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When did the American War of 1812 actually end?

When did the American War of 1812 actually end?

My daughter was recently studying this in high school, and somehow I had always assumed that it had only lasted a year. Apparently it ran on for at least a couple of years, but her textbook only touched on key points. It didn't actually identify the final date on which hostilities ceased. Does anyone know the date and terms that were agreed upon by both sides?


There were actually TWO endings to the War of 1812.

The first, and "official" ending, was the signing of the peace Treaty of Ghent, December 24, 1814, which would have made a nice Christmas present. It called for a cessation of hostilities, the exchange of lands and prisoners, and the appointment of a joint commission to study U.S. Canadian boundary issues.

The ACTUAL ending of the war was the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815 (news traveled slowly in those days, so neither side knew that the war had ended). It was a complete, lopsided victory for the defending American forces, under General Andrew Jackson that helped catapult him to the Presidency. The British suffered some 2000 casualties (one fourth of their total), including the commanding general Edward Pakenham.

This battle was regarded as "sealing the peace." Even the "Iron Duke" of Wellington didn't want to fight the Americans after this.


The War of 1812 had six official endings: one for at land and five for at sea. The Treaty of Ghent states: "All hostilities both by sea and land shall cease as soon as this Treaty shall have been ratified by both parties as hereinafter mentioned." The American Senate ratified the treaty on February 16th, 1815, making this the earliest defensible date for the end of the war.

Consequential fighting on land lasted right up until ratification, well past the Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson and the British invasion force knew that the war hadn't ended with the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson refused to rescind his order for martial law in New Orleans until he received some indication that peace had been reached by negotiators in Europe (Brands p. 287).

The British, realizing the vulnerability of the Gulf coast, sailed away from New Orleans to American-occupied Spanish-owned Mobile Bay. The Second Battle of Fort Bowyer (February 7-12, 1815) was the last land battle between the British and Americans.* It was the beginning of a British campaign to take Mobile from the Americans. Despite Jackson's boast that "ten thousand men cannot take it," the fort surrendered to the British after a five-day siege.

With Fort Bowyer captured, the British prepared to march on Mobile itself. They postponed their attack upon receiving news of the Treaty of Ghent, and they withdrew from the area altogether when they learned that the American Senate had ratified the treaty on February 16.

How important was the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer? The Mobile area was the only territory that changed ownership due to the War of 1812. Because it was Spanish-owned, Mobile was not covered in the Treaty of Ghent. It's possible that if the British force had been able to take Mobile before news from Ghent arrived, then the Americans would not have acquired Mobile until later in their history. Mobile would became the second largest cotton-exporting port in the United States, so a long-term consequence of the acquisition of Mobile was the intensification of slave agriculture in the deep South.

Five Endings for the War at Sea: The Treaty of Ghent specified five specific dates after which prizes taken at sea would be invalidated. Ships further from the North American Coast could keep prizes up to 120 days after ratification. For details for the five ending dates for the various naval theaters, see "Article the Second":

Immediately after the ratifications of this Treaty by both parties as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the Armies, Squadrons, Officers, Subjects, and Citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities: and to prevent all causes of complaint which might arise on account of the prizes which may be taken at sea after the said Ratifications of this Treaty, it is reciprocally agreed that all vessels and effects which may be taken after the space of twelve days from the said Ratifications upon all parts of the Coast of North America from the Latitude of twenty three degrees North to the Latitude of fifty degrees North, and as far Eastward in the Atlantic Ocean as the thirty sixth degree of West Longitude from the Meridian of Greenwich, shall be restored on each side:-that the time shall be thirty days in all other parts of the Atlantic Ocean North of the Equinoctial Line or Equator:-and the same time for the British and Irish Channels, for the Gulf of Mexico, and all parts of the West Indies:-forty days for the North Seas for the Baltic, and for all parts of the Mediterranean-sixty days for the Atlantic Ocean South of the Equator as far as the Latitude of the Cape of Good Hope.- ninety days for every other part of the world South of the Equator, and one hundred and twenty days for all other parts of the world without exception.


* There were some isolated skirmishes between American forces and British-allied Native Americans after peace had been declared, but these were of less significance.


The Messed Up Truth About The War Of 1812

If there's any chapter of American history more poorly understood than the War of 1812, we're not sure what it could possibly be. Seriously, if someone stopped you on the street and gave you a pop quiz on the subject, how well do you think you'd do? You might be able to point out that it was fought between the U.S. and the British, that it started in 1812 (congrats on that deductive power), and that . George Washington fought in it, maybe? Was he dead yet? Who was president in 1812, again? Was this the one with Gettysburg? At this point you might be feeling a bit embarrassed, but it's honestly not your fault.

The war is hardly discussed in classrooms and usually treated as either some kind of weird epilogue to the Revolutionary War that didn't really have much of a historical impact, or as a "Second War for Independence" during which Americans regained their honor from vicious British imperials and also wrote "The Star Spangled Banner" to really drive the point home. The truth, however, is much more complicated, more than a little stupid, and very, very messed up. Let's get familiar with the War of 1812. (And no, neither George Washington nor Gettysburg were involved.)


War of 1812 Facts

Sir Amédée Forestier, The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814, 1914, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sulgrave Institution of the U.S. and Great Britain. Signing of Treaty of Ghent

The War of 1812 is one of the least studied wars in American history. Sometimes referred to as the “Second War of Independence,” the War of 1812 was the first large scale test of the American republic on the world stage. With the British Navy impressing American sailors, and the British government aiding Native American tribes in their attacks on American citizens on the frontier, Congress, for the first time in our nation’s history, declared war on a foreign nation: Great Britain. The War of 1812 brought the United States onto the world's stage and was followed by a half-decade now called the "Era of Good Feelings."

This page offers answers to frequently asked questions about this formative and dramatic conflict.

When did the War of 1812 begin?

The War of 1812 began on June 18th, 1812 with the Unites States formally declaring war on the United Kingdom. The war lasted from June 1812-February 1815, a span of two years and eight months.

When did the War of 1812 end?

Peace negotiations began in late 1814, but slow communication across the Atlantic (and indeed across the United States) prolonged the war and also led to numerous tactical errors for both sides. The Treaty of Ghent was signed by British and United States delegates on December 24th, 1814, to be enacted when each side formally ratified the treaty. The British were able to ratify the treaty on December 27th, but it took several weeks for the treaty to reach the United States. It was ratified by the US Senate on February 17th, 1815. The war lasted a total of two years and eight months.

What were the causes of the War of 1812?

The War of 1812 was part of a larger, global conflict. The empires of England and France spent 1789-1815 locked in an almost constant war for global superiority. That war stretched from Europe to North Africa and to Asia and, when the Americans declared war on England, the war engulfed North America as well.

The United States had a variety of grievances against Britain. Many felt that the British had not yet come to respect the United States as a legitimate country. The British were impressing, or American sailors at sea as well as blocking American trade with France—both of these were also spillover policies from the British prosecution of the war with France. The British were also unsubtly supporting Native American groups who were in conflict with American settlers along the frontier.

