The war of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain is perhaps best known as the second American War of Independence since it also resolved some of the long standing issues between both countries which had remained outstanding since the American War of Independence of 1776. Once again the Indians and natives took up the side of the British whilst the Americans were aided by the French who were currently embroiled with the British in a costly war of their own.
Reasons for declaration of war:
The main reasons which forced America’s hand to declare war on Great Britain were numerous. These included the restrictions in trade which happened due to the ongoing war between Britain and France, the undue impressment and coercion of American sailors into the British Royal Navy, the continued support of Britain for Indian land claims and resistance to the white settler expansion as well as the possibility of annexing Canada (Benn, 2002).
The war was one of the first to be fought in three different scenarios, quite larger than the scale on which the American War of Independence was fought upon. Most of the war was fought at sea with several privateers from both sides attacking merchant seamen forces with the British also blockading the American coast and carrying out large scale raids towards the end of the war. A large part of the conflict with some of the major land battles taking place was fought near the American-Canadian border. Another important theatre of war was the Gulf Coast where the major decisive battle of the war was fought at New Orleans in 1815 where the Americans under General Andrew Jackson made short work of the British and Indian forces. However there was essentially no real change in the makeup of the country and the borders returned to pre-war levels after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.
Conflicts and battles
The British forces were initially on the defensive since most of their armies were embroiled in the Napoleonic wars so they had to restrict themselves to defending Canada from American invasion. The United Sates began brilliantly and managed to win Lake Erie as well as parts of Western Ontario. These victories essentially ended the possible prospect of an Indian Confederacy and a state in the Midwest which could exist with the backing of Britain in which Indians were the majority. However in September 1814, the British managed to invade and also occupy the Eastern part of Maine as well as large chunks of the territories of Michigan and Wisconsin which they held till the end of the war.
However the Southwest saw a crucial and important strategic American victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend where the Creek nation was essentially destroyed as a military force by the shrewd General Andrew Jackson who gained legendary status for this crucial victory. However with Napoleon’s decisive defeat in April 1814, the British were much more aggressive with three invasion armies setting sail for the United States later that year. They proved victorious in the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 and they also entered and burnt Washington D.C., the young nation’s eventual capital. However successive American victories in New York and Baltimore allowed them to repulse the British invasions of those cities which were followed by the decisive defeat at New Orleans in January 1815 which effectively ended the war (Benn, 2002).
Aftermath and changes
The War of 1812 did not change the physical makeup of the United States as such but it did put to bed several issues which had long been outstanding between the British and the Americans (Benn, Marston, 2006). The young nation was also imbued with pride at having successfully conducted another victorious war against a nation which was far larger than itself and which possessed considerable military might. The Canadian-American issue was also successfully resolved with much better relations between both countries as well as improved trade possibilities between both nations. The real losers of the war were the Indians who continued losing vast swathes of what had been their land to white settlement and they also suffered heavy manpower losses which diminished their military strength and their resistance to the American juggernaut.
The war also inspired what later began to be called an era of good feeling between the British and the Americans where there was a substantial reduction in animosity between both nations. Trade flourished due to the relaxation of restrictions and this continued to improve the relationship between masters and former colonists. The Canadians also had a sense of national importance and some battles have remained iconic to this day for them especially the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm. The war is not really remembered in Britian since the Napoleonic wars are far more important for the national psyche but the improvement of relations between the two countries can be seen as one of the most important after effects of the war.
Benn, Carl (2002). The War of 1812. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-466-5.
Benn, Carl; Marston, Daniel (2006). Liberty or Death: Wars That Forged a Nation. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84603-022-6.