The year 1813 was also notable for the opening of another theatre in the land campaign of the War of 1812, namely the extreme south. Here the United States was already embroiled in a dispute with Spain about the western two-thirds of West Florida. In 1810 the United States had already seized the western part of this disputed area as far east as the Pearl River. In 1813 Andrew Jackson, a firm advocate of American expansion and commander of the Tennessee militia, informed the secretary of war that he would ‘rejoice at the opportunity of placing the American eagle on the ramparts of Mobile, Pensacola and Fort St Augustine’, the three main Spanish positions in West Florida (Mobile and Pensacola) and East Florida (Fort St Augustine). For this purpose Jackson raised in Tennessee a volunteer force of 2,000 men. The Congress was uncertain how to treat this offer, but after considerable debate agreed to an American expansion into Spanish territory. The Congress was careful to limit this advance into that part of West Florida currently in dispute with Spain, however, and also prohibited the use of the Tennessee force. These were left at Natchez on the Mississippi River when Brigadier General Wilkinson, who was slated for a transfer north to replace Dearborn, led his forces in an uncontested occupation of Mobile and West Florida as far east as the Perdido River. The immediate result of this American expansion was the Creek War.
During this period the US Army was undergoing a period of reorganisation, although it was as yet too new to yield significant results. The course of operations in 1812 had revealed distinct problems in the overall control of the American war effort, and early in 1813 President Madison replaced his Secretary of War, William Eustis, with the more efficient John Armstrong. Armstrong set about a revision of the army high command with a view to replacing Revolutionary War veterans with younger and more energetic officers receptive to the demands of modern war. The Congress was finally persuaded of the need to expand the army staff, and in March 1813 the secretary of war received the professional support of an adjutant general, apothecary general, inspector general and surgeon, and also had his staff bolstered by eight map makers. This did much to enhance the workings of the high command, but it was appreciated by all professional military men that this meant little without a dramatic improvement in the level of logistic support enjoyed by the army. The war was being fought in wilderness areas where roads had to be built before wagons or even horse convoys could be used to bring up supplies. The resulting shortages of ammunition, clothing and food had severely affected American operations, and the onset of winter resulted in major hardships for troops who were also without adequate blankets, accommodation or even fodder for their animals. The worst single factor was food, and almost everywhere local commanders were forced to find the food for their own men, and this often meant that they had to dilute their military effort to provide foraging parties.
Even if the transportation system had worked properly, it would have found little in the way of supplies to move. The whole supply system instituted in 1812 proved unworkable. The Quartermaster General found it impossible to assume responsibility for the financial affairs of his subordinates, and was never able to gain an effective control over his deputies in the north-west and south. The main problem lay with the fact that the Congress had failed to create a true ‘job definition’ for the quartermaster general, who therefore found that his responsibilities overlapped those of the commissary general. In an effort to remedy this sorry state of affairs, the Congress appointed a superintendent general of military supplies and reorganised the quartermaster department. The superintendent general’s task was to keep track of all military stores, and the redefinition of the quartermaster general’s task gave him greater control over his deputies, who in practice remained independent. What the army and the Congress steadily refused to admit, however, was the complete failure of the contractor system for the purchase, storage and delivery of food. The whole system was laced with graft and fraud, and inevitably it was the troops who suffered.
The army was also enlarged at about this time, its authorised establishment being increased to 45 infantry regiments, four rifle regiments, two light dragoon regiments, three artillery regiments and one light artillery regiment. This augmentation of overall strength was complemented by an increase in the number of general officers: the totals now permitted were six major generals and 16 brigadier generals excluding those created by brevet (officers holding the authority of that rank but receiving the pay of a lower rank).
All Quiet on the Northern Front
On the northern front the late winter of 1813/14 was generally quiet. The main effort of the period was a raid by a 4,000-man force under Wilkinson into Canada. In February this force pushed forward from Plattsburg and penetrated about 8 miles (13 km) into Canada with the self-declared aim ‘to return victorious or not all all’. During early March Wilkinson’s force reached La Colle Mill, where the 600-man British and Canadian garrison beat back the American attack. Despite the manly words before before his departure, Wilkinson immediately ordered a return to Plattsburg. This effort was even more of a fiasco than the two efforts against Montreal in the previous year.
