The War of 1812: America at War

The War of 1812: America at War

The War of 1812: America at War

The War of 1812: America at War

Excerpt

W hen the residents of Washington, D.C., picked up their copies of the National Intelligencer on August 16, 1814, they saw a startling news item:

By Express from Norfolk, 11 o'clock -- A list of vessels has appeared...10 miles to the southward of Cape Henry [ Virginia ]: 5 seventy-fours, 6 frigates, 1 sloop-of-war, 10 transports, 1 tender....

1 o'clock, p.m. -- Another express: the fleet have all come in from the Capes and gone up Chesapeake Bay .

By the following morning, the number of ships in the British fleet had more than doubled to 51. And judging from the type of ships, it was clear that the British were preparing an invasion. A seventy-four was a ship of the line, or battleship, that carried from 64 to 120 cannon mounted on three gundecks. Although slow and clumsy, its firepower was so great that it could be stopped only by another battleship. A frigate, which carried between 32 and 44 cannon mounted on a single deck, was used mostly for hunting enemy merchant ships. A sloop-of-war, armed with 16 to 24 cannon, was fast-moving and ideal for blockading harbor entrances. A transport carried troops, while a tender carried supplies.

Yet despite the British fleet's appearance, most Washingtonians remained unconcerned. They found it hard to believe that they were really in danger. For one thing, the war between the United States and Great Britain had been going on for more than two years, and all the battles to date had taken place far away -- either on the high seas, on the Great Lakes, or west of the Allegheny Mountains. Then, too, even the British must know that August was an awful month for fighting near the capital! Temperatures along the Potomac and Patuxent rivers usually hovered around 100 degrees, while the equally high humidity made staying in the shade the . . .

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