The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the last battle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hundred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that officially came on December 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and without twenty-first century communication, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable messages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I interested in that bit of history? My next book revolves around a reenactment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for incidental comments as my characters speak. I wanted to know what was true, although some of my characters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reenact instead of the more common Revolutionary War or the Civil War?

That’s another story.

My husband and I spent a lot of time sailing on Chesapeake Bay. We stopped at various ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local history, which included the War of 1812 and battles on Chesapeake Bay. I read up on those battles. The burning of Havre de Grace. How the people of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Washington, D.C. and the burning of the White House. The successful battle at Baltimore. So I knew when I wrote the next book my character, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reenactment of the Forgotten War. Of course, there’s a Forgotten Body.

And, while the subject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thursdays telling bits of American history that changed the lives of our ancestors (and, eventually, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What happened back in 1803-07? The United Kingdom (England) and Napolianic France went to war against each other. Neither side wanted American supplies to reach the other. They both declared it illegal for American ships to deliver goods to the other. Which, they figured, made it perfectly okay to seize ships defying their laws. France seized 206 United States flag ships, but England seized 528 American ships. Not only that, but England seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claiming they were really AWOL from British ships. They also barricaded American ports.

In 1811, President Thomas Jefferson decided the only way to solve that Henry Clayproblem was to forbid the American companies from shipping anything anywhere. Congress agreed. That put the whole country into a financial depression. Not hard to imagine what came next. Fully half the old congress was voted out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Henry Clay became the new Speaker of the House, a position, until then merely as a presiding officer. Under Henry Clay the office became one of party leadership, as it is now. (That would be the Democratic- Republicans, before the party split. The other party was the Federalists.)

So America went to war against Great Britain. America was completely unprepared for war.