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The War in the East

     Early in 1813, there was a second assault on the Niagara frontier, under the overall command of General Dearborn, with the aid of Commodore Chauncey on the waters of Lake Ontario. York (Toronto) was raided and temporarily captured on 27 April, but General Z. M. Pike was killed when a magazine being destroyed blew up with unexpected vigor. Against General Dearborn's instructions, he had burned noncombatant property in his zest for destruction. The barbaric burning of the town of York in this raid was the warrant for the burning of Washington the next year. Commodore Perry cooperated with Winfield Scott in the taking of Fort George, driving out the British commander Vincent. Fort Chippewa, Queenston and Erie were abandoned, but Vincent regrouped at Burlington Heights (later Hamilton). On 5 June, after the defeat of two brigades, the United States evacuated all but Fort George. After Lt. Col. Boerstler surrendered at Beaver Dams, General Dearborn was relieved of duty, and Fort George was abandoned on 10 December 1813. General Sir Gordon Drummond then took command and crossed into New York, taking Fort Niagara on 18 December. General Amos Hall was routed at Black Rock later in the month. Buffalo and Black Rock were then burnt.

      Over on the road to Montreal, the United States lost command of Lake Champlain on 3 June. General James Wilkinson moved up to Sackett's Harbor, succeeding Dearborn in command of the area, but General Wade Hampton in Plattsburgh would not subordinate himself, and the two feuded and operated more or less independently. John Armstrong even came up to encourage his naughty boys, and all three roundly hated each other. Hampton marched first, and on 26 October was met by 1400 French Canadians, hastily assembled at Chateaugay, who threw him back across the border. Wilkinson moved a little later down the St. Lawrence. He was ill, and quite high on opium, so he put General Boyd (who had been at Tippecanoe, and claimed he actually won the battle) in charge. Boyd was routed at Chrysler's Farm. Wilkinson tried once again in March 1814, but was repulsed at La Colle Mill on the St. Lawrence. It was his last battle, since he was retired soon after.

     By the summer of 1814, the British had sent enough reinforcements to Canada that an offensive action was possible. The Governor-General, Sir George Prevost, crossed the border near Plattsburgh on 31 August 1814 with a force of 10,000. With the usual perspicacity, Secretary Armstrong had just ordered General Izard to leave Plattsburgh for Sackett's Harbor. General Macomb, with the troops remaining, put up a feeble resistance while Prevost paused for support from the fleet on Lake Champlain. On 11 September, Lt. Thomas MacDonough's small fleet won an impressive victory over the British fleet on the Lake. Though Macomb had been crushed, Prevost could not proceed with his rear menaced by the American fleet on the lake, so he returned to Canada. Prevost was execrated for his failure, but MacDonough was showered with praise. Not all the incompetence was on the American side.

     The British seized Eastern Maine in June 1814. This area, then an outpost of Massachusetts, hindered communication between Halifax and Québec. The United States claimed lands to the Proclamation Line of 1763, which extended to not far south of the St. Lawrence, a huge salient. Plans to retake the area came to nothing, because of lack of sea power and scarcity of militia, not to mention lack of will, so it remained in British hands until the end of the war.

Effects of the War

     The American peace negotiators at Ghent--John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, James Bayard and Jonathan Russell--were much more skilled than their British opposites--William Adams, Lord Gambier and Henry Goulbourn. William Adams, a lawyer, was named because it was thought the Americans liked lawyers, Gambier was there to protect naval interests and Goulbourn to protect Canada. Nobody represented the Indians. The British first team had been sent to Vienna; these were what happened to be left around Whitehall. The British dropped their demand for an Indian refuge in the northwest on the boundaries of 1795, while the Americans dropped their demands for an end to impressment. The British were tired of a war that was so annoying and distant, and the Americans foresaw becoming the centre of British naval and military attentions after the fall of Napoleon. The treaty was based on status quo ante bellum, with no important demands of either side satisfied. The treaty was signed 25 December 1814, and was to be effective when ratified by both parties.

