The Devil and Andrew Jackson

Wednesday, May 3, AD 2017


(I originally posted this back in 2009.  Old Hickory is back in the news because of President Trump’s musings upon him.  As a result I decided to repost this.)


I have never liked President’s Day.  Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln?  We have had other great presidents, and one of them, although Republican as I am I bridle on bestowing the title upon him, was Andrew Jackson.  No one was ever neutral about Old Hickory.  He is described as the father of the Democrat party.  Actually, both major parties owe their existence to him.   The Whig party, the main ancestor of the modern Republican party, was founded in opposition to Jackson’s policies.

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4 Responses to The Devil and Andrew Jackson

  • Thank you. Very interesting. Even though I spent four years in Knoxville I didn’t know that much about Jackson.
    Now the Democrats want to take Pres. Jackson’s face off the $20 bill; substitute it with a woman as a sop to feminism and minorities. Bad enough that three Navy ships were to be named for G. Giffords (gun control), C. Chavez (Latino vote and farm worker labor) and Harvey Milk (LBGT vote) instead of MOH winners.

  • On long car trips in the 50s my dad would alleviate the boredom by leading us in college fight songs. My brother and I in turn would sing the Battle of New Orleans and other patriotic songs.

  • Wow! Old Hickory, bark and all,.

  • Thank you Donald, for fleshing out the bare bones of my knowledge of Andrew Jackson. I admit to allowing the expulsion of the Cherokees from Georgia to unduly define the man. Many whom we unanimously revere would be considered rough as cobs, were they present among us.

Laura Secord

Friday, June 24, AD 2016


Completely unknown to the public at large in the US, Laura Secord, ironically a daughter of a man who fought on the patriot side in the Revolution, is a national heroine in Canada. In 1813 during the War of 1812, American troops were quartered in Secord’s home.  Learning of a plan to attack the British installation at Beaver Dams, she walked from Queenstown twenty miles to warn the British.

Forewarned, the British with 400 Indians and 50 regulars surrounded the American force of some 600 regulars as it advanced on Beavers Dam on June 24, 1813.  After some fighting the British commander, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon,  convinced the American commander, Colonel Charles Boerstler, that he was vastly outnumbered and that unless he immediately surrendered, FitzGibbon would not be able to control the Indians.  The gullible Boerstler surrendered.

Secord’s role in all this remained virtually unknown until she sought a pension for her poverty stricken family after the War.  The Canadian public did not pay much attention until the visiting Prince of Wales in 1860 heard of her long ago heroics, and sent the 85 year old Secord one hundred pounds.


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January 9, 1815: Report to Monroe

Friday, January 9, AD 2015

Battle of New Orleans 2


The day after the battle of New Orleans, Jackson wrote his report to James Monroe, Secretary of War.:

Sir: 9th Jan: 1815

During the days of the 6th. & 7th. the enemy had been actively employed in making preparations for an attack on my lines. With infinite labour they had succeeded on the night of the 7th in getting their boats across from the lake to the river, by widening & deepening the Canal on which they had effected their disembarkation. It had not been in my power to impede these operations by a general attack: Added to other reasons, the nature of the troops under my command, mostly militia, rendered it too hazardous to attempt extensive offensive movements in an open Country, against a numerous & well disciplined army.- Altho my forces, as to number, had been increased by the arrival of the Kentucky division – my strength had received very little addition; a small portion only of that detachment being provided with arms: Compelled thus to wait the attack of the enemy I took every measure to repell it when it would be made, & to defeat the object he had in view. Genl. Morgan with the Orleans Contingent the Louisiana Militia, & a strong detachment of the Kentucky troops occupy an entrenched Camp, on the opposite side of the river, protected by strong batteries on the bank erected & superintended by Commodore Patterson.

In my encampment every thing was ready for action, when early on the morning of the 8th the enemy, after throwing a heavy shower of bombs & congreve rockets, advanced their columns on my right & left, to storm my entrenchments. I cannot speak sufficiently in praise of the firmness & deliberation with which my whole line received their approach:-more could not have been expected from veterans, inured to war. For an hour the fire of the small arms was as incessant & severe as can be imagined. The artillery too, directed by officers who displayed equal skill & courage did great execution. Yet the columns of the enemy continued to advance with a firmness which reflects upon them the greatest credit. Twice the column which approached me on my left was repulsed by the troops of genl. Carrole – those of genl. Coffee, & a division of the Kentucky Militia, & twice they formed again & renewed the assault.

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January 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans

Thursday, January 8, AD 2015


The War of 1812 had been one with little glory for Americans.  The invasions of Canada all failed, often the officers in charge displaying shocking military incompetence.  Although the American Navy performed valiantly, the Royal Navy maintained control of the waves, and with the fall of Napoleon, veteran British troops from the Peninsular War were shipped across the Atlantic and inflicted such humiliations as the burning of Washington.  On January 8, 1815 Major General Andrew Jackson and his rude frontier army of regulars and militia, confronted a British regular force twice their size.  What followed was an amazing American victory.  One of the finest accounts of the battle was written by Theodore Roosevelt:


Battle of New Orleans



Packenham had under him nearly 10,000 fighting men; 1,500 of these, under Colonel Thornton were to cross the river and make the attack on the west bank. Packenham himself was to super intend the main assault, on the east bank, which was to be made by the British right under General Gibbs, while the left moved forward under General Keane, and General Lambert commanded the reserve. Jackson’s position was held by a total of 5,500 men. Having kept a constant watch on the British, Jackson had rightly concluded that they would make the main attack on the east bank, and had, accordingly, kept the bulk of his force on that side. His works consisted simply of a mud breastwork, with a ditch in front of it, which stretched in a straight line from the river on his right across the plain, and some distance into the morass that sheltered his left. There was a small, unfinished redoubt in front of the breastworks on the river bank. Thirteen pieces of artillery were mounted on the works. On the right was posted the Seventh regular infantry, 430 strong; then came 740 Louisiana militia (both French creoles and men of color, and comprising 30 New Orleans riflemen, who were Americans), and 240 regulars of the Forty-fourth regiment; while the rest of the line was formed by nearly 500 Kentuckians and over 1,600 Tennesseeans, under Carroll and Coffee, with 250 creole militia in the morass on the extreme left, to guard the head of a bayou. In the rear were 230 dragoons, chiefly from Mississippi, and some other troops in reserve; making in all 4,700 men on the east bank. The works on the west bank were farther down stream, and were very much weaker. . . .

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Jackson’s Motley Army

Tuesday, January 6, AD 2015


I guess there may have been a more heterogeneous force that fought a major battle in American history than the one that Andrew Jackson commanded on January 8, 1815, but it does not readily come to mind.  Here was the composition of his army:

1.  968 US Army regulars-Many of these men were from the 7th Infantry Regiment that had garrisoned New Orleans during 1814 and had a reputation for being slackly disciplined hell raisers.  The remainder were from the 44th Infantry Regiment recruited in Louisiana.

2.  58 Marines.

3.  106 Sailors of the US Naval Battalion.

4.  1060 Louisiana Militia, including 462 free blacks.  The free blacks responded to an appeal from Jackson that said they would be treated precisely the same as white volunteers and not subject to sarcasm and insult.  Jackson was as good as his word, but the State of Louisiana did not give them the promised 160 acre land grants that white volunteers received.  Many of the white Louisianans spoke only French, but the language barrier did not stop them and their black comrades from rendering good service in the battle.

