Everipedia Logo
Everipedia is now IQ.wiki - Join the IQ Brainlist and our Discord for early access to editing on the new platform and to participate in the beta testing.
War of 1812

War of 1812

The War of 1812 was a conflict fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, with their respective allies, from June 1812 to February 1815. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; historians in the United States and Canada see it as a war in its own right.

From the outbreak of war with Napoleonic France, Britain had enforced a naval blockade to choke off neutral trade to France, which the US contested as illegal under international law. To man the blockade, Britain pressed American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy. American sentiment grew increasingly hostile toward Britain due to incidents such as the Chesapeake–Leopard affair, which happened five years before the war. The British were in turn outraged by the Little Belt affair in 1811, in which 11 British sailors died.[20][21] Britain supplied arms to American Indians who raided American settlers on the frontier, hindering American expansion and provoking resentment.[22] Historians debate whether the desire to annex some or all of British North America (Canada) contributed to the American decision to go to war. However, the Western interest was in expansion into American territories such as Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where they were threatened by Indians supported by the British. On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed into law the American declaration of war, after heavy pressure from the War Hawks in Congress.[23]

With most of its army in Europe fighting Napoleon, Britain adopted a defensive strategy, with offensive operations initially limited to the border and the western frontier. American prosecution of the war effort suffered from its unpopularity, especially in New England, where it was referred to as "Mr. Madison's War". American defeats at the Siege of Detroit and the Battle of Queenston Heights thwarted attempts to seize Upper Canada, improving British morale. American attempts also failed to invade Lower Canada and capture Montreal. In 1813, the Americans won the Battle of Lake Erie, gaining control of the lake, and they defeated Tecumseh's Confederacy at the Battle of the Thames, securing a primary war goal. The Americans made a final attempt to invade Canada but fought to a draw at the Battle of Lundy's Lane during the summer of 1814. At sea, the powerful Royal Navy blockaded American ports, cutting off trade and allowing the British to raid the coast at will. In 1814, one of these raids burned the capital, but the Americans later repulsed British attempts to invade New York and Maryland, ending invasions from Canada into the northern and mid-Atlantic states. In early 1815, the Americans decisively defeated the invading British Army attacking New Orleans, Louisiana. Fighting also took place in Spanish Florida; a two-day battle for the city of Pensacola ended in Spanish surrender.[24]

In Britain, there was mounting opposition to wartime taxation, and merchants demanded to reopen trade with America. With the abdication of Napoleon, Britain's war ended with France and Britain ceased impressment, rendering the issue irrelevant of the impressment of American sailors. The British were then able to increase the strength of the blockade on the United States coast, smothering American maritime trade, but their attempts failed to invade America, at which point both sides began to desire peace.[25]

Peace negotiations began in August 1814, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. News of the peace did not reach America for some time. In February 1815, news reached the East Coast concerning the great victory at New Orleans—at the same time as news of the Christmas peace treaty. The Americans triumphantly celebrated the restoration of their national honour, leading to the collapse of anti-war sentiment and the beginning of the Era of Good Feelings, a period of national unity. The treaty was unanimously ratified by the US Senate on February 17, 1815, ending the war with no boundary changes.[26]

War of 1812
Part of the Napoleonic Wars
DateJune 18, 1812 – February 17, 1815
(2 years and 8 months)
Eastern and Central America; Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
ResultTreaty of Ghent
  • Military stalemate.
  • Status quo ante bellum
  • Defeat of Tecumseh's Confederacy
United StatesUnited Kingdom
  • The Canadas
  • Tecumseh's Confederacy[1]
  • Shawnee
  • Creek Red Sticks
  • Ojibwe
  • Fox
  • Iroquois
  • Miami
  • Mingo
  • Ottawa
  • Kickapoo
  • Delaware (Lenape)
  • Mascouten
  • Potawatomi
  • Sauk
  • Wyandot
Bourbon Spain
  • Florida (1814)
Commanders and leaders
  • United StatesJames Madison
  • United StatesHenry Dearborn
  • United StatesJacob Brown
  • United StatesWinfield Scott
  • United StatesAndrew Jackson
  • United StatesWilliam Henry Harrison
  • United StatesWilliam H. Winder(POW)
  • United StatesWilliam Hull(POW)
  • United StatesZebulon Pike**†**
  • United StatesOliver Hazard Perry
  • United StatesIsaac Chauncey
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandGeorge, Prince Regent
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandLord Liverpool
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandSir George Prévost
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandSir Isaac Brock**†**
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandGordon Drummond
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandCharles de Salaberry
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandRoger Hale Sheaffe
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandRobert Ross**†**
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandEdward Pakenham**†**
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandJames FitzGibbon
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandAlexander Cochrane
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and IrelandJames Lucas Yeo
  • Tecumseh**†**
    • U.S. Army:
      • 7,000 (at war's start)
      • 35,800 (at war's end)
      • Rangers: 3,049
    • Militia: 458,463*
    • U.S. Marines
    • U.S. Navy and Revenue Cutter Service (at war's start):
      • Frigates: 12
      • Other vessels: 14
  • Privateers: 515 ships[12]
  • Indian allies:
    • 125 Choctaw
    • unknown others[13]
    • British Army:
      • 5,200 (at war's start)
      • 48,160 (at war's end)
    • Provincial regulars: 10,000
    • Militia: 4,000
    • Royal Marines
    • Royal Navy
      • Ships of the line: 11
      • Frigates: 34
      • Other vessels: 52
    • Provincial Marine (at war's start): ‡
      • Ships: 9
  • Indian allies: 10,000–15,000[14][12]
Casualties and losses
2,200–3,721 killed in action[15]
  • 4,505 wounded
  • est.15,000 died from all causes[2]
  • 4,000 slaves freed [16]
  • 20,000 captured[17][18]
  • 8 frigates captured or burned
  • 278 privateers captured
  • 1,400 merchant ships captured
British Empire:
1,160 [19]–1,960 killed[12][3] in action
  • 3,679+ wounded
  • 10,000 died from all causes[12][4]
  • 4 frigates captured
  • ~1,344 merchant ships captured (373 recaptured)[15]
  • 15,500 captured
Indian allies:
10,000 dead from all causes (warriors and civilians)[12][5]
  • Unknown captured
  •  * Some militias operated in only their own regions.
  • Killed in action
  •  ‡ A locally raised coastal protection and semi-naval force on the Great Lakes


Historians have long debated the relative weight of the multiple reasons underlying the origin of the War of 1812. This section summarizes several contributing factors which resulted in the declaration of war by the United States.[27][28]

Honour and the second war of independence

As Risjord (1961) notes, a powerful motivation for the Americans was the desire to uphold national honour in the face of what they considered to be British insults, such as the Chesapeake–Leopard affair.[29] H. W. Brands writes: "The other war hawks spoke of the struggle with Britain as a second war of independence; [Andrew] Jackson, who still bore scars from the first war of independence, held that view with special conviction. The approaching conflict was about violations of American rights, but it was also about vindication of American identity."[30] Americans at the time and historians since[31] have often called it the United States' "Second War of Independence".[32]

The British, at the same time, were offended by what they considered insults, such as the "Little Belt" affair. This gave them a particular interest in capturing the United States flagship President, which they succeeded in doing in 1815.[33]

Officers of USS Chesapeake offer their swords to the officers of HMS Leopard. The Chesapeake–Leopard affair and other acts of impressment angered the American public.

Officers of USS Chesapeake offer their swords to the officers of HMS Leopard. The ChesapeakeLeopard affair and other acts of impressment angered the American public.

In 1807, Britain introduced a series of trade restrictions via the Orders in Council to impede neutral trade with France, whom Britain was fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. The United States contested these restrictions as illegal under international law.[34] Historian Reginald Horsman states that "a large section of influential British opinion, both in the government and in the country, thought that America presented a threat to British maritime supremacy."[35] The American merchant marine had nearly doubled between 1802 and 1810, making it by far the largest neutral fleet. Britain was the largest trading partner, receiving 80 percent of American cotton and 50 percent of other American exports, and the British public and press were resentful of the growing mercantile and commercial competition.[36] The United States' view was that Britain's restrictions violated its right to trade with others.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy expanded to 176 ships of the line and 600 ships overall, requiring 140,000 sailors to man them.[37] The Royal Navy could man its ships with volunteers in peacetime, but it competed in wartime with merchant shipping and privateers for a small pool of experienced sailors, so it turned to impressment from ashore and from foreign and domestic shipping when it could not operate its ships with volunteers alone.

The United States believed that British deserters had a right to become American citizens, but Britain did not recognize a right whereby a British subject could relinquish his citizenship and become a citizen of another country. The British Navy, therefore, considered any American citizen liable for impressment if he was born British. Aggravating the situation was the United States' reluctance to issue formal naturalization papers, and the widespread use of unofficial or forged identity or protection papers among sailors.[38] This made it difficult for the Royal Navy to distinguish Americans from non-Americans and led it to impress some Americans who had never been British. Some gained freedom on appeal.[39] The Admiralty estimated that there were 11,000 naturalized sailors on United States ships in 1805, and US Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin stated that 9,000 US sailors had been born in Great Britain or Ireland.[40] Captain Isaac Chauncey found in 1808 that 58-percent of sailors based in New York City were either naturalized citizens or recent immigrants. Of these 150 naturalized sailors, 80 were from Ireland and 54 from other parts of the United Kingdom.

American anger grew when British frigates were stationed just outside US harbours and in view of US shores to search ships and impress men while within US territorial waters.[41] Well-publicized impressment actions outraged the American public, such as the Leander affair and the ChesapeakeLeopard affair.[42][43]

The British public were outraged in their turn by the Little Belt affair, in which a large American ship clashed with a small British sloop, resulting in the deaths of 11 British sailors. Both sides claimed that the other fired first, but the British public in particular blamed the US for attacking a smaller vessel, with calls in some newspapers for revenge,[20][21] while the US was encouraged by the fact that they had won a victory over the Royal Navy.[44] The US Navy also forcibly recruited British sailors, but the British government saw impressment as commonly accepted practice and preferred to rescue British sailors from American impressment on a case-by-case basis.[45]

British support of Indian raids

Americans believed that British officers paid their Indian allies to scalp American soldiers, c. 1812

Americans believed that British officers paid their Indian allies to scalp American soldiers, c. 1812

The Northwest Territory consisted of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and was the battleground for conflict between the United States and various Indian tribes.[46] The British Empire had ceded the area to the United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, both sides ignoring the fact that the land was partly inhabited by various tribes, including the Miami, Winnebago, Shawnee, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Delaware, and Wyandot. Some warriors had left their tribes to follow Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee prophet and the brother of Tecumseh. Tenskwatawa had a vision of purifying his society by expelling the "children of the Evil Spirit", by which he meant the American settlers.[47] The Indians wanted to create their own state in the Northwest to end the American threat forever, as it became clear that the Americans wanted all of the land in the Old Northwest for national growth.[48] Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh formed a confederation of numerous tribes to block American expansion. The British saw the Indian tribes as valuable allies and a buffer to their Canadian colonies, so they began to provide arms and ammunition to the Indians; the subsequent Indian attacks on American settlers in the Northwest further aggravated tensions between Britain and the United States.[49] Raiding grew more common in 1810 and 1811; westerners in Congress found the raids intolerable and wanted them permanently ended.[50] British policy was divided towards the Indians. On the one hand, the British wanted encourage Indian raids in order to keep the Americans fighting in the Northwest; they also wanted to preserve a region which provided rich profits for Canadian fur traders. On the other hand, they feared that too much support for the Indians would cause a war with the United States.[48] Tecumseh's plans for an Indian state in the Northwest would benefit British North America by making it more defensible, but the defeats suffered by Tecumseh's confederation made the British leery of going too far to support what was probably a losing cause. British diplomats attempted to defuse tensions on the frontier in the months preceding the war.[48]

The confederation's raids hindered American expansion into rich farmlands in the Northwest Territory.[51] Pratt writes:

There is ample proof that the British authorities did all in their power to hold or win the allegiance of the Indians of the Northwest with the expectation of using them as allies in the event of war. Indian allegiance could be held only by gifts, and to an Indian no gift was as acceptable as a lethal weapon. Guns and ammunition, tomahawks and scalping knives were dealt out with some liberality by British agents.[52]

However, the frontiersmen, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, had no doubt that their troubles with the Indians "were the result of British intrigue", and many settlers began circulating stories of British Army muskets and equipment being found on the field after Indian raids. Thus, "the westerners were convinced that their problems could best be solved by forcing the British out of Canada". "American Military History, Army Historical Series, Chapter 6" [340] . Retrieved 1 July 2013.

The British had the longstanding goal of creating a large Indian state to cover much of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. They made the demand as late as the fall of 1814 at the peace conference, but they lost control of western Ontario in 1813 at key battles on and around Lake Erie. These battles destroyed the Indian confederacy which had been the main ally of the British in that region, weakening its negotiating position. Much of the area remained under British or British-allied Indian control until the end of the war, but the British dropped the demands.[53]

American expansionism

A map of the Canadas from 1812. It has been disputed whether or not the American desire to annex Canada brought on the war.

A map of the Canadas from 1812. It has been disputed whether or not the American desire to annex Canada brought on the war.

Loyalists landing in New Brunswick. Loyalists settlers to the Canadas were Revolution-era exiles, hostile to union with the U.S., whereas newer immigrants to the Canadas were neutral or supportive of the British.

Loyalists landing in New Brunswick. Loyalists settlers to the Canadas were Revolution-era exiles, hostile to union with the U.S., whereas newer immigrants to the Canadas were neutral or supportive of the British.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States (1801–1809), believed that the acquisition of the Canadas was a "mere matter of marching".

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States (1801–1809), believed that the acquisition of the Canadas was a "mere matter of marching".

Peter B. Porter, and many Democratic-Republican congressmen, sought to "oust the British from the continent" and "annex Canada".

Peter B. Porter, and many Democratic-Republican congressmen, sought to "oust the British from the continent" and "annex Canada".

