War of 1812 Facts
War of 1812 Facts

52 Interesting Facts about the War of 1812

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published January 30, 2017
  • The war of 1812 began on June 18, 1812, and ended December 24, 1814, with the Treaty of Ghent. However, the final battle of the war was fought on January 8, 1815, after the Treaty had already been signed. President Madison finally signed his name on the Senate ratified treaty on February 16, 1815.[1]
  • There were several factors that led to the War of 1812: 1) Great Britain (and, to a lesser extent, France) was preventing U.S. trade with foreign countries, 2) Great Britain tried to prevent U.S. expansion westward, 3) Britain was arming the Native Americans with guns, 4) Britain was forcing U.S. sailors to serve on British Navy ships, 4) Britain thought America was interested in annexing Canada, and 5) Americans wanted to save their honor in face of British insults.[5]
  • During the War of 1812, 2,260 Americans were killed in action and 4,505 were wounded. Approximately 15,000 died from all causes directly related to the war (such as disease). Approximately 1,600 British were killed in action; 3,670 were wounded; and 3,321 died from disease. These numbers do not include Native American or Canadian militia fatalities.[6]
  • U.S. sailors were more experienced and better trained than U.S. soldiers during the War of 1812. While U.S. soldiers generally had little experience and training, many sailors had fought against pirates in North Africa and some had been impressed and served aboard British naval ships.[2]
  • During the War of 1812, more soldiers died of disease than were killed in battle. Common diseases included malaria, measles, smallpox, infections from unclean operating equipment, and pneumonia.[5]
  • Interesting Battle of Lake Erie Facts
    Perry earned the title "Hero of Lake Erie" for leading American forces in a decisive naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie
  • On September 10, 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry led an American victory on Lake Erie. After the battle, he wrote his famous message to General William Henry Harrison: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."[6]
  • The War of 1812 cost the U.S. around $105 million, which was about the same cost for Great Britain.[6]
  • Around 3,000 American slaves escaped to the British side during the War of 1812 when the British offered them their freedom and settled some of them in Nova Scotia. Other slaves escaped during the chaos of the war. After the war, the British agreed to pay $1,204,960 to Washington to compensate slave owners.[2]
  • Andrew Jackson was one of the few U.S generals to welcome African Americans to military service in the War of 1812. He organized a battalion of free blacks, whom he called “brave fellow citizens,” and paid them the same amount as white soldiers.[2]
  • Most battles of the War of 1812 occurred along the U.S. - Canada border. Other battles took place on the Great Lakes as well as on the Atlantic coast.[1]
  • Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 Embargo Act led to an economic depression in America. While it was eventually replaced by other trade acts, these embargoes would increase friction between Britain and the U.S. that would help lead to the War of 1812.[3]
  • Because France and England were at war, Napoleon hoped Great Britain’s forces would be diverted by a war with America. Consequently, he tricked President Madison into believing that France would stop interfering with American shipping. Napoleon had no intention of lifting his blockades, but Madison believed him and told Britain that America would trade with France but not Britain. The resulting bitter feelings between Britain and the U.S. fueled tension that set the stage for war.[2]
  • The War of 1812 has been sarcastically called the “War of Faulty Communications” because shortly before the U.S. declared war on Great Britain for interfering with its international trade, Great Britain agreed to lift her blockades. However, because there were no telephones, the U.S. didn’t learn about this until after war had been declared.[5]
  • The popular saying “Don’t give up the ship!” was the dying words of Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake as his ship was being taken by the HMS Shannon, a British ship.[5]
  • Don't give up the ship.