5.  986 Kentucky Militia-The Kentuckians gave a poor account of themselves in the battle but it wasn’t their fault.  Most of them were unarmed, the Army sending them to New Orleans and shipping their rifles and ammo separately.  These items arrived four days after the battle.  A disgusted Jackson said they were the first Kentuckians he had ever seen who didn’t have a rifle, a deck of cards and a jug.

6.  150 Mississippi Militia.

7.  52 Choctaw Warriors-The Choctaws did good service as snipers and killed at least 50 British soldiers.

8.  1352 Tennessee militia and volunteers.  The mainstay of Jackson’s army, many of them had served under Jackson throughout the Creek War in 1813-1814.

9.  Baratarian Pirates-Jean Lafitte’s pirates.  Jackson had offered Lafitte a free pardon for every one of his men who fought.  The pirates formed three artillery companies and also fought with the militia.  Their exact numbers are unknown, but my best guess would be 400-600.  The pirates won accolades for their fighting prowess in the battle, with Jackson singling out for praise Jean and his brother Pierre.

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Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans

Monday, January 5, AD 2015


Upon the commencement of the War of 1812, Jackson immediately volunteered for active service.  Nothing happened.  Jackson assumed he was not called to duty due to his vigorous opposition to many of the policies of Thomas Jefferson, Madison’s predecessor.  ( It probably didn’t help Jackson that Aaron Burr,  former vice-president and deadly enemy of Jefferson, had stayed three days with Jackson during his  treasonous trip to the West in 1805, although there is no evidence of Jackson’s involvement in Burr’s plot.)

Jackson’s chance for military action came in 1813-1814 during the Creek War.  After a very tough campaign, Jackson decisively defeated the Red Stick Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.  On the battlefield, Jackson found a two year old Creek boy with his dead mother.  Jackson adopted him as his son, named him Lyncoya, and brought him home with him to the Hermitage and raised him with his other adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr.  Jackson planned to have him educated at West Point, because he believed it to be the best school in the nation, but the boy died of tuberculosis in 1828.  Jackson, the great foe of the Indians, is the only American president to adopt an Indian child.  Jackson was nothing if not complicated.

The campaign against the Red Stick Creeks had made Jackson a national figure.  It also almost killed him.  Suffering from a chronic stomach disorder, Jackson could only get relief from the pain by bending a sapling and leaning over it with the sapling pressed against his stomach.  The campaign was arduous for his troops also, a mixture of militia and regulars.  On one occasion the militia decided they had had enough and began to march home.  Jackson used the regulars to stop them.  On another occasion the regulars decided they were through, and Jackson used the militia to force them to return to their duties.  When both militia and regulars decided to leave on yet another occasion, Jackson rode to the head of the troops, aimed a musket at them and made it quite clear that he would kill the next man to take a step.  The men looked at Jackson, Jackson gazed back at them, and they returned to camp.  Afterwards, Jackson ordered that the musket be repaired as it couldn’t have fired in any case.  Most of the men Jackson led were frontiersmen and had a great deal of experience in cutting down trees.  The toughest wood they knew of was Hickory, and Old Hickory, and doubtless some other unprintable ones that have not come down to us, is the nickname they gave their determined general.

While Jackson was crushing the Red Sticks, the War of 1812 was going badly for the country.  With the abdication of Napoleon, hordes of British veteran troops were sent across the Atlantic to teach the Yankees a lesson.  The burning of Washington in August 1814 was part of the lesson, and the American government had intelligence that a mighty British fleet and army were on their way to seize New Orleans.  In August 1814 a British fleet established a base, with the consent of the Spanish government, at Pensacola, Florida, and used it to supply Indians hostile to the US.  On November 7, 1814, Jackson seized Pensacola, chased the British troops out and destroyed the fortifications.  The British fleet sailed off and Jackson marched to New Orleans.

Jackson arrived at New Orleans with his rough frontier army of militia and regulars on December 2, 1814.   He had beaten the Brits to New Orleans but just barely.  The British fleet appeared in the Gulf of Mexico just off New Orleans on December 12.  The British force on board the fleet was commanded by Major General Thomas Pakenham, the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law.  Pakenham was a combat general and had received laurels for his courage and professionalism in many of the battles that Wellington fought in Spain.  Brushing aside a small American naval force that guarded access to the lakes that led to New Orleans, by December 23 an 1800 man vanguard of the British troops was ashore on the east bank of the Mississippi, nine miles south of New Orleans.  When Jackson learned of this, he did what he usually did when confronted with a sudden challenge:  he attacked.  Leading 2131 men in a short, sharp night attack, Jackson inflicted about 250 casualties in exchange for about the same losses on his part.  He then withdrew to the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of New Orleans and began to fortify it.

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One Response to Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans

  • i love your american catholic communication- the title is a little mis leading. You continually prove yourselves sons of the Holy Roman Church and i am so glad for it.
    thank you!

New Orleans Is Ready For Its Close Up Mr. DeMille

Sunday, January 4, AD 2015



American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans, the two hundredth anniversary of which is coming up this week on January 8, 2015. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory.


The 1958 remake was also to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, but he was seriously ill at that time, and relegated himself to the role of executive producer, turning the director’s chair over to Anthony Quinn, his then son-in-law, the one and only film that Quinn ever directed. DeMille was unhappy with the film and it received fairly negative reviews, although I think the battle sequences are superior to the first film. Yul Brynner plays Jean Lafitte and Charlton Heston is a commanding Andrew Jackson. Like Hugh Sothern, Heston would portray Jackson twice, the first time being in The President’s Lady (1953), the tale of the great love story of Rachel Jackson (Susan Hayward) and Andrew Jackson. Future stars in this version include Inger Stevens, Claire Bloom and Lorne Green. Adequate coverage of the battle is given in each film, although not much detail. The battle of course is merely an adjunct to the romantic tale of Jean Lafitte. Without the pirate turned patriot, I am certain the battle of New Orleans would have likely received the same indifference that Hollywood has shown for most of American history.

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The Star-Spangled Banner

Saturday, September 13, AD 2014

Something for the weekend.  The Star-Spangled Banner.  Two centuries ago America was going through rough times.  Engaged in a War with Great Britain, Washington DC had been burned on August 24, symbolic of a war that seemed to be turning against the United States.  With the fall of Napoleon in April of 1814, the British were now free to punish the upstart Yankees who had dared challenge Great Britain.  Now the British were preparing to seize the port of Baltimore with a force of 5,000 troops and 19 warships.

British plans began to go awry from the outset.  At the battle of North Point on September 12, 3200 Maryland militia gave a good account of themselves against 4,000 British regulars inflicting 350 casualties for slightly fewer American casulaties, and retreated in good order to the fortified line around Baltimore.  Among the British killed was the commander Major General Robert Ross, a peninsular veteran of Wellington’s army, shot down by American riflemen.

On September 13, the British, now commanded by Colonel Arthur Brooke, approached Baltimore.  Estimating that the Baltimore defenses were held by 22,000 militia and 100 cannon, Brooke was unable to launch an attack unless the British fleet could enter Baltimore Harbor to beat down the American defenses by naval bombardment.

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Major George Armistead: The Guardian of the Star-Spangled Banner

Monday, September 8, AD 2014

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Francis Scott Key, The Star-Spangled Banner

As we approach the 200th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner, it seems appropriate to recall the commander of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 12-14, 1814.  Major George Armistead was one of five brothers who fought in the War of 1812.  He distinguished himself at the capture of Fort George from the British.

