“The Forgotten War” in United States History
“The War of 1812, also known as “The Forgotten War”, is often overlooked in United States history. The war was fought by nearly one hundred thousand regulars and hundreds of thousands more militiamen. This was America’s second war with Great Britain. The war was declared over trade injustices carried out by Great Britain on the sea with the United States. The war ended after three years of bloody conflict with the exchange of ratifications carried out in Belgium with the Treaty of Ghent nearly a half a world away.
The war had numerous causes. In Europe, the war between Britain and France caused both countries to impose harmful financial restrictions on American trade. Each country took measures to prevent the other from trading with the United States. Along with trade restrictions, Britain’s Royal Navy also practiced the act of impressment on American ships in order to keep their own vessels fully crewed. Britain’s Parliament had also issued numerous “Orders in Council” throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s that declared any ship on course to a French port was bound for British search and seizure. In 1806, then secretary of state, James Madison, delivered a report discussing British hostility at sea. This greatly increased anti-British sentiment throughout the states. By 1811, Great Britain had impressed around six-thousand American sailors into its navy. In 1807, the British ship Leopold fired upon the American ship Chesapeake which increased international tensions between the two countries.
Along with problems America faced with Britain at sea, American frontiersman ferociously accused the British of inciting violence and unrest among the American-Indians. In 1811, the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought in Indiana. It followed the Treaty of Fort Wayne which required American-Indians to sell three-million acres of land to the United States Government. Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh, organized resistance. The battle ended with an American victory. Tecumseh’s defeat prompted him to ally with Great Britain. He would later play an important role in Britain’s success along the Great Lakes in the months to come. Tippecanoe is considered the first battle of the war, even though Congress had not yet officially declared war on Britain.
In the first days of June 1812, President James Madison sent a letter to Congress listing his complaints with Great Britain. On June 4, 1812, the House of Representatives voted seventy-nine to forty-nine in favor of war with Britain. Thirteen days later, the United States Senate voted nineteen to thirteen in favor of war with Britain. The next day, on June 18, the United States officially declared war. There was, however, opposition to the war. Riots broke out in Baltimore from June to August in protest of the imminent conflict.
America entered the war hoping to capture Canadian land from Britain. They hoped to use the captured Canadian territory to bargain with. America’s first move was to send U.S. forces led by William Hull into Canada. This move was a blunder. The American troops were chased by British troops and American-Indians led by Tecumseh back to Detroit. Detroit was surrendered out of fear without the firing of a single shot. The Northwest was terrorized by British and Indian raids consequently.
America’s second attempt at invading Canada was defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October. The subsequent third attempt on Canada was aborted. On October 13, 1812, the British Parliament issued another Order in Council. This authorized British military forces to retaliate against American troops, ships, and people. This was considered a declaration of war.
The war has officially begun for both nations. American troops attempted to retake the captured city of Detroit at the Battle of Frenchtown. They s were easily defeated. The captured troops were massacred at what is known as the River Raisin Massacre. Thirty to sixty captured men were murdered by American-Indians. Finally, in April 1813, American forces defeated British troops at the Battle of York. U.S. troops occupied the city for 6 days, looting homes and burning government buildings. This was a result of the death of their beloved General Pike. Britain would later repay this act with the capture and burning of Washington. The end of the battle proved inconclusive. Neither side had gained any control of Canadian waters yet but American morale was greatly boosted which would encourage future attempts to expand into Canada.
Later that year, American troops won a victory at Put-in-Bay. This was known as the battle of Lake Erie. This gave the opportunity for American forces to retake Detroit and defeat British and Indian forces at the Battle of The Thames. Tecumseh was killed here. British supplies were cut off as a result.
Hundreds of miles to the South, Andrew Jackson defeated Creek resistance to American pioneers and settlement in Alabama after a five-month campaign at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. This opened up the Mississippi territory to American settlement. Jackson’s decisive victory earned the nation’s attention to his progressing military career.
Across the Ocean in Europe, peace broke out between France and Great Britain in the Spring of 1813. This prompted Britain to more fully focus on its war with the United States. Britain replenished its North American army with thousands of fresh battle-hardened veterans seeking to bring a swift end to the conflict. Fresh British Commanders plan to separate the North and South by taking New England and attacking New Orleans. They hoped to cut off important transportation routes in both regions. They also planned on attacking coastal cities such as Washington, Baltimore, Charleston, and Savannah to lower American morale.
