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The War of 1812 (1812-1815) is the most popular war ever to grace the Americas. Americans think they won it; the Canadians think they won it, and the British have no idea they fought it. In the US it has been called 'The Second Revolutionary War'; in Canada it is remembered as the war in which Canada stopped the US trying to Annex them, and like we said, the British don't even know it happened. In fact, no-one outside North America knows it happened. This is because an altogether more expensive, expansive, ideologically charged, bloody and important series of wars had been going on elsewhere for some time. There were more men on the field when General Bonaparte won at Austerlitz in 1805, for instance, than there were English-speaking soldiers in all of the Americas in 1815. These conflicts were the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, which basically concern the failed attempts of France to alternately defend itself against and dominate all of Europe.

The causes of the war basically boil down to the knock-on effects of the Napoleonic Wars. Traders in the US had become rich from war-profiteering; basically, selling to both sides in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Both sides had declared an embargo upon each other, and commissioned privateers and used their navies to raid each others' shipping. After their sound victory at Trafalgar in 1805, the British were suddenly in a much better position to confiscate American trade bound for France - and they did just that. Moreover, the expansion of the Royal Navy left them short of sailors. As a result, Royal Navy began to conscript sailors into the navy in British ports and began to search US vessels they encountered for deserters - easily identifiable by their RN tattoos. Some ten thousand men were thus taken from American merchant vessels and pressed into RN service. Virtually all of these men actually were deserters from the Royal Navy, but that was besides the point. The facts were, the Royal Navy was ignoring the sovereignty of the United States, which had real troubles being taken seriously as a country abroad (and, to a certain extent, at home). The traders who actually owned the ships in question didn't mind - they were raking it in and entry into the war was the last thing they wanted - but a new generation of Americans who had not experienced the hardships of The American Revolution and its aftermath were eager to prove their worth and wage a Second American War of Independence to drive the British from the continent.

Far to the south, in the Federal territory of Mississippi, the Indian tribes were uniting under a charismatic new leader; Tecumseh. Seeing this, the 'War-Hawk' generation suspected a British conspiracy to prevent American westward expansion, and clamoured for war with Britain. The British Cabinet viewed with favour the establishment of a neutral state of American Indian peoples in the Mississippi territory, but didn't actually have enough confidence in their fighting ability to back them, though they did sell them some weapons. The Western States of the Union would have nothing of this British conspiracy to encircle them and prevent westward expansion, wanting nothing more than to drive the Indians out and open up the Mississippi territory to white settlement. The same states of the southern and western United States also considered capturing British North America easy pickings and the next logical step after the Revolutionary War. Many people in said states - not the ones actually affected by the disruptions to the thriving war-time trade - considered Canada an easy prospect, famously put by one official as "A simple matter of marching."

The war was fought on multiple fronts, most notably ground combat between infantry and ongoing naval confrontations within the Great Lakes. The Canadian forces were notably stressed, being undermanned and lacking much support from Britain, which was still involved in the Napoleonic Wars. However, British General Isaac Brock and the Native leader, Tecumseh, proved brilliant leaders who arranged a powerful defence, even if they were lost all too soon. They also managed to bolster their ranks against the far more numerous Americans by recruiting former slaves, Loyalists from the Revolutionary War and befriending many Native Peoples. The British Navy also blockaded most of the east coast and conducted frequent raids, one of which burned down the U.S. Capitol.

The confrontation continued until late 1814 where persisting military costs and fatigue caused the forces to enter peace talks, both sides having reached a stalemate without having made much ground. The Treaty of Ghent was eventually formed, relegating all captured land back to whoever had originally owned it. The treaty was signed December 24, 1814 and took effect February 18, 1815, though the biggest battles of the war occurred during peace talks and in the time it took for new about the treaty to filter down. Most notable of these was the Battle of New Orleans, a US victory which effectively secured the (gateway to the) Mississippi river system for them.

With the acceptance of the treaty everything more or less returned to how it had been previous to the confrontation. Neither side retained any land it captured (though the U.S. managed to seize Mobile from Spain) and the only party that ultimately lost was the Natives, who lost their bid for their own neutral state during peace talks. Losses are estimated at 5000 casualties on the British side and 19,260 on the American side; though most militia and Native losses went unrecorded. No compensation was paid by either side for damages though the British did pay $1,204,960 in damages to Washington to reimburse the slave-owners whose slaves defected to the Canadian side or escaped in the confusion of the war.

