Re: The War of 1812

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This is Part One of my bit on the War of 1812The War of 1812 is one of the lesser known wars for almost anyone else but Canadians.And for Canadians, little is known of it except for people who live in Southern Ontario.The Americans, who declared war in June of 1812, don’t talk much about it. It’s not that they think they did poorly, they bask in the glow of victory from the Battle of New Orleans and a few naval victories, it’s just they have had many other wars with more stunning and clear-cut victories, it’s easier to overlook this one.Oddly, the war is a source for many American sayings, including, “We have met the enemy and he is ours,” said by the American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry, at the end of the Battle of Lake Erie, which the U.S. won, this was later paraphrased by the comic character Pogo as “we have met the enemy and he is us”; “Don’t give up the ship,” was said by Captain James Lawrence just off the coast of Boston as his ship was battered by the British frigate HMS Shannon. His ship, the Chesapeake, was surrendered soon after Lawrence was carried below decks fatally wounded; Canada’s capture would be a “mere matter of marching,” said Thomas Jefferson and he wasn’t the only American who felt that way. "I believe that in four weeks from the time a declaration of war is heard on our frontier, the whole of Upper Canada and a part of Lower Canada will be in our power," said Representative John C. Calhoun.The war gave the Americans their anthem by Francis Scott Key. At the same time Great Britain was battling America on our continent, she was also fighting one of history’s greatest military leaders in Europe, where Napolean had conquered much of that continent. In 1814, with a brief break in European wars, Great Britain focused attention on the North American conflict. Thousands of  veterans were shipped across the Atlantic joined by forces in Canada to attack the coastal cities of the U.S.A. Washington’s government buildings are burned and Baltimore was next on the list. American commanders sink two dozen of their own ships in the approaches to Baltimore to keep the Royal Navy out, so instead it shells Fort McHenry. Key is aboard a Royal Navy ship. A lawyer from Baltimore he was there to gain the release of a doctor captured during the British attack on Washington (another lawyer from Baltimore was the general who mishandled the defence of Washington, but more on him later). As the bombardment was set to begin, Key was not allowed to leave and so had to watch the shelling from the deck of the British warship. The view of the shells ‘bursting in air’ around the giant flag flown from the fort inspired him to pen the lyrics that were later paired with a British drinking song to give the young country its anthem.In Canada, the war was the seed for the Dominion of Canada which would be formed later in the century, primarily out of fear of attack from the south. Still, across the country, little is known of the war despite the repercussions that would follow.And this is weird.Because one of the most important units to fight in the war came from Newfoundland.One of the most successful Canadian units was in fact a Canadien unit -  from Quebec.The bulk of the battles were fought in and around Ontario, but perhaps the most spectacular success for the British and Canadian side was fought in the area of Washington D.C. and the biggest failure of that side was fought after the war officially ended in the area of New Orleans. There were sea battles along the eastern coast and even in the vicinity of Great Britain, and land battles west of the Great Lakes.Still, it’s not weird the war doesn’t have a high profile globally. Napoleon Bonaparte was grabbing all the attention on the continent – and for the most part the best British soldiers were pitted against him. Canada and the United States were backwaters. Britain’s battle with him spanned the War of 1812 – with a brief interruption at which time, the Brits had enough freedom to bring more focus on the states. That’s when Washington was burned.How did all this come about?Prior to 1812, Americans didn’t have a navy to speak of and while it did win the American Revolution, with a large amount of help from France and especially the French Navy, the British had so moved on from that and put it behind them. The Americans had, in an effort to not be like the old mother country it had just tossed out, shrunk its army and refused to sink vast sums into a navy. This left it open to predation of its commercial fleet by pirates and the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy was the largest navy in the world and needed every sailor the country produced to man it’s ships. Meanwhile the American merchant fleet was growing and scooping up any able seaman willing to sail and make a good living. It didn’t take long before these two competing interests collided. America was sensitive to the impressments of Great Britain, where her ships would stop American ships and search for British subjects working as sailors. Britain would also blockade France during her wars with the French and the Americans didn’t like that interruption of trade. That’s essentially the official reason the States declared war in June of 1812.The unofficial reason was it really didn’t like having the mother country still having an interest in North America and wanted the rest of the continent for itself.Great Britain didn’t really pay attention to what was going on over in North America – she had her hands full with the wars on the continent. The Royal Navy was pretty busy from the American Revolution on to 1815. Most of the average citizens in the two countries did not want war.Even after war was declared, business