American expansion into the Northwest Territory had been obstructed by various Indian tribes since the end of the Revolution——tribes who were supplied and encouraged by the British—and Americans on the western frontier demanded that the British cease their interference.[54] In June 1812, secretary of state James Monroe said, "It might be necessary to invade Canada, not as an object of the war but as a means to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion." Speaker Henry Clay repeated the same argument.[55] Canada was the only British possession that the Americans could easily attack, and capturing it would secure a bargaining chip which could then be used to force Britain to back down on the maritime issues. As New Zealand historian J.C.A. Stagg observes, it would also cut off food supplies for Britain's West Indian colonies, and temporarily prevent the British from continuing to arm the Indians.[56][57] However, some historians believe that a desire to annex Canada was a cause of the war.[58][59][60][61][56] Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson told Congress that the constant Indian atrocities along the Wabash River in Indiana were enabled by supplies from Canada and were proof that "the war has already commenced." "I shall never die contented until I see England's expulsion from North America and her territories incorporated into the United States."[62]

Madison believed that British economic policies were harming the American economy because they were designed to bolster British trade; he also felt that Canada was a conduit for American smugglers who were undercutting his own trade policies, which thus required that the United States annex British North America.[63] Furthermore, Madison believed that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence trade route might become the main trade route for the export of American goods to Europe; if the United States controlled the resources of British North America such as timber, which the British needed for their navy, then Britain would be forced to change its maritime policies which had so offended American public opinion.[63] Congressman John Harper said in a speech that "the Author of Nature Himself had marked our limits in the south, by the Gulf of Mexico and on the north, by the regions of eternal frost".[63]

Upper Canada (southern Ontario) had been settled mostly by Revolution-era exiles from the United States (United Empire Loyalists) or postwar American immigrants. The Loyalists were hostile to union with the United States, while the immigrant settlers were generally uninterested in politics and remained neutral or supported the British during the war. The Canadian colonies were thinly populated and only lightly defended by the British Army. Americans believed that many men in Upper Canada would rise up and greet an American army as liberators. One reason that American forces retreated after one successful battle inside Canada was that they could not obtain supplies from the locals.[64] But the Americans thought that the possibility of local support suggested an easy conquest, as Thomas Jefferson believed: "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent."[65]

Some American border businessmen supported annexation because they wanted to gain control of Great Lakes trade.[66] Carl Benn notes that the War Hawks' desire to annex the Canadas was similar to the enthusiasm for the annexation of Spanish Florida by inhabitants of the American South; both expected war to facilitate expansion into long-desired lands and end support for hostile Indian tribes (Tecumseh's Confederacy in the North and the Creek in the South).[67] Tennessee Congressman Felix Grundy considered it essential to acquire Canada to preserve domestic political balance, arguing that annexing Canada would maintain the free state-slave state balance, which might otherwise be thrown off by the acquisition of Florida and the settlement of the southern areas of the new Louisiana Purchase.[68]

However, historian Richard Maass argues that the expansionist theme is a myth which goes against the "relative consensus among experts that the primary U.S. objective was the repeal of British maritime restrictions". He argues that consensus among scholars is that the United States went to war "because six years of economic sanctions had failed to bring Britain to the negotiating table, and threatening the Royal Navy's Canadian supply base was their last hope." Maass agrees that expansionism might have tempted Americans on a theoretical level, but he finds that "leaders feared the domestic political consequences of doing so", particularly because such expansion "focused on sparsely populated western lands rather than the more populous eastern settlements" of Canada. Nevertheless, Maas notes that many historians continue to believe that expansionism was a cause.[69]

Horsman argues that expansionism played a role as a secondary cause after maritime issues, noting that many historians have mistakenly rejected expansionism as a cause for the war. He notes that it was considered key to maintaining sectional balance between free and slave states thrown off by American settlement of the Louisiana Territory, and widely supported by dozens of War Hawk congressmen such as John A. Harper, Felix Grundy, Henry Clay, and Richard M. Johnson, who voted for war with expansion as a key aim.

In disagreeing with those interpretations that have simply stressed expansionism and minimized maritime causation, historians have ignored deep-seated American fears for national security, dreams of a continent completely controlled by the republican United States, and the evidence that many Americans believed that the War of 1812 would be the occasion for the United States to achieve the long-desired annexation of Canada… Thomas Jefferson well-summarized American majority opinion about the war… to say "that the cession of Canada… must be a sine qua non at a treaty of peace".[70]

However, Horsman states that in his view "the desire for Canada did not cause the War of 1812" and that "The United States did not declare war because it wanted to obtain Canada, but the acquisition of Canada was viewed as a major collateral benefit of the conflict."[70]

Historian Alan Taylor says that many Democratic-Republican congressmen "longed to oust the British from the continent and to annex Canada", such as Richard M. Johnson, John A. Harper, and Peter B. Porter. A few Southerners opposed this, fearing an imbalance of free and slave states if Canada was annexed, while anti-Catholicism also caused many to oppose annexing mainly Catholic Lower Canada, believing its French-speaking inhabitants unfit "for republican citizenship". Even major figures such as Henry Clay and James Monroe expected to keep at least Upper Canada in the event of an easy conquest. Notable American generals such as William Hull were led by this sentiment to issue proclamations to Canadians during the war promising republican liberation through incorporation into the United States. General Alexander Smyth similarly declared to his troops when they invaded Canada that "you will enter a country that is to become one of the United States. You will arrive among a people who are to become your fellow-citizens." A lack of clarity about American intentions undercut these appeals, however.[71]

David and Jeanne Heidler argue that "most historians agree that the War of 1812 was not caused by expansionism but instead reflected a real concern of American patriots to defend United States' neutral rights from the overbearing tyranny of the British Navy. That is not to say that expansionist aims would not potentially result from the war."[72] However, they also argue otherwise, saying that "acquiring Canada would satisfy America's expansionist desires", also describing it as a key goal of western expansionists who, they argue, believed that "eliminating the British presence in Canada would best accomplish" their goal of halting British support for Indian raids. They argue that the "enduring debate" is over the relative importance of expansionism as a factor, and whether "expansionism played a greater role in causing the War of 1812 than American concern about protecting neutral maritime rights."[59]

U.S. political conflict

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). Madison was the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, whose power base came from southern and western states

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). Madison was the leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, whose power base came from southern and western states

The U.S. was in a period of significant political conflict between the Federalist Party (based mainly in the Northeast) and the Democratic-Republican Party (with its greatest power base in the South and West). The Federalist Party favoured a strong central government and closer ties to Britain, while the Democratic-Republican Party favoured a smaller central government, preservation of states' rights (including slavery), westward expansion, and a stronger break with Britain. By 1812, the Federalist Party had weakened considerably, and the Republicans were in a strong position, with James Madison completing his first term of office and control of Congress.[73] Support for the American cause was weak in Federalist areas of the Northeast throughout the war; fewer men volunteered to serve and the banks avoided financing the war. The negativism of the Federalists ruined the party's reputation, exemplified by the Hartford Convention of 1814–15, and it survived only in scattered areas. By 1815, there was broad support for the war from all parts of the country. This allowed the triumphant Democratic-Republicans to adopt some Federalist policies, such as the national bank which Madison re-established in 1816.[74][75]



The United States Navy had 7,250 sailors and Marines in 1812. It was a well-trained and professional force which fought well against the Barbary pirates and France in the Quasi War. The Navy had 13 ocean-going warships, three of them "super-frigates". Its principal problem was a lack of funding, as many in Congress did not see the need for a strong navy.[76] The American warships were well-built ships that were at least equal to British ships of a similar class, as British shipbuilding emphasized quantity over quality. However, the biggest ships in the American Navy were frigates, and it had no ships-of-the-line capable of engaging in a fleet action with the Royal Navy.[77] On the high seas, the Americans could only pursue a strategy of commerce raiding, capturing or sinking British merchantmen with their frigates and privateers.[78] The Navy was largely concentrated on the Atlantic coast before the war; it had only two gunboats on Lake Champlain, one brig on Lake Ontario, and another brig in Lake Erie when the war began.[79]

The United States Army was much larger than the British Army in North America, and the soldiers were well-trained and brave. Many men carried their own long rifles, while the British were issued muskets (except for one unit of 500 riflemen). However, leadership was inconsistent in the American officer corps; some officers proved themselves to be outstanding, but many others were inept, owing their positions to political favors. Congress was hostile to a standing army, and the government called out 450,000 men from the state militias during the war.[79] However, the state militias were poorly trained, armed, and led. The British Army soundly defeated the Maryland and Virginia militias in the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, and President Madison commented, "I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force, if I had not witnessed the scenes of this day."[76]


Depiction of a British private (left) and officer (right) of the period

Depiction of a British private (left) and officer (right) of the period

The British Royal Navy was a well-led, professional force, considered the world's most powerful navy. However, America was a secondary concern as long as the war continued with France.[79] In 1813, France had 80 ships-of-the-line and was building another 35, and containing the French fleet had to be the main British naval concern.[79] In Upper Canada, the British had the Provincial Marine which was essential for keeping the army supplied, since the roads were abysmal in Upper Canada.[79] The Royal Navy had two schooners on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, while the Provincial Marine maintained four small warships on Lake Erie.[79]

The British Army in North America was a very professional and well-trained force, but it suffered from being outnumbered.[79] The militias of Upper Canada and Lower Canada had a much lower level of military effectiveness.[79] Nevertheless, Canadian militia and locally recruited regular units known as "Fencibles" were often more reliable than American militia, particularly when defending their own territory. As such, they played pivotal roles in various engagements, including at the Battle of the Chateauguay where Canadian and Indian forces stopped a much larger American force without assistance from regular British units.


The Indian allies of the British avoided pitched battles and relied on irregular warfare, including raids and ambushes which took advantage of their knowledge of terrain. Indian chiefs sought to fight only under favorable conditions; they would avoid any battle that promised heavy losses. The main Indian weapons were a mixture of muskets, rifles, bows, tomahawks, knives, swords, and clubs. Indian warriors were brave, but their tactics favored defense rather than offense.[80]

In the words of Benn, the Indians fighting with the Americans provided the U.S. with their "most effective light troops", while the British desperately needed the Indian tribes as allies to compensate for their numerical inferiority. Regardless of which side they fought for, the highly decentralized bands and tribes considered themselves to be allies and not subordinates. Indian chiefs did what they thought best for their tribes, much to the annoyance of both American and British generals, who often complained about their unreliability.[80]

Declaration of war

On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain, though not specifically calling for a declaration of war. The House of Representatives then deliberated for four days behind closed doors before voting 79 to 49 (61%) in favor of the first declaration of war. The Senate concurred in the declaration by a 19 to 13 (59%) vote in favour. The conflict began formally on June 18, 1812, when Madison signed the measure into law and proclaimed it the next day.[23] This was the first time that the United States had declared war on another nation, and the Congressional vote was the closest vote in American history to formally declare war.[81] The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 1991 was a closer vote, but it was not a formal declaration of war.[82] None of the 39 Federalists in Congress voted in favour of the war, and critics subsequently referred to it as "Mr. Madison's War",[81]

Prime Minister Spencer Perceval had been assassinated in London on May 11, which resulted in Lord Liverpool coming to power, and he wanted a more practical relationship with the United States. On June 23, he issued a repeal of the Orders in Council, but the United States was unaware of this, as it took three weeks for the news to cross the Atlantic.[83] On June 28, 1812, HMS Colibri was despatched from Halifax to New York under a flag of truce. She anchored off Sandy Hook on July 9 and left three days later carrying a copy of the declaration of war, British ambassador to the United States Augustus Foster, and consul Colonel Barclay. She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia eight days later. The news of the declaration took even longer to reach London.

However, British commander Isaac Brock in Upper Canada received the news much faster, and he issued a proclamation alerting the citizenry of the state of war and urging all military personnel "to be vigilant in the discharge of their duty" to prevent communication with the enemy and to arrest anyone suspected of helping the Americans.[84][85] He also issued orders to the commander of the British post at Fort St. Joseph to initiate offensive operations against American forces in northern Michigan, who were not yet aware of their own government's declaration of war. The resulting Siege of Fort Mackinac on July 17 was the first major land engagement of the war, and ended in an easy British victory.[86]

Course of war

The war was conducted in three theaters:

  1. The Great Lakes and the Canadian frontier

  2. At sea, principally the Atlantic Ocean and the American east coast

  3. The Southern states and southwestern territories


British soldiers were already committed to the Napoleonic Wars, and Earl Bathurst instructed Governor General George Prévost to maintain a defensive strategy.

British soldiers were already committed to the Napoleonic Wars, and Earl Bathurst instructed Governor General George Prévost to maintain a defensive strategy.

The war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, yet neither side was ready for war when it came. Britain was heavily engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, most of the British Army was deployed in the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain, and the Royal Navy was compelled to blockade most of the coast of Europe.[87] The number of British regular troops present in Canada in July 1812 was officially stated to be 6,034, supported by Canadian militia.[88] Throughout the war, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies was Earl Bathurst, and he could spare few troops to reinforce North America during the first two years of the war; he urged Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost to maintain a defensive strategy. The naturally cautious Prévost followed these instructions, concentrating on defending Lower Canada at the expense of Upper Canada (which was more vulnerable to American attacks) and allowing few offensive actions.

