War of 1812

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The War of 1812 was a military conflict, lasting for two and a half years, fought by the United States of America against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, its North American colonies, and its Native American allies. Seen by the United States and Canada as a war in its own right, it is frequently seen in Europe as a theatre of the Napoleonic Wars, as it was caused by issues related to that war (especially the Continental System). The war resolved many issues which remained from the American Revolutionary War but involved no boundary changes. The United States declared war on June 18, 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of US merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support for Native American tribes against European American expansion, outrage over insults to national honor after humiliations on the high seas, and possible US interest in annexing British territory in modern-day Canada.[3]

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The war was fought in three principal theatres. Firstly, at sea, warships and privateers of each side attacked the others merchant ships, while the British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the United States and mounted large raids in the later stages of the war. Secondly, land and naval battles were fought on the US“Canadian frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River and the northern end of Lake Champlain. Thirdly, the Southern United States and Gulf Coast also saw big land battles, in which US forces defeated Britains Native American allies and a British invasion force at New Orleans. At the end of the war both sides signed the Treaty of Ghent and both parties returned occupied land to its pre-war owner and resumed friendly trade relations.

With the majority of its land and naval forces tied down in Europe fighting the Napoleonic Wars, the British used a defensive strategy in the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, repelling initial American invasions. Early victories over poorly led US armies such as the Battle of Queenston Heights, demonstrated that the conquest of the Canadas would prove more difficult than anticipated. Despite this, the US was able to inflict serious defeats on Britains Native American allies, ending the prospect of an Indian confederacy and an independent Native American state in the Midwest under British sponsorship. US forces were also able to make several gains on the Canadian frontier; taking control of Lake Erie in 1813 and seizing western parts of Upper Canada. However a large-scale US attempt to capture Montreal was repulsed in November 1813, and serious US attempts to conquer Upper Canada were ultimately abandoned following the bloody Battle of Lundys Lane in July 1814.

In April 1814, with the defeat of Napoleon, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending larger invasion armies and tightening their naval blockade. However, with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, both governments were eager for a return to normality and peace negotiations began in Ghent in August 1814. In September 1814, the British invaded and occupied eastern Maine. In the Deep South, General Andrew Jackson destroyed the military strength of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C, but they were repulsed in an attempt to take Baltimore. American victories in September 1814 at the Battle of Plattsburgh repulsed the British invasions of New York, which along with pressure from merchants on the British government prompted British diplomats to drop their demands at Ghent for an independent native buffer state and territorial claims that London previously sought. Both sides agreed to a peace that restored the situation before the war began. However, it took six weeks for ships to cross the Atlantic so news of the peace treaty did not arrive before the British suffered a major defeat at New Orleans in January 1815.[4]

In the United States, late victories over invading British armies at the battles of Plattsburg, Baltimore (inspiring their national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) and New Orleans produced a sense of euphoria over a “second war of independence” against Britain.[5][6] The Federalist Party had strongly opposed the war effort and prevented New England from providing much in the way of soldiers and troops; it now virtually collapsed. The war ended on a high note for Americans, bringing an “Era of Good Feelings” in which partisan animosity nearly vanished in the face of strengthened US nationalism. The war was also a major turning point in the development of the US military. The poor performance of several US armies during the war, particularly during the 1812“13 invasions of Canada and the 1814 defence of Washington, convinced the US government of the need to move away from its Revolutionary-era reliance on militia and focus on creating a more professional regular force. Spain was involved in fighting in Florida, but was not an official belligerent; some Spanish forces fought alongside the British during the Occupation of Pensacola. The US took permanent ownership of Spains Mobile District.

In Upper and Lower Canada, British and local Canadian militia victories over invading US armies became iconic and promoted the development of a distinct Canadian identity, which included strong loyalty to Britain. Today, particularly in Ontario, memory of the war retains its significance, because the defeat of the invasions ensured that the Canadas would remain part of the British Empire, rather than be annexed by the United States. In Canada, numerous ceremonies took place in 2012 to commemorate the war, offer historical lessons and celebrate 200 years of peace across the border.[7] The war is scarcely remembered in Britain, being heavily overshadowed by the much larger Napoleonic Wars occurring in Europe. -X


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