In July 1814, the treaty of Greenville was signed which allied five American-Indian tribes against Great Britain. These tribes Wyandots, the Delawares, the Shawnodese, the Senecas, and the Miamies. The treaty also states under Article two that the tribes must give support to the United States against Britain and hostile Indian tribes. They were also not permitted to make peace with the enemy without permission from the United States Government.
Near the border, yet another American invasion was halted. The advance began after the victory at Chippawa on July 5 but was decisively stopped at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. The British, however, lost nearly a third of their forces there. Each side suffered nearly one-thousand casualties. Lundy’s Lane would come to be the costliest battle of the entire war for both sides.
In Maryland, the British army was seeking to attack Washington. It was met with slight resistance at the Battle of Bladensburg. The British advance was hardly affected. One soldier’s account of the battle compared the American resistance as sheep chased by dogs, “”If the militia regiments, that lay upon our right and left, could have been brought to charge the British, in close fight, as they crossed the bridge, we should have killed or taken the whole of them in a short time; but the militia ran like sheep chased by dogs.”” On August 25, 1814, British troops ransacked the city. Government buildings and homes were looted and burned in retaliation for the American occupation of York. To prevent Fort Warburton’s capture, American troops burned it.
On September 11, British forces are defeated on Lake Champlain at the Battle of Plattsburg. This was a major victory for American troops and moral. The victory helped lead to the conclusion of peace negotiations that began a month earlier in Belgium.
After the British capture of Washington, their next major objective was Baltimore. Baltimore was an extremely important objective for the British to capture. It was an important commercial and naval center. Baltimore was a hub for many privateers. Privateers were seriously hostile to the British navy while also boosting the American economy. Baltimore accounted for 30% of seized British merchant ships. The British hoped to destroy operations at Fells Point where naval stockpiles were located and the USS Java was being built. On September 14, the British blockade on the Patapsco river opened fire on Fort McHenry. After a day of bombardment, Francis Scott Key wrote the first few phrases of the famed “Star Spangled Banner” as he watched from a British ship. The American victory in Baltimore convinced the British that the war is more costly than they can handle and increased American moral.
Two months later to the South, the battle of Pensacola was fought. The British hoped to take Pensacola so that they could muster an army there and attack New Orleans. Congress placed rising star, Andrew Jackson, in charge. An American victory, Jackson proved himself and a decisive and confident leader once again. The victory at Pensacola gave American troops time to built fortifications along the Mississippi river which proved invaluable after the Battle of New Orleans the coming months.
On Christmas Eve, the Treaty of Ghent was signed which officially brought the war to an end. Britain ratified it three days later.
Unknowing that the war had ended, the British continued strategizing against coastal regions and American trade and transportation hubs. This time, the attack would come at New Orleans. Andrew Jackson’s troops were devastatingly outnumbered but managed to bring a final crushing blow to the British. The American victory at New Orleans was the Nation’s greatest victory of the War. It also launched commanding officer Andrew Jackson to fame.
The United States ratified the Treaty of Ghent on February 15, 1815, and Madison declared the war was over. There were no territorial changes brought on by the treaty. The end of the war did prompt, however, the “era of good feeling”. This was a time period for the United States of political neutrality. This was a result of the dissolution of the Federalist Party. The Federalist Party was increasingly seen as unpatriotic for not supporting the war. Their contemplation of secession at the Hartford Convention was also dismayed many citizens. Years later, Andrew Jackson’s notoriety launched him to the oval office. He was seen as a hero of the common people. Women’s suffrage also became more widespread during his presidency.
The United States also made a serious of technological advances during the war. Steamships and steam-powered railroad engines emerged into profitable use during the war and machines with interchangeable parts also became more commonly used. There was also improved food storage with the invention of airtight packaging.
The War of 1812 proved the young United States was a continental power. They had just won their second war with the most powerful military power on Earth. Often overshadowed by the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War, the War of 1812 proves no less important for the growth and advancement of the nation.”