The War of 1812

War of 1812, (June 18, 1812–February 17, 1815), conflict fought between the United States and Great Britain over British violations of U.S. maritime rights. It ended with the exchange of ratifications of the Treaty of Ghent.

The War of 1812 brought the United States onto the world’s stage in a conflict that ranged throughout the American Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast, into Canada, and onto the high seas and Great Lakes.

Resulting from American anger over trade issues, impressment of sailors, and British support of Indian attacks on the frontier, the conflict saw the US Army attempt to invade Canada while British forces attacked south.

Over the course of the war, neither side gained a decisive advantage and the war resulted in a return to status quo ante bellum.

Despite this lack of conclusiveness on the battlefield, several late American victories led to a newfound sense of national identity and a feeling of victory.

What were the major Causes Of the War of 1812?

Tensions between the United States and Great Britain arose from the French revolutionary (1792–99) and Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815). During this nearly constant conflict between France and Britain, American interests were injured by each of the two countries’ endeavors to block the United States from trading with the other.

Battling Napoleon on the Continent, Britain sought to block neutral American trade with France. In addition, the Royal Navy’s use of impressment to keep its ships fully crewed also provoked Americans. The British accosted American merchant ships to seize alleged Royal Navy deserters, carrying off thousands of U.S. citizens into the British navy. 

This resulted in incidents such as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair which were affronts to the United States’ national honor.

In 1807 the frigate H.M.S. Leopard fired on the U.S. Navy frigate Chesapeake and seized four sailors, three of them U.S. citizens. London eventually apologized for this incident, but it came close to causing war at the time. 

The Americans were further angered by increased Native American attacks on the frontier which they believed the British to be encouraging.

As a result, President James Madison asked Congress to declare war in June 1812.

Summary of War of 1812 by Year

1812: Surprises at Sea & Ineptitude on Land

  • June, 1812: America declares war on Great Britain.
  • June – August 1812: Riots break out in Baltimore in protest of the war.
  • July, 1812:
    • General William Hull enters Canada. This is the first of three failed attempts made by the U.S. to invade Canada.
    • The British force the surrender of Fort Michilimackinac (in present-day Michigan).
  • August, 1812: General William Hull surrenders to General Isaac Brock at Detroit.
  • October, 1812: General Isaac Brock is killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights (Canada).

With the outbreak of war, the United States began mobilizing forces to invade Canada.

At sea, the fledgling US Navy quickly won several stunning victories beginning with USS Constitution’s defeat of HMS Guerriere on August 19 and Capt. Stephen Decatur’s capture of HMS Macedonian on October 25.

On land, the Americans intended to strike at several points, but their efforts were soon put in jeopardy when Brig. Gen. William Hull surrendered Detroit to Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock and Tecumseh in August.

Elsewhere, General Henry Dearborn remained idle at Albany, NY rather than march north.

On the Niagara front, Maj. Gen. Stephen van Rensselaer attempted an offensive but was defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights.

1813: Success on Lake Erie, Failure Elsewhere

  • January, 1813: British and Indian allies repel American troops at the Battle of Frenchtown (present-day Michigan). American survivors are killed the following day in the Raisin River Massacre (present-day Michigan).
  • April, 1813: U.S. troops capture and burn the city of York (present-day Toronto).
  • May, 1813: The siege of Fort Meigs (present-day Ohio).
  • Sept., 1813: Captain Perry defeats the British at the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • October, 1813: The warrior Tecumseh is killed at the Battle of the Thames (Canada).
  • Nov., 1813: The Battle of Crysler’s Farm (Canada).

The second year of war saw American fortunes around Lake Erie improve.

Building a fleet at Erie, PA, Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry defeated a British squadron at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 13. This victory allowed Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison’s army to retake Detroit and defeat British forces at the Battle of the Thames.

To the east, American troops successfully attacked York, ON and crossed the Niagara River. This advance was checked at Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams in June and American forces withdrew by year’s end.

Efforts to capture Montreal via the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain also failed following defeats at the Chateauguay River and Crysler’s Farm.

1814: Advances in the North & A Capital Burned

  • July, 1814:
    1. The Battle of Chippawa (Canada).
    2. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane (present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada).
  • Aug., 1814: Peace negotiations begin in Ghent.
  • Aug. 24-25, 1814: The British burn Washington, DC in retaliation for the burning of York. President James Madison flees the Capital.
  • Sept., 1814: The Battle of Plattsburg on Lake Champlain is a major American victory, securing its northern border. The Battle of Baltimore takes place at Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote The Star Spangled Banner.
  • Dec., 1814: The Treaty of Ghent: Americans and British diplomats agree to the terms of a treaty and return to the status quo from before the war.

Having endured a succession of ineffective commanders, American forces on the Niagara received capable leadership in 1814 with the appointment of Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown and Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott. Entering Canada, Scott won the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, before both he and Brown were wounded at Lundy’s Lane later that month.

To the east, British forces entered New York but were forced to retreat after the American naval victory at Plattsburgh on September 11.

Having defeated Napoleon, the British dispatched forces to attack the East Coast. Led by VAdm. Alexander Cochrane and Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, the British entered the Chesapeake Bay and burned Washington DC before being turned back at Baltimore by Fort McHenry.

1815: New Orleans & Peace

  • January, 1815: Andrew Jackson defeats the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
  • February, 1815: The Peace Treaty is ratified and President Madison declares the war over.

With Britain beginning to bring the full weight of its military might to bear and with Treasury near empty, the Madison Administration began peace talks in mid-1814.

Meeting at Ghent, Belgium, they ultimately produced a treaty which addressed a few of the issues that had led to the war. With the conflict at a military stalemate and the reemergence of Napoleon, the British were happy to agree to a return to status quo antebellum and the Treaty of Ghent was signed December 24, 1814.

Unaware that peace had been concluded, a British invasion force led by Maj. Gen. Edward Pakenham prepared to attack New Orleans.

Opposed by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, the British were defeated at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8.

Aftermath of the War of 1812

Contention in the United States had hobbled the war effort, and domestic disaffection had menaced the Union, but after the war a surge of patriotism inspired Americans to pursue national goals.

Contrary to American expectations, Canada remained British and eventually developed its own national identity, partly from pride over repulsing U.S. invasions.

Meanwhile, Britain’s influence among the northwestern Indians was forever ended, and American expansion in that region proceeded unchecked.

In the South, the Creek War opened a large part of that region for settlement and led to the events that persuaded Spain to cede Florida to the United States in 1821.

The most enduring international consequence of the war was in the arbitration clauses of Ghent, perhaps the treaty’s most important feature.

Its arrangements to settle outstanding disagreements established methods that could adapt to changing U.S. administrations, British ministries, and world events.

There lay the seeds of an Anglo-American comity that would weather future disagreements to sustain the longest unfortified border in the world.