Posts Tagged ‘War of 1812’

Sunday, February 19, 2012

America’s Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812

Although it has taken a backseat to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and has been largely forgotten outside the areas it was fought, this year marks the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. In the reissued The American Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812’s First Year (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012), Pierre Berton transforms history into an engrossing narrative that reads like a fast-paced novel. To America’s leaders in 1812, an invasion of Canada seemed to be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of eight million Americans fail to subdue a struggling British colony of 300,000 already enmeshed in a life and death struggle with the armies (and navies) of Napoleon?

Burton is deft at describing the mood of the nation at the outbreak of war, and lends a well-needed dose of Canadian perspective. The War of 1812, he says, was “the war that Canada won, or to put it more precisely did not lose, by successfully repulsing the armies that tried to invade and conquer British North America. The war was fought almost entirely in Upper Canada, whose settlers, most of the Americans, did not not invite the war, did not care about the issues, and did not want to fight.”

Drawing on primary sources such as memoirs, diaries, letters and official dispatches, Pierre Berton gets inside the characters of the men who fought the war, from common soldiers to generals, bureaucrats, profiteers, traitors, and loyalists. Berton is at his best when describing the lives and motives of individual soldiers and politicians, an effort he doesn’t accomplish as well for Native American warriors who were as much a part of the story of the War of 1812.

This shortcoming is perhaps understood, considering Berton’s relaince on primary written sources, few of which are Native American. And it is outweighed to some extent by the author’s broad inclusion of lesser battles, attacks and massacres in which Native Americans played the key role. Still, his “Cast of Characters” list precious few Native American names: Tenskwatawa, “The Prophet”; Tecumseh, the Shawnee killed in the Battle of the Thames, in October 1813, who is considered one of Native America’s most important political leaders; the Wyandot Chief Roundhead; and the Mohawk Chief John Brant, the son of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) who was instrumental in stopping an American attack at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. Overall however, this book is a fascinating popular history of a complex war from an outstanding historian; the first of two volumes. His second work in the series, Flames Across the Border, picks up where this account ends.

Pierre Berton was an internationally renowned bestselling author of fifty books including Vinny, Klondike, and The Last Spike, and the recipient of over thirty literary awards including three Governor General’s Awards for Creative Non-Fiction. He was raised in Yukon (he was Chancellor of Yukon College), served almost four years in the army, was an editor at the Toronto Star, and a writer and host of CBC programs (and a member of the Newsman’s Hall of Fame).

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Books: War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley

As the 200th anniversary approaches, there will be a steady stream of new books about the War of 1812. But for readers interested in the effects of the war on the ground in the Champlain Valley, there remains just one foundational text, now available for the first time in paper by Syracuse University Press. Although first issued in 1981, Allan S. Everest’s The War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley is still required reading for those hoping to understand the Plattsburgh campaign, considered critical to the war.

The War of 1812, ranks with the often overlooked American conflicts of the 19th century, but unlike the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) or the Spanish-American War (1898-1902), the War of 1812 really was a Second War for Independence. America stood at the other side of Britain’s own Manifest Destiny, the homes, farms, property, and lives of Americans in the Champlain Valley stood in the middle.

The first months of 1814 spelled gloom for America, then only 35 years old. The war against England was stalled. The British continued to kidnap and impress American for service on their warships. They supported Native Americans who attacked outposts and settlements on the American frontier. American harbors were blockaded by the British and New England, never sympathetic with the narrow vote of Congress for war, had become openly hostile and was threatening to secede.

Still worse, Napoleon had been defeated in Europe and Britain could now devote more time and effort to America. The British saw an opportunity to split the new American republic and once again take control of sections of the young colonies. The bold plan called for a combined army and naval strike at Plattsburgh, followed by a drive down the lake and through the Hudson Valley to New York City, splitting the colonies in two. The Americans saw that opportunity too.

The Navy Department contracted Noah Brown, one of New York’s finest shipwrights, to build a fleet to protect the way south from Canada along Lake Champlain. In less than two months, Brown constructed, armed, and launched a total of six of war ships: Allen, Borer, Burrows, Centipede, Nettie, and Viper. With the help of the small Vermont town of Vergennes and its iron foundry that could supply spikes, bolts, and shot, and it’s water-powered sawmills, and surrounding forests filled with white oak and pine for ship timber, Brown built the 26-gun flagship Saratoga, in just 40 days, and commandeered the unfinished steamboat and completed it as the 17-gun schooner Ticonderoga.

