American history, Britain history, England, English History, Great Britian, history and travel, Still Current, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history

The War of 1812, America’s second revolution 

With most events in history nothing is as black and white as we think. The War of 1812 was one of those. While American history tends to focus on the American Revolution and Civil War it was the War of 1812 that would cause more changes in the Untied States. 

After President James Madison presented to Congress the grievances against Great Britain on June 1, 1812, Congress took up the debate on formally declaring war. It’s not clear if this was the intention of President Madison since his message didn’t specifically ask for a declaration of war. The House debated for four days before voting 79 to 49 for war, with the Senate agreeing with a 19 to 13 vote. This would be the first declaration of war for the new United States. On June 18, 1812 James Madison signed the declaration into law, formally starting a conflict that both the United States and Great Britain were unprepared for.

It was only twenty-nine years since the end of the American Revolution and twenty-three years since the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The United States was just beginning to learn what being a nation was about. Many of the nation’s policies before this war were based on fears it had from the Revolution and what the founders knew of Europe. One of those fears was not having a large standing army which could be used to overthrow the government. 

After the American Revolution Congress disbanded most of its standing army, depending instead on each state’s militias to handle the defenses, as had been done before the revolution. This reliance on state militias is shown in the Untied States Contitution’s Second Amendment which starts out, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,…” Congress even passed a bill limiting the size its federal forces. At the start of the War of 1812 the United States had less than 12,000 men in its regular army. The U.S. Congress turned to the state militias to take up arms in this first declared war, but what happened didn’t make them feel very secure. In some states the war was unpopular and they refused to call up their militias. At its beginnings the new United States saw each of its thirteen states as being more independent. A united federal style government was an unfamiliar concept, so some objected to fighting outside their own state. But the biggest drawback to the militia style of armed forces was that for the most part they were under trained and poorly commanded. These state militias would struggle against the well trained British soldiers causing President Madison to say,” I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force.” 

However on the Canadian front at the start of the war the United States did fairly well. This was mostly due to the fact that the greatest number of America’s regular trained army was already there from its involvement in the Indian wars. Another reason for the United States early successes was that Britain was a little busy with the French in Europe, and had little concern about their former colonies. Although the United States saw the War of 1812 as just its war it was in reality a true globe conflict. 

Through the first two years of the war most of the fighting took place along the northern border between the United States and Canada, and on the lower Great Lakes. The defense of Canada was done mostly by the Canadians because the British were heavily involved in the European War of 1812 against Napoleon Bonaparte and France. In fact many of the issues that caused the United States to declare war were based on what Great Britain had imposed on the U.S. due of their fight against France. These were trade sanctions and the U.S. merchant sailor “impressment.” It wasn’t until 1814 that things dramatically changed in the fighting in North America, and that many of the events that American’s hold dear came about during this period.  

On March 30, 1814 Napoleon surrendered to the British and their allies after his devastating defeat in Russian. On April 6 Napoleon abdicated his power in France, and although Napoleon would return to meet his Waterloo at Waterloo this short respite allowed Britain to turn their full attention to the war in America.  

On July 18, 1814, A British 74-gun ship of the line and its support ships sailed into Passamaquoddy Bay Maine. The small American detachment at Fort Sullivan, both out manned and out gunned, surrendered. This began the occupation of Maine by the British. At that time Maine was part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and when Maine’s cry for assistance from their Massachusetts government went unheeded it would begin the movement for Maine’s eventual statehood.  1814 would also be the beginnings of the British offensive in America.

Although the British Navy had controlled the eastern seaboard of the United States since 1813 the war with France had limited a large land campaign. Britain now free from the conflict in Europe was ready to launch a major attack on the US cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 

The first encounter was the Battle of Bladensburg, just outside of Washington DC. The majority of American troops involved where the poorly trained state militia, while the British were battle hardened and disciplined. The result of that battle was what has been termed, “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” The American militia broke rank and fled, with some running through the streets of the nation’s Capital in panic. 

