Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 9: May 2008



The Top 25 Articles on the War of 1812

By Donald R. Hickey, Ph.D

Editor’s Note: Selecting the best articles on any topic is a difficult undertaking and subject to many factors, including, on one hand, personal bias and all the good things that academic training provides on the other. Through consultation with a many historians and writers and drawing upon a comprehensive record of articles collected over many years, American historian Donald R. Hickey has compiled the following list of the “Top 25 articles on the War of 1812,” serving as a compliment to his “Top 25 Books of the War of 1812” that appeared in Issue 7, September 2007, of the War of 1812 Magazine.

Readers will undoubtedly find they agree with some choices and less so with others. They may also ask why other titles were not included. With that in mind, readers having comments or suggestions on this list are asked to please forward them to the Editor, who will include them in future issues of the War of 1812 Magazine. Thank-you.


There was a time when scholarly articles had a certain cachet.  A half century ago, historians were as likely to present their research in an article as in a book, and the academic profession valued these contributions.  Even at major universities, a few well-placed articles could mean tenure or promotion, and there were some scholars with national reputations who never published a book.  Although the book was always king, the article held a valued place in the pecking order of scholarly contributions, and its author was rewarded accordingly. 

In the United States, this began to change around 1970.  College and university history departments, which had been expanding steadily since the end of World War II, saw their enrollments level off or even decline.  As a result, they cut back on hiring at a time when the number of doctorates awarded was still growing.  With more Ph.D.’s chasing fewer jobs, a buyer’s market quickly emerged, and many history departments took full advantage of it, demanding–and getting–a book or more from candidates seeking tenure or promotion.  At colleges and universities that considered research important, young scholars who wanted to keep their jobs, and older ones seeking to advance their careers, had to write books.

It was not simply the vagaries of the job market that devalued articles.  The explosive growth in the number of journals played a role, too.  With so many articles being published in such a broad range of journals every year, few received much notice or recognition.  “Publishing an article,” commented one American historian “is like dropping it off a cliff.  You don’t even hear it hit bottom.1 Books, on the other hand, have much greater visibility.  They are reviewed in scholarly journals and sometimes in the popular press; they are displayed in bookstores, which have taken on added significance with the advent of the big chains; and occasionally they can bring fortune and fame to their authors.  A savvy scholar who can place a promising book with a commercial press can reap significant profits and might even become a minor celebrity. 

All of this is not to suggest that history articles have lost all value.  They simply do not carry much weight at research institutions and thus are not as likely to be the chosen vehicle for presenting important research unless they presage a book.  At less prestigious schools, however, especially those whose principal mission is teaching, historians continue to publish articles, and so, too, do independent scholars, who do not face the same career imperatives as their academic peers.  Moreover, the proliferation of journals has had a significant upside.  There are now many potential outlets for a scholar seeking to place an article, and historians with a special interest are now more likely to have a journal that caters to that interest. 

Students of the War of 1812 are blessed with two specialized journals:  the Journal of the War of 1812, edited by Christopher George out of Baltimore and available by subscription only; and the War of 1812 Magazine, edited by John R. Grodzinski of Kingston, Ontario, and available free online.  The latter enjoys institutional support from the Napoleon Series, a successful online website devoted to the Napoleonic Age, and from Canadian publisher Robin Brass Studio, the leading outlet for books on the War of 1812.  The Magazine promises to be particularly useful to 1812 scholars because so far it has published articles of high quality, and once an issue appears, it becomes instantly available to anyone in the world with access to the Internet. 

Unfortunately, the Journal of the War of 1812 has temporarily suspended publication, and whether there is enough material to support one journal on the war, let alone two, remains to be seen.  We can only hope that the forthcoming bicentennial will generate enough long-term interest in the conflict–and enough research suitable for articles–to support both journals.

As a longtime producer and an avid consumer of scholarly articles, I have always had a special fondness for this form of publication.  Articles are appealing because they can be produced–and consumed–a lot faster than books, and they usually have a clear focus and very little filler.  They are ideal for skimming the surface of a broad topic or plumbing the depths of a narrow one; they offer an excellent vehicle for presenting historiographical or bibliographical information or for publishing an important document; and they are useful for bringing a new issue to light or for shedding fresh light on an old issue.  In short, there is much scholarship that still can best be aired in a well-crafted scholarly article.  

Over the years, I’ve built up a file of cards listing articles related to the War of 1812.  There are now 300-400 cards in my file box.  In an effort to pick out the best, I recently reviewed the cards and re-read many of the articles.  Paring my list to twenty-five titles was no easy task, and the final list is probably even more arbitrary than the one I recently produced on the top books on the War of 1812.2 Perhaps it would be more accurate to call this a list of my favorite articles, without suggesting that they are better than others that did not make the cut.  Exclusion from this list, in other words, should not suggest that an article is any less worthy of our attention. 