    - Dying command of James Lawrence

  • During the War of 1812, the muzzle-loading musket that fired a lead ball was the main weapon. Muskets could hit targets that were only about 100 yards away. However, many U.S. citizens also owned rifles, which could shoot as far as 300 yards—an advantage over British muskets. Other weapons included cannons, swords, pistols, pikes, bayonets, crude bombs, and cutlasses.[6]
  • During the War of 1812, warships were equipped with two main cannons: 1) long cannons, which had barrels 9 to 10 feet long and could hit targets up to 1.5 miles away, and 2) short guns, or carronades, which were 5 feet long and could hit targets up to .5 miles away.[5]
  • Canadians are significantly more proud of the War of 1812 than are either the U.S. or Great Britain. In fact, Canada views the war as setting the country on the “slow path toward nationhood.” While the U.S. Congress declined to create a national bicentennial commission, let alone a monument, the Canadian government allocated almost $30 million to bicentennial events, including a new national war monument. In Great Britain, the war is regarded as merely a sideshow to the Napoleonic Wars.[6]
  • When American troops planned to attack Great Britain by invading its colony Canada, Americans believed that Canadians would welcome them as liberators. However, rather than welcome American troops, Canadians successfully repelled the American invaders.[1]
  • Laura Secord (1775-1868) became a Canadian heroine of the War of 1812 when she walked 20 miles out of American-occupied territory to warn British forces of an American attack.[5]
  • Mary Pickersgill (1776-1857), along with her daughter and several other women, made the “Star Spangled Banner Flag” that was raised at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The flag was made from over 400 yards of fabric, displayed 15 stars and 15 stripes, and weighed 50 pounds. The flag took six weeks to make. It was originally 30 feet by 42 feet but now measures 30 feet by 34 feet because pieces of it, including one of its stars, were occasionally cut and given away as gifts.[3]
  • “The Star Spangled Banner” was composed during the War of 1812. However, it was originally a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” After it was written, it was set to a popular melody written by English composer John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London.[3]
  • Random War of 1812 Facts
    The Star Spangled Banner was composed during the War of 1812
  • “The Star Spangled Banner” was composed after Francis Scot Key saw that an American flag still stood over Fort McHenry after a night of fierce fighting during the Battle of Baltimore. The song became the national anthem in 1931. The flag, at 42 feet by 30 feet, was the largest in the nation at the time, and today it is on display in the National Museum of American History.[3]
  • Although the British fired more than 1,500 cannonballs at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, the fort suffered little damage. The British knew they had failed to take the fort and withdrew.[3]
  • During the War of 1812, some New England federalists considered seceding from the United States during a meeting called the Hartford Convention. The government of Massachusetts even sent a secret emissary to discuss a separate peace with the British.[3]
  • After British troops set fire to the White House, the Capitol and other federal buildings, the next day a huge storm and a rare tornado put the fires out. According to the National Weather Service, debris from the tornado killed more British soldiers than Americans did with their guns during their occupation of Washington, D.C.[4]
  • After the British set fire to the capital in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1814, Congress proposed to return the capital to Philadelphia. The House of Representatives barely rejected the measure by an 83-74 margin.[4]
  • While the Treaty of Ghent placed America and Great Britain back to “status quo ante bellum,” or “the state existing before the war,” the Native Americans who sided with the British in the war to block American expansion were weakened and without the protection of a European power. Consequently, the War of 1812 created a prime opportunity of American expansion.[2]
  • At the beginning of the War of the 1812, the British had the largest navy in the world, with more than 600 ships. The United States had only 18 sailable ships.[3]
  • The Treaty of Ghent is named after the city (in modern-day Belgium) where U.S. and British representatives met to sign the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812.[5]
  • The War of 1812 lasted well past the year 1812. It lasted 32 months, which is longer than the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, and the U.S. involvement in WWI.[2]
  • Some historians note that the charges of impressment of American seamen into the Royal Navy were exaggerated and that the real issue driving the United States to war was British support of Native Americans in conflicts with the U.S. This is what pushed Southern and Western senators, particularly the “War Hawks” Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, toward war.[2]
  • The iconic “Uncle Sam” has its roots in the War of 1812. Sam Wilson, a military supplier in New York, labeled meat rations “U.S,” which supposedly stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson, who was feeding the army. The image of Uncle Sam as a white-bearded figure, however, did not appear until WWI.[1]
  • The “red glare” in Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” was from British missiles called Congreves that looked like giant bottle rockets. The “bombs bursting in air” were 200-pound cannonballs that were designed to explode above their target.[6]
  • The burning of the U.S. Capitol in 1814 may have been advantageous for the U.S. in the long run. The President’s House, as it was called, was rebuilt with sturdier, higher-quality material. The books that were burned were replaced by Thomas Jefferson’s impressive 7,000-volume collection, which became the foundation of today’s Library of Congress.[4]
  • Interesting Burning of the White House Fact
    Reconstruction of the White House began in 1815 and finished in 1817

  • In April 1813, American soldiers defeated British forces at York (present-day Toronto), the then-capital city of the Canadian land called Ontario. They burned down most of the city, including important government buildings. However, a year later, the British would take revenge by burning the U.S. capitol.[1]
  • An 1813 battle by the River Raisin in Michigan gave rise to a unique American battle cry, “Remember the Raisin!” The U.S. had its most stinging defeat at the river by the British and their Native American allies.[5]
  • The War of 1812 has also been called “the second war of independence” because it renewed an era of partisan agreement and national pride, creating an “Era of Good Feelings.”[6]
  • The War of 1812 helped propel four men to the United States Presidency by giving them military and leadership experience: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, and William Henry Harrison.[3]
  • While not officially documented, women played an important role during the War of 1812. For example, the wives of officers and enlisted men helped out in forts and ships. They helped with the laundry, mending, cooking, and writing letters.[2]
  • The War of 1812 marked the decline of the Federalist Party, which was viewed after the war as being unpatriotic for its antiwar stance.[3]
  • Probably the most humiliating defeat for the United States occurred on August 16, 1812, when Sir Isaac Brock and his Native American ally Tecumseh tricked American William Hull into believing that they had more troops than they actually had. Hull surrendered Detroit without any shots fired. For his speedy surrender, he was sentenced to be shot, but he received a reprieve from President Madison.[1]
  • Just before the British invaded the White House in the War of 1812, President Madison’s quick-thinking wife, Dolley, rescued several valuable items from the White House, including an irreplaceable painting of Washington and a copy of the Declaration of Independence.[4]
  • Interesting U.S. Constitution Facts
    Dolley Madison supposedly rescued a copy of the Declaration of Independence

