Category Archives: War of 1812

Secession and Mr. Madison’s War

Secession and the War of 1812

Secession and Mr. Madison’s War


The War

The War of 1812 is one that many Americans know little about. Sometimes it is seen as a continuation of the American Revolution. The basic facts are that the United States went to war against Great Britain between 1812 and 1815. The causes and reasons for the war are wide and varied and frankly a little embarrassing.  Had communication between the leadership of the two countries been more expedient it possibly could have been avoided. Battles were fought, lost, and won by both sides, and in the end, it was perhaps at best a draw. However, the most interesting part of the conflict was not fought on land or on the sea. It was fought in a meeting hall in Hartford Connecticut in 1815.

The war was not popular, especially among the Federalist Party in New England. They saw it as unnecessary and called out President James Madison for being reckless, in their circles, it was even referred to as Mr. Madison’s War.  Some of the New England states actively refused to take part, which made the fight against Canada a little hard.  They would not allow their militia to leave their states. When it came time to move into Canada they flat-out refused. Later in the war, as the weight of the British Navy was being felt, these states suffered most. Suffered to the point where the town of Nantucket declared themselves neutral in the war.

Hartford Convention

The Federalists began calling for New England to secede from the union. They felt that the national government was no longer acting in good faith. At one point a secret envoy was even sent to London to discuss the possibility of a separate peace. The movement came to a head in a series of meetings in Hartford between December 15, 1814, and January 5, 1815. These were known as the Hartford Convention.

During the meeting, the Federalists put together a long list of grievances against the Federal government The running theme was states rights and nullification, the ability of a State to opt not to follow Federal law. Issues with the balance of power were brought up, the feeling that the Southern states were over-represented in the government thanks to the 3/5 clause of the Constitution. Economic issues were brought forward, tariffs, and trade that was unfair and unbalanced. While the idea of separating from the union was discussed, the main product of the convention was a number of proposed amendments of the Constitution. While the conversation got heated at times, cooler heads prevailed. What the delegates did not know was that the war they were protesting was actually over, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed by the two parties and was en route to Washington.

Secession as a Right

The idea of secession would not go away. In fact, up until the Civil War, the idea of secession had become part of the national conversation. Cloaked in the wording of States Rights, which was a concept that existed long before the South appropriated it as a justification for slavery, the New England states almost beat the Confederacy to the punch nearly two generations earlier.

The picture above shows the uniforms of the regular US Army soldier, in the front, and a typical militia style soldier in the rear.

An Erie Flag

Erie Flag

An Erie Flag

Nestled away in the Galena History Museum in Galena, Il is this wonderful gem. Though most of the artifacts and exhibits have to do with General Grant the War of 1812 is represented. The flag in the picture above survived the Battle of Lake Erie.

In 1812 US and British forces vied for control of the Great Lakes as the war raged on. The origins of the conflict lay in the murkiness of maritime rights and unresolved issues stemming from the Revolution. With Great Britain thousands of miles away, Canada became the main target of the US Army. With a long shared border made mostly at the time of lakes and rivers, the naval battles almost overshadowed the land battles.

Lake Erie

In September 1813 the American Navy struck at the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry commanded, in his flagship the Lawerence, led the American fleet of 9 ships against a British squadron of 6 ships. Though outnumbered, the British outclassed the Americans in weaponry and training. For almost 4 hours the fleets engaged in a closely contested battle. The Lawerence took the brunt of the British fire, eventually leading Perry to abandon ship, but not before taking the flag with him. Raising that same flag on the Niagra, Perry took it as his flagship.

Perry doubled down and caused the British squadron to surrender. The victory was complete. In one of the more famous dispatches of the war, Perry exclaimed, “We have met the enemy and they are ours…” The British were forced to surrender Detroit and with it control of the Great Lakes.

At some point during the war Hezekiah Gear, a Galena resident was given the flag as an honor for his service during the war. Hezekiah brought it home with him when his service ended. From Lake Erie to Galena this flag certainly has a tale to tell.


The Cost of 1812

The Cost of 1812

The War of 1812 was an interesting war. The United States was not quite ready to fight but declared war anyway.  The British were busy against Napoleon in Europe, so fought the first half as an afterthought. The Natives involved pretty much knew that no matter who won they would be the losers.