On April 12 Wilkinson was replaced in command of the Niagara and Lake Ontario fronts by Major General Jacob Brown, who had been created a brigadier general in the regular army after his defence of Sackett’s Harbor in the previous gear, and was now promoted within the new army structure. Another important promotion at the behest of Secretary of War Armstrong was George Izard, who became the major general commanding on the Lake Ontario front. Armstrong also created six new brigadier generals from among the army’s ablest (but not necessarily most senior) colonels, and among these latter promotions was Winfield Scott, who had particularly distinguished himself in the Battle of Queenston in the previous year and who, in addition to his promotion, now found himself in command at Buffalo. Brown immediately set about reorganising his command on more efficient lines, and the retraining programme devised by Brown was ably put into effect by Scott.
During the winter of 1813/14 the British had made a major shipbuilding effort at Kingston, and now possessed a clear naval superiority on Lake Ontario. This led Armstrong to recommend that American offensive operations should be concentrated on the Niagara front, where British naval superiority on Lake Ontario would be of little importance. There was considerable argument within President Madison’s cabinet, however, and it was June 1814 before a plan was decided. This was based on the assumption that the American shipbuilding effort at Sackett’s Harbor would have given Chauncey at least equality with the British on the lake by this time. The plan was therefore based on a co-ordinated effort. Brown was to cross the Niagara River near its southern end in the region of Black Rock and capture Fort Erie. With this first objective taken, Brown was to advance north: if the British defence was less strong he was instructed to press on to the capture of Fort George and Newark where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, but if the defence proved strong he was permitted to halt on the northern side of the Chippewa River after capturing a bridge over this tributary of the Niagara River.
Battle of the Chippewa River
On 3 July Brown crossed the Niagara River with 3,500 men, captured Fort Erie and started on the 16-mile advance to the Chippewa River. Here a force of 1,700 British regulars under Major General Phineas Riall, supported by Canadian militiamen and Indian skirmishers, was deployed on the northern bank to halt the Americans. The Chippewa River was unfordable, and despite their inferior numbers the British were in in a strong tactical position. The Americans reached the Chippewa River on 4 July and pitched camp on the south side of Street’s Creek, about 1 mile (1.6 km) back from the river, with their right flank on the Niagara River and their left flank shielded by a swamp. Between Street’s Creek and the Chippewa River was a flat area, and on this the Battle of the Chippewa was to be decided.
On the American left was Scott’s 1,300-man brigade, and in honour of Independence Day the general had promised his men a parade. On 5 July the brigade paraded and, moving forward onto the plain, found that during the night the British had moved forward from their perfect position, crossed the Chippewa River, and taken up position on the northern edge of the plain. Both forces advanced in classic style, halting and firing before pushing forward and then halting and firing once more, with men from the rear ranks advancing into the front rank as this was shredded by musket and artillery fire. Riall had seen that Scott’s soldiers were wearing grey uniforms and, unaware that this was all that the American supply system had been able to provide, assumed that they were militia men until they formed line, fixed bayonets and advanced with great precision and determination. Riall then realised that he was faced by regulars: ‘These are regulars, by God!’ Just as the flanks of the slightly curved American and British lines met, with the men in the centre of the lines still about 80 yards (75 m) apart, the British broke. Scott’s brigade pursued and drove the British right back across the Chippewa River. By the time another brigade had been committed by Brown, the British had abandoned their position and were retreating first north toward Fort St George and then west toward Ancaster at the extreme western end of Lake Ontario. American losses in the Battle of the Chippewa were 48 killed and 227 wounded, while the British had suffered 137 killed and 304 wounded.
An interesting sidelight on the battle, the first time in the war that American and British regulars had met in hand-to-hand combat, is its commemoration in the grey full-dress uniform of the US Military Academy at West Point.
