American shippers took advantage of the hostilities in Europe to absorb the carrying trade between Europe and the French and Spanish islands in the West Indies. By breaking the passage with a stop in a U.S. port, they evaded seizure under the British rule of 1756, which forbade to neutrals in wartime any trade that was not allowed in peacetime. In 1805, however, in the Essex Case, a British court ruled that U.S. ships breaking passage at an American port did not circumvent the prohibitions set out in the rule of 1756. As a result the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased.
The following year Great Britain instituted a partial blockade of the European coast. The French emperor, Napoleon I, retaliated with a blockade of the British Isles. Napoleon's Continental System, which was intended to exclude British goods or goods cleared through Britain from countries under French control, and the British orders in council (1807), which forbade trade with France except after touching at English ports, threatened the American merchant fleet with confiscation by one side or the other. Although the French subjected American ships to considerable arbitrary treatment, the difficulties with England were more apparent. The impressment of sailors alleged to be British from U.S. vessels was a particularly great source of anti-British feeling, a famous incident of impressment being the Chesapeake affair of 1807.
Despite the infringement of U.S. rights, President Jefferson hoped to achieve a peaceful settlement with the British. Toward this end he supported a total embargo on trade in the hope that economic pressure would force the belligerents to negotiate with the United States. The Nonimportation Act of 1806 was followed by the Embargo Act of 1807. Difficulty of enforcement and economic conditions that rendered England and the Continent more or less independent of America made the embargo ineffective, and in 1809 it gave way to a Nonintercourse Act. This in turn was superseded by Macon's Bill No. 2, which repealed the trade restrictions against Britain and France with the proviso that if one country withdrew its offensive decrees or orders, nonintercourse would be reimposed with the other.
In 1809, after the passage of the Nonintercourse Act, a satisfactory agreement had been reached with the British minister in Washington, David Erskine, who promised repeal of the orders in council. The pact was disavowed by Foreign Secretary George Canning, however, and Erskine was replaced by F. J. Jackson, who soon proved himself persona non grata to the U.S. government. Subsequently, by a dubious commitment, Napoleon tricked James Madison, who had succeeded Jefferson as President, into reimposing (1811) nonintercourse on England. Negotiations with Britain for repeal of the orders in council continued without result; just before the declaration of war, yet too late to prevent it, the orders in council were repealed.
In reality, it was not so much the infringement of neutral rights that occasioned the actual outbreak of hostilities as the desire of the frontiersmen for free land, which could only be obtained at the expense of the Native Americans and the British. Moreover, the West suspected the British, with some justification, of attempting to prevent American expansion and of encouraging and arming the Native Americans. Matters came to a head after the battle of Tippecanoe (1811); the radical Western group believed that the British had supported the Native American confederacy, and they dreamed of expelling the British from Canada. Their militancy was supported by Southerners who wished to obtain West Florida from the Spanish (allies of Great Britain). Among the prominent "war hawks" in the 12th Congress were Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Langdon Cheves, Felix Grundy, Peter Porter, and others, who managed to override the opposition of John Randolph and of the moderates.
War was declared June 18, 1812. It was not until hostilities had begun that Madison discovered how woefully inadequate American preparations for war were. The rash hopes of the "war hawks," who expected to take Canada at a blow, were soon dashed. The American force under Gen. William Hull, far from gaining glory, disgracefully surrendered (Aug., 1812) at Detroit to a smaller Canadian force under Isaac Brock. On the Niagara River, an American expedition was repulsed after a successful attack on Queenston Heights, because the militia under Stephen Van Rensselaer would not cross the New York state boundary.
On the sea, however, the tiny American navy initially gave a good account of itself. The victory of the Constitution, under Isaac Hull, over the Guerrière and the capture of the Macedonian by the United States (Stephen Decatur commanding) were two outstanding achievements of 1812. The smaller vessels also did well, and American privateers carried the war to the very shores of England. In 1813 the British reasserted their supremacy on the sea; the Chesapeake, under Capt. James Lawrence ("Don't give up the ship!"), accepted a challenge from the Shannon and met with speedy defeat. Most of the American ships were either captured or bottled up in harbor for the duration of the war.
It was on inland waters, however, that the American navy achieved its most notable triumphs—victories that had an important bearing on the course of the war. In Jan., 1813, at the Raisin River, S of Detroit, American troops suffered another defeat. But with the victory of Capt. Oliver Perry on Lake Erie in Sept., 1813, American forces, under Gen. William Henry Harrison, were able to advance against the British, who burned Detroit and retreated into Canada. Harrison pursued and defeated them in a battle at the Thames River (see Thames, battle of the), in which Tecumseh, the Native American chief, was killed. Yet the feeble efforts of James Wilkinson along the St. Lawrence River did nothing to improve the situation on the New York border.
The first months of 1814 held gloomy prospects for the Americans. The finances of the government had been somewhat restored in 1813, but there was no guarantee of future supplies. New England, never sympathetic with the war, now became openly hostile, and the question of secession was taken up by the Hartford Convention. Moreover, with Napoleon checked in Europe, Britain could devote more time and effort to the war in America.
