Posts tagged ‘blacks and the War of 1812’

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

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 real 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 at 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 Indian rights in the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war.

In the American 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 both White Sticks and white people 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 enslaved black people 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. The flotillamen 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. At New Orleans, free black men — many of them refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti — along with Choctaw Indians, Jean Lafitte’s pirates and smugglers fought side-by-side with Army regulars, Marines and militiamen from Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

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 the region 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 U.S. 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 final installment of THIS WEEK in the War of 1812. Our thanks to all our viewers who have visited this 4GWAR feature since June 2012.    To View this series from the start, CLICK HERE.

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

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

THE FINAL ACT, PART I.

March 18

Rear Adm. George Cockburn (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Rear Adm. George Cockburn
(Royal Museums Greenwich)

After of days of dickering with U.S. state and federal officials about the return of American property — including slaves — taken during more than a year of raiding towns and plantations on Chesapeake Bay, Rear Admiral George Cockburn leaves Cumberland Island, Georgia with his small fleet of ships.

The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war of 1812, required both sides to return property and territory seized during the war. The British had encouraged American slaves to flee their masters in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the Carolinas, Georgia and elsewhere along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Thousands did so, either working as paid laborers for the British or joining the Corps of Royal Colonial Marines. At first the British had their doubts about this unit of black troops, expecting them to be inferior to European soldiers. But the Colonial Marines proved to be an dependable unit, willing and eager to put the torch to places where they had been held in bondage — and causing panic among slaveholders fearing the sight of armed black men would spark a bloody slave revolt among those blacks who had not run away.

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814. (Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814.
(Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Cockburn told the Americans that as far as he was concerned, any American slaves who made it to British soil — including Royal Navy ships  — were free the moment they came aboard. But he agreed to return five escaped slaves who enlisted in the Colonial Marines after the mid-February date of the treaty’s ratification by Congress, agreeing that the legal “window” to freedom has already closed. He sailed to Bermuda with more than 1,400, now free, blacks. Some would go to British possessions in the Caribbean where they joined West Indian regiments that had proven themselves at Bladensburg and New Orleans. Others were bound for Canada where they joined an existing community of free blacks who had escaped slavery in the states since the end of the American Revolution.

It is difficult to determine just how many blacks fled to the British and freedom during the war because both sides kept poor records.  Also, it is suspected American slaveholders inflated their claims and British officials might have low-balled the number, as the British were required to pay for unreturned property — including slaves. In his book, The Slaves Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, Gene Allen Smith speculates that the number is somewhere between the 3,000 slaves  claimed by the British and 5,000-plus claimed by the Americans. Even so, Smith notes there were 1.1 million slaves in America in 1814, and those that sought freedom with the British were only a tiny fraction of the total slave population. After years of wrangling, both governments agree in 1826 that Britain would pay $1,204,960 to settle U.S. claims.

(We’ll discuss the role of blacks in the war further on Monday in Part II, which will consider the real winners and losers of the conflict.)

*** *** ***

Even a relatively small war like the one between the United States and Great Britain from 1812-1815 takes time to unravel, even after peace is declared. Here are some of the events that happened after the end of hostilities in 1815.

April 6

It takes time, too much time, to repatriate American sailors captured on privateers during the war. Hundreds of them, along with sailors taken off American commercial vessels by Royal Navy press gangs — one of the main causes of the war– but who refused to fight against the United States, have been confined in England’s notorious Dartmoor Prison. Fed up with the delay and harsh prison conditions, the Americans riot. Prison guards open fire, killing seven and wounding 31.

*** *** ***

April 26

British forces evacuate Castine, Maine (still a part of Massachusetts) which they attacked and seized in September, 1814. When they left, the British took more than 10,000 pounds in customs duties they collected while occupying the area, which they called the colony of “New Ireland.” That customs money was used to fund the creation of Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1818.

*** *** ***

May 22

U.S. troops reoccupy Fort Niagara in Western New York on Lake Ontario. It has been in British hands since it was captured on December 19, 1813.

*** *** ***

May 24

Sauk warriors who were allied with the British during the war under Chief Blackhawk, attack and defeat Missouri rangers on the Upper Mississippi in what has become known as the Battle of the Sinkhole.

*** *** ***

June 30

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war. (via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war.
(via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

In the Sunda Straits near the island of Java, the sloop-of-war USS Peacock, which hasn’t gotten word that the war is over, accosts the East India Company brig Nautilus. Peacock’s captain, Master Commandant Lewis Warrington, doesn’t believe the captain of the Nautilus when he says the war has ended. Warrington orders him to surrender, when he refuses, the Peacock opens fire, killing 7 and wounding six including Nautilus commander, Lieutenant Charles Boyce. When the severely wounded Boyce (he will lose a leg) presents documents proving a treaty has been ratified and the war is over, Warrington releases the 16-gun brig and sails off without making inquiry about the brig’s wounded. Peacock returns to New York on October 30. A court of inquiry in Boston a year later exonerated Warrington of all blame. It is the last  naval action of the war.

*** *** ***

July 1

U.S. troops return Fort Malden at Amherstburg (in what is now Ontario), captured in September 1813, to the control of British troops.

*** *** ***

July 18

British troops evacuate Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island at the far northern edge of Michigan Territory. The first U.S. post to fall to the British, the fort was taken by surprise exactly three years earlier because Washington was slow in getting the word to the frontier outposts that the United States had declared war on Britain.

On the same day, the United States begins negotiating a series of peace treaties with the tribes of the Upper Midwest including the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Wyandot and Seneca.

TOMORROW: While neither the United States nor Great Britain could honestly claim to have won the war — or lost it — there were several winners and losers. Read abou them in Part II, the final posting of THIS WEK in the War of 1812.

March 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm 1 comment


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