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Nonfiction Hey, didn't we win this one?
187 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE WAR OF 1812 By Donald R. Hickey 170 pp. Maryland Historical Society
Reviewed by Dennis C. Rizzo
I moved to Canada from New Jersey in 2010. Among many other phenomena of immigration, my perspective on the “birth of a nation” had to change from the American Revolution to the War of 1812. Thankfully, Donald R. Hickey, historian and author of many works on the war, has prepared the easy-to-follow 187 Things you Should Know about the War of 1812.
Canada, relatively young as a confederation of provinces, has been referred to as the staunchest ally of the United States for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, back in New Jersey, many people believe Canada is really a part of upper New York State -- plus those cute little fishing villages over by Maine.
Canadians, I have discovered, react to this impression with a smile and a nod -- much as adults do when a young child talks about the heroics of his stuffed toy pet. But, mention the War of 1812 and Canadians pause, mumble and cock their heads in the manner of someone from Quebec who has just heard an Englishman spew pidgin French.
1) Who Fought in the war of 1812?
The principal antagonists were the United States and Great Britain. Because the United States targeted Britain's North American provinces, British subjects living in what is now the Dominion of Canada were also involved. In addition, both sides had Indian [aboriginal] allies.
As a newcomer to the area and a new re-enactor of the 1812 conflict, I studied the war. The ponderous tomes and well-documented minutiae of the usual histories were the bibles for my historical impression. Yet, as Hickey notes, most people have neither the time nor the interest in these details of history. Most people want sound bytes.
19) Where was the war fought?
Because the United States targeted Canada, most of the fighting took place along the Canadian-American border. But, because the British navy retaliated along the Atlantic coats, there was also considerable action on the American seaboard, especially in the Chesapeake, and several key engagements on the Gulf Coast, particularly at New Orleans. There was also fighting in the Old Southwest against the Creek Indians. In addition, American and British warships and privateers waged war and plundered one another's commerce on the high seas.
Thankfully, Hickey provides several well-drawn maps.
170) Who won the War of 1812?
Although the war ended in a stalemate on the battlefield, Great Britain and Canada were the big winners. The British made no concessions to the United States on the maritime issues that had caused the war, nor did they surrender any territory. Canada remained a part of the British Empire instead of being forcibly annexed to the United States.
This is news to Americans, who believe they won the war. In reality, it was somewhat of a triumph for the Americans, who established worldwide recognition of their fledgling republic.
171) Who lost the war?
The biggest losers were the Indians on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side they were forced to make peace on American terms and never again would have a reliable foreign ally to offset the growing power of the United States. Indians on the Canadian side also lost because the British no longer cultivated them to offset American power.
The Government of Canada has provided for an array of activity during the period 2012 to 2015 -- fund disbursements, monument dedications and proclamations -- to celebrate this turning point for British America. In speeches, local celebrations, parades, re-enactments and school events, Canadian children have been able to look upon the War of 1812 as the start to the consolidation of their country.
Despite this, most people have little or no real knowledge. Donald R. Hickey offers these children, and their parents, tidbits about the political, civil or military events of the period. The book is timely, with the opening of the bicentennial of this forgotten war.
With 187 Things You Should Know about the War of 1812, Hickey and the Historical Society of Maryland have done great service for the Government of Canada. In the truest sense of combattants-deviennent-alliés, the docents of Fort McHenry offer a tool with which the docents of Fort George can teach about their own emergence as a nation.