Dudley, William S. and Michael Crawford, eds. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, 4 vols. Washington, DC, 1985–. A superb collection of documents for the naval war.


American Blacks in the War of 1812 Eshelman, Ralph E., Sheads, Scott S., and Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Baltimore, 2010. A thorough explanation of sites relevant to the war in the Chesapeake. Flournoy, H. W., ed. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts from January 1, 1808, to December 1, 1835. 12 vols. Richmond, 1892. Valuable primary sources for the war years appear in volume 10. Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Bicentennial ed. Urbana, 2012. The best overview of the war. Scott, James. Recollections of a Naval Life. 3 vols. London, 1834. Volume three contains the best first-person account of British naval service in the Chesapeake during the war. Shomette, Donald G. Flotilla: Battle for the Patuxent. Baltimore, 2009. The best introduction to the naval war in the Chesapeake. Smith, Gene A. The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. New York, 2013. A thorough examination of the black experience in the war. Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, 1983. Provides essential background on the politics of the war. Taylor, Alan. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832. New York, 2013. Examines the war in the Chesapeake to illuminate the shifting nature of freedom and slavery in Virginia during the early republic. Weiss, John McNish. The Merikens: Free Black American Settlers in Trinidad 1815–16. London, 2002. The best introduction to the settlement of former Colonial Marines and their families after the war.


15 WAR STORIES AND LOVE STORIES Conflict and Culture in the War of 1812 Nicole Eustace

In October 1812, just months after the first-ever formal declaration of war in the history of the United States had thrown the nation into crisis, a printer by the name of Isaiah Thomas successfully lobbied the legislature of Massachusetts to charter the country’s first national historical association: the American Antiquarian Society. That these two events—the declaration of the nation’s first war and the creation of the country’s first national historical society—occurred together was far more than mere coincidence. In that moment of danger, Isaiah Thomas believed that preserving the nation required securing its records as much as safeguarding its people. And, although the United States Congress had created an official government library just a decade before, Thomas proposed to establish a very different kind of repository in Massachusetts, one that would concern itself as much with the records of popular culture as with formal state papers. Thomas aimed at nothing less than protecting the “literature of liberty”—and this he believed required saving the literary productions of ordinary people as much as those of statesmen. In fact, one of Thomas’s key early gifts to the society was an assortment of broadside posters that he valued as a record of the kind of texts “in vogue with the Vulgar.”1 If we truly wish to assess the impact and importance of the War of 1812, we need to consider it as a cultural event as much as a military one. Far more people brandished pens than swords in this era. Of an official population of 7.7 million people, more than half a million served in the war in some capacity. But the half-million figure is deceptive in that most of these men were militia members who served very brief terms. Only about 57,000 men served as regular enlisted soldiers during the war and of these only 2,260 were killed in combat. Proportionately, less than half of 1 percent of all servicemen died during the War of 1812.2 But in this same period, the country was awash in printed commentary on the war, everything from newspaper reports and opinion pieces, to published sermons and political speeches, to new novels and plays, to broadside posters featuring poems and ballads, to popular music books perfect for fireside sing-a-longs. From the desks of high military officers and prominent politicians, to the presses of the nation’s burgeoning newspaper and pamphlet printers, to the kitchen tables of ordinary scribblers came a flood of professional and amateur efforts. Indeed, many more people in the United States read and wrote about the War of 1812 than fought in it. Why the concerted war of words in the midst of a pitched military confrontation? Ostensibly a conflict with Britain over naval rights, the American War of 1812 quickly became a test of the strength and meaning of American patriotism. While Federalist supporters based in New England often opposed the war and tried to use public prints to persuade the country at large to object to the conflict, DemocraticRepublican advocates concentrated in the South and West proved far more successful at using songs and 208

War Stories and Love Stories

stories to mold public war support. Enormously controversial with members of the Federalist Party from the moment it began, the war received a sort of popular referendum in the next two presidential elections, of 1812 and 1816. Madison easily won reelection in November 1812 and his handpicked successor and former Secretary of War, James Monroe, enjoyed landslide success four years later, in 1816. Hundreds of thousands of men cast Democratic-Republican votes in these contests indicating that, whatever the shortcomings of the war effort, the public was nevertheless soundly behind it.3 In the formative moment of 1812, Americans, from virtual unknowns to leading national statesmen, began experimenting with the power of culture to shape popular opinion. When Isaiah Thomas moved to collect the sort of literature “in vogue with the Vulgar,” he amassed a record of patriotic propaganda that reveals much about the origins and outcomes of the war. Indeed, the attention Thomas paid to popular prints reminds us how much historians may miss if they try to describe and define the war on the basis of formal political, diplomatic, and military records alone. In diplomatic and military terms, the war achieved few immediate gains. At the end of three years of fighting, the United States attained not a single formal concession from the British. In 1815, after the British had burned Washington, D.C., to the ground and the national debt had nearly tripled, from $45 million to $127 million, the best the United States could manage was to convince the British to return all territorial boundaries and diplomatic disputes to their pre-war status. Yet, somehow, the population at large regarded the war as a rousing triumph. How could a war that might easily have been dismissed as a terrific waste of time and money, if not deplored as a disastrous display of hubris, instead have sparked what one newspaper famously described as an “Era of Good Feelings”? Feeling, it turned out, was everything. And good feelings were not hard to generate when most people did not experience the war firsthand, but only through their imaginations, as sparked by words and images on the printed page. The war proved to be a popular success and the press played a key part in winning this particular victory.4

Marital Ardor and Martial Action Isaiah Thomas gathered his pop culture collection by visiting a printer named Nathanial Coverly, Jr., on Milk Street in Boston and asking to purchase a copy of each and every broadside poster he had in stock. Coverly sold him 298 different broadsides, each printed with one or two songs or poems or the occasional piece of prose, some 365 different ballads and hymns, and 30 works of prose. Of these, 125 featured topical references to current people and events, while the rest contained traditional folk airs and stories. Together, the two kinds of broadsides create a remarkable juxtaposition: love songs and comic ditties along with naval verses and soldiers’ rhymes, sometimes both on different sides of the same sheet. The pairing of the seemingly disparate topics of courtship and combat provides an important hint that patriotic love and romantic love shared a key contemporary connection.5 In American popular culture, in the era of the War of 1812, war stories and love stories often intertwined. From early on, Republican writers discovered the effectiveness of making war support the measure of love of country, and of likening love of country to ordinary romantic affections. Typical was the broadside ballad from the Isaiah Thomas collection that exhorted: Columbian soldiers look and see, The bleeding cause of liberty; Let patriotic love inspire Our frozen hearts with freedom’s fire. In and of itself, this war-booster’s decision to invoke “patriotic love” is neither surprising nor particularly revealing. On the surface, it smacks of convention. Why linger over the claims by warboosters of the 1812 era that love should “inspire our frozen hearts with freedom’s fire”?6 209

Nicole Eustace

“Love of country” is not a timeless and unchanging concept. Rather, Americans of the early republic drew on love in support of war in culturally specific and politically revealing ways. Thinkers going back to Aristotle have posited that love of country provides the basis for patriotism, an essentially emotional sense of connection to the nation. Yet, while classical thinkers stressed brotherly love, the patriots of 1812 often turned to a different kind of affection. In the early Republic, many argued that public patriotism stemmed from the private romantic bonds between husbands and wives. A song called “The Love of Country” spelled out precisely how the transubstantiation of conjugal and national love was supposed to occur: A soldier is a gentleman, His honor is his life, And he that won’t stand to his post, Will ne’er stand by his wife. Since love and honor are the same, Or are so near allied, That neither can exist alone, But flourish side by side Then farewell sweet-hearts for a while, Ye pretty girls adieu! And when we’ve drove the British dogs, We’ll kiss it out with you. Here men were warned to beware the error of shirking from combat lest they be suspected of connubial inconstancy as well. At the same time, with the promise that “love and honor are the same” men and women alike were told that soldiers made the best husbands and lovers. The relationship between martial and marital ardor was cyclical; the same men roused to go to war would return again to “kiss it out” with pretty girls and sweethearts.7 There are countless examples of romantic patriotism to be found throughout the print records of the early Republic. In another revealing instance, one of the first novels to come out of the war was an 1816 production by a New York writer named Samuel Woodworth with the unwieldy but suggestive title: The Champions of Freedom, or The Mysterious Chief, A Romance of the Nineteenth Century, Founded in the Events of the War between the United States and Great Britain, Which Terminated in March 1815. The book interwove seduction plots worthy of a sentimental romance novel with detailed historical descriptions of all the major events of the war. As a chapter titled “Love and Patriotism” made clear, the novel juxtaposed these seemingly unrelated storylines the better to showcase the essential relationship between romantic love and martial action.8

Love Stories and Ghost Stories Samuel Woodworth’s complex title provides an important hint about the true complexity facing historians attempting to understand the war’s origins and outcomes. He called his history of the war a “romance.” He also indicated that the war’s ghostly proxy losers were the “mysterious” Indians whose lands were taken by the “champions of freedom.” Indeed, the war between the United States and Great Britain had important implications for a set of antagonists not officially party to the conflict: the members of Native American nations living in uneasy cohabitation with the U.S. populace on the continent. In an age when starting a family usually meant clearing a farm, the romantic attachments that led to the establishment of new lineages often prompted the acquisition of new territory. As war supporters well understood, the connections between war and romance were far-reaching indeed. 210

War Stories and Love Stories

Romantic love fired patriotic feeling because, in the America of 1812, there were literal as well as metaphorical links between family affections and national obligations. Though the United States won no changes in British policy as a result of the war, and could claim no territorial cessions from the British, the country did gain undisputed control of substantial Western grounds once claimed by Indians, lands that would soon be populated by whites and cultivated in substantial part by enslaved men and women. From the moment the War of 1812 ended, the United States added a new state to the union each year for six years straight; in 1816 Indiana joined the United States, followed by Mississippi in 1817, Illinois in 1818, Alabama in 1819, Maine in 1820, and Missouri in 1821. Each of these border states had been under at least the partial control of Indians before the War of 1812; the U.S. ability to legally annex these new states resulted directly from the final end to British-Indian alliances that came with the close of the war. Every time war boosters joined the prosecution of the war to the private love of husbands and wives, they made the settlement of Indian lands into a romantic possibility and a patriotic duty. Land rights were central to popular understanding of the war’s meaning. To emphasize this factor is not to argue that land competition caused the war in any strict sense. The point is rather that combined concerns about property and sovereignty on the American continent provided the essential context in which war occurred. As Troy Bickham has explained, although “historians have rightly long dismissed the idea of land hunger as being the hidden force behind America’s declaration of war on Britain in 1812,” the fact remains that the “United States was undeniably imperialist in 1812.” Bickham concludes, “while territorial acquisition . . . was not a central wartime goal . . . many Americans believed in the idea that the United States was contending for future control of the continent.”9

Population Politics If Isaiah Thomas implied that there was something “vulgar” about broadside posters linking love and war, the evidence does not support this contention. To the contrary, the full historical record makes clear that, up and down the social spectrum, many Americans of the 1812 era accepted and enjoyed the idea that family formation and service to the nation were linked in intrinsic ways. As one novelist explained in 1812, “In a country where . . . an extensive territory requires a large increase of population . . . what greater legacy can a man bequeath his native land, than a rising family of freemen?” Indeed, the prevalence of romantic patriotism in popular culture actually reflected and reinforced formal theories of political economy that widely influenced the nation’s most advanced thinkers. U.S. leaders believed that achieving ground control on the continent required settling American families on the land. The greater the population, the stronger the nation. Patriotism sprang from the emotional bonds of husbands and wives even as the children of those unions embodied love of country itself. Print was a key arena where public and private actions intersected, where personal behavior could be glossed with political meaning.10 From colonial times, Americans had considered population to be a critical asset for the nation. Before the American Revolution, such eminent commentators as Benjamin Franklin had remarked on the fantastic fecundity of North America. Its lands were fertile and so were its people. Ironically, the English had first established colonies in part out of concern over perceived population excesses in their small island nation. But on the vast continent of North America, population came to be appreciated as the basis of national potency. Divergent British vs. American attitudes toward the merits of population significantly increased tensions between them. Writers on both sides of the Atlantic debated the implications of allowing family formation to play a key philosophical and practical role in the building of the nation.11 On the British side, the Anglican clergyman turned political economist Thomas Robert Malthus censured unrestrained reproduction in the United States as one of the world’s main moral “evils.” With no rival European claims to contend with, nothing stood in the way of a doubling of U.S. lands, 211

Nicole Eustace

and a redoubling of the U.S. population, save the thousands of Indians who continued to live on their native ground. The continent’s wide-open grounds supported demographic expansion even as the increasing U.S. population enabled the seizure and settlement of new land. Euro-Americans saw this as a virtuous circle, but many Native Americans and their British and Canadian allies viewed it as a vicious cycle.12 Taking a hard look at U.S. ambitions to exert ever greater control over the continent, Malthus concluded, “if America continue[s] increasing, which she certainly will do . . . the Indians will be driven further and further back into the country, till the whole race is ultimately exterminated.” How could the United States claim to be the globe’s strongest defender of freedom when it denied the basic right of survival to Native Americans? Malthus declared: “the right of exterminating, or driving to a corner where they must starve, even the inhabitants of thinly peopled regions, will be questioned in a moral view.” Malthus wrote in the wake of the American Revolution, clearly hoping that though the British army had not beaten Americans on the battlefield, British commentators could reverse America’s triumph through moral critique. As tensions between the United States and Britain continued to grow in the years leading up to 1812, population questions would emerge as a key point of contention.13 Malthus connected his wide-reaching geopolitical concerns directly to the individual romantic decisions of American courting couples. He argued that the only way to slow the rate of U.S. population growth was to encourage people to delay the age of marriage. The later in life that young men and women began their families, the smaller the total number of children they were likely to rear. American writers roundly rejected his recommendations. As North Carolina plantation owner and political theorist John Taylor complained, Malthus was in favor of “resorting to law for suppressing love.” He exclaimed, “Malthus teaches us, that the English system . . . will devote one part of the community to death by famine, or to the necessity of living above half their lives without affections.” According to Taylor, England offered its people only the stark choice between mass starvation or marital delay, population limitation, and emotional privation.14 By the time Malthus issued a third edition of his essay in 1807, the United States had purchased from France the right to claim the vast tract of the North American interior known as the Louisiana Territory. President Thomas Jefferson seems to have had the Malthus debate directly in mind when he orchestrated the land transfer. The United States took formal possession of the region on December 30, 1803. Exactly one month later, on February 1, 1804, Jefferson wrote a letter in which he confessed to “giving the leisure moments I rarely find, to the perusal of Malthus’ work on population.” Though careful to acknowledge that Malthus’s work was indeed one of “sound logic,” he insisted that the Englishman’s theories could not be applied to the United States because “the differences of circumstance between this and the old countries of Europe, furnish differences of fact whereon to reason, in questions of political economy, and will consequently produce sometimes a difference of result.” He concurred with Malthus that in Europe, “the quantity of food is fixed, or increasing in a slow and only arithmetical ratio” with the regrettable result that “supernumerary births consequently add only to . . . mortality.” But in accepting European weakness, he did nothing to concede American strength.15 Jefferson concluded that, in America, “the immense extent of uncultivated and fertile lands enables every one who will labor to marry young, and to raise a family of any size.” If Malthus claimed that America’s burgeoning population forced territorial expansion, Jefferson inverted this logic. He asserted that the virtually limitless availability of American lands assured that for practical purposes there could be no such thing as excessive population. “Our births,” Jefferson assured, “however multiplied, become effective.” In Jefferson’s survey of the situation, Indians were conveniently overlooked altogether.16 For Jefferson, the personal and the political created powerful synergy. He believed that increasing American births would be “effective” for the U.S. nation. Yet he also understood that for many ordinary men, the right to “marry young and to raise a family of any size” was a deeply appealing part of 212

War Stories and Love Stories

Figure 15.1 This handsome two-color design with black printing and red decorative border was meant for display. Note the graphic representation of the states as octagons, with the territories included as rectangular ornamental details. The “inhabitants” of each state and territory are enumerated. While the inclusion of information on congressional representation suggests that population figures were of interest for their domestic political implications, the juxtaposition of census figures with the political and military timeline featured in the central oval of the certificate hints that the role of population in geopolitics was also a prominent contemporary concern. (Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society)

republican manhood. And while Jefferson referred confidently to “political economy,” displaying easy mastery of the leading academic theories of his day, he also knew that his intellectual opposition to Malthus would hold real-world appeal for many American constituents. Jefferson’s political fortunes and governing philosophy depended on interconnections between family and state, between individual desires for marriage and parenthood and the collective will to acquire a continental empire.17 It took another English minister and sometime newspaper editor to articulate exactly how Malthus’s analysis could be inverted in America. The Reverend George Bourne, a resident in the state of Virginia, made Malthus the chief target of his wartime work, Marriage Indissoluble and Divorce Unscriptural. He complained, “Mr. Malthus’s information may enable us to contrast the wretchedness and misery of European climes with Columbia’s enjoyments: but the design of his essay on Population cannot be sufficiently condemned.” According to Bourne, “the grand conclusion which is drawn from his survey ‘that persons should not marry until they are advanced in years,’ is one of the most iniquitous and destructive positions, that ever was promulgated under the name of moral and political philosophy.” From there, Bourne went on to accuse Malthus of encouraging prostitution and assorted other personal and social ills.18 213

Nicole Eustace

Furthermore, Bourne easily linked his defense of marriage directly to issues of geopolitics. He found a champion in the Roman writer Tacitus. Bourne asserted, quoting that ancient historian, that “‘early marriages are the soul and chief prop of empire.’” If the United States wanted an empire to rival Britain’s, it could do no better than to promote youthful marriage and maximized population. Family formation took pride of place in the early Republic’s geopolitical imagination. As much as technical military might, the “natural” force of demography could fundamentally alter the shape of national geography. In the depths of the war, when the military outlook had seemed bleak to many, former President Thomas Jefferson had privately reassured a friend, “We shall indeed survive the conflict.” He explained, “breeders enough will remain to carry on population. We shall retain our country . . . beat our enemy, & probably drive him from the continent. We have men enough.” Many contemporaries viewed the production of progeny as a foundational element of military planning.19

Political Economy and Women’s Place Without the record compiled by Isaiah Thomas, we might neither recognize the significance of romantic patriotism for bolstering popular support for the War of 1812, nor understand the close connections Americans of the early Republic drew between their personal romantic decisions and the fate of the nation. But a bit of digging into contemporary ideas about liberty and progeny, military might and romantic love, allows us to understand the serious political intent behind many seemingly light popular entertainments. Whether songs verged on the comical or the sentimental, marital ardor figured as a key source of martial action. Soldiers were held up as ideal suitors and husbands, while willing women figured as a brave soldier’s best reward. Often, the loyal women awaiting the homecoming of America’s military men were supposed to be betrothed. A broadside poem called “The Soldier’s Return” imagined the reunion of “Allen” and “Sally” and asked what would happen if Allen arrived almost unrecognizable after the rigors of battle. Would Sally’s “heart to some other [have] stray’d?” No, Sally assured Allen, Oh! My delight, though altered as thou art, Reduced by honest courage to this state, Thou art the golden treasure of my heart, My long lost husband and my wish’d for mate. Many writers who offered ardor as an inducement to arms avoided condoning illicit sex and instead stressed the importance of marriage as the avenue through which pleasure was to be pursued.20 But other writers played with the possibilities of extramarital sexuality. A broadside poem from the Isaiah Thomas collection called “The Soldier and his Fair Maid” claimed that young women could safely give themselves up to the sexual advances of soldiers because military men were too honorable to not marry them should a pregnancy result. The poem began: The soldier as he walk’d thro’ the field, To see what flowers the earth would yield, It was there he spy’d a lady gay, Without any gown a raking hay The image of a nude woman frolicking in a field could hardly have been more explicit, but the poem went on to describe how: He treated her with wine and cake, And with gold rings, fine ribbons and gloves, Until he gained this fair maid’s love 214

War Stories and Love Stories

When the gay lady found herself big with child, “She cursed the hour and the day/She went with the soldier and left her hay.” Yet, the poem promised, she need not be concerned: For soldiers they love to sport and play, With pretty girls a raking hay, And if by chance they play too hard, They’ll marry them for their reward Addressing women, directly, the poem advised: Come pretty maids both fair and gay, If e’er you go to raking hay, And if by chance a soldier you see, You must not slight his company. The whole message of such verses was that women could support the country by “sporting” with soldiers. They ran no risk in doing so, for men who met their obligations to country would never fail to respect those to their sexual partners.21 Women served the nation not only as paragons of virtue, but also as objects of desire. When we imagine women of the early republic today, we often envision wives and mothers being asked to exemplify spotless chastity. Sex is not supposed to sully the image of the gentle ladies whose most important political task was to moderate the unbridled passions of men. Yet, the figure of the passionless middle-class matron of mid-century, wedded to ideals of bourgeois domesticity and determined to limit her fertility, has obscured the role of sex and reproduction at a key early moment in the emergence of American nationalism. Women had to do much more than simply embody virtue. Just as enslaved women’s reproductive work built the fortunes of their masters and the might of the nation, so white women’s reproductive contributions also aided national growth. In the era of 1812, all women were encouraged to actively incite in men the romantic ardor that both spurred population and stirred acts of patriotism.22 It seems quite clear that many women may have rejected such visions. There is good evidence that U.S. women were beginning to actively seek strategies for family limitation in this period. Nevertheless, there is also good evidence to show that whatever women’s true preferences, men remained staunchly in favor of maximal reproduction, with marital fertility remaining high throughout the coming decades and especially so in frontier areas. As far as men were concerned, women who performed reproductive work for the nation could play a key part in the country’s advancement.23

Federalist Expansionists A key factor here is that Federalists—who both deplored the war itself and detested the passionate brand of romantic patriotism that helped to promote it—nevertheless shared the views of many Democratic-Republican war supporters that ongoing acquisition of Indian land was an essential national activity. A representative example of the complexity of the Federalist attitude comes in the writings of the Reverend John Lathrop. A Princeton graduate back when it was still the colonial-era College of New Jersey, Lathrop had spent some time as an Indian missionary in the 1760s, supported Massachusetts patriots in resisting the British during the Revolution of 1776, and then settled down to a long career in a Boston pulpit. Lathrop loved his country, a point he had amply proven in his youth, yet he could not countenance the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party nor the nation’s turn toward war. He understood exactly the link between family love and liberty that the pro-war faction was trying to forge and saw clearly the way such definitions of freedom spelled disaster for Native Americans.24 215

Nicole Eustace

As he laid out his views in a pair of sermons published under the title The Present War Unexpected, Unnecessary, and Ruinous, in July 1812, Lathrop rebuked war supporters for both their immediate incentives and their ultimate aspirations in going to war. On the use of sensual passion to spur military action, Lathrop said, “we pray that God . . . would humble the pride and subdue the lusts and passions of men, from whence wars proceed.” On the probable impact of the war on Indians, he added that he and his congregation prayed that God “would dispose the people of these States to do justice to the Indian tribes, to enlighten, and not exterminate them.” Yet, by the end of the war, Lathrop would reconcile himself to the outcome along with his fellow Americans.25 In the first days of the peace, Lathrop rushed to bring to press one of the earliest histories of the war to be written. The pamphlet he produced was a brief 32-page production, yet it bore the weighty title: A Compendious History of the Late War; Containing an Account of all the Important Battles, and Many of the Smaller Actions, between the American, and the British Forces, and Indians in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815. Lathrop’s lengthy title offered the straight-up thesis that the War of 1812 could only be correctly understood when considered as a fight involving Indians. Tellingly, he refused to date the beginning of the conflict from Madison’s formal declaration of war against the British in 1812. Instead, he insisted that it had truly begun the year before with the first concerted efforts by General William Henry Harrison and others to defeat the Shawnee Confederacy led by Tecumseh.26 Lathrop addressed exactly the debate about population expansion that defined the war for Britain, the United States, and numerous native American nations alike by regaling his audience with the story of an Indian chief and an American general who sat together on a log near the edge of a river. The Indian, who was seated on the far side of the log away from the stream, kept asking the General to slide over and make more space for him. As Lathrop told the tale, “the General replied, you will push me into the water. The native of the wilderness answered—So you white people, intend to make us poor Indians, remove, little by little, and then push us into the water where the sun goes down.” The moral of the story could have been written by Thomas Malthus, who had complained years before that American expansion would lead to the extermination of the native population. By the close of the War of 1812, it was clear to anyone with eyes to see that continuing continental expansion would be the chief legacy of the conflict.27 While the Treaty of Ghent was most remarkable for all the things it didn’t do—it didn’t end impressment much less result in the British surrender of Canada—one of its omissions came to have far-reaching consequences. The British had convinced their Indian allies to fight beside them by promising that when war ended they would demand permanent recognition of Indian land rights between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. These were just the areas where the United States had recently begun rapid settlement. Yet, at the negotiating table in Ghent, the British dropped the demand for an Indian buffer zone against American expansion. The result was that, once the war ended, the British would no longer arm Indians nor would they raise a hand to protect Indian land. The decision to do nothing at Ghent meant everything to the Indians who faced certain dispossession from that day forward.28 Not even John Lathrop could imagine any better alternative for Indians but to give way to America’s settlers. In the final lines of his war history, Lathrop offered a prayer that was in one sense a last lamentation, in another sense a surprising parting benediction for the United States. He pled: From past sufferings, the American people will be warned against future evils. Should heaven see fit to diminish the population of the older, and more crowded parts of the world, we hope and pray, the desolating judgment may not be sent to this young country. Lathrop was a patriot to the end. Though he saw and deeply opposed the aggression against Indians that drove the War of 1812, he could not bring himself to wish that the United States population would suffer. On the contrary, he, like more prominent founding fathers from Benjamin Franklin to 216

