The War of 1812 11 Fulkersons
who participated

  The War of 1812 is a dimly-remembered episode in our history, so long ago that we may not think of its significance today. It spanned the years from 1812 to 1814, and marked the true end of British dominance over the former American colonies. However, it could have ended far differently.

  The war was almost inevitable. For nine years, during their war with Napoleon, the British placed intolerable restrictions on U.S. transatlantic shipping. Britain was forcing American ships bound for Europe to stop at British ports to pay duties, and also seizing crews from American ships and impressing them into service in the British navy. During the same time the British were supporting Canadian-American Indian tribes in their effort to halt the settlement of America's western territories. This caused a backlash of American sentiment that the British must be expelled from Canada in order to secure America's frontiers. Americans in the South added yet another expansionist goal: to drive Britain's ally Spain out of Florida.


  The slowness of communications in that era was also partly to blame for the war. The United States declared war on Britain on June 19, 1812, three days after Britain had rescinded its restrictions on American shipping, but the news of Britain's action did not reach our shores (by sailing ship) until several weeks later.

  Once involved, America found it had not prepared for a war. Within two months we had surrendered our settlements at Detroit and Chicago, plus all of Michigan. Weeks later we made unsuccessful attempts to invade Ontario and Quebec through upstate New York. The only high point in 1812 was the capture of the British warship Guerriere by the USS Constitution, for which the latter became known as "Old Ironsides." Despite our occasional victories at sea, however, the overwhelming British navy was able to capture many American naval ships and forced the rest to remain in American ports, resulting in a complete blockade of our coast.


  The war continued in 1813, marked by many American failures on land and sea. Toward the end of the year American spirits were revived by Oliver Hazard Perry's destruction of the British fleet on Lake Erie, and by later-President William Henry Harrison's defeat of British and Indian forces at the Battle of the Thames in southern Ontario.


  By 1814 America finally had some well-trained armies, but we were two years too late. The British had defeated Napoleon and could now afford to send their best troops to North America. In America's west they controlled Lake Michigan and the upper Mississippi, and in the east they invaded the Chesapeake Bay and burned many buildings in Washington, DC - including the White House and the Capitol. They were finally stopped at Baltimore, where the sights and sounds of the battle prompted Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem, the "Star Spangled Banner."

  The war's outcome was nearly disastrous for the United States,
Andrew Jackson in battle
Battle of New Orleans,
from an 1868 school book
and at its end was marked by yet another failure in communications. Negotiations were held in late 1814 at Ghent, in Belgium. America had done so poorly that it abandoned the positions it had taken in its initial declaration of war. It was also in danger of losing the New England states, where the war had been unpopular and there was talk of secession from the Union. The British government, which clearly had the upper hand, demanded that America give up Maine, upstate New York and parts of what would become Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. They also wanted to establish military bases on U.S. soil, and create a permanent Indian reservation on America's western frontier. Britain relented on these demands, however, after deciding it did not want to commit the military resources it would need to maintain these acquisitions. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, ending the war. Two weeks later, while the news of the treaty was still crossing the Atlantic, Andrew Jackson defeated a British army at the Battle of New Orleans.

in the War of 1812