The War of 1812 is probably one of the most misunderstood wars that the United States ever fought. Most Americans are not sure what it was all about. The Americans call it "the second war for independence," but it was not really that either. The war was fought on several different fronts and several maritime battles, and could be considered three or four mini-wars the way everything happened.
For the Americans, we remember the siege of Fort McHenry where the fortress turned back the British from Baltimore, the British burning of the White House and Washington. The victory in New Orleans was celebrated as a national holiday in the United States for a long time afterwards. As far as the Americans are concerned, we won the war.
For the Canadians, it was repelling the American invasion in an attempt to capture the British North American colonies for the United States. In the end, the Americans were beaten back, and the royal crown forces held more U.S. territory at the end of the war. Fortunately for the Americans, the Treaty of Ghent put all the borders back to the pre-war situation. From the Canadian point of view, the Americans were beaten back and the Canadians won. The War of 1812 is celebrated in Canada as a great event for them.
For the British, the War of 1812 is mostly forgotten. It was basically a small war to them, coming on the heels of the defeat of Napoleon and the end of the Napoleonic wars that had devastated Europe for the past 10 years.
One of the greater issues in the War of 1812 that is mostly forgotten is the issue of maritime trade and access to foreign ports to create international commerce. America needed foreign trade to survive economically, and the ports in both Britain and France were closed due to the Napoleonic wars, unless the US was willing to stick to intolerable trade restrictions and high tariffs. Then there was the Royal Navy's habit of seizing American ships and sailors to be impressed into service against Napoleon.
The navy impressment by the Royal Navy was one of the things that has always been identified as one of the chief causes of the war by the Americans, but there were other factors that helped precipitate the war.
Group photo from Napoleonic War event at Fort Morgan, Alabama, in March 2000.
For the Native American Indians, the War of 1812 was all bad news. The tribes were split between powers, but many went on the side of the British because of unfair treatment and broken treaties from the Americans. When the British left after the war, the Natives were soon to find themselves at a greater disadvantage. Although Indian removal has its roots earlier in history, you can pretty much trace a national push towards removal as a result of the War of 1812.
Tecumseh was killed along with his dream of a pan-native alliance. General Andrew Jackson destroyed the Creek confederacy and killed more Native Americans in one action than anyone else in history at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. Jackson, Newnan, Wilson & Smith came into Florida and burned Seminole towns and crops.
The Battle of Thames and the death of Tecumseh.
And unfortunately for all Native Americans, Andrew Jackson became a national hero by defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans. This would ensure him the presidency in 1828 and the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 that survived congress by one vote.
Gold medal awarded to Jackson by congress for his defeat of the British in New Orleans.
So although forgotten by most Americans, the War of 1812 was a very pivitol event in the history of the United States. It set the pace for policies and attitudes for the rest of the 19th century in North America.
Next weekend I will be attending an 1812 Grand Tactical event in NY state at Genesee Village. If you come out there, I will be one of the Native reenactor's hanging around Steve Abolt's headquarters. (I'm addicted to the cheese bisquits he always has.) Steve is a great friend who puts on some great living history events all over North America. This year he is commanding the American forces. The British commander is Tim Pickles from New Orleans, whom I also greatly admire. Hey!... Since I am portraying Native, I can bargain for support and groceries from both sides!
1812 events are actually among my favorite to participate in. At least to see all the funny hats.