Today the war is largely forgotten due to its lacklustre outcome; other than being the source of the US national anthem - theStar-Spangled Banner - the war is barely remembered there. In Canada, however, it was a defining event that fostered a quiet determination to remain British and distinct from the United States. After the creation of the Canadian nation, the outcome of the war became a point of national pride. In Britain, of course, only historians remember it. That and people who watched Hornblower. As for the actual outcome of the war, the only clear losers were the Amerindians, whose last best attempt at uniting in the face of Western Imperialism had failed. Their populations devastated and displaced by the US campaign, they were no longer able to form a serious check to the western expansion of the United States. The United States also secured New Orleans right at the last second - if the war had dragged on another few months and Cabinet had deemed it worthwhile to take New Orleans back, the relatively small and over-stretched US Army would not have been able to defend the town. As it was, they were very fortunate to capture it when they did, as it meant that there would be no foreign checks to US expansion through central-northern America either.

As a side note, one notable exception to the general indifference towards the war in the US is in the US Navy, which sees the war as a defining moment in its history. That the brand new, tiny USN was able to stand up to the world's most powerful navy and win the majority of its engagements is a point of pride - although historians still debate whether this has more to do with the more modern, sturdier build and heavier armament of the US navy's ships, or their habit of only engaging smaller flotillas or lone ships, not to mention the fact that all of Britain's best naval officers were busy blockading Europe from the Baltic to the Med.

Bernard Cornwell, author of the Sharpe series, summed up the war very well: "What was to be expected in each theatre was inverted, with the exception of the major battle: The British inflicted a string of defeats on the numerically superior American Army, but lost the Battles of New Orleans and Plattsburgh. The US Navy inflicted a series of defeats on the far more powerful Royal Navy, but failed to prevent them raiding the Chesapeake and burning Washington."

A more comprehensive article and links to other related articles can be found on The Other Wiki.

Not to be confused with the other war of 1812.


Tropes involved in the War of 1812 include:

  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Battlefield success launched the presidential careers of William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Used in several major battles.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Oliver Hazard Perry
  • Badass: General Isaac Brock on the Canadian side and Andrew Jackson on the American side, as well as the Native leader Tecumseh.
  • Badass Boast: Oliver Hazard Perry after the Battle of Lake Erie: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
  • Badass Crew: The Indiana Rangers. Joshua Barney's flotilla crew. Andrew Jackson's militia and pirates in New Orleans.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Isaac Brock and Tecumseh.
  • Battle Cry: "Revenge the General", by Canadian forces lead by John Macdonell in the second charge at Queenston Heights, after the death of Isaac Brock.
  • Big Bad: British Admiral George Cockburn was the terror of every American living in the Chesapeake Bay during the war because his fleet plundered the coasts with impunity. That he later became the only enemy of the United States to ever capture its capital city in war only bolstered this image.
  • Brick Joke: Laura Secord and her husband, James Secord, heard of an impending American attack in 1813 due to the fact that they were forced to house and feed several American soldiers at their home in Queenston, Ontario. As a member of the Canadian militia, James was only at home because he was still recovering from wounds sustained during the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812 (during which he had helped to carry recently-deceased General Isaac Brock's body away from the battlefield).
  • But for Me It Was Tuesday: As you can see on this very page, it is by no doubt very important in Canadian history. Americans barely remember it happened, and mostly just remember it for being the second time they fought the British. Brits don't remember it at all. It just sort of slips down the back of the historical memory-couch to join the Anglo-Dutch and Carnatic Wars.
  • The Captain: Stephen Decatur, Oliver Hazard Perry. Lesser-known but every bit as badass is Commodore Joshua Barney.
  • Cool Ship: The US Navy's secret weapon was a line of powerful frigates crewed by well trained sailors, particularly the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"). It only won a few victories, but arguably the war was really about prestige after all.
    • The Constitution and her sister ships outmatched any other ship in their class, being more heavily armed, faster, and better designed, despite being fifteen to twenty years old during the war, to the point that the British Admiralty issued orders forbidding one on one fights between British 38 gun frigates and the American 44's.
  • Combat by Champion: USS Chesapeake versus HMS Shannon. The two captains agreed to battle, apparently because they were bored at the time (well it's probably more complex, but that'll do). The Shannon won in a short but unusually bloody battle. It's not clear what purpose it served but from a distance in time it does seem really cool.
  • Command and Conquer Economy: In a rare Real Life example, both sides at the Battles of Lake Erie built the majority of their ships right at bases constructed for the purpose on the lake shore using wood harvested from the surrounding forests and then proceeded to fight over the lake.
    • Justified in that the lack of proper passages through the St. Lawrence River prevented large ships from sailing into the lake from the ocean. This also occurred in Lake Huron to a lesser extent and for the same reasons.
  • Common Knowledge: Many Canadians can tell you that the War of 1812 was when the Canadians burned Washington, D.C.. Except that there were no Canadian forces involved in the Baltimore Campaign, and it was the British who burned Washington, D.C..
    • Averted entirely by the British. A possibly apocryphal tale was that a British general saw a painting of the Burning of Washington in the Pentagon in World War Two, and asked 'Who the devil ever did that to you chaps?' His embarrassed escort had to explain, "You guys did."
  • Cool Versus Awesome : A rare David Versus Goliath example; the US Navy and the Royal Navy were two of the best at the time.
    • The US Navy had far higher pay then the Royal Navy and the Royal navy was worn out by a Forever War. After the original shock of some engagements British captains who had been lax on training began working thus giving them a chance to retake a level in badass.
  • Courtroom Antics: Prize Law was an innate part of the Laws And Customs Of War at the time. One American privateer was able to sue for the ransom of one capture in a British court. And was granted his suit. This no doubt proves that lawyers are Pirates.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: The siege of Detroit had Tecumseh repeatedly have his men circle the fort, tricking the Americans into thinking that the Native numbers were much greater than they were. Detroit's surrender gave the Natives and British a tremendous amount of supplies, along with a major psychological victory.
    • More humorously, the British torched Washington, while the Americans burned down York, later to be known as Toronto. Given the loathing Americans and Canadians have for their respective cities, a Deadpan Snarker could claim that the War of 1812 is one where both sides did the other a favor. (Though YMMV.)
    • The defense of Fort McHenry stemmed the British invasion on the Eastern seaboard. The British sailed after this to New Orleans... where Andrew Jackson, four thousand troops, and some badass pirates bested 11,000 British troops.
    • Battle of Lake Erie.