Brown pushed after the retreating British as far as Queenston, but as the British turned west he halted and awaited the arrival of Chauncey and his ships so that a co-ordinated attack could be made on Fort George and Newark. Chauncey refused to co-operate, and after waiting for two weeks Brown pulled back to the Chippewa River. Brown had realised that victory must be secured now or not at all, and now planned to advance up Lundy’s Lane from the Niagara Falls and so reach the Queenston/Ancaster road from which he could strike out for the Burlington Heights. This would put him in an ideal position at the rear of the British.
Meanwhile some 16,000 British regulars, all of them veterans of the Duke of Wellington’s army in the Peninsular War, had been arriving in Canada. They had reached Lower Canada too late to reinforce Riall before the Battle of the Chippewa, but their arrival on the upper reaches of the St Lawrence River now freed the previous garrisons to move to the Niagara front. As Brown waited at Queenston for Chauncey the British were steadily strengthened, and by the time Brown returned to the Chippewa River there were 2,200 men at Ancaster under Riall, and another 1,500 in Fort Niagara and Fort George on the eastern and western sides of the Niagara River’s mouth.
Even as Brown was falling back from Queenston and preparing his push up Lundy’s Lane, the British were responding. The American withdrawal was followed by a 600-man force from Fort George, paralleled on the other side of the Niagara River by a 400-man force from Fort Niagara, and from Ancaster Riall sent a 1,000-man advance force down Lundy’s Lane.
Riall’s advance guard reached the junction of Lundy’s Lane and the Queenston Road during the night of 24 July, at about the same time that Brown’s men reached the Chippewa River about 3 miles (4.8 km) to the east. Brown was not aware of Riall’s advance guard on Lundy’s Lane, but was very worried that the force from Fort Niagara, pushing south on the eastern bank of the river, was trying to cut his line of communications across the southern end of the Niagara River. On 25 July Brown therefore ordered Scott to move once more in the direction of Queenston. The American commander hoped that this would draw the British back to the north, and thus away from the American line of communications.
While this American move was being readied, the Fort Niagara force had crossed the Niagara River and linked up with Riall’s advance guard on Lundy’s Lane. Scott’s brigade ran into this combined force as it moved off toward Queenston, and so the scene was set for the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, which was the most bitterly fought engagement of the entire War of 1812.
For two hours both sides attacked and counterattacked without securing any advantage. Then each side was reinforced as the rest of Brown’s force arrived to bolster Scott’s brigade, and as Major General Sir Gordon Drummond arrived with men from the upper St Lawrence River. The Americans managed to force the British back slightly and capture their artillery, but after that a bloody stalemate was reached. Just before midnight Brown ordered the exhausted Americans to fall back to the Chippewa River, but the equally shattered British were in no position to pursue.
The five-hour Battle of Lundy’s Lane was therefore a tactical draw, although in strategic terms it was an American defeat as it ended all hopes of an invasion of Canada in 1813. The Americans lost 171 killed, 572 wounded and 110 missing, while the British casualties included 84 killed, 559 wounded and 235 missing or taken prisoner. Some indication of the severity of the fighting is given by the fact that Brown, Scott, Drummond and Riall were all wounded, and Riall was also taken prisoner. Scott’s wounds were so severe that he was unable to get back into the war.
British siege of Fort Erie
Brown then retreated into Fort Erie, which was taken under siege by the British at the beginning of August. On 17 September the Americans launched a sortie that caused the British 609 casualties to the Americans’ 511. On 21 September the British broke off the siege. Shortly after this General George Izard, commander on the Lake Champlain front, arrived from Plattsburg with reinforcements and pushed forward as far as the strong British positions on the Chippewa River. Some minor skirmishes were fought as the Americans probed these defences, but with the onset of winter Izard broke off operations. On 5 November the Americans finally abandoned Fort Erie and, after destroying the fort’s main protective features, pulled back across the Niagara River, effectively ending all operations on the Niagara front.