Placed in command of Fort McHenry he ordered an American flag made that would be large enough to be seen by the British at a distance if they should attack.  The 42 feet by 30 feet flag was sewn by Baltimore resident Mary Pickersgill, her daughter and seven seamstresses.  It was that flag, during the unsuccessful bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British, that inspired Francis Scott Key.  Being unable to cause the fort to surrender in spite of 2000 shells flung at it, the British were unable to sail into Baltimore Habor, and they withdrew.  The Star-Spangled Banner had triumphed.

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August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

Sunday, August 24, AD 2014

One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.


After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders.  At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em!  Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British.  After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland.  The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career.

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5 Responses to August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

  • “The Burning of Washington”

    I’m starting to know how those Brits must have felt…

  • I always wondered how the fires were extinguished. Divine Providence, an answer to Washington’s prayer at Valley Forge.

  • There were times when I worked there…that I wished the British had succeeded in razing the place.

    My favorite view of Our Nation’s Capital…is in my rearview mirror as I am leaving.

  • I would have thought that the low point in American fortunes was the failure to take Canada. By August 1814 Britain was in a position to commit substantial forces to the conflict (Bonaparte had abdicated on 11 April) but the Americans were also in a better position militarily. The burning of Washington was humiliating but was a reprisal for the American burning of York (Toronto) and was of no strategic significance. Within a few weeks the Americans had won an important victory at Plattsburgh and the British had failed to take Baltimore. This meant that the British negotiators at Ghent could not insist on territorial concessions and the treaty of 24 December simply restored the status quo ante bellum.

    Of course the US, which had declared war in the first place, did not achieve her war aims and incurred significantly higher casualties than the British, so on any fair assessment lost the war; except that the war was to a large extent about national honour, and the Americans did vindicate theirs. It was also a defining moment in the history of British North America (Canada), not to mention the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

    I see that the British Embassy in Washington has had to tweet an apology for producing a commemorative cake showing the White House surrounded by sparklers. Someone has obviously had a sense of humour failure.

“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”

Wednesday, October 2, AD 2013

A guest post by my friend Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia:

Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie by Currier and Ives.

On this day 200 years ago – 10 September 1813, Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry, United States Navy, won a resounding victory over a British fleet near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812:

At dawn on the morning of September 10, 1813, a lookout spotted six  British vessels to the northwest of Put-in-Bay beyond Rattlesnake  Island. Immediately Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry issued a  flurry of orders and made preparations to sail forth to engage the  British.   

Oliver Hazard Perry by Gilbert Stuart

With Perry’s fleet on Lake Erie the British supply route from Fort  Malden to Port Dover had been severed. The British had to either fight,  or abandon Fort Malden. The British squadron consisted of six ships with sixty-three cannons, while the American flotilla comprised nine vessels and fifty-four guns. The British were armed with long guns that could  throw a cannonball approximately one mile, accurately to about one-half  mile. The American ships primarily armed with carronades had less than  half the range of a long gun. The carronades could inflict much more  damage at close range. Perry needed the wind to his back to close within carronade range. When the squadron sailed from Put-in-Bay harbor at 7 a.m. the American  vessels were steering west-northwest; the wind was blowing from the  west-southwest. For more than two hours Perry repeatedly tacks his ships in an effort to put the wind to his back, but with no success. The  frustrated Perry, conceded to mother nature at 10 a.m., issuing orders  to turn his fleet in the opposite direction. But before the order could  be executed the wind suddenly shifted and blew from the southeast,  placing the wind directly behind the Americans. Perry’s opponent, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, was an experienced  Royal Navy officer who had fought with Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, and two years later he lost an arm fighting the French. Barclay’s  options did not alter when the wind shifted, so the Scotsman pointed his bow sprits to the westward, and hove to in line of battle. With the wind at his back and the British battle line finally revealed,  Perry made his own tactical adjustments. The Schooners Ariel and  Scorpion were placed off the flagship’s weather bow to engage the first  British vessel and to prevent the enemy from raking his fleet. The  Lawrence, a 20-gun brig serving as Perry’s flagship, was third in line  and would engage the Detroit, Barclay’s 19-gun flagship. Next in line  floated the Caledonia, a small brig with only three guns. Fifth in the  American line of battle was the Niagara, Perry’s other 20-gun brig and  the Lawrence’s sistership. The Niagara, captained by Master Commandant Jesse Elliott, would engage  the 17-gun Queen Charlotte, the second largest British ship. Lastly came the smaller schooners and sloop; these would engage the smaller British vessels. Just before the engagement opened Perry hoisted his battle flag to the  flagship’s main truck. The large navy blue banner was emblazoned with  the crudely inscribed words, “DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP”. For his battle  slogan Perry used the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend of the commodore who was killed on June 1, 1813. Perry’s flagship was  named for the fallen Lawrence, and the dead hero’s inspiring words  clearly indicated Perry’s determination to prevail.

Perry’s Battle Flag, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”
U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD
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One Response to “We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”

  • Wooden ships . . . iron men.

    The US Navy and Army were also victorious in two battles in and around Sacketts Harbor, NY, (major shipyard and supply center) on Lake Ontario. Sacketts Harbor is about ten miles west of Warterown, NY and, say, 15 miles southwest from Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Div.

    The Navy also won the September 1814 Battle of Lake Champlain/Plattsburg, which stopped a Sassenach invasion of NY. Without control of the lake, the red-coated bandits could not be supplied.

    We were Downtown NYC for ten years. I often strolled through Trinity Churchyard. Captain Lawrence’s crypt isn’t in the graveyard. It’s in a courtyard at the southern entrance to the church. Captain Lawrence is famous for a single-ship combat between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon. His dying words, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, have inspired naval officers for nearly two centuries. The sea battle was one of the bloodiest in the age of sail.

Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

Sunday, September 29, AD 2013

colonel winfield-scott

Winfield Scott, the most notable American general between the American Revolution and the Civil War, began his climb to becoming a general at 27 by the heroism he displayed as a Lieutenant Colonel at the battle of Queenston Heights on October 11, 1812.  An American defeat, Scott was among the 955 Americans captured.

The British at this time did not recognize the right of any British subject to change his nationality.  Such a subject, captured fighting in a foreign army, was considered by the British to be a traitor and liable to summary execution, sometimes being given the opportunity to avoid death by enlisting in the British Army.

At first the American captives were treated rather well.  Scott was even invited to dinner by British General Roger Sheaffe, who also protected the Americans from the Indian allies of the British.  Shipped to Quebec, the Americans were paroled and were due to leave via ship for Boston on November 20, 1812.  The day before a commission of British officers boarded the ship where Scott and his men were waiting to sail.  The British began questioning the American enlisted men.  If they detected an Irish brogue, the man was arrested as a traitor to the Crown.  Hearing the commotion this was causing, Scott rushed from below deck.  Defying an order from the British to go below, he ordered the men who had not been interrogated not to say another word.  To the 23 men who had been arrested, he promised the United States would protect them.  The men obeyed Scott and all refused to say a word.  The British eventually gave up and took the 23 men off the ship.  Scott and the remainder sailed for Boston on November 20.  Of the 23 men arrested by the British, 13 were executed.

