by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
Here it is more than halfway through 2012, and we haven’t heard much about the War of 1812 bicentennial. Perhaps it’s not surprising. The War of 1812 has always been overshadowed by the American Revolution, the Civil War, and nearly every other American conflict. In terms of Americans engaged in the fighting, and lives lost, it ranks only 7th among all American wars. In terms of those killed or wounded, however, its approximately 20,000 casualties represent a larger percentage of casualties than the American forces experienced in World War II (8.7% versus 6.7%).
In this nearly forgotten war, the emerging American nation took on the greatest naval power in the world. We endured the capture and burning of our nation’s capital. We earned a national anthem from Francis Scott Key’s immortal words penned during the bombardment of Fort McHenry. We invaded our Canadian neighbors to the north and were repulsed. We defeated the pride of the British army at New Orleans. The War of 1812 was a war of heroes, including Zebulon Montgomery Pike, Oliver Hazard Perry, future presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, and the pirate Jean Laffite.
To learn more about the War of 1812, all you have to do is visit the Manhattan Public Library and check out one of the several titles available on the subject.
In Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War, President James Madison mourns the nation’s loss as smoke rises from the ruins of the capital. Historian Hugh Howard presents a wide-screen epic of one of America’s least remembered wars. Drawing on countless primary sources, he presents a gripping account of the War of 1812 as James and Dolley Madison experienced it.
At the outbreak of hostilities the U.S. Navy consisted of seventeen oceangoing ships against the Royal Navy’s seven hundred. A. J. Langguth brings to life many of the individuals who faced such odds in Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence. Among the colorful personalities he presents are many of the most enduring characters in American history: Dolley Madison, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Oliver Hazard Perry, and Stephen Decatur.
Every time we sing the national anthem, we recall events from the War of 1812. In The Flag, The Poet & The Song, author Irvin Molotsky tells the story behind the story of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In addition to recounting the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, Molotsky uncovers facts and fallacies surrounding the song and the flag.
Winston Groom recounts one of the greatest battles fought in North America in Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans. As its subtitle promises, this book tells the story of two men, one an American general and future President, the other a French pirate, who join forces to defeat a superior British force and save the city of New Orleans.
For a short narrative history, check out The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent by J.C.A. Stagg. Professor Stagg focuses on the war as a continental event, portraying the war in the context of the larger issue of emerging American interests vying to contend with the effects of rival European nationalisms.
David Hanna brings to vivid life the lost era of naval battles under sail in Knights of the Sea: The True Story of the Boxer and the Enterprise and the War of 1812. The battle between the HMS Boxer and the USS Enterprise occurred off the coast of Pemaquid Point, Maine, and was witnessed by civilians on shore. The battle lasted less than one hour but was brutal and bloody, and cost the lives of the young commanders on both sides.
Learn about the flag that inspired the national anthem at the Smithsonian website.
Finally, visit the Library of Congress for a guide to the War of 1812. The guide includes a chronology, links to some primary documents, and a list of other websites to search.