Article Series

Series: Land Operations in the War of 1812

On the scale of war as waged in Europe during the age of Napoleon, the War of 1812 was a minor affair. In 1812, as Napoleon was invading Russia with a half million men, the United States was trying to conquer Canada with forces numbering about one-tenth of a percent of the Grande Armee's size. While individual European battles counted casualties in the tens of thousands, about 6,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the entire War of 1812.

  • Chapter 1: Driven by distraction: Political dissent and military unpreparedness

    Portrait of General Henry Dearborn

    On the scale of war as waged in Europe during the age of Napoleon, the War of 1812 was a minor affair. In 1812, as Napoleon was invading Russia with a half million men, the United States on the other side of the world was trying to conquer Canada with forces numbering about one-tenth of a percent of the Grande Armée’s size. While individual European battles counted casualties in the tens of thousands, about 6,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the entire War of 1812. Read more

  • Chapter 2: America's citizen soldiers: The better bargain of militias?

    Painting of men blue uniforms crossing river in boats to fight battle with men in red uniforms.

    The American regular army was too small for its task, a victim of the country’s fear of large standing forces. Last-minute efforts to increase the army yielded fewer than 12,000 men by the time Congress declared war in June 1812, and these paltry numbers were about as incompetently trained as they were incompetently led. They were also widely deployed, compelling the government to rely on state militias. Read more

  • Chapter 3: Courting victory: British, Native and American alliances

    Drawing of Tecumseh holding rifle

    The British effectively employed Indian allies in the northern theater of war. In late 1811, Americans had unwittingly helped to forge the Anglo-Indian connection by attacking an extensive intertribal confederation on Tippecanoe Creek where the charismatic Shawnee Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa had established a headquarters at Prophet’s Town. There William Henry Harrison claimed victory, but he had actually driven Tecumseh into the arms of the British. Read more

  • Chapter 4: The Ravages of War: Targeting Civilians in the Anglo-American Conflict

    Watercolor painting of Washington, D.C. burning in 1814

    Neither Canadian nor American civilians were not insulated from the ravages of the war. Often the battles tore through towns, villages, even cities, as both British and American soldiers sought to be as destructive as possible to their enemy. Read more

  • Chapter 5: Things Fall Apart: The Road to "Victory"

    General Andrew Jackson on a white horse, victorious at the Battle of New Orleans

    The year 1814 decided the war, but with unexpected results. Americans abandoned any thoughts of offensive operations and braced for a wave of British invasions. In Europe, the distraction of Napoleon came to an end in mid-1814 when he was defeated and forced into exile, requiring the United States to face the prospect of thousands of seasoned British veterans becoming available for the war in North America. The British planned accordingly. Read more