A Neglected Bicentennial

There hasn’t been all that much fuss in the national consciousness about the bicentennial of the War of 1812, aside for a slight flurry last month in Baltimore that received attention because it coincided with Derek Jeter’s last visit to Baltimore.

That’s right, I kid you not.

In a small effort to remedy that shortcoming, I present this trailer to a forthcoming series:

I can’t wait to see the rest.


45 thoughts on “A Neglected Bicentennial

  1. Stefan Jovanovich October 7, 2014 / 5:05 am

    Also known – up farther North – as the Canadian War of Independence.

  2. John Foskett October 7, 2014 / 7:44 am

    You’ve become blatantly Yankee-centric. Moving on to a real sport, you’re welcome for that nice addition to the Blue Line. 🙂

  3. Bob Nelson October 7, 2014 / 10:42 am

    A tribute long overdue. Thanks for sharing. The site is hilarious. You should all check out some of their other videos there.

  4. Will Hickox October 7, 2014 / 3:48 pm

    Ironically, given the main character’s last line, the highly detailed Wikipedia article for the War of 1812 was the subject of an essay in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Military History.

  5. Bob Nelson October 7, 2014 / 5:02 pm

    Seriously — skipping here for a time the humor in your post, Brooks — why do you think the War of 1812, the Second War of Independence, is so largely ignored? There’s so much of interest from the period. “Mr. Madison’s War.” The first declaration of war by the U.S. Congress. The sacking of Washington and the burning of the White House. “Old Ironsides.” A song which is almost impossible to sing. Andrew (“We fired our guns but the British kept a-coming”) Jackson at New Orleans. And yet it’s largely ignored, not only by the “War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission” but largely by history classes, both HS and college.

    • Will Hickox October 7, 2014 / 11:56 pm

      It was a short war, no photographs exist, it wasn’t fought for a noble cause, Americans didn’t fight very well until the last year (except at sea, and you can’t easily visit those places), the capture of Washington was a national humiliation, Native Americans got a raw deal and we no longer celebrate that, the U.S. didn’t emerge victorious (despite Jackson giving us a self-esteem boost at New Orleans), and the war didn’t resolve any of the issues it was fought over. Did I mention national humiliation?

      • John Foskett October 8, 2014 / 7:12 am

        As you imply, it felt like a loss – aside from duels on the open seas involving two or three vessels at a time and a somewhat pyhrric victory on the Lakes , there was one significant victory – which actually came after the peace had been agreed to. Otherwise it was a war of failures – the effort to take British Canada, the debacle at Washington, D.C., the Niagara Campaign. Other than Andrew Jackson and Oliver Perry, no real “heroes” emerged. The President was unpopular. The war exposed sectional disagreements between the “west” and New England. And as a matter of celebration, it rends to collide with the every-50 years salute to the ACW, ;

        • Christopher Shelley October 8, 2014 / 2:18 pm

          I teach the War of 1812 almost exclusively as an “opening of the West” event; but I focus mostly on Tecumseh’s alliance, the Red Sticks, and the Treaty of Ft. Jackson. But I have started incorporating Alan Talyor’s work, showing how slavery in VA made the Chesapeake region vulnerable to British attacks, like the raid on Washington.

          • John Foskett October 8, 2014 / 3:35 pm

            Good point about the impact on the Chesapeake region. Of course, everything the British did there in 1813 and 1814 was of the raid/hit-and-run variety.

      • Stefan Jovanovich October 8, 2014 / 7:21 am

        The War of 1812 is still celebrated in Canada (to the extent Canadians celebrate anything that is not on Hockey Night)) because it was the beginnings of their own national identity. It was not celebrated in the United States any more than the other pre-Civil War conquests of empire (the Mexican War, the boundary dispute in the Northwest) because these were political events that did not directly touch the lives of the large majority of the American people. None of those small wars and near-wars had anything close to the scope of either the War of Independence or the Civil War.
        The war was certainly not a “national humiliation” for the Democratic-Republicans; it was their coronation. Monroe is elected with nearly 70% of the popular vote in 1816, the Federalists become a permanent joke as a political party, and the “Democrats” begin four plus decades of near absolute political control matched only by their hegemony from 1932 to the recent present. One can, if one wishes, find the origins of the “slavery question” in the Federalists’ failed dissent; but I think Sean Wilentz answers that suggestion rather well: “The Federalists did not hate the Jeffersonians out of antislavery conviction; rather, they sometimes took antislavery positions because they hated the “Jacobin” Jeffersonians.”

