Posts tagged ‘War of 1812 Bicentennial’

FRIDAY FOTO (December 25, 2020)

Happy Holidays

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Grant G. Grady). Click on the photo to enlarge the image.

The USS Constitution displays holiday lights and decorations during a snow storm while moored to the pier at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Massachusetts.

Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Dubbed “Old Ironsides” in 1812 when British cannon balls seemed to bounce off the ship’s sturdy oak hull, Constitution actively defended sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.

Here at 4GWAR blog we wish everyone a safe and joyous holiday time to help put this very trying year behind us.

Please stay safe: keep your distance at least six feet apart and wear a mask or face-covering when you can’t. It they can do it under these circumstances, you can too.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist George M. Bell/Released)


December 25, 2020 at 12:36 am 2 comments

SHAKO: Waterloo Bicentennial; U.S. Army Turns 240; 99th Flag Day; 150th Juneteenth

A Month to Remember.

The month of June is when summer really gets going (in the northern hemisphere). Traditionally, it’s a time of graduations and weddings and outdoor recreation before the heat gets oppressive and the bugs become maddening. This year, it also marks the anniversaries of several significant historical events.

Napoleon Meets His Waterloo.

Scotland Forever! Iconic 1881 British painting of the charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo by Lady Butler.

Scotland Forever! Iconic 1881 British painting of the charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo by Lady Butler.

It’s been 200 years since combined British, Dutch, and Prussian forces under England’s Duke of Wellington defeated France’s Armee du Nord (Army of the North) near the village of Waterloo. The climactic 9-hour battle on June 18, 1815 led to defeat and final exile for French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte — ending France’s domination of Europe and changing European diplomacy and politics for decades.

The basic story:

Napoleon, defeated in 1814 and sent into exile on the island of Elba, escapes and returns to France, raises an army, scares the reigning French king and his government out of Paris and marches to Belgium to confront the latest international alliance (Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Prussia and several smaller German states) formed to defeat him.

Napoleon defeats — but doesn’t destroy — a Prussian army under Marshal Blucher on June 16 at Ligny in Belgium. The emperor’s strategy is to defeat each army separately before they can mass and overwhelm the French. The Russian and Austrian armies are still far off. So on June 18, Napoleon turned on the Anglo-Dutch-German forces under Wellington near Waterloo. Because of heavy rains the night before, the battlefield is sodden and Napoleon decides to delay his attack until the fields dry out enough so his troops and cannon won’t have to slog miles through the mire.  Many historians count this as a mistake — if not a blunder — for the delay allows the Prussians to reorganize and come to Wellington’s aid and overwhelm the now-outnumbered French.

Marshall Ney and his staff leading the cavalry charge at Waterloo (Painting by Louis Dumoulin)

Marshal Ney and his staff leading the cavalry charge at Waterloo
(Painting by Louis Dumoulin)

Because of the enormity of  events that day (Wellington’s forces numbered 68,000. Napoleon had 82,000 at his command and the Prussians brought another 30,000 to their second-go-round with the French.) we leave it to others to describe the ebb and flow of battle.

Here is a sampling of detailed online accounts of the battle:

Encyclopaedia; the BBC’s iWonder; British; The Napoleonic History SocietyWhat the Battle of Europe teaches us about Europe today; 

Under the pressure of attacks by the Prussians and Wellington, the French army falls apart. Napoleon is forced to abdicate again, and is sent into exile again, but much farther away to the island of St. Helena’s in the South Atlantic, where he dies in 1821. Britain, arguably, becomes the most powerful nation in Europe, if not the world. And except for failed revolts and revolutions — mostly in 1848 — there is no big military conflict in Europe until 1854 when Britain, France and Turkey wage war against Russia in the Crimea (which gave us the Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale and the original Thin Red Line.)

*** *** ***

Closer to home, there are a couple of other significant events that happened in June.

Juneteenth 150.

Regular visitors may remember in April we posted that Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865 did not end the Civil War. There were still two armies, one in North Carolina commanded by Joseph Johnston and another in the West commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith. Johnston  surrendered on April 26 and Kirby Smith surrendered on May 26.

Last month we also posted that the last battle of the Civil War was fought at Palmito Ranch on the Rio Grande in Texas on May 12-13. By the way, the Confederates won that battle.

