Military Subjects:  War of 1812

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 16: September 2011


By Professor Donald R. Hickey Wayne State College (Nebraska)

Anticipating the Bicentennial: Three Books that Need to Be Written

We can expect the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 to generate a lot of activity.  A host of battles will be commemorated, beginning with Tippecanoe in November 2011 and extending at least through New Orleans in January 2015 and perhaps even the Sinkhole in May 2015.  No doubt many of these commemorations will be marked by large and spectacular re-enactments.  There will also be numerous conferences, many pegged to the dates of battles or campaigns.  So far, two of the most interesting and perhaps the largest are planned for London in July 2012 and Annapolis in June 2013.  There will also probably be a spike in public lectures on the war as well as a new round of books and articles.  All of this is to the good, for it will enhance our understanding of the conflict and elevate its public profile.    

I would like to suggest three books that ought to be written.  First, we need an overview of the war from the British perspective.  The late Jon Latimer’s 1812: War with America (2007) professed to tell this story but did not.  Latimer relied heavily on American sources and ignored a great many significant British sources.  As a result, despite his claims to the contrary, he presented very little on the British side of the story.  A host of other problems render this book unreliable anyway.  It is filled with factual errors; many sources are cited that were never consulted; and, most alarming, there is evidence of considerable plagiarism.  Thus, the story from the British perspective remains untold.  This is a story that must be based on British sources and that must present the war as seen through the eyes of officials in London and British soldiers and sailors in America or on the high seas.

Another book we need is one on the Indians’ role in the war.  Carl Benn has illuminated the role of the Iroquois; Dave Edmunds and John Sugden have examined the role of Indians in the Old Northwest; and Frank Owsley and Claudio Saunt have explored the Creek War.  There is also fresh material in many of the battle and campaign studies.  Someone ought to pull all of this together and take a new look at the available sources to give us a clear and complete picture of the Indian War of 1812.

Finally, we could use a history of the war in the St. Louis Theater.  Mike Harris and his colleagues in Captain Clemson's Company of 1st U.S. Infantry have long been doing research on this obscure theater.  They hold an annual Symposium on the War of 1812 in the West every March; they put out a newsletter (the Despatch) that usually includes primary source material; and recently they launched a website The War of 1812 in the St Louis Theater.  I don’t think we have yet fully catalogued all of the Indian raids in this theater, nor do we have a full account of the American response.  This would be an important study on a theater of operations that is all but forgotten, and I hope Mike or someone else will give us a book on the subject. 

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