Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 11: June 2009

Documents, Artefacts and Imagery

In Memoriam

By John Grodzinski and Don Graves

War of 1812 scholarship lost two individuals this year, namely John D. Morris in the United States and Jon Latimer in Britain. We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge these losses.

John D. Morris, Ph.D

The War of 1812 historian, John Morris, sadly passed away on 25 March 2009, from complications arising from heart disease, at the age of 77. John Morris spent his early years in Sackets Harbor, Jefferson County, New York. Following graduation from high school he served with the United States Marine Corps in Korea and afterwards attended the University of Rochester where he earned a doctorate degree in early American history. He spent most of his teaching career at Kent State University in Ohio and published a number of scholarly articles on American politics during the Jacksonian era. He retired from active teaching in the mid-1990s.

Being a native of Jefferson County, Morris became interested in one of the area's most prominent figures, Major-General Jacob Brown of War of 1812 fame. One of the three most successful American generals of the conflict -- the others being William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson -- and arguably the best commander of the wartime American army, Jacob Brown slipped into obscurity following his untimely death in 1828 at the young age of 53.

Partly this was because both Jackson and Harrison occupied the White House and their military victories were much better known to the American people. As President John Quincy Adams remarked at the time of Jacob Brown's death:

"The splendor of the defence of New Orleans has cast in the shade Brown's military fame, and his campaign on the Canadian frontier in 1814, far more severely contested than were the achievements of Jackson -- less aided by good fortune, and less favoured by egregious errors of the enemy."

It was also partly due to the fact that much of American War of 1812 historiography of the later 19th and early 20th centuries was affected by the self-adulatory 1864 memoirs of Winfield Scott, Brown's subordinate in the Niagara campaign of 1814, which barely mention that Jacob Brown commanded the army that fought in that operation.

The result was that Brown and his achievements, both in war and peace, became forgotten, particularly as there existed no properly researched biography of the man. John Morris set out to correct this oversight and the result of a decade of labour was his book, Sword of the Border: Major General Jacob Jennings Brown, 1775-1828 published in 2000 by Kent State University Press. In Sword of the Border, Morris corrected many of the myths concerning Brown's early years, restored his wartime achievements to a proper historical perspective and investigated at length the importance of Brown's achievements in the post-war army. Unlike Harrison and Jackson, who abandoned military service for politics, Brown remained with the army, becoming its commanding general in 1821, an appointment he held until his death. During this time Brown assisted Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and later secretaries in reforming the regular army, establishing it on a more rational basis, making it a more professional service by pushing for the establishment of advanced training for officers, and improving the lot of the enlisted man. The result is an extremely well-researched biography of a prominent but forgotten figure in American history, which belongs on the bookshelf of every serious student of the War of 1812 and the United States Army of the early republic.

John Morris is survived by his wife, Joan, their two sons and their families.

Jon Latimer

A photo of Jon Latimer taken during a battlefield tour of Sahagun, which was fought between British and French forces in Spain on 21 December 1808.

Jon was a well received author of a number of historical studies; his 1812: War with America (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007) was a rare exploration of the War of 1812 by a British author. Jon was born in Wales in 1964 and graduated from the University of Swansea in 1986 with a degree in oceanology. After working as an oceanographer in Britain, Europe and Australia, he decided to become a full time writer in 1997, contributing to the Times, Times Literary Supplement, the Daily Telegraph and History Today. His first major book Deception in War was completed in 2001 and followed by Alemein (2002) and Burma: The Forgotten War (2004). Jon was also a part time lecturer at the University of Wales in Swansea and the Joint Services Staff College, which included participating in Napoleonic period battlefield tours in the Iberian Peninsula. He was served in the Territorial Army from 1993 to 1999 with The Royal Welch Regiment. His 1812: War with America received the Distinguished Book Award of The Society for Military History. Jon was putting the final touches on Niagara, 1814, a volume in the Osprey Campaign series, based upon a recent visit to Canada, where he visited several War of 1812 battlefields, when he passed away suddenly on 4 January 2009. Niagara 1814 has since been released and is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine. Before his death, Jon reflected that he wrote 1812: War With America to remind his fellow Britons about this forgotten conflict and was dismayed that his UK publisher listed it as American and not British history. John was truly an author that was just coming into his prime; he will be missed.

Jon leaves behind the surviving members of his family. He never married, but as he was as he was tall, handsome, athletic, bursting with energy, intelligent and well mannered there was no shortage of women in his life and it is known that women considered him "dishy." In any case, he was good bloke."

 



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