The War of 1812, not unlike the Korean War, can be described as a (nearly) forgotten conflict for many reasons, not least of all because it occurred very long ago. But unlike the American Revolution or World Wars I and II, neither the United States nor Britain and Canada have done much to keep the memories of this war alive in public minds. And yet it was remarkable in many respects, especially for the Canadian colony which faced the second U.S invasion in its short history and again prevailed. We have seen in recent months an effort by governments and organizations to start preparing for the bicentennial of the war by raising awareness through articles, documentaries and upcoming commemorative events. For those interested in brushing up on their history, the library has a lot of resources on the War of 1812.
Though he died in the early stages of the war, Sir Isaac Brock is regarded as one of the men whose actions were pivotal in defending what was then British Canada. A new biography of him was published this year: The Astonishing General: the Life and Legacy of Sir Isaac Brock by Wesley Turner.
The war produced a number of heroic figures with fascinating stories: Tecumseh, who led a confederacy of First Nations and, with the help of the British, seized Fort Detroit; Laura Secord and James FitzGibbon, who both became famous thanks to their contribution in defeating American forces at the battle of Beaver Dams.
For those who need a good introduction to the subject (with great illustrations), try Gilbert Collins’ Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 and Victor Suthren’s The War of 1812 . The civil war of 1812 : American citizens, British subjects, Irish rebels, & Indian allies by Alan Taylor deals with the alliances that were formed and their uneasy co-existence: British subjects fought Americans (themselves British subjects until recently), French-Canadians fought alongside their former conquerors and First Nations tribes fought as allies of Britain but for different stakes. At the end of the war, both sides were able to claim victory because they fought different wars, and while no territorial changes occurred, both Canada and the United States could claim to have defended their respective independence and strengthened their national identities.
If you would rather read a fictional account, many novels have been written with the War of 1812 as the background. If you’re a fan of the movie Master and Commander (with Russell Crowe in the lead role) or of naval warfare in the Age of Sail, why not read a novel by Patrick O’Brian? The Far Side of the World continues the adventures of Jack Aubrey, hero of the Napoleonic War, and his friend Stephen Maturin as they now face the United States Navy.
One last recommendation for fans of alternate history: Redcoats’ revenge : an alternate history of the War of 1812 by David Fitz-Enz imagines how the war’s outcome could have changed if the Battle of Plattsburgh had been an overwhelming British victory instead of a defeat.
Please feel free to add your own suggestions on this neglected part of our history.