In developing a pool of candidates for my list, I excluded any article that simply anticipated a book because I thought that kind of research could best be judged as part of the larger work.  On the other hand, I was willing to consider articles that appeared in an anthology, which seemed to me to be functionally equivalent to a scholarly journal.  To facilitate the organization of the final list of titles that I came up with, I have classified the articles under eight headings:  (1) The Coming of the War; (2) Strategy and Tactics; (3) Weapons and Logistics;  (4) Land Warfare; (5) Naval Warfare; (6) Natives; (7) The End of the War; and (8) Miscellaneous.

The Coming of the War

1.  Herbert Heaton, “Non-Importation, 1806-1812,” Journal of Economic History 1 (November 1941): 178-98.  President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo, enacted in 1807, was conceived as a peaceful alternative to war. This measure (together with its controversial enforcement machinery) has always received the lion’s share of attention from historians, but it was only one of several trade restrictions adopted by the Republican administration between 1806 and 1812 to force the European belligerents to show greater respect for American rights.  The Embargo was a non-exportation law that prohibited American ships and goods from leaving port, but, as Herbert Heaton, the late British-born economic historian who spent most of his career at the University of Minnesota, shows in this article, non-importation acts actually dominated the restrictive system.  Both the first law, adopted in 1806, and the last, enacted in 1811, were non-importation laws, and in between Congress adopted a non-intercourse act that targeted imports as well as exports.  The non-importation laws were often suspended, usually retroactively.  On no fewer than five different occasions, American customs officials had to return to their owner’s goods that had been seized for being imported in violation of these laws.  Even so, they played an essential role in the Republicans’ use of American trade as an instrument of foreign policy in this era. 

2.  Harry W. Fritz, “The War Hawks of 1812,” Capitol Studies 5 (Spring 1977): 25-42.  Scholars have generally agreed that a group of War Hawks in the U.S. House of Representatives led the nation into war, but there has been no consensus on which the War Hawks were or how they achieved their goal.  Although traditionally eleven congressmen have been identified as War Hawks, some scholars, typically using roll call analysis, have come up with a different total–as few as five or as many as eighty-two (even though there were only seventy-nine votes in the House for the declaration of war).  Harry Fritz of the University of Montana argues that roll calls cannot be used to identify the War Hawks because “blind supporters of the war program might be nothing more than backbenchers, administration hacks, idolators, or henchmen” (p. 28).  Fritz opts for the traditional number of eleven.  Equally important, he makes good use of political science models to show how the War Hawks used their power to lead the nation into war.  Henry Clay, who served as speaker of the house, played a particularly vital role, molding the speakership into a position of power and then using that power to nudge the nation toward war. 

3.  Reginald Horsman, “Western War Aims, 1811-1812,” Indiana Magazine of History 53 (March 1957): 1-18.  There has long been a school of thought that holds that the United States went to war, not to force the British to make concessions on maritime issues, but to conquer Canada.  The desire to seize Canada, this school holds, was especially strong in the West.  This view has been challenged by Reginald Horsman, a British-born historian, who taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and is one of the most accomplished students of the war.  Reexamining the speeches of the western War Hawks in Congress, Horsman shows that they sought war to force the British to modify their maritime policies.  They demanded these changes both as a matter of principle and as a way of ending an agricultural depression in the West that they blamed on the British Orders-in-Council.  The South also suffered from a prewar depression, and southern War Hawks made similar arguments.   Horsman does not ignore the western determination to end British tampering with American Indians, but he demonstrates that this issue took a back seat to the maritime issues.  He also shows that when western and southern War Hawks talked about conquering Canada, they made it clear that their aim was to use it as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the British on the maritime issues.  Horsman’s article, in other words, reinforces the traditional view that the conquest of Canada was not an end in itself but simply the means chosen to force the British to make concessions on the Orders-in-Council and impressment.

4.  Leland R. Johnson, “The Suspense Was Hell: The Senate Vote for War in 1812,” Indiana Magazine of History 65 (December 1969): 247-67.  Most accounts of the declaration of the war focus on the long run-up–from November, 1811, to June, 1812–when Congress adopted war preparations and then waited to see whether the U.S. Sloop Hornet brought any news of British concessions from Europe.  The adoption of the war bill itself in June is usually given short shrift because there was so little recorded debate in either house.  In this article, written when he was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, Leland Johnson uses the Senate Journal as well as other contemporary sources to tell the story of Senate action on the bill.  This story is not altogether new, and one has to take Johnson’s analysis of the motivation of principal actors in Congress with a grain of salt.  He attributes base political motives to everyone except the regular Republicans, and his treatment of the Federalists is particularly unsympathetic.  Even so, the story he tells is important because the Senate came so close to authorizing naval reprisals and privateering instead of full-scale war.  Johnson examines the roll calls to show how the Senate actually voted to limit the war to the high seas before later reversing itself and approving the original House bill. Although the House might have rejected any Senate limitation on the scope of the conflict, the War of 1812 would have been very different if the Senate proposal had prevailed. 