War Stories and Love Stories

Thomas Jefferson, relished the idea that America was a young country with a growing population on a spacious land. And he believed that, as such, the United States might yet prove a haven for the liberty fast being lost in the old world.29

Liberty and Progeny in the Aftermath Like his predecessor in office, President James Madison preferred the ideas of French Physiocrats to those of English political economists like Malthus. Presidents Jefferson and Madison both shared the perspective of their mutual wartime correspondent Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, who stressed that freedom of circulation required not only untrammeled trade but also unrestrained reproduction. As Jefferson wrote to de Nemours at the war’s end in 1815, his fondest “hope” for his country was that, with the British vanquished, Americans would at last be “permitted to proceed peaceably in making children, and maturing and moulding our strength and resources.” Despite the fiction that lay at the base of this hope, that “making children” could be a wholly peaceable process, the official Republican view that population was essential to American national strength became one of the most enduring legacies of the war.30 The plentiful lands of North America could support population increases undreamt of in Britain. But the converse proposition also applied. The rapid rise of the U.S. population gave it the manpower needed to seize and settle new ground. Ordinary people consciously participated in the project of enlarging the nation’s territory by expanding its population. In 1816, in the immediate wake of the war, a congressional petition explained that the “inhabitants and native Citizens of the Northern and Eastern section of the United States” were seeking to settle lands in the Northwest Territory not only from an “ambition to advance their own [interests]” but also from a desire “to extend the population and the power of the United States.” For U.S. settlers, national and familial interests coincided here in synergistic ways.31 As Illinois Territorial Governor Ninian Edwards observed to Secretary of War William Crawford at the close of the war, although Indian “hostility” had the potential to “put an end to the surveying, or occupying of the military lands,” in the short-term, within just a few years, “the growth of our population . . . will prevent all future danger.” High fertility in the territories was not just an unremarkable effect of the normal conditions of a “frontier” political economy, much less the unintended result of the “natural” demographic decline of doomed Indians. On the contrary, the linked effects of population augmentation and territorial aggression may well have been the fruit of studied strategy. As the Reverend George Bourne had observed, quoting Tacitus: “early marriages are the soul and chief prop of empire.” An expanding state had a direct interest in encouraging the optimized levels of reproduction made possible by youthful marriages.32 George Bourne’s approving quotation from Tacitus gained popularity from Southern parlors like his own to the hardscrabble settlements of frontier areas in western Pennsylvania. In November 1815, in the wake of the war, the Carlisle Gazette published yet another round of praise for the role of reproduction in the seizure of land. The paper declared, “Tacitus says, early marriage makes us immortal. It is the soul and chief prop of empire.” Here the merging of high political economy and popular culture seems near complete. The article concluded by warning that “the man who resolves to live without woman, and the woman who resolves to live without man, are enemies to the community in which they dwell.” Again and again word came down that any community dweller, whether man or woman, whether full citizen or simple inhabitant, could contribute vital force to the country.33 So long as population was the fundamental source of strength for the nation, then romantic connections could not only foster personal happiness, but also contribute to the very foundation of the nation. Love of country had literal genesis in romantic feeling. And, with neat circular logic, as falling in love and beginning wedded life became patriotic duties, the right to form families in turn defined the essence of liberty. Many American nationalists of the 1812 era centered their emotional efforts 217

Nicole Eustace

on romantic love as the wellspring of patriotism. When Americans agreed with Tacitus that “early marriages were the soul and chief prop of empire,” they made a formal theoretical proposition out of something that was fast becoming an unremarkable element of popular culture. When the War of 1812 at last drew to a close in 1815, President James Madison could celebrate few formal accomplishments. Multiple attempts to invade Canada had failed, while the United States’ single major land victory, achieved at New Orleans at the last minute, had little impact on the terms of the already signed peace treaty. Still, Madison triumphed that: “The United States are in the tranquil enjoyment of a[n] . . . honorable peace. . . . The strongest features of its flourishing condition are seen, in a population rapidly increasing, on a territory as productive as it is extensive.” Taken out of context, Madison’s remarks could seem to be a simple observation that the vast terrain of the American continent allowed the continuing growth of the U.S. population. Considered in light of the Republicans’ preferred anti-Malthusian ideas of political economy, however, his comments take on another color.34 Madison’s successor, James Monroe, the President lucky enough to preside over the “Era of Good Feelings” that emerged from the war, also lingered approvingly on population strength as the mark of U.S. victory. As he boasted to the British, demanding new respect in the wake of the war, “the United States have acquired a certain rank amongst nations, which is due to their population and political importance, and they do not stand in the same situation as in former periods.”35 As had become abundantly clear over preceding years of the war, and as Isaiah Thomas would ensure future historians could later rediscover, proponents of the War of 1812 appealed early, often, and effectively to romantic love and family formation as a source of national patriotism and national promise.

Notes AAS = American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA LC = Library of Congress, Washington, DC 1. See, Arthur F. Schrader, “Broadside Ballads of Boston, 1813: The Isaiah Thomas Collection,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 98 (April 1988): 69–111. 2. For statistics, see Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Bicentennial ed. (Urbana, IL, 2012), 305–6. 3. For more on the politics of declaring war in 1812, see J. C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (Princeton, 1983), 110–19. 4. “Era of Good Feelings,” in Boston Columbian Centinel, July 12, 1817. The phrase proved popular immediately and was reprinted at least 20 times in newspapers from Maine to Virginia within the first month after appearing in the Centinel. Here and throughout, estimates of newspaper publication frequency are based on searches in the digitized collections of America’s Historical Newspapers by Readex, a division of NewsBank, at 5. For these statistics, see Schrader, “Broadside Ballads of Boston, 1813,” 70. 6. “The Soldier’s Drill and Fare,” [Boston: 1814], and “A Song Composed on the Cause and Progress of the Present American War,” both in Broadside Collection, AAS. 7. “Love of Country,” in A National Song-Book Being a Collection of Patriotic, Martial, and Naval Songs and Odes, Principally of American Composition (Trenton, 1813), 112. 8. Samuel Woodworth, The Champions of Freedom (New York, 1816). 9. Troy Bickham, The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812 (New York, 2012), 43–44. 10. [John Finch], The Soldier’s Orphan (New York, 1812), 75. The book was published May 2, just over a month before the declaration of war, at which point the imminent possibility of conflict was obvious to many observers. 11. Franklin’s work remained current in the 1812 era. See Benjamin Franklin, “On Population: Observations on the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c.,” in The Works of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, ed. William Duane, 6 vols. (Philadelphia, 1808–18), 4:184–91. 12. See T. R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (Washington City, 1809). 13. Ibid., 9–10. 14. John Taylor, An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government (Fredericksburg, VA, 1814), 543.


War Stories and Love Stories 15. Thomas Jefferson to Jean Baptiste Say, February 1, 1804, in Thomas Jefferson Papers, LC. 16. Ibid. 17. On Jefferson and Malthus, see also Drew McCoy, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America (Chapel Hill, 1996), 190–95. 18. George Bourne, Marriage Indissoluble and Divorce Unscriptural (Harrisonburg, [VA], 1813), 20–21. 19. Thomas Jefferson to William Short, November 28, 1814, in Jefferson Papers, LC. 20. “The Soldier’s Return,” in Broadside Collection, AAS. 21. “The Soldier and his Fair Maid together with Hard Times,” in Broadside Collection, AAS. 22. On the reproductive work of enslaved women, see Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia, 2004). On attitudes toward white women as either republican mothers or disreputable jezebels, see Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, 1980), 285, and Clare A. Lyons, Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730–1830 (Chapel Hill, 2006), 394. 23. See Susan E. Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill, 2009), 274, and J. David Hacker, “Rethinking the ‘Early’ Decline of Marital Fertility in the United States,” Demography 40 (November, 2003), 605–20. 24. On the details of Lathrop’s earlier life and career, see Nicole Eustace, Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 2008), 330–31, 443. 25. John Lathrop, The Present War Unexpected, Unnecessary, and Ruinous (Boston, 1812), 18–19. 26. John Lathrop, A Compendious History of the Late War . . . in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815 (Boston, 1815). 27. Lathrop, A Compendious History, 8, and Malthus, Essay on Population, 9–10. 28. For an account of the British retreat from their original negotiating position that there should be an “Indian barrier” in the American West, see, Hickey, War of 1812, 293–96. 29. Lathrop, Compendious History, 32. 30. Thomas Jefferson to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, December 31, 1815, in Jefferson Papers, LC. Although wartime letters from Madison to de Nemours do not survive, a number of letters from de Nemours to Madison indicating their close affinity remain in the latter’s correspondence. For example, in a letter dated April 30, 1813, de Nemours wrote to congratulate Madison on the news of his recent reelection to the presidency. See de Nemours to Madison, April 30, 1813, in Madison Papers, LC. 31. “Petition to Congress by Citizens of the Eastern States,” March, 1816, in Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 26 vols. (Washington, DC, 1934–62), 17: 321–22. See Lee L. Bean, Geraldine P. Mineau, and Douglas L. Anderton, Fertility Change on the American Frontier: Adaptation and Innovation (Berkeley, CA, 1990), 242. 32. Ninian Edwards to William Crawford, September 26, 1816 in Carter, Territorial Papers of the United States, 17:399. 33. “Early Marriage, An Extract,” in Carlisle Gazette, November 1, 1815. 34. James Madison, “President’s Message, Washington City, December 5, in Broadside Collection, AAS. 35. James Monroe to Anthony St. John Baker, March 23, 1815, quoted in Bickham, The Weight of Vengeance, 3 and 283n1.

Annotated Bibliography Allgor, Catherine. Parlor Politics: In which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government. Richmond, 2000. Documents the significance of Dolly Madison and her social network in the creation of salon-like spaces in which political combatants could debate issues civilly in the War of 1812 era; demonstrates the potential for some elite women to help shape politics even in the years before they enjoyed formal civil rights. Bickham, Troy. The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire and the War of 1812. New York, 2012. Offers a comparative look at political culture and popular participation in war debates in both the United States and Britain while serving up controversial conclusions about the war’s winners and losers. Burnham, Michelle. Captivity and Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature, 1682–1861. Hanover, 1997. Broad overview and critical review of fictional accounts of encounters in early America with limited but useful coverage of the way novels of the 1812 era combined historical narratives of Indian conflict with romantic tales of family struggle. Cayton, Andrew L., and Anderson, Fred. The Dominion of War: Empire and Conflict in America, 1500–2000. New York, 2005. Surveys the history of U.S. wars and argues that Americans too often forget those, such as the War of 1812, that have important imperial elements despite their republican ambitions.


Nicole Eustace Cleves, Rachel Hope. The Reign of Terror in America:Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery. Cambridge, 2009. Explores Federalists’ uses of the culture of fear to influence policy before, during, and after their political heyday and argues that they used terror as a tool for social and moral reform. Hyde, Anne F. Empires, Nations, and Families: A New History of the American West, 1800–1860. New York, 2012. Describes the overlapping and intersecting networks of natives, Europeans, and United States actors whose competing social, economic, and political formations shaped western North America; contends that charting imperial formations requires understanding family organization. Kaplan, Amy. The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture. Cambridge, 2005. Argues that a key element of manifest destiny, the belief that American expansionism was divinely ordained, was the related idea of “manifest domesticity,” that Christian white family life was the best model for settling the continent. Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity. Chapel Hill, 2012. Examines constitutional debates through a cultural lens in order to understand the initially restricted nature of American citizenship and the role of land acquisition in the formation of the nation’s identity as an infant empire. Stoler, Ann. Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History. Durham, 2006. An edited collection of essays that demonstrate the significance of intimate relations, from the affective to the sexual, for the shaping of American continental encounters in the age of nineteenth-century U.S. expansionism. Watts, Steven. The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820. Baltimore, 1989. Explores the contributions of militarism during the War of 1812 era to the emergence of liberal capitalism. Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia, 2007. Examines post-revolutionary changes to American women’s status, with attention to women’s contributions as both supporters and opponents of the War of 1812; considers men’s reliance on female symbolism to make arguments about both the war itself and about women’s increasingly restricted roles in the early republic.


16 THE TREATY OF GHENT Robert McColley

When in 1814 Britain’s rulers agreed to negotiate a peace treaty in the city of Ghent, their thoughts about the United States were far from charitable. The United States had gone to war to punish Britain for its high-handed maritime practices, notably the impressment of sailors from United States ships and intercepting ships and their cargoes engaged in peaceful commerce. Though they would later deny it at Ghent and elsewhere, the President and Congress also went to war to add Canada to the vast and growing United States empire. Furthermore, they had declared war precisely when Napoleon, the Emperor of France—no longer a democratic republic—seemed on the verge of completing his conquest of all Europe. Struggling to survive, Britain could send but little aid to Canada, which the United States hastily attempted to invade at several points. The London papers urged their government to punish the United States and especially President Madison. Though agreeing early in 1814 to negotiate a treaty to end the war, His Majesty’s ministers were more than leisurely. They anticipated major military successes by armies sent to North America, almost immediately after Napoleon’s first abdication (April 11, 1814) and the restoration of Louis XVIII as King of France. As was clear in the first round of talks in Ghent, the attitude of the British cabinet, expressed through their carefully instructed representatives, opened the negotiations as conquerors treating with the defeated.

British and American Diplomats at Ghent Three British political leaders who instructed those representatives, both initially and throughout the negotiations, were Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, Prime Minister; Henry Bathurst, Third Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies; and Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Lord Liverpool had been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since June 1812; remarkably, he would continue in that office until 1827. Throughout his unusually long tenure, he worked with Lord Bathurst, and until 1822 with Lord Castlereagh. Though burdened with many other responsibilities, these men stayed in as close touch as possible with their representatives at Ghent. The oldest and most honored of the representatives was Admiral James Lord Gambier, born in the Bahamas and serving in the navy since his eleventh year. He was a veteran of the Wars of the American Revolution and the French Revolution, as well as the Napoleonic Wars. From 1802 to 1804 he governed Newfoundland. His varied and extensive experience with naval and colonial affairs especially qualified him, though in the event the negotiations treated impressment,


Robert McColley

Orders-in-Council, and blockades lightly and inconclusively. William Adams, LLD, was the lawyer on the commission, fresh from a thorough study and revision of the Vice-Admiralty courts that served the British Empire. He was also an expert on the Orders-in-Council and impressment. Henry Goulburn, the youngest of the three, was Undersecretary of State for War and the Colonies and therefore closest to Lords Bathurst, Castlereagh, and Liverpool. Like Adams he had degrees from Cambridge University, and like Gambier he was a devout Christian. Though born in London and always maintaining a home in England, Goulburn inherited from his father a large sugar plantation in Jamaica.1 It yielded income and headaches in equal proportion. Gambier was formally in charge of the British commission, but he and Dr. Adams allowed Goulburn to lead the negotiations. The historians of the Treaty of Ghent represented here were all citizens of the United States, though Carl Schurz immigrated from Germany and George Dangerfield from England. All agree in varying degrees that the United States commissioners were superior in intellect and talent to the British. Henry Adams, if he did not begin this tradition, was certainly the most outrageous in belittling the Englishmen, finding “none of them very remarkable for genius, and still less for weight of influence; as compared with the American commissioners they were unequal to their task. This again, unpromising as it looked, was not really a misfortune, for the British commissioners, deficient as they were in ability, polish of manners, and even in an honest wish for peace, were the mere puppets of their government, and never ventured to move a hair’s breadth without at once seeking the approval of Lord Castlereagh or Lord Liverpool.”2 Albert Gallatin, born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, was the oldest and wisest of the United States commissioners, and fully their equal in his dedication to the United States, to which he had moved when 19 years old. Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison, he accepted the diplomatic mission, originally proposed by Russia, and sailed to Europe before the Senate approved his appointment. In fact, the Senate rejected his appointment until he resigned the office of Treasurer. Fortunately he did resign, after which John Quincy Adams, then our Minister to the Court of Alexander I of Russia, became the nominal head of the commission. Though always independent if not eccentric in his views, J. Q. Adams had supported Jefferson’s policies regarding foreign trade and resigned from the United States Senate knowing that he was no longer representing the government of Massachusetts. For his support, unparalleled acquaintance with Europe, and high intelligence, Madison appointed him Minister to the Court of Czar Alexander I of Russia in 1810. James Asheton Bayard, a Federalist lawyer from Delaware who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and subsequently the Senate, had opposed the embargo and other restrictive policies of the Jefferson Administration, as well as the declaration of war in 1812. In February, 1801, as a member of the House of Representatives, he finally stopped voting for Aaron Burr, thereby helping elect Jefferson President. Jonathan Russell, who would prove to be the least useful of the five American diplomats, was a graduate of the College of Rhode Island, later Brown University. A successful merchant and committed Jeffersonian Republican, he served President Madison as chargé d’affaires at Paris in 1811, and London in 1812. In 1813 he was promoted to be the United States’ minister to Sweden. Like Adams, he did not need to cross the Atlantic to treat with the British.3 Henry Clay of Kentucky was the youngest of the five American diplomats, but as the leader of the War Hawks, and powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives, he ably represented the interests of the new Southwest, then the fastest growing part of the United States. Though differing greatly in experience and temperament, all five were as loyal to the Constitution and people of the United States as their British counterparts were to the British Crown and Empire. And all perceived, however dimly at first, that the United States and the British Empire had no rational reason for being at war.


Figure 16.1 John Quincy Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, 1818. While defending the maritime interests of New England, Adams was also a determined expansionist, as diplomat and later as Secretary of State and President. (Wikimedia Commons)

Robert McColley

Negotiations Finally Begin All five Americans were in Ghent by July 6, 1814, and there they waited a full month and a day for their British counterparts. Lord Gambier, Dr. William Adams, and the Honorable Henry Goulburn finally arrived Saturday night, August 6, informed the Americans of their presence on Sunday, and settled down to work, meeting with the U.S. representatives on Monday, August 8, 1814. It would take 106 more days for the eight diplomats to agree on and sign a treaty. Henry Goulburn efficiently set forth those of the British demands that his superiors had suggested for this first meeting. Impressment might be discussed, but Britain would not surrender it. The boundary between the United States and Canada should be altered in Canada’s favor. United States fisherman should no longer visit the waters and beaches of Labrador and Newfoundland unless the United States gave an equivalent; in later discussions it became clear the equivalent explicitly meant Canadian access to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a right that had been guaranteed to them, along with the navigation of that river, in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The Mississippi was an international boundary between the United States and Spanish Louisiana in 1783; by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 it had become entirely contained in the United States. Finally, and to the great surprise of the Americans, Britain required as a sine qua non that the United States establish a permanent tract of land for the Indians within its borders. Before replying the five Americans needed to consult among themselves. They asked, and the Britons agreed, to meet again Tuesday morning. Fortunately for the Americans a letter from Secretary of State Monroe arrived that evening instructing them that, given the fall of Napoleon and the relatively enhanced power of Great Britain, they need no longer make an end of impressment a sine qua non. The next morning J. Q. Adams spoke for the five commissioners: the Americans were authorized to negotiate impressment and boundaries. They had no instructions regarding Indians and fisheries, but were willing to discuss them. Goulburn and Dr. Adams explained that they contemplated an area reserved for the Indians, which neither Canada nor the United States would occupy, the exact location of which could be negotiated. Yet it was understood the area would be within the United States. The Americans explained that this was in effect creating an independent nation, something the British themselves had never granted to American Indians. Agreeing to disagree, the British and American teams sent their reports to their respective governments, and waited until the British had new instructions; the Americans also wrote reports for President Madison and Secretary of State Monroe but because of the distance involved would receive no new instructions for several weeks. When negotiations resumed on Friday, August 19, Henry Goulburn had new instructions from Lord Castlereagh, who personally brought them to Ghent, en route to the Congress of Vienna. He did not, however, join Friday’s negotiations. This was, by far, the most extreme of the British proposals: there should be a permanent Indian state north and west of the Greenville Treaty Line of 1795; Canada could have armed ships and fortifications on all five of the Great Lakes, but the United States could have no warships or forts on any of the lakes. Canada could have armed ships and fortifications on the Lakes; the United States could not. The boundary should be adjusted to give Canada access to the Mississippi; part of northern Maine should be transferred to Canada to permit a direct roadway between Quebec and Halifax; the British should keep Moose Island and Passamaquoddy Bay in eastern Maine, which they had occupied during the war. In a more conciliatory spirit, Britain would allow the United States to operate unarmed boats on the lakes for commercial purposes. Questioned whether complete military control of the Lakes was also a sine qua non, Dr. Adams replied, “One sine qua non at a time is enough.” He meant that the question of the permanent Indian state should be settled before moving on to the question of controlling the Great Lakes.4 J. Q. Adams requested that these proposals be written down. After some hesitation the British agreed, providing a document whose demands, when published in the United States in October would be valuable propaganda against the British. When published in England in November, they contributed to the further weakening of the British position. In fairness to Castlereagh, however, the


Figure 16.2 Henry Clay, by Matthew Harris Jouett, 1818. As Congressional leader of the War Hawks, Clay played a central role in bringing on the War of 1812, and as a diplomat charged with making peace, he made sure no western interest was sacrificed in the treaty. (Wikimedia Commons)

