The War of 1812 Bicentennial

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This topic contains 18 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  JamesS 4 years ago.

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  • #15576

    Andrew Edwards
    Participant

    Admittedly, it is still about a thousand years off from where we are in the podcast, but American listeners may wish to take note that we are about a week away from the bicentennial marking the start of the War of 1812. American history places the conflict on par with the War of Independence, but from what I understand, its but a minor footnote in British history. That's understandable, considering the British were far busier trying to vanquish Napoleon and the French than go for a second round with its upstart former colonies. Even knowing that, it was still a war the British were involved in and its an event in their history.So who's done any research into the area? I haven't had the chance to read any books on the subject and the only other thing I've really seen was "First Invasion", a documentary the History Channel did a few years ago.

  • #18141

    Anonymous

    I just finished watching The Battle of 1812 by PBS in conjunction with the Canadian counterpart, with commentary by British, American (white, black and Native American), and Canadian historians.  EXCELLENT! If you don't have a pbs affiliate, you can probably watch on your computer at pbs.org. 

  • #18142

    Captain Slack
    Participant

    I wouldn't say American's place the War of 1812 on the same footing with the Revolution.  It isn't covered in great detail in schools & most people don't know a lot about it.  The running joke is always, “I never can remember when that was.”  Yeah, funny stuff.  >:(

  • #18143

    Mick
    Participant

    Greetings from London. It certainly isn't well known here, where people were a bit more concerned about Napoleon. The common view is that “The Americans think they won it, the Canadians think they won it, and we didn't know we fought it”.  Andrew Lambert recently published a book on it entitled “The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812”.  He discusses this in a podcast interview obtainable at http://www.historyextra.com/podcast-page. You might note that Lambert's version differs in tone and spin from the Wikipedia summary. There are two faint echoes here. Most of the USS Chesapeake is now said to be part of a windmill in Wickham, Hampshire; and the USS President, renamed, became the forerunner of a string of naval training establishments on the Thames for many years. There are decent Wikepedia entries on both.

  • #18144

    Captain Slack
    Participant

    Two of the frigates built by the US that fought in this conflict are still around.  The USS Constitution is docked in Boston & is still an officially registered ship in the US Navy.  The USS Constellation is moored in Baltimore and is the oldest ship in the Navy.

  • #18145

    anonymous
    Participant

    Honestly, the only thing I remember about the lessons on the War of 1812 is that Francis Scott Key penned the “Star Spangled Banner” poem after watching one of the battles.  There's a good chance that I just spaced out and didn't absorb any of the information on the War of 1812, but there's also a strong possibility that it was an afterthought in the lessons.  We may have covered it for all of a day in class and moved on.  The schools I attended focused heavily on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but everything in between was pretty much lost.  Except for the Gold Rush, of course.  (In a similar complaint, we hardly ever learned anything about the Korean or Vietnam wars, despite many of the history teachers being veterans of those wars.  I have a beef with the history lessons in our schools.)

  • #18146

    Anonymous

    Hi there – I just finished working on a series of profiles of people who were involved in the war for Sun Media in Canada.If Jamie doesn't mind, I could post some pieces on some of the people - if there is interest.

  • #18147

    TimHodkinson
    Participant

    There's an interesting article about this on the BBC website today:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18497113

  • #18148

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    Balaclavatom, feel free to post!  This forum is set up for all of you to use however you want.  I generally don't mind what people do so long as it's polite and properly categorized within the forums.  :)