  "Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry"

    • While the British were approaching Washington, Dolly Madison stayed in the White House until the very last minute, rescuing valuable items including a famous painting of George Washington.
    • The Battle of Plattsburgh. Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough's fleet, equipped with spring lines which allowed his ships to turn while anchored, allowing faster firing and reloading of the cannons, successfully drive the Royal Navy off of Lake Champlain and forced them to retreat back into Canada.
  • Crowning Moment of Indifference: The British were preoccupied with fighting Napoleon and put a token defense in Canada, relying on local militia and American stupidity to hold the territory. The United States meanwhile was largely indifferent to the war with New England threatening to separate because they didn't want the war in the first place. Today, barely anyone outside of Southern Ontario in the United States even remembers it, although it tends to be a point of pride for many Canadians, even if the country didn't technically exist yet.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Subverted. The war was supposed to be this in the favour of the Americans, but the Canadians scrounged up several unexpected allies (mostly natives) and employed unconventional tactics, holding off the American invasion.
    • Subverted again after the defeat of Napoleon. With British forces now freed up from fighting in Europe things looked grim for the Americans. Three major invasions of the U.S. were launched but all were thrown back.
    • Played straight in the Battle of New Orleans (which actually happened after the war technically ended). 55 Americans died, 185 were wounded, and 93 were missing, with a grand total of 333 casualties and losses at the end of the battle. On the other side, 386 British died, 1,521 were wounded, and 552 were missing, with a grand total of 2,459 casualties and losses. The reason for the high casualties is because Andrew Jackson put his army in a position that made all of his flanks covered by swamps, thus forcing the British to attack head on, because they couldn't wade through the swamps. Pakenham forgetting to give the British soldiers siege equipment may also have had something to do with it. American morale soared after the battle, and was even made the subject of a popular American song called The Battle of New Orleans.
    • To make up for New Orleans, the Brits had the Battle of Frenchtown. The British had 25 dead and 161 wounded, plus 3 dead native allies, whereas the Americans had 410 dead, 87 wounded and 547 captured. Unfortunately, 30-100 of the wounded American prisoners were executed by the native auxillaries who helped the British.
  • David Versus Goliath: A complicated example at sea. In the over all picture the US Navy was the David but it was often the Goliath in a given engagement. This is actually fairly common in warfare but worth remarking on.
    • Advancements in ship-building by the Yanks allowed the U.S. Navy to float fewer but vastly more powerful ships than the British. While the British were able to adapt new tactics and develop improved ships as the war progressed, the early victories by the U.S. enhanced their navy's reputation to Worthy Opponent status.
  • Deus Ex Machina: As British troops were burning Washington DC, a goddamn tornado touched down in the city, for the first time in known history, causing a Mass "Oh Crap" amongst the occupying British forces. The wind was so strong that it lifted cannons into the air.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Tens of thousands of slaves used the opportunities the war provided them to escape from their owners, often incurring great risks and hardship. This put a dent into the then still widespread belief that slaves were generally content with their lot.
    • And then there was the fact that the Canadians fought back, and effectively at that. Many Americans were stunned.
  • Dirty Coward: To some extent American General William Hull, who surrendered Detroit due to a deathly fear of Natives which Isaac Brock exploited. Though in fairness he was a man lacking in military experience who thought the Natives would torture the civilians, including his wife and children.
    • Militia were also mocked by regular soldiers during the war on the American side. They were only distinguished from real soldiers by the speed with which they fled the battlefield.
  • Divided States of America: New England threatened to secede from the Union over the issue of the war due to how it was wrecking their economy. In addition, the British sought to carve out an Indian nation in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to serve as a buffer between the US and Canada.
  • The Empire: In America, the war is remembered as a fight against the British Empire. In Canada, it is remembered as a war against an Imperialist United States.
  • Famous Last Words: "Don't give up the ship!" Captain James Lawrence's dying words, shortly before the USS Chesapeake was taken by a boarding party from HMS Shannon. His good friend, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, later named his flagship USS Lawrence, put the phrase on his battle flag, and used it as his Battle Cry at the Battle of Lake Erie. He won the battle.
  • A Father to His Men: Isaac Brock, Andrew Jackson, and many others on both sides.
  • Graceful Loser: Always the case with surrenders, to the point that Isaac Brock's motif was tricking major American fortifications into surrendering.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: The Canadian forces were bolstered with escaped Loyalists, former slaves and Native Peoples. Similarly, the American defenders at New Orleans included Kentucky frontiersmen, Creole aristocrats, free men of color, and frickin' pirates fighting for their new nation.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Isaac Brock's charge at Queenston Heights. His death a result of the fact he always led his men into combat.
    • The unknown sniper who killed General Ross at the Battle of North Point was promptly discovered and shot but arguably changed the course of the war and saved the United States.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Although Isaac Brock didn't think much of the Canadian colonists as militia, Canadians largely don't care and have adopted him with Tecumseh as the "Saviors of Canada" and among its greatest military heroes.
    • There is also the "militia myth". Basically, no, Canadian militia didn't beat back the invasion of British North America; that was a combination of British regulars and native allies.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Burning of York (today's Toronto) in 1813 by Americans, and the retaliatory Burning of Washington by British forces in 1814.