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3 Responses to Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

  • Ah, you fooled me, Donald!
    From the title I thought this post would be about the San Patricio Brigade.

    I hadn’t heard of killing of Irish POWs but it’s hardly a blip in the annals of Sassenach perfidy.

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  • I was delighted to read this about Scott. I thought I was the only one who had heard about his heroism on the ship at Quebec. I was so struck by it that it makes up a chapter in my historical novel, “Madness: The War of 1812.” In it, among those that Scott saves is the story’s protagonist, Ens. Will Quinn, an Irish-born immigrant. He’s about to undergo questioning by the British major (I couldn’t find his name in my research) when Scott storms up from below decks and saves those who weren’t among the 23. Much of the chapter portrays the “dialogue” between Scott and the major as best as I could describe from the research. Scott, it turns out, was one of the few officers that performed admirably during the early years of the war. One that didn’t was Gen. William Hull, who botched the attack on Canada from Fort Detroit. For that he was court martialed and became the only field general to be sentenced to death for his abject failures on the battle field. President Madison later commuted his sentence.

    I didn’t know about the Mexican-American war incident; thanks for telling it.

June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain

Sunday, June 17, AD 2012

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war passed by Congress on June 17, 1812, starting the War of 1812.  I think it is safe to say that rarely has the United States gone to war more ill-prepared than in 1812, with an Army of 7,000 men and a Navy with 12 combat vessels, which is odd considering that there was no precipitating crisis that mandated a declaration of war at the time.  The United States could have prepared for the conflict and then declared war, but no such pre-war preparation occurred.

The vote totals in Congress, in the House 79-49 and in the Senate 19-13, indicated that the war was largely at the desire of one political party, the Jeffersonian Republicans, and opposed by the Federalists.  The opposition of the Federalists would continue throughout the war, and the conflict would be bitterly divisive in the United States.

The whole undertaking has a fairly surreal quality in retrospect, with the Madison administration, propelled by the War Hawks in Congress, undertaking a war that the President himself thought unwise and ill-considered against the mightiest Empire in the world.

Here is the text of the war message sent by President Madison on June 1, and which served as the basis for the declaration of war:

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14 Responses to June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain

  • It is worth recalling that International Maritime Law on belligerent and neutral rights was very far from settled, until the Paris Declaration of 1856. Any country could find support for its own position in the writings of some eminent Publicist. And, of course, systems of international arbitration only started to be be developed after the Alabama incident (again involving the US and UK), which went to arbitration in Geneva in 1871-1872.

    Even in the two World Wars, the concept of “contraband of war” tended to be an elastic one, with the US arguing for a narrow definition, whilst it was neutral and an expansive one, when it was not.

  • In 1812 the mightiest (in the military sense) empire in the world was that of Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the midst of the struggle to overcome it Britain was not best pleased to have to divert scarce military and naval resources to a sideshow which couldn’t be ignored since the US was in the process of invading Canada. The War of 1812 is now hardly remembered in England, but its baleful legacy poisoned Anglo-US relations for much of the nineteenth century.

  • “In 1812 the mightiest (in the military sense) empire in the world was that of Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the midst of the struggle to overcome it Britain was not best pleased to have to divert scarce military and naval resources to a sideshow which couldn’t be ignored since the US was in the process of invading Canada.”

    As the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars indicates John, I stand by my contention that Britain was the mightiest empire in the world. Napoleon dominated Europe while Great Britain dominated the globe. The resources that Great Britain allocated to the War of 1812 were fairly insignificant in comparison to the resources devoted to the War in Spain and Portugal and keeping the fleets manned to blockade Europe. Although I think that declaring war on Great Britain was unwise, I think it entirely justified due to the short-sighted policy of Great Britain in stopping American ships to search for alleged deserters from the Royal Navy and stirring up trouble for the US among the tribes in the Northwest. With Britain involved in a life and death struggle against Napoleon, one would have assumed that the wisest British policy would have been one of conciliation of American grievances. Such was not the case, until far too late.

  • Don’t know much about History.

    Today, I read a WSJ article on the Canadian exhibit concerning this crappy, little war (35,000 Americans died: big butcher’s bill, small country).

    It seems there were four parties in the war. Americans, Brits, Canadians, and Injuns. Of the four, the only clear losers were the Injuns. The murderous savages picked the wrong side, as had four of the five, terrorist Iroquois tribes during the Revolutionary War.

    Re: Canada all they had to do was hold Quebec keeping the St. Lawrence R. supply line open and they held Canada. The US never got closer than Lake Erie and across from Detroit. So, Saxon murderers coming here and burning DC and invading Louisiana were utterly uncalled for. Then, Andy Jackson gave the Injuns and the Saxon “what-for” in 1814.

  • What Andrew Jackson did was abuse his power to turn American presidancy into might makes right by kicking civilized Indians out of southern towns to the western wilderness and I say “civilized Indians” because they were Indians who converted from barbarism, this happened because Andrew represented the poor uneducated people of the south, was not from the East coast and told congress to buzz off because they did not have control of the army.

  • @T Shaw

    Far from being ‘uncalled-for’, the burning of Washington was in retaliation for the American burning of York (Toronto) in the previous year. The war was (and is) perceived in Canada as a victory, and although the consensus has long been that it was a draw, in reality it was a British victory in that American aggression did not pay off. The Ghent treaty restored the status quo ante bellum, and the American victories merely ensured that the terms were not more punitive.

    To their credit, the British refused to repatriate the thousands of slaves who had sought refuge in British territory, although they were willing to compensate the owners.

  • Valentin,

    Additionally, Jackson was the democrat proto-demagogue who pitted whole classes of Americans against others. See his veto message for the Second Bank of the US Act and Daniel Webster’s analysis. Seems that class hate is in locked in the Democrat Party DNA.

    JN: As I said, the only true losers were the Injuns. I do not see how can you compare York, ON to the White House. That’s me.

    The US lost no territory. They stopped boarding US ships. The Indians were kaput as a block to western expansion and the Saxon would never again use them like al Qaeda to murder Americans. And, we got the Battle of New Orleans in our national consciousness.

    PS: Thirty-three years later the Saxon was exporting wheat out of Ireland while a quarter of the population starved. Concomitantly, the worst tyrant on Earth: Czar of Russia closed the ports of Poland and fed those people suffering in the same potato blight.

    The Brits came close to fighting for the Confederacy in the ACW. They also used slaves to fight against freedom in the Revolutionary War. Some things never change.

    By 1865, the US could have taken Canada and any other place it wanted in the Americas.

    PPS: The US went in on the wrong side in 1917.

  • “The US went in on the wrong side in 1917”

    You had me cheering until that last part TShaw.

  • Yeah, that was a little “over the top.”

  • TS, what’s this crap about Saxons? The population of the USA, Canada and the UK in 1917 were of the same racial stock, namely English, Irish and Scots (except for the Indians, who were merely an obstacle to US colonialism). Let’s face it, when it comes to treatment of the indigenous population, the Spanish were more enlightened in the 16th century than you lot were in the 19th.

    In retrospect, you should have stayed neutral in 1917. It was over a year before the Americans could field a single division (compared to the more than 20 the Brits managed in the first year of the war) and despite the individual qualities of the American soldier, he was let down, particularly in the Argonne offensive, by poor staff work. By this stage the war was virtually won. Still, Woodrow Wilson got what he wanted, a chance to influence the Peace Conference with his naive egomania.

