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Monday, 25 June 2012

The War of 1812...and, er, also 1813, 1814 and a smidgeon of 1815

Also announcing the publishing of 'William Price and the 'Thrush'' which should be on Amazon any day now.

Now it’s the bicentennial year of the war of 1812 it’s very appropriate that I have published ‘William Price and the ‘Thrush’’ as William’s adventures take part in that slightly misnamed war that suggests the hostilities were confined to one year.  This is a war in which neither side is particularly covered in righteousness or glory; one of those wars without a real baddie where neither side was entirely in the wrong – or entirely in the right.  The acronym SNAFU may not have been coined until WWII but it might well have been applied to this war.

The War of 1812 in fact took place over the next two years from its declaration on 18th June 1812 and spilled over into 1815, when the battle of New Orleans was fought on the 8th January 1815 after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed ending the war on Christmas Eve 1814.

The main reason for the war, though it was never really admitted to, was the desire of the United States to add Canada to their possessions.  However America was also sore at Britain on a couple of counts, which were the publicly claimed reasons for declaring war. Firstly, British warships had a habit of stopping and searching American ships for deserters or those they claimed as British citizens, which could at times be very loosely interpreted to include those who had emigrated.  The other bone of contention was the Orders in Council; these were laws enacted by the king and his advisors which had not passed through Parliament, and which forbade trade between America and any port in possession of the Napoleonic Empire.  This was naturally very unpopular, and British trading interests also protested.  The laws were repealed but by the time this was enacted, war had already broken out.  Britain had its own grievances, in wanting those who had fought on the British side during the American  War of Independence to have their property and civil rights restored.

During the war, America tried unsuccessfully to invade Canada, and made several object lessons to the Royal Navy about how to outbuild and outsail British shipping.  Britain burned Washington and damaged the White House, which acquired its iconic name from that point since it was hastily painted white to obscure the scorch marks.  Britain also donated an iconic song to America by presenting them with the rocket’s red glare in the use of Congreve’s rockets. 

Britain did not really throw her heart into this war, being a little preoccupied with the aggression of Napoleon Bonaparte.  However, when Bonaparte was confined [albeit briefly] to Elba in Spring 1814, Britain could afford to concentrate a little harder on her second front.  This, incidentally, is why Waterloo was, in the words of the Duke of Wellington, “a damned close run thing”, since the veterans of the Peninsula War had gone to help the Canadians and their Native allies; and Wellington was forced to operate with green troops ‘an infamous army’ during the 100 days when Napoleon escaped and returned.  The increase in British involvement in 1814 brought about a grinding to a stalemate and the Treaty of Ghent.

A lacklustre commander meant that a British counter-invasion launched from Canada was a total failure, and American overtures for peace were readily accepted.  The terms were effectively a return to status quo ante bellum, a return to the state of affairs as they were pre war, effectively meaning that a lot of people had died and been injured for bugger all, a lot of money had been spent on both sides for nothing, and the grievances of both parties went entirely unaddressed.  What a bloody waste of time – and I pick my words most carefully.


Richards & Hunt, ‘Illustrated History of Modern Britain 1783-1964’ Longmans 1965 [old but still a good basic reference]
Ed. Gardiner, Robert, ‘The Naval War of 1812’ Chatham Publishing, 1998
Hitsman, J Mackay,  ‘The incredible war of 1812’  The University of Toronto, 1965

STOP PRESS! 'Death of a Fop' is now on Kindle! 

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