      • Bob Nelson October 8, 2014 / 9:25 am

        I read Walter Borneman’s book some years ago, which I loaned to someone (I don’t even remember who) and no longer have. It’s the only book on the War of 1812 I have ever owned or read as opposed to a whole lot of CW books. One of his comments IIRC was that the War of 1812 set us on a path to the CW, westward expansion and all the rest. Had we lost to England, the Brits would have put an end to slavery as they did throughout the empire in the 1830s, hence no CW. Would we have experienced the great influx of immigrants during the mid 19th century? Or would we today be more like Canada? A forgotten war for sure but an important one IMO.

        • John Foskett October 8, 2014 / 1:41 pm

          Bob: There are actually some very good books out there, and not just on the aspect of the War which seems to get the most “juice” – the one-on-one battles in the open ocean involving the Constitution, et al. (for which, by the way, Teddy Roosevelt’s book still is a must-read) Authors like Skaggs, Graves, Hickey, and Pitch have turned out some excellent material. I haven’t read Borneman but I don’t get his point about the consequences of a British “victory”. The War was a backwater conflict for the British in light of their ongoing wars on the Continent with Napoleon. Beyond retaining British Canada and forays in to the “northwest” the British really weren’t trying to retake the former colonies. That would simply have put them back in charge of what was an economic, political and military millstone for them..

          • Stefan Jovanovich October 8, 2014 / 5:07 pm

            “The estimated volume of British shipping destroyed or captured during the War of 1812 ranges from 1500 to 2500 vessels. Edgar Maclay claimed that twenty-three American naval vessels and 517 privateers captured 1554 British prizes worth $45,500,000. The Times declared on 19 March 1813 that Americans captured 513 British vessels in only eight months between 4 August 1812 and 9 March 1813, although seventy-five had been recaptured. In December 1814, Lloyd’s insurance underwriters advised the House of Commons that since the start of the war Americans had captured 1175 British vessels, of which 373 (approximately one-third) had been recaptured or given up – i.e. abandoned as prize vessels.” The toll on American shipping in both the preceding quasi-wars with France and Britain and the actual War of 1812 was a roughly equal amount: “By 1810 Britain had seized nearly 1000 American ships and France 500, while a further 300 had fallen to the Danes, Neapolitans, Spaniards and Dutch. Between 1812 and 1815, Britain captured 500 more American sailing craft.”


          • John Foskett October 9, 2014 / 7:31 am

            And? There’s no question that the British were concerned about trade on the open seas – but primarily because of the conflict with Napoleon. That’s a few light years from the conclusion that they wanted the former colonies back. The Royal Navy actually short-changed its blockade of the U.S. because of the focus on France.

  6. Pat Young October 8, 2014 / 9:59 am

    To folks who complain about the “low key” Civil War Sesqui I typically reply “compared to the War of 1812 Bicentennial?”. I am then asked “When is that?”

    • Bob Nelson October 12, 2014 / 11:49 am

      I seem to remember Jay Leno doing a piece on American history on one of his “Jaywalking” segments. One of the questions was something on the order of “What war was fought in 1812?” The answers were hilarious, number one being the Civil War.

  7. Nancy Winkler October 8, 2014 / 3:22 pm

    To Canadians, it was a victory just to have the francophones and anglophones fighting together rather than each other (though they would succumb to that again in 1837). It was as close to a “national identity” type of war for Canada as could be, sort of like our War of Independence.

    In my native Michigan, “Remember the Raisin!” reminds Michiganders of the War of 1812. (Raisin = grape in French, referring to wild grapes growing in the area.) The River Raisin settlement was wiped out, and POWS were tortured to death by the Indian allies of the British. You can imagine my surprise when I learned in school that Andrew Jackson fought a battle in New Orleans! Like, what was he doing there, when I had thought the whole war was about Michigan and Ontario?

  8. Chris Evans October 9, 2014 / 7:16 am

    The series of books that I enjoy the most about that time in American History is Henry Adams and his work on America during the terms of Jefferson and Madison from the late 19th century. They are still wonderful. Those books are unjustly forgotten.