  • #18149

    brian_toronto
    Participant

    Here in Canada, the War of 1812 anniversary is a HUGE big deal – it is as close as Canada gets to a war of independence.  The quote from President Madison that winning the war “would be a mere matter of marching” has been endlessly repeated hereabouts of late.  The 200th anniversary of the start of the war was last month, and there are events planned over the next year or two to mark various battles and anniversaries.  Much of the action took place in the Niagara peninsula just SW of Toronto, so if you have ever thought about visiting, this summer or next summer would be a great time to come see.  The best book I have read on the subject is J Mackay Hitsman's "The Incredible War of 1812, a military history".  It was updated and republished in 1999, by RBS in Toronto.  Lambert's views as per podcast quoted above seemed a tad slanted to me - he goes out of his way to minimize the significance of the conflict and the various battles involved (strange way to sell a book!).  In the context of European history he is no doubt right, however in the context of north American history he is of course dead wrong.  Feels a bit like Jamie's balancing act with telling the story of Roman Britannia within the context of larger Roman history.  Jamie did a much better and more balanced and nuanced job!    Happy to post some pics and websites re various 1812 sites if anyone is interested. 

  • #18150

    Diane
    Participant

    Brian: As a Canadian and a historian, I'd love to see some pics if you manage to make it out to the events! Out here in AB, the 1812 celebrations aren't very big. In fact I don't think there are any, which makes sense because the war wasn't fought out west! I'll be in Ottawa for Sept. but unable to make it south to Toronto-area, so if you get any pics please post them!Jessaminnie: Look on the bright side, at least you learn some of your history... in Canada we learn "Social Studies," which is basically geography, political science, anthropology, and history combined. In high school, it covers every country/continent of the world, excluding Canada. Most Canadians can't name more than three of our prime ministers!! Some even think we have a president! You have to go to University and take Canadian history to even learn there was a war in 1812.Mick: "The Americans think they won it, the Canadians think they won it, and we didn't know we fought it" HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA ... very true!!! But the Canadians (with British help) did win the war of 1812... just so we're clear! ;)

  • #18151

    brian_toronto
    Participant

    Brian: As a Canadian and a historian, I'd love to see some pics if you manage to make it out to the events! Out here in AB, the 1812 celebrations aren't very big. In fact I don't think there are any, which makes sense because the war wasn't fought out west! I'll be in Ottawa for Sept. but unable to make it south to Toronto-area, so if you get any pics please post them!Mick: "The Americans think they won it, the Canadians think they won it, and we didn't know we fought it" HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA ... very true!!! But the Canadians (with British help) did win the war of 1812... just so we're clear! ;)

    Will do Diane!  Links to a bunch of things as below, in advance:http://war1812celebrations.ontariofestivalsvisited.ca/And it wouldn't be fair if we did not acknowledge the help of Tecumseth and the native peoples in winning the war.  Michigan was so close to becoming their home territory.  History, and the modern day, could have been very different...!

