Sunday, July 01, 2018

Wow, I'll Be Looking For a Star in the East Tonight!

I'm a bit of a buff when it comes to the War of 1812.  In my bookshelves sit eight historical volumes, three American, the rest Canadian.

I also have an authentic American newspaper recounting the Battle of Beaver Dams in 1813 when a marauding American force under Boerstler was tricked into surrendering to a minuscule British and Indian force by a young Irish officer, Lt. James Fitzgibbon and his dreaded but paltry force, the Green Tigers. Fitzgibbon, with only a few soldiers, was able to intercept Boerstler thanks to a very brave Laura Secord. (Newspapers of that era survive because they were made with extremely high rag content, not pulp) Fitzgibbon was a protege of Isaac Brock and served in the 49th Regiment of Foot. He went on to play a significant role in the establishment of governance in Upper Canada.

To me it was the most important war to Canada's history and our people. But for the outcome of that war, a conflict that Thomas Jefferson foresaw as America's "for the marching" I, and many of you, would have been born American. Yes, indeed, a matter of marching. Jefferson wasn't being brash. The Americans had a population of 8-million to draw from. Canada, a mere 500,000. The Americans had enough people that they had a functional road system. Most of Upper Canada was accessible only by boat. That gave the Americans huge advantages in numbers and in mobility. They could strike where and as they wished and we might be unable to position troops to stop them.

The Americans really wanted Upper Canada. They wanted it bad, real bad. They wanted Canada to be another part of the United States. Which, to me, is why that war eclipses all others. Had the Americans won, as they should have, I would have been an American and both my brother and I would have been eligible for the draft during Viet Nam.

Americans, being Americans, have a narrative about the War of 1812 that is, to be polite, utter nonsense. Which made it all the more refreshing to read an honest account of the war written by a real, live US Army major, Danny Sjuren, who in addition to combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan also taught American history at West Point.

Yes, the United States declared war and Madison issued the declaration after learning that the British had repealed their impressment law providing for boarding American ships at sea and removing British navy deserters. Once their casus belli was eliminated, they set out to conquer Canada for the "honour" of the United States. The declaration Madison issued to the people of Canada came with an ultimatum - surrender and come to the American side or, wait for it, be enslaved. Those Americans sure loved that slavery thing.

This being Canada Day I posted this since I thought you might want to have a read of what really went on during that war as told by an American Army historian. Oh Canada, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Then you will also be familiar with the Aroostook War of 1838/9 where the Brits gave half of New Brunswick to Maine/USA.

We were taught this in History at the NS high school I attended in the early 1960s. Seeing that text books published in Canada in the late 1940s and used in schools called Halifax dock boys "sambos" and their dads "coolies", it has been a source of constant amazement to me that we got any anti-US sentiment in school. But there it was. The fishing wars were still a point of contention around these parts in the 1960s when stocks were still plentiful, too.

Still and all, one hell of a fireworks show tonight over Halifax Harbour, and the steaks earlier were fantastic despite the tropical heat courtesy of determined oil guzzlers and coal burners worldwide.

Happy Canada Day!


The Mound of Sound said...

I hear that, BM. How do you think the Yanquis got the Alaska panhandle? The colonists wanted to fight to keep it but got sold out by their colonial betters.

The Mound of Sound said...

Theodore Roosevelt made his three impartial selections. He appointed Elihu Root, Secretary of War; Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator from Mass, and George Turner Ex-Senator from Washington. Using his Big Stick policy, Roosevelt sent word that if the panel didn’t find correctly he would send marines in to secure U.S. rights.

So much for impartiality!

On the other side Britain appointed Baron Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice of England; Sir Louis A Jette, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Quebec; and Allen B. Aylesworth, K.C., From Toronto. Canada was confident they would receive British support due to the help they gave the British in the Boer War.

The reality of the situation was that Britain was more concerned about their relations with the U.S. than with Canada. British needed U.S. Steel and sympathies for an arms race with Germany. Canada was a British Dominion. Thus its interests were relegated to bargaining chips. The other reality was that the Canadian Legal team had a weak case.

After three weeks of discussion and pouring over every document that was relevant to the dispute, The tribunal… surprise, surprise… voted in favor of the U.S. The Alaskan Boundary was established on paper, and various expeditions were ordered to properly survey the area. The Alaskan Boundary Dispute then faded from American recollection.

