The War With the United States: Bibliographical Note
Enough books to fill a small library have been written about the 'sprawling and sporadic' War of 1812. Most of them deal with particular phases, localities, or events; and most of them are distinctly partisan. This is unfortunate, but not surprising. The war was waged over an immense area, by various forces, and with remarkably various results. The Americans were victorious on the Lakes and in all but one of the naval duels fought at sea. Yet their coast was completely sealed up by the Great Blockade in the last campaign. The balance of victory inclined towards the British side on land. Yet the annihilating American victories on the Lakes nullified most of the general military advantages gained by the British along the Canadian frontier. The fortunes of each campaign were followed with great interest on both sides of the line. But on the other side of the Atlantic the British home public had Napoleon to think of at their very doors; and so, for the most part, they regarded the war with the States as an untoward and regrettable annoyance, which diverted too much force and attention from the life-and-death affairs of Europe.
All these peculiar influences are reflected in the different patriotic annals. Americans are voluble about the Lakes and the naval duels out at sea. But the completely effective British blockade of their coast-line is a too depressingly scientific factor in the problem to be welcomed by a general public which would not understand how Yankee ships could win so many duels while the British Navy won the war. Canadians are equally voluble about the battles on Canadian soil, where Americans had decidedly the worst of it. As a rule, Canadian writers have been quite as controversial as Americans, and not any readier to study their special subjects as parts of a greater whole. The British Isles have never had an interested public anxious to read about this remote, distasteful, and subsidiary war; and books about it there have consequently been very few.
The two chief authors who have appealed directly to the readers of the mother country are William James and Sir Charles Lucas. James was an industrious naval historian; but he was quite as anti-American as the earlier American writers were anti-British. Owing to this perverting bias his two books, the Naval and the Military Occurrences of the late War between Great Britain and the United States, are not to be relied upon. Their appendices, however, give a great many documents which are of much assistance in studying the real history of the war. James wrote only a few years after the peace. Nearly a century later Sir Charles Lucas wrote The Canadian War of 1812, which is the work of a man whose life-long service in the Colonial Office and intimate acquaintance with Canadian history have both been turned to the best account. The two chief Canadian authors are Colonel Cruikshank and James Hannay. Colonel Cruikshank deserves the greatest credit for being a real pioneer with his Documentary History of the Campaigns upon the Niagara Frontier. Hannay's History of the War of 1812 shows careful study of the Canadian aspects of the operations; but its generally sound arguments are weakened by its controversial tone.
The four chief American authors to reckon with are, Lossing, Upton, Roosevelt, and Mahan. They complement rather than correspond with the four British authors. The best known American work dealing with the military campaigns is Lossing's Field-Book of the War of 1812. It is an industrious compilation; but quite uncritical and most misleading. General Upton's Military Policy of the United States incidentally pricks all the absurd American militia bubbles with an incontrovertible array of hard and pointed facts. The Naval War of 1812, by Theodore Roosevelt, is an excellent sketch which shows a genuine wish to be fair to both sides. But the best naval work, and the most thorough work of any kind on either side, is Admiral Mahan's Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812.
A good deal of original evidence on the American side is given in Brannan's Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States during the War with Great Britain in the Years 1812 to 1815. The original British evidence about the campaigns in Canada is given in William Wood's Select British Documents of the Canadian War of 1812. Students who wish to see the actual documents must go to Washington, London, and Ottawa. The Dominion Archives are of exceptional interest to all concerned.
The present work is based entirely on original evidence, both American and British.
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