In July, 1814, the American forces along the Niagara River, now under Gen. Jacob Brown, maintained their own in engagements at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane. Shortly afterward, Sir George Prevost led a large army into New York down the west side of Lake Champlain and seriously threatened the Hudson valley. But when his accompanying fleet was defeated near Plattsburgh (Sept., 1814) by Capt. Thomas Macdonough, he was forced to retreat to Canada. In August, a British expedition to Chesapeake Bay won an easy victory at Bladensburg and took Washington, burning the Capitol and the White House. The victorious British, however, were halted at Fort McHenry before Baltimore.
The Fort McHenry setback and the American victory at Plattsburgh helped to persuade British statesmen to agree to end the war, in which no decisive gains had been made by either side. For some time negotiations for peace had been taking place. Although Great Britain had refused an early Russian offer to mediate between it and the United States, the British entered into direct peace negotiations at Ghent in mid-1814. The American delegation to the meeting at Ghent was headed by John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Albert Gallatin. After long and tortuous discussions, a treaty (see Ghent, Treaty of) was signed (Dec. 24, 1814), providing for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquered territories, and the setting up of boundary commissions.
The final action of the war took place after the signing of the treaty, when Andrew Jackson decisively defeated the British at New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. This victory, although it came after the technical end of the war, was important in restoring American confidence. Although the peace treaty failed to deal with the matters of neutral rights and impressment that were the ostensible cause of the conflict, the war did quicken the growth of American nationalism. In addition, the defeats suffered by the Native Americans in the Northwest and in the South forced them to sign treaties with the U.S. government and opened their lands for American expansion.
See G. W. Cullum, Campaigns of 1812-15 (1879); T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (1882, repr. 1968); A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812 (2 vol., 1905; repr. 1968); J. W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1812 (1925, repr. 1957); H. Adams, The War of 1812 (ed. by H. A. DeWeerd, 1944); F. Beirne, War of 1812 (1949, repr. 1965); G. Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots (2 vol., 1954); C. S. Forester, The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812 (1956); A. H. Z. Carr, The Coming of War (1960); R. Horsman, The Causes of the War of 1812 (1962, repr. 1972) and The War of 1812 (1969); H. L. Coles, The War of 1812 (1965); R. V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans (1999); A. J. Langguth, Union 1812 (2007).
The War of 1812 was fought between the United States of America and the British Empire, particularly Great Britain and her North American colonies of Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Québec), Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Bermuda.
The war lasted from 1812 to 1815, although a peace treaty was signed December 24, 1814. By the end of the war, 1,600 soldiers for the British side had died, and 2,260 soldiers for the U.S. In addition, tens of thousands of slaves escaped to British lines because of their offer of freedom, or they just fled in the chaos of war. The British settled a few thousand of the newly freed Americans in Nova Scotia.
Great Britain had been at war with France since 1793 and in order to impede neutral trade with France in response to the Continental Blockade, Britain imposed a series of trade restrictions that the U.S. contested as illegal under international law. The United States declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812 for a combination of reasons focused on violation of America's neutral rights, especially the impressment (conscription) of American sailors into the Royal Navy, British restraints on neutral trade, and alleged British military support for American Indians who were hostile to the United States.
At sea, the powerful Royal Navy blockaded much of the coastline, though allowing substantial exports from New England, which was trading with Britain and Canada in defiance of American laws. The blockade devastated American agricultural exports but helped stimulate local factories that replaced goods previously imported. The American strategy of using small gunboats to defend ports was a fiasco, as the British raided the coast at will. The most famous episode was a series of British raids on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, including an attack on Washington D.C. that resulted in the burning of the White House, the Capitol, the Navy Yard and other public buildings, later called the "Burning of Washington". The British power at sea was sufficient to allow the Royal Navy to levy 'contributions' on bayside towns in return for not burning them to the ground. The Americans were more successful in ship-to-ship actions, building fast frigates, and sent out several hundred privateers to attack British merchant ships; British commercial interests were damaged, especially in the West Indies.
The decisive use of naval power came on the Great Lakes and depended on a contest of building ships. In 1813, the Americans won control of Lake Erie and cut off British and native forces to the west from their supplies. Control of Lake Ontario changed hands several times, with neither side able or willing to take advantage of any temporary superiority. The Americans ultimately gained control of Lake Champlain, and naval victory there forced a large invading British army to turn back in 1814. The Americans destroyed the power of the native people of the northwest and southeast, securing a major war goal.
Once Britain defeated France in 1814, it ended the trade restrictions and impressment of US sailors, thus removing another cause of the war. Both Great Britain and the United States agreed to a peace that left the prewar boundaries intact.
In January 1815 after the Treaty of Ghent was signed but before word crossed the Atlantic, the Americans succeeded in defeating a British invasion army at New Orleans, and the British captured Fort Bowyer.
The war had the effect of uniting Canadians and also uniting Americans more closely than either population had been. Canadians remember the war as a victory by avoiding conquest, while Americans celebrate victory personified in Andrew Jackson. He was the hero of the defense of New Orleans and was elected the 7th President of the United States in 1828.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy expanded to 175 ships of the line and 600 ships overall, requiring 140,000 sailors. While the Royal Navy was able to man its ships with volunteers in peace time, in war it competed with merchant shipping and privateers for a small pool of experienced sailors and turned to impressment when unable to man ships with volunteers alone. A sizeable number of sailors (estimated to be as many as 11,000 in 1805) in the United States merchant navy were Royal Navy veterans or deserters who had left for better pay and conditions. The Royal Navy went after them by intercepting and searching U.S. merchant ships for deserters. Such actions incensed the Americans, especially the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.
