Battle Breakdown: War of 1812

Despite the name of this war, it actually lasted a few years. But the “War of 1812 to 1815” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily.  

LanguageEnglish Language
U.S. HistoryEarly Republic: 1789-1815

Transcript

00:23

what this war was all about?

00:25

Have we as a nation blocked it out for some reason?

00:28

Were we all hopped up on nitrous oxide after a long trip to the dentist?

00:32

Or was there simply... not much to remember? Well, let's take a stroll down "No Memory Lane..."

00:39

...and see if we can get a handle on this hazy period of history.

00:42

The whole thing kicked off in June of 1812...

00:44

...when President James Madison asked the Senate to pass a declaration

00:48

of war against Great Britain.

00:50

They did just that, by a vote of 19 to 13.

00:53

Yep, you did the math correctly -- only 32 senators.

00:56

There was a lot more breathing room in the Senate back in those days.

00:59

The first major conflict was a naval battle between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere.

01:06

That's "derriere" with a "G."

01:08

The British artillery simply couldn't quite get through the hull of the American ship...

01:12

...which was known as "Old Ironsides."

01:14

In retrospect, "Ironsides" probably would have sufficed.

01:18

Doesn't seem necessary to make the poor boat feel bad about its age.

01:22

A number of smaller battles followed, including one very small battle that wasn't actually

01:26

a battle at all.

01:27

The Americans surrendered to British forces at Detroit without even putting up a fight.

01:32

But don't worry -- General William Hull was court-martialed for his cowardice.

01:36

In the middle of the War, James Madison was elected to a second term as President.

01:40

He received 128 votes in the Electoral College...

01:43

...easily enough to top the 89 votes received by De Witt Clinton...

01:47

...who was supported by the Federalist Party.

01:49

After a couple of years, the United States and Great Britain finally began having direct talks.

01:54

Their phones began getting much better reception with their new family plans.

01:58

However, it still wasn't enough to resolve the nations' differences.

02:02

On September 14th of 1814, the British attacked Baltimore.

02:05

And after three days of fighting, the British retreated.

02:08

The accuracy of the American artillery at Fort McHenry kept the British from entering the harbor.

02:14

Our boys could have picked a flea off a dog's back from one hundred yards.

02:22

The win was so stirring that it actually inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner."

02:30

By 1815, everyone had had enough.

02:32

Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent...

02:35

...which called for the return of all POW's and captured territory...

02:38

...as well as amnesty for all Indians who fought in the war.

02:42

The Treaty also asked for the return of all slaves seized during the war by the British...

02:46

...and a commitment from both nations to put an end to the international slave trade.

02:51

The real reasons the war had been fought in the first place -- British maritime policy,

02:55

neutral rights, and impressment -- all of which got swept under the rug.

02:59

Unfortunately, news of the agreement could only travel at one horsepower back then.

03:03

And two weeks before they received word of peace, the US claimed its signature win at

03:07

the Battle of New Orleans.

03:09

In that lopsided encounter, the British suffered over 2,000 casualties...

03:12

...while the Americans only lost 21 men.

03:15

Now that's what we call a whoopin'. So, while certain things were accomplished...

03:19

...the issues that plagued the two nations at the start of the war were kinda... left

03:23

hanging. Which may be why the War of 1812 doesn't

03:26

stand out in the forefront of our minds.

03:29

In the scheme of things, it was sort of a... mini-war.

03:31

Don't you fret, however.

03:32

Plenty of big, awful, memorable wars were right around the bend.