Strategy and Tactics

5.  John K. Mahon, “British Command Decisions in the Northern Campaigns of the War of 1812,” Canadian Historical Review 46 (September 1965): 219-37.  The vast majority of general studies on the War of 1812 have been written from the American point of view, and most of the remainder from the point of view of the British in Canada.  There are precious few accounts that present the war from the perspective of British officials in London.  After examining British sources in England, the late John K. Mahon, a longtime professor of history at the University of Florida and one of the deans of American 1812 scholars, wrote this article to illuminate the British perspective on the war.  Three things stand out in Mahon’s analysis:  (1) The British focus was first and foremost on the war in Europe; (2) British strategy in Canada was preeminently defensive, not simply in 1812-13 but even after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814; and (3) The campaigns in the Chesapeake and on the Gulf Coast were undertaken as diversions to ease the military pressure on Canada.  Throughout the war, Great Britain’s primary aim was to provide for the defense of Canada.  Once they were in the driver’s seat in 1814, the British sought to occupy American territory, not because they wanted to hold it permanently, but rather to use as a bargaining chip to demand concessions in the peace negotiations that would enhance Canadian security. 

6.  Jeffrey Kimball, “The Battle of Chippawa: Infantry Tactics in the War of 1812,” Military Affairs 31 (Winter 1967-68): 169-86.  When Americans think of their early wars, they often envision militia-bedeviling regulars by using rifles to wage irregular warfare, but this was far from the norm, especially in the War of 1812.  In this conflict, militias were rarely effective when acting alone, most American troops (citizen soldiers and regulars alike) carried muskets, and professionals did the most significant fighting.  As a young scholar, Jeffrey Kimball of Miami University left his mark on the military history of the War of 1812 before being drawn away to the twentieth century to study the War in Vietnam.  His article on the Battle of Chippawa examines British and American tactical doctrine and shows how Winfield Scott successfully trained his brigade on the Niagara front in 1814 so that it could stand up to British regulars.  Kimball overstates the range of the musket, which was far short of the 300 yards that he suggests, but he does a fine job of showing how the U.S. Army employed conventional tactics on the battlefield of Chippawa, and how thereafter army policymakers considered this performance the standard by which to measure others.  The young republic had to rely on militia to respond to British raids in the Chesapeake, but the serious–and successful–fighting in this war was done principally by regulars using conventional tactics.  In the postwar years, the public may not have understood this, but, as Kimball shows, the U.S. Army did.

Weapons and Logistics

7.  Donald E. Graves, “Field Artillery of the War of 1812: Equipment, Organization, Tactics, and Effectiveness,” Arms Collecting 30 (May 1992): 39-48.  Most historians of the War of 1812 are content to leave the technical side of warfare to buffs and re-enactors, who are usually more willing to do the spadework needed to understand the weapons, equipment, uniforms, and arcane language of the armies of the period.  Donald E. Graves, an independent Canadian scholar who is the war’s most accomplished military historian, is an exception to this rule.  Over the years, Graves has made it his business to understand what the opposing armies looked like, how they operated, and how effective they were.  Graves’s learning can be found in his books as well as in articles published in a wide range of journals, many of which are highly specialized and not readily available, even in major research libraries.  In this nicely illustrated article, Graves presents a fine overview of the artillery used in the War of 1812.  He gives a concise description of field guns (cannons) and howitzers as well as their carriages and ammunition.  He also explains how they were loaded and fired and how effective they were.  Although conceding that the War of 1812 “was primarily an infantryman’s war” (p. 47), Graves shows that artillery was often present on the battlefield and played a conspicuous role in the engagements at Stoney Creek, Crysler’s Farm, Chippawa, Lundy’s Lane, and Bladensburg.  For those interested in understanding this important dimension of the War of 1812, Graves’s article is a good place to start.