Farther to the north-east, on the Lake Champlain front, the arrival of their reinforcements from Europe gave the initiative to the British. After Izard’s departure for the Niagara front, command of the Lake Champlain sector fell to Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, who had some 3,300 men centred on Plattsburg. Support on and around the lake was provided by a small naval force of one corvette, one brig, one schooner, one sloop and 10 gunboat galleys under Commodore Thomas Macdonough.
In the Montreal region were some 14,000 British troops, all veterans of the Peninsular War, under the command of General Prevost. The British planned to advance into New York over exactly the same route taken by General Burgoyne in the first year of the Revolutionary War. Prevost pushed his 11,000-man expeditionary force up the Richelieu River with great care and crossed into the United States, arriving in front of Plattsburg on 6 September. Here Prevost halted and waited for the arrival of his naval support, which was being hastily built and eventually totalled one frigate, one brig, two sloops and 12 gunboat galleys under Captain George Downie. Prevost’s plan called for a frontal assault on the American land defences while Downie’s flotilla took care of the American naval force shielding the American right flank. Macomb had been reinforced by additional militia units, and his 4,500 men now comprised about 1,500 seasoned regulars and 3,000 militia men holding a series of redoubts and blockhouses facing a small river running down into Lake Champlain. The American naval flotilla was anchored far enough offshore to be out of range of the British artillery but still in a position to resist an attack on the American line.
Fighting at Plattsburg
On 11 September Downie’s flotilla arrived off Plattsburg, and Prevost ordered his soldiers to begin their attack as soon as he saw the British vessels rounding Cumberland Head and heading to engage the American ships. The numerical strength of the two flotillas was almost exactly equal, but the Americans ships had two vital superiorities. Firstly, their vessels generally mounted longer guns that offered considerably greater range than the shorter pieces on the British vessels and, secondly, their crews were composed of fairly well trained sailors and gunners whereas the British ships were manned by a small number of experienced sailors bulked out by soldiers and some French Canadian militiamen. The wind died away as the British flotilla came into the bay where the American flotilla was anchored, and as they lost way the British vessels were raked by the fire of the American vessels’ longer guns. Downie worked his flotilla into the bay through this fire, and when his vessels were close enough to those of the Americans to use their shorter guns, Downie ordered his flotilla to anchor. There followed a two-hour slugging battle of great severity. The battle hinged on the duel between the two flagships, both of them frigates. Macdonough’s 26-gun Saratoga was being badly battered by Downie’s 37-gun Confiance when the American commander used a stern anchor to warp his ship round and present a completely fresh broadside to the British ship. Downie was killed, and with another 180 of the vessel’s crew killed or wounded the senior surviving British officer ordered Confiance’s colours to be struck. The rest of the British flotilla followed this lead after suffering some 300 casualties, and for the loss of 200 men the Americans had scored a decisive victory.
Prevost felt that the loss of his naval support meant that land operations against Plattsburg would be of little use. Despite the fact that one of his attacking columns had made significant progress against the American defences, Prevost called off his attack. On the following day the British started their retreat into Canada. This withdrawal was undertaken with so little preparation that much valuable equipment and many types of supplies were left to the Americans as they emerged from their defences around Plattsburg. Thus the naval Battle of Lake Champlain ended all danger of a British invasion from the north, and was without doubt the single most important engagement of the War of 1812.
American privateering had peaked in 1813, when some 600 such vessels had operated against the British in waters as widely separated as the Caribbean Sea and the North Sea. In the course of the war more than 1,300 British merchant ships were captured by privateers, and this drove insurance rates so high that the ship owners of ports such as Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool petitioned the British government for an end to the war. So severe were the effects of the American commerce-raiding campaign that even in the coastal waters of the British Isles more merchant ships were forced to travel in convoys under naval escort.
Up to this time the British had taken advantage of New England’s feeling against the war to leave this segment of the American coast unblockaded. This allowed trade with New England to continue without major difficulty. The increasing severity of the war was now reflected in the fact that during April 1814 the British extended their blockade farther north to cover the American coastline as far north as the frontier with Canada. The success of the blockade was almost total, and American exports dropped from a value of $61 million in 1811 to a mere $6 million in 1814. The lessons were clear for all to see, but were phrased most neatly by one of the United States’ best naval theoreticians, Alfred Thayer Mahan: ‘…not by rambling operations, or naval duels, are wars decided, but by force massed and handled in skilful combination’.
