War of 1812
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.
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. Continue reading
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:
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. . . . Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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.
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
A guest post by my friend Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia:
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 Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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: Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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.