This is not true for the Canadian Collective memory. The deciding vote came from Baron Alverstone, the British member of the tribunal. Canada thought the British would protect their interests, and consequently view the dispute as a betrayal.

rumleyfips said...

20 years ago, when I had a small antiques business I bought a bunch of 19th century drawings on ebay. One two sided piece had a pencil drawing of the Battle of Bladensburg. Faded and folky/naive, I thought it was important enough to preserve. It had a map of the river, a British officer on horseback and combatents in various stages of the action. I thought it had been done 30 odd years later by someone who was there but it was unsigned and undated.
Not a single museum or archives wanted it for free. I didn't even want a tax certificate; I wasn't making enough money for that.

I eventually sold it to a guy that wanted the drawing on the other side. It took him 2 years to pay for it. Ishould have kept it: I would have gladly sent it too you.

Toby said...

Maj. Danny Sjursen wrote, "And the War of 1812 is one of only five wars the United States has officially declared."

For only declaring five wars the US sure has a bloody history. Maj. Sjursen's statement really demonstrates that the US Constitution is only relevant when convenient.

Toby said...

The Star Spangled Banner was set to the tune of a drinking song.

The Anacreon Song

rumleyfips said...

My favorite 1812 story involves Tecumseh and Hull. Hull and aging alcoholic veteran of the Revolution had a fort, troops and ordinance. Tecumseh has a couple of hundred lightly armed men. Tecumseh found a trail and had his guys run around, into the woods, out of the woods and back into the woods for a long time. Hull was so scared that he was outnumbered surrendered. Fucking Indianans - eh ?

The Mound of Sound said...

I think you're referring to the surrender of Ft. Detroit. Tecumseh played a major role in that to be sure. But it was Sir Isaac Brock who compelled Hull to surrender. Although heavily outnumbered, Brock marched his troops in great loops to persuade the Americans across the river that his force was much larger.

Brock's first brilliant stroke was, on learning the Americans had declared war before word reached Hull, he took a force up to Mackinak and seized the US fort there, leaving Detroit undefended to the north. Then, in conjunction with Tecumseh's forces they intercepted a wagon containing Hull's reports to his superiors in Ohio. From that Brock learned the American commander was despondent, seemingly lacking any interest in fighting.

American and British gunners exchanged artillery fire across the river. Then Tecumseh and his men crossed at night. Brock's troops followed in the morning. Brock marched up to Ft. Detroit and told Hull he couldn't guarantee the Americans safety from the natives if he didn't promptly surrender. Hull threw in the towel.

Brock played Hull much as Fitzgibbon played Boerstler at Beaver Dams to scare the American commanders witless and force far superior forces to simply lay down their arms. That went some way to reduce the Americans' numerical advantages while leaving British forces largely intact.

John B. said...

I remember one on my high school history teachers, who was from Windsor Ontario, telling us that, to create the impression of greater numerical strength, Brock marched his forces repetitively into the Baby House using an entrance that couldn't be observed by the enemy and out through a passage that could be observed. Of course, that might just be the local legend.

I'm told that there are yet people in Southwestern Ontario who retain a disliking for Kentuckians.

Anonymous said...

Aww Toby...while the Canadian National Anthem is set to Mozart's "The Priests' March" From the Magic Flute. The first three notes are exactly the same. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

John, I'm familiar with the Baby House account. I think that house still exists. I was lucky enough to meet one of the last men of the Baby line.

I've never been sure that the story was true. The house isn't that large. An endless raft of soldiers emerging from the front door might have looked suspicious. It could be urban folklore.

The Mound of Sound said...

I wish you had kept it too, Rumley. It would have looked awesome on the wall of my den. I have prints (copies) of British Army maps of southern Ontario and the Thames River along which Tecumseh retreated and died. There's also a Royal Engineers diagram of the earthworks and fortifications of what today is Fort Malden in Amherstburg where Brock and the 49th Regiment of Foot were based at the start of the war. From there he launched his brilliant pre-emptive strike on Mackinac and then on to the capture of Fort Detroit.

Over the years I've collected excavated buttons of the 49th, the King's 8th, a couple of other line regiments, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Marines discovered at Queenston Heights and other battlefields before the government wisely shut them down to treasure hunters. I've had them mounted and they're also on my wall. I have a few other artifacts but they're not displayed.