Robert McColley

defense of a relatively unpopulated and highly vulnerable Canada was, and should have been, the chief goal of his diplomacy. Subsequent claims, by politicians and historians, that the United States never seriously intended to conquer Canada are simply not true. What no one could foresee was that, after the War of 1812, the United States would never threaten Canada again. On August 24, 1814, the five Americans, though sad at the prospect of continued warfare, firmly refused all the British demands and began arranging for a trip home. They assumed the negotiations had failed. They would later learn that, thousands of miles away, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s fleet had moved with little resistance up Chesapeake Bay, and Major General Robert Ross was leading troops who swept defenders aside, entered the nation’s capital, and set fire to public buildings. They also torched the home of Albert Gallatin, from which a sniper had been firing. The fleet and the troops then moved on to attack Baltimore. Henry Goulburn also believed, and perhaps hoped, the negotiations were over, but was surprised to receive urgent and lengthy communications from Castlereagh and Bathurst urging the continuation of the talks, suggesting, at the very least, that most if not all points were negotiable. At this point, the British idea of a clearly defined Indian buffer state had so alarmed the Americans that they did not fully grasp that Liverpool was retreating from it. The Prime Minister now merely insisted that once peace was established the Indians should have all the land and privileges they enjoyed in 1811. On September 19, Gambier, Goulburn, and Adams communicated their government’s latest position to the Americans, who originally failed to notice the retreat on the Indian question, still seeing a demand for a separate, sovereign Indian state. And so their reply of September 26 was defiant, but they remained in Ghent. When the British presented their new position on the Indians in language to which the Americans could agree, they resolved the issue by an exchange of notes on October 8 and 13. Lord Bathurst’s instructions of October 18 brought new issues forward. Obediently, his representatives in Ghent now proposed that the peace treaty should be based on uti possidetis, which meant the United States and Canada should keep the territory each occupied at the time of the treaty’s signing. There were to be some exceptions, especially from the point of view of London and Canada, such as the United States returning outposts on the Canadian sides of Lake Erie. Britain was willing to restore eastern Maine, except for Moose Island, which included Eastport, a town represented in the Massachusetts legislature. Especially important to the British was that the boundary between the Lake of the Woods and the headwaters of the Mississippi should be drawn to give Canadians the access to the Father of Waters promised in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. Precisely such a boundary had been drawn in the Rufus King–Lord Hawkesbury Treaty of April 1803. That agreement adjusted the entire boundary between the United States and Canada, based on better maps than were available to the diplomats who negotiated the 1783 treaty. By the time the King-Hawkesbury Treaty reached the U.S. Senate that body had already approved the Louisiana Purchase. Not surprisingly, the Senate refused to accept the treaty’s article concerning the Mississippi River, though approving the other articles. Among those who vigorously opposed the Mississippi River article was J. Q. Adams, then a Senator from Massachusetts. When the amended Treaty returned to England, Parliament rejected it altogether. Subsequently Lord Hawkesbury became, in December 1808, the Second Earl of Liverpool, following the death of his father, the First Earl. We can be certain that Lord Liverpool as Prime Minister remembered the attempt of the United States to negate an important article of the 1783 Treaty, as well as the new version of it in the King-Hawkesbury Treaty.5 While arguing for access to the Mississippi the British commissioners disparaged the United States for acquiring Louisiana under shady circumstances and for their underhanded efforts to acquire Florida. J. Q. Adams, having been in Russia for several years, knew nothing of the aggressive measures Jefferson and Madison had encouraged against Spanish Florida, while Clay and Gallatin knew more than they liked to admit. But all five Americans agreed that the British had no business telling the United States what they should do on their southern and western borders. 226

The Treaty of Ghent

At Last a Treaty On November 10 the United States commissioners sent their British counterparts a note rejecting uti possidetis and recommending a treaty of peace on the basis of status ante bellum: British Canada and the United States would have exactly the territory each had before the war began. London’s reply reached Ghent on November 26. The British dropped uti possidetis, and agreed to negotiate on the basis of the United States draft. In early December the commissioners began negotiating in earnest and by December 19 had produced a treaty which Lord Liverpool and his cabinet approved. By Christmas Eve, 1814, the three British and five United States diplomats had signed three copies of the Peace Treaty. Both the British government in London and the United States government in Washington ratified the treaty promptly, and both nations rejoiced. The peace was far more popular than the war had ever been. Before considering the actual contents of the Treaty of Ghent, it is worth reviewing the reasons why the British had, over a period of three months, retreated issue by issue from demands which would permanently stifle the growth of the United States to a willingness to demand almost nothing but peace. Between late October and early December, events reported from North America, France, and the Congress of Vienna were, so far as British interests were concerned, ambiguous at best. ViceAdmiral Sir Alexander Cochrane had proved his fleet could command Chesapeake Bay and launch successful raids almost anywhere along the coasts of North America; his fleet and the well-equipped army it carried with it might also force the surrender of New Orleans and raid at will in West Florida. But it had been turned back at Baltimore, and Governor-General Prevost’s invasion of New York had resulted in losing his fleet of ships and gunboats and the retreat of his army to Canada. On the other hand, Prevost had saved most of his soldiers, and Canadians, whether speaking English or French, had proved capable fighters against invaders. By the end of 1814 Canada had proved it could defend itself, and the United States was pretending that it never really wanted to conquer Canada anyway. For purposes of defense, on the other hand, the citizens of the United States, in these final months of 1814, were considerably more united than they had been in June 1812 when Madison asked, and Congress voted for a declaration of war. In 1814 the British Navy extended its blockade to New England, and British troops occupied eastern Maine. Many who had opposed the declaration of war now supported the defense of their nation. Many ships and sailors, prevented by the British blockade from peaceful trade, took to privateering, a risky but often profitable business that did great harm to English trade. In Europe, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, famously supported peace while staying alert for trouble with France and practicing diplomacy in Vienna. When Lord Liverpool asked him if he were willing to go to Canada and take charge of the war there, he dutifully replied that he would obey such a command. But the Duke further stated he could not go to North America for several months, because the peace in Europe was so precarious. Once in Canada he would need to establish military control of the Great Lakes—a matter of building a fleet of warships and a string of fortifications, all of which would cost time and money. His actual recommendation to the Cabinet was to establish peace on the basis of the status ante bellum, which proved to be excellent advice for Britain and the United States alike. Napoleon left his retirement home on the Island of Elba in February 1815 to enjoy a further hundred days as Emperor of France. On June 18, 1815, he suffered his final defeat at Waterloo, Belgium, to a coalition army commanded by his nemesis, the Duke of Wellington. Britain and Europe did indeed need the Duke more in Europe than in North America. Public opinion in England was quite different in late 1814 than it had been just a few months earlier. Opponents of Lord Liverpool’s Tories complained against high taxes and often suggested the war was not worth pursuing further. Great Britain had been depending on loans as well as taxes to sustain its armed forces and those of its allies. With Napoleon defeated, rage subsided against the United States for, in effect, helping him. And while Governor-General Prevost was in disgrace for losing the Battle of Plattsburgh, his defeat was far less disastrous than General John Burgoyne’s of 1777.The


Robert McColley

Figure 16.3 The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, by Amédée Forestier, 1914. From left to right: For Great Britain, Anthony St. John Baker, secretary, who carried a copy of the treaty across the Atlantic and exchanged ratifications with Secretary of State James Monroe; William Adams, looking away; Henry Goulburn; and Admiral Lord Gambier. For the United States, John Quincy Adams, shaking hands with Lord Gambier; Albert Gallatin; Christopher Hughes, secretary; James A. Bayard; unidentified; Henry Clay; and Jonathan Russell. (Wikimedia Commons)

British still had an army, which, along with tried and true Canadians, would very likely discourage the bankrupt United States from launching further invasions. So when the British learned of the Treaty of Ghent, just a few days after it was signed and sealed, they were just as happy as the Americans were when in February 1815 the news reached the United States, just after they heard of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Madison promptly submitted the Treaty to the Senate, which ratified it immediately and unanimously. Here follows the actual contents of the Treaty of Ghent, originally signed on Christmas Eve, 1814. The first article of the Treaty is the most important; its attention to details of honest peacemaking are worth reading in toto: There shall be a firm and universal Peace between His Britannic Majesty and the United States, and between their respective Countries, Territories, Cities, Towns, and People of every degree without exception of places or persons. All hostilities both by sea and land shall cease as soon as this Treaty shall have been ratified by both parties as hereinafter mentioned. All territory, places, and possessions whatsoever taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of this Treaty, excepting only the Islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored without delay and without causing any destruction or carrying away any of the Artillery or other public property originally captured in the 228

The Treaty of Ghent

said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the Exchange of the Ratifications of this Treaty, or any Slaves or other private property; And all Archives, Records, Deeds, and Papers, either of a public nature or belonging to private persons, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of the Officers of either party, shall be, as far as may be practicable, forthwith restored and delivered to the proper authorities and persons to whom they respectively belong. Such of the Islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy as are claimed by both parties shall remain in the possession of the party in whose occupation they may be at the time of the Exchange of the Ratifications of this Treaty until the decision respecting the title to the said Islands shall have been made in conformity with the fourth Article of this Treaty. No disposition made by this Treaty as to such possession of the Islands and territories claimed by both parties shall in any manner whatever be construed to affect the right of either.6 The Second Article addressed the problem of news traveling slowly around the world by hopefully setting dates by which the terms of the treaty should be acknowledged and, if appropriate, acted upon. The Third Article urged the freeing of prisoners as soon as possible. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Articles described as carefully as possible the boundaries upon which the diplomats could not agree, and the process by which they should be arbitrated. One representative for the United States, one for Great Britain, and, in cases where they could not agree, an impartial judge from a third nation should resolve the question. Details are added about how these commissioners should proceed and report their decisions. Article Nine confirmed the intention of the treaty-makers that all Indian tribes, upon making peace with either or both nations, should have restored to them the boundaries they enjoyed in the year 1811. Article Ten is the briefest: “Whereas the Traffic in Slaves is irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and Justice, and whereas both His Majesty and the United States are desirous of continuing their efforts to promote its entire abolition, it is hereby agreed that both the contracting parties shall use their best endeavours to accomplish so desirable an object.” Finally, Article Eleven specified that the Treaty should be “binding on both parties” when ratified by each without alteration, and the ratifications exchanged within four months. Historians have often speculated whether the British might have found an excuse to hold Louisiana or some part of it, had they won the Battle of New Orleans. According to the terms of the treaty both sides had ratified, they could not. Because of the outcome, the question is moot. But in a world at war, even winners are losers: General Edward Pakenham, the British general leading the charge at New Orleans died in battle; he had fought in Spain and Copenhagen with the Duke of Wellington and was in addition the Duke’s brother-in-law and good friend. In the years that followed, redrawing boundaries proved reasonably successful. In 1817 the negotiators had Canada confirmed in Passamaquoddy Bay, and gave Moose Island back to Massachusetts— since 1820, Maine.7 The promised cooperation to suppress the international slave trade was less successful because the British had the larger navy and the United States was still opposed to having its ships searched by anyone. Article Nine, concerning the restoration of Indian lands, demonstrated at best good intentions. It was certainly not fulfilled. The United States ignored the article, claiming that it had been superseded by its treaties with the Indians, and the British never insisted on compliance. Many easterners understood the injustice of this, but there was no stopping land-hungry westerners. In fact, when the administration simply asked Jackson to work to conciliate the Indians, according to Daniel Walker Howe, the Hero of New Orleans “raged and refused to obey.”8

Subsequent Diplomacy Most accounts of the Treaty of Ghent state that it accomplished nothing besides bringing an end to the War of 1812, otherwise restoring the status ante bellum. Actually it did a bit more than that, but 229

Robert McColley

more importantly, three of the commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Ghent were in London in the spring of 1815 to negotiate a commercial treaty. For the United States it was Gallatin, J. Q. Adams, and Clay. Sadly, Bayard had taken ill and barely managed to return to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, before dying, aged 48 years. For the British, Goulburn and William Adams were back. Lord Gambier was replaced by a younger man, Frederick John Robinson, who, like Goulburn, would be in high offices off and on for several decades. The six of them worked out another treaty, modestly called the Commercial Convention of 1815. Signed on July 3, it restored peaceful trade between the United States and Great Britain and, interestingly, allowed the United States to trade directly with some English ports in Asia. In April 1817, Richard Rush, acting Secretary of State, negotiated with Sir Charles Bagot, the new British Minister in Washington, an agreement which removed the warships of both the United States and the British Empire from the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. The U.S. Senate ratified this treaty a year later. Meanwhile John Quincy Adams, after serving as Minister to the Court of St. James as his father had done after the Revolutionary War, returned to the United States to serve as Secretary of State through both administrations of James Monroe. With Adams as Secretary of State and Castlereagh still Secretary for Foreign Affairs, diplomats familiar with the previous negotiations of 1814 and 1815 negotiated the comprehensive Treaty of 1818. They were Albert Gallatin, now our Minister to France; Richard Rush, now Minister to the British; Henry Goulburn; and John Frederick Robinson, now President of the Board of Trade. They made permanent the Commercial Convention of 1815, which was due to expire in 1819. They agreed on a boundary that would extend from the Lake of the Woods to the 49th degree parallel and then extend to the Rocky Mountains. They agreed on an unusual solution to conflicting claims for the Oregon Country: the United States and Great Britain would share it for ten years, and then renegotiate. They formalized an agreement annually renewed since 1815 that permitted New Englanders to fish in British waters and dry their catch on unsettled shores of Labrador and Newfoundland, forever. Finally, they agreed to allow a foreign power to arbitrate the question of slaves who, under the terms of the treaty of Ghent, should have been returned to their masters if residing on occupied territory returned to the United States. Where slaves could not be returned for whatever reason, there should be compensation with cash. Though it took years, this was actually accomplished. Subsequently the British declined to support the severely troubled Spanish government in its efforts to reclaim Louisiana and keep the United States out of Florida. Under these circumstances the Spanish finally surrendered Florida and acknowledged the United States’ title to the Louisiana Territory. The result was the Adams-Onís Treaty (1819–21). In the next few years the United States and Britain would recognize the independence of South American nations that had been Spanish colonies. Both governments had never officially sent aid to the rebellious colonists of Latin America, but many of their citizens—for love of liberty, adventure, or profit—had offered aid and even joined revolutionary wars. Though never bound by a formal alliance, the United States and Great Britain became remarkably friendly so far as commerce, migration, and expansion were concerned. Doing business proved vastly preferable to waging war. After the Treaty of Ghent, Lord Gambier corresponded with Henry Clay, who introduced him to the American Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase. Through Gambier’s connections with the British and Foreign Bible Society and Missionary Society, Chase received financial support for the founding of Kenyon College in Ohio; the village that sprung up around it was appropriately named Gambier.

A Patriotic Legacy Historians who write about the Treaty of Ghent follow Henry Adams more or less faithfully in matters of fact and interpretation. Because Adams was thorough, using government and personal documents as well as newspapers, his final volume of The History of the United States during the Second Administration of James Madison (1890) remains the place to start and, if one is content with the facts, 230

The Treaty of Ghent

one need go no farther. Henry Adams also covered the subject in his Life of Albert Gallatin (1879) which contains many letters, by no means always relevant to the Treaty of Ghent, but interesting for broader perspectives on the world of upper-class politics and business in which our diplomats moved. Equally patriotic, but less eccentric is the treatment of the Treaty of Ghent and its sequels in Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. This, Bradford Perkins’s Castlereagh and Adams, and George Dangerfield’s Era of Good Feelings (1952) chronicle the subsequent conventions and treaties, which completed the Treaty of Ghent by resolving almost all the issues it ignored or postponed. Fred L. Engelman’s The Peace of Christmas Eve, stands somewhat apart from these other studies. Obviously based on thorough research, and equipped with the complete text of the Treaty of Ghent, a note on sources, bibliographical guides to each chapter, and full bibliography and index, it nevertheless omits footnotes. Engelman’s goal was to make history come alive the way a good novel does, and he succeeds admirably, with attention to the supporting cast, the environment, and personal idiosyncrasies. It is interesting, though hardly relevant to the Treaty, that Dolly Madison’s ill-fated son, John Payne Todd, then 22 years old, was present as assistant to Gallatin. The two volume biography Henry Clay by Carl Schurz gives a full account of the young War Hawk leading the United States into the war, and a somewhat wiser, though hardly much older diplomat negotiating us out of it. Henry Goulburn, 1784–1856: A Political Biography by Brian Jenkins gives a full and fair view of the point man for the British government at Ghent. Though nominally taking up United States history after the Treaty of Ghent, Daniel Walker Howe, in What God Hath Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815–1848, takes a more modern view of the War of 1812 and its consequences than our books dating from 50 to 137 years ago. That is also true of a book which gives a broader context to American foreign policy in the early national period, and especially during the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon: The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848 by Paul W. Schroeder. Bradford Perkins picks up Henry Adams’s theme of incompetence with respect to the three British diplomats, and especially berates Goulburn, the youngest and hardest working of them. Yet if one reads carefully the generous excerpts Henry Adams, Bemis, Dangerfield, Perkins, and Engelman supply from the instructions written by Liverpool, Castlereagh, and Bathurst, these leaders were the ones who kept changing positions, and they did so in response to the often surprising changes in the diplomatic situation in Europe and the military situation in North America. On the other side of the table, the Americans also kept changing their positions, as did their superiors in Washington, D.C. All authors mentioned here underrate Dr. Adams and Lord Gambier, and some, especially Dangerfield, follow Henry Adams in blaming Gambier for the brutal bombardment of Copenhagen on September 2–5, 1807. None of them mention the circumstances: in 1807 George Canning, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, learned of the Treaty of Tilsit which allied Alexander I’s Russia with Napoleon’s France, to which alliance Talleyrand hoped to add Denmark, with one of Europe’s largest fleets of warships. Canning acted swiftly, appointing Lord Cathcart to lead a combination of soldiers and artillery under General Arthur Wellesley (not yet Duke of Wellington) to invade Denmark just south of Copenhagen, and a fleet of 50 ships under Lord Gambier to surround the harbor and Denmark’s fleet. A diplomat, Francis Jackson, then presented Denmark an ultimatum. Britain would pay £1,000 and borrow the entire Danish fleet, take good care of it, and return it after the war. But if Denmark refused, England would destroy the fleet and bombard Copenhagen from land and sea. With Napoleon’s army pressing on their southern border, the Danes chose to fight the British rather than yield to them, until surrendering on September 5. Previously Napoleon had joined the fleets of France and Spain to drive the British from the high seas, only to be defeated at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. George Canning had good reason to believe Napoleon planned to add the naval strength of Russia and Denmark (which then included Norway) to his own, and totally isolate Great Britain.9 Tactically, it made sense to make sure Napoleon did not acquire the Danish fleet. To a degree the Danes had their revenge, building small but well-armed boats to pester British 231

Robert McColley

ships in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea until their ally, Napoleon, faltered, and they finally made peace with Britain in January1814. This essay has omitted the interesting story of how the five American ministers had to travel for many months because James Madison accepted an invitation from Alexander I to negotiate a treaty under his auspices in St. Petersburg. J. Q. Adams was already there, but Gallatin and Bayard had a long, mostly unpleasant trip to reach Russia and once there spent months accomplishing nothing. Madison should have waited to see if the British were willing to negotiate in Russia: in fact, Britain repeatedly refused to do so, but encouraged the Americans to meet their representatives closer to home. How the Americans spent their time before reaching Ghent and beginning negotiations seems to have no bearing on the treaty negotiation, but, as suggested above, the story makes good reading. Engelman tells it best, and the others treat it well.10

The Treaty of Ghent in a Changing Scene Should some ambitious historian wish to write a new book on the Treaty of Ghent, it should review the causes of the War of 1812, as other chapters of this volume do; the relationship of this relatively minor war to the great war going on in Europe and around the world; and the internal political economy of the nations and peoples engaged, as they affected and were affected by the Napoleonic Wars. From Dangerfield our hypothetical historian should take the insight that a mercantilist foreign policy was dying in England as a more liberal free trade policy was coming to life, but also note that the short-term reaction of the United States was to revert to a form of mercantilism by raising tariffs on imported goods. Liberalism in the best sense was also rising in the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent the United States, in movements concerning slavery: first to enforce the abolition of the international slave trade, then promote the humane but also practical necessity of encouraging orderly and healthy family life among the slaves of the British Empire—there should be no more replacements from Africa—and finally the abolition of slavery entirely. The liberal Tories had mostly supported the Act of Union with Ireland of 1800, but especially after 1814, the Catholic Irish were quite reasonably seeking equal civil rights and convincing increasing numbers of Protestant Englishmen that they deserved them. Meanwhile, amid increasing protests from workers, the British textile industry grew at a staggeringly fast rate. In the United States slavery, far from declining, was growing as fast as smuggling and natural increase could grow it, while planters old and new carried cotton cultivation to lands that had been hunting grounds for Indians a few years earlier. There were no foreign wars to distract the United States and Great Britain, but plenty of domestic upheavals. Finally, following Bemis, Dangerfield, and Perkins, our hypothetical historian should credit the American statesmen—especially Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Gallatin—and the British Liverpool, Bathurst, and Castlereagh for finally restraining the causes of conflict and advancing by negotiation commerce, industry, mutual acceptance, and peace.

Notes 1. Brian Jenkins, Henry Goulburn, 1784–1856: A Political Biography (Montreal, 1996), passim. 2. Henry Adams, The Life of Albert Gallatin (Philadelphia, 1879), 519. 3. See Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York, 1949), 498–509, for the sad story of Jonathan Russell’s attempt to turn western voters against Adams prior to the election of 1824. In 1822 Russell provided the House of Representatives with partially falsified documents to present J. Q. Adams at Ghent as willing to trade navigation of the Mississippi for restoration of the northern fisheries, primarily enjoyed by New England. Among other things Russell omitted were the facts that he had voted for that position himself—the diplomats had been unanimous—while also insisting that the boundary line not be adjusted to give Canada direct access to the Mississippi. Finally, Britain and the United States agreed on uti possidetis, Canada never gained access to the Mississippi, and New England regained peaceful


The Treaty of Ghent

4. 5.

6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

access to the fisheries. Russell had just begun a promising career in the House; his ill-conceived attack on the Secretary of State created enemies and lost friends. He retired to private life and died in 1832. Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823 (Berkeley, CA,1964), 77; John Bach McMaster, A History of the People of the United States, 8 vols. (New York, 1883–1913), 4:264. Most of the accounts of the Treaty of Ghent mentioned in this essay do not mention the aborted KingHawkesbury Treaty. The report mentioned here is based on Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy, 125–26. Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, 8 vols. (Washington, DC, 1931–48),1:574–81. Fred L. Engelman, The Peace of Christmas Eve (New York, 1962), 299. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York, 2007), 75. Thomas Munch-Petersen, Defying Napoleon: How Britain Bombarded Copenhagen and Seized the Danish Fleet in 1807 (Gloucestershire, UK, 2007), passim. Bayard’s Diary is especially useful for his pre-Ghent adventures. It can be found in vol. 2 of Elizabeth Donnan, ed., The Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1815, 2 vols. (Washington, 1915).

Annotated Bibliography Adams, Henry. The Life of Albert Gallatin. Philadelphia, 1879. Contains many letters to and from Gallatin during his diplomatic mission of 1813–15 that are not included in Adams’s History. ———. History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison. 9 vols. New York, 1889–91. Adams put out a slightly revised edition in 1901–04. This is most readily available in the authoritative modern edition edited by Earl N. Harbert, 2 vols., New York, 1986. Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York, 1952. Especially interesting for its interpretation of British policy, drifting from mercantilism toward free trade. Donnan, Elizabeth, ed. The Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1815. 2 vols. Washington, 1915. Contains the extensive diary Bayard kept en route to and in Ghent. Engelman, Fred. The Peace of New Year’s Eve. New York, 1962. Engelman, a young scholar, chose to write a book that would be based on thorough research and yet read like a good novel. He succeeded; it was history’s loss that he then pursued a different career. Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. New York, 2007. Many valuable insights into the meaning of the War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent, and their consequences. Jenkins, Brian. Henry Goulburn, 1784–1856: A Political Biography. Montreal, 1996. A fine account of an important British political figure for half a century. McMaster, John Bach. A History of the People of the United States, 8 vols. New York, 1883–1913. Vol. 4 is pertinent here; uniquely valuable, however old, in coordinating social, political, economic, and diplomatic history. Munch-Petersen, Thomas. Defying Napoleon: How Britain Bombarded Copenhagen and Seized the Danish Fleet in 1807. Gloucestershire, UK, 2007. Clarifies Admiral Gambier’s role in the Second Battle of Copenhagen. Perkins, Bradford. Castlereigh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823. Berkeley, CA, 1964. Superb account of postwar Anglo-American relations. Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. New York, 1994. Provides essential background on the continually shifting of European alliances until the final defeat of Napoleon. Schurz, Carl. Henry Clay. 2 vols. Boston, 1887. Treats Clay’s role in the Treaty of Ghent in great and interesting detail. On the Internet one can easily find copies of the books by Henry Adams, John Bach McMaster, and Carl Schurz, as well as the volumes of Bayard’s Papers and Hunter Miller’s Treaties.


17 A LASTING LEGACY How a Little War Shaped the Transatlantic World Donald R. Hickey

Have you ever wondered how the Anglo-American alliance originated or why the British welcomed the Pax Americana in the twentieth century? Do you know why Canada never joined the American Union or why American expansion after 1815 aimed south and west rather than north? Have you ever wondered how the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh earned his reputation or who Laura Secord was? Have you ever saluted the U.S. flag or sung “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Do you know who Uncle Sam is or how Andrew Jackson became President? Have you ever wondered why the USS Constitution is so famous and how it earned the nickname “Old Ironsides,” or why cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and other military colleges wear gray uniforms? Have you ever heard the phrase “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” or “Don’t Give up the Ship”? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then you are acknowledging, however inadvertently or obliquely, our debt to the War of 1812. Wars can best be measured by their consequences, and the legacy of this war was both multifaceted and lasting. The conflict shaped not only the United States and Canada but also British North American policy for nearly a century thereafter.