Vastly out-manned and outgunned on both land and sea, a rag tag inexperienced group of 1,500 Americans commanded by Capt. Thomas Macdonough met the greatest army and naval power on earth. Because of a serious shortage of sailors for his fleet, he drafted U.S. Army soldiers, band musicians, and convicts serving on an army chain gang to man the ships.

Their leader Macdonough had some experience. He had served against the Barbary pirates in North Africa, but two decades of warfare had given the British considerably more experience. It had for instance, led to the promotion of officers by merit, rather than by purchase or birth. As a result the British forces were the best trained and most experienced in the world and they enjoyed the backing of the world’s greatest military power. Sir George Prevost led the large British army and its fleet into New York and down Lake Champlain to meet the Americans. But what happened that September 11th no one could have predicted.

By the end of the day, the U.S. had achieved the complete and unconditional surrender of the entire British fleet and the full retreat of all British land forces. More importantly, the American victory at Plattsburgh helped persuade the British to end the war.

That’s the bigger story, but the local story is the strength of Allan Everest’s history. As a professor of history at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the author of Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution, Our North Country Heritage, and the seminal book on the region’s prohibition history drawn from local interviewees, Rum Across the Border, Everest had a grasp of the topography of the region’s political, social, and cultural history.

Over some two and a half years, the region saw armies raised, defeated, and disbanded, including their own militia, which was repeatedly called out to protect the border areas and to serve under regular army units. Everest catalogs the political and military rivalries, and the series of disheartening defeats, loss of life, and destruction of property and markets resiliently borne by local people, who were forced to flee when battle threatened, and returned to rebuild their lives.

2001’s The Final Invasion: Plattsburgh, the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Victory painted with a broader brush and suffered criticism for misunderstanding the Plattsburgh campaign. As a result, Everest’s 30-year-old work – despite its age – is still the definitive work on the impact of the War of 1812 on northern New York.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Local History: Liberian Pioneer Jehudi Ashmun

Thursday, April 21, marks the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War during this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to current world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History

The eastern edge of the Adirondack Park stretches into the middle of Lake Champlain, that great river-lake 120 miles long, four times the size of Lake George. Standing between the states of New York and Vermont, it’s the largest body of water in the Adirondacks, one that connects Whitehall and (via the Champlain Canal and Hudson River) New York City to Quebec’s Richelieu River and the St. Lawrence River. Two routes inland from the Atlantic Ocean that have had a historic impact on the entire North County, New York and Vermont. The book Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History celebrates what is unquestionably America’s most historic lake.

Four hundred years of Champlain history are conveyed in the coffee-table book’s more than 300 color photographs, drawings, maps and vintage images. Chapters on the towns along the lake, the Chaplain basin’s First Peoples, its critical military and transportation history, and the sports and recreation opportunities are eloquently contextualized by regional writers, including occasional Almanack contributor Chris Shaw who provides the book’s Prologue and Epilogue, and Russ Bellico who offers a chapter entitled “Highway to Empire”.

Published by Adirondack Life in Jay, Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History is a great book for those who love the lake, local and state history buffs, and nature lovers.

You can pick up a copy online.

You can hear an interview with the book’s editor Mike McCaskey on the Vermont Public Radio website.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

War Of 1812 Symposium Planned for Ogdensburg

During the War of 1812 the dogs of war barked and bit along the U.S. northern frontier from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain as American forces tangled with their British and Canadian counterparts for two-and-a-half years. The War of 1812 in this region, and its wider implications, will be topics at the third annual War of 1812 Symposium April 29-30 in Ogdensburg, NY, sponsored by the Fort La Présentation Association.

