War of 1812

The Star-Spangled Banner

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

“We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”

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 →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain

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: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The War That Gets No Respect

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. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

American Swashbuckler: Joshua Barney

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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