8.  Jeffrey Kimball, “The Fog and Friction of Frontier War: The Role of Logistics in American Offensive Failure during the War of 1812,” Old Northwest 5 (Winter 1979): 323-43.  American failure in the War of 1812 has been blamed on a variety of factors: bad leadership, an untrained and inexperienced army, an ill-conceived strategy, inadequate logistical support, and  a capable and determined enemy.  Jeffrey Kimball argues that logistics has received the least attention but probably played the most important role.  The United States lacked the administrative structure as well as the communication and transportation network needed to overcome the inherent obstacles to waging offensive war across vast expanses of wilderness on the northern frontier.  Communications between land and naval forces on the frontier and between armies in the field and the War Department in Washington repeatedly broke down.  In addition, the troops could neither live off the land in the sparsely settled territories they campaigned in nor did they have the means to transport all the supplies they needed.  Plans for offensive operations thus often went awry because of insoluble communication and supply problems.  “The best overall explanation for American defeat,” Kimball concludes, “is that they had, from the start, ambitiously reached for all of Canada without the wherewithal to take and permanently hold any part of it” (p. 338).  Not only does Kimball do a fine job of explaining the failure of American logistics, but he makes a compelling argument for its central role in explaining the larger failure of American arms on the northern frontier.

9.  Philip Lord, Jr., “The Mohawk/Oneida Corridor: The Geography of the Inland Navigation across New York,” in David Curtis Skaggs and Larry L. Nelson, eds., The Sixty Years’ War for the Great Lakes, 1754-1814 (East Lansing, MI, 2001): 275-90.   In this informative piece, Philip Lord of the New York State Museum examines one of the key routes that the United States used in the War of 1812 to supply its naval force on Lake Ontario, arguably the most important of the northern lakes.  Ocean-going ships or smaller river sloops could carry cargo 150 miles up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.  From Albany, freight had to move 16 miles overland to Schenectady, where the Mohawk River became navigable.  From here there was a continuous water route to Oswego on Lake Ontario, thanks to the construction of canals and other improvements undertaken by the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company under the leadership of Philip Schuyler (Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law) between 1792 and 1803.  Large Durham boats capable of carrying 10 to 12 tons of cargo kept up a steady flow of naval stores and other vital supplies to Lake Ontario.  Few other supply routes were as effective as this one.  Without it, the United States would have been hard pressed to compete for naval superiority on Lake Ontario. 

Land Warfare

10.  J. C. A. Stagg, “Enlisted Men in the United States Army, 1812-1815: A Preliminary Survey,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser. , 43 (October 1986): 615-45.  It is not easy to find reliable information on the strength and composition of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812.  The War Department made only rough estimates of troop strength during the conflict and presented no information on the soldiers themselves.  John Stagg, who serves as editor of the James Madison Papers at the University of Virginia, found a way to secure more extensive and more reliable information.  To handle pension claims, the War Department in 1879-81 compiled a register of data on around 100,000 men who had enlisted in the army between 1798 and 1815.  Based on a sample of those recruited during the war years, Stagg has developed a social profile of the wartime army:  where the men were born and where they enlisted, and what their age, race, and occupation was.  His figures suggest that army strength at the end of the war was not 31,000, as the War Department reported at the time, but almost 49,000.  He also found that 3.2 percent of the men were killed or wounded in battle, 8.2 percent died of accident or disease, 2.6 percent were taken prisoner, and 12.7 percent deserted.  Not only does this study provide a wealth of information on the wartime army, but it illuminates an important source that other scholars can mine.  We can only hope that one day a team of scholars will put the War Department’s entire master list into an electronic database that can be used to generate more comprehensive and definitive statistics on the wartime army. 

11.  John S. Hare, “Military Punishments in the War of 1812,” Journal of the American Military Institute 4 (Winter 1940): 225-39.  Maintaining discipline among its troops was no easy task for the United States in the War of 1812.  Lucrative bounties were needed to stimulate recruiting, and the enlistees were drawn from a population that was ruggedly independent.  Since whipping was outlawed in the U.S. Army from 1812 to 1814, the officers and non-commissioned officers had to come up with other means of maintaining discipline.  Utilizing the records of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, the late John Hare of Ohio State University gives readers an unusual glimpse into the punishments that were employed.  For minor infractions of the rules, soldiers might be subjected to some form of public humiliation (such as being forced to wear a sign), deprived of their liquor ration or pay, or ordered to do hard labor.  Corporal punishment was reserved for more serious crimes.  In some cases, miscreants were cobbed (paddled with a wooden board), were forced to ride a wooden horse (which was similar to a large saw horse), were picketed (which entailed standing on a wooden stake), or were hobbled with a ball and chain.  In other cases, they were branded or their ears were cropped.  Execution, usually by firing squad, was reserved mainly for deserters; especially repeat deserters or bounty jumpers (men who enlisted only to get the bounty and then deserted so that they could enlist for another bounty elsewhere).  Hare shows that there were 205 executions in the years 1812-1815, three-fourths of which took place in 1814, when the army got much larger and military officials were determined to crack down on desertion. 

