Status Quo Ante Bellum


On 18 June 1812  just 77 days shy of 29 years of independence the United States of America declared war on Great Britain.. The Americans had taken umbrage at the fact that the Royal Navy was stopping U.S ships on the high seas and searching for both contraband and deserters. Britain was at war with Napoleonic France and had blockaded French ports in an attempt to starve France of needed war materials.  The blockade wasn’t  aimed at the Americans specifically but at all nations trading with France including neutrals. The problem had been partially resolved by Britain, repealing some of  the Orders in Council to soothe the U.S. but word of this did not reach the American government until after war had been declared. As a result perhaps one of the more ridiculous of wars would be fought for the next 814.

The Americans saw  this as a war for National Honour, the British  an inconvenient sideshow, the Native Americans a war for survival and the people  of Upper and Lower Canada , well, they were mostly ambivalent to the war at first. The Province of Upper Canada (present day Ontario) had a large population of Americans drawn north by the promise of land  for which amongst other things they swore loyalty to the British Crown. The U.S was split over the war with the “War Hawks” from the frontier States of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee clamouring the loudest. In the New England States it was called “Mr. Madisons’ War” and they wanted no part of it. Even though it was their ships being stopped and searched they were quite willing to lose the odd cargo or men as long as trade kept flowing. In fact throughout the war New England continued to traded with the Province of New Brunswick . At one  point these north-eastern states talked of secession. Another quirk of this war took place along the shores of the St. Lawrence, where unofficial and definitely frowned upon truces existed. Towns in New  York State along the river and farmers also continued to ship cattle and food stuffs across the river into both Upper and Lower Canada. In point, parts of the U.S. were supporting the enemy.

The war was a showcase of the appalling incompetent state of the U.S. Military. Its officers especially in the militia were political hacks with little or no experience of war. In the small regular army its seniors were leftovers from the revolution. Secretary of War John Armstrong considered himself a military genius. General officers such as Wade Hampton and John Wilkinson hated each other and  refused to co-operate and in Hamptons’ case refuse orders from the senior Wilkinson. General Hull stood courts martial for cowardice when he was bluffed into surrendering Fort Detroit  to the British General Sir Isaac Brock. Militia units refused to cross the border into the Canadas as they maintained that they were for defensive service only. The Americans lived in absolute terror of the Indians. A few war hoops  in the forest sent them running in fear.  In all the first year of the war was, for the Americans a disaster. They were poorly equipped, had a non-existent  supply system , and were completely ignorant of the conditions in fighting a frontier war.

The British fared a bit better in leadership but not much. Prevost was Governor- General,  and prone to be over cautious with a defensive strategy.  Overall most British commander suffered from that trait. Perhaps this was the result of the type of warfare that they were engaged in. It was not the continental style which was not really suitable to the frontier. Howerver Sir Isaac Brock was a charismatic, aggressive officer who was responsible for the early British successes . If not for his death at Queenston Heights the war would have ended before it really got started. The American Brigadier, Winfield Scott was of the same mould and would prove to be amongst the best of the American Field Officers.


The War had its heroes, Brock, Scott,  Brown, Tecumseh, Norton, Secord, Yeo, Perry, and Prescott to name some. It also had its’ incompetents, cowards and fools (on both sides). It was fought mainly along the Niagara Frontier, the St. Lawrence , and South Western Ontario. There were naval engagements on the high seas and Great Lakes , which surprisingly the U.S. Navy proved itself  very capable giving as good as it got. It is mostly a forgotten war barely remembered by any of the powers that fought. The Americans mostly remember it for their National Anthem, U.S.S. Constitution (Old Iron Sides), and the  Johnny Horton’ song “The Battle of New Orleans” The Brits hardly remember it at all. Here ,in Canada it is perhaps remembered most  because although there were no real victors Canada remained British and would eventually evolve into the nation it has become. The losers were the Native Americans, abandoned by the British, and subjugated by the Americans. The Great Indian Confederacy envisioned by Tecumseh died when he fell at the Battle of the Thames. The war proved nothing and as the title says both sides returned to the “Status Quo Ante Bellum” ,as it was before it started. The war did result in time with the longest undefended border in the world (Canada/U.S.) and a friendship, with a few bumps, that has lasted for 200 years. There would be a few lost  rebellions in British North America but on 1 July 1867 the  three Colonies became four,  Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and united into the Dominion of Canada.


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