  • Sorry, first sentence should have said 1812, not 1917!

  • JN: Probably the word “sassenach’ is a better descriptive than “Saxon.”

    Lo, we treated the noble savage no worse that you did the Mere Irish in 1847. I am 165 years old. I was there with Covington and Custer. I take full responsibility. Then, it was duty. Next time it will be strictly personal.

    I was about inform you that the largest US immigrant group was Germans.

    Empires are better suited to fight world wars than are republics.

    I bet I dislike Wilson far more than you. We still suffer from his wreckovations.

    I understand Mexican school text books depict the Alamo as a glorious victory, while US history presents a massacre that inspired ultimate victory.

    Finally, it is human nature to fear and loathe those whom we have harmed.


  • TS
    You can win spectacular victories and still lose the war. Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt … or to give a more recent example, the overwhelming defeat of the Tet offensive by US and ARVN forces in 1968.

    “Empires are better suited to fight world wars than republics”. That explains the victory of the Japanese Empire over the US Republic in 1945! There are contiguous land empires which are republics eg the USSR, and maritime empires like the French with a republic at the centre.

    “The largest US immigrant group was Germans” This explains why spoken American English doesn’t recognize the adverb. “Ich habe gut geschlafen” is correct German, whereas “I slept good” is incorrect English. I assume Italian immigrants introduced the double negative – “non so niente” being incorrectly rendered as “I don’t know nothing”. Still, the latest wave of Hispanic immigrants shouldn’t affect the language as they’re no longer required to learn it.

    Do read what modern Irish historians have to say about their country’s past, including the Famine, rather than buying into the mythological version.

    Toodle pip!

  • JN,

    Thanks for the history lessons.

The War That Gets No Respect

Thursday, January 26, AD 2012

When it comes to the War of 1812, the ignorance depicted in the above video is no exaggeration.  Of all our major conflicts, our Second War For Independence is the most obscure to the general public.  In this bicentennial year of the beginning of the War, I will do my small bit on the blog Almost Chosen People , the American history blog that Paul Zummo and I run, to help correct this situation.   The War of 1812 was an important struggle in American history for a number of reasons, a few of which are:

1.      Until the War of 1812 the British tended to treat the United States as if it were a wayward colony that would ultimately become part of the British Empire again.  After the War the British understood that we were an independent power and a permanent factor in their calculations.

2.     The War established the United States Navy as an aggressive and resourceful combat force, unafraid to pit daring and skill against the massively more powerful Royal Navy.

3.     The War ended American dreams of conquering Canada.

4.     As a result of the War, the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi could no longer provide serious resistance to American expansion into the Northwest and the Southwest.

5.     The Star-Spangled Banner symbolized the new surge of nationalism that the country experienced as a result of the War.

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44 Responses to The War That Gets No Respect

  • 6. Check! Check! Although, the man was not so nice; sometimes I long for the days of settling matters of honor with pistols or rapiers.

    I think that war cemented American nationality. Our forefathers bore defeat and rapine, on our soil, and came out strong and united.

    It could have ended much differently.

    Little remembered land and naval battles in the Great Lakes areas of NYS are an interesting side bar.

    One of my least favorite wars.

  • Would that war deserve the later epithet “War is Hell”? Was number 4 above good for the native population or did they enjoy losing their land and broken treaties? Some of us who descended from conquered people and part of whose family still lives under colonial rule have a whole different take on war and occupying armies.

  • Well HT I am part Cherokee, as well as Scot and Irish. I have a standing offer to help assuage any white guilt for the wrongs done my people, in exchange for a substantial monetary payment to me, by sending out a personal letter of forgiveness and absolution. For a large enough contribution the letter will be sent out in Cherokee! ( I would note that I have absolutely no intention of sharing any of these funds with tribes dispossessed by the Cherokee, so descendants of the Muscogee should not even bother asking.)

  • I disagree, Don, With your point 3. Amanda Foreman writes in ‘A World on Fire’:

    “One of the legacies of the War of 1812 was a British fear that the United States might try to annex [Canada} and a conviction among the Americans that they should never stop trying. It was neither forgiven nor forgotten that precious ships and men had to diverted from the desperate war against Napoleon Bonaparte in order to defend Canada from three invasion attempts by the United States between 1812 and 1814. London regarded the burning of Washington and the White House by British soldiers in August 1814 as a well-deserved retribution for the sacking of York (later Toronto) by American troops.”

    Another legacy was a hubristic assumption thet the Americans had “licked the British twice” when in fact in the first instance they relied on foreign support (and a lot of luck) and the second (the Battle of New Orleans) was fought after the peace treaty had been signed, accepting what was essentially a draw, and therefore in cricketing terms was the equivalent of a catch outside the boundary.

  • London was concerned John with an attack on Canada in the event of war with the US in the Civil War. However, Lincoln was adamant that one war at a time was quite enough, and had no intention of provoking one with Great Britain.

    In regard to Great Britain in the War of 1812, the Brits had been impressing American seamen off American ships into the Royal Navy for a generation, and stirring up the tribes in the Northwest against the US since the glorious American victory in the War for Independence (Cue the trumpets!) The US had sufficient casus belli to justify going to war in 1812.

    In regard to the Revolution we would ultimately have triumphed in the War in any case, although it might have taken longer. The War in the North had largely been won by the time of French intervention, with the Royal Army clinging only to New York and its immediately surrounding areas, and the British forces during the Southern campaign were too small to have posed a lasting occupation force. One could argue that the French intervention caused the War to last longer by increasing British reluctance to recognize the obvious: they were never going to conquer the 13 colonies. However, I do not believe this. King George was too pig-headed to admit his ghastly mistake in trying to suppress the American patriots any sooner than he did.

    In regard to New Orleans, one of the most lop-sided defeats in British military history, I have my doubts as to whether the Brits would have easily relinquished it if they had taken it. Facts on the ground tend to be stronger than words printed on parchment. My guess is that they would have wanted some concessions in exchange. However, Old Hickory made such considerations purely speculative.

  • It never fails to disappoint me that some people always take the view of liberal revisionist history about the American Indians. Did the white man do wrongs? Yes. Did the red man do wrongs? Yes. Does that mean that the white man alone is guilty? All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. PS, somewhere in my family tree – great grandmother on my father’s mother’s side – is Mohawk Indian. As Donald indicated, does anyone want to pay?

    PS, there is no equivocation to be made between the paganism of the native American Indian and Christianity. That doesn’t mean that the white man always (or even often) acted in accord with Christian principles. But it does mean that just as too many white men in today’s society are pagans, so also were most native American Indians back then. I have seen zero improvement in the donning of paganism in modern society for either white or red man. BTW, there’s only one race: the human race – just in case anyone had any doubts.

  • I suggest that it was only after the Civil War that the US abandoned her designs on Canada; once Canada had self-government it was more difficult for American politicians to justify invasion on the grounds that they were simply having another crack at the old enemy. There is ample evidence of US bellicosity in the half-century before the Civil War, and during the latter conflict Seward’s war-mongering is in sharp contrast to the measured statesmanship of Palmerston and Russell. England was an established Great Power, America an aspirant one, and it shows. I’m surprised at the extent to which present-day Americans still mythologize their Revolution.

  • I find no justification for any need to repeat comments that all humans are flawed and no race, ethnic group, or faith group is free now or ever was free of sin. My study of some areas of history is limited even now as an adult but as a very young child I learned all about Original Sin.