12.  Donald E. Graves, “‘The Finest Army Ever to Campaign on American Soil’? The Organization, Strength, Composition, and Losses of British Land Forces during the Plattsburgh Campaign, September, 1814,” Journal of the War of 1812 7 (Fall/Winter 2003): 6-13.  After suffering the humiliation of the occupation and burning of Washington, the United States prevailed in three subsequent defensive operations: the Battle of Plattsburgh, the Battle of Baltimore, and the Battle of New Orleans.  The U.S. prevailed at Plattsburgh only because Sir George Prevost marched his army back to Canada after the British squadron on Lake Champlain was defeated.  No one is better than Donald Graves at mining military documents for information, and in this article he analyzes British army documents to determine the composition of Prevost’s army.  He reaches several important conclusions:  (1) Far from being upwards of 15,000 strong, the army that invaded New York consisted of only 10,000 men, and only about 8,100 were present for the Battle of Plattsburgh; (2) Peninsular veterans accounted for only a third of the British force; and (3) Instead of losing upwards of a thousand men to desertion in the retreat, the British lost only 234 in the entire campaign and only 15 were from Peninsula units.  In short, the British force that invaded New York in 1814 was not as large, nor as elite, nor as undisciplined as American writers have suggested. 

13.  Ludwig Kosche, “Relics of Brock: An Investigation,” Archivaria 9 (Winter, 1979-80): 33-103.  Major General Isaac Brock’s early success in the war at Detroit followed by his death at Queenston Heights transformed him into a genuine hero.  He remains today one of the leading lights in the Canadian pantheon.  In this fascinating article, the late Ludwig Kosche, a German-born librarian at the Canadian War Museum, combines documentary research with scientific analysis to determine whether a number of artifacts attributed to Brock are authentic.  The relics, mostly clothing, include two held by the War Museum: a coat featuring two apparent bullet holes that Brock supposedly wore when he was killed, and a colorful sash that Brock reportedly acquired when he and the great Indian leader Tecumseh exchanged scarves as a mark of mutual esteem after the American surrender at Detroit.  Kosche reaches two important conclusions: (1)  The coat was indeed worn by Brock when he was killed; and (2) The sash was neither a gift from Tecumseh nor was it worn by Brock when he was shot.  What makes this article so fascinating is not the information itself, which is far from glamorous, nor the presentation of the information, which is workmanlike rather than exciting, but rather the author’s careful approach and his use of a wide variety of sources–contemporary documents, photographs, artwork, and laboratory reports–to get at the truth and resolve discrepancies in the evidence that he has unearthed. 

14.  Guy St. Denis, “Robert Walcot: The Man Who Could Not Possibly Have Shot General Brock,” Journal for Army Historical Research 83 (Winter 2005): 281-90.  In 1880, when he was supposedly almost 100 years old, Robert Walcot gave an interview in which he claimed that he had been the American soldier who had killed Major General Isaac Brock in the Battle of Queenston Heights.  Although there is no record of Walcot’s military service in the U.S. Army or the militia, his story sounded authentic, and it has been credited by many scholars and writers.  Guy St. Denis, an independent Canadian scholar, shows why the story is untrue.  Walcot made a host of other remarkable and sometimes contradictory claims, both in this interview and in a document that he submitted for an army pension.  St. Denis measures Walcot’s claims against the available evidence, and in every case those claims come up short.  St. Denis exposes Walcot as a storyteller who borrowed from other sources to create an impressive but fictional personal history.  This article reminds us how important it is to check the reliability of our sources, and whenever possible to test personal recollections against other sources, especially when they make far-fetched claims of some heroic deed in the distant past.

Naval Warfare

15.  Richard Glover, “The French Fleet, 1807-1814: Britain’s Problem and Madison’s Opportunity,” Journal of Modern History 39 (September 1967): 233-52.  It may seem odd to include an article on the war in Europe on a list of articles about the War of 1812, but one must remember that the two conflicts were intimately connected.  In fact, the War of 1812 was little more than a minor theater in a larger Trans-Atlantic conflict, and what happened–or did not happen–in the European war could and did have a major impact on the American war.  In this article, Richard Glover demonstrates that, with most of the resources of the Continent at his disposal, Napoleon began to rebuild the French fleet in 1807 and by 1812 had come within striking distance of matching the British in ships-of-the-line.  The growing French menace came at a time when Britain’s own ability to build and maintain warships was declining.  It was not until the French Emperor launched his ill-judged invasion of Russia in 1812 that the threat to British naval power began to recede.  Glover is surely wrong to suggest that President James Madison probably took the French naval menace into account when he recommended war against Britain in 1812.  There is simply no evidence to support this claim.  But his article has other virtues.  It shows that, in spite of her great victory at Trafalgar, the Mistress of the Seas was never completely secure in her sea power, and this is helps explain why her blockade of the United States during the War of 1812 was so porous. 