When the war started in June 1812 the land forces of the United States numbered approximately 7,000 men that would face off against 5,200 British soldiers in the New World. By the end of the war, the US would field over 35,000 men including close to half a million militiamen. The British would put over 48,000 men in the field, another ten thousand Provincial regulars and four thousand militia. As far as Natives, the American allies provided at least  125 Choctaw Indians and scores from other tribes, the British could count on over ten thousand warriors.

In almost two and half years of fighting the Americans invaded Canada, the British invaded the United States. Both sides won and lost at sea but neither gained much ground. With the “final” defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British found themselves in a position to put their full weight into the war. Not long after both sides had enough fighting and a treaty was agreed on.

Final Tally

Almost 15,000 US soldiers died from combat and disease. The British lost about 7,000.  In the end, no borders changed, no grievances were resolved and things went back to pretty much the way it was before the war.

Oh and the natives? They continued to fight the Americans and without the support of the British, did not fare well. The last hope for the Natives pretty much ended with the end of the War of 1812. Now they were all that stood between the people of the United States and their Manifest Destiny.

The War of 1812

Uniform from The War of 1812

Soldiers of the War of 1812


In a recent comedy bit on one of the late night talk shows, the host was asking random people questions about American History. One of the questions was “When was the War of 1812 fought?”  That was apparently a stumper for most of the respondents. It would be easy to laugh and make fun of those people, I mean the answer is right there in the question, but it really isn’t their fault. The War of 1812 gets glossed over in history class and seldom is talked about like the other major conflicts. Which is kind of weird considering it was one of the few wars fought between the United States and another nation here on this continent.

It is sometimes called a continuation of the American Revolution, Round 2 if you like, but that is a little dramatic. The British had no desire at that point to “reclaim” their former colonies. In fact, during the bulk of the conflict, they were more worried about beating Napoleon.  The US really wanted Canada. It had conquered it in 1775 but could not hold it. Now it was thought that it would be an easy grab from the distracted British.


By the end of the war, the United States Army had ballooned from about 7,000 before, to more than 35,000. To supplement the regular troops over 458,000 militia were called up. Of those about 15,000 died during the war.

The photo above is of a uniform worn by a regular soldier. One interesting little tidbit regarding it. Blue was the official color of the uniform coat. When the ranks increased at the start of the war, the blue cloth was in short supply. For uniforms issued it that range, it was not uncommon for the colors to include black, brown, drab, or even gray. Yep, for a short period of time, the US Army wore gray coats. Not unlike another North American army would wear fifty years later…


Shot in the Age of Sail!

Shot in the Age of Sail!

Shot in the Age of Sail!

Ah Yes! The Age of Sail. Tall ships, billowing canvas, wooden hulls cutting through the open water.  It’s enough to make one a little teary eyed imagining the wind rushing past as you close into your enemy.  Once you catch them what do you do? Turn your ship broadside and cut loose with your powerful cannons? Of course, but that old solid shot cannonball is only going to do so much damage. What you need is something, special…

In the picture above is an example of three different kinds of shot that would be fired from cannons during a naval engagement. Each would be used for a specific purpose against the enemy.

Bar Shot

On the far left is Bar Shot. This consisted of two halves of a regular solid cannonball connected by an iron bar. When fired it would tumble through the air and tear into the enemy ships rigging and sails. No ropes, they could not control the sails. Big holes in the sails, nothing to drive the ship forward. They would be sitting ducks.

Chain Shot

In the center is Chain Shot.  Like the Bar Shot it consisted of two halves of a ball but this time connected with a chain, sometimes as long a six feet! When fired the balls tumble and the chain becomes fully extended. It would tear into the rigging and sails and cause devastation.

Grape Shot

The far right has the real beauty. Grape Shot, or Cannister Shot. Usually wrapped in a canvas bag, or sometimes held in a metal canister, this shot effectively turned your cannon into a large shotgun. Not only could it tear through sails and ropes, but it was most effective against the personnel of the enemy.

These are not all the special tricks but used right they could take an enemy down before you even got close enough to board them. The end of the Age of Sail and the advent of armor sort of diminished their use over time.