  • #18152

    Anonymous

    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

  • #18153

    Anonymous

    Bench Strength – How the British-Canadian side deals with the loss of two key leadersWith two of the greatest commanders on the British-Canadian-First Nations side dead, the depth of the bench, as they say in sports terms, was tested.And at times it could rise the occasion and at times not so much.One of the shining lights was a guy who just didn’t look like the hero type.Major Charles Plenderleath – his narrow chest and rather weak chin made him look more like a teacher in a boys’ school.But looks are deceiving.Plenderleath was in the 49th Regiment of the British Army – the unit General Isaac Brock brought to Canada and led to capture Detroit. Although Brock died at Queenston Heights, the 49th was a tried and tested unit and Plenderleath an experienced veteran.That experience told him his men were in trouble at Stoney Creek. The British had gambled on a daring night attack on the superior American camp. They had approached with unloaded muskets in what was supposed to be a fairly quiet bayonet assault and crept in the darkness right into the lines of the enemy. But on first contact, cheering British officers alerted American forces they were under attack and the Americans quickly rallied, loaded their guns and began firing. The British troops were in a quandary. They had partially disassembled their muskets – removing the firing mechanism to prevent an accidental discharge – so they had to re-install their flintlocks and load their muskets. Staying to do that meant they would be easy targets for the Americans. But fleeing meant they could be routed in the dark or attacked in the morning by the stronger American force they’d been hoping to stop.Plenderleath did neither. He’d heard heavy cannon firing from nearby his position. Very nearby. The following extracts are taken from an account of Stoney Creek given by Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon, 49th Foot, in a private letter, dated 7 June 1813, to the Rev. James Somerville, of Montreal:`Major Plenderleath came immediately after to that portion of the line which I had quitted, and, with the men I had left in charge of a sergeant, and a few others, he rushed forward against the guns andtook four of them... Major Plenderleath pushed on with about 20 men, following the main road, the men stabbing every man and horse they met with... This handful of men with Major Plenderleath took at this dash, besides the two generals [Chandler and Winder], five field officers and captains, and above 100 prisoners, and brought them off.'`I am of opinion that, had not Major Plenderleath made the dash he did, the Americans would have kept their ground and our ruin would have been inevitable.'But Plenderleath went on to further successes.He is the de facto commander of the 49th as he leads it into battle at John Crysler’s Farm.Here he is ordered to charge and capture American artillery – which he does while fending off a counter-attack by American dragoons which is a fancy name for cavalry.He left the service as Lieutenant-Colonel Plenderleath and was placed on  Half Pay and saw no further active service. He died in 1854.The bench strength didn’t stop at the officer corp.Take Alexander Fraser for example. He not only captured two American generals in one day during the Battle of Stoney Creek, he also turned the tide of the battle from a British and Canadian defeat into victory.And he did it with his only weapon, a bayonet mounted on his unloaded musket.Fraser and his brother, Peter, served in General Isaac Brock’s old regiment, the 49th. It has been described as an ‘Irish Regiment’ but included plenty of Scots and English, many of whom stayed on in Canada after the war.That regiment had been retreating from the battle at Niagara Falls, planning to continue to the stronghold of Kingston. When they arrived at Burlington Bay, they knew the American forces following them could use their superior numbers to send the British and Canadians reeling back around Lake Ontario as far as Kingston. But when the British saw that the Americans, led by two inexperienced generals, had camped in a disorganized sprawl with plenty of campfires to allow British and Canadian scouts to find them, they reconsidered. The night attack began.It started off well for the British, bent on surprising and blunting the American forces before they could organize. As the battle progressed, the British plan for a quick, quiet mission was ruined by cheering, started by officers when the first British successes against the American main force became apparent. The Americans, outnumbering the joint British forces by almost two to one, rallied and began firing into the attacking redcoats.The redcoats had removed the flints from their muskets to prevent accidental discharges during their silent advance under cover of darkness. While the British refitted their weapons with flints, the Americans fired away, ripping apart the attackers.Scottish-born Major Charles Pleanderleath was tracking the firing to determine where the Americans were when he heard cannon fired from very near his position. He decided to charge the cannon before they were reloaded. The Fraser brothers led the charge – down a dark farm lane they didn’t know in the middle of a moonless June night towards a detachment of American artillery – with no ammunition in their muskets.As the brothers crashed into the American artillery, Alexander Fraser promptly bayoneted an American soldier who had just fired one cannon. The Americans attempted to fire a second cannon but the damp powder prevented it from igniting. Peter Fraser killed four Americans with his bayonet. When American General John Chandler, who had been reportedly playing cards with fellow General William Henry Winder, arrived on the scene, he thought the artillery unit was falling apart and set about rallying the troops. But the bayonet held at his chest by a giant Scot quickly made it apparent the artillery had been captured. Winder was also taken prisoner by Alexander Fraser moments later.Fraser