    They have some of the best descriptions of the origins of the conflict, the war itself, and what it meant. Some passages that describe the ineptness of the American forces, Napoleon and his brothers, and what the British press felt about ‘Little Jimmy’ Madison are hilarious and incredibly well written.

    Just a great, great series of books. When I discovered them for the first time I was in amazement.


  9. TF Smith October 9, 2014 / 6:56 pm

    Borneman is good; I’d also recommend Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irsih Rebels, & Indian Allies is very good.

    Basically, I think the conflict should be taught as part of the greater strategic question of which power was going to dominate North America, ranging from the British, French, and Spanish in the 1700s to the US, Britain, and Mexico in the 1800s. The Americans saw the 1812-15 war as a fight over the future of the continent, the British saw it as a secondary theater in the great Anglo-French confrontation that had been waged since the previous century. The Napoleonic wars also drove the single most egregious dispute between the British and Americans, impressment of American citizens (native born and naturalized) into the RN – hence the “citizens and subjects” theme of Taylor’s work.

    It is worth making the point that from a geostrategic perspective, it was the last time Britain tried to gain territory in North America by force; the defeats of Downie and Prevost at Lake Champlain/Plattsburgh, Ross and Cochrane at North Point/Hampstead Hill/Fort McHenry, and Pakenham at New Orleans, plus the US defeats of Tecumseh and the Red Sticks that made it clear the US was going to maintain control of its territory.


    • John Foskett October 10, 2014 / 10:53 am

      Good point on Taylor’s well-done book. I still don’t see British “strategy” in the War of 1812 as being predicated on diving back into the political/economic vat of troubles that was the former colonies, as opposed to keeping “Jonathan” in his place. As i pointed out, they never did anything in the Chesapeake region beyond periodic raids and the fighting on the lakes was essentially about protecting Canada. They were fixated first and foremost on The Corporal.

    • Christopher Shelley October 10, 2014 / 9:37 pm

      “Basically, I think the conflict should be taught as part of the greater strategic question of which power was going to dominate North America, ranging from the British, French, and Spanish in the 1700s to the US, Britain, and Mexico in the 1800s.”

      I agree. But if one doesn’t start with the Shawnee–with Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa–then the story is totally distorted. This war is really about two things: 1) The U.S. will indeed survive after its second war with Great Britain; and 2) the U.S. turns its collective eyes away from the East (Europe), and looks West in a serious way. And the Indian aspect is crucial to this story.

      • John Foskett October 11, 2014 / 8:44 am

        Good point. Which is why the history of Jackson’s pre-New Orleans exploits during the 1812-14 period almost seem to be a different conflict entirely, with the British non-existent.

        • Christopher Shelley October 11, 2014 / 11:46 am

          Yes! I think it IS another conflict entirely. And I think the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the subsequent treaty (where the Creek ceded something like 22 million acres) is just as important as the Battle of New Orleans. The logistics of that campaign were pretty remarkable.

      • Jimmy Dick October 11, 2014 / 7:17 pm

        The Native American aspect goes back several decades to Pontiac’s Rebellion. The events involving the Native Americans in the War of 1812 were just the culmination of events put into motion many years earlier. One can go back even further to the Beaver Wars because those events had a direct impact on everything to do with the events of the War of 1812 regarding Native Americans.

        • Christopher Shelley October 11, 2014 / 7:48 pm

          Yeah, but that’s a broad aspect. I regard Tecumseh as particularly important because of the scope of his vision, and because he had the best chance of all Indian leaders up to that point to make that vision happen. If he is present at Tippecanoe, or if General Brock is not killed in October of 1812, the Northwest Confederacy would have had serious juice. Conversely, his defeat, and the defeat of the Red Sticks, meant there would never again be Indian militant resistance east of the Mississippi.

          • John Foskett October 12, 2014 / 8:51 am

            Tecumseh arguably was the most skilled and dangerous Native American opponent for U.S. forces between independence and Wounded Knee.

          • TF Smith October 12, 2014 / 8:26 pm

            I don’t disagree with the above; there were “several” wars going on in this period, and the one north of the Lakes – with all due respect to our “British North American” friends – is actually the least important in terms of the history of the continent.

