April 30, 2012

Military kicks off War of 1812 bicentennial

by Gary Sheftick
Fort Meade, Md.
Navy photograph by PO1 Kenneth W. Robinson
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery, of the Louisiana Army National Guard, fire a cannon salute as ships sail up the Mississippi at New Orleans for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration.

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 launched last week in New Orleans with a commemoration that revolved around the Navy’s Fleet Week celebration there.

At the beginning of the celebration, the Louisiana Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery, fired a cannon salute as the Navy’s Parade of Ships, including several international tall sailing vessels, made their way up the Mississippi River.

Over the next three years, the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have an ambitious series of commemorations planned in cities across the nation to bring into the public’s eye the war which Navy officials believe was that service’s “real start as a blue-water force.”

The Army doesn’t have a commemoration committee planning huge national events for this bicentennial. But it is printing a series of seven booklets to explain the campaigns, said John Maass of the U.S. Army Center for Military History.

“We’re trying to get as many first-person accounts of the battles as we can find,” said Maass, an historian who specializes in commemorative works.

Many Americans don’t fully understand the War of 1812 and some were confused about its objectives even back in the days of Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, according to Maass and other historians.

“The United States entered the war with confused objectives and divided loyalties and made peace without settling any of the issues that had induced the nation to go to war,” begins Chapter 6 of “American Military History, Volume 1,” which was produced by the U.S. Army Center for Military History, or CMH.

The CMH 1812 booklet about to go to print will help further explain the causes for the war, Maas said. It will take readers from the end of the American Revolution through the Battle of Tippecanoe, fought Nov. 7, 1811, against Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Popular opinion at the time was that British interference on the frontier had incited the Indian violence.

The immediate causes of the War of 1812, according to CMH historians, was the seizure of American ships by the British and the “impressment” of U.S. Sailors forced to serve aboard British warships battling Napoleon. Some Americans also saw an opportunity to expand the frontier while the British were busy fighting Napoleon in Europe.

Ecuadorian sailors aboard the Ecuadorian steel-hulled barque BAE Guayas (BE-21) man the yardarms as they arrive in New Orleans in conjunction with the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration.

The conflict officially began June 18, 1812, when President James Madison signed the declaration of war into law. He had sent a message to Congress, June 1, outlining grievances against Great Britain. Congress reacted by declaring war.

The Campaign of 1812 will be the second CMH booklet published about the war, Mass said. The United States launched a failed invasion into Canada in July of that year. Other booklets in the series will include:


  • The Canadian Theater of 1813
  • The Canadian Theater of 1814
  • The Chesapeake Area – which includes the burning of Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1814 and the siege of Baltimore, which inspired Walter Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner ” during the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
  • The Creek Campaign – involving Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson
  • The Gulf Theater – which culminated with the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.


The plan for the booklets is to publish them about the same time as the 200th anniversary of the campaigns they describe, Maass said, but added that it depends on resources.

“We’re on track to get at least one of them out this year,” he said.

The booklets will be “what most people would call traditional history,” Maass said, explaining that they will be a narration of the campaigns from the standpoint of the Army.


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