In 1812 the United States Congress declared war on Great Britain and her colonies in Canada. At issue was Britain's unpopular habit of forcing American sailors into service with the British Navy as it fought France. In addition Britain regularly blocked U.S. ports and captured U.S. ships attempting to trade with France. It hadn't learned from its loss in the American Revolution that you don't interfere with America's ability to buy and sell.
America suffered terrible defeats at the hands of the British. Most notably, in July 1814 British troops approached Washington from the Chesapeake Bay. The British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, meeting little resistance, and marched into the lightly defended capital city, where they burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House. The commandant of the Navy Yard, DC's main defense, opted to burn down this key facility rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
The war lasted until 1815. There were some American victories, notably in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 led by general Andrew Jackson. But the war ended without a clear-cut victory for either side. Still the United States gained international recognition as an independent nation. The conflict further helped to cement the union of the various states and forged a new American identity. British victories in the Chesapeake and American battlefields made the case that the United States needed a more professional military. Dolley Madison redefined the role of the First Lady when she rescued important White House artifacts before fleeing the burning of Washington. Francis Scott Key's eye-witness poem "Defense of Fort M'Henry," found enduring importance when it was set to music and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Often referred to as "the forgotten war," this conflict ended in exhaustion on both sides. It gave Americans a clear idea of how difficult it was to defend such a large territory, yet renewed the spirit of patriotism that has grown to this day.
Visit http://www.ourflagwasstillthere.org/ for interactive timelines and more information about the War of 1812.
Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History. Visit http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/ for more information.
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