Friday, June 15, 2012

The Bicentennial of the War of 1812


A Battle in the War of 1812
Map of Battle Sites
This Monday, June 18, will mark the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812.  Although a fledgling country, the United States showed it’s moxie by declaring war on the greatest power in the world, Great Britain.

Americans were tired of Great Britain’s domineering attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy’s impressments of U.S. sailors into service for Britain, and the continual thwarting of America’s expansion into the western territory.  The war would last almost three years, ending on February 17, 1815 with the Treaty of Ghent.

American’s viewed the War of 1812 as the second war for independence.  (They had fought their first war for freedom from English rule almost 30 years before during the American Revolution.)  This time Americans vowed to eliminate Britain’s hold on North America for good.  It was time for the United States to become totally independent from Great Britain and Europe.

Although the War of 1812 does not garner much attention now, it was a catalyst for many amazing and familiar events and facts that are part of our lives today.

Canada, British and Indian Troops
It was during this war that the U.S. invaded Canada three times.  In the U.S., the War of 1812 is seldom celebrated but in Canada it is heralded as a time when the Canadians stood against the U.S. and won - all three times.

Burning of the White House
While the American Revolution won the U.S. its independence – the War of 1812 cemented it.  America came out of this war as a power to be reckoned with.  Patriotism was high after the British army captured Washington and burned the White House on August 24, 1814.  American citizens saw this act as barbaric and rallied together for the defeat of the British.

Original Star Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key
The U.S. national anthem was written less than two weeks later during the Battle of Fort McHenry on September 3, 1814. Francis Scott Key watched the conflict from aboard the HMS Minden where he was being held captive.  Key was so inspired by the fight that he penned the words to what we now know as the Star Spangled Banner.   However, when he wrote it, Key titled it the Defence of Fort McHenry.

'Uncle Sam' Wilson
It is also said that Uncle Sam was created during the War of 1812. New York meat packer, Sam Wilson, packaged rations for the military in barrels stamped “E.A. -  U.S.”  The initials E A stood for Elbert Anderson, the producer, and rumor had it that U.S. stood for ‘Uncle Sam’ Wilson, the meat packer. (The image of the white bearded Uncle Sam came about during World War One.)

In April 1905, the last veteran of the War of 1812 died.  New York City held a Grand Parade to honor Private Hiram Silas Cronk, who died just two weeks after his 105th birthday.  Cronk had spent his life after the war as a farmer in the state of New York.

Monument Dedicated to the War of 1812
Arlington Cemetery
Also, in 1905, construction workers discovered the bodies of fourteen soldiers of the War of 1812 at what is now the Washington Navy Yard.  The remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery later that year.  It wasn’t until April 1976, the year of the United State’s Bicentennial, that the Daughters of the War of 1812 had a monument erected at Arlington as a tribute to the fourteen unknown soldiers and sailors of the War of 1812, and to all others who had also died in that war.

Johnny Horton
For many of us growing up in the sixties, singer Johnny Horton gave us our first understanding of the War of 1812 - set to music.  Horton was a rockabilly singer known for his historical ballads.  He recorded his number one chart topper, The Battle of New Orleans in 1958. 

Jimmy Driftwood
The song was written in the 1950’s by Jimmy Driftwood, an Arkansas school teacher.  Driftwood wanted his students to become more interested in history, so he decided to put major events to music to get their attention. In 1960, the song won a Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording.  

Although the War of 1812 is known as the "Forgotten War,"  it is because of these three years of battles that America stepped out from Britain's shadow and became a world power to be taken seriously. Let us remember this on Monday and honor what our ancestors believed in and fought for.

~ Joy


  1. Joy, a very interesting well written Blog about the 200th Anniversary and the War of 1812. My husband's 3rd Great Grandfather Hillyard Hicks Served in Battle of Mississinewa, as well as many other Brave Men, that lived and died in that war for our Great Nation to be Free.

  2. Interesting to read an American person's take on this war. Not quite what we were taught in elementary school in Southern Ontario near some of the battlefields like the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Stoney Creek.

    1. Sherry, I'd be interested in hearing what you were taught in Canada. While this was a very decisive war for the U.S. but it always seems to get lost in the shadows between t American Revolution and the Civil War.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I am interested in the Canadian perspective, as well.