The Forgotten Conflict Why is a war with such a profound impact all but forgotten today? One reason is that it looked more to the past than to the future. Americans saw the war as a vehicle for vindicating U.S. sovereignty, as a way of completing the American Revolution. In fact, the contest is still called “America’s second war of independence.” The war also resembled the colonial wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in that it originated over issues in Europe but was fought in North America. It is the only U.S. war to fit this pattern. Great Britain and France had been at war off and on since 1689 in what is sometimes called the Second Hundred Years War. At issue was who would dominate Europe and the wider world. The French Revolution touched off a general European war in 1792, and when Britain joined France’s enemies the following year, the two nations found themselves in the final phase of their century-long struggle for power. The French Revolutionary Wars (1793–1802) ended with a temporary suspension of hostilities as a result of the Peace of Amiens, but shortly thereafter the two nations resumed their struggle in the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). The War of 1812 was a direct outgrowth of this contest. In 1805, the British enhanced their already dominant control of the high seas by winning a decisive naval battle against a combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar. But six weeks later, 234

A Lasting Legacy

Napoleon won an equally decisive battle at Austerlitz over Britain’s allies on the Continent. These two battles left the leading antagonists supreme in their respective elements but unable to effectively engage one another. France sought to break the deadlock by targeting the British economy with the Continental Decrees, which barred from Europe all British ships and goods and even neutral ships and goods that had passed through Britain. The British retaliated with the Orders-in-Council, which banned all trade with the Continent that had not passed through Britain. The British later modified the Orders-in-Council to establish a more conventional naval blockade, but the effect was the same. American merchants seeking to trade with Europe got caught in the middle and suffered extensive losses. Between 1807 and 1812, Britain and France and their allies seized some 900 American ships and their cargoes. The French and British restrictions, and the property losses they entailed, threatened U.S. prosperity and cast an ominous shadow over U.S. relations with both nations. In addition, other British practices on the high seas put a further strain on Anglo-American accord. Most exasperating was the British practice of impressment, which was the removal of seamen from American merchant ships to fill out the crews of the undermanned Royal Navy. The British professed to target only their own subjects, but American tars often got caught in the dragnet. Between 1803 and 1812 an estimated 6,000–9,000 Americans were forced into British service. The United States could usually secure the release of those seamen whose American citizenship could be proven, but the process took years. In the meantime, American victims of impressment were subjected to the harsh discipline of the Royal Navy and to all the horrors of a war that was not their own. After a futile attempt to force the European belligerents to show greater respect for American rights with trade restrictions, the United States in June 1812 declared war on Great Britain, mainly to force her to give up the Orders-in-Council and impressment. War was undertaken, in other words, to vindicate America’s neutral rights. In the language of the day, it was a war to secure “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights.” These issues do not resonate with people much today. Nations no longer go to war over neutral rights, and doubtless this has contributed to the obscurity of the war. Because the United States in 1812 could not challenge the British at sea, it targeted Canada instead. Britain’s North American provinces boasted only 500,000 people (compared to 7.7 million for the United States), and the loyalty of the old French population as well as the recent American immigrants who had moved north after 1792 to take advantage of cheap land and low taxes was open to question. Many Americans expected to be welcomed as liberators. They anticipated what Republican antiwar critic John Randolph of Virginia called “a holiday campaign.”1 “The idea has been very prevalent,” conceded a Republican newspaper as the campaign of 1812 was winding down, “that Canada might be easily conquered. . . . It was supposed that the show of an army, and a few well directed proclamations would unnerve the arm of resistance, and make conquest and conciliation synonymous.”2 Targeting Canada added to the confusion over what had caused the war. Today most Canadians, and some Americans, are convinced that the maritime issues were a blind, a pretext to seize and annex Canada. It is easy to see the appeal of this idea. Not many people today can explain the finer points of neutral rights under international law in the Age of Sail, but everyone can understand a land grab. In addition, a war undertaken to seize Canada fits nicely into the larger framework of American expansion. But this interpretation confuses means with ends. As Henry Clay, the leading congressional War Hawk, put it in late 1813, “When the War was commenced Canada was not the end but the means; the object of the War being the redress of injuries, and Canada being the instrument by which that redress was to be obtained.”3 Further adding to the obscurity of the War of 1812 was its outcome. It is sometimes said that everyone is happy with the result. Americans are happy because they think they won; Canadians are happier because they know they won; and the British are happiest of all because they have forgotten all about the conflict. Although this assessment ignores the native population, who were the biggest losers, it is a fair summary of the public memory of the war in the three nations. 235

Donald R. Hickey

Americans might point to a host of impressive victories: on Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, and the high seas; at the Thames and Baltimore; and, most of all, at New Orleans. News of Jackson’s spectacular victory in defense of the Crescent City reached Washington several days before the peace treaty that had been negotiated at Ghent, and this timing played an important role in forging the myth of American victory. Americans soon convinced themselves that Jackson’s victory had produced the treaty that ended the war. In truth, however, the nation had failed to conquer Canada, and the maritime issues that had caused the war were not even mentioned in the peace treaty. At best the nation emerged from the war with a draw, and this inconvenient fact probably clouded the public’s memory of the conflict. There are other factors that have clouded that memory. One is the unusual name of the war. It is the only U.S. war that is known by a date, and Americans were slow to embrace that name. Until the Mexican War in the late 1840s raised the potential for confusion, the War of 1812 was referred to as “the late war” or “the recent war” or “the recent war with (Great) Britain.” It was only in the 1850s, when many aging veterans published their memoirs, that the phrase “War of 1812” finally came into common and general usage.4 More importantly, the Civil War erupted shortly thereafter, and because it dwarfed the wars with Britain and Mexico, those earlier conflicts slipped deep into the recesses of America’s public memory. As much as anything else, the Civil War was responsible for transforming the War of 1812 into a forgotten conflict.

The Legacy in Canada Once the War of 1812 ended, Canadians were eager to put the contest behind them. They readily resumed their commercial and social relations with their neighbors across the border, and they even took part in a grand peace ball on the Detroit River frontier. But forgetting the war proved impossible. The war had exposed the tepid loyalty or outright disloyalty of many pre-war American immigrants, and the British responded after the contest by making it almost impossible for Americans to acquire land in Canada. The end of American immigration, coupled with a sharp drop in British military spending, sent Canada into a prolonged depression. Compounding this problem were repeated delays in attempts to settle claims against the British government for wartime damages. This contentious issue left a bitter legacy.5 Moreover, the threat from the United States never really abated. American public officials continued to talk publicly about the desirability or the inevitability of Canada joining the Union. Cross border raids carried out in the 1830s and 1860s further fueled distrust. The immediate effect of the war was to strengthen the bonds between Canada and the British Crown, but however much they might count on British support, Canadians still had little choice but to keep a wary eye on the United States. After the Confederation was established in 1867, Canadians became increasingly aware of how crucial the War of 1812 had been in shaping their history. Already they had built a monument to Major General Isaac Brock, the commander who had captured an American army at Detroit before being killed at Queenston Heights less than two months later. Brock was soon joined by other heroes: the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who spearheaded native resistance in the West, and Laura Secord, whose timely warning of an impending U.S. raid helped set up the Anglo-Indian victory at Beaver Dams. By the 1890s, Canadian Ernest A. Cruikshank was producing documents and studies illuminating the war, and with his work Canadians embraced the conflict’s legacy and the American name for the war. But Canadians, like Americans, proved selective in how they remembered the war. They credited local militia units with an inflated role, and those inhabitants who had sat out the war—most of whom were recent American immigrants or of French descent—were forgotten. So, too, were those who engaged in outright treason, most notably a group of defectors under the leadership of Joseph Willcocks, who had headed a unit known as the Canadian Volunteers that served with American forces on the Niagara frontier.6 236

Figure 17.1 Major General Isaac Brock (1769–1812), who engineered the capture of a U.S. army at Detroit in August 1812 but was killed less than two months later at Queenston Heights, emerged as the leading Canadian hero of the war. A monument erected to his memory at Queenston still commands the countryside. (Portrait by unknown artist, 1913. Toronto Public Library)

Donald R. Hickey

Still, the war always meant more to Canadians than to Americans, perhaps because so much was at stake. If the United States had conquered most or all of British Canada, that territory might never have been given up, and a separate nation as we know it today might never have emerged. Given this danger, it is easy to why Canadians might see this struggle as their war of independence. Indeed, in a public opinion poll conducted in 2000, Canadians ranked the war as the third most important event in their history after the establishment of the Confederation in the 1860s and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s.7 Although young people in Canada today do not know as much about the war as previous generations, the Conservative government of Steven Harper has pumped millions of dollars into an advertising and education campaign during the Bicentennial commemoration designed to increase public awareness of the war. The Harper government also reversed a longstanding policy that refused to officially honor any military units that fought in a war prior to the establishment of the Confederation. As a result of the new policy, the government in Ottawa awarded War of 1812 Battle Honours to the Canadian units that perpetuate units raised in British North America during the conflict. Given the range of activities, the Canadian public is unlikely to forget about this war and how it affected their homeland anytime soon.

The Legacy in Great Britain To the British, the War of 1812 was never more than a sideshow of the more important Napoleonic Wars. It received far less press at the time, and it was quickly forgotten by the public once it was over. And little wonder. Although the British held on to Canada and their maritime rights and gave the fledgling young republic a rude awakening by occupying Washington and burning the public buildings there, any hope of winning major concessions in the peace negotiations faded with the successful U.S. defense of Baltimore and Plattsburgh and the growing public weariness with the war and the taxes that it necessitated. The Battle of New Orleans had no impact on the peace negotiations, but the defeat was so lopsided that few British subjects had any desire to remember it. The British public preferred to remember the glories of Trafalgar and Waterloo rather than anything that had occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. Although the University of London sponsored a major international conference on the war in 2012, and Rostrevor in Northern Ireland has done yeoman service to keep alive the memory of the war and its local hero, Major General Robert Ross, the Bicentennial has otherwise generated little interest in Great Britain, and the very phrase “War of 1812” is still likely to conjure up images of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.8 One consequence of the war, however, was to exacerbate army-navy relations in Great Britain. Although in reality the two services cooperated pretty well during the conflict, especially in a host of operations in the Chesapeake, there was a tendency to blame any defeat in joint operations on the other service. Thus after its defeat on Lake Champlain, the Royal Navy put the blame on the army’s ranking officer, Governor-General Sir George Prevost, claiming that he had hurried the British squadron into battle before it was ready. Similarly, the army blamed its defeat at New Orleans on the navy, claiming that it was driven by an obsession with prize money and that it had failed to provide adequate logistical support. The legacy of the war for the British government was more complex. The British public might be eager to forget the war, but British leaders did not have that luxury because of the continuing threat posed by the growing and expansive republic to the south of Canada. British officials had concluded at the end of the war that relying on natives to help defend Canada was not a long-term solution that was likely to work. Hence, the British abandoned their aboriginal allies. The only obvious alternative for safeguarding Canada was to beef up its defenses. The construction of the Rideau, Ottawa River, and Welland canals made the British less dependent on the St. Lawrence 238

A Lasting Legacy

River and thus promised more secure supply lines, but finding the resources to actually defend Canada was another matter. Despite considerable money spent, study after study showed that much more was needed, and yet Canadians made it clear that they considered this an imperial responsibility to which they were unwilling to contribute. It did not take British officials long to conclude that their best option was to seek an accommodation with the United States. An assertive and aggressive America that looked west or south for new territory need not threaten Canada, nor was it likely to pose a danger to Britain’s two principal foreign policy objectives in the nineteenth century: maintaining a balance of power on the Continent and keeping the sea lanes open to British trade. In the years after 1815, the British sometimes sacrificed interests elsewhere in the Empire to keep the United States happy. A commercial treaty in 1815 was followed by the Rush-Bagot Agreement in 1817 that demilitarized the border. A series of boundary agreements followed between 1818 and 1846 that fixed the border between the United States and British Canada in several places where it was in dispute. The road to accord was a bumpy one, and there were even some war scares, but each side realized that it had more to gain by remaining at peace. The Treaty of Washington in 1871 was a landmark in the process. It resolved most of the remaining outstanding issues. By the 1890s, issues that had once caused so much tension between the two English-speaking nations had either been resolved or had faded away. As a result, a genuine accord emerged. By the early twentieth century, it was clear to many people that Britain and the United States shared not simply a common language and a similar culture but also a host of fundamental values that included a strong attachment to liberty and an equally strong belief in the rule of law and free markets. A virtual alliance emerged among the two co-belligerents in World War I, and that turned into an actual alliance in World War II. That alliance endures today, and the accord that undergirds it explains why the Pax Britannica of the nineteenth century gave way so seamlessly to the Pax Americana in the twentieth.

The Legacy in the United States In contrast to Canada and Great Britain, Americans, riding the crest of the wave of victory that the successful defense of Plattsburgh, Baltimore, and New Orleans seemed to have brought, showed no desire to put the war behind them. For more than a generation after 1815 the conflict played a central role in the public memory, shaping the military, political, and cultural landscape and opening the door to a territorial expansion that extinguished indigenous land claims and pushed American settlement ever further west. For the generation that controlled the nation’s destiny until the Civil War, the War of 1812 was a defining moment that shaped the growth and development of the young republic.

The Military Establishment One of the lessons learned by the United States was the importance of preparing for war in time of peace. Like the Federalists before them, Republicans during and after the war embraced the ancient Roman doctrine: ad bellum pace parati—to ensure peace prepare for war. The postwar army was set at 10,000 men (plus another 2,000 in the corps of engineers), which was four times the size of the peacetime army adopted by Republicans at the beginning of their ascendancy in 1802. Republicans also enacted a naval expansion program during the war, a program that was continued afterward. Although the nation was forced to pare down its military establishment when the Panic of 1819 and ensuing recession cut into tax revenue, it nonetheless carried a much larger army and navy after the War of 1812 than before. There was a certain irony in this because the world after 1815 was far less dangerous than the world before. Both services also emerged from the war with a cadre of leaders who had proven themselves in battle. The postwar army was dominated by Andrew Jackson, Jacob Brown, Winfield Scott, and a 239

Figure 17.2 Few people on either side of the Atlantic thought the War of 1812 would be the last conflict between the two English-speaking nations. British-born artist John Rubens Smith, who came to America in 1807, evidently disagreed. This painting, which shows the two nations linking hands at the end of the war, proved prophetic. (Ink and water color by John Rubens Smith. Library of Congress)

A Lasting Legacy

host of lesser lights who had starred in the war, including Alexander Macomb, Edmund P. Gaines, and Zachary Taylor. By the same token, the postwar navy was dominated by men who had proven themselves in the war on the high seas or northern lakes: Stephen Decatur, Oliver H. Perry, Thomas Macdonough, William Bainbridge, and Charles Stewart. Both services also emerged from the war with a greater sense of professionalism, and with that sense came a greater commitment to nonpartisanship and deference to civilian authority. The steady influx of fresh army officers from the U.S. Military Academy combined with the creation of the Board of Naval Commissioners at the end of the war ensured that this commitment to professionalism would continue. As a result, both services found themselves better prepared to carry out their duties and help the nation achieve its objectives in future wars. In a very real sense, the American military establishment emerged after 1815 as a direct result of the War of 1812.

The Political Aftermath The unmistakable political winners in the war were the Republicans. They claimed that the war had been a success, and they took credit for that success. As a result, Republican popularity after the war soared. The war helped make four Presidents: James Monroe, who had served as Secretary of State and Secretary of War; John Quincy Adams, who had been part of the peace delegation; Andrew Jackson, who had defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in 1814 and the British at New Orleans in 1815; and William Henry Harrison, who had defeated the natives at Tippecanoe in 1811 and an Anglo-Indian force at the Thames in 1813. Three other future Presidents had burnished their reputations during the war: Zachary Taylor, who oversaw the successful defense of Fort Harrison in the Indiana Territory in 1812; John Tyler, who organized a volunteer unit to defend Richmond, Virginia; and Martin Van Buren, who served in the New York senate during the war. The war also helped make three Vice Presidents: Daniel D. Tompkins, the wartime governor of New York; John C. Calhoun, one of the leading War Hawks in Congress; and Richard M. Johnson, a congressional War Hawk in 1812 who was credited with killing Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thames the following year. Those who served in the army or navy during the war or had been called out for militia duty had an advantage in the pursuit of any elected office, and those who could boast of seeing combat had even more of an edge. The Battle of the Thames, which became a kind of Bunker Hill in western myth and legend, was particularly fruitful in this respect. It produced a President (Harrison), a Vice President (Johnson), three governors, three lieutenant-governors, four U.S. senators, 20 congressmen, and a host of successful candidates for lesser officers. The Federalists, on the other hand, were the big political losers. Although their steady gains in congressional and state elections during the war suggested that their opposition to the conflict had considerable appeal, once the war ended that support collapsed. Those who had opposed the war were now dismissed as Tories or traitors who had abandoned the nation in time of need, and all the wartime failures were blamed on them. The party was headed for the dustbin of history anyway because it was out of touch with the rising spirit of nationalism, democracy, and territorial expansionism in the nation, but the taint of opposing America’s second war of independence hastened the party’s demise. The Federalists put up their last presidential candidate in 1816, and although the party lingered on in several New England states for another decade or two, it was but a shadow of its former self.

Territorial Expansion The principal target of the United States during the war was Canada. Although Quebec was virtually impregnable, with stout defenses and the prospect of support from the Royal Navy in the warmer months, sparsely populated and poorly defended Upper Canada seemed to be within reach. Whether the United States could have or would have held on to this territory if it were conquered was rendered 241

Donald R. Hickey

moot by the failure of American arms. Canada remained in British hands at the end of the war, which left the United States without any leverage to win concessions on the maritime issues. Although the United States did not conquer Canada during the war, it did acquire territory from another European power, neutral Spain. Spain, which had lost East and West Florida to the British in the Seven Years War, had won the territory back in the settlement at the end of the American Revolution. But Spain’s control over the Floridas remained tenuous and weak. In 1810, the United States had seized a slice of West Florida, claiming that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1813, it occupied the rest of West Florida—the territory south of the 31st parallel between the Pearl and Perdido rivers—and it retained this after the war ended. More important was the boost that victories over the native population gave to U.S. expansion in the West. The defeat of the Indians and the death of Tecumseh at the Thames led to the collapse of the great Shawnee leader’s western confederacy. Thereafter, most of the natives who had been allied to Britain made peace with the United States and either switched sides or sat out the war. These treaties, coupled with another 18 signed after the Anglo-American conflict was over, opened the door to unfettered U.S. territorial expansion in the Old Northwest and beyond. Much the same happened in the Old Southwest in the wake of Jackson’s decisive victory over the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in March 1814. That August, Jackson forced all Creek leaders, friend and foe alike, to agree to the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which transferred some 23 million acres of Creek land to the United States. This was one of the largest land grabs in native American history, and it opened the door to U.S. expansion in the Old Southwest. The natives lost in other ways. They suffered proportionally more deaths in the war (at least 7,500 compared to 10,000 for the British and 20,000 for the United States). Article IX in the Treaty of Ghent was supposed to restore the natives to their status as of 1811, but the United States claimed that this provision was superseded by the treaties signed with native bands during and after the war. The British showed no interest in contesting this position but instead abandoned their native allies (some 80 percent of whom lived on the American side of the border). This left native people without a European ally to serve as a counterweight to the United States and put them entirely at the mercy of the expansive young republic. In Canada, aboriginal people came under less pressure and were generally treated better, but the end result was similar. Their numbers dwindled, and they found themselves confined to reservations, much as in the United States.

American Culture In a host of different ways, the War of 1812 shaped the American cultural landscape. One effect was to boost the Anglophobia that still persisted from the American Revolution. While the war was still raging, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a lengthy report that accused the British of complicity in the native atrocities in the West and took the British to task for depredations against civilians in the Chesapeake and for the mistreatment of prisoners of war.9 Republican newspapers and magazines printed excerpts from this inflammatory document and continued to report similar British misdeeds long after the war was over. Especially galling to Americans was the Dartmoor Massacre, which occurred after the war was over when local militia serving as guards fired on Americans in a British prisoner-of-war facility, killing seven and wounding another 60. Postwar politicians in the United States found it easy to exploit the nation’s anger with Britain to drum up votes at election time, and the Anglophobia was an additional obstacle that the British had to overcome in their ongoing search for peaceful relations with the United States. On a more positive note, the war gave Americans a host of symbols that helped define the nation. The U.S. frigate Constitution earned its nickname in its first battle and ended the war with an unblemished record of successful cruises that gave “Old Ironsides” iconic status. The U.S. flag enjoyed a 242

A Lasting Legacy

newfound respect from Americans, and although the Fort McHenry flag remained in private hands until the twentieth century, it was periodically hauled out for display, reminding Americans of the successful defense of Fort McHenry. Today the flag is preserved in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and is one of the nation’s most treasured physical relics from the war. Similarly, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which the Fort McHenry flag inspired, became an increasingly popular tune and was finally designated the national anthem by Congress in 1931. Referring to the U.S. government as “Uncle Sam” predated the war, but the term came into general use during the conflict, although the popular image we associate with the name did not appear until Thomas Nast started using it in his Harper’s Weekly cartoons in the 1870s. The American rifle also emerged from the war with an elevated status, although it took a popular song in the 1820s—“The Hunters of Kentucky”—to fix the name of the weapon and to suggest, however inaccurately, that it had been a game changer at New Orleans. (In reality, U.S. artillery did most of the damage in the battle.) In addition, U.S. regulars wore gray coats on the Niagara frontier in 1814 because of a shortage of blue material. Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy wore gray uniforms for the same reason, and after the war they continued this tradition to honor the performance of the regulars. Other military schools followed West Point’s lead. Americans also got sayings from the war that enjoyed considerable currency. “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” was appropriated by various groups up to the U.S. Civil War to promote different causes.10 In the election of 1840, the Whigs elevated William Henry Harrison to the presidency with the slogan

Figure 17.3 The USS Constitution—“Old Ironsides”—enjoyed four successful cruises during the War of 1812 and thereafter was celebrated in artwork, books, pamphlets, songs, and poetry. Shown here are the covers to the sheet music of two songs, one published in 1830 (on the right) and the other in 1850 (on the left). (Library of Congress)


Donald R. Hickey

“Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Even more lasting were the slogans that came out of the naval war. In the Chesapeake-Shannon engagement, America’s mortally wounded commander, Captain James Lawrence, uttered the words, “Don’t give up the ship.” Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry transformed these words into a popular slogan when he put them on his battle flag and won the ensuing Battle of Lake Erie. Perry’s banner has long been on display at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the U.S. Navy adopted Lawrence’s words as its slogan. That slogan also entered into everyday usage in the United States. Likewise, Perry’s succinct after-action report—“We have met the enemy and they are ours”—endures in the lexicon of everyday usage. Two of the biggest symbols to emerge from the war were Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans. As the man who had overcome a host of obstacles and imposed his will on a ragtag army to defeat the Creeks in the Southwest and the British on the Gulf Coast, Jackson emerged from the war as the outsized American hero who put his stamp on postwar America. With his reputation for personal courage and determination and his commitment to democracy and slavery as well as Indian removal and territorial expansion, he seemed to epitomize all the best and worst of the growing young republic. Jackson’s greatest victory, at New Orleans, took on a life of its own. It was widely celebrated on its anniversary every January 8 until the Civil War and in some circles until the end of the nineteenth century. This battle also transformed the way that the war was remembered. Americans forgot the causes of the war and lost sight of how close the young republic had come to military defeat and financial collapse. What they remembered instead was how they had beat back British attempts to invade the United States, not only at Plattsburgh and Baltimore, but even more so at New Orleans. In this climactic final battle, Jackson’s army had single-handedly defeated the conquerors of Napoleon and the Mistress of the Seas, and in the eyes of most Americans that was enough to claim victory in the war. Today most Americans remember the cultural legacy of the war but not the war itself. That has changed, but only modestly, with the commemoration of the Bicentennial. Although the United States has lagged behind Canada, several federal agencies—the U.S. Navy, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Postal Service—have each done their part to commemorate the war. With Maryland taking the lead, those states that had a role in the war have been active, too, and local 1812 sites everywhere have held major events to commemorate their 200th anniversaries. Although most of these activities have been at sites east of the Mississippi River and occasionally have had to compete with events marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the public nonetheless still has received an education on the War of 1812.