Impressment was a practice wherein a nation would take men into military or naval forces by compulsion, without giving notice. Often referred to as the "press gang", impressment was used by several nations in the 19th century. The term is most commonly associated with the United Kingdom as it was a common practice for the Royal Navy to use impressment during wartime. Impressment was a grievance cited as a cause of the American Revolution but is most commonly associated with the War of 1812. The practice ceased in the Royal Navy after 1814.

Where was the War of 1812 fought?

The War of 1812 was fought in the United States, Canada, and on the high seas. Engagements were fought in the Old Southwest (Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi), the Old Northwest (embracing Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin) Canada, Coastal Maine and the Chesapeake.

Many battles were engaged in rivers, lakes, and the oceans. The British enforced a blockade of American ports, particularly in the South, along the Atlantic seaboard. Naval engagements flared, especially around the Chesapeake Bay, as this blockade was challenged. Additionally, since the war had a distinct commercial character, pirate-style raids were carried out against trade ships throughout the Atlantic. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario played major roles in the War of 1812. Sitting amidst the main theater of operations in the North, they shaped the movements of the contending armies. Large ships were built and put on the Lakes, where they engaged in full-scale battles for supremacy in order to move troops and bombard rival towns.

Who was the American President during the War of 1812?

James Madison, “the Father of the Constitution,” was the president throughout the war. When the nation was first founded, Madison was closely allied with Thomas Jefferson in seeking a decentralized agrarian democracy. As time wore on, however, the man changed. Throughout the War of 1812, he struggled to motivate northeastern states to contribute men and money to the war effort. By the time the war was over, Madison was a proponent of centralized power and a strong manufacturing economy.

Who were some of the important military figures of the War of 1812?

Many of the important military figures of the War of 1812 had started their careers either during the Revolutionary War or during the ongoing wars between Britain and France, particularly the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

Important American figures included Oliver Hazard Perry, the "Hero of Lake Erie", Jacob Brown who successfully defended Fort Erie despite a seven-week siege, and was later promoted to Commander General of the U.S. Army, and Winfield Scott was a brave fighter who also implemented a training system that greatly improved the battlefield performance of the American army. He would later conceive of the “Anaconda Plan” that shaped Northern strategy in the Civil War. In addition, two famous future Presidents made their mark during the war William Henry Harrison who responsible for the military destruction of Tecumseh’s Confederacy of Native American tribes, and Andrew Jackson, who defeated the Creek Indians in Alabama and won a dramatic victory against the British at New Orleans.

Important British figures included Isaac Brock, a popular imperial administrator in Canada who became a hero posthumously for his heroic but fatal defense of Queenston Heights, Robert Ross who led the veteran expeditionary force that burned Washington, D.C. and was killed outside of Baltimore at the Battle of North Point, and Edward Pakenham, a respected Napoleonic War veteran who led the British column that attacked the Gulf Coast, killed at the Battle of New Orleans.

Important Canadian figures included Gordon Drummond, a Canadian-born officer in the British Army who important role in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the subsequent siege of Fort Erie, Robert Livingston a military courier who had helped lift the siege of Fort Mackinac by smuggling in fresh supplies using camouflaged boats, and Richard Pierpont, a former slave who won freedom by fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War who organized “The Coloured Corps,” made up primarily of slaves who had escaped to Canada, which fought at the Battles of Queenston Heights and Fort George.

What role did Native Americans play in the War of 1812?

Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh

Native Americans played a major role in the War of 1812. Tribes were aligned with both sides of the conflict, although predominately tribes allied themselves with the British against the United States. The tribes fought along the frontier and along the Gulf Coast tribal wars occurred alongside battles of the War of 1812. Famous Native Americans included Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader who organized a confederation of Native American tribes, known as Tecumseh’s Confederacy, to resist ongoing encroachment on their lands by European settlers. Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames and his Confederacy fell apart. Black Hawk was a Sauk chief who fought against American frontiersmen. After the War of 1812, Black Hawk organized a new confederacy, leading to the Black Hawk War of 1832.

What roles did African-Americans play in the War of 1812?

African Americans were not officially allowed to join the U.S. Army during the War of 1812, although they served extensively in the U.S. Navy. Approximately one-quarter of the U.S. sailors at the Battle of Lake Erie were African American. Roughly 350 men of the “Battalion of Free Men of Color” fought at the Battle of New Orleans.

A company of mostly escaped slaves served with the British in Canada, participating in the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Siege of Fort Erie.

During the Royal Navy’s blockade of the Atlantic seaboard, roughly 4,000 slaves escaped onto British ships, where they were welcomed and freed. Many of them joined the British military, participating in the Battle of Bladensburg and the burning of Washington, D.C.

How many people fought in the War of 1812?

Only 7,000 men served in the United States military when the war broke out. By the end of the war, more than 35,000 American regulars and 458,000 militia—though many of these were only mustered in for local defense—were serving on land and sea.

The global British regular military was comprised of 243,885 soldiers in 1812. By war’s end, more than 58,000 regulars, 4,000 militia, and 10,000 Native Americans would join the battle for North America.

How many people died in the War of 1812?

Roughly 15,000 Americans died as a result of the War of 1812. Roughly 8,600 British and Canadian soldiers died from battle or disease. The losses among Native American tribes are not known.

What were the major battles of the War of 1812?

The War of 1812 was shaped by battles on land and sea.

The capture of Detroit (August 16, 1812) – Only weeks after the war began, American General William Hull surrendered Detroit, along with a sizable army, without resistance to a smaller British force.

The capture of the HMS Java, HMS Guerriere, and HMS Macedonian (August-December 1812) – The new US frigates Constitution and United States started the war with a bang, performing well in a series of Atlantic engagements that boosted American morale after a disappointing beginning on land.

The Battle of Queenston Heights (October 13, 1812) – In a dramatic battle, British and Canadian troops turned back an American incursion into Canada. British General Isaac Brock was killed.

The Battle of York (April 27, 1813) – American forces burned York, the capital of Upper Canada, after winning a hard-fought land battle.

The Battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813) – Oliver Hazard Perry won fame for his heroic deeds in this victory, which secured Lake Erie for the rest of the war and paved the way for the liberation of Detroit.

The Battle of the Thames, Ontario (October 5, 1813) – William Henry Harrison crushed a combined force of British and Native Americans in this battle, killing the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and thus removing the most dangerous threat to American settlers in the northwest.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend (March 27, 1814) – Andrew Jackson defeated the Red Stick Creeks and then forced the tribe to cede their claim to 23 million acres of what is now Alabama and Georgia.

The Battle of Bladensburg (August 24, 1814) – British regulars routed Maryland militia in this battle, opening the road to Washington, D.C., which they burned.

The Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814) – The British launched a poorly coordinated joint operation against the shipyard at Plattsburgh, but were decisively repulsed in one of the war’s largest naval engagements.