Even so, the Americans continued to gain some comfort from the successes gained by the pitifully small number of US Navy warships that managed to evade the British blockade, harry British merchant shipping and, at times, engage British warships in ship-to-ship duels. The first such success in 1814 occurred on April 29, when the 18-gun US sloop Peacock (named for the British vessel sunk by Hornet in February 1813) met Epervier, a British sloop of the same strength, off the coast of Florida. In a 45-minute gun duel the British vessel was severely battered and force to strike her colours. The two following successes fell to another 18-gun sloop, a second Wasp. On 28 June she was cruising in the English Channel when she met and almost completely destroyed Reindeer, another 18-gun sloop, in a 30-minute battle. Wasp then continued her cruise, snapping up 13 British merchant ships, before falling in with Avon, another 18-gun British sloop, on 1 September. The British vessel was sunk in a night battle. Wasp then sailed on. On 9 October she was seen by a Swedish ship but then disappeared, never to be seen again.
It was not only US Navy ships that displayed such prowess, however, for on one occasion at least a privateer showed similar fighting skill and courage. On 26 September Captain Samuel C. Reid’s nine-gun General Armstrong was trapped by a British squadron in the port of Fayal, in the neutral Portuguese Azores. The Portuguese authorities would not allow the British to land, so for two days the British attempted to board the American privateer with boat parties. For two days the crew of the American vessel fought off these attacks before her captain realised that escape was impossible, landed his crew, and blew up his vessel.
Capture of Essex
The most notable event for any American ship in 1814, however, was the capture of the 38-gun US frigate Essex under Captain David Porter. The ship had sailed from the Delaware River on 28 October 1812 on a 17-month cruise that took the ship round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. Here the American frigate wrought havoc among British merchant ships and whalers, capturing or destroying more than 40 of them. On 3 February 1814 Essex entered the harbour of Valparaiso in Chile in company with Essex Junior, a prize converted into a minor warship, and was then blockaded when the 36-gun frigate Phoebe and 18-gun sloop Cherub arrived off the port. In an effort to draw off and then outdistance the slower British vessels, Porter took Essex out in a heavy wind only to lose his main topmast in a squall. Porter returned to Valparaiso and, despite the neutrality of the port, on 21 March the British used the longer range of their guns to stand off and batter Essex, which was armed only with short-range carronades. After three hours Porter surrendered: his 255-man crew had suffered 58 killed, 31 drowned and 70 wounded, but all that the British ships seized was a burning hulk. British losses had been only five killed and 10 wounded.
During the first half of 1814 the British naval forces blockading the American east coast were strengthened considerably not only in ships, but also in troops for landing operations. The reinforcement in ships allowed the northward extension of the blockade mentioned above, and also made it possible to consider major operations for the fleet’s embarked troops, who had been considerably reinforced with the July arrival of 5,400 Peninsular War veterans under Major General Robert Ross. The nature of the war for which these troops had been provided was indicated by the British general order of 18 July, which established that raiding parties were to be landed ‘to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts upon the coast as you may find assailable’. The first British efforts were against two small ports in Maine, where Eastport and Castine, lying respectively on Passamaquoddy Bay and at the mouth of the Penobskot River, were seized without opposition. These were not mere raids, however, for this portion of Maine as far west as the Penobskot River had long been in dispute with the British, who claimed it for Canada and felt that their possession would count significantly in the peace negotiations to end the war. British raids farther to the south had no such political overtones. On 19 August British ships under Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane sailed up the Patuxent River to Benedict, where 4,000 men under General Ross were landed. The British force advanced on Washington, DC via Nottingham, Upper Marlborough and Old Fields before arriving on 24 August at Bladensburg on the upper reaches of the Anacostia River to the north-east of the capital. Here the Americans had hastily gathered under the command of the incompetent Major General William H. Winder, a political appointee, a force of a few regulars, about 6,500 militiamen and 400 naval gunners and marines. The British advance guard of 1,500 men fell upon this ill-assorted American force and routed it in panic, the only effective resistance being put up by the regulars and Commodore Joshua Barney’s naval contingent. The British suffered 294 casualties to the Americans’ 200 (100 killed or wounded and 100 captured).