The United States believed that British deserters had a right to become United States citizens. Britain did not recognize naturalized United States citizenship, so in addition to recovering deserters, it considered any United States citizen born British was liable for impressment. Exacerbating the situation was the widespread use of forged identity papers by sailors. This made it all the more difficult for the Royal Navy to distinguish Americans from non-Americans and led it to impress some Americans who had never been British. (Some gained freedom on appeal.) American anger at impressment grew when British frigates stationed themselves just outside US harbors in US territorial waters and searched ships for contraband and impressed men in view of US shores. "Free trade and sailors' rights" was a rallying cry for the United States throughout the conflict.
Madison and his advisors believed that conquest of Canada would be easy and that economic coercion would force the British to come to terms by cutting off the food supply for their West Indies colonies. Furthermore, possession of Canada would be a valuable bargaining chip. Frontiersmen demanded the seizure of Canada not because they wanted the land, but because the British were thought to be arming the Indians and thereby blocking settlement of the west. As Horsman concluded, "The idea of conquering Canada had been present since at least 1807 as a means of forcing England to change her policy at sea. The conquest of Canada was primarily a means of waging war, not a reason for starting it. Hickey flatly stated, "The desire to annex Canada did not bring on the war." Brown (1964) concluded, "The purpose of the Canadian expedition was to serve negotiation not to annex Canada. Burt, a leading Canadian scholar, agreed completely, noting that Foster, the British minister to Washington, also rejected the argument that annexation of Canada was a war goal.
The majority of the inhabitants of Upper Canada (Ontario) were either exiles from the United States (United Empire Loyalists) or post-war immigrants. The Loyalists were hostile to union with the U.S., while the other settlers seem to have been uninterested. The Canadian colonies were thinly populated and only lightly defended by the British Army. Some Americans believed that many in Upper Canada would rise up and greet a United States invading army as liberators. The combination suggested an easy conquest, as former president Thomas Jefferson seemed to believe in 1812, "the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent."
The declaration of war was passed by the smallest margin recorded on a war vote in the United States Congress. On May 11, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot and killed by an assassin, resulting in a change of the British government putting Lord Liverpool in power. Liverpool wanted a more practical relationship with the United States. He issued a repeal of the impressment orders, but the US was unaware, as it took three weeks for the news to cross the Atlantic.
The United States was not prepared to prosecute a war, for President Madison assumed that the state militias would easily seize Canada and negotiations would follow. In 1812, the regular army consisted of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular, it offered poor pay and there were very few trained and experienced officers, at least initially. The militia—called in to aid the regulars—objected to serving outside their home states, were not amenable to discipline, and as a rule, performed poorly in the presence of the enemy when outside of their home state. The U.S. had great difficulty financing its war. It had disbanded its national bank, and private bankers in the Northeast were opposed to the war.
The early disasters brought about chiefly by American unpreparedness and lack of leadership drove United States Secretary of War William Eustis from office. His successor, John Armstrong, Jr., attempted a coordinated strategy late in 1813 aimed at the capture of Montreal, but was thwarted by logistics, uncooperative and quarrelsome commanders, and ill-trained troops. By 1814, the United States Army's morale and leadership had greatly improved, but the embarrassing Burning of Washington led to Armstrong's dismissal from office in turn. The war ended before the new Secretary of War James Monroe could develop any new strategy.
American prosecution of the war also suffered from its unpopularity, especially in New England, where anti-war spokesmen were vocal. The failure of New England to provide militia units or financial support was a serious blow. Threats of secession by New England states were loud; Britain immediately exploited these divisions, blockading only southern ports for much of the war and encouraging smuggling.
The war was conducted in three theatres of operations:
The strategy of the British was to protect their own merchant shipping to and from Halifax and Canada, and to enforce a blockade of major American ports to restrict American trade. Because of their numerical inferiority, the Americans aimed to cause disruption through hit-and-run tactics, such as the capture of prizes and engaging Royal Navy vessels only under only favorable circumstances. The Americans experienced early successes at sea. Days after the formal declaration of war, two small squadrons sailed, including the frigate USS President and the sloop USS Hornet under Commodore John Rodgers (who had general command), and the frigates USS United States and USS Congress, with the brig USS Argus under Captain Stephen Decatur.
Meanwhile, USS Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, sailed from Chesapeake Bay on July 12. On July 17, a British squadron gave chase. Constitution evaded her pursuers after two days. After briefly calling at Boston to replenish water, on August 19 Constitution engaged the British frigate HMS Guerriere. After a thirty five-minute battle, Guerriere had been dismasted and captured and was later burned. Hull returned to Boston with news of this significant victory. On October 25, the USS United States, commanded by Captain Decatur, captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian, which he then carried back to port. At the close of the month, Constitution sailed south under the command of Captain William Bainbridge. On December 29, off Bahia, Brazil, she met the British frigate HMS Java. After a battle lasting three hours, Java struck her colours and was burned after being judged unsalvageable. The USS Constitution however, was undamaged in the battle and earned the name "Old Ironsides.
