This war is really forgotten in the United States and in Great Britain, but it is a war which set the foundations of one nation and nearly brought another to its knees. This is 1812. (also I thought I would use evidence that the BBC history magazine would never use, enjoy)

The War of 1812 was principally at first a war over America gaining Canada. It was believed in the United States that Canada would be more than happy to be liberated from British control. President Madison and his reasons for going to war were down to British capture of US neutral Vessels, by which at the time of 1812 constituted to around 400 US merchant ships. Any ship which was found to have British Citizen on that said ship would be pushed into service into fighting for the British crown. On top of this in the Midwest territories of the United States a Native American rebellion, under a confederacy of tribes Iroquois and the Shawnee tribe to name some of the more predominant ones, lead by the Tecumseh. The US government believed that the British Government was supporting this rebellion which to a point is true as Britain believed in an area for the First Nations. The impact of this would lead to the rallying cry of “Free Trade and Sailors’ rights,” It was decided that Canada would be the way America could strike back at Britain for these issues. Even though some US states didn’t support the war most prominent was New England and Main, who conducted a lot of trade and it would in turn damage their economy.

When we talk of the Invasion of Canada and the Failure of the United States to annex Canada, the years which the actual invasion took place was from 1812 to the start of 1814, after 1814 America was on the defensive due to a British counterattack with fresh troops from Europe after the final defeat of Napoleon. To understand why America failed you need to look at how the war changed from an offensive to a conflict of defence. The United States had a numerical advantage. Thomas Jefferson would stat that “The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.”[1]. To an extent this idea that the invasion of Canada would be easy, was very much possible. The disposition of population sizes, 500.000 people in Canada , compared to Americas 7.5 million, means that the manpower base which America has, on paper at least suggests and easy victory. The US army at the time consisted on estimates 7,000 regular troops plus militia (458, 63) on top of that figure but they would cause more problems than good. The British at that time could only muster 40 battalions, 15 artillery companies and 1 cavalry regiment[2]. Most of those units at the time of the American invasion were ready to be shipped across to fight against Napoleon. Considering that issue America should have found it easy to march across and take Canada. Sir George Provost, the commander in charge of defence in Canada agreed to that in a letter to London, about the situation. “Commencing with the upper Canada, as the most contiguous to the Territory of the United States and frontier to it along its whole extent, which renders it, in the event of war, more liable to immediate attack”[3] on the regard of Montreal “ Montreal is the principle commercial city in the Canada’s, and in the event of war, would become the first object of attack:- It is situated on an extension island, and does not possess any means of defence.”[4]  Even the British were in fear of losing Canada so why didn’t they.

 

There are many reasons why America failed even with the numerical superiority. In a sense the United States campaign was doomed from the start due to the issue of poor leadership and supply problems, coupled with the command problem with the Militia. The US War department which was used for defence was in effect a mess William Eustis was not regarded well at all. The department was under funded and over worked even in peace time. A Philadelphia senator said that “No man in the country”….”Is equal to one- half his duties which devolve on the present secretary” [5]. Shows how little in regard the American government actually had of the war department, and not much can be said about the United States army itself. Even though by 1814 at the war’s end the United States army and Navy would become respected, by the British and most nations around the world, but in 1812 including the militia it was a mess. Peter B Porter in 1813 said that the US army was “ Full of men, Fresh from lawyer shops and counting rooms, who knew little of the physical force of a man- of the proper means of sustaining and in proving it or even the mode of its application” [6]. The standard US solider was paid $8 a month which was more than the standard private citizen’s wage, but due to the inefficiency of the War department even though with the founds at their disposal, most of the men would not get paid. This would lead to many of the troops not to march, and not to mention the Militia would get paid much less. Most of the time the Militia would not march due to bad rations and non equal pay, the reason certain battle were lost was due to the Militia not moving from there state lines. This would be issues all the way through the war, until it was fought on American soil. Jeremy Black would state that “A deficiency in American planning that, in part, reflected the lack of an effective planning structure and process, accompanied the organizational and political limitations that affected the war effort”[7].