The Battle of North Point and the Defense of Fort McHenry (September 12-13, 1814) – After burning Washington, D.C., British forces advanced on Baltimore. Stubborn resistance at North Point and Fort McHenry saved the city, compelled the British to suspend their campaign, and inspired the American national anthem.

The Battles of Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams (June 6-24, 1813) – Another invasion of Canada was repulsed in these battles.

The Battle of Lundy’s Lane (July 25, 1814) – In one of the bloodiest battles of the war, one marked by extensive hand-to-hand fighting, the Americans were forced out of Canada for good.

The Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815) – Andrew Jackson inflicted over 2,000 casualties on attacking British troops while suffering 333 in the entire campaign. The battle became a touchstone of American pride, despite it occurring after the war had technically ended.

What kinds of weapons were used in the War of 1812?

The most widely used weapon in the War of 1812 was the smoothbore musket, which was carried by most of the infantrymen in the field. These had an effective battlefield range of 50-100 yards, necessitating close assaults and bayonet tactics be employed. There were also some units equipped with rifles, which were used primarily as light or specialized infantry.

Cannons were smoothbore as well, though they could shoot roughly 400 yards accurately. They were used with deadly, decisive effect on the battlefield.

Cavalrymen generally carried pistols and sabers and were used to outmaneuver or charge enemy formations.

How advanced was medicine during the War of 1812?

Disease was the primary cause of death during the War of 1812, not battlefield wounds. When men were wounded, they had little to look forward to in the hospital. Although sanitation was recognized as being medically important, advancements such as anesthesia and ambulatory care were still decades away. A British surgeon (who, along with one assistant, would generally be responsible for 1,000 men) remembered this:

“There is hardly on the face of the earth a less enviable situation than that of an Army Surgeon after a battle-worn out and fatigued in body and mind, surrounded by suffering, pain, and misery, much of which he knows it is not in his power to heal…. I never underwent such fatigue as I did the first week at Butler's Barracks. The weather was intensely hot, the flies in myriads, and lighting on the wounds, deposited their eggs, so that maggots were bred in a few hours.” – Tiger Dunlop, 89th Regiment of Foot

The average British and American soldier during the War of 1812.

Were there any significant technological advancements during the War of 1812?

The War of 1812 was fought in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, in which a variety of technological advancements came together to forever change the way humans lived and worked.

Steamships and steam-powered railroad engines came into profitable use for the first time during the war years. While they had little effect on the North American conflict, these steam machines would become the technological standard in the decades to come.

Machines made with interchangeable parts became more common during the War of 1812, although the practice was not yet applied to military manufacturing. For the common soldier, the most significant advancement may well have been improved food storage through airtight packaging.

What were the political effects of the War of 1812?

Internationally, the war helped codify a fair standing between the United States, Britain, and Canada. This led to an era of mutually beneficial trade and diplomatic partnership.

Domestically, the war exacerbated tensions between northern industrialists and southern planters. Industrialists were reluctant to go to war with Britain, which was then the worldwide model of the Industrial Revolution. Southerners, on the other hand, were quick to remember the French assistance that had helped win the southern campaigns of the American Revolution as well as the ideological similarities between the two revolutionary nations. The American public generally viewed the outcome of the war favorably, causing the anti-war Federalist Party to fade from national prominence.

What were the economic effects of the War of 1812?

In the early years of the 19th century, the United States was a rapidly expanding commercial power. Many historians cite this growth as a key factor in Britain’s desire to contain American expansion. The war helped to secure America’s unfettered access to the sea, which played a large role in a post-war economic boom.

The prosecution of the war cost the United States government 105 million dollars, which equates to roughly 1.5 billion dollars in 2014. The strain of raising this money drove legislators to charter the Second National Bank, taking another step towards centralization.

The peace terms that ended the war were those of status quo ante bellum, “the state of things as they were before the war.” So, while the War of 1812 was legally a tie—a wash—in terms of territorial acquisitions, historians now look at its long term effects to judge who won.

The Americans declared war (for the first time in their nation’s history) to stop British impressment, reopen the trade lanes with France, remove British support from Native American tribes, and to secure their territorial honor and integrity in the face of their old rulers. All four of these goals were achieved by the time peace broke out, although some British measures were scheduled to be repealed before the war had even begun. By establishing a respected footing with Britain and Canada, the United States also experienced a commercial boom in the years after the war. The overall result of the war was probably positive for the nation as a whole.

The British gained little to nothing from the war, save for an honorable friendship with the United States. Valuable resources were diverted from the battlefields of Europe for the War of 1812, which brought no land or treasure to the crown. The British also lost their Native American lodgment against United States expansion, further unleashing the growth of a major global trade competitor. However, the British did ultimately defeat France in their long war while avoiding a fiasco in North America, which is a considerable victory in the context of the global conflict they waged.

Many Native American tribes fought against the United States in the Northwest, united as a Confederacy led by a Shawnee man named Tecumseh. Many of these tribes had allied with the British during the Revolutionary War as well. The Creek tribe in the Southwest battled settlers and soldiers throughout the War of 1812, eventually allying with a column of British regulars. In reaching peace through status quo antebellum, however, the Native Americans all lost their main request of a recognized nation in North America. British support also evaporated in the years after the war, further quickening the loss of Native lands.

Painting of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, 1814. Sir Amédée Forestier, The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814, 1914, oil on canvas,

What are some of the best sources of information on the War of 1812?

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is a treasure trove of information and artifacts, including the original Star-Spangled Banner.

There are many book sources for information on the War of 1812 including:

Are any War of 1812 battlefields preserved?

Many battlefields from the War of 1812 are preserved in part or in full, but many are not. The United States federal government compiled a study in 2007 that identified development threats to many battlefields and described more than half as already being "destroyed or fragmented."


Why America forgets the War of 1812

Author Don Hickey discusses the reasons for the conflict and how it's remembered by our northern neighbors.

Quiz time! Remember that famous movie about the War of 1812? You know, the one with that one big star and the other big star?

You don't. No one does since there hasn't been one. In fact, the conflict has only inspired two or three films, and those are largely forgotten. (It probably didn't help that the 1958 one starring 12,000 extras and Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson was envisioned as a musical.)

It wasn't that the War of 1812 lacked drama. Our nation's capital actually got invaded, and the Battle of New Orleans actually occurred after a peace treaty has been signed thanks to the lack of rapid communication.

Even so, the war -- which actually lasted from 1812-1815 -- just hasn't fired up our imaginations.

What gives? As the war reaches its bicentennial this month, I called Don Hickey, professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska, to ask him that question.

Inheritance, fairness, and the billionaire class

He's the author of 1989's epic "War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict," which was updated and revised for a reissue this year. Hickey talked about the reasons for the war, the way our neighbors to the north look at it (they got invaded, after all) and the reasons why we could have avoided this conflict entirely.

Q: Why don't we remember the War of 1812 very well?

A: It's forgotten because the causes don't resonate much today.

We went to war to force the British to give up the removal of seamen from our ships and restrictions on our trade with Europe.

Nowadays, nobody goes to war to uphold maritime rights.