16.  Barry J. Lohnes, “British Naval Problems at Halifax during the War of 1812,” Mariner’s Mirror 59 (August 1973): 317-33.  Although the British enjoyed overwhelming naval superiority in the War of 1812, they were slow to exploit their advantage.  This was in part because the War of 1812 always took a back seat to the Napoleonic Wars and in part because the British initially held back, hoping that the repeal of the Orders-in-Council would produce a quick end to the American war.  Barry Lohnes, who adapted this article from his Master’s thesis at the University of Maine, suggests that there was another reason.  The British navy on the American station was in a deplorable condition–in a bad state of repair and chronically short of seamen–and the Royal dockyards at Bermuda and Halifax did not have enough skilled shipwrights and naval stores to keep the fleet seaworthy.  Any ships in need of major repairs had to be sent to the home islands.  These problems, which persisted even after the Admiralty beefed up its forces in America, help explain why the U.S. Navy made such a fine showing early in the war and why the British blockade remained so porous later in the war. 

17.  Michael A. Palmer, “A Failure of Command, Control, and Communications: Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie,” Journal of Erie Studies 17 (Fall 1988): 7-26.  It is not easy to unravel the course of events on the smoke-filled battlefield of the Napoleonic Era.  Contemporary reports can vary greatly because of limited vision and a distorted sense of time, and in naval battles the lack of any geographical features to orient the observer makes contemporary reports even less reliable.  Conventional wisdom holds that in the Battle of Lake Erie, Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry prevailed because of superior firepower and good luck and that his second-in-command, Lieutenant Jesse Elliott, was culpable because he failed engage the enemy with his own ship, the U.S. Brig Niagara.  In this article, Michael Palmer, who now teaches at East Carolina University, moves beyond the accepted paradigm to bring the modern concept of command and control to bear on his analysis of the battle.  Palmer shows that although Perry managed his own ship well, he had little command experience with a squadron and failed to give proper direction to his subordinate commanders.  His battle plan was vague, and instead of using signal flags to order his other ships into action, he evidently relied on a speaking trumpet that could not be heard more than ten yards away.  His orders therefore never reached Elliott.  Palmer concludes, “the responsibility for Elliott’s delay, if that is what it was, must be borne, or at least shared, by Perry” (p. 18). 


18.  Frank L. Owsley, Jr., “The Role of the South in the British Grand Strategy in the War of 1812,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 31 (Spring 1972): 22-38.    It is well known that the Indian war that erupted in the Old Northwest at Tippecanoe in 1811 blended into the War of 1812 and that British officials worked closely with their Indian allies in the defense of Canada.  Canadians, however, are often puzzled to find a chapter on the Creek War in the Old Southwest in American treatments of the War of 1812.  Frank Owsley, a longtime student of the war in the south who taught at Auburn University, shows why such a chapter is justified.  Andrew Jackson and American soldiers who later fought on the Gulf Coast won their spurs in the Creek War.  In addition, Britain had a relationship with the southern Indians that dated back to the period when Florida was a British possession (1763-1783), and even after restoring Florida to Spain in 1783, the British continued to trade with the Indians there.  As early as November of 1812, Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren suggested that Britain employ the southern Indians in a Gulf Coast diversion.  Although the British failed to act until after the Creeks had been defeated at Horseshoe Bend in 1814, they established a base on the Apalachicola River in Florida from which they supplied arms and other essentials to the surviving Creeks and their Seminole allies.  Although their Indian allies in this theater never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that the British had for them, they nonetheless disrupted American communication on the Gulf Coast and forced the United States to divert troops that might otherwise have aided Jackson in the defense of New Orleans.  Owsley closes by arguing that all this was important because the British would not have relinquished any territory on the Gulf Coast that they captured, but the evidence for this argument is dubious at best.

19.  R. David Edmunds, “Tecumseh, the Shawnee Prophet, and American History: A Reassessment,” Western Historical Quarterly 14 (July 1983): 261-76.  The War of 1812 was the last conflict in North America in which Indians played a significant role.  Although a number of native leaders left their mark in the contest, the great Shawnee Tecumseh has always loomed the largest.  Universally praised by contemporaries and historians alike, he is remembered not simply as the unrivaled native leader of this period but as one of the greatest Indians in history.  David Edmunds, who is now at the University of Texas at Dallas and the leading authority on Indians in the Old Northwest, challenges this view.  He shows that Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, better known as the Prophet, played a more important role in building a pan-Indian movement to resist American encroachment.  Launching a religious revival in 1805, the Prophet attracted hundreds of followers from tribes scattered across the Old Northwest.  Tecumseh was but a secondary figure in this movement.  He was generally known as “the Prophet’s brother” and did not emerge as a significant leader in his own right until at least 1810.  Building his political and military movement upon the framework that the Prophet had erected, Tecumseh never attracted the kind of native support that his brother had, and since he was killed in the Battle of the Thames in 1813, his star did not burn brightly for very long.  But because whites could better understand his movement, they accorded him a status that his brother never enjoyed.  Edmunds concludes that Tecumseh was “a brave and farsighted leader” but that the figure portrayed in the history books “is, in many respects, a ‘white man’s Indian’” (p. 276).   

