Consensus history records that America barely survived… the War of 1812; persistent peace negotiations combined with a distracted British military allowed the unprepared republic a fortuitous exit. A closer examination reveals a less than concerted British war effort with poor strategic planning. The same criteria applied conversely proves that America won the war every bit as much as Britain lost it. History shows us;
- Timely victories– As in the Revolutionary War, the United States military sustained losses, but its victories had a greater impact. The early naval triumphs of the USS Constitution, President, and United States over the vaunted Royal Navy helped limit the setbacks suffered along the Canadian border. Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie permanently isolated British forces in the west. William Henry Harrison’s decisive blow at the Thames broke the British-Indian alliance (and he finally killed Tecumseh.) The battle of Plattsburgh ended the poorly coordinated invasion of New York, sealing off the Niagara frontier.
- Bend, don’t break– British general Robert Ross made the same mistake Sir William Howe made in the Revolution, he believed that occupying the American capital would influence the war. The British occupation and burning of Washington on August 24, 1814 was a minor psychological blow, but had no strategic impact on the war. The US government simply moved, leaving no real prize for the British troops. The failure to capture Baltimore Harbour two weeks later brought the ill conceived campaign to end (and also produced Francis Scott Key’s poem about Fort McHenry.) The rigid strategic thinking of the British high command could not appropriately account for the flexibility of US forces defending their own soil.
- And for good measure– US troops proved their mettle against the mighty Redcoats at Lundy’s Lane, Chippewa, and North Point. The British army had no decisive advantage in land forces. The crushing defeat of General Edward Pakenham’s forces by Andrew Jackson’s defenders at New Orleans was an exclamation point on a war that had officially ended two weeks earlier. British forces suffered 2, 042 casualties (including the deaths of Pakenham and his chief Lt. Gibbs) while Jackson lost only 71 troops. Critics of the war were silenced when news of the triumph reached eastern seaboard.
These proceedings and declared purposes, which exhibit a deliberate disregard of the principles of humanity and the rules of civilized warfare, and which must give to the existing war a character of extended devastation and barbarism at the very moment of negotiations for peace, invited by the enemy himself, leave no prospect of safety to anything within the reach of his predatory and incendiary operations but in manful and universal determination to chastise and expel the invader: James Madison, September 1, 1814