And to confuse the issues of causes, we invaded Canada.

We could not challenge Britain on the high seas, so we thought we'd conquer Canada and force concessions on the maritime front. That made it look like a land grab, and that's the way it's looked at north of the border.

Q: Do you think we lost the War of 1812, making it one of very few defeats for the United States in major conflicts?

A: By my count, we lost the War of 1812 and we lost Vietnam.

That's not a widely held opinion in the United States about the War of 1812. The common view is that the war ended in a draw.

But we invaded Canada in 1812 and in 1813, and in the west in 1814, and all three invasions pretty much ended in failure. It doesn't look like we achieved our war aims.

Q: At the time, Britain was busy with a giant conflict of its own, a war with France that made it crack down on shipping. But the war definitely concentrated minds in Canada, which got invaded. How is the war remembered in Britain and Canada?

A: Let me give you an old saw, a loose paraphrase of what a Canadian historian once said: Everybody's happy with the outcome of the war. Americans are happy because they think they won, the Canadians are happy because they know they won and avoided being swallowed up by the United States, and the British are happiest because they've forgotten all about it.

He didn't mention the biggest losers, who were the Indians.

Q: What happened to the Indians?

A: I estimate the American deaths were 20,000, the British at 10,000, and Indians at maybe 7,500, but that was a much larger proportion of their population.

They lost two decisive wars, one in the old Northwest (the area around Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin) and one in the old Southwest (mostly Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi). That really opened the door to American expansion, and they were left without any allies that they could line up with against the U.S.

Q: Other American wars in the 19th century were largely about grabbing territories. Was that the case here?

A: If you think of this as a land grab, it fits into a larger history of American expansion. But that's not what caused this war.

Canada wasn't the end. It was the means. The end was to force Britain to give up their maritime activities.

Q: What can we learn from this war today?

A: The importance of military preparedness.

We were woefully unprepared for this war. The Republicans were anticipating what one anti-war Republican expected would be a holiday campaign -- that Canada is to conquer herself through the principles of fraternity.

Q: Sounds like something that we heard from Vice President Dick Cheney about the Iraq War, that we'd be "greeted as liberators," right?

A: That was the view. Also, we had a huge 15-1 population advantage.

A: Our military establishment was woefully unprepared and there were a lot of incompetent officers. Soldiers were recent enlistees who were ill-trained and without combat experience.

We faced a formidable foe -- a tough army in Canada aided by Indian allies who played a significant role in the defense of Canada -- and the logistical challenges of waging war on a distant frontier.

Q: Outside of the Revolutionary War, this is the only war in which the U.S. was invaded by a foreign power. Many people know about the burning of the White House in 1814, and the first lady, Dolley Madison, is often credited with saving the portrait of George Washington. Is there anything about the invasion that we misunderstand today?

A: The popular view is that Washington D.C. was burned, but they only burned the White House, the Capitol, and the state and treasury department. We burned the Naval Yard to keep it out of their hands during our withdrawal.

That was undoubtedly the low point of the war. But it was followed a month later by one of the high points, when the British threatened Baltimore but the Royal Navy couldn't subdue Fort McHenry. That inspired the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

And then, in the last great campaign, the British were decisively defeated at New Orleans, and that was a game changer in how we remember the war.

Q: Why does this war fascinate you?

A: I was intrigued because as a graduate student, it seemed to me that it was an ill-advised war. But people in academia thought it was just ducky even though they were dead set against the war in Vietnam.

The Federalists made the anti-war argument in the 1812 era, and these modern academics regarded them as a bunch of throwbacks and elitists. That's not true. They had a pretty coherent program of military and financial preparedness and avoiding war with Great Britain.

Q: What alternative was there to war in 1812?

A: Peace is the alternative. You don't have to go to war.

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You live with the consequences of the world war in Europe. We're making money, we're doing OK, and our rights are going to be encroached on by both sides. That's life in the big city. Nobody really threatened our independence. You just wait for the war in Europe to end, and the problems go away.


War of 1812 Overview

The War of 1812 pitted the young United States in a war against Great Britain, from whom the American colonies had won their independence in 1783. The conflict was a byproduct of the broader conflict between Great Britain and France over who would dominate Europe and the wider world.

In Britain’s effort to control the world’s oceans, the British Royal Navy encroached upon American maritime rights and cut into American trade during the Napoleonic Wars. In response, the young republic declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812. The two leading causes of the war were the British Orders-in-Council, which limited American trade with Europe, and impressment, the Royal Navy’s practice of taking seamen from American merchant vessels to fill out the crews of its own chronically undermanned warships. Under the authority of the Orders in Council, the British seized some 400 American merchant ships and their cargoes between 1807 and 1812. Press gangs, though ostensibly targeting British subjects for naval service, also swept up 6,000 to 9,000 Americans into the crews of British ships between 1803 and 1812. Some of the impressed sailors were born in British possessions but had migrated to the United States, while many others had attained citizenship that was either in question or simply could not be documented.

With only 16 warships, the United States could not directly challenge the Royal Navy, which had 500 ships in service in 1812. Instead, the new nation targeted Canada, hoping to use the conquest of British territory as a bargaining chip to win concessions on the maritime issues. Most Americans assumed that the conquest of Canada would be, in the words of former president Thomas Jefferson, “a mere matter of marching.” The United States enjoyed a huge population advantage over Canada—7.7 million to 500,000—and it was widely believed in America that U.S. troops would be welcomed as liberators. But events did not play out as Americans expected. Waging war at the end of extended supply lines over the vast distances of the North American wilderness was no easy task. The British and their allies from indigenous nations in North America proved a formidable foe.

American armies invaded Canada in 1812 at three points, but all three campaigns ended in failure. One army surrendered at Detroit at the western end of Lake Erie, a second army surrendered at Queenston Heights at the other end of the lake, and a third army withdrew after little more than a skirmish north of New York. A similar multi-pronged invasion went better in 1813, but only in the West, where an American victory on Lake Erie paved the way for a land victory at the Thames in Upper Canada, which restored U.S. ascendancy throughout the region. But further east, American forces made little headway.

In 1814, the United States was thrown on the defensive because the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe enabled the British to shift additional resources to the war in America. The U.S. continued to remain on the offensive on the Niagara front, but the bloody fighting there was inconclusive. Elsewhere the British took the offensive, although their forces encountered the same problems waging wilderness warfare across vast distances that had plagued the United States earlier in the war. The British occupied Washington, DC, burning the public buildings there, and successfully occupied a hundred miles of the Maine coast. Elsewhere however, the British were rebuffed. British forces withdrew from New York when they lost another inland naval battle, this time on Lake Champlain. They had to give up an assault on Baltimore when they were unable to compel Fort McHenry to submit, and they were decisively defeated at New Orleans.