General Order No. 3

But that still didn’t end slavery in Texas. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when U.S. Major General Gordon sailed into Galveston Bay with 1,800 Union troops and announced his General Order No. 3.


It informed the people of Texas, that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States (President Lincoln), all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

Until then, the estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas did not know that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed them — and all the other slaves in states in open rebellion against Washington, as of January 1863. It’s important to note that the Emancipation Proclamation couldn’t be enforced until Union troops gained control of each state that had left the Union. The last major Union thrust west of the Mississippi River from Louisiana had ended in failure in May 1864.

The date, June 19th — or Juneteenth — has become a significant holiday for African-Americans to celebrate freedom from enslavement.

Happy Birthday, U.S. Army.

Army Secretary John McHugh, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, cut the Army Birthday cake during the 2015 Army Ball in Washington D.C., June 13, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by John G. Martinez)

Army Secretary John McHugh, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, cut the Army Birthday cake during the 2015 Army Ball in Washington D.C., June 13, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by John G. Martinez)

On June 14, 1775 — at the urging of John Adams (the future 2nd U.S. president) — the Continental Congress, in effect, created the U.S. Army by voting $2 million in funding for the colonial militias around Boston and New York City. Congress also ordered the raising of ten companies of expert riflemen from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Together with the ragtag militias in New England and New York they would form the first Continental Army. George Washington of Virginia, one of the few colonials with military command experience (from the French and Indian War)  would take command in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3, 1775.

For more birthday photos around the Army, click here.

Flag Day

Two years later, on June 14, 1777, Congress adopted the 13-star, 13-red-and-white-striped flag as the national flag. Flag day was celebrated on various days in various ways around the United States until the 20th century.

As war wracked Europe and the Middle East in 1916, and it looked more and more like the United States would be drawn into the horrific conflict known as the Great War, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. In August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress — but it’s not an official federal holiday. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of June 14 as oficially-designated flag day.

U.S. Flag Day poster 1917. (Library of Congress via wikipedia)

U.S. Flag Day poster 1917.
(Library of Congress via wikipedia)


SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

June 26, 2015 at 2:17 am Leave a comment

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)


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

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 8-March 14)

General Jackson Relents.

March 13

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson statue in Washington, DC. (Photo by Debaird via wikipedia)

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson statue in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Debaird via wikipedia)

Another sign that things are beginning to return to normal in America after two and a half years of war with Great Britain comes from Major General Andrew Jackson, finally lifts martial law in New Orleans, which he imposed in December 1814.

When Jackson took command of the defense of New Orleans in early December he confronted a panicky city where the majority of residents were French or Spanish-speakers (the United States acquired New Orleans along with the rest of the Louisiana Territory from France just 11 years earlier) who had little or no support for the American cause — just fears that the British might sack and burn the Crescent City on the Mississippi.

Some politicians publicly and privately speculated that it might be safer for all if Jackson surrendered the city to the British. Jackson fired back that if he thought the British would beat him on the battlefield, he would torch the city and fight them amid the flames.

Stating the entire city and its environs a military camp in time of war, Jackson declared martial law on December 16, 1814 — meaning several rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including the right of habeas corpus, were suspended and military courts were try all cases. It was the first time martial law had been declared in U.S. history.

Most residents put up with the changes while the British threatened but chafed under martial law once the British were defeated and left Louisiana in lat January. Jackson, wary that the British might return, refused to lift martial law. He jailed a state senator who criticized the general’s high-handed ways in a newspaper article. Then Jackson jailed a federal judge who demanded the general from Tennessee either charge the lawmaker or release him.

Jackson also refused to end martial law when British newspapers arrived in New Orleans proclaiming the peace Treaty of Ghent had been signed on Christmas Eve.

Jackson relented and ended martial law after official word of the peace treaty arrives from Washington on March 12.

The judge whom Jackson jailed fines him $1,000 for contempt of court but does not order the general jailed because of his service in during the New Orleans campaign. Many years later, Jackson gets Congress to pass legislation refunding the fine.

For an in-depth evaluation of whether Jackson was justified in declaring martial law and what the implications were for future presidents, click here.

March 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812: (March 1-March 7, 1815)

Reckoning in Canada.

