The War of 1812
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
American Wars - War of 1812
In 1812 the United States of America declared war on the Empire of Great Britain. Although the name suggest that the war was effectively a one year long affair, the truth is that this conflict raged on until 1815 when a peace treaty was signed.
After the American Revolutionary War, which gave America independence from Great Britain, the relationship between the two nations was strained. This difficult political situation boiled over in 1812 causing the United States to declare war.
Prior to the War of 1812
Even after America gained independence from the British Empire, the British still continued to meddle in U.S affairs. This insulted the Americans and made them feel their honour was at stake.
Further to this the British were at war with France and thus decided to place trade restrictions and embargos on America stopping the nation from trading with France. The Americans saw this as illegal and uncalled for. The British also had an ulterior motive with this move too as it saw the American trading fleet as a direct threat to the British supremacy of the seas.
While all this was going on the British were also looking to keep its healthy number of 140,000 sailors in order so its massive 600 war vessels could carry on ruling the seas. The problem was that in war time many were deserting to merchant vessels. The British press ganged the American ships and started impressments on British sailors found on American vessels as they said they were deserters.
The Americans said they were naturalised United States citizens, meaning that they came to the UK and transferred their nationality. To compound this you need to understand that there were around 9,000 British sailors manning American trade ships so this was important to the US economy.
The British were also unpopular in America as they supported the Native Indians and saw the Indians as allies that were protecting their boundaries between America and Canada.
The final reason for war was the Americans idea of wanting to expand its lands, the issue was the Native Indians supported by Britain standing in their way and making it hard.
The War of 1812
On the 1st June 1812 the US President stated he was not happy with the issues with Britain, this statement grew in stature and the American Senate and House of Representatives moved forward with agreement to start war with the UK.
The British were currently in large conflicts closer to home so when the war broke out they had only a small number of troops in Canada to fight the war and didn’t have many ships spare to send over to America.
The American regular army was also very small and numbered 12,000, the Americans wished to increase this through voluntary additions but the move was unpopular. The Americans were also short of money to pay for a war. This meant that the overall numbers available to both sides in the war were small for two large nations.
Early on at the start on July 1812 the Americans sent a raiding party of some 1,000 ill equipped and trained men in to the Canadian town of Sandwich which they took control of. Within a month these men were pushed back to Detroit where they surrendered and the British took control of a town in Detroit whilst also taking control of the local area.
The Americans made another incursion into Canada but again the British defeated the Americans, this time at the Battle of Queenston Heights.
By the second half of 1813 the Americans stepped up their efforts with a 10,000 strong force but again these poorly led men were beaten by smaller British forces. By October 1813 the Americans were again in retreat.
The Americans fortunes changed towards the end of 1813. This change came about as they had been building 11 warships from the start of the war and these ships were used to great effect at the Battle of Lake Erie which the Americans won cutting off the British forces. These British forces then tried to retreat to Canada where they were demolished at the Battle of the Thames by American land forces.
While in 1814 the British were finally able to send troops from the European theatre of war, this action came a little too late for the British. The Americans had improved their fighting techniques and their troops were trained more in line with the British regular forces. This meant that the Americans went on to win more important battles against the British.
By December 1814 the British signed a treat called the Treat of Ghent with the Americans ending the war. Although the war was officially ended the Americans and British in America were not aware as the news took some weeks to reach the United States.
After the treaty was signed a heavy British attack occurred in Louisiana, by the 15th January 1815 the British lost a massive battle at the Battle of New Orleans. This protracted battle even after peace had been agreed between the two nations saw over 300 British killed.
The Outcome of the War of 1812
The outcome of the war was one where no one was a winner, in effect the Treaty of Ghent meant the countries agreed to status quo ante bellum which means bringing back things were to before the war.
The British returned a massive amount of American lands while the Americans returned Upper Canada to the British, the British also paid the Americans $350,000 for Slaves it coerced into leaving America to be free men in Canada.