  • Then HT, one should kindly stop pointing out the white man’s guilt to the exclusion of all other guilt. The white man didn’t live up to his Christian principles. The red man was pagan. The inevitable happened – “the wages of sin are death.”

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing how those of my ancestors who by accident of birth were white were so violent towards those of my ancestors who by accident of birth were red. I don’t hate either of my ancestors, and I loathe this self-hatred that liberals (who invariably are white themselves) like to foster on the rest.

  • My views of Andrew Jackson can be summed up thusly:

    Tis a pity that Jesse Benton wasn’t a better shot, or that Chief Junaluska lacked the foresight at Horseshoe Bend that he later lamented.

  • I do not understand. I made a semi-serious reply to the post about that war. I simply asked a question about whether it was hell or not and if the Native population enjoyed losing their land and broken treaties. Re-read it and see if that is accurate, I said absolutely nothing about anything else. I happen to believe that war is hell, few are justified. I have also said over a lifetime as a teacher since Vietnam to the present, if American cities, were for the most part pawns in a surrogate war how would that be today? Electrical systems, and water supplies were bombed, shelled and overrun by foreign Troops who knew nothing of the local culture, political or religious system, ethnic rivalries and faith-group differences they would have cried foul many wars ago. Pearl Harbour and 9/11 versus Nagasaki and Hiroshima? 8.5 years, one trillion dollars and thousands of dead allies, ten times that many injured for life in body and mind,? No one knows how many civilians dead and refugees exiled and religious rivalries all over the whole Middle East as new “martyrs” for Allah are created. “The beat goes on, ” and the killing is still going on. Reminds me of the old saw that ” I am up to my backside in alligators but all I wanted to do was drain the swamp. “

  • Paul, I’m generally in agreement with your commentary, but what you refer to as the so-called “liberal revisionist history about the American Indians” could probably just be shortened to “history”. The “revisionist history” was the one that portrayed the native peoples of this land as savages, who could, at times, prove noble, and portrayed those who took their lands from them by force and chicanery as “civilized” Christians “taming the Wild West”.

    Just as slavery is a blight on this Nation’s history, so is the shameful treatment of the Indians. Now, I’m perfectly inclined to admit that the clash of cultures made the Indians’ decline inevitable, but the way it went down is absolutely shameful.

  • The wars around the world will not stop till the war against children in the womb stops.

  • Yes, Jay, I am in agreement, but I would revise your statement to say that savage were both the native Americans and their opponents, the descendants of white Europeans.

  • HermitTalker, you are absolutely correct that the War of 1812 proved to be absolute hell for the Indians. The death of Tecumseh, alone, meant that there would never be any organized resistance by the native peoples to westward expansion.

    American hubris regarding “besting the British” aside, there were no winners in the War of 1812 (although if anyone has a claim in that regard it is probably Canada). But the Indians proved to be the biggest losers.

  • To HT, let’s not bring the necessary but aweful and terrible nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into this. BTW, as I mentioned before here at TAC, I was a reactor operator on a nuclear submarine. I had virtually no involvement with the nuclear weapons with which my submarine was armed (though due to limited bunking space in bearthing, I did sleep on a mat right next to one in the torpedo room). But being submarine qualified, I was trained in the rudiments of how to launch, assuming I were the last man alive. And if I had been given the order to launch, then I would have remorsefully but immediately carried out my orders. Liberals cannot understand such a sense of duty, nor did they ever understand the MAD doctrine that preserved the free world from communist aggression, and when defense – the SDI or “Star Wars” Program – was proposed as an alterantive to MAD, they opposed that tooth and nail, too. But none of that is relevant to the topic of this blog post.

  • Mr Paul P: War will not end unless and until every leader and every citizen creates the climate wherein we hear God’s Message; we are made in His Image, the Earth and its resources are His and are given to us in Trust as stewards. Our flawed human nature whose root is Hubris, ” I am god or I want to know good and evil as the Genesis story tells us explains that. We trick ourselves, or are tricked into thinking we have it right so life from womb to tomb is disposable and subjected to “my” decision as to whether I can make money on it or get rid of it or decide that “they” have no right to it- whether land, jobs, property or life, for political, economic or national or religious reasons. The SIN takes many forms whether in colonial Aamerica, or in the battle against the Native Americans or Palestinian humans or sunni versus shia in the Middle East. I read a good line from the DC March for Life on Monday; “abortion is ripping the knitting out of God’s hands.” (Msgr C Pope). I add to that the rest of destroying life is like burning all the sweaters and jackets HE already finished.
    Peace.: from a Catholic Christian Humanist, which includes being a pacifist as Jesus’ BEATITUDES teach us.

  • You’re right, HT, war won’t end until we all repent.

    But in the meantime, thank God there were men like Charles Martel to turn back the Islamic Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, and thank God for the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary that led to the victory of the Holy League’s fleet against the Ottoman Sultan’s fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 AD. There are many other examples, a great number that include Biblical heroes and heroines like Joshua, Deborah, Judith, David, etc. Personally, I thank God every day for our nuclear submariners who patrol the ocean’s depths, ever ready to unleash hell against enemies that might attack us. You see, regardless that that man of sin Obama is in charge, I love the US and we are the good guys, however flawed we may be. Indeed, when an Islamist bullet kills a woman or child, it’s a direct hit, but when an American does, it’s a complete miss.

  • Being 1/8th Native American myself I am in agreement with Don. Of course one should also consider the Native American habit of waging war against other Native Americans, their introduction of slavery (of other Native Americans) into the New World and other acts of barbarism which Europeans took issue with as they colonized the Americas. In fact many a Southwest tribe was pleased by the arrival of the Spanish in the hopes that these Europeans would be able to stop the Cheyenne agression in their lands.

    This European outlook influenced subsequent generations of Americans as they moved West.

  • “Peace of Earth to men of good will.” Everyone else “gets it.”

  • “‘Peace of Earth to men of good will.’ Everyone else ‘gets it.’”

    Having been rescued from men of ill will in two world wars, European liberals have gratitude for neither the country that did the rescuing nor the benevolence of the God who enabled that country’s efforts to be successful.

    In equal measure is their gratitude for the victory had at both the Battle of Tours and the Battle of Lepanto. Indeed, perhaps if the War of 1812 had gone differently, then perhaps 130 years later they would have gotten what they really wanted after all, and we’d all be speaking German with no Jewish synogogues anywhere.

  • I never like to second-guess what GOD could have pulled out of His hat over the centuries in all the wars and ills of society, we humans decided what or who or which battle plan fed HIS Grand Plan the best. Neither do I give much credit to people who are not taught their own history or forget the lessons. Someone referred up there a while back about God and the Old Testament wars. They reflect the culture of the time and do not necessarily reflect His take on war and violence, nor do the wives and concubines of HIS Patriarchs reflect His current views on marriage. Neither would HE have approved Abrahan passing off his wife as his sister to get out of trouble or making a baby by his wife’s servant-woman. I do think GOD had some fun when little David’s slingshot got the Big Bad Goliath. By the standards of the day, and the later David’s tactics, and what might have happened if Goliath killed the boy, that was pretty mild.