In January 1813, the American frigate USS Essex, under the command of Captain David Porter, sailed into the Pacific in an attempt to harass British shipping. Many British whaling ships carried letters of marque allowing them to prey on American whalers and nearly destroyed the industry. Essex challenged this practice. She inflicted considerable damage on British interests before she was captured off Valparaiso, Chile, by the British frigate HMS Phoebe and the sloop HMS Cherub on March 28, 1814.
In all of these actions—except the one in which Essex was taken—the Americans had the advantage of greater size and heavier guns. The United States Navy's sloops and brigs also won several victories over Royal Navy vessels of approximately equal strength. While the American ships had experienced and well-drilled volunteer crews, the cream of the over-stretched Royal Navy was serving elsewhere, and constant sea duties of those serving in North America interfered with their training and exercises.
The capture of the three British frigates stimulated the British to greater exertions. More vessels were deployed on the American seaboard and the blockade tightened. On June 1, 1813, off Boston Harbor, the frigate USS Chesapeake, commanded by Captain James Lawrence, was captured by the British frigate HMS Shannon under Captain Sir Philip Broke. Lawrence was mortally wounded and famously cried out, "Don't give up the ship!","Hold on men!".
Following their earlier losses, the British Admiralty instituted a new policy that the three American heavy frigates should not be engaged except by a ship-of-the-line or smaller vessels in squadron strength. An example of this was the capture of USS President by a squadron of four British frigates in January 1815 (although the action was fought on the British side mainly by HMS Endymion).
The operations of American privateers, some of which belonged to the United States Navy but most of which were private ventures, were extensive. They continued until the close of the war and were only partially affected by the strict enforcement of convoy by the Royal Navy. An example of the audacity of the American cruisers was the depredations in British home waters carried out by the American sloop USS Argus. It was eventually captured off St David's Head in Wales by the British brig HMS Pelican, on August 14, 1813. A total of 1,554 vessels were claimed captured by all American naval and privateering vessels, 1300 of which were captured by privateers. However, insurer Lloyd's of London reported that only 1,175 British ships were taken, 373 of which were recaptured, for a total loss of 802.
As the Royal Navy base that supervised the blockade, the Halifax profited greatly during the war. British privateers based there seized many French and American ships and sold their prizes in Halifax.
The war was likely the last time the British allowed privateering, since the practice was coming to be seen as politically inexpedient and of diminishing value in maintaining its naval supremacy. It was certainly the swan song of Bermuda's privateers, who had returned to the practice with a vengeance after American lawsuits had put a stop to it two decades earlier. The nimble Bermuda sloops captured 298 enemy ships (the total number of captures by all British naval and privateering vessels between the Great Lakes and the West Indies was 1,593).
America's leaders assumed that Canada could be easily overrun. Former President Jefferson optimistically referred to the conquest of Canada as "a matter of marching." Many Loyalist Americans had migrated to Upper Canada after the Revolutionary War, and it was assumed they would favor the American cause, but they did not. In pre-war Upper Canada, General Prevost found himself in the unusual position of purchasing many provisions for his troops from the American side. This peculiar trade persisted throughout the war in spite of an abortive attempt by the American government to curtail it. In Lower Canada, much more populous, support for Britain came from the English elite with strong loyalty to the Empire, and from the French elite who feared American conquest would destroy the old order by introducing Protestantism and weakening the Catholic Church, anglicization, republican democracy, and commercial capitalism. The French inhabitants feared the loss to potential American immigrants of a shrinking area of good lands.
In 1812–13, British military experience prevailed over inexperienced American commanders. Geography dictated that operations would take place in the west: principally around Lake Erie, near the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and near the Saint Lawrence River area and Lake Champlain. This was the focus of the three-pronged attacks by the Americans in 1812. Although cutting the St. Lawrence River through the capture of Montreal and Quebec would have made Britain's hold in North America unsustainable, the United States began operations first in the Western frontier because of the general popularity there of a war with the British, who had sold arms to the American Indians opposing the settlers.
The British scored an important early success when their detachment at St. Joseph Island on Lake Huron learned of the declaration of war before the nearby American garrison at the important trading post at Mackinac Island in Michigan. A scratch force landed on the island on July 17, 1812, and mounted a gun overlooking Fort Mackinac. After the British fired one shot from their gun, the Americans, taken by surprise, surrendered. This early victory encouraged the Indians, and large numbers of them moved to help the British at Amherstburg.
American Brigadier General William Hull invaded Canada from Detroit on July 12, 1812, with an army chiefly composed of militiamen. Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender, or "the horrors, and calamities of war will stalk before you." He also threatened to kill any British prisoner caught fighting alongside an Indian. The proclamation helped stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Despite the threats, Hull's invasion turned into a retreat after he received news of the British victory at Mackinac and when his supply lines were threatened in the battles of Brownstown and Monguagon. Hull pulled his 2,500 troops back to Fort Lernoult (commonly referred to as Fort Detroit at the time). British Major General Isaac Brock advanced on Fort Detroit with 1,200 men. Brock sent a fake correspondence and allowed the letter to be captured by the Americans, saying they required only 5,000 Native warriors to capture Detroit. Hull feared the Indians and their threats of torture and scalping. Believing the British had more troops than they did, Hull surrendered at Detroit without a fight on August 16.