20.  Alfred A. Cave, “The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe: A Case Study of Historical Myth-Making,” Journal of the Early Republic 22 (Winter 2002): 637-73.  If David Edmunds has shown that historians have underrated the Prophet’s significance before the Battle of Tippecanoe, Alfred Cave of the University of Toledo demonstrates that they have made the same mistake for the period afterward.  Conventional wisdom, based mainly on unsympathetic and often unreliable Native sources, holds that the Prophet ordered the attack at Tippecanoe and was so thoroughly discredited when defeat ensued that even Tecumseh turned against him.  Using other sources, Cave suggests that the attack was probably initiated by young Winnebagoes and that the Prophet remained a force to be reckoned with until after the War of 1812 was over. “For the Prophet,” Caves says, “Tippecanoe was a setback, but not the disaster commonly portrayed in the historical literature” (p. 663).  By early 1812, Prophetstown had been rebuilt, it boasted 550 residents, and the Prophet enjoyed a large following, including Tecumseh. Although the Prophet was not a warrior, the British discovered that they could not ignore his claims to his brother’s mantle after Tecumseh was killed in 1813.  Only after the War of 1812 ended, when the Prophet refused to join his followers at Prophetstown, did his influence wane.   “His leadership effectively ceased,” Cave concludes, “not at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but with his absence [in 1815] from the new Prophetstown” (p. 670).

21.  R. David Edmunds, “‘A Watchful Safeguard to Our Habitations’: Black Hoof and the Loyal Shawnees,” in Federick E. Hoxie, et al., eds.,   Native Americans and the Early Republic (Charlottesville, VA, 1999): 162-99.  Although historians have given Tecumseh and the Prophet the lion’s share of attention in this era, David Edmunds has illuminated the lives of other natives who played a significant role in the War of 1812.  In this article, he traces the prewar and wartime activities of a group of Shawnees who chose accommodation and acculturation after the American victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794.  Headed by Black Hoof, this Shawnee band denounced the Prophet and Tecumseh when their stars were rising and remained loyal to the United States during the war.  But their lot was difficult.  Although they performed a host of valuable services for their American friends, scouting for them and fighting against the British and their Indian allies, unruly western settlers periodically attacked these Indians, burning their homes and crops, stealing their horses and other property, and even murdering them.  In fact, Black Hoof himself received a nasty mouth wound from a musket ball fired by a supposedly friendly American who had purposely targeted him.  Nor did the friendly Shawnee escape the fate of the other tribes in the Old Northwest after the war when their lands were coveted by whites.  Edmunds tells his story dispassionately, but it is a tale of unrequited loyalty and betrayal, proof that those Indians who sided with the United States in the War of 1812 fared little better than those who did not. 

The End of the War

22.  Robert C. Vogel, “Jean Laffite, the Baratarians, and the Battle of New Orleans: A Reappraisal,” Louisiana History 41 (Summer 2000): 261-76.   Novelists, filmmakers, popular writers, and scholars have usually credited Jean Laffite and the Baratarian pirates with playing a central role in Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans.  Many of the claims are based on a Laffite memoir (almost surely fraudulent) that surfaced in the twentieth century.  Robert Vogel, a cultural resources consultant, sticks to more reliable sources, British and American, and concludes that the contribution of the Baratarians to the war was more modest. Jean and Pierre Laffite served as scouts and messengers for Jackson and supplied him with 7,500 flints.  In addition, a small number of Baratarians manned some of Jackson’s artillery in the main battle.  The material and manpower support that Jackson got from the pirates was important, but it has been much overrated and was far from decisive. 

23.  James A. Carr, “The Battle of New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent,” Diplomatic History 3 (Summer 1979): 273-82.  Many scholars have argued that if the British had won the Battle of New Orleans they would have retained Louisiana, the Treaty of Ghent notwithstanding.  This argument is appealing because it gives the battle greater significance than it might otherwise enjoy.  Diplomatic historian James A. Carr challenges this view.  He carefully reviews each bit of evidence adduced to make the case and shows how it has been misread or misinterpreted.  He has also unearthed additional evidence, which demonstrates that British officials were relieved to be rid of the American war and gave no thought to retaining any conquered territory as long as the United States ratified the treaty.  Far from coveting any territory on the Gulf Coast, Great Britain’s prime minister, Lord Liverpool, actually dismissed New Orleans as a settlement that was “one of the most unhealthy in any part of America” (p. 280).  The Battle of New Orleans may have been a grand American victory, but it did not determine who was going to control Louisiana in the postwar world.