Conclusion The War of 1812 will always be overshadowed by the Revolution and the Civil War in the United States and by the Napoleonic Wars in Great Britain, and that is as it should be. But if we measure wars by their consequences, the War of 1812 deserves to be remembered, too. It may have been a small and inconclusive war, but its consequences were profound and lasting, and for those who know where to look, that legacy is still alive today.

Notes 1. Speech of John Randolph, December 16, 1811, in Annals of Congress: Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, 1789–1824, 42 vols. (Washington, DC, 1834–56), 12th Congress, 1st session, 541. 2. Boston Yankee, November 6, 1812. 3. Clay to Thomas Bodley, December 18, 1813, in James F. Hopkins and Mary W. M. Hargreaves, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay, 11 vols. (Lexington, KY, 1959–92), 1:842.


A Lasting Legacy 4. For the development of the use of this label for the war, see Donald R. Hickey, Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812 (Toronto and Urbana, 2006), Appendix D. 5. George Sheppard, Plunder, Profits, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada (Montreal, 1994), chs. 5, 7–8. 6. See Donald E. Graves, “Joseph Willcocks and the Canadian Volunteers: An Account of Political Disaffection in Upper Canada during the War of 1812,” Master’s thesis (Carleton University, 1982). 7. See Anne McIlroy, “Confederation Wins the Vote for the Greatest Event in Our History,” Toronto Globe and Mail, September 18, 2000. 8. See, for example, Christopher Duffy, Borodino and the War of 1812 (New York and London, 1972). 9. Report on Spirit and Manner in which the War is Waged by the Enemy, July 31, 1813, in U.S. Congress, American State Papers: Military Affairs, 7 vols. (Washington, DC, 1832–61), 1:339–82. 10. For more on this phrase and its lasting appeal up to the Civil War, see Paul A. Gilje, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812 (New York, 2013).

Select Annotated Bibliography There is no comprehensive study of the legacy of the War of 1812. The story has to be pieced together from studies that touch upon the subject while focusing on other topics. The following works offer a good starting point. Allen, H. C. Great Britain and the United States: A History of Anglo-American Relations 1783–1955. New York, 1955. A good overview of the relationship between Britain and the United States. Allen, Robert S. His Majesty’s Indian Allies: British Indian Policy in the Defence of Canada, 1774–1815. Toronto, 1992. Excellent treatment includes material on the British decision to abandon its native allies after 1815. Brebner, John Bartlet. North Atlantic Triangle: The Interplay of Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. New Haven, 1945. Examines the evolving relationship of the three nations. Craig, Gerald M. Upper Canada: The Formative Years, 1784–1841. Toronto, 1963. Sheds light on the impact of the War of 1812 on Upper Canada during and after the conflict. ———. The United States and Upper Canada. Cambridge, MA, 1968. Good account of Canadian-American relations. Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York, 1952. Though now somewhat dated, this remains a classic account of postwar America. Feller, Daniel. The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815–1840. Baltimore, 1995. A more recent topical treatment of postwar era. Hickey, Donald R. Don’t Give Up the Ship: Myths of the War of 1812. Toronto and Urbana, IL, 2006. The Epilogue contains more detail on the legacy of the war. Hitsman, J. Mackay. Safeguarding Canada, 1763–1871. Toronto, 1963. Discusses a problem that loomed large in British and Canadian thinking. Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. New York, 2007. A fine modern study of postwar America. Perkins, Bradford. The Great Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1895–1914. New York, 1968. A fine work that explores the Anglo-American friendship that emerged after nearly a century of discord. Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Jackson. Boston, 1945. Another classic, if dated, account that remains a good sequel to Dangerfield’s work cited above. Sheppard, George. Plunder, Profits, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada. Montreal, 1994. Although not always reliable, does a good job of showing the fault lines in Upper Canada during the war and after. Smith, Goldwin. The Treaty of Washington, 1871: A Study in Imperial History. New York, 1941. Although limited in scope and now dated, this remains the best study of this underappreciated treaty. Ward, John William. Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age. New York, 1955. Yet another classic study that is still valuable for showing why Jackson was so appealing to his generation. Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. New York, 2005. A comprehensive overview of U.S. history from the end of the American Revolution to the beginning of the Civil War.



Count not the cost of honour to the dead! The tribute that a mighty nation pays To those who loved her well in former days Means more than gratitude for glories fled; For every noble man that she hath bred, Lives in the bronze and marble that we raise, Immortalized by art’s immortal praise, To lead our sons as he our fathers led. These monuments of manhood strong and high Do more than forts or battle-ships to keep Our dear-bought liberty. They fortify The heart of youth with valour wise and deep; They build eternal bulwarks, and command Eternal strength to guard our native land. Henry Van Dyke, “National Monuments,” February, 19051 On November 6, 2014, The Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage, held a ceremony to unveil a new monument on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to commemorate the War of 1812 during the 200th anniversary of that conflict. It is the most recent of a number of memorials to the war constructed in Canada from 1824 to present day. Like many monument projects before it, this one has met with some criticism from those who think that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. In the United States, new legacy projects in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 have not been federal initiatives but have been undertaken by states, municipalities, and civic organizations. Some of these new monuments have taken a non-traditional approach. In Sackets Harbor, New York, plaques remembering the British and Canadian casualties in attacks on Sackets Harbor were unveiled in August 2012. In Lewiston, New York, the story of Tuscarora men who helped to protect citizens from a perceived threat by British and native invaders is commemorated through a new bronze statue, “Tuscarora Heroes.” In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the people of the Whitecap Dakota Nation, whose ancestors had migrated to Canada from Minnesota in the 1860s, chose to erect a monument in Saskatoon to remember their ancestors who had fought as British allies in the War of 1812. Entitled “Spirit of


War of 1812 Memorials

Alliance,” the monument, in the words of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, “will serve as a constant reminder of the many partnerships and alliances that laid the foundations of our nation.” In Maryland, new structures commemorating the Battle of Slippery Hill in 1813 and the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 were erected. At Bladensburg, grants from the state of Maryland and the “Star Spangled 200” Bicentennial Fund, supplemented by donations from citizens, paid for the new sculpture, “Undaunted in Battle,” which was dedicated on August 23, 1814, the 200th anniversary of this battle. One of the most controversial monuments to the war was commissioned by condominium developer Malibu Investments in Toronto. Designed by artist Douglas Coupland of Vancouver, it features a 10-foot toy soldier in the uniform of the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Infantry Regiment from the War of 1812 looming over a fallen toy soldier dressed in an American uniform of the period. Erected in busy downtown Toronto, it is seen by tens of thousands of people daily. From the time the War of 1812 ended in 1815, the conflict has been commemorated in numerous ways including the erection of monuments and commemorative plaques, by interpretive signage, and by the naming of streets, towns, geographical features, naval vessels, and children. Ceremonies and reenactments of battles, particularly during significant anniversaries of the war, paintings, poetry, publications, songs, and other undertakings have remembered the conflict that is sometimes called “the forgotten war.” These various projects to improve public awareness of the battles, the heroes, and the historic places where events unfolded have been undertaken for a variety of reasons, to gain political leverage, to inspire citizens to enlist for military service, to remember the dead and to ensure that they did not die in vain, to educate our youth, or to stimulate heritage tourism.

Their Names Liveth for Evermore The ancient “Carn na Cuimbne,” or Cairn of Memory, near Invergelder, Aberdenshire, Scotland, is a simple but moving monument to the dead of Clan Farquharson over the ages. It is a simple pile of stones. When the clan went to war, the men gathered here, each bringing a stone from his croft or farm. When they returned from battle they removed their stones from the pile and carried them back home until called to muster for war again. Those stones remaining in the large cairn were left by those who never returned. It is not an impressive monument with bronze statues and interpretive plaques but much more emotionally compelling: a simple memorial of those lost in battle. Some of the first monuments built after the War of 1812 served a similar purpose, to remember men killed during the conflict and to ensure that their sacrifice would not be forgotten by future generations. When the United States declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, Americans were still coping with plans to commemorate the battles and great leaders of the War of Independence which had ended almost 30 years earlier. That war had taken a tremendous toll on Americans, with 25,000 dead out of a population of 2.5 million. For the United States, the casualties of the Revolution were proportionally greater than all of the conflicts of the twentieth century combined. In 1799, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the citizens of Lexington erected a monument to the Battle of Lexington fought during the Revolution. This monument is dedicated to the memory of the eight Americans killed in that skirmish. The inscription immortalizing these men almost provides a template for future memorials: The Blood of these Martyrs, in the cause of God & their Country, Was the Cement of the Union of these States, then Colonies: & gave the spring to the spirit, Firmness and resolution of their Fellow Citizens. 247

Ronald J. Dale

The War of 1812 would produce new martyrs to war in both Canada and the United States. The War of 1812 had been fought primarily in Upper Canada and Lower Canada, the present day Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, with American armies invading British North America (Canada) in 1812, 1813, and 1814, only to be repelled by an outnumbered force of well-trained British soldiers and sailors assisted by Canadian volunteers and native North American allies. Other major actions in 1814 came as the British retaliated, attempting to force the Americans to be more flexible at the negotiating table. British campaigns on Lake Champlain and New Orleans ended in failure while the British enjoyed victories and suffered defeats in their actions at sea and their campaigns along the Atlantic seaboard, including a failed assault on Baltimore. When all was over and peace finally came in February 1815, the American death toll was as many as 10,000 out of a total population of 8 million. British North America (Canada) lost about 2000 men out of a total population of 500,000. The British suffered about 3,000 dead while the relative number of casualties among Britain’s native allies was higher. When the war ended in 1815, some initiatives were undertaken to remember the fallen. In the United States more emphasis was placed on appropriately commemorating the American Revolution— except in Baltimore where citizens were justly proud of the fact that their city had repelled a British attempt to capture the port in 1814. A Baltimore architect and artist, J. Maximilian M. Godefroy, was commissioned to design an appropriate monument to commemorate the defense of Baltimore. The cornerstone for the new monument was laid on September 12, 1815, on the first anniversary of the Battle of North Point and the monument was dedicated seven years later. In addition to remembering the battles and skirmishes of September 1814, the monument lists the names of those officers and men killed in the defense of Baltimore during the British bombardment. While this Battle Monument, the first major American memorial to the War of 1812, resembles a tomb, the first major Canadian monument served as a tomb. On October 13, 1812, the commander of British forces in Upper Canada, Major General Sir Isaac Brock, was killed while trying to repel an American invasion of Upper Canada at the village of Queenston. He and his aide de camp, John Macdonell, who had been mortally wounded in the Battle of Queenston Heights, were first buried at Fort George in the nearby town of Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). In 1824 work began on a monument to Brock at Queenston Heights. On October 13, 1824, Brock and Macdonell were reinterred in a crypt in the new structure and would rest in peace there until April 13, 1840, when an explosive charge planted by an Irish-Canadian malcontent named Benjamin Lett severely damaged the monument. A replacement monument was begun in 1853, and Brock and Macdonell were given a third funeral when interred yet again in a vault in the base of the new monument on October 13, 1853. In addition to commemorating Brock and Macdonell, a plaque inside the monument lists by name the other British, Canadian, and native casualties of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Seven years later a much smaller monument was built by the government to mark the exact spot where Brock was killed, hastily designed in time for a visit by the Prince of Wales who laid the cornerstone in 1860. Many veterans of the battle attended this event.2 It is of interest to note that these early monuments included the names of enlisted men along with the officers killed in the respective battles. In many cases this would give some comfort to surviving comrades and families of the slain, knowing that the sacrifice of their friends or family would be recognized down through the ages. This trend to honor the fallen from all classes of society would remain a feature of many war memorials into the present day. The remarkable popularity of the moving Vietnam memorial is due to the inclusion of the names of more than 58,000 young American men and women who lost their lives in that conflict. It was a very divisive war but the wall has reunited Americans in their grief for those whose names are engraved on the wall.


Figure 18.1 Brock’s Monument, Battle of Queenston Heights National Historic Site, Queenston, ON. (photo by author)

Ronald J. Dale

Fast Start, Slow Finish When the War of 1812 ended, Americans again focused on projects related to the birth of the Republic, a process that was put on hold by the war. One of the most outstanding issues was the erection of a monument to George Washington, once again undertaken by the city of Baltimore where history has always been revered. Discussions on the desirability of a memorial to the first President had been ongoing since 1809, when a committee was formed to oversee its construction. Money was raised through a series of lotteries, and in 1815, Robert Mills, who would later design the Washington Monument in the Capital, received the commission for the Baltimore monument to Washington. The cornerstone was laid on Independence Day in 1815, and the 178-foot column, which includes a statue of the President, was completed 14 years later. Another state that quickly refocused on the Revolution after the War of 1812 ended was South Carolina, where a monument was built in 1815 to commemorate the Battle of King’s Mountain which took place 35 years before. In the 1820s, as the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence loomed, there was a flurry of discussions on additional monuments to mark the War of Independence. The pending visit of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who had helped gain independence as a major-general in the Continental Army commanding American troops during the Revolution, was the catalyst that made such projects more urgent. Lafayette was invited to visit the United States between August 1824 and September 1825 to participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations. During this visit, Lafayette took a grand tour of America, stopping in 24 states in a journey of more than 6,000 miles by carriage, horseback, boat, ship, barge, and foot.3 During his sojourn in the United States he laid cornerstones for three monuments to battles and two monuments to American generals. These monuments were still not completed 20 years after the cornerstones were laid. By and large, monuments in the United States could not rely on federal funding. Committees petitioned states or municipalities for funds and sought public donations to complete monuments that had been designed and undertaken around the times of significant anniversaries. It took time to raise the money as other priorities continued to interfere with the process of building monuments. The monument to the Battle of Bunker Hill, for example, with the cornerstone laid in 1823, was not completed until 1843. The monument at Concord, Massachusetts, was unveiled in 1837. Little thought was given to War of 1812 memorials while those commemorating the War of Independence were still incomplete. Baltimore had already built their Battle Monument, unveiled in 1822, while the construction of the Washington Monument in Baltimore, which began at the same time as the Battle Monument, was completed seven years later. New Orleans was an iconic War of 1812 battle site for Americans along with Baltimore, Put-inBay, Ohio, and Plattsburgh, New York. In 1839 the city of New Orleans began planning a monument commemorating the battle on the Chalmette Plantation, where much of the 1815 battle was fought. The cornerstone was laid on January 8, 1840, the anniversary of the famous battle. The State of Louisiana took over and began actual construction in 1855 but never completed the monument. Finally funding was granted by Congress to complete the New Orleans monument in 1908. It had taken 68 years to build the Chalmette Monument.4 Statues were less complicated and less expensive to erect. A statue of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, victor of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, was completed in Cleveland in 1860 while another was erected in Newport, Rhode Island, 25 years later. A third statue of the gallant Perry was put up in Buffalo in 1915, the year that work was finally started by a multistate committee to build Perry’s Victory Monument on South Bass Island in Ohio to commemorate the Battle of Lake Erie. The war was also commemorated through the naming of people and places after War of 1812 heroes. In Canada, babies were named Brock, the town of Elizabethtown changed its name to


War of 1812 Memorials

Brockville, a town in Ontario and one in Quebec were named Drummondville, and one in southern Ontario was dubbed Tecumseh. Expanding towns received street names reflecting national and local War of 1812 heroes. Broke Street, Brock Street, Secord Avenue, Drummond Road, and many other street names reflecting heroes of the War of 1812 can be found in many towns in Eastern Canada. However, in many of these municipalities the residents may not be aware of the significance of the person after whom the street was named. Poems, novels, and histories about the war were composed, paintings of heroes and battlefields were rendered, but little was done to preserve the battlefields where these dramatic events unfolded. Aging veterans of Lundy’s Lane or Queenston Heights met to discuss such things but after hearing speeches and toasting each other in good Canadian whiskey, with a bumper or two raised to the fallen, they returned home with little resolved.

Early Heritage Tourism For the past 250 years a great many travelers to North America have been drawn to natural wonders. Chief among these natural beauty spots is Niagara Falls. Getting there was for many years quite a challenge. A traveler arriving by ship in Quebec City, after a six- to 14-week voyage from England, would have to find passage by schooner or, after 1809, by steamboat, to Montreal where passengers and baggage would be sent by coach or wagon to portage around the Lachine Rapids. From there they would travel up the St. Lawrence by flat-bottomed boats or bateaux, frequently landing on shore to walk as boats were manhandled through a series of treacherous rapids. After a weeklong exhausting journey, the traveler could board a schooner in Prescott or Kingston and sail to the capital of Upper Canada, York (Toronto), or on to the town of Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) or, if the winds held, to Queenston at the base of the Niagara escarpment. From there coaches were available to take visitors on the portage road to Niagara Falls. In Niagara, Queenston, and around Niagara Falls, inns and taverns were built to meet the needs of visitors to the area. Before 1825 traveling to the area from New York or Philadelphia or Boston was even more arduous. On October 26, 1825, New York State completed a massive engineering project, the Erie Canal, providing a navigable waterway from Albany to Buffalo. This meant that travelers arriving in New York City could easily travel to the Niagara region by barge on the new canal. Tourism travel into the interior had been made easier. Niagara Falls was now easy to reach although getting there could only be afforded by the more affluent classes. During the War of 1812, the Niagara region was the major area of conflict in all three years of the War. Brock’s Monument at Queenston Heights had been completed in 1824 but was the only War of 1812 memorial in the Niagara region. Queenston Heights provided spectacular vistas of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, was easily accessible by steamer and coach, and featured Brock’s Monument where the visitor could climb to a gallery on top to get an incredible eagle’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. It also had a whiskey bar at ground level. It was very popular with Canadians and British visitors but, as the scene of an embarrassing American defeat on October 13, 1812, may have been less revered by visitors from the United States. Conveniently, anyone journeying between Buffalo and the Falls passed through another battlefield, site of the Battle of Chippawa fought on July 5, 1814. This was a very important battle in American history because it was the first time that an American Army had won an open field battle against roughly equal numbers of professional enemy soldiers. It was a battle in which all Americans could take great pride, and undoubtedly many American travelers passing by would pause here to look at the battlefield—if they knew where it was. It was located in a farmer’s field and unmarked in any way. British and Canadians were less likely to revere this place where a British army had been beaten by the Americans.5


Ronald J. Dale

The ideal battlefield for all concerned was along Lundy’s Lane, a smooth road leading from the falls and within view of the magnificent cataract. It was the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812 in Canada, and both Americans and Canadians claimed the battle as a victory. The outcome of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane continues to be debated by historians. From the point of view of a viable attraction, the battlefield was well situated. Visitors who came to view the falls could take a short buggy ride or walk to the battlefield, the epicenter of which was in a churchyard where many of the slain, including American soldiers, were buried. Inns and taverns nearby provided lodging and refreshment. Unusual for the time was the fact that the battlefield had a very active interpretive program. Veterans of the battle would, for a few pennies, tell the story of that bloody day. Observation towers were erected so visitors could get panoramic views of the field. These veteran interpreters continued to be popular but were a nonrenewable resource. The last such gentleman to provide this service had served in the American army on July 25, 1814.6 The combination of a natural wonder like the falls, good quality tourism amenities, a dramatic historic site, an iconic battlefield, and ease of travel in getting there ensured that the Lundy’s Lane Battlefield was the most heavily visited historic site in North America, particularly for American visitors, until the 1860s when the Civil War created other places of battle that more closely appealed to the American heart. Gettysburg replaced Lundy’s Lane as the “must see” battlefield although the falls themselves remained a huge tourism draw.

Terrible Swift Sword In the four decades following the War of 1812 the United States fought other wars which may have diverted attention from the commemoration of the War of 1812. In Canada, there had been rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837–38, but the skirmishes of the Rebellion caused few casualties and the War of 1812 continued to be known as “the War.” In the United States continuing expansion of the republic west and south resulted in conflicts with other claimants to the territory—primarily native North Americans. In these minor wars, from the First Seminole War in 1817–18 to the Coer d’Alene War in 1858 and Second Seminole War, 1855–58, total American casualties had been light while native losses had been severe. The War with Mexico, from 1846 to 1848, was more severe with as many men killed or dying on campaign as in the War of 1812. This may have resulted in commemorations of the War of 1812 becoming less relevant as the Republic struggled to define its limits. Little work was completed on monuments, but a few less expensive statues were cast and dedicated in this period. Andrew Jackson, hero of New Orleans and President from 1829 to 1837, died in 1845. Within a couple of years of his death a monument to “Old Hickory” was commissioned in Washington, D.C. The magnificent statue of Jackson was cast in 1852 and dedicated the following year. Four years later another statue of Jackson, with an inscription outlining the history of his most famous battle, was erected in New Orleans. There may have been some expectation of more focus on 1812–14 as the 50th anniversary of the conflict approached. The ranks of the veterans of that war were thinning, and the 50th would represent a good opportunity to recognize these old warriors. However, America’s most devastating war would soon totally eclipse the War of 1812 in the public consciousness. The American Civil War, which lasted from April 12, 1861 to May 10, 1865, was the bloodiest of all conflicts in which Americans have been involved. Almost 4 percent of the male population had been killed in action or died in service: about 750,000 dead. Ironically, as many as 55,000 Canadians enlisted, primarily in the Union Army, with as many as 10,000 killed or wounded in the conflict, but this fact is missing from popular histories in both countries and their participation is not generally known.


War of 1812 Memorials

With the bloodbath of the Civil War, Americans could no longer think of the War of 1812. Grieving families and comrades of the dead had to put the most recent ghosts to rest. Individuals killed in the war, regiments, heroes, and events were commemorated in cemeteries, town squares, and battlefields with monuments, cairns, and bronze sculptures. For the next several years any resources available to be spent on commemorative projects focused on the Civil War with little thought given to the War of 1812. In all, more than 1,300 monuments and memorials, some simple and some very elaborate, were raised in Gettysburg alone.7 As in many past occasions, it was in Maryland where some focus again was placed on the War of 1812. In 1871 the defense of Baltimore and the Battle of North Point were again in the public eye, and in that year a monument was erected to Daniel Wells and Henry McComas, two heroes of the battle who were credited with killing British General Ross and subsequently losing their lives in the battle. This was followed a decade later by a monument to George Armistead, the defender of Fort McHenry. In British North America (Canada) other serious world events shoved the 50th anniversary of the War of 1812 to the back burner. During the Civil War, Canadians harbored American draft dodgers and deserters, refusing to extradite these men to the United States—something that would be repeated during the Vietnam War a century later. Further, Canada became somewhat of a refuge for Confederate agents, spies, and raiders. People from the United States looked on their northern neighbor with growing distrust. There were many Irish-Americans who had served with distinction in the Union Army and who were discharged when the army was radically reduced at war’s end in 1865. Thrown back into civilian life, jobs were scarce and due to bigotry against the Irish at the time, few could find work. Poverty and even starvation faced these Irish veterans. Many were sympathetic to the aims of the Irish Republican Brotherhood back in Ireland, fighting to win independence from Britain. Many of these unemployed Irish-American veterans had become radicalized and joined the Fenian Brotherhood, the militant arm of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Some returned to Ireland to fight. Others joined in a quixotic campaign to invade and capture central Canada and use these British provinces as hostages to exchange for Irish freedom. Fenian Raids in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick were easily defeated by British soldiers and Canadian Militia. But the raids shook the feeling of security in the British North American provinces and people looked at the United States as a very real threat to their independence. For several years Canadians had been talking of the possible confederation of the various British provinces into a single sovereign entity. The Fenian Raids and the fear of American invasion hastened the process, and on July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was born, incorporating the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. In the next six years they would be joined by Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island. During this period of nation building, little thought was given to commemorative projects. Within 20 years of Confederation, however, the Canadian Government would look on such projects as a method of uniting the disparate elements of the new Dominion. While more Canadians had been killed fighting in the Civil War than in the War of 1812, that fact was quickly forgotten. Only 31 men were killed or died on campaign in repelling the Fenians in 1866, but that was considered to be more important—defending against foreign invasion. Monuments to the War of 1812 would soon regain momentum, and monuments to the Fenian Raids would be commissioned. Nothing other than the occasional family tombstone recognizes the Canadians killed in the Civil War. After the recognition of the martyrs of the Fenian Raids had been dealt with, the War of 1812 was put back into the schedule of commemorations with a statue of Charles-Michel de Salaberry, the French Canadian hero of the Battle of the Châteauguay in 1813, being unveiled in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec, in 1881. This would be followed by quite a number of other commemorations over the next two decades.