If the war went worse than Americans expected on land, it went surprisingly well at sea, at least initially. Early in the war, the new nation won a series of single-ship duels between American and British warships. Especially noteworthy were the four successful cruises made by USS Constitution in the war. The frigate outran a large British squadron in 1812 and subsequently defeated four Royal Navy ships in combat. Constitution also earned her nickname, “Old Ironsides,” when round shot in the duel with HMS Guerriere appeared to bounce off the ship’s 22-inch-thick hull. An American seaman exclaimed, “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” Soon after, Constitution was known as “Ironsides,” which in time became “Old Ironsides.” American privateers also took a toll on British shipping early in the war.

In the end, however, British naval power held. The British used their navy to ship troops to Canada, to keep them supplied, and to blockade and raid the American coast. The blockade had a devastating impact on the U.S. economy and public finance, and also kept most American warships in port. The British convoy system—in which warships escorted merchant vessels—cut down on the success of American privateers. Furthermore, the British evened the score in single ship duels by defeating USS Chesapeake, USS Essex, and USS President.

Ultimately, the War of 1812 ended in a draw on the battlefield, and the peace treaty reflected this. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in modern-day Belgium on December 24, 1814, and went into effect on February 17, 1815, after both sides had ratified it. This agreement provided for returning to the status quo ante bellum, which meant that the antagonists agreed to return to the state that had existed before the war and restore all conquered territory.

Both sides could claim victory, the British because they held on to Canada and their maritime rights, and the United States because just fighting the “Conqueror of Napoleon” and the “Mistress of the Seas” to a draw vindicated its sovereignty and earned the respect of Europe. As British diplomat Augustus J. Foster acknowledged at war’s end, “The Americans . . . have brought us to speak of them with respect.”

The only real losers in the war were the indigenous nations of North America, who were defeated in two wars connected to the War of 1812: Tecumseh’s War in the Old Northwest and the Creek War in the Old Southwest. American success in these wars opened the door for westward expansion and threatened the indigenous peoples and their ways of life east of the Mississippi River.

The war was fraught with a host of other consequences. It laid the foundations for the emergence of Canada as an independent nation and induced the British to seek peaceful relations with the United States for the remainder of the 19th century and beyond. It also helped forge the United States into a nation. Americans could celebrate their victories on the high seas and on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, as well as at Fort McHenry and New Orleans. These victories introduced new American heroes (including Oliver H. Perry and Dolley Madison) and future United States presidents (William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson), developed new expressions (including “We have met the enemy and they are ours” and “Don’t give up the ship!”), established American symbols (USS Constitution, the Fort McHenry flag, and Uncle Sam), and inspired a patriotic song that eventually became the national anthem (“The Star-Spangled Banner”).

The War of 1812 may have been a small war, but it left a profound and lasting legacy that reverberated through history and continues to be felt even today.


The 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the War of 1812

1. The War Needs Re-Branding

“The War of 1812” is an easy handle for students who struggle with dates. But the name is a misnomer that makes the conflict sound like a mere wisp of a war that began and ended the same year.

In reality, it lasted 32 months following the U.S. declaration of war on Britain in June 1812. That’s longer than the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, and U.S. involvement in World War I.

Also confusing is the Battle of New Orleans, the largest of the war and a resounding U.S. victory. The battle occurred in January, 1815—two weeks after U.S. and British envoys signed a peace treaty in Ghent, Belgium. News traveled slowly then. Even so, it’s technically incorrect to say that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war, which didn’t officially end until February 16, 1815, when the Senate and President James Madison ratified the peace treaty.

For roughly a century, the conflict didn’t merit so much as a capital W in its name and was often called “the war of 1812.” The British were even more dismissive. They termed it “the American War of 1812,” to distinguish the conflict from the much great Napoleonic War in progress at the same time.

The War of 1812 may never merit a Tchaikovsky overture, but perhaps a new name would help rescue it from obscurity.

2. Impressment May Have Been a Trumped-Up Charge

One of the strongest impetuses for declaring war against Great Britain was the impressment of American seamen into the Royal Navy, a not uncommon act among navies at the time but one that incensed Americans nonetheless. President James Madison’s State Department reported that 6,257 Americans were pressed into service from 1807 through 1812. But how big a threat was impressment, really?

 “The number of cases which are alleged to have occurred, is both extremely erroneous and exaggerated,” wrote Massachusetts Sen. James Lloyd, a Federalist and political rival of Madison’s. Lloyd argued that the president’s allies used impressment as “a theme of party clamour [sic], and party odium,” and that those citing as a casus belli were “those who have the least knowledge and the smallest interest in the subject.”

Other New England leaders, especially those with ties to the shipping industry, also doubted the severity of the problem. Timothy Pickering, the Bay State’s other senator, commissioned a study that counted the total number of impressed seamen from Massachusetts at slightly more than 100 and the total number of Americans at just a few hundred.

Yet the Britons’ support for Native Americans in conflicts with the United States, as well as their own designs on the North American frontier, pushed Southern and Western senators toward war, and they needed more support to declare it. An issue that could place the young nation as the aggrieved party could help of the 19 senators who passed the declaration of war, only three were from New England and none of them were Federalists.

3. The Rockets Really Did Have Red Glare

Francis Scott Key famously saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry amid the “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.” He wasn’t being metaphoric. The rockets were British missiles called Congreves and looked a bit like giant bottle rockets. Imagine a long stick that spins around in the air, attached to a cylindrical canister filled with gunpowder, tar and shrapnel. Congreves were inaccurate but intimidating, an 1814 version of “shock and awe.” The “bombs bursting in air” were 200 pound cannonballs, designed to explode above their target. The British fired about 1500 bombs and rockets at Fort McHenry from ships in Baltimore Harbor and only succeeded in killing four of the fort’s defenders.

Cartoon by William Charles, satirizing Thomas Pickering and the radical secessionist movement discussed at the Hartford Convention, a series of secret meetings held by New England Federalists in 1814. (The Granger Collection, NYC) Washingtonians fleeing the city during the burning of the White House and the Capitol by the British on August 24, 1814. (The Granger Collection, NYC) Equestrian portrait of Major General Harrison surrounded by vignettes illustrating his military career during the War of 1812. (The Granger Collection, NYC) Bound American seamen forced to leave their ship and board a British vessel prior to the War of 1812. (The Granger Collection, NYC)

4. Uncle Sam Came From the War Effort

The Star-Spangled Banner isn’t the only patriotic icon that dates to the War of 1812. It’s believed that “Uncle Sam” does, too. In Troy, New York, a military supplier named Sam Wilson packed meat rations in barrels labeled U.S. According to local lore, a soldier was told the initials stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson, who was feeding the army. The name endured as shorthand for the U.S. government. However, the image of Uncle Sam as a white-bearded recruiter didn’t appear for another century, during World War I.

5. The Burning of Washington was Capital Payback

To Americans, the burning of Washington by British troops was a shocking act by barbaric invaders. But the burning was payback for a similar torching by American forces the year before. After defeating British troops at York (today’s Toronto), then the capital of Upper Canada, U.S. soldiers plundered the town and burned its parliament. The British exacted revenge in Aug. 1814 when they burned the White House, Congress, and other buildings.