24.  Mark Hilliard, “Huzza! for Huzza!” Journal of the War of 1812 6 (Spring 2001): 4-9.  In this article, Mark Hilliard, who teaches at Emerson College in Boston, examines how to pronounce the period word, “huzza,” a shout of affirmation that is rarely heard today except at historical reenactments.  Using rhyme schemes, Hilliard argues persuasively that in the early days of the republic the word was usually pronounced with a long “a,” that is, “hoo-zay.”  Only very rarely was it pronounced with a short “a”–“hoo-zah.”  “Huzza” gradually disappeared from the language around 1900.  By this time it had been replaced by “hurray” or just plain “yea,” or by “hurrah,” a word popular in the Civil War.  In the 1970s, Revolutionary War reenactors revived “huzza,” but instead of pronouncing it correctly–“hoo-zay”–they echoed the common Civil War cry of “hurrah” and pronounced it “hoo-zah.”  This whole issue may seem petty, and perhaps it is.  But many of us who immerse ourselves in the sources would like to know how to pronounce the words that we are reading.

25.  Donald E. Graves, “The Many Wars of 1812,” Journal of the War of 1812 8 (Spring/Summer 2004): 1-4.  Donald Graves has probably taught us more about the War of 1812 than anyone else.  Although a Canadian patriot who loves to remind Americans of their failures in the war, Graves can be counted on to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to distribute praise and blame accordingly.  Moreover, he is well versed in Canadian history and fully capable of thinking outside the box.  In this short article, Graves offers the important insight that there are not just three views of the war–American, Canadian, and British–but as many as five in the United States and three in Canada, each corresponding to a geographical area or theater of operations.  In the United States, people living in the Old Northwest, New York, New England, the Chesapeake region, and on the Gulf Coast are all likely to see the war a little differently.  In a similar vein, people living in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces are likely to see the war in three different lights.  In other words, how people interpret the war depends on where they live.  This may be the sort of truism that can be confidently applied to any war, but it is nonetheless an important insight.  Graves has barely skimmed the surface of his topic.  He says nothing about how Indians remembered the war, and there may be as many as three different views in New York (corresponding to the Niagara, St. Lawrence, and Lake Champlain fronts) and three more in Ontario (corresponding to the Detroit, Niagara, and St. Lawrence fronts).  That said, Graves still deserves credit for a crucial insight.  The historiography of the War of 1812 has yet to be written, but whoever writes it may find it useful to employ Graves’s paradigm to impose some order on the literary chaos. 


It may be pointless to try to draw any conclusions from such an arbitrary list of articles, and in any case there are few surprises.  It looks like the articles fall into three broad categories.  There are 5 (those numbered 14, 18, 19, 21, and 22) that shatter widely-accepted and often repeated views; another 6 (numbers 2, 3, 12, 16, 17, and 24) shed light on or clarify contentious issues; while 14 (numbers 1, 4-11, 13, 15, 20, 23, and 25) present new material. Of the 25 articles, 2 were published in the 1940s, 1 in the 1950s, 3 in the 1960s, 5 in the 1970s, 4 in the 1980s, 3 in the 1990s, and 7 in the 2000s.3  Americans produced 19 of the articles (although one American author–Reginald Horsman–is a native of Great Britain and another–John Stagg–a native of New Zealand).  Canadians produced 5 of the articles (although Donald Graves was responsible for 3), and one was produced by British scholar Herbert Heaton although he spent most of his career in the United States.  About all one can conclude from this list is that the art of writing articles on the War of 1812 is alive and well and that articles have offered a good vehicle for presenting new material, shattering myths, or shedding light on controversial issues.

Don Hickey is a professor of history at Wayne State College in Nebraska and a member of the Editorial Board of The War of 1812 Magazine.  He has written more than a dozen scholarly articles on the War of 1812 and its causes, including “The Monroe-Pinkney Treaty of 1806: A Reappraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 44 (January 1987):  65-88; “American Trade Restrictions during the War of 1812,” Journal of American History 68 (December 1981):  517-38; and “New England’s Defense Problem and the Genesis of the Hartford Convention,” New England Quarterly 50 (December 1977), 587-604.  He would like to thank Connie D. Clark and Kathryn Roberts Morrow for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

1.  This comment was made in a conversation with the author around 1990 by Jim Broussard, the founder of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).

2.  See “The 25 Best Books on the War of 1812,” War of 1812 Magazine.

3.  I assigned one article published in 1979-80 to the decade of the 1980s because it was most likely published after the turn of the year.


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