|Introduction to the War of 1812 Name: _______________________
In 1812, the United States Congress declared war against the British. The war started with an attack on Canada. At the time, Canada belonged to the British. The United States wanted to take control of Canada. They also wanted to cut off British supply lines to a American Indian confederation that was fighting with the British. American naval victories fought on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain kept the northern states, including New York, from being seized by the British.
In 1814, the British landed in the Chesapeake Bay area. They wanted to take control of Washington D.C. The American troops were unable to stop them and the city of Washington was evacuated. The British burned the Capitol Building and the White House. They also set fire to most of the Virginia countryside. The British were stopped when they reached Baltimore Harbor. They were unable to take Fort McHenry and suffered heavy losses. They retreated. The victory in Baltimore Harbor in- spired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner.
In the South, a British squadron landed on Cumberland Island after successfully attacking the town of St. Mary’s, Georgia on January 25, 1814. The British leader, Admiral George Cockburn, set up his headquarters at the Dungeness mansion. Cockburn declared the island to be "occupied territory." He said any enslaved Africans on the island were free. Slaves seeking freedom started ﬂocking to the island from all over the coastline. The response was so great that a group of sixty-six slaves paddled twenty-three miles in a wooden canoe to reach the island. In all, 1,483 enslaved Africans joined the British squadron on Cumberland Island.
As the war continued, both the Americans and the British were running low on resources. In December 1814, American negotiators met with British diplomats and signed the Treaty of Ghent which declared peace. Neither the Americans nor the British won the war. Trade relations remained the same and the U.S. did not gain any new territory.
Causes of the War of 1812
Why do you think the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812? There are three primary causes of the War of 1812.
Beginning in 1803, the British Navy started seizing American ships in the open ocean and impressing their crews. Impressment meant that the Americans would be forced to serve as sailors for the British Navy. Basically, once a sailor was impressed, they lost their freedom. Between 1803 and the War of 1812, over 10,000 Americans were impressed by the British Navy.
Prior to the War of 1812, the United States Congress contained two factions, the Doves and the Hawks. The Doves were primarily from the New England area and were antiwar. The Hawks were mainly from the west and the south. The Hawks believed in American expansion and wanted to take control of Florida, Mexico, and Canada. Canada in particular, belonged to the British. In order to claim these territories, the Hawks wanted to go to war. The Hawks used British impressment of American sailors as a reason to go to war. However, their main goal was to gain new territory.
3. International Shipping Disputes:
Britain and France were already at war. Britain did not want France to receive supplies from the
United States. Likewise, France did not want Britain to receive supplies from America. Both countries tried to cut off American shipping. This was disastrous for the U.S. economy. The country went into a depression. Finally in 1810, France dropped all of its shipping restrictions on the United States.
However, Great Britain continued to block U.S. shipping and was still impressing American sailors. These acts added fuel to the Hawks' desire to go to war with Great Britain.
Impacts of the War of 1812 on American History
Although neither the British nor the Americans actually won the war, the war laid the ground work and inspired events that would change America's history.
Based on what you know about the war, can you guess what impact it had on America?
The War of 1812 had six major impacts on America's future.
1. It Broke the Power of American Indians Living in the Northwest and Southwest.
Before the war, American Indian tribes would unite and fight against the attempts of white settlers moving into their territories. The Indian confederacy was led by a man called Tecumseh. Tecumseh was killed during the War of 1812 in a great battle referred to as the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh and the Indians were fighting with the British. Once Tecumseh was killed there were no more great unified attempts by the American Indians against white settlers.
2. It Encouraged Western Expansion.
American settlers no longer viewed the western Indian tribes as a great threat. In response, settlers began moving aggressively westward. This was the beginning of a phase in American history referred to as "manifest destiny", the belief that Americans were meant to control all of North America.
3. It Strengthened Canadian National Identity.
Canada was a large colony of Great Britain. It was made up primarily of isolated outposts with a diverse population of immigrants. Fighting the War of 1812, helped bond these jumbled groups and created a nation. Patriotic legends concerning the War of 1812 are still told in Canada today.
4. It Fueled American Sectionalism.
The individual states that made up America had a tradition of breaking into small groups or cliques and passing laws that would benefit their particular groups. During the War of 1812, the New England states did not want to fight because they depended on British shipping. They invoked "states' rights" to retain control over their own soldiers and obstruct the war effort. The "states right" doctrine was later used by southern Democrats to protect slavery and eventually helped cause the Civil War.
5. It Caused the Establishment of a Peacetime Military.
Before the War of 1812, the United States did not have a permanent military. Once war was declared, individual States would try and recruit soldiers for their militias. After the war, President James Madison established a permanent army. The army consisted of 10,000 soldiers and nine navy vessels.
6. It Enhanced America's Reputation in Europe.
After the War of 1812, Europe began to respect the United States. Before this, America had been viewed as a loosely joined group of colonies with no real military power. After the war, a famous Englishman Augustus J. Foster stated "the Americans have had the satisfaction of proving their courage--they have brought us to speak of them with respect." The British stopped their practice of impressing American sailors.