Long-term, this may have been a blessing for the U.S. capital. The combustible “President’s House” (as it was then known) was rebuilt in sturdier form, with elegant furnishings and white paint replacing the earlier whitewash. The books burned at Congress’s library were replaced by Thomas Jefferson, whose wide-ranging collection became the foundation for today’s comprehensive Library of Congress.

6. Native Americans Were the War’s Biggest Losers

The United States declared war over what it saw as British violations of American sovereignty at sea. But the war resulted in a tremendous loss of Native American sovereignty, on land. Much of the combat occurred along the frontier, where Andrew Jackson battled Creeks in the South and William Henry Harrison fought Indians allied with the British in the “Old Northwest.” This culminated in the killing of the Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, who had led pan-Indian resistance to American expansion. His death, other losses during the war, and Britain’s abandonment of their native allies after it, destroyed Indians’ defense of their lands east of the Mississippi, opening the way for waves of American settlers and “Indian Removal” to the west.

7. The Ill-Fated General Custer Had His Start in the War

In 1813, by the River Raisin in Michigan, the British and their Native American allies dealt the U.S. its most stinging defeat in the War of 1812, and the battle was followed by an Indian attack on wounded prisoners. This incident sparked an American battle cry, “Remember the Raisin!” 

William Henry Harrison, who later led the U.S. to victory in battle against the British and Indians, is remembered on his tomb as “Avenger of the Massacre of the River Raisin.”

George Armstrong Custer remembered the Raisin, too. He spent much of his youth in Monroe, the city that grew up along the Raisin, and in 1871, he was photographed with War of 1812 veterans beside a monument to Americans slaughtered during and after the battle. Five years later, Custer also died fighting Indians, in one of the most lopsided defeats for U.S. forces since the River Raisin battle 63 years before.

8. There Was Almost a United States of New England

The political tension persisted as the war progressed, culminating with the Hartford Convention, a meeting of New England dissidents who seriously flirted with the idea of seceding from the United States. They rarely used the terms “secession” or “disunion,” however, as they viewed it as merely a separation of two sovereign states.

For much of the preceding 15 years, Federalist plans for disunion ebbed and flowed with their party’s political fortunes. After their rival Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800, they grumbled sporadically about seceding, but mostly when Jefferson took actions they didn’t appreciate (and, worse, when the electorate agreed with him). The Louisiana Purchase, they protested, was unconstitutional the Embargo Act of 1807, they said, devastated the New England shipping industry. Electoral victories in 1808 silenced chatter of disunion, but the War of 1812 reignited those passions.

Led by Senator Thomas Pickering, disaffected politicians sent delegates to Hartford in 1814 as the first step in a series to sever ties with the United States. “I do not believe in the practicality of a long-continual union,” wrote Pickering to convention chairman George Cabot. The North and South’s “mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable.”

Cabot and other moderates in the party, however, quashed the secessionist sentiment. Their dissatisfaction with “Mr. Madison’s War,” they believed, was merely a consequence of belonging to a federation of states. Cabot wrote back to Pickering: “I greatly fear that a separation would be no remedy because the source of them is in the political theories of our country and in ourselves. I hold democracy in its natural operation to be the government of the worst.”

9. Canadians Know More About the War Than You Do

Few Americans celebrate the War of 1812, or recall the fact that the U.S. invaded its northern neighbor three times in the course of the conflict. But the same isn’t true in Canada, where memory of the war and pride in its outcome runs deep.

In 1812, American “War Hawks” believed the conquest of what is today Ontario would be easy, and that settlers in the British-held territory would gladly become part of the U.S. But each of the American invasions was repelled. Canadians regard the war as a heroic defense against their much larger neighbor, and a formative moment in their country’s emergence as an independent nation.  While the War of 1812 bicentennial is a muted affair in the U.S., Canada is reveling in the anniversary and celebrating heroes such as Isaac Brock and Laura Secord, little known south of the border.

“Every time Canada beats the Americans in hockey, everybody’s tremendously pleased,” says Canadian historian Allan Greer. “It’s like the big brother, you have to savor your few victories over him and this was one.”

10. The Last Veteran

Amazingly, some Americans living today were born when the last veteran of the War of 1812 was still alive. In 1905, a grand parade was held to celebrate the life of Hiram Silas Cronk, who died on April 29, two weeks after his 105th birthday.

Cronk “cast his first vote for Andrew Jackson and his last for Grover Cleveland,” according to a newspaper account from 1901.

After nearly a century of obscurity as a farmer in New York State, he became something of a celebrity the closer he came to dying. Stories about his life filled newspaper columns, and the New York City Board of Aldermen began planning Cronk’s funeral months before he died.

When he did, they marked the event with due ceremony. “As the funeral cortege moved from the Grand Central Station to the City Hall it afforded an imposing and unusual spectacle,” reported the Evening Press of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Led by a police escort of mounted officers, a detachment from the United States regular Army, the Society of 1812 and the Old Guard in uniform, came the hearse bearing the old warrior’s body. Around it, in hollow square formation, marched the members of the U.S. Grant Post, G.A.R. Then followed the Washington Continental Guard from Washington, D.C., the Army and Navy Union, and carriages with members of the Cronk family. Carriages with Mayor McClellan and members of the city government brought up the rear.”

About Brian Wolly

Brian Wolly is the digital editor of Smithsonian.com

About Tony Horwitz

Tony Horwitz was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and wrote for the New Yorker. He is the author of Baghdad without a Map, Midnight Rising and the digital best seller BOOM. His most recent work, Spying on the South, was released in May 2019. Tony Horwitz died in May 2019 at the age of 60.


Interview with HISTORY’s Travis Taylor: The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch

Posted On April 29, 2020 16:11:10

For the first time ever, HISTORY is gaining full, unprecedented access to one of the most infamous and secretive hotspots of paranormal and UFO-related activities on earth, Skinwalker Ranch, in a new one-hour nonfiction series, “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” premiering Tuesday, March 31 at 10PM ET/PT . Few have ever gained official access to Skinwalker Ranch, and none have ever been able to bring cameras onto the property for a television series, until now.

I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Travis Taylor, the lead astrophysicist of “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” about his journey and his experience investigating the unexplained phenomena in Utah’s Uinta Basin. Scientific research, tribal legends, and the unexplained converge at Skinwalker Ranch that you must see to believe.

Photo by History Copyright 2020

WATM: Why and how were you chosen for this project?

Dr. Travis Taylor: Well, first of all for the why and the how I don’t know what you know about me or how much you’ve read of my bio and that sort of thing. I have a PhD and a dual disciplinary degree in electrical engineering and physics called optical science of engineering – it’s basically quantum physics. I have another PhD in aerospace engineering, building and designing spacecraft and rockets. I have a Master’s degree in astronomy. I have a Master’s degree in physics. I have a Master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering. I have a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Since I was 17, I’m 51 now, I’ve published about two dozen referee journal articles and well-respected peer review physics, and optics and military defense type journals.