The opening moves of the conflict highlight the problems that in a way both sides had to contend with during the Canadian part of the war. The prime example of this would be General Hulls advance from Detroit, into Upper Canada. He had to turn back to lack of supplies, this was due to the War Departments use of outside sources for its supplies there was no central logistics core, The British on the other hand did not have enough men to cover the whole border so in effect both sides in a way suffered from a deficiency of one or the other. “The Irregularity in the supply and badness of rations had done more than anything else to retard American operations” [8] this would seriously impede the Americans in most of their offensives, even during the later periods of the conflict.  British General Brocke who would become a hero of the conflict, provided tactical leadership to help defeat the American advances, he would use the American general’s fear of Native American troops and deception to gain many victories against the United States until his death at the battle of Queenston heights. He used his native allies to massive effect a Detroit 500 regular British troops and a supplement of Native warriors marched around the fort then back again to make it seem like the force was bigger than it was. Major Thomas Evans of the 8th Regiment of Foot stated that “it having more than doubled our own regular force in the enemy‘s eye”[9] . The American General William Hull was reported to say at the time “My God!” “What shall I do with these women and children?” [10]. The fort was in a sense taken without a shot. The fear of the Native American warriors was great in the mind of the US Army. There was cases of after ambushes and battles American troops being butchered. This lead to another reason why Militia would not fight outside of American soil. This poor leadership would plague American forces, up till 1814. Another example of this would be at the battle of Beaver Dam on the 24th June 1813 Mohawk tribes men encountered an American force, and forced them to surrender because of the fear of the Native forces, the ambush would mark the turning point in the 1813 campaign.

The two battles which are remembered in the war are the Battle of Chateauguay, and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, they effectively stopped the American invasion of Lower Canada and the threat of American forces taking Montreal. It also ended any hopes of America gaining control of the St Lawrence River which is one of the most vital water routes and in effect the key to taking Lower Canada and cutting supplies from Great Britain. Reason being they are so important is that the Battle of Chateauguay was in a way a French and British Canadian victory, more ever down to tactical skill of the General in charge but also American indecisiveness, and bad leadership. General Hampton the US commander ordered a flanking move at night which turned into a bad tactical decision. Hitsman states that “Even the best troops in the world, however, would have found difficulty covering 15 miles on such a night, stumbling along a narrow, winding trail through dense woods. Only about six miles were covered. Thoroughly lost by daylight, the guides then led the Americans to the river bank almost opposite De Salaberry’s forward defences.”[11] The effect of seeing a much stronger force than that was expected forced the Americans to retreat against a much smaller French Canadian force nearly half the size of their own. In a way this is how the defence of Canada could be seen as being run, through deception and fear against a much larger enemy force. The Americans did score some victories especially at Toronto where the British defence failed due, even though to the bravery of Roger Sheaffe, would become the cape goat of the battle even though he won the battle of Queenston Heights after General Brocke was killed. The political fighting in a sense on both sides wanting a victory was destroying some of its more capable Generals even though; the bad ones were being weeded out.

