How America Fought Its Wars: Military Strategy from the American Revolution to the Civil War

By Victor Brooks; Robert Hohwald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
The Perilous Fight

The Decisive Campaign of 1814

The final year of the War of 1812 opened in the shadow of monumental changes in the balance of power in Europe. The battle of Leipzig had forced Napoleon to retreat into France with the Allies in hot pursuit. At the same time, a British army under the Duke of Wellington had smashed the last French army in Spain and was marching toward Paris from the south. On March 31, 1814, the allies entered the City of Light and eleven days later Napoleon abdicated and began his exile to Elba. For the first time in more than a decade, Europe was at peace and the United States was now alone in the field against a militarily triumphant British empire. Even the most optimistic Republican supporters of war with Britain began to realize that this already unsatisfying conflict might soon turn into a disaster for the young republic.

The British government expected to deploy more than 40,000 regulars in North America by the end of 1814, and a substantial number of Britons were determined to utilize that force to punish the Yankees for their treacherous declaration of war in a moment of supreme crisis for the empire. Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane articulated much of British public opinion when he insisted, "I have it much at heart to give America a complete drubbing before any peace is made." The Times of London declared that it was time for Britain to "chastise the savages, for such they are, in a much truer sense than the followers of Tecumseh or the Prophet."

However, while the United Kingdom held substantial advantages in the much greater experience of their regular army, total control of the seas and the psychological boost of recently defeating Napoleon, the United States was far from helpless. The Americans controlled Lake Erie, and its supply lines to the west were shorter and less exposed than the enemy. The battle of the Thames had destroyed Tecumseh's confederacy and greatly reduced the number of Indian auxiliaries willing to serve with the British army. The

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