  • Know When to Fold'Em: Part of Roger Hale Sheaffe's motif, most notable at his retreat during the Battle of York.
  • La Résistance: After the capture of Fort George on the Niagara River in May 1813, a force of 50 British and Canadian soldiers under Lieutenant James FitzGibbon, along with a number of Native allies, carried out raids up and down the Niagara peninsula and kept thousands of American regulars and militia off balance and unwilling to advance. With prior warning of a coming American attack, courtesy of local resident Laura Secord (yes, that Laura Secord), FitzGibbon and his 50 soldiers were able to enlist the help of a large Native force to trap and capture over 500 American soldiers in the Battle of Beaver Dams (now located in present-day Thorold, Ontario). The American forces eventually abandoned the eastern side of the Niagara River in December 1813.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: The death of Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames forever ended the dream of a united Indian confederacy.
  • Magnetic Hero: Isaac Brock again, who was responsible for swaying many of the Native Peoples to fight with the Canadians.
    • Also, Tecumseh; he had built an entire Midwestern native confederacy, which collapsed in his absence.
  • The Men First: Isaac Brock, to the point of leading his charges against the enemy. It cost him his life.
  • Mildly Military: The U.S. and Canadian militia, the bulk of their forces.
  • Modern Major-General: It's been claimed that one of the reasons the Americans didn't conquer British North America was because a number of their generals were appointed more due to political reasons than actual military talent. Then again, that's how it worked just about more-or-less everywhere. An academy-trained officer corps selected on merit alone is a 20th century ideal, one that has yet to be fulfilled in its entirety.
  • National Anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner" was famously inspired by the defense of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.
  • Not So Different: It's hard to tell, but it's doubtful the distinctive American twangs had caught on by this stage. When American prisoners of war were paraded around for the benefit of the (paying) public, the general reaction was disappointment. They all looked and sounded some sort of British, this being on account of the great majority of Americans being either emigrants or the [great-](grand-)sons of emigrants from the Isles.
  • The Neidermeyer: Governor of British North America Sir George Prevost, according to his men and the Duke of Wellington.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Various examples on both sides.
  • Oh Crap: "Those are Regulars, by God!" British General Riall's reaction at the Battle of Chippewa to Winfield Scott's gray-coated brigade pressing forward through shot and shell. (Gray was the color of militia uniforms; there was no blue cloth available for uniform coats when Scott's brigade was outfitted. West Point cadets wear gray uniforms in memory of this incident.)
  • Peace Conference: The war's eventual resolution.
  • Pirates: Baltimore privateers were famous or infamous depending on which side you were on.
    • Jean Lafitte being a more literal example.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Much of the Canadian forces, and some of the American forces, specifically the Indiana Rangers.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: The wanted pirate Jean Lafitte earned a full pardon for the indispensable service his artillery provided at New Orleans.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Possibly both Isaac Brock and his successor John Macdonell who died during unsuccessful charges during the battle for Queenston Heights. Later the reinforcements arrived and under command of Roger Hale Sheaffe lead a meticulous and better planned advance that easily recaptured the Heights.
  • The Siege: The epic Siege of Fort Erie was the bloodiest battle ever fought on Canadian soil.
  • Spin-Off: Spun off from the Napoleonic Wars and had its own spin-off in the form of the Red Stick Creek War.
    • At the time the British took very little notice of the war, being preoccupied with the much bigger one against France. Napoleon's defeat then removed the biggest causes from the US point of view, as the British stopped blockading France and impressing neutral nationals into the Royal Navy.
  • The Strategist: Isaac Brock.
    • As an example, he forced the surrender of a major fort by having his men march at twice the regular distance as standard, creating the illusion that there was twice as many soldiers. Similarly, in another battle he had his troops loop back while en route to an enemy fortification to give the impression of extra forces, forcing another surrender.
  • Tempting Fate: The moron responsible for the "mere matter of marching" quote.
  • Took a Level In Badass: The American army under Winfield Scott and Jacob Brown during the 1814 Niagara Campaign.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: The Canadian forces inflicted far greater casualties against a larger opposing army without much support from Britain. Meanwhile the young United States was able to militarily challenge the most powerful nation in the world and fight it to a standstill.
  • We Win Because You Didn't: Even though America failed to accomplish most of its primary objectives, the US maintains that it "won" because it didn't technically lose ("We got respect from Britain"). While Canada takes the same opinion for themselves ("We threw back multiple American invasions from our lands").
  • You Are in Command Now: John Macdonell after the death of Isaac Brock. Unfortunately, it didn't last too long.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Pulled by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and by Joshua Barney's now-shipless flotilla against the British forces advancing on Washington after the Battle of Bladensburg while American militia fled past them in terror.
    • Additionally pulled by the British regulars and Canadian militia defending the Niagara peninsula throughout the war. The American forces only got as far as Stoney Creek, just east of modern-day Hamilton, Ontario. Partially subverted in that the American army crossed the lake and burned York (now Toronto) to the ground.
  • Zerg Rush: A major part of military tactics at the time, but more often utilized by American forces, as Canadian forces couldn't afford the possible losses. The British tried it twice against artillery at New Orleans.
    • To be fair, they literally had no way to go around the artillery.