continued his brave service, but was unable to surpass his night of capturing two generals with only a bayonet. When he retired from military life, he moved to a farm in Perth where he fathered 13 new citizens of Upper Canada.The American side didn’t quite have the bench depth their opponents had, with some exceptions. One of the weak links was the aforementioned lawyer who lost Washington. That wasn’t his first brush with failure. General William Henry Winder was one of the two generals captured at Stoney Creek.Winder was one of the most successful lawyers in Baltimore, and he knew how to argue but it’s arguable he knew much about fighting.Winder was commissioned as a colonel in 1812 when the war was declared, so he didn’t have far to go to become general. Despite receiving one of the worst reports of any unit in the American army, he held the position of brigadier general by the time he was captured at the Battle of Stoney Creek. And that wasn’t even the low point of his career.In the fall of 1812, camped out near Buffalo, NY, Winder was in command of the Fourteenth Infantry.“They are mere militia, and if possible, even worse, and if taken into action in their present state, will prove more dangerous to themselves than to their enemy,” the army inspector wrote in his report.Even so, four weeks later Winder was leading 250 of them across the Niagara River from Black Rock in the Americans’ second try at invading Canada that year. A superior British force killed six, wounded 28 and forced Winder’s men to retreat before they could capture Frenchman’s Creek. That outing was described by one witness to Winder’s attempt as “worse than useless.”Regardless, he was promoted to brigadier general in March of 1813. So when he was captured in the Battle of Stoney Creek later that year, it was quite a coup for the Canadian-born militia who took him and another American general prisoner.But Winder’s real claim to fame was losing the battle to defend Washington. Winder was traded in a prisoner exchange about a year after he was captured and was then put in charge of defending Baltimore and Washington. That battle – between the British and American forces in August of 1814 – was called the Bladensburg Races after the nearby community where the battle took place and because the defending forces could not get away from the British fast enough. There was good reason to flee. By April of 1814, Great Britain had exiled Napoleon Bonaparte from France, so had a large number of  battle-hardened soldiers at its disposal. It started sending them to North America. General Robert Ross had fought with Wellington against the French. He was an aggressive, clever commander and his troops were well-trained and battle-tested. That and the ability of the Royal Navy to move up the Delaware River to provide support and supply to the army attacking Washington was a lethal combination.The heat and humidity were more of a problem for the British than anything Winder could throw their way. The British suffered 64 dead and 185 wounded – many of the dead were killed by the exertion of battle in wool uniforms and the heat and humidity of the late August Washington summer. The Americans had about a dozen killed, three or four dozen wounded and 100 captured. The American militia ran through the streets of Washington in retreat. Bladensburg was called the greatest disgrace to ever be visited upon the American army.The British, with instructions from Sir George Prevost, British commander in Canada, paid the Americans back for the raid on Port Dover, where that Canadian town was burned down – including private homes.Public buildings in Washington were put to the torch. While the men of government fled along with the military, Dolley Madison, the First Lady, removed valuables from the White House before it was set on fire. A Frenchman and the president’s gardener removed a portrait of George Washington from the White House.Winder was court martialed for his loss of the Battle of Bladensburg but was acquitted of all blame. Apparently, the war to save his reputation was one he was better trained to handle.It wasn’t all skittles and beer for the British, even when they were successful.James FitzGibbon was an outstanding soldier and a hero of the War of 1812, but his rise in the military cost him. He was another of Brock’s protégés.Born in Ireland in 1780, he was not quite 32 when the War of 1812 was declared.It was not his first war. By 1812 he had already distinguished himself in Brock’s 49th Regiment in Europe. Brock was his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel of the 49th Regiment. At the time, officers were usually men from wealthy families who “bought” their commissions and promotions. But Brock promoted FitzGibbon because he was intelligent and hard-working – from sergeant major in 1802, to ensign and adjutant in 1806, and lieutenant in 1809. However, as an officer, FitzGibbon had to equip himself, and every promotion led to more expenses.FitzGibbon managed impressive feats as a young officer. After the War of 1812 began, he brought a small fleet of boats from Montreal to Kingston, including through the rapids in full view of the American side of the St. Lawrence River. In the dead of winter, he led 45 sleighs of supplies from Kingston to Niagara.After acting as a company commander at the Battle of Stoney Creek in 1813, FitzGibbon took 50 “chosen men” into action with the mandate to “be employed in advance of the Army, and with the authority to act against the Enemy as he pleased and on his responsibility solely.”FitzGibbon and his men harassed the American troops so effectively the Americans sent an expedition to take him out of action. Led by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Boerstler, the Americans camped at Queenston for the night and marched towards Beaver Dams the next morning.Warned of the attack by Laura Secord, FitzGibbon dispatched about 400 First Nations warriors to intercept the Americans. The First Nations warriors, led by Captains William J. Kerr and Dominique Ducharme, both Métis, attacked at the beech woods. After three