USS Constitution

Above: The USS Constitution as it fought the British warship HMS Guerriere off the coast of New Jersey in 1812. Right: Battle of New Orleans, E. Percy Moran, 1910. Image courtesy Library of Congress. The USS Constitution was built in Boston in 1797, won two battles prior to the beginning of the War of 1812, and four during it. She was one of 22 vessels in the U.S. Havy at the time, compared to 80 British ships that were enaged in the war.

Battle of New Orleans

War of 1812

Let's be honest, even for most history fans, this is the war held on american soil that many know less about. It doesn't hold the same interest as the Revolution or the Civil War, and in some ways that's understandable, but in other ways, it's odd. For this War of 1812, held so close to the end of the revolution and the beginning of the american government at the end of the 18th century, began a scant generation after Washington both won the war and oversaw the first presidency. And what we do know about this conflict is that it gave us a flag inspired national anthem, from Francis Scott Key as it waved over the Fort McHenry parapet. But, of course, the history in the war was much greater than that, and it occurred at more sites than that one famous one, or the other famous one, the White House, which the British burned. Yes, they burned the White House, and the Capitol. Now that's a huge amount of history just right there.

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Battle of Queenston Heights

War of 1812 Then

But why was the war fought? Who, what, when, where, and why? Well, first off, it was fought between the British Empire (well, at least the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Indian nations that supported Great Britain) and the United States of America with their Indian allies, the Choctaw, Cherokee, and some sections of the Creek. It was fought for a variety of reasons, depending on what side you were on. There were trade restrictions brought by the British due to their war with France and Napolean, the backing of the British of the Indians fighting expansion, and the perceived desire of the USA to annex Canada. It would be fought for nearly three years, from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815. It would be fought from Canada to New Orleans. Picture above, Andrew Jackson commanding the U.S. troops in the Battle of New Orleans, fought ironically after the treaty to end the war had been signed.

Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave. O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

War of 1812 Timeline

June 18, 1812 - United States declared war on Great Britain.

June 29, 1812 - Two U.S. schooners, Sophia and Island Packet, taken by the British in the St. Lawrence River.

July 12, 1812 - U.S. invades Upper Canada and occupies Sandwich, Ontario. They would retreat to Detroit on August 15 and lose that town to British forces the next day.

August 19, 1812 - USS Constitution defeats and captures the HMS Guerriere in the Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast.

October 13, 1812 - Second invasion of Canada by U.S. forces ends in defeat at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Queenston Heights is the first major battle of the War of 1812.

January 18-22, 1813 - River Raisin, or the Battle of Frenchtown, Michigan is won by British troops in the largest battle held in Michigan.

August 4, 1813 Commodore Perry sails the U.S. fleet into Lake Erie, resulting in the battle of Lake Erie on September 10 won by the U.S. , effectively cutting off British and Native American forces from their supply base in the west.

November 11, 1813 - Battle of Crysler's Farm won by British and Canadian forces.

August 24, 1814 - British invade Washington, D.C., and burn the city, including the White House and Capitol.

September 4-11, 1814 - Battle of Plattsburg won by U.S. forces.

September 13, 1814 - Fort McHenry bombarded by British in Battle of Baltimore and Francis Scott Key writes the Star Spangled Banner.

December 24, 1814 - Treaty of Ghent, to end the war, signed by the United Kingdom and the United States. It would take two months for the news of the treaty to reach the USA.

January 8, 1815 - Battle of New Orleans won by the United States under General Andrew Jackson, even though the battle was fought after the Treaty of Ghent.

Feburary 16, 1815 - Treaty of Ghent ratified, officially ending the War of 1812.

Image above: Battle of Queenston Heights, John David Kelly, 1896. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Battle of Lake Erie, William Henry Powell, 1873. Courtesy U.S. Senate Art Collection, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Battle of Lake Erie

War of 1812

The 200th Anniversary may be over, but the new Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is still there. It was dedicated in 2012 as the anniversary events began to tell the story of the War and the historic sites. The trail itself winds around 560 miles of the middle atlantic states, taking you to various points of interest, including three national parks, Fort McHenry, George Washington's Birthplace National Monument, and the White House. The trail also includes a variety of state and local hsitoric sites that tell the story of the war as it moved throughout the Chesapeake region.

The Fort at Fort McHenry - Located on Whetstone Point along the Patapsco River, the fort has seen many incarnations since its construction over two hundred years ago. Beyond its most famous moment in the War of 1812, the fort was used as the largest military hospital in the nation during World War I when over one hundred temporary buildings were built on its grounds to care for wounded soldiers returning from Europe.

The USS Constitution - You can visit the ship and the associated museum during a visit to Boston National Historic Park. It is run by the U.S. Navy and Park Service and is free to visit. In 2012, she took to sea again, after a 19 year hiatus.

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Star Spangled Banner

War of 1812 History

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take the park ranger tour of Fort McHenry. The tour begins near the visitor center and winds up the path to the large star-shaped fort. From the parking lot, the size of the fort does not seem this large. But as you walk its parapets and gaze over the horizon to the distant water of the harbor and river to the spot where the warships bombarded this position, you begin to feel just what Francis Scott Key must have felt, even though he felt it from the water and not the fort.

2. Take the Star-Spangled National Historic Trail tour. It's 560 miles and includes a lot of interesting state and regional historic sites that had lots to do with the war. From Havre de Grace, Maryland, through Virginia, this trail gets you in tune with the happenings in the Maryland/Virginia theatre of this other war.

3. Visit Horseshoe Bend. One of the smaller sites in the National Park Service from a visitation standpoint, this site has as much to do with the movement of the Indian nations, i.e. the Red Stick Creek, from the eastern part of the USA to the west as it does to the War of 1812, but it covers the topic of both.

Image above: Lady Liberty and the flag, Currier and Ives, circa 1856-1907. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

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