About the War of 1812
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Defeat of the British

At the end of the Revolutionary War, American control of British territory was shaky. American's were confronted with two looming problems: how to move the Indians from the territory between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River, and how to oust the British from their strongholds in the Great Lakes.

The military disaster of Yorktown coupled with a switch in political power convinced Britain that they needed to end the war. Britain preferred to see the Americans have control of the territory than for Spain to gain expand their power base in the Americas. Britain felt that they could win a war in the future against Americans, especially if they enlisted the help of the Indians, but they might not be able to beat a large force of well- financed Spaniards. At the end of the French and Indian War in which France lost to Britain, the French gave their remaining lands in America to Spain, so Spain had a substantial stake in America.) During a period right after the end of the war, Americans hoped to persuade the Britain to cede Canada to America. The British saw this land as easily defended and highly valuable for it's rich fur resources, so it refused. Eventually, all the land between Florida and a line drawn through the Great Lakes was ceded to America. The fact that this northern line was not surveyed until the 1820's left an ever-present threat of potential conflict.

Even though the British had agreed to leave the forts in Detroit, Mackinac Island, Niagara, and throughout the St. Lawrence Seaway, they remained in the area until 1796. The British, in fact, not only maintained their presence in these locations, but in the cases of Detroit and Mackinac, they instituted governance of the forts in order to control the lucrative fur trade. However, by 1793, the fur business declined in concert with a decline in demand from the French aristocracy whose power was reduced due to the French Revolution. Maintenance and repair to the forts, a new war with France, and the rise American military prowess convinced the British to finally evacuate the Michigan forts.

Jay's Treaty - The British Finally Leave

In 1796, Jay's Treaty was finally ratified by the U. S. Senate. This treaty established a date that the British would evaluate all U.S. forts. It also provided for citizenship of those people living in the northern territory, but also gave British subjects the right to conduct trade freely throughout the Great Lakes region. Although the British relinquished control of the American forts, they had already constructed forts just across the Straits on St. Joseph Island located at the mouth of the St. Mary's River where Sault Ste. Marie is today, and on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. The British were able to maintain their presence and business ties from these strategically located sites. Fur trade remained in the hands of the British and the business moved to Ft. Malden across from Detroit. The British also dominated the fur trade on Mackinac Island where the presence of Americans was scarce.

Indian Unrest

British fur traders paid little heed to country boundaries, and were found constantly trading in the American north woods. Americans believed that the British traders were arming Indians and urging them to rebel against American infringements on lands the Indians had sold to the new American government. Whether through bribes or inebriation, the Indians had been coerced into signing away more and more of their lands. Discontent among Native Americans mounted until it found a voice in Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet. From around 1806, Tecumseh focused on organizing a large confederation of Indians to resist the encroachments of Americans. Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison also assembled a force that he moved neat the Indian settlement. The Prophet instigated a battle near his Shawnee stronghold located where the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers merge, the present site of Lafayette, Indiana. Harrison's forces scattered the attacking Indians and Harrison declared an overwhelming victory, although the minor number of dead and wounded on both sides was, by no means, overwhelming. Harrison reported finding numerous British weapons, still in their original wrappers. The report of Harrison's "great" victory and the supposed evidence that the British had been supplying Indians with arms served to increase the anti-British sentiment. Indian aggression against American settlers in the west was blamed on British influences, regardless if they were supportable. There was a universal belief that the trouble settlers were having with the Indians was due entirely to the British.


Leading up to the War of 1812 were these events. In 1793 hostilities between England and France began again. The continual conflict between these countries culminated in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar where Lord Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet and established British naval supremacy that lasted a hundred years. In retaliation, French General Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Austrian, Prussian and Russian (he had already defeated Italy, Greece, Holland, Syria, and Egypt,) armies and became the supreme power in Europe.

Consequently, the French and British settled down into a cold war, jabbing and prodding at each other's economies and armies without causing any real damage. For example, the British issued the Orders in Council. The Orders in Council forbade neutrals, like the United States, from trading in Europe unless their ships first called at a British port to purchase a license to trade. The French responded by establishing the Continental System that said that any ship from a neutral country, like the United States, who observed the British Orders in Council would be seized by the French when they landed in a French controlled port. Both decrees were aimed at harming the other country, yet the effect of both was damaging to the American businessman.

Americans were stuck. Being an American entrepreneur was risky business. Some merchants submitted to the Orders in Council and some to the Continental System and within a year the British had seized about 1,000 American ships and the French seized about 500. About one in three got through the various blockades, yet even with that ratio, the profits for American entrepreneurs were excellent.

British Naval Press Gangs

In order to maintain British supremacy at sea, many sailors were needed. The British resorted to press gangs, impressing British men into military service. Some men escaped and joined the crew of American merchant vessels because the conditions and pay was much better under the American flag. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 men of British birth were working for American shipmasters in the early 19th century. The British captains did not recognize these newly become American citizens and they impressed up to 10,000 into military service to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Approximately 4,000 were released when they reached a British port, but because the British maintained the right to search any merchant ship it encountered, they continued this practice.