Time could be seen on America’s side as Britain was focused on Europe but by the end of 1813 after the defeats of the three American offensives of that year, Britain’s attention could be turned to America. In a Dispatch from Bathurst to the Provost Marshall on the 3rd of June 1814 states that. “I have now to acquaint you with the arrangements which have been made in consequence, and to point out to you the views with which His Majesty’s Government have made so considerable an augmentation of the Army of Canada. The 4th Battalion of the Royal Scots of the strength stated in the margin sailed from Spithead on the 9th ulto. Direct for Quebec, and was joined at Cork by the 97th Regiment destined to relieve the Nova Scotia Fencibles at Newfoundland; which latter will immediately proceed to Quebec. The 6th and 82nd Regiments of the strength as per margin sailed from Bordeaux on the 15th ulto. Direct for Quebec. Orders have also been given for embarking at the same port, twelve of the most effective Regiments of the Army under the Duke of Wellington together with three Companies of Artillery on the same service.”[12] The scale of forces being gathered against the invading US forces it would only be a matter of time before they would be pushed back into their own country. The irony is that after the war the Americans count the war as a victory Latimer would say that. “All that remained now was for the construction of a reassuring myth which might transform Madison’s futile and humiliating adventure that has aimed to conquer Canada into one of defending the republic.[13] The twisting of the meaning of the war and a clear defeat in America’s initial reason to go to war were plainly ridiculous even if, the United States might claim to have won the peace;”[14] It was in a way a good Public Relations move by the president as even today most Americans believe that they won the war of 1812 where in a sense they came so close to being defeated, and they didn’t even achieve the wars principle aim.

The Americans had every advantage on paper of attacking and taking Canada but in a way poor supply and poor leadership let them down, not to mark down the brave efforts of the men defending Canada, and the Native Allies which would provide a much needed fear factor, for the invading American army , but in a way also there was no stomach for the Americans to come and “liberate” Canada the French Canadians feared Protestant America to an extent that they didn’t want to join them, no matter how much animosity that they had for the British. The American army did improve to an extent to effectively beat the British in an open style field battle but by then it was in effect too late. The British in 1814 launched a counter attack since they could now concentrate there full efforts on the Americans after the defeat of Napoleon. Veteran units would arrive and in a way nearly take America, it would all culminate into the battle of New Orleans, after the official peace treaty was signed.  Canada would remain British.

Bibliography

 Bothwell Robert. The Penguin History of Canada (Toronto: Penguin 2007)

Brogan Hugh. The Penguin History of the USA, Second Edition (England: Penguin 1999)

 

Hickery R Donald. The war of 1812 “A Forgotten Conflict” (Illinois: Hickery Press 1989)

Hickery R Donald. The War of 1812: A short History (Illinois: Hickery Press 1995)

Hitsman J Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (Toronto: Robin Brass Studios 1999)

Jon Latimer. 1812 War with America (HarvardUniversity Press 2009)

Jeremy Black. The War of 1812 in the age of Napoleon (York: Continuum International Publishing Group 2009)

Smith M Daniel. War and Peace with Britain 1812-1818 (Houghten Miffin Company 1972)

Holmberg Tom. Thomas Jefferson on Great Britain: From the Conquest of Canada to the Cruelty of the British in America http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/biographies/jefferson/c_jeff1.html


[1] Holmberg Tom. Thomas Jefferson on Great Britain: From the Conquest of Canada to the Cruelty of the British in America http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/biographies/jefferson/c_jeff1.html

[2] Fig taken from Hitsman J Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (Toronto: Robin Brass Studios 1999).,pg295-310

[3] Fig taken from Hitsman J Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (Toronto: Robin Brass Studios 1999).,pg.283

[4] ^ibid.,pg285

[5] Hickery R Donald. The War of 1812: A short History (Illinois: Hickery Press 1995).,pg20

[6] Hickery R Donald. The War of 1812: A short History (Illinois: Hickery Press 1995).,pg20

[7] Jeremy Black. The War of 1812 in the age of Napoleon (York: Continuum International Publishing Group 2009).,pg50

[8]Hickery R Donald. The War of 1812: A short History (Illinois: Hickery Press 1995).,pg22

[9] Jon Latimer. 1812 War with America (Harvard University Press 2009).,pg67

[10]Hickery R Donald. The War of 1812: A short History (Illinois: Hickery Press 1995).,pg24

[11]Hitsman J Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (Toronto: Robin Brass Studios 1999).,pg186

[12]Hitsman J Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History (Toronto: Robin Brass Studios 1999).,pg289

[13] Jon Latimer. 1812 War with America (Harvard University Press 2009).,pg400

[14]  Jon Latimer. 1812 War with America (Harvard University Press 2009).,pg400