War of 1812
America won independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Many issues from this war were not yet resolved by the early 1800s. The rising tension made America take action to protect itself. In 1794, a series of forts was built along the Atlantic coast. These forts were made of timber and earth. The battery at Point Peter was the southernmost of these forts. Florida, just across the St. Mary’s River, was Spanish territory.
Impressment At this time, Britain was at war with France. Britain and France tried to stop each other from trading with America. American merchants did not like British interference with their trade overseas. Even more, though, Americans resented the British practice of impressment of sailors. Many British sailors deserted their ships. Conditions and pay were better on American ships. British ships began to stop American trading ships to search for deserters. Many of the men the British captured were actually American citizens. Even so, the British impressed these sailors into duty in the Royal Navy. By 1812, Britain had seized more than 15,000 American merchant sailors. This was more than three times as many sailors as there were in the entire U.S. Navy. In June 1807, the British warship Leopard stopped the American ship Chesapeake. The American ship’s crew would not let British officers on board to search for deserters. The Leopard opened fire and killed three sailors. Americans were outraged.
The Embargo Act Leads to Smuggling Congress passed the Embargo Act, which prevented American trade with any foreign countries. The Embargo Act was very unpopular. American merchants could no longer sell their goods. Many merchants turned to smuggling to get their goods to market. The rivers, islands, and inlets near St. Mary’s were perfect for smuggling goods into Spanish Florida next door. To stop this smuggling, the U.S. Navy established a gunboat station at St. Mary’s. Gunboats were smaller than regular warships and could maneuver in coastal inlets and rivers. Despite their agility, the small gunboats were no match for the British Royal Navy and its large warships.
Declaration of War In June 1812, the tension between Britain and America became too great. President James Madison signed the declaration of war on Britain. The first battles of the war were fought in Canada. American leaders were confident they would win. Britain was busy fighting against France. Few British troops were available to defend the Canadian forts. At Fort Malden, British General Isaac Brock tricked the Americans. He dressed his small force of militia volunteers in red coats. The Americans believed they were up against well-trained British soldiers. Shawnee war chief Tecumseh led 600 American Indian troops to help the British. Tecumseh sent his soldiers to march from different positions. The Americans believed they were surrounded. They became afraid to attack and surrendered.
Old Ironsides The first American victory of the war came at sea in August 1812. Captain Isaac Hull commanded the U.S.S. Constitution. Much of the wood used to build the Constitution was harvested from live oaks from coastal Georgia. This wood proved to be so resistant to cannon fire that the ship earned its nickname “Old Ironsides.” The British ship Guerriere fired at the Constitution from long range. The British shots damaged the Constitution, but Hull waited until the Guerriere was in close range. He fired all his guns at once and destroyed the Guerriere.
Attack on Washington When Napoleon, the French leader, was captured, Britain sent more troops to fight in America. British forces marched on Washington. Americans evacuated the city knowing they couldn’t fight off the British. They had only 400 soldiers to defend against 4,000 British troops. The invading army set fire to the White House and the Capitol. First lady Dolley Madison saved many important state documents, including a famous painting of George Washington.
From Washington, the British moved on to try to capture Baltimore. American troops got ready to protect Baltimore. They strengthened the defenses of Fort McHenry, and they made an enormous flag to fly over the fort. British ships attacked Fort McHenry all night long. The British were unable to destroy the fort, and stopped their bombardment. In the morning, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer watching the battle from a nearby ship, noticed that the flag still flew over Fort McHenry. He wrote a poem about the battle. His poem was later set to music and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In 1931, it became the national anthem. By 1814, the war had become very unpopular. British and American leaders began peace talks in August. They signed a peace treaty on December 24, 1814, in Ghent, Belgium. News of the treaty did not reach America for some time, though. Several battles were fought after the treaty was signed.
Final Battles The Battle of New Orleans took place January 8, 1815. British ships sailed into the Gulf of Mexico to attack the city of New Orleans. American General Andrew Jackson quickly gathered troops from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana, as well as a crew led by pirate Jean Lafitte. The Americans stopped the British attack. While more than 2,000 British soldiers were wounded or killed during the first half-hour of fighting, fewer than 100 American soldiers were killed. General Jackson became a war hero, and he later went on to be president of the United States.
On January 15, 1815, British troops landed at a plantation on Cumberland Island. Their goal was to attack the fort at Point Peter. British troops split into two flanks. They quickly overwhelmed the small American force, and they took Point Peter easily. After the skirmish, British soldiers remained at the fort for several weeks. They raided the town of St. Mary’s, as well as many neighboring plantations. They kept the goods they plundered as prizes of war. Although New Orleans was the last major battle of the war, the skirmish at Point Peter happened even later. It occurred almost a month after the peace treaty had been signed.
Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper.
This war has been called the “war that nobody won.” Why do you think this is so?
Why do you think war sometimes creates a feeling of national unity among the citizens of a country?
Create a brief chart explaining the causes of the War Of 1812.
Why do you think the Americans felt they had to go to war with Great Britain?
Of the effects of the War of 1812, which one had the greatest impact on American history? Explain your answer in at least a paragraph.
If you had been there in 1812, what side would you have chosen? Would you have been a War Hawk or someone who wanted peace? Explain your answer.
How does one determine when a war is won or lost? What is the purpose of a treaty?