The War of 1812, sometimes called “America’s forgotten war,” was a curious affair. At the time, it was dismissed as “Mr. Madison’s War.” Later it was hailed by some as America’s “Second War for Independence” and ridiculed by others, such as President Harry Truman, as “the silliest damned war we ever had.” The conflict, which produced several great heroes and future presidents, was all this and more.
In America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812 (SUNY Press, 2014) Robert P. Watson tells the stories of the battles and leaders and shares the blunders and victories of the war. What started out as an effort to invade Canada, fueled by anger over the harassment of American merchant ships by the Royal Navy, soon turned into an all-out effort to fend off an invasion by Britain. Armies marched across the Canadian border and sacked villages; navies battled on Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and the world’s oceans; both the American and Canadian capitals were burned; and, in a final irony, the United States won its greatest victory in New Orleans—after the peace treaty had been signed. Robert P. Watson is Professor of American Studies at Lynn University.
His many books include The Obama Presidency: A Preliminary Assessment, George W. Bush: Evaluating the President at Midterm, and Life in the White House: A Social History of the First Family and the President’s House; all published by SUNY Press. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
Note: Books noticed at Adirondack Almanack are provided by their publishers.
With all due respect to the author, America won its greatest and most important victory at the Battle of Plattsburgh, September 11, 1814, not in New Orleans.
True, New Orleans gave us a changed dynamic for westward expansion and it gave us President Jackson, but the Battle of Platsburgh delivered to us a nation still whole and independent, this outcome achieved in a desperate defense against the largest invasion force ever amassed against our nation.
The Adirondack region should be justly proud of its historic and decisive role in saving the Republic.
It should also be noted that the War of 1812 was officially over when Andy Jackson fought the British in New Orleans. I agree with Pete, the battle of Plattsburgh was strategically much more important.
Had the British won at Plattsburgh they could have advanced south and effectively carved off New England which still had strong trade ties to England and might have agreed to return to the Crown.
I also feel the need to chime in on the Battle of Plattsburgh. The largest army ever to attempt an invasion of the USA was thwarted at that battle. News of that victory brought the British back to the negotiating table and allowed for the favorable terms in the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war. Once Napoleon had been defeated in Europe many in Britain thought there was an opportunity to seize American territories and force the US to cede land to the Indians. Plattsburgh blunted the push for those demands and allowed the return to the pre-war borders. If Mr Johnson fails to note the importance of this battle in his book then he is doing a real disservice to the history of New York State, especially the Adirondak region. There were other major battles in the ADK region at Sacketts Harbor on Lake Ontario and the Battles of Chateaugay and Cryslers farm just over the border in Quebec.
Well written gentlemen! The Battle of Plattsburgh should be more enthusiastically taught in all North Country schools. Also, let’s ‘hop on the governor’s bandwagon,’ and promote more tourism to the Adirondacks…kudos to the Lakes to Locks folks for doing their part – on the historical side!!
We have a lot to share, and many communities, museums, and organizations do that well with their numerous programs.
Professor Watson’s discussion on C-Span on February 8, 2014, was lively and informative. Will research the Battle of Plattsburgh. The story of Tecumseh, Shawnee military leader and the mutual respect and deep friendship between he and soldier Brock was new info, also William Henry Harrison’s admiration of Tecumseh puts a warm human touch on the warring going on around them. In school, we learn only of battles, nothing about each person as Professor Watson tells so enjoyably.