Thursday, March 4, 2010


"We have met the enemy and they are ours." Thus wrote Commander Oliver Hazard Perry to Commander William Henry Harrison at the beginning of the Battle of Lake Erie.

The war of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain and its subsidiaries. The war was principally fought at sea, ranging over much of the Atlantic and Carribean, and along the coastal areas of the US and Canada.

The principal causes of the war included the impressment of merchant sailors whom the British considered to be their rightful subjects into the British Navy; the support of the British for the Indians in the Northwest Territories* who were impeding progress of US development and expansion into the West; trade restrictions the British imposed on America vis a vis France, with whom the British were at war. It was complicated, but the United States declared war on June 18, 1812.

On September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key, an amateur poet, visited the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay. He was acting in the interest of one Dr. Bearnes who was being held by the British. Key was successful in obtaining the prisoner's release, but he himself was detained overnight during the shelling of Ft. McHenry. The following morning he observed that the flag was still flying above the fort, so he penned the poem, "Defense of Fort M'Henry" in commemoration of the event.

The poem soon became widely popular and since the words fit nicely with a popular tune which had been written many years earlier by a British composer, John Stafford Smith, it began to be sung as an anthem. Unfortunately for many, the tune ranges over one and one-half octaves which makes it difficult to sing well. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, and by President Wilson in 1916. Congress officially adopted it as the National Anthem on March 3, 1931, as noted earlier.

The history of the war is interesting and much information is available online, or if you are inclined to more scholarly pursuit, at your friendly library. I present this brief story at the request of Secondary Roads who referred to this as "the forgotten war." The war was concluded with the Treaty of Ghent, March 23, 1815**, resulting in pre-war status. (Everyone wins? No one wins?) Long enough for a blogpost. A study of Early American Maritime Power would be fascinating.

*It is interesting to note that the portion of the Northwest Territories which comprises present-day Ohio, Michigan and Indiana was proposed by the British to be established as a neutral Indian Territory in perpetuity. Further, they supplied support in aid to the Indians. The principal leader of the Native American contingent, Tecumseh, was himself killed at the Battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813, effectively ending the British support for the natives' defense of their claim to the land.
**I might have saved this for the soon-coming anniversary, 195 years, but posting it earlier due to request. Thanks, Chuck.

See also
Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie
Battle of York
Battle of Stoney Creek
Burning of Washington
Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, which was actually fought after the Peace had been signed. (Three of the American commanders in this war later ran for President, and two of them were elected.)
Jackson and Coffee at Horseshoe Bend
Wilkinson and Mobile
Treaty of Ghent

Image: Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812. Naval Historical Center


Andrea said...


Secondary Roads said...

Excellent! Thank you so much dear friend. I hope Texas is being kind to you.

vanilla said...

And to you, Andrea.

Thanks, Chuck. I had fun doing that; and yes, Texas is being kind to us!