            Except I will give the Comanche of the 1860s a shout out; granted, it took the minor event called the Civil War to give them the opening, but pretty much the only period when the frontier actually rolled “east”…


          • John Foskett October 13, 2014 / 11:06 am

            Certainly no intent to dismiss Quanah Parker, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, or any of the others as military opponents – but Tecumseh probably had an even greater skill set of the messianic type.

          • Jimmy Dick October 13, 2014 / 1:57 pm

            I think Red Cloud did pretty good in his fight. He was one of the very few to force the US to write a treaty favorable to his goals.

          • TF Smith October 13, 2014 / 9:07 pm

            True, except even the territory that Red Cloud “kept” was not exactly filling up with settlers at the time, anyway. The Comanche actually pushed the line of settlement back, which puts them in the company of Pope and the Pueblo rebels.

            This is particularly impressive because Coffee Jack Hays et al had shown the way to defeat the Comanche a couple of decades earlier.

            Tecumseh, despite his undeniable ability, failed at pretty much everything he attempted.

          • John Foskett October 14, 2014 / 7:37 am

            That he did, but unlike the others he had a broader appeal across several tribal boundaries and, working in conjunction with British machinations, presented a greater threat than did the others.

          • Christopher Shelley October 14, 2014 / 9:31 am

            No, certainly not! I agree. And Red Cloud was particularly impressive. As you say, the reason Tecumseh stands out for me is the combination of skills: of tactical (which Crazy Horse had in abundance), strategic (there’s Red Cloud), and diplomatic (Tesanissorens of the Onondaga, or Joseph). His ability to fuse these made him uniquely dangerous to American expansion.

          • John Foskett October 14, 2014 / 3:18 pm

            Red Cloud accomplished much but his “war” really was a series of guerrilla-style actions against the scattered outposts maintained by the Army after the war. If i recall correctly, he also was unsuccessful in attempting to get the Government to resolve peaceably the incursions which led to the Indian War in 1876. Equally impressive, I’d suggest, was Washakie of the Eastern Shoshones. He negotiated two treaties which gave the Shoshones and Bannocks what is probably the best Reservation land in the lower 48 – the large eastern slope of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming (onto which the Government later forced the Arapahoes, as well). As i indicated, Tecumseh stands alone IMHO because of his reach across multiple tribal barriers and the context – the U.S. was still a vulnerable entity and the British posed a significant threat. The later chiefs had no prayer of even thinking about achieving what Tecumseh could hope for.

          • Jimmy Dick October 14, 2014 / 10:09 pm

            Tecumseh had a huge advantage in that he could be supplied by a foreign power though. Red Cloud and the Plains Indians had no chance of supply from any source other than what they captured.

            I do not disagree with you about Tecumseh’s importance at all. I think he was a great leader and like you say he could reach across tribal barriers which was critical to any chance of success. However, he was one man and his brother was nowhere near to being the leader Tecumseh was.

            Red Cloud fought with the resources he had and he was magnificent in fighting a limited campaign. He did not overreach and he stuck to his goals which resulted in his victory. Later, he went East and saw the incredible transformation that was taking place there. He knew at that point the Sioux could not hope to prevent the whites from doing whatever they wanted. He pursued a strategy of peaceful coexistance via what would become the reservation system.

            Unfortunately, the whites did their usual lying and stealing and broke practically every promise they made to Red Cloud. They moved him and his people from place to place until they ended up at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation which is still there today. Red Cloud died in 1909 at that location. He and his people had been moved to the place that no whites wanted…just like almost all the rest of the Native Americans had been.

            No matter what we say about the Native Americans and their deeds and accomplishments it always ends the same by 1900. I am really hoping that the 21st century is much better for the great people and their descendents. Unfortunately, there are still those that want to steal from them even today.

          • Jimmy Dick October 13, 2014 / 1:59 pm

            His father was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War fighting against my ancestor. That was part of the overall long warfare period in the region which is why I say it is all part of a collective series of events.

        • E K Wardle October 14, 2014 / 6:03 pm

          To add to what Mr. Dick has wrote, I find it more accurate to regard much of the violence in both the Old Northwest & Old Southwest as conflicts that would have occurred independently of the Anglo-American war. As has been convened before, the Battle of Tippecanoe happened 7th November, 1811 – almost an entire year before Britain authorized “reprisals” in response to the American declaration of war.