     The Treaty of Ghent encouraged some settlement of the Maine boundary question, but negotiations dragged on, including an inconclusive arbitration by the King of the Netherlands in 1831, until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 resolved boundary disputes from Maine to Minnesota. The Maine boundary was set along the St. John river, in its current location, a little fragment was added to New Hampshire to include the Connecticut Lakes, the border was moved a half-mile north of the 45th parallel across Vermont and New York to miss an American fort, and the boundary of Minnesota set to run from Grand Portage, via Rainy River, to the Lake of the Woods. The boundary west of Lake of the Woods had been put at the 49th parallel earlier, by the Convention of 1818. The Lakes were not de-militarized (though fleets were reduced to almost nothing), and the forts had little to do but wait to be transformed into tourist attractions.

     Canadian experiences in the war gave the first consciousness of a national identity, bringing the French Canadians, British emigrants and American tories closer together to create a single nation. That half a million Canadians had held off 15 times as many Americans was a source of justifiable pride, enough to build a country on. There were many struggles yet ahead, but the Dominion of Canada finally was born in 1867.

     In the Treaty of Paris, Britain was given the right of navigation on the Mississippi, and this had never officially been withdrawn. The Treaty of Ghent ended this right, and set up commissions to adjust all such matters, culminating in the 1818 Convention. Unfortunately, the Convention left the matter of Oregon up in the air, which later ripened into a lively confrontation under President Polk.

     Jackson was to become a scourge of southern Indians, driving them out with a ferocity that appalled Winfield Scott, who was assigned the unpleasant and unjust task of pushing the Cherokee out of Georgia a decade later. The south was hungry for land as the soils of the east were depleted and eroded by their primitive, thoughtless agricultural methods, and the Indian lands offered a rich bounty. The War of 1812 sealed the fate of the Indians.

     Displaced Creeks, escaped slaves and disaffected whites and Indians came together around the old British fort on the Apalachicola after the war and began to form the Seminole people. On 27 July 1816, United States troops destroyed the fort, but the Seminole menace only grew, and centred itself in Pensacola, the chief city of Spanish East Florida. Andrew Jackson was given orders to proceed to the region on 26 December 1817 to punish marauders but not to take Pensacola, to avoid offending the Spanish. On 24 May 1818, he took Pensacola and set himself up as the law there, executing civilians and killing Indians in what became known as the First Seminole War. His actions were ratified by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, in which Spain ceded East Florida to the United States and defined the western boundary of Louisiana. The United States temporarily gave up its claims to Texas, which were soon to arise again. The Second Seminole War erupted in 1835 and lasted until 1842, when the remaining Seminoles, except for a few who retreated deep into the swamps, were exiled to Indian Territory. Jackson considered annihilation of the Indians as "true philanthropy."

     The war had several lasting effects in the United States. One of them, unfortunately, was not the reform of the Army and Navy, whose bad theory was again fully demonstrated in the next generation's Democratic war, the Mexican War, and which was not finally corrected until the Civil War. Government contractors during the war were chosen in the usual way, by influence and bribery. The result was boots whose soles wore through in a day, uniforms that disintegrated in the rain, cannon that blew up, pork that was rotten, and gunpowder that would not burn. The military academy at West Point was reformed, because its staff and graduates had proved totally incompetent in the war. Its new staff came from Napoleon's École Polytechnique, the original French model for West Point, where the former staff were now looking for jobs owing to a change of management. This brought the new rational engineering that created a corps of ingenious if somewhat impractical engineers. These had to be supplanted by engineers trained on the Erie Canal in the English tradition before the country really had an effective civil engineering profession.

     The War of 1812, as it is known in the US, falls at the middle of the first century of the nation (1763-1860), but marks a divide much less significant than that of the Civil War, but nonetheless an important one. So far as the US was concerned, it was mainly an Indian war, the one in which the ultimate defeat of the Indians was confirmed. It was also in the middle of a period of astonishing and often amusing incompetence in governmental, financial and military affairs world-wide. The War spawned the numerous duelling and spitting captains and colonels that suffused American society, which so amused Mrs Trollope and other visitors. These titles and distinctions were easily attained with little military exertion. One had only to form a company for a few weeks' service when the call went out that some Indians needed to be suppressed, or be friendly with the governor and show up for the annual muster day. This spirit has not entirely died out. The dominance of lawyers is another distinguishing characteristic of American society, with a penchant for sterile argument in place of wisdom. All in all, the period is a remarkable unexploited opportunity for the historical novelist and movie maker.

Part 5 - Notes on Indians, References

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