Ronald J. Dale

Women to the Fore On June 20, 1837 Alexandrina Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was crowned Queen of England just after her eighteenth birthday. A trendsetter to rival Princess Diana in the twentieth century, Queen Victoria was now the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and would remain in power for the next 63 years and seven months. On May 1, 1876, she was created Empress of India. Such a strong woman presiding over the British Empire was bound to encourage women around the world to take a stronger role in all aspects of society. Women at this time in the British Empire and the United States were not enfranchised to vote. After 1840, however, women became increasingly active in taking leadership roles in various aspects of society and in taking a major part in the long struggle for universal suffrage. Women were heavily involved in the education system in the United States and in Canada, as teachers in the elementary schools which were becoming increasingly accessible to all ranks of society. Cracking the halls of higher education was more difficult for women, and those permitted to attend institutions of higher learning were few. One of the pioneers was English-born American Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first American woman to receive a medical degree in 1849. A few years later, another English woman, Florence Nightingale, made a name for herself as a medical professional during the Crimean War. During this war 250,000 British servicemen were fighting the Russians, and more than 21,000 lost their lives—more to disease than to battle. Nightingale, tending to the sick and wounded, developed methods of scientific nursing that would continue to be valid into the present day. In 1855 the Nightingale Foundation for training nurses was established, setting the stage for formal training of nurses. After the Crimean War, Nightingale was asked by the British Government to head a commission to study the high mortality rate of British soldiers. The results of her research and the adoption of her recommendations resulted in major reforms to the British Army to address the health and wellbeing of troops in barracks and on campaign. When the Civil War was underway the government of the United States approached Nightingale for advice on training nurses. In Canada, Dr. Emily Stowe, who had graduated from the New York Medical College for Women in 1867, became the first Canadian female doctor. In Canada and in the United States women could not help but notice how other women were beginning to take their rightful places in society. In the United States, the Civil War had given women a taste of equality. With so many men off fighting, women found themselves running farms, managing family businesses, and assuming leadership roles in everything from churches to factories. So many young men had been killed or disabled by the war that many women continued in these roles after the war ended. By the 1870s, the literacy rate among men and women in North America was high. Less expensive methods of paper manufacturing and of printing and other innovations led to the production of affordable books. History that went beyond the oral tales related by elders in a community became readily available and avidly consumed by many readers. In North America, people were taking a much greater interest in the history of their own countries and their own locales. In the next two decades historical societies flourished in Canada and the United States, with women taking lead roles in many of these organizations. In Canada, the Ontario Historical Society was founded in 1888. Two years later in the United States the Daughters of the American Revolution was established. In 1892 the National Society, United States Daughters of 1812 was formed. In May 1893, under the banner of the Chicago World’s Fair, the Worlds Congress of Representative Women was convened. Many of the women leaders in the United States, including women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, were there. So were some of the leading female historical society members. Many of these women would spur the next phase of monument building in Canada and the United States. One of the earlier projects organized by women was the construction of a monument commemorating the Battle of Talladega, an episode of the Creek War in 1813. The monument raised in Talladega


War of 1812 Memorials

Springs, Alabama, in 1897 by the local chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution immortalizes the 19 American soldiers who were killed in action or who died of wounds received in the battle. In the small town of Stoney Creek, now part of the greater city of Hamilton, Ontario, the Battle of Stoney Creek was fought on June 6, 1813 and some say refought 80 years later. In 1888 a group of community leaders inaugurated the Wentworth Historical Society, and from that a Ladies’ Committee was formed, led by a fiery woman, Sara Calder. The historic society concentrated on suitable commemorations of the Battle of Stoney Creek. From 1894 they became fixated on the construction of a suitable monument. A small plot of land was eventually purchased on Smith’s Knoll, a key position during the battle, and eventually they came up with a design for a small monument. Sara Calder and other women felt that this was not enough, that a larger parcel of property and a more spectacular monument were required to do proper homage to the importance of the event. Calder led the move to split off the Ladies’ Committee and formed a new organization, the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society, in 1899. It took the unusual step at that time of purchasing and preserving part of the historic site and on October 21, 1899 opened the Stoney Creek Battlefield, based on land on which part of the battle had taken place. Both societies now put their minds toward building a suitable monument to commemorate the battle. The Wentworth Historical Society opted for the smaller but elegant monument at Smith’s Knoll while the Women’s Wentworth Historical Society pushed for a massive monument to be erected in their newly opened Battlefield Park. Both organizations began fundraising campaigns and both approached the provincial and federal governments for grants for their projects. Both groups were headed by strongwilled people, and no compromise was reached. Surprisingly, sufficient funds were raised and two monuments were constructed in the small town of Stoney Creek: the Smith’s Hill Monument unveiled on August 1, 1910, and the massive Stoney Creek Battlefield tower on June 6, 1913, the 100th anniversary of the battle. It is interesting to note that the official ceremony for the Smith’s Knoll unveiling was typical of such events: men in formal attire delivering long speeches and congratulating each other on their accomplishments. The women planned a much more progressive and compelling event surrounding the unveiling of their monument. Thousands of school children attended the ceremony. In distant London, at the appropriate moment, Queen Mary, wife of King George V, pressed a telegraph key and the signal sped across the wires all the way to Stoney Creek where the monument was unveiled on receipt of the signal.8 The women of Stoney Creek were not unique in their resolve to ensure that important people, places, and events were adequately commemorated. Across Canada and the United States women would take an increasingly significant role in the preservation of our past and were often instrumental in planning projects and raising funds to establish museums and build monuments. At Sackets Harbor, New York, it was the Jefferson County branch of the Daughters of 1812 who worked to raise the funds and build the monument to the Battle of Sackets Harbor, unveiled in 1913 on the 100th anniversary of the battle.

Monumental Surge The first railroad tracks were laid in the United States in 1827 and in Canada a few years later. By 1860 all major cities in Canada and the United States were connected by rail. A traveler could hop on a train in New York and travel to Buffalo, cross the Niagara River and be standing beside Niagara Falls within a couple of days of boarding the train—and all at a reasonable cost. Visitors and residents could take the Grand Trunk Railway from Montreal to Sarnia with connections to Quebec City, Lake Champlain, Toronto, Niagara, and Detroit. By 1880 all of the major battlefields of the War of 1812 could be easily reached by public transit. However, few of these battlefields had been designated as special places, and few monuments were in place to help recall their history. 255

Ronald J. Dale

In some cases, communities looked at their local history as a resource that could attract tourism business. In other cases visitors to the unmarked sites complained of the lack of a marker to commemorate the history of the site. Still others feared that the deeds of their fathers and grandfathers would be forgotten in the future if something was not done to memorialize their contributions. Politicians saw the battlefields and their associated stories as symbols that could unite the people, increase a spirit of patriotism, encourage volunteerism, and focus the political limelight to win votes. For a variety of reasons the construction of memorials to the people, places, and events of the War of 1812 gained momentum. One of the greatest stimulants to heritage tourism was the production of Benson J. Lossing’s Field Book of the Revolution, published in 1853. Lossing was a New York journalist, publisher, illustrator, and historian who traveled thousands of miles in the late 1840s to personally visit historic places, sketching the sites, interviewing eyewitnesses to events, and collecting local history. Lossing’s work was widely read after the first installment of his illustrated study of the revolution was published in the popular Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1850. When his Field Book was published it quickly became a best seller, focusing attention on the sites where such great events unfolded and stimulating an interest in marking these sites with commemorative monuments and plaques to increase awareness of their significance. In 1860 and 1861, Lossing journeyed again, this time focusing on the War of 1812. Train travel eased his task, and he traveled more than 10,000 miles in Canada and the United States. Again he sketched the sites, wrote the history, and interviewed the surviving veterans of the war in Canada and the United States. Readers familiar with his superb earlier works anticipated the release of The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812; or, Illustrations, by Pen and Pencil, of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics, and Traditions of the Last War for American Independence, published in 1868. This new book was widely read and gave an incredible boost to visits to these historic sites, many of which were still unmarked. This may have spurred local societies and municipalities to take action to create new monuments, although it would take some time to manifest itself. Planning, lining up resources, organizing, and construction took time. On July 4, 1885, former President, General Rutherford Hayes, unveiled the Sandusky County Soldier’s Monument in Fremont, Ohio. The monument honors the defense of Fort Stephenson in 1813 by a small American garrison under Major George Croghan. The mortal remains of Croghan were exhumed from the family tomb in Kentucky and reburied in the crypt of the structure in 1906. Without this monument, the story of that brave American victory might have been totally forgotten. One by one, memorials to events and participants in the War of 1812 continued to be erected by local committees and state governments. In Buffalo, the local historical society was particularly active, gathering documents for publication and marking the graves of local War of 1812 heroes, including the construction of the beautiful tomb and statue to commemorate Seneca orator Red Jacket or Sagoyewatha. The bronze statue of this venerable warrior and statesman was unveiled in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery in 1892. In the following year, American industrialist George Pullman commissioned a monument in Chicago commemorating the Fort Dearborn massacre of 1812. This was followed two years later with the unveiling of a statue of William Henry Harrison in Cincinnati. In Canada, many historic societies began gathering documents related to the war with projects in place to publish them, while citizens generally started lobbying provincial and federal legislators to take measures to mark Canadian sites and erect lasting memorials to key battlefields in Canada. The politicians listened. In Canada the venerable Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of the Dominion, died on June 6, 1891, nearly 77 years after the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. He had just won his sixth appointment as Prime Minister in the election of 1891. He was succeeded by his Conservative colleague Sir John Abbot who served only until November 1892 when poor health forced him from office. He was replaced by fellow Conservative Sir John Thompson who died in office while on a 256

War of 1812 Memorials

Figure 18.2 The Battle Monument, Baltimore. (Lithograph published in Benson Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812)

visit to London to meet the Queen in December 1894. The helm was now taken by Sir Mackenzie Bowell, who remained Prime Minister until the election of 1896 ended the Conservative regime in Canada for a while. During this period of political instability there was an economic depression and fears of disunion in the country. There was even talk of a movement by some Liberal politicians to abandon the British connection and join the United States. To counter this, the government sought ways in which a feeling of nationalism could be stirred, of reminding Canadians of a time when they worked together to foil American annexation threats, and to inspire Canadians with the tales of sacrifice in service to the country. The War of 1812 provided the perfect catalyst. In 1895, the federal government unveiled monuments at three of Canada’s most iconic War of 1812 battlefields: at Lundy’s Lane, Crysler’s Farm, and at the site of the Battle of the Châteauguay near Montreal. The attention to these three places again made the public aware of the dramatic events that had unfolded there in 1813 and 1814 and resulted in increased visits to these locations. In addition, the lionizing of the participants in the Battle of the Châteauguay, mostly French Canadians led by a French Canadian officer in the British Army, tended to show Canadians how both French- and English-speaking Canadians had rallied together to help their British brothers against a common American enemy. 257

Ronald J. Dale

In 1896, elections were also held in the United States. William McKinley, a Republican veteran of the Civil War, was elected in 1896 and again in 1900 but was assassinated only six months into his second term. Under McKinley, America became involved in a war with Spain. The Spanish-American War from April to August 1898 was neither a long war nor a costly one in terms of lives lost, but it created some memorable icons in American history including the battleship Maine and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill. It briefly took American focus away from War of 1812 monument construction, but not for long.9 Canada had its own additional distractions. From 1899 to 1902 Britain was fighting Boer irregulars in the South African War. More than 7,000 Canadians fought in that conflict and 267 were killed. When the smoke cleared, the next monuments built in Canada were to commemorate these men. The next significant Canadian War of 1812 monument to be erected was designed by famed Canadian designer Walter Alward. The monument, erected in 1907 in Victoria Square in Toronto on the site of an old military burial ground, features an old soldier cast in bronze. It had taken five years to raise the $4,000 required to complete the casting. In the meantime, in the United States, there was a flurry of work on memorials. In 1901 a large monument honoring all American servicemen from the Revolutionary War through to the Spanish American War, the impressive 284-foot Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument, was unveiled in Indianapolis. Designed by German architect Bruno Schmitz, the monument includes a likeness of American War of 1812 hero General William Henry Harrison. This seems to have been the start of one of the most prolific periods of American monument building to commemorate the “forgotten war.” In Kent County, Maryland, the tombstone-like Caulk’s Field Memorial was completed in 1902, followed two years later by the River Raisin memorial in Michigan and the 44-foot tall monument to the Pigeon Roost Massacre constructed by the State of Indiana. In 1906 the City of Detroit paid for a statue of General Alexander Macomb, the War of 1812 veteran who eventually commanded the American Army. Old bronze cannons were melted down to build his statue. It was also during this period that the Maumee Valley Pioneers’ Association built the Fort Meigs Monument, an 81-foot tall obelisk dedicated on September 1, 1908, at the site of this War of 1812 fort near Perrysburg, Ohio. In that same year an ad hoc association that had been formed in 1892 in Lafayette Indiana, had finally raised enough funds, combined with money from the state and from the federal government, to complete an 85-foot marble obelisk commemorating the Battle of Tippecanoe, an 1811 event that largely sparked the War of 1812.

The Centennial The 100th anniversary of the War of 1812 stimulated a great deal of activity in producing more legacy projects to commemorate the conflict. In Canada, the federal government responded to the will of various historic societies to work with them in partnership to undertake a series of initiatives. War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord is buried on Drummond Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the scene of the most vicious fighting of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane fought on July 25, 1814. In 1910 the government supplied the funds to provide a more spectacular tombstone marking her burial site. At the same time, a contract was issued by the federal government to erect a monument to Secord on the battlefield of Queenston Heights. This monument was completed in 1911, the same year that government funding had assisted in the completion of the Smith’s Knoll Monument in Stoney Creek. In Maryland, the United States Congress left the commemoration in the hands of others. In 1911 the beautiful sculpture of Francis Scott Key, designed by Marius Jean Antonin Mercie, was commissioned by a private donor. Nearby, the Methodist Meeting House, a gathering place for American militiamen prior to the Battle of North Point in Maryland, was commemorated by the Patriotic Sons of America in 1914. In the same year the Star Spangled Banner centennial was celebrated with the 258

War of 1812 Memorials

erection of a monument paid for with funds raised by Maryland school children. The monument is dedicated to the “citizen soldiers” of Maryland. The City of Baltimore paid for the statue to Major George Armistead installed at Fort McHenry on September 12, 1914, the 100th anniversary of the successful defense of the fort and the composition of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written as “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key. On March 3, 1931, the stirring song officially became the national anthem of the United States.10 An ambitious project was being undertaken several hundred miles away on Lake Erie, this time by the United States Navy. The signing of the Rush Bagot Treaty by the United States and Britain in 1818 limited the size and number of warships on the Great Lakes. The Royal Navy and United States Navy could each keep one warship on Lake Erie. The rest of the ships were either sold off to private owners to be converted to commercial vessels or purposely sunk with the idea that they could be raised fairly quickly and refitted to sailing condition if another war broke out. Oliver Hazard Perry’s ship, the Niagara, was one of the American ships that were purposely scuttled in Misery Bay at Presque Isle, Erie, Pennsylvania. Perry had already been commemorated, most notably in the large statue and monument erected to his memory in Cleveland. As part of the commemoration of the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in which the Niagara featured prominently, the remains of the ship were raised by the United States Navy in April, 1913. Although little was left but the keel and the stubs of ribs, the original fabric was used as the basis for a reconstruction of the brig. During the summer the reconstituted brig Niagara was towed around the Great Lakes by the USS Wolverine to visit a number of communities on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. After the grand tour, ownership was transferred to the City of Erie and the Niagara was docked there. The Navy already owned a famous War of 1812 ship, the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the world. The raising of the Niagara and the success of the tour stimulated a multistate commission to build another monument to the Battle of Lake Erie. In 1915 the soaring tower, Perry’s Victory Monument, was raised on South Bass Island in Ohio. The Monument, still unfinished in 1919, was taken over by the United States government and remains one of the most compelling monuments managed by the National Park Service. Elsewhere in Ohio, another monument, the 55-foot obelisk on the site of Fort Amanda in Wapakoneta, Ohio, was constructed and is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society. Events at Fort Amanda were far less dramatic than the Battle of Lake Erie or the Defense of Baltimore but still important to the war effort. Fort Amanda was primarily a supply depot. In Canada, commemorations of the War of 1812 in its 100th anniversary years 1912, 1913, and 1914 tended to center on the publication of histories, enhancement of museums, and special events at key sites with fireworks, speeches, and military bands. General interest in Canadian history and Canadian historic sites was rapidly increasing. School curricula, rather than focusing solely on British history, were teaching more lessons on Canadian history from the time of the early explorers through the Boer War. Canadians also noted that their precious historic sites, many of which were old forts that had been transferred to the Department of Militia and Defence but not actively used, were fast deteriorating. Other important historic sites were in municipal or private hands and were threatened with obliteration as urban and industrial areas of cities expanded. In 1889, a small group of citizens of Toronto, interested in the preservation of the heritage of their city, petitioned the federal government to transfer the moldering War of 1812 buildings of Fort York in Toronto, owned and occasionally used by the Department of Militia and Defence, to the city so the site could be preserved. The federal government decided to retain custody. In 1907, the fort was threatened with obliteration when plans were laid to build trolley tracks right through the site of the fort. This threat to the fort galvanized the heritage interest groups in Toronto, which had grown exponentially since 1889. The government responded to this powerful force and transferred ownership to Toronto in 1909. More importantly, growing public demand for federal action in heritage preservation, emphasized by 259

Ronald J. Dale

the Fort York issue, convinced the Canadian government to create a formal preservation body to study, identify, and recommend for commemoration or preservation significant historic sites. However, as the commemorations of the War of 1812 centennial were winding down, a much more devastating distraction delayed the formation of this government heritage organization—and most other things in Canadian society.

The Great War On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria set off a chain of reactions that resulted in World War I. Canada was at war with Germany and the Central Powers from August 5, 1914 to November 11, 1918. Out of a population of fewer than 8 million citizens, 430,000 Canadians served overseas. More than 61,000 were killed and 138,000 wounded in a war in which there were 10 million men and women killed in action or dying in service. While the United States was late in getting involved in World War I, declaring war on April 6, 1917, and fighting the first battle on May 3, 1918, casualties were even more severe. More than 53,400 Americans were killed in action, and 204,000 were wounded while 63,114 died of disease or accident. The Great War had shocked the civilized world with its outrageous toll in human suffering. The losses were further aggravated by the flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919 when it is estimated that more than 50 million people died worldwide. With all of this loss it is no surprise that it took a few years before Canada or the United States could look again at programs to commemorate earlier sacrifices on the battlefields of 1812–15. Some projects which had been started before World War I were put on hold to be finished a few years after the war ended. The towns of Blaine, Washington, and Surrey, British Columbia, completed a unique project spanning the Canadian-American border. The 67-foot tall Peace Arch dedicated in September 1921 commemorated the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Engraved on the monument are the words “1814–1914: Open 100 Years; May These Gates Never be Closed.” In 1964 another plaque was added commemorating the 150th anniversary of peace between the two nations.11 Completion of the Peace Arch was followed soon afterwards with other notable projects. In 1926 the sculpture “Wars of America” commemorating all wars, including the War of 1812, was unveiled in Newark, New Jersey. This magnificent work of art features larger than life representations of 42 servicemen. That same year another important American victory of the War of 1812 was immortalized with the completion of the Battle of Plattsburgh and Commodore Macdonough monument in Plattsburgh, New York.

Plaques and Historic Sites In 1871, Canadian statesman Joseph Howe wrote: “A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures, and fosters national pride and love of country, by perpetual reference to the sacrifices and glories of the past.” The public agreed and in both Canada and the United States the federal governments and the legislatures of states and provinces were petitioned by citizens demanding that the government take a greater role in commemorating the past and preserving the rapidly disappearing historic sites where nation-building events unfolded. World War I had delayed the establishment of a federal body to manage national heritage in Canada, while the United States National Park Service had been established in 1916, before America became involved in the war. The Americans had already designated some Civil War battlefields after 1890 but now they had a federal body to concentrate on several aspects of American heritage. In Canada, a National Park system had been established under the Department of the Interior in 1885 260

War of 1812 Memorials

but it had been mandated only to preserve designated natural areas. Finally in 1919 Canada established a body entitled the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, an independent body that would study and identify those places, events, and persons considered to be of national historic significance. They could also recommend to the Minister of the Interior that certain historic sites should be preserved as National Historic Parks administered by the National Parks Branch of the department, the forerunner of Parks Canada, the Canadian government agency that manages national parks and federally owned national historic sites. As of 2014, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has designated more than 965 National Historic Sites commemorating all aspects of Canadian history, and 167 of these are federally owned and managed by Parks Canada. This includes parts of the battlefields of Beaumont Hamel and Vimy Ridge in France, sites of crucial World War I battles in which Canadians played a key role. France deeded the land on which these monuments stand to the people of Canada. In Canada and the United States, provincial, state, and municipal governments took an increasingly active role in identifying historic sites and commemorating them through plaques and interpretive signage or through acquisition to operate as historic site museums. In Ontario, the Ontario Heritage Foundation has been most active in identifying sites of provincial significance and commemorating these with blue and silver plaques. Some states and provinces have been more active than others in studying their heritage and erecting plaques to mark the important places. In Canada, many of the forts that had played a role in the War of 1812 remained in public hands, transferred from the British War Department to the Canadian Department of Militia and Defence. Some of these historic sites were transferred to municipalities, as was the case with Fort York in Toronto, or to the provinces, as happened with Fort George, Fort Henry, and Fort Erie in Ontario, all of which were reconstructed or restored by the Province of Ontario as Great Depression makework projects to increase employment while creating future tourist attractions and building pride in Canadian history. Some of these places would find their way back to federal hands and are managed by Parks Canada today. During the reconstruction of Fort Erie, the skeletal remains of many soldiers killed there in 1814 were uncovered. These were reinterred on-site and their final resting place marked by an obelisk erected in 1939, the last Canadian monument built before the onset of World War II in September of that year. For the next six years Canadians would again be focused on a major war with all Canadians directly or indirectly involved. The United States entered the war in 1941, and Canadians and Americans, at each others’ throats 125 years earlier, now fought side by side to defend democracy against totalitarian regimes. Few monuments were built after World War II, many communities opting to simply put additional plaques on monuments built to commemorate World War I. Historic Sites commemorating the War of 1812 continued to operate and grew increasingly popular as more widespread automobile ownership following World War II meant that more families could travel to these places with ease. The 150th anniversary of the War of 1812 did not get widely recognized other than through the previously mentioned Peace Arch plaque and a new plaque erected in Ghent, Belgium, to commemorate the Treaty of Ghent. To a great extent this War of 1812 anniversary was overshadowed by the 100th anniversary of the Civil War, a national commemoration that would see massive Civil War battle reenactments featuring thousands of American (and Canadian) amateur historians and Civil War enthusiasts dressed and equipped as Civil War soldiers. The bicentennial of the American Revolution followed quickly on the heels of the Civil War centennial. In the United States, community events including reenactments and additional historic site development focused on the War of Independence. Canadians got involved. In Ontario, major events, commemorations, and ceremonies marked the 200th anniversary of the settlement in Canada of more than 50,000 Loyalists, Americans who remained loyal to Britain and who sought refuge in Canada after the granting of American independence. Again the War of 1812 was overshadowed by other historic events. 261

Ronald J. Dale

Figure 18.3

Canadian War of 1812 Monument, Parliament Hill, Ottawa.

