August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington

One of the more humiliating events in American history, the burning of Washington was the low point in American fortunes during the War of 1812.

 

After the British landed an army to attack Washington, Captain Johsua Barney, a Catholic and Revolutionary War hero, go here to read about him, and 500 of his sailors and marines, joined the American army seeking to stop the invaders.  At the battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, Barney and his men put up a spirited defense, with cutlasses and bayonets against the advancing British, and throughout it all Barney rallying his men with cries of “Board ‘em!  Board ‘em!” Ultimately the Americans retreated, and Barney, seriously wounded, was captured one last time in his career by the British.  After being paroled by his captors, he spent the rest of the War recuperating at his farm in Maryland.  The heroic stand of Barney and his men had given enough time for Washington to be evacuated, and after the war the grateful citizens of Washington presented a sword to the old sailor for the land fight which ended his naval career. (more…)

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Published in: on August 24, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington  
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Old Ironsides Sails August 19, 2012

In honor of the 200th anniversary of her victory over the British frigate HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812, the first of five victories that the USS Constitution racked up against British men of war, the USS Constitution sailed on August 19, 2012.  Commissioned in 1797, Old Ironsides, so nicknamed because in the engagement with the Guerriere British cannon balls were seen bouncing of her hull, is the oldest continuously commissioned warship in the world.  She was saved from the scrap heap in 1830 by this stirring poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes who roused the public to demand that she be saved: (more…)

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The Court-Martial of Winfield Scott

Two hundred and ten years ago the War of 1812 was about to break out.  Winfield Scott would become a national hero in that war, rising from Captain to Brigadier  General, with a brevet rank of Major General, all before his thirtieth birthday.  However, before the War his military career almost ended when he was convicted at a court-martial.

One of the greatest scoundrels in American history was doubtless James B. Wilkinson.  Twice commander of the American Army between the Revolution and the War of 1812, Wilkinson was also a spy for the Spanish government.  In addition to this treachery, Wilkinson was corrupt and was always quite ready to harm his country if he would personally benefit.  Although his being a spy for Spain was not discovered until after his death, enough of his other infamies were known during his lifetime for him to be held in low esteem by his fellow officers.

In 1809 Captain Scott was court-martialed for accurately calling Major General Wilkinson a liar and a scoundrel, and ventured the opinion that serving under Wilkinson was as dishonorable as being married to a prostitute.  There was also a trumped-up charge of Scott pocketing the money of the men under his command.  In January 1810 Scott was convicted on the fairly nebulous charge of engaging in conduct unbecoming of an officer and suspended from the Army for one year.  Many another man would have given up a military career after this rocky start, but not Captain Scott.  He merely resumed his duties after the year and proceeded on with his meteoric career as if nothing had happened.  His bete noir General Wilkinson would go on to lead American forces to defeat in two battles in 1814 and was relieved of command.  The war that made the career of Scott ended the career of his arch enemy.  President Theodore Roosevelt in the third volume of his The Winning of the West has this to say about Wilkinson: (more…)

Published in: on January 14, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Battle of New Orleans-The Song

 

Something for the weekend.  On January 8, 2015 we reach the 207th anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, so Jimmie Driftwood’s Battle of New Orleans seems appropriate.  Driftwood, when he was a teacher, wrote the song in 1936 to help his students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.  After Driftwood became a full time singer and composer, he often sang the song.  Johnny Horton made it a mega hit in 1959 with his rendition.

After it became a hit, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, visited Newfoundland.  The song was banned for the term of her visit by the provincial government.  My sainted mother who loved the Queen, but also had to the full the Irish rebel spirit, used to regale me with tales of the lengths that Newfies went to make sure that the song was played continuously during the Queen’s visit as a result!