hours of fighting in the bush, FitzGibbon approached  the Americans. Taking a page from Brock’s playbook at Detroit, he led the Americans to believe they were vastly outnumbered by his troops and in danger of falling into the warriors’ hands.Boerstler surrendered and 462 Americans were marched away by 50 British and Canadian soldiers.General Edward Baynes praised FitzGibbon for his “most judicious & spirited exploit,” and the press of the day, the Montreal Gazette, cheered “the cool determination and the hardy presence of mind evinced by this highly meritorious officer.”He was promoted to captain in the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, where for the rest of the war he and his men acted as scouts for the army. After he resigned his commission as an officer, he held a number of public service jobs in Canada. But in addition to his officer’s expenses, FitzGibbon frequently lived beyond his means and his debts were mounting.During the 1837 rebellion against William Lyon Mackenzie, FitzGibbon managed to whip a poorly trained rabble into shape to meet – and stop – the rebel menace marching down Yonge Street towards Toronto. In gratitude for “rescuing them from the horrors of a civil war”, Toronto citizens proposed a reward but it never materialized. The Upper Canadian legislature requested a 5,000 acre land grant from the queen, but it was suggested FitzGibbon instead be given money for his civil and military services. However, it wasn’t until 1845 that the legislature rewarded him with the sum of £1,000, half of what he owed and nowhere near the value of the proposed land grant. FitzGibbon returned to Britain in 1847. He became a knight at Windsor Castle, an honorary position with a pension, and lived there until his death at the age of 83.To the east, French Canadiens were also distinguishing themselves.Americans thought that French Canadiens would welcome being ‘liberated’. This was true during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In both cases they were wrong.Like father, like son. And then some.Ignace de Salaberry, from a French-Canadian family with a long history of military service, joined the British Army and was a proud member of the 44th Regiment. So it was no surprise that’s the regiment his son joined – at the age of 14.Eventually, Charles-Michel de Salaberry changed to the 60th Regiment and saw action in the West Indies (where he was recognized for bravery) and Belgium. He became a captain-lieutenant in 1799 and was given a company command in 1803.By 1810 he had been recalled to Canada as a lieutenant-colonel and aide-de-camp to Major General Francis de Rottenburg. In 1812, just before the war, de Salaberry was a given a new command – as chief of staff for the militia and direct command of the Canadian Voltigeurs light infantry, a new corps of predominantly French Canadien volunteers.While his unit was militia, de Salaberry’s experience with British Army units led him to train his men as regular soldiers. They became some of Canada’s best soldiers, and the Americans soon realized this fact.American politicians and army commanders had seen Quebec as the weak link in the British line – a conquered people straining to be free of the yoke of British imperialism. But after the Seven Years War, the British had told the French Canadians they could keep their language, their traditions, their legal system and their religion, as long as they swore allegiance to the British Crown. While some resistance to the British remained, many French Canadians embraced the change, as de Salaberry’s father demonstrated. Under Benedict Arnold, the Americans attacked Quebec City during the American Revolution, believing once they liberated that city, the whole French section of the country would join them. Ignace de Salaberry fought against the American “liberators” and successfully repelled them.Charles-Michel fought in the battle at Crysler’s Farm (called by some the battle that saved Canada) but his most famous battle was at Chateauguay in October of 1813. That victory caused the Americans to abandon the Saint Lawrence campaign, their major strategic effort that autumn.The Americans had a force of 4,000 men under General Wade Hampton. Even with only 250 men of his Voltigeurs and 50 Mohawk warriors (with another 1,500 men in reserve), de Salaberry was so confident of victory he gambled by not informing his superiors of the impending battle. He anticipated the American force intended to advance toward Montreal. With the friendly local population providing a stream of intelligence on the American advance (including numbers, condition of the troops and morale) de Salaberry was easily able to estimate Hampton’s speed and direction, and form his strategy. The Chateauguay River is a natural defensive position south west of Montreal. De Salaberry used a tried and true method of building a quick bush fort of “abatis” by felling trees with the branches facing the expected advance of the enemy and then sharpening the branches. He built the ancient barbed wire style defence in strategic positions like ravines and trails through the woods. When Hampton’s men walked into the barricades, he tried to surround the Canadiens with 1,500 men. Using the darkness of twilight and the forested, hilly ground, de Salaberry had buglers stationed in various positions in the woods sound calls to make his force seem larger than it was, which confused the Americans trying to surround them. As the Americans blundered about in the ravines and dead ends caused by the felled trees, the Voltigeurs and Mohawks fired into them, killing and wounding many. Hampton retreated across the border.Although he could have been court-martialled for failing to keep his superiors informed of the American advance, de Salaberry’s victory at Chateauguay gave him rock star status in Quebec after the war. Today, his family name survives in Ontario and British Columbia and his deeds are remembered with a town named after him, and a number of statues commemorating him, including one in Ottawa. His home in Chambly, where he died in 1829, is a historic site.End of Part Two