Sir George Prevost (Courtesy of Canadian House of Commons Collection)

Sir George Prevost
(Courtesy of Canadian House of Commons Collection)

March 1, Quebec City

Word that the Treaty of Ghent has been signed by British negotiators and ratified by the Prince Regent (and future King George IV) finally reaches Quebec, Canada. The provincial governor general, Sir George Prevost, announces the end of hostilities on the Northern Front.

Prevost also orders the disbanding of the militia, which he organized to defend a poorly fortified Canada at the beginning of the War with the United States.

March 2

Ironically, a ship arrives in Quebec the next day carrying Sir George Murray, Prevost’s replacement, as well as orders from London for Prevost to return and explain his conduct during the disastrous Plattsburgh campaign in New York’s Lake Champlain Valley.

After the British naval attack on U.S. ships defending Lake Champlain failed on September 11, 1814, Prevost called off his land attack on the key lakeshore town of Plattsburgh– even though his forces outnumbered U.S. troops defending the town.

Prevost’s key brigade commanders — Manley Power, Thomas Brisbane and Frederick Philipse Robinson — all veteran generals of the Napoleonic Wars under the Duke of Wellington — urged him to continue the assault and complained bitterly when he refused and ordered a withdrawal back to Canada.

(War of 1812 map via wikipedia) Click on Image to enlarge

(War of 1812 map via wikipedia)
Click on Image to enlarge

Historians today see the British defeats at Lake Champlain/Plattsburgh and Baltimore as more decisive battles than the celebrated American victory at New Orleans months later on January 8, 1815.

The three brigadiers’ complaints — as well as those of Admiral James Yeo, the British naval commander in Canada — followed Prevost back to England and he asked for a court martial to clear his name and repair his tattered honor. Unfortunately, a month before the 1816 trial was to open, Prevost died of dropsy.

Denial in the South.

March 5, Cumberland Island, Georgia

Rear Admiral George Cockburn, the driving force behind the British burning of Washington and the campaign against Baltimore, has been shunted aside since the fall of 1814. Based in Georgia, he has been raising havoc along the Southern U.S. coast as a diversion for the main British invasion targeting New Orleans.

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 plans to attack  Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina from his fortified base on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cockburn is also recruiting escaped American slaves for the Colonial Marines. As many as 1,700 slaves have converged on British ships.

On February 25, an American officer under a flag of truce informs Cockburn that the peace treaty has been signed, but the admiral declines to suspend hostilities until he hears the treaty has been ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Official word of the ratification arrives on March 2. Cockburn ceases hostilities but keeps sending booty seized from American plantations to Bermuda and collecting more escaped slaves. Three days later a U.S. delegation arrives on Cumberland Island with a newspaper showing the treaty has been signed, sealed and delivered but Cockburn says it is not authoritative. He also refuses to return U.S. property as stipulated in the treaty — including escaped slaves unless they want to go back to their masters. Few of them do.

March 1, 2015 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 15-February 21, 1815) [Update]


COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

Updates to add details to items on Harford Convention and USS Constitution and correct number of canon balls embedded in Constitution’s hull.

February 15-18, Washington City

The day after the peace treaty (already ratified by the British) arrives in Washington, President James Madison submits it to the Senate, which under the Constitution, must ratify all treaties for them to take effect. On February 16, the Senate ratifies the treaty unanimously — even though it does not resolve any of the issues that led to war: the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy; British attempts to incite Native Americans in the Upper Midwest against U.S. settlements; freedom of the seas for U.S. naval and merchant vessels. Instead both sides agree to return to borders and boundaries before the war: the British will evacuate Maine and the areas of the Upper Midwest they have seized and the United States will relinquish the bit of Upper Canada (Ontario) it captured.

Madison signs to treaty and on February 18 proclaims the United States and Great Britain are at peace officially. The war declared by the U.S. Congress on June 18 1812 is finally over.