Newfies were hanging record players out of their windows, the volume cranked up full blast playing the song. Her comment on this fiasco was that if the idiots in government hadn’t attempted to ban it, no one would have been playing it. I think my attitude towards government began to be forged by this example of folly related to me at a very young age at my mother’s knee! (more…)

Published in: on January 8, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Battle of New Orleans-The Song  
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January 7, 1815: Old Hickory and Our Lady of Prompt Succor

 

When one thinks of Andrew Jackson, Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the Ursuline nuns do not spring to mind, but they should. (more…)

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Oliver Hazard Perry

If ever a name given to an infant was prophetic for the life he would lead, it was certainly so of the infant christened Oliver Hazard Perry.  Born on August 23, 1785 to Christopher Raymond Perry and Sarah Wallace Perry, from earliest childhood his ambition was to be a US naval officer.  He came by this naturally as his father had served aboard a privateer in the American revolution, meeting Perry’s mother while he was a prisoner of war in Ireland.  In 1799 Christopher Perry was appointed a Captain and place in command of the US Navy frigate General Greene.  13 year old Oliver went with him as a midshipman, beginning his naval career.

During the First War Against the Barbary Pirates, he served aboard the USS Adams.  At the age of 17 he was promoted to Lieutenant.  In 1804 when the pirate stronghold at Derna was taken, he commanded the schooner, the USS Nautilus.

After the Barbary War, he supervised the construction of a flotilla of small gunboats during 1806-07 in Rhode Island and Connecticut, a task he found tedious at the time, but which would serve him in good stead later.

In April he obtained the sea command he had been eager for and was appointed to command the schooner USS Revenge.  Perry’s command aboard the Revenge turned out to be the low point of his career.  The Revenge suffered extensive damage in a storm in June of 1810, Perry was plagued with illness, and on January 8, 1811, the schooner struck a reef off Block Island Sound off the coast of southern New England and sank.  Perry was cleared in the ensuing courtmartial, but he could be excused if he suspected that his naval career was coming to an abrupt end. (more…)

Published in: on September 12, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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June 1, 1812: Madison Requests that Congress Declare War on Great Britain

 

The declaration of war by Congress in 1812 was the first time that Congress declared war.  It was not an auspicious start.  Although most Republicans were hot for war, the Federalists were not.  Every Federalist voted against the Declaration and a substantial number of Republicans also cast their votes against the Declaration.  In the House the vote was 79-49, 22 Republicans siding with the Federalists, and in the Senate 19-13, seven Republicans joining the 6 Federalist Senators.  The War was popular in the South and in the West, and highly unpopular in New England and parts of Virginia.  Here is the text of the Declaration of War that passed on June 17, 1812 and signed by Madison the next day: (more…)

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Alexander Contee Hanson, Jr

Although relatively unknown today, Alexander Contee Hanson, Jr. was a highly controversial figure during the War of 1812, and packed a lot of living in a brief lifespan of 33 years.

Born in Annapolis, Maryland on February 27, 1786, he came from an important family in Maryland, his grandfather, John Hanson, having played a prominent role in the Revolution.  Graduating from Saint John’s College in Annapolis in 1802, he embarked upon a career as an attorney.  An extreme partisan Federalist, he published the Federal Republican newspaper in Baltimore.  His attacks on the Madison Administration and the war against Great Britain sparked a series of riots by outraged Republicans in Baltimore in June-August 1812. (more…)

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Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans

 

Upon the commencement of the War of 1812, Jackson immediately volunteered for active service.  Nothing happened.  Jackson assumed he was not called to duty due to his vigorous opposition to many of the policies of Thomas Jefferson, Madison’s predecessor.  ( It probably didn’t help Jackson that Aaron Burr,  former vice-president and deadly enemy of Jefferson, had stayed three days with Jackson during his  treasonous trip to the West in 1805, although there is no evidence of Jackson’s involvement in Burr’s plot.)

Jackson’s chance for military action came in 1813-1814 during the Creek War.  After a very tough campaign, Jackson decisively defeated the Red Stick Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.  On the battlefield, Jackson found a two year old Creek boy with his dead mother.  Jackson adopted him as his son, named him Lyncoya, and brought him home with him to the Hermitage and raised him with his other adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr.  Jackson planned to have him educated at West Point, because he believed it to be the best school in the nation, but the boy died of tuberculosis in 1828.  Jackson, the great foe of the Indians, is the only American president to adopt an Indian child.  Jackson was nothing if not complicated.