The United States was not prepared to prosecute a war, for Madison had assumed that the state militias would easily seize Canada and that negotiations would follow. In 1812, the regular army consisted of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular; it offered poor pay, and there were few trained and experienced officers initially.[89] The militia objected to serving outside their home states, they were undisciplined, and they performed poorly against British forces when outside their home states.[87] American prosecution of the war suffered from its unpopularity, especially in New England where anti-war speakers were vocal. Massachusetts Congressmen Ebenezer Seaver and William Widgery were "publicly insulted and hissed" in Boston, while a mob seized Plymouth's Chief Justice Charles Turner on August 3, 1812 "and kicked [him] through the town".[90] The United States had great difficulty financing its war. It had disbanded its national bank, and private bankers in the Northeast were opposed to the war, but it obtained financing from London-based Barings Bank to cover overseas bond obligations.[18] New England failed to provide militia units or financial support, which was a serious blow,[91] and New England states made loud threats to secede, as evidenced by the Hartford Convention. Britain exploited these divisions, blockading only southern ports for much of the war and encouraging smuggling.[92]

Great Lakes and Western Territories

Invasions of Upper and Lower Canada, 1812

Map showing the northern theater of the War of 1812

Map showing the northern theater of the War of 1812

Issac Brock leading a charge in an attempt to retake the heights during the Battle of Queenston Heights; he was killed in the battle

Issac Brock leading a charge in an attempt to retake the heights during the Battle of Queenston Heights; he was killed in the battle

An American army under the command of William Hull invaded Upper Canada on July 12, arriving at Sandwich (Windsor, Ontario) after crossing the Detroit River.[93] His forces were chiefly composed of untrained and ill-disciplined militiamen.[94] Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender, or "the horrors, and calamities of war will stalk before you". [95] The proclamation said that Hull wanted to free them from the "tyranny" of Great Britain, giving them the liberty, security, and wealth which his own country was experiencing—unless they preferred "war, slavery and destruction".[96] He also threatened to kill any British soldier caught fighting alongside an Indian.[95]

His proclamation only helped to stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Hull's army was too weak in artillery and badly supplied to achieve its objectives, and had to fight just to maintain its own lines of communication.[97][98] He withdrew to the American side of the river on August 7, 1812 after receiving news of a Shawnee ambush on Major Thomas Van Horne's 200 men who had been sent to support the American supply convoy; half of the troops were killed. Hull had also faced a lack of support from his officers and fear among the troops of a possible massacre by unfriendly Indian forces. A group of 600 troops led by Lieutenant Colonel James Miller remained in Canada, attempting to supply the American position in the Sandwich area, with little success.[99]

Major General Isaac Brock felt that he should take bold measures to calm the settler population in Canada and to convince the Indians that Britain was strong.[94] He moved rapidly to Amherstburg near the western end of Lake Erie with reinforcements and immediately decided to attack Detroit, using Fort Malden as his stronghold. Hull feared that the British possessed superior numbers and Fort Detroit was lacking adequate gunpowder and cannonballs to withstand a long siege.[100] He agreed to surrender on August 16, saving his 2,500 soldiers and 700 civilians from "the horrors of an Indian massacre", as he wrote.[101][102]

Hull also ordered the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to evacuate to Fort Wayne, but Potowatomis attacked them on August 15 when they had traveled only 2 miles (3.2 km).[103] The fort was subsequently burned.

Brock promptly moved to the eastern end of Lake Erie, where American General Stephen Van Rensselaer was attempting a second invasion.[104] The Americans attempted an attack across the Niagara River on October 13, but they were defeated at Queenston Heights. Brock was killed during the battle, and British leadership suffered after his death. General Henry Dearborn made a final attempt to advance north from Lake Champlain, but his militia refused to go beyond American territory.

American Northwest, 1813

Oliver Hazard Perry's message to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie began with: "We have met the enemy and they are ours".

Oliver Hazard Perry's message to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie began with: "We have met the enemy and they are ours".[106]

After Hull surrendered Detroit, General William Henry Harrison took command of the American Army of the Northwest. He set out to retake the city, which was now defended by Colonel Henry Procter in conjunction with Tecumseh. A detachment of Harrison's army was defeated at Frenchtown along the River Raisin on January 22, 1813. Procter left the prisoners with an inadequate guard who could not defend them from their own Indian allies, who slaughtered 60 captive Americans.[105] The defeat ended Harrison's campaign against Detroit, but "Remember the River Raisin!" became a rallying cry for the Americans.

In May 1813, Procter and Tecumseh set siege to Fort Meigs in northwestern Ohio. The Indians ambushed American reinforcements who arrived during the siege, but the fort still held out. The Indians eventually began to disperse, forcing Procter and Tecumseh to return north to Canada where they attempted to storm Fort Stephenson, a small American post on the Sandusky River. They were repulsed with serious losses, marking the end of the Ohio campaign.

Captain Oliver Hazard Perry fought the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. His decisive victory at "Put-in-Bay" ensured American military control of the lake, improved American morale after a series of defeats, and compelled the British to fall back from Detroit. This paved the way for General Harrison to launch another invasion of Upper Canada, which culminated in the American victory at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813 in which Tecumseh was killed.

Niagara frontier, 1813

The Niagara Peninsula during the War of 1812

The Niagara Peninsula during the War of 1812

Laura Secord providing advance warning to James FitzGibbon which led to a British-Indian victory at the Battle of Beaver Dams, June 1813

Laura Secord providing advance warning to James FitzGibbon which led to a British-Indian victory at the Battle of Beaver Dams, June 1813

British and American leaders placed great importance on gaining control of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River because of the difficulties of land-based communication. The British already had a small squadron of warships on Lake Ontario when the war began, and they had the initial advantage, so the Americans established a Navy yard at Sackett's Harbor, New York. Commodore Isaac Chauncey took charge of the large number of sailors and shipwrights sent there from New York, and they completed a warship in a mere 45 days. Ultimately, almost 3,000 men worked at the shipyard, building 11 warships and many smaller boats and transports. Having regained the advantage by their rapid building program, Chauncey and Dearborn attacked York on April 27, 1813, the capital of Upper Canada.

On May 25, 1813, the American Lake Ontario squadron and Fort Niagara began bombarding Fort George.[107] An American amphibious force assaulted Fort George on the northern end of the Niagara River on May 27 and captured it without serious losses.[108] The British also abandoned Fort Erie and headed towards the Burlington Heights.[108] The British position was on the verge of collapse in Upper Canada; the Iroquois Indians considered changing sides and ignored a British appeal to come to their aid.[108] The Americans did not pursue the retreating British forces, however, until they had largely escaped and organized a counter-offensive at the Battle of Stoney Creek on June 5. The British launched a surprise attack at Stoney Creek at 2 a.m., leading to much confused fighting[108] and a strategic British victory, as the Americans pulled back to Forty Mile Creek rather than continuing their advance into Upper Canada.[108] At this point, the Indians living on the Grand River began to come out to fight for the British as an American victory no longer seemed inevitable.[108] The Iroquis ambushed an American patrol at Forty Mile Creek, while the Royal Navy squadron based in Kingston came to bombard the American camp, and General Dearborn retreated to Fort George, mistakenly believing that he was outnumbered and outgunned.[109] British Brigadier General John Vincent was encouraged by the fact that more and more Indians were now arriving to assist him, providing about 800 additional men.[109]

An American force surrendered on June 24 to a smaller British force due to advance warning by Laura Secord at the Battle of Beaver Dams, marking the end of the American offensive into Upper Canada.[109] British Major General Francis de Rottenberg did not have the strength to retake Fort George, so he instituted a blockade, hoping to starve the Americans into surrender.[110] Meanwhile, Commodore James Lucas Yeo had taken charge of the British ships on the lake and mounted a counterattack, which the Americans repulsed at the Battle of Sackett's Harbor. Thereafter, Chauncey and Yeo's squadrons fought two indecisive actions, neither commander seeking a fight to the finish.

Late in 1813, the Americans abandoned the Canadian territory that they occupied around Fort George. They set fire to the village of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) on December 10, 1813, incensing the Canadians and politicians in control. Many of the inhabitants were left without shelter, freezing to death in the snow. This led to British retaliation following the Capture of Fort Niagara on December 18, 1813. The British and their Indian allies stormed the neighbouring town of Lewiston, New York on December 19, torching homes and killing about a dozen civilians. The British were pursuing the surviving residents when a small force of Tuscarora Indians intervened, buying enough time for the civilians to escape to safer ground.[111][112] The British attacked and burned Buffalo on December 30, 1813.

St. Lawrence and Lower Canada, 1813

In October 1813, a force of Canadian Fencibles, militiamen, and Mohawks repelled an American attempt to take Montreal at the Chateauguay River.

In October 1813, a force of Canadian Fencibles, militiamen, and Mohawks repelled an American attempt to take Montreal at the Chateauguay River.

The British were vulnerable over the stretch of the St. Lawrence between Upper Canada and the United States. Over the winter of 1812–13, the Americans launched a series of raids from Ogdensburg, New York which hampered British supply traffic up the river. On February 21, Sir George Prévost passed through Prescott, Ontario on the opposite bank of the river with reinforcements for Upper Canada. When he left the next day, the reinforcements and local militia attacked in the Battle of Ogdensburg, and the Americans were forced to retire.

The Americans made two more thrusts against Montreal in 1813.[113] The plan eventually agreed upon was for Major General Wade Hampton to march north from Lake Champlain and join a force under General James Wilkinson that would embark in boats and sail from Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario and descend the St. Lawrence. Hampton was delayed by bad roads and supply problems and also had an intense dislike of Wilkinson, which limited his desire to support his plan. Charles de Salaberry defeated Hampton's force of 4,000 at the Chateauguay River on October 25 with a smaller force of Canadian Voltigeurs and Mohawks. Salaberry's force of Lower Canada militia and Indians numbered only 339, but had a strong defensive position.[113] Wilkinson's force of 8,000 set out on October 17 but was also delayed by bad weather. Wilkinson heard that a British force was pursuing him under Captain William Mulcaster and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison, and he was forced to land near Morrisburg, Ontario by November 10, about 150 kilometres (90 mi) from Montreal. On November 11, his rear guard of 2,500 attacked Morrison's force of 800 at Crysler's Farm and was repulsed with heavy losses.[113] He learned that Hampton could not renew his advance, retreated to the U.S., and settled into winter quarters. He resigned his command after a failed attack on a British outpost at Lacolle Mills.[114]

Niagara and Plattsburgh Campaigns, 1814

American infantry prepare to attack during the Battle of Lundy's Lane in July 1814

American infantry prepare to attack during the Battle of Lundy's Lane in July 1814

British forces attempted to storm Fort Erie on August 14, 1814 but were repelled by its American defenders.

British forces attempted to storm Fort Erie on August 14, 1814 but were repelled by its American defenders.

Prévost's defeat at Plattsburgh led him to call off the invasion of New York.

Prévost's defeat at Plattsburgh led him to call off the invasion of New York.

The Americans chose again to invade the Niagara frontier to take Upper Canada. They had occupied southwestern Upper Canada after their victory in Moraviantown, and they believed that taking the rest of the province would force the British to cede it to them. The end of the war in Europe in April 1814 meant that the British could deploy their Army to North America, so the Americans were anxious to secure Upper Canada to negotiate from a position of strength. They planned to invade via the Niagara frontier while sending another force to recapture Mackinac;[115] the British were supplying the Indians in the Old Northwest from Montreal via Mackinac.[116] They renewed their attack on the Niagara peninsula and quickly captured Fort Erie on July 3, 1814, with the garrison quickly surrendering to the Americans.[117] General Phineas Riall rushed towards the frontier, unaware of Fort Erie's fall or the size of the American force, and engaged in battle.[118] Winfield Scott then gained a victory over a British force at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5. The Americans brought out overwhelming firepower against the attacking British, who lost about 600 dead to the 350 dead on the American side. An attempt to advance further ended with a hard-fought but inconclusive Battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25. Both sides stood their ground; American General Jacob Brown pulled back to Fort George after the battle, and the British did not pursue them.[119]

The outnumbered Americans withdrew but withstood a prolonged Siege of Fort Erie. The British tried to storm Fort Erie on August 14, 1814 but suffered heavy losses, losing 950 killed, wounded, and captured compared to only 84 dead and wounded on the American side. The British were further weakened by exposure and shortage of supplies in their siege lines. Eventually they raised the siege, but American Major General George Izard took over command on the Niagara front and followed up only halfheartedly. An American raid along the Grand River destroyed many farms and weakened British logistics. In October 1814, the Americans advanced into Upper Canada and engaged in skirmishes at Cook's Mill, but they pulled back when they heard that the new British warship HMS St. Lawrence was on its way, armed with 104 guns and launched in Kingston that September. The Americans lacked provisions and eventually destroyed Fort Erie and retreated across the Niagara.[120]

Meanwhile, 15,000 British troops were sent to North America under four of Wellington's ablest brigade commanders after Napoleon abdicated. Fewer than half were veterans of the Peninsula and the rest came from garrisons. Prévost was ordered to neutralize American power on the lakes by burning Sackets Harbor to gain naval control of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Upper Lakes, and to defend Lower Canada from attack. He did defend Lower Canada but otherwise failed to achieve his objectives,[121] so he decided to invade New York State. His army outnumbered the American defenders of Plattsburgh, but he was worried about his flanks, so he decided that he needed naval control of Lake Champlain. The British squadron on the lake under Captain George Downie was more evenly matched by the Americans under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough.

Upon reaching Plattsburgh, Prévost delayed the assault until Downie arrived in the hastily completed 36-gun frigate HMS Confiance. Prévost forced Downie into a premature attack but then unaccountably failed to provide the promised military backing. Downie was killed and his naval force defeated at the naval Battle of Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The Americans now had control of Lake Champlain; Theodore Roosevelt later termed it "the greatest naval battle of the war".[122] General Alexander Macomb led the successful land defence. Prévost then turned back, to the astonishment of his senior officers, saying that it was too hazardous to remain on enemy territory after the loss of naval supremacy. He was recalled to London where a naval court-martial decided that defeat had been caused principally by Prévost urging the squadron into premature action and then failing to afford the promised support from the land forces. He died suddenly, just before his court-martial was to convene. His reputation sank to a new low, as Canadians claimed that their militia under Brock did the job but Prévost failed. Recent historians have been more kindly, however. Burroughs argues that his preparations were energetic, well-conceived, and comprehensive for defending the Canadas with limited means, and he achieved the primary objective of preventing an American conquest.[123]

Sir Thomas Hardy invaded the northern part of Massachusetts (Maine) on July 11 and took Fort Sullivan at Eastport. His forces took Castine, Hampden, Bangor, and Machias, and Castine became the main British base till April 15, 1815, when the British left. They took £10,750 in tariff duties, the "Castine Fund" which was used to found Dalhousie University.[124] Eastport was not returned to the United States till 1818.