Sometime between the word of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the delivery of the peace treaty, delegates from the Hartford Convention in New England arrived in Washington. They had  with them proposals hashed out in private in Hartford, Connecticut in late December 1814-to-early January 1815. All the New England states (except and Maine which was still a part of Massachusetts and not yet a state in its own right), sent at  least one delegate to Hartford. Secret_Journal_of_the_Hartford_Convention

New Englanders, mostly members of the Federalist Party, were disturbed that the war, which they did not support, was ruining their economy — especially maritime commerce after the British extended their naval blockade to New England.  They also felt that the Southern and new Western states and the Democratic-Republican Party were taking over the country and its political system. While there were brief discussions about possible secession from the union, it was not taken seriously. Instead, delegates drew up several proposed amendments to the Constitution. They ranged from requiring a two-thirds majority vote for all future declarations of war to limiting presidents to one term and ending the three-fifths compromise language of 1787, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of both representation in Congress and the direct taxation of states. Another proposal would have barred men from the same state from succeeding each other as president.  (Except for Massachusetts’ John Adams, every U.S. president up until then had hailed from Virginia — including pro-war-with-Britain Thomas Jefferson and Madison).  With the war with Britain over, and patriotic fervor at a fever pitch following the victory at  New Orleans, the Hartford Convention’s ideas are ignored or laughed off in Washington.

February 20, Off the West Coast of Africa

The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, unaware that peace has come, plies the South Atlantic looking to disrupt British commerce. Four days after the peace treaty is ratified,  the fabled ship — known as “Old Ironsides” encounters two Royal Navy ships, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 21-gun HMS Levant off the coast of Africa.

USS Constitution takes on HM Cyane and HMS Levant. (

USS Constitution takes on HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.
( C

Constitution’s captain, Charles Stewart, first defeats, Cyane, and after a running gun battle, Levant strikes her colors. The British ships suffer about 40 killed and 80 wounded, while Constitution’s  losses are four killed and 11 wounded. Constitution suffers little damage although 12  32-pound British canon balls are found  embedded in Old Ironsides’ hull — but none penetrated the ship’s interior.

Stewart  places some of his officers and crew aboard the two British ships to sail them back to the United States as prizes of war. But after a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, Constitution and her two prizes encounter a three-ship British squadron, which re-captures Levant. But Stewart and his other prize get away. Cyane reaches a U.S. port in April. Constitution continues its raiding cruise but during a stop in Brazil to drop off her British prisoners, Stewart hears a rumor the war may be over and sets sail for America, arriving in New York May 15.

Following the rules of the day, Cyane is ruled a prize of war and not returned to Britain, but renamed USS Cyane and absorbed into the U.S. Navy.

February 16, 2015 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 8-February 14, 1815)

Fort Bowyer Besieged Again.

February 8-12, Mississippi Territory

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815. Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

The Fall of Fort Bowyer, 1815.
Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Repulsed at New Orleans, the Royal Navy is now at anchor near the entrance to Mobile Bay in Mississippi Territory (now the state of Alabama). Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, the overall commander of the British invasion of the southern United States is looking to recoup his losses and reputation after the disaster in Louisiana by taking the small city of Mobile.

Standing in the way, however is a small sand and log fort, Fort Bowyer — which repulsed a British attack in September. Army Major William Lawrence, the commander who beat back a combined land and sea attack in 1814 with just 160 men of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment, now has 375 soldiers. But instead of the 60 Royal Marines and about 100 Indian allies he faced the previous Fall — the British have landed more than 1,000 troops on shore with a dozen canons and rocket launchers. And there are now scores of British ships surrounding the point where the fort sits, compared to the four used in the unsuccessful September attack.

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815. (Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay 1814-1815.
(Courtesy, Alabama Department of Archives and History)

While the fort and the Royal Navy exchange gunfire, the British land troops take three days to dig trenches within 30 yards of the fort and deploy their artillery. Outnumbered and outgunned, Lawrence agrees to surrender and on February 12 his troops march out of the fort. Cochrane plans taking Mobile — and maybe attacking New Orleans again, from the North.

February 11 New York City

The British sloop HMS Favorite arrives in New York harbor with the peace treaty negotiated by British and American representatives in Ghent, Belgium on Christmas Eve. The document has been signed by the Prince Regent, acting for his father King George III. The war is still on until the U.S. Senate ratifies the document.

President James Madison (Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

President James Madison
(Courtesy, The White House Historical Association)

The treaty reaches Washington City on the evening of February 14 and Secretary of State James Monroe presents it to President James Madison. Word leaks out and celebrations erupt around the capital, battered by a British invasion force less than six months earlier. Madison, who is living at the Octagon House across the street from the burned out White House, plans to keep quiet about the agreement until he presents it for ratification on the 15th.