On August 24 the British army entered Washington as President James Madison and Congress fled. British troops burned government buildings, including the Capital and the President’s house. During the rebuilding of the President’s house it was found that white washing would hid the stains from its burning, hence the President’s house became then known as- the White House.

The taking of our capital would be the high water mark for England. The British army and navy then moved on toward Baltimore. They believed that American resistance would be equally as weak there as it had been in Washington. However on September 14 and 15, at the battles of North Point and Hampstead Hill, and the famous defense of Fort McHenry (Star Spangled Banner fame) they met a stronger and better trained American force of army regulars. The British could not break the American defenses so they withdraw back out to sea. Their new plan was to leave the U.S east coast and resume the offensive in the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. 

From the results of the Battle of Baltimore and also their defeat in the Battle of Plattsburg New York on September 6 – 11, the British felt that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the war. The United States also saw it as a stalemate with nothing to be gained by continuing, so on December 24 1814 the US and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the War of 1812. However this news of the wars end had failed to reach the British fleet and army heading for New Orleans, and the American Major General that would be there to meet them.

Major General Andrew Jackson would come out of this meeting of these two forces as a national hero that would rocket him to the Presidency. But before I discuss the Battle of New Orleans I’d like to give a brief background of this man that benefited most from that conflict.

Andrew Jackson was born to an improvised family on March 15, 1767 in ether North or South Carolina. History isn’t exactly sure on which side of the state line he was born, and both states claim him for their native son. Jackson’s lifelong hatred of the British came about due his mother and two brothers dying while the British occupied the Carolinas during the American Revolution. 

Jackson studied law and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. Soon after he moved to the new territory of Tennessee and became the prosecuting attorney for what would be the city of Nashville. When Tennessee began its application for Statehood Jackson helped to write its constitution. He would also be one of Tennessee’s first members to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jackson decided not to run for reelection to the house but rather for the U.S. Senate. After only a year in that seat he resigned to take a Judgeship with the Tennessee Superior Court. While a judge he was chosen to command the state’s militia, and fate stepped in when the War 1812 broke out. 

Jackson received national notice from his five month campaign against the British supported Creek Indian Nation, and his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Although Andrew Jackson was popular from the Indian campaign it would be the battle New Orleans that would make him an American household name. 

Hearing that the British’s were sailing to attack New Orleans Andrew Jackson raced to the city’s defense. Before he left he told his wife, “I owe to the British a debt of retaliatory vengeance, and should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.” 

The attack on New Orleans was part of the British’s three part invasion strategy: Plattsburg, Baltimore and New Orleans. Their success had been checked by the Americans at both Plattsburg and Baltimore; their last chance to gain anything from the war was to win at New Orleans. Having New Orleans in British control would have given them power over the Mississippi River and American’s western trade. 

The British faced a hodgepodge American force comprised of army regulars, state militiamen, free blacks, New Orleans aristocrats, Choctaw tribesmen, and Jean Lafitte’s pirates. These numbered at around 5,300 men. Jackson and the Americans faced over 6,000 well trained British red coats that had just come from the Battle of Baltimore.    

Between December 23 and the 28, 1814 there were a few minor skirmishes between the two armies. The main battle finally occurred on January 8 1815, when British commander General Pakenham ordered a two-fold attack on the American’s. The first phase was a partial success when Pakenham’s men took a small American artillery post. However when a rifle shot killed their commander, Colonial Rennie, the British soldiers panicked into a hasty retreat. That was one of the weaknesses of the British soldiers at that time; they were effective only when an officer was leading them.  

The next phase of Pakenham’s plan was to march directly against Jackson’s main line of defense with the full body of his troops. He hoped that the morning mist would hide his men’s advancement. However the sun burned off the fog leaving the British soldiers completely visible and open to American rifle and cannon fire. The British plan unraveled, and although the red coats fought bravely the American fire was too overwhelming. After 30 minutes the British soldiers retreated in droves leaving behind a field of dead and dying. Afterwards American Major Howell Tatum said of the state of the British casualties, “truly distressing…some had their heads shot off, some their legs, some their arms. Some were laughing; some crying…there was every variety of sight and sound.” In the end the British had lost over 2,000 of its best soldiers, including General Pakenham. Andrew Jackson’s losses were less than 100 men. 