Burning of the White House
Some of the troops defeated in the Battle of Bladensburg fell back in disarray into Washington, but most realised that the capital was doomed and therefore fled to Georgetown or Montgomery. The British were therefore able to press ahead to Washington, which they entered on 24 August. In retaliation for the American burning of York, the British burned the White House, the Capitol and several other public buildings, as well as a number of private buildings, and departed on the following day to re-embark at Benedict on 30 August.
A smaller naval force had meanwhile sailed up the Potomac River to capture Alexandria on 28 August. The two forces linked at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and sailed north against Baltimore. On 12 September the troops under Ross were landed at North Point, on the left bank of the Patapsco River estuary about 16 miles (26 km) south-east of Baltimore, while the naval force prepared to attack Baltimore harbour. The land force broke through the first line of American defence in the Battle of Godly Wood on 12 September, but was then faced with a line of formidable redoubts on the eastern side of the city. Here on 13 September the men of the Maryland militia under Major General Samuel Smith fought with far greater determination than any of them had shown at Bladensburg just under three weeks previously. The British were repulsed, carrying with them a mortally wounded Ross. The entrance to Baltimore harbour was blocked by sunken gunboats, and when a two-day bombardment of Fort McHenry on the southern bank of the Patapsco River failed to silence the fort’s guns, the British called off their offensive against Baltimore. The troops were re-embarked on 14 September and the British squadron sailed down Chesapeake Bay three days later, and on reaching the sea sailed for the Caribbean to prepare for its next venture.
By this time the British had become increasingly weary of the war, and when the news of the reverses at Baltimore and Lake Champlain/Plattsburg reached London on the same day, the British were more ready to settle to the peace negotiations that were already in progress. These British raids also played an important part in American affairs. The success of American arms at Baltimore encouraged the peace commissioners to strengthen their position against the British, but the burning of Washington produced so great a national scandal that Armstrong was summarily replaced as Secretary of War by James Monroe.
Before his death Ross had planned another amphibious descent on a major American city, and the British were determined to carry this out so that they would have another bargaining counter in the peace negotiations. The attack had been planned against New Orleans with the object of capturing this important city and advancing up the Mississippi River to separate Louisiana from the rest of the United States. To command the operation the British sent out Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. Hearing that the British were concentrating forces in the Caribbean Sea, on 22 November Major General Andrew Jackson set off to New Orleans, and four days later the British expedition sailed from Jamaica. Jackson reached New Orleans on 1 December and assumed command of the American forces in the area, numbering about 5,000 men. He realised that it might not be possible to hold New Orleans, and ordered a fall-back position to be created at Baton Rouge to check the British if they then advanced up the Mississippi River.
British attempt on New Orleans
The British arrived on 10 December and anchored off Ship Island. The advance guard began to land at Bayou Bienvenu in the Lake Borgne area about 10 miles (16 km) east of New Orleans on 13 December. Jackson concentrated on preparing the defence of the city, where he declared martial law in an effort to gain control over the largely anti-American Creole population. The British advance guard pushed forward about 3 miles (4.8 km) and then encountered Jackson’s first line of defence along the disused Rodriguez Canal. Jackson had his right flank on the Mississippi River and his left flank on a cypress swamp. Here Jackson located some 3,100 of his troops (a core of regulars supported by veteran Kentucky and Tennessee volunteers as well as a small force of New Orleans volunteer militiamen) in a position that could not be outflanked.
