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The War of 1812

Apart from history buffs, the conflict between the young United States and Britain in 1812 is a war – which ended in 1815 – that few people today know or care much about. The US Navy, justifiably proud of its performance in that campaign, is commemorating it, unsurprisingly as we are now in the 200th anniversary spot. The war was famous, among other things, for this doughty US Man O’War, the mighty USS Constitution, a ship that became known as “old Ironsides” on account of how British ships’ broadsides appeared to make little dent in its sides.

Among other things, the War of 1812 is a reminder of how “trade wars” can turn into military ones. This Wikipedia entry about the conflict seems pretty comprehensive in explaining some of the main causes and battles.

16 comments to The War of 1812

  • RRS


    Six Frigates by Ian Toll

    There is also the forgotten threat of seccession by the Northeastern States whose commerce was virtually destroyed by “Madison’s War.”

  • Dingle Starry

    The Lion and the Union, by Kate Caffrey, is also a pretty good study of the conflict.

  • Laird

    This is the war in which the British burned the White House. In retrospect, not such a bad idea . . . .

  • Vinegar Joe

    Johnny Horton’s classic Battle of New Orleans……


  • Not surprising that it is largely a forgotten war. Both sides did horrible things, especially in the treatment of prisoners. It was largely a pointless war brought about by British refusal to recognize the US as an independent country, and by a bizarre US foreign and defense policy that sent out so many mixed signals that it was hard to take the US seriously as an independent country. Most notably, the US just did not appreciate the seriousness of Britain’s struggle with Napoleon.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Posted by RRS at May 25, 2012 01:51 PM
    There is also the forgotten threat of seccession by the Northeastern States whose commerce was virtually destroyed by “Madison’s War.”

    That is something that is deliberately not taught in American history classes. When I am doing Civil War living history presentations to schools as a Confederate [I do whichever side I need to, the goal is to teach history, not refight the war.] I make a point of asking the teacher who has the highest grades in the class. He or she points out some poor sod; and I ask that said student be assigned to give a report to the class on the December 15, 1814- January 5, 1815 Hartford Convention, wherein the New England states officially voted to secede.

    And I point out to the students that the fathers of the very New England politicians who were willing to go to war to force the southern states to stay in the Union; themselves believed that all states were sovereign and had the right to leave the Union. I then cite some items from one of the older books in my personal collection; an 1850 textbook on Constitutional Law, written at and used by Harvard Law School. Which declares the states to be sovereign and the Union to be a voluntary association that can be left.

    I close with a statement that “History” is always deeper and more detailed than in their class textbooks, and that if they want to approximate the truth, they need to look at those details.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Richard Thomas

    I personally can’t wait until August 2014 when I will be constructing a model of The White House on my front lawn and setting fire to it.

  • mdc

    The fame of the US frigates is more a trick of terminology than anything else. USS Constitution was simply a significantly larger ship than any of those it defeated, more like a small man o’ war than a frigate in the British sense, while she was fast enough to outrun British capital ships, though those were mainly reserved to Europe anyway.

    One could say it was a successful implementation of the battlecruiser concept that later became so maligned during WWI.

  • rjsasko

    As an American I would like to know what it would take to entice Her Majesty to send back the Redcoats to sack our capital city. Of course it goes without saying that absolutely nothing and no one may be left standing within the District of Columbia. I am passing the hat here. Anyone wish to donate to the cause? I shall gladly switch my allegiance to tea and John Bull to show my sincerity.

  • Adam Maas

    The only misnomer in the case of the American 44’s is calling them Frigates. They were very comparable in firepower to the British 4th rates that they so closely resembled (and they would have been rated as 4th rates rather than Frigates in the Royal Navy), their sole real advantage was in combining the hull and firepower of a 4th rate with the finer hull form of a frigate and ribs & keel comparable to a 74, which allowed them to carry a 4th rate armament on the finer hull and thus they could normally outrun a 4th rate & could catch a British 38. There were in fact a number of British ships which could have stood on an equal footing to a 44, the HMS Leopard of the Leopard-Cheasapeake Affair being one of them.

    The mistake that the British made was in their assumption that a British 38 could take any other Navy’s largest frigates one on one. In their defence this was actually true aside from the 3 American 44’s, and probably would have been true if the 44’s were in fact 44 gun Frigates as the US claimed rather than unusually fast 50 gun 4th rates.

  • And the war of 1812 is the Massachusetts told Maine to get knotted when they asked for help fending off the British invasion (Maine was part of Mass. then). The British took the town of Castine Maine & held it through the conflict. The “region” of Maine took the first opportunity in the following to get free of Mass. & become a state.

    Some say that the dislike of people from Massachusetts here in Maine (so-called “Massholes” or “Masshats”) stems from this snub.

  • Kristopher

    MDC: Pretty much.

    The architect of the Constitution class “frigates” was inspired by a set of French Razees he had gotten a chance to inspect.

    A Razee was a 2nd class ship of the line that had the top deck removed ( razed ) and was thus an oversized frigate with more guns than normal, a much thicker hull, and a set of sails that were designed to move a much heavier ship.

    The Constitution was made from the keel up to emulate that … more guns than a Frigate, a thicker hull than a Frigate, and much faster than a Frigate.

    Anything that could catch up to it would get slaughtered, and it could easily outrun anything it could not handle.

  • Edward

    A war that neither side really wanted, whose casus belli was resolved before the war began and whose most famous battle occurred after the war ended.

    The US frigates, such as “Old Ironsides” USS Constitution, would rank as fourth-rate line-of-battle ships in the Royal Navy. The fact that Royal Navy frigates, far weaker ships, would dare to engage them at all can be put down to post-Trafalgar cockiness.

    And the US were playing the Second XI during the war, until after the end. And even then, they got poor old Ned Pakenham, whose only recommendations to command were surviving Waterloo and more importantly being the Iron Duke’s brother in law…

  • Ripley

    Nuke Washington from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  • Laird

    Be sure of what, Ripley? Politicians are like cockroaches; some of them would survive even a nuclear attack.

  • Paul Marks

    Andrew Ian Dodge – I did not know about that.

    I was totally ignorant of the matter.

    Many thanks for the information.