The War of 1812 was a conflict waged between the United States of America and Britain, alongside a coalition of various Indian allies. The war was fought concurrently with the far more bloody Napoleonic Wars, which deflected much of the world's attention, leading to it often having been seen as a sideshow. The war was triggered by an American declaration of war resulting from trade restrictions, expansionism, and perceived insults to national honour. None of these were resolved by the war, which would lead to further subsidiary conflicts. The war is remembered mainly for nationalistic reasons, as several battles have entered the national consciousness, particularly in the US. These include the Battle of Baltimore, where an American force repelled a British attack, and Tecumseh's famed victory in the St. Louis Campaign, both of which spawned national anthems for the respective victors.
There were several immediate stated causes for the U.S. declaration of war: First, a series of trade restrictions introduced by Britain to impede American trade with France, a country with which Britain was at war (the U.S. contested these restrictions as illegal under international law); second, the impressment of U.S. seamen into the Royal Navy, which had a major need for men in the concurrent Napoleonic Wars; third, the British military support for American Indians who were offering armed resistance to the expansion of the American frontier to the Northwest; fourth, hunger in the United States for land in British North America.
Course of the War
On July 12, 1812, General William Hull led an invading American force of about 1,000 untrained militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich. By August, Hull and his troops retreated to Detroit, where they surrendered to a significantly smaller force of British regulars, Canadian militia and Native Americans, led by British Major General Isaac Brock and Shawnee leader Tecumseh. The surrender not only cost the United States the village of Detroit, but control over most of the Michigan Territory. Several months later, the U.S. launched a second invasion of Canada, this time at the Niagara peninsula. On October 13, United States forces were again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights, where General Brock was killed.
His successor, Colonel Henry Procter, was left in command at Detroit in conjunction with Tecumseh. An attack by the American Army of the Northwest under William Henry Harrison was repulsed at the Battle of the River Raisin, at which some of Tecumseh's troops massacred around sixty of the captured American troops. Defeated, Harrison withdrew with his remaining troops to Fort Meigs, where he was besieged. Harrison's death early in the siege resulted in his troops' surrender, leaving most of the Old Northwest region in British hands. Procter and Tecumseh then marched northeast, where they were embarked by British ships on Lake Erie. On September 8th, the combined British-Indian force landed at Presque Isle Bay, where the nascent American fleet was being built, drove off a detachment of Pennsylvania militia, and burnt the ships at anchor. American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was wounded in the skirmish and would later die.
Recriminations for the run of defeats ensued among the American Ministry of War. Both sides resupplied over the winter, preparing for a new campaign in the spring. An American amphibious force under General Zebulon Pike landed at the provincial capital of Upper Canada, York, on April 27, 1813, taking the town. A second force took Fort George in Niagara. In the west, however, the advantage remained with the British-Indian force. Tecumseh moved south along the Missouri river, gathering warriors from the Sauk as he did, and a combined force under he and the Sauk chief Black Hawk unexpectedly stormed the American forts at Cap au Gris and Prairie du Chien in May, leaving the Ohio frontier open. Indian raids began to take devastating effect as thousands of warriors crossed the frontier, searching for plunder. Shocked by the outcry, an American force of 2,000 under Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby marched north to crush the threat.
By August, the American force had reached Fort Dearborn near Lake Michigan. Sufficient time had passed, however, for Procter to reinforce Tecumseh with 300 British regular troops under William McKay. The American force had detached around 500 men to burn a Potawatomi village, unaware of the superior British presence nearby, but these troops were ambushed in the Battle of Des Plaines and forced to surrender. The American force began to withdraw south, but found that the British had reoccupied Fort Dearborn and blocked the road south. In the Battle of Fort Dearborn, the Americans tried and failed to storm the fort, then withdrew north, only to ultimately surrender, trapped far away from any aid.