On the night of 23/24 December an American reconnaissance in force almost managed to cut off the British 2,000-man advance guard, but after a three-hour battle the Americans were forced to pull back to their defensive line. Pakenham arrived on 25 December, and immediately set about planning an attack on the American position. Jackson used all the time given to him by the British preparations to strengthen his defensive line, with earth, timber and even cotton bales incorporated into a fortification high enough to demand the use of scaling ladders by the attackers. The defence was a mixed array that included the 7th and 44th Infantry Regiments, the Louisiana militia under Brigadier General David Morgan, the New Orleans Sharpshooters under Major Beale, battalions of free Negroes under LaCoste and Daquin, a battalion of New Orleans aristocracy, a group of Choctaw Indians and even a band of Baratorian pirates, all supported by more than 20 pieces of artillery including a battery of nine heavy guns on the western bank of the Mississippi River.
Pakenham’s first probe on 28 December was repulsed with heavy losses by the American infantry and artillery. When a heavy artillery bombardment on January 1, 1815 failed to dislodge the Americans, Pakenham decided to wait until his full force of 8,000 men was available. A British naval force attempted to bring fire on the American right flank by pushing up the Mississippi River, but was checked about 65 miles (105 km) downstream of New Orleans by the defences of Fort St Philip.
Unaware that the War of 1812 had been ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December of the previous year, Pakenham launched his main effort on 8 January with a frontal attack by about 6,500 men while Lieutenant Colonel William Thornton’s force of 600 men crossed the Mississippi River and prepared to overrun the American heavy artillery force that dominated the British left flank. The British advanced in line against the main American position and were driven back by artillery fire and volleys from the Americans’ muskets and rifles. Again the British attacked in this outmoded fashion, and again they were repulsed. The battle could now have swung the other way, for on the western bank of the river Thornton’s force had pushed through the opposition of two militia battalions and captured the American heavy artillery. If the British had attacked once more they might well have won, but appalled by the loss of 2,100 men killed and wounded (including Pakenham and the other two most senior commanders) as well as 500 captured, the British called off the attack. American losses were just seven killed and six wounded. Jackson sensibly thought that his motley army was capable of effective operations only from behind fixed fortifications, and refused to take the offensive in a move that could have gone disastrously wrong against the more disciplined British. Ten days later the British re-embarked and departed. On 8 February the British appeared off Mobile and overwhelmed the 360-man garrison of Fort Bowyer commanding the entrance to Mobile harbour. While an attack on Mobile was being prepared news of the Treaty of Ghent arrived and brought to an end the land operations in the War of 1812.
Post-war naval events
The news of the war’s end took longer to reach ships at sea, and there were several engagements between American and British warships after the formal end of hostilities. The first of these took place on 15 January 1815, when Decatur’s 44-gun frigate President tried to break the British blockade and reach New York. Several British ships chased President, and it was only after disabling the 50-gun Endymion in a two-hour battle that the American frigate, partially disabled and with 75 men killed or wounded, surrendered to another two British ships that had reached the scene. Five days later the 44-gun US frigate Constitution under Captain James Stewart met the 34-gun British corvette Cyane and 18-gun sloop Levant off the island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean. In a brilliant piece of tactical seamanship Stewart took on and captured his opponents separately. Just over one month later, on 23 March, the US 18-gun sloop Hornet captured the 18-gun British sloop Penguin off the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha.
To most Americans the War of 1812 had resulted in an American victory, but a more realistic assessment must call it a draw. The American strategy had been centred on destruction of British merchant shipping and the conquest of Canada. The former had been achieved in considerable measure, but the latter had resulted in complete failure. At the tactical level the Americans learned several lessons, most notably the importance of artillery and engineering. The artillery had played a notable part in the American successes at the Chippewa, Sackett’s Harbor, Norfolk, Fort Erie and New Orleans, while the engineers had played a similar part in the fortification of Fort Erie, Fort Meigs and Plattsburg. At the operational level the war had proved that while the militia could often fight well when well trained and ably led, it was never completely reliable. This meant that professional officers were faced by great difficulty in assessing likely militia performance when planning large-scale operations. So far as the army was concerned, therefore, an important lesson of the war was the need to strengthen the regular army at the expense of the militia, a process ably undertaken by Secretary of War John Calhoun.