  • Congress, which was made up of more Democratic-Republicans than Federalists, voted for the War of 1812, but not by a large margin. In the Senate, 59% of the senators voted for war. In the House, 62% of the representatives voted for war.[3]
  • The ship USS Constitution was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because at one point, a British sailor saw a cannonball bounce of its side and yelled, “Her sides are made of iron.” Her sides were not really made of iron but of strong, hard oak wood.[1]
  • A crucial battle in the War of 1812 was the Battle of the Thames in 1813. After the British lost control of Lake Erie, British General Proctor and his ally Tecumseh retreated into Canada trailed by American General William Henry Harrison. Tecumseh convinced Proctor to turn and fight. However, Harrison’s force defeated the British and Indian soldiers and killed Tecumseh, which spelled the end of the Native American dream of an Indian confederacy.[3]
  • While the British had far superior gun power and manpower at Lake Champlain, the Americans, led by Captain Thomas Macdonough, won the battle. With both ships damaged in battle, Macdonough spun his ship around 180 degrees—without the help of the wind—so that the undamaged guns on the landside of the ship faced the enemy. He used the fresh guns to defeat the British. He had previously attached special lines to the anchor cables to help the spin the ship.[3]
  • Britain’s worst defeat during the War of 1812 happened at the Battle of New Orleans, after a peace treaty had already been signed. Andrew Jackson built an army from militiamen from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana as well as pirates, free blacks, and Native Americans. Still outnumbered by the British 2 to 1, he built barriers from bales of cotton and earthwork. While 300 British were killed (including the commander), 1,250 wounded, and 500 captured, fewer than 15 Americans were killed.[3]
  • Before the Treaty of Ghent was signed by President Madison on February 16, 1815, Britain insisted that America turn a large part of the Northwest Territory into an Indian reservation that would serve as a buffer between the U.S. and Canada. After the Battle of New Orleans, however, Britain’s bargaining position was weakened and could make no such demands.[3]
  • While the War of 1812 may seem to have been fought as a sideshow to Britain’s war with France, it did have several important consequences for the U.S., including a rise in U.S. manufacturing and the end of the Federalist Party. The U.S. also came out of the war with a sense of pride and nationalism—the U.S. had not lost to the mightiest nation in the world. Consequently, other countries viewed America as a force to be reckoned with.[3]
  • Interesting War of 1812 Fact
    The Battle of New Orleans was fought after a treaty had been signed
  • The largest battle of the War of 1812 took place after U.S. and British envoys signed a peace treaty. The Battle of New Orleans was a resounding U.S. victory and is considered the greatest American land victory of the war.[2]
  • Both Britain and the U.S. decided to stop fighting because 1) neither side expected to win easily and 2) most of the reasons the war started (trade restrictions and impressment of U.S. soldiers) were an indirect result of the Napoleonic Wars, which Britain had won. After the defeat of Napoleon, the reasons for fighting essentially disappeared.[3]
  • Although there is documented proof that women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the evidence is inconclusive regarding women in the War of 1812.[3]

  • Brief Timeline of the War of 1812[1][5]
    June 22, 1807The British ship Leopard attacks the USS Chesapeake
    December 1807Congress passes the Embargo Act; U.S. trade comes to a halt
    June 18, 1812The U.S. declares war on Great Britain
    August 19, 1812The USS Constitution defeats the HMS Guerriere and earns the nickname “Old Ironsides”
    September 10, 1813Oliver Hazard Perry leads the United States to victory at Lake Erie
    August 24, 1814The British burn the President’s House and other important buildings in Washington, D.C.
    September 13-14, 1814Americans successfully defend Fort McHenry; Francis Scott Key writes the words to the future national anthem
    December 24, 1814The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, is signed in Belgium
    January 8, 1815Andrew Jackson leads an American victory in New Orleans at what has been called the “Needless Battle”
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