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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3544

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: The situation abroad.]

Nothing but a total want of understanding of the conditions in Europe could have brought about the War of 1812. In 1811 the Continental System (§ 102) had broken down, because Russia would no longer cut off the trade in American ships. The result of this breach was Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812; his success would have totally excluded American commerce from the Baltic, and would probably have resulted in the overthrow of England. The Americans were assisting the cause of a great tyranny and a great commercial monopoly.

[Sidenote: Fall of Napoleon.]

During 1812 and 1813, while the Americans were vainly struggling to capture a few petty forts on the Canadian frontier, Napoleon was falling back step by step; and on April 6, 1814, he abdicated his throne, and a general European peace was made.

[Sidenote: Lundy's Lane.]

[Sidenote: English invasion.]

[Sidenote: Capture of Washington.]

The result was new energy in the American war. Twelve thousand English veteran troops were despatched to Canada, and expeditions were planned to harass the American coast. The struggle was renewed on the Niagara frontier under the efficient command of Jacob Brown, a New York militia general. An American force penetrated into Canada and fought the successful battle of Lundy's Lane; but Brown was wounded, and his forces abandoned the field. The British now attempted to invade the United States; the Maine coast was occupied, almost without resistance, as far south as the Penobscot; the Americans were attacked at Fort Erie, on the west side of the Niagara; and a force of eighteen thousand men moved up Lake Champlain to Plattsburg. On September 11 its advance was checked by a field-work and an American fleet unde

r Macdonough. Both at Fort Erie and at Plattsburg the veteran British troops were beaten off by the Americans behind their breastworks. Meanwhile the nation had been overwhelmed with terror and shame by the capture of Washington. Five thousand British troops landed from the Chesapeake, marched fifty miles across a populous country, and coolly took the national capital. The defence made by General Winder is characterized in his order to the artillery when, with seven thousand militia, he was about to make a stand: "When you retreat, take notice that you must retreat by the Georgetown road." The President and cabinet fled, and the public buildings were burned, in alleged retaliation for destruction of buildings in Canada; and the assailing force withdrew to its ships without molestation. Encouraged by this success, a similar attack was made upon Baltimore; here a spirited resistance from behind intrenchments once more beat the British off.

[Sidenote: Attack on New Orleans.]

Now came the news that an expedition was preparing to attack the Gulf coast. Andrew Jackson, who had been engaged in Indian wars in the southwest, was put in command. Still, he made no preparation for the defence of New Orleans, until, on December 10, the British expedition of fifty sail was sighted. Jackson now showed his native energy; troops were hurried forward, and militia were brought together. A want of common watchfulness suffered the British to reach a point within seven miles of New Orleans before they met any resistance. Then Jackson made such defence as he could. He formed an intrenched line with artillery; and here, with about forty-five hundred men, he awaited the advance of eight thousand of the British. They attacked him Jan. 8, 1815, and were repulsed.

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