The Anglo-American War (1812–1815), commonly known as the War of 1812, was triggered by a long series of outstanding grievances between Britain and the United States, which were largely connected with the former's contemporaneous war against Napoleonic France. From the American perspective, Britain's insatiable demand for sailors to man the Royal Navy had for years led to the impressment of American seamen. Further, American neutral vessels attempting to trade with the European continent—largely controlled by Britain's rival, France—had led British vessels to seize such ships on the dubious basis that their cargoes fell under the loose British definition of contraband. American motives were not, however, entirely blameless. Many in the United States sought expansion into British Canada and refused to allow the repatriation of Royal Navy sailors who had deserted and enlisted aboard American merchant vessels with papers claiming American citizenship.
War commenced in June 1812 when a small American militia force of 2,500 men under General William Hull briefly crossed the Canadian border and were held back by an equally small British force. Hull then withdrew to Detroit. A British and Indian force then crossed the frontier, took Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) on August 15, and captured Hull's force. The Americans launched a second invasion of Canada but in October were defeated along the Niagara River at Queenston Heights. Approximately 1,600 American troops captured and set fire to York (now Toronto) in April 1813, but these forces under General Pike were later driven off at Stony Creek on June 6.
In the autumn, General William Henry Harrison crossed Lake Erie with 7,000 American troops, in the wake of the defeat of an opposing naval flotilla on September 10, and forced British General Proctor from Detroit on September 29. In the follow-up action at the Thames River on October 5, Proctor was again defeated. Meanwhile, with the British having failed in their amphibious attack in May on Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario, the Americans launched a new offensive under General James Wilkinson, who hoped to take Montreal. This attempt, and attacks elsewhere, failed, and at year's end the British captured Fort Niagara.
From the opening of hostilities, the British Royal Navy had continued its blockade of the American coastline, causing economic disruption, especially in New England, which had never supported the war. In the summer of 1814, a new American commander, General Jacob Brown, launched another incursion toward Niagara, which took Fort Erie and defeated the British at Chippewa on July 5. At Lundy's Lane on July 25, both sides fought to a standstill before the Americans finally withdrew.
By this time the war in Europe had ended, and British reinforcements began arriving, the majority in the form of an expedition to Chesapeake Bay. General Robert Ross defeated American militia at Bladensburg on August 24, entered Washington the next day, burned its public buildings, and then withdrew, although he failed to take Baltimore near which he was himself killed. At about the same time, a British thrust down Lake Champlain by General George Prevost failed as a result of an American naval victory at Plattsburgh on September 11.
At sea, the tiny American navy, consisting of nothing larger than frigates, acquitted itself remarkably well but was unable to loosen the enemy blockade or prevent amphibious landings, at least not one consisting of 14,000 Peninsular veterans under General Pakenham, which landed in the Mississippi delta on December 13. Neither side was aware that a treaty of peace was concluded in Belgium on Christmas Eve, and when Pakenham's forces needlessly confronted those under Andrew Jackson near New Orleans on January 8, 1815, they were disastrously repulsed. The war ended as a stalemate, with the territorial situation virtually unchanged and, with the Napoleonic Wars over, impressment a dead issue.Bibliography
- 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. London: Harper Collins, 2004. .
- Anglo-American War (1812–1815)." In Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914, Volume 1, A-K, edited by . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007. . "
- The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
- The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. .
- Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.
- America and the War of 1812. Commack, NY: Kroshka Books, 1999.
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