American West, 1813–15

The Upper Mississippi River during the War of 1812. 1: Fort Bellefontaine U.S. headquarters; 2: Fort Osage, abandoned 1813; 3: Fort Madison, defeated 1813; 4: Fort Shelby, defeated 1814; 5: Battle of Rock Island Rapids, July 1814 and the Battle of Credit Island, Sept. 1814; 6: Fort Johnson, abandoned 1814; 7: Fort Cap au Gris and the Battle of the Sink Hole, May 1815

The Upper Mississippi River during the War of 1812. 1: Fort Bellefontaine U.S. headquarters; 2: Fort Osage, abandoned 1813; 3: Fort Madison, defeated 1813; 4: Fort Shelby, defeated 1814; 5: Battle of Rock Island Rapids, July 1814 and the Battle of Credit Island, Sept. 1814; 6: Fort Johnson, abandoned 1814; 7: Fort Cap au Gris and the Battle of the Sink Hole, May 1815

The Mississippi River valley was the western frontier of the United States in 1812. The territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 contained almost no American settlements west of the Mississippi except around St. Louis and a few forts and trading posts in the Boonslick. Fort Belle Fontaine was an old trading post converted to an Army post in 1804, and this served as regional headquarters. Fort Osage, built in 1808 along the Missouri, was the western-most American outpost; it was abandoned at the start of the war.[125] Fort Madison was built along the Mississippi in Iowa in 1808 and had been repeatedly attacked by British-allied Sauk since its construction. The Army abandoned Fort Madison in September 1813 after Indians attacked it and besieged it—with support from the British. This was one of the few battles fought west of the Mississippi. Black Hawk played a leadership role.[126]

Little of note took place on Lake Huron in 1813, but the American victory on Lake Erie and the recapture of Detroit isolated the British there. During the ensuing winter, a Canadian party under Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall established a new supply line from York to Nottawasaga Bay on Georgian Bay. He arrived at Fort Mackinac with supplies and reinforcements, then sent an expedition to recapture the trading post of Prairie du Chien in the far west. The Siege of Prairie du Chien ended in a British victory on July 20, 1814.

Earlier in July, the Americans sent a force of five vessels from Detroit to recapture Mackinac. A mixed force of regulars and volunteers from the militia landed on the island on August 4. They did not attempt to achieve surprise, and Indians ambushed them in the brief Battle of Mackinac Island and forced them to re-embark. The Americans discovered the new base at Nottawasaga Bay, and they destroyed its fortifications on August 13 along with the schooner Nancy that they found there. They then returned to Detroit, leaving two gunboats to blockade Mackinac. On September 4, the gunboats were taken unawares and captured by British boarding parties from canoes and small boats. These Engagements on Lake Huron left Mackinac under British control.

The British garrison at Prairie du Chien also fought off another attack by Major Zachary Taylor. American troops retreating from the Battle of Credit Island on the upper Mississippi attempted to make a stand at Fort Johnson, but they soon abandoned the fort and most of the upper Mississippi valley.[127] In this distant theater, the British retained the upper hand until the end of the war through the allegiance of several Indian tribes that received British gifts and arms, enabling them to take control of parts of Michigan and Illinois and the whole of Wisconsin.[128]

American forces were driven from the Upper Mississippi region, but they held on to eastern Missouri and the St. Louis area. Two notable battles fought against the Sauk were the Battle of Cote Sans Dessein in April 1815 at the mouth of the Osage River in the Missouri Territory, and the Battle of the Sink Hole in May 1815 near Fort Cap au Gris. [129]

The British returned Mackinac and other captured territory to the United States after the war. Some British officers and Canadians objected to handing back Prairie du Chien and especially Mackinac under the terms of the Treaty of Ghent. However, the Americans retained the captured post at Fort Malden near Amherstburg until the British complied with the treaty.[130]

Fighting between Americans, the Sauk, and other indigenous tribes continued through 1817, well after the war ended in the east. [131]

Atlantic theater

Opening strategies

The Royal Navy's North American squadron was based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the start of the war, the squadron had one ship of the line, seven frigates, nine sloops, as well as brigs and schooners.

The Royal Navy's North American squadron was based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the start of the war, the squadron had one ship of the line, seven frigates, nine sloops, as well as brigs and schooners.[132]

In 1812, Britain's Royal Navy was the world's largest with over 600 cruisers in commission and some smaller vessels. Most of these were involved in blockading the French navy and protecting British trade against French privateers, but the Royal Navy still had 85 vessels in American waters, counting all North American and Caribbean waters.[6] However, the Royal Navy's American squadron based in Halifax, Nova Scotia numbered one small ship of the line, seven frigates, nine smaller sloops and brigs, and five schooners.[132] By contrast, the United States Navy was composed of 8 frigates, 14 smaller sloops and brigs, and no ships of the line. The U.S. had embarked on a major shipbuilding program before the war at Sackets Harbor, New York and continued to produce new ships. Three of the existing American frigates were exceptionally large and powerful for their class, larger than any British frigate in America. The standard British frigate of the time was rated as a 38 gun ship, usually carrying up to 50 guns, with its main battery consisting of 18-pounder. USS Constitution, President, and United States, in comparison, were rated as 44-gun ships, carrying 56–60 guns with a main battery of 24-pounders.[134]

The British strategy was to protect their own merchant shipping between Halifax and the West Indies, and to enforce a blockade of major American ports to restrict American trade. Because of their numerical inferiority, the American strategy was to cause disruption through hit-and-run tactics, such as the capturing prizes and engaging Royal Navy vessels only under favourable circumstances. Days after the formal declaration of war, however, America put out two small squadrons, including the frigate President and the sloop Hornet under Commodore John Rodgers, and the frigates United States and Congress, with the brig Argus under Captain Stephen Decatur. These were initially concentrated as one unit under Rodgers, who intended to force the Royal Navy to concentrate its own ships to prevent isolated units being captured by his powerful force.

Large numbers of American merchant ships were returning to the United States with the outbreak of war, and the Royal Navy could not watch all the ports on the American seaboard if they were concentrated together. Rodgers' strategy worked, in that the Royal Navy concentrated most of its frigates off New York Harbor under Captain Philip Broke, allowing many American ships to reach home. But Rodgers' own cruise captured only five small merchant ships, and the Americans never subsequently concentrated more than two or three ships together as a unit.[135]

Single-ship actions

USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere in a single-ship engagement. The battle was an important victory for American morale.

USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere in a single-ship engagement. The battle was an important victory for American morale.

Marines aboard USS Wasp engage HMS Reindeer, June 1814. During the war, sloops of the United States Navy scored several victories against British sloops.

Marines aboard USS Wasp engage HMS Reindeer, June 1814. During the war, sloops of the United States Navy scored several victories against British sloops.

Captain Broke leads the boarding party to USS Chesapeake. The British capture of Chesapeake was one of the bloodiest contests in the age of sail.

Captain Broke leads the boarding party to USS Chesapeake. The British capture of Chesapeake was one of the bloodiest contests in the age of sail.

The Battle of Valparaíso ended the American naval threat to British interests in the south Pacific Ocean.

The Battle of Valparaíso ended the American naval threat to British interests in the south Pacific Ocean.

The capture of USS President was the last naval duel to take place during the conflict, with its combatants unaware of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent several weeks prior.

The capture of USS President was the last naval duel to take place during the conflict, with its combatants unaware of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent several weeks prior.

Both American and British naval honour had been challenged in the lead-up to the war. The Chesapeake–Leopard affair had left the United States insulted by the Royal Navy's impressment of sailors, and the appropriate method for the American Navy to redeem itself was by duelling. Similarly, British honour was challenged in the Little Belt affair where the United States frigate President fired on the British sloop HMS Little Belt because President mistook Little Belt for the British frigate HMS Guerriere. Captain James Dacres of Guerriere began a cycle of frigate duels by challenging President to a single ship duel to avenge the losses aboard Little Belt. Commodore John Rodgers of President declined the challenge because he feared that the rest of the British squadron under Commodore Philip Broke might intervene.[136][33] [137]

Meanwhile, USS Constitution commanded by Captain Isaac Hull sailed from the Chesapeake Bay on July 12. On July 17, Commodore Broke's British squadron gave chase off New York, including Guerriere, but Constitution evaded her pursuers after two days. Borke detached Guerriere from his squadron to seek out repairs, as she had weak scantlings (beams fastened with a thickened clamp rather than vertical and horizontal knees)[138] and had become leaky and rotten.[33][137] She had also been struck by lightning, severely damaging her masts.[33] Captain Dacres was eager to engage the American frigate and to redeem British honour, as Constitution was the sister ship of President and would serve equally well as an American ship to duel. Constitution had nearly 50 percent more men, more firepower, heavier tonnage, and heavier scantlings (which determine how much damage enemy shot does to a ship) than Guerriere.

Constitution sighted Guerriere 400 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia on August 19, and the two ships engaged in a 35-minute battle. Constitution dismasted Guerriere and captured the crew. Guerriere was beyond repair, and the Americans burned it before returning to Boston. Constitution earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" following this battle, as many of the British cannonballs were seen to bounce off her hull due to her heavy scantlings.

On October 25, USS United States commanded by Captain Decatur captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian, which he then carried back to port.[139] At the close of the month, Constitution sailed south, now under the command of Captain William Bainbridge. She met the British frigate HMS Java on December 29 off Bahia, Brazil.[104] After a battle lasting three hours, Java struck her colours and was burned after being judged unsalvageable. Constitution seemed relatively undamaged in the battle initially, but the crew later determined that Java had successfully hit her masts with 18-pounder shot, but the mast hadn't fallen due to its immense diameter. United States, Constitution, and President were all nearly 50 percent larger by tonnage, crew, firepower, and scantling size than Macedonian, Guerriere, and Java[137][140][33] (Guerriere was rotten and had lightning damage as well as being weakly built as a French ship; Java had extra marines onboard making the disparity in crew more similar although she too was a French-built ship; Macedonian fitted the 50 percent statistic near perfectly[137][140][33]).

The United States Navy's sloops had also won several victories over Royal Navy sloops of approximately equal armament. The American sloops Hornet, Wasp (1807), Peacock, Wasp (1813), and Frolic were all ship-rigged while the British Cruizer-class sloops they encountered were brig-rigged, which gave the Americans a significant advantage. Ship rigged vessels are more maneuverable in battle because they have a wider variety of sails thus being more resistant to damage. Ship-rigged vessels can back sail, literally backing up or heave to (stop).[33][137][138] More significantly, if some spars are shot away on a brig because it is more difficult to wear, the brig loses the ability to steer, while a ship could adjust its more diverse canvas as if to wear to compensate for the imbalance caused by damage in battle.[33] Furthermore, ship-rigged vessels which three masts simply have more masts to shoot away than brigs with two masts before the vessel is unmanageable.[33][137] In addition While the American ships had experienced and well-drilled volunteer crews, the enormous size of the overstretched Royal Navy meant that many ships were shorthanded and the average quality of crews suffered and the constant sea duties of those serving in North America interfered with their training and exercises.[140][136][33][137] The only engagement between two brig-sloops was between the British Cruizer-class brig Pelican (1812) and the United States' Argus where Pelican emerged the victor as she had greater firepower and tonnage, despite having fewer crew.[33] Although not a sloop, the gun-brig Boxer was taken by the brig-sloop Enterprise in a bloody battle where Enterprise emerged the victor again due to superior force.

It was clear that in single ship battles, superior force was the most significant factor. In response to the majority of the American ships being of greater force than the British ships of the same class, Britain constructed five 40-gun, 24-pounder heavy frigates[141] and two "spar-decked" frigates (the 60-gun HMS Leander and HMS Newcastle[142]) and to razee three old 74-gun ships of the line to convert them to heavy frigates.[143] To counter the American sloops of war, the British constructed the Cyrus-class ship-sloops of 22 guns. The British Admiralty also instituted a new policy that the three American heavy frigates should not be engaged except by a ship of the line or frigates in squadron strength.

Commodore Philip Broke had lost Guerriere to Constitution from his very own squadron. He knew that Dacres of Guerriere intended to duel the American frigate to avenge the losses on Little Belt caused by USS President in 1811. Since, Constitution had taken Guerriere, Broke intended to redeem Dacres' honour by taking Constitution, which was undergoing repairs in Boston in early 1813. Broke found that Constitution was not ready for sea. Instead, he decided to challenge Chesapeake as Broke was short on water and provisions and could not wait for Constitution.[33] Captain James Lawrence of Chesapeake was misguided by propaganda intended to boost American morale (and successfully did) that claimed that the three frigate duels of 1812 were of equal force leading Lawrence to believe taking Broke's Shannon (1806) would be easy.[33][137] Lawrence even went to the extent of preemptively arranging for a banquet to be held for his victorious crew.[137][33][140][136] Broke, on the other hand, had spent years training his crew and developing artillery innovations on his ship, making Shannon particularly well prepared for battle.[137][33][140][136] On June 1, 1813, Shannon took Chesapeake in a battle that lasted less than fifteen minutes in Boston Harbor. Lawrence was mortally wounded and famously cried out, "Tell the men to fire faster! Don't give up the ship!"[140][33][137][136] The two frigates were of near-identical armament and length. Chesapeake's crew was larger, had greater tonnage and was of greater scantling strength (which led to the British claiming she was overbuilt[138]), but many of her crew had not served or trained together. Shannon had been at sea for a long time, and her hull had begun to rot, further exaggerating the disparity in scantling strength.[33] Nevertheless, this engagement proved to the only single-ship action where both ships were of essentially equal force during the War of 1812. British citizens reacted with celebration and relief that the run of American victories had ended.[144] Notably, this action was by ratio one of the bloodiest contests recorded during this age of sail due to the close-range engagement, the boarding (hand-to-hand combat) and Broke's philosophy of artillery being "Kill the men and the ship is yours", with more dead and wounded than HMS Victory suffered in four hours of combat at Trafalgar. Captain Lawrence was killed, and Captain Broke was so badly wounded that he never again held a sea command.[145] The Americans then did as the British had done in 1812 and banned single-ship duels after this engagement.[140][33]

