The 1812 Overture

US Canadian Border Crossing: via

I can’t speak for you but, I’ve had enough politics, rumors of war, and usurpations of freedom for today, so I’m going to lighten up a bit. If you know me, you know there is some history coming, and there is.

Back in 1812 we Americans got fed up with British impressment and their failure to abandon Fort Detroit and Dearborn, and figured while they were all tied up fighting Napoleon we’d go for a little walk and have Canada as booty.

Anyway it didn’t work out as planned, the Canadians (and their Indian allies) kicked our militia rabble back out. We shouldn’t have been too surprised, we tried it in the Revolution too, both up the Hudson and up the Kennebec in Maine (in winter, no less). Anyway it was a nasty war with towns being burnt including York (now Toronto) and Washington D.C., with rape and murder, and then there were the Indians.

You see, the Canadians had British officers, who were the best in the world, while we had militia officers who seem to have gotten elected by being the last man standing at the tavern. (The Navy did a lot better, but, was overwhelmed.)

Eventually a young officer named Winfield Scott got some troops trained properly and stood up to a charge in the open field, and gained enough notoriety to be General-in-Chief until the Civil War. He also had a great record in the Mexican War commanding the amphibious assault that eventually captured Mexico City. having officers like Grant, Lee, Sheridan, and Jackson probably didn’t hurt either. This was at Lundy’s Lane and this is the reason that West Point Cadets to this day wear uniforms of militia gray.

Eventually, General Packenham decided to take New Orléans, Andy Jackson didn’t think this was too good an idea and so they fought a battle, it was a bit after the armistice but, if Packenham had won do you think the British were going to give it back. Oh, before I forget there is a song about it:

Anyway the war ended Status Quo Ante Bellum, mostly because everybody thought better of it, anything left unresolved was delegated to commissions and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve of 1814, to nearly everyone’s relief.

The results are striking for what was a pretty minor war, though. The United States learned a lot about how to educate military officers with West Point as the result soon thereafter. The United States became that: united because of the nearly national (less New England) effort. And finally the proto-Canadians, for lack of a better term, also became united all these years after Wolfe took Quebec in the French and Indian War. One of the other things it brought about was that the US and UK including Canada finally figured out that, in Churchill’s phrase, it’s cheaper to “Jaw, Jaw, Jaw than to War , War, War” and it led directly to that famous longest undefended border in the world, and thereby to the US rejoining the rest of the English speaking world.

Why am I talking about this now? Because I saw a link to The Economist about how Historic Forts George and Fort Niagara fired volley of blanks at each other across the Niagara River to celebrate the new year and the 200th anniversary of this war. That article is here. It’s good.


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4 Responses to The 1812 Overture

  1. mstrmac711 says:

    What a classic old song! The Battle of New Orleans showed that even a “militia” can win with the right amount of tenacity and skills when led well. Studying the British professional military over the years leads one to believe that their strict training could be both a blessing and a curse depending on the nature of the enemy. In the end though, the main thing that defeated the empire was disintegration from within. On the whole, the British people simply lost the will to be British.



    • Yeah, pop music has come a long ways (backwards) since 1959, hasn’t it?

      The British model worked well for European style set piece battle, and not for too much else, they certainly didn’t do all that well in the revolution against snipers. nor did it work well once rifling became common.

      The militia always seemed to do reasonably well when their commanders had enough sense to let them entrench, or used suitable tactics (such as Cowpens).


  2. Until Willliam Henry Harrison taught them a lesson at the battle of Thames….and fulfilled his promise of killing Tecumseh


  3. Yes, indeed. Growing up in Indiana and going to Purdue, I’ll bet you could guess that I’ve been to Battle Ground a time or two. Harrison was a surprisingly good general, especially when he mostly had militia to work with.


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