(Photo courtesy of the National Capital Commission)

Two Hundred of Years of Peace In 2005, citizens of Canada and the United States began to plan suitable projects to recognize the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. In both countries, governments at all levels have worked closely with citizens’ groups to develop commemorations that have included historic site development and enhancements, new monuments, interpretive plaques and signage, and a variety of special events ranging from large reenactments to writing contests and memorial dinners. Particularly in Maryland and Ontario, awareness of the significance of the War of 1812 has been dramatically increased, and historic places associated with the war have seen huge increases in numbers of visitors. This in turn will help ensure that these special places remain in the hearts and minds of the public. Once again there has been a flurry of artwork and publications focusing on the War of 1812, another legacy to pass down to our descendants. It is significant to note that in both countries the gallant deeds of the participants in the War of 1812 have been recognized, while the results of the war have been emphasized with the byline of “200 years of peace” being a common sentiment. February 17, 2015 marked the beginning of the third century of peace between Canada and the United States, unparalleled globally. This is truly a monumental achievement.

Notes 1. Henry Van Dyke, The Poems of Henry Van Dyke, rev. ed. (New York, 1925), 311–12. 2. Robert Malcomson, Burying General Brock: a History of Brock’s Monuments (Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1996). 3. The controversies surrounding the commemorations of the War of Independence and the early efforts of marking this conflict, marred by political intrigues, are well covered in Kurt Piehler’s Remembering War the American Way (Washington, 1995), 25–30.


War of 1812 Memorials 4. See the brief history of the Chalmette Monument in Caroline Hickey, ed., 1812: A Traveller’s Guide to the War that Defined a Continent (Washington, 2013), 118–19. 5. Thomas Chambers provides a thoughtful chapter on “the changing nature of battlefield tourism” in his Memories of War:Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic (New York, 2012), 1–16. 6. The story of the various commemorative efforts to mark the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, an ongoing struggle in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is well told in the Niagara Falls Museum, located on part of the battlefield. Recently the city turned down an opportunity to preserve a large portion of the battlefield when a school was closed, making the land available to the city. The city council chose instead to allow commercial and residential development on the lot. 7. Gettysburg, with its excellent interpretive programs, is the most heavily visited battlefield in the world. 8. There is a very informative chapter on the Stoney Creek Monument in James Elliott’s study of the battle, Strange Fatality (Montreal, 2009), 228–50. 9. See Piehler, Remembering War the American Way, 89–91. 10. In 2014, the 200th anniversary of the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Maryland went to great efforts to present spectacular events to commemorate the bicentennial of the attack on Baltimore. 11. The Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 was signed on December 24, 1814, and ratified by Great Britain on December 27, 1814, and by the United States on February 17, 1815. The war ended with the U.S. ratification.

Annotated Bibliography Carstens, Patrick R., and Sanford, Timothy L. Searching for the Forgotten War: 1812. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 2011. These two volumes, one on Canada and one on the United States, are indispensable guides to the various battlefields and monuments and other commemorative media. Chambers, Thomas A. Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic. Ithaca, NY, 2012. Provides a good overview of the politics and processes behind the construction of monuments and the preservation of battlefields in the United States. Collins, Gilbert. Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812. Rev. ed. Dundurn, ON, 2006. A useful resource to help navigate the various historic sites, monuments, plaques, and museums commemorating the war in Canada and the United States. Elliott, James. Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813. Montreal, 2009. A well-written, if controversial, study that includes good chapters on the commemoration of the battle. Hickey, Caroline, ed. 1812: A Traveller’s Guide to the War that Defined a Continent. Washington, 2013. This recent publication, a joint effort between Parks Canada and the United States Park Service, provides good descriptions of major historic sites in Canada and the United States. Lossing, Benson J. Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812. New York, 1868. Still the best source for information on War of 1812 battlefields. Lossing visited the War of 1812 sites, many of which were obscure and otherwise unknown, and the gravesites of principal players, to create his monumental work. He interviewed many veterans, British, American, Canadian, and native, to hear eyewitness accounts of the war. The result is a highly readable and well-illustrated gold mine of information on the conflict. Malcomson, Robert. Burying General Brock: A History of Brock’s Monuments. Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, 1996. This brief but fascinating account of the various burials of Brock shows the determination of Canadians to commemorate the iconic hero of the war. Piehler, G. Kurt. Remembering War the American Way. Washington, 1995. Presents a concise analysis of efforts to commemorate the military history of the United States.


19 REMEMBERING THE FORGOTTEN CONFLICT Two Hundred Years of Literature on the War of 1812 Donald R. Hickey

The literature on the War of 1812 is vast.1 It dates to the war itself, and that on the causes goes back further. In the run-up to the contest, administration officials (particularly Secretary of State James Madison), members of Congress, newspaper and magazine contributors, clergymen, and others wrote tracts, speeches, and sermons that shaped the contemporary debate on the causes of the war and thus influenced the ensuing historiography. The Annals of Congress, the American State Papers, and contemporary newspapers offer a particularly rich vein of source material on the causes of the war. Once the war began, reports on the battles and campaigns appeared in U.S. government documents (most of which were generated by the executive branch) and the press. Some were official after-action reports; others were letters written by participants, observers, or those who knew, or thought they knew, something about the action. The American press played a significant role in disseminating these reports. The nation in 1812 had 350 newspapers as well as several magazines, the most influential of which was Niles’ Register. Whether these periodicals came out once a week (which was common) or more often, their editors were always on the hunt for content to fill their pages, and they freely borrowed from one another. There were only seven or eight major newspapers in Canada during the war and perhaps an equal number of short-lived ones. Hence war-related coverage north of the border was necessarily more limited than in the United States. In Great Britain, heavy taxes kept the number of periodicals down, and thus despite a much larger population than the United States (18 million versus 7.7 million) the total number of papers in the United Kingdom in 1812 was only around 200. And because the Napoleonic Wars overshadowed all other international news in the British press, the War of 1812 received only intermittent coverage. The exception was the war at sea. The Naval Chronicle, in particular, was filled with reports and analysis of this aspect of the war with America.

Postwar Works, 1815–1865 After the war ended, a steady flow of publications began, mainly in the United States. Although a New York newspaper had used the term “War of 1812” as early as September 1812, the first book to peg the conflict to a date was William McCarty’s History of the American War, of Eighteen Hundred and Twelve (1816).2 McCarty’s book went through several editions, but his label for the war did not gain wide acceptance until the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846 made it necessary to distinguish between the conflicts. Before this date, most works referred to the War of 1812 as “the late war” or “the recent war.” 264

Figure 19.1 This is the title page from William McCarty’s book in 1816, the first book to use the name of the war in its title. In the first edition, shown here, McCarty spelled out the date. In later editions, he used numerals. ([William McCarty], History of the American War)

Donald R. Hickey

Among the American histories that followed in the wake of McCarty’s book were: John Thomson’s Historical Sketches of the Late War, between the United States and Great Britain (1816), Henry M. Breckenridge’s History of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain (1816), Samuel Perkins’s History of the Political and Military Events of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain (1825), Charles J. Ingersoll’s Historical Sketch of the Second War between the United States of America, and Great Britain (1845–49) and History of the Second War between the United States of America and Great Britain (1853), and Joel T. Headley’s, The Second War with England (1853). There were also some more specialized studies, many of which were written by participants. Two regional treatments stand out: Robert B. McAfee’s History of the Late War in the Western Country (1816) and Arsène Lacarrière Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15 (1816). James Fenimore Cooper published a pioneering History of the Navy of the United States of America in 1839, and privateer captain George Coggeshall contributed an equally seminal History of the American Privateers, and Letters-of-Marque in 1856. In The Life and Adventures of Black Hawk (1839), Benjamin Drake sought to present the native side of the story, and there were several biographies that shed light on the conflict, most notably Alexander Slidell Mackenzie’s Life of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1840) and James Parton’s superlative Life of Andrew Jackson (1860), which may be the best American biography written in the nineteenth century. Several documentary collections were also published in the aftermath of the war: Abel Bowen’s Naval Monument (1816), Herman A. Fay’s Collection of the Official Accounts (1817) and, most importantly, John Brannan’s Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States (1823), which remained a standard and widely consulted collection well into the twentieth century. Memoirs proliferated as well. Some were produced by high-level participants, most notably, Major General James Wilkinson (1816), Major General George Izard (1816), Brigadier General William Hull (1824), Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer (1836), Secretary of War John Armstrong (1836–40), and Major General Winfield Scott (1864). These works usually included documents but were essentially apologia, designed to vindicate reputations and make their authors look good. Other memoirs of note were published by Commodore David Porter in 1815, Dr. James Mann in 1816, and an anonymous aide-de-camp (William Jenkins Worth) in 1833–35. Memoirs were also produced by soldiers and seamen, such as Kentucky volunteer William Atherton, who endured capture and imprisonment (1842); Lake Ontario seaman Ned Myers, who survived the sinking of his ship (1843); seaman Samuel Leech, who served on both British and American warships (1843); and Moses Smith, who fought aboard the U.S. Frigate Constitution (1846). The British and Canadians produced far less in the immediate aftermath of the war. In Britain, William James, an admiralty lawyer, published a history of the land war under the title of A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War (1818), but his best work was on the war at sea. Although James was determined to uphold the reputation of the Royal Navy, his two pioneering works—A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War (1817) and The Naval History of Great Britain (1822–24)—compared the strength of the ships that took part in the naval engagements and presented additional detail hard to find elsewhere today. James’s work was followed by another fine British naval history, Edward Pelham Brenton’s Naval History of Great Britain (1823–25). In Canada, several general treatments of the conflict were published after the war, most notably, Robert Christie’s Military and Naval Operations in the Canadas (1818), David Thompson’s History of the Late War, between Great Britain and the United States of America (1832), Gilbert Auchinleck’s History of the War between Great Britain and the United States of America (1855), and William F. Coffin, 1812; The War, and Its Moral (1864). There were also some memoirs published by those who had served in the British army or Canadian militia. Among these were two of special value by a young Scottish officer who later became Chaplain-General of the British army, George R. Gleig (1821 and 1833). Others were published by 266

Remembering the Forgotten Conflict

Figure 19.2 William James (1780?–1827) was a British-trained lawyer who practiced law in Jamaica before the War of 1812. He was arguably the first modern naval historian of the War of 1812, although he shaded the evidence to make the Royal Navy look good. (William James, Naval History of Great Britain)

Major John Richardson (1826–27), rifleman John Surtees (1833), infantryman Shadrach Byfield (1840), and William Hamilton Merritt, a junior officer in the Canadian militia (1863). Naval officer James Scott published his memoirs in 1834. In addition, Frederic B. Tupper published a biography (with many letters) of his famous uncle, Major General Isaac Brock, the hero of Detroit (1845). In a class by itself was another work, The Letters of Veritas, published anonymously by Montreal merchant John Richardson in 1815. This influential work attacked Governor-General Sir George Prevost for his wartime leadership. While these early works shed light on the war, they were far from unbiased, and the story they told was often driven by an agenda, usually the desire to vindicate an individual or to make the homeland look good. Hence, the victories were often exaggerated and the defeats minimized or ignored. Even the documentary collections were selective, and their editorial standards were far below those of today. Of all these works, the memoirs and documentary collections are probably the most useful today, although they have to be used with caution.

Works in the Gilded Age, 1865–1900 After the Civil War, several American works on the war ventured into new territory. After traveling some 10,000 miles to examine sites and talk to aging veterans, Benson J. Lossing published A Pictorial 267

Figure 19.3 This is the title page from Benson Lossing’s popular book on the War of 1812, first published in 1868. Lossing’s book is filled with antiquarian details on the war and with hundreds of sketches of people and places that played a role. (Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812)

Remembering the Forgotten Conflict

Field-Book of the War of 1812 (1868). This work, running to more than 1,000 pages, includes sketches of people and places and presents so much arcane detail that it is still consulted today. Twenty years later, Henry Adams published his nine-volume History of the United States (1889–91). Covering just 16 years of American history, from 1801 to 1817, Adams’s work is mainly a study of the war and its causes. Although Adams’s judgments were marred by a dim view of human nature and a determination to make everyone but his ancestors and their allies look bad, his work was based on extensive multiarchival research and must be judged the first modern history of the war. It dominated the historiography for nearly a century. Four seminal naval works also appeared in this era. In 1882 Theodore Roosevelt published The Naval War of 1812 in order to respond to William James’s pro-British work. Roosevelt’s study is not without flaws, but he made a genuine attempt to rise above national bias, and until recently his work remained the best treatment of the subject. In A History of the United States Navy (1894 and later editions), Edgar S. Maclay produced a fine narrative of the War of 1812 at sea. A decade later, Alfred Thayer Mahan published his Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812 (1905). Although Mahan undertook this work at least in part to promote a big navy, there is no denying that he also presented an illuminating examination of naval strategy in the war. Canadians were slow to follow the lead of their cousins south of the border, but in the 1890s there was a breakthrough when Ernest A. Cruikshank started producing articles and pamphlets on the battles and campaigns, and, more importantly, documentary collections of the war in different theaters, most notably on the Niagara and Detroit frontiers. As much as anyone else, Cruikshank kept the memory of the war alive in Canada at a time when the last veterans were dying out. By adopting the label for the war used south of the border, Cruikshank brought the term “War of 1812” into general usage in Canada. The British did not follow suit for another century. Two other works of note appeared at the turn of the century: Canadian James Hannay published History of the War of 1812 (1901), and Britain’s Assistant Undersecretary of State for the Colonies, Charles P. Lucas, added The Canadian War of 1812 (1906). Some years later Canadian William Wood contributed a three-volume work that remains of great value even today, Select British Documents of the Canadian War of 1812 (1920–28).

New Directions on the Causes of the War Studies on the causes of the war took a sharp turn in the early twentieth century. Before then historians invariably had focused on maritime issues, particularly the Orders-in-Council and impressment. In the language of those who lived through it, the war was undertaken to secure “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights.” The attack on Canada was thus seen as merely the means employed by the United States to win recognition for neutral rights. This view was challenged by two scholars, Howard T. Lewis in 1911 and Dice R. Anderson in 1913. Both claimed that the primary aim of the war was not to secure neutral rights, but to conquer and annex Canada, either to expand the supply of available farmland for the growing U.S. population or to put an end to British influence over the native tribes in the Old Northwest. Diplomatic historian Julius W. Pratt seized upon this idea and developed it more fully in Expansionists of 1812 (1925), arguing that northern and southern Republicans struck a deal to undertake war to annex both Canada and Florida. Pratt’s evidence was pretty thin, and he cautiously claimed that he was merely presenting one set of causes of the war. But other scholars following in his wake were less restrained, and soon textbooks were presenting the desire to annex Canada as the principal, if not the only, cause of the war. The pendulum swung back in 1940 when Alfred L. Burt, a transplanted Canadian who taught at the University of Minnesota, published The United States, Great Britain, and British North America. Although Burt focused on Canadian-American relations, he nonetheless insisted that maritime issues 269

Donald R. Hickey

had caused the War of 1812. This view was buttressed by two diplomatic histories written in the 1960s, Bradford Perkins’s Prologue to War (1961) and Reginald Horsman’s Causes of the War of 1812 (1969). These scholars told their story in such rich and compelling detail that they set a new standard for how the diplomatic history of the causes of the war should be written. In spite of the influence of these works, however, the Canadian thesis has never quite disappeared. It is no longer the mainstream view, but it still has its champions, particularly north of the border.

Trends after World War II In 1954 Glenn Tucker published a two-volume study of the war, Poltroons and Patriots: A Popular Account of the War of 1812, and this was followed in the 1960s and 1970s by a host of other general works. In The Incredible War of 1812 (1965), J. Mackay Hitsman presented the British/Canadian side of the story. In The War of 1812 (1965), Harry Coles presented a short popular history that was widely used in college courses. In The War of 1812: A Compact History (1969), James R. Jacobs and Glenn Tucker offered illuminating technical detail on the war’s military history; in The War of 1812 (1969), Reginald Horsman offered an accurate and balanced account that fairly treated both sides of the war; and in The War of 1812 (1972), John K. Mahon offered a detailed military history of the contest that remains serviceable today. A host of specialized studies also appeared that fleshed out our understanding of the war. Over a 20-year period, there were no fewer than four books, each of value, that examined the campaign of the Gulf Coast: Charles B. Brooks, The Siege of New Orleans (1961); Wilburt S. Brown, The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana (1969); Robin Reilly, The British at the Gates (1974); and Frank L. Owsley, Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands (1981). There were also two valuable books published on the war in the Old Northwest: a monograph by Alec R. Gilpin, The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest (1958), and an anthology of essays edited by Philip P. Mason, After Tippecanoe (1963). In The Peace of Christmas Eve (1962), Fred L. Engelman offered a good account (although without documentation) of the peace negotiations, and two years later Bradford Perkins contributed an equally compelling account in Castlereagh and Adams (1964). In The Republic in Peril: 1812 (1964), Roger H. Brown shed new light on Republican thinking on the eve of the war; and in The Defended Border (1964), Morris Zaslow compiled a group of Canadian articles that illuminated various aspects of the war in Upper Canada. There was much more. In The Dawn’s Early Light (1972)—the best-selling book of the war of all time—Walter Lord presented a lively account of the war in the Chesapeake, and in Flotilla (1981), Donald G. Shomette examined the operations of Commodore Joshua Barney’s gunboat flotilla in this theater. In The Republic’s Private Navy (1977), Jerome R. Garitee looked at the business side of privateering in Baltimore. In A Most Fortunate Ship (1980), Tyrone G. Martin, a former commander of the U.S. Frigate Constitution, presented a fine account of this celebrated ship’s long and storied history. In The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley (1981), Allan Everest offered a model regional account of the war. And in two biographies, The Shawnee Prophet (1983) and Tecumseh (1984), R. David Edmunds shed considerable light on the role of the native population in the Old Northwest. There were even a couple of dissertations that examined their subjects in such detail that they remain authoritative today: Anthony Dietz, “The Prisoner of War in the United States during the War of 1812” (1964), and Scott Thomas Jackson, “Impressment and Anglo-American Discord” (1976). Another round of general studies of the war followed in the 1980s. In Mr. Madison’s War (1983), J. C. A. Stagg presented a superb account of the inner workings of the Republican party during the conflict and showed how political infighting affected the prosecution of the war. In The War of 1812: Land Operations (1983), George Stanley offered a good companion volume to Hitsman’s early work on the war from the British/Canadian perspective and included a particularly good set of maps. In The Republic Reborn (1987), Steven Watts presented a sweeping cultural history that credited the war 270

Remembering the Forgotten Conflict

with fostering the development of American capitalism. And in The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (1989), Donald R. Hickey presented a broad treatment of the war that included politics and diplomacy as well as battles and campaigns. Another project launched in the 1980s by what is now the Naval History and Heritage Command proved to be of lasting significance. This was William S. Dudley and Michael Crawford’s The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History (1985–), an illuminating collection of source material edited to the highest standard that will run to four volumes when completed. The historiography of the war took yet another important turn in the 1990s with the work of two Canadian scholars. Donald E. Graves, who for years had been writing important articles on technical aspects of the war’s military history, produced a major battle narrative The Battle of Lundy’s Lane (1993). He followed with Red Coats & Grey Jackets: The Battle of Chippawa (1994) and Field of Glory: The Battle of Crysler’s Farm (1999). These works established Graves as the master of the battlefield narrative and the leading authority on the war’s military history. Robert Malcomson was no less prolific. While serving as a grammar school teacher in St. Catharines, he developed an interest in the war on the Great Lakes that culminated in the publication of Lords of the Lake (1998), which instantly marked him as one of the leading authorities of the naval history of the war. Malcomson followed up with A Very Brilliant Affair (2003) on the Battle of Queenston Heights and Capital in Flames (2008) on the American assault on York, and in between compiled a Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812 (2006). Malcomson was just hitting his stride when he died in 2009 at the age of 60. Although Graves and Malcomson proved to be especially productive, other Canadians also left their mark. In The Iroquois in the War of 1812 (1998), Carl Benn produced a seminal work on the aboriginal way of war. In Prize and Prejudice (1997), Faye Kert showed that Canadians, no less than Americans, engaged in privateering during the war. In A Wampum Denied (1997), Sandy Antal re-examined the war in the Old Northwest, and in British Generals in the War of 1812 (1999), Wesley Turner sought to assess British leadership in Canada. Dianne Graves incorporated women into the narrative of the war in her work, In the Midst of Alarms (2007), and in Plunder, Profits, and Paroles (1994), George Sheppard examined the social history of Upper Canada, although he overstated the divisions that existed in the province. In Half-Hearted Enemies (2005), John Boileau explored the complex wartime relationship between Nova Scotia and New England, and in Tecumseh’s Bones (2005), Guy St-Denis reexamined the fate of Tecumseh—and his remains—in the Battle of the Thames and its aftermath. Americans also continued to contribute important studies. In Amongst My Best Men (1996), Gerard T. Altoff looked at the role of blacks in the war. In Deerskins and Duffels (1996), Kathryn E. Holland Braund offered an illuminating examination of Indian-white relations on the southern frontier, and in A New Order of Things (1999), Claudio Saunt offered a brilliant account of Creek society and the origins of the Creek War. Finally, in A Conquering Spirit (2006), Gregory A. Waselkov took a close look at the Fort Mims Massacre and the Creek war. In The U.S. Army in the War of 1812 (1997), Robert S. Quimby presented what was essentially a detailed military history of the war, and in Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812 (1999), C. Edward Skeen tried to bring together material on the role of militia, although he could not entirely overcome the organizational challenge of dealing with a subject that involved all 18 states. In Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 (1997), David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler provided an essential reference work, and in 1812: The War that Forged a Nation (2005), Walter R. Borneman produced a serviceable popular study. Finally, in Don’t Give Up the Ship (2006), Donald R. Hickey explored some of the myths and misconceptions of the war. There were also a number of new specialized studies. In Niagara 1814 (2000), Richard V. Barbuto looked at the bloody campaign on the Niagara frontier in 1814, while in A Signal Victory (1997), David Curtis Skaggs and Gerard T. Altoff reexamined the Battle of Lake Erie. In Green Coats and Glory (2000), John C. Fredriksen offered a good account of the U.S. Army’s rifle regiment. In Splintering the Wooden Wall (2003), Wade G. Dudley examined the British blockade of the U.S. coast, and in The Battle of Stonington (1990), James Tertius De Kay told the story of the Royal Navy’s attack on 271

Donald R. Hickey

a Connecticut port town. In The Burning of Washington (1998), Anthony S. Pitch reexamined the low point in the war for the United States, while in The Battle for Baltimore (1997), Joseph A. Whitehorne retold the story of one of the high points. In another work on this theater, Terror in the Chesapeake (2000), Christopher T. George presented a good account of the entire British campaign in the Chesapeake in 1813–14. In The Battle of New Orleans (1999), Robert V. Remini offered a short work on the last great battle of the war, while in The Pirates Laffite (2005), William C. Davis took a fresh look at the role of the Baratarian pirates in the Gulf Coast war. Finally, in The Other War of 1812 (2003), James G. Cusick told the story of the short U.S. war with Spanish Florida that overlapped the War of 1812. The British also weighed in on the conflict. John Sugden published two fine studies: Tecumseh’s Last Stand (1985) on the Shawnee leader’s death and Tecumseh (1997) on his life, although the latter is pretty speculative where the evidence is skimpy or lacking. The late Jon Latimer’s award-winning 1812: War with America (2007) professed to present the British side of the story, but it does no such thing, and it is so riddled with factual errors and filled with so much deceptive, if not fraudulent research, that it should not be used.

