Two hundred years ago today, June 18, President James Madison signed the United States’ first declaration of war, catapulting the fledgling country into its second War of Independence, better known as the War of 1812. Sandwiched between the Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 has been largely forgotten, and when it is remembered, it’s often thought of as a naval war.
But Soldiers and students of Army history shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it or forget it, said Glenn Williams, an Army veteran and a senior historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History. He explained that the Army, which barely 20 years earlier had been down to a single regiment, had several significant achievements during the war, more “than we give ourselves credit for.”
Specifically, he said, the Army defeated several British invasions: two at Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio, in May and July 1813; at the Battle of Plattsburgh, N.Y., in September 1814 and in New Orleans in January 1815. And while the British were able to attack Washington and burn the White House and the Capitol in August 1814, the Army and the militia stopped them in Baltimore the following month.
“Let’s not forget a couple of really important things,” Williams said. “The ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ was the garrison flag of an Army post. The original name of the song, as Francis Scott Key wrote it, was ‘The Defense of Fort McHenry.’ It became ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ a little bit later and then it became the national anthem in 1931. But we’re talking about the defense of an Army post.
“I know the other services like to claim some credit for the Battle of Baltimore, but Fort McHenry had a garrison of about 1,100 (servicemen) when it was attacked. Of those, about 60 were Sailors. The rest were Soldiers. … We often forget that Fort McHenry was an Army post and the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ was its garrison flag.”
The Army continued to improve and “became relatively confident by the end of the war,” he continued, and in fact, by the end of the war, the Army had occupied much of western Ontario.
“Some of the enduring legacies of the War of 1812,” Williams said, “that we do remember – Yes, we do call it the second War of Independence. I think that’s when we finally get rid of the shadow of Britain. The Revolutionary War … made us independent. The War of 1812 made sure we would stay independent. It gave us something to be proud of.”