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The War of 1812

16 Feb 24

144 pages

Prof Andrew Lambert

The new edition of this beautifully illustrated book provides the ideal introduction to a complex, and much misunderstood conflict. It reflects the surge of new scholarship generated by the bicentenary, and emphasises the complexity of a war that was waged alongside the end game of the Napoleonic conflict. Canadian historian Carl Benn, an expert in Native American history, emphasises the role of their nations and alliances in a conflict driven by land, resources and the expansion of settler communities. He debunks the old American narrative of a victorious ‘Second War of Independence’. The United States started the war by invading modern Canada, but signally failed to acquire any land. It ended the war bankrupt, with its capital city in ruins, and the economy in crisis. The Royal Navy had a critical role in the Anglo-Canadian victory. In a series of targeted amphibious operations Admiral Sir George Cockburn crushed the economic life of Maryland and Virginia, the key states that supported the war. When 4,000 of Wellington’s redcoats arrived, he led an operation that captured and burnt Washington DC. Sea control and economic blockade had enabled the handful of regular troops that could be spared from Europe before 1814 to defend Canada. Today the war retains a significant presence in Canadian and American public history, but it is critical to that of Native American peoples. Their story is compelling and largely unknown in this country, indeed the entire war was effectively ignored in Britain for many decades. This is peculiarly odd given that Britain won the war, and dictated the peace terms, which included retaining the legal bases of economic warfare. By contrast the Americans abandoned all their pre-war demands.

Carl Benn has distilled the latest scholarship into a concise and compelling analysis of a much misunderstood conflict, balancing critical analysis with elegant exposition, working with excellent full colour maps and artwork that puts many other publishers to shame. How many know why there is an HMS President in London? A terrific book.