The War of 1812 was fought between the United States of America and the British Empire. The Americans declared war for reasons including trade restrictions brought about by Britain's ongoing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, and British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion.
The Treaty of Ghent (which ended the conflict) said nothing about the maritime issues that had caused the war and contained nothing to suggest that America had achieved its aims. Instead, it merely provided for returning to the status quo ante bellum – the state that had existed before the war.
The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 was signed in Europe but before it arrived in the United States. Andrew Jackson won a stunning victory against seasoned British regulars, sustaining only 71 casualties, compared to the 2,037 casualties inflicted on the British. Jackson's victory secured the mouth of the Mississippi, instilled Americans with a new sense of national pride, and created a new American hero in General Andrew Jackson.
Proctor was only an adequate commander, not a good one. He dawdled, and Harrison caught up with him on 5 October 1813. By this time, Proctor's force was down to a rather small number, and his Indian allies melted away as they realized his weakness. He finally made a stand between the river and a swamp, the Indians holding the swamp, and his regulars thinly spread in the interval. His only cannon was useless, since he had unwisely managed to discard all the balls for it earlier when lightening himself for rapid movement. Not all the incompetence was American. Col. Richard M. Johnson's mounted infantry from Kentucky assaulted and prevailed. By this time, Proctor himself was well away toward Niagara, having no desire to be captured by the insulted Kentuckians who still remembered the Raisin. At the Battle of the Thames, Harrison had some 3000 effectives, Proctor less than 400. Tecumseh died in the battle, his Indians the last to remain fighting. Harrison returned to the United States, since he knew he could not maintain an advanced position through the winter, and militia enlistments would again be expiring.
Commodore Perry made the Erie an American lake through his famous victory on 10 September 1813 at Put-In Bay. Later that month, Harrison's army crossed the lake in boats from Middle Sister Island (These islands are now called the Bass islands) and landed unopposed near Malden, in an unopposed amphibious operation. No horses accompanied the army in this movement. Colonel Johnson's regiment marched by land up to Detroit with little excitement, and crossed to Sandwich on 1 October. Proctor burned Malden, paused at Sandwich to observe Harrison's landing, and then retreated up the River Thames toward York, Tecumseh badgering him to stand and fight, calling him a fat dog. Without Perry's naval victory, Harrison could not have crossed into Canada safely. Cooperation of the navy and the army was, alas, a rare thing in the United States, and this is the only time in the war that it happened successfully. Harrison consulted with Perry about water transport that could land his troops in advance of Proctor, but Perry advised against this because of the weather. So Harrison proceeded by land. Tecumseh arranged an ambush along the way, but it proved little impediment.
To aid his stalled land forces, Cochrane ordered a bombardment of Fort McHenry on the morning of the 13th. For twenty-four hours the American garrison withstood the bombs and rockets hurled at them from enemy vessels lying off the fort. The stout Yankee resistance displayed by McHenry’s soldiers and sailors ultimately compelled Cochrane to abandon his attack on Baltimore.
Francis Scott Key, a young D.C. lawyer and amateur poet who witnessed the bombardment from the vantage point of the British fleet, was so inspired by Fort McHenry’s resolute defense that he composed a poem to honor its gallant defenders. This poem, set to the English tune “Anacreon in Heaven,” was soon published in sheet music form as “The Star Spangled Banner.”
On August 24, 1814, as the War of 1812 raged on, invading British troops marched into Washington and set fire to the U.S. Capitol, the President's Mansion, and other local landmarks. The ensuring fire reduced all but one of the capital city's major public buildings to smoking rubble, and only a torrential rainstorm saved the Capitol from complete destruction.
On September 10, 1813, America won a major naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay at the western end of Lake Erie. There, Master-Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry, who had built a fleet at Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania) successfully engaged six British ships. Though Perry's flagship, the Lawrence, was disabled in the fighting, he went on to capture the British fleet. He reported his victory with the stirring words, "We have met the enemy and they are ours.''
The Battle of Lake Erie was America's first major victory of the war. It forced the British to abandon Detroit and retreat toward Niagara.
The American strategy called for a three-pronged invasion of Canada and heavy harassment of British shipping. The attack on Canada, however, was a disastrous failure. At Detroit, 2,000 American troops surrendered to a much smaller British and Indian force. An attack across the Niagara River, near Buffalo, resulted in 900 American prisoners of war. Along Lake Champlain, a third army retreated into American territory after failing to cut undefended British supply lines.
When hopes of reconciliation faded, orders were issued on December 26,1812, proclaiming a rigorous blockade of the exits of the Delaware and Chesapeke...In May,1813, the blockade was extended from Long Island to the Mississippi...The treaty with the restored Bourbon government of France was signed on May 30, 1814, and the following day an order placed all "ports, harbors...and seacoasts" of the United States under strict blockade.
James Madison had an opportunity to end the War of 1812 almost as soon as it began. The British had repealed the Orders in Council – rules that curbed American trade with Europe – and thus one of Madison’s major reasons for war was now moot. If the British had foregone the right to impress American sailors, Madison could well have gone back to Congress with the suggestion that hostilities cease immediately. However, the British considered impressment their right by custom, and believed it essential to their naval might. And so James Madison took his country to war.
Although more gifted as a warrior than a religious leader, Tecumseh worked for six years to expand the alliances based on his brother's cult. White settlers naturally viewed these developments with alarm, and in 1811 General William Henry Harrison defeated an Indian band led by Tenskwatawa at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Thereafter the Prophet lost influence, and the Shawnee revitalization quickly changed into a series of military alliances under the leadership of Tecumseh. The Shawnee joined with the British in the War of 1812...
The Prophet rather than Tecumseh first captured the popular imagination. As late as 1810 Tecumseh was being referred to in official correspondence merely as the Prophet's brother. The Shawnee Prophet's preaching had touches of moral grandeur: respect for the aged, sharing of material goods with the needy, monogamy, chastity, and abstinence from alcohol. He urged a return to the old Indian ways and preached self-segregation from the white people.
The French Empire, ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, controlled most of mainland Europe. Great Britain was among the few nations free from French domination. With trade suspended between the warring countries, neutral America had a commercial advantage: her merchants could supply both sides.
Closely entwined with the questions about the rights of neutrals to trade with European belligerents, the British practice of impressing American merchant sailors stands as one of the central grievances leading up to the War of 1812. By 1811, the British Royal Navy had impressed at least 6,000 mariners who claimed to be citizens of the United States. In addition to impressments, Americans were dismayed by British agitation of the native population on the western frontier. Congress declared war on June 18, 1812.