United States Army in the
War of 1812
fills a significant gap in the military history of the early
Republic. The organization of the U.S. Army during the
war has been described in general terms, but not till now with
depth of well-researched detail needed by serious students. In a
feat of concision, John Fredriksen has managed to produce two
monographs in a single volume. The first section provides short
biographies of President Madison, his three secretaries of war,
and the major and brigadier generals who served in the war. The
second section provides brief histories of each regular regiment. The separate army corps and army staff and medical departments
are listed with the U.S. Military Academy. Each citation has its
own extensive bibliographic information, citing primary and
selected secondary sources. Besides consulting the larger
Government Record Groups in the National Archives, Fredriksen has
also drawn on manuscript collections in smaller libraries and
archives throughout the country. "The book you hold is the product
of 33 years of painstaking work, and is specifically designed to
facilitate the kind of research so lacking in this field. It is a
hand-crafted assemblage of archival, manuscript, printed primary,
and secondary sources, all carefully organized and arrayed to
impart a maximum of information within the barest minimum of
space.... The archival and manuscript sections are delineated by
corporate authorship, the nature of materials, their holding
depository, and their call number, dates, and selected information
where possible" (7).
Fredriksen is too
reticent about his achievements over the last thirty years. His
research skills were established in Free Trade and Sailors'
still the standard bibliography of the War of 1812. He has
written widely on other topics related to the war, including a
doctoral dissertation on the 1814
Niagara campaign. He has practically single-handedly given an identify to the
officers of the U.S. Army in the War of 1812. By editing and
publishing their letters and diaries in scholarly journals,
he has both revealed who they were and shed light on how the
United States conducted its first declared war. In one of few U.S.
Army regimental histories of this period, Green Coats and Glory,
he tracked the U.S. Rifle Regiment from its formation in 1808
until its disbandment in 1821, providing a campaign history of
both the First Regiment and the three others raised for wartime
service. The book blends meticulous research with a broad
perspective on the war.
The volume under review
takes a similar approach, although it lacks the level of detail in
a monograph focusing on a single regiment. Nevertheless, its
"pocket" histories are remarkably thorough.
Fredriksen's work has
improved the study of the War of 1812 in two significant ways.
First, it has brought a much needed balance to studies that relied
on Canadian published primary sources, complied by Ernest
Cruikshank, and others that drew on only a few secondary works
and did not progress beyond Henry Adams's history of the war. Second,
Fredriksen's work has usefully shifted the emphasis back to the
land war and the action of the regular army from histories in the
Roosevelt mold that focused on naval actions, the Battle of New
Orleans, and the militia.
This book dispels the
obscurity of regiments and several brigadier generals. The
summaries of each regiment's service also indicate areas where
further historical work is warranted. The Fourth U.S. Infantry is
one example. This well-trained and led prewar regiment had fought
at Tippecanoe. The debacle at Detroit and the conduct of Isaac
Hull (described s.v. "Hull") look much worse when the reader
learns of the quality of the troops and subordinates like Duncan
McArthur. This latter officer's success in holding much of western
Upper Canada for the Americans provided an important bargaining
chip during the peace negotiations at Ghent.
The book also refutes the
idea that the prewar U.S. Army was nonexistent. Although small, it
was not without a cadre to build from and had some good regimental
leadership. It was, however, inadequate to invade Canada on three
fronts, defeating a loose aboriginal confederacy led by Tecumseh,
going to war against the Creeks, and watching Spanish Florida.
That Madison's government conducted the war this way, without a
large, well-trained army points to strategic challenges that even
the best army could not have overcome. The book shows how the
United States tried to overcome these challenges by raising a
large army and ensuring good leadership. The latter was more
difficult to find than new regiments.
recurring theme in the biographies is poor leadership in the first
two years of the war, plagued by divided command. As noted above,
Hull fought with McArthur at Detroit, Wilkinson and Hampton
clashed in the fall of 1813 during the offensive against Lower
Canada, and Secretary of War Armstrong fought with almost all of
affected both the development of the army and national politics
after the war. Fredriksen establishes continuity with the postwar
professional army by describing the careers of its general
officers after 1815. Harder to document is the overall effect of
the war on the professionalism of the dwindling number of
regiments and their officers.
A previous book devoted
to a similar subject is Robert Wright's 1989 volume, The
 although it lacks campaign histories and
descriptions of formations above the regimental level. Wright
traces the lineage of the Continental Army's regiments and
provides full bibliographic references. Although he omits
extensive biographies, it is interesting to compare his
Revolutionary period portraits of officers featured in
Fredriksen's work. To cite one example, Wright describes Morgan
Lewis flatteringly while for Fredriksen he is "a politically
well-connected leader of marginal ability and less merit" (60).
Like Wright, Fredriksen
has scrupulously investigated the reorganizations that befell
regiments during the war. The unfortunate Fourth Infantry was
reformed and served again in the northern frontier. Detachments were dispersed across the theater and assigned to
different brigades. Until this book, this type of information did
not exist in published works. It is information that links the
book's biographical and regimental history sections. For only when
the history and service of the regiments are known, can the
leadership be assessed.
Given the re-formation of
regiments, their wide distribution across the theater of war and
their many defeats, we may better understand why it took almost
two years for the army to achieve tactical skill. Fredriksen
acknowledges Winfield Scott's role in training, and generals like
Pike and Izard are recognized for their earlier efforts in 1812
and 1813. Tactical proficiency brought success on the battlefield.
In a related finding, the author shows that the U.S. Army was a good army by
1814, particularly its artillery. The regular army was able to
defeat or fight to a standstill the regular British troops it
faced by 1814. A question that requires more thorough examination
but is outside the scope of this book is why, given the apparent
size of the army, it could not achieve decisive numerical
superiority over the British. Logistical issues and the role of
naval cooperation will be factors to consider in pursuing this
area of research.
The intensity of disputes
among general officers seemed to diminish by 1814. Jacob Brown's
quarrels with Izard and Ripley did not reach the same level of
animosity as those between Wilkinson and Hampton the previous year. In
addition, by 1814, the conflict had become less an Indian war than
it had been at the outset. In this regard, the emphasis on
Harrison's victory at the Battle of the Thames, found in
traditional histories, seems warranted. This battle and Jackson's
defeat of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend signaled an end to one
phase of the war and regular forces began to play a larger role.
Militia generals like Brown, Harrison, and Jackson became regular
officers, although Harrison resigned his commission with Brown
having the most significant influence on the post-war army.
Authors writing even a
brief summary of the War of 1812 will find in Fredriksen's book a
more solid basis for their work and a corrective to conventional
wisdom. They will, for example, need to rethink the notion that
the Treaty of Ghent brought a period of "democratic peace" between
the United States and Britain. In fact, the intensity of the
fighting on the Niagara frontier, at Plattsburg, and at New Orleans,
indicated future wars between the nations would be longer and
bloodier. This led to an increase in fortifications along the
border and the continued presence of regular troops to man them.
McFarland and Company
deserves praise for publishing this fine work and introducing to a
broader audience the generals and regiments of the War of 1812.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada