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The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 11: June 2009


Reviews: Books, Film, Collectables and Ephemera

Fredriksen, John C. The United States Army in the War of 1812: Concise Biographies of Commanders and Operational Histories of Regiments with Bibliographies of Published and Primary Sources. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 0-7864-4143-3., $45.00 US.

Review by John R. Grodzinski

While the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 has been the topic of much literature, little has been devoted to its organizational history. The Osprey Men at Arms series touched upon this topic in at least three of its volumes, The American War, 1812 -  1814, (Men at Arms 226) The United States Army in the War of 1812, (Men at Arms 345), and The United States Army, 1783 – 1811, (Men at Arms 352). Indeed, dress and equipment has had far greater interest, whether through the plates published by the Company of Military Historians or reference works, such as Canadian René Chartrand’s excellent and difficult to find Uniforms and Equipment of the United States Forces in the War of 1812 (Niagara Falls, NY: Old Fort Niagara Association, 1992). The Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1789 – 1903 (2 vols, Washington Printing Office, 1903) has much information, however until recently, these volumes are difficult to find: they are now available for download on the Internet.[1] Thus there is an important in our understanding the U.S. Army for the period of the War of 1812. As the first book length study on this topic, John C. Fredriksen’s The United States Army in the War of 1812 helps fill that gap.

John C. Fredriksen is author of over 20 books, including several War of 1812 titles. He is particular adept at navigating around archival collections and has completed a number of powerful bibliographies, including Shield of Republic/Sword of Empire: A Bibliography of U.S. Military Affairs, 1783-1846 (Greenwood, 1990), Free Trade and Sailors' Rights: A Bibliography of the War of 1812 (Greenwood, 1985), and War of 1812: Eyewitness Accounts (Greenwood, 1987); he has also written a regimental history, Green Coats and Glory: The United States Regiment of Riflemen, 1808 – 1821 (Old Fort Niagara Association, 2000).

Between November 1811 and July 1814, the US Army expanded from an authorised strength of 9,921 all ranks, to over 62,000 men. One can imagine the difficulties this expansion brought, particularly during wartime; the U.S. Army faced numerous internal challenges in finding suitable unit and formation commanders, selecting a common doctrine, developing strategy and supporting its armies in the field. In the first half of his book, Fredriksen, offers biographies of senior appointments, including the commander in chief, the three wartime secretaries of war and all 36 officers who achieved the rank of major- or brigadier-general. Each entry includes a brief synopsis of the individual, an image and concludes with a useful list of archival, manuscript, printed primary and select secondary sources.

The second half of the book concentrates on the arms of artillery, cavalry, engineers, infantry and rifles, providing synopsis histories of every regiment. For example, there are entries for all 48 regiments of infantry raised during the war, describing where each was raised and recruited, an overview of service history, battle honours, followed by lists of primary and secondary sources for each unit.

The book concludes with a directory of more than 100 archival and manuscript depositories in the United States.

While this is a very useful reference book, one wishes it could have touched upon other elements of the U.S. Army structure, such as army administration, unit organization and higher level elements. For example, the book lists sources on many of these departments, including the adjutant general, inspector general, medical, ordnance and West Point, while saying nothing of them. How were they structured and who held the key appointments? Did they support the demands of war? What about the provision of logistics? What was the geographical organization of the army, such as the departments and military districts, or the field formation structure including divisions and brigades? Brief entries on each of these would have made a good book much better. Unfortunately, there is a manuscript that offers these details, but alas, it may never be published.

These criticisms aside, Fredriksen has provided an extremely useful reference work that surpasses anything currently in print. It will appeal to enthusiasts and scholars alike. As such, it is a fitting tribute to, as the author notes in his introduction, “Mr Madison’s Warriors.”


[1] One site offering these volumes is the Internet Archive