Although the stunned British army languished in Louisiana for a few days after the battle, and there was an abortive navel attack of Fort St. Philip, the fighting was over. 

As the British troops were boarding their ships for England Andrew Jackson paraded into New Orleans to great celebration, rivaling any Mardi Gras, or a Caesar marching into Rome.

Battle of New Orleans and the end of the War of 1812 gave the young United States a shot in the arm of national pride and honor. Even though strategically America gained nothing, they had beaten the great British army and navy. The War of 1812 has been called our second revolution, and this one we won on our own. 

The War of 1812 had shown that the United States needed a strong national military force, the old militia system wasn’t effective. The national pride of beating the 19th century’s superpower would inspire the United States to become more globally active, it would also give drive to the nations western expansion challenging Span and Mexico. It was the war that put the United States on the road of being a major power in the world.

Of further interest: While traveling in Canada, especially near Niagara and the Great Lakes, you’ll find monuments to the War of 1812. The differences in these, as opposed to our monuments of that war, is these hail Canadian victories over the United States.

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American history, history and travel, Nationa Memorials, Still Current, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history, World War II

Remembering and Honoring: Washington DC’s Wars Memorials

 

First self portrait- Ron at sixty six

Ron Current

There were no “national” wars memorials in the nation’s capital until the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was propose in the late 1970’s. Since then there are now three on, or near the National Mall. These honor those who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Here is a brief history and photos of those three memorials, and what you’ll see on your visit to Washington DC.

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was my generation’s war. Many of my high school classmates went off to fight in that conflict, some not coming back. Vietnam also, because of the way our veterans were treated when they returned, helped to change the way American’s began looking at our men and women in service.

4 x 6 Veitnam War Memorial

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first National wars memorial constructed in Washington DC, and was dedicated in 1982. Of the three war memorials it is the smallest, covering just two acres.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, most commonly called just “The Wall,” is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, and across the National Mall’s reflection pool from the Korean War Memorial. The Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin, who was just twenty-one at the time. It also has the most basic design when compared to the other two memorials. Its design is to symbolically show a “wound that is closed and healing.”

The Veitnam Wall one

Hundreds of items are left at the base of the wall

“The Wall” is made up of two 264 feet 9 inchs long gabbro walls that are etched with the names of the men and women who were ether killed in action, missing in action, or a prisoner of war. These gabbro slabs are sunk into the ground, with the apex where the two walls meet being 10.1 feet high from its base to the top of the wall. The wall then taper off to just 8 inches at each end of its two wings. There are currently 58,307 names listed on the wall, those who died in action have a diamond design next to their names, those who are MIA or a POW have a cross next to theirs. When a death is confirmed of one of those MIA’s or a POW’s a diamond is then superimposed over the cross. Also if a MIA or POW returns home alive their name is circumscribed by a circle, as of this posting this has not yet happened.

The Wall.jpg

From the end of the wall looking down

When you gaze at the wall you can see your reflection along with the names that are etched on it, again this symbolically brings the past and present together. There is a pathway running along the base of the Wall for visitors. Along the wall are hundreds of notes, letter, and other mementos that have been left by family, friends, those who served with or knew one of those listed. These items are carefully collected by the members of the Park Service, and stored for safe keeping. I was told that there’s a plan to build a museum near by to display these items, and to also tell the story of the Wall and the War. There are also members of the Park Service there to help you to find a name listed on the Wall.

The Three Soldiers Vietnam War Memorial

“The Three Soldiers” statue near the Vietnam Wall

Off a short distance from the wall, so as not to take away from Maya Lin’s vision, were added three additional components to this memorial. “The Three Solders” bronze statue was added in 1984, The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, honoring the women who served in that war, was then added in 1993, and the Memory Plaques placed near the statues in 2004. This plaque is to remember those who fought in Vietnam but died after the war as a direct result of injuries stuffed there. The plaque reads, “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember your service. “

The National Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Memorial was the second memorial that was built in Washington. It is located across Lincoln Memorial Circle from the Lincoln Memorial, and south of the reflecting pool on the National Mall.