Fearing British-instigated Indian attacks on other locations, Hull ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Fort Wayne. After initially being granted safe passage, the inhabitants (soldiers as well as civilians) were attacked by Potowatomi Indians on August 15 after traveling two miles (3 km), in what is known as the Fort Dearborn Massacre. The fort was subsequently burned.
Brock promptly transferred himself to the eastern end of Lake Erie, where American General Stephen Van Rensselaer was attempting a second invasion. An armistice (arranged by Prevost in the hope the British renunciation of the Orders in Council to which the United States objected might lead to peace) prevented Brock from invading American territory. When the armistice ended, the Americans attempted an attack across the Niagara River on October 13, but suffered a crushing defeat at Queenston Heights. Brock was killed during the battle. While the professionalism of the American forces would improve by the war's end, British leadership suffered after Brock's death. A final attempt in 1812 by American General Henry Dearborn to advance north from Lake Champlain failed when his militia refused to advance beyond American territory.
In contrast to the American militia, the Canadian militia performed well. French Canadians, who found the anti-Catholic stance of most of the United States troublesome, and United Empire Loyalists, who had fought for the Crown during the American Revolutionary War, strongly opposed the American invasion. However, a large segment of Upper Canada's population were recent settlers from the United States who had no obvious loyalties to the Crown. Nevertheless, while there were some who sympathized with the invaders, the American forces found strong opposition from men loyal to the Empire.
In May 1813, Procter and Tecumseh set siege to Fort Meigs in northern Ohio. American reinforcements arriving during the siege were defeated by the Indians, but the fort held out. The Indians eventually began to disperse, forcing Procter and Tecumseh to return to Canada. A second offensive against Fort Meigs also failed in July. In an attempt to improve Indian morale, Procter and Tecumseh attempted to storm Fort Stephenson, a small American post on the Sandusky River, only to be repulsed with serious losses, marking the end of the Ohio campaign.
On Lake Erie, the American commander Captain Oliver Hazard Perry fought the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. His decisive victory ensured American control of the lake, improved American morale after a series of defeats, and compelled the British to fall back from Detroit. This paved the way for General Harrison to launch another invasion of Upper Canada, which culminated in the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, in which Tecumseh was killed. Tecumseh's death effectively ended the North American Indian alliance with the British in the Detroit region. The Americans controlled Detroit and Amherstburg for the duration of the war.
On May 27, 1813, an American amphibious force from Lake Ontario assaulted Fort George on the northern end of the Niagara River and captured it without serious losses. The retreating British forces were not pursued, however, until they had largely escaped and organized a counter-offensive against the advancing Americans at the Battle of Stoney Creek on June 5. On June 24, with the help of advance warning by Loyalist Laura Secord, another American force was forced to surrender by a much smaller British and Indian force at the Battle of Beaver Dams, marking the end of the American offensive into Upper Canada. Meanwhile, Commodore James Lucas Yeo had taken charge of the British ships on the lake, and mounted a counter-attack, which was nevertheless repulsed at the Battle of Sackett's Harbor. Thereafter, Chauncey's and Yeo's squadrons fought two indecisive actions, neither commander seeking a fight to the finish.
Late in 1813, the Americans abandoned the Canadian territory they occupied around Fort George. They set fire to the village of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) on December 15, 1813, incensing the British and Canadians. Many of the inhabitants were left without shelter, freezing to death in the snow. This led to British retaliation following the Capture of Fort Niagara on December 18, 1813, and similar destruction at Buffalo on December 30, 1813.
In 1814, the contest for Lake Ontario turned into a building race. Eventually, by the end of the year, Yeo had constructed HMS St Lawrence, a first-rate ship of the line of 112 guns which gave him superiority, but the overall result of the Engagements on Lake Ontario had been an indecisive draw.
The British were potentially most vulnerable over the stretch of the Saint Lawrence where it also formed the frontier between Upper Canada and the United States. During the early days of the war, there was much illicit commerce across the river, but over the winter of 1812 - 1813, the Americans launched a series of raids from Ogdensburg on the American side of the river, hampering British supply traffic up the river. On February 21, Sir George Prevost passed through Prescott on the opposite bank of the river, with reinforcements for Upper Canada. When he left the next day, the reinforcements and local militia attacked. At the Battle of Ogdensburg, the Americans were forced to retire.
For the rest of the year, Ogdensburg had no American garrison and many residents of Ogdensburg resumed visits and trade with Prescott. This British victory removed the last American regular troops from the Upper St Lawrence frontier and helped secure British communications with Montreal. Late in 1813, after much argument, the Americans made two thrusts against Montreal. The plan eventually agreed upon was for Major-General Wade Hampton to march north from Lake Champlain and join a force under General James Wilkinson which would embark in boats and sail from Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario and descend the Saint Lawrence. Hampton was delayed by bad roads and supply problems and an intense dislike of Wilkinson, which limited his desire to support his plan. On October 25, his 4,000-strong force was defeated at the Chateauguay River by Charles de Salaberry's smaller force of French-Canadian Voltigeurs and Mohawks. Wilkinson's force of 8,000 set out on October 17 but was also delayed by bad weather. After learning that Hampton had been checked, Wilkinson heard that a British force under Captain William Mulcaster and Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Wanton Morrison was pursuing him, and by November 10, he was forced to land near Morrisburg, about 150 kilometers (90 mi) from Montreal. On November 11, Wilkinson's rearguard, numbering 2,500, attacked Morrison's force of 800 at Crysler's Farm and was repulsed with heavy losses. After learning that Hampton was unable to renew his advance, Wilkinson retreated to the U.S. and settled into winter quarters. He resigned his command after a failed attack on a British outpost at Lacolle Mills.