February 14 Mobile Bay, Mississippi Territory

Admiral Cochrane gives up his plans to attack Mobile when another British ship arrives with word of the Prince Regent’s signing the Treaty of Ghent.

The attack on Fort Bowyer, considered the last land engagement between U.S. and British forces during the War of 1812, costs the British 30 killed and wounded. The U.S. casualties total 10 killed and wounded.

February 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 1-February 7, 1815)

First Word.

Major General Andrew Jackson

Major General Andrew Jackson

On January 8 the British were beaten, on January 27 they departed Louisiana waters and headed for Mobile Bay.

Meanwhile, word finally gets to Washington on February 4 that Jackson and his rag tag army have won a great victory against the British — sparking celebrations all over the city and the region. But word of peace from Europe still has not arrived.

*** *** ***

Gone but Not Forgotten.

Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s fleet lies off Mobile Bay, waiting for a chance to strike at Fort Bowyer, a small post guarding the approach to the city of Mobile.

A small contingent of U.S. troops at Bowyer had beaten off an attack by 100 Royal Marines and 600 Indian backed up by a couple of Royal Navy ships in the late fall of 1814.

The fort’s commander, Major William Lawrence, commands 370 troops, the British now have ten times that number, plus all the guns of Cochrane’s fleet.

(U.S. Military Academy History Dept.)

(U.S. Military Academy History Dept.)

February 2, 2015 at 12:44 am Leave a comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 25-January 31, 1815)

Parting Shots.

Equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in front of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, New Orleans. (Photo by Sami99tr via Wikipedia)

Equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in front of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square, New Orleans.
(Photo by Sami99tr via Wikipedia)

January 25

The slow process of evacuating thousands of British troops from the chilly shoreline of Lake Borgne continues. Sailors in longboats and barges have to row the troops some 60 miles out to the waiting fleet, unload, and then row back to pick up more troops.

Fearing an outbreak of cholera after continuing heavy rains uncover British remains in a mass grave on the Chalmette Planation battlefield near the American lines, Major General Andrew Jackson orders his forces to withdraw back to New Orleans, where a tumultuous celebration is held on January 23 starting at the Roman Catholic cathedral of St. Louis with Abbe Guillaume Duborg, bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas presiding. (One wonders what Jackson, the son of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians made of all the candles, Latin chanting and incense).

A Mississippi Dragoon about 1808. (Courtesy, Mississippi National Guard)

A Mississippi Dragoon about 1808.
(Courtesy, Mississippi National Guard)

On January 25 there is a brief skirmish between the British rear guard and Major Thomas Hinds’ Mississippi Dragoons. If there are any casualties, their number is not known.

January 27

The evacuation is finally completed. The last soldier makes his way aboard the waiting fleet. And by 11:30 a.m. the last sails of the British fleet disappear over the horizon, according to American sentries. But the fighting in the Gulf area is not over. The British are heading for Mobile Bay to capture Fort Bowyer and Mobile itself.

January 28

The famished British stop at Dauphin Island near Mobile and seize all the cattle and pigs.
Meanwhile, on the high seas the war goes on …

War at Sea

January 15

The Royal Navy’s blockade of the U.S. Atlantic coastline from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico is still in force.  Captain Stephen Decatur and his frigate, the USS United States, have been bottled up in New Haven, Connecticut since June 1813.  Late in 1814, the U.S. Navy assigns Decatur, a hero in the war with the Barbary pirates a decade earlier, to command another 44-gun frigate, the USS President, anchored in New York harbor.

On January 15, Decatur and the President slip out of New York in a snowstorm. But the ship runs aground on one of the many sandbars between New York and New Jersey. Battered by the storm, it takes hours to free the ship, soon after setting sail again, three British frigates ships are closing in.

USS President after her capture by the HMS Endymion and two other Royal Navy frigates.

USS President after her capture by the HMS Endymion and two other Royal Navy frigates.

Decatur and the 475 sailors and Marines on the President are facing the 40-gun HMS Endymion, HMS Pomone and HMS Tenedos –both carrying 38 guns. Decatur battles the Endymion first, but by nightfall, the President had lost 24 dead and 55 wounded. There are steering problems and the other two ships are getting ready to pound the President., so Decatur is forced to strike his colors.

The British take the President as a prize and sail her back to Bermuda, where a few days later they learn the war is over.

January 25, 2015 at 8:42 pm Leave a comment

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