Bicentennial Works By 2009 the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 was on the horizon, and this led to an increase in the number of books on the conflict. To take advantage of the expected uptick in public interest in the war, longtime students finished up their works and established scholars as well as popular writers parachuted in to offer their research and interpretation. The result was a fresh look at some old topics as well as new work on topics that heretofore had been ignored. In keeping with a broader trend in the profession toward transnational history, several works appeared that sought to place the war in its larger international context by emphasizing that it was a byproduct of the Napoleonic Wars and that, for the British at least, it was just another theater, and a decidedly minor one at that, in a larger more important war against France and her allies. This was the thrust of Jeremy Black, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon (2009), as well as J. C. A. Stagg, The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent (2012). In a similar vein, in The Weight of Vengeance (2012), Troy Bickham relied heavily on newspapers drawn from the transatlantic world to present an international history of the war. Several other works have presented a visual history of the war. In 1999, Canadian Victor Suthren set the bar high for illustrated histories with The War of 1812. In The Rockets’ Red Glare (2011), Donald R. Hickey and Connie D. Clark produced an illustrated history of the war that includes American domestic history. In 1812: A Nation Emerges (2012), Sidney Hart and Rachael L. Penman presented a representative sample of the stunning images that were drawn from a host of depositories on both sides of the Atlantic for a special exhibit on the War of 1812 in the National Portrait Gallery. In The Naval War of 1812: “America’s Second War of Independence” (2013), William S. Dudley and J. Scott Harmon reproduced superb images of the naval war from the collections of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum and William I. Koch’s personal collection. And in Yardarm to Yardarm (2012), Mark Collins Jenkins and David A. Taylor, acting on behalf of the Naval History and Heritage Command, drew on a broad range of collections to present an equally striking illustrated history of the naval war. A number of other important works have appeared on the naval war so that scholars no longer have to rely so heavily on James, Roosevelt, Maclay, and Mahan. In Perilous Fight (2010), Stephen Budiansky does a fine job of exploring the management of the war on the high seas from Washington and London. In 1812: The Navy’s War, George C. Daughan presents the war at sea as a dimension of the Napoleonic Wars. Andrew Lambert examines the naval war from the British perspective in Challenge: America, Britain and the War of 1812 (2012), and in Utmost Gallantry (2011), Kevin McCranie shows British naval deployment at the beginning of the war and how opposing ships came to engage one another. In How Britain Won the War of 1812 (2011), Brian Arthur argues that the British blockade 272

Remembering the Forgotten Conflict

won the war for Great Britain, and in Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron (2012), Ronald Utt focuses on the personalities who fought the naval war and argues that their success helped forge a nation. The output of studies on the Chesapeake theater has also been impressive. We have two fine treatments of the British campaign against Washington and Baltimore in 1814: American journalist Steve Vogel’s excellent Through the Perilous Fight (2013), and British journalist Peter Snow’s breezier but well-written When Britain Burned the White House (2013). Ralph Eshelman has been especially prolific, co-authoring with Scott S. Sheads and Donald R. Hickey a guide to historic sites entitled The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake (2010), and with Burton Kummerow an overview of the War in the Chesapeake entitled, In Full Glory Reflected (2012). Eshelman also has produced A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake (2011) and has teamed up again with Scott Sheads to write Chesapeake Legends and Lore from the War of 1812 (2013). Working alone, Sheads has added yet another study of this theater, the handsomely illustrated Osprey campaign volume, The Chesapeake Campaigns, 1813–15 (2014). Two more specialized studies that shed light on this campaign are Stuart Butler’s work on the role of the Virginia militia (2013) and Patrick L. O’Neill’s account of the British attack on Fort Washington (2013). Other theaters have also received a fresh look. Donald E. Graves has reexamined the last battles in the North (at Fort Erie and Plattsburgh) in And All Their Glory Past (2013). Gillum Ferguson (2012) and Tom Kanon (2014) have written superb studies of the role of Illinois and Tennessee in the conflict, and in Astoria (2014), Peter Stark has devoted some attention to the fate of this remote outpost during the war. Finally, in The British Raid on Essex (2014), Jerry Roberts describes the assault on the Connecticut River town then known as Pettipaug. The role of the native population in the War of 1812 continues to generate interest. In Tohopeka (2012), Kathryn Holland Braund has edited a group of essays devoted to peeling back the layers of Creek history in the war. In Rising Up from Indian Country (2012), Ann Durkin Keating takes a fresh look at the Fort Dearborn Massacre, and in “Thus Fell Tecumseh” (2011), Frank E. Kuron reviews the various claims of who killed the great Shawnee leader. Although we do not have a lot of U.S. Army regimental histories, Richard V. Barbuto’s recent study of the Third Artillery Regiment, Long Range Guns, Close Quarter Combat (2010) offers a good model, and John C. Fredriksen’s The United States Army in the War of 1812 (2009) provides a useful compilation of source material for further research on the army. The Bicentennial has produced a large number of biographies, several of which are of special note. In Defender of Canada (2013), John Grodzinski has done a superb job of rehabilitating Sir George Prevost, the Governor-General of Canada, who should be remembered as the savior of Canada rather than as the hapless field commander who failed at Sackets Harbor and Plattsburgh. In The Astonishing General (2011), Wesley B. Turner offers an informed and balanced treatment of Major General Isaac Brock; in William Henry Harrison (2014), David Curtis Skaggs presents an illuminating account of Harrison’s success in frontier warfare; and in A Slave in the White House (2012), Elizabeth Dowling Taylor tells the remarkable story of one of President James Madison’s slaves. Other recent works of note on the war are Alan Taylor’s best-selling and pioneering social history of the conflict on the Canadian-American border, The Civil War of 1812 (2010), which postulates a conflict between rival royalist and republican visions for the continent as a cause of the war; Nicole Eustace’s cultural history, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (2012), which suggests that Republicans used the imagery of love and procreation to sell the war to the American people; Reginald D. Stuart’s Civil-Military Relations during the War of 1812 (2009), which explores the tension between civilian rights and military objectives in the conflict; Gene Allen Smith’s study of blacks in the war, The Slaves’ Gamble (2013); and J. C. A. Stagg’s fine account of America’s relationship with the Spanish on the southern frontier, Borderlands in Borderlands (2009). Rounding out the remarkable body of works generated by the Bicentennial of the war are several documentary collections. The fourth and last volume of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s 273

Donald R. Hickey

documentary naval history should be out in 2015, thus completing what is surely the most important documentary initiative on the war since the pioneering work of Earnest Cruikshank more than a century ago. Donald R. Hickey has compiled a broad range of documents in The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence (2013); John C. Fredriksen has reproduced accounts of 15 Americans who served in the land war in The War of 1812 in Person (2010); and Carl Benn has edited two accounts of native participants in Native Memoirs from the War of 1812 (1813).

Conclusion The output of studies on the War of 1812 has been remarkable in the last 30 years and little short of extraordinary in the last five. We now have an impressive body of literature that illuminates many aspects of the war, particularly on the military and naval campaigns. As the Bicentennial fades, there will probably be a significant reduction in the output of work, although the number of topics in need of exploration is far from exhausted. We still need a full account of the war from the British perspective that treats more than the war at sea. We could also use a study of the role of privateers commissioned in Great Britain, and we need to know more about the domestic history of Canada during the war. We also could use a comprehensive work that draws together what we know about the role of the native population in all theaters of operation. In addition, we could use a study of the organization, training, and administration of the U.S. Army and a comprehensive account of the role of American militia and U.S. Volunteers. We also could use a detailed study of the U.S. and Canadian wartime economies; a study of the domestic and foreign impact of the U.S. restrictive system; and a study of the treatment of enemy aliens in the United States and Great Britain. In short, there is still plenty of work to be done to flesh out our understanding of the “forgotten conflict.”

Notes 1. An earlier version of this essay was published as “Historiography of the War of 1812,” in Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History, 3 vols. (Santa Barbara, CA, 2012), 1: 341–45. 2. For the first use of the term, see New York Statesman, September 8, 1812.

Works Cited Adams, Henry. History of the United States [during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison]. 9 vols. New York, 1889–91. Rev. ed., New York, 1901–04. Authoritative modern ed., edited by Earl N. Harbert, 2 vols., New York, 1986. Altoff, Gerard T. Amongst My Best Men: African-Americans and the War of 1812. Put-in-Bay, OH, 1996. Anderson, Dice R. “The Insurgents of 1811.” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911. 2 vols. Washington, 1913 [1: 165–76]. Antal, Sandy. A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812. Ottawa, 1997. 2nd ed., Ottawa, 2011. Armstrong, John. Notices of the War of 1812. 2 vols. New York, 1836–40. Arthur, Brian. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy’s Blockades on the United States, 18121–1815. Woodbridge, UK, 2011. Atherton, William. Narrative of the Suffering and Defeat of the North-Western Army, under General Winchester. Frankfort, KY, 1842. Auchinleck, G. A History of the War between Great Britain and the United States of America, during the Years 1812, 1813, and 1814. Toronto, 1855. Barbuto, Richard V. Niagara 1814: American Invades Canada. Lawrence, KS, 2000. ———. Long Range Guns, Close Quarter Combat: The third United States Artillery Regiment in the War of 1812. Youngstown, NY, 2010. Benn, Carl. The Iroquois in the War of 1812. Toronto, 1998. ———. Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess. Baltimore, 2013. Bickham, Troy. The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812. New York, 2012.


Remembering the Forgotten Conflict Black, Jeremy. The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon. Norman, OK, 2009. Boileau, John. Half-Hearted Enemies: Nova Scotia, New England and the War of 1812. Halifax, 2005. Borneman, Walter R. 1812: The War that Forged a Nation. New York, 2005. Bowen, Abel., ed. The Naval Monument, Containing Official and Other Accounts of All the Battles Fought between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain during the Late War. Boston, 1816. Rev. ed., Boston, 1830. Brannan, John, ed. Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States, during the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812, 13, 14, & 15. Washington, 1823. Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1785–1815. Lincoln, NE, 1996. 2nd ed. Lincoln, NE, 2008. ———, ed. Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812. Tuscaloosa, AL, 2012. [Breckenridge, Henry M.] History of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain: Containing a Minute Account of the Various Military and Naval Operations. Baltimore, 1816. 7th ed., Philadelphia, 1839. Brenton, Edward Pellam. The Naval History of Great Britain, From the Year [1783] to [1822]. 5 vols. London, 1823–25. Rev. ed., 2 vols., London, 1837. Brighton, J. G. Admiral Sir P.B.V. Broke, Bart., K.C.B., etc.: A Memoir. London, 1866. Brooks, Charles. B. The Siege of New Orleans. Seattle, 1961. Brown, Roger H. The Republic in Peril: 1812. New York, 1964. Brown, Wilburt S. The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana, 1814–1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans. Tuscaloosa, AL, 1969. Budiansky, Stephen. Perilous Fight: America’s Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812–1815. New York, 2010. Burt, A. L. The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812. New Haven, 1940. Butler, Stuart L. Defending the Old Dominion:Virginia and Its Militia in the War of 1812. Lanham, MD, 2013. Byfield, Shadrach. A Narrative of a Light Company Soldier’s Service in the 41st Regiment of Foot, during the Late American War. Bradford, UK, 1840. Christie, Robert. The Military and Naval Operations in the Canadas, during the Late War with the United States. Quebec, 1818. Coffin, William F. 1812; The War, and Its Moral: A Canadian Chronicle. Montreal, 1864. Coggeshall, George. History of the American Privateers, and Letters-of-Marque, during Our War with England in the Years 1812, ’13 and ’14. New York, 1856. Coles, Harry L. The War of 1812. Chicago, 1965. Cooper, James Fenimore. History of the Navy of the United States of America. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1839. 2nd ed., Philadelphia, 1840. ———, ed. Ned Myers; or, A Life before the Mast. Philadelphia, 1843. Cruikshank, Ernest A., ed. The Documentary History of the Campaign on the Niagara Frontier. 9 vols. Welland, ON, [1896]–1908. ———, ed. Documents Relating to the Invasion of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit, 1812. Ottawa, 1912. Cusick, James G. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. Gainesville, FL, 2003. Daughan, George C. 1812: The Navy’s War. New York, 2011. Davis, William C. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. New York, 2005. De Kay, James Tertius. The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines, and Rockets in the War of 1812. Annapolis, 1990. Dietz, Anthony G. “The Prisoner of War in the United States during the War of 1812.” PhD diss., American University, 1964. Drake, Benjamin. The Life and Adventures of Black Hawk: With Sketches of Keokuk, the Sac and Fox Indians, and the Late Black Hawk War. Cincinnati, 1839. Dudley, Wade G. Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 1812–1815. Annapolis, 2003. Dudley, William S., and Crawford, Michael J., et al., eds. The Naval War of1812: A Documentary History. 4 vols. Washington, 1985– . ———, and Harmon, J. Scott, eds. The Naval War of 1812: “America’s Second War of Independence.” (Collections of William I. Koch and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum). Annapolis, 2013. Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln, NE, 1983. ———. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership. Boston, 1984. 2nd ed. New York, 2007. Engelman, Fred L. The Peace of Christmas Eve. New York, 1962. Eshelman, Ralph. A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake. Baltimore, 2011. ———, and Burton Kummerow. In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake. Baltimore, 2012.


Donald R. Hickey ———, and Scott S. Sheads. Chesapeake Legends and Lore from the War of 1812. Charleston, SC, 2013. ———, Scott S. Sheads, and Donald R. Hickey. The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland,Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Baltimore, 2010. Eustace, Nicole. 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism. Philadelphia, 2012. Everest, Allan S. The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley. Syracuse, NY, 1981. Fay, H. A. Collection of the Official Accounts, in Detail, of All the Battles Fought by Sea and Land, between the Navy and Army of the United States, and the Navy and Army of Great Britain, During the Years 1812, 13, 14, & 15. New York, 1817. Ferguson, Gillum. Illinois in the War of 1812. Urbana, 2012. Fredriksen, John C. Green Coats and Glory: The United States Regiment of Riflemen, 1808–1821. Youngstown, NY, 2000. ———. The United States Army in the War of 1812: Concise Biographies of Commanders and Operational Histories of Regiments, with bibliographies of Published and Primary Resources. Jefferson, NC, 2009. ———. The War of 1812 in Person: Fifteen Accounts by United States Army Regulars, Volunteers and Militiamen. Jefferson, NC, 2010. Garitee, Jerome R. The Republic’s Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practiced by Baltimore during the War of 1812. Middletown, CT, 1977. George, Christopher T. Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay. Shippensburg, PA, 2000. Gilpin, Alec. R. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. East Lansing, 1958. [Gleig, George R.]. A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army at Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Philadelphia, 1821. ———. A Subaltern in America, Comprising His Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, etc., etc. during the Late War. Philadelphia, 1833. Graves, Dianne. In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812. [Montreal], 2007. Graves, Donald E. Red Coats & Grey Jackets: The Battle of Chippawa, 5 July 1814. Toronto, 1994. ———. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane: On the Niagara in 1814. Baltimore, 1993. Rev. ed.: Where Right and Glory Lead! The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, 1814. Toronto, 1997. ———. Field of Glory: The Battle of Crysler’s Farm, 1813. Toronto, 1999. ———. And All Their Glory Past: Fort Erie, Plattsburgh and the Final Battles in the North, 1814. [Montreal], 2014. Grodzinski, John R. Defender of Canada: Sire George Prevost and the War of 1812. Norman, OK, 2013. Hannay, James. History of the War of 1812, (between Great Britain and the United States). St. John, NB, 1901. Hart, Sidney, and Penman, Rachael L. 1812: A Nation Emerges. Washington, DC, 2012. Headley, J. T. The Second War with England. New York, 1853. Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, CA, 1997. Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana, IL,1989. ———. Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812. Toronto and Urbana, IL, 2006. ———, and Clark, Connie D. The Rockets’ Red Glare: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812. Baltimore, 2011. ———, ed. The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence. New York, 2013. Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Toronto, 1965. Updated by Donald E. Graves, Toronto, 1999. Horsman, Reginald. The Causes of the War of 1812. Philadelphia, 1962. ———. The War of 1812. New York, 1969. Hull, William. Memoirs of the Campaign of the Northwestern Army of the United States, A.D. 1812. Boston, 1824. Ingersoll, Charles J. Historical Sketch of the Second War between the United States of America, and Great Britain. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1845–49. ———. History of the Second War between the United States of America and Great Britain. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1853. Izard, George, ed. Official Correspondence with the Department of War, Relative to the Military Operations of the American Army under the Command of Major General Izard, on the Northern Frontier of the United States in the Years 1814 and 1815. Philadelphia, 1816. Jackson, Scott Thomas. “Impressment and Anglo-American Discord, 1787–1818.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1976. Jacobs, James Ripley, and Tucker, Glenn. The War of 1812: A Compact History. New York, 1969. James, William. A Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America. London, 1817. ———. A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America. 2 vols. London, 1818. ———. The Naval History of Great Britain, From the Declaration of War by France, in February 1793, to the Accession of George IV in January 1820. 6 vols. London, 1822–24. Rev. ed., London, 1878. Jenkins, Mark Collins, and Taylor, David A. Yardarm to Yardarm: How the War of 1812 Created America’s Navy. Boston, 2012.


Remembering the Forgotten Conflict Kanon, Tom. Tennesseans at War, 1812–1815: Andrew Jackson, The Creek War, and the Battle of New Orleans. Tuscaloosa, AL, 2014. Keating, Ann Durkin. Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. Chicago, 2012. Kert, Faye Margaret. Prize and Prejudice: Privateering and Naval Prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812. St. Johns, NL, 1997. Kuron, Frank E. “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Privately printed, 2011. Lambert, Andrew. Challenge: America, Britain and the War of 1812. London, 2012. Latimer, Jon. 1812: War with America. Cambridge, MA, 2007. Latour, Arsène Lacarrière. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–15. Philadelphia, 1816. Edited and expanded by Gene A. Smith, Gainesville, FL,1999. Leech, Samuel. Thirty Years from Home; or, a Voice from the Main Deck. Boston, 1843. Lewis, Howard T. “A Re-Analysis of the Causes of the War of 1812.” Americana 6 (1911): 506–16, 577–85. Lord, Walter. The Dawn’s Early Light. New York, 1972. Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. New York, 1868. Lucas, C. P. The Canadian War of 1812. London, 1906. Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell. The Life of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. 2 vols. New York, 1840. Maclay, Edgar S. A History of the United States Navy, From 1775 to 1893. 2 vols. New York, 1894. New and enlarged ed., New York, 1902. Mahan, A. T. Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812. 2 vols. Boston, 1905. Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, FL, 1972. Malcomson, Robert. Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812–1814. Annapolis, 1998. ———. A Very Brilliant Affair: The Battle of Queenston Heights, 1812. Toronto, 2003. ———. Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812. Lanham, MD, 2006. ———. Capital in Flames: The American Attack on York, 1813. Montreal and Annapolis, 2008. Mann, James. Medical Sketches of the Campaigns of 1812, 13, 14. Dedham, MA, 1816. Martin, Tyrone. A Most Fortunate Ship: A Narrative History of “Old Ironsides.” Chester, CT, 1980. Rev. ed. Annapolis, 1997. Mason, Philip P., ed. After Tippecanoe: Some Aspects of the War of 1812. East Lansing and Toronto, 1963. [McAfee, Robert B.]. History of the Late War in the Western Country. Lexington, KY, 1816. [McCarty, William]. History of the American War, of Eighteen Hundred and Twelve, from the Commencement until the Final Termination Thereof, on the Memorable Eighth of January 1815, at New Orleans. Philadelphia, 1816. McCranie, Kevin. Utmost Gallantry: The U.S. and Royal Navies at Sea in the War of 1812. Annapolis, 2011. Merritt, W. H. Journal of Events, Principally on the Detroit and Niagara Frontiers, during the War of 1812. St. Catharines, ON, 1863. O’Neill, Patrick L. “To Annoy or Destroy the Enemy”: The Battle of the White House after the Burning of Washington. Burke, VA, 2014. Owsley, Frank L., Jr. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812–1815. Gainesville, FL, 1981. Parton, James. Life and Andrew Jackson. 3 vols. New York, 1860. Perkins, Bradford. Prologue to War: England and the United States, 1805–1812. Berkeley, CA, 1961. ———. Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823. Berkeley, CA, 1964. Perkins, Samuel. A History of the Political and Military Events of the Late War between the United States and Great Britain. New Haven, 1825. Pitch, Anthony S. The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814. Annapolis, 1998. Porter, David. Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean. 2 vols. Philadelphia and New York, 1815. 2nd ed., New York, 1822. Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1812. New York, 1925. Quimby, Robert S. The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study. 2 vols. East Lansing, 1997. Reilly, Robin. The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812. New York, 1974. Rev. ed., Toronto, 2002. Remini, Robert V. The Battle of New Orleans. New York, 1999. [Richardson, John]. The Letters of Veritas, Republished from the Montreal “Herald,” Containing a Succinct Narrative of the Military Administration of Sir George Prevost. Montreal, 1815. [Richardson, Major John]. “A Canadian Campaign, by a British Officer.” New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal 18 (1826) and 19 (1827), passim. Rev. ed., [Brockville], 1842. New ed.: Alexander C. Casselman, ed., Richardson’s War of 1812. Toronto, 1902. Roberts, Jerry. The British Raid on Essex: The Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812. Middletown, CT, 2014. Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812. New York, 1882. 3rd ed. New York, 1883.


Donald R. Hickey Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. Cambridge, UK, 1999. Scott, James. Recollections of a Naval Life. 3 vols. London, 1834. Scott, Winfield. Memoirs of Lieut.-General Scott. 2 vols. New York, 1864. Sheads, Scott S. The Chesapeake Campaigns, 1813–15: Middle Ground in the War of 1812. Oxford, UK, 2014. Sheppard, George. Plunder, Profits, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada. Montreal, 1994. Shomette, Donald G. Flotilla: Battle for the Patuxent. Solomons, MD, 1981. Rev. Ed., Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812. Baltimore, 2009. Skaggs, David Curtis. William Henry Harrison and the Conquest of the Ohio Country. Baltimore, 2014. ———, and Gerard T. A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812–1813. Annapolis, 1997. Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington, KY, 1999. Smith, Gene Allen. The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. New York, 2013. Smith, Moses. Naval Scenes in the Last War, or, Thirty Years on Board the Frigate Constitution, and the Adams. Boston, 1846. Snow, Peter. When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington. London, 2013. Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, NJ, 1983. ———. Borderlands in Borderlands: James Madison and the Spanish-American Frontier, 1776–1821. New Haven, 2009. ———. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York, 2012. Stanley, George F. G. The War of 1812: Land Operations. [Toronto], 1983. Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire. New York, 2014. St-Denis, Guy. Tecumseh’s Bones. Montreal, 2005. Stuart, Reginald C. Civil-Military Relations during the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, 2009. Sugden, John. Tecumseh’s Last Stand. Norman, OK, 1985. ———. Tecumseh: A Life. New York, 1997. Surtees, John. Twenty-Five Years in the Rifle Brigade. Edinburgh, 1833. Suthren, Victor. The War of 1812. Toronto, 1999. Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies. New York 2010. Taylor, Elizabeth Dowling. A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons. New York, 2012. Thompson, David. History of the Late War, between Great Britain and the United States of America. Niagara, ON, 1832. Thomson, John L. Historical Sketches of the Late War, between the United States and Great Britain. Philadelphia, 1816. Tucker, Glenn. Poltroons and Patriots: A Popular Account of the War of 1812. 2 vols. Indianapolis, 1954. Tupper, Frederick B. The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. London, 1845. 2nd. ed. London, 1847. Turner, Wesley B. British Generals in the War of 1812: High Command in the Canadas. Montreal, 1999. ———. The Astonishing General: The Life and Legacy of Sir Isaac Brock. Toronto, 2011. U.S. Congress. American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, 1832–61. ———. Annals of Congress: Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, 1789–1824. 42 vols. Washington, 1834–56. Utt, Ronald. Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the Forging of the American Navy. Washington, DC, 2012. Van Rensselaer, Solomon. A Narrative of the Affair of Queenston: In the War of 1812. New York, 1836. Vogel, Steve. Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation. New York, 2013. Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814. Tuscaloosa, AL, 2006. Watts, Steven. The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820. Baltimore, 1987. Whitehorne, Joseph A. The Battle for Baltimore, 1814. Baltimore, 1997. Wilkinson, James. Memoirs of My Own Times. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1816. Wood, William, ed. Select British Documents of the Canadian War of 1812. 3 vols. Toronto, 1920–28. [Worth, William Jenkins]. “The First Campaign of an A.D.C.” Military and Naval Magazine of the United States 1–5 (1833–35): passim. Modern ed., edited by Donald E. Graves, First Campaign of an A.D.C.: The War of 1812 Memoir