Star-Spangled Banner Draft

Star-Spangled Banner Draft

The Star-Spangled Banner Draft


Above is something really incredible. This is an original draft of the Star-Spangled Banner written by Francis Scott Key. Originally it was written in September 1814 as the poem, “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. Written during the British siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812.

It proved to be very popular and was eventually set to music. Not just any music though but an old British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven” which was already popular in the United States. Not the first British song we appropriated, but it would go on to great things.

The Star-Spangled Banner would grow in popularity and would be adopted by the US Navy in 1889 for official use. President Wilson followed suite in 1916. Finally, after more than a hundred years, Congress passed a resolution naming it as the official national anthem in 1931.

The poem that Francis Scott Key wrote was four stanzas and the song follows suit. Though we pretty much always just sing the first verse. Below we have all four verses. Ready to play ball? (Spelling and punction preserved as per the original.)

Defence of Fort M’Henry


O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb 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?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Book Review: Illinois in the War of 1812

Review: Illinois in the War of 1812


It is actually quite a shame that the War of 1812 does not get more focus outside the hallowed halls of academia. It was a war that didn’t need fought, was almost lost and the most famous battle was fought after the treaty was signed. Some very interesting stuff. Most of the time the focus of studies of the war deal with the fight for Canada and the Great Lakes, or the sack of Washington DC or the Battle fo New Orleans. This book by Gillum Ferguson forgoes all that t do with one certain aspect of the larger war, the frontier war in Illinois.

For the most part this was a side of the war fought between the Native Americans and the American settlers. What few regular troops were engaged by the US and the British had an impact but never enough to sway the outcome one way or the other. No, this was a war fought against the old by the new. As such the topic is one that can a little difficult because we know the ending.

Ferguson, to his credit. does not shy away from the brutality on either side.  For every Native village burned a dead settler family can be found. For every attempt at justice there was an ambush. This was not so much war as it was a contest to see who would be standing at the end.

One of the most fascinating aspects was learning about some of the Native leaders, the ones who knew that siding with the US was in their best interest, but took up the fight against them anyway. Some of the leaders, such as Gomo of the Potowatami was one of these that would do whatever was needed to protect his people. the political interplay between the tribes is something in this book that brought a new aspect to the time and struggle.

The other really great thing about the book was the author’s use of primary sources to “debunk” local legends. Some communities claim to have been the site of a famous battle, yet oddly no records of the fight exists.  Or even using sources from the time to locate where battles actually occurred in a frontier that no longer exists.

The down side is that it can be a little dry. Keeping track of the names and the geography can get a little overwhelming. It’s not a long book, but it is a meaty read. Don’t take this one lightly.

I recommend this book for anyone that more insight into the frontier wars and the impact of British and Native interactions in the period. If that sounds interesting dig in.

As always you can get a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the cover image above.



December 24th 1814 The Treaty Of Ghent Was Signed

The War of 1812 is an interesting and sometimes confounding conflict in American history.

From the American side the wars was fought over three things:

The English economic blockade of France was making it difficult for the US merchants to ply their trade, even though the US was a neutral party in the conflict. Often the British would stop, search and seize neutral vessels that it saw as providing support to the French. This disrespect of neutral merchants lead to much animosity between the US and Britain.

Second was the British Navy’s policy if impressment of American sailors. A better term may be kidnapping. When the American ships were stopped and searched occasionally sailors would be taken from he ships and forced to join the British navy.  So close to the end of the Revolution it was often difficult for the men to prove they were American citizens and not run away British sailors.

The third issue was based on the British continuing to support the hostile Indian tribes along the frontier, which often meant using the tribes to fight proxy wars against the United States.

After several years of fighting the war ended in what can only be called a stalemate, which for the Americans was pretty much all they could ask for. This was by far a political war that the US was not ready to fight and even though by the end it accounted itself well, had it gone on any longer the outcome may have been different.

On December 24, 1814 in the town of Ghent in Belgium the American and British commissioners signed the treaty ending the war.  All conquered land was returned to the original owners and a later commission was setup to formalize the US-Canada borders. Nowhere in the treaty were any of the original three complaints addressed.