The outnumbered Americans withdrew but withstood a prolonged Siege of Fort Erie. The British suffered heavy casualties in a failed assault, and also were weakened by exposure and shortage of supplies in their siege lines. Eventually the British raised the siege, but the American Major General George Izard took over command on the Niagara front and followed up only half-heartedly. The Americans themselves lacked provisions, and eventually destroyed the fort and retreated across the Niagara.
Meanwhile, following the abdication of Napoleon, 15,000 British troops were sent to North America under four of Wellington’s most able brigade commanders. Fewer than half were veterans of the Peninsula and the remainder came from garrisons. Along with the troops came instructions for offensives against the United States. British strategy was changing, and like the Americans, the British were seeking advantages for the peace negotiations. Governor-General Sir George Prevost was instructed to launch an invasion into the New York-Vermont region. The army available to him outnumbered the American defenders of Plattsburgh, but control of this town depended on being able to control Lake Champlain. On the lake, the British squadron under Captain George Downie and the Americans under Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough were more evenly matched.
On reaching Plattsburgh, Prevost delayed the assault until the arrival of Downie in the hastily completed 36-gun frigate HMS Confiance. Prevost forced Downie into a premature attack, but then unaccountably failed to provide the promised military backing. Downie was killed and his naval force defeated at the naval Battle of Plattsburgh in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The Americans now had control of Lake Champlain; Theodore Roosevelt later termed it "the greatest naval battle of the war." To the astonishment of his senior officers, Prevost then turned back, saying it would be too hazardous to remain on enemy territory after the loss of naval supremacy. Prevost's political and military enemies forced his recall. In London a naval court martial of the surviving officers of the Plattsburgh Bay debacle decided that defeat had been caused principally by Prevost’s urging the squadron into premature action and then failing to afford the promised support from the land forces. Prevost died suddenly, just before his own court martial was to convene. Prevost's reputation sank to new lows, as Canadians claimed their militia under Brock did the job and he failed. Recently, however, historians have been more kindly, measuring him not against Wellington but against his American foes. They judge Prevost’s preparations for defending the Canadas with limited means to be energetic, well conceived, and comprehensive, and against the odds he had achieved the primary objective of preventing an American conquest.
Little of note took place on Lake Huron in 1813, but the American victory on Lake Erie isolated the British there. During the winter, a Canadian party under Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDouall established a new supply line from York to Nottawasaga Bay on Georgian Bay. When he arrived at Fort Mackinac with supplies and reinforcements, he sent an expedition to recapture the trading post of Prairie du Chien in the far West. The Battle of Prairie du Chien ended in a British victory on July 20, 1814.
Earlier in July, the Americans sent a force of five vessels from Detroit to recapture Mackinac. A mixed force of regulars and volunteers from the militia landed on the island on August 4. They did not attempt to achieve surprise, and at the brief Battle of Mackinac Island, they were ambushed by Indians and forced to re-embark. The Americans discovered the new base at Nottawasaga Bay and on August 13, destroyed its fortifications and a schooner which they found there. They then returned to Detroit, leaving two gunboats to blockade Mackinack. On September 4, these gunboats were taken unawares and captured by enemy boarding parties from canoes and small boats. This Engagement on Lake Huron left Mackinac under British control.
The British garrison at Prairie du Chien also fought off another attack by Major Zachary Taylor. In this distant theatre, the British retained the upper hand till the end of the war because of their allegiance with several Indian tribes that they supplied with arms and gifts.
This was extended to the coast south of Narragansett by November 1813 and to all the American coast on May 31, 1814. In the meantime, much illicit trade was carried on by collusive captures arranged between American traders and British officers. American ships were fraudulently transferred to neutral flags. Eventually the U.S. Government was driven to issue orders to stop illicit trading. This put only a further strain on the commerce of the country. The overpowering strength of the British fleet enabled it to occupy the Chesapeake and to attack and destroy numerous docks and harbors.
Additionally, commanders of the blockading fleet, based at the Bermuda dockyard, were given instructions to encourage the defection of American slaves by offering freedom, as they did during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of black slaves went over to the Crown with their families, and were recruited into the (3rd Colonial Battalion) Royal Marines on occupied Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake. A further company of colonial marines was raised at the Bermuda dockyard, where many freed slaves, men women and children, had been given refuge and employment. It was kept as a defensive force in case of an attack. These former slaves fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the attack on Washington D.C.and the Louisiana Campaign, and most were later re-enlisted into British West India regiments, or settled in Trinidad in August, 1816, where seven hundred of these ex-marines were granted land (they reportedly organised themselves in villages along the lines of military companies). Many other freed American slaves were recruited directly into existing West Indian regiments, or newly created British Army units. A few thousand freed slaves were later settled at Nova Scotia by the British.
From the probing of the British Colony of New Brunswick, Maine was an important conquest by the British. The line of the border between New Brunswick and the District of Maine had never been adequately agreed upon after the American Revolution. A military victory in Maine by the British could represent a large gain in territory for New Brunswick, but more immediately it assured communication with Lower Canada via the St John River and the Halifax Road. The war did not settle the border dispute, and when Maine became a state in 1820, it led to a border crisis called the Aroostook War. The border between Maine and New Brunswick was not be settled until 1842 and the "Webster-Ashburton Treaty".