In January 1813, the American frigate Essex, under the command of Captain David Porter, sailed into the Pacific to harass British shipping. Many British whaling ships carried letters of marque allowing them to prey on American whalers, and they nearly destroyed the industry. Essex challenged this practice. She inflicted considerable damage on British interests. Essex consort USS Essex Junior (armed with twenty guns) were captured off Valparaíso, Chile, by the British frigate HMS Phoebe and the sloop HMS Cherub on March 28, 1814 in what statistically appeared to be a battle of equal force as Essex and Phoebe were of similar tonnage, scantling, and broadside weight as well as Cherub and Essex Junior (with the exception of scantling, which Essex Junior was much more lightly built than Cherub).[33] Once again the Americans had more men. Nevertheless, Phoebe was armed with long guns which none of the other ships engaged had. Furthermore, Captain Hillyar had used Phillip Broke's methods of artillery on Phoebe and Cherub with tangent and dispart sights.[146] This gave the British ships a significant advantage at the range at which the battle was fought. Once again proving that superior force was the deciding factor.[147]

To conclude the cycle of duels cause by the Little Belt affair, USS President was finally captured in January 1815. Unlike the previous engagements, President was not taken in a duel. Following the both Royal Navy's requirements, President was pursued by a squadron consisting of four frigates, one being a 56-gun razee. President was an extremely fast ship and successfully outsailed the fast British squadron with the exception of HMS Endymion which has been regarded as the fastest ship in the age of fighting sail.[138] Captain Henry Hope of Endymion had fitted his ship with Phillip Broke's technology as Captain Hillyar had done on Phoebe. This gave him the slight advantage at range and slowed President. Commodore Decatur on President had the advantage in scantling strength, firepower, crew, and tonnage, but not in maneuverability. Despite having fewer guns, Endymion was armed with 24-pounders just like President. This meant that Endymion shot could pierce the hull of President unlike Guerriere's which bounced of Constitution's hull or Java's that failed to cut through Constitution's mast. Following Broke's philosophy of "Kill the man and the ship is your's", Endymion fired into President's hull severely damaging her (shot holes below the waterline, 10/15 starboard guns on the gundeck disabled, water in the hold, and shot from Endymion found inside President's magazine.[33]). Decatur knew his only hope was to dismantle Endymion and sail away from the rest of the squadron. When he failed, he surrendered his ship to "the captain of the black frigate (Endymion)". Decatur took advantage of the fact Endymion had no boats that were intact and attempted to sneak away under the cover of night, only to be caught up by HMS Pomone. Decatur surrendered without a fight.[33][137] Decatur had surrendered the United States finest frigate and flagship President to a smaller ship, but part of a squadron of greater force.

Decatur gave unreliable accounts of the battle stating that President was already "severely damaged" by a grounding before the engagement, but undamaged after the engagement with Endymion. He stated Pomone caused "significant" losses aboard President, although President's crew claim they were below deck gathering their belongings as they had already surrendered. Despite saying "I surrender my ship to the captain of the black frigate", Decatur also writes that he said, "I surrender to the squadron". Nevertheless, many historians such as Ian Toll, Theodore Roosevelt, and William James quote Decatur's remarks to either enforce that Endymion alone took President or that President surrendered to the whole squadron, when actually it was something in-between.[137][140][136][33]

Success in single ship battles raised American morale after the repeated failed invasion attempts in Upper and Lower Canada. However, these victories had no military effect on the war at sea as they did not alter the balance of naval power, impede British supplies and reinforcements, or even raise insurance rates for British trade.[148] During the war, the United States Navy captured 165 British merchantmen (although privateers captured many more), while the Royal Navy captured 1,400 American merchantmen.[149] More significantly, the British blockade of the Atlantic coast caused the majority warships to be unable to put to sea and shut down American imports and exports..


Baltimore Clippers were a series of schooners used by American privateers during the war.

Baltimore Clippers were a series of schooners used by American privateers during the war.

The operations of American privateers proved a more significant threat to British trade than the U.S. Navy. They operated throughout the Atlantic and continued until the close of the war, most notably from ports such as Baltimore. American privateers reported taking 1300 British merchant vessels, compared to 254 taken by the U.S. Navy,[150][151][152] although the insurer Lloyd's of London reported that only 1,175 British ships were taken, 373 of which were recaptured, for a total loss of 802.[153] The Canadian historian Carl Benn wrote that American privateers took 1,344 British ships, of which 750 were retaken by the British.[149] However the British were able to limit privateering losses by the strict enforcement of convoy by the Royal Navy and by capturing 278 American privateers. Due to the massive size of the British merchant fleet, American captures only affected 7.5% of the fleet, resulting in no supply shortages or lack of reinforcements for British forces in North America.[154] Of 526 American privateers, 148 were captured by the Royal Navy and only 207 ever took a prize.[149]

Due to the large size of their navy, the British did not rely as much on privateering. The majority of the 1,407 captured American merchant ships were taken by the Royal Navy. The war was the last time the British allowed privateering, since the practice was coming to be seen as politically inexpedient and of diminishing value in maintaining its naval supremacy. However privateering remained popular in British colonies. It was the last hurrah for privateers in Bermuda who vigorously returned to the practice after experience in previous wars.[155] The nimble Bermuda sloops captured 298 American ships. Privateer schooners based in British North America, especially from Nova Scotia took 250 American ships and proved especially effective in crippling American coastal trade and capturing American ships closer to shore than the Royal Navy cruisers.[156]


A map of the American coastline. British naval strategy was to protect their shipping in North America, and enforce a naval blockade on the U.S.

A map of the American coastline. British naval strategy was to protect their shipping in North America, and enforce a naval blockade on the U.S.

The naval blockade of the United States began informally in 1812 and expanded to cut off more ports as the war progressed.[149] Twenty ships were on station in 1812 and 135 were in place by the end of the conflict.[149] In March 1813, the Royal Navy punished the Southern states, who were most vocal about annexing British North America, by blockading Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah and New York city was well.[149] However, as additional ships were sent to North America in 1813, the Royal Navy was able to tighten the blockade and extend it, first to the coast south of Narragansett by November 1813 and to the entire American coast on May 31, 1814.[149] In May 1814, following the abdication of Napoleon, and the end of the supply problems with Wellington's army, New England was blockaded.[157]

The British government, having need of American foodstuffs for its army in Spain, benefited from the willingness of the New Englanders to trade with them, so no blockade of New England was at first attempted.[149] The Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay were declared in a state of blockade on December 26, 1812. Illicit trade was carried on by collusive captures arranged between American traders and British officers. American ships were fraudulently transferred to neutral flags. Eventually, the U.S. government was driven to issue orders to stop illicit trading; this put only a further strain on the commerce of the country. The overpowering strength of the British fleet enabled it to occupy the Chesapeake and to attack and destroy numerous docks and harbours.[158]

The blockade of American ports later tightened to the extent that most American merchant ships and naval vessels were confined to port. The American frigates USS United States and USS Macedonian ended the war blockaded and hulked in New London, Connecticut.[159] USS United States and USS Macedonian attempted to set sail to raid British shipping in the Caribbean, but were forced to turn back when confronted with a British squadron, and by the end of the war, the United States had six frigates and four ships-of-the-line sitting in port.[160] Some merchant ships were based in Europe or Asia and continued operations. Others, mainly from New England, were issued licences to trade by Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, commander in chief on the American station in 1813. This allowed Wellington's army in Spain to receive American goods and to maintain the New Englanders' opposition to the war. The blockade nevertheless resulted in American exports decreasing from $130 million in 1807 to $7 million in 1814. Most of these were food exports that ironically went to supply their enemies in Britain or British colonies.[161] The blockade had a devastating effect on the American economy with the value of American exports and imports falling from $114 million in 1811 down to $20 million by 1814 while the US Customs took in $13 million in 1811 and $6 million in 1814, despite the fact that Congress had voted to double the rates.[162] The British blockade further damaged the American economy by forcing merchants to abandon the cheap and fast coastal trade to the slow and more expensive inland roads.[163] In 1814, only 1 out of 14 American merchantmen risked leaving port as a high probability that any ship leaving port would be seized.[163]

As the Royal Navy base that supervised the blockade, Halifax profited greatly during the war. From that base British privateers seized many French and American ships and sold their prizes in Halifax.

Freeing and recruiting slaves

The only known photograph of a Black Refugee, c. 1890. During the war, a number of African Americans slaves escaped aboard British ships, settling in Canada or Trinidad.

The only known photograph of a Black Refugee, c. 1890. During the war, a number of African Americans slaves escaped aboard British ships, settling in Canada or Trinidad.

The British Royal Navy's blockades and raids allowed about 4,000 African Americans to escape slavery by fleeing American plantations to find freedom aboard British ships, migrants known, as regards those who settled in Canada, as the Black Refugees. The blockading British fleet in Chesapeake Bay received increasing numbers of enslaved black Americans during 1813. By British government order they were treated as free persons when reaching British hands.[16][164] Alexander Cochrane's proclamation of April 2, 1814, invited Americans who wished to emigrate to join the British, and though not explicitly mentioning slaves was taken by all as addressed to them. About 2,400 of the escaped slaves and their families who were carried on ships of the Royal Navy following their escape settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick during and after the war. From May 1814, younger men among the volunteers were recruited into a new Corps of Colonial Marines. They fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the Battle of Bladensburg and the attacks on Washington, D.C. and Battle of Baltimore, later settling in Trinidad after rejecting British government orders for transfer to the West India Regiments, forming the community of the Merikins. The slaves who escaped to the British represented the largest emancipation of African Americans before the American Civil War.[165]

Occupation of Maine

Maine, then part of Massachusetts, was a base for smuggling and illegal trade between the U.S. and the British. Until 1813 the region was generally quiet except for privateer actions near the coast. In September 1813, there was a notable naval action when the U.S. Navy's brig Enterprise fought and captured the Royal Navy brig Boxer off Pemaquid Point.[166] The first British assault came in July 1814, when Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy took Moose Island (Eastport, Maine) without a shot, with the entire American garrison of Fort Sullivan—which became the British Fort Sherbrooke—surrendering.[167] Next, from his base in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in September 1814, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke led 3,000 British troops in the "Penobscot Expedition". In 26 days, he raided and looted Hampden, Bangor, and Machias, destroying or capturing 17 American ships. He won the Battle of Hampden (losing two killed while the Americans lost one killed). Retreating American forces were forced to destroy the frigate Adams. The British occupied the town of Castine and most of eastern Maine for the rest of the war, re-establishing the colony of New Ireland. The Treaty of Ghent returned this territory to the United States, though Machias Seal Island has remained in dispute. The British left in April 1815, at which time they took £10,750 obtained from tariff duties at Castine. This money, called the "Castine Fund", was used to establish Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.[124]

Chesapeake campaign and "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Following their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington, D.C., burning down buildings including the White House.

Following their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British entered Washington, D.C., burning down buildings including the White House.

An artist's rendering of the bombardment at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. Watching the bombardment from a truce ship, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the four-stanza poem that later became, The Star-Spangled Banner.

An artist's rendering of the bombardment at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. Watching the bombardment from a truce ship, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the four-stanza poem that later became, The Star-Spangled Banner.

The strategic location of the Chesapeake Bay near America's new national capital, Washington, D.C. on the major tributary of the Potomac River, made it a prime target for the British. Starting in March 1813, a squadron under Rear Admiral George Cockburn started a blockade of the mouth of the Bay at Hampton Roads harbour and raided towns along the Bay from Norfolk, Virginia, to Havre de Grace, Maryland.

On July 4, 1813, Commodore Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, convinced the Navy Department to build the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a squadron of twenty barges powered by small sails or oars (sweeps) to defend the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in April 1814, the squadron was quickly cornered in the Patuxent River, and while successful in harassing the Royal Navy, they were powerless to stop the British campaign that ultimately led to the "Burning of Washington". This expedition, led by Cockburn and General Robert Ross, was carried out between August 19 and 29, 1814, as the result of the hardened British policy of 1814. As part of this, Admiral Warren had been replaced as commander in chief by Admiral Alexander Cochrane, with reinforcements and orders to coerce the Americans into a favourable peace.

A force of 2,500 soldiers under General Ross had just arrived in Bermuda aboard HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops and ten other vessels. Released from the Peninsular War by victory, the British intended to use them for diversionary raids along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. In response to Prévost's request, they decided to employ this force, together with the naval and military units already on the station, to strike at the national capital.

On August 24, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong Jr. insisted that the British were going to attack Baltimore rather than Washington, even when British army and naval units were obviously on their way to Washington. The inexperienced state militia was easily routed in the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the route to Washington. While First Lady Dolley Madison saved valuables from what is now the "White House", senior officials fled to Virginia. [168] Secretary of the Navy William Jones ordered setting fire to the Washington Navy Yard to prevent the capture of supplies.[169] The nation's public buildings were destroyed by the British (and by a furious thunderstorm that ruined a great deal of property, although it did quench the flames). American morale was challenged, and many Federalists swung around and rallied to a patriotic defense of their homeland.

The British moved on to their major target, the heavily fortified major city of Baltimore. They delayed their movement allowing Baltimore an opportunity to strengthen the fortifications and bring in new federal troops and state militia units. The "Battle for Baltimore" began with the British landing on September 12, 1814, at North Point, where they were met by American militia further up the "Patapsco Neck" peninsula. An exchange of fire began, with casualties on both sides. The British Army commander Major Gen. Robert Ross was killed by snipers. The British paused, then continued to march northwestward to face the stationed Maryland and Baltimore City militia units at "Godly Wood." The Battle of North Point was fought for several afternoon hours in a musketry and artillery duel. The British also planned to simultaneously attack Baltimore by water on the following day, September 13, to support their military facing the massed, heavily dug-in and fortified American units of approximately 15,000 with about a hundred cannon gathered along the eastern heights of the city named "Loudenschlager's Hill" (later "Hampstead Hill" – now part of Patterson Park). The Baltimore defences had been planned in advance and overseen by the state militia commander, Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith. The Royal Navy was unable to reduce Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor in support of an attack from the northeast by the British Army.