between the two countries flourished in some areas. Joe Martin, former publisher of the Canadian history magazine The Beaver, and an author on a number of Canadian business books and University of Toronto professor, says some Vermont businessmen suggested Montreal should have built a statue to President John Madison as a tribute to the man who helped the business community of Montreal. The eastern seaboard states and the Maritimes continued clandestine trade as well – heck often it was with family and friends on the other side of the border. It was a wide ranging affair. It impacted Great Britain, especially the Royal Navy, and Canada, the United States and France.The United States in addition to getting its national anthem out of the war also grabbed some street cred with its old mother country. Britain laid off the impressments, actually it was going to do that before the war was declared, but the American war hawks had worked themselves into a lather.Canada and the United States have some strained relations since, but for the most part, they’ve been good friends.Canada and Britain have remained close, but Britain realized she would have to let Canada walk on its own. Until then, Canada depended on Britain for almost everything from manufactured goods to soldiers to money.The war gave Canada its own bank – the Montreal Bank, later called the Bank of Montreal. It gave Canadians a sense of self-confidence to a certain extent and also underlined the importance of a form of confederacy between the remaining provinces, although the hint was taken particularly quickly. It took Fenian raids and a small civil war to jam the cattle prod into our collective butts and getting us moving to form a country.Quebec residents for the most part, showed they were loyal to the British flag and a solid partner with English-speaking Canada with an impressive show of arms against American actions in that theatre. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment provided trained sea-worthy land troops to defend Ontario, fight on the Great Lakes as sailors and marines and in some cases, stay and settle.One of the war’s early heroes on the Canadian side was a French Canadien who fought in the Royal Navy with Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar. He returned to Canada and joined the Provincial Marine, the equivalent of the reserves.On June 19, 1812 American President James Madison declared war on Great Britain. He really had no interest in invading or attacking Great Britain; what he wanted was Canada, which at the time was British. But he had no fast way of communicating that declaration of war to the hundreds of troops he had spread out across the frontier.The Brits, who were running an empire, understood the importance of communications. They had no i-phones, but they did get the message out to their outposts faster than the Americans.So on July 2, 1812 when Frederick Rolette, the French Canadian Lieutenant of the Provincial Marine saw the American ship Cuyahoga Packet, sailing up the Detroit River from Lake Erie, he couldn’t believe his luck.Watching the Cuyahoga sail slowly up river – defenceless – was too good to be true. Rolette and a dozen armed sailors pushed off from Fort Malden and paddled out to the American transport. The schooner was taking quartermaster general William Kennedy Beall to Fort Detroit. Beall was looking after the supplies for General William Hull, the American commander who would soon lose Detroit to a British General called Isaac Brock.And that’s mostly due to Rolette. He was outnumbered, but the Americans had their guns stowed below decks. A warning shot was all that was needed for the ship’s captain, Luther Chapin, to surrender.Rolette captured the Cuyahoga Packet, along with the soldier passengers, the military band and all their instruments, medical supplies and all of General Hull’s papers, including his plans for defending Detroit and his complete fear of Indian warriors and the men who were hacking their way through the bush to defend Detroit. As they sailed the captured ship into Fort Malden, Rolette even convinced the band to play ‘God Save The King.’The intelligence the Canadian captured from this mission went a long way to helping General Brock later take Detroit.Rolette went on to fight in a series of major land and naval battles, including the Battle of the River Raisin and the Battle  of Lake Erie, where he was captured. He excelled in cutting out parties where he and small band of men would row into an American port and capture a ship and sail it out from under the noses of the enemy. It was the only time he had a band to play music to capture ships by, though. Rolette’s success helped set up Isaac Brock, the British army’s best commander in North America.Brock, called by Canadians the “Hero of Upper Canada” in the War of 1812 – didn’t even want to be in Canada.Brock considered the country he died defending a backwater. In his mind, the “real British army” was in Europe, fighting Napoleon Bonaparte.He bought his first army commission at age 15 and served in Europe. He was posted to Canada in 1806 and from the time he arrived until the eve of war, he petitioned to be returned to the war in Europe. But in February 1812 when he was finally offered the opportunity to leave, he stayed, sensing war was near.Brock had doubts about the people he was leading and he lamented the state of morale of the Canadians in Upper Canada at the outbreak of war. However, at more than 6 feet in height, he tried to inspire the people and the soldiers with his size and confidence.  “I ...speak loud and look big,” he wrote to Governor General Sir George Prevost’s Adjutant. When he met the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, Tecumseh said “This is a man!” Brock was equally impressed, calling Tecumseh "the Wellington of the Indians, a more sagacious or a more gallant warrior does not I believe exist".Despite Brock’s misgivings about Canadians, at times the Canadian military instilled him with confidence. Brock was able to capture Detroit in large part because French Canadian Frederick Rolette had captured the papers of the American General – William Hull – who had been ordered to defend Detroit. Those papers included Hull’s plans for defending Detroit. They also showed Hull’s fear of Indian warriors and suggested Hull’s soldiers had lost confidence in him.All Brock used to capture Detroit on August 16, 1812, was a pen and a few cannonballs fired at the walls of the fort – plus some brilliant strategy. Brock gave discarded regular British army uniforms to the Canadian militia so they would look like regulars, dramatically increasing the appearance of the British presence. He also used some tricky marching in and out of the cover surrounding Detroit to suggest he had a larger Indian warrior component than there actually was. While the British were outnumbered two to one, the Americans thought the odds were against them.Then Brock put pen to paper. He wrote Hull a note, keeping in mind Hull’s fear of Indian warriors and the demoralized state of the Americans in the fort. "It is far from my inclination to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences,” he wrote.Hull surrendered.Brock wanted to continue attacking the Americans while he had the initiative, but Prevost was concerned more with defending Canada than with attacking the United States.Brock died, October 13, 1812, during the Americans’ second attempt to invade Canada. Leading his men in an uphill charge to retake the British artillery captured by American forces as they crossed the Niagara River at Queenston, he was shot first in the hand, then in the heart. Troops rallied after Brock’s death and the Americans were repulsed. He’d captured the imagination of Canadians. More than 5,000 residents turned out for his funeral, where a 21 gun salute fired at Fort George was echoed by a respectful salute, also of 21 guns, from the American side.Tecumseh didn’t just appear at Detroit. He was a great warrior, remembered for – among many things – his military contributions as a leader of First Nations in the War of 1812.Tecumseh was born around 1768 near where Springfield, Ohio is today and was 44 when the war broke out. Throughout his life, he watched American settlers encroach on native land, forcing natives to move again and again.When American Indian agent William Wells invited Tecumseh to talks in 1807, Tecumseh replied: “The Great Spirit above has appointed this place for us, on which to light our fires, and here we will remain. As to boundaries, the Great Spirit above knows no boundaries, nor will his red people acknowledge any.”His willingness to deal peacefully with the Americans began to ebb with the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. It was an American attempt to force Tecumseh’s brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa), a religious leader, into a hostile act and it worked. Fighting erupted and casualties on both sides were comparable. The Americans thought the battle would break the native belief in the Prophet. It was shaken but the natives also saw they were equal to the American army.In June of 1812, without knowing the Americans had declared war on Great Britain, Tecumseh decided natives had to reclaim their land. His cause was helped by his ability to rally people to his cause and an innate understanding of military tactics and strategy.He attacked and captured a supply train heading for U.S. Brigadier General William Hull who had struck into Canada early in the war, stretching his supply lines. When Hull, who was terrified of Indian attacks, heard of the ambush, he stopped his march into Canada and returned to Detroit.When General Isaac Brock decided to force Hull out of Detroit, the mere presence of Tecumseh and his troops was a major tactical advantage.Brock praised Tecumseh - “a more sagacious or a more gallant Warrior does not I believe exist,” the commander wrote. Brock’s support for Tecumseh included a vision for an Indian state south of the Great Lakes.Brock’s aggressive actions impressed Tecumseh and other First Nations warriors and by the fall, Tecumseh was at the head of a native army of 1,000.When Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights in the fall of 1812, Major-General Henry Procter took over British operations in south-western Ontario. He was not as aggressive as Brock and lacked his tactical imagination. By July 1813, after a series of failed sieges on American forts, Indian and British-Canadian troop morale was sinking.As were British-Canadian ships. The American naval victory on Lake Erie made any forays south of the lakes untenable. The natives and British Canadians retreated to the north side of the lakes.Now with no means of supply along Lake Erie, Procter decided to withdraw to Canada where it would be easier to provide for his troops. Tecumseh wanted to stay and fight the Americans. Procter promised he would fight when the time was right.That time was October 5, 1813 at the battle of Moraviantown.The British and Canadians were demoralized and Procter was seen as weak. The First Nations warriors were angry and frustrated; some left in disgust before the battle.As the fighting began, the British formed lines and the Indians took a position in a swamp to the British right. When the Americans attacked, the British turned and fled, leaving Tecumseh and 500 warriors facing 3,000 Americans. Tecumseh was killed.His loss was so strongly felt many First Nations south of the Great Lakes made peace with American forces immediately following his death.End of Part One