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The War of 1812: Win, Lose, or Draw? (Part 1)

November 30, 2012 | John P. | Comments (0)

Both Canada and the United States began their bicentennial celebrations and acknowledgement of the War of 1812 earlier this year. The war is of interest to Canadians as the then-British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada (aka Ontario and Quebec) formed part of the battlefields on which the conflict was fought between the United States (with France) and Great Britain (along with her colonial allies). Many books have been written on the War of 1812 but a good cross-section of titles will bring out different aspects of interest to the amateur and professional historian alike such as: different theatres of the war (land-based vs. naval); the April 1813 occupation of York (present day Toronto) by American forces; leading British military personalities in the war including Sir Isaac Brock; the pitting of people with similar backgrounds against one another; and, the political divisions in the United States of America between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians.

Whatever one’s thoughts are on whether the war was won, lost or stalemated between the opposing sides, reading a variety of titles on the war can bring much to the forefront as we learn more about a war that has been a mystery to many people. Here are some examples:


Astonishing General


The astonishing general: the life and legacy of Sir Isaac Brock / Wesley B. Turner, 2011.

Retired historian Turner examined the enduring popularity and recognition of General Brock. Brock had an aptitude for understanding people and their intentions. Friend and foe alike admired Brock. He won the support of generous benefactors, who appreciated his treatment of soldiers, his relationship with the military, and his influence upon the political process in Upper Canada.


Battle for the Bay the Naval War of 1812


Battle for the Bay: the Naval War of 1812 / Joshua M. Smith, 2010.

Historian Smith examined the coastal warfare that occurred along the northeastern United States and in the Bay of Fundy area. The British used local people as crewmembers on their ships to battle against American privateers seeking profits in the Bay of Fundy region. Smith covered the September 1813 battle of the American brig Enterprise and the brig HMS Boxer (assisted by the provincial ships Bream and Brunswicker).


British generals in the War of 1812


British generals in the War of 1812: high command in the Canadas / Wesley B. Turner, 2011.

Retired historian Turner examined the records and roles of five British Generals in Canada during the War of 1812 (Sir George Prevost, Isaac Brock, Roger Sheaffe, Baron Francis de Rottenburg, and Gordon Drummond), taking into account their British army experience and participation in the European and West Indian theatres of operation. The author examined each general’s leadership qualities and offered his opinion on why only Isaac Brock is remembered today.


Capital in Flames


Capital in flames: the American attack on York, 1813 / Robert Malcolmson, 2008.

American forces landed on the western side of York (close to the current grounds of the CNE) in April 1813. Their amphibious operation was delayed by the deliberate explosion of York’s armaments magazine by British forces. British troops led by Major-General Sir Roger Sheaffe retired from the field. Rev. John Strachan and others did their best to rally the local citizenry. American troops looted York and took valuable military supplies and food, departing after six days of occupation within the protection of their naval dominance of Lake Ontario. It is questionable whether the burning of the White House and other Washington D.C. buildings in August 1814 was intended as retaliation for the occupation of York.


Civil War of 1812

The civil war of 1812: American citizens, British subjects, Irish rebels, & Indian allies [1st ed.] / Alan Taylor, 2010.

Pulitzer-prize winner and historian Taylor has produced arguably the most attentive and detailed treatment of the War of 1812, approaching the conflict as a civil war between people of similar backgrounds (Aboriginal tribes, Irish and Scottish immigrants, American-born, British North American-born and British-born) separated by a political boundary. Military conflict along the Niagara River and in the Great Lakes served to polarize opinions. Taylor covers the topics of dissension, military recruitment, and forceful seizure of farms and villages.


1812 the Navy's War


1812: the navy's war / George C. Daughan, 2011.

Historian Daughan stressed the importance of the young United States’ naval victories over the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 within the context of trade blockades as part of Great Britain’s war with France and the incitement of aboriginal peoples in the fight against American expansionism. The author also examined developments on shore, including: the political divisions between the pro-British Federalists (who opposed the war) and the pro-French Jeffersonians; Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans; the burning of Washington D.C. and the White House by British forces; and the dubious attempts of the United States to invade British North America.


This selected list is by no means exhaustive so I will review additional titles on the War of 1812 in the near future.


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