In popular culture:

  • The Alternate History Decades of Darkness has this time period as its point of divergence. Thomas Jefferson dies early in 1809, leading to war tensions ramping up earlier, a "War of 1811", and New England seceding as a result, taking New York and New Jersey with it. The war ends with a British/Yankee curb-stomp victory that sees Chicago (sorry, Dearborn) becoming Canadian and Michigan becoming New England territory.
  • An episode of Due South has a Canadian general reference a Curb Stomp Battle that the Canadians won during this war. A battle that the American police chief he was yelling at never heard of.
  • The first Book of Eric Flint's Trail of Glory series, The Rivers of War[1] is an Alternate History story set during the war.
  • College Humor spoofs the relative obscurity of this war in the mock trailer of a fictitious War Of 1812 movie, where the characters can't even figure out what the war is being fought over and against whom.
  • The Alternate History short story "Empire" by William Sanders has Napoleon moving the the US and coming into American military service. He then promptly backstabbed it (with the help of the likes of Arraon Burr, Andrew Jacskon, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston) and carved out his own Empire of the Louisiana. Said empire is embroiled in wars against the US and the Spanish colonies, which expand but later weaken it. The novel is set in an alternate War of 1812 fought between the British and Napoleon's Empire, leading to the defeat and dissolution of the Empire and The Duke of Wellington darkly commenting in the end that "perhaps we shall see about the damned Yankees and their so-called United States of America."

Notes

  1. released in paperback as 1812: The Rivers of War
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