Some people consider the War of 1812 as the strangest war in the history of the United States. The chief reason for the war was that Britain was stopping American ships at sea, removing British-born sailors, and forcing them back into British naval service. The United States was very much against this practice. Britain was trying to regain the hundreds of British sailors who deserted the British navy and found work on American ships. They went too far and "impressed" many native-born Americans into the British navy.
Another reason for the war was that Britain was fighting France. Before 1806, American ships took goods to both Great Britain and France, and Americans were getting rich on the European war. Napoleon tried to destroy British trade by stopping all British trade with Europe. Great Britain issued orders to blockade all French ports and ports in Europe under French control. To keep from being seized by Britain, American ships bound for French ports had to first go to a British port for inspection and payment of fees. Napoleon issued orders telling all neutral ships to not stop at British ports for inspection or the French navy would seize their ships. America was caught in the crossfire between Great Britain and France.
The United States made several attempts to convince England to change their policy towards neutral shipping and impressments, and Great Britain finally decided to repeal their laws. Speedy methods of communication might have prevented the War of 1812 because Congress declared war on England two days after Great Britain repealed their laws - long before news of the repealed laws reached America.
The war was fought for freedom of the seas, but it started with an invasion of Canada on a three-prong attack. American forces started from Detroit, from the Niagara River, and from the foot of Lake Champlain. The first attempt to invade Canada failed because American forces were either captured or turned back. In the campaigns of 1813, an American army moving towards Detroit was defeated and captured.
Several months later, United States troops captured York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada, burned some of the buildings and held the city for a short time. The British fleet on Lake Erie was destroyed, forcing the British to leave Detroit and much of the Michigan territory. General William Henry Harrison took his army across the lake and defeated the retreating British at the Battle of the Thames. Later in the year Britain captured Fort Niagara and burned Buffalo, New York, and neighboring villages.
By 1814 Napoleon had been defeated in Europe, and Britain was concentrating on the war with America. By this time America had a well-trained and disciplined army that crossed into Canada and held Fort Erie for several months before crossing back into America. This was the last attempt to invade Canada.
Meanwhile, another British army, escorted by a fleet to Chesapeake Bay, occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to the Capitol, the White House, and other public buildings. The British army and the British fleet were repelled at Baltimore. Bombs bursting in the air over Fort McHenry during the attack on Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The final battle of the war was the Battle of New Orleans. This battle started on January 8, 1815 - a full 15 days AFTER a treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent, Belgium, on December 24, 1814. General Andrew Jackson was the hero of this battle, a battle that might have been prevented with better communication.
The peace treaty was ratified by Congress on February 17, 1815, a month after this battle was fought. According to the peace treaty, all land captured by either side was to be returned. Nothing was said in the treaty about impressments or blockades, although they were supposedly the reason for the war.
The War of 1812 was called "Mr. Madison's War" because he requested Congress to declare war on England. William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson won military fame during the war, which helped them in their respective presidential campaigns. Information and facts for this blog post came from an article by Reginald Horsman, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 21, pp. 28-33.
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