  • You still, HT, have no gratitude to the USA for what it did in enabling you to say the disrespectful things you say about the USA, and I for one obviously do not subscribe to your revisionist view that the “USA is evil, USA is evil.” Two world wars and the end of the cold war say you are incorrect (though I do agree that unlike former President Bush, Obama is indeed evil). I am not going to talk on this any further with you because arguing with a liberal is trying to convince a person who will forever remain adamantly unconvinced still, facts to the contrary of his viewpoint be darned. I love my God and my country. For all her faults, these United States are still the very best of the best. Hate her all you wish, I only pray that when the time comes we will still be able to rescue European liberals from the consequences of their decisions one more time. But that can only happen if first we repent of our liberalism.

    And PS, I not only pray for the safety of our troops overseas, I pray for their overwhelming and unconditional victory against the enemy – radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.

  • War of 1812 and Mexican War are definitely in the top 5 wars that still shape the US today, but neither is remembered well enough or given the sort of public monument on the National Mall that they deserve. The Vietnam War gets a memorial, but there is no monument to the victorious war that added almost a third of our territory and gave us Pacific ports?

  • I have absolutely no idea as to which of my comments you are replying. My last post above was a philosophic opinion about our humans not knowing what God would do or not do to see our problems solved. I went on then to comment in lessons from the OT with a little humourous take on Boy David and the Unjolly Giant. As a believer you are aware of the fact that JESUS, God’s Son came later to give us the Beatitudes and rejected even calling our enemy a fool. GOD is pro-life, His SON died trying to tell us to cut the crud that passes for “religion.” Your “primavera” “spring” name comes across to me Paul as dark, dreary winter mumbling on here as far as your treatment of some posts and your opinions are concerned. Do you actually try to see the points of view I express with the eyes of faith and knowing the immediate hands on effect of guerilla war and lying Government propaganda. Taking a look from my vantage point about life, and the fragile earth and its wasted resources ( people, cash and the land and its resources ) and dumb military moves that litter the history books. “Radical islamist fundametalists” Ask earlier generations how they were trained to see “the Enemy” dehumanised, every insulting name and li they could manufacture. emotionally healthy human beings cannot kill others- they are “products of conception ” or “commies ” or “dirty catholics” or ” terrorist palestinians” or Fxxxxing whoever else is sub-human in whatever theatre of war. GOD of course is always called on as being on “our” side. My earliest memory is on an Englishman in London chewing my backside because he saw some photo of Pope Pius X11 supposedly blessing some military equipment. Anything to dehumanise your presumred enemy, Truth be darmed.

  • “War of 1812 and Mexican War are definitely in the top 5 wars that still shape the US today, but neither is remembered well enough or given the sort of public monument on the National Mall that they deserve.”

    It’ll never happen because neither war is politically correct. Both wars are rightly seen as wars caused primarily by American expansionism (so-called “Manifest Destiny”), one at the expense of the Indians and the other at the expense of the Mexicans.

  • At the expense of very few Mexicans Jay. The Mexicans of course brought in the Americans into Texas to serve as a buffer against the Comanches who were the real rulers of Texas. The Mexican population of Texas in 1824 when American immigration began was 3000. By 1830 the Texans outnumbered the Tejanos by two to one. California had about 10,000 Mexicans in 1845, and a foreign, mostly American population of 2000. Mexican population was too sparse to hold onto such a vast region. If we hadn’t taken it in the Mexican War, I have no doubt that California would have come under British or Russian rule, and that Texas would ultimately have formed a break away Republic with or without American immigration.

  • “There is ample evidence of US bellicosity in the half-century before the Civil War, and during the latter conflict Seward’s war-mongering is in sharp contrast to the measured statesmanship of Palmerston and Russell. England was an established Great Power, America an aspirant one, and it shows. I’m surprised at the extent to which present-day Americans still mythologize their Revolution.”

    There is no need to mythologize the Revolution John; the history of that conflict is spectacularly pro-American enough, as underfed, dressed in rags America troops developed a Continental Army that could go toe to toe with the best Army on Earth.
    Palmerston almost caused a war with America due to his overreaction to the Trent affair. He will always get my vote as the most overrated British prime minister. It was the dying Prince Albert and his toning down of the ultimatum to the United States that crucially helped avoid war, along with Lincoln’s willingness to release the Confederate emissaries when he could politically do so.

    Canada was not a major factor in the conflicts between the British Empire and the US in the first half of the nineteenth century, after the War of 1812. It would obviously have become the main theatre of a war, but the conflicts were about other important issues, like the division of the Oregon Territory or the slaying of an innocent American pig (no, really!)

  • Non-Texans like to conflate the two, but 1836 and 1845 are two different wars.

  • All one big war Jay, or so the Texans thought at the time, especially since the Mexican government repudiated the Treaty of Velasco and thus remained at war with the Texan Republic throughout its existence.

  • Different wars fought over different territories by different constituent powers. But even if one were to accept your interpretation, which I don’t and few Texans would (and even at the time it was only the latecomers to Texas who saw the Texas Revolution in larger terms than independence from a country that couldn’t get its act together), it still doesn’t explain why expelling the Mexican forces across the Rio Grande wasn’t enough to accomplish the alleged goal of securing Texas. There was no need to invade and capture Mexico City and humiliate the Mexican people in order to achieve the peaceful annexation of Texas. No, the war was nothing more than an excuse for a great-big land grab.

  • Jay,

    That’s how long I’ve been out of school!

    The US declared war against the indians in 1812? Who’d a thunk!

    Did the brits go to war to save the Indians from us? That would be just like them. They acted in a similar charitable manner regarding Ireland in the late 1840’s.

  • C’mon Jay, if there’s a monument to our biggest defeat on the National Mall there’s certainly the possibility of a monument to our defense against the British and our glorious victory and expansion to the Pacific.
    Even the Canadians are putting up a War of 1812 monument

  • We need to give back AZ, CA and NM to Mexico before they drag down the rest of the country. They are obama states, right?

    Do you think Mexico would take meager Maine and insolvent Illinois off our hands, too?

  • Jay, your Texan ancestors would have vigorously disagreed with you. The Mexican War was immensely popular in Texas. The disputed land between Mexico and Texas that sparked the war had always been claimed by Texas. The Texans had also claimed Santa Fe. The idea that there was any reluctance on the part of the Texans to take part in the Mexican War is simply ahistoric. I would note that the history of the Texan Republic is filled with filibustering expeditions into Mexico by Texans intent on conquering more Mexican land. Likewise the Mexicans invaded Texas several times during this period, twice in 1842. The Texas Rangers who fought in the Mexican War were noted both for extreme courage and extreme brutality to the Mexicans luckless enough to fall into their hands. (The Mexicans usually showed small mercy to any Texan troops who fell into their hands.) If the Mexican War is to be considered a huge land grab, it all started with the land grab by American settlers in Texas. Of course the Mexicans grabbed the land from the native inhabitants, so I guess by rights the really aggrieved parties should be the Comanches and the Apaches and the other tribes, although they had of course displaced other tribes before them. If the Mexican War is viewed purely as a land grab, the Americans were only following a time honored tradition in the southwest.

  • “The US declared war against the indians in 1812 …”

    Don’t believe I said that. Might want to read what I wrote again. I said that the War of 1812 was about American expansionism (and it was since (a) annexation of Canada was a major goal of the U.S. side in the war, and (b) removal of the Indians from the Northwest Territory was a catalyst for Indian involvement on the side of the Brits) and that said expansionism came at the expense of the Indians.

    Is there really any disagreement about that fact?

