THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (September 21-September 27, 1814)

September 29, 2014 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

Seven Odd Facts About the War of 1812.

Kentucky Mounted Riflemen, led by Colonel Richard M. Johnson, charge the British line at Moraviantown (Courtesy Kentucky National Guard)

Kentucky Mounted Riflemen, led by Colonel Richard M. Johnson, charge the British line at Moraviantown
(Courtesy Kentucky National Guard)

After the American victories at Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain and the unsuccessful siege of Fort Erie and attack on Baltimore by the British, things are mercifully quiet just about everywhere on the North American continent this week in 1814. So your 4GWAR editor would like to share seven little known oddities about the War of 1812.

Major General Jacob Brown

Major General Jacob Brown

1. Friendly Persuasion. U.S. Major General Jacob Brown was one of the few successful military leaders on the American side.  In 1813 his troops repulsed a British attack on Sacket’s Harbor, New York, a major U.S. supply base on Lake Ontario. He led the last invasion of Canada in 1814, capturing Fort Erie. He defeated British-Canadian-First Nations forces at Chippawa Creek and fought them to a standstill at Lundy’s Lane. He also oversaw the successful defense of Fort Erie during a 48-day siege. Ironically, Jacob Brown was born and raised a Quaker, a Christian sect famous for their opposition to war and violence.

2.   The Admiral’s Grudge. Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, commander of the Royal Navy’s North America Station, was commander-in-chief of the sailors and soldiers that burned Washington, attacked Baltimore and raided up and down the Chesapeake Bay. He had a distinguished record but he did not like America or Americans. He once likened them to a whining spaniel who needed a “good drubbing” every now and then. It’s never been determined why the admiral bore America a grudge. Many believe, however, that it stemmed from the death of his brother, Charles, a British Army officer, at the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, who was struck and killed by an American canon ball during the last big battle in the War for Independence.

3. War? What War? Given the bloodshed on the high seas, Great Lakes and all along the U.S.-Canadian border, its surprising to learn that for much of the war, farmers in northern New York and some of the New England states sold food, livestock and grain to the British in Canada. Some of this was smuggling, but a lot of the cross-border trade was licensed by one side or the other. Equally surprising, some American merchant ships had license to ship food to the Duke of Wellington’s army in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars and that didn’t stop once Congress declared war on Great Britain. In 1814, Vice Admiral Cochrane put a stop to licensed trade between Nova Scotia and the New England states.

Zachary Taylor organizes defense of Fort Harrison in this contemporary woodcut.

Zachary Taylor organizes defense of Fort Harrison in this contemporary woodcut.

4. Presidential Training Ground. Several prominent young men rose to greater prominence during and after the war and others rose from obscurity to the highest office in the land. They included Secretary of War and Secretary of State James Monroe, who became the fifth president in 1817. John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president and one of the U.S. negotiators in Ghent, Belgium who hammered out a treaty ending the war, became the sixth president in 1825. Andrew Jackson, a Tennesee militia officer who rose to major general of regulars and defeated the Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend and the British at New Orleans, was elected the 7th president in 1828. William Henry Harrison, a major  general who retook Detroit and defeated the British and Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames, was elected the 9th president in 1841. Until Ronald Reagan, he was the oldest man elected president.  And the last hero of the war elected president was Zachary Taylor, an Army major who spent most of the war fighting Indians in the West, including holding Fort Harrison in the Indiana Territory with a paltry force against hundreds of Native American warriors. After victories in the Black Hawk, Seminole and Mexican wars, Taylor was elected the 12th president in 1849.

5. Everywhere a Battleground. For a little remembered conflict, the War of 1812 certainly cut a swath of bloodshed and property damage in many of the 18 states in the union at the time. In addition to Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Vermont, where significant battles were fought, the British raided or threatened ports and seacoast towns in South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee sent many militiamen and volunteers to fight, especially in the frontier battles of the South and Old Northwest.  Several battles were fought against the British, Canadians or their Indian allies in territories that later became the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.  Additionally, U.S. Navy ships battled the Royal Navy or raided maritime commerce off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America, in and around Jamaica and other British possessions in the Caribbean and in the English Channel.

The recently unveiled Bladensburg Battle monument featuring (left to right) A U.S. Marine, Commodore Joshua Barney and Charles Bell, a freed slave and one of Barney's flotilla men. (DC War of 1812 blog)

The recently unveiled Bladensburg Battle monument featuring (left to right) A U.S. Marine, Commodore Joshua Barney and Charles Bell, a freed slave and one of Barney’s flotilla men.
(DC War of 1812 blog)

6. Commodore Barney — Joshua Barney, one of the few heroes at the Battle of Bladensburg had also been a naval hero in the American Revolution, rising through the ranks and even escaping from a British prison when he was captured. But he was technically not a naval officer during his heroic service in the War of 1812. Frustrated by the lack of advancement in the early American Navy, Barney resigned and accepted a commission in the French Navy. This posed a problem when America and France fought an undeclared naval war (1798-1800).  Barney left French service and returned to America but some in the Navy no longer trusted his loyalty. When war with Britain broke out, Barney came up with the idea of protecting the Chesapeake Bay from British raids with a fleet of shallow draft gunboats. He and his flotilla drove the British crazy in early 1814. Barney didn’t quite fit into the Navy’s promotion schedule due to his years of absence and slipping him in would have ruffled a lot of feathers, so President Madison and Navy Secretary William Jones made him a commodore in command of the U.S. Flotilla Service.

7. Black Men in Arms — Many of the flotilla men who served with Barney on the Chesapeake, the Patuxent River and the Battle of Bladensburg were free black men. They stood and fought when most of the white militia men fled at Bladensburg. In fact, one — Charles Bell — stuck with Barney after he was wounded and ordered his men to retreat. After Washington was burned, the flotilla men marched to Baltimore and manned several gun emplacements that guarded the city and the approaches to Fort McHenry. Free black men also joined the American forces defending New Orleans. Vice Admiral Cochrane issued a proclamation while his fleet held sway in the Chesapeake Bay urging American slaves to flee their masters and join the British, either as soldiers or paid workers. Hundreds of blacks fled Virginia and Maryland plantations for freedom. About 600 of the men were trained as soldiers in the Corps of Colonial Marines. They surprised the British with their courage at Bladensburg and other battles. Most returned to Canada with the British when they left the Chesapeake. Not odd, but remarkable.

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Entry filed under: Latin America, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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