The British naval guns, mortars and new "Congreve rockets" had a longer range than the American cannon onshore. The ships mostly stood out of range of the Americans, who returned very little fire. The fort was not heavily damaged except for a burst over a rear brick wall knocking out some field pieces but with few casualties. The British eventually realized that they could not force the passage to attack Baltimore in coordination with the land force. A last ditch night feint and barge attack during a heavy rain storm was led by Capt. Charles Napier around the fort up the Middle Branch of the river to the west. Split and misdirected partly in the storm, it turned back after suffering heavy casualties from the alert gunners of Fort Covington and Battery Babcock. The British called off the attack and sailed downriver to pick up their army, which had retreated from the east side of Baltimore. All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, illuminating the flag that was still flying over the fort. The defence of the fort inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem that was later set to music as "The Star-Spangled Banner".[170]

Southern theater

Because of the region's polyglot population, both the British and the Americans perceived the war in the Gulf South as a fundamentally different conflict from the one occurring in the Lowcountry and Chesapeake.[171] []

Creek War

In 1813, Creek warriors attacked Fort Mims, and killed a total of 400 to 500 people. The massacre would become a rallying point for Americans.

In 1813, Creek warriors attacked Fort Mims, and killed a total of 400 to 500 people. The massacre would become a rallying point for Americans.

Creek forces were decisively defeated at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, bringing an end to the Creek War.

Creek forces were decisively defeated at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, bringing an end to the Creek War.

The destruction of Fort Barrancas by the British as they withdraw from Pensacola, November 1814.

The destruction of Fort Barrancas by the British as they withdraw from Pensacola, November 1814.

Before 1813, the war between the Creeks (or Muscogee) had been largely an internal affair sparked by the ideas of Tecumseh farther north in the Mississippi Valley. A faction known as the Red Sticks, so named for the colour of their war stics, had broken away from the rest of the Creek Confederacy, which wanted peace with the United States. The Red Sticks were allied with Tecumseh, who about a year before 1813 had visited the Creeks and encouraged greater resistance to the Americans.[172] The Creek Nation was a trading partner of the United States, actively involved with Spanish and British trade as well. The Red Sticks, as well as many southern Muscogeean people like the Seminole, had a long history of alliance with the Spanish and British Empires.[173] This alliance helped the North American and European powers protect each other's claims to territory in the south.[174]

The Battle of Burnt Corn, between Red Sticks and U.S. troops, occurred in the southern parts of Alabama on July 27, 1813. It prompted the state of Georgia as well as the Mississippi territory militia to immediately take major action against Creek offensives. The Red Sticks chiefs gained power in the east along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers – Upper Creek territory. The Lower Creek lived along the Chattahoochee River. Many Creeks tried to remain friendly to the United States, and some were organized by federal Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins to aid the 6th Military District under General Thomas Pinckney and the state militias. The United States combined forces were large. At its peak the Red Stick faction had 4,000 warriors, only a quarter of whom had muskets.[175]

On August 30, 1813, Red Sticks, led by chiefs Red Eagle and Peter McQueen, attacked Fort Mimms, north of Mobile, the only American-held port in the territory of West Florida. The attack on Fort Mimms resulted in the death of 400 settlers and became an ideological rallying point for the Americans.[176]

The Indian frontier of western Georgia was the most vulnerable but was partially fortified already. From November 1813 to January 1814, Georgia's militia and auxiliary Federal troops – from the Creek and Cherokee Indian nations and the states of North Carolina and South Carolina – organized the fortification of defences along the Chattahoochee River and expeditions into Upper Creek territory in present-day Alabama. The army, led by General John Floyd, went to the heart of the "Creek Holy Grounds" and won a major offensive against one of the largest Creek towns at Battle of Autosee, killing an estimated two hundred people. In November, the militia of Mississippi with a combined 1200 troops attacked the "Econachca" encampment ("Battle of Holy Ground") on the Alabama River.[177] Tennessee raised a militia of 5,000 under Major General Andrew Jackson and Brigadier General John Coffee and won the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega in November 1813.[178]

Jackson suffered enlistment problems in the winter. He decided to combine his force with that of the Georgia militia. However, from January 22–24, 1814, while on their way, the Tennessee militia and allied Muscogee were attacked by the Red Sticks at the Battles of Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek. Jackson's troops repelled the attackers, but outnumbered, were forced to withdraw to his base at Fort Strother.[179]

In January Floyd's force of 1,300 state militia and 400 Creek Indians moved to join the U.S. forces in Tennessee, but were attacked in camp on the Calibee Creek by Tukabatchee Indians on the 27th.

Jackson's force increased in numbers with the arrival of U.S. Army soldiers and a second draft of Tennessee state militia and Cherokee and Creek allies swelled his army to around 5,000. In March 1814 they moved south to attack the Creek.[180] On March 27, Jackson decisively defeated the Creek Indian force at Horseshoe Bend, killing 800 of 1,000 Creeks at a cost of 49 killed and 154 wounded out of approximately 2,000 American and Cherokee forces.[181] The American army moved to Fort Jackson on the Alabama River. On August 9, 1814, the Upper Creek chiefs and Jackson's army signed the "Treaty of Fort Jackson". The most of western Georgia and part of Alabama was taken from the Creeks to pay for expenses borne by the United States. The Treaty also "demanded" that the "Red Stick" insurgents cease communicating with the Spanish or British, and only trade with U.S.-approved agents.[182]

British aid to the Red Sticks arrived after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in April 1814 and after Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane assumed command from Admiral Warren in March. The Creek promised to join any body of 'troops that should aid them in regaining their lands, and suggesting an attack on the tower off Mobile.' In April 1814 the British established an outpost on the Apalachicola River (see Prospect Bluff Historic Sites). Cochrane sent a company of Royal Marines, the vessels HMS Hermes and HMS Carron, commanded by Edward Nicolls, and further supplies to meet the Indians.[183] In addition to training the Indians, Nicolls was tasked to raise a force from escaped slaves, as part of the Corps of Colonial Marines.[184]

In July 1814, General Jackson complained to the Governor of Pensacola, Mateo González Manrique, that combatants from the Creek War were being harboured in Spanish territory, and made reference to the British presence on Spanish soil. Although he gave an angry reply to Jackson, Manrique was alarmed at the weak position he found himself in. He appealed to the British for help, with Woodbine arriving on July 28, and Nicolls arriving at Pensacola on August 24.[185]

The first engagement of the British and their Creek allies against the Americans on the Gulf Coast was the attack on Fort Bowyer September 14, 1814. Captain William Percy tried to take the U.S. fort, hoping to then move on Mobile and block U.S. trade and encroachment on the Mississippi. After the Americans repulsed Percy's forces, the British established a military presence of up to 200 Marines at Pensacola. In November, Jackson's force of 4,000 men took the town.[186] This underlined the superiority of numbers of Jackson's force in the region.[187] The U.S. force moved to New Orleans in late 1814. Jackson's army of 1,000 regulars and 3,000 to 4,000 militia, pirates and other fighters, as well as civilians and slaves built fortifications south of the city.[188]

Gulf Coast

American forces repelled a British assault on New Orleans in January 1815. The battle occurred before news of a peace treaty reached the U.S.

American forces repelled a British assault on New Orleans in January 1815. The battle occurred before news of a peace treaty reached the U.S.

American forces under General James Wilkinson, who was himself earning $4,000 per year as a Spanish secret agent, took the Mobile area—formerly part of West Florida—from the Spanish in March 1813; this was the only territory permanently gained by the U.S. during the war.[189] The Americans built Fort Bowyer, a log and earthen-work fort with 14 guns, on Mobile Point.[190]

At the end of 1814, the British launched a double offensive in the South weeks before the Treaty of Ghent was signed. On the Atlantic coast, Admiral George Cockburn was to close the Intracoastal Waterway trade and land Royal Marine battalions to advance through Georgia to the western territories. On the Gulf coast, Admiral Alexander Cochrane moved on the new state of Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory. Admiral Cochrane's ships reached the Louisiana coast December 9, and Cockburn arrived in Georgia December 14.[191]

On January 8, 1815, a British force of 8,000 under General Edward Pakenham attacked Jackson's defences in New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans was an American victory, as the British failed to take the fortifications on the East Bank. The British suffered high casualties: 291 dead, 1262 wounded, and 484 captured or missing[192][193] whereas American casualties were 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. It was hailed as a great victory across the U.S., making Jackson a national hero and eventually propelling him to the presidency.[194][195] The American garrison at Fort St. Philip endured ten days of bombardment from Royal Navy guns, which was a final attempt to invade Louisiana; British ships sailed away from the Mississippi River on January 18. However, it was not until January 27, 1815, that the army had completely rejoined the fleet, allowing for their departure.[196]

After New Orleans, the British tried to take Mobile a second time; General John Lambert laid siege for five days and took the fort, winning the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer on February 12, 1815. HMS Brazen brought news of the Treaty of Ghent the next day, and the British abandoned the Gulf coast.[197]

In January 1815, Admiral Cockburn succeeded in blockading the southeastern coast by occupying Camden County, Georgia. The British quickly took Cumberland Island, Fort Point Peter, and Fort St. Tammany in a decisive victory. Under the orders of his commanding officers, Cockburn's forces relocated many refugee slaves, capturing St. Simons Island as well, to do so. During the invasion of the Georgia coast, an estimated 1,485 people chose to relocate in British territories or join the military. In mid-March, several days after being informed of the Treaty of Ghent, British ships finally left the area.[198]

Treaty of Ghent

Factors leading to the peace negotiations

A political caricature of delegates from the Hartford Convention deciding whether to leap into the hands of the British, December 1814. The convention led to widespread fears that the New England states might attempt to secede from the United States.

A political caricature of delegates from the Hartford Convention deciding whether to leap into the hands of the British, December 1814. The convention led to widespread fears that the New England states might attempt to secede from the United States.

By 1814, both sides had either achieved their main war goals or were weary of a costly war that offered little but stalemate. They both sent delegations to a neutral site in Ghent, Flanders (now part of Belgium). The negotiations began in early August and concluded on December 24, when a final agreement was signed; both sides had to ratify it before it could take effect. Meanwhile, both sides planned new invasions.

In 1814 the British began blockading the United States, and brought the federal treasury to long delays in paying its bills,[199][200][201] and forcing it to rely on loans for the rest of the war. American foreign trade was reduced to a trickle. The parlous American economy was thrown into chaos with prices soaring and unexpected shortages causing hardship in New England which was considering secession.[202][203] The Hartford Convention led to widespread fears that the New England states might attempt to leave the Union, which was exaggerated as most New Englanders did not wish to leave the Union and merely wanted an end to a war which was bringing much economic hardship, suggested that the continuation of the war might threaten the union.[204] But also to a lesser extent British interests were hurt in the West Indies and Canada that had depended on that trade. Although American privateers found chances of success much reduced, with most British merchantmen now sailing in convoy, privateering continued to prove troublesome to the British, as shown by high insurance rates.[205] British landowners grew weary of high taxes, and colonial interests and merchants called on the government to reopen trade with the U.S. by ending the war.[206]

Negotiations and peace

Depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the war between the British Empire, and the United States.

Depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the war between the British Empire, and the United States.

At last in August 1814, peace discussions began in the neutral city of Ghent. Both sides began negotiations warily.[7] The British diplomats stated their case first, demanding the creation of an Indian barrier state in the American Northwest Territory (the area from Ohio to Wisconsin). It was understood the British would sponsor this Indian state. The British strategy for decades had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion. Britain demanded naval control of the Great Lakes and access to the Mississippi River. The Americans refused to consider a buffer state and the proposal was dropped.[207] Although Article IX of the treaty included provisions to restore to Natives "all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811", the provisions were unenforceable; the British did not try and the Americans simply broke the treaty.[208] The Americans (at a later stage) demanded damages for the burning of Washington and for the seizure of ships before the war began.[209]

American public opinion was outraged when Madison published the demands; even the Federalists were now willing to fight on. The British had planned three invasions. One force burned Washington but failed to capture Baltimore, and sailed away when its commander was killed. In northern New York State, 10,000 British veterans were marching south until a decisive defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh forced them back to Canada.[8] Nothing was known of the fate of the third large invasion force aimed at capturing New Orleans and southwest. The Prime Minister wanted the Duke of Wellington to command in Canada and take control of the Great Lakes. Wellington said that he would go to America but he believed he was needed in Europe.[210] Wellington emphasized that the war was a draw and the peace negotiations should not make territorial demands:

I think you have no right, from the state of war, to demand any concession of territory from America ... You have not been able to carry it into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your military success and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack. You cannot on any principle of equality in negotiation claim a cessation of territory except in exchange for other advantages which you have in your power ... Then if this reasoning be true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory: indeed, the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any.[211]

The Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, aware of growing opposition to wartime taxation and the demands of Liverpool and Bristol merchants to reopen trade with America, realized Britain also had little to gain and much to lose from prolonged warfare especially after the growing concern about the situation in Europe.[212] After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats and losses, the parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. The main focus on British foreign policy was the Congress of Vienna, during which British diplomats had clashed with Russian and Prussian diplomats over the terms of the peace with France, and there were fears at the Britain might have go to war with Russia and Prussia. Now each side was tired of the war. Export trade was all but paralyzed and after Napoleon fell in 1814 France was no longer an enemy of Britain, so the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France, and it no longer needed to impress more seamen. It had ended the practices that so angered the Americans in 1812. The British were preoccupied in rebuilding Europe after the apparent final defeat of Napoleon.[213]

British negotiators were urged by Lord Liverpool to offer a status quo and dropped their demands for the creation of an Indian barrier state, which was in any case hopeless after the collapse of Tecumseh's alliance. This allowed negotiations to resume at the end of October. British diplomats soon offered the status quo to the U.S. negotiators, who accepted them. Prisoners were to be exchanged and captured slaves returned to the United States or paid for by Britain. At this point, the number of slaves was approximately 6,000. Britain eventually refused the demand, allowing many to either emigrate to Canada or Trinidad.

