In This Article War of 1812

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Causes
  • Native Americans
  • Diplomacy

Military History War of 1812
by
David Curtis Skaggs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0151

Introduction

The War of 1812 (which lasted until 1815) may have been, as some have said, one of America’s “forgotten wars,” but its impact on the United States and Canada remains over two centuries later. For the most part, the British never concerned themselves with it. Its causes have been controversial since Congress declared war, the military ineptitude of many American generals the subject of dismay and ridicule, the war on the high seas and lakes the focus of self-congratulation by both sides, the repulse of a British attack on Baltimore the theme of a national anthem, and the American triumph at New Orleans fought after the peace treaty was signed. Francophone and Anglophone Canadians became more respectful of one another and Britain became more respectful of the United States, which led to the beginnings of the rapprochement between the two nations.

General Overviews

For a generation Hickey’s survey (Hickey 1989; updated in 2012) has been the standard study although it focuses more on American politics than on the military aspects. Hitsman 1999 does much the same from a Canadian perspective. Stagg 2012, a short examination, is very insightful and constitutes a good introduction to the conflict. The bicentennial-era works Bickham 2012, Eustace 2012, Latimer 2007, and Taylor 2011 provide significant new emphases on the war’s causes, course, and consequences. James 1818 is a nationalistic account that was a standard British explanation until that of Latimer; the fact that it took nearly two centuries or a British re-interpretation says much about the unimportance of the conflict in the United Kingdom.

  • Bickham, Troy. The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    Bickham provides a provocative, revisionist study emphasizing that it was not the indecisive combat that was important about the war, but rather its consequences whereby the United States gained international status and Canadian nationalism emerged.

  • Eustace, Nicole. 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

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    Challenging cultural inquiry into how Americans utilized emotional language to describe the war’s events rather than making rational appraisals.

  • Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    Bicentennial edition, 2012. Written largely from an American point of view. Hickey suggests the conflict was both unpopular and unnecessary; it is now the standard American survey of the War of 1812.

  • Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    Donald Graves adds some new material to this classic study of the war from a Canadian point of view.

  • James, William. A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States of America. 2 vols. London: Privately printed, 1818.

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    Virulent anti-American account by British author whose work prompted Roosevelt’s reply.

  • Latimer, Jon. 1812: War with America. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    This British scholar revisits the expansionist thesis; it contains a superb bibliography.

  • Stagg, J. C. A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    The best brief treatment of the war emphasizing the diplomatic complexities. Great bibliography.

  • Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies. New York: Knopf, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Taylor reinterprets the war along the Great Lakes as more a struggle waged by ethnic groups for their peculiar interests rather than national ones.

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