The impressments crisis came to a head when the British fired on the American navy frigate Chesapeake, not a merchant ship, when its captain refused to let the British board her. The British killed several sailors and took 4 men. Although the British immediately realized their mistake and made reparations, the patriotic anger tremendous. In 1807 President Jefferson reacted by instituting an embargo - no trade either in or out of America. He soon discovered that the embargo was economically a very bad idea and repealed it the next year. President Madison inherited the mess and in 1810 he reopened commerce with both England and France, stating that it would deal exclusively with whichever nation that would repeal their "neutrals" edicts. Napoleon revoked his Continental System first and America declared an end to trade with England. By 1812 the British were feeling the pinch of trade loss with America, so they also repealed their Orders of Council on June 16, 1812. This good new did not reach Washington immediately and two days later, President Madison, up for re-election in the fall, declared war on Great Britain.

Pressure from the Farmers

New Englanders who were largely against the war also called the War of 1812 Mr. Madison's War. The mercantile states had been affected by the "neutrals" edicts and embargo, but they managed to make money in spite of them. However, the farmers of the South and West suffered economically. Their business was agriculture, and if their products sat on the dock, they rotted. Additionally, they were the people being harassed by Indians whom they believed were being armed and stirred up by the British. These farmers were represented in Washington by a Jeffersonian Republicans group dubbed by easterners as the "War Hawks." They provided Madison with the impetus and the votes to get his declaration of war passed.

The War Hawks represented a young, arrogant, supremely patriotic group of men who were over confident and anxious to be tested. They had a genuine disdain for Britain whom they felt had heaped injury upon injuries. Their confidence led them to believe that they could not only beat Britain's navy, but could win Canada as well. At the time, there were only 2200 British soldiers in North America. A timeline of the events as they occurred in the Great Lakes follows.

The War of 1812

June 12, 1812
President Madison declared war with the British

June 21, 1812
British Commander of Michigan, General Brock and learned of the declaration of war
June 26, 1812 United States' Michigan Commander, General Hull, the found out about the declaration of war
July 15, 1812 British Captain Roberts, on St. Joseph Island learned of the declaration of war and to attack Ft. Mackinac

July 16, 1812 On the morning of July 16, 1812, Captain Roberts embarked for Michilimackinac, on the Northwestern Fur Company's ship, Caledonia, with two iron six-pounders, ten batteaux (flat-bottom boats), and seventy canoes. He had a large company of Indians with him.

British Captain Roberts' force arrived at Mackinac Island at 3:00 a.m. on July 17, 1812. They encountered an inhabitant of the island, Doctor Day, who was told to go to the west side of the Island, and Doctor Day reported to Lieutenant Hanks that the inhabitants were fleeing for refuge to the British. The British quickly took possession of the heights and that one piece of British artillery was directed to the most defenseless part of the Fort and at 11:30 o'clock in the morning, the British sent in a flag of truce to the fort.

July 17, 1812 The small staff of fifty-seven American officers and enlisted men at Fort Mackinac surrendered. After this victory, the British built a second Fort George (now known as Fort Holmes) in back of the Fort to accommodate his troops that consisted of 42 regulars and 4 officers, 260 Canadians, 572 Chippewa and Ottawas, 56 Sioux, 48 Winnebagoes, and 39 Menomonies.

September 1813
British Captain Roberts was relieved of his command in September, 1813, and Captain Bullock was appointed in his place. Colonel McDouall (also known as McDonall) assumed command in the spring of 1814.

April 1814 A United States expedition was proposed to capture Michilimackinac and destroy certain
British vessels.

June 2, 1814 Orders were issued to send out a military force to capture Fort Mackinac. A fleet of vessels was outfitted consisting of the United States sloops of war Niagara and Lawrence, each having twenty guns, and the smaller schooners Tigress, Detroit, Caledonia, Scorpion, and others. Captain Sinclair was the commodore on board. The ships carried a land force of 750 officers and men, under the command of Colonel Croghan.

July 3, 1814
The expedition sailed and entered Lake Huron on July 12, 1814. It was decided to have part of the fleet cruise about Mackinac Island, and the rest of the fleet attack St. Joseph's Island before attacking Michilimackinac.

July 20, 1814
Colonel Croghan attacked the British forces on St. Joseph's Island, and burned the fort. They left the town and the Northwest Fur Company's warehouses intact. Then, Croghan's forces captured that company's schooner, Mink, which was bound from Mackinac Island to Sault Ste. Marie with flour. From the men on the Mink, Colonel Croghan learned that the flour was to be transported to Fort Williams, by the schooner Perseverance. Croghan sent a party out to capture the Perseverance. The Americans captured and scuttled the Perseverance when they tried to sail her over the St. Mary's River waterfalls. After they wrecked her they burned the ship.