On December 24, 1814 the diplomats had finished and signed the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty was ratified by the British three days later on December 27[214] and arrived in Washington on February 17, where it was quickly ratified and went into effect, thus finally ending the war. The terms called for all occupied territory to be returned, the prewar boundary between Canada and the United States to be restored, and the Americans were to gain fishing rights in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The Treaty of Ghent failed to secure official British acknowledgement of American maritime rights or ending impressment. However, in the century of peace until World War I these rights were not seriously violated. The defeat of Napoleon made irrelevant all of the naval issues over which the United States had fought. The Americans had achieved their goal of ending the Indian threat; furthermore the American armies had scored enough victories (especially at New Orleans) to satisfy honour and the sense of becoming fully independent from Britain.[215]

Losses and compensation

U.S. per capita GDP 1810-1815 in constant 2009 dollars

U.S. per capita GDP 1810-1815 in constant 2009 dollars[227]

Casualties in the War of 1812
Type of casualtiesUnited StatesUnited Kingdom
and Canada
American Indians
Killed in action and died of wounds2,260~2,000~1,500
Died of disease or accident~13,000~8,000~8,500
Wounded in action4,505~3,500unknown
Missing in action695~1,000unknown

British losses in the war were about 1,160 killed in action and 3,679 wounded;[19] 3,321 British died from disease. American losses were 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded. While the number of Americans who died from disease is not known, it is estimated that about 15,000 died from all causes directly related to the war.[217] These figures do not include deaths among Canadian militia forces or losses among native tribes.

There have been no estimates of the cost of the American war to Britain, but it did add some £25 million to the national debt.[218] In the U.S., the cost was $105 million, about the same as the cost to Britain. The national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815, although by selling bonds and treasury notes at deep discounts—and often for irredeemable paper money due to the suspension of specie payment in 1814—the government received only $34 million worth of specie.[219][220] Stephen Girard, the richest man in America at the time, was one of those who personally funded the United States government involvement in the war.[221][222]

In addition, at least 3,000 American slaves escaped to the British lines. Many other slaves simply escaped in the chaos of war and achieved their freedom on their own. The British settled some of the newly freed slaves in Nova Scotia.[223][224] Four hundred freedmen were settled in New Brunswick.[225] The Americans protested that Britain's failure to return the slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. After arbitration by the Tsar of Russia the British paid $1,204,960 in damages to Washington, which reimbursed the slave owners.[226]

In the United States, the economy grew every year 1812–1815, despite a large loss of business by East Coast shipping interests. Prices were 15% higher—inflated—in 1815 compared to 1812, an annual rate of 4.8%.[228] The national economy grew 1812–1815 at the rate of 3.7% a year, after accounting for inflation. Per capita GDP grew at 2.2% a year, after accounting for inflation.[229] Hundreds of new banks were opened; they largely handled the loans that financed the war since tax revenues were down. Money that would have been spent on foreign trade was diverted to opening new factories, which were profitable since British factory-made products were not for sale.[230] This gave a major boost to the Industrial Revolution in the U.S., as typified by the Boston Associates. The Boston Manufacturing Company, built the first integrated spinning and weaving factory in the world at Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1813.[231][232]

Long-term consequences

Neither side lost territory in the war,[9] nor did the treaty that ended it address the original points of contention—and yet it changed much between the United States of America and Britain. The Treaty of Ghent established the status quo ante bellum; that is, there were no territorial losses by either side. The issue of impressment was made moot when the Royal Navy, no longer needing sailors, stopped impressment after the defeat of Napoleon in spring 1814 ended the war. (Napoleon unexpectedly returned in 1815, after the final end of the war of 1812.)

The long-term results of the war were generally satisfactory to both sides. Except for occasional border disputes and some tensions during the American Civil War, relations between the U.S. and Britain remained peaceful for the rest of the 19th century, and the two countries became close allies in the 20th century. Historian Troy Bickham argues that each participant defined success in a different way. The new American Republic could claim victory in the sense that its independence from London was assured, and the Indian barrier to Westward expansion was removed. The memory of the conflict played a major role in helping to consolidate a Canadian national identity after 1867. The British retained Canada, but their attention was overwhelmingly devoted to celebrating the defeat of Napoleon. The general consensus is that the Native Americans were the big losers.[233]

The Rush–Bagot Treaty between the United States and Britain was enacted in 1817. It demilitarized the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, where many British naval arrangements and forts still remained. The treaty laid the basis for a demilitarized boundary. It remains in effect to this day.

Although Britain had defeated the American invasions of Canada, its own invasions were defeated in Maryland, New York and Louisiana. After two decades of intense warfare against France, Britain was in no mood to have more conflicts with the United States. Instead it focused on expanding the British Empire into India. Britain never seriously challenged the US over land claims after 1846: it had hoped to keep Texas Independent from the United States and had Some hopes of taking California from Mexico. From the 1890s, as the United States emerged as the world's leading industrial power, Britain wanted American friendship in a hypothetical European war. Border adjustments between the U.S. and British North America were made in the Treaty of 1818. Eastport, Massachusetts, was returned to the U.S. in 1818; it became part of the new State of Maine in 1820. A border dispute along the Maine–New Brunswick border was settled by the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty after the bloodless Aroostook War, and the border in the Oregon Country was settled by splitting the disputed area in half by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. A further dispute about the line of the border through the island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca resulted in another almost bloodless standoff in the Pig War of 1859. The line of the border was finally settled by an international arbitration commission in 1872.


Bermuda had been largely left to the defences of its own militia and privateers before U.S. independence, but the Royal Navy had begun buying up land and operating from there in 1795, as its location was a useful substitute for the lost U.S. ports. It originally was intended to be the winter headquarters of the North American Squadron, but the war saw it rise to a new prominence. As construction work progressed through the first half of the 19th century, Bermuda became the permanent naval headquarters in Western waters, housing the Admiralty and serving as a base and dockyard. The military garrison was built up to protect the naval establishment, heavily fortifying the archipelago that came to be described as the "Gibraltar of the West". Defence infrastructure remained the central leg of Bermuda's economy until after World War II.

British North America (Canada)

Fort Henry at Kingston in 1836. Built from 1832 to 1836, the fort was one of several works undertaken to improve the colonies' defences.

Fort Henry at Kingston in 1836. Built from 1832 to 1836, the fort was one of several works undertaken to improve the colonies' defences.

Pro-British leaders demonstrated a strong hostility to American influences in western Canada (Ontario) after the war and shaped its policies, including a hostility to American-style republicanism.[234] Immigration from the U.S. was discouraged, and favour was shown to the Anglican Church as opposed to the more Americanized Methodist Church.[235]

The Battle of York showed the vulnerability of Upper and Lower Canada. In the decades following the war, several projects were undertaken to improve the defence of the colonies against the United States. They include work on La Citadelle at Quebec City, Fort Henry at Kingston, and rebuilding Fort York at York. Additionally, work began on the Halifax Citadel to defend the port against foreign navies. From 1826 to 1832, the Rideau Canal was built to provide a secure waterway not at risk from American cannon fire. To defend the western end of the canal, the British Army also built Fort Henry at Kingston.[236]

Indigenous nations

The Native Americans allied to the British lost their cause. The British proposal to create a "neutral" Indian zone in the American West was rejected at the Ghent peace conference and never resurfaced. After 1814 the natives, who lost most of their fur-gathering territory, became an undesirable burden to British policymakers. The latter now looked to the United States for markets and raw materials.[237] The United States further disrupted trade along the northern border by prohibiting British fur traders from operating in the US, whereas before the war, both populations had freely moved back and forth across the border.

British agents in the field continued to meet regularly with their former American Indian partners, but they did not supply arms or encouragement and there were no American Indian campaigns to stop U.S. expansionism in the Midwest. Abandoned by their powerful sponsor, American Great Lakes–area Indians ultimately migrated or reached accommodations with the American authorities and settlers.[237]

Great Britain

The war is seldom remembered in Great Britain. The massive ongoing conflict in Europe against the French Empire under Napoleon ensured that the British did not consider the War of 1812 against America as more than a sideshow.[238] Britain's blockade of French trade had been entirely successful, and the Royal Navy was the world's dominant nautical power (and remained so for another century). While the land campaigns had contributed to saving Canada, the Royal Navy had shut down American commerce, bottled up the U.S. Navy in port, and widely suppressed privateering. British businesses, some affected by rising insurance costs, were demanding peace so that trade could resume with the U.S.[239] The peace was generally welcomed by the British, though there was disquiet about the rapid growth of the U.S. However, the two nations quickly resumed trade after the end of the war and, over time, a growing friendship.[240]

Hickey argues that for Britain:

the most important lesson of all [was] that the best way to defend Canada was to accommodate the United States. This was the principal rationale for Britain's long-term policy of rapprochement with the United States in the nineteenth century and explains why they were so often willing to sacrifice other imperial interests to keep the republic happy.[241]

United States

Independence Day celebrations in 1819. In the United States, the war was followed by the Era of Good Feelings, a period that saw nationalism, and a desire for national unity rise throughout the country.

Independence Day celebrations in 1819. In the United States, the war was followed by the Era of Good Feelings, a period that saw nationalism, and a desire for national unity rise throughout the country.

The U.S. suppressed the Native American resistance on its western and southern borders. The nation also gained a psychological sense of complete independence as people celebrated their "second war of independence".[242] Nationalism soared after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The opposition Federalist Party collapsed, and the Era of Good Feelings ensued.[243]

No longer questioning the need for a strong Navy, the U.S. built three new 74-gun ships of the line and two new 44-gun frigates shortly after the end of the war.[244] (Another frigate had been destroyed to prevent it being captured on the stocks.)[245] In 1816, the U.S. Congress passed into law an "Act for the gradual increase of the Navy" at a cost of $1,000,000 a year for eight years, authorizing nine ships of the line and 12 heavy frigates.[246] The captains and commodores of the U.S. Navy became the heroes of their generation in the U.S. Decorated plates and pitchers of Decatur, Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Perry, and Macdonough were made in Staffordshire, England, and found a ready market in the United States. Several war heroes used their fame to win election to national office. Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison both took advantage of their military successes to win the presidency, while Richard Mentor Johnson used his wartime exploits to help attain the vice presidency.

During the war, New England states became increasingly frustrated over how the war was being conducted and how the conflict was affecting them. They complained that the U.S. government was not investing enough in the states' defences militarily and financially, and that the states should have more control over their militias. The increased taxes, the British blockade, and the occupation of some of New England by enemy forces also agitated public opinion in the states.[247] As a result, at the Hartford Convention (December 1814 – January 1815) Federalist delegates deprecated the war effort and sought more autonomy for the New England states. They did not call for secession but word of the angry anti-war resolutions appeared at the same time that peace was announced and the victory at New Orleans was known. The upshot was that the Federalists were permanently discredited and quickly disappeared as a major political force.[248]

This war enabled thousands of slaves to escape to British lines or ships for freedom, despite the difficulties. The planters' complacency about slave contentment was shocked at the sight of their slaves fleeing, risking so much to be free. The British aided numerous Black Refugees in resettling in New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, where Black Loyalists had also been granted land after the American Revolutionary War.

After the decisive defeat of the Creek Indians at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, some Creek warriors escaped to join the Seminole in Florida, who had been forming as an ethnic group since the late 18th century. The remaining Creek chiefs signed away about half their lands, comprising 23,000,000 acres, covering much of southern Georgia and two thirds of modern Alabama. The Creek were separated from any future help from the Spanish in Florida, and from the Choctaw and Chickasaw to the west. During the war the United States seized Mobile, Alabama, which was a strategic location as it provided an oceanic outlet for export from the cotton lands to the north. (Most were yet to be developed, but US control of this territory increased pressure on remaining Creek, as European Americans began to migrate in number into the area.

Jackson invaded Florida in 1818, demonstrating to Spain that it could no longer control that territory with a small force. Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819 under the Adams–Onís Treaty following the First Seminole War. Pratt concludes:

Thus indirectly the War of 1812 brought about the acquisition of Florida.... To both the Northwest and the South, therefore, the War of 1812 brought substantial benefits. It broke the power of the Creek Confederacy and opened to settlement a great province of the future Cotton Kingdom.[249]

Memory and historiography

During the 19th century, residents of both the United States and Canada widely believed that their own countries had won the war. Each young country saw its self-perceived victory, and settling of the border between them, as an important foundation of its growing nationhood. The British, on the other hand, who had been preoccupied by Napoleon's challenge in Europe, paid little attention to what was to them a peripheral and secondary dispute, a distraction from the principal task at hand.


While American popular memory includes the British capture and the burning of Washington in August 1814,[168] which necessitated its extensive renovation, it focused on the victories at Baltimore, Plattsburg, and New Orleans to present the war as a successful effort to assert American national honour, the "second war of independence" in which the mighty British empire was humbled and humiliated.[250] In a speech before Congress on February 18, 1815, President James Madison proclaimed the war a complete American victory.[251]

This interpretation of the war was and remains the dominant American view of the war.[251] The American newspaper the Niles Register, in an editorial on September 14, 1816, announced that the Americans had crushed the British, declaring "...we did virtually dictate the treaty of Ghent to the British".[251] A minority of Americans, mostly associated with the Federalists, considered the war a defeat and an act of folly on Madison's part, caustically asking if the Americans were "dictating" the terms of the treaty of Ghent, why the British Crown did not cede British North America to the United States?[251] However, the Federalist view of the war is not the mainstream American memory of the war.[251] Congressman George Troup, who said in a speech in 1815 that the Treaty of Ghent was "the glorious termination of the most glorious war ever waged by any people", expressed American popular opinion and memory of the war.[251]

Americans also celebrated the successful American defence of Fort McHenry in September 1814, which inspired the lyrics of what was adopted as the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".[252] The successful captains of the U.S. Navy became popular heroes, and commemorative plates were produced with the likenesses of Decatur, Issac Hull, and Charles Stewart on them, becoming popular items. Many of these plates were manufactured in England. The navy became a cherished institution, lauded for the victories that it won against all odds.[253] After engagements during the final actions of the war, U.S. Marines had acquired a well-deserved reputation as excellent marksmen, especially in ship-to-ship actions. [254]


Douglas Coupland's 'Monument to the War of 1812' (2008) in Toronto; depicts a larger-than-life Canadian soldier triumphing over an American; both are depicted as metallic toy soldiers of the sort small children play with.

Douglas Coupland's 'Monument to the War of 1812' (2008) in Toronto; depicts a larger-than-life Canadian soldier triumphing over an American; both are depicted as metallic toy soldiers of the sort small children play with.

