Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Nearly Forgotten: The War of 1812
Occurring between two major conflicts, the American Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 has been largely forgotten. Its importance in defining the future of our nation cannot be ignored.
Under President James Madison, the War of 1812 was the first war initiated by the United States. Four factors led Congress to declare war against Great Britain:
British restrictions impeding American trade with France.
Impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy. Britain claimed naturalized sailors on American ships were deserters, naturalized illegally.
British support and encouragement of American Indians in the Northwest Territory hampering America's westward expansion.
Britain's belief that America wanted to annex Canada.
Fighting generally was centered on the Great Lakes, the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal states. The British were also at war with France and blockaded our Atlantic ports preventing movement in or out by our merchant and naval ships and restricting French ships conducting trade with the U.S.
The U.S. was poorly equipped for war with any army of only 12,000 men. Militia forces did not want to leave their homes to support the regular army. The government was strapped for money needed to build ships and to pay recruits enough to attract them to join the army. The New England economy relied on foreign trade and those states were vocal against the war, ultimately threatening to secede.
Britain easily took Detroit and ultimately all of Michigan. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry's decisive 1813 win in the Battle of Lake Erie American vastly improved morale. The death of Tecumseh, Britain's Indian ally, furthered weekened the British position and ended their control of Detroit. In 1814 American forces recaptured Fort Erie at Niagara. The major loss to our country, however, was the British seizure of Washington and the burning of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Treasury and most other major government buildings in August 1814. This so enraged the nation that we fought all the harder.
Our defense of Fort McHenry in 1814 resulted in the lyrics for our National Anthem. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and amateur poet, wrote The Star Spangled Banner after he witnessed the shelling of the Baltimore fort by the Royal Navy. General Andrew Jackson's troops won the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. As American forces strengthened the two sides were approaching a costly stalemate and had little to gain from continuing the conflict.
Diplomats from both sides signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. Ratified by the British three days later, it arrived in Washington on February 17 where it was also quickly ratified finally ending the war. Neither side gained or lost territory. The boundary disputes were settled peacefully and paved the way for a permanent relationship of good will and mutual respect between the U.S., Britain and Canada. Officially, the U.S. suffered 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded, but the number of dead from all causes directly related to the war including disease is estimated at about 15,000.
A special exhibit opened on May 4 in South Haven, Michigan featuring an exact replica of a sailing ship used in the war. James Spur, chairperson of the exhibit said, "The War of 1812, while not the birth of our nation, forged it and gave us an identity. Before the war, we referred to the United States in the plural. After the war, we referred to the United States in the singular." In discussing the War, Winston Churchill once stated the United States was ". . . never again refused proper treatment as an independent power."
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10 June 2012