On their return from St. Mary's Falls, the launches were spotted by British Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall's forces on Mackinac Island saw the squadron off Bois Blanc Island, and had time to place his cannon and to rally Canadian and Indian allies to defend against the impending attack.

August 4, 1814 The United States attacked and invaded Mackinac Island in 1814. The attack was unsuccessful. 15 U.S. soldiers were killed and 50 U.S. soldiers were wounded. U.S. Major Holmes, second-in-command to Colonel Croghan, was one of the 15 killed. Holmes was a Virginian and had been a friend of Thomas Jefferson.

If the efforts of the Americans to win back the Straits sounds like a comedy of errors, it was. Meanwhile, in Detroit . . .

August 9 The American military was managed by a number of aging Revolutionary War veterans. General William Hull had been instructed to protect Detroit and take the British Fort Malden that was held by just a few men. But Hull moved his troops very slowly and was timid about exposing his men to danger. His excuse was that there were large swamps and forests tangled with undergrowth to hack through. If he had managed this maneuver, he would have given the Americans control of much of Upper Canada. His slow pace, however, enabled the British General Brock to arrive ahead of Hull and captured the American post at Detroit without firing a shot.

January 22, 1813 The Americans did not give up trying to retake the Great lakes Region. General Harrison began building an army to drive out the English. He sent out an advance guard that was captured by some British soldiers and Indians. The seriously wounded were left in an old fur storage building in Frenchtown. The Americans that could walk were marched over the ice of the Detroit River to Ft. Malden. The next night, the Indians became drunk and many of them returned to Frenchtown. They set fire to the building and the men who reached the door were dragged out and cruelly murdered. The cruelty of the Indians incited the Americans who increased their efforts to retake the Lake Region and punish the Indians. The battle cry, "Remember the Raisin" became the slogan of the American army sent to the Lake Region.

The roads in the Great Lakes area were virtually non-existent. To capture the region, the Americans needed to control the Lakes. Had it not been for the seamanship of Captain Oliver Perry, the entire Northwest Territory would have been wide open to British occupation. On the south shore of Lake Erie, where Erie, Pennsylvania is today, a few boats were built by Americans. The fleet was placed under the command of Captain Perry who sailed is ships to confront British Captain Barclay's naval force. Because Perry's force was not strong enough to face the guns of the English ships, he waited at Put-in-Bay for the English to make a move.

Sept. 13, 1813 The English set sail early in the morning and were sighted by the Americans at nine o'clock. By noon the ships were close enough to fire, and for three hours the battle ensued, leaving the Americans victorious. Now the troops at Fort Malden and Detroit were cut off from their supplies. They made a quick retreat across Canada, only to be overtaken by American soldiers under Harrison's command. In that battle, known as the Battle of the Thames, which took place in York, (Toronto). Chief Tecumseh was killed during this battle and the English defeated.

Sept. 29, 1813 The Americans re-entered the fort at Detroit and 10 days later Lewis Cass was appointed governor of the territory.

1814 The United States made one more attempt to take Fort Mackinac. They attempted, unsuccessfully, to blockade the British on Mackinac Island with the ships Tigress and Scorpion. The British captured both the Tigress and the Scorpion.

The British launched an amphibian assault on Washington D.C. and successfully set fire to the White House and Capitol buildings. Dolly Madison is famous for saving several valuable works of art, including the painting of President Washington from that fire. President Madison narrowly escaped capture by the British.

Feb. 18, 1815 The Treaty of Ghent was proclaimed, following which Mackinac Island was returned to the United States, and the United States flag again flew over Mackinac Island. The name of Fort George was changed to Fort Holmes. The United States has held Mackinac Island ever since. The British forces turned over to the United States the Fort at Mackinac Island on February 15, 1815. The British retired 40 miles away, to Drummond Island.

One final battle was to be fought that made an enormous difference to the moral of the War Hawks. In 1814, Napoleon abdicated, thus freeing up the British army. The peace talks in Ghent, Belgium had already started when the British made plans to attack New Orleans from the south. It was Andrew Jackson, a self taught planter, Indian fighter and duelist, who assembled a force of 2,000 Kentucky and Tennessee volunteers. He also rounded up New Orleans businessmen, free black men, artillerymen and Choctaw Indians and all the volunteers were employed by businessman (and pirate) Jean Lafitte.

Jackson engaged the British in several battles, drawing them forward into a position Jackson has selected. The position was a spot five miles south of the port on the Mississippi river, he had the men build a high berm of earth in a location where an impenetrable mangrove swamp lay on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. When the British forces came up the river, Jackson's troops annihilated the British. More than 2,000 redcoats were killed and only 7 or 8 Americans died.

The final battle in Louisiana established America as a potential world power. Where in the past it seemed peopled by a rag-tag collection of ill mannered, rough talking, irascible frontiersmen. Suddenly, the winds of change had shifted and the infant republic caught the attention of the European grandfathers. What was the destiny of the great experiment in democracy?

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