The War Of 1812, by Rebecca Stefoff
The War of 1812 presents some major challenges for the reader and writer of history or atlases. Does one focus on the naval matter of impressment and the disastrous embargo of Jefferson’s presidency, and deal with the problem of time that led the repeal of these practices not arrive at the United States in time to discourage war, and does one talk about the widespread sectional dissatisfaction with the conflict or deal with Canadian nationalism? Does one focus attention on the frontier and the desire of Southern and Western Americans for more land to settle, increasing conflict with native tribes who relied on arms and other support from Britain? In examining the battles of the war, does one focus on the small-scale ship-to-ship combat or the war on the lakes or the various military invasions of Canada or the successful American defense that led to a draw? Who won and who lost the war? It is clear that the natives lost it and that both Canada and the United States ended up with a stronger identity in the aftermath of the conflict, but the most decisive battle was fought after peace was achieved and few histories of this kind focus on the diplomatic effort that made the Treaty of Ghent possible.
This book is admittedly not a straightforward history but rather a historical atlas, but I admit I like it all the better for that. Like the other books I put on hold from the library about the War of 1812, this volume is a very short one at about 50 pages, and its contents are even more compact at three chapters. The first chapter looks at the road to war, discussing frontier matters, clashes at sea, the trouble with trade thanks to ineffective efforts at embargoing British (and French) trade, as well as the conflicts in Indiana between native tribes and American settlers (1). After that the author discusses and provides maps for the new nation at war, with a look at war hawks in Congress, Madison’s declaration, the early (and unsuccessful) Canadian campaign as well as the war at sea (2). After this there is a discussion of the end of the war, with a look at the British efforts to invade the United States on multiple fronts, Jackson’s successful efforts to subdue the Creek nation, the successful American defense of New Orleans, and a look at the winners and losers of a drawn war (3). After this there is a glossary, map list, chronology, suggestions for further reading, and an index.
By and large this is a good book that provides a great deal of the context of the War of 1812 that shows why and how it was fought and what the results of the conflict were, at least for Americans. To be sure, the book could have done more at discussing the effects of the war on Canada, but Canadian history is one of the most obscure and easy-to-forget areas of the history of the War of 1812 and while many contemporary writers want Americans to think about questions of immigration and treaties, few think of Canada and its separate interests apart from the British or Americans. Be that as it may, this book is certainly a good one that at least comments about the American destruction of York in a way that provides context for the British revenge attack on Washington DC in 1814 that is otherwise so difficult to understand and defend. This book is liberally festooned with pictures and maps, and that is certainly something that is easy to appreciate as well, as no book ever had too many good maps in it.