  • #18154

    brian_toronto
    Participant

    Was hoping to revive this thread – just last week, there was a re-enactment of the Battle of York from 1813.  This took place at the site of Fort York in Toronto.  York of course is the old name for the city.  There are pics of the re-enactment, the march-past, and also the re-enacters' camp in the fort.  The fort was re-built after the battle (the British blew up the original fort, killing a number of American officers and men, after losing this particular battle).  Hope you find this interesting!Link to Gallery:http://mackiemedia.smugmug.com/photos/swfpopup.mg?AlbumID=30132368&AlbumKey=S9s58vA few previews:i-BkwkXCQ-M.jpgi-KwKphrX-M.jpgi-dP7bKmr-M.jpgi-5BrxB8D-M.jpg

  • #18155

    Diane
    Participant

    Thanks for the photos! I wonder if the Americans are commemorating the war?

  • #18156

    JamesS
    Participant

    We're lucky if our public schools even mention it.  Beyond history majors in college, I doubt most Americans even have a clue as to the war at all.  I only know because of my love of American history and I read a rather thick history book on it.

  • #18157

    Cayle
    Participant

    The great thing about the war of 1812 is that it has something for everyone.  I know that Canadians regard the war as an unequivocal victory.  Interestingly enough, Americans don't regard it as a defeat, but as a victory.  Yes, the invasion of Ontario was a disaster.  Yes, Washington DC got burned.  But there was the naval war and New Orleans.  For the Americans, the whole plucky, fledgling US taking on the British Empire and coming out of the war with a Status quo ante bellum treaty at the end was a morale booster.  Also, bear in mind that most Americans also don't know much about the Mexican-American war and that war was- from the American perspective - hugely successful; with the acquisition of the modern states of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona.  This war is how the US acquired California!!!  Now if the Mexican-American war was a big deal in the states, historically speaking and the war of 1812 not; then we might be able to consider the physiology of forgetting defeat and remembering victory.  But both are overshadowed - from the American perspective - by that historical behemoth of the 19th Century; the American civil war. 

  • #18158

    JamesS
    Participant

    Could not agree more.  Also love my book on the First Century of America, which dealt with our war with Mexico.  Great stuff!Very much like your take on it all.

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