  • “Jay, your Texan ancestors would have vigorously disagreed with you.”

    They’d have disagreed with me about stealing land from Mexicans? Imagine that.

    They’d have probably disagreed with me on the issues of slavery, too. And Indian policy. And being anti-Catholic freemasons, no doubt they’d have disagreed with me on a much wider variety of issues on top of those.

  • No doubt they would disagree with you about a whole hosts of issues Jay, but I believe we were debating history, and the history is as I have stated it. That it rubs some 21rst century Americans the wrong way is of little consequence to me.

  • “Even the Canadians are putting up a War of 1812 monument …”

    That’s because (a) they arguably won the war, (b) it’s not considered politically incorrect in Canada because they’re seen as fighting on the side of the Indians, and (c) the War is sort of a defining national moment for the Canadians – arguably, the thing that defined them as a nation.

    By the way, I would favor a memorial to the War of 1812 on the mall, just don’t think it very likely for PC reasons (the actual Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian sorta serves the purpose anyway).

    For my part, I plan to take my kids to as many War of 1812 commemorations as I possibly can over the next 3 years. Fort Meigs and Put-in-Bay are only about an hour a way, so those are definites. Probably will try to get to Niagara for some of their commemorations, and will try to make it for Baltimore’s celebration of the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner.

  • Well, Don, I can tell you how it’s taught in Texas History classes, and there’s a chapter on the Texas Revolution, followed by several chapters on the Republic of Texas, followed by a chapter on annexation, and THEN there’s a chapter on the Mexican War. Texas History books are hardly paragons of PC, so I don’t think they’re trying to sugar coat anything. It’s just that Texans don’t view the war in 1836 as part-and-parcel with the war in 1845. And with good reason. There had been conflict with Mexico off and on during the ensuing years, including the Mier Expedition, but Texas had existed for almost a decade as a Republic (a struggling one financially, but a Republic nonetheless) before the Mexican War began. It’s not the same thing, and upon my extensive reading of Texas history (and I assure you it is quite extensive), the two wars are and always have been seen in Texas as separate events. Related, but separate. Texans have always seen themselves as having won their independence in 1836. Whether the Mexican War was ever fought a decade later, that fact was not going to change.

    As far as the history being as you state it, or my allegedly “being rubbed the wrong way” being of little consequence to you, I consider myself to be not wholly illiterate on the topic, and just happen to disagree with your interpretation of the facts in this instance. It need not become a matter of sharpness.

  • I meant no offense to you personally Jay. My comment was not intended for you alone but for general application. When it comes to history I strive to relate the facts of it and that people may find the facts unpalatable is always of little consequence to me, even when I greatly respect the individual I am debating, as I greatly respect you. Interpretation of historical events will always vary, but they have to be based on the facts of the history being interpreted. Fidelity to the historical record is very important to me.

    We will simply have to disagree as to whether the Mexican War was a continuation of the Texas war with Mexico that began in 1836. Texas was in a state of war with Mexico until the signing of the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo in 1848. Mexico threatened war with the US if the treaty of annexation with Texas was approved. The start of the Mexican War of course was over the issue of whether the Nueces River or the Rio Grande was the boundary between Mexico and Texas. The Republic of Texas also claimed vast territories beyond the present borders of Texas, and those claims ensured conflict with Mexico following annexation. In the US it was long recognized that annexing Texas would probably mean war with Mexico which was one reason, slavery being the other main reason, why annexation took ten years. Texas annexation meant taking up the Texan war with Mexico, something that was understood by all three governments involved.

  • Don, by the time Palmerston became PM he was arguably past his best and a generation older than Gladstone or Disraeli. His reputation rests on his time as Foreign Secretary, particularly his first stint 1830-1841. The enormous workload of the job effectually killed two of his predecessors, Castlereagh and Canning, but Pam was up to it. His skilful handling of the protracted and extraordinarily complex negotiations which resulted in Belgian independence was admired by contemporaries, and he himself regarded it quite rightly as his greatest achievement. His skill in preventing what seemed inevitable conflict between the Great Powers as the Vienna settlement began to unravel is justly praised by historians, and the consensus is that he would have avoided the Crimean War had he been in office.

    He had no intention of declaring war on the United States (had war eventuated, the US would have declared it) but at the same time would not allow Britain to be insulted and diplomatically humiliated, although both he and Russell, well briefed by the British Minister in Washington, knew that Seward’s posturing was motivated by personal political interests. The British regarded US politics as mired in corruption, and with good reason.

    The chief myth about the American Revolution, which I fear still persists in certain quarters is that the Americans were victims of ‘colonialism’ who engaged in a popular and successful revolt against a foreign Power. In truth the so-called ‘Old Colonial System’ benefitted the colonies, and the Americans were not only colonists, but colonizers on a grand scale. In the 19th century we described expansion as imperialism, and did not dress it up in the euphemistic phrase ‘manifest destiny’.

  • I suppose the differing perspectives come from the fact that Texans interpret the event in light of independence from Mexico. For Texans, the defining event was becoming an independent Texas after years of being a province of the Mexican state of Coahila. For many years, they had sought independence from Coahila as a separate state within Mexico, and when this was viewed by the Mexican authorities as rebellion, it eventually led to the state of affairs that became the Texas Revolution and led to full independence for the Republic of Texas.

    Non-Texans, however, interpret the event in light of U.S. expansion, so annexation becomes the defining event and therefore the key focus of their historical perspective. Clearly, the annexation of Texas would never have happened (at least not when and how it happened) without the Texas Revolution. And, clearly, the Mexican War was a direct result of the annexation of Texas.

    But the reason Texans (and I believe even non-Texan historians should, as well) view the events as, although related, not the same conflict is because Texas’ existence as an independent entity from Mexico did not come about as the result of the Mexican War or the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It came about because of the revolution fought a decade earlier by Texans. For 10 years, Texas existed in fact and in law as a free and sovereign (though financially struggling) republic (whether Mexico repudiated the terms of peace or not is somewhat irrelevant in that they were in no position to try to recapture what they had lost), and it did not come about because U.S. troops captured Mexico City a decade later.

    Mexico might seethe about losing Texas, but they weren’t going to regain their lost province, and were somewhat content to fight an ongoing border skirmish with the Republic. But what they would not tolerate was the United States becoming their next-door neighbor to the north, and they had good cause for concern given that U.S. interests in territorial expansion into Mexican lands weren’t going to end there. The Mexican War was about Texas’ annexation, not Texas’ independence. That war had already been fought and won by Texas. Certainly, closely related events from a historical perspective, but nonetheless distinct events.

American Swashbuckler: Joshua Barney

Monday, May 10, AD 2010

It is a pity that Errol Flynn during the Golden Age of Hollywood never had the opportunity to do a biopic on Joshua Barney.  Barney’s life was more adventuresome and filled with derring-do than the fictional characters that Flynn portrayed.

The scion of a Catholic Maryland family, Barney was born on July 6, 1759 in Baltimore, one of 14 children.  At 10 he announced to his startled father that he was leaving school.  His father found him a job in a counting shop, but Barney refused to spend his life chained to a desk.  He left his father’s farm at 13 to seek his fortunes on the sea.  He became an apprentice mate on the brig Sydney engaged in the Liverpool trade.  The captain of the brig died suddenly on a voyage  to Europe and  the 14 year old Barney assumed command and successfully completed the voyage.

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