  10. TF Smith October 10, 2014 / 4:17 pm

    Well, yes and no – Ross and Cochrane’s operations against Baltimore were aimed at taking the city, as were Pakenham’s and Cochrane’s against New Orleans; these were more than raids.

    Likewise, the joint offensive by Prevost and Downie against Plattsburgh was (in a relative sense) huge for the day; some 14,000 troops and RN, which was a little less than half the “British” contingent at Waterloo (which included 6,000 KGL mercenaries along with roughly 25,000 actually British troops) so there was a little more going on there than “protecting Canada” – Prevost and Downie were aiming for Albany.


    • John Foskett October 11, 2014 / 8:38 am

      Those are fair points but here’s where I would disagree. I think we’re mixing “operations/grand tactics” with “strategy”. You’re correct on the military objectives of those operations. The strategic intent, however, was not to end up with those objectives as long-term holdings or to retake the former colonies – as opposed to limiting the Yanks’ ambitions to the North and Northwest. For the Brits, “been there, done that”. Which is why their strongest arm, the RN, was otherwise preoccupied.

      • TF Smith October 12, 2014 / 8:31 pm

        Okay, but my point was the use of the word “raids” – which implies a hit and run operation; Ross and Cochrane wanted Baltimore, Pakenham and Cochrane wanted New Orleans, and Prevost and Downie sure as shooting were aiming at something more than a re-run of Valcour Island.

        These were serious military operations, with the best commanders and troops the British had available; the tensions within Prevost’s force, for example, between the troops drawn from the BNA garrison and those shipped in from the Peninsula armies, are pretty well-known.

        The fact that Wellington, once free of Napoleon, was approached by LIverpool to serve as CinC British North America, make it clear the British took the 1814-15 campaigns pretty seriously; the reality that the Duke turned it down and wrote his “you have no hope” letter makes it pretty clear the US victories in 1813-14 had won the war for the Americans, however.


        • John Foskett October 13, 2014 / 11:04 am

          I think we’re generally in agreement. I used the term “raids” because in the case of the Chesapeake Campaigns that accurately characterizes much of the British effort in 1813-14, including the “hit and run” on the U.S. capitol. Moreover, Ross was in charge of fewer than 5,000 troops during the 1814 campaign (including a sizable contingent of marines) and brought minimal artillery. Baltimore was a significant component of the blockade. Prevost’s correspondence shows that his primary goal was to secure British Canada from the Yanks (who as we know had already torched “York”). I don’t dispute that the campaigns were taken seriously – I just disagree with any implications about long-term strategic objectives.

          • TF Smith October 13, 2014 / 9:09 pm

            Okay, fair enough – I just think the reality that Prevost’s force at Plattsburgh was roughly half the size of the British element of Wellington’s at Waterloo suggests the British had more in mind then defending Canada…they could have done that north of Lake Champlain, obviously.

          • John Foskett October 14, 2014 / 7:31 am

            That’s certainly true, but the letter I’m referring to made it clear that the priority was defending Canada. It stated as a secondary goal getting leverage at the peace conference then being brokered. Prevost’s general instructions from London were actually pretty cautious and reflected the overall “defensive” aspect of the campaign (protecting the St. Lawrence seaway was central). And, of course, Wellington had some help at Waterloo from his Belgian, Dutch, and Deutsche friends. 🙂

          • E K Wardle October 14, 2014 / 5:45 pm

            A new work dealing with Governor Prevost and the Plattsburgh Campaign is “Defender of Canada: Sir George Prevost and the War of 1812” by John R. Grodzinski (U. of Oklahoma Press).

            By the by, the strength of the British Left Division before Plattsburgh, taking into account those sick, on command, and those left on line of communication, was 7,468. Lt-Gen. Sir Henry Clinton’s 2nd “British” Infantry Division at Waterloo was 7,992. The total British (not including King’s German Legion units) percentage of Wellington’s army was 36%, or 26,352 men out of 73,200.

  11. Jessie Alan Sanford October 10, 2014 / 6:28 pm

    Some folks in Mississippi do, from the Hattiesburg American newspaper “Living Marion County History re-enactment, John Ford Home, 111 John Ford Home Road, Sandy Hook. Re-enactors will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Gen. Andrew Jackson and his army’s visit in 1814 on their way to triumph at the Battle of New Orleans, and the 150th anniversary of Davidson’s 1864 raid.”
    I will be in attendance.

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