As far as I know, I’m the only person besides my co-author of the book who has taken the idea seriously and written a textbook and a detailed examination on how we would defend the planet if we were actually invaded by aliens. Different types of invasions and what our military approach should and could be. In fact, I’m the only one who teaches from that text on the topic to the Air Force officer’s space school at Maxwell Air Force base. Now, I do that pretty much yearly and have for a while.

My background has been building spacecraft, rockets and high-energy laser weapons and things like that for DOD for a long time. I also am a science fiction writer and have written twenty-something best-selling science fiction novels, mostly military hard science fiction. With that background in mind, I was invited to start doing TV shows in the early 2000s which led to the next TV show and the next TV show and so on. When HISTORY and Prometheus were approached by the new billionaire owner of the Ranch to do an investigation, they said, “Well you need someone who is an experimentalist and who also is experienced with talking on TV and we recommend this guy.”

And that’s how that happened.

The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch: DANGEROUS RADIATION at UFO Hotspot (Season 1) | History

WATM: What was the first thing that stuck out to you about this investigation when you joined the team of researchers?

Travis Taylor: Well, when the invitation came to me to become a part of the investigation team and to lead the experiment portion of the research, at first I was very skeptical of the phenomena on the ranch being real or being some natural phenomena that maybe causes hallucinations, or unnatural phenomena that causes actual phenomena like lights in the sky or maybe there was a classified defense project. At no time did I think that I was going to find strange, unexplainable physical phenomena at least from the start. That was my philosophy or my thought going into it. But I did have an open mind that, hey, what if I find something that is unexplainable?

WATM: How was evidence gathered of the phenomena at the Ranch?

Travis Taylor: The way we approached it is, we had scientific instrumentation and sensors — as many as we could afford based on the budget we had — spread about the ranch that were collecting data continuously, 24/7. We also had security cameras placed in certain locations to give us as much of a full view of the ranch as possible that were running 24/7. Plus we had game cameras placed in locations that we could move if we thought there was a need to move them. We collected all this information and we went through the video and data pretty much on a daily basis. Plus, there was also multiple cameramen, camera crews and camera sites set up continuously throughout the investigation.

Photo by History Copyright 2020

WATM: Based on the evidence that you have gathered, what are your thoughts on why this phenomena specifically happens at Skinwalker Ranch?

Dr. Travis Taylor: That is an excellent question and we ask ourselves this all the time. Now, the first thing that I will say is that when the team and I talk about this, in no way do we believe that our man-made farming fences along the border of the 500 acres is keeping out any super, you know, physics hyper paranormal — whatever you guys want to call it, phenomenon within the borders of the ranch. In fact, people in the local in Fort Duchenne, Roosevelt and the other town that’s nearby, are all the time reporting phenomena occurring outside of the boundaries of the ranch. Now, that being said, if you look at the Uintah Basin on Google Earth, to me it looks like an ancient meteor impact crater. It looks like it came from the east to the west at a low inclination. And that’s what splattered the salt flats to the west of the Uintah Basin.

There’s Gilsonite all around the Uintah Basin which typically is only found in a meteor impact crater, plus all of the petroleum that is underneath the Uintah Basin. There are a lot of geologists and natural physicists now beginning to think that impact craters cause a phenomena that creates petroleum. If you look at this impact crater, the ranch is dead center give or take but it’s pretty much dead center. Perhaps [it has] something to do with the bowl shape of the basin or whatever caused the basin, made this the central or the nexus for whatever the activity might be.

Photo by History Copyright 2020

WATM: Would the government hide the evidence of extraterrestrials? What impact would that have on the population if they did or did not disclose evidence?

Dr. Travis Taylor: I honestly don’t believe the Brookings Report. I don’t think that people are going to go nuts. What does an invasion of something that’s invisible do to society? Well guess what it makes it’s all go hide in our houses and be afraid to touch anybody. That’s exactly what’s happening right now, as an alien invasion, with this COVID-19. Well I’m not saying the virus is from outer space.

What I’m saying is it’s alien to us and we’re having to defend it in the way that we figure out how to defend it. If there were an alien invasion, we’d have to figure out what type of invasion it were and then how to – what type it was and then go from there. It could be a bazillion possibilities on the type of invasion.

I don’t believe in big conspiracies. There’s no way that humans are adept enough and trust each other enough to create conspiracies so large it would take hundreds and hundreds of people to maintain it. Now there is the possibility that things have been classified for national security reasons.

At such time when it could be disclosed and not reveal a national security advantage, then I could see that taking place but what’s it going to do to the general public? Most people, the general public, believe there are aliens anyway. I don’t think it’s going to do anything except assure them — I’ll tell you what it will do to politics: it will improve the funding for programs to do research like the AATIP program, or like advanced spacecraft technology or like advanced spacesuit technology. Why all of our soldiers don’t have Iron Man suits I can’t explain that. We should be – that should be one of the biggest defense projects we have.

But we don’t spend any money on it. So that’s the things that will change is where we’re spending our money based on what we think the threats are. That’s all I think disclosure will do. The everyday person, I think, they’ll just say ‘I knew it all along, I told you so.’

Photo by History Copyright 2020

WATM: Is it possible that the phenomena observed is man-made, such as Top Secret weapons testing?

Dr. Travis Taylor: So, as a person who does weapons testing for his day job, I can tell you that would be so highly crazy illegal [and] that it’s nonsense. There would be people in jail. What I observed the first day on the ranch, we had a long discussion that if what we were observing was man-made. [What if] someone was violating federal laws and [what we would do] – we needed to alert the authorities if we could prove it was man-made. Then from that point on I realized what we were measuring was impossible even for mankind to make. At that point is when I dropped that line of discussion because I realized just flat out mankind was not doing what we are doing and it’s probably a skeptics coping mechanism because I did it too.

The first conclusion to an odd strange thing is ‘Oh that’s a classified government program’ and ‘Oh they’re doing human testing’ honestly like, you know, there were programs that the CIA did back in the 60s and 70s that I don’t think they’re proud of and where people were involved in those experiments. [So, if] you look at it nowadays, we realize now that you can’t do that and you won’t get away with it forever and somebody will go to jail. I just am thoroughly convinced that this is not some top-secret weapons testing program on people or whatever. Number one: there’s no site nearby that is doing that type of work and number two: they would eventually get caught and go to jail. There is oversight committees on classified programs in Congress and in the Senate. Eventually somebody would say, ‘Wait a minute you all can’t do that.’

Photo by History Copyright 2020

WATM: Okay, so now that we know that there isn’t a government conspiracy or illegal weapons testing — What is happening at Skinwalker Ranch?

Dr. Travis Taylor: So I’m not going to tell you what evidence was observed and what phenomena were observed because and, you know, it would be spoilers for the show. What I will tell you is yes, when you watch the show and you see the evidence we acquired that is scientifically verifiable, you’re going to be blown away because I was. I’m still amazed to this day and still have a hard time believing what I saw.

You can watch the new one-hour nonfiction series “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” premiering Today, Tuesday, March 31 at 10PM ET/PT.