The five presentations by authoritative Canadians and Americans are: Ogdensburg and Prescott during the War of 1812, Paul Fortier; American supply efforts on Lake Ontario: “Cooper’s Ark,” Richard Palmer; “Colonel Louis” and the Native American role in the War of 1812, Darren Bonaparte; The war on the St. Lawrence River, Victor Suthren; and Excavation of American Graves at the 1812 Burlington Cantonment, Kate Kenny. The post-dinner address by Patrick Wilder is the Battle of Sackets Harbor

“We established the symposium in advance of the war’s 2012 bicentennial to help develop a broader public understanding of the War of 1812, so important to the evolution of the United States and Canada,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort La Présentation Association. “The annual symposium is a vibrant forum of scholars from both sides of the boarder presenting informative seminars to an enthusiastic audience of academics, history buffs and re-enactors.”

The cost of the symposium is $100 for the Saturday seminars and after-dinner speaker, including a light continental breakfast, a buffet lunch and a sit-down dinner. The Friday evening meet-and-greet with period entertainment by Celtic harpist Sue Croft and hors d’oeuvres is $10.

The symposium and dinner fee for Fort La Présentation Association members is $90, and they will pay $10 for the meet-and-greet.

Other pricing options are available: $80 for the Saturday seminars without dinner; and $35 for the dinner with speaker.

Seminar details and registration instructions on the Fort La Présentation Association webpage.

The Freight House Restaurant in Ogdensburg will host the symposium, as it has in previous years.

The Fort La Présentation Association is a not-for-profit corporation based in Ogdensburg, New York. Its mission is to sponsor or benefit the historically accurate reconstruction of Fort de la Présentation (1749) in close proximity to the original site on Lighthouse Point.

Seminar Presenters

Darren Bonaparte from the Mohawk community of Ahkwesáhsne on the St. Lawrence River is an historical journalist. He created the Wampum Chronicles website in 1999 to promote his research into the history and culture of the Rotinonhsión:ni—the People of the Longhouse. Mr. Bonaparte has been published by Indian Country Today, Native Americas, Aboriginal Voices and Winds of Change, and he has served as an historical consultant for the PBS miniseries The War That Made America; Champlain: The Lake Between; and The Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America.

Paul Fortier, of Kingston, ON, worked 10 years as a military curator and historian for Parks Canada and a following 10 years as a manager at the National Archives of Canada. While living in Prescott, ON, the home he restored was the Stockade Barracks, British military headquarters on the St. Lawrence River during the War of 1812. Mr. Fortier is a founder of the re-enacted Regiment of Canadian Fencible Infantry. He owns Jessup Food & Heritage, providing period food services at Upper Canada Village, Fort Henry and Fort York.

Kate Kenney is the Program Historian at the University of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program. She supervises historic artifact analysis and also helps supervise field work, particularly at historic sites. She is the senior author of Archaeological Investigations at the Old Burial Ground, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Ms. Kenny has organized and conducted UVM CAP public outreach, including presentations to elementary and high school students. Personal research projects involve Vermont history from the earliest settlement through to the Civil War.

Richard F. Palmer of Syracuse is a senior editor of “Inland Seas,” the quarterly of the Great Lakes Historical Society, and has written some 40 articles for the publication, covering more than 250 years of Lake Ontario’s maritime history. His presentation on “Cooper’s Ark,” is the story of a short-lived floating fortress built in Oswego during the War of 1812, but lost in a storm while sailing to Sackets Harbor. He’ll also recount the attempt to raft lumber for the construction of ships from Oak Orchard to Sackets Harbor; the delivery was intercepted by the British.

Victor Suthren, from Merrickville, Ontario, is an author and historian. He served as Director General of the Canadian War Museum from 1986 to 1998, and is an Honorary Captain in the Canadian Navy and advisor to the Directorate of Naval History and Heritage, Department of National Defence (Canada). He has worked as an advisor to film and television productions and has voyaged extensively as a seaman in traditional “tall ships.” Mr. Suthren has published several works of historical non-fiction, as well as two series of historical sea fiction.

Patrick Wilder is an historian retired from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. He is the author of The Battle of Sackett’s Harbour, 1813.

Photo: Canadian Fencibles Colours, courtesy Fort La Présentation Association.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

War of 1812 Lecture on Battles at Plattsburgh

The Wilmington Historical Society invites you to their program with historian and author Keith Herkalo “September 11th, 1814: The Battles at Plattsburgh” to be held on Friday, August 20th at 7 pm at the Wilmington Community Center on Springfield Road in Wilmington, Essex County, NY.