Korean War Memorial three

Korean Memorial States of Soldiers on patrol

The ground breaking took place on June 14, 1992, Flag Day, by President George H. W. Bush. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995, on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended that war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The Memorial covers 2.20 acres and is in the shape of a triangle intersecting a circle. As you approach along one of the two tree covered walkways you’ll first notice the gray statues in the center. There are nineteen stainless steel statues representing a squad of soldiers on patrol, marching through juniper bushes and granite strips, these symbolizing the rugged terrain of Korea. I was told that the most moving time to visit this memorial is in the very early morning when the mist surrounds the statues. The statues range from 7 feet 6 inches to 7 feet 3 inches in height, and represents the four branches of the United States services that served there: fourteen for the Army, three for the Marines, a Navy Corpsman, and an Air Force air observer. All of the statues are all in full combat gear. One of the more haunting effects of this memorial’s statures is that no matter where you are standing along the bordering walk, one of them seems to be looking straight at you.

Koaren war Memorial three

Real veterans images are sandblasted on the wall of the Korean War Memorial

Going up the right side of the memorial is a 164 foot long mural wall of highly polished black granite. Sandblasted into its polished surface are 2,500 actual archival photo images of men and women who were involved in the Korean War. There is a story that actor Allen Alda, of TV’s MASH fame, was so deeply involved in getting this memorial built that his image is one of those on the wall, even though he didn’t serve in Korea.

Along the left side is the United Nations Wall, it lists the twenty-two UN member nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean effort. On the south side are three Rose of Sharon hibiscus bushes, the national flower of South Korea.

Koaren War Memorial one

No matter where you stand, one of the statues is looking at you

 

At the far end is the semicircle, at the top of the incline that the statue patrol is marching toward, is the Pool of Remembrance. This shallow 30 foot circular pool is lined in black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees. These trees create a barrel effect that causes the sun to reflect onto the pool. It is also here were the statistics of those killed, missing in action, or held as prisoners are engraved. Nearby is a plaque that reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

Korean War Memorial Freedom Is Not Free

There is also one other large granite wall there that bears this simple, but true, message, “Freedom Is Not Free.”

 The National World War II Memorial WW II Memorial sign

This is the newest of the three memorials, dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004 and opened to public on April 29th. The memorial sits at the eastern end of the mall’s reflection pool, between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

 

It is the largest of the three; the plaza is a semicircle 337 feet 10 inches long and 240 feet 2 inches wide. The plaza is ringed by 56 granite pillars, each are 17 feet high. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the 48 states in the Union at the time of the war, as well as the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii (then not states), the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

WW II Memorial Pacific

There are two triumphal arches on the north and south ends, the one on the north is engraved “Atlantic” and on the southern one, “Pacific.” These arches represent the two theaters of the war. As you enter through the main entrance off of 17th Street you walk down a slight incline of about six feet to a fountain pool at the center of the memorial. The walls that border this entrance have basic reliefs of scenes of American’s war experiences. Also inconspicuously located on these walls are two “Kilroy was here” engravings. These represent the symbol used by American soldiers to show that we were presence and protecting during the war. WW II Memorial

The large fountain pool in the memorial’s center is 246 feet 9 inches long and 147 feet 8 inches wide. On the west side of the pool is the humbling “Freedom Wall.” On it are 4,048 gold stars, each star represents one hundred Americans that gave their lives in World War II.

 

In front of this wall is inscribed a massage, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

WW II Gold Stars on Memorial

World War I Memorial

The isn’t currently a national memorial to honor and remember those that served in World War I, there wasn’t a national memorial program at that time. It was up to each individual state, or community to erected their own memorial to honor their citizens that had served in that conflict. You can visit the District of Columbia’s  World War I memorial, it’s just a short walk south of the World War II memorial.

There is now a committee formed to work on building a national World War I memorial, there are no details as to when or where that memorial will be.

 

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