The campaign against the Red Stick Creeks had made Jackson a national figure.  It also almost killed him.  Suffering from a chronic stomach disorder, Jackson could only get relief from the pain by bending a sapling and leaning over it with the sapling pressed against his stomach.  The campaign was arduous for his troops also, a mixture of militia and regulars.  On one occasion the militia decided they had had enough and began to march home.  Jackson used the regulars to stop them.  On another occasion the regulars decided they were through, and Jackson used the militia to force them to return to their duties.  When both militia and regulars decided to leave on yet another occasion, Jackson rode to the head of the troops, aimed a musket at them and made it quite clear that he would kill the next man to take a step.  The men looked at Jackson, Jackson gazed back at them, and they returned to camp.  Afterwards, Jackson ordered that the musket be repaired as it couldn’t have fired in any case.  Most of the men Jackson led were frontiersmen and had a great deal of experience in cutting down trees.  The toughest wood they knew of was Hickory, and Old Hickory, and doubtless some other unprintable ones that have not come down to us, is the nickname they gave their determined general.

While Jackson was crushing the Red Sticks, the War of 1812 was going badly for the country.  With the abdication of Napoleon, hordes of British veteran troops were sent across the Atlantic to teach the Yankees a lesson.  The burning of Washington in August 1814 was part of the lesson, and the American government had intelligence that a mighty British fleet and army were on their way to seize New Orleans.  In August 1814 a British fleet established a base, with the consent of the Spanish government, at Pensacola, Florida, and used it to supply Indians hostile to the US.  On November 7, 1814, Jackson seized Pensacola, chased the British troops out and destroyed the fortifications.  The British fleet sailed off and Jackson marched to New Orleans.

Jackson arrived at New Orleans with his rough frontier army of militia and regulars on December 2, 1814.   He had beaten the Brits to New Orleans but just barely.  The British fleet appeared in the Gulf of Mexico just off New Orleans on December 12.  The British force on board the fleet was commanded by Major General Thomas Pakenham, the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law.  Pakenham was a combat general and had received laurels for his courage and professionalism in many of the battles that Wellington fought in Spain.  Brushing aside a small American naval force that guarded access to the lakes that led to New Orleans, by December 23 an 1800 man vanguard of the British troops was ashore on the east bank of the Mississippi, nine miles south of New Orleans.  When Jackson learned of this, he did what he usually did when confronted with a sudden challenge:  he attacked.  Leading 2131 men in a short, sharp night attack, Jackson inflicted about 250 casualties in exchange for about the same losses on his part.  He then withdrew to the Rodriguez Canal four miles south of New Orleans and began to fortify it. (more…)

Published in: on August 14, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Prelude to the Battle of New Orleans  
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June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war passed by Congress on June 17, 1812, starting the War of 1812.  I think it is safe to say that rarely has the United States gone to war more ill-prepared than in 1812, with an Army of 7,000 men and a Navy with 12 combat vessels, which is odd considering that there was no precipitating crisis that mandated a declaration of war at the time.  The United States could have prepared for the conflict and then declared war, but no such pre-war preparation occurred.

The vote totals in Congress, in the House 79-49 and in the Senate 19-13, indicated that the war was largely at the desire of one political party, the Jeffersonian Republicans, and opposed by the Federalists.  The opposition of the Federalists would continue throughout the war, and the conflict would be bitterly divisive in the United States.

The whole undertaking has a fairly surreal quality in retrospect, with the Madison administration, propelled by the War Hawks in Congress, undertaking a war that the President himself thought unwise and ill-considered against the mightiest Empire in the world.

Here is the text of the war message sent by President Madison on June 1, and which served as the basis for the declaration of war: (more…)

Published in: on June 17, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain  
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