Would the United States exist if our naval and land Battles at Plattsburgh on September 11, 1814 had been lost? For the United States, the War of 1812 is often referred to as “the second war for independence”. We have learned of the battles at Baltimore, Washington and Sacketts Harbor, but what about the Battles at Plattsburgh?

Keith Herkalo, using personal journals, military journals, contemporary newspaper accounts, and other original source documents, examines the evidence that leads to the conclusion that the Battles at Plattsburgh on land and on Lake Champlain, were actually the key battles of the War of 1812. He claims that were it not for the exemplary talents and skills of two young military officers, Commodore Thomas McDonough and General Alexander Macomb, a small force of regular army and navy personnel and New York Militia, a few thousand Vermont Militia, a handful of Native Americans and Veteran Exempts (those too old for military service), and a group of boys from a local school, the United States, as we know it today, would not exist.

Plattsburgh City Clerk and a charter member of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association, Keith Herkalo believes that the Battles at Plattsburgh and the individuals who fought in the War of 1812 in the Champlain Valley and surrounding area deserve national recognition. Karen Peters, President of the Wilmington Historical Society, notes that many area residents of that time period participated in the land battle, including Major Reuben Sanford of Wilmington who commanded a regiment of detached militia. Stephen Partridge, also of Jay and Wilmington was one of the first to be killed in action in a skirmish at Culver Hill on September 6, 1814, a few days prior to the main battle.

Having grown up in both Philadelphia and Plattsburgh, and spending more than a decade in military service, Keith Herkalo returned to Plattsburgh developing a keen interest in Plattsburgh’s history with a particular attention to Plattsburgh’s involvement in the War of 1812. He is a builder and member of the boat crew of the award-winning bateau “Rooster” (the 37-foot replica of an 1812 era work boat). As an 1812-era re-enactor and an amateur historian he is the research catalyst behind the archaeological re-discovery and preservation of the 1812 Camp Site known as “Pike’s Cantonment” and the Crab Island Graves location. He is the editor of The Journalof H.K. Averill. Sr.: An Account of the Battle of Plattsburgh and Early North Country Community, and author of September 11th, 1814: the Battles at Plattsburgh which documents Plattsburgh’s importance in the War of 1812.

The “September 11th, 1814: The Battles at Plattsburgh” program on August 20th is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For further information, contact Karen Peters at (518) 524-1023 or Merri Peck at (518) 946-7627.

Illustration: Naval battle on Lake Champlain. Engraving in 1816 by B. Tanner.


Monday, July 5, 2010

War of 1812: The Carry of the Great Rope

During the War of 1812, control of Lake Ontario was one of many issues considered critical by both sides. A key position for the British was Kingston, Ontario, about thirty miles north of the vital American base at Sackets Harbor. In an effort to establish domination of the lake, the two sites engaged in a shipbuilding race.

The British finished first and gained control, but American builders quickly completed three new ships (two brigs and the huge frigate Superior, larger than its British counterpart). Their launch required only weapons and rigging, which were en route from Brooklyn via Albany. In 1814, hoping to keep those vessels in port, the British sought to disrupt American supply routes. A prime target was Fort Ontario, located at Oswego on the mouth of the Oswego River.

On May 5, the British fleet launched an attack that was repelled by the Americans. On the following day, an intensified assault featured heavy cannon fire from the British. Eventually, the Americans lost the fort and some important armaments, but most of the valuable supplies had been taken upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton) for safe storage with other similar goods. The preservation tactic worked, and shortly after the Battle of Oswego, a plan was in place to resume moving war supplies northward to the waiting ships at Sackets Harbor.

Following the attack, the British withdrew to Kingston, but a few weeks later they were at the Galloo Islands near Sackets Harbor, blockading any marine attempts at supplying this strategic site. Should the materials slip through, it would dramatically tip the scales in favor of the American forces. By monitoring the harbor, the Brits were preventing that from happening, ensuring their superiority on the lake.

A British attempt to destroy the Superior was foiled, and on May 2, the ship was launched. But it was hardly battle-ready, still lacking guns and rigging. Less than three weeks after the attack on Oswego, the critical supplies hidden at Oswego Falls were once again on the move. They had already traveled from Brooklyn to Albany, and then to Oneida Lake. Now, from Oswego Falls, it was time for the final, dangerous leg of the journey.

