Sunday, March 31, 2013

So What's the Big Deal About the War 1812 Anyway? Celebrating the bicentennial of a Forgotten War

Not to be over shadowed by the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the War of 1812 is commemorating its bicentennial, 2012-2015. The War of 1812 is referred to as the forgotten war, despite its role in shaping the political boundaries of North America and providing some of the most iconic moments for the young American Nation trying to make its way in the world.

Here are a few of those iconic moments to explore during the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

USS Constitution
Old Iron Sides - The road to the War of 1812 was laid by the impressment of American sailors into service for the British navy. The most powerful naval force in the world, the British navy, would stop American vessels and force any sailor with a British accent into service. Unacceptable to America, this violation of civil freedom was a threat to national sovereignty. As a result war was declared.  Some of the most memorable battles from this war took place on the high seas, where the U.S. Navy took its place on the world stage with startling victories. The USS Constitution earned the nickname Old Iron Sides for its heroic actions during the war and remains one of the oldest active duty navy vessels in the world. Because of this, the War of 1812 is credited as the birth of the U.S. Navy.

Canadian Heroes of the War of 1812
Sir Isaac Brock, Tecumseh,
Laura Secord, & Charles-Michel de Salaberry 
The Border with Canada – While war raged on the high seas, many of the land battles during the War of 1812 took place in and around the Great Lakes with our neighbor to the North, Canada.  At the time of the conflict Canada was still under British rule. Many Americans had grand visions of territorial expansion fueled by a desire to kicking the British off the North American continent. Bloody frontier battles raged along the Great Lakes as American forces invaded Canada in a quest for international supremacy of the region.

Given these historic events, Canada views and interpretations of the history of the War of 1812 vary differently from the United States.  North of the border, the War of 1812 is viewed as a war for Canadian sovereignty and is an important part of their national identity. Parks Canada protects many of the historic sites and battlefields associated with the war. They also provide unique insights into what the war means to Canadian people.

The Battle of New Orleans

Old Hickory - Andrew Jackson – Long before he was famous for being on the twenty-dollar bill, Andrew Jackson established his reputation as a military and political leader during the War of 1812.  Renowned for his hard fighting and hard riding, he earned the nickname old hickory. Oddly enough, Andrew Jackson’s most memorable moment during the war occurred after the signing of the peace treaty on December 25, 1814. Fought on January 8, 1815, the last battle of the War of 1812 was the famed battle of New Orleans. This proved to be a major American victory and would propel Andrew Jackson to the White House. The Battle of New Orleans was later immortalized in song by folk singer Johnny Horton, and even won a song of the year Grammy in 1959.

The Star Spangled Banner from on Display at the Smithsonian Museum 

The Star Spangled Banner - Perhaps the most memorable moment of the War of 1812 was the writing of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. Guarding the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, Fort McHenry was of strategic importance and the key to capturing Baltimore, one of the larger cities in America at the time. The British Navy unloaded on the fort with rockets red glare. Despite their best efforts, the British were not able to take it and eventually withdrew. But, not before providing the inspiration to France Scott Key who penned the immortal words in a poem entitled, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”.  “ Oh say can you see…” and the rest as they say is history.

Fort McHenry
Despite its less than spectacular end, and little fan fare, the War of 1812 provided many iconic moments in American history that are worth exploring during the bicentennial of this forgotten war.

What are your thoughts on this often forgotten war? 

Overview of the War of 1812

1 comment:

  1. As a native Michigander I found this really fun and fascinating! I LOVE the Johnny Horton link, that was a lot of fun :) I played it while I read the post and it made it that much more fun!