In September 1814, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke led a British Army into eastern Maine and was successful in capturing Castine, Hampden, Bangor, and Machias. The Americans were given the option of swearing allegiance to the king or quitting the country. The vast majority swore allegiance and were even permitted to keep their firearms. This is the only large tract of territory held by either side at the conclusion of the war; it was returned to the United States by the Treaty of Ghent. The British did not leave Maine until April 1815, at which time they took large sums of money retained from duties in occupied Maine. This money, called the "Castine Fund", was used in the establishment of Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
On July 4, 1813, Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, convinced the Navy Department to build the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a squadron of twenty barges to defend the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in April 1814, the squadron was quickly cornered in the Patuxent River, and while successful in harassing the Royal Navy, they were powerless to stop the British campaign that ultimately led to the "Burning of Washington". This expedition, led by Cockburn and General Robert Ross, was carried out between August 19 and August 29, 1814, as the result of the hardened British policy of 1814 (although British and American commissioners had convened peace negotiations at Ghent in June of that year). As part of this, Admiral Warren had been replaced as Commander-in-Chief by Admiral Alexander Cochrane, with reinforcements and orders to coerce the Americans into a favourable peace.
Governor-General Sir George Prevost of Canada had written to the Admirals in Bermuda calling for a retaliation for the American sacking of York (now Toronto). A force of 2,500 soldiers under General Ross, aboard a Royal Navy task force composed of HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops and ten other vessels, had just arrived in Bermuda. Released from the Peninsular War by British victory, the British intended to use them for diversionary raids along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. In response to Prevost's request, they decided to employ this force, together with the naval and military units already on the station, to strike at Washington D.C.
On August 24, Secretary of War Armstrong insisted that the British would attack Baltimore rather than Washington, even when the British army was obviously on its way to the capital. The inexperienced American militia which had congregated at Bladensburg, Maryland, to protect the capital, were routed in the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the route to Washington. While Dolley Madison saved valuables from the Presidential Mansion, President James Madison was forced to flee to Virginia.
The British commanders ate the supper which had been prepared for the president before they burned the Presidential Mansion; American morale was reduced to an all-time low. The British viewed their actions as retaliation for destructive American raids into Canada, most notably the Americans' burning of York (now Toronto) in 1813. Later that same evening, a furious storm swept into Washington D.C., sending one or more tornadoes into the city that caused more damage but finally extinguished the fires with torrential rains. The naval yards were set afire at the direction of U.S. officials to prevent the capture of naval ships and supplies. The British left Washington D.C. as soon as the storm subsided. Having destroyed Washington's public buildings, including the President's Mansion and the Treasury, the British army next moved to capture Baltimore, a busy port and a key base for American privateers. The subsequent Battle of Baltimore began with the British landing at North Point, but they withdrew when General Ross was killed at an American outpost. The British also attempted to attack Baltimore by sea on September 13 but were unable to reduce Fort McHenry, at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor.
The Battle of Fort McHenry was no battle at all. British guns had range on American cannon, and stood off out of U.S. range, bombarding the fort, which returned no fire. Their plan was to coordinate with a land force, but from that distance coordination proved impossible, so the British called off the attack and left. All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, which gave proof that the flag was still over the fort. The defense of the fort inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem that would eventually supply the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner".
By 1814 both sides were weary of a costly war that seemingly offered nothing but stalemate, and were ready to grope their way to a settlement. It is difficult to measure accurately the costs of the American War to Britain, because they are bound up in general expenditure on the Napoleonic War in Europe. But an estimate may be made based on the increased borrowing undertaken during the period, with the American war as a whole adding some £25 million to the national debt. In America the cost was $105 million, though because the British pound was worth considerably more than the dollar, the costs of the war to both sides were roughly equal. The national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815, although through discounts and paper money the government received only $34 million worth of specie. By this time, the British blockade of U.S. ports was having a detrimental effect on the American economy. Licensed flour exports, that had been close to a million barrels in 1812 and 1813, fell to 5,000 in 1814. By this time insurance rates on Boston shipping had reached 75 per cent, coastal shipping was at a complete standstill and New England was considering secession. Exports and imports fell dramatically as American shipping engaged in foreign trade dropped from 948,000 tons in 1811 to just 60,000 tons by 1814. But although American privateers found chances of success much reduced, with most British merchantmen now sailing in convoy, privateering continued to prove troublesome to the British; with insurance rates between Liverpool, England, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, rising to 30 per cent, the Morning Chronicle complained that with American privateers operating around the British Isles ‘we have been insulted with impunity’. The British could not celebrate a great victory in Europe fully until there was peace in North America, and more pertinently, taxes could not come down until there was peace in North America. Landowners particularly balked at continued high taxation; both they and the shipping interest urged the government to secure peace.
On December 24, 1814, diplomats from the two countries, meeting in Ghent, United Kingdom of the Netherlands (present Belgium), signed the Treaty of Ghent. This was ratified by the Americans on February 16, 1815.