Since the French Revolution, conscription or the Draft has been how countries have found additional manpower for their armed forces in modern times.

Prior to this Britain practiced a cruel but effective way of combating the manpower shortage in their navy: impressment.

Impressment, or &ldquopress gang&rdquo as it was more commonly known, was recruitment by force. It was a practice that directly affected the U.S. and was even one of the causes of the War of 1812.

The British navy consistently suffered manpower shortages due to the low pay and a lack of qualified seamen. During wartime the navy forced unwilling individuals into service. Residents of seaports lived in fear of the press gangs that patrolled waterfronts and raided taverns, pouncing on deserters and idle mariners. Prints from the time show armed gangs kidnapping men in their beds, or barging into weddings and hauling the groom out much to the distress of the bride.

But generally &ldquopressing&rdquo took place at sea where the armed gangs would board merchant ships. These ships were ransacked of their men and often left without sufficient hands to take them safely into port.

Impressment was first made lawful during Elizabethan times, though it had been a common practice of drafting soldiers dating back to the 13th century. In 1563 Queen Elizabeth passed "an Act touching politick considerations for the maintenance of the Navy" which defined more clearly the liability of sailors who may be forced to serve as mariners.

The legalization was taken further in 1597 when the Vagrancy Act was passed, which now allowed for men of disrepute to be impressed for service in the fleet.

While essential for the strength of the British Navy, the brutal nature of impressment was deeply unpopular. Many viewed it as an inhumane and unconstitutional system.

In the 18th century a raft of legislation was introduced aimed at moderating the practice. A 1740 act declared that all men under 18 and over 55 and foreigners who served on British ships were declared exempt from enforced service.

In reality, however, these laws were ignored and impressment of foreigners was commonplace. In fact, only 40-years later the exemptions from impressment were withdrawn, so desperate was the British Navy for seamen.

American merchant vessels were a common target. Between 1793 and 1812, the British impressed more than 15,000 U.S. sailors to supplement their fleet during their Napoleonic Wars with France. By 1812 the United States Government had had enough. On 18 June, the United States declared war on Great Britain, citing, in part, impressment.

After the Napoleonic Wars impressment was ended in practice, though not officially abandoned as a policy. The last law was passed in 1835, in which the power to impress was reaffirmed. It limited the length of service of a pressed man to five years, and added the provision that a man couldn't be pressed twice.


21f. Claiming Victory from Defeat

The Americans were angry with the British for many reasons.

  • The British didn't withdraw from American territory in the Great Lakes region as they agreed to in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
  • Britain kept aiding Native Americans.
  • Britain would not sign favorable commercial agreements with the U.S.
  • Impressment: Britain claimed the right to take any British sailors serving on American merchant ships. In practice, the British took many American sailors and forced them to serve on British ships. This was nothing short of kidnapping.
  • In 1807, The British ship Leopard fired on the American frigate Chesapeake. Other American merchant ships came under harassment from the British navy.
  • War Hawks in Congress pushed for the conflict.

But the United States was not really ready for war. The Americans hoped to get a jump on the British by conquering Canada in the campaigns of 1812 and 1813. Initial plans called for a three-pronged offensive: from Lake Champlain to Montreal across the Niagara frontier and into Upper Canada from Detroit.


The Treaty of Ghent was signed by British and American delegates on December 24, 1814, effectively ending the War of 1812.

The first American attacks were disjointed and failed. Detroit was surrendered to the British in August 1812. The Americans also lost the Battle of Queenston Heights in October. Nothing much happened along Lake Champlain and the American forces withdrew in late November.

In 1813, the Americans tried an intricate attack on Montreal by a combined land and sea operation. That failed.

One bright spot for the Americans was Oliver Hazard Perry 's destruction of the British fleet on Lake Erie in September 1813 that forced the British to flee from Detroit. The British were overtaken in October defeated at the battle of the Thames by Americans led by William Henry Harrison, the future President It was here that the Shawnee chief, and British ally, Tecumseh fell.

Minor victories aside, things looked bleak for the Americans in 1814. The British were able to devote more men and ships to the American arena after having defeated Napoleon.

England conceived of a three-pronged attack focusing on controlling major waterways. Control of the Hudson River in New York would seal off New England seizing New Orleans would seal up the Mississippi River and seriously disrupt the farmers and traders of the Midwest and by attacking the Chesapeake Bay, the British hoped to threaten Washington, D.C. and put an end to the war and pressure the U.S. into ceding territory in a peace treaty.


The USS Chesapeake engages the HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. The Chesapeake had become famous when the HMS Leopard attacked the ship off Cape Henry in 1807 looking for deserters.

All the while, support for the war waned in America. Associated costs skyrocketed. New England talked of succeeding from the Union. At the Hartford Convention, delegates proposed constitutional amendments that would limit the power of the executive branch of government.

So weak was American military opposition that the British sashayed into Washington D.C. after winning the Battle of Bladensburg and burned most of the public buildings including the White House. President Madison had to flee the city. His wife Dolley gathered invaluable national objects and escaped with them at the last minute. It was the nadir of the war.

But the Americans put up a strong opposition in Baltimore and the British were forced to pull back from that city. In the north, about 10,000 British army veterans advanced into the United States via Montreal: their goal was New York City. With American fortunes looking their bleakest, American Captain Thomas MacDonough won the naval battle of Lake Champlain destroying the British fleet. The British army, fearful of not being supplied by the British navy, retreated into Canada.

The War of 1812 came to an end largely because the British public had grown tired of the sacrifice and expense of their twenty-year war against France. Now that Napoleon was all but finally defeated, the minor war against the United States in North America lost popular support. Negotiations began in August 1814 and on Christmas Eve the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium. The treaty called for the mutual restoration of territory based on pre-war boundaries and with the European war now over, the issue of American neutrality had no significance.

In effect, the treaty didn't change anything and hardly justified three years of war and the deep divide in American politics that it exacerbated.


With their fingers on the triggers, these American infantrymen demonstrate the uniforms and weaponry used in the War of 1812.

Popular memory of the War of 1812 might have been quite so dour had it not been for a major victory won by American forces at New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Although the peace treaty had already been signed, news of it had not yet arrived on the battlefront where General Andrew Jackson led a decisive victory resulting in 700 British casualties versus only 13 American deaths. Of course, the Battle of New Orleans had no military or diplomatic significance, but it did allow Americans to swagger with the claim of a great win.

Furthermore, the victory launched the public career of Andrew Jackson as a new kind of American leader totally different from those who had guided the nation through the Revolution and early republic. The Battle of New Orleans vaunted Jackson to heroic status and he became a symbol of the new American nation emerging in the early 19th century.


5. Set The Stage for Westward Expansion

The losers of the War of 1812 was not the British nor Americans, but the Native Americans.

They were fragmented and America was hungry to expand. Soon the West began to be settled and new states began to be admitted into the Union. This would eventually put them at odds with Mexico which would lead to the Mexican War.

The United States upgraded its military and by the time of the Mexican War had become a superior military force able to execute complicated campaigns against the Mexicans.


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