THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 15-21, 1815) PART II

March 17, 2015 at 2:58 am Leave a comment

The Final Act, Part II

Winners and Losers

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

U.S. forces, including Choctaw Indians and Free Men of Color battle British troops in a surprise night attack in the fog south of New Orleans.
(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland hasn’t lost anything in the War of 1812 except a little prestige and maybe a little arrogance (especially after the humiliating defeat at New Orleans) but the Royal Navy still rules the seas and the British Army will soon vanquish Napoleon at Waterloo. Within 100 years, Hong Kong, New Zealand, large parts of south, east and west Africa, all of India and Burma are added to an empire that stretches around the globe.

The United States of America, while fighting the most powerful nation on Earth to a draw, can hardly call the ill-conceived war (the Americans declared war first) a victory. The White House, U.S. Capitol, Washington Navy Yard and several other government buildings are in ruins — as is York (now Toronto).  Canada remains  part of the British Empire. All but one of the many attempted American invasions of Canada failed — and most ended in utter disaster even though U.S. troops often outnumbered Canadian militia and the few British regulars the mother country could spare during its war with Napoleon

Canada Finds a Cause.

Many Americans at the time saw the war as a second War of Independence from an overbearing Britain. And with the defeats of British forces on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, the defense of Baltimore and the overwhelming victory at New Orleans, they also saw themselves as a kind of David battling a British Goliath. Those victories, due as much to luck and enemy hubris, as bravery and superior firepower, spark a surge of pride and the notion of American exceptionalism that we’re still dealing with today.

But folks up North see it very differently. To the Canadians, they were the Davids fending off the more populous nation to the South that wanted to conquer Canada and make it part of the United States. Pro-War politicians in Washington, mainly from the South and West, thought conquering Canada would be easy. Even former President Thomas Jefferson opined that it would be just “a matter of marching” into Canada. Many in the states thought the people of Canada would embrace the American cause, forgetting that many of them were Tory refugees who fled to Canada after the American Revolution preferring to be ruled by a king rather than “rabble.”

So in Canada, the war is seen as a heroic defense against an invasion by a larger opponent.

The Indian Question.

If the Canadians were the winners, Native Americans (called First Nations in Canada) suffered the greatest loss.

Led by the remarkable Tecumseh, the Shawnee and other tribes of the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes formed a confederacy to halt the relentless pressure on their lands by the skyrocketing white population. Those tribes threw in their lot with the British who promised them an Indians-only zone between the United States and Canada after the war. There were early victories at Detroit and Fort Mackinac in Michigan Territory and Fort Dearborn in what is now Illinois. But gradually the tide turned and when Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames River in 1813, the confederacy fell apart. British support and supplies for the tribes began to fade and there was no mention of protecting the Indians in the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war.

In the South, Creek warriors known as Red Sticks, for their violent opposition to American expansion into their territory were moved by Tecumseh’s oratory and decided to side with the British. Other Creeks, known as White Sticks, opposed warring on the Americans. A virtual civil war broke out among the factions. But it spilled over into an attack on White Sticks and area whites taking refuge at stockade in southern Alabama known as Fort Mims. As many as 200-500 whites and White Stick Creeks — including women and children — were killed in the attack

The “Fort Mims Massacre,” both terrified and galvanized whites on the frontier. An army of Tennessee and Kentucky militia, along with some regular troops commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, crushed the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and forced them to give up 23 million acres of their land in the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. Years later, after he was elected president, Jackson pushed a bill through Congress, the Indian Removal Act, which forced most eastern Indian tribes to migrate West of the Mississippi River.

Opportunity Lost.

The Treaty of Ghent called for both the United States and Britain to take steps to end the international slave trade, but just as it made no mention of Indian rights or the rights of American ships at sea, it said nothing about slaves or free blacks already in North America.

As we noted yesterday (March 15) there were 1.1 million black slaves in the United States by the end of the war. Slaves built the U.S. Capitol, which the British burned in 1814. Slaves dug the three-quarter mile-long trench and the embankment behind it to fortify the American defensive line at New Orleans. Slaves and free blacks helped build the fortifications that defended Baltimore. And free blacks in the U.S. Corps of Flotillamen fought beside U.S. Marines and militia at the Battle of Bladensburg. They did not flee when the militia broke and ran.

At the Battle of Lake Erie, where Oliver Hazzard Perry’s fleet beat the British, his black sailors performed so well that Perry praised their courage in a letter to the Navy Secretary.

On the privateers that bedeviled the British at sea, half the crews were often black. Free black men — many of them refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti — along with Choctaw Indians, Jean Lafitte’s pirates and smugglers, Army regulars, Marines and militiamen from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky fought side-by-side at New Orleans.

Andrew Jackson, himself a slaveholder in Tennessee, ordered the paymaster at New Orleans to pay the free black militiamen the same as white soldiers. But once the crisis was over, the gains blacks made in the military evaporated. No large unit of black soldiers would be created again until the Civil War. when 180,000 blacks fought for the Union. Clearing the Indians out of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia opened them up for large scale agriculture operations like cotton plantations. The slave-based economy spread West to the Mississippi and beyond.

Other Winners.

Major General Isaac Brock meets Tecumseh. (Historica Canada and Parks Canada)

Major General Isaac Brock meets Tecumseh.
(Historica Canada and Parks Canada)

The War of 1812 gave Canadians an early sense of nationhood. To Americans it gave a poem that became a song that eventually became the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. It also gave both countries new heroes. For Canadians, it was General Isaac Brock, who fell leading his men at Queenstown Heights in 1812, and Laura Secord, the farm woman who made a dangerous nighttime journey on foot to warn British-Canadian forces of an approaching American attack.

Laura Secord warns Lieutenant Fitzgibbons of impending U.S. attack. (Courtesy Libraries and Archives Canada)

Laura Secord warns Lieutenant Fitzgibbons of impending U.S. attack.
(Courtesy Libraries and Archives Canada)

For the United States, the war produced four presidents and one would-be-president.  Madison’s Secretary of War, James Monroe, was elected the fifth president. John Quincy Adams, the head negotiator at the Ghent treaty talks, succeeded Monroe as the sixth president. Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, was elected the seventh president in 1828.

Two other soldiers in the War of 1812 made it to the White House. William Henry Harrison was elected the ninth president in 1840 and Zachary Taylor was elected in 1848, becoming the 12th president. Another war hero, Winfield Scott, sought the presidency in 1852 as candidate for the Whig Party. He lost, however, to Mexican War veteran Franklin Pierce.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last installment of THIS WEEK in the War of 1812. Our thanks to all our visitors who have visited this 4GWAR feature since June 2012.

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

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