The UK, which held approximately of new territory near Lakes Superior and Michigan, in Maine, and on the Pacific coast, pressed for territorial concessions from the US, almost causing cessation of the talks. This position at first was reinforced by the Burning of Washington; however the news of the defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh and the repulse at the Battle of Baltimore weakened the demands. The Duke of Wellington was approached about leading the British army in North America and sent the following letter:
With a rift opening between Britain and Russia at the Congress of Vienna and little chance of improving the military situation in North America, Britain was prepared to forgo territorial gain. In concluding the war on these terms, the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, was taking into account domestic opposition to continued taxation, especially among Liverpool and Bristol merchants keen to get back to doing business with America. But more important was concern with foreign policy considerations of far greater significance than North America, the wisdom of which course was amply justified with Napoleon’s escape from Elba the following spring.
The British gave up on New Orleans but moved to attack the Gulf Coast port of Mobile, Alabama. In one of the the last military action of the war, 1,000 British troops won the battle of Fort Bowyer on February 12, 1815. When news of peace arrived the next day, they abandoned the fort and sailed home. In what was probably the last battle of the war, in May, 1815 a band of British-allied Sauk, unaware that the war had ended months ago, attacked a small band of U.S. soldiers northwest of St. Louis..
The Treaty of Ghent, which was promptly ratified by the Senate in 1815, ignored the grievances that led to war. Britain made no concessions concerning impressment, blockades, or other maritime differences. The treaty proved to be merely an expedient to end the fighting. Mobile and parts of western Florida remained permanently in American possession, despite objections by Spain, and Britain was unwilling to enforce treaty provisions regarding their claim to the territories. Thus, the war ended in a stalemate with no gain for either side.
Neither side lost any territory, with the exception of Carleton Island, now part of New York, nor were the original points of contention addressed by the treaty that ended it, and yet it changed much between the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
The Treaty of Ghent established the status quo ante bellum; that is, there were no territorial changes made by either side. The issue of impressment was made moot when the Royal Navy stopped impressment after the defeat of Napoleon. Excepting occasional border disputes and the circumstances of the American Civil War, relations between the United States and Britain remained generally peaceful for the rest of the nineteenth century, and the two countries became close allies in the twentieth century. Border adjustments between the United States and British North America were made in the Treaty of 1818. A border dispute along the Maine-New Brunswick border was settled by the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty after the bloodless Aroostook War, and the border in the Oregon Territory was settled by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. Yet, according to Winston Churchill, "the lessons of the war were taken to heart. Anti-American sentiment in Britain ran high for several years, but the United States was never again refused proper treatment as an independent power.
The United States no longer questioned the need for a strong Navy and indeed completed three new 74-gun ships of the line and two new 44-gun frigates shortly after the end of the war. (Another frigate had been destroyed to prevent it being captured on the stocks). In 1816 the U.S. Congress passed into law an "Act for the gradual increase of the Navy" at a cost of one million dollars a year for eight years authorizing nine ships of the line and 12 heavy frigates. The Captains and Commodores of the U.S. Navy became the heroes of their generation in the United States. Decorated plates and pitchers of Decatur, Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Perry, and Macdonough were made in Staffordshire, England, and found a ready market in the United States. Three of the war heroes used their celebrity to win national office: Andrew Jackson (elected president in 1828 and 1832), Richard Mentor Johnson (elected vice president in 1836), and William Henry Harrison (elected president in 1840).
The New England states became increasingly frustrated over how the war was being conducted, and how the conflict was affecting their states. They complained that the United States government was not investing enough in the states' defenses both militarily and financially, and that the states should have more control over their militia. The increased taxes, the British blockade, and the occupation of some of New England by enemy forces also agitated public opinion in the states. As a result, at the Hartford Convention (December-January 1814/15) held in Connecticut, New England representatives asked for New England to have its states' powers fully restored. Nevertheless, a common misconception which had been propagated by newspapers of the time was that the New England representatives wanted to secede from the Union and make a separate peace with the British. This view is not supported by what actually happened at the Convention.
Slaveholders primarily in the South suffered considerable loss of property as tens of thousands of slaves escaped to British lines or ships for freedom, despite the difficulties. The planters' complacency about slave contentment was shocked by seeing slaves would risk so much to be free. Afterward, when some freed slaves had been settled at Bermuda, slaveholders such as Major Pierce Butler of South Carolina tried to persuade them to return to the United States, to no avail.
A long-term implication of the militia myth that remained popular in the Canadian public at least until World War I was that Canada did not need a regular professional army. The U.S. Army had done poorly, on the whole, in several attempts to invade Canada, and the Canadians had shown that they would fight bravely to defend their country. But the British did not doubt that the thinly populated territory would be vulnerable in a third war. "We cannot keep Canada if the Americans declare war against us again," Admiral Sir David Milne wrote to a correspondent in 1817.
The Battle of York demonstrated the vulnerability of Upper and Lower Canada. In the 1820s, work began on La Citadelle at Quebec City as a defence against the United States. The fort remains an operational base of the Canadian Forces. Additionally, work began on the Halifax citadel to defend the port against American attacks. This fort remained in operation through World War II.
In the 1830s, the Rideau Canal was built to provide a secure waterway from Montreal to Lake Ontario avoiding the narrows of the St. Lawrence River where ships could be vulnerable to American cannon-fire. The British also built Fort Henry at Kingston to defend the canal, and it remained operational until 1891.