A land contingent paralleled the 19 American boats as they fairly sneaked up the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario. At Sandy Creek, the boats were taken inland as far as possible while scouts checked ahead for the presence of British ships. It was a wise move, for the enemy was indeed lurking nearby. Shortly after, the British launched an attack, but in less than a half hour, the Americans had won a resounding victory known as the Battle of Big Sandy Creek.

Despite the win, it was deemed unsafe to risk sending the valued supplies any farther by water, lest they again fall under attack and be captured or destroyed by the British. Wagons, oxen, horses, and manpower were summoned, both from the military and from local residents. The plan now was to move the important supplies the remaining distance by land.

The bateaux (boats) were unloaded, and soon a lengthy caravan laden with guns, ship cables, and other supplies was on its way to Sackets Harbor, about 20 miles north. Only one item was yet to be moved—a length of rope, albeit an important one—and it presented a real problem.

This wasn’t just any length of rope. It was intended as the anchor line and/or rigging for the USS Superior, the huge new frigate that could alter the balance of power on the lake. That meant this was a BIG rope. Most descriptions portrayed it as 6 inches thick and 600 feet long, weighing in at just under 5 tons!

No cart was big enough to handle its tremendous size and weight, but if it wasn’t delivered, the Superior would remain port-bound, and the Brits would own the lake. Ingenuity often yields solutions at such critical moments, but sometimes good ol’ elbow grease is the answer. In this case, it was a combination of the two, but the emphasis was clearly on the physical.

A section of the rope (referred to as a cable) was piled on a cart, and the remaining cable was strung out along the trail. Militiamen heaved it to their shoulders, and like one gigantic, ponderous snake, the cable began moving slowly northward behind the cart.

There are various accounts of the trip, and claims as to the number of cable-carriers range from 84 to more than 200. Some say that discouraged men skipped out of the nasty job after a few hours, and that locals stepped in to literally shoulder the burden. None of the stories differ on one count, though: participants were left badly bruised from the incredibly difficult ordeal.

But, they did it! The cable arrived at Sackets Harbor on the afternoon of the second day. The tired men wore abrasions, cuts, and huge, deep-purple bruises as hard-earned badges of valor. At the close of their incredible 20-mile journey, “there was loud cheering the whole length of the cable,” as the men were greeted with music, drumming, flag-waving, and drink—and the princely sum of $2 each for their efforts.

They should have celebrated with a tug-of-war!

As soon as it was deemed seaworthy, the Superior turned the tables on the British, blockading their main shipyard at Kingston and helping establish American dominance of the lake. It was thanks in no small part to the “can-do” attitude exemplified by North Country pioneer folks.

Top Photo: Fort Ontario at Oswego.

Middle Photo: One of several plaques honoring the cable carriers.

Bottom Photo: Map of Lake Ontario sites.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

400 Years of The Champlain Valley Event

Rich Strum, Director of Interpretation and Education at Fort Ticonderoga, will offer a program entitled “Conquest, Commerce, and Culture: 400 Years of History in the Champlain Valley” at Saranac Village at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake on Sunday, March 8, 2009.

Samuel de Champlain first saw the great expanse of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains to the east, the Adirondacks on the west in 1609. New York State, Vermont, and the Province of Quebec are commemorating the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s explorations this year through a variety of programs and events.

Strum will provide an illustrated overview of four centuries of the Champlain region’s history. He will discuss military contests for control of the vital Champlain corridor, the role the lake has played in economic growth and expansion, the lasting impact of 150 years of French dominance in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The presentation will begin at 2:00 p.m. and is offered at no charge to member sof the Adirondack Museum and children of elementary school age or younger. Free admission will be extended to all residents of Saranac Village at Will Rogers. The fee for non-members is $5.00. For additional information, please call the Education Department at (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit the museum’s web site at www.adirondackmuseum.org.

Rich Strum has been the Director of Interpretation and Education at Fort Ticonderoga since 1999. He serves as North Country Regional Coordinator for New York State History Day. He is the author of Ticonderoga: Lake Champlain Steamboat, as well as two books for young readers: Causes of the American Revolution and Henry Know: Washington’s Artilleryman. He lives in Ticonderoga, N.Y. with his wife and daughters.



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