In British North America, the War of 1812 was seen by Loyalists as a victory, as they had claimed they had successfully defended their country from an American takeover.[255] A long-term consequence of the Canadian militia's success was the view, widely held in Canada at least until the First World War, that Canada did not need a regular professional army.[256] While Canadian militia units had played instrumental roles in several engagements, such as at the Battle of the Chateauguay, it was the regular units of the British Army, including its "Fencible" regiments which were recruited within North America, which ensured that Canada was successfully defended.

The U.S. Army had done poorly, on the whole, in several attempts to invade Canada, and the Canadians had fought bravely to defend their territory. But the British did not doubt that the thinly populated territory would remain vulnerable in a third war. "We cannot keep Canada if the Americans declare war against us again", Admiral Sir David Milne wrote to a correspondent in 1817,[257] although the Rideau Canal was built for just such a scenario.

By the 21st century it was a forgotten war in Britain,[258] although still remembered in Canada, especially Ontario. In a 2009 poll, 37% of Canadians said the war was a Canadian victory, 9% said the U.S. won, 15% called it a draw, and 39% said they knew too little to comment.[259] A 2012 poll found that in a list of items that could be used to define Canadians' identity, the belief that Canada successfully repelled an American invasion in the War of 1812 places second (25%).[260]

Historians' views

Historians have differing and complex interpretations of the war.[261] In recent decades the view of the majority of historians has been that the war ended in stalemate, with the Treaty of Ghent closing a war that had become militarily inconclusive. Neither side wanted to continue fighting since the main causes had disappeared and since there were no large lost territories for one side or the other to reclaim by force. Insofar as they see the war's resolution as allowing two centuries of peaceful and mutually beneficial intercourse between the U.S., Britain and Canada, these historians often conclude that all three nations were the "real winners" of the War of 1812. These writers often add that the war could have been avoided in the first place by better diplomacy. It is seen as a mistake for everyone concerned because it was badly planned and marked by multiple fiascos and failures on both sides, as shown especially by the repeated American failures to seize parts of Canada, and the failed British attack on New Orleans and upstate New York.[262][263]

However, other scholars hold that the war constituted a British victory and an American defeat. They argue that the British achieved their military objectives in 1812 (by stopping the repeated American invasions of Canada) and retaining their Canadian colonies. In contrast, they say, the Americans suffered a defeat when their armies failed to achieve their war goal of seizing part or all of Canada. Additionally, they argue the U.S. lost as it failed to stop impressment, which the British refused to repeal until the end of the Napoleonic Wars, arguing that the U.S. actions had no effect on the Orders in Council, which were rescinded before the war started.[264]

Historian Troy Bickham, author of The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812, sees the British as having fought to a much stronger position than the United States.

Even tied down by ongoing wars with Napoleonic France, the British had enough capable officers, well-trained men, and equipment to easily defeat a series of American invasions of Canada. In fact, in the opening salvos of the war, the American forces invading Upper Canada were pushed so far back that they ended up surrendering Michigan Territory. The difference between the two navies was even greater. While the Americans famously (shockingly for contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic) bested British ships in some one-on-one actions at the war's start, the Royal Navy held supremacy throughout the war, blockading the U.S. coastline and ravaging coastal towns, including Washington, D.C. Yet in late 1814, the British offered surprisingly generous peace terms despite having amassed a large invasion force of veteran troops in Canada, naval supremacy in the Atlantic, an opponent that was effectively bankrupt, and an open secessionist movement in New England.

He considers that the British offered the United States generous terms, in place of their initially harsh terms (which included massive forfeiture of land to Canada and the American Indians), because the "reigning Liverpool ministry in Britain held a loose grip on power and feared the war-weary, tax-exhausted public". The war was also technically a British victory "because the United States failed to achieve the aims listed in its declaration of war".[265]

A second minority view is that both the U.S. and Britain won the war—that is, both achieved their main objectives, as the U.S. restored its independence and honour, and opened the way to westward expansion, while Britain defeated Napoleon and ruled the seas.[266] American historian Norman K. Risjord argues that the main motivation was restoring the nation's honour in the face of relentless British aggression toward American neutral rights on the high seas, and in the Western lands. The results in terms of honour satisfied the War Hawks.[29] American historian Donald Hickey asks, "Did the cost in blood and treasure justify the U.S. decision to go to war? Most Republicans thought it did. In the beginning they called the contest a 'second war of independence', and while Britain's maritime practices never truly threatened the Republic's independence, the war did in a broad sense vindicate U.S. sovereignty. But it ended in a draw on the battlefield."[267] Historians argue that it was an American success to end the threat of Indian raids, kill the British plan for a semi-independent Indian sanctuary, and hereby to open an unimpeded path for westward expansion.[10] Winston Churchill concluded:

The lessons of the war were taken to heart. Anti-American feeling in Great Britain ran high for several years, but the United States were never again refused proper treatment as an independent power.[269]

American naval historian George C. Daughan argues that the US achieved enough of its war goals to claim a victorious result of the conflict, and subsequent impact it had on the negotiations in Ghent. Daughan uses official correspondences from President Madison to the delegates at Ghent strictly prohibiting negotiations with regards to maritime law, stating:[270]

Madison's latest dispatches [arrived July 25–27, 1814] permitted them [the delegates] to simply ignore the entire question of maritime rights. Free trade with liberated Europe had already been restored, and the Admiralty no longer needed impressment to man its warships. The president felt that with Europe at peace the issues of neutral trading rights and impressment could safely be set aside in the interests of obtaining peace... Thus, from the start of the negotiations, the disagreements that started the war and sustained it were acknowledged by both parties to be no longer important.

The British permanently stopped impressing Americans, although they never publicly rescinding the possibility of resuming that practice. The US delegates at the meeting understood it to be a dead issue after the 1814 surrender of Napoleon.[271] In addition, the successful defence of Baltimore, Plattsburgh, and Fort Erie (a strategic fortress located in Upper Canada on the Niagara River, and occupied during the third and most successful offensive into Canada) had very favorable influence on the negotiations for the Americans and prompted several famous responses from both sides. Henry Clay wrote to the delegates in October 1814, "for in our own country, my dear sir, at last must we conquer the peace."[272] With growing pressure in Britain, the Duke of Wellington, when asked to command the forces in America, wrote to Liverpool on November 9, 1814, "I confess that I think you have no right, from the state of the war, to demand any concession of territory from America ... You have not been able to carry ... [the war] into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your military success and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack [Fort Erie] ... Why Stipulate for uti possidetis?"[273] The argument that the US failed to capture any Canadian territory that influenced the negotiations is an outdated and highly criticized position, argues Daughan. He cites the Edinburgh Review, a British newspaper, who had remained silent about the war with America for two years, wrote "the British government had embarked on a war of conquest, after the American government had dropped its maritime demands, and the British had lost. It was folly to attempt to invade and conquer the United States. To do so would result in the same tragedy as the first war against them, and with the same result."[274]

National bias of historians

Historians have different views on who won the War of 1812, and there is an element of national bias to this.[261] British and Canadian historians follow the view that the war was a British victory, and some US historians also support this view. [275] The opposing position, held by most US historians along with some Canadians and British, is that the result was a stalemate. Only US historians follow the minority view that the US was the victorious party in the war.[276][277][275][278] Similarly, a survey of school textbooks found that historians from Canada, Britain, and the United States emphasize different aspects of the war according to their national narratives; some British texts will scarcely mention the war.[279]

Indians as losers

William Weatherford surrendering to Andrew Jackson at the end of the Creek War. The peace imposed on the Creek saw them cede half of their territory to the United States.

William Weatherford surrendering to Andrew Jackson at the end of the Creek War. The peace imposed on the Creek saw them cede half of their territory to the United States.

Historians generally agree that the real losers of the War of 1812 were the Indians (called First Nations in Canada). Hickey says:

The big losers in the war were the Indians. As a proportion of their population, they had suffered the heaviest casualties. Worse, they were left without any reliable European allies in North America ... The crushing defeats at the Thames and Horseshoe Bend left them at the mercy of the Americans, hastening their confinement to reservations and the decline of their traditional way of life.[280][281][282][283]

The Indians of the Old Northwest (the modern Midwest) had hoped to create an Indian state to be a British protectorate.[284] American settlers into the Middle West had been repeatedly blocked and threatened by Indian raids before 1812, and that now came to an end. Throughout the war the British had played on terror of the tomahawks and scalping knives of their Indian allies; it worked especially at Hull's surrender at Detroit. By 1813 Americans had killed Tecumseh and broken his coalition of tribes. Jackson then defeated the Creek in the Southwest. Historian John Sugden notes that in both theaters, the Indians' strength had been broken prior to the arrival of the major British forces in 1814.[285] The one campaign that the Americans had decisively won was the campaign in the Old Northwest, which put the British in a weak hand to insist upon an Indian state in the Old Northwest.[284]

Notwithstanding the sympathy and support from commanders (such as Brock,[11] Cochrane and Nicolls), the policymakers in London reneged in assisting the Indians, as making peace was a higher priority for the politicians. At the peace conference the British demanded an independent Indian state in the Midwest, but, although the British and their Indian allies maintained control over the territories in question (i.e. most of the Upper Midwest), British diplomats did not press the demand after an American refusal, effectively abandoning their Indian allies. The withdrawal of British protection gave the Americans a free hand, which resulted in the removal of most of the tribes to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).[286] In that sense according to historian Alan Taylor, the final victory at New Orleans had "enduring and massive consequences".[287] It gave the Americans "continental predominance" while it left the Indians dispossessed, powerless, and vulnerable.[288]

The Treaty of Ghent technically required the United States to cease hostilities and "forthwith to restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811"; the United States ignored this article of the treaty and proceeded to expand into this territory regardless; Britain was unwilling to provoke further war to enforce it. A shocked Henry Goulburn, one of the British negotiators at Ghent, remarked:

Till I came here, I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory.[289]

The Creek War came to an end, with the Treaty of Fort Jackson being imposed upon the Indians. About half of the Creek territory was ceded to the United States, with no payment made to the Creeks. This was, in theory, invalidated by Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent. [290] The British failed to press the issue, and did not take up the Indian cause as an infringement of an international treaty. Without this support, the Indians' lack of power was apparent and the stage was set for further incursions of territory by the United States in subsequent decades. [291]

See also

  • Bibliography of early U.S. naval history

  • Bibliography of the War of 1812

  • Elgin Military Museum

  • Indiana in the War of 1812

  • Kentucky in the War of 1812

  • List of War of 1812 Battles

  • War of 1812 Campaigns


Citation Linkwww.britannica.comSee Battle of the Thames in Encyclopædia Britannica: "Many British troops were captured and Tecumseh was killed, destroying his Indian alliance and breaking the Indian power in the Ohio and Indiana territories. After this battle, most of the tribes abandoned their association with the British."
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgAll U.S. figures are from Hickey, Donald R (2006). Don't Give Up the Ship! Myths of The War of 1812. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03179-3., p. 297
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgOf these, upwards of 800 were killed at sea, 1,160 were British Army regulars, and the rest were militia.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIncludes 2,250 men of the Royal Navy.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIncludes 1,000 combat casualties on the northern front.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgAdmiralty reply to British press criticism Toll 2006, p. 180. )
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgFor details of the negotiations, see Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1956) pp 196–220; Remini, Robert V. (1991). Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-3930-3004-0., pp. 94–122; Ward, A.W.; Gooch, G.P. (1922). The Cambridge History of British Foreign Policy, 1783–1919: 1783–1815. Macmillan Company., pp. 537–542 and Mahan, A.T. (1905). "The Negotiations at Ghent in 1814". The American Historical Review. 11 (1): 60–87. doi:10.2307/1832365. JSTOR 1832365., pp. 73–78
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe British were unsure whether the attack on Baltimore was a failure, but Plattsburg was a humiliation that called for court martial (Latimer, Jon (2007). 1812: War with America. Cambridge: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02584-4., pp. 331, 359, 365).
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSpain, a British ally, lost control of the Mobile, Alabama, area to the Americans.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History concludes, "British plans for an American Indian buffer state were dropped, and American Indian nations within U.S. borders lost their last major remaining European diplomatic partner, clearing a path for American westward expansion." Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, p. 343.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSugden, John (January 1982). "The Southern Indians in the War of 1812: The Closing Phase". Florida Historical Quarterly. 60 (3): 273–312. JSTOR 30146793., pp. 301–302) mentions that 'Brock had urged the British government to protect his Indian allies in peace negotiations, and by the end of 1812 he had obtained from Earl Bathurst, colonial secretary, a promise to that effect.'
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgClodfelter, M. (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015 (4th ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland., p. 245.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgUpton, David (22 November 2003). "Soldiers of the Mississippi Territory in the War of 1812". Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 6 September 2007. Retrieved 23 September 2010..
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgAllen, Robert S (1996). "Chapter 5: Renewing the Chain of Friendship". His Majesty's Indian allies: British Indian policy in the defence of Canada, 1774–1815. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 1-55002-175-3., p. 121.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org, p. 244.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgWeiss, John McNish (2013). "The Corps of Colonial Marines: Black freedom fighters of the War of 1812". mcnishandweiss.co.uk. Retrieved 4 September 2016..
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSpencer Tucker; James R. Arnold; Roberta Wiener; Paul G. Pierpaoli, Jr.; John C. Fredriksen (2012). The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-956-6., p. 311.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHickey, Donald R. (2012). The War of 1812, A Short History. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-09447-7.Hickey, Donald R. (November 2012). "Small War, Big Consequences: Why 1812 Still Matters". Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2014..
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"The War of 1812 Website". www.warof1812.ca. Retrieved 8 February 2019."The War of 1812". galafilm.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2000. Retrieved 26 September 2014."War of 1812 - Military History - Oxford Bibliographies - obo". www.oxfordbibliographies.com. Retrieved 8 February 2019."War of 1812 Website- War of 1812 Reenactment Section -Regiments Listing". www.warof1812.ca. Retrieved 8 February 2019."War of 1812 – Statistics". historyguy.com. Retrieved 4 September 2016."War of 1812–1815". Office of the Historian. United States Department of State. Retrieved 26 April 2016..
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHooks, J. (2012). "Redeemed honor: the President-Little Belt Affair